Rating: PG-13 (language/topic)
Disclaimer: I don’t own NCIS. DPB, CBS Television, Belisarius Productions, and other people are the lucky ones who do own NCIS. I might own my sanity, but some days that’s debatable. I’m making no profit off of this, so please don’t sue. If I have any sanity left, I’d like to hold on to it.
Spoilers: Everything up through, and especially, “Twilight,” and specific references to “SWAK.”
Feedback: Always welcome and appreciated. Can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
He felt it in an instant. Mid-sentence, she was gone, her smile cut tragically short, her voice fading into nothingness, into eternity, never to be heard again. He felt her blood as it hit him, the warmth fading far quicker than he knew possible. Time quit moving as he turned his attention to her, watching her fall, the small hole in the middle of her forehead so final, like the period at the end of a sentence.
Just like that, she was gone.
While Gibbs raised his gun to shoot her killer, Tony couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe, as if a part of him had been killed when the bullet shattered her skull and tore through her brain. He already knew it was hopeless; neither of them had a weapon capable of reaching Ari across the open space on the other rooftop. Chances were, Ari knew it too. Tony could picture the sick and twisted smile on his face, hear his words, whispered across the distance, as he uttered an apology to Kate. And Tony knew, without a doubt, that if Ari ever crossed Gibbs’s path again, any of their paths, he would never live to see another moment. His fate was sealed as surely as Kate’s.
Looking down at her now-still form, a body so filled with life just a moment earlier, he broke. He would never know if they had a chance. He would never know if she really was too smart to get involved with a guy like him or, as she claimed, if she really could see herself one day marrying a guy like him.
He would never know.
There was no undoing what had been done, no rewind button for him to hold his finger on and send these last few moments in reverse, bringing Kate back to life. No way to correct this.
Her blood was still on him, coating him, still cooling. It was on his face, his hands, his chest, so close to his heart. As time began to move again, he realized he was going down, beside her, the roof of the building moving quickly upward to greet him.
In an instant, Gibbs was beside him, beside them, but Tony never knew that. He never heard Gibbs’s shout of anger, frustration, pain, and sadness. The darkness had already claimed him, pulling him down into someplace where none of this had happened.
He should have taken another week off.
When he came to, he was lying flat on his back on something far softer than the roof of the building should have been. Opening his eyes, he blinked in the sunlight, focusing on Gibbs’s face. The expression Gibbs wore should have told him all he needed to know, but he had to try, he had to know for sure, had to erase all doubt in his mind. He could replay every moment that had passed on the rooftop, but some part of him hoped it hadn’t happened, that he was really still lying back on that bed in isolation, Kate sleeping peacefully sleeping in the next bed. He could still hope that he was only dreaming. If a man didn’t have hope, what else did he have?
The answer appeared to be nothing.
Gibbs shook his head slowly, saying sadly, “She’s gone, Tony. There was nothing anyone could have done. It was a shot that was meant to kill.”
Closing his eyes, Tony felt his world spin even though he wasn’t moving. He could feel the burning of his tears as they welled behind his closed lids. There was no hope and he was left with nothing.
“Stay with me, Dinozzo,” Gibbs commanded, his voice amazingly strong.
Tony didn’t want to stick around. He wanted to go somewhere, anywhere else, some place where Kate was still alive, a place where she would come walking around the corner, a smile on her face, pulling off her Kevlar vest and laughing because he had been so concerned. But that wasn’t going to happen. And he didn’t want Gibbs to see him cry, didn’t want Gibbs to see how much this hurt him. Gibbs would never cry like this.
“Dinozzo,” Gibbs demanded again.
Reluctantly, Tony opened his eyes, looking up into the stormy blue ones of his boss. Tony felt the tears as they spilled out of his eyes, cutting a salty path through the blood, now dried, on his cheeks. In the eyes above him, he saw pain and sadness… and tears.
Gibbs was human after all, and capable of feeling loss.
“I never got to tell her, Boss,” Tony whispered, his voice choking on sobs threatening to break free.
“I know, Tony, I know,” Gibbs assured him, gripping Tony’s hand, still secured by body straps to the stretcher on which he was lying.
