Kate was both excited and conflicted. Conflicted because her big Secret Service dream was dead. The picture she had in her head of being feet away from the president, running at the side of his limousine, alert for every danger… It was a classic picture she’d seen in so many movies, and though she’d risen far enough to accompany the president on Air Force one, something about that picture had always appealed to her. The truth was; she’d risen far enough that short of actually stopping a bullet meant for the president, she would have struggled hard to top the experiences she’d already had. Eventually, unless she’d taken over from her boss, she’d find herself in an office somewhere, pushing paper and playing petty politics. It would bore her, even if both her salary and rank increased. Presidential details didn’t last forever. She wasn’t arrogant enough to admit boredom, but watching NCIS in action had been a singular experience. Of course, it also had the potential for one serious pitfall.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs himself.
The man was intriguing, attractive, smart and just a veneer of politeness short of hostile. It made warning bells go off, and it drew her like a magnet. She sighed as she buttoned the conservative blouse she was wearing for today’s meeting with the director. She would have to be very careful, even though this was just a formality. She was qualified. Her paperwork was in order. Gibbs wanted her on his team. She knew exactly how lucky she was. There was no accident that his team had been the one sent to investigate the events on Air Force One. That had been underlined when he’d made it his business to be in the right place, at the right time, even after the case was seemingly over, and he’d managed to stop what could have become a complete disaster.
Kate had resigned the Secret Service before she could find herself forced out or demoted to some lesser position; one without much chance for advancement. The standards for women in any organization as sensitive as the Secret Service simply were orders of magnitude more stringent than those for their male counterparts. Men occasionally made news if their behavior involved drunkenness, drugs or prostitution, but women… Even tiny mistakes could derail you or set you back years. The situation on Air Force one simply underlined just how innocent actions, like dating a colleague, something that might have had the potential to be a little awkward in a normal job, could suddenly become a matter of national security where someone was collecting your vomit as evidence, and pointing a gun in your face in a toilet stall that doubled as an interrogation cell.
Kate knew she’d really done nothing wrong. He wasn’t in her chain of command. He wasn’t secret service. It was, at worst, ill advised. She also knew another truth. That truth was, if you were a woman, particularly in a singularly male universe like the United States Secret Service, you couldn’t just be great at your job, decent and honorable; you had to be somewhere beyond exemplary. Being super-exemplary in an organization of talented, exemplary people? It simply got exhausting after a while. Having a life? That was a joke.
Secret Service wives put up with a lot when their husbands’ lives were constantly in flux, stressful and occasionally nerve-wracking. Even though it hadn’t happened often, knowing your partner, the father of your children could be called on to stop a bullet for the president… well, that was always there under the surface. Other than people who were in her line of work, she’d met few men who would consider her life, her schedule, and the potential risks acceptable in a wife. That was, of course, if Kate actually got a chance to meet them. It usually went something like this:
“What do you do?”
“Oh, Cool job! Have you met the president yet?” That was usually asked jokingly.
She’d be embarrassed, but non-committal. Bragging about her assignment wasn’t her style, and it was also a potential security risk.
“You have?” Shock and admiration would be the first reaction as the potential date figured it out. That would soon be followed by a polite extrication from the conversation. Her job was interesting. Dating her? Not so much.
She hadn’t joined the secret service for the money. She’d been bright, athletic and driven all through her all girls’ Catholic high school. Contrary to some stereotypes, it had been a place where the nuns had nurtured both her potential and her confidence. By graduation, she’d known she had both the talent and the preparation to reach for that big brass ring. Unlike many girls her age, it never occurred to her that, ‘as a female’, she might not deserve it.
Excellence was her watchword. Excellence had also become her reputation.
Law school had bored her. The idea of becoming a lawyer in white shoe law firm? She’d met a lot of lawyers since her high school romance with the law. She didn’t like most of them. Didn’t like their lives; didn’t like their clients. Not even the ones who did corporate law. It seemed to her, the further she went, that law was being used mostly to keep the powerful, powerful, and to screw the little guy; and occasionally, to keep those with resources from facing the consequences they’d earned.
