Title: The Best Thing That Never Happened To Kate Todd
Fandom: NCIS
Characters: Kate Todd, Ziva David, Abby Sciuto, Tim McGee, Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category: Drama, Romance, Angst, AU
Genre: Slash
Prompt: #82 If
Word Count: Around 20,000 all together.
Spoilers: For everything, and I do mean everything. This goes up through Season Six.
Summary: Tony dies. Kate doesn't. Everything changes.
Rating: R for some mature imagery, in the descriptive sense.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Written for the ncis_femslash ficathon. Only finished two months late. This was for shatterpath's prompt of: What if Ari's bullet had not killed Kate, but Tony instead? After all, that leaves both Kate and Gibbs scarred, doesn't it? One might almost feel sorry for Gibbs and McGee with those two sexy firecrackers around all of the time! I really, really hope that you enjoy this after having to wait so long for it! I'm really, really sorry about that. I'll ban myself from my ficathon next time. :p
Oh! And many, many thanks to ariestess for the stunningly fast and seriously comprehensive beta!

Part One

It's late - so very late that it is in fact early - when Kate gets back to her apartment. It's been days since she's slept, but she doesn't have time now. Ari Haswari is firmly in Gibbs' sights and he will die. This time, Kate knows she won't hesitate if she has the chance to kill him.

Wiping her hand wearily over her eyes, Kate drops her jacket and heads for her bedroom. She needs a change of clothes and a chance to get Tony's blood off her. A movement in the darkness has her drawing her gun faster than she would have thought she still could at the moment.

"It's just me," Abby says sleepily, and now that she's focusing on her Kate can see her raised hands as two slightly paler shadows.

"God, Abs," Kate breathes, "Don't do that to me."

Silence envelops them and Kate doesn't need to be able to see Abby to imagine the way her face falls.

"C'mere," she says softly, opening her arms.

She doesn't have to tell Abby twice. The goth forensic scientist dives into her arms and squeezes her tightly.

"I'm so sorry, Kate." Abby sniffles. "I can't believe he got Tony. My dream..." More sniffling.

Kate closes her eyes and holds Abby tighter to her. She can't think about Tony right now. She simply can't. If she does she might start crying, might starting thinking about how this was all her fault. She was the Secret Service Agent. She should have protected him. She should have been the one to die - not Tony.

And if she thinks about all that, she won't be able to focus on finding his killer and putting a bullet in his forehead. That's what she wants - almost as she wants this to all be a very bad dream. So instead, she turns her focus to Abby.

Rubbing her back gently, she guides Abby back towards her bed, where Abby had been laying when she'd come in.

"Not that I'm not glad to see you," Kate squeezes Abby a little closer as she thinks just how true that is. "But what are you doing here? I thought we agreed this was a just friends thing."

Abby is her best friend and she knows that Abs feels the same way about her. When one girl's night out had turned into a slightly drunken one night stand, they'd decided to leave their friendship as it was and not push for anything more. They were comfortable with what they had. Not, Abby had amended, that she wouldn't be agreeable to the occasional benefit. Kate couldn't help but agree, and that was that.

"I know," Abby sounds apologetic. "This is a friends thing. I just didn't want to be by myself tonight. Please, Kate? Do you mind?" The gently pleading in Abby's voice is what does her in. She can't resist it.

"Okay, c'mon, let's get you in bed."

When Abby's lying down, she pulls the cover up over her and sits there by her for a few moments, just watching her. Abby's still holding on to her wrist tightly and Kate waits until her fingers relax in sleep to get up.

She showers first, watching hollowly as the water turns pink as it sluices down her body. When she gets out, Kate makes sure she's ready to go back to work, and then slips into bed next to Abby and wraps her arms around the younger woman. Thirty minutes is all she will allow herself, but Abby needs to be reassured, she knows. She tells herself that firmly. This is for Abby.

Kate buries her face against the back of Abby's neck and breathes in the smell that's uniquely hers. She tries to focus on that instead of thinking about the stunned look on Tony's face and the instantaneous lack of awareness that had followed, its absence as abrupt as flicking off a light.

Tears burn in her eyes and she presses herself tighter against Abby, willing it to all go away, and welcoming the oblivion of sleep for just a little while.

The first time she sees Ziva David, she's on hold and Tony is standing beside her. He's standing beside her desk in his sharpest suit, leering at her. Taunting and mocking her in the way that only Tony ever could. Even in memory (or perhaps hallucination is a better word for it) Tony can still get under her skin like no one else. Now, however it's tempered with a fond sadness.

"Nooner!" Tony crows the word triumphantly, as he stares after Gibbs and the new Director.

Kate scowls. "You never change do you, Tony?"

"Nope," Tony emphasizes the last syllable just to annoy her as he leans in closer. "But you loved every minute of it, didn't you, Kate?"

She can't help but smile back at him.

"Yeah," she said slowly, "Yeah, I did, Tony." Her smile is wistful. For all that he annoys her, she really will miss him now. She still can't quite believe he's gone. Maybe that's what this is about. Or maybe she's just finally lost it. It's highly possible after the last few days that she's had.

