A/N: Thanks to a'serene, for beta-ing this entire series and putting up with more angst than one person should possibly have to.
And don't think it ended last chapter (the angst).
I decided whilst writing this that I hate Don P. Bellisario. Reasons are probably obvious.
Kate. Kate was dead.
It didn't seem real. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. He was supposed to be dead. Ari wanted him. Not her. Not…Kate.
Why did I die instead of you!
"I don't know," he mumbled desperately, barely above a whisper.
Rain was pounding against the windows. The bullpen was dark, everything at NCIS was dark.
The elevator sounded, the customary noise dull and chilling in the silence. His team walked in, soaked from the rain. They stopped before his desk. He wasn't looking at them. He stared at where Kate was. She disappeared. He stared at her desk.
"Found Ari's sniper nest, Boss," Anthony DiNozzo said.
"Abandoned office building to the east," added Timothy McGee.
Something jingled as DiNozzo held up a bag full of evidence jars.
"Didn't police his brass," he said in quieter voice. It bothered him. DiNozzo was never quiet.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs looked up sharply; narrowing his eyes at the bag his senior agent presented him with. He got up from his desk, coming around and taking the brass from DiNozzo. He shoved them under his desk lamp, squinting to read. He couldn't. His eyes had gotten bad.
"They're lapua, 308," McGee said helpful. He nodded very slowly. "Well…I, I didn't mean that you c-couldn't…see that, Boss," he stammered nervously.
Gibbs looked up at him.
"I can't, without my glasses," he said hoarsely. He looked back at the bag. "Lapua's match grade sniper ammo," he moved around, swallowing hard, holding the bag up again. "You guys find any bullets?"
Kate couldn't be dead. Kate wasn't supposed to die.
"Ahhh…none that matched the casings. I left three guys on the roof searching."
There was a heavy silence.
"Uh, McGee and I will go back to the roof, boss,--"
Gibbs turned around sharply. DiNozzo sounded desperate and upset. The younger agent had done all he could. He flinched the minute Gibbs walked toward him.
"Tony," Gibbs said slowly. "You're soakin' wet. Go put some dry clothes on," was all he said, clapping the goofy agent on his back. He walked over to the window, looking out into the rain. He ran over a few things, thinking out loud. They listened.
Why did I die instead of you!
I don't know, Kate. I'm sorry, Kate.
DiNozzo was hassling McGee behind his back. DiNozzo didn't always know how to deal with his emotions very well. McGee was sensitive. Gibbs listened half-heartedly. Kate, another woman, gone.
"I was standing still when Kate was shot," Gibbs said sharply, in response to something DiNozzo has said.
"McGee lasered the distance at nearly 600 metres—"
"—slight shift in the wind, he misses you, he hits Kate."
No, it wasn't right. It didn't feel right. Snipers like Ari didn't miss. Gibbs narrowed his eyes. The rooftop flashed in his peripheral vision and he replayed the scene. The flag hadn't moved. No wind.
"There was no wind," he said, controlled anger in his voice.
"What, you're saying he was aimin' at Kate? You're the one he wants to kill!" DiNozzo snapped.
"Ari…he had a thing for Kate," McGee mumbled suddenly.
They started to argue. They started to mumble about useless things. DiNozzo dashed across the bullpen and smacked McGee in the back of the head. Gibbs winced. That was the last thing the kid needed.
"Don't do that, Tony," he reprimanded.
He rested his hand on the computer McGee had been using. He continued to try and work through this. If he could just keep his mind off of Kate and on the case for a while. He glared at the computer, muttering to himself.
"Abby should be in by now," he said suddenly. "Tony, she what she can get off that brass," he walked back over to his desk, scratching his head. Abby. Abby was going to cry. He couldn't watch Abby cry. He had to get out of here. He looked around.
"I'm going for coffee," he said almost desperate, stopping in front of them. "Can I get you boys something'?"
They looked at him like he was crazy. Like they'd never seen him before. They both murmured no, still giving him wide-eyed, shocked looks. He nodded, and he left, out into the pouring rain.