She’d been told that she thought like a cop. The very things that had initially interested her in the law had been what alienated her from the reality of a legal career. Justice. Making a difference. Doing something worthwhile. That had been how the idea for Secret Service had arisen. She couldn’t imagine being a beat cop. Besides, she’d come from a small town and she knew the cops there. She couldn’t imagine becoming one of them. Hanging out at the local convenience store; eating too many donuts, being bored.
Laying bare everyone’s dirty laundry; being in everyone’s business. It was undignified. Caitlin Todd was a lot of things, undignified was not one of them. Becoming a cop in a big city like New York was also less than appealing. Still, she was ambitious, and she definitely wasn’t going to be a good fit as a lawyer. The idea of ‘prosecutor’ did have some appeal, but fortunately, she found another direction.
Her sister had been the one who’d first suggested federal law enforcement. Other than the FBI, the main federal law enforcement she’d been aware of was prestigious United States Secret Service. And she’d done it. She’d clawed her way up to the plum assignment on Air Force One. Now, thanks to the bastard who’d killed innocent men in an effort to get at the president and caused her minor indiscretion to be revealed, she was out.
NCIS. It certainly was a big come down from presidential detail. At least on paper it was. Except, Kate was beginning to think it might be exactly what she needed. She had seen Gibbs, Dinozzo and ‘Ducky’ on the job working to solve the mystery; protect the innocent, and stop the bad guys. The whole experience had energized her. Apparently, she’d done something right. Doors had been opened for her. The interview had gone well.
“Agent Todd,” said the director, “You are aware that we’ve a much lower profile here than your previous assignment. “When Gibbs told me you were interested in joining us, I have to say, I was a bit surprised.”
“I saw his team in action, sir,” said Kate, shrugging. “I realized just how much good I could do. The presidential detail was going to end within a year, maybe two, tops.”
“Did you consider the FBI?”
“I did, sir,” said Kate. “I applied there when I applied to the Secret Service.”
“Did you not get accepted?” He frowned. Maybe his intel had been wrong?
“I did, sir,” said Kate. “I turned them down.”
“I see,” said the director.
“I believed the Secret Service was the better fit for me,” said Kate.
“Yet, you’re leaving?”
“It’s a combination of things, sir. This opportunity came at exactly the right time. I was ready for a change.”
“I suppose you could say that, sir,” said Kate, profoundly uncomfortable about discussing her resignation from the secret service. Never open up avenues of enquiry that could lead down treacherous paths.
“Well, I believe Gibbs is right,” said the director.
“Right, sir?” she asked.
“Their loss is our gain,” said the director, rising and offering his hand. “Welcome to NCIS, Agent Todd.”
“Thank you, sir,” said Kate, smiling broadly.
Hung out to dry
Gibbs was unsettled. Just what had he done? Caitlin Todd was going to be a challenge. Maybe that’s why he’d been so impulsive. Just as when he’d met Tony, he’d seen something in her that he knew would make her a tremendous asset to his team. He’d also known something else. There was a corner of himself he’d locked down since he’d lost Shannon and Kelly. She had managed to breach it that very first night. None of his ex- wives had ever managed that, though Diane had come closest. It didn’t help that he knew she’d been willing to slip past the boundaries he’d erected in his own life after Jenny. If she could have one relationship with a colleague, she might be willing to have another. None of that would matter if he didn’t already know he wanted her. And there was no denying that particular fact.
She had this illusion of coolness – hauteur, almost. It was part of her grace. Yet, he’d seen through it for that one moment in that toilet cubicle. It was an illusion. Her professional face. Her natural public reserve. In her moment of loss, he’d seen the mask vanish. He’d almost hated himself for what he’d done, for the pain he’d caused her, but of course, he’d do it again in a heartbeat. He’d had to know. Maybe, even then, the spark of attraction that was beginning to smolder in his belly, had made him harsher that he otherwise would have been. She’d made him feel; then she’d made him doubt her. The flash of rage and paradoxically, of betrayal had made him react.
