Rating: PG, sexual situations.
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine.
Spoilers: "Twilight", "Call of Silence", "Seadog".
Summary: Kibbs. Post-"Twilight". He dreams of what it felt like to have Kate in his arms, in his heart, in his life.
A/N: I haven't actually seen the last half of season two yet so if there's anything that contradicts what I've written or if Kate has any more unnecessary boyfriends, please just ignore. That's what I do anyway.
"After all the loves of my life, you'll still be the one...
After all the loves of my life, I'll be thinking of you, and wondering why…"
There are little bits of her all around his house.
Her hair ties sit on his bathroom sink, her shampoo in his shower. He leaves them there.
Kate washed her hair everyday. The fact he knows this mundane information about her daily routine for some reason comforts him.
He remembers her stepping out of the shower, warm and sweet-smelling, and wrapping her arms around him from behind, as he brushed his teeth. In his memory she kisses his spine and suggests that they forget about NCIS for once and spend the day in bed. They hadn't -- he'd never actually spent a full day being Kate's…boyfriend? lover?...
"Them" – whatever they each defined it as, had always come second to work. They'd had evenings and some mornings together, but their days were filled with work, where he was her boss and their relationship was a well-kept secret. He'd assumed that Kate had been okay with that but he never really knew.
There's a little yellow box of green tea bags in his kitchen.
Kate had been on a health kick and while she drank coffee throughout the day, after five pm, she only took the tea with honey. She'd tried to convert him, saying that it was much more sustained high and much gentler on the body. She knew as well as he did that he was devoted coffee-drinker and a creature of habit. He'd made a face when she forced him to try the disgusting stuff, sitting on his couch one lazy night, watching the news. She'd grinned because she loved tormenting him.
One night he opens the box and sniffs it. He makes himself a green tea and drinks the whole thing, trying to simulate the taste of her nighttime mouth. It's bitter, so he keeps adding the sweet honey and briefly his memory jumps on the taste as reminiscent of her kiss. But not the real deal – never again, the real deal.
Her scent still lives in his sheets, on his pillows.
He's not slept in his bed since she did. He's left it exactly the way she left it; as though disturbing it would dismiss or destroy the memory of her sleeping beside him, whispering to him in the night, teasing him, tugging his hair, sitting on him, laughing at him, holding onto him, making love to him. Stripping the sheets seems to somehow imply that she was never there, that she would never be back. So he leaves it untouched.
He visits a department store to try to locate the perfume that she wore. A pretty girl looks at him, partially sympathetic and partially impatient as he describes the perfume of his dead, dear love. He doesn't tell her that, and he doesn't care for her sympathy. She offers him bottle after bottle and he smells each one, reading the names and trying to find something that might ring a bell, remind him of the Kate he knew.
After a while, the young girl leaves on her tea break and an older lady takes over serving him. She listens carefully to his description and seems to appreciate that he is trying to find something very important. She talks in a slow, hushed voice about top notes and fruity or spicy or woody influences. He must be looking for something quite spicy, she concludes and he agrees that that sounds like Kate.
When she was alive, he never knew the perfume she wore – he never thought about it, it never occurred to him to ask, let alone buy her some. But it had to count for something that now -- he knew. The scent that emanated from her wrist, the scent that he kissed on her neck, the scent that still pervades his sheets is called "Inamorata".
He smiles at the lady and tells her that this scent is the one. She smiles back and notes that his wife has wonderful taste. He doesn't correct her, and takes another whiff of the perfume. It doesn't smell the same as it did on Kate's skin but he buys the bottle anyway and thanks the lady.
He sits alone in his basement. The pink bottle sits on his work bench, inanimate and delicate and he stares at it as though it was a genie lamp and just by rubbing or ruminating hard enough, Kate might appear.
In his hands he grasps gently an old red cardigan. She'd had it since college, it used to be her grandma's and she would wear it down here when she got cold. It was worn and baggy and he remembers how it came nearly to her knees, the sleeves slipping down over her hands.
Sometimes, cloaked it the red cardigan, she would help him with his boat. When she did, they would work mostly in silence, although he does remember one conversation when he listed for her all the places he would take her to in the boat when it was complete. She'd teased him that by the time he finished, the islands he wanted to visit might not exist anymore.
Sometimes she would watch him in silence. Once she confessed to him that she found the sight "very erotic". "Mesmerizing" she'd added wickedly and he'd warned her not to go there. She'd gone there -- and he hadn't gotten much work done on his boat that night.
Sometimes he would work well into the night and she would droop gradually in the chair, refusing to go to bed without him, till she eventually fell asleep and he would have to put her to bed himself.
