Disclaimer: Nothing's mine, really. Except maybe the idea.
A/N: This is definitely AU - Kate is alive, but in Witness Protection - and not full of the usual holiday cheer. Because I find it easier to write angst, and I wanted to do something Christmas-y, and this is all I could think of. So, hopefully you enjoy. And merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates!


Christmas Traditions.

The invitation to the annual work Christmas part lays torn in half on the coffee table. Crumpled, unopened Christmas cards have been thrown into the trashcan. A sealed letter was haphazardly thrown on the back of the sofa, waiting to be mailed. A glass of ice waits on the countertop as she reaches into the fridge for her carton of eggnog.

She sighs as she pulls the glass away from her lips, the taste of the rum still hitting her taste buds even through the other flavors. She wants something a little bit stronger, something more complete and painful, but she needs to hold on to some sort of Christmas tradition in the absence of all others.

An artificial tree stands in the corner of the room, its fake branches bare except for the few ornaments she was allowed to keep and Christmas lights that provide all light for the small space. One present A small, cheap wreath hangs above her fireplace. Fake holly rests on the top of two doorframes.

Kate settles onto the couch, the glass in one hand and the carton in the other. She sets the carton down on the coffee table and grabs the remote, pressing the red power button. The small television in front of her bursts to life, and she blinks a few times at the sudden intrusion of light. Her favorite Christmas movie dances across the screen, but instead of smiling and settling to watch it like she used to, Kate flips the channel. Another Christmas movie appears, and another, and another, and another, until she finally reaches the news. She sets the remote down with a sigh and takes a sip of her eggnog, until they show a video of kids opening their presents hours ago. She turns the TV off.

Years ago, Kate loved Christmas movies. But now she can't stand to watch them. She doesn't want to see everybody else's life turn out perfectly, with a kiss under the mistletoe around their family and friends, when she can't even bring herself to go to a work function. She doesn't want to see a million fictional stories with snow storms when she's stuck out in a city where she'd be glad just to see some ice. She doesn't want to see the happy family dinners and the thrilled kids and the romantic lovers and the smiles because she knows she's never going to get any of that.

Years ago, Christmas was Kate's favorite holiday. She loved getting gifts but even more than that she loved going shopping for other people, picking out what she thought they would like, and then watching their faces as they opened what she got them. She loved the decorating. She loved putting ornaments on the tree, loved putting out all the candles she could, and loved hanging wreaths and pulling out nutcrackers. She loved the party-throwing and the party-going. She loved the cookies and the candy canes and the peppermint bark.

Now, all she does is stare at a blank screen.

Now, all she has is one gift from nearly thirty years ago, a barely decorated apartment, and eggnog.

She refills her glass and tucks her legs under her. Kate asks herself how she came to this. She doesn't even feel like herself anymore. This isn't her. She isn't a recluse. She isn't supposed to live this way. She doesn't want to live this way. She doesn't want to be alone on Christmas. She doesn't want to be a loner. She doesn't want blond hair and fake glasses and a last name that doesn't even sound right with her first.

At least they let her choose her last name. It doesn't sound right, it doesn't sound good, but at least it means something to her. It might hurt everytime she hears her own name said aloud, but at least it means something. At least it lets her hold on to what she used to have, at least it lets her know that everything she remembers truly happened. Because sometimes, Kate isn't sure anymore about what's real and what's not. Sometimes she still feels like she's living in a dream and sometimes she feels like she's not living at all. Sometimes she wonders whether everything's worth it and sometimes she decides that no no no it's not worth any of it.

Caitlin Abigail Toney. Kate Toney.

That's who she is now. Caitlin Marie Todd doesn't exist, not any farther than six feet under the ground somewhere in her hometown. Caitlin Marie Todd is dead, with a tombstone and an obituary and family and friends that have all moved on without her. Caitlin Marie Todd is just a ghost, just a memory to any of those who were around to remember.

Kate Toney is a new person.

No, that's wrong - she's not new anymore. She's been around for the past thirty-nine years. She's been around seven more years than Caitlin Marie Todd.

Kate shudders, downing the rest of her drink. She doesn't like being Kate Toney. She'd rather be Kate Todd. She blinks back tears as they form in her eyes and tells herself the same thing she's been telling herself for years.

She just got what she deserved, right?

Ari always told her she'd get everything that she deserved.

As a child, she'd always wished that she wasn't a Todd. When she was really young, it was simply because Todd was a boy's name - a girl shouldn't have it for a first, middle, or last name, or at least not in her five year old eyes. When she got older, it was because of all the baggage that came with it - she had older brothers to live up to, a late father whose poor reputation she strived to break free from, and a mother who only helped bring the family name down even more. She just wanted to get rid of the name 'Todd' and everything that came with it.

She just got her wish, right?

Her dad had always told her to be careful about what she wished for. He always told her that all those wishes just might come true one day, and then it'd be too late to wish it all back.

Kate wishes that he had been wrong, but now it's too late to wish it all back.

The tears escape her eyes, and she pours more of the drink into her glass and downs it as fast as she can. She doesn't want to think anymore. She doesn't want to feel. She doesn't want to remember. She doesn't want to wonder. She doesn't want to believe.

