by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
Walking while talking has always been one of Marie's cheaper tactics. The one she relied on when she needed a fast and easy way out of a situation-- when she needed to keep herself safe from an emotional equal. Whenever she needs to escape from someone telling just a bit too much truth, she drags them on a walk.
It's always worked before. And why shouldn't it? With her long legs and short torso, she's faster than most people, with a longer stride. Add that together with her larger intellect than the vast majority, and she is usually able to outrun her opponent in either the physical or mental world before they can do too much damage to her.
She does, however, recognize the escape for what is is and doesn't let herself fall back on it too often; it's a cheap trick, and to rely on it is to cheapen herself. It's only for use in case of emergency, and she hasn't had one of those in a good long time.
Obviously, she thinks as she struggles to keep up with a man whose hair, but not his muscles, has started to show signs of his age, this qualifies. Obviously, she pouts, to herself, something went wrong with her brilliant plan.
Not like this is the first time it's happened with him. He seems to be exceedingly good at making all of her carefully planned days go awry rather quickly. He'd done it all through his recovery-- she'd stop by his house, intending to only check up on him and carefully avoid his eyes, and somehow he'd convince her to stay for dinner. Dinner became dessert. Dessert became a night spent in the guest room, listening to him sand away at the large hunk of wood that she has no doubt is in the basement.
He's incredibly skilled at working her, and she hates him just a bit less than she did three months ago for it.
Marie shoves her gloved hands into her pockets and puffs out her cheeks. She can feel her nose dripping onto her upper lip, and the urge to sniffle or lick it off is almost overwhelming. She focuses on the sound of their feet, scraping against the walkway, and watches the leaves fall into color streaked skies.
"Tony thinks you're cute," offers the man at her side, breaking into her calm interlude with his usual bad timing. She blinks as a bright red leaf tumbles down to the ground. In a day or so it will have turned brown and dirty. She resists the urge to go over and pick it up and shove it into her pocket like a little girl would; sentimental and sappy.
"Yeah?" She prompts. Jethro Gibbs looks everywhere but at her, and she watches the same blue eyes that she has as they examine the trees and trail the leaves down to the ground along side of her own red leaf. His cheeks are red from the exercise, and his arm is still in a cast and sling. Peeking out from underneath the medical blue fabric, she can see where someone has written "TONY RULES" in big red Sharpie letters.
He was probably unconscious when it happened. She somehow can't see her father as the signed cast type.
He nods gently. "He was asking Kate how you managed to turn out so 'foxy' with half of my genes." He offers a hesitant smile. She's still able to make him incredibly nervous when she turns the full brunt of her gaze on him, and that makes her feel a little bit better. After all, she feels like there are fire ants in her belly every time she has to talk to him with full on eye contact.
He's still human. That helps.
"Not my type," she offers carefully, wondering to herself why she even bothered to give a reply. This isn't the kind of thing she usually goes into with people she doesn't really know. Maybe she is going to regret this in a moment or two.
"Your type?" They've fallen into step with each other again-- four feet moving in perfect unison. She pauses in place for a moment before walking forward again, off beat. "You have a type? You're not old enough to have a type. I have a type."
Some female part of her wants to put her hands on her hips and start out her defense with "Leroy Jethro Gibbs!" and make him quail before her. She looks down at her snot caked gloves and decides against it, shoving them back into her pocket again.
"I'm 18," she replies, short and clipped because of what she's trying not to say. He winces quietly and tries not to let her see it. She does anyhow.
That sentence wasn't supposed to end when it did. That was a daughter's complaint to a doting father. It was supposed to go: "I'm 18, dad."
It didn't. That nags at her tongue silently.
"Still," he pops her meditative bubble smoothly, obviously trying to move on in his own head as well. "I will admit to being glad Tony's not you're type. Tony's... a very nice boy. Just not for you." The fingers protruding from the plaster twitch in the half glove he's placed over them. "Tony's a... womanizer."
"A man whore?" She offers helpfully, and he laughs.
"Kate'll love that one," he agrees. "It's fitting."
One or both of them has started to drift off course, and their shoulders bump as they move into the no man's land. She moves further away carefully.
