Part V

There is a soft knock at the door before it opens. Kate's not asleep. She sits up in his bed, clasping the sheet to her chest as Gibbs pokes his head through the door. She looks tiny to him, sitting in the dim wash of the old lamp by his bed.

"Hey," he murmurs softly.

"Hey," she replies in a whisper.

He pauses. "Can I come in?" he asks hesitantly.

She nods: "Mm hm."

The silent air is tense and fragile. He can see that her eyes are still rimmed with redness and insecurity. Her body language is shy and crushed as she huddles under his sheets, crossing her legs beneath the heavy covers.

"Did you…? Um…?" she mumbles dimly, not finishing her thought.

He glances at her face as he takes off his jacket and hooks it over the bedpost. He knows what she's trying to ask. She wants to know whether or not he found the charming Brian Willis in her apartment. And whether he thrashed him within an inch of his life or sent the bastard on his way without penalty as she'd requested. He plants his hands on the railing at the foot of the bed, bowing his head and staring at the worn bedspread.

"I escorted Mr Willis home," he mutters through grit teeth.

Willis was in even worse shape than Kate. But Gibbs had expected that. Must have been quite a match -- not that the man deserved any pity. He got exactly what he deserved – less than, in fact. Kate Todd was not someone to be taken on lightly. And it took a hell of a lot to rattle the President's former protector and his current favored agent.

Gibbs had known by the state of her when she'd turned up at his house, that her opponent would be an absolute mess. But, despite his dark and vicious visions of revenge, he'd done only what she'd asked of him. He'd hauled the half-conscious sonovabitch out of her place, locked the door securely and drove him to his home.

He knew where the loser lived now. And he didn't let him out of the car before explaining in graphic and numbing detail just how pointless his life would be if he so much as cast a thought in the direction of Kate Todd again.

"I still think not pressing charges is a mistake," he sighs heavily, wagging his head: "This guy assaulted you."

Kate is silent for a long moment. "I have my reasons," she mutters quietly, partially to herself: "believe me…"

"It's your call, Kate," he grimaces reluctantly. He takes a breath before releasing in a fierce rush: "But if he comes near you again--" he clenches his jaw tightly, clutching the wooden railing and glaring at the blue bedspread: "you gotta promise me--"

"I'll tell you, Gibbs," she nods quietly, her face grim and drawn: "I promise."

Gibbs raises his head finally to look at her. Her brown eyes seem larger in her pale face and they smolder with subdued fire. He finds himself immensely relieved that that unique spark he admires in her so much, and has done from the very beginning, has not been stamped out entirely by the night's unpleasant events.

Kate gazes at her hands in her lap, then takes a breath and mumbles slowly: "I'm sorry about all this, Gibbs…"

He shakes his head weakly and moves closer. "Don't apologize," he mutters, taking a seat at the foot of the bed.

"I know, I know," hums Kate, smiling ruefully: "it's a sign of weakness."

"No," he states clearly: "Not what I meant."

She looks up, her eyes steady on his, despite their shattering vulnerability. He grits his jaw a few times and swallows, the assurances he wants to give her sticking in his throat.

"There's nothing to apologize for," he murmurs finally, his voice low and slow: "You did the right thing -- I'm glad you came to me."

His words sound awkward and forced to his own ears. He avoids this sort of talk as a rule, especially with colleagues, and his rawness seems to be showing. He feels like he should reach out with some gesture of comfort, give her a fatherly pat on the knee or something, but they're sitting too far apart for it to seem natural.

Instead, he plants his hands on his knees and bobs his head as he gazes about at his bedroom walls. He never realized how dull and tiny his bedroom is. He feels a little embarrassed.

After a short while, he looks back at Kate, her eyes downcast, her hands folded in her lap, her hair falling about her face. Her cheeks are ruddy from fresh tears and the wounds he can see on her pale skin have already started to turn purple.

"How're you feeling?" he inquires gently.

Kate sniffs and rolls her eyes heavenwards. "Stupid, " she mutters bluntly. She shakes her head and spreads her hands in a frustrated gesture: "I should've--"

"It's not your fault, Kate," he tells her instantly and insistently. Thankfully, this time the words leave his mouth easily and freely.

She meets his eyes momentarily and sighs, not convinced of her own innocence. She shakes her head again, her eyes drifting over his shoulder, her thoughts obviously possessed with some earlier word or deed.