He pretended he didn’t notice her coming down the stairs from the director’s office. Now it was time to welcome his new colleague. To play buttoned-down team-leader. His libido had not been so disobedient in a very long time.
“Good morning, Gibbs,” she said.
“Good morning, Agent Todd,” he said. “Welcome to NCIS.”
“Mornin’ Kate,” said Tony, airily.
“Dinozzo, why don’t you show her around until it’s time for her to go finish the paperwork and get her pictures done.”
“Yes, boss!” said Tony, giving him an eager, shit eating grin.
Sometimes Dinozzo really annoyed him. Except for all those times he proved just how good he was at his job; how his manner either disarmed others or more often, his veneer of adolescent silliness made them underestimate him. Still, right now, the part of Tony that was id on steroids; was just what Gibbs needed to keep Caitlin Todd at bay a little longer. They didn’t have a new case yet, and he had enough paperwork on his hands to choke a horse. That was one of the drawbacks of being team leader. Anyway, that was his excuse for now.
If he was going by her talent, there was no question; he’d done the right thing. She’s already shown the brass just how much potential she had. Of course, he hadn’t been surprised by her performance. She was just too disciplined to miss the mark when given a challenge. She’d impressed a lot of people and she hadn’t worked her first crime scene yet. Except for a few questions about why she’d leave a presidential detail, there was nothing but praise. No one on his team was about to share details about her indiscretions unless they ever became germane to something at NCIS, though he suspected the director had studied his report of the case on Air Force one and Gibbs hadn’t left anything out.
Her feet were wet. It was her first case, and here she was wearing stupid high-heeled shoes. The mud was trying to suck the shoes off, and of course, it was chilly, so her feet were rapidly becoming cold. She grimaced. She’d wanted to be competent, to call attention to her professional abilities, not how green she was. Of course, rookie mistake: she hadn’t even thought about crime scenes in the middle of the open countryside. With mud. With an excellent chance to turn her ankle. She hadn’t even given shoes a thought. Credentials. Badge. Gun. Those were part of her familiar work equipment. Except on Air Force one, work had always involved a business suit, quality pumps. Conservative, circumspect, put together. Boots or even practical flats weren’t part of that uniform. Not unless you were running beside the president’s car. Of course, she’d wanted to look her best on her very first day, so she’d worn a brand new pair of very nice heels. A very expensive pair.
Then she had bigger problems. That ID they’d promised her tomorrow had suddenly become a problem.
“No ID; no entry. No exceptions.”
“This is an active investigation. No unauthorized personnel.”
“And I’m here to investigate. I am authorized,” said Kate, showing her badge.
“How do I know these are yours?”
“Oh come on! Would I have a badge and gun if I wasn’t an agent?”
“I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past one of you news gals to try some kind of crazy stunt to infiltrate the crime scene.”
“I’m not a reporter,” Kate said, irritated. “And we don’t know it’s a crime scene yet. It’s a parachute failure.”
“Whatever! You don’t dress like an NCIS agent.”
He had a point. Kate needed to get someone’s attention.
“Look, it’s my first day. I wanted to look my best,” said Kate, grimacing.
Then Dinozzo of all people came to her rescue.
“Aww, come on man! Cut the girl some slack, sergeant! It’s her first day and all. You know how the bureaucracy takes their own sweet time about everything!”
“Sure… No, wait! How do I know…”
Dinozzo flashed his own credentials a little too close to the MP’s nose for politeness, but he gave the man his best shit eating- too many teeth grin.
“Because I say so,” Dinozzo said sweetly. “It really is her first day. You do know how that is, right?”
“If you’re sure…” the man glanced at Tony, then back at Kate, looking her up and down, with an odd mixture of disdain and lust that made Kate want to shower… after she kicked the little shit in the nuts. Even Tony, who she’d pegged as a bit of an ass, was giving the oblivious weasel a dirty look.
“I’m sure,” said Tony, looking down at the man as though he was a small toad.
