Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: This story is not associated with any particular episode, though I envision it taking place relatively soon after Kate joins the NCIS team.

Taking Care of His Own

On his way out of the elevator, Gibbs pauses to rub a hand over his face with a sigh. Talk about the day from hell! They have finally wrapped up one of the tougher cases to ever come his way: a Lieutenant and her two young children, murdered by a jealous ex-lover. The reports are written, and the case is closed, but his whole team is still feeling the effects.

It's these kinds of days that make him wish he had gone into a nice, boring, blue-skies-and-roses type of career. Because cases like this leave their mark. And, as Gibbs knows too well, there are some images that never leave you.

He's just come from Abby's lab, holding her wordlessly as she sobbed against his shoulder, and now he has the irrepressible urge to check on the rest of his team. He tries to tell himself that they are highly-trained federal agents, adults who can take care of themselves. That most likely, they're doing just fine on their own. But that's crap, and he knows it.

No one could possibly be fine after a case like this. And so he needs to see for himself that they're going to be okay. Because his team? They're his. And Gibbs takes care of his own. It's a Marine thing.

When he reaches the squad room, he finds Tony slouched in his chair, feet propped up on his desk. Shaking his head at the deceptively casual pose, Gibbs gives his agent a long look. If he didn't know better, he'd have thought the younger man was fine. He certainly looks relaxed as he stares at whatever is on his computer screen. There's even a slight smile on his face.

But Gibbs knows Tony too well for that. The shallow frat boy act might work on most people, but Gibbs sees through it. And now, Gibbs can see the same haunted look in Tony's eyes that he's seen on the faces of far too many men. The look that speaks of more than shock, more even than horror. More like…incomprehension. Oh, yeah, Gibbs knows that feeling all too well.

So he sits on the edge of Tony's desk, mouth quirking into a small smile as Tony springs into a more normal seated position and hastily brings up his screen saver. Gibbs nearly rolls his eyes. Does he want to know what was on there?

"You need something, Boss?" Tony asks after a long moment.

"Nope." When Tony continues to look confused, Gibbs sighs. "You okay, DiNozzo?" His voice is gruff, matter-of-fact, but he knows Tony will understand.

"Yeah, sure," he says, with what Gibbs figures is supposed to be a nonchalant shrug. When Gibbs just gives him a look, though, Tony slumps slightly in defeat. "Okay, well, maybe not okay, but I can handle it." He laughs humorlessly. "I've seen worse, you know. Couple of bottles of beer, and it all goes away." At his boss's continued silence, Tony slumps still further in his chair and rests his head in his hands. After a moment, he looks back up, and the haunted look is back. "It's just – it's hard when it's a kid, you know?"

Gibbs sighs heavily. "Yeah, Tony. I know." Shaking his head, he repeats softly, "I know." He is silent a moment, considering the younger man. He's relatively confident that Tony will be…if not okay, then at least able to cope. There's no getting used to things like this, he knows. They leave their mark, and there's no getting around that. And Gibbs has been in this line of work long enough that time can only do so much. Still, though, as Tony himself said, he's lived through tough cases before.

So while Gibbs is sure Tony won't come through this one unscarred, he's pretty confident that he'll be able to keep it together, at least. With that thought in mind, he grips Tony's shoulder briefly. "You need anything, DiNozzo…" he leaves the sentence unfinished. Tony knows him well enough that the words aren't necessary, and Gibbs knows that anything too sappy will only make them both uncomfortable.

Looking around the bullpen again, Gibbs notices a conspicuous absence. "Where's Kate?"

Tony winces. "Ah, I think she's still in the bathroom, boss." Gibbs nods, unsurprised. Kate has been looking nauseous all day. Frankly, he's surprised it's taken her this long to empty her stomach. He heads in that direction, wanting to see for himself how she's doing. Halfway there, though, he turns around and calls back to Tony. "Hey, DiNozzo! You know my door's unlocked, right?"

Gibbs imagines the grin Tony shoots him is supposed to look unconcerned, but Gibbs can see the relief in his agent's eyes. "Yeah, I know, Boss."

Nodding his satisfaction, Gibbs goes to check on Kate.