"Do you just sit around and spend all day teasing him?" she asks, only half joking, and the grin on his face is wide and cheerful.
"All day? Please. I'm his boss. I don't spend all day teasing him. I tease him once a day and it sticks with him."
And now she's laughing, low and clear, and the smile on his face loses some of it's nervousness. His work is an interesting, neutral middle ground between them that they both feel comfortable trying to get to know each other again in. More than one of the impromptu dinners at his house had been her staring fascinated at him as he retold the tales of the trickier cases instead of telling her how much he had missed her when he was gone, or asking her if she had missed him as well.
It's slow. It's painful. But it's happening.
"At least you have your priorities," she offers, laughter still in her tone and her lips still upturned. He smirks back.
And then, because there's no where for this conversation to go but into a downward death spiral, he jumps the shark. "How's school going?" he asks hopefully, and she feels her spine infuse itself with steel and cold refusal once again.
She looks carefully down at the ground, where the high heeled, fifty dollar shoes she bought for herself at Nine West click along the stones. She goes for big shoes when she needs comfort. She has a feeling that her father goes for a big gun and that Kate does the same.
"School's fine," she says, clipped and short, and the conversation dies an early death that leaves them both in mourning and reeling from the loss.
The silence between them is thick and hard. The air is still. Any chemicals between them have fallen dormant and lie thick as silt on the ground. She tries not to get any on her shoes.
And then he's in front of her, hands in his pockets but eyes locked onto hers. "Look, Marie, please, throw me a bone here." He looks desperate and frightened, and it occurs to her that she is the one making him look this way. He is afraid of her. Afraid of her leaving him this time, and not coming back. He's petrified that a lull in the conversation, a lapse in the small talk means that she is bored with him and his attempts at being her father, and that she is going to walk away without a second glance.
He's afraid of her. And that isn't nearly as satisfying as she had imagined it would be.
Still. Best to remind him of his place.
"I don't have to throw you a bone," she says, low and soft. The wind blows the reds and the oranges around them in a frenzy, and she knows that when his eyes drift above hers, it's to the crop of thick Irish hair on top of her head. Her halo; the only indication that she is her mother's daughter.
Besides her temper. "I don't have to give you anything, and you know it. I said I'd give this a try. That doesn't mean I have to make it any easier on you to pretend that we are actually having a real conversation instead of just killing time until the magical occurrence occurs and we are a family again." She ducks her head for a moment. "I don't..." And her words die off because she hates having to say them. Hates that she has to say them.
He sighs, deep and heart wrenched, and for a moment it looks like he's going to reach out to her and hug her-- to make everything all better, but his hands stay in his pockets and she doesn't dare move forward to initiate the contact. "Alright," he says. His voice is hoarse and gentle. "But Marie, eventually we are going to have to have a real discussion. And when we do, it's going to be a full discussion. I won't do all the talking and I won't let you do it either. We both have things that need to be said to each other before we can try and move beyond them. And when you're ready to talk about those things, I will be too." His gaze goes beyond her for a moment. "I will be."
She keeps her eyes down, but she is aware of a vague warmth that lets her know he is staring into her face and has been doing so for a while. She doesn't look up.
They start to walk again. And when she feels a soft tickle in the back of her throat, she coughs to clear it and only feels the warmth a stability of him beside her after wards.
They're in step again.
"School's good," she starts up.
She double checks the address on the card before knocking. It is taking all of Marie's strength just to stand her and face the wood panel in front of her. If the person inside turned out to not be the one she was looking for, she fears that every last inch of her power would disintegrate inside of her.
Her shoes can't save her now.
There's a vague mumbling from inside, and she swallows. Please oh please let this be the place. If it isn't, she is just going to have to drown her sorrows in liquor the way all of her peers do, and that really isn't something she feels like doing right now. Liquor makes her... emotional. She tends to get weepy and sloppy after two drinks (light weight and damn proud of it), the last thing she wants to do is come face to face with the honesty that a bottle of Smirnoff would give her.
She wants someone to tell her it's all okay, even if that's a lie.
So she came... here.