“But she won’t know,” Tony insisted, unsure now to what he was even referring: how grateful he was that she was always there for him, or how much he loved her, which was something he himself had only recently realized.
“I think she does,” Gibbs said sadly. “I think she knew.”
Turning his head to the side, Tony took in the scene around him. Medical and law enforcement personnel were milling everywhere, going in seemingly a million different directions, all going about a hundred miles per hour. Across from him, no more than ten or twelve feet away was another stretcher, the body on this one zipped up in a black body bag. Her. Kate. Gone. A few feet beyond her was McGee, looking sadly at the stretcher supporting the body of their coworker. Tony could see the tears falling from his eyes, too, and for once, Tony felt no urge to make fun of him. Instead, Tony felt like they all belonged to the same special club, a club now mourning the loss of their raison d’ętre.
Turning away, Tony looked once more at Gibbs. Suddenly aware of his position, Tony asked, “Have I been shot?”
“No,” Gibbs answered, shaking his head, “thankfully. But you passed out cold up there. They’re going to take you to the hospital just to make sure you are okay, though.”
For once, Tony felt no need to protest. He didn’t have the energy to protest, nor the will. If it would have brought Kate back, he would have put up a hell of a fight, but it wouldn’t have changed anything. Nothing would change anything.
From here on out, life would have to go on, a little bit dimmer without her life shining in his.
Closing his eyes, Tony surrendered to the darkness that was calling his name. He didn’t want to deal with this anymore. Dealing with it ever again would have been too soon.
He took another week off.
As he understood it, everybody on the team took a few days off, took the time to mourn. Her funeral had been held the day after Memorial Day, a cold and rainy day, very unusual for late May, but somehow appropriate, as if all the heavens were weeping for her. Perhaps they were, though Tony found it odd that the heavens would choose her to waste their tears on, not when children were killing other children every night, not when fathers and mothers were killing their own flesh and blood. Why should the heavens weep for Kate when others were far more deserving?
But weep Tony did. They all did.
The rain fell as hard as his tears did as he watched the coffin as it was lowered into the ground. Though he knew Gibbs was holding onto his shoulder to give him comfort, it didn’t reach into his soul. Nothing could penetrate that deep, except the pain of her loss. Tony didn’t even know the depths of his own emotions for her, until it was too late. Rain drops hit the polished wood, paused, and slid off, destined to be buried with her. Tony was the last man standing as the dirt was thrown on the coffin, covering Kate’s final bed for all eternity. Turning, he trudged back to the black SUV where the remaining members of the team were waiting for him.
Dressed in her usual black, though far more subdued, her hair not in their usual pigtails, Abby took his hand and led him into the back seat of the vehicle. Resting her head on his shoulder, she squeezed his hand tightly. “We all miss her, Tony. But it will get better.”
“That’s what they say,” Tony acknowledged. He wasn’t sure he believed them, whoever they were.
Understanding the meaning of Tony’s words, Abby just squeezed his hand once more, leaving him in peace.
At the reception, Tony met Kate’s brothers, all good guys, and their children. Her mother, too, was there, a quiet and broken woman, displaying none of the strength Kate had shown in life. After staying for an appropriate amount of time, and picking at food he didn’t want to eat, Tony gave up and went home.
Walking into work for the first time, the first day without her there, was one of the hardest things Tony had ever done. Her desk sat empty, unused, all her stuff cleared in preparation for a new agent. Tony already knew her voicemail had been disabled, as he had called it several times just to hear her voice, only to find it gone one day. Just like her. NCIS was nothing if not efficient.
“How you doing, Tony?” Gibbs asked as Tony took a seat.
“I’m alright, Boss,” Tony responded, not even believing his own words. “Hanging in there.”
“Good,” Gibbs nodded, also unsure of Tony’s answer. He was taking Kate’s death harder than any of them, and given everything that was there, or had the potential to be there, between the two, it was understandable.
