DISCLAIMER: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
SPOILERS: Yes, there are spoilers. Lots of them. For all episodes of NCIS up through the current episodes of Season Six.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Best Thing That Never Happened to Kate Todd
By Jaina


Part One

It's late - so very late that it is in fact early - when Kate gets back to her apartment. It's been days since she's slept, but she doesn't have time now. Ari Haswari is firmly in Gibbs' sights and he will die. This time, Kate knows she won't hesitate if she has the chance to kill him.

Wiping her hand wearily over her eyes, Kate drops her jacket and heads for her bedroom. She needs a change of clothes and a chance to get Tony's blood off her. A movement in the darkness has her drawing her gun faster than she would have thought she still could at the moment.

"It's just me," Abby says sleepily, and now that she's focusing on her Kate can see her raised hands as two slightly paler shadows.

"God, Abs," Kate breathes, "Don't do that to me."

Silence envelops them and Kate doesn't need to be able to see Abby to imagine the way her face falls.

"C'mere," she says softly, opening her arms.

She doesn't have to tell Abby twice. The goth forensic scientist dives into her arms and squeezes her tightly.

"I'm so sorry, Kate." Abby sniffles. "I can't believe he got Tony. My dream..." More sniffling.

Kate closes her eyes and holds Abby tighter to her. She can't think about Tony right now. She simply can't. If she does she might start crying, might starting thinking about how this was all her fault. She was the Secret Service Agent. She should have protected him. She should have been the one to die - not Tony.

And if she thinks about all that, she won't be able to focus on finding his killer and putting a bullet in his forehead. That's what she wants - almost as she wants this to all be a very bad dream. So instead, she turns her focus to Abby.

Rubbing her back gently, she guides Abby back towards her bed, where Abby had been laying when she'd come in.

"Not that I'm not glad to see you," Kate squeezes Abby a little closer as she thinks just how true that is. "But what are you doing here? I thought we agreed this was a just friends thing."

Abby is her best friend and she knows that Abs feels the same way about her. When one girl's night out had turned into a slightly drunken one night stand, they'd decided to leave their friendship as it was and not push for anything more. They were comfortable with what they had. Not, Abby had amended, that she wouldn't be agreeable to the occasional benefit. Kate couldn't help but agree, and that was that.

"I know," Abby sounds apologetic. "This is a friends thing. I just didn't want to be by myself tonight. Please, Kate? Do you mind?" The gently pleading in Abby's voice is what does her in. She can't resist it.

"Okay, c'mon, let's get you in bed."

When Abby's lying down, she pulls the cover up over her and sits there by her for a few moments, just watching her. Abby's still holding on to her wrist tightly and Kate waits until her fingers relax in sleep to get up.

She showers first, watching hollowly as the water turns pink as it sluices down her body. When she gets out, Kate makes sure she's ready to go back to work, and then slips into bed next to Abby and wraps her arms around the younger woman. Thirty minutes is all she will allow herself, but Abby needs to be reassured, she knows. She tells herself that firmly. This is for Abby.

Kate buries her face against the back of Abby's neck and breathes in the smell that's uniquely hers. She tries to focus on that instead of thinking about the stunned look on Tony's face and the instantaneous lack of awareness that had followed, its absence as abrupt as flicking off a light.

Tears burn in her eyes and she presses herself tighter against Abby, willing it to all go away, and welcoming the oblivion of sleep for just a little while.

The first time she sees Ziva David, she's on hold and Tony is standing beside her. He's standing beside her desk in his sharpest suit, leering at her. Taunting and mocking her in the way that only Tony ever could. Even in memory (or perhaps hallucination is a better word for it) Tony can still get under her skin like no one else. Now, however it's tempered with a fond sadness.

"Nooner!" Tony crows the word triumphantly, as he stares after Gibbs and the new Director.

Kate scowls. "You never change do you, Tony?"

"Nope," Tony emphasizes the last syllable just to annoy her as he leans in closer. "But you loved every minute of it, didn't you, Kate?"

She can't help but smile back at him.

"Yeah," she said slowly, "Yeah, I did, Tony." Her smile is wistful. For all that he annoys her, she really will miss him now. She still can't quite believe he's gone. Maybe that's what this is about. Or maybe she's just finally lost it. It's highly possible after the last few days that she's had.

"I don't think it's working."

Kate blinks startled.

"What?" She stands up quickly, taking in this woman with a quick glance. She doesn't know her or why she's here. "Can I help you?"

"I'm not certain." The woman purses her lips. "You appeared to be talking to no one."

Kate flushes; how can this woman know about Tony? The thought jars her until she realizes the phone in her hand is squealing loudly with the sounds that indicate that she's been disconnected.

"Do you often talk to no one?"

The smirk that accompanies the words makes Kate want to knock that look off of her face. Instead she slams the phone down in the cradle.

"Can I help you?" She repeats the words more forcefully, through gritted teeth this time.

"No, I am looking for Agent Gibbs." There's still a hint of mocking in her words even though she seems to be cooperating.

"How do you know I'm not Agent Gibbs?"

"Because I do know that Agent Gibbs is a man. You," she pauses and looks Kate up and down, "are not a man."

For a second time, Kate feels off-balance and she hates that even more. Now more than ever, she needs to feel in control, and this woman is infuriating.

"Agent Gibbs isn't here right now," she adds in a clipped voice. "I'm the Senior Field Agent, however. You can say anything to me that you would say to him."

"I'm afraid that will not work. I'm here to stop Agent Gibbs from killing a Mossad Officer. I do not think you can stop him," the woman said in a speculative tone.

Every muscle in Kate's body tenses.

"Ari Haswari?" Her voice is choked.


"Then you're right. I can't help you." Kate pauses to retrieve her badge and gun from her desk drawer and stands. "I'm going to help Gibbs kill him."

"What makes you believe you would be any more successful this time?"

The words hit Kate like a blow, as she's sure they were intended to. She takes a step forward around her desk and gets in the woman's face. Her brain is working again, finally catching up with this conversation and moving past the anger that this woman has been deliberately provoking in her this whole time.

"You're his control officer," Kate breathes the words like the revelation they are. That's the only way that this woman can know what she knows - that she had the chance to kill Ari and that she hesitated.

For the first time, she feels as if they're getting somewhere. If Ari's control officer is here to save his life it must mean they're getting close to threatening his life. It's a pleasant thought.

Kate smiles.

And this is how Caitlin Todd meets Ziva David.

Ziva David - the half-sister of the man who held her hostage, who shot Gerald, who tried to kill Ducky, who had killed her partner - is now her partner. Kate still has a hard time believing it, just like she has a hard time believing Tony's dead in that moment just between waking and sleep.

Gibbs is insistent though, and as much as Kate has argued with him about it - both in front of David and behind her back - she's just beginning to realize that Gibbs won't budge on this. Kate has a decision to make now. She can either live with Ziva David being her partner, or she can leave NCIS. It's as simple as that.

The Director had made that clear to her when she'd gone up to her office earlier that morning to lodge a complaint. Just thinking of how that had gone makes Kate's fists clench. It had also made her wonder just how close David and Madame Director had been during their time in the field together. The professional in her scoffs at the thought; the profiler contemplates the subtle hints that she has seen in the interaction between them and wonders.

The intrigued looks that David is not-so-subtly giving Abby are doing nothing to improve Kate's mood either. When she comments that Abby looks good in her court clothes, Kate doesn't even try to hide her wince.

At least she'll have the satisfaction of watching Abby tear into her. She knows from long experience just how badly Abby hates to dress up for court, to be forced to conform to something she's not comfortable in.

To Kate's shock, Abby flashes her a broad, thousand-watt smile at her instead.

"Ah, Ziva, that's so sweet." Abby pauses and a hint of mischief crosses her face. "So incredibly not true, but still sweet." She follows it up with a hug that Ziva allows, but accepts far from gracefully, and leaves Ziva blinking with bemusement at Abby's rapid shifts of emotion.

Kate's more used to Abby's unpredictability. In fact, she loves the way her friend has a unique way of looking at things. She definitely didn't see this coming though, and she's not liking it at all. It feels far too much like a betrayal, both of her and of Tony. The rational part of her mind knows it's not fair to Abby, that Abby would never do anything to betray Tony's memory or her, but Kate can't help how she feels.

"If you're done discussing catching flies," Gibbs growls from where he's standing just behind Kate, "We can get back to discussing the case."

Kate immediately takes Gibbs less than subtle hint, and snaps her mouth shut from where it's fallen open in surprise at Abby's actions. The next thing she asks is a question about the evidence and they're quickly back on track again.

There isn't much time over the course of her day for Kate to sit and think, which is a good thing, because if she did she would spend even more time than she already does thinking of Tony. Still in her spare moments the way that Abby had cheerfully responded to this infuriating Mossad Officer who was thrust on them without a choice continues to annoy her. Kate knows Abby well enough to recognize this as instant acceptance and she doesn't like it.

She's not ready to grant that same acceptance just yet. In fact, Kate's not even willing to consider it at this point. Tony was her partner; it will take a lot more than the ability to read a map and throw a knife to make Kate accept her.

And if she doesn't like it, then David can just go back to Mossad where she belongs.

Worse than Abby's instant acceptance is the way that David just doesn't seem to care what Kate thinks - about anything, really. Tony cared. Kate hadn't realized that until Tony was gone, but now, like so many other things, she sees what was in front of her the whole time.

He might not have respected it. He might have trampled all over her feelings, but he cared. Even if it was only enough to know what would drive her the craziest.

David manages to piss her off without the slightest indication that she knows what she's doing. Maybe it's worse because it all seems so impersonal. Kate wants so badly to be able to hate her.

They're going into a building, making a raid on a group suspected on smuggling supplies off of the ships that they serve on and re-selling them. Gibbs is back at NCIS sitting on their main suspect, trying to get more information out of him before they go in.

He's only stayed because David was supposed to be interrogating them and had been unable to complete the interrogation. It hadn't gone too far, but only because Kate had been there to pull her out before it had. Now the same woman who had almost blown their interrogation is supposed to be watching Kate's back and it's not exactly making her feel comfortable about the whole situation.

She breaks their silence and changes the plan abruptly.

"McGee? Cover me."

"I am closer."

"McGee," Kate snaps in the hissed whispers that they're using to communicate.

Without a word, he slips passed Ziva and takes his place across the hatch from her, but he still manages to give Kate his best reproachful look as he does. It makes Kate feel like she's kicked a puppy, but she's not about to back down now. Instead she grits her teeth and nods at McGee.

He unlocks the hatch and shoves it inward, immediately swinging his gun up to cover what he can see. Kate steps inside and flies back as the blast of a shotgun catches her and knocks her off her feet.

There is a heartbeat, the merest microsecond, that McGee is in shock. Then he's returning fire into the hatch. Ziva is beside him instantly, gunning down their assailants with lethal, pinpoint precision.

McGee's hands are shaking as he fumbles for Kate's pulse. There's so much blood everywhere. Her shirt is shredded, perforated by all the tiny pellets of shot. Her vest took most of the blast, but not all of it. McGee isn't even aware of the tears streaming down his face as Ziva calls it in.

"I'm so sorry, Kate."

McGee is sitting beside her bed, his head resting in his hands. Kate can see the dirty tear tracks dried on his face. She feels bad for him in a distant way. She can imagine how responsible he feels for all of this. Tony's death still lingers over them, even though it's been months and she knows that he feels responsible even though he wasn't even on that roof. Now he let her go through a door first and she gets shot.

It's a lot for anyone to have to deal with. She reaches out and puts a hand over his wrist, squeezing gently.

