by B. Cavis
by B. Cavis
Kate disappears on a Thursday.
When Tony asks Gibbs "Should we check on her?" in that affectionate, brotherly way he has taken when dealing with the brunette, Gibbs is dismissive and all knowing.
Let her rest, he says, let her be. She's probably just sick-- you saw how she was yesterday. They had just finished a case; he felt secure in the belief that she was just taking a day off from the stress to tend to her running nose and watery eyes.
His gut doesn't alert him that something's wrong, his skin doesn't tingle, his heart doesn't flutter. Nothing is amiss, and that will bother him for months to come.
He tells Tony not to worry and not to check, and those words will haunt him for the next five days.
The cops are the ones that call them to let them know, and that bothers Gibbs to the extreme. He wasn't even alert enough to notice his own agent missing-- the local shmucks had to let him know.
The guilt in his stomach swells and festers; his anger does nothing to make it better.
They call Ducky in, not really knowing why (no dead body=nothing for him to look at), and he comes quickly and without argument. He looks at the same evidence they do for an hour and a half without saying more than three words at a time. His tangents and strangely related rants are absent from the crime scene.
He, like all of them, has become attached to Agent Todd. She is the only one who doesn't cut him off when he starts to story tell-- if he didn't know any better, he'd think she likes to hear him talk of New Guinea yeast infections and cricket bats. He thinks of her in the same way he does Abby: a surrogate daughter, perhaps, or a particularly bright niece.
He can't seem to force himself to chatter knowing she's off somewhere in danger.
The obvious signs of a struggle are everywhere, and Tony feels an odd sense of satisfaction that they didn't take her without a fight. There's blood on the doorknob with some hair stuck in it, and his gut tightens when he thinks of where that blood could have come from.
He's aware, in the dim, non superficial way that he sometimes has, that he and Kate flirted with attraction for a few months before declaring each other siblings. He wonders what it would have been like to have been her lover; to know her touch and smell her in his bed. Maybe, he thinks, if that had happened, she would have been at his place on Thursday, instead of here. Maybe, he thinks desperately, she would have been out of harm's way.
He wishes things were different for all of five minutes, then gets back to taking fiber samples from the carpet and bagging everything he can find that doesn't look feminine or like it belongs.
Into the kitchen, where he examines the cheap cheese and fine bourbon on the countertop. Into the bathroom where he pokes his nose into things that have names like "Pretty in Pink," "Ocean's Breath," and "Rimmed for her pleasure."
Into the bedroom.
Fighting the feeling that he's intruding on sacred and forbidden group, Gibbs slaps on a fresh pair of latex gloves and prods her personal belongings. There's the usual array of scented oils and candles on the dresser, along with a tiny bottle of Lolita that smells like the curve of her wrist and the indent at her neck.
Cheap mystery novels decorate the night table. The latest Oprah Book Club best seller. He finds a vibrator in the drawer and feels nothing. The bed is in disarray, and that disturbs him. He'd always imagined Kate as a neat freak.
The chair has jeans and tops thrown over it, sloppy and thick, and he peels them aside to find a few file folders full of scraps of paper and news clippings. And a sketch book.
He flips the cover open without a second thought, feeling like he's reading her journal in picture form. He doesn't pause to think about it.
The caricature of Tony is still there, bright and bold. A few of the landscapes from the places they've been are depicted, and he recognized only a handful. A small child whom he's never seen stares up at him, happy and thick, carrying Kate's bone structure under her baby fat.
He's clothed in charcoal and graphite, skin gray and white. His own eyes stare up at him, bright and meaningful. His nose is slightly smaller on paper, and his lips are less pronounced, but it's him. He looks at himself through Kate's eyes and feels strangely at peace.
He carefully tears out the page and folds it into four parts, before placing it into his breast pocket. Three days later, when he changes his suit, he'll put the picture in the same place. It doesn't leave his person for the next four days.
Gibbs has never met a family as interesting as Kate's. Her mother clutches a throw pillow to her chest while playing with an opal ring on her finger, and her father sits with his jaw clenched tight and raw.
They can't think of anyone who'd want to hurt Kate.
"Well," her father admits, "No one who's still alive anyway." His eyes gleam in the preditor way that fathers have when their children are threatened. There's conspicuous, but large wealth around him. The two of them are divorced, but living well and calling a truce for the sake of their daughter. Mrs. Todd's new husband lingers protectively in the background.
Gibbs wonders if Kate cared for all three of them equally, and feels sick to realize that he just thought about her in the past tense.
"Kate never hurt anyone," Mrs. Todd insists in a low and hard voice. "She volunteers at soup kitchens on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The only debt she's ever had was from college, and we paid that off years ago." She shudders deeply. "She should have stayed a lawyer. No one ever kills the lawyers."
Her ex-husband's face is tight and rough. "Whatever she was taken for, it had to do with what you folks have her doing now..." He laughs. "What am I saying, you folks. Katie never did a single thing in her life she didn't want to do." His grin is wide and full of reminiscent pleasure. "When you find out who took my baby, Agent Gibbs, she will have already extracted her revenge on him. Katie's like that-- tough."
Gibbs leaves feeling shaken to the core and not quite sure why.
Abby's music hasn't been turned on for the past forty eight hours.
Tony asks her why, and she shrugs lamely. "I can't concentrate with it on right now."
The blood and hairs are identified as coming from two separate people-- one of which is Kate. The hair, Abby says in a quiet, pun free tone, are those of a male who suffers from diabetes and takes Insulin on a regular basis. Tony starts running their case history against the navy database, throwing in a note on the diabetes.