Opening his desk drawer to grab a pen to take notes as he listened to his voicemail messages, Tony was startled by the appearance of a spiral bound book in the drawer. Kate’s sketchbook, full of her drawings. Pulling it out, Tony gently opened it and flipped through the pictures. There were a few of Gibbs hard at work, one or two of McGee, Ducky, several with Abby at her equipment in the lab (and one of Abby posing in a very seductive position), and a few of himself, more than he thought she had. Though Tony couldn’t remember ever telling her how good she was, Kate had been quite talented. The last picture in the notebook, the last one she had been working on, was of him. It hadn’t been completed, and never would be. He would remain forever frozen at his desk, asleep, and incomplete, but in that reality, Kate was still alive, her hand poised over the paper, gripping the pencil between her slender fingers.
“We thought you’d want to have that,” McGee stated quietly as he watched Tony thumb through the images.
Looking up at the less experienced agent, Tony said, “Thanks, McGee.” He was glad they had given it to him. No matter what happened in his life from here on out, he would treasure this forever, some small part of her. Setting it down on his desk, the cover closed, he was reluctant to turn away, as if someone might snatch it from him, much like she had been snatched from him.
Picking up a notepad and a pen, Tony lifted the receiver on his phone and listened to his messages, struggling to get on with his own life.
A month later, it caught up to him, and Gibbs called him on it. Standing in one of the unused interrogation rooms, Tony let Gibbs rant, not having the will to argue with him. Plus, Gibbs was right. He had become more reckless, more careless with his own safety. He had been overworked and hadn’t been taking care of himself. Many pounds lighter than he had been several weeks earlier, his body less toned, Tony knew that Gibbs had a point.
But frankly, he didn’t give a damn.
Finishing his tirade, Gibbs tossed a small card out onto the steel table between them, sat down, crossed his arms, and watched Tony’s every move. Tony knew he was free to leave, but knowing Gibbs, he would probably be out of a job if he walked out that door. Sighing, Tony took a seat across from Gibbs and picked up the card. On it was the name of a psychologist, a phone number, and an address.
“Get some help, Dinozzo.”
“And if I don’t?” Tony questioned.
“That’s not an option.” Gibbs was not going to let Tony fall, was not going to lose two agents to a single action by one man. “Take some time off, as much as you need. You’re a good agent, there will space for you when you’re ready to come back.”
“Am I being fired?” For the first time, Tony was really concerned.
“No. Medical leave.” Looking down, Gibbs sighed before he went on, “I don’t think any of us knew how deep things went between you and Kate.”
“I don’t think I even knew,” Tony whispered, pulling the card off the table, holding it in his hands in his lap, his gaze turned downward.
Giving Tony a moment of silence, Gibbs continued, “We all miss her, Dinozzo. Her loss has affected all of us, but you…” he trailed off. He was usually straight-forward when he spoke, unafraid to say anything, but given Tony’s fragile emotional state, he hesitated to take his chances.
“Can’t get passed it,” Tony finished for him. “I know.” Leaning back in his chair, Tony spoke some more, “I didn’t know how much I cared for her until I had the plague, until she was willing to stay with me when I was sick and she wasn’t. Once I realized that she wasn’t sick, that she had her mask on so I wouldn’t infect her, that’s when I realized that I would do the same for her, that she did it because she cared about me.” Pausing for a moment, he was forced to blink back a few tears. He hadn’t talked about any of this since her death, had tried not to think about it, but it was there, a heavy weight that was settled on his chest, pressing down, making it difficult to breathe normally. “When she took that first bullet, the one that was meant for you, when I saw her lying there… I was so relieved when she got up, and then…”
“It isn’t easy, Tony,” Gibbs said, reverting to using Tony’s first name, given the intensity of the conversation. “But you need to give yourself time. You need to let it hurt.”
Nodding, Tony raised his eyes to Gibbs. “How long do I have?”
“As long as you need. You’re a good agent, you’re good at what you do,” Gibbs admitted, one of his few compliments. “I want you to come back, but I don’t want you risking your life, or the lives of others, by making stupid decisions, like you have been.” Smiling slightly, he added, “And put some weight back on. I don’t need to be worrying about whether or not my agent is going to pass out because he hasn’t eaten when we’re out in the field.”
Tony tried to smile at the last comment, but he wasn’t sure it ever reached his lips.
Rising from his chair, Gibbs squeezed Tony’s shoulder as he walked past. “This team needs you, Dinozzo. Don’t forget that.” As he left the room, Tony heard the door shut behind Gibbs, the sound echoing in the small space. Putting his head down on the table, Tony couldn’t help but wonder how his life had come to this.