"It's okay, Tim." Her throat dry from lack of use and she ends up croaking out the words instead of speaking them. "It wasn't your fault." The resignation in her voice says it all. This is her fault. Again. Just like Tony's death.

She let her emotions get the best of her and it was unacceptable. Kate knows that and she doesn't need anyone to tell her that. Gibbs does anyway.

"What in the hell were you thinking?"

Kate doesn't really have an answer for that question. Part of her wants to know how having David open that door would have made anything different from having Tim beside her. She knows Gibbs is right though. She screwed up. She gets it. The thought horrifies her. What if she hadn't been the one to get shot? It could have been McGee just as easily as it was her.

And then she would have been responsible for the death of another teammate.

That thought keeps her eyes open, staring straight ahead, and her mouth shut as Gibbs lays into her and finally suspends her for a week.

As he leaves, anger and disappointment, mostly with herself, war with sheer exhaustion. After nearly an hour of oppressive, brooding silence, exhaustion finally wins and Kate falls into a restless sleep. Like all her sleeping moments lately, it only leaves her feeling haunted.

When she wakes, it's with an abruptness that leaves her gasping as she sits up sharply. She falls back against the stiff pillows of her hospital bed and lets her eyes drift closed until her breathing slows to normal. When her eyes open again, Kate notices a small flower on the table beside her bed.

The thin, fragile spray of a single orchid sticks up out of a small pot and ends in a bloom of the palest lavender. It's one of the most beautiful things that Kate's ever seen, and she stares at it until she thinks to look for a card. It's with some surprise that she notes that there isn't one.

Much later, it's Abby who comes to take her home. Kate's grateful for the help and too tired to still be smarting from Gibbs lecture. Abby is subdued but cheerful and it's like a balm for Kate's aching soul.

So she leans into Abby's shoulder and wraps an arm around her waist.

"Got everything," Abby asks quietly.

Kate shakes her head, knowing that she hadn't come in with anything and then reconsiders.

"Someone brought me a flower."

"Oh?" There's something in Abby's voice, but Kate's too tired to decipher it at the moment.

She stops and straightens, looking over at Abby.

"Was that you?"

Abby shakes her head with a smile.

"Not me," she disclaims cheerfully. "Maybe you have a secret admirer."

Kate snorts at the likelihood of that and dismisses the thought. The orchid had probably just gotten delivered to her room by accident, after all. Still she makes sure to take it with her when she leaves, and immediately gives it a place of honor on one of her window sills when Abby delivers her home.

Abby settles her in bed and then putters around Kate's apartment. As Kate drifts in and out of sleep, Abby makes soup and wanders quietly around the place. She's spent enough time there to feel at home and for her part, Kate sleeps better than she has in months.

The subtle sounds of Abby's presence lull her into a sense of security. The next time she wakes clearly it's early evening. Abby is already curled up beside her and Kate can't help but smile at her sleeping friend.

Abby looks so impossibly calm like this, without Caf-Pow surging through her veins and the base line of her music thudding in the background. Feeling Kate's eyes on her, Abby stirs lazily and opens her eyes.


Her smile warms Kate and she can't help but feel grateful that she was able to see past the outside to what was on the inside. It would have been a shame if she had missed out on Abby's friendship.

"Hey yourself." Kate tries a small smile herself. "Thank you for staying with me. You don't have to, you know." Abby leaving is the last thing she wants, but she has to give her the out. There's nothing life-threatening wrong with her and she can manage another night by herself. It's certainly nothing new.

Abby's punch to her arm is more like a light contact of her fist that barely brushes a tiny part of Kate's shoulder that hasn't been injured. Kate takes her point though.

"I'm staying because I want to." Abby pauses and tilts her head. "Unless you really want to be alone. 'Cause then I'd leave, but only if that was what you wanted."

Abby's familiar babbling is comforting and Kate smiles again.

"I don't want you to leave."

Abby grins and Kate relaxes.

"Good." Abby says firmly and that's that.

They drift in companionable silence for several moments until a knock at the door startles them both. Kate sits up sharply, biting back a groan as her body protests the abuse it's taken all day. Abby's up just as quickly, but moving much more smoothly.

"I can get it, Kate," Abby says quickly. "You don't have to get up."

Kate's face is a mask of pain, but she shakes her head shortly. "No." She takes a deep, steadying breath and continues a bit more gently. "No, I'll get it."

She's probably being paranoid, but she has no idea who would be at her door at this hour. Abby's really the only likely candidate and she's already here. After the day she's had, Kate's not taking any more chances, especially not with Abby.

It takes her a minute to tug her jeans on, even with Abby's silent help and she drapes a long sleeve shirt over her. She's decent - barely. But it's good enough to answer the door of her own home at this time of the night.

"Do me a favor," she asks Abby, ignoring all the others that Abby's done for her today.

"Of course," Abby agrees without hesitation.

Kate smiles, but it's pained. "Wait for me in here?"

"Kate!" Abby protests sharply, realizing immediately what Kate's thinking.

"Please?" Kate's not above begging. She's counting on Abby going easy on her tonight, because she's hurt. Any other time she wouldn't get away with it.

Abby crosses her arms in front of her chest and pouts, but she doesn't move towards the living room. It's the best Kate can hope for and she nods gratefully.

"Thank you." She squeezes Abby's shoulder as she brushes past her and hopes that she's just being paranoid.

Kate feels better when she scoops up her service weapon on the way to the door. She takes another deep breath before she looks out the peephole, preparing herself for whoever might be out there.

Whatever she might have been expecting, it's not what she gets. Kate undoes the lock methodically and pulls the door open, her gun still in hand, hanging down at her side.


The Israeli woman is dressed in her usual cargo pants and an army green shirt. Heavy combat boots complete the outfit. The only thing that's different is the way that her hair hangs loosely around her face instead of being tied back into the professional-looking ponytail that she wears to work. For the first time Kate sees past the facade of the hardened Mossad Officer and realizes just how young David actually is.

It softens her just a little, and maybe that shows on her face, because something in David seems to relax fractionally just before she speaks.

"I did not see you in the hospital and I wished to make certain that you were okay." She shrugs minutely, as if mitigating the seriousness of what she's just said.

Kate realizes abruptly just how nervous the other woman is. She holds open the door and steps back enough for Ziva to come inside.

"Thank you." As soon as she says them, Kate recognizes the genuineness of her own words. There's something else behind them too and she knows from experience that she won't be comfortable until she speaks them. If David hadn't sought her out, she would have gone to find her some time in the coming days.

The door shuts heavily and she turns slowly to face David.

"I owe you an apology."

David's watching her closely. The depth of her gaze still makes Kate squirm, and she wonders just how much of the antagonism she's felt for this woman comes back to this way that she has of looking at her and seeing past the surface. David isn't speaking, though. She's still waiting for Kate to say what she needs to say.

Part of Kate is grateful for the chance; the other part is annoyed that David can read her that well.

"I haven't treated you fairly since you got here. And today," Kate shakes her head. "There's no excuse for my actions. I should have trusted you." She takes another breath and finishes. "I'm sorry."

Ziva blinks, startled by her words. "Ari-"

"Isn't you." Kate bites out the words shortly, surprising herself by actually meaning them.

"That does not make me any less responsible. I was his control officer." Her fists clench at her sides. "I should have known what he was doing."

"And I should have killed him when I had the chance," Kate admits with a bitter smile. "We both made mistakes that we'll regret for the rest of our lives."

At that, David nods slowly.

She's about to say something else, when Kate hears Abby come out of the bedroom. She turns in time to see Abby offer Ziva a friendly wave and a broad grin.

Ziva's face freezes and a hint of red tints her cheeks.

"I'm sorry. I did not mean to interrupt."

It takes Kate a second to realize what she means, remembering her state of disarray and the casual boxers and too short tank top that Abby's wearing to sleep in, and what it all looks like.

Abby realizes too and laughs gently.

"Oh, we're not..." She gestures between herself and Kate with a mischievous smile. "Just friends. Kate needed someone to stay with her tonight. I volunteered."

"Ah. I see." David's words are ambiguous at best and Kate feels a fist of fear clench around her heart. It's clear that whatever she says, she doesn't really see.

The thought of her saying something at work....But Abby's already shooing her out the door and she can't run after them now. The only thing she can do is hope that David doesn't mention it. She doesn't seem like a gossip from what Kate knows of her, but she can also come out with some of the most bewildering things.

"Do you think she'll say anything?" Kate asks Abby when she comes back inside.

"Kate," Abby protests, drawling her name out exaggeratedly. "Gibbs wouldn't care."

"Gibbs might not; the Director might. And she," Kate gestures after David, "is very friendly with the Director."

Abby laughs. "I don't think the Director would say anything. Besides, I think she and Ziva have a past."

That thought makes Kate wrinkle her nose. The Director and Ziva. The Director and Gibbs. It's all so entangled.

"She's not so bad, you know," Abby says into the silence, looking serious again.

"The Director?" Kate asks, confused.

"No, Ziva. She's okay. I like her."

Kate's mouth sets into a thin line, and she tries not to think about how much weight Abby's approval generally brings with it.

"You should give her a chance. Get to know her. I think you'd like her."


"I know," Abby cuts in quickly. "But she's not who you think she is."

She doesn't know what to say. Her chest aches and each individual wound along her arms and upper body is throbbing. It's been a long day and the night is stretching before her. She doesn't want to argue with Abby.

"I'll try," she says softly.

"Thank you, Kate." Abby says with a smile. She bounces a little on the balls of her feet. Excited, but restrained for Abby. "You won't regret it."

And at that, Kate does manage a smile, because Abby can always convince her that she won't regret it, even when she has a sneaking suspicion that she will.

"Okay. I think I'm ready to go back to bed now."

Abby helps her back to bed and Kate makes sure her pistol is within easy reach on her nightstand before she lays her head down on her pillow. She falls into oblivion more than drifting into sleep.

When she wakes the next morning, Kate's alone. The sheets are rumpled beside her and when she buries her face in the pillow beside her she can still catch a brief whiff of Abby's unique perfume. All signs of Abby's presence and all indications of her absence.

She doesn't have to look any further to know that Abby's gone completely, the silence of her apartment tells her that. A glance at the clock confirms her suspicion that Abby's already slipped out of her apartment to go to work.

Disappointment and sadness fills her unexpectedly and Kate allows herself to sink back into her pillows with a wistful sigh. She misses the warmth of Abby's body to hold onto.

Three Weeks Later

They're both breathing hard, shoulders brushing against each other, their backs pressed up against the wall. Occasional gunfire spits past them as they take the available instant to catch their breath.

Kate risks a glance around the corner and sees an opening. She looks back at Ziva, and catches her eye. She gestures, conveying that Ziva is supposed to cross the hallway while Kate covers her so that they can gain the advantage over their attackers.

Ziva nods without hesitation, that scary determination that makes her so good at her job already visible on her face. On the silent count of three both women move. Kate begins to fire rapidly down the hall as Ziva jumps out from behind her and launches herself across the passageway. The moment she's there, she begins to pick off their attackers with deadly efficiency.

Moments later the fight is over. Another glance exchanged and they're moving forward, clearing the rest of the building. It takes a while, but they're working together. It isn't like they haven't done this before, but it is the first time that Kate's felt this easy flow of partnership between them.

She knows Ziva well enough now to anticipate what she's about to do and compliment it with her own actions. Kate finds herself grinning, despite the circumstances. She'd forgotten how good this could feel.