He let it soak him, walking slowly, zipping up his coat.
It should have been him.
What's that famous gut tellin' you, Gibbs?
He was the one who hadn't given a damn if he lived or died since Shannon and Kelly had been killed. It had been worse, six years ago, after Paris—no. He didn't go there. He shook his head.
Kate shouldn't be dead. It should be him. He didn't know if he wished it were.
He walked back as slowly as he had gone. The rain was never going to let up. It didn't matter; he was never going to feel it. He could only feel guilt, and sorrow, and a dull throb in the back of his mind. Throbbing that never went away.
He was close to the front of NCIS, reluctant to go back in. The air around him whistled, cracked, and glass shattered on the street. Faintly, he heard Abby scream. His instincts jolted into action; he dropped his cup of coffee and bolted for the agency, his blood running cold. His grit his teeth painfully.
"Abby," he shouted, uncertain of what he wanted to hear. He ran up the hallway to her lap.
"Boss, down," he heard DiNozzo snap. He took the lights down as he crouched, coming into the room without his weapon drawn. He went for all the lights immediately, taking every precaution.
He slid down next to them, turning toward Abby.
"You okay?" he asked gruffly, out of breath.
"Close off Anacostia Park between the bridges. Tell metro cops it's a crime scene," he ordered DiNozzo in a low voice. DiNozzo jumped up and he grabbed him, diving over Abby. She sucked in her breath. "What if he has a night vision scope?" he growled hoarsely, letting of DiNozzo.
"'S a good point...Boss," DiNozzo mumbled, crawling away and staying down this time. Gibbs sat back next to Abby.
"I will get you bulletproof glass."
"There's no such thing, Gibbs!"
"Okay, bullet resistant glass," he snapped. He reached up, breathing heavily, and brushed broken glass from her black pigtails.
"Ari didn't shoot at you and hit Kate by mistake, did he?" Abby asked in her gravelly voice.
Gibbs wanted to cover his face with his hands. No, Ari took her life to spite him. And now he'll try to take Abby's and any other woman he still cared about—no; again; he wouldn't go there. It didn't matter. She wasn't here.
"He's after me now."
Gibbs grabbed her shoulder.
"I was walking by that window when he fired," he said, trying to comfort her and convince himself.
"You're just saying that to make me feel safe," she murmured.
He put his arm around her tightly. He pulled her closer and kissed the side of her head, placing his hands over hers on her knees.
"I'll keep you safe Abby. I promise," he whispered.
He meant it. Abby was more innocent than Kate had been. Abby had never raised a weapon or a harmful hand against anyone. He was angry. He was suffering the same hatred and pain that always came with losing someone.
It was like he told Ducky. He had lost men in combat. It shouldn't be any different. It was. She had her whole life ahead of her; she didn't deserve to die. She had things to live for, a family, kids someday. He didn't.
Ducky claimed Ari was torturing him. Ducky called them a couple of old Chauvinists. He flinched inwardly at the word. He only ever heard that word in one soft, mocking tone of voice. He shook his head, taking the stairs to MTAC at a run.
The director wants to see you up in MTAC!
DiNozzo was a mess.
He wasn't the only one.
He bent before the retina scan coldly, entering the quiet, dangerous bustle of MTAC without a word. A low murmur filled the room; all the screens were up. There were more people than usual. He moved through the room to a set next to Director Tom Morrow, leaning back. The air crackled with the heightened electricity that came with running a special operations mission.
"What do you have?" asked Morrow heavily, his eyes ahead.
"Brass from Ari's sniper's nest. Three bullets. Tire tracks in Anacostia Park, from where he fired a shot across the river into our forensics lab," he answered mechanically.
"Unusual for a sniper not to police his brass," stated Morrow. "Isn't it?"
"I've received calls from every director I know promising to hunt down this sniper as if he killed one of their own," Morrow said.
Not necessary. Gibbs was going to kill him. Look straight into his eyes and put a bullet between them.
"FBI might be the most help," he said neutrally, instead of voicing his vengeance, "Ari Haswari is their mole."
"I endorsed your recommendation to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Special Agent Todd."