He had watched them in the bullpen, circling, dancing to music only they could hear. Watching them glide over the floor, he couldn’t help but wish he was the one holding her; he wanted to feel her soft skin, her gentle weight in his arms. He would hold her close, kiss her softly, never let her go. If he never let her go, she could never be hurt, Ari would never be able to point his gun at her and pull the trigger. They would stay like that, floating on air, safe with each other. If only…
Opening his eyes, he let the sunlight in, the warmth covering his entire body. This was one good thing about being off of work- no phone calls in the middle of the night and sleeping in as late as he pleased. Blinking in the light, he stretched, the linen of his sheets sliding across his body, which was getting ever thinner. Despite his best efforts, which were admittedly pathetic, he had no interest in food. Nothing smelled good, nothing tasted good, and much of what he tried to eat, he couldn’t swallow. On a few occasions, what he had managed to get in his stomach hadn’t stayed there.
After the confrontation with Gibbs, Tony had called the psychologist. On his first visit, he had signed the consent form, giving the doctor permission to tell Gibbs that he had been there. While no details of their sessions would be released, Gibbs could check up on him, make sure he was attending the sessions, and find out if he was improving. Tony was not going to be allowed to return to work until the good doctor gave him permission.
Closing his eyes, Tony rolled over, pulling the covers up to his chin. He had been having a great dream. He and Kate had been dancing in the bullpen at work. The world had gone on around them, but they were left alone, untouched and unharmed.
The banging on his front door removed Tony from his remembrance of that dream. They were banging awfully hard if he could here it all the way upstairs. Shutting his eyes tighter, he willed them to go away.
When it became obvious they weren’t leaving, he slid out of bed and went downstairs, intending to get rid of them, prepared to push them off his porch if necessary. He was not, however, prepared to open the door and see Abby standing there, who was prepared to push her way in.
Catching him off-guard, she entered his home, shut the front door behind them, and embraced Tony in a hug. “How are you doing, Tony?” she asked as she released him from her hold.
“All right,” he shrugged.
Noticing Tony’s state of undress, Abby said, “Love the outfit. You should wear it everyday.” Biting her tongue, she chose not to comment on the weight loss.
“Wasn’t expecting company,” he shot back, hoping she’d take the hint. He was in no mood to talk to anybody, even her.
“That’s too bad,” Abby shrugged, moving down the hall to the kitchen. “Because I was going to take you out for a cup of coffee.” Cocking her head to the side, she continued as if she could read his mind, “And I still am. Had you been expecting company, you could have already showered and been dressed and we could have been there a little sooner. Teach me to show up unannounced…” she grinned.
As Tony opened his mouth to protest, Abby cut him off, “No excuses, Tony, you are getting out of this house, even if I have to drag you out kicking and screaming.”
“It’s nice of you to stop by, Abbs, but I’m not going.”
Sighing, Abby rolled her eyes. “Didn’t I just tell you I would drag you out of this house kicking and screaming if I had to? I may be smaller than you, Tony, but I’m tough, and I mean it, I will drag you. So I suggest you go upstairs and get ready to go.” Her voice had lost the joking tone, and Tony was beginning to suspect Gibbs had put her up to it.
“I’m not going,” Tony said as he turned from her to go back upstairs.
Behind his back, Abby smiled and said, “That’s the spirit! And while you’re at it, put on a smile. It looks good on you.”
Tony trudged up the stairs, his body feeling as if it weighed several tons.
After a few minutes, Abby heard no movement above her head and figured she had better go check on him. As she got to the top of the stairs, she could see Tony was back in bed, his back to her, the covers pulled up high again. Rounding the corner, Abby took a few running steps into the bedroom and jumped onto the bed, stretching herself out next to Tony.
“I’m not going,” Tony grumbled.
Abby remained silent. She had known Tony for too long, and she knew what she was doing.
When she said nothing, Tony lowered the covers a bit and turned around to face Abby.
She had him right where she wanted him. “Please?” she begged, widening her eyes and giving Tony her best pleading puppy-dog, which she had to admit was rather good. “For me? Pretty please with a cherry on top?”
