She's so disoriented and overwhelmed, it doesn't occur to her to wonder or protest or even to make any contribution to the decision, and Gibbs has her in the car and they're driving away from the scene without her really being able to piece together how it happened. She's more than happy to go with the flow - she's shaken and aching, and being looked after sounds like a mighty fine idea - she just can't quite figure out how they got here.
When she finally becomes aware enough to notice her surroundings, it's also enough to finally prompt her to speak. "Are we going to your house?" She doesn't mean it to come out sounding quite so horrified.
Gibbs glances sidelong at her. "Somethin' wrong with my house, Kate?"
She crinkles up her nose. "No, I didn't mean... I meant..." She frowns, sighs. "Is Tony gonna be there?"
"Oh." He considers this for a moment. "Prob'ly."
She cringes. "Don't get me wrong, I just..." She sighs again. "I'm not sure I'm in the mood," she admits.
Gibbs chuckles. "Fair point. Your place it is."
She's surprised when he turns toward her apartment block without asking for directions. She probably shouldn't be surprised - this is Gibbs, after all, of course he'd know where she lives - but she is.
The rest of the journey passes in silence, and for once she's grateful for his taciturn tendencies, is glad he's not filling the air with banalities or blame or comfort. She's blaming herself quite enough already, and she's not sure she could take being comforted. Undemanding silence is exactly what she needs, and she's relieved Gibbs doesn't try to break or fill it.
When they arrive at her place, she has no intention of being the walking wounded, but as it turns out, she's sore and slow. By the time she's reaching to open the car door, Gibbs is already there and has opened it and is taking her hand in his and wrapping an arm around her back to help her as if she's much more severely hurt than is actually the case. If she had the energy, she'd protest, but she's just relieved. God, everything aches, and she's wobbly as a newborn foal, all knees and shakes. She leans on him with enormous gratitude and allows him to lead her inside and escort her up to her apartment, and she barely does anything besides handing him keys and putting one foot in front of the other. Exhaustion is hitting her hard, adrenaline draining out and pure fatigue replacing it.
They manage to get all the way to her living room without another word, and even then it's only Gibbs telling her (not asking her, simply telling her) she must be thirsty and he's going to fetch her some water.
She slumps down onto her couch, so very grateful to be sitting, and stares at the Kandinsky print on the wall opposite. When Gibbs reappears with a tall glass of water, sits beside her and places one hand on her back, she accepts the touch like she accepts the water. It's gentle and reassuring, and she takes the first deep breath she's taken in what feels like days and days. She's aware it's been barely a couple of hours, but it seems like the explosion happened a week ago.
She supposes maybe it's just shock. Seeing someone she'd tried to help, someone she'd liked, turn out to be a killer.
She's glad of Gibbs' company. The last time she was home Suzanne was also here, and it haunts her. Gibbs is about as un-Suzanne as anyone could possibly be, something she really appreciates right now.
His thumb rubs gently at her spine, and when she finishes the water, he takes the glass from her and her eyes flutter closed. Then open again, almost instantly and with a gasp, because behind her eyelids is darkness her imagination wants to fill with the explosion, and she does not need to see it again.
Gibbs' hand stays on her back as her breathing settles back to normal and the spike in her heart rate eases. When she looks at him, he's watching her intently, and she can't hold his gaze.
"I'm sorry," she says at last, fixing her eyes on the print as she speaks, letting herself get caught up in the lines and colours, get distracted, so what she's saying doesn't break her. "I messed up. I should've figured it out, figured her out."
He stays silent. She has no idea if he's expecting more from her or what.
"Putting them all in danger..." She swallows hard. "I mean, Brauer probably had it coming, but- the rest of them-" She swallows a couple more times. "And you and Tony." She didn't really expect to ever be responsible for stopping this kind of incident.
She certainly never expected to fail. Failure isn't something she allows in her life. The stakes have always been too high to admit the possibility. Then suddenly there's a building full of people and a woman with a handful of explosive, and Kate missed it, and-
She takes in a strained breath and tries to block out the memory, the sight and sound of it, the smell. "I screwed up. I'll have my resignation on your desk first thing tomo-" She looks down at the abrasions on her hands and sighs. "As soon as I can type it." She can hear the defeat in her own voice.
Gibbs doesn't respond, which makes her glance up in confusion. She just offered him her resignation. She's not sure what she expected, but she expected something.
His thumb is still making tiny circles at the small of her back, and when he looks at her there's no accusation there.