She hears the various locks being undone, and the security chain is pulled off, and when the door opens, instead of being faced with Caitlin Todd, Marie is staring into the questioning eyes of a tall Middle Eastern man with a few days worth of stubble on his cheeks and the remnants of jet lag on his face.
She stumbles back. "Oh, I'm sorry sir, I um, oh, damn, I was just looking for someone I thought lived here but obviously, you live here, so um-"
"Marie?" Comes her salvation; a distracted call from inside. The man looks back into the apartment.
"Is this woman... dangerous, Caitlin?" His lips have turned up in a half smile, and if Marie was the kind of woman who believed in dark, tall, handsome strangers, this man would be her catnip.
She has a feeling that "Caitlin" believes.
Kate comes to the door, wiping her hands on a dish towel, and smiles bright and easy when she sees Marie. "Hey, what's going on?"
"You've got company, I'm sorry, I should-"
"Come in for dinner? Yes, that's exactly what you should do. Besides," and here she fixes a chiding glare on the man still holding the door. "He was just about to go back to his apartment and get some sleep after three days in transit and a long time without a shower."
The man holds his hands up, and Marie sees the familiar bulge under his arm signifying a weapon. "Defeated, I surrender," he offers with a dramatic sigh. Her lips quirk up, but she refuses to give into a smile. He disappears back into the apartment, and Kate opens the door wide, enticing Marie in with the smell of a home cooked meal despite her protests.
Her coat is taken, and the two of them watch the man as he grabs his black and red leather jacket and large canvas duffel bag off the floor by the couch, putting both in their appropriate positions, and offering a roguish grin to them. "Ladies, I bid you good evening."
Kate's eyes soften and the caring that Marie saw there a moment ago has gone from friendly concern to something deeper. Something more like the concern of a potential... something. "Safe voyage."
"With the promise of seeing you again, Caitlin, I will take every turn at a snails pace. Au revoir." He closes the front door behind him, and Kate smiles at Marie.
"I'll make you a deal."
"You don't tell that I had him here, I won't tell about the glasses of red wine you are going to be drinking with me tonight, deal?"
And because she has absolutely no idea where she would go if she was kicked out of here, because she hasn't had a good meal in forever, and because after their first meeting she had a quiet fear of Kate becoming her new step-mother and destroying the trust she places in her, Marie nods. Slowly. "Okay."
Kate pulls her along into the kitchen, and Marie, accustomed to dorm living, marvels at the size of the apartment and the shine on the counters. Her own kitchen consists of a hot plate and a glass bowl that smells funny when she microwaves things in it. "You live here... alone?"
Kate looks around. "Yeah, it's pretty nice. I like my space." There's a small television in the corner, and she flips Jeopardy on, keeping the volume down low. "I'm surprised you came." She stirs something that has obviously been simmering all day, then drops the wooden spoon onto a paper towel and adds some basil to her brew. "When I gave you the card, I had the impression you would never actually use it."
Marie fingers the business card in her pocket, dog eared and limp from so much handling. "Yeah, I didn't think I would either. I guess I surprised myself."
"I guess." And if she wanted to, she could read into that. But she doubts that Kate actually meant anything by it, and she's too tired from a day spent with her father to walk around questioning people. She needs to take someone at face value. She needs to trust that someone means what they say.
She doesn't know Kate that well. But then again, she doesn't know anyone else that well either, and this is the only woman who has been honest with her in god knows how long. Her track record with Kate is good.
She's willing to take a leap of faith. She has a feeling she might need to take one with somebody in order to leave the ground.
"Just wanted someone to talk to," she says softly, and Kate takes a metal pot off the stove and strains some spaghetti into a plastic green colander. "Can I help with anything?" She says in a louder voice, rising and blushing at her own rudeness. Kate laughs.
"Yeah, you can not laugh at me when I get the answers wrong," she says, and gestures towards the television. Ken is clearing "Cry Me a River" and slowly making his way over to "Give Me Time."
"Can I set the table or-"
Kate waves her free hand dismissively before pulling a large blue bowl from somewhere and pouring the spaghetti in with a little olive oil. "Marie, I have a rule among my close friends. I don't ask them to work at my home, they don't ask me to work at theirs. Can I make the same rule apply between the two of us?"