"I don't think it's working."

Kate blinks startled.

"What?" She stands up quickly, taking in this woman with a quick glance. She doesn't know her or why she's here. "Can I help you?"

"I'm not certain." The woman purses her lips. "You appeared to be talking to no one."

Kate flushes; how can this woman know about Tony? The thought jars her until she realizes the phone in her hand is squealing loudly with the sounds that indicate that she's been disconnected.

"Do you often talk to no one?"

The smirk that accompanies the words makes Kate want to knock that look off of her face. Instead she slams the phone down in the cradle.

"Can I help you?" She repeats the words more forcefully, through gritted teeth this time.

"No, I am looking for Agent Gibbs." There's still a hint of mocking in her words even though she seems to be cooperating.

"How do you I'm not Agent Gibbs?"

"Because I do know that Agent Gibbs is a man. You," she pauses and looks Kate up and down, "are not a man."

For a second time, Kate feels off-balance and she hates that even more. Now more than ever, she needs to feel in control, and this woman is infuriating.

"Agent Gibbs isn't here right now," she adds in a clipped voice. "I'm the Senior Field Agent, however. You can say anything to me that you would say to him."

"I'm afraid that will not work. I'm here to stop Agent Gibbs from killing a Mossad Officer. I do not think you can stop him," the woman said in a speculative tone.

Every muscle in Kate's body tenses.

"Ari Haswari?" Her voice is choked.


"Then you're right. I can't help you." Kate pauses to retrieve her badge and gun from her desk drawer and stands. "I'm going to help Gibbs kill him."

"What makes you believe you would be any more successful this time?"

The words hit Kate like a blow, as she's sure they were intended to. She takes a step forward around her desk and gets in the woman's face. Her brain is working again, finally catching up with this conversation and moving past the anger that this woman has been deliberately provoking in her this whole time.

"You're his control officer," Kate breathes the words like the revelation they are. That's the only way that this woman can know what she knows - that she had the chance to kill Ari and that she hesitated.

For the first time, she feels as if they're getting somewhere. If Ari's control officer is here to save his life it must mean they're getting close to threatening his life. It's a pleasant thought.

Kate smiles.

And this is how Caitlin Todd meets Ziva David.

Ziva David - the half-sister of the man who held her hostage, who shot Gerald, who tried to kill Ducky, who had killed her partner - is now her partner. Kate still has a hard time believing it, just like she has a hard time believing Tony's dead in that moment just between waking and sleep.

Gibbs is insistent though, and as much as Kate has argued with him about it - both in front of David and behind her back - she's just beginning to realize that Gibbs won't budge on this. Kate has a decision to make now. She can either live with Ziva David being her partner, or she can leave NCIS. It's as simple as that.

The Director had made that clear to her when she'd gone up to her office earlier that morning to lodge a complaint. Just thinking of how that had gone makes Kate's fists clench. It had also made her wonder just how close David and Madame Director had been during their time in the field together. The professional in her scoffs at the thought; the profiler contemplates the subtle hints that she has seen in the interaction between them and wonders.

The intrigued looks that David is not-so-subtly giving Abby are doing nothing to improve Kate's mood either. When she comments that Abby looks good in her court clothes, Kate doesn't even try to hide her wince.

At least she'll have the satisfaction of watching Abby tear into her. She knows from long experience just how badly Abby hates to dress up for court, to be forced to conform to something she's not comfortable in.

To Kate's shock, Abby flashes her a broad, thousand-watt smile at her instead.

"Ah, Ziva, that's so sweet." Abby pauses and a hint of mischief crosses her face. "So incredibly not true, but still sweet." She follows it up with a hug that Ziva allows, but accepts far from gracefully, and leaves Ziva blinking with bemusement at Abby's rapid shifts of emotion.

Kate's more used to Abby's unpredictability. In fact, she loves the way her friend has a unique way of looking at things. She definitely didn't see this coming though, and she's not liking it at all. It feels far too much like a betrayal, both of her and of Tony. The rational part of her mind knows it's not fair to Abby, that Abby would never do anything to betray Tony's memory or her, but Kate can't help how she feels.

"If you're done discussing catching flies," Gibbs growls from where he's standing just behind Kate, "We can get back to discussing the case."

Kate immediately takes Gibbs less than subtle hint, and snaps her mouth shut from where it's fallen open in surprise at Abby's actions. The next thing she asks is a question about the evidence and they're quickly back on track again.

There isn't much time over the course of her day for Kate to sit and think, which is a good thing, because if she did she would spend even more time than she already does thinking of Tony. Still in her spare moments the way that Abby had cheerfully responded to this infuriating Mossad Officer who was thrust on them without a choice continues to annoy her. Kate knows Abby well enough to recognize this as instant acceptance and she doesn't like it.

She's not ready to grant that same acceptance just yet. In fact, Kate's not even willing to consider it at this point. Tony was her partner; it will take a lot more than the ability to read a map and throw a knife to make Kate accept her.