He shrugs, and opens his mouth at last. "Just as much my fault, Katie."
She blinks at him, startled by the nickname, then even more startled at the impression he doesn't even realise what he said. (Also pretty startled by him claiming the blame over this, but Gibbs' self-flagellation is much more familiar than his calling her 'Katie'.)
"Saw you gettin' too involved," he continues, "should've stepped in sooner, done more. Kept you safe."
Her mouth drops open, but nothing comes out.
"Don't go throwin' yourself on your sword over one determined murderer."
She blinks a few more times.
Between the blinking and the way she can't close her mouth, she thinks she's doing a pretty amazing goldfish impression. Gibbs doesn't seem to notice her shock or her confusion, his face carefully neutral as he meets her gaze, though his eyes are warm and sympathetic.
He moves his hand from her back, and she wants to protest the loss of the tiny, comforting contact, but she doesn't.
She nods, even though she's pretty sure he knows as well as she does that it's a lie.
He sighs and levers himself up from the couch. "Better be goin'," he says.
He doesn't seem wildly thrilled by the idea. Neither is Kate.
She nods again, and gets up to follow him to the door. When they reach it he pauses, and she knows his eyes are on her but it takes her a good long moment to meet them.
He studies her. "Okay?"
It's another chance to admit she lied, to admit she's not even close to okay, and she doesn't want to be alone. She tries really, really hard to resist the temptation, but then when she opens her mouth, the truth tumbles out.
"Gibbs, can you-?" She can feel her cheeks turning red, but she knows she needs this. "Can you stay for a bit, please?"
He pauses for a second, his eyes soft, so much softer than she's used to, then envelops her in a hug. "Sure. Stay as long as ya need me," he murmurs into her hair.
She smiles against his chest as she hugs him back. Abby's been telling her since the start Gibbs is more teddybear than grizzly bear, under his former-Marine-second-B's-for-bastard image, but she's not sure she'll ever get used to the way he'll show her a little unexpected sweetness now and then, just when she isn't expecting it, just when she needs it the most.
He leads her back to her own couch, an arm looped around her shoulders. She can't help herself, stop herself, from burrowing in to him when they sit back down, sinking down into the warmth and comfort she didn't expect but deeply needs. She hears him chuckle, and doesn't even have the energy to send him a glare, but his hand comes up to stroke lightly across her hair and so she decides she'll forgive him after all.
Her eyes slip closed for another moment, then she forces them back open. It was only a second or two, but it was enough to remember an expanding fireball ready to swallow them alive.
She's not sure she trusts her mind to leave her be. She's shattered, and all she wants is to sleep for a week, but she'd rather stay awake all night than relive today one more time. She shudders.
For a while they sit quietly, and Kate concentrates all her efforts on keeping her eyes open so she can't get ambushed. It becomes more and more difficult, and she chokes back a sob. She's so tired, and not at all sure how she's going to survive a night of this.
His voice jolts her out of the dark place in her mind that keeps filling up with flames. She's never gotten used to how he manages to inject so much significance into one syllable. No one's ever said her name quite like he says it, and she's known him for a while now but she still doesn't know what to make of it.
"Yes?" She unburies her face from his clothing, but can't bring herself to meet his eyes.
He sighs. "Katie." His touches the scrapes on her face, the dressings which cover the worst of her injuries, and he's so gentle, so... so careful. When she finally glances up at him, his expression matches his touch, and she swallows, her mouth suddenly dry.
He leans down, his fingers on her jaw tilting her head up to his, and she can see what's going to happen, as if she's having an out of body experience, and she could stop him, she knows, probably should stop him, and it would take barely a word, but she doesn't.
She watches with a strange kind of detachment as his lips come down and his mouth covers hers, and she hears the gasping little moan when he kisses her as if it's being drawn from some other woman's throat.
It's soft and gentle, and so brief, it's barely more than a gesture of comfort, but it's so entirely unexpected and so very tender, and it takes her apart.
When he draws away, she knows her eyes are wet and she's sure she's looking at him like he grew an extra head, but he just smiles one of those inscrutable, lopsided smiles of his and pulls her back in to rest against his chest. He's broad and strong under her face and hands, and she's caught between her total confusion and the strong desire to relax into his embrace and not think too hard about anything else.
Her eyes close again, against her will, but the black stays resolutely black this time, and she's asleep before she has a chance to wonder why.
~ fin ~