...Has she just been asked to be a close friend? "Okay?"
Kate smiles. "Are you asking me or telling me?"
"Okay." And this time she means it, even if she's not quite sure why or what she's getting herself into. Kate's smile softens around the edges.
"Much better." She pulls two wine glasses out of the glass breakfront, and the bottle of wine that she pulls out of the fridge would probably cover Marie's entire tuition for the next four years. "A glass or two with dinner never hurt anyone," she says at the look on Marie's face.
"Kate, that's a very expensive bottle of wine."
"So what? Wine is for drinking. And he didn't bring it to me so that I could look at it gathering dust." She removes the cork and smells the bottle with a soft smile on her face before starting to pour.
Marie now knows what a 200 dollar glass of wine looks like. It's a piece of knowledge that she never realized was important before.
"Cheers," Kate says, sips, and then goes back to her task.
"Cheers," Marie says numbly and takes some of the liquid in her mouth, swallowing it down and imagining it coating her insides. It feels odd-- knowing she has this kind of wealth inside of her stomach right now. Like she should be glowing or something.
"I will admit though," Kate says, bent over what Marie has now identified as homemade sauce, "I did not expect to see you when the door opened. I thought you had a date with Gibbs today." She doesn't call him "your father." Marie is exceedingly grateful.
"I did. It ended about two hours ago." She looks down at her hands. "I've been walking around by myself for a while now." Kate doesn't say anything. She tilts the pot and pours the sauce into a black glass bowl. It steams and settles thickly. The smell makes Marie's mouth drip. "Just needed someone to talk to," she repeats again, around her own hunger, and Kate places the bowl on the counter top.
The plates that are produced are clean and still steaming from the dish washer. Apparently, they are eating at the counter top.
"I didn't realize you had company," she offers apologetically as Kate sets her silverware down. Kate shakes her head.
"Forget it. I... I didn't know he was coming. He just tends to show up when I'm not looking for him." Her lips quirk up. "He has that habit. It irritates people with less patience than me."
"Is that why you don't want me to tell my father that he was here?"
Marie hates herself for asking the question-- this falls under the category of things she really should keep to herself and not voice, and she knows it. This is the first warm meal and warm company she's had in a long time. That she might fuck it up before the night is even underway seems somehow... plausible, and that scares her.
Kate smiles that odd little smile once more and sighs. "No, that's for another reason. Your father and him don't... exactly get along. They're too much alike, in all honesty. Except that Gibbs's moral code is a little bit stricter than... that man." Marie still doesn't know his name. She has a feeling that's on purpose. "He works for his country and we work for ours. And for him, his comes first. Always. And that is something that Gibbs and he have gone at it about." She shrugs.
"I'm not embarrassed about what I do on my personal time," she continues. "But if Gibbs found out he had been here things might get... unpleasant. Messy. And I try very hard to keep things from getting messy." She smiles, a bit pained this time, and Marie swallows down the little girl inside of her who wants to know everything and looks Kate straight on in the eyes.
"I won't tell him," she says. "I swear it. He won't find out from me."
"I know he won't," Kate says softly.
"Not like he'd listen anyhow." And now her speech is being helped along by two (when did she have time to drink the second one? Oh, this isn't going at all well) glasses of rich red wine. She can feel the warm glow on her face. The Lush Blush. "He's sort of caught up in his own pity party right now-- tell me, why does your boss have to suck?"
The smile is back. "Gibbs sucks?"
"He looks at me like I'm going to slit his throat and bathe in his blood. Like he's afraid to look away from me for fear I'll do something bad and... bad." She sighs and feels the familiar sting in her chest. It's become a bearable hurt now.
"Are you sure that's how he looks at you?"
Marie takes another bite of her spaghetti, trying to avoid thought and lose herself in the taste. "Hm?"
"Maybe it's not that he's always looking at you because he's afraid you'll do something wrong. Maybe it's that he just doesn't want to look away." She leans forward, and her bra strap slips out from underneath her shirt. She slips it up once more absently. "Maybe he just doesn't want to lose sight of you. Gibbs can be very protective of those he cares about."