She reaches out to touch Ziva's arm, breaking her focus and pulling her attention back to Kate. It's only then that she realizes she has no idea what she wants to say. Instead Kate smiles and tries to put the nebulous feelings that she wants to convey into that smile.

Ziva seems confused when Kate doesn't speak or add anything else, but she smiles back nevertheless. It doesn't last long; a muffled noise breaks the moment before it can linger and turn awkward, but it happens and there's no going back from it. It's a gesture just that small and simple, but it changes everything.

That night they manage to wrap the case up at an unusually early hour. Kate's ready to walk out the door only a few hours after the building has been deserted. Seeing Ziva wrapping things up at her own desk, Kate hesitates, giving into the instinct that guided her earlier in the day, and slows up her own preparations to leave.

It's nothing too obvious, but she reorganizes the papers on her desk and fiddles with her coat until she's rising to leave at the exact same moment as Ziva. She smiles again, the expression growing a little bit wider when she sees the surprise on Ziva's face, as she falls into step with the Mossad Officer.

"I was going to get something to eat. Lunch was a long time ago," Kate comments with a wry grin. "Want to join me, Ziva?"

She can't believe the way her heart is pounding and her palms are sweating. This is insane. She's a grown woman, a former Secret Service Agent, for God's sake, and she's freaking out about sharing a meal with a co-worker? What is she worried about? It's just a meal, Caitlin, she reminds herself sternly, not a proposal.

Or even a date, the clearly more sensible side of her brain reminds her.

"Mmm." The purring sound of agreement Ziva makes should be illegal, Kate thinks. "Dinner sounds wonderful." Ziva hesitates as they get on to the elevator. "Should we not see if Abby wants to come?"

Ziva's innocent question makes Kate's heart sink like a lead balloon.

"I think she left earlier," Kate lies as smoothly as she can, and hopes like hell they don't run into Abby on the way out of the building. It's not that she doesn't want to spend time with Abby. It's just that she wants Ziva to herself for this dinner.

Ziva nods, but waits until they're in the garage before she speaks again.

"You know, Kate, I have not said anything to anyone about you and Abby. And I will not. She explained to me about the Navy's 'Do not ask and do not tell' policy."

Her words take Kate by surprise and a nervous laugh spills out of her lips.

"No, no, that's not...we're not." She shakes her head and tries to come up with a coherent sentence. "Abby and I are just friends." It's not the whole truth, but she finds herself not wanting to explain for yet more reasons that she doesn't want to consider. "Did she say we were a couple?"

Kate asks partly to see what Abby has told Ziva, because it's apparently a lot more than she thought, and partly because she's curious to know how Abby sees their relationship.

"No," Ziva says slowly, "She did not."

Kate breathes a sigh of relief she hadn't realized she was holding.

"But I have seen you together; you are more than just friends."

Some days, in the process of Gibbs shaping Ziva into an NCIS agent, Kate forgets that, like her, Ziva was originally a profiler. It means she notices the little things, the things that people don't know they're saying with their bodies. It means she needs to tell Ziva the truth.

"We are," Kate admits simply. "Abby means more to me-" The thought of losing Abby as she'd lost Tony chokes whatever she might have been about to say. "She's my best friend. And more. I love her, but I'm not in love with her. I guess...she's family."

Abby's family. Kate hasn't exactly thought of it that way before, but as she says it, it has the ring of truth to it, and she likes the thought. Family is the thing that has to accept you, whether they like you at the moment or not and Kate thinks that she just might have that with Abby.

She makes a mental note to buy Abby flowers or an extra-large Caf-Pow in the morning. Tony's death has taught her to show the people she loves just how she feels about them before it's too late.

Ziva's brow wrinkles and Kate wonders what outrageous thing she's about to say. She hates to admit it, but she's actually starting to like the little, and sometimes not so little, mistakes that Ziva makes with idioms.

"So you are not together?"


"So would you object to a relationship with a woman?" Ziva hesitates. "Or is that something I should not be asking?"

Kate bites her lip and tries to choke back the slightly hysterical laughter bubbling up within her. This is turning into one of the bluntest and strangest conversations that she's ever had.

"That depends," she tries to say just as straightforwardly. "Are you asking as an NCIS agent or as a friend?"

"Am I a friend?" Ziva asks, stopping to turn and look at her.

"Yes." Kate doesn't even have to stop and think about her answer and that feels good.

"Then I am asking as a friend."

"I'm Catholic." Kate hasn't planned what she was going to say. This whole conversation defies planning, but those words manage to spill out of her mouth without conscious thought.

"And I am Jewish," Ziva responds with a wry smile that begs the question of what this has to do with their conversation.

"The Catholic church doesn't condone homosexual relationships." Kate says the words by rote.

Ziva raises an eyebrow challengingly. "Ah, but I do not care what the Catholic church condones." She puts a hand out gently to make Kate stop walking. "What do you condone, Caitlin?"

Anger at Ziva's presumption, for putting her in this position, for having the stubbornness to pry this answer from her, is bubbling up in her. With Abby, it was so easy just to follow in the Goth scientist's charismatic, electric wake and go along with the flow. With Ziva everything is hard, frustrating and infuriating, and still she can't help but want to find out more about her.

"Come to dinner with me and find out."

It's the best she can do at the moment. She's standing in the middle of the parking garage for the building where she works for the Navy, for God's sake. It's hardly the ideal place to be having this conversation. So Kate holds her breath and waits, hoping that Ziva will come, will agree, will take a chance.

She is, after all.

And in the end, Ziva doesn't disappoint at all.

"If I am late again, Gibbs will kill me." Ziva pauses, tilts her head as a thought occurs to her. "And then fire me."

Kate laughs at the ridiculousness of that statement even though she understands the sentiment behind it entirely. She was late - once - herself; she never has been since then. Although this morning....

Seeing Ziva draped across her bed, laying there so unabashedly naked, tilting her head at her, with her dark, curly hair falling across her cheek makes Kate want to say to hell with Gibbs and work and spend the rest of the day in bed.

Giving in to the urge she hasn't been fighting very hard, she reaches over to brush Ziva's hair back behind her ear. She takes advantage of the moment to bury her hair in the thick curls and drops her head to take a small, dark nipple into her mouth.

Kate feels it pebble under her tongue and laves it with further attention. Ziva makes a small sound and shifts underneath her. Kate lets her hand fall to Ziva's hips and pulls her closer. She wants the feel of Ziva's body against hers once again.

"We can't." The words are mumbled and half-hearted.

Kate barely hears them through her preoccupation and she doesn't really want to listen to them at all.

A hand catches her wrist and squeezes just tightly enough to shock Kate. The grip lasts only an instant, but Kate sits back abruptly and stares at Ziva.

"I can't be late for work," Ziva repeats apologetically. "I won't let Gibbs down."

"You're right," Kate admits, slightly embarrassed by how little she'd cared. This is the first time that she's actually felt happy since Tony died and she let herself forget everything else to be in this moment.

Kate sits a little bit straighter, pulling the covers up with her.

"Do you want the first shower?" Ziva is, after all, her guest.

Ziva smirks, her eyes glinting with that hint of danger that turns Kate on more than she wants to admit.

"We could shower together," Ziva suggests blandly.

"I thought you were in a hurry to get to work," Kate counters, folding her arms over her chest.

Ziva shrugs. "It was merely an offer. If you do not wish to join me, you do not have to."

She punctuates her statement, by getting out of bed. The sheet slides down her body to pool limply on the bed. Kate watches the way her hips sway for the entire time it takes her to cross the room to the bathroom. It's deliberate, Kate knows. A challenge as clear as a gauntlet thrown down on the bed, and there is now way she's not going to take Ziva up on that challenge.

Without a second thought she hops out of bed and follows Ziva. They'll just have to hurry.

Forty-five minutes later they're out of the shower; so far they're only running five minutes late. Ziva volunteers to drive to make up for it. Kate decides that living that dangerously isn't worth her job.

Ziva is frowning at having to put back on yesterday's clothes.

"You could borrow something of mine," Kate offers over her shoulder as she rummages through her closet.

Ziva slips her arms around her waist and peers at the contents of the closet from around Kate.

"I think that would be worse than coming in wearing my clothes from yesterday."

"Everyone will notice, you know," Kate points out the obvious. After all they do work with trained investigators.

"But they will not know that I spent the night with you, yes? Not for sure. If I come in wearing your clothes, they will know."

Kate frowns. She can almost feel another wrinkle developing on her forehead.

"You're right." She shakes her head and sighs, wondering what she's gotten herself into now. "But I do have something that you can wear."

She pulls her spare NCIS cap off the top shelf of her closet and holds it out to Ziva. Grabbing her own outfit, Kate heads to the bathroom to change, dropping her robe as she goes. She has a feeling that if she changes out here, they'll be running even later before they leave and that really is the last thing that either of them needs.

She almost jumps in surprise when Ziva sticks her head in the bathroom. Kate hadn't even heard her approach.

"Is there something you need to tell me about this hat, Caitlin?"

Kate shivers. She can't help it. For the first time in her life, she finds herself liking the way someone says her full name.

"What's wrong with it," she asks as she pulls up her slacks and straightens up.

She has to bite back a laugh as she sees Ziva's fingers sticking through a hole in the hat. She'd forgotten that she even had that hat. She's not even sure why she kept it.

"Tony shot it," Kate says softly. "Or I did. We were never sure which one of us..." She frowns, as her thoughts drift to her old partner.

With a shake of her head, she steps forward and gently takes the hat from Ziva.

"You should wear it," she says softly. "If you want."

When Ziva nods, Kate puts the hat on her and helps her fix her ponytail to fit back through it. It's a strangely intimate task and Kate feels more than a little nervous by the time they've finished.

As if knowing how she's feeling, Ziva leans forward and captures her lips in a kiss, drowning her nerves in the sensation.

With Ziva driving, they're barely late at all. Tim's timely distraction of Gibbs gives him plausible deniability of their brief tardiness and their jobs are safe for another day. Kate makes a mental note to thank McGee later. He really is shaping up to be an excellent agent and she definitely owes him for today.

Every couple has its first; Kate doesn't like this one at all. But then there aren't many couples who have to deal with 'first time you lover allegedly killed an annoying suspect in an elevator'.

Ziva finds her coming out of the women's restroom and grabs her arm just above the elbow and draws her into the slightly secluded corner under the stairs. Tension is radiating from every pore of her body. Kate doesn't resist the manhandling, but she has no idea what she's going to say.

Ziva drops her arm the moment they have some privacy. For once Kate isn't worried about anyone seeing them together. This is definitely a partner situation.

"I did not do it," are the first words out of Ziva's mouth.

She's pacing back in forth around the confined space, and Kate has the sudden urge to reach out and stop her, to calm her down. Now that she knows what she wants to do, she can't. It's not fair, she thinks. Not fair at all.

"Do you believe me?" Ziva demands bluntly. "Do you believe that I did not kill that man?"

Kate starts to speak.

"Don't answer that, Kate!" Gibbs' voice cracks like a whip from behind them.

Kate feels her heart sink and doesn't know whether to be relieved that she's being saved from answering or worried about what she suspects is coming next.

Gibbs pokes a finger at Ziva sternly. "Back to your desk. Now."

There's no arguing with Gibbs when he uses that tone of voice and both women know it. Ziva gives Kate one last glance full of so many meanings that Kate can't interpret it. She watches Ziva walk away, waiting until she's gone before she'll speak to Gibbs. She still doesn't look at him.

"I won't do it, Gibbs."

Gibbs is silent for so long that despite her best intentions, Kate looks over at him.

