Hide and Seek
Kate didn't mean to end up in Lightman's office; she just wanted to find somewhere out of the way where she could curl up on a couch and let go for a while. It's been a long day at the end of a difficult case. Gibbs sent them home and is doing the tying up of loose ends himself, but for Kate that means an empty apartment or Gibbs' empty house. What she needs is a nice hot bath and a glass of wine, but she wasn't quite ready to be alone, so it seemed logical to gravitate here, to what has become a home away from home as far as work goes. Everyone here is also busy, but it's a bit easier to be out of the way as she sets aside the brave face she's been wearing for the last week.
She hates cases like this; sometimes she wonders if she's really cut out for this life. She loves protecting people, solving the puzzle, getting justice. Finding the victims before the bad guy can do his worst... saving the day.
Unfortunately, not every day or every case has that kind of triumph. Days like today, she wonders why she does this job, why she chose this career, why she doesn't jack it all in and go be someone's bodyguard. In the Secret Service, it was all very simple and clear; if someone shoots, shoot back, if someone tries to get to the President, get in their way. Use your own body if necessary. If a bullet is headed for your protectee, make sure it hits you instead.
She'd still step in front of a bullet if she had to - in fact, she's done it, albeit with a flak vest on. She wouldn't hesitate, to save someone she cares for. She'd barely hesitate to save a stranger.
But the black and white of good guys and bad guys is much less clear these days, and even when the categories are clear, it's rarely as simple as protecting the good from the bad. Sometimes, they're forced to let the bad walk. Often, they can't protect the good or the innocent. Much too often, like today, they're left picking up the shattered remains, and trying to get some kind of justice when the wicked have already done their worst, left bodies and lives in pieces, left innocence ruined and red splattered all over the white.
So that's how she ended up in Cal's office, curled on a couch out of the way, trying to be invisible. She's grateful that at least here, there are places to hide. Back at NCIS, with those unforgiving cubicles, it's almost impossible to find a corner for some peace and quiet. Here, her chosen corner even has books and comfortable seating.
She has no idea how long she sits there, lost in her own head, wrapped up in thoughts of what ifs and maybes and if onlys, tears dripping silently down her cheeks, before she's discovered.
The door opening startles her out of her reverie. "Oh, God, I'm sorry-"
Cal pokes his head in, shakes it. "Not a problem love. You okay?"
It definitely falls under the heading of a silly question. Even if Cal weren't, well, Cal, it wouldn't take a genius to work out she's very much not okay. So she just gives him a halfhearted smile and a shrug. "I should've asked if I could be in your office."
He shakes his head again as he crosses the room and perches next to her. "Always welcome in here, darling," he says softly. He nudges her cheek with his knuckle, and it's so gentle and so Cal that she smiles despite herself. "There, that's better." A pause. "Rough day."
It's a statement more than a question, but it also feels like an opening, an offer to listen. "I hate feeling powerless. Like we got there too late to make a difference."
He nods. His head is tilted sideways in that curious, searching way he has. It reminds her of how a bird inspects things with one eye, then the other, except 'inspect' isn't really the right word for the way he's looking at her. When he's on the job, focused and determined, he sees emotion and truth and lies. When he's with those he considers friends or family (and Kate doesn't think it's overreaching to include herself in both those categories now, as far as Cal's concerned), he still sees that - can't help it - but what he's looking for is whether she's coping, what she needs, whether there's anything he can do to help.
She gives in to temptation and grabs his shirt, tugs. He's a bit startled, but he lets her pull him back until he's sitting next to her, rather than perched precariously on the edge of the seat, then she folds her knees up under herself and rests her head in the crook of his neck.
"Anytime, love. Know it's been a tough one. Bit easier for us over here, not havin' to deal with all the evidence and the- the victims." She can almost hear him wince. "Sorry, shouldn't've brought that up."
She sniffs, wipes at her cheeks. "It is what it is."
He reaches out and swipes away a tear that apparently escaped her own efforts. "Not made of stone, Katie, an' that's all right." His sounds so earnest and worried. "No one expects you to be a superhero, 'cept you."
The sweetness of it undoes her, and she's crying again. She knows full well that Cal deals with tears about as well as Gibbs, but he loops his arms around her and lets her cry it out.
"Ahhh, sweetheart," he murmurs. "Bloody hell, I've got foot in gob disease today." There's a gentle pressure as he drops a kiss on her hair. She rubs her face against his shirt, and he pats her head. She's used him as a hanky before, and it's nice to know he doesn't mind. She just wishes she knew how to deal with crap like today and not let it get to her.
