DISCLAIMER: NCIS and its characters are the property of CBS, no infringement intended.
SEQUEL/SERIES: Third part of the Baby Steps series, following Filters are for Coffee and Elevator Conference.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Kate pushed aside the curtain and stepped out into the sanctuary. She always looked around guiltily, as if the mere fact that she had gone into the confessional was enough to convince people she'd been up to no good. She put her jacket back on, tightening the belt around her waist as she walked down the pew to the central aisle.
The rest of the church was empty, save for the priest leaving the confessional behind her. She didn't turn around, afraid of what she might see in his eyes; disgust, pity? Who knew in this day and age? A decade or so back, if she had just confessed what she did, the priest would have gasped in shock and horror and they would have probably had a private counseling session on Sunday.
Now... it was hardly more than a slap on the wrist. She would have been worse off coveting her neighbor's wife... although that wasn't too far from her real sin.
At the door of the church, she paused and submerged her thumb into the holy water font. Before she could bring it to her forehead, she paused and stared at the wet digit. It brought back a memory, the last time her finger had been wet like this...
The bar was dark, dank and secluded, far away from the main drags and well-lit hang-outs Kate usually frequented. No one came here... which is why she came here. She sat in the back booth, at just the right angle to see into the kitchen where the bartender was tearing the dishwasher a new one. Kate took a sip of her beer, keeping an eye on the entrance of the bar for her... appointment.
It was an appointment. A meeting. A get-together, a rendezvous... anything but a date. She shifted uncomfortably in the booth, again scanning the crowd for signs of familiar faces. If she saw anyone she recognized, she was gone. She would bolt, she would flee the scene as fast as if the hounds of hell were after her. For all she knew, the damn mutts were nipping at her heels at that very moment.
The front door of the bar swung open and Abby Sciuto walked in, shrugging out of a leather jacket and scanning the crowd. She passed over Kate once before spotting her in the darkness, making her way past the tables and the row of stools along the bar. She slid into the booth across from Kate and said, "Awesome place. Is this literally a hole in the wall or did they actually build it like this?"
"It's a little out of the way..."
"A little? The rats are getting lost out there, Kate. This place is a dive."
"Sorry," Kate muttered, feeling like a moron.
"No, don't get me wrong!" Abby said. "I love dives. They have a character. Not like those Cheers wannabes downtown. I blame George Wendt for making raving alcoholism look cool and drawing all the people to the bars again."
Kate smiled. "Okay, so..."
"So," Abby said, leaning forward and lacing her fingers together in front of her.
"I don't... do this very often."
"What? Drink?" Abby said. "I try to do it at least once every day."
Kate looked down at her beer self-consciously. "What I meant is... I don't usually... people that I work with..."
"That's not what Gibbs told me," Abby said, a teasing note rising in her voice.
Kate's eyes widened. "He told you about that?"
Abby shrugged, bouncing her head back and forth in a not-quite-nod and not-quite-shake. "Yes and no. He tells me all kinds of things that he doesn't realize he's telling me. You just have to know how to talk to him. And then, you have to know how to decipher the things he's saying. It's a skill."
"Would you care to teach me? The man is indecipherable to me."
"You're new. You'll learn." She motioned at Kate's glass and asked, "May I?"
"Sure, go ahead," Kate said, looking around for a waitress as Abby took a drink. When the bartender saw her, Kate motioned at Abby and made a 'two more' sign with her hands. Abby turned in the booth and performed a series of complicated gestures. The bartender blinked, returned with a few gestures of his own, and went to fix the drinks.
"What was that?" Kate asked.
"Oh," Kate said, a little surprised.
"What, you want to hear my whole sordid family history on our first date?"
Kate resisted the urge to cringe. Not a date. A meeting, an appointment, a tête-à-tête, anything but the d-word. "No, I guess not. So... what do you want to talk about?"
Kate chewed her lip and said, "I don't know."
"You're a fun date," Abby said, grinning brightly.
Kate blushed. "I'm just not used to this. I mean, out on a date with a woman... at least with a guy, I can just say 'Let's skip the formalities and go find a hotel room.'"
"Do you want to?"
"No!" Kate said, a little too loudly. She hunched her shoulders and looked down at her beer. "No," she said again quietly. "It's just... awkward for me." She stared at the glass, the half-moon of black-red lipstick on the rim from where Abby had taken a drink. "I'm Catholic. Whatever happens tonight, I'm probably going to have to atone for it in confession on Sunday."
"Oh, I totally get it," Abby said, nodding. The bartender brought over her drink and she made the sign for 'thank you.' The man returned with a 'you're welcome' and went back behind the bar. "I don't know him or anything, by the way. There's not, like, some Children of Deaf Parents Anonymous meeting. I just pull it out sometimes like a secret handshake." She took a sip of her drink and made a face. "Ugh, watered down crap."
"Mine isn't too bad," Kate said, pushing the glass towards Abby.
"You don't mind?"
"No, go ahead."
Abby took a drink, swallowing half the remaining beer before handing it back to Kate. "That's good. Maybe the bartender likes you better than he likes me."
"Maybe the dog collar scared him away," Kate suggested.
Abby reached up, fingering the studded leather strap. "Think so? It didn't scare you off."
"No," Kate said. "It didn't."
Abby smiled and looked into the beer glass. "So you're really nervous about the confessional thing, huh?"
Abby put the beer glass down and reached across for her own, watered-down glass. She dipped her thumb into the amber liquid and then reached across the table to draw a cross on Kate's forehead. "By Thy Precious Blood and by this Holy Water, cleanse her from her sins, O Lord."
Kate's face was deep crimson red by the time Abby licked her thumb clean. "Now. You do me and we can finish this date without worrying about consequences."
Reluctantly, Kate dipped her thumb into the beer and said, "You're sure this isn't sacrilegious or..."
"Who knows? They change the rules often enough. Now, come on. Do me."
Kate drew a wet cross on Abby's forehead and, instead of the unfamiliar mantra the other woman had said, recited, "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
"There," Abby said. "Now we're covered. What do you want to do now?"
Kate looked down at her wet thumb, unsure if she was convinced they were 'covered.' But... the weight on her shoulders seemed to be easing. She exhaled and sucked the excess moisture from the pad of her thumb before grabbing her coat. "I don't know. Let's go drive, see what we can think of."
Abby grinned and slid out of the booth with her.
Kate completed the move, drawing the cross and making the sign on her shoulders before walking from the church.
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