"Won't do what, Kate?" His voice is low and just a little bit rough. She hates the way he knows her so well. "I'm already down one investigator, damn it. I need you on this case."

She can't ask for a pass on this one investigation. Kate knows that. She would have to give a reason why and she can't do that. Not even with Gibbs.

Most of all, she's scared of what they might find. Does she think Ziva didn't kill Brian Dempsey? She wants to believe Ziva, wants desperately to trust what she says, but she also knows what Ziva's capable of.

Gibbs is staring at her now. Understanding has lit his face and it's making her uncomfortable. He steps further into her space, so that they're almost face to face. Kate doesn't back down. She never has from Gibbs and she won't start now.

"I thought we were clear on Rule Twelve, Kate."

"We were," she says quickly. "We are."

"Then this isn't a problem."

He knows. That much is obvious, but for now he hasn't done anything else. He hasn't threatened to kick her off of his team or told her to stop seeing Ziva. She should be grateful. All she feels, though, is empty.

"She didn't do it, Gibbs." She's surprised at the conviction in her voice; she hadn't even known she was going to say it.

"Then prove it," is his simple reply as he walks away.

Kate sags back against the wall, and lets her eyes fall closed. She hopes she isn't proven wrong about Ziva. She doesn't want to be wrong.

It is innocent until proven guilty, after all. She just needs to hang on to that and maybe she can get through this case.

Kate's sitting on the couch, staring at her beer as if it contains the answer to everything. Her mind drifts idly as she watches the condensation slide down the side of the bottle and add to the ring that's already formed on the coffee table's glass top.

At her apartment there would be coasters. At Ziva's there is not. She let herself in an hour ago after she got off work. Since then she's been waiting. Not the first time she's let herself in to wait for Ziva after a long day of work, but usually she's wearing less clothes when she does the waiting.

The thought provokes a small smile, but her amusement disappears as she hears the sound of a key in the lock. Kate makes no move to get up as the door is opened and Ziva steps inside.

Ziva doesn't do a startled double take or anything nearly so obvious. All the same, Kate knows that Ziva is aware that she's here. She probably saw Kate's car outside the building or noticed a light on, something.

Still Ziva goes through her routine upon entering, dropping her keys on the small table beside the door; shedding her jacket and taking the time to hang it up; slipping out of her boots and padding past Kate and into the kitchen.

Ziva comes back with another beer and takes a long swallow before setting it down on the coffee table across from Kate's. Instead of sitting beside Kate, she takes the chair that puts the coffee table between them.

Kate's been following her with her eyes from the moment she entered the apartment. She knows that she has some explaining to do and maybe some apologizing, but she's been trying to see how upset she was. All her observation hasn't done her any good; she's still not sure what Ziva's thinking or feeling.

So Kate says what she's been thinking since they went in after Jenny.

"You were amazing today."

"Mmm." The non-committal noise could have been an agreement, or it could have simply been an acknowledgment that Kate had spoken. "Gibbs did all of the work."

Kate bites the bullet and stops avoiding the subject that they've been dancing around.

"I'm sorry that I didn't tell you that I believed you. I wanted to."

"You wished to tell me or you wished to believe me?"

Ziva looks up to meet Kate's gaze for the first time and Kate can plainly see the hurt written there.

"I told Gibbs that you didn't do it."

"I needed you to believe me," Ziva counters sharply.

"What do you want me to say, Ziva," Kate asks a bit more hotly than she'd intended. She's suddenly not feeling very apologetic. "Dempsey was alive when he got in the elevator. You were the only person with him and he was dead when you got out."

Ziva stands so quickly her beer almost spills.

"Get out."

Kate blinks, starts to speak, and then reconsiders. She gets up quickly, snatching her suit jacket off the back of the couch and walks to the door. Her hand is on the knob when she remembers something and turns to face Ziva.

"Gibbs knows about us."

Ziva doesn't speak or give an inch.

Kate's heart clenches, before she yanks open the door and slams it shut behind her.

At this rate, there won't be anything to know for much longer. It isn't a consoling thought.

Part Two

Gibbs' retirement - his desertion, her darkest thoughts assert - falls on Kate's shoulders most heavily. She spends her time trying to hold the team together. Abby is hurt and touchy. McGee is doing his best and trying his hardest, but she can't depend on him. He's a good agent; he'll be great one day, but she can't lean on him yet. And what Kate desperately need is a friend, someone who could support her.

The way that Ziva is constantly challenging her every day about every decision that she makes isn't helping either.

It starts the day after Gibbs leaves, or maybe weeks before it. Gibbs' absence becomes the catalyst for a realization that's long over due.

Kate meets Ziva for lunch at their favorite deli. It's as far away from the Navy Yard as they can make it and still get back in time to not be late. Even better, it's not frequented by too many other Navy personnel. No one that would recognize them, at any rate.

Kate awkwardly picks at her sandwich, only taking a half-hearted bite before setting it down. Ziva is almost halfway through hers when she realizes that Kate is watching her and not eating.

"Did they miss up your sandwich?"

The garbled phrase takes a moment to penetrate Kate's brain, before she shakes her head in dismissal.

"I think Gibbs was right."

Ziva nods, slightly more comfortable now that she seems to know where the conversation is going.

"As irritating as it may sometimes be, Gibbs is usually right," Ziva agrees between bites.

Somehow her agreement doesn't make Kate any happier. A frown line wrinkles her brow.

"About us. And about Rule Twelve."

"Rule Twelve? I do not remember that one."

Kate blinks and then realizes that there was no reason for Gibbs to quote that particular rule to Ziva. It had been aimed at Tony as a reminder and her as a warning.

"Never date a coworker."

"You are breaking up with me, yes?" Ziva's reply was terse but otherwise devoid of emotion.

"I just don't think it's right," Kate explains quickly. "The Director is putting me in charge of the team...for now, and I don't think it would be right if we were in a relationship."

"Why?" Ziva demands.

"Because it would be wrong." Kate tries to hold on to the conviction that was so obvious earlier in the day but is slipping away in Ziva's presence.

"Nothing has changed, Kate."

"Everything has changed, Ziva. Everything." Kate doesn't realize that she's yelling until she's looking down at Ziva. She doesn't even remember standing.

"That is not my fault," Ziva retorts. "Gibbs is the one who left."

"I can't do this." The way Kate says it, it sounds like a mantra that she's repeated a hundred times.

"You can," Ziva counters. "You are choosing not to..."

"Yes, I am," Kate snaps back.

"Because you are scared of what will happen if someone finds out about us."

Ziva's accusation hits its intended target with her usual unnerving accuracy. Kate flinches and for a moment, Ziva holds her breath. There is a chance, just a slight one, but a mere chance that Kate will change her mind. In the next moment, Kate straightens, her spine stiffening and Ziva knows that it's too late.

The dull ache that knowledge brings is lost in the rest of the still-bleeding wounds that she carries, and as with the rest of them she turns pain into focus, and determination.

"What's wrong with putting my career first," Kate demands, the challenge in her voice obvious.

It's a question that Ziva finds herself wanting to give a different answer to than she would have in the past. Before NCIS, before Gibbs she would have said that her job and her duty were everything. Did she not kill her own brother for that very duty? But now, she is not so certain.

She can see with aching clarity how badly Kate is hurting, as badly as she is. They simply can't seem to stop hurting one another. The urge to fight back and inflict as much damage as possible is instinctive, ingrained in her by training and years of life and death situations.

Today, Ziva resists that urge. There is more than one way to win a fight, and winning is what Ziva wants. Not mutually assured destruction. To achieve that, she must retreat and regroup to fight another day.

"There is nothing wrong with putting your career first, if that is what you value most." Ziva hopes that the subtle rebuke finds its mark as well. "But I think you are making an error in judgment."

Kate flinches when Ziva steps closer. She feels frozen in place, unable to move, as Ziva cups her face with surprising gentleness, and kisses her with a tenderness that hurts.

"And it would not be right," Ziva concludes, "for me to fail to point out when your judgment is not sound."

After that every decision looms more sharply for Kate. She feels each one more acutely, and each time that Ziva challenges an idea or suggests an alternative, this is the argument that flashes in front of Kate. And the hurt never quite seems to fade.

It only serves to reinforce Kate's opinion that Gibbs is right: Never date a coworker.

Kate stares down at the papers on her desk. The dim light makes her squint at the fine print. She can fill these reports out in her sleep and probably has in the past. Tonight's report is a little bit more difficult. There are more variables to consider and asses to covers - her team's, first and foremost, and also Gibbs'. He may no longer be their boss officially, but he still holds their loyalty. No matter how much his actions hurt the members of his team, they stand with him, as he does with them.

Of course, Kate has a suspicion that his retirement paperwork may not be as final as some people may believe. She's always had some ideas about the true nature of Director Sheppard's relationship with Gibbs and she wouldn't be surprised if Gibbs could return to active status anytime he wants. Kate would never admit it to anyone, and maybe not even herself, but she would be just a little bit relieved if Gibbs came back and took over his old team. She's gotten surprisingly comfortable as Senior Field Agent.

It's not ambition that she lacks - or confidence. She knows she's completely capable of doing the job of Team Leader. Not least because Gibbs told her that just before he left, and Gibbs wouldn't lie - not about the job. There is something comforting though about Gibbs seeming omnipotence, and his complete confidence in the fact that he's right. It's something that Kate has never seen anyone else duplicate and she'd like a little bit of that certainty back in her life.

She could really use some certainty. She's always had it in spades. After all, Secret Service Agents can't hesitate. It can be fatal - not for them, but worse - for their protectees. No, it's only recently that certainty has proved elusive for Kate. It's why she's still sitting at her desk at this hour of the night, staring at the beginnings of her report on the day's activities and not accomplishing anything on getting it written.

After all it can be a little bit difficult to explain how the Mossad Officer assigned to an NCIS team manages to be accused of a political assassination, hunted for that by both her agency and NCIS, and contacted a retired NCIS agent who then came in and solved the crime with the help of his former team. It's not the things that great reports are made from, Kate knows, and if any hint of her involvement, as well as Abby, Tim and Jimmy's involvement were to appear they would all be in serious trouble, despite how the incident turned out. Disobeying the Director's direct orders is always frowned upon.

But surprisingly, given the events of the day, this report isn't what's worrying Kate the most. It's almost incidental, in fact. Right now, it makes for a very convenient excuse to sit at her desk and not watch the woman who's sitting at the desk across from hers. Not watching, because if Ziva happened to catch her looking, Kate has a suspicion that she would leave immediately.

So Kate is sitting at her desk and pretending to work on her report so that she can spend this time with Ziva. Since watching is out, she focuses on using her other senses to keep a metaphorical eye on Ziva. Her ear is tuned to catch the slightest sound.

Not that Ziva gives away much, even this way. There's the occasional rustle of fabric or the sound of a quickly stifled grunt as Ziva shifts and puts pressure on a painful bruise or laceration. She has dozens of them, Kate knows, thanks to Ducky's comprehensive report. As well as three cracked ribs, two black eyes and a badly sprained knee.

Of course the only reason she knows this is so that she can keep Ziva off of field duty for a few days, because, even this badly injured, Ziva won't take herself out of the field. It's up to Kate to do that for her as her Team Leader. Kate can't stifle a sigh this time. Yet another thing for Ziva to hate her for.

Her jaw clenches at the thought. She's getting tired of this distance between them. It hurts that Ziva called Gibbs - Gibbs who abandoned them - rather than call her.

Kate looks up, and glares at Ziva.

"Why didn't you trust me?"