Another heaving breath. She can't seem to get her tears under control, and she's glad it's Cal who's with her. She doesn't much like showing weakness in front of anybody, but Cal would see it anyway, and despite his occasional lack of tact, he's pretty good at the 'make soft noises and act like a cushion' school of comfort giving. There's nothing that can erase the terrible memories from her mind, but letting all the frustration and anger and horror bleed out of her while someone she trusts is there to remind her she's not alone... it helps.
She shuffles in a bit closer - she has no idea if it's tiredness or exertion or what, but she's cold.
Cal tightens his arms around her shoulders automatically. "You shivering there, love?" He tuts like an old lady, pauses for a moment as if he's making a decision, then mutters 'sod it' under his breath and heaves her bodily into his lap.
Kate's eyes pop open in surprise, then she giggles. She can't help it. Cal's not tiny, but he's short enough and little enough that she's dramatically overflowing his lap and feels kind of absurd. (Admittedly, that's a big improvement over being full of despair.) She struggles to sit up, and he makes a noise of disagreement.
"Oi, tryna make you feel better here. Sit still and be cuddled."
She laughs again, and has to swipe at her face - between laughter and tears, she's quite a puddle. "I think this would work better if I were more Em's size," she says.
"You saying you're too big to need a cuddle now and then?"
She looks up at him. He's doing his very best affronted face, and that makes her laugh even more.
"See, that's much better."
She shakes her head, gives up on freeing herself, and flops back into his shoulder instead. "You're weird, you know that?"
"You really think I've got to this age without being told that bleedin' millions of times, love?"
"No, I guess not."
"Too right. When everyone else isn't taking turns at it, my darling daughter takes great pleasure in telling me."
"Aren't you a flatterer?"
"We like you this way."
There's a moment of silence. Has she actually managed to surprise him?
"Well then," he mumbles at last, sounding both diffident and pleased. "S'pose that means I'm doing summink right."
She takes a deep breath and lets it out. No one else she's ever met would deal with tears quite like Cal does, but she can't deny it seems to work. The laughter has eased some of the tension that the crying didn't.
He nudges at her temple with his nose. (God, he really is an overgrown puppy - he hasn't humped any of their legs yet, but give it time.)
She looks up. "What?"
"You gonna be okay, darling?"
He's back to being all earnest and concerned.
"I'll be all right." She nestles back under his chin. Okay, so he has a point, she really did need a cuddle. "Thank you."
"Meant what I said. Anytime. I mean, cuddling with a hot bird-" she thumps him, and he laughs; it was obviously completely intentional, the cheeky sod "-can't exactly grumble. An' if you fancy returning the favour anytime, that's okay, too."
She giggles at the image. "You want to sit in my lap and be cuddled?"
He shrugs. "Can think of worse ways to spend an afternoon."
"Gee, thanks. Now who's the flatterer?" Or that's what she meant to say. It comes out on a yawn and ends up more like 'flatteraahhh'.
Cal gives her a squeeze. "Bit knackered, sweetheart?"
"If that's one of your weird British words for tired, then yes."
"You can have a nap here if you like. Gotta go and help Gill sort out the last bits and bobs in a mo, but I mean it, you're always welcome in here, all right?"
She smiles and wraps herself round him for a hug. "Thanks."
He squeezes her back, and they sit for a while longer, and Kate wonders when exactly Cal became so safe and so comforting. Then he's reluctantly loosening his hold. "Wish I could stay."
She smiles. "I'll be fine."
"Attagirl." He scoops her back onto the couch, which makes her giggle again, then he's finding a blanket and tucking it round her, and really, he's at least seventy percent puppy, but there's a large dose of grandma in the rest of him. He bends down to drop a kiss on her cheek, smooths her hair back from her face, and fusses once more with the blanket. "Sleep well, love. Me and Gillian'll come find you before we leave, all right?"
She smiles, grabs his hand for a moment and squeezes (it's a gesture that makes Cal go a little self-conscious, and it's cute), and nods. "Thank you."
He looks so shyly pleased with himself - it's one of his expressions that always reminds Kate of Emily, the family resemblance suddenly so vivid - then he trots off back to work, with one last wave, and Kate's alone again but feeling immeasurably better than she did half an hour ago.
She snugs the blanket closer around her shoulders, curls up into a cosy ball, and falls asleep.
~ fin ~