And if she doesn't like it, then David can just go back to Mossad where she belongs.

Worse than Abby's instant acceptance is the way that David just doesn't seem to care what Kate thinks - about anything, really. Tony cared. Kate hadn't realized that until Tony was gone, but now, like so many other things, she sees what was in front of her the whole time.

He might not have respected it. He might have trampled all over her feelings, but he cared. Even if it was only enough to know what would drive her the craziest.

David manages to piss her off without the slightest indication that she knows what she's doing. Maybe it's worse because it all seems so impersonal. Kate wants so badly to be able to hate her.

They're going into a building, making a raid on a group suspected on smuggling supplies off of the ships that they serve on and re-selling them. Gibbs is back at NCIS sitting on their main suspect, trying to get more information out of him before they go in.

He's only stayed because David was supposed to be interrogating them and had been unable to complete the interrogation. It hadn't gone too far, but only because Kate had been there to pull her out before it had. Now the same woman who had almost blown their interrogation is supposed to be watching Kate's back and it's not exactly making her feel comfortable about the whole situation.

She breaks their silence and changes the plan abruptly.

"McGee? Cover me."

"I am closer."

"McGee," Kate snaps in the hissed whispers that they're using to communicate.

Without a word, he slips passed Ziva and takes his place across the hatch from her, but he still manages to give Kate his best reproachful look as he does. It makes Kate feel like she's kicked a puppy, but she's not about to back down now. Instead she grits her teeth and nods at McGee.

He unlocks the hatch and shoves it inward, immediately swinging his gun up to cover what he can see. Kate steps inside and flies back as the blast of a shotgun catches her and knocks her off her feet.

There is a heartbeat, the merest microsecond, that McGee is in shock. Then he's returning fire into the hatch. Ziva is beside him instantly, gunning down their assailants with lethal, pinpoint precision.

McGee's hands are shaking as he fumbles for Kate's pulse. There's so much blood everywhere. Her shirt is shredded, perforated by all the tiny pellets of shot. Her vest took most of the blast, but not all of it. McGee isn't even aware of the tears streaming down his face as Ziva calls it in.

"I'm so sorry, Kate."

McGee is sitting beside her bed, his head resting in his hands. Kate can see the dirty tear tracks dried on his face. She feels bad for him in a distant way. She can imagine how responsible he feels for all of this. Tony's death still lingers over them, even though it's been months and she knows that he feels responsible even though he wasn't even on that roof. Now he let her go through a door first and she gets shot.

It's a lot for anyone to have to deal with. She reaches out and puts a hand over his wrist, squeezing gently.

"It's okay, Tim." Her throat dry from lack of use and she ends up croaking out the words instead of speaking them. "It wasn't your fault." The resignation in her voice says it all. This is her fault. Again. Just like Tony's death.

She let her emotions get the best of her and it was unacceptable. Kate knows that and she doesn't need anyone to tell her that. Gibbs does anyway.

"What in the hell were you thinking?"

Kate doesn't really have an answer for that question. Part of her wants to know how having David open that door would have made anything different from having Tim beside her. She knows Gibbs is right though. She screwed up. She gets it. The thought horrifies her. What if she hadn't been the one to get shot? It could have been McGee just as easily as it was her.

And then she would have been responsible for the death of another teammate.

That thought keeps her eyes open, staring straight ahead, and her mouth shut as Gibbs lays into her and finally suspends her for a week.

As he leaves, anger and disappointment, mostly with herself, war with sheer exhaustion. After nearly an hour of oppressive, brooding silence, exhaustion finally wins and Kate falls into a restless sleep. Like all her sleeping moments lately, it only leaves her feeling haunted.

When she wakes, it's with an abruptness that leaves her gasping as she sits up sharply. She falls back against the stiff pillows of her hospital bed and lets her eyes drift closed until her breathing slows to normal. When her eyes open again, Kate notices a small flower on the table beside her bed.

The thin, fragile spray of a single orchid sticks up out of a small pot and ends in a bloom of the palest lavender. It's one of the most beautiful things that Kate's ever seen, and she stares at it until she thinks to look for a card. It's with some surprise that she notes that there isn't one.

Much later, it's Abby who comes to take her home. Kate's grateful for the help and too tired to still be smarting from Gibbs lecture. Abby is subdued but cheerful and it's like a balm for Kate's aching soul.

So she leans into Abby's shoulder and wraps an arm around her waist.

"Got everything," Abby asks quietly.

Kate shakes her head, knowing that she hadn't come in with anything and then reconsiders.

"Someone brought me a flower."

"Oh?" There's something in Abby's voice, but Kate's too tired to decipher it at the moment.

She stops and straightens, looking over at Abby.

"Was that you?"

Abby shakes her head with a smile.

"Not me," she disclaims cheerfully. "Maybe you have a secret admirer."

Kate snorts at the likelihood of that and dismisses the thought. The orchid had probably just gotten delivered to her room by accident, after all. Still she makes sure to take it with her when she leaves, and immediately gives it a place of honor on one of her window sills when Abby delivers her home.