Ziva twitches, her hand diving towards the holster that would be at her side if they were outside the building, surprised by Kate's sudden outburst. Her face is startled, but blank.


Kate gets up and strides around her desk until her hands are bracing her on Ziva's desk.

"Why didn't you call me instead of Gibbs? I was here."

"What I did...I was being set up to take the fall for something I did not do. I did not feel I could trust my own people. I knew you would be ordered not to help me and to report my presence if I made contact with you. I did not want to force you to turn me in."

Kate sinks back as if she'd been slapped.

"And you think I wouldn't have broken the rules for you?"

"Would you?" The surprise in Ziva's voice intensifies the ache in Kate's heart.

"I would have helped you," Kate says stubbornly.

"Helped me, by turning me over to the Director, yes?"

Kate flinches at Ziva's direct words.

"Why are you still here, Caitlin?" Ziva's voice softens for the first time. Some how Kate's name from her mouth still sounds like a caress.

"I don't know," Kate shrugs, trying to downplay her uncertainty.

Ziva stands up from behind her desk and slowly bends to pick up her jacket and backpack.

"Tell me. When you find out."

She leans closer to Kate and for a second Kate stops breathing before Ziva kisses her lightly on her cheek and walks away.

"Kate?" Abby's sounds slightly panicky as she yanks the door open. "What's wrong? Is Ziva okay? Oh my god, Gibbs-"

"Abby," Kate cuts her off quickly before she can get more upset. "Everyone's okay."

"No," Abby shakes her head quickly. "Knocks on the door at the three in the morning are never good."

Abby has a point, Kate admits. But tonight is a little bit different.

"Can I come in?" Kate asks wearily.

"Oh, right, yeah. Of course." Abby sweeps the door open and Kate enters gratefully.

She sits down stiffly on the couch. Abby takes a seat beside her without a word.

"What's wrong, Kate?" In the dark room, her voice is low and soothing. It coaxes Kate to open up. It's what Kate came here for, but without that little bit of a nudge she wouldn't have said anything.

"Ziva and I had a fight."

"Tonight?" Abby asks in surprise.

"She stayed late at the office. I stayed to keep an eye on her."

"You could have told her to go home and get some rest," Abby points out reasonably.

Kate lets her head fall back onto the back of the couch and then rolls her eyes towards Abby with a knowing look.

"Right," Abby acknowledges the subtle point, "But did you not say anything because you didn't think she'd go or because you were afraid that she would."

Kate tries not to wince as Abby slices straight to the heart of the issue.

"I don't know, Abby." She falls silent, letting her mind drift in thought. "I miss her," Kate blurts out. "But I still think I was right."

"Right about what?" Abby pries gently.

"Right to break up with her," Kate admits reluctantly.

"Maybe," Abby says softly, "But if you miss her this much...."

Kate squeezes Abby's hand tightly in the darkened room.

"I don't know what to do, Abby."

Abby squeezes back.

"Just be her friend, Kate, and let the rest sort itself out."

Kate blinks and looks over at her wistfully.

"You think?"

"Yeah, I think, Kate," Abby says with a soft smile. "Now get your ass up and into my guest room. You're staying here tonight."

Kate lets herself be pulled to her feet, but stops Abby before she can go any further and hugs her tightly.

"Thanks, Abby."

It's hard to be jealous of a dying man. Hard because it feels so small and petty to begrudge him this small spot of joy in the otherwise dismal last few days of his life.

It doesn't stop Kate from being jealous of Roy Sanders. He's captured Ziva's heart, however briefly, and that's something Kate can't help but be jealous of. She watches with as much distance as she can manage as Ziva gets closer and closer to him, falling for his charms.

Kate can't blame her really. Under other circumstances, she might have liked him too. Still she can't do anything but try to choke back the biting comments that come to her tongue when she sees Ziva laughing at some small joke that he's made or touching his arm in a gesture that gives away the growing intimacy between them.

It's not like she doesn't know that he's not really competition. He's a dead man walking and they are, after all, investigating his murder. But it doesn't make her like it any more.

She puts all of her focus on to doing her job, and catching Sander's killer, knowing that it won't help really, but it's all that she can do for Ziva.

Kate asks for the day after they catch Sander's killer off. Gibbs is surprised by her request, but lets her have it without comment. Still she wonders how much he knows. She's certain that Ziva won't be there either. Sanders isn't doing any better; there's no hope for him now.

She cleans her apartment until it's shining and could pass any inspection. It does little to help her mood, but she manages to slowly while away the first few hours of the day. Next she heads to the hospital.

A brief stop at the Nurses' station confirms that Sanders situation hasn't changed. Kate has a brief glimpse of Ziva stepping into his room, but Ziva's back is to her and she doesn't see Kate. Kate's grateful for that at least. Somehow, she doesn't think Ziva would appreciate it, if she knew she was here.

Still, she wants to be here, offering her silent support, even if Ziva isn't aware of it.

It's especially dangerous for her to be here, though. The Director would be furious if she knew. Being connected to an NCIS agent would be very bad for Kate's cover. Surely the free-wheeling artist 'friend' of Jeanne Benoit wouldn't have any reason to know a Navy Cop. It just means that she has to be more cautious, because she can't bring herself to leave.

Her phone beeps at her, and Kate jerks awake, startled that she even managed to fall asleep and a little bit embarrassed. It's a simple text message, short and succinct, but it makes Kate sit up straighter and press her fingers against the bridge of her nose before she stands.

Sanders is dead. The information comes from the nurses's station, where risk aside, Kate had flashed her badge and asked to be notified if his condition changed. A quick glance at her watch tells her he held on far longer than the Doctors expected. Kate wonders idly if it was Ziva's presence at his side that helped him to hold on. Desire and will have much more power over the body than people often give them credit for.

She goes first to the vending machine and gets two barely acceptable cups of coffee. Then Kate winds her way through the halls of the hospital, going in search of Ziva.

It takes longer than she expects, and when Kate finally does find her it's in the small outdoor gardens where she's seen them together before. This time Ziva's sitting on the bench by alone. Her usually perfect posture is absent. Her shoulders slump inwards.

Kate sits down beside her without Ziva noticing her approach and wordlessly holds out the small Styrofoam cup. There is a moment, when Kate thinks that she won't take it, and then Ziva's fingers wrap around it, brushing against her own just long enough for Kate to feel how cold they are.

Kate has a sudden urge to engulf Ziva's hands in her own and hold them tight until they're warm. She knows the gesture wouldn't be welcome, so she holds her own cup a little tighter and sticks her other hand inside her coat pocket.

The silence stretches almost to the breaking point, until Kate can't bear it any longer.

"I'm sorry."

What other words can she say? Nothing will make it better.

"Did Gibbs send you?"

"Gibbs? No."

"Or perhaps the Director?"

For just a moment, Kate wonders about the rumors that float through the agency about a past between the Director and Ziva. Just as quickly, she dismisses the thought. That's not why she's here today.

"No one sent me." Kate sees Ziva about to ask another question and continues. "I didn't want you to be here alone."

"There was nothing to fight." Ziva's staring down at her hands helplessly. "There was no way to change the course of what would happen."

"I know," Kate says softly. There are no words of comfort to offer here. Ziva knows the rituals and the aftermath of death far too well for any platitudes to seem anything but empty and meaningless.

"But he still fought."

Kate swallows. "He was a good man." The words feel impossibly clichéd on her tongue, but she has to give Roy Sanders his due.

Just like that, Ziva stands up. Her shoulders have straightened and she stands stiffly in front of Kate. Whatever she feels has been pushed away again. If Ziva allows herself the chance to breakdown and fall apart, there is always the possibility that she'll never get up again. She's too strong for that, so she simply goes on in the best way that she knows how.

It's impossible for Kate not to respect that, so she stands with her. Tomorrow they will both be back at work, and neither one of them will mention this moment. Ziva will grieve in her own way and Kate will do her best to respect that. They will probably still argue and bicker about their job and occasionally even personal things, but through all of that this will be with them too.

Ziva is watching when Kate's car blows up. Her heart stops and then immediately tries to beat its way out of her chest. She feels lightheaded and sways on her feet. The shock of such uncharacteristic behavior on her part snaps her out of it.

She swallows and forces herself to straighten up. Gibbs is demanding answers and McGee is shooting her worried looks as he scrambles to try to give Gibbs the answers he wants. She dives back towards her desk and starts going through the motions, finding out as much as she can.

If she stops and thinks about what's happened - she can't think her name, cannot - well, Ziva's not sure what will happen, but it won't bring them any closer to finding the answers that they desperately need. She blinks rapidly as she feels a tear start to prick the corner of her eye.

When Kate walks through the door, Ziva can hardly believe it. No one returns from the dead. It's all she can do to keep from throwing her arms around Kate. It wouldn't be appreciated, and it wouldn't be appropriate. At the moment, Ziva almost doesn't care.

She gets through the day, one obstacle at a time. She watches as Kate walks away at the end of the day, looking smaller and more tired than she's ever seen her before. There's a part of Ziva that still wants to go to her and comfort her, to reassure herself that Kate really is alive.

Instead she finds herself following Kate out of the building. She moves through the shadows with ease, clinging to the corners of buildings and lingering just out of Kate's sight. Tailing her home is a little bit more difficult, since Kate has to catch a cab. Ziva has to drive around the block and she almost misses the cab that Kate is in.

Lingering far enough back to avoid being spotted is easy as Ziva is almost certain she knows Kate's destination. The park across from Anthony DiNozzo's old apartment is almost deserted at this time of night. At least it appears deserted. Ziva suspects that anyone still in there now is probably doing something illegal. Tonight, however, she's certain Kate isn't interested in petty lawbreakers.

Ziva circles around and pulls her car up so that she can watch Kate from across the street. Kate is slumped on a park bench, facing Tony's apartment. She looks stiff and lonely. Her purse is tucked underneath her arm, and even from her distance Ziva can see the way her jaw is clenched.

Ziva wonders what Kate's thinking. Once she could have asked. Things have strangely gotten better between them in the past few weeks, but she could still feel Kate holding something back from her. Now she has a better idea of what that was.

Ziva swallows, and grips the steering wheel a little bit tighter until her knuckles go white from the pressure. She understands undercover missions like the one that Kate has been one and she's more than a little bit familiar with the things that can go wrong on that kind of mission. The way a heart can get involved in a situation that it was never invited into. It's not that she's angry, more that she's sad and feeling impossibly far away from Kate.

Before Kate, she's never pined. Ziva knows now that she hates pining and it's not something that she wants to be doing any more. She also knows that this isn't something that comes with a quick fix. It doesn't mean that she can't fight for what she wants, however. With that thought her determination redoubles. She isn't sure how yet, but she won't give up on getting Kate back.

A trio of cars cross in front of her in quick succession. A hint of motion behind them catches Ziva's attention, two men loitering in the darkness of the park. Ziva follows their gazes towards Kate and for a moment, sees what they see.

A woman alone, on a mostly deserted street, late at night, dressed in formal business-wear, and clearly not paying attention to her surroundings. Easy pickings. They are wrong, of course, but they won't find that out until too late.

Ziva slips out of the car and crosses the street. Kate is still staring fixedly in the opposite direction. She really is lost in thought, Ziva thinks idly, as she feels for the knife hidden at the base of her spine.

It slips from the sheath smoothly and without a hint of sound. Ziva can't help the hint of a smirk that slips onto her features as she glides up behind the men who are stalking Kate. They may not know it yet, but this is their lucky night.

The one in the rear squeaks as she grabs his arm and twists it painfully behind him. Her knife is barely kissing his throat.