But she can't stop the thoughts from coming as they hit her like a train wreck. She can't stop the memories or the regrets or the fears or the sayings from coming back full-force.

She misses her family. She doesn't have one anymore. She misses her brothers and her sister and even her mother. She misses Gibbs and Tony and Ducky and McGee and Abby and Jimmy because, yeah, they were her family too, maybe even more of a family than her biological one. She misses being able to laugh and joke and tease and smile and just be plain old happy because now, it takes everything in her just to force a fake smile to keep everyone off her back.

She misses her work. She misses helping people and solving things and actually going out and doing things because now, all she does is sit in an office all day and talk to people through a phone and she absolutely hates it.

Witness protection abso-fucking-lutely sucks and she wants nothing more than to be able to get the hell out of it, but it's too late for that now. Seven years have come and gone and she's too far in now to ever come out. Sometimes she wonders if maybe that's just some sort of excuse she came up with at some point or another, if maybe she's just been lying to herself this whole time and she really could leave the program and go back and have everything be okay again, have her family and her friends and her job and her life back --

She doesn't even realize she's thrown the bottle until it collides with her TV and the pieces come showering down. She doesn't think she's had that much to drink until she stands up and knocks over the carton, and nothing comes out. She stumbles over to the broken glass and collapses onto her knees. Kate desperately reaches to pick up all of the pieces, grasping them tightly in her hands and ignoring the sting as they cut through her flesh. The tears blur her vision but she continues scooping them up, trying to collect them all so she can put it all back together again, so she can make everything whole and right again and just fix everything that's been broken, so she can finally find a way back --

But as the blood pours out of her hands and a sob escapes her throat she realizes that picking up the pieces is the easy part, that it has always been the easy part. She's always been good at picking up the pieces, she's always been good at picking it all up off of the ground.

She's never been able to put them back together. Never.

Kate pushes herself to her feet and stumbles towards the bathroom, wiping her hands on her pants and wincing as it just pushes glass deeper into her palm. She fumbles through the closet for the bandages and loosely ties them around the cuts, leaving the glass in its place and not even bothering to clean the wounds. The more she stares at the blood leaving her body the more she wonders what's the point and the more she decides that there is no point because she's not really even living anymore. This doesn't classify as living. She's just a body that's breathing but other than that, other than that small detail, she's not alive. She's just as dead as everybody back home thinks she is.

This can't be where her story ends. She refuses to accept that, even though there's no way that there's anymore to be written. All of her story that matters has been written and told where anyone can find it - these last few years have been written in invisible ink on pages that have been torn out and hidden. She doesn't like it. She doesn't like being a memory, a ghost, a few smeared words on a page.

People have successful lives while in the Witness Protection Program, they told her. She didn't have any choice about it but they told her that she would be okay, that they would find a way to make everything work out in her favor. They failed.

Gibbs had sworn to her once that he would kill Ari, that he'd make sure the bastard paid for all the things he had done - all those things that he had done to Kate and she never spoke about, yet somehow everybody already suspected. Well, she had read online that some woman had killed him. What good was that last promise?

Tony had told her he would always protect her. He said he wouldn't let anyone hurt her. He said he'd be there for her whenever she needed him. He said he'd never let Ari touch her again. But where was he the last time Ari tracked her down, two weeks after her 'death'? Why isn't he here with her now, when she needs him more than she ever has in her life? Why isn't her protecting her from herself?

Abby promised that the tattoo would be there to always remind her of the good times they shared together. Abby said that if Kate ever felt alone, she could look at that tattoo and know that Abby still loved her. So why are the memories getting harder and harder to pull up? So why does she still feel so alone?

Her mother told her in passing about ten years ago that if she drank enough, she would get to the point where she couldn't feel anything anymore and it'd all be better, at least until the effects wore off. And then all she'd have to worry about was the hangover until she could do it all again. So why was the drinking making her feel worse than she did when she was sober?

Her dad used to tell her, "The more you start to walk, the harder it gets to crawl." Had she gotten so used to the life that she once had that she found it impossible to go backwards?

Kate stumbles back into the living room and grabs the letter off the back of the couch. Her tears mixes with her blood on the envelope and she tears it open, letting her eyes run over the words that she had spent the whole year carefully printing on the page. Three hundred and sixty-four days. She had planned to send it tonight - the address she had memorized was written in small letters in the corner. But as she looks over what she wrote she crumples the pages in her hand, feeling the sharp pain as it shoves glass farther into her flesh, but crying more because of what she's lost than because of the pain.

This is the seventh year that she has written a letter that will never be sent, that will never be read. This is the seventh year that she has lived a lie. This is the seventh year that she has died. This is the seventh year that she has celebrated Christmas alone. This is the seventh year that she has wasted, because she has nothing left to live for, nothing to breathe for, nothing left to believe in, and nothing left to die for. This is her seventh year and she just wants it to be her last.

"Merry fucking Christmas to me," she mutters to herself, feeling the tears run down her lips.

And she drops the letter.

And she tears off the gauze.

And she traces the new wounds and the old scars on her right hand with her left.

And she picks up the phone, and calls the one number she's ever been able to count on. 911.

Because everybody has their own Christmas traditions.

Fin.

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