Abby settles her in bed and then putters around Kate's apartment. As Kate drifts in and out of sleep, Abby makes soup and wanders quietly around the place. She's spent enough time there to feel at home and for her part, Kate sleeps better than she has in months.

The subtle sounds of Abby's presence lull her into a sense of security. The next time she wakes clearly it's early evening. Abby is already curled up beside her and Kate can't help but smile at her sleeping friend.

Abby looks so impossibly calm like this, without Caf-Pow surging through her veins and the base line of her music thudding in the background. Feeling Kate's eyes on her, Abby stirs lazily and opens her eyes.


Her smile warms Kate and she can't help but feel grateful that she was able to see past the outside to what was on the inside. It would have been a shame if she had missed out on Abby's friendship.

"Hey yourself." Kate tries a small smile herself. "Thank you for staying with me. You don't have to, you know." Abby leaving is the last thing she wants, but she has to give her the out. There's nothing life-threatening wrong with her and she can manage another night by herself. It's certainly nothing new.

Abby's punch to her arm is more like a light contact of her fist that barely brushes a tiny part of Kate's shoulder that hasn't been injured. Kate takes her point though.

"I'm staying because I want to." Abby pauses and tilts her head. "Unless you really want to be alone. 'Cause then I'd leave, but only if that was what you wanted."

Abby's familiar babbling is comforting and Kate smiles again.

"I don't want you to leave."

Abby grins and Kate relaxes.

"Good." Abby says firmly and that's that.

They drift in companionable silence for several moments until a knock at the door startles them both. Kate sits up sharply, biting back a groan as her body protests the abuse it's taken all day. Abby's up just as quickly, but moving much more smoothly.

"I can get it, Kate," Abby says quickly. "You don't have to get up."

Kate's face is a mask of pain, but she shakes her head shortly. "No." She takes a deep, steadying breath and continues a bit more gently. "No, I'll get it."

She's probably being paranoid, but she has no idea who would be at her door at this hour. Abby's really the only likely candidate and she's already here. After the day she's had, Kate's not taking any more chances, especially not with Abby.

It takes her a minute to tug her jeans on, even with Abby's silent help and she drapes a long sleeve shirt over her. She's decent - barely. But it's good enough to answer the door of her own home at this time of the night.

"Do me a favor," she asks Abby, ignoring all the others that Abby's done for her today.

"Of course," Abby agrees without hesitation.

Kate smiles, but it's pained. "Wait for me in here?"

"Kate!" Abby protests sharply, realizing immediately what Kate's thinking.

"Please?" Kate's not above begging. She's counting on Abby going easy on her tonight, because she's hurt. Any other time she wouldn't get away with it.

Abby crosses her arms in front of her chest and pouts, but she doesn't move towards the living room. It's the best Kate can hope for and she nods gratefully.

"Thank you." She squeezes Abby's shoulder as she brushes past her and hopes that she's just being paranoid.

Kate feels better when she scoops up her service weapon on the way to the door. She takes another deep breath before she looks out the peephole, preparing herself for whoever might be out there.

Whatever she might have been expecting, it's not what she gets. Kate undoes the lock methodically and pulls the door open, her gun still in hand, hanging down at her side.


The Israeli woman is dressed in her usual cargo pants and an army green shirt. Heavy combat boots complete the outfit. The only thing that's different is the way that her hair hangs loosely around her face instead of being tied back into the professional-looking ponytail that she wears to work. For the first time Kate sees past the facade of the hardened Mossad Officer and realizes just how young David actually is.

It softens her just a little, and maybe that shows on her face, because something in David seems to relax fractionally just before she speaks.

"I did not see you in the hospital and I wished to make certain that you were okay." She shrugs minutely, as if mitigating the seriousness of what she's just said.

Kate realizes abruptly just how nervous the other woman is. She holds open the door and steps back enough for Ziva to come inside.

"Thank you." As soon as she says them, Kate recognizes the genuineness of her own words. There's something else behind them too and she knows from experience that she won't be comfortable until she speaks them. If David hadn't sought her out, she would have gone to find her some time in the coming days.

The door shuts heavily and she turns slowly to face David.

"I owe you an apology."

David's watching her closely. The depth of her gaze still makes Kate squirm, and she wonders just how much of the antagonism she's felt for this woman comes back to this way that she has of looking at her and seeing past the surface. David isn't speaking, though. She's still waiting for Kate to say what she needs to say.

Part of Kate is grateful for the chance; the other part is annoyed that David can read her that well.

"I haven't treated you fairly since you got here. And today," Kate shakes her head. "There's no excuse for my actions. I should have trusted you." She takes another breath and finishes. "I'm sorry."

Ziva blinks, startled by her words. "Ari-"

"Isn't you." Kate bites out the words shortly, surprising herself by actually meaning them.

"That does not make me any less responsible. I was his control officer." Her fists clench at her sides. "I should have known what he was doing."