“Thanks,” said Kate. “I really appreciate…”
“Just doin’ the job, Kate! What kind of team member would I be if I left you to deal with creeps like him? You’re supposed to be here. Some people just can’t use what little brains they got.”
“You’re not kidding!” she said, grinning at him.
He grinned back.
“I need a pair of boots for a friend,” said Gibbs. “I want this brand – Haix – the same ones I’m wearing. The women’s version, of course. Very comfortable.”
“Yes, they are. They’re the best boots we have in the store. So… what size does she wear?”
“This size,” said Gibbs.
Gibbs handed the clerk a small paper bag. The man gave him a perplexed stare before unrolling the bag, and sticking his hand blindly into the bag. He dropped the wobbly, jellylike object that he’d pulled from the bag. “Oh! What the hell, man?!” That was when he realized it was… a mold of a shoeprint. He picked it up, and set it gingerly on the counter, and gave Gibbs a dirty look.
“It’s the best I could do.” Gibbs shrugged, trying not to smile.
“You could have just asked her,” said the man, resentfully.
“What would have been the fun in that?” asked Gibbs.
He’d given her a pair of boots! Gibbs had been all business about it, of course; but she just had this feeling that he hadn’t given any other team members boots on their first day. She hadn’t known what to say, so she’d just babbled as he’d put the NCIS hat on her head with a kind of studied carelessness that made her know this was more than just a cheap gesture. Then he led her to a car where she could change her shoes. He even had a towel for her to dry her feet.
“I did the laces up for you. You just need to zip them up. The socks should help.”
He handed her a thick, buttery-soft pair of socks that she instinctively pressed against her cheek. She quickly shed her wet shoes and dried her feet. Then she pulled on the softest socks she’d ever worn, and added the sturdy, well-made boots. A quick pull of the zip, and she was ready to go.
They didn’t go with the skirt, of course, but at least her feet were dry and warm… and so very comfortable. They fit perfectly! When had he had time to figure out her size, buy her boots – and the perfect socks to go with them? She couldn’t decide whether she felt mortified or touched by the gesture. Clearly, he had been expecting her to show up in her pumps. Couldn’t he have said something earlier today when he’d been briefing her on what to expect working on his team? Of course, he’d probably never had to think about appropriate places to wear high heels! Men! No… Gibbs!
Still, these had to be the best boots she’d ever had on her feet. She would have luxuriated in the comfort of the new boots a little longer, but of course, Dinozzo had to snap a picture of her, and spoil the moment.
They’d settled into a nice routine. She had begun to feel like a member of the team. She’d actually, truth be told; begun to feel like part of a family, though just what part of the family was still open to question. Dinozzo was like a kid brother, though sometimes he brought out her maternal instincts too. Gibbs was definitely papa bear… which made her what exactly? She tried to put that particular thought out of her head.
Even though she still was aware of him every time they were together, particularly on those rare occasions they were alone; she knew being an NCIS agent was the chance of a lifetime. She had learned so much in a few short weeks. It was obvious that he was beginning to trust her. She was aware that irked Dinozzo, even though he was mostly not an ass about it. Not even when Gibbs had pulled rank and somehow managed to get her aboard a submarine.
This was definitely the trippiest, coolest of a series of very cool experiences she’d had since joining NCIS. In a brief few weeks, she’d managed to fly or sail in a collection of bone jangling, nerve twanging modes of transport. She’d loved every second! But being aboard the Submarine, in spite of the stale air, and lack of space or daylight, was a singular experience.
“Thanks for bringing me with you, Gibbs,” said Kate. “This is amazing!”
“You were the right person for the job,” he said.
“Uh huh,” she said, but she gave him one of those slow smiles that always got him going.
The truth was that Gibbs kept finding reasons to bring Kate with him, when he would have ordinarily brought Dinozzo. Fortunately for him, she was as talented an agent as he’d suspected she would be, and there were times when she really was the better person for the job. This was a case in point.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Dinozzo was very useful back on dry land where he could work the system he knew so very well. Kate, on the other hand, had a different strength. She was excellent at reading people, great at putting them at ease, and that was a lot more than her exquisite Secret Service training. She was also easy on the eyes, decent to a fault and utterly committed to giving every case her very best. No, he wasn’t biased. He was slowly falling deeply in love with her, in no small part because she was all the things he thought she was.