Sometimes she would sit where he was, reading aloud to him perhaps from the paper or whatever she was studying. Kate still set herself 'homework' – there was so much about the navy, it's procedures, protocols, customs and laws that she wanted to know. She would pick one aspect and focus on it till she had a full command of it before moving onto the next.
He remembers once how she'd pulled her legs up to her chest, wrapping the big cardigan around them so that she looked like a little red ball with a head poking out. She'd tilted her head to the side and quizzed him about his time in the marines, while he sanded. Amongst other things, he'd told her how he'd only joined up to escape the sight of his mother's grief at having lost her husband. His father had been a marine and he'd made speeches about wanting to honour his memory -- but truth was, he'd admitted to Kate, he didn't know what to do. The power of his mother's pain left him at a loss and all he could think about was getting far, far away. She'd died too, a year later, quite suddenly, while he was out drinking with his marine buddies halfway across the country.
"She didn't want to go on living without him," he'd said to Kate.
On the wall above the workbench he has hung two of Kate's sketches.
Her sister gave them to him. She took him aside at the wake in her mother's home and handed him a blue folder. Inside, on stiff, pristine white paper, not frayed or folded, were two drawings of him in Kate's hand. He'd glanced at them and thanked her. Sarah had nodded in return, looking so much like her sister in that moment that he'd wanted to cry. Smiling kindly she'd reached a hand out to lightly touch his arm.
He remembers one night in bed, Kate telling him that she'd shared their secret with her sister and that she thought Kate was crazy.
"I'm not crazy," Kate had yawned and kissed him: "I just love you."
He'd told her that that statement only proved her sisters point. She'd swatted him then kissed him some more.
Now he feels glad that at least one member of Kate's family is aware of how much he grieves her loss. Sarah had told him in a quiet voice that Kate had loved him very much and Gibbs had tried to reply: "I know," but his throat constricted painfully and he couldn't. Then she had left, although he wished her back again, if only to tell her that he loved Kate very, very much; if only because, the way she talks, the way she looks, everything about her is the closest thing to Kate he'll ever experience in this world now.
He stares at the sketches for hours. The first is dated the month that they met and shows a front on view of his face. While the skill is undeniable, she has been rather kind to him. She's softened his nose, lessened his age and in his eyes is a soft, humorous twinkle that Kate probably rarely saw. This, it strikes him, is how Kate saw him – or how she wanted to see him, at the beginning of their acquaintance.
The second is dated the month that she died and is a profile view of him; the sort of view Kate would have of him, sitting at her desk each day. It has a more furious energy to it, his expression is gruff and closed – yet there is tenderness in the way she has noticed each wrinkle, drawn each age spot, and detailed each imperfection.
It is more true to him; Kate knew him better by then, had no illusions about who he was and what he could give her. Amazingly enough, she loved him anyway. Their love affair had started well before she'd done this drawing and while it was sketched with care, this was not the face of a fervent lover and he wishes that he'd shown her a lot more of the first face than the second. He wishes he'd shown her the man he could've been as opposed to the man he was used to being.
He goes into work everyday and sees the changes in his team. The silence most affects him. He used to find it annoying when Tony wound up Kate or Kate wound up Tony. He used to get impatient when McGee fumbled his words or blurted something he'd not meant. He used to barely tolerate Ducky rambling on and on about his salad days or Abby chatting about vintage gloves and chastity belts. No one chats anymore. No one fumbles or jokes or rambles. They all just do their jobs, running on half a heart. Tony stares at Kate's desk. McGee has the constant look of a wounded puppy. Now and again, Abby puts her head on Gibbs' shoulder or links her arm in his. He knows it's as much for his benefit as for hers. She knows about him and Kate – they all do, though none of them has ever said anything. They'd tried to keep it secret but if the team didn't know then, they certainly know now. He doesn't care – a lot of things loose all importance after a beautiful young woman is shot in front of your eyes. Especially if she was the woman you loved.
He finds the case of a CD under the newspapers on his coffee table.
Kate brought it round on one of the last nights that they spent together. He inspects the list of tracks – all love songs, all with fairly corny titles. Kate loved corny music, and always knew the words. The case is empty, so he switches on his CD player and the disc still inside begins to play. He lies on his couch and flicks through the tracks.
He'd cooked that night….He didn't know how to cook much, but he did a not bad risotto. Kate had been impressed.
After dinner, they'd been cleaning up in the kitchen, dodging each other effortlessly in the small space, the music still playing in the other room -- when he'd seized her hand, spun her slowly, then pulled her into him. She'd smiled up at him, surprised, her dimple winking at him gleefully as she wrapped her arms around his waist. Their eyes had locked as they began to move slowly back and forth, lost in each other for a short eternity.
He listens to the song three times and remembers how in her bare feet, Kate had only just come up to the middle of his chest. He remembers his lips in her hair as she'd hummed along tunelessly.