Knowing he was a sucker, Tony sighed and got up off the bed, moving towards the bathroom. “Fine. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
Abby waited for the door to shut before she smiled.
Later, settling across from each other into two overstuffed yellow chairs, a small black table between them, at the coffee bar down the block from Tony’s townhouse, Abby got down to business. They had been quiet on the walk from the house, Abby secretly enjoying the sunshine. Despite her reputation as a lab-rat and her pale skin, she loved to be out in the sun. There was no better natural anti-depressant than sunshine. “You been going to your therapy sessions?” she asked. No sense in dancing around the giant elephant in the room.
“Hasn’t Gibbs been checking up on me?”
Shrugging her shoulders, Abby took a sip of her drink. “I don’t know. If he has been, he hasn’t told any of the rest of us.”
At least some parts of his life were staying private at work. “Most of them,” Tony responded honestly. There had been a few times where he just hadn’t been able to drag himself from the bed to go.
“And they’re going okay?” Abby asked, concerned. Tony didn’t look good, his skin was pale, he was too thin, there were dark circles under his eyes, and he looked listless, lost. This wasn’t the Tony they all knew. It had been two months since Kate’s death, and though it still hurt, the rest of them had managed to go on with their lives, find some way to move on without her.
Tony nodded as he said, “I guess so.” Taking a tentative sip of his coffee, Tony waited a beat before he spoke. He hadn’t talked to anyone at work since he left. Ducky had called and left a message once when Tony didn’t answer the phone, asking him to call back. Tony hadn’t. Gibbs hadn’t even called to check up on him, though Tony wasn’t surprised. He didn’t do well with emotional stuff. Kate would have called, had she been able. When he was out sick, recovering from his bout of the plague, Kate had called several times to check on him. He missed her. “She says I’m depressed.” Like he needed a doctor to tell him that.
Abby really felt for him. Picking at her muffin, she watched Tony. He was watching everything around him, but unable to meet Abby’s eyes. “You’ll make it through this, Tony.”
“I’m not sure I want to,” Tony admitted softly, staring at the muffin Abby had insisted on buying for him. He knew he wasn’t going to be able to stomach it and was sorry Abby had wasted her money. “The doctor wants to wait a little while longer before trying drugs, see if I can get past this on my own.” Turning his head, he met Abby’s gaze for the first time since they had taken a seat.
The lack of life in his eyes was heartbreaking. Abby wanted to go to the doctor and smack her upside the head. If there was ever anyone who needed an extra push to get back on the right track, it was Tony. While she didn’t think chemical altering drugs were always the answer, there were times when they could be useful, and to Abby, this seemed like one of those times. For the first time, she found herself really concerned for Tony, and what he was capable of doing to himself.
“Back when I was in high school,” Abby began, “I dated a really great guy. He was good looking, smart, talented, kind of like you,” she tilted her head to the side and grinned at Tony. “He was going to go somewhere in life, and we all knew it. I was so in love with John, convinced he and I were going to get married after graduation. Anyway, we went out one night, and even though he had downed quite a few drinks, he refused to let me drive his car. That car was his baby, and nobody drove it except him.” Looking down, picking at crumbs on her plate, Abby took a deep breath before continuing. Despite the distance of the years, the memory still pained her, and it wasn’t something she brought up very often. “John was going way too fast, and I knew it, but there was nothing I could do to stop him.”
Looking back up at Tony, she went on, “He was thrown from the car when he hit the tree. They later determined that his seatbelt hadn’t been buckled, something I hadn’t noticed. I had a few bumps and bruises, a few scratches, but I was fine. John was on the pavement, still alive, though badly broken.” Taking a deep steadying breath, Abby sipped her coffee before continuing. “I climbed out of the car and sat with him. John was bleeding everywhere. He had gone head first through the windshield, and broken his back upon landing. His skull was crushed, his lungs punctured…” Shaking her head, Abby averted her eyes. “He didn’t have a chance. He was dead long before the paramedics arrived.”