"And I should have killed him when I had the chance," Kate admits with a bitter smile. "We both made mistakes that we'll regret for the rest of our lives."

At that, David nods slowly.

She's about to say something else, when Kate hears Abby come out of the bedroom. She turns in time to see Abby offer Ziva a friendly wave and a broad grin.

Ziva's face freezes and a hint of red tints her cheeks.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to interrupt."

It takes Kate a second to realize what she means, remembering her state of disarray and the casual boxers and too short tank top that Abby's wearing to sleep in, and what it all looks like.

Abby realizes too and laughs gently.

"Oh, we're not..." She gestures between herself and Kate with a mischievous smile. "Just friends. Kate needed someone to stay with her tonight. I volunteered."

"Ah. I see." David's words are ambiguous at best and Kate feels a fist of fear clench around her heart. It's clear that whatever she says, she doesn't really see.

The thought of her saying something at work....But Abby's already shooing her out the door and she can't run after them now. The only thing she can do is hope that David doesn't mention it. She doesn't seem like a gossip from what Kate knows of her, but she can also come out with some of the most bewildering things.

"Do you think she'll say anything?" Kate asks Abby when she comes back inside.

"Kate," Abby protests, drawling her name out exaggeratedly. "Gibbs wouldn't care."

"Gibbs might not; the Director might. And she," Kate gestures after David, "is very friendly with the Director."

Abby laughs. "I don't think the Director would say anything. Besides, I think she and Ziva have a past."

That thought makes Kate wrinkle her nose. The Director and Ziva. The Director and Gibbs. It's all so entangled.

"She's not so bad, you know," Abby says into the silence, looking serious again.

"The Director?" Kate asks, confused.

"No, Ziva. She's okay. I like her."

Kate's mouth sets into a thin line, and she tries not to think about how much weight Abby's approval generally brings with it.

"You should give her a chance. Get to know her. I think you'd like her."


"I know," Abby cuts in quickly. "But she's not who you think she is."

She doesn't know what to say. Her chest aches and each individual wound along her arms and upper body is throbbing. It's been a long day and the night is stretching before her. She doesn't want to argue with Abby.

"I'll try," she says softly.

"Thank you, Kate." Abby says with a smile. She bounces a little on the balls of her feet. Excited, but restrained for Abby. "You won't regret it."

And at that, Kate does manage a smile, because Abby can always convince her that she won't regret it, even when she has a sneaking suspicion that she will.

"Okay. I think I'm ready to go back to bed now."

Abby helps her back to bed and Kate makes sure her pistol is within easy reach on her nightstand before she lays her head down on her pillow. She falls into oblivion more than drifting into sleep.

When she wakes the next morning, Kate's alone. The sheets are rumpled beside her and when she buries her face in the pillow beside her she can still catch a brief whiff of Abby's unique perfume. All signs of Abby's presence and all indications of her absence.

She doesn't have to look any further to know that Abby's gone completely, the silence of her apartment tells her that. A glance at the clock confirms her suspicion that Abby's already slipped out of her apartment to go to work.

Disappointment and sadness fills her unexpectedly and Kate allows herself to sink back into her pillows with a wistful sigh. She misses the warmth of Abby's body to hold onto.

Three Weeks Later

They're both breathing hard, shoulders brushing against each other, their backs pressed up against the wall. Occasional gunfire spits past them as they take the available instant to catch their breath.

Kate risks a glance around the corner and sees an opening. She looks back at Ziva, and catches her eye. She gestures, conveying that Ziva is supposed to cross the hallway while Kate covers her so that they can gain the advantage over their attackers.

Ziva nods without hesitation, that scary determination that makes her so good at her job already visible on her face. On the silent count of three both women move. Kate begins to fire rapidly down the hall as Ziva jumps out from behind her and launches herself across the passageway. The moment she's there, she begins to pick off their attackers with deadly efficiency.

Moments later the fight is over. Another glance exchanged and they're moving forward, clearing the rest of the building. It takes a while, but they're working together. It isn't like they haven't done this before, but it is the first time that Kate's felt this easy flow of partnership between them.

She knows Ziva well enough now to anticipate what she's about to do and compliment it with her own actions. Kate finds herself grinning, despite the circumstances. She'd forgotten how good this could feel.

She reaches out to touch Ziva's arm, breaking her focus and pulling her attention back to Kate. It's only then that she realizes she has no idea what she wants to say. Instead Kate smiles and tries to put the nebulous feelings that she wants to convey into that smile.

Ziva seems confused when Kate doesn't speak or add anything else, but she smiles back nevertheless. It doesn't last long; a muffled noise breaks the moment before it can linger and turn awkward, but it happens and there's no going back from it. It's a gesture just that small and simple, but it changes everything.

That night they manage to wrap the case up at an unusually early hour. Kate's ready to walk out the door only a few hours after the building has been deserted. Seeing Ziva wrapping things up at her own desk, Kate hesitates, giving into the instinct that guided her earlier in the day, and slows up her own preparations to leave.

