by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
He remembers the way her hair spread out on the plane, dark and living against the cheap upholstery, and the way it blew in the wind when she didn’t tie it back. His fingers used to itch to touch it, to push it away from her face and bare some part of her that she kept hidden.
He used to want to bear all of her. He remembers that too.
Sometimes he thinks he sees that flash of melted cherry chocolate out of the corner of his eye on windy days. He’ll hold his breath, turn his head, and when he sees someone else-- some other soul attached to the streak of her that paints the air-- he’ll feel a little bit more of himself curl up and wail. A little bit more of him rebel.
Because it’s never her. It never is and he knows, in the back of his mind, that it never will be again.
He still looks. He doesn’t know how to make himself stop.
The first replacement stayed around for longer that Gibbs thought she would, and longer than Tony would’ve liked. Sexual innuendo was tossed hard and roughly at her on a daily basis. McGee would start off sentences with “That’s not how Kate used to do it.” Abby tried to be bouncy and cheerful, but she never offered to have lunch with her or take her out drinking.
Gibbs acted the same way he did towards everyone else. The same gruffness, the same roughness, and not as many smiles. Not as many of those guilty little grins that she used to draw from him-- the laughs he knew he shouldn’t give into.
Ducky just smiled at her as encouragingly as she could. He knew she wouldn’t last either. And he wasn’t wrong.
Three months was as long as the first one lasted, five weeks for the second. The shortest time was one week-- one week and Special Agent Michael Doren told them all that he wasn’t going to grow a vagina any time soon, and they were all just going to have to get it through their thick skulls that their agent was dead.
Tony had hit him so hard in the mouth, he’d fallen backwards. Doren had requested reassignment, the Director had given it to him, and Gibbs had watched his right hand man smile down at the bruises on his knuckles for weeks to come, even through the mild disciplinary actions taken against him.
They had a closed casket at the funeral. The hole that had been blown in her was big and gaping, and the EMTs that had swept her body away before he could try and make it all better had made it clear that it wasn’t the kind of wound that could be seen by the family. Ducky hadn’t been given the body, and Gibbs had protested that for a long, long time with the blind dedication he gives everything he feels strongly about.
Ducky had finally taken him aside, told him that there was no foul play here for him to investigate, and rubbed the back of his head like a father would a son. Gibbs had accepted it for a while, then nodded, walked calmly out to his car, and had the closest thing to an emotional breakdown he can ever remember having.
His throat felt clogged for days. His cheeks felt cracked and dry with salt for the rest of his life.
Her parents cried. Her brothers cried. Her sister and her nieces and nephews cried.
Abby, dressed in all black and sitting in the back with them all smiled gently into her collar, her eyes lit from within. “She wouldn’t want us to sob over her,” she said gently, and Tony had given her a look that was so close to loathing it took Gibbs’s breath away.
“She doesn’t get to boss us around from beyond the grave, Abby. She’s dead. Fucking deal with it.”
Gibbs hadn’t tried to grab him as he got up and left the church. He’s never been good at comforting people, and he’s really not good at being touchy feely with Tony. That was her department.
That was your fucking job, he snarled silently at the casket.
Ducky had given a speech. McGee had given a speech. Abby had tried, and broken down crying about half way through, despite all her talk about being happy and keeping Kate’s living memories in mind, not her dead ones. Ducky had led her away with a hand on her lower back, rubbing and soothing the best he knew how.
Gibbs hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t wanted to. Who the hell was he to talk? Who the hell was he to say anything? He was just a guy with a dead agent, a dead friend lying in a box in front of him. He was just the man who had failed to protect her. The one who had been so focused on Ari Haswari, that he had forgotten all about the fact that he wasn’t invincible. That she wasn’t invincible.
Bullets meet skin, and skin gives in. Fire meets flesh and flesh burns.
He had watched her family cry, his co-workers withdraw into themselves, and all he had felt was the salt on his cheeks, the dryness all around him.
The burn in his throat got worse, but he couldn’t force it out with words. Didn’t want to force it out with words.
It was the last thing he had left of her. The last bit of her he couldn’t let go of.
A couple of months after the last replacement gives up, he found Tony in a bar around 2 in the afternoon. They caught a killer today-- a man who stabbed a Petty-Officer because she had a nicer car than he did. Tony bounced his head against the pavement, Gibbs shoved him into the back of the car, and McGee had stared at the man who used to call him Probbie and asked him when he completely lost his mind.
Tony yelled, something Gibbs had never seen him do before, and walked out of the office half-way into the paperwork.
He snarled at him when he sat down, bourbon flavoring his curses.
