Author's Notes: Okay, so this is an extremely late post-ep for the season premiere. I'd had the plot bunny hopping around in my head for a while, but this was the first time I could get it to sit still long enough to actually get it down and decide how to handle it. It feels pretty melancholy, but I figured that Tony would have to have a decent amount of "alone" time to bounce back so quickly.

Summary: After Ziva leaves him alone in his apartment, Tony needs help coming to terms with the fact that he broke the heart of a woman that loved him.

Disclaimer: If I owned NCIS, I would've had Kate simply transfer to another department/agency/etc. And I never would have let Tony sleep with Ziva. Ick.


Empty Spaces (1/1)

For a long time after Ziva left, Tony sat on his couch with his head in his hands. As used to having the shit hit the fan as he was, the speed with which things had gone downhill continued to astonish him. He had read the note, already knowing what it said; "Don't come looking for me; Goodbye; I'm sorry I ever met you..."

Abruptly, Tony stood up and headed for his bedroom. After a long shower, he dressed and briefly contemplated digging all of his personal pictures out of the cleverly hidden safe in his closet, where he had stashed them at the beginning of his relation-... assignment.

Not a relationship, an assignment. Right.

Tony blew out a long breath. He had to get out of there. He pocketed his wallet and keys, and grabbed his badge and weapon as an afterthought. He locked the apartment door as he left and forwent the elevator for the stairs.

Since his car had been blown up while on assignment, the Director had given him the use of an agency car. While not as nice as his meticulously restored classic Mustang, or the shiny Magnum Gibbs got to drive, it was far from being the clunker he was afraid of. Tony climbed into the driver's seat, closed the door, put his seatbelt on, turned the ignition, and leaned forward to rest his forehead on the steering wheel.

"Tony."

Getting his raging emotions back under control, he straightened and put the car into gear, pulling out of his parking space smoothly. "Not yet. Please."

He had left home, just intending to take a drive, but the car seemed to steer itself over to Columbia Gardens Cemetery. Tony acquiesced and headed inside the cemetery, his feet walking the familiar route by memory. Standing in front of the headstone, he stared at it for a second, trying to find the words he needed. "All right, Kate."

She appeared, beautiful and transparent as always, sitting on the headstone, eyes dark with concern. "I'm sorry, Tony."

"Why? 'S not your fault I screwed up."

"Tony..."

"I honestly cared for her, Kate. That's how I screwed up. I let myself care for her, and forgot about my assignment, and thought that she might still want to be with me despite knowing that I lied to her for months, Kate. Months!"

She hopped off the headstone and came to stand in front of him. He closed his eyes when she reached up and gently caressed his cheek. "Oh, Tony."

They stood in silence for several minutes, her trying to comfort him the only way she could, and him letting her. Finally, he sighed deeply and took a small step back. "If you're here to kill me, go ahead!" he called into the darkness.

"Tony?"

The achingly familiar voice had him spinning on the spot with surprise. "Jeanne? What are you doing here?"

"I followed you."

"I know that; I just thought you were one of your father's many friends come to finish the job. I'm going to end up here, figured it was as good a place as any to die."

She looked taken aback at his candid morbidness. "I, uh..."

Tony shook his head and stretched out a hand to her. "Come on. Since you're here, you might as well meet one of the most important women in my life." She blinked for a few seconds, but let herself be drawn to him nonetheless. "Jeanne, I'd like you to meet Caitlin Todd."

Obviously feeling a little self-conscious, Jeanne nodded at the headstone. "Hello." She turned questioning eyes on the man who had betrayed her. "Who...?"

Tony's jaw clenched for a moment as that awful moment played itself over again in his mind. "Kate was my partner. She was killed a little over two years ago, on the job, by a sniper. She was my best friend." He visibly collected himself and looked at Kate, sitting on the headstone once more, watching him with sad eyes. "Anyway, I come to talk to her when I've had a bad day, or a bad case. She helps me put things into perspective."

Jeanne put a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Tony."

"Why? You weren't the cowardly psychopath who pulled the trigger."

She watched him steadily until his turned to look at her, meeting her gaze evenly. "You loved her." It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

It was his turn to watch her as she digested that piece of information. "But you..."

"Loving Kate... Losing Kate, brought out a side of me that I've never let anybody see. Until I met you."