It's nothing too obvious, but she reorganizes the papers on her desk and fiddles with her coat until she's rising to leave at the exact same moment as Ziva. She smiles again, the expression growing a little bit wider when she sees the surprise on Ziva's face, as she falls into step with the Mossad Officer.

"I was going to get something to eat. Lunch was a long time ago," Kate comments with a wry grin. "Want to join me, Ziva?"

She can't believe the way her heart is pounding and her palms are sweating. This is insane. She's a grown woman, a former Secret Service Agent, for God's sake, and she's freaking out about sharing a meal with a co-worker? What is she worried about? It's just a meal, Caitlin, she reminds herself sternly, not a proposal.

Or even a date, the clearly more sensible side of her brain reminds her.

"Mmm." The purring sound of agreement Ziva makes should be illegal, Kate thinks. "Dinner sounds wonderful." Ziva hesitates as they get on to the elevator. "Should we not see if Abby wants to come?"

Ziva's innocent question makes Kate's heart sink like a lead balloon.

"I think she left earlier," Kate lies as smoothly as she can, and hopes like hell they don't run into Abby on the way out of the building. It's not that she doesn't want to spend time with Abby. It's just that she wants Ziva to herself for this dinner.

Ziva nods, but waits until they're in the garage before she speaks again.

"You know, Kate, I have not said anything to anyone about you and Abby. And I will not. She explained to me about the Navy's 'Do not ask and do not tell' policy."

Her words take Kate by surprise and a nervous laugh spills out of her lips.

"No, no, that's not...we're not." She shakes her head and tries to come up with a coherent sentence. "Abby and I are just friends." It's not the whole truth, but she finds herself not wanting to explain for yet more reasons that she doesn't want to consider. "Did she say we were a couple?"

Kate asks partly to see what Abby has told Ziva, because it's apparently a lot more than she thought, and partly because she's curious to know how Abby sees their relationship.

"No," Ziva says slowly, "She did not."

Kate breathes a sigh of relief she hadn't realized she was holding.

"But I have seen you together; you are more than just friends."

Some days, in the process of Gibbs shaping Ziva into an NCIS agent, Kate forgets that, like her, Ziva was originally a profiler. It means she notices the little things, the things that people don't know they're saying with their bodies. It means she needs to tell Ziva the truth.

"We are," Kate admits simply. "Abby means more to me-" The thought of losing Abby as she'd lost Tony chokes whatever she might have been about to say. "She's my best friend. And more. I love her, but I'm not in love with her. I guess...she's family."

Abby's family. Kate hasn't exactly thought of it that way before, but as she says it, it has the ring of truth to it, and she likes the thought. Family is the thing that has to accept you, whether they like you at the moment or not and Kate thinks that she just might have that with Abby.

She makes a mental note to buy Abby flowers or an extra-large Caf-Pow in the morning. Tony's death has taught her to show the people she loves just how she feels about them before it's too late.

Ziva's brow wrinkles and Kate wonders what outrageous thing she's about to say. She hates to admit it, but she's actually starting to like the little, and sometimes not so little, mistakes that Ziva makes with idioms.

"So you are not together?"


"So would you object to a relationship with a woman?" Ziva hesitates. "Or is that something I should not be asking?"

Kate bites her lip and tries to choke back the slightly hysterical laughter bubbling up within her. This is turning into one of the bluntest and strangest conversations that she's ever had.

"That depends," she tries to say just as straightforwardly. "Are you asking as an NCIS agent or as a friend?"

"Am I a friend?" Ziva asks, stopping to turn and look at her.

"Yes." Kate doesn't even have to stop and think about her answer and that feels good.

"Then I am asking as a friend."

"I'm Catholic." Kate hasn't planned what she was going to say. This whole conversation defies planning, but those words manage to spill out of her mouth without conscious thought.

"And I am Jewish," Ziva responds with a wry smile that begs the question of what this has to do with their conversation.

"The Catholic church doesn't condone homosexual relationships." Kate says the words by rote.

Ziva raises an eyebrow challengingly. "Ah, but I do not care what the Catholic church condones." She puts a hand out gently to make Kate stop walking. "What do you condone, Caitlin?"

Anger at Ziva's presumption, for putting her in this position, for having the stubbornness to pry this answer from her, is bubbling up in her. With Abby, it was so easy just to follow in the Goth scientist's charismatic, electric wake and go along with the flow. With Ziva everything is hard, frustrating and infuriating, and still she can't help but want to find out more about her.

"Come to dinner with me and find out."

It's the best she can do at the moment. She's standing in the middle of the parking garage for the building where she works for the Navy, for God's sake. It's hardly the ideal place to be having this conversation. So Kate holds her breath and waits, hoping that Ziva will come, will agree, will take a chance.

She is, after all.

And in the end, Ziva doesn't disappoint at all.

"If I am late again, Gibbs will kill me." Ziva pauses, tilts her head as a thought occurs to her. "And then fire me."

Kate laughs at the ridiculousness of that statement even though she understands the sentiment behind it entirely. She was late - once - herself; she never has been since then. Although this morning....