The interview process had been as thorough as they could make it. All the sailors lied, mostly about inconsequential things. They still knew nothing actionable.
“I can’t believe we still have nothing,” said Kate, frustrated.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it,” said Gibbs. “Abby or Dinozzo will find something.”
“Let’s hope that happens before whatever it is he has planned. I’m going to go over the files again. See if something jumps out,” she said.
“Sounds good,” said Gibbs.
As the hours passed, tension rose. They didn’t know who their enemy was and he had planned. They did know there were several ways to cripple a submarine or its crew. Of all craft, a submarine had the greatest potential for something to go irretrievably wrong.
“I really hate waiting,” said Kate.
“You’re not alone,” said Gibbs.
Suddenly, the submarine jolted. Jolted was not the right description for it. One minute they were level, the next, the world had lurched violently sideways. That was when she found herself slammed against Gibbs, who was slammed against the wall. Gravity kept them pinned against each other for several long seconds.
“What’s happening?” Her words came out in a gasp.
“Emergency Blow,” he said tersely.
For a moment, she was sure he was going to kiss her. Her body pressed tightly against his by the pressure of the sudden increase in G forces. The moment was electric. Then, in spite of the violence of the boat’s movement, the COB somehow made it through the door, and the moment was gone.
“Skipper wants you!”
“Hang on a moment, Gibbs said, not letting go of Kate.
“Wow.” That was all Kate could manage.
“Yep. That’s what they all tell me!” he replied drolly, making her smile and blush at the same time.
As she followed Gibbs from the room, she glared at the COB who was just a little too amused by the landlubbers and their lust and embarrassment. She gave him the narrow eye as she swept past. He just kept smiling.
The drama was over. The bad guy was somewhere in the bottom of the ocean, his threat neutralized. As the tension of the day ebbed, exhaustion was beginning to catch up to her. The drive ahead was three hours, longer, if they ran into traffic, but Gibbs had not complained. He’s simply purchased an obscenely large size cup of coffee before starting the drive. She’d decided against anything that would make her jittery, instead she nursed a bottle of filtered water. Now, with a taciturn man and nothing much to do, Kate found herself thinking about the day. About that one particular moment.
“Gibbs…” Kate began. Then she stopped. Just what did she want to say?
“Kate?” He glanced over at her, then back at the road. He shifted just a little in his seat, but she noticed and couldn’t help smiling.
“This was one hell of a day,” she said finally.
“Yup! Another day in the life,” said Gibbs.
“I suppose,” said Kate. “Didn’t feel that different from the presidential detail, to be honest, except this emergency wasn’t a drill.”
“Same job,” he said, nodding without taking his eyes off the road. “Protecting others.”
“Yup,” she said. “We did good. We had help; of course – they’re the ones who really came through.”
“That’s why you’re all on the team.”
“Glad to be,” she said.
She really was. This job was the best fit of anything she’d ever done in her life. Did she really want to change things and risk losing that? Did she really want to repeat the same mistakes that had cost her the last job? He’d made it clear what he thought about relationships between colleagues. If things were to change between them, it could easily cost her the job of a lifetime. Of course, if she didn’t change things, she might miss the chance for the relationship of a lifetime. Today had made her think a lot. Death had seemed much more real than usual, much less in her control, deep under the ocean with nowhere to run. When she thought they might die, she’d been glad they’d been together, and that was a revelation she couldn’t ignore. The other revelation had been the fact that she was now quite certain that the feelings she was experiencing weren’t remotely one-sided.
As the miles passed, Gibbs quickly found the companionable atmosphere more and more comfortable, and unlike most cases, particularly ones that had him confined aboard some vessel with one or more of his team, he didn’t feel a need to get away, and to rush home to his sanding.
