He sat alone in the dimly lit church. He sat in the second row for two distinct reasons—one was so he could rest his head on the pews in front of him. He knew his posture looked awkward and he could feel the beginnings of pain creeping into his neck, but he didn't care. The smooth, cool wood felt good against his fevered forehead, and the discomfort in his neck was nothing compared with the anguish burning brightly in his soul.
He heard the doors at the far end of the church open and close. He forced down his instinct to turn around, and he almost laughed at the thought that someone might be coming to harm him in a church. Tactically, it was pretty smart, he mused as soft footsteps drew nearer. Most people, religious or otherwise, respected the sanctuary of places of worship—and let their guards down once inside.
"Hey, Boss," he said without lifting his head.
"You're getting good, DiNozzo," came the soft reply. "I'm not even using BenGay."
He sat up and tried to smiled—and failed spectacularly, if the look on Gibbs' face was any indication. He slid over a bit, but returned to his previous posture. He folded his arms under his head, effectively burying his face in the soft sleeves of his best black suit. He knew there were tear tracks on his cheeks and he could find no other way to erase them.
"You Catholic, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked uncertainly.
Tony was silent a moment. "Once upon a time, yeah."
"You're here for Kate," he said, finally understanding. He had followed his agent from the airport, rushing to stay on the tail of the man who had rushed off as soon as the plane from Indiana had landed. His gut told him something was off, and his feeling was confirmed when DiNozzo's journey didn't take him home even though he was just as exhausted and wrung-out from the funeral as the rest of them.
Tony sat back, leaning against the smooth, worn pew and wrapping his arms protectively around himself. He hoped Gibbs wouldn't notice—ha—wouldn't say anything about his red-rimmed eyes.
He did—but he didn't. He also noticed the rosary clutched tightly in Tony's left hand. The wear on it made him ask, "That your mother's?"
Tony's bloodshot eyes closed, and Gibbs mentally kicked himself.
There was an awkward silence during which Gibbs thought about getting up and leaving. It was stupid of him to have come in anyway. He was no good at this. Gibbs put his hands on his knees to push himself up, but he stilled at Tony's soft words.
"A worn-out bunch of useless beads and a fading photograph featuring her best fake smile. That's all I have left of her. I have nothing of Kate's, but I feel so much closer to her than my own mother."
"Don't forget memories," Gibbs said, unnerved by the raw pain Tony was allowing to bleed into his voice. His agent—master of smoke and mirrors and owner of many masks—had the requisite skills to hide his emotions. That he chose not to alarmed and touched the lead agent in equal measures.
"As if I could forget," Tony said bitterly, drawing Gibbs back into the moment. "I've spent a lifetime trying to forget."
"At least with Kate, you can remember," Gibbs said. "You two fought like brother and sister, but she loved you like one, too."
Tony felt tears begin their bright burn at the backs of his eyes. "I know," he said, his voice not betraying his tear ducts.
"Some advice, Tony?" Gibbs asked, drawing DiNozzo's green eyes to his blue ones. "Deal with one death at a time. If being in this church reminds you of your mother, leave." He stood. "Kate won't mind."
Tony sighed. "I wanna be as smart as you someday, Boss."
Gibbs smiled. He fought the urge to put his hand on Tony's arm as they left the church. He watched Tony go to his car without even glancing back at the looming building.
"Hey, DiNozzo," he called.
Tony stood beside his open car door as Gibbs crossed the parking lot. He almost jerked back in surprise when Gibbs took his wrist and pressed something into his palm. The Marine turned on his heel and walked away before Tony could get his mouth to coordinate with his stunned brain.
Tony settled behind the wheel and buckled his seatbelt before opening his hand. The tenuous grip he had on his emotions melted away once he saw what lay in his quivering palm. Everything he had been holding in during the flights, the funeral, burst forth and swept through him like wildfire. He choked on his sobs and realized he was crying as much for Gibbs' selfless act of kindness as he was for Kate—the beautiful, funny, infuriating, kind, annoying, witty, bratty, bright woman he would mourn until the day he died.
He wiped his eyes, thinking he was cried out until another memory pulled a wave of sorrow over him like the moon inviting the incoming tide. He cried unashamedly as he clutched Kate's pendant to his heaving chest.
"Thanks, Boss," he managed an eternity later when the well of tears finally ran dry. "And I'm really gonna miss you, sis."