Disclaimer: Not mine.
Rating: PG.
Set: post-er, whichever one aired Nov 30th.

expiation by ALC Punk!

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned."

There are no words to say what she needs to, no way to spill her guilt in technicolor. So she sticks to what's adequate. Inadequate though it may be.

"It has been six months since my last confession."

She can still taste the tang of the chlorine, feel the tiles slick beneath her boots.

"In that time, I have..."

How hard is it to say? So easy to think, to remember it.

There should have been more blood.

"I have killed a man."

A child.

Cold, grey skin, eyes staring into nothing on the morgue slab.

Even now, she wants to take back her bullet, pull it from his lifeless corpse and put it back in her gun.

"In the line of duty."

The report will be dry, full of facts and probabilities and reasons for an agent protecting her partner. It will not record the desperation in a young man pushed into suicide. A stark contrast of black ink and white paper, the laser printer making it clinical, clean. There's no blood to be found speckling her hands there.

"I shot a man and took his life."

Neither will it record her attempts at self-recrimination. At Gibbs' easy brushing away of this, as just a little more lint on his shirt. A little more trash on his desk. Something else to file away and forget about. Right at this moment, she wonders how many little gravestones mark the locations of files in his head.

"I realize there is nothing to excuse this, but I ask... I ask for forgiveness."

Ducky had found her that morning, still standing in the morgue, eyes unseeing as she watched the man's chest not rise and fall. So still and quiet. And all because she made a mistake.

"I ask for a forgiveness I have no right to."

Five seconds. If she had waited five seconds -- Gibbs might be dead, his blood staining the deck of the pool. Tony, Abby, Ducky, any of them could have been there and she would have reacted the same. She thinks she would have still pulled the trigger that swiftly, still moved to protect her partner.

"There is no reparation I can make."

Anyone.

She waits in silence as the man on the other side of the window shuffles, finally clears his throat. Her mind remembers the sound of a falling body, the jacket squeaking when it hit the tiles. And she can't believe she remembers that, because the gunshot had been so loud.

"Agent Todd, Agent Gibbs mentioned," another soft throat-clearing, "you might be coming along."

"Oh, he did, did he."

There is anger, sudden and swift, flooding through her veins. How dare he? How dare he take one more tiny piece of her soul away, ruin one more section of her life that she'd had squirreled away.

"Yes. He wished me to say that it wasn't your fault."

Shake it off. She waits to hear those words.

They don't come.

"Oh?"

The anger has drained away as swiftly as it appeared. She is tired, worn with her guilt and the need to... Forgive herself for shooting an innocent boy.

"Agent, I have known Agent Gibbs for many years. He isn't a man to take things lightly. If he believes that the fault lies elsewhere, he is most likely correct."

"But he's not God."

"No."

She sits there, feeling the bitterness surround her. "What is me penance?"

"You work with Jethro Gibbs, I imagine that's as close as some get to hell on Earth."

Almost, she smiles. Almost, but this is not good enough. "Father, how do I forgive myself for something inexcusable?"

"With time and patience."

Neither of which she'd given her victim. Her eyes close. "Thank you."

As she leaves, she lights a candle, watches the flame dance. For a moment, she wants to think there is symbology in the writhing of the light, something that will touch the edges of her faith and bolster them. And then she turns and leaves.

She only looks back when she reaches the door.

Gibbs is sitting in the pew near the candle she lit.

The door closes quietly behind her, a gust of wind swirling through the chapel and disturbing only one soul.

-f-