He reaches the door to the head and pushes it open with an elbow, not at all concerned that this is a women's restroom he's barging into. He has more important things to worry about than startling some unsuspecting female agent. As it turns out, it's a non-issue. The room is empty except for the person he's in there to see.

He finds Kate sitting on the ground, leaning against the tiled wall. Her knees are drawn to her chest, and even from a distance, it's clear that she's been crying. He's not sure whether the majority of the moisture on her face is from washing it, or the result of her tears, but either way, she's a mess.

She looks up when she hears the door open and, seeing her boss leaning casually in the doorway, lets out what can only be termed an indignant squeak. "Gibbs! You're – You can't be in here!" she sputters.

"Watch me," he drawls calmly, shaking his head in amusement at the way she narrows her eyes. She moves as if to stand, but he waves an arm at her, gesturing for her to stay where she is. She makes a half-hearted attempt at wiping her face, scrubbing at her eyes with her sleeve, as he lowers himself onto the ground next to her.

"You okay?" he demands quietly, just as he did with Tony, though of course he knows she's not.

She nods quickly, but not before another tear makes its way down her cheek. Maybe he is a chauvinist after all, he finds himself thinking. Because he has the overwhelming urge to protect her, to shield her from the horror of cases like these. But Kate isn't a damsel in distress. She's just as much a qualified agent as DiNozzo, and he knows her well enough to be sure that she wouldn't appreciate being patronized like that.

Sure enough, she seems embarrassed to have been caught crying. She sniffles quietly as she tries to get herself under control, and it's a while before she will look at him. When she does, her eyes are red-rimmed, but there is self-disgust in her tone as she murmurs, "Sorry."

"Don't apologize."

"Sign of weakness, right. I know." Her voice is flat. After a moment's pause, she adds bitterly, "Well, it's not like I'm looking particularly strong right now anyway."

Gibbs shakes his head. "I was going to say," he says firmly, "you don't have anything to apologize for." When she opens her mouth to protest again, he squeezes her arm gently. "You're allowed to be human, Kate."

At that simple declaration, what's left of her resolve seems to melt away. She slumps still further against the wall, buries her head in her arms, and sobs. For a long while, Gibbs says nothing, simply letting her cry. Hesitating only a moment, he reaches over and begins to rub her back, tracing soothing circles against the fabric of her sweater.

Once again, he finds himself wishing he knew what to say. But he has no words, no magic answers for her. So he just continues to rub her back, hoping the gesture will bring her some small comfort, and doesn't insult her by attempting to claim that it will be all right.

When her sobs begin to quiet, he gives her shoulder a last squeeze, and draws away. After a moment, she looks up at him, and the anguish in her voice cuts straight through him. "God, Gibbs, I don't know how you live with this! I mean, I knew there would be rough cases. I'm not that naïve. But I just – I can't get the sight of that room out of my head! And the baby, Gibbs! How could anyone do that to an infant? I just, I don't get it." By the end, her voice isn't much more than a whisper. Shaking her head, she adds, "I really don't."

He sighs heavily. "I know, Kate. I know. I wish I had an answer for you."

"How do you ever forget something like this?"

Gibbs can only sigh again. "You don't," he says simply, voice soft. "Eventually, you make your peace with it. You move on. You work harder, so that you can keep things like it from happening again. You try to settle your debts to the victims by protecting other innocents. But you don't ever forget."

With evident reluctance, she finally nods slowly. Meeting his eyes, she murmurs, "Thanks, Gibbs. You know, for…" she trails off, but Gibbs just nods. He knows.

She's looking uncomfortable again, so he decides it's time to give her some space. To let her have some privacy to deal with things. After giving her arm another soft squeeze, he hoists himself to his feet and heads out. When he reaches the doorway, however, he pauses. There's one more thing he can offer her. "Hey, Kate," he says, and waits until she looks up. "I keep my front door unlocked at night."

The look she shoots him is a cross between shock and puzzlement, but he doesn't bother to elaborate. Tony or Abby will fill her in, he knows. He simply nods once more and leaves, nearly colliding with a very surprised intern on his way out.


