A/N: This is a little different than what I usually write. It's intended to be an episode-related introspective piece, and in all honesty I had a tough time with it as I tried to both stay true to the characters and keep the story in canon. It will be posted as two parts, each one kind of a separate but related mini-story (well, if you want me to continue, that is). Part one takes place shortly after the events of "Kill Ari" and contains spoilers for that, "SWAK" and "Twilight". I had originally planned to make this a one-shot, so please review and let me know if you liked it and want me to go ahead and post the second part that I've written (which takes place after "Aliyah"). By the way, I still don't own NCIS or any of the characters. -abby
The bedside clock glowed softly in the dark bedroom. 0300 hours. Again. Tony couldn't remember the last time he'd actually slept through the night. First there had been the plague and the horrible coughing that kept him up for hours on end, gagging and retching and gasping for air. And then right about the time he had gotten past that, there had been the thing with Ari and the subsequent protection detail for Gibbs. He hadn't slept much those few days either, just catnaps at his desk. And then…Kate.
He rubbed his temples in an attempt force the memories back. Oh, Kate. I am so sorry. Tony had repeated those words to himself many times over the last weeks, but in all honesty he didn't even really know what he was sorry for. Everything, I guess. I'm sorry for all the times I teased you. Sorry that I didn't see it coming. Sorry that I couldn't save you. Sorry that it was you that died instead of me. Tony squeezed his eyes shut.
It would have been easier on everyone if it had been me. Tony could still clearly see the pain and grief on the faces of Kate's family members at the funeral. She had a family. Brothers, a sister, parents that adored her. It should have been me.
Tony finally gave up on going back to sleep. He stumbled into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face before staring at his reflection in the mirror. A reflection he could hardly recognize these days. Gibbs was right, you look like crap, Tony mentally chastised himself, but lately he couldn't find the energy to care. Everything that had been so important to Tony before now seemed trivial in aftermath of Kate's death. He had been trying to act normal, keep his usual mask firmly in place - for Probie's sake if nothing else - but he knew it was beginning to slip.
As was becoming his early morning routine, Tony took a long, hot shower before pulling on jeans and a button-down shirt. He grabbed his backpack, badge and SIG and headed for the Navy Yard.
Tony had decided that if he was going to be awake he may as well do something useful with his time. He had spent the early hours of the last several mornings poring over cold cases at his desk. It gave him something to think about other than recent events. Predictably, he was usually the only agent around at the early hour, sharing the quiet building with the security guards and cleaning crew.
This particular morning, however, turned out differently. Tony stepped out of the elevator at just past 0400 to see a familiar silver-haired figure already sitting in the bullpen. Crap, Tony thought. Now he'll ask what I'm doing here. For a brief second the senior field agent considered leaving but then he realized that Gibbs was looking directly at him. Tony sighed and made his way to his desk.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs' voice was quiet as he looked his agent up and down appraisingly. "You sick?"
That had not been the reaction Tony was expecting. I must look worse than I thought. Caught off guard by the note of concern in Gibbs' tone, he faltered slightly before answering. "Ah, no, Boss. Just couldn't sleep."
Gibbs narrowed his eyes at the younger man. "Yeah? Been happening a lot lately, I take it."
Tony sighed heavily as he lowered his exhausted body into the desk chair. He should have guessed that Gibbs would somehow know he'd been coming in so early. With the cat out of the bag, he figured there was little point in lying about it. "For a while now. What about you?"
Gibbs wasn't exactly the sharing type, so Tony didn't necessarily expect a response to his inquiry. However, his boss surprised him by softly saying, "Haven't been sleeping much myself these days. Figured coming up here and getting work done would be more productive than sitting around worrying."
Worrying? He's never admitted to doing that. Now Tony was worried. "I've never known you to worry about anything, Boss."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow at the comment. "You don't think I worry?"
Tony shrugged, not really sure what to say.
"I do, believe me." Gibbs sounded thoughtful, and hesitated slightly before adding, "I can't stop thinking about Kate."
Shocked by the admission, all Tony could manage in response was a whispered "Me neither."
"I keep thinking how it should have been me. Ari was after me. If he hadn't been such a sadistic bastard…" Gibbs didn't bother to finish.
"Um, how is that worrying, Boss? It sounds more like anger…or guilt." Tony tried to deflect the conversation's heading. He had come to work to try and keep from thinking about Kate and wasn't sure he was up for a discussion on the subject. His standard coping mechanism for dealing with grief was avoidance. That, and lots of alcohol.
Ice blue eyes slid in the senior field agent's direction. "I keep thinking about what could happen the next time some psycho decides he wants to make me suffer. Or the next time someone decides to exact revenge. I almost lost you to that damn plague because of some nut case with a grudge."
Again, Tony found himself at a loss for words. He definitely wasn't used to Gibbs baring his soul and was not sure how to react.
