Author's note:

As with any war, there was money to be made in Kosovo.

Within the context of this story, the Russian ring was there; buying and selling guns and ammunition, and stealing every precious thing they could lay their hands on.

Drenica is a hilly region in central Kosovo. The villages in that area were the birthplace of the KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army), and as such were a stronghold during the Kosovo War.

As mentioned in Intermezzo, Sergei is the friend of Svetlana's family responsible (financially and otherwise) for brokering her move to the ring because he occupied an important position within it.


Drenica, Kosovo

April 2rd, 1999

1700

Anatoly sat up just long enough to spit the water from his canteen over the side of the truck, and lay back again.

His mind on the woman who would be in his arms in a few hours.


Svetlana's apartment in Paris

2000

Svetlana looked between evening dresses and finally threw both of them into the suitcase with the admission that she really didn't care which one of them she wore.

She'd given up hope that Anatoly would be coming in Washington.

Her flight left in the morning and she still hadn't heard anything from him.

Looking at the clock, she realized that she needed to call it a night – but as she walked towards the bathroom there was a knock at the door.

A quick look through the peep hole made her heart stand still.

Sergei was standing in the hallway.

She stood there, frozen. Unable to process a single thought beyond the fact that if Anatoly were dead she would know.

She would know.

Sergei knocked again – a little more impatiently this time.

You would know, she repeated to herself as she opened the door.

"To what do I owe the pleasure?" she asked as she turned the light on in the living room and started to pour him a drink.

"Where is he?"

Svetlana felt her face flush – although it was more from embarrassment than shame.

She considered her response before admitting,"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know? You're his handler, Svetlana. You're supposed to know everything he does." He paced round the room angrily, alcohol spilling over the side of the tumbler. "Then if you don't know where he is, allow me to enlighten you. He's working for one of Milošević's deputies. Killing anyone he wants dead. That's where he is."

Svetlana bowed her head - not wanting him to see her reaction to the news he'd just brought.

"I was doing my best to get him work, Svety." The use of her childhood name sounded strange under these circumstances, and she almost cringed when he took her by the shoulders. "I am doing everything I can to look out for his interests. And yours. But this is not the way things work. Do I have to start asking you where your loyalties lie now? Why didn't you tell me he had taken an outside job?"

Suddenly the room felt as though all the air had been sucked out of it.

Sergei waited for a moment and then placed the tumbler firmly on top of the television.

"When he gets back I want to speak to him," he said as he headed for the door.

As the door closed behind him, Svetlana reached for his glass and drained what was left in it as she thought back to her last conversation with Anatoly.

He had been very forthright about his reasons for taking the job he was currently on.

The ring had pushed him aside after the incident in Russia, and the UK operation had been nothing more than rookie work. He'd been offered the chance to make some decent money doing something with a challenge - and he'd taken it.

Do I have to start asking you where your loyalties lie now?

Sergei's words echoed in her head – and she closed her eyes against the threat of a panic attack as she acknowledged that she was now caught firmly in the middle of a pissing contest between Anatoly and the ring. And that there was no telling where it could lead.


Naples Field Office, Italy

2100

Gibbs rubbed a tired hand across his face and wished he were anywhere but at his desk.

Jen was out with Pat for the night, and he'd taken the opportunity to finish off the last of the UK paperwork.

A sound caught his attention, but when he looked around there was nobody there.

Not surprising, he thought as he looked at his watch.

With luck he'd get his work finished soon and get a full night's sleep for a change.

But as he poured himself a coffee in the rec room a few minutes later, the sound floated down the hall again - and this time he knew he wasn't imagining things.

He followed the intermittent noise, which sounded more and more like strangled sobs as he tracked it down.

It led him to the janitor's room.

He opened the door, flipped the light switch, and found the last person he was expecting to see huddled in a corner.

"Come to see the freak show?"

Pat pulled her knees in tighter and buried her face in them - and Gibbs remembered why she and Jen had been going out for a drink in the first place.

He searched his brain for the name of the man in question.

Chad. Chase. Charles.

"Getting smashed on account of Carlos the Magnificent?" he asked as he slid down onto the floor next to her.

He took the stifled snort as a sign of encouragement.

"Wanna tell me about it?"

"You're an agony aunt now?"

"Nooo," Gibbs said slowly. "But we're the only two people here and I got nothin' better to do." He waited for a long beat, and when she didn't say anything, reached into his jacket pocket for his phone. "I'll call Jen to come pick you up."

"No," Pat said as she pushed the phone away.

"Didja stand her up?" When Pat nodded, he raised the phone again and said, "she'll be worried about you."

"I don't want her to see me like this."

Her voice had taken on the deadly calm he associated with great self-control, and wasn't surprised when he felt the thud of her temple against his shoulder.

"Whatcha drinkin'?" he asked after a long silence.

"Jenny says it's an acquired taste," she said with a dry laugh as she dangled a bottle in the air. "Guess that means she acquired it from you."

"Good stuff," he replied as he took it from her.

Making a mental calculation based on the spirit level before taking a swig.

"I'm tired, Gibbs."

The exhaustion in her voice was palpable.

"Want me to drive you home?"

"Not that kind of tired. I'm tired of being a footnote in people's lives. Tired of people asking for my loyalty, earning it, and then deciding it isn't worth having. I'm tired of being a commodity. But most of all I'm tired of being me. Of always being the one who has to understand. Who has to find a way to deal with the skid marks left all over me when people go their merry way with a sorry tossed over their shoulder. I'm tired of being me, Gibbs. I'm so tired."

"You're out of luck with that, you know," he said kindly.

Knowing he had to strike a balance between coming across as flippant and saying something out of character just to ease the moment for her.

"I want to be one of those women men pander to," she said as she started to rise unsteadily to her feet. "I want to be one of those people who can do what they want and get away with it. Maybe in my next life, huh Gibbs? If I'm lucky?"

"Come on, I'll get you home," he said as he got to his feet as well.

Pat swayed.

"I think I'm going to be sick," she said as she leaned heavily against a shelf.

Gibbs scanned the room and located a bucket.

"How many ex-wives have you got?" she asked suddenly.

"Two," he said, putting a firm hand on the bucket.

"Planning on making Jen number three?"

The question stunned him into silence - but before he could even think of a way to deflect the question, she was talking again.

"Don't trifle with her, Gibbs. No emotional grandstanding, no bandying big words around. Don't make promises if you already know you can't keep them."

"I need to get you home," he said, putting an arm under her elbow and trying to maneouvre her towards the door. "You're going to have a hell of a hangover in the morning."

"Do you know what the hardest part is?"

"You're feeling sorry for yourself, Pat. It's the alcohol talking. Lets get you home."

"This isn't about feeling sorry for myself. It's about realizing you believed you were important to someone, when the truth is you made a negligible difference in their life. Do you know what it feels like when someone tells you they've been looking for you all their life and then hangs you out to dry without so much as a breeze for company?" She put her hand over her mouth and retched slightly. "It makes you feel like you fell short. Like you're a disappointment. Do you know what it does to a person to know that they're expendable? Do you know what it does here and here?"

She tapped her chest and her forehead hard, and Gibbs placed the bucket in front of her just as the first heave shook her body.

"Atta girl," he said as he gathered her hair and settled in for the long haul. "Let it all out."