"Stop." Her voice is pitched just loud enough for the man in front to hear her. "Or I will slit your friend's throat. You will be next."

She has no intention of following through with her threats, of course, but these fools don't know that.

Still it proves effective. Both men freeze.

"Now walk away," Ziva commands softly, but just as dangerously. "Once you're out of sight, I will let your friend go. If either of you come back, you will regret it."

The second man begins to run and Ziva watches him. The man she's still holding begins to struggle as his friend starts to round the corner. Ziva finally lets him go with a kick to send him on his way. He stumbles, but starts running as soon as he recovers.

Ziva watches them until they're gone, and then turns to walk back to her car. She stops short abruptly, and still almost runs into Kate.

"What are you doing here Ziva?" Kate asks angrily.

Ziva's hopes fall with the tone of her voice. There was a reason that she hadn't made her presence known. She knows Kate would prefer to be alone, but there's a part of her that had hoped that if Kate saw her, her presence wouldn't be unwelcome.

Launching into an explanation of stopping the two men that she's run off is an option, but it would be lying, by omission at least. Ziva doesn't want to lie to Kate anymore.

"I followed you here."

Kate laughs harshly. "Stalking, Ziva?"

"Making sure that my partner does not run into more trouble than she can handle," Ziva counters, and perhaps that is a lie of omission, but Kate isn't ready to hear the truth of what she desperately wants to say.

"I don't think this situation qualifies, Ziva." Kate says bitterly.

"Only because you won't allow it." The simplicity of Ziva's words underscores their meaning.

Their double edge hits Kate and she flinches minutely.

Ziva winces slightly and looks down. The last thing that she wants to do tonight is bring Kate more pain.

Kate steps forward, and slips her hand behind Ziva's neck. She pulls Ziva to her forcefully and presses her lips to Ziva's with clumsy intensity. It's a mad rush of contact, lacking Kate's usual finesse and it's hardly a kiss worthy of savoring. Still even that brush of Kate's lips leaves Ziva hungering for more. She misses what she had all the more intently for having a small reminder, even one so distorted, of what she's lost.

"Is that what you wanted, Ziva?" Kate demands as she pushes Ziva away abruptly.

Even in the dim streetlights, her eyes glitter brightly with emotion. Ziva recognizes the destructive gleam in them, and the pain hidden behind that anger.

"No," Ziva says softly. "It was not."

"Then what?" Kate demands, throwing her arms wide. "What do you want, David?"

There are so many ways Ziva could answer that question. She settles for the simplest and most immediate.

"I want you to be happy."

"Happy?" Kate scoffs. "Do you know what I did today, Ziva? I destroyed a woman's world – everything she's ever believed in – and I took away her father. I'm sorry I can't be happy about it, but some of us actually have emotions."

"No, you would rather feel sorry for yourself and behave like a fool." Ziva's retort is far sharper than she'd intended, but there is only so much of this that she can take. Hearing Kate's continued devotion to Benoit, followed by the accusation that she feels nothing is more than she can take.

After all, if she felt nothing she would hardly be here, would she?

There's a long moment where they stand, staring at one another. Ziva refuses to be the one to back down this time. She won't apologize or give Kate the graceful out. Finally when nothing else is forthcoming, Ziva gives a shake of her head and turns away. She crosses the street and gets back in her car.

She drives away without looking back.

Kate is perched on the edge of Ziva's desk, waiting for her as Ziva descends the stairs, coming down from the Director's office. When Kate sees her, she grins just a little bit too widely. Ziva can't help smiling in return at Kate's loosened up attitude. The slightly glassy look in her eyes and the too wide smile tell her all she needs to know about how well the Doctors at the hospital fixed Kate up with pain medication.

"And how are your ribs?" Ziva asks with a teasing grin.

A hint of color stains Kate's cheeks in response.

"Embarrassed," Kate says succinctly. "And worried. I think I saw you get slammed into a wall as I was getting my ass kicked."

"Mmm," Ziva agrees quietly, and then hesitates, looking back up at Kate from the papers on her desk. "You are not going to freak out on me like Abby, yes?"

"No," Kate agrees easily, "I won't freak out." The smile slips from her face. "You did scare me though," she admits gently, in a low voice.

"I scared you," Ziva repeats Kate's words with a little bit of disbelief and a hint of wonder. It's news to her that Kate still cares enough to be frightened on her behalf.

"You weren't scared though, were you?" Kate asks, more rhetorically than actually expecting a response from Ziva as she continues. "You just stopped fighting and stared at him." The silence lingers and Ziva isn't sure what to say. "What were you thinking?"

"I wasn't," Ziva says curtly, loosing a little bit of her easy good spirits at the hint of censure from Kate. She still isn't sure how she feels about what she did today. She's never stopped fighting before. It has never occurred to her that surrender, or perhaps cease fire, is actually an option. It hasn't been before.

Seeing McGee, then Kate and Gibbs all go down in front of Worth had brought a pinch of terror, the kind she's been trained all of her life not to feel in the heat of the moment. There is something in him that Ziva recognizes though, something that she saw in his eyes in the midst of that fight, that convinced her to stop and give Worth a chance.

Luckily, Worth has proved her right. If he hadn't it would be a very different story, a fact of which Ziva is very well aware.

"You weren't," Kate echoes and then laughs.

Her laugh makes Ziva smile again. Kate really is high on painkiller if she isn't admonishing Ziva for her carelessness.

Ziva picks her holstered gun and badge out of her drawer and clips them to her belt before she pulls her jacket on and swings her bag onto her shoulder. She aims a considering look at Kate.

"Do you have a ride home, Kate?" She's definitely a bit loopy from the painkillers, and it's probably best if she doesn't drive. As Kate's partner, Ziva considers it her responsibility to make sure that Kate gets safely home. She has to admit that she's also enjoying Kate's company very much. Things haven't been this easy between them in far too long.

"No, Tim gave me a ride from the hospital."

Ziva winces at the thought of that ride. They're both lucky to have gotten back to NCIS in one piece.

"Good," Ziva says, her mind made up. She sneaks a glance at Kate and wonders if she can get away with picking up some Chinese take-out for them to share on the way to Kate's. After all it wouldn't do for Kate to have to cook in her condition. "I'll drive you then."

Kate groans, and Ziva's head snaps around to see what's wrong. Kate's look of pain is faked though, and obviously not from her ribs.

"I got beat up by a Maine that was out of his mind on meds today. That was bad enough. Now you're going to drive me home." Kate shakes her head. "I have the worst luck."

"Ha ha," Ziva mutters the words completely deadpan but snatches up the keys nonetheless. "For that you are buying me dinner."

The words slip out of her mouth uncensored, and Ziva blinks, uncertain if she's inadvertently pushed to far, but Kate's still smiling.

"We'll see, David." The look in Kate's eyes makes up for the use of her last name.

The drive to Kate's is uneventful - as uneventful as riding with Ziva ever is - but there are no accidents, or even near misses. Kate has a feeling Ziva's being kind to her broken ribs. Just the loose pressure of the seat belt against her ribs is enough to make Kate close her eyes and try to breathe very gently and very shallowly for a moment. She can't imagine how Ziva's usual swerving, brake-checking, death-defying ride would feel right now, and she's just as happy she isn't going to have to find out.

Ziva is solicitously opening her door when Kate's cell phone rings. The loud music coming from her pocket draws a sharp look from Ziva and a tolerant smile from Kate. She knows instantly who the calls from, of course.

Abby chose her own ring tone several months before, mainly because she's the only one that Kate would let get away with it.

"Hey, Abs," Kate says cheerfully as she answers the call.

"Kate!" Under the usual enthusiasm in her voice, Kate thinks she can hear relief. "Are you okay? Do you need anything? I was going to see if you needed a ride, but I had to finish up a few things in the lab and then you were already gone when I got up there to the Squad Room. You didn't drive yourself home, did you?" She demanded quickly.

"No, Abs, I was perfectly safe. Ziva drove me."

"Ziva? Safe? Driving?" Her voice is perfectly audible though very tinny through the phone.

"I heard that, Abigail," Ziva calls out loudly. "And I will not forget it."

"Is that Ziva? Is she still with you?"

Kate looks over at Ziva, standing just inside her front door. She wonders if it's just in her imagination that Ziva seems faintly unsure of herself.

"Yeah, she's still here." Feeling brave, or maybe just feeling the drugs, Kate keeps going. "We're going to order some takeout and she's going to spend the night to keep an eye on me."

Ziva's eyes widen in comic surprise, but Kate knows the look is genuine. Ziva hasn't said anything, but there's always the chance she'll say no, or just think Kate was joking. Kate hopes neither of those things comes to pass. She suddenly very much wants Ziva to stay.

"Oh, great," Abby says cheerily. Then her voice lowers. "I know you're up to something Katie Todd, and don't think I won't find out what it is later."

Kate laughs, despite herself, and is glad that Abby called.

"Good night, Abby."

When she hangs up the phone, Ziva is staring at her from across the room. Kate makes a resolute decision not to be nervous.

"So," she drawls the word out slowly, "What am I buying you for dinner?"

Ziva isn't going to be distracted quite so easily.

"Did you mean what you said to Abby?"

"You don't have to stay, if you don't want to," Kate says immediately.

Is it her imagination or does Ziva's face fall just a little?

"Do you want me to?"

The part of Kate that isn't very brave wants to say no. It's the same part that she listened to after Gibbs left, after she came so very close to losing another member of her team, not so very long after she lost Tony. Today, Kate doesn't want to listen to the small, scared part of herself. Or maybe it's just the drugs.


"Oh. Chinese, I think."

"What?" Kate asks, startled at the sudden change of topic.

"Chinese," Ziva repeats with a slow smile that contains just a hint of familiar smugness, "That's what you're buying me for dinner."

A horrible day, broken ribs, and the prospect of facing a very difficult conversation that she's been avoiding for months, can't change the way Kate's feeling at the moment - like the luckiest woman in the world.

And this time, she's pretty sure it's not even the drugs.

Kate can't remember the last time that she was this happy. That's the strange part. Because she shouldn't be happy.

When Gibbs had informed her and Ziva that they were going to accompany the Director to a former Agent's funeral, they had exchanged a glance - and eye roll - that said it all. It's babysitting, and boring babysitting at that. Even more so, it's an insult to their combined skills.

The worst part is that Kate knows they probably pulled the assignment because of her. She is after all a former Secret Service Agent. Knowing the very real danger involved in guarding the President had alleviated some of the mind numbing boredom. Guarding the Director lacks that. In a way, Kate's glad about that, but it makes her feel even less relevant.

The lack of danger is the only thing that makes Kate let the Director leave them back at the hotel. That's where the happiness comes in. They have the rest of the day off - quite a rarity for them, and there's no reason that they shouldn't spend it together. In fact, they have no else to spend the day with.

Ziva insists on lounging out by the pool. Kate almost protests until she gets a glimpse of Ziva in her bikini. It makes the words die in her throat. She knows that Ziva is beautiful. It's just a fact, like a day is twenty-four hours. This reminder, directly in front of her, is startling. Somehow she's forgotten just how beautiful Ziva is and she wants nothing more than to spend the next few hours telling - and showing - Ziva that in every way that she can think of.

In the end, Kate gives in. She's disappointed, but only a little and not really. She's happy just to spend time with Ziva. They both bring books down to the pool, lounging side by side, but Kate ends up watching Ziva more that she reads. At first it's discrete glances out of the corner of her eyes, over the top of her book, but gradually it turns into blatant staring.