“Wanna grab a bite?” he asked.
They were rapidly approaching an off-ramp, one that promised both food and gas.
“Definitely. Can’t live on two bites of ice cream,” she said.
“No, can’t have you fainting on me,” he said.
“I do not faint,” said Kate, giving him a dirty look, which turned into a smirk.
“No. You don’t,” he said.
Gibbs steered the car up the off ramp. The signs had overpromised. The gas station had the most marginal selection of snacks she’d seen in a while, and there wasn’t a fast food joint or a 7-11 to be seen anywhere. The only other thing at the intersection was a beat-up looking one-story building with neon lights that outlined the name Country-Western Junction, and an enormous cowboy boot, set way back from the street. The parking lot was surprisingly busy for a weeknight.
“Not much here,” she said.
“Guess we better see what Country-Western Junction has to offer,” said Gibbs with a grimace.
“Don’t you like country music?”
“I like it just fine,” he said. “Just noisier than I had in mind… tired.”
“Me too,” said Kate.
“May be a while before we find another place though,” he said.
On cue, Kate’s stomach growled loudly.
“Let’s see what they’ve got!” she said.
“This is so good!” said Kate, the pleasure evident in her expression. “Tastes home cooked.”
“Yes, it does,” said Gibbs, who was a lot more aware of the blissed out expression on Kate’s face than the taste of the food.
“Probably why there are the place is nearly full at nine o’ clock on a Tuesday night.”
“That or the dancing.”
“Have you ever been line dancing?” Kate asked. “My sister and I used to go.”
“I don’t dance,” said Gibbs.
It was a non-answer to the question, of course. But admitting that he’d been country dancing was to crack open a can of worms Gibbs really didn’t want to open.
“Pity. I bet you would be great at it!” she gave him one of those smiles that warmed him up inside.
Gibbs was suddenly focused on his plate. She was right; the food here was really good. Gibbs had tried dancing back before Kelly was born. Shannon had dragged him to a place a lot like this, made him take lessons, even. He’d felt silly, but he hadn’t minded.
“Not gonna happen.”
“Well, I don’t need a partner for this one,” she said, shrugging and standing up as the tempo of the music picked up and people formed up for a line dance.
“You do that,” she said.
As chaste as a line dance was, compared to a lot of other types of dancing, Gibbs found he couldn’t stop watching her. The contented smile on her face. That thing she did with her tongue when she concentrated… The way her hips swayed ever so slightly as she stepped precisely, back, forward, hop, side to side… slapped her leg… and turn… after a while the order was a just a jumble to Gibbs; but his eyes followed her every move, mesmerized. In some ways, this was worse than actually dancing with her. He shifted in his seat, trying to get comfortable and grateful for the near darkness of the table.
Then she was back; happy and energized by the activity. Her smile lit up her face.
“You sure you don’t want to give it a try? Slow dances are easy!”
Her look was eager, expectant. There was no part of him that could resist her. Without realizing it, he was on his feet, and agreeing.
“I- aww, sure! Why not?”
He led her onto the dance floor, which was suddenly a lot fuller than it had been during the fast-paced, energetic line dance. Somehow, his intention to keep her at a safe distance went right out of the window. After all, there wasn’t much space.
“This is nice,” she said, leaning in so she didn’t have to yell.
Her scent again flooded his senses, just as it had a few hours earlier when she’d been plastered so hard against him for those few precious seconds. He was drowning again. This time, there was no COB to stop him doing the thing he’d been wanted to do ever since that moment. For a moment his mouth brushed her cheek. Had she not spoken, he’d have kissed her full on the mouth.
“I told you this would be fun,” she said, making herself even more at home in his embrace.
“Kate…” Gibbs took a deep breath. There was no way she wasn’t aware of just how aroused he was.
She gazed up at him, her hair a little messy, and he couldn’t help but picture her in his bed. Instinctively, he held her a little tighter and she responded by nestling in even more, as if they did this every Tuesday night.
“Don’t you think we should get back on the road?” he asked after a few more dances.
