Battling the Unseen Ghosts

. . . . .

She couldn't breathe.

Her chest was painfully tight as she tried to suck in air, the world blurry around her. Her eyes flew open, completely unseeing as she felt her fist clench in her blanket.

Damn it.

Her eyes slammed closed again as she forced herself to try and steady her breathing, to focus on something other than the sheer panic racing through her nerves and her blood. She deliberately focused on her hand, on unclenching the fabric of her comforter from her own white-knuckled grip. A shanky hand brushed damp tendrils of dark-brown curls from her sweaty forehead as she tried to focus on something – anything – else.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

Remind yourself it's not real.

But the nausea was already creeping up her throat. The hyperventilation she couldn't get under control acting as a vacuum. With a whimper, she threw herself out of bed and stumbled towards her ensuite, just making it to the bathroom before her stomach totally revolted. She was lightheaded and knew she was on the verge of passing out if she couldn't managed to get the retching and harsh breathing under control.

But she was so out of control. She couldn't focus, couldn't bring herself back. Her chest burned as she rested her forehead on the toilet seat. She forced herself to suck in a breath despite the fear and the helplessness and count to three before releasing it. She repeated the process until the lightheadedness passed and she felt like she could lift her head without collapsing. God, she hated this.

Panic attacks.

They weren't new, but she hadn't had them since she was fifteen.

Since her father's death.

She felt her stomach stop rolling and tentatively raised her head. When she didn't immediately bend over the toilet again, she took it as a sign and twisted until she could rest against the wall. The burning in her chest eased as her breathing returned to a more normal pace. The ensuing headache, however, wasn't a shock. The adrenaline was wearing off and with it, the dehydration from the sweat, the sticky tears she could feel on her face and her date with the proverbial porcelain throne.

Finally, she felt human enough to push herself up and stumble to the sink, reaching for her toothbrush. She refused to look at herself in the mirror as she went about ridding her mouth of the acid taste. Then she braced herself against the counter.

She felt the tears continue to punch at the back of her eyes as she stared at the plain white of her sink. Jesus. She didn't look up as she reached for her medicine cabinet, knocking things to the counter with a crash she ignored before finally locating her bottle of painkillers. She managed, even with trembling hands, to tip two into her palm. She dry-swallowed two of them as she headed out into the kitchen. She moved on autopilot as she filled the electric teakettle, then moved to the window. The waves she could see crashing on the beach usually soothed her tired brain, but this time… Instead, she jumped when the kettle screeched, and she shook herself and made her tea.

When her phone rang at five AM, she was still awake, staring at the infomercial flickering on her television. She took a deep breath and reached for the device.

Maybe work would help.

G Callen always had a lot on his mind. It was a mess of aliases, of watching of his shoulder and keeping his head in the game. But just because his brain was a mess, didn't mean that he missed things. And he hadn't missed the days on the calendar, nor his 'favourite agent's' increasing… God, he didn't even know what to call it. He knew what time of year it was though, and he knew that it was the time of year Kensi Blye found the hardest to deal with. He'd gone to Hetty once, to ask about it. Callen knew Kensi had lost her father and that it still haunted her.

Now, as she came to a stop beside him, leaning against the table, her soft scent wafting into his nose, he could see the deep sadness in them. Kensi was his upbeat girl, the one he could always count on for a smile and a snarky comment. But this woman wasn't the Kensi he was used to. The sadness didn't shock him, but it did tear at him a little.

Eric, noticing Kensi's arrival and ignoring everything else, launched into his intro.

"Meet Captain Mary-Beth Freund," the tech said, tapping a few buttons and pulling up photos of a woman in her dress blues. Red stained the dark material and even darker shade and leaked all over a gorgeous marble floor. "She was found early this morning in an LA hotel. She'd been stabbed."

"We're here, at six in the morning, because of a stabbing?"

"Not quite," Eric replied, completely disregarding the obvious disbelief and annoyance in the voice of Detective Marty Deeks. "Captain Freund's death has been linked to seven other stabbings across the continental US, all military officers, all women, all very, very dead." He pulled up the DMV photos.

"Serial killer," Callen's voice held no emotion, but he shifted, leaning just a fraction closer to Kensi. They played this game every year, where Kensi would pull away and the team would just pull her back. He was willing to start early, especially since it was only the dark of the ops room that really hid the shadows that had been forming under her eyes for the last few weeks.

"Where?" Agent Sam Hanna inquired, hands stroking his chin as he leaned on Callen's other side.

"New York, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Millington, Kingsville, and Fallon," Eric replied, bringing up a map and highlighting each city along the way. "And Commander Erica Sutter, killed in San Diego two weeks ago."

"Eric, are these in chronological order?" Callen inquired. Kensi still hadn't said a word, and it wasn't like her. He slid his gaze her way as Eric typed on his wireless keyboard. She was chewing her thumbnail, arms folded across her body and a far-off look on her face. She was completely zoned and that was both terrifying and worrying at the same time. He didn't want to bench her.

"They are," Eric confirmed. "Over a two year period. We have the go-ahead from the other agencies to take point since we're assuming he's still hunting within our jurisdiction."

"He traveled across the country," Sam murmured.

"And the rhetorical question everyone's asking but no one's saying is: why?" Deeks said, leaning forward and bracing his elbows on the table.

Callen's gaze flicked to Kensi again, his hackles rising because she still hadn't spoken, then back to the screen. "Sam, take Deeks and look at the crime scene. Eric, get me information on personnel stationed in each city over the last two years, see if you can find a match. Kensi and I'll take the cases from the other cities, familiarize ourselves with the past." When Sam shot him a disgusted look, he offered an innocent smile, darting his gaze to Kensi's profile. "Oh, and try not to kill each other."

Sam's almost imperceptable nod told Callen he understood. Deeks didn't know.

His face went serious when Deeks and Sam left, bickering the whole way. Eric turned back to his computer, digging, prying, pushing into the lives and investigations of the deaths of eight women. He turned to lean his hip against the table, facing his teammate's solemn, striking profile. "So, where should we start?"

Kensi didn't reply, just continued to stand, chewing her nail.


The sharp tone made her jump and her hand shook slightly when she dropped it. "Yeah?" She noticed him looking at her expectantly. "Sorry."

He caught the alarm in her eyes just seconds before she managed to hide it completely. Something was going on with her and it was different than the other years he'd seen it. She was more on edge than any other year and it made Callen itch. "Everything okay?"

Kensi seemed to shake herself, then turn toward him with a smile she'd obviously tried to paste on for his benefit. "I'm good." She glanced at the screen, at Eric's eight DMV photos, then back at Callen. "So, a serial killer?"

Thought I'd take a crack at some LA stuff, even though I shouldn't start anything new.

Do me a favour and let me know if you think I should keep going?