Taking a small bite of her muffin, Abby took another deep breath. This wasn’t easy for her to admit, and it wasn’t something she liked to relive. This had been the worst period in her life. “I couldn’t get passed it. I went to his funeral, but couldn’t bear to leave after it was over. Leaving meant leaving him. I couldn’t get out of bed to go to school, I couldn’t eat, nothing would stay down.” Grinning slightly, trying to make light of the situation, she added, “It was the most effective diet I’ve ever been on, though I wouldn’t recommend it.” Taking another swallow of her coffee, she went on. “Finally, my mom took me to a doctor. He said I was depressed, but didn’t want to put me on medication, figuring I would get past it on my own.” Shrugging her shoulders, Abby leaned back in her chair.
“And what happened?” Tony asked, curious. He had never known about this part of Abby’s past.
“I lost 30 pounds, weight I couldn’t afford to lose, failed to pass my classes that year because I quit going and had to repeat my junior year, missed out on a lot of stuff in the lives of my friends, contemplated suicide, ruined what had been a good relationship with my mom, but I made it. The doctor was right. I eventually pulled through. It wasn’t easy, though. And I haven’t forgotten John. He’s always with me.”
Nodding, Tony found himself comforted, a little.
“Don’t give up, Tony. I know it isn’t easy, and I know it seems like things will never get better, but they will. You just have to hold on.”
Shaking his head, he whispered, “I’m not sure I want to, Abbs.” There had been days when killing himself had seemed like a better option than continuing his life as it was. Some part of him had been glad that he had been forced to turn in his service weapon when he left to go on medical leave. Though he could easily obtain another weapon, it would take more effort than he was willing to give, and having a gun around would make that option seem much more appealing.
“Do you think Kate would want you to give up?”
Tony already knew the answer to that. He had asked himself the same thing many times. Shaking his head, he answered, “No.”
“Then do it for her. Someday, you’ll have to do it for you, but if it gets you through this now, then do it for her. You know she would want you to go on living. She knew what her job was, she knew that every time she went to work, there was a chance that she wouldn’t come home. We all take that risk every day.”
Tony knew, and he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Though some macho part of him may have wanted to protect Kate, keep her from her job, he knew that doing so would have destroyed a part of her, a part of her that he loved. Her willingness to risk her life to protect and help others was just one of the many things Tony loved about her, and taking that away would have been criminal. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes.
“Gibbs has been putting in a lot of time on his boat.” Lacking one team member and having another team member out on medical leave had shaken things up at work. Instead of working as a team, they were all farmed out and used where needed. Though Abby missed working on the cases like they used to, she wasn’t sorry to have more time off. She knew that sooner or later, another agent would come in to take Kate’s place, Tony would come back, and they’d all work together again. Until then… “He told me the other day he named it after her.”
Lifting his head, he looked at Abby. “Kate?”
“Yep,” Abby nodded. “He named it Kate.” Taking a swallow of coffee, Abby added, “We all process grief in our own way.”
“And how have you handled this?” Tony asked.
“I have an appointment tomorrow to get a new tattoo.”
“You’re hurting yourself to process this grief?”
Shaking her head, Abby rose slightly, lifting her rear end off the seat in order to pull out her wallet. Pulling out a slip of paper, she handed it to Tony. “I’m getting it to remember her.”
On the paper was a drawing, two letters bound together by two roses. The letter K had a rose wrapped around it, the bloom hanging downward off the bottom leg of the K. Lower and slightly to the right was a T, with a rose winding upwards, the bloom extending off the upper left portion of the letter, meeting to bind with the other bloom. Underneath was the date, May 25, 2005. The blooms were pink, the stems green, and the letters and the date were a deep purple. Staring at it, Tony felt tears well up in his eyes. It was beautiful. “Where are you getting it?” he asked.
Abby already had one remembrance tattoo, on her hip, for John. “On my left breast, close to my heart, below the butterfly I already have.”
Handing the paper back to Abby, Tony asked a question that surprised her, “Can I come with you tomorrow?”
Her face brightening, Abby nodded as she answered, “Of course you can. I’d love to have you with me.”
Taking a sip of his own coffee, Tony pondered Abby’s newest tattoo. It didn’t sound like such a crazy way to remember Kate, although he wasn’t sure he wanted something that permanent on his body. And Gibbs had named his boat after her. Perhaps they were on to something, all of them except him. He was just… struggling, drowning in his sadness and loneliness.