"But you lied to me!"

"Yes, I did. I'm not sorry for doing my job," Tony said evenly, "but I am sorry that my boss involved you."

"Well, that's something, I suppose," Jeanne responded, maybe a little bitterly.

"You'll be all right, Jeanne." She looked up to find him watching her, his beautiful blue-green eyes sincere.

She sighed and squeezed his arm. "So will you."

"So, where will you go?"

Jeanne eyed him with no little exasperation. "I don't know. Please don't try to find me."

"I can't guarantee that my boss won't, but you have my word that I won't. I can't promise any more than that."

"I guess it'll have to do." They were silent for several moments before she stirred. "I should go."

"Take care of yourself, Jeanne."

Despite everything he'd put her through, she found herself stepping into his arms for a quick hug. "You too, Tony."

She was several steps away when he called after her. "Be careful. Your father has a lot of friends, and even more enemies."

"I will. Goodbye, Tony."

"Goodbye, Jeanne." Tony lifted his hand to wave, a gesture she returned before turning and disappearing into the darkness.

Once he was sure she was gone, Tony stepped forward to sit on the headstone beside Kate. "God," he breathed, scarily close to crying, something he hadn't done before or since that after that awful day, while he was in the shower, frantically trying to scrub Kate's blood off his face, and out of his hair, and mouth, and nose, and... And he'd suddenly realized that she was dead, and she would never ever insult him, or tease him, or have another freaking food fight with him, and he would never be able to properly thank her for staying with him and lying to him when he had the plague, not to mention ask her why...

"You did good, DiNozzo."

"It sure doesn't feel like it, Kate."

"I don't think it's supposed to," she replied with a sad smile.

"Am I supposed to feel this empty?"

"You're the only one who can answer that, Tony. But you'd better figure it out before your Psych Eval."

Tony's eyes widened, before he slumped with a groan. "I'd almost forgotten. Can't I just talk to Ducky instead of a department shrink?"

"An excellent proposition, my dear boy." The new voice startled both of them and Tony found himself tumbling back over the headstone before he could recover with a yelp of surprise.

"Jeez, Ducky, hasn't knowing Gibbs for so long taught you not to sneak up on people like that?" Tony griped as he stood, one hand clamped firmly over his heart.

"I'm sorry, Tony, I thought you'd heard me."

"How'd you find out about this place?" the younger man asked as he stood beside the aging ME.

"Jethro, of course." Tony huffed a little; the realization that he really didn't have any secrets from his boss was a little galling. Ducky shone a flashlight on the headstone and silently read the inscription. "It's quite perfect, Tony."

"Yeah, I thought so, too."

"So, the Director has agreed to waive an evaluation with a department psychologist as long as you talk to me. Judging by your earlier comment, you are in agreement?"

"Absolutely."

"Excellent. Shall we begin?"

"Um, can you just give me a few more minutes, Ducky?"

"Of course, of course, Tony. I'll just wait out in the parking lot, shall I?"

"Thanks, Ducky."

Ducky patted Tony's shoulder and moved away, the beam of his flashlight bouncing off the gravestones. Tony turned to his impishly grinning guardian and shook his head with amazement. "You're good."

She teasingly buffed her nails on her shirt. "I know."

"How'd you know?"

She morphed into the naughty schoolgirl outfit she originally appeared to him in. "I always know what you're thinking."

Tony expression turned sad as he looked at her. "God, I could use a hug right now."

Before his very eyes, Kate seemed to solidify and then she wrapped him in her arms, a blanket of unconditional warmth and peace. "I love you, Tony," she whispered into his ear.

Tony buried his face in her neck, letting the warmth of her aura fill the empty spaces in his soul. "I love you, too, Kate."

She slowly rocked him back and forth for several minutes as he examined his chaotic emotions and sorted them one-by-one. Finally, he pulled back and she wiped away the single tear the glistened on his cheek. "You really will be all right, Tony." He nodded and reluctantly allowed her out of his embrace. "Now, go on, before he sends out a search party."

Tony let out a long breath and watched as she lost her corporeality and returned to her original translucency even as she sat back on the headstone. "Thanks, Kate."

"I've always got your six, Tony."

And she did.

FIN


Please review. Flames will be used to melt the ice gathering beneath our broken drainpipe on the inclined front walkway. /grin/