“I suppose,” she said. “How about one more dance before we go?”
“Sure,” he said, smiling and feeling the day’s tension slip away as he held her just a little closer.
Even though there were still a lot of cars in the lot when they came out, they seemed to be the only ones outside. They exchanged a glance and started walking toward the car in the poorly lit lot. As they passed a large van, they were jumped by two assailants. One body slammed Gibbs against the side of the van, a lot harder than he should have been able to. Gibbs never got a chance to reach for a weapon. The other assailant had simply grabbed Kate by the throat, and was nearly choking her; the other hand had a fistful of her hair for leverage. She couldn’t move his fingers, and she felt herself close to blacking out. So she used his arms to brace herself, and kicked out, unfortunately, only catching him in the thigh instead of the crotch as he easily sidestepped her attempt. He was way faster than she’d been expecting. What the hell was wrong with his face?
“You stupid bitch! You’re gonna pay for that!”
Her response was to keep kicking out at him, forcing him to loosen his grip on her, though not enough for her to get free.
“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” said a perky, female voice from behind Kate.
The pressure on her throat was abruptly released as something golden blonde seemed to fly blur-like at her assailant, and suddenly the two were in the fastest, most vicious fight she could remember seeing. She backed off instinctively as the woman’s punches caused the man to fly back into a parked car. Her rescuer was apparently another woman – a tiny slip of a girl, really. Unfortunately, the assailant was on his feet almost instantly and the two of them punched and kicked, and flew back and forth, each blow that landed seemed to cause severe damage to the vehicles they were being thrown into.
Kate rubbed her throat and turned to look for Gibbs.
“Tha’s not nice!” said a male voice that sounded vaguely English to Kate, but everything was happening too fast.
A blond man had grabbed the other assailant, who seemed inexplicably as if he’d been trying to bite Gibbs in the neck, though Gibbs had continued to fight him off, so Kate couldn’t be sure. Almost too fast to follow, the blond man had grabbed the man by the back of the neck, and flung him head first into a nearby car. Even though the man was larger than he was, and probably outweighed him by sixty or eighty pounds, their rescuer had thrown him seemingly without effort.
“You OK?” he asked Gibbs without taking his eyes off the assailant.
“I’m OK,” said Gibbs, rolling his shoulders back, obviously in pain.
“Where the fuck did you come from?” said the man who’d been scuffling with Gibbs. Unbelievably, he was back on his feet. “He’s mine; you can get your own damn dinner!”
He lunged for Gibbs, but Gibbs had finally managed to open his knife, and slashed at the man’s forearm, drawing blood.
“You little shit!” he shrieked. “Just for that, I’m gonna make it really hurt when I kill you. Just as soon as I get rid of this little idiot.”
“Now, now, don’t be rude! No one’s eating anyone tonight!” The blond man laughed almost maniacally. It was seemed he was having the time of his life.
Gibbs’ rescuer casually punched the much bigger assailant, causing him to stagger and grab his jaw. Still, unable to recognize that his size didn’t give him any advantage over the smaller man, Gibbs’ attacker rushed at him again; rage making his swings blind. The smaller man sidestepped him gracefully, clearly enjoying playing with the would-be assailant.
“Oh, just stake him and get it over with, Spike!” said the woman.
Her words made little sense, so Kate turned to look toward the blonde woman, and as she did, their male rescuer thrust his arm out so rapidly she didn’t really see what he’d done. Gibbs’ assailant seemed to crumble to dust in front of her eyes.
“What the hell?” Then she caught sight of Gibbs’ bloody face, which was sporting a nasty bruise. “Oh my God, you look terrible!”
“I’m all right,” he said, but not with as much conviction as she’d have liked.
“No, you’re not,” she said.
“No, he’s not. You’re gonna hurt a lot tomorrow. You should get a good night’s rest,” said the woman.
“Yeah, and a couple fingers of whisky wouldn’t hurt,” said the man.
“You seem OK, though,” said Kate, addressing the deceptively fragile looking woman. She wasn’t even breathing hard. “He threw you all over the parking lot, but you don’t seem any worse for the wear.”