“We need you back at work, Tony. We aren’t even a team anymore, and we won’t be until we get somebody else, whether it’s because you come back or somebody comes in…” Abby trailed off, hating to say it.
“To replace Kate,” Tony finished for her. He knew how these things worked.
“Take over for Kate,” Abby corrected. “Word is that we’ll be getting somebody fresh. Even McGee had some experience, but this one will be fresh out of basic training.”
“Great, another probie.”
“Technically, McGee isn’t a probie anymore. He was removed from probationary status a week after you left,” Abby said quietly.
“Oh.” Tony had known it was coming, sooner or later. And it wasn’t that he disliked McGee, it was just that McGee was fun to tease, fun to play with. If it really bothered McGee, Tony would have quit a long time ago. He wasn’t that mean. It was like Kate. He always teased her because it was fun, and Kate was always up for a comeback, always had something smart to say. Although, she wouldn’t have a comeback for him ever again.
“Gibbs isn’t too happy about it. He wants to wait a while, see how we can manage without another agent, but you know how it is, and we need another member.” There was a rule at NCIS that teams had to have a certain number of members. Teams were allowed to still function if they were a member short, but only temporarily. At some point, someone new would be brought in. “Even Gibbs can’t convince Morrow to leave us alone, though.”
“So what are you guys doing now?” Tony asked. Without him, they were two members short.
“What ever needs to be done helping out other teams. And endless mountains of paperwork. You wouldn’t believe how much paperwork needs to be done!” Abby sighed. Their jobs weren’t all fun and games; sometimes the paperwork had to be filled out.
“So I’m not missing much?”
Shaking her head, Abby responded, “Not really. But we are missing you.”
Absently, Tony picked at his muffin, placing a chunk in his mouth, chewing it, and swallowing.
Watching this, Abby was determined to keep Tony talking. He seemed to be doing better now than when she had shown up. Talking, Abby told him about the types of work she and McGee had been doing, and how upset Gibbs was to not be able to handle their own cases. After a while, Tony’s muffin was gone, as was Abby’s, and their coffee supply depleted. “You want to go for a walk?” Abby asked, hoping for more time in the sunlight and additional vitamin D.
Nodding, Tony rose to his feet, offering to take Abby’s plate. Returning them to the girl behind the counter, he couldn’t help but notice her. She was short, only about 5’2” or so, her hair was cut short and dyed red, but dark brown roots were showing through, she had multiple holes in each ear, and a bar in her eyebrow. At any other point in time, Tony would have found her attractive, in a bad-girl sort of way, but his heart was still holding on to Kate. Meeting Abby at the door, they stepped out into the sunshine.
As the heat of the day and the sun hit him, Tony felt, for the first time in two months, that he might make it.
Abby’s weekly visits helped. In time, they talked not just about work, but also about Kate, shared their memories, and mourned her loss. In some ways, the discussions with Abby were more healing than all the therapy sessions to which Tony was subjected. Two survivors, two people left behind after the death of someone, could talk about things doctor and patient could not.
In mid-September, nearly four months after Kate’s death, Tony was given the okay to return to work. Three weeks earlier, Kate’s replacement had come in. Tony knew little about her, other than that she was young, inexperienced, and despite Abby’s best efforts to not like her, she was failing.
Taking a deep breath, Tony pulled the front door of the building open and stepped into the lobby. Nodding at the guards, he trudged towards the elevators. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to come back, because he did, but he was nervous about how he would be received. He and McGee had met for lunch once, and both Gibbs and Ducky had dropped by his place once or twice to check on him, but the only person he had spent any real time with was Abby.
Getting off on his floor, Tony was greeted by the wall showing the faces of NCIS’s most wanted. Ari’s picture had been added to the wall, after much arguing. Gibbs insisted, but Director Morrow sided with the FBI and believed the picture shouldn’t be there. Several times, Gibbs had entered the building only to find the picture removed from the wall, and every time, Gibbs hung it again. Abby had described to him the battle of wills between Gibbs and Morrow, and the battle in the bullpen when Morrow caught Gibbs replacing the picture.
“He killed a federal agent!” Gibbs had yelled at Morrow, looking down on the director from where he was standing on top of a chair. “What more do you want?! Does he have to fly a plane into a damn building to get up on this wall?!”