Gibbs nodded, swallowing hard again.
"Thank you sir."
"According to your after action report, no one actually saw the sniper that killed Agent Todd."
"Ari was on a rooftop six hundred metres away."
"Extraordinary shot," remarked Morrow.
"No sir," Gibbs said. "Not really." He could have done it easily. He'd made longer ones, harder ones. One particular, in the sweltering hot of Mexico, resting his chin on rocks, firing at a moving vehicle…
Morrow looked at him.
"You were a sniper with the corp, weren't you?"
"Ah, I'm not that old sir," Gibbs muttered. He looked that old. He felt that old. He wasn't that old, though. "Panama, and Desert Storm," it hurt to say those words. It reminded him of the last time he saw Kelly. When he thought of that, he thought of Shannon, and when he thought of Shannon…someone else.
"Thought you were older," Morrow said mildly. Gibbs smirked a little.
They fell silent as the mission in the room picked up heat, techs springing into action. A man began speaking in what sounded like Arabic or Hebrew, a Middle Eastern language. Gibbs clenched his fist, watching. His gut was churning; it was more than Kate's death now.
The target on the MTAC screams burst into flames. The people in MTAC began to move, congratulating each other, shaking hands. The murmur became a dull roar.
"Good job, everyone," someone said coolly.
Jethro looked around for who had said it. His eyes narrowed.
"Where was I?" Morrow muttered.
"Avoiding using Ari's name and the word 'sniper' in the same sentence," grumbled Gibbs. "Sir," he added derisively.
"Your anger is understandable Jethro. You lost an agent, you want payback."
"Don't you, sir?"
"It's a passion I can't afford."
"You honestly think it wasn't Ari?" Jethro asked skeptically.
"No, but there are those who do," he answered heavily.
"Those who ran him? Those who thought they had the holy grail of moles? Those people covering their asses right now," he muttered bitterly. Ari had done this. He knew it. And it felt good to know it, to have someone to focus all his anger on.
"Make sure you cover yours when you bring him in."
"Won't be a problem, sir. I won't be bringing him in," he said quietly. He meant every condemning word.
"Anyway, you're not my problem anymore, Jethro."
"You firing me, sir?" he asked, with a small sarcastic smile.
Morrow smiled, and buttoned his coat.
"I've been offered a deputy director's position at Homeland Security."
"You would leave NCIS, sir?"
"Ah, well, the agency could use some younger blood."
"Who'd be replacing you, sir?"
Morrow looked at him. His lips twitched up a little at the corner. Gibbs' head ached. He didn't have time for these games. He wanted to kill Ari. He trusted Morrow. A new Director at this time…threw a wrench in the works.
"Not me?" he asked suddenly dreading the way the director was eyeing him.
"As much as I like you, Jethro, I wouldn't shoot NCIS in the head," he quipped good-naturedly.
Gibbs let out a breath of relief. Morrow began to walk away.
"He's your problem now, Director," he muttered offhandedly.
Gibbs had the distinct, crawling feeling he'd just been set up. Morrow stopped next to the front row of seats and then, he knew. Almost before she turned around. He knew he'd heard her voice, but he'd blocked it from his mind.
He braced himself before she turned around, but everything still hit him, full force when she met his eyes, her hair swept back from her face beautifully, dressed to the nines as usual. Her diamond earrings were still in her ears.
He met her dark, sharp emerald eyes without looking away, his eyebrows going up just a little.
Her throaty, soft alto cut to the core. She singlehandedly ripped open all of the old wounds with two simple words, as simple as Dear Jethro, as simple as the bracelet and necklace and old leather coat that were in a box in his basement.
Marseille flashed before his eyes, a hot, stifling attic and her mouth against his, her skin warm and soft under his hands. He remembered everything, all at once. Yet as much as it hurt, as much as he had hated her for what she did, with Kate dead and so much in pieces, seeing her was soothing, if just for a split second before the inevitable anger would flare.
He looked at her.
"Should we skip the 'you haven't changed a bit bull'?"
And just like that, she walked back into his life.
It has defnitely been a fun ride:)