Seeing Ziva draped across her bed, laying there so unabashedly naked, tilting her head at her, with her dark, curly hair falling across her cheek makes Kate want to say to hell with Gibbs and work and spend the rest of the day in bed.

Giving in to the urge she hasn't been fighting very hard, she reaches over to brush Ziva's hair back behind her ear. She takes advantage of the moment to bury her hair in the thick curls and drops her head to take a small, dark nipple into her mouth.

Kate feels it pebble under her tongue and laves it with further attention. Ziva makes a small sound and shifts underneath her. Kate lets her hand fall to Ziva's hips and pulls her closer. She wants the feel of Ziva's body against hers once again.

"We can't." The words are mumbled and half-hearted.

Kate barely hears them through her preoccupation and she doesn't really want to listen to them at all.

A hand catches her wrist and squeezes just tightly enough to shock Kate. The grip lasts only an instant, but Kate sits back abruptly and stares at Ziva.

"I can't be late for work," Ziva repeats apologetically. "I won't let Gibbs down."

"You're right," Kate admits, slightly embarrassed by how little she'd cared. This is the first time that she's actually felt happy since Tony died and she let herself forget everything else to be in this moment.

Kate sits a little bit straighter, pulling the covers up with her.

"Do you want the first shower?" Ziva is, after all, her guest.

Ziva smirks, her eyes glinting with that hint of danger that turns Kate on more than she wants to admit.

"We could shower together," Ziva suggests blandly.

"I thought you were in a hurry to get to work," Kate counters, folding her arms over her chest.

Ziva shrugs. "It was merely an offer. If you do not wish to join me, you do not have to."

She punctuates her statement, by getting out of bed. The sheet slides down her body to pool limply on the bed. Kate watches the way her hips sway for the entire time it takes her to cross the room to the bathroom. It's deliberate, Kate knows. A challenge as clear as a gauntlet thrown down on the bed, and there is now way she's not going to take Ziva up on that challenge.

Without a second thought she hops out of bed and follows Ziva. They'll just have to hurry.

Forty-five minutes later they're out of the shower; so far they're only running five minutes late. Ziva volunteers to drive to make up for it. Kate decides that living that dangerously isn't worth her job.

Ziva is frowning at having to put back on yesterday's clothes.

"You could borrow something of mine," Kate offers over her shoulder as she rummages through her closet.

Ziva slips her arms around her waist and peers at the contents of the closet from around Kate.

"I think that would be worse than coming in wearing my clothes from yesterday."

"Everyone will notice, you know," Kate points out the obvious. After all they do work with trained investigators.

"But they will not know that I spent the night with you, yes? Not for sure. If I come in wearing your clothes, they will know."

Kate frowns. She can almost feel another wrinkle developing on her forehead.

"You're right." She shakes her head and sighs, wondering what she's gotten herself into now. "But I do have something that you can wear."

She pulls her spare NCIS cap off the top shelf of her closet and holds it out to Ziva. Grabbing her own outfit, Kate heads to the bathroom to change, dropping her robe as she goes. She has a feeling that if she changes out here, they'll be running even later before they leave and that really is the last thing that either of them needs.

She almost jumps in surprise when Ziva sticks her head in the bathroom. Kate hadn't even heard her approach.

"Is there something you need to tell me about this hat, Caitlin?"

Kate shivers. She can't help it. For the first time in her life, she finds herself liking the way someone says her full name.

"What's wrong with it," she asks as she pulls up her slacks and straightens up.

She has to bite back a laugh as she sees Ziva's fingers sticking through a hole in the hat. She'd forgotten that she even had that hat. She's not even sure why she kept it.

"Tony shot it," Kate says softly. "Or I did. We were never sure which one of us..." She frowns, as her thoughts drift to her old partner.

With a shake of her head, she steps forward and gently takes the hat from Ziva.

"You should wear it," she says softly. "If you want."

When Ziva nods, Kate puts the hat on her and helps her fix her ponytail to fit back through it. It's a strangely intimate task and Kate feels more than a little nervous by the time they've finished.

As if knowing how she's feeling, Ziva leans forward and captures her lips in a kiss, drowning her nerves in the sensation.

With Ziva driving, they're barely late at all. Tim's timely distraction of Gibbs gives him plausible deniability of their brief tardiness and their jobs are safe for another day. Kate makes a mental note to thank McGee later. He really is shaping up to be an excellent agent and she definitely owes him for today.

Every couple has its first; Kate doesn't like this one at all. But then there aren't many couples who have to deal with 'first time you lover allegedly killed an annoying suspect in an elevator'.

Ziva finds her coming out of the women's restroom and grabs her arm just above the elbow and draws her into the slightly secluded corner under the stairs. Tension is radiating from every pore of her body. Kate doesn't resist the manhandling, but she has no idea what she's going to say.

Ziva drops her arm the moment they have some privacy. For once Kate isn't worried about anyone seeing them together. This is definitely a partner situation.