“What do you want, Gibbs?”
Gibbs had looked at him calmly. “You’re going to get yourself fired, Tony, if you keep this up. That what you want?”
“Or you could just send me out into the middle of a battle field. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get my head blown off, huh? Think that’d be easier on the team? Boss?” He tossed back more of his bourbon, swallowed down more of the poison into his stomach, and Gibbs tried not to feel the betrayal of that word, of that accusation, deep down in his soul.
“Kate’s dead, Tony. I can’t change that.”
“No,” his younger agent said wryly, “you can’t. Because apparently, despite what McGee sees, you’re not God. Who knew?” He grinned, and that smile was not pretty and not sweet. That smile was not Tony. “I knew, that’s who. Kate’s dead, yeah, she is. And you don’t even fucking care, do you?”
“You walk around, you snarl, you glare, you act like she’s on fucking vacation. But you know what? She’s not. She’s dead. And you just don’t give a damn do you, Boss? You just don’t fucking care!” He threw the glass down on the counter top, chipping the thick crystal and spilling the bourbon every where. It splashed down onto their pants, and Gibbs looked down at the dark splotches on his knees.
Kate’s blood had done that on the back of his shirt. He’d found droplets of her weeks later.
Gibbs stood up to face Tony down, and had stood there for all of two seconds before the younger man knocked him down with a hard fist. The ground was sticky under his palms, a young woman came to his aid to grab his shoulders, and he had shaken her off to stand back up to Tony.
He hit him down again, harder this time, and Gibbs grabbed the barstool to force himself back to his feet.
The third time he hit the ground, his vision darkened around the edges. Tony spat at him, wiping the blood off his knuckles and swaying unsteadily in his Gucci shoes. “You fucking bastard, you fucking shit faced bastard you let us down. You fucking failed us.” He collapsed to his knees, bruising himself up, and Gibbs looked up at him and knew that for the first time in a very long time, he was truly seeing a broken man. A broken, empty shell.
“You failed us,” Tony had accused quietly.
“I didn’t want to,” Gibbs whispered back, and Tony shook his head.
“Doesn’t matter, Boss. We trusted you.” He was shaking, hands quivering, and covered in booze. “We trusted you to keep us safe. That was your job. We’d lay down our lives for you, no matter what, and you knew it. You fucking knew it. But it wasn’t supposed to happen.” Tony shook his head, shook his shoulders, shook all over. “Not to Kate, never to Kate. Why? Huh? I would’ve done it. I would’ve taken the hit, she didn’t need to do it, she didn’t need to do it…”
And Gibbs had swallowed down his pain just in time to watch Anthony DiNozzo break down into tears on the floor of a bar, knuckles covered with his blood, body covered in the strain of the last year. Of the loss.
Of their loss.
DiNozzo takes a few weeks off, and when he gets back, he asks for a reassignment. Gibbs denies him, and Tony doesn’t ask again, but the damage has been done. The rift has been created.
McGee has been bouncy and cheerful as always, but even he can’t manage to look Gibbs in the eye anymore. Apparently, the Continuing Adventures of J.T. Tibbs have been discontinued, and now he’s reconsidering the writing track.
Abby still smiles at him, Ducky still looks at him like he’s going to break down at any moment and he’s started to cling to both as constants in his unstable world. He thought Tony would always be his guy, that McGee would always be the Probbie. That Kate would always try and make him softer around the edges.
He was wrong. Maybe he’s been wrong about a lot of things.
He used to fear her for it-- fear that gentleness she brought out in him. Gentle was not what Special Agents of the United States Government were supposed to be. Tough, brave, bold-- these were his titles, his job requirements. Emotions got in the way, and the expression of them was never a good thing.
He doesn’t know if it was love. Probably not. Probably, she would’ve found a nice stable man to marry in a few years, and he would’ve gone to her wedding and brought her a new gun as a bridal gift. Probably, her husband would have regarded him as an oddity and a half.
More than likely, Gibbs thinks, he was never in love with Caitlin Todd.
Sometimes he’ll be walking through a crowded room or a boat for an investigation and catch a smell of her perfume on some other woman’s throat. Last time he was at the bar, a woman came up to him with dark hair, dark eyes, and Kate’s scent all over her, and he took her home and fucked her, but didn’t orgasm.
She’d left her number on the dresser the next morning. He hasn’t called it yet and he makes no plans to.
He wasn’t in love with Kate. He wasn’t.
But he wasn’t willing to let her go either. And he wasn’t willing to fail her so miserably.
The next time he sees Ari Haswari, the man has just cold bloodedly shot five people on their knees. There’s a twist to his lips, an enjoyment, that wasn’t there before.