He leans in closer to her. "It's not your fault," he reiterates, his voice firm, his eyes fixed on her face. He sees her brown eyes well with another bout of reluctant tears.

"I feel like it is!" she sobs faintly, her body tensing up as her tears fall down her cheeks: "I feel like—"

He shifts closer, scooting up beside her on the bed. He puts an arm around her shaking shoulders and draws her head onto his chest. She falls against him, softening into his sheltering embrace. Gradually, release overcomes her small frame and she sobs freely, her hands curled tight against his chest, her hot face pressed into his shirt.

"S'okay, s'okay," he whispers as she weeps in his arms, taking safe refuge in their uncustomary intimacy. "I've got you, Kate," he murmurs, rocking her back and forth slightly. One hand smooths gently over her hair, pushing it back from her flushed face: "I've got you…."

As her sobs subside, he moves up the bed further, sitting himself against the headboard and drawing her close. He crosses his legs at the ankle and opens his arms, urging her into their safety. Shyly, gratefully, Kate snuggles into him.

He strokes her shoulder, her arm, her hair as she carefully rests her cheek on his chest. Pulling the blue covers up over her, he peers down at her faraway expression, her eyes still wet with troubled tears.

"Hey," he murmurs, teasingly, attempting to draw her attention, her smile: "You don't think I'd ever let anything happen to you, do you?"

Kate's dark eyes glance up at him uncertainly. "I can look after myself," she mutters, halfheartedly into his soaked shirt.

"I know," he nods and pauses as his hand skates down her arm: "But if… you couldn't…" he shrugs, keeping his voice light and even: "if you ever needed help…"

He tilts his head down to look at her and Kate tilts hers back to meet his resolute gaze. She sniffs, blinking up at him expectantly.

"I've got your back, Katie Todd," he finishes, giving her a half-smile and a wink.

Kate stares up at him for a moment, then with a pensive nod, she lowers her face, wiping at her moist cheeks as she lays her head back on his shirt. One hand lifts carefully to rest under her chin, flat on his chest. He takes a deep breath, shifting slightly against her soft weight.

"That's good to know," Kate finally answers, her voice smooth and sleepy.

"Yeah, well…." he shrugs but can't think of any way to complete the sentence.

"Just so you know," she sighs, giving his chest a light, affectionate pat: "I've got your back too, Gibbs."

"Good. That's good," he nods, squeezing her shoulder with one hand. "I, for one," he tells her decidedly: "feel a hell of a lot safer."

Kate giggles softly: "Me too."

He smiles and looks down at her face as her eyes close over and her breathing starts to deepen. He watches her for a little while, his eyes and thoughts completely taken with the delicate peace of her face, the soft warmth of her body curled next to his and the precious swelling of emotion in his chest.

When the feeling becomes too much, he surrenders it to the darkness, reaching across to turn out the light. A moment later, his eyes drift shut too and sleep overcomes them together.

-x-

Sitting outside in her silver Mercedes on the opposite side of the road, Gillian sees the light go off in the upstairs bedroom, leaving the whole house dark. This is what comes of avoiding love, avoiding life, she thinks. You end up on the outside of it, looking in.

She never meant to care for Jethro Gibbs the way she grew to. And, yet, walking out on him had been one of the easiest things she'd ever done in her life.

Perhaps it's because he barely fought to keep her, barely tried to stop her leaving his life forever. Perhaps it's simply because she knew it was the right thing and the right time for both of them to move on.

Or, perhaps, it's that she has already experienced great love in her lifetime; and she knows that whatever it was they shared was not the same thing.

What she and Patrick had felt for one another was deep and unconditional and joyous and immense. To loose that at the ripe old age of forty-two seemed to be a dirty, sadistic joke on behalf of the universe and left a hole in her heart that the world couldn't fill. She was too old to find a new love and too young to curl up and die.

But, now, as she wipes the tears from her eyes, she tells herself that she doesn't intend to compromise her heart again for anything less than the real deal. If it can happen to Jethro Gibbs, it's possible for her too.

So, if she gets another chance at true love -- next time, she won't think twice. And, for Kate's sake, she hopes he won't either.

END.


Thanks to all who read and especially reviewed. KIBBS FOREVER! M.