This thing between them feels so new. Since the night that Ziva drove Kate home after the incident with Corporal Worth, they haven't had much time to spend together. Work brings the usual sixteen hour days and seven day weeks. Most often they fall into bed, grateful for the few hours of sleep that they have before reporting back into work. It hasn't left much time for them.

Kate recognizes the old patterns that they fell into once before, and she's doing her best to break them. She wants this time to be different. That night they talked for hours. At first it was painful and uncomfortable, discussing things that Kate would have preferred to never mention again, but she knows that Ziva was owed an explanation. It's not so simple as all that, but they're working through it. Gradually the conversation becomes easier for them, until the it's flowing freely.

It really isn't that big of a surprise then when Kate tentatively leans over and kisses Ziva. There's hesitation in the way that her lips brush Ziva's, and then she pulls away. It can barely be called a kiss. She meets Ziva's eyes though, uncertain of what she'll see there when she does.

What she finds is a small smile and an equally uncertain look.

"I'm sorry," Kate apologizes immediately, sitting back away from Ziva on the couch, and trying to put as much distance between them as she can without getting up and walking away.

She doesn't want to ruin this and she's suddenly afraid that she's pushed it too far.

Ziva surprises her by reaching out to touch her arm lightly, stilling her before she can retreat any further.

"Do not apologize." Her fingers are beginning to trace vague patterns over Kate's skin. "Kate...."

"I know. It was too much. I shouldn't have." Kate shakes her head, disappointment welling up in her. The last thing that she wants is to screw this up again.

"Kate," Ziva repeats. "That is not what I meant."

"Oh." Kate fidgets with the edge of the blanket and tries to think about something other than the warmth of Ziva's hand on her arm.

"I don't want you to do something that you'll regret. I wanted to be here tonight, but I did not come with expectations of the way that the evening would end. I wished to be certain that you would be okay, not take advantage of you."

It's sweet, and so completely Ziva. It's also an incredible relief.

"I kissed you, Ziva. That's not taking advantage," Kate points out.

"Of the situation," Ziva counters. "You are on painkillers."

Kate covers Ziva's hand with her own and squeezes it lightly.

"Trust me?" She knows it's asking a lot, but she's not sure what else she can say to convince Ziva right now. "I'm thinking very clearly right now." She swallows, and keeps going. "I made a mistake, Ziva, and I miss you."

"I miss you too," Ziva confides, leaning closer.

She wraps an arm around Kate's shoulder and brings them closer together. Carefully Kate holds her back, burying her face in Ziva's neck. The scent of Ziva's hair is intoxicating in its familiarity.

They linger on the couch until Kate's protesting ribs force them to get up. Then Kate takes Ziva's hand and gently leads her into the bedroom. They undress separately and perform their nightly rituals before slipping into bed. It takes them a little bit of time and some careful maneuvering to find a position that's comfortable for both of them and takes the pressure off of Kate's ribs.

She falls asleep, reveling in the comfort of Ziva's embrace.

Since that night, there have been no more nights like that one. Instead they talk on the phone when they can, or make an effort to eat lunch together, whether it's in the squad room or a crowded deli.

It makes Kate doubly grateful for this time that they have together now. She doesn't want to waste a minute of it.

"Your book is upside down."

Ziva's dry observation sends Kate's attention zooming back down to the book held open in front of her. Her first instinct is to protest. Then she notices that Ziva is right. She's not really upset when she glances back up, more chagrined by the slip.

"You should be less distracting," she murmurs in a low voice.

It's a safe enough observation. Their lounge chairs are close together and no one else is sitting near them, but Ziva still raises an eyebrow at Kate in surprise.

"I did not realize that I was distracting you."

Is it Kate's imagination or did Ziva shift slightly on her chair, subtly emphasizing the expanses of skin bared by her suit? The subtle, but knowing gleam in Ziva's eyes says otherwise.

Kate has to fight the urge to lean across the space separating them and claim Ziva's lips. Instead she bites her lip, and stands up abruptly.

"Of course, you didn't," she murmurs under her breath and holds her hand out to Ziva.

Ziva takes her hand and allows herself to be pulled to her feet. Standing, there are only inches between them.

"Are you done reading?"

"That depends. Do you have another suggestion?"

"I think you should call Jenny."

Kate blinks, jerked out of the moment by Ziva's sudden mention of the Director.


"She has not contacted us."

"Ziva, she gave us the day off," Kate protests.

"Ah, but Gibbs did not," Ziva counters quickly.

"Ziva...." Kate sighs. "If Jenny doesn't want us around, we can't just stalk her, even if she's the Director. She probably just wants some time to herself."

"She just returned from vacation."

"True, but she's been through a very difficult time recently."

Ziva's mouth sets in a thin line of displeasure at the reminder of the events surrounding La Grenouille.

"Kate," she holds out her cell phone. "Call her, please. If she does not seem to be in trouble, then I will let it go and we can finish the rest of our day however you wish."

Kate holds out her hand, knowing that she's been beaten. She doesn't want to make this call, to intrude on the Director's privacy any more than she has to and more than that she wants to spend this time with Ziva, uninterrupted by work. She can't turn off being an agent though, and, in the end, she wouldn't want to.

"Fine. I'll make the call."

Ziva's grateful smile is almost enough to pull a reluctant smile from Kate as she dials the phone. She puts it on speaker and then listens to it ring. By the time they're done speaking to Jenny, Kate's hand is clenched into a fist at her side.

Her day is no longer so happy. She's still not quite certain what's going on, but what she does know is that Jenny is in trouble and they have to deal with it.

Her smile to Ziva is grimmer and more focused than before.

"You were right," she admits with preamble. "Now what do you want to do about it?"

The next eight hours veer sharply between being a blur and creeping by with impossible intensity. The worst moment is when Kate has to call Gibbs. When he answers the phone, there's a moment of silence where Kate can't make herself speak. She sternly tells herself that this is just another report, just like the hundreds of others that she's given throughout her career. Somehow she gets through it without breaking into tears or letting her voice crack. She's the most consummate professional that she knows how to be.

When she gets off the phone, Ziva's waiting for her. What Kate really wants to do is collapse with exhaustion, dissolve into tears and kill the bastards who did this to the Director, not necessarily in that order. None of those things, however, are what Kate actually does. It seems too soon, too selfish to do something like letting out what she really feels or sleeping, when the Director is being put into a body bag to be shipped back to D.C. and Ducky's tender mercies.

Ziva opens her mouth to say something. By the look in her eyes, Kate just knows that it will be something consoling - something personal. It's the last thing that she wants to hear at the moment. She jerks a hand up to stop Ziva before she can speak.

"Not now," she snaps, more harshly than she'd intended. "Just not now."

The moment the words leave Kate's mouth, she almost wishes she could take them back. Almost. The hurt look on Ziva's face is painful to see. Ziva has changed so much in the past few years. Once she wouldn't even have attempted to comfort Kate.

Apparently one rejection is all she can take today, because she doesn't try it again. Instead she nods curtly and walks away.

Kate lets her breath out slowly, and feels it catch raggedly in her throat. She chokes off the breath and holds it until her lungs aren't about to betray her. Then she walks back inside. They can't do anything really until Gibbs gets here, but when he arrives he will be demanding answers. Kate knows that she better damn well have them for him, because the one question he will want the answer to the most - the same question she would love to be able to answer for herself - is the one that she can't answer. Why weren't they with Jenny?

Whatever she can come up with, whatever her reasons are and no matter how good they seemed, they are no longer good enough now.

To tell the truth, when Leon Vance sentences her to hell, better known as the Agent Afloat position aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, Kate is almost relieved. Punishment, finally.

It's not that she's masochistic, but she screwed up with the Director and she knows it. She should have pushed harder or refused to accept no for an answer like Gibbs would have. She knows that she'll hate being aboard ship. Kate never set out to join the Navy after all and she can well remember how much fun Tony had at her expense the first time she was ever on a Navy vessel, with its cramped accommodations, odd plumbing and far, far too many people in a limited space.

But it's almost preferable to being at NCIS right now. Nothing can ever make up for her mistake, but if she suffers enough maybe someone will eventually have pity on her. Maybe someday she'll even forgive herself.

Ziva comes by as Kate's packing. She has a large duffel over her own shoulder. Kate thinks this might be harder if she wasn't being shipped out at dawn too. As it is, she looks at Ziva and simply feels numb. It's almost a relief.

Ziva lowers her duffel to the ground and moves toward Kate. She puts her arms around Kate, hoping that she isn't making a mistake. Her stomach sinks when she feels Kate stiffen in her arms, and then Kate's arms are wrapped around her. Kate's holding her so tightly that Ziva won't be surprised if she has bruises in the morning. She thinks dismally that she might even be grateful to have some lingering proof of Kate's touch on her skin. After they leave in the morning, there's no way to tell when they'll see each other again, and in their line of work there's always the possibility that chance will never come.

"It's not your fault, Kate," Ziva whispers against her ear.

She doesn't have to hear it from Kate's lips to know what the other woman's doing. She knows Kate better than that, and she has no doubt that Kate feels responsible for all of it. As the only other person there, she shares some of that responsibility. There are things she could have done differently, and lingering regrets that she will always harbor. In the end though, she doesn't discount Jenny's free will.

She knows her all too well, her determination and her strength. Jenny chose her course of action and there's nothing that she or Kate could have done to dissuade her. Perhaps they could have followed closer, or disobeyed her orders, but there's still no guarantee that it would have worked. She may have still died, despite there best efforts. That's the problem with what-ifs. There are always too many variables to predict what will really happen.

"Like Tony's death wasn't my fault?" Kate demands bitterly, stepping away from Ziva. "People keep dying around me, Ziva. For years it was my job to prevent that from happening and now I can't keep anyone alive. Tell me how that isn't my fault?"

"There is no way that you could know what would happen, when you made your decision. No one can be on guard all the time."

Kate scoffs. "You're lecturing me on the standards that you've always try to uphold? That's rich, Ziva."

"No," Ziva counters. "That is something that I learned from you and from Gibbs. There's is no reason to be ashamed of taking a break, when it's deserved. Jenny knew what she was doing, Kate. She didn't call for backup or try to involve us and she knew we were waiting at the hotel. She could have prevented it, if she chose. She did not. It's her choice and she made it freely."

If Ziva sounds bitter about that, it's against her best efforts. Jenny is one of the few people that she's ever counted as a close friend, however, and she's still angry about the way that she prevented them from acting. There are few things that Ziva hates more than having a choice taken out of her hands.

"You're saying that we couldn't have done more? That we weren't distracted?" Kate's emphasis on that last word cuts like one of Ziva's own knives.

"If Jenny had called, would you have hesitated to answer it? To do whatever she asked? No." Ziva answers her own question. "Neither of us would have. We had no way of knowing."

"So you want to absolve us of all blame?"

"No," Ziva says slowly. "But there is a difference between accepting blame and being paralyzed by the risk of failure. If you're not willing to take that risk then you should no longer do this job."

Kate blinks, surprised by Ziva's firm words. The truth of them takes her back and yet she can't deny them.

"I can't quit."

Ziva nods. She has no doubt of that, none at all. Kate's as likely to quit her job as Ziva herself. Even with both of them being shipped out to places they never wanted to be, neither one of them has considered resigning as an option.

"I know," she says softly, "And you should not. You're an excellent agent, Caitlin."

The way Ziva says her name makes Kate shiver. The soft brush of Ziva's lips against hers is gentle but sure and last barely more than a second, before Ziva pulls away to meet her gaze.

"Stay." The word slips out of Kate's mouth before she can consider it or change her mind. "Spend tonight with me," she asks softly.