He'd reminded her of the time she'd danced with Colonel Yost. He didn't know what had precipitated that moment, but after he'd left the bullpen, bounding up the stairs, he'd turned back to shout some orders to his team.
Instead, he saw Kate smile and take the old man's hand, stepping into his arms. Even from where he stood, leaning against the railing on the landing between the lower level and the upper, he could see how her whole attitude had evoked tenderness, her face betraying a bittersweet emotion. At the time, he'd wondered what she'd been thinking of, and on the night they danced together, he'd asked her.
She'd placed her cheek over his heart, her words vibrating into his chest. She could feel him remembering, she'd said, her voice dreamy and muted; remembering holding his wife, dancing with her when she was a young woman. She could feel, in the way he held her, how much he'd loved her, how much he missed her now – and had longed to be on the receiving end of a similar kind of love herself.
It wasn't really her he was dancing with, she'd told him hazily. She'd never been held like that, loved like that -- and she wanted to grow old, being someone's lifetime love, with a wealth of memories to understand, love and remember them by.
She'd looked up at him then, planting her chin on his sternum, and surprised him by asking:
"Do you think we'll still be together when we're old?"
"Well, for me, that's next week," he'd joked softly and she'd looked away, slightly dissatisfied.
At work, he was most definitely the more seasoned professional and her superior, naturally taking the lead; but in their personal relationship, Katie was the daring one, the wise one, the brave one. Those kinds of questions had scared him back then. And despite his long resistance to giving in to his attraction to Kate, when they finally did come together, he hadn't really thought about where it might ultimately lead. They'd not talked about it. They'd not made plans. And he hadn't, if he's honest, thought about how long it might last.
But he remembers looking down at her shining face and thinking how young and fragile and infinitely precious she was. He'd imagined seeing her age, seeing her develop over years, become stronger, smarter, more beautiful; more of what she already was. He'd imagined little lines appearing around her mouth and eyes, her hair turning a lighter shade, and he'd known he'd wanted to be there for that. He'd imagined loving her for it and falling harder for her with every passing year.
He'd thought then, considering his age, that it would be her that lost him first, not the other way around. But now, with her gone, and ahead of him stretching years without her, he feels unbearably young.
Her life has been cruelly cut short and a new faze of his is unfortunately beginning. His life will forever be inexorably divided into before and after Kate. The two short years he actually knew her will be isolated as a special, blessed season. And the few months of private nights, of intimate togetherness and of being Kate's short-lived lifetime love, will grow to be like a deeply profound and exquisitely mysterious dream to him.
When the song had ended, he'd leaned down and kissed her, and she'd held his face, returning his attentions, with an equal passion. She'd strained to get closer to him and he'd lifted her, so that her body settled perfectly against him, her arms and legs wrapping around him securely and trapping him in his favorite embrace.
"Katie…" he'd sighed into her ear.
"Hmm? What?" she'd pulled back and looked at him.
"Nothing," he'd whispered, looking at her: "Just …Katie."
She'd smiled and kissed him, with her eyes open and her hands in his hair.
They'd made love that night, in his bed. Kate had been a confident and generous lover; warm and open, fun and spontaneous.
Lying on his couch, he closes his eyes and tries to recall every time they made love. He tries to picture every inch of her body. He tries to summon up the sound of her breath, her words, her sighs. He tries to remember the details that escape a man in the heat of passion – he was so out of his mind for her that he can't always remember much about what exactly they did. He remembers the feelings; his genuine amazement, his complete immersion, his overwhelming bliss. He remembers the love he felt when he touched her. He remembers the love he felt when she looked at him.
One lonely Sunday, he has a brainwave and speeds into work. He digs out every surveillance tape, every crime scene photo, every sketch she did over two years of investigations.
He studies the sketches first – the faces of people once hunted, now forgotten, once enemies, now saviors, the faces of people whose names he no longer knows or cares about, but who now give him back something of the woman he loved.
He moves onto crime scene photos, studies each one, searches for her form, her face under the NCIS cap. Her writing is on the back of some of them; locations, measurements, dates.
The tapes he takes home with him. For two weeks, every night, after he gets home from work, he sits in his arm chair, he doesn't eat, he doesn't drink, he doesn't turn on the lights or the heat. He searches through years of footage of surveillance operations, crime scene reenactments, and interrogations.
Sometimes she is taking photos or measurements, sometimes she is tailing a suspect under their watch, or in the interrogation room, sitting beside him. He watches the interrogations she performed by herself. The cases ring a vague bell, but he doesn't care anymore about the work; he listens to her voice, he watches her walk. He can tell when she is nervous about a suspect, he can tell when she is trying to channel him, use his technique, he can tell when she's going on a hunch. She was good; she was really, really good and he smiles proudly at the ghost on the screen. She is so young, so beautiful, so full of potential.