Later that night, Gibbs is stretched out on the sofa, a bottle of beer in hand. It's nearly ten when he hears the first set of footsteps on his front porch. Unsurprised, he looks up to see Abby standing in the doorway. He doesn't say anything, just gives her a soft half-smile and gestures for her to come in.

She does so, stopping in the kitchen on her way. He hears the door to the fridge open and shut, and when she emerges, she's clutching a bottle of beer. With a soft groan, she sinks onto the sofa next to him and snuggles up against him, burrowing under his arm. He still doesn't say anything as he wraps his arm around her shoulders and plants a soft kiss on the top of her head. No words are needed.

Abby has just gotten herself settled when the door opens again with a squeak. This time they both look up, finding Ducky in the entryway, already shrugging out of his coat. "Good evening, Jethro. Abigail," he says, with a tolerant smile at the sight of them. "I trust the refrigerator is stocked?"

With a grin, Gibbs tells him, "Of course, Duck. You can check the cupboard above it if you're looking for something a little stronger."

Ducky merely shoots him his best offended-dignity look. "Jethro, I'm surprised at you! I wouldn't dream of breaking tradition."

As Gibbs chuckles, Ducky finds himself a beer and takes a seat in the armchair facing them. The room once again lapses into silence.

"I'm surprised Anthony's not here yet," Ducky remarks after a while.

Abby pipes up, "Oh, he's probably still trying to convince himself that he's fine by himself." Gibbs smiles at that. Apparently, he's not the only one who sees through Tony's tough-guy act. She adds cheerfully, "I'm betting another five minutes. Any takers?"

Gibbs is just about to tell her that that's a sucker bet, when loud footsteps clomp up the front steps. Gibbs rolls his eyes as Tony throws the door open with such force that it slams against the wall. Trust Tony to make a dramatic entrance. He hovers in the entryway for a moment, attempting to look nonchalant. "Any beer left?" he finally asks, shooting them his most dazzling grin.

"In the fridge," Gibbs tells him. Adjusting Abby slightly so he can sit up, he looks over at his senior field agent. "And since something tells me that won't be your first, DiNozzo, you'd better not be thinking you're going anywhere tonight."

Tony grumbles at that, making a show of agreeing reluctantly, but something about the relieved look on his face makes Gibbs suspect that that's exactly how he'd planned it.

Tony gets himself settled, landing on the other end of the sofa with an enthusiastic bounce. They sit in silence again, no one particularly needing to talk as they take comfort in each other's presence.

Every so often, Gibbs's eyes stray once more to the front door. He knows everyone is wondering the same thing: will Kate show up?

From what he's seen this afternoon, he doubts she'll want to be alone tonight. The question, though, is whether she'll be able to admit it. He imagines her arguing with herself about it, much like he's sure Tony always does, and finds himself hoping that her need for comfort will overrule her pride. Because Gibbs knows that this little tradition – the team crashing at his place after hard-to-handle cases – might not be much, but it's enough. Sometimes, all they need is another person's presence to keep the dark thoughts at bay, and he knows they all appreciate the company.

Gibbs has actually begun to consider calling Kate and making up an excuse to get her over there, when he hears another set of footsteps on the porch. Much quieter than Tony, she apparently pauses outside the front door. Probably trying to talk herself out of it, he figures. Finally, after several long moments, the front door eases open.

She hesitates in the doorway, looking awkward and uncertain. Like she's still not quite sure what she's doing there.

There is a long silence, before Gibbs shoots her an impatient look. "Well?" he finally prompts with his usual gruffness. "Planning to join us any time soon, Agent Todd?"

At that, a slight smile flits across her face. As she looks around the room, it begins to turn to a full-fledged grin. "Yeah. Yeah, I am."

"Beer's in the fridge," he tells her, pointing. "Through there."

He hears her rummaging in the kitchen as she finds herself one, then watches as she comes to join them, flopping onto the chair opposite Ducky. Looking over his team, Gibbs gives a satisfied nod. They'll carry some scars from this case, he's sure. But for now? They're all going to be just fine.

A/N: Feedback is always appreciated! I'd love to hear from you.