"My flight leaves very early in the morning."

"I know," Kate says simply. She doesn't want to think about how few hours they have left. She can almost feel the seconds slipping away from them, and like Tony, like Jenny, there's nothing she can do to prevent it.

Ziva takes Kate's hand in hers, reveling in the feel of soft, slender fingers wrapping around her own. She nods without saying a word.

Together they make their way into Kate's bedroom and fall into bed. They hold one another tightly, both trying to capture every part of this moment to hold it tightly in their memory. Slowly Kate begins to relax into the feel of Ziva's arms around her, and eventually she slips into sleep without even realizing it. Ziva lingers awake only moments longer.

Morning finds them still holding one another as if they're afraid to let go, even in their sleep.

Part Three - Epilogue

Kate doesn't really believe that Vance is letting her come back to NCIS until she's sitting in the squad room, perched on the edge of Ziva's desk, still reeling from Abby's welcoming hug. She watches Ziva out of the corner of her eyes. She's already noticed that Ziva looks more relaxed than she's ever seen her before.

It's being back here, Kate thinks. She's waiting and hoping for that same relaxation to settle on her, but it hasn't yet. It's been a nerve wracking six months as Agent Afloat. Being the only NCIS agent dealing with a thousand petty and some not-so-petty disagreements puts an incredible strain on the agent doing the job. Kate can't quite believe that some agents actually sign up for it voluntarily.

Even though she's back, she's still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Abby seems certain that she's back for good, though. She, at least, still has complete faith in Gibbs. Kate does too, but somehow Jenny's death has tarnished that faith. There are some things that even Gibbs can't control and she knows it now.

She's trying to catch Kate up on six months of her life in a few short minutes. Words are flying out of her mouth, almost faster than Kate's jet-lagged mind can keep up with. Fortunately comments aren't necessary, as Abby's keeping the conversation flowing all by herself. Kate listens to the tone more than the individual words, and then gives into the urge to give Abby another one-armed hug.

Abby hugs back, but never stops talking. Kate laughs, happy to be back in this place even if it doesn't last.

Still, it's Ziva her attention keeps coming back to. They haven't spoken since the morning that they both left. Six months has drifted by with no communication between them, not even an email or a postcard. They never discussed it, but it has the feel of a mutual decision. Six months is a long time though.

People change in that amount of time. Kate knows that she has and she wonders how much it has affected Ziva. They had hugged aboard the Seahawk in front of Gibbs, but it was a brief, impersonal hug. A gesture between two friendly colleagues, not long-separated lovers. Kate isn't sure what to make of it or what it means for them now and she wants to know.

She'll never admit how much of her thoughts Ziva consumed while she was exiled aboard the Seahawk and the Ronald Reagan.

Ziva looks good, Kate muses. She looks well-rested and strong. Her tan is slightly deeper than when she left D.C. A different climate, Kate supposes, but whatever it is, it looks good on her. There's a scrape along the edge of Ziva's hair that only someone looking as carefully as Kate would notice it.

Kate wants to know the story behind that. She feels terribly out of the loop and she doesn't like it at all. It's more than that too. It's a craving to find out all the details she's missed about Ziva's life since she's been gone. She wants even more to know where they stand.

Finally, Abby rambles to a halt. Kate squeezes her shoulder and smiles.

"Tell you what, Abs," she says casually. "Why don't I buy you lunch tomorrow and you can catch me up on the rest?"

Abby's grin is huge and completely honest. "Sweet! But only if we don't have a case, because you know how cranky Gibbs gets if we take time out for lunch while we have a case." She wrinkles her nose adorably.

"Wouldn't want Gibbs to get cranky," Kate says dryly. It's a joke, but then none of them are really joking.

Abby hugs her one last time and Kate squeezes back tightly.

"Missed you," Kate says for Abby's ears only and it's true. She has missed Abby, missed her friendship and her impossible cheerfulness. She hadn't realized how much she depended on it, until she couldn't simply call Abby whenever she felt like it, or go down to her lab and visit.

"Missed you too," Abby echoes back.

Kate grabs her bag and her purse, and heads for the elevator. Only once she's alone in the small space does she let her eyes drift close and lean tiredly back against the wall.

The ding of the elevator surprises her when the door slides open. Her eyes snap open, and she wonders if she really drifted off to sleep that quickly. There's no doubt that she's tired, but she isn't quite ready to sleep yet. She wants something else.

Opening up her cell phone, she dials a number and hopes that it still works. To her surprise it rings. After two rings, it's picked up.

"David," Ziva's voice snaps crisply in her ear.

"Hey," Kate breathes out the simple word.

Silence lingers. Kate focuses on the soft sound of Ziva's breathing.

"Can I see you tonight," she asks softly. If the answers going to be no, well, she still wants to know where they stand.

There's a moment where Kate's afraid that Ziva isn't going to answer.

"I can be at your apartment in half an hour."

Kate flushes with unexpected warmth. She hasn't realized just how worried she was until she gets her answer.

"I'll see you there."

She hasn't had a chance to go back there herself, so she has no idea how bad the place looks. On her way back she stops by the store and picks up a few essentials, beer, fruit, a few veggies and eggs. She has a distant hope of making omelets for Ziva in the morning and even if that doesn't happen, she still has to eat. There's nothing in her apartment.

She lets herself in the apartment and finds it dark and slightly too warm. Dropping the bags on the counter, she winds her way through the apartment to turn up the air conditioning. She opens up a few windows to let some of the stifling air out and flips a few lights on.

The door creaks and Kate's hand drops to the gun in the holster at her side out of habit. She stays in shadows as she moves towards the door.

"Kate?" Ziva's voice calling out for her startles her, but she relaxes immediately.

"Back here," she answers.

"You should not leave your door unlocked," Ziva says as she comes into sight.

"I just got here," Kate explains. "I left it open for you."

Kate checks the small pot on her window sill by sticking her finger down into the soil. It's still slightly damp. Kate smiles. She'll have to treat Abby to a very expensive dinner tomorrow to thank her for keeping an eye on this for her and making sure that it didn't die in Kate's absence.

"It's beautiful," Ziva says from behind her, taking in the thriving plant and it's sprays of multiple blooms.

"It smells wonderful too," Kate adds. "It mistakenly got delivered to my hospital room that time I got hit by the shotgun blast. I brought it home with me and somehow I've managed to keep it alive." She smiles over her shoulder at Ziva. "It's the only plant I've ever managed to keep alive for this long."

"It wasn't a mistake."

Ziva's voice is so soft that at first Kate isn't sure what she's heard.


"I said, it wasn't a mistake that it was delivered to your room."

It takes Kate a moment, but abruptly she realizes what Ziva's implying.

"That was you? I didn't - there was no note."

"I know."

"I would have wanted to thank you for it. I've really enjoyed having it."

Ziva raises an elequent eyebrow that says plenty.

"Okay, so maybe I wouldn't have thanked you, then. I was being kind of a bitch."

Ziva snorts at that statement and the tension eases.

"You were not very happy with me, yes?"

"Why did you do it though?" Kate's curious now.

"I saw it in the gift store and I thought you would enjoy it."

In truth, she had scoured the gift store for hours until she'd found something that she thought Kate might like, but some things, she's still not ready to tell.

"Thank you, Ziva." The sincerity in her voice makes her words thick with meaning.

They linger a little too long in silence until the moment starts to become uncomfortable between them. Quickly Kate clears her throat and smiles before she grabs the bag she's set down to check on the plant.

Ziva watches and follows her as Kate heads into the kitchen.

"Want a beer," Kate asks over her shoulder.

"Yes, please," Ziva says a little too enthusiastically.

Kate smiles knowingly.

"Been a long few days?"

"Very long," Ziva agrees.

Kate stops moving, holding the refrigerator door open and looks at Ziva. "Is your head still bothering you?"

"Not worth mentioning."

Meaning it's still hurting, probably throbbing, but not badly enough for Ziva to complain. Then again, Kate's seen Ziva need stitches, and not mention it. There's a small part of Kate that's dying to ask if she can kiss it and make it better. She holds back though. She wants to do this right, not fall back into old of habits of not quite discussing things.

"Good," she says decisively and then turns her attention back to her refrigerator.

Kate gives Ziva the beer, opens her own and then finishes putting away her groceries. Ziva's sitting on her counter, her head leaned back against the cabinets, watching Kate when she's done.

"Still feeling jet-lagged," Kate asks, searching for small talk.

"Aren't you?"

"Yes, but you've been back longer."

"Only a week."

"Does it still feel weird to be back here?" Kate asks, leaning back against the opposite counter. She considers copying Ziva's gesture, but she's never really been one for sitting on counters.

"I'm very happy to be here." The slight emphasis on the last word doesn't escape Kate's notice. "But, yes, I know what you mean. Everything is the same, but different."

Kate casts around for a segue. None easily come to mind. Maybe it's the hour or the past few very long days and the multiple time zones. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter.

"Move in with me."

Ziva blinks, sets down the glass bottle in her hand and stares.

It's not quite what Kate had intended to say. She had meant to go a little bit more slowly, ease into things, but most of all she wants to do things right this time. She and Ziva have spent years screwing this thing between them up, dancing around the issue and never quite getting it right.

Now they have a chance to start fresh. Kate wants to stop being afraid and just live her life. She has more proof than she'll ever need that life's too short and she doesn't want to waste anymore chances.

Ziva drops down from the counter.

"Wait," Kate says quickly. "That didn't come out right." She reaches out, taking Ziva's hand, and smiling, but it's a slightly nervous smile. "Let me explain," she asks.

Ziva nods and Kate still can't tell what she's thinking. She can feel the way that Ziva's heartbeat's pounding under her fingers where her fingers are holding Ziva's wrist.

"When we first met, I hated you."

"I remember," Ziva says dryly and Kate has to smile at that. They've come so far already.

"And then I didn't. You got under my skin and you surprised me. And then when Gibbs -" She stumbling over her words now, hoping that Ziva will understand, despite the lack of her usual preciseness. "I didn't know how to handle it, Ziva. And then Jenny." She shakes her head. "I want to be with you, but I don't want to screw it up this time."

"So you want me to move in with you?"

"No," Kate says quickly. "Do you want to?" She's grinning wildly now. She can't quite help it and she can't quite believe she's doing it either. Kate Todd does not make impulsive propositions like this one. "It doesn't have to be now, or ever maybe, but I want you to know that I'm serious." She steps closer. "You have no idea how much time I spent thinking about you while I was gone. I have notebooks full of drawings of you. I'd end up sketching you, your face, the lines of your body, even when I wasn't intending to."

Ziva smiles, and Kate basks in its warmth. She holds Kate's hand between her own and brings it to her lips, placing a kiss on each finger. When Ziva looks back up, there's no doubting the heat of her gaze.

"Before I left, I told my father that I wished to make my assignment here permanent."

It's Kate's turn to be startled. She's been half-expecting Ziva to want to return home again, now that she's had a taste of it.

"I could have stayed there this time. Things with my father are less tense than they were, and perhaps staying would have eased them more, but I did not want to. I wanted to see you. So, yes, I would like that, very much, if you're serious." Ziva smiles. "And if you're not ready, then we can wait. But my answer will be yes then, too."

Kate can't resist any longer. She claims Ziva's lips in a searing kiss. Ziva pulls her greedily closer. Kate slips a hand behind her neck and presses into Ziva's warmth. She loses herself in the soft, warm skin pressed against her own and the feel of Ziva's tongue brushing against her lips.

And finally, Kate can relax.

The End

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