'Was,' he corrects himself in the darkness.
He finds a tape taken by McGee at a crime scene; he sees himself and Kate and Tony wondering around a field somewhere and he is waving his arms at the two if them. He leans forward in his chair as Kate takes a few steps toward the camera, pointing at the ground. She is speaking but is too far away to be heard -- McGee zooms on her a little. She stops, and turns -- and looks right down the barrel of the camera for a full five seconds. It takes his breath away. He rewinds the moment, but cannot for the life of him, figure out why she turns and looks at that particular moment. She's not thinking through something, not saying anything. He knows she's not doing it for the benefit of the camera and he knows she's not looking at McGee – she only looked like that at one person. He rewinds again – rewind, play, pause, slow, pause, play.
Kate blinks and slowly looks down and away again. McGee turns the camera on something more case particular as he hears his own voice bellow in the background: "Kate!"
After this he gets drunk and doesn't surface for three days, Ducky comes around to his house – makes him get up off the couch and shower. When he emerges from the bathroom, the other man has changed the sheets on his bed. He says it's always comforting to come home to a freshly-made bed – he always was the mother hen type.
Gibbs stares at the pristine sheets tucked neatly into his bed, stricken. Ducky waddles off to makes some coffee and he can't manage to be angry with the man, even though he'd desecrated the last place he'd lain with Kate. There was no point to such behavior. He knew one day the tumble of sheets would have to go, and it's probably just as well he didn't have to do it himself.
He dresses and heads down for some coffee. Ducky is in the kitchen, looking at the crime scene photos that are scattered on the counter top. All the ones of Kate are on top – even if it's just her hand, or her back, or her figure in the far off distance. He picks up one where Gibbs and Kate are standing behind him, both leaning over as he pokes at a wretched-looking corpse. He flicks through a few others with a sigh and Gibbs can tell he is deciding whether to speak the unspeakable.
"Ah, Kate," he says finally, his voice holding a mixture of fondness, sadness and reverence.
He doesn't offer any meaningless platitudes or empty comfort. Instead, he recounts the story of the girl next door he used to worship when he was young – a faerie child called Morag who drowned at the age of fourteen.
It's difficult to understand why some people are born to die so young, he says, or the way in which they die.
Ducky convinces him to come into work for a few hours. He doesn't take much convincing. He puts Dinozzo and McGee through their paces in the gym. They take a run, do some boxing, do some weights. Tony laughs once. It is good for all of them to be moving, to be feeling strong and in control.
Afterwards, he has a brief meeting with the Director about filling the void in their team. Morrow suggests someone the team already knows and is comfortable with. He suggests Stan Burley or Paula Cassidy. Gibbs says he'll think about it.
He wants to avoid going home, so he finds a street he's never seen before and walks down it. He walks for half an hour and then he walks back.
That night he sleeps in his own bed. His body was not unused to sleeping under his boat or on his couch. He did it for years before Kate infiltrated his heart and changed everything. But his unconscious – in only a few short months with her – had become used to the comfort of a real bed and the completeness of a warm body to hold.
He doesn't know why he avoided the bed, because almost as soon as his eyes shut, he is bombarded with images of her and he never wants to wake up. He dreams of holding her as she sleeps, he dreams of the way she used to stroke his arms softly as they encircled her and interlink her fingers with his. He dreams of burying his nose in his inamorata's neck and of her sweet breath on his chest. He dreams of what it felt like to have Kate in his arms, in his heart, in his life.
"This is my favorite part of the day," she'd said once.
"Oh, me too," he'd replied and hugged her closer.
Three months to the day of her death, he goes to her grave. It's a gorgeous and bright day and he takes flowers.
The grave stone says Caitlin, but she'll always be Katie to him. No one called her that but him.
He puts the flowers with the others left by her family and friends and wonders if he'll ever, ever understand. He feels immensely foolish because it's taken him this long to realize she's really never coming back.
After endless years in bad relationships with the wrong women, he only had a few short months in a beautiful relationship with the right woman. He'd found what he always wanted and never actually knew it till too late. He'd lost her before he'd had the chance to tell her she was the love of his life. He'd told her he loved her -- but not nearly enough; not nearly enough to last till the end of his days. Because he just knew – he just knew that She was It -- and he'll never feel a love like it again.
At the same time that the grief expands in his chest, crushing his already broken heart, he can feel the love she still inspires in him and his own gratitude that she existed at all. He thanks whatever fates brought them together, he thanks whatever destiny allowed him to be with her and thanks her in her grave for loving him as freely and truly as she did.
Standing erect at the foot of her grave, two words come to his mind so he allows them to breathe:
"Forgive me," he whispers, brokenly. And for the first time in years and years and years...he cries.