The waiting is the worst part.
Gibbs hasn't shaved in two days, and it's starting to show. Tony suggests, quietly, that he gets some shut eye, but gets no response or reply. He can't tell if Gibbs didn't hear him or if he's just pointedly ignoring the comment. He doesn't suggest it again.
They narrow it down to a potential ten people with a grudge, ranging from a Petty Officer to a Major General. Gibbs looks over the list, nods, stumbles twice and collapses.
He forgot to eat.
Tony moves with him and slings him across his back before the man can hit the ground. He feels the panic rising in his throat, and not knowing what else to do he hollers for Abby. They get him to Ducky, who slaps him onto a table and pulls out some ancient smelling salts.
When he's awake and more or less coherent, Ducky gives him a half felt lecture on the dangers of low blood sugar, then sighs and offers him the cold pizza he's been living off of for the past three days. Gibbs takes a slice and throws it up a half hour later.
Ducky pumps him full of vitamin supplements and crackers, and sends him on his way with the warning of, "If you don't take care of yourself, I'll tell Kate and she will see to a fitting punishment."
Gibbs wonders when he became someone who could be threatened with a junior officer, and sighs. Best not to think about it.
Tony has narrowed the list down to five in his absence. They look over the names, divide the list up, then think better of it and go together. Tony has the look in his eye that tells of murder and mayhem. Gibbs's body is screaming that it won't hold out for long.
Falling asleep behind the wheel and crimes of passion are not what Kate would want to see when she returns, some little voice intones in both of their heads, so they pile into one car and start out.
They knock on people's doors until one Petty Officer informs them that it is now past midnight, and could they come back tomorrow. They go and sit in front of the Lincoln Memorial, watching the cherry tree blossoms fall and spin. When the sun comes up they get back in the car and drive to the next address.
Gibbs knows, logically, that the more time passes, the less of a chance there is to find a missing person. He tries not to think of a giant clock hanging over his head, but it doesn't work. The ticks shatter around his skull and bounce behind his eyeballs.
"Let her be," silently accuses him from the base of his cerebral cortex.
General Doug Gallen lawyers up quickly, and is out of their interrogation room even quicker. Gibbs follows the man with his eyes, and knows, *knows*, that this man is capable of murder and pain.
He knows this is the way to Kate, and so he grabs Tony and a nondescript black car to follow him from three blocks behind.
Abby's voice is harsher than normal when she speaks. She sounds like she's been yelling or crying, and Tony wonders which one it is. Maybe both, he thinks, and sighs at the thought.
"He was reprimanded severely for his part in the wrongful death of one of his officers-- remember Petty Officer Great? Kate gave testimony at his hearing and recommended he be discharged, but they decided to keep him on. Got screwed in his own way, though-- he was up for promotion and he got turned down. He'll be exactly where he is for the rest of his career."
Gibbs thinks back to Mr. Todd's reassuring voice-- "Katie will have already extracted her revenge"-- and wonders what kind of revenge General Gallen has given in response.
They see him go to the drug store to get fresh syringes. They watch him go the grocery to buy more food. And they see him take a baseball bat and chuck it into the Potomac.
They're ready with backup at his house when he arrives. The clock reads 11:57 PM.
Kate is tied up in the basement, unconscious. Gibbs is never quite sure what he did to Gallen, but all he can remember is that one minute he was in the way, the next he wasn't. Tony took to the attic, and Gibbs took to the basement.
She looks broken, he thinks. Small.
There's not a part of her skin that's the same color. Her hair is caked to her head with dried blood, and there are bruises forming everywhere he can see. Her clothes are still on-- the same ones he saw her in when she left work six days ago. The burgundy pants and jacket seem wrong now that they match her face.
His pocket knife makes quick work of the thick ropes that hold her to the protruding pipe in the wall, and he lifts up her shirt to examine her stomach, which is strangely without blemish, as is her back. Her legs are green and purple underneath the silk of the pants, but he can't allow himself to think about it.
He has her in a baby carry before he knows what he's doing, and he ascends the rickety stairs with a calm sort of detachment. The sea of agents and police parts for him quietly, and he makes his way out of the house with her still in his arms.
Her breath is fire against his neck and he can feel her drawing pressed up against his heart.
She comes to in the hospital, and he's sitting by her side with quiet unassuming eyes. There are flowers by the bushel all around her, and she looks at the hootchie mama bear that Tony sent and laughs until she cries.
Gibbs says nothing.
He hasn't shaved in six days now-- his eyes are blood shot and bold, and there are bags under his eyes that would have sent a lesser man to the plastic surgeons. She reaches out a hand, fuzzy from morphine, to touch his cheek and he captures her fingers before she can make contact.
A kiss against her palm can't be a mortal sin, he reasons, and he doesn't really care if it is. She feels warm and alive beneath his lips. He feels the brick in his stomach melt and flutter as she smiles up at him with the glow of the drug.
He wonders how he lived without her voice for five days and the lifetime they held. "Yeah," he whispers gruffly. "It's me."
"This is real?"
He tells himself it's just exhaustion, not the urge to kiss her and hug her and convince her that he's tangible that makes his voice sound so rough. "Yeah. Yeah, Kate, this is real."
She smiles and nods. "Oh. Okay." He looks away quietly and she laughs. "I love you, Gibbs, don't look so sad." She slurs the "Gibbs" in her drugged happiness. He nods.
She drifts back to sleep with her hand still cradled in his. Trusting and whole. He looks down at her, beautiful and bruised, lowers his head to his knees, and weeps.