The baffled look on the younger man's face did not go unnoticed. Gibbs said patiently, "I'm saying that I worry about my ability to protect my team, Tony. All of you. Abby, Ducky, especially you and Tim. Getting killed is a risk of being a field agent. It comes with the job, we all know that. Kate knew that. But it doesn't help me sleep at night."
Tony contemplated that.I know Gibbs cares about me in his own weird way, but no one has ever admitted to worrying about me before. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again when he realized he hadn't known what he was going to say.
"Something on your mind, DiNozzo?" Gibbs prodded, his voice uncharacteristically gentle.
"I keep thinking about her family…how devastated they all were." Tony ran his hands through his damp, disheveled hair. "You say it should have been you…it would have been easiest if it were me. I don't have any family. No one would grieve for me like that."
"Say again?" Gibbs didn't like what he was hearing. "And just what makes you think no one would grieve if you died?"
Tony sighed. "I don't know. I just mean that I can't imagine that Kate would be losing too much sleep if I had been the one that was killed." He chuckled, but there was no humor behind it. "I was just a giant pain in her ass. I don't even think she liked me a lot of the time."
Gibbs didn't respond immediately. Tony took it as agreement until his boss finally spoke. "She cried, you know," the older man's voice was distant, as though he was reliving a memory.
"Huh?" Tony didn't follow. "Cried about what?"
Gibbs rubbed his eyes wearily before responding. "When I came to see you in isolation…she was sobbing into Ducky's arms, when she thought you were dying."
Tony was taken aback. He couldn't hide his surprise as he softly said, "I never knew that. She didn't seem sad from what I remember." He finally managed a genuine chuckle as he recalled Kate's angry words in the isolation chamber. 'Plague! Because only YOU would go off and get a disease from the dark ages!' "God, she was so pissed. I felt terrible when I thought I'd gotten her sick too." The smile dropped from his face as he continued. "That was so much worse than knowing I was sick. Why would she do that, Boss? Why did she let me think that she was infected? I never got the chance to ask."
Gibbs smiled faintly. At the time, he had wondered the same thing and demanded answers. "I did. She just said, 'To give him hope.' Kate cared about you, Tony. She didn't want you to be alone."
"She pretty much just yelled at me the whole time we were in isolation. She sure had a funny way of showing that she cared," Tony replied thoughtfully.
"So do you," Gibbs pointed out.
Tony laughed out loud at that. "You're one to talk. But you're right. I just wish…"
"That we could have saved her?" Gibbs finished the sentence after Tony trailed off. "Yeah, I wish that too."
The grief in the younger man's voice was clear as he blurted out, "I should have saved her! She was my partner! I was supposed to have her six and I let her down!"
"You didn't let her down, Tony. There wasn't anything you could have done to save her on that rooftop. There wasn't anything I could have done." Gibbs paused. "And you did save her. If it weren't for you, both Kate and Tim would have died when that car bomb went off. You did good, Tony. And Kate knew you had her six." Gibbs' praise was sincere, but from the look on his agent's face it clearly didn't make Tony feel any better.
Tony sighed before replying, "I guess. I don't know. It's not like I've never faced death before but somehow this is different."
It was Gibbs' turn to chuckle, as he recalled a similar conversation he'd had with Ducky. 'We're just a couple of old chauvinists, Jethro,' the elderly medical examiner had declared. At the time, Gibbs had agreed but eventually realized that wasn't the reason Kate's death had hit him so hard. She had been a good agent, teammate and partner, but above all, she had been a friend. He looked his senior field agent in the eyes and said softly, "She was a friend, Tony. It isn't easy to get past losing that."
The younger man nodded and after a moment he looked away. "I miss her, Boss."
Gibbs nodded. "I know, Tony. So do I."
The two men sat in contemplative silence for a long while. They stared across the bullpen at Kate's empty desk, each lost in his own memories of the vibrant young woman. Finally Tony broke their reveries with a short laugh. "She'd make fun of us, you know. For sitting here, wallowing, in the middle of the night. I bet she'd call us pathetic and tell us to pull it together."
"You're probably right," Gibbs chuckled. He slowly rose to his feet and stretched. "In that case, let's go get some breakfast. My treat. I need coffee, and you haven't eaten a decent meal in weeks."
Tony shook his head bemusedly as he stood and followed Gibbs toward the elevator. "How do you always know these things, Boss? It's not like you're following me around twenty-four hours a day." He paused. "Wait, you're not, are you?"
Gibbs stopped and turned around. For a second the senior field agent anticipated a swift smack to the back of his head, but instead Gibbs just gently tapped Tony under the chin and replied, "First of all, because I know you. And secondly, because I worry about my people, remember? Now, come on." He let his hand drop and continued toward the elevator.
And with that simple gesture, Tony knew that everything would be okay. That in time, it would get easier to cope with the loss. That they would miss her, but somehow life would go on. He smiled and replied, "On your six, Boss."