Marie swallows. "I don't think that's it."
"No. That's not it. He looks at me like I'm someone dangerous-- like if he gets too close to me, I'm going to take his arm off or something. No. It's not that he gives a damn; I just... You know what, I don't care either." She throws her napkin onto the counter, which doesn't have the dramatic effect she had been hoping for, being paper instead of heavy restaurant quality cloth. "His neurosis is none of my concern."
"You are dangerous," Kate says, and Marie's eyebrows go soaring. "Marie, you're his daughter. You're beautiful, you're intelligent, you're tough, you look like him and another woman, and you know exactly when he's trying to bullshit you and you don't take it." She leans in closer, head almost touching Marie's, and there is quiet in the room. "You could destroy him in an instant by leaving. And he knows it, and he's afraid that you know it. To Jethro Gibbs, Marie, you are the most dangerous person alive."
The sauce seeps down into the fresh pasta, quiet and deep. The television plays white noise for a minute, and Marie swallows. There's a mistiness by the corners of her vision and she fights it down.
"Why did you come here, Marie," Kate asks, and there is no question this time-- it is a command for information. One that Marie is not strong enough to deny.
She swallows, thick and rough, and when she speaks it is in the soft rambling hiss of the emotionally wounded. She's breaking, or maybe she was already broken. The pieces are coming apart, nonetheless, and she shatters onto the counter top, glittering in the light.
"Because you know him," she chokes out. "You do, you do, you told me so in the cafeteria and I believe you. You may not be his distraction, but you know him. You know my father better than I do and I need that knowledge right now because I don't know what to do when I'm around him." The table glows red with the wine's reflection, and Kate's warm affection blurs in her eyes as the first streams of salt make their way down Marie's cheeks. She hates them quietly. She hates a lot of things these days.
"I need to know him because I don't know him. And he's my dad, so I should know him." And it's all coming out, sticky and messy and thick into the air, and there is no stopping it now. "He's supposed to be my dad and I want my dad and I want a hug from my dad and I know that I can't have one because he's not really my dad anymore. He left and I didn't have him for all those years and he never did anything about it and that means that he has to suffer like I did. I need to hurt him so that I can feel better but I die a little bit every time I hurt him and I don't want to die, Kate, I don't want to die. I want my daddy and I have my daddy but I can't have my daddy and God I am the most fucked up person in the world."
The low keening noise gets louder, and it must be coming from her. She bows her head under the weight of it all, drooping down to the counter top, and presses her fingers against her hot cheeks until she imagines her fingerprints are embedded in her skin. That she is clay on clay, molded and bonded together, and she pictures herself as terra cotta for a moment.
Kate's hand on her back comes as a shock. The warmth in that hand makes her shake, quiet and steady, and when she feels the other hand come onto her arm and try and pull her towards a shoulder to cry on, she lunges forward and takes the opportunity. Desperately.
There's something soft and maternal being whispered in her ear, and she loves the sound of it. Of someone taking care of her for a change and of someone being concerned. The idea that she is loved, even if it's only in the way that a good person loves other good people, by someone who truly only wants the best for her is a good, strong, healthy feeling that she has been denied by circumstance for way too long. Kate works her strong hands up and down her back, and she feels safe for the first time since her world was taken, shaken into bits, and then left for her to reassemble. Since she came back into his life.
She feels safe.
"Baby," Kate keeps calling her, and Marie wants to tell her to stop calling her that-- she's not a child-- but she's afraid that if she does, the rubbing and the love will stop, and that might just destroy her. If the warmth this woman is providing suddenly vanished? She might just freeze to death.
"Baby girl, it's okay, I promise, it's okay, you're not alone, you're not alone. He loves you, I swear it. I understand, I understand." Nonsense and babble drips into her ears, and as meaningless as it may be, it is the most comforting sound in the world right now. She clings to it and lets her chest heave with stifled sobs and whole hearted wails. Kate holds her, keeps her fury and her sadness and her pain in check, and she doesn't break.
She doesn't shatter.
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