He’s started to like killing the bad guys. Gibbs wonders when that happened, and when he stopped caring what this man did.
Interfering with Haswari has never had good results. He’s taught himself not to do it anymore, but a little part of him still winces when he sees Ari wiping the blood on his hands off on the shirts of one of the corpses.
“Special Agent Gibbs,” Haswari greets with a half smirk, and gets on his cell phone to arrange for the people he needs to deal with to do what they have to do. When he hangs up, Gibbs is sitting off to one side smoking a cigarette.
“When did you take up those?” Ari asks curiously.
“Have my own.”
They sit next to each other and coat their heads in acrid smoke, hiding inside the thin clouds they create. The wind blows through their barriers, and they watch themselves floating away on the breeze.
“Is your mission over?”
“It’s all over. I go back to Mossad headquarters tomorrow. I’m getting out of this business. It takes too much.” He lights up another cigarette to have something to do with his hands, and crushes the half-used one underfoot. “I’m thinking of settling down and starting a family.”
Gibbs laughs and the younger man grins without humor. “Yeah,” Gibbs says. “I get it.”
“I have a gun and some bullets in case that doesn’t work,” Ari says conversationally. “I have options open to me.”
Gibbs swallows, takes a deep breath, and nods. “Yeah.”
“You may work yourself to death, Agent Gibbs. But I have neither the time nor the patience. I cannot do this any longer, but I may not be able to adjust to not doing it.” He shrugs, as if it’s the most logical thing in the world to sit around and discus his possible suicide with a man who has lost and taken so much from and because of him. “I have a gun. I have bullets. I will never be an old man.”
“Getting older isn’t that bad. Your eyes go, but I’m thinking of contacts.”
Three months later, out of some misguided sense of drama, Fornell calls and tells him that Ari Haswari was found dead in a DC apartment, gun in hand, bullet through his forehead. There was a chai around his neck, and a delicate gold cross pressed into his palm.
Gibbs nods and grunts something out, then goes to work on his boat for a while. He’s not sure why he still bothers, but he does.
The bourbon burns going down, but not for too long.
Abby and McGee break things off for good, and she starts seeing a computer programmer with more money than God. McGee doesn’t seem to take it too hard. Tony’s stopped flaunting his women, and McGee doesn’t ask.
Ducky tells Gibbs to take a vacation. “You look like you need a break, Jethro. When was the last time you took some time off?” And when he can’t recall, the older man tells him if he doesn’t act in a manner responsible for his heath, the Director will have to get involved.
He gets two weeks off and tries to think of a place to go. A friend of his offers a cabin, and he packs his car up and heads up to the middle of no where.
Few luxuries, hard mattress. Reminds him of childhood. Of home. He sleeps like a log, often till late in the day, and wakes up still feeling like he needs to sleep more. His cell phone lies dormant and still on the kitchen table. No one’s called. He hasn’t called anyone else.
He sits on the back porch, overlooking the sunset and the water, and thinks about what he’s doing to his lungs when he fills them with smoke. He thinks about the scars on his cheeks from where Tony punched him, and the dryness under his eyes.
The sun plays with the horizon, and he wonders what Ari Haswari’s last image of this planet was, and where he got that cross. He wonders if Kate and Haswari hang with each other in the afterlife, drinking white wine and having an eternal picnic. He hopes she makes him work for it-- that she keeps him in check, and grins at the mental image of Kate holding Ari on a dog leash.
Abby hugged him before he left. Hard, and for a long, long time. Her black painted lips pressed a kiss to his forehead, and she didn’t rub the smudge of lipstick away from his skin when she pulled back. Tony was buried in paperwork, and McGee was working on a computer program. He can’t remember if he said goodbye to them.
He hopes he did. Hopes they aren’t angry with him. Please understand, he thinks to them, and hopes that they get the message. What else is he supposed to do? What else can he do? He can’t settle down and have a family, and he sure as hell wouldn’t be able to adjust. His options are limited.
…It’s not as bad as he was led to believe. Or maybe he’s just tougher than he thought he was.
The sunset, the swing of the tree tops, the grain on the deck. There’s a bug crawling over his cheek, only it’s not a bug, it’s the red, the red, the red. Heavy metal on the deck, heavy man on the deck, and there is red, red, red.
Her hair, blowing in the wind, pooling on Air Force one, melted cherry chocolate against a pale world.
Trapped forever in his eyes, in his mind, on his tongue, Caitlin Todd dances across his eyelashes, hair playing in the gentle breeze of his exhalations.
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