Morrow had said something Abby hadn’t been able to hear.
Still yelling, Gibbs said, “He knew what he was doing, damnit. And I’ll bet you everything I have he enjoyed it! This bastard is a double agent and can’t be trusted, and if he ever crosses my path again, or the path of any of my agents,” Gibbs turned to look at the members of his team that were present, assembled near McGee’s desk, “we will not hesitate to kill him. And that is final.”
After that, the picture stayed put.
Looking at the face responsible for Kate’s death caused the anger to bubble up inside of him momentarily. Gibbs had been right. If Ari ever crossed his path, no matter when or where, Tony would kill him any way he could, even with his bare hands. Looking away, Tony moved towards his desk.
Abby was waiting for him, as were Ducky, McGee, and Gibbs. Receiving a hug from Abby and handshakes from the other three, Tony actually felt glad to be back. He had missed this, the camaraderie of the team. He missed his life having a purpose. After several minutes, Tony was allowed to actually sit down at his desk.
It was only then that he noticed her.
She was sitting where Kate once did, across the aisle from him. Even while she was sitting, Tony could see that she was small in stature. Her hair came to her shoulders, was blonde, and curled into small ringlets, and her eyes were seawater green. And she was young, probably in her early to mid-twenties.
Rising, she moved towards him, her hand extended. “You must be Tony,” she spoke softly, her accent carrying a distinct southern lilt.
Rising as well, Tony shook her hand. He towered over her by more than six inches, but despite her small size, she stood tall and proud. Tony was willing to bet she was a tough one. “Yeah,” Tony nodded.
“I’m Jessica Blankenship,” she introduced herself. “I just started here.”
“I know,” Tony responded, unsure of what to make of her. Taking a seat, he looked up at her and let her lead.
“Look, I don’t want this to be awkward,” she said. “I don’t know everything that happened, but I do know who used to sit at my desk, and I know you cared a lot for her. I’m not trying to take her place, and I don’t ever want you to think that I am. I can only hope that one day I’ll be an agent as good as she was.”
She didn’t waste any time, did she?
“So, if you hold a grudge against me, I’ll understand and won’t take it personally, but I ask in return that you give me a chance.”
Sounded reasonable. Nodding, Tony said, “You’re pretty straight-forward, aren’t you?”
“Only with the important stuff,” she smiled. “It can’t be easy for you to come back and have me here, and I understand and respect that. So if there is anything I can do to make it easier for you, just let me know.”
“Will do,” Tony agreed. He could understand why Abby had not been able to dislike her. Anyone willing to step up like that had to be tough. And though Tony had only known her for a minute, he could tell she was bursting with personality.
Perhaps this would be all right, and maybe things would work out.
At the end of the day, Tony headed home. As he stepped in his front door, he glanced at the pictures on the wall in the entryway. “Hey, Kate, I’m home,” he spoke to the pictures, smiling at the one in the middle. “She’s not too bad, either. Has your ambition and intelligence, though not quite as witty as you, looks nothing like you, but she’s not bad. She won’t replace you. No one ever will.”
On the wall were five pictures, in simple black frames. Four of them were sketches of Kate’s, the ones he had liked best from those in her sketchbook. The center picture was a photograph of Kate that Tony had taken one day last spring at a crime scene. He was taking pictures, and Kate had been studying something on the ground. Needing to stretch her legs, she had stood up, smiling gently, and in the sunlight, had never looked more beautiful to Tony. On impulse, he had snapped a picture, and despite Kate’s pleas, hadn’t deleted it. Though Abby had teased him mercilessly when she downloaded the pictures from the camera to her computer, he had insisted that Abby keep it. Later, they were both grateful, as it was the last picture ever taken of her. He had all the pictures framed a few weeks earlier, and Abby had helped him hang them on the wall.
They were his tribute to Kate, his way to remember her. Gibbs had his boat, Abby had her tat, and he had his wall. No matter where he moved in this life, he could always pack the pictures up and take them with him, carrying a piece of her.
Life would go on. Life has always gone on. It’s what she would have wanted. That’s not to say that there wouldn’t be dark days ahead, for he knew there would be, but his life would go on.