"I did not do it," are the first words out of Ziva's mouth.

She's pacing back in forth around the confined space, and Kate has the sudden urge to reach out and stop her, to calm her down. Now that she knows what she wants to do, she can't. It's not fair, she thinks. Not fair at all.

"Do you believe me?" Ziva demands bluntly. "Do you believe that I did not kill that man?"

Kate starts to speak.

"Don't answer that, Kate!" Gibbs' voice cracks like a whip from behind them.

Kate feels her heart sink and doesn't know whether to be relieved that she's being saved from answering or worried about what she suspects is coming next.

Gibbs pokes a finger at Ziva sternly. "Back to your desk. Now."

There's no arguing with Gibbs when he uses that tone of voice and both women know it. Ziva gives Kate one last glance full of so many meanings that Kate can't interpret it. She watches Ziva walk away, waiting until she's gone before she'll speak to Gibbs. She still doesn't look at him.

"I won't do it, Gibbs."

Gibbs is silent for so long that despite her best intentions, Kate looks over at him.

"Won't do what, Kate?" His voice is low and just a little bit rough. She hates the way he knows her so well. "I'm already down one investigator, damn it. I need you on this case."

She can't ask for a pass on this one investigation. Kate knows that. She would have to give a reason why and she can't do that. Not even with Gibbs.

Most of all, she's scared of what they might find. Does she think Ziva didn't kill Brian Dempsey? She wants to believe Ziva, wants desperately to trust what she says, but she also knows what Ziva's capable of.

Gibbs is staring at her now. Understanding has lit his face and it's making her uncomfortable. He steps further into her space, so that they're almost face to face. Kate doesn't back down. She never has from Gibbs and she won't start now.

"I thought we were clear on Rule Twelve, Kate."

"We were," she says quickly. "We are."

"Then this isn't a problem."

He knows. That much is obvious, but for now he hasn't done anything else. He hasn't threatened to kick her off of his team or told her to stop seeing Ziva. She should be grateful. All she feels, though, is empty.

"She didn't do it, Gibbs." She's surprised at the conviction in her voice; she hadn't even known she was going to say it.

"Then prove it," is his simple reply as he walks away.

Kate sags back against the wall, and lets her eyes fall closed. She hopes she isn't proven wrong about Ziva. She doesn't want to be wrong.

It is innocent until proven guilty, after all. She just needs to hang on to that and maybe she can get through this case.

Kate's sitting on the couch, staring at her beer as if it contains the answer to everything. Her mind drifts idly as she watches the condensation slide down the side of the bottle and add to the ring that's already formed on the coffee table's glass top.

At her apartment there would be coasters. At Ziva's there is not. She let herself in an hour ago after she got off work. Since then she's been waiting. Not the first time she's let herself in to wait for Ziva after a long day of work, but usually she's wearing less clothes when she does the waiting.

The thought provokes a small smile, but her amusement disappears as she hears the sound of a key in the lock. Kate makes no move to get up as the door is opened and Ziva steps inside.

Ziva doesn't do a startled double take or anything nearly so obvious. All the same, Kate knows that Ziva is aware that she's here. She probably saw Kate's car outside the building or noticed a light on, something.

Still Ziva goes through her routine upon entering, dropping her keys on the small table beside the door; shedding her jacket and taking the time to hang it up; slipping out of her boots and padding past Kate and into the kitchen.

Ziva comes back with another beer and takes a long swallow before setting it down on the coffee table across from Kate's. Instead of sitting beside Kate, she takes the chair that puts the coffee table between them.

Kate's been following her with her eyes from the moment she entered the apartment. She knows that she has some explaining to do and maybe some apologizing, but she's been trying to see how upset she was. All her observation hasn't done her any good; she's still not sure what Ziva's thinking or feeling.

So Kate says what she's been thinking since they went in after Jenny.

"You were amazing today."

"Mmm." The non-committal noise could have been an agreement, or it could have simply been an acknowledgment that Kate had spoken. "Gibbs did all of the work."

Kate bites the bullet and stops avoiding the subject that they've been dancing around.

"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you that I believed you. I wanted to."

"You wished to tell me or you wished to believe me?"

Ziva looks up to meet Kate's gaze for the first time and Kate can plainly see the hurt written there.

"I told Gibbs that you didn't do it."

"I needed you to believe me," Ziva counters sharply.

"What do you want me to say, Ziva," Kate asks a bit more hotly than she'd intended. She's suddenly not feeling very apologetic. "Dempsey was alive when he got in the elevator. You were the only person with him and he was dead when you got out."

Ziva stands so quickly her beer almost spills.

"Get out."

Kate blinks, starts to speak, and then reconsiders. She gets up quickly, snatching her suit jacket off the back of the couch and walks to the door. Her hand is on the knob when she remembers something and turns to face Ziva.

"Gibbs knows about us."

Ziva doesn't speak or give an inch.

Kate's heart clenches, before she yanks open the door and slams it shut behind her.

At this rate, there won't be anything to know for much longer. It isn't a consoling thought.