“She doesn’t miss much, luv,” said the blond man, with a smirk.
“No, she’s not like Sunnydale cops,” said the woman, looking up at her companion and grinning.
“No, she’s not,” said the man. “But you are cops. Aren’t you?”
“Who are you people?” asked Gibbs, instead of answering the question.
“We deal with stuff like this,” said the woman with a little shrug.
“Stuff like this?” asked Kate.
“Oh, vampires and such,” said the man airily, grinning at Kate’s open mouthed stare.
“Just take care of each other, now, OK?” said the woman. “Life is short, ya know?”
Kate instinctively turned to look at Gibbs, who was much more banged up than she was, though he tried to hide it. She found herself reaching out to touch his face. He grasped that hand, holding it gently. They stood there, staring at each other, bemused.
A sound jolted Kate out of her reverie and she looked back in the direction of her rescuers, just in time to see their two rescuers, hand in hand, nearly all the way on the other side of the parking lot. Then they melted into the darkness and were gone.
“Wait!” said Gibbs, starting after them.
“They’re gone,” said Kate. “We don’t know if there’s more of whatever those men who attacked us were. We should get out of here.”
“You’re right,” said Gibbs. “It’s not like a police report is gonna do us any good.”
“No, they wouldn’t believe us if we told them.”
“I think you should let me drive,” said Kate.
“It’s not that bad!” he protested.
“Don’t make me call an ambulance,” she said.
“I don’t look that bad, do I?” he grinned at her.
Even with the bruises, that grin did funny things to Kate’s insides.
“You look like you went ten rounds with Sugar Ray,” she said, smiling sympathetically.
“I feel like I went ten rounds with Sugar Ray,” he admitted.
“Maybe we should get you checked out…”
“No! No hospital! Nothing wrong a good night’s sleep, and a couple painkillers won’t fix.”
“Wait ‘til you see yourself in the mirror!” she said.
“Are you saying I’m ugly?”
She decided not to answer that one. If he could joke, he was probably not near death.
“I think you need a good night’s rest,” she said. “I don’t think either of us needs to drive back to DC tonight.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Gibbs said, looking at his watch.
At this rate, they’d be back in the city well after midnight, assuming no further stops or traffic.
Gibbs didn’t have the energy to argue. The truth was that it was late, he was beyond exhausted, and he hurt all over. Being body slammed hard was even less fun at his age than it had been in his twenties. This was the hardest hit he could remember in a long time, maybe ever. His brain still hadn’t processed what had happened.
“Good,” she said.
Instead of heading toward DC, and trusting that she’d find a place somewhere along the highway, Kate drove back to the last large town they’d passed, which was only about twenty minutes back. She turned into the first cheap but clean-looking motel she came to and booked them a room. She’d debated getting two rooms, but the truth was (at least, that was what she told herself) she was worried about him.
She let him shower first, since his clothes were a mess, and she suspected the warm water would make him feel better. By the time she’d taken her shower, he had stretched out on the bed nearest the door, eyes closed. She sat on the other bed, and finished toweling her hair dry, suddenly aware of the relative intimacy of their arrangement and grateful her go-bag sleep clothes were sweats and a T-shirt. Apparently, they had that in common. His T-shirt said NIS.
“That’s a very old shirt,” she said.
“It’s comfortable,” he shrugged.
“I believe that,” she said, pulling her hair into a comfortable loose ponytail and stretching out. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” he said, yawning.
“Good! I’m still glad we didn’t try to go back to DC tonight,” she said.
“Do you believe in vampires?” She asked the question that had been bugging her ever since they’d been attacked.
He studied her for a long several seconds before replying.
“I mean… you heard what they said, right?” she said, wondering if she had made a mistake discussing what they’d seen.
“Yeah, I guess I do,” he said, finally. “Not something I’ll put in a report or admit to anyone else, though, but my old mentor swore they were real and I’ve never known him to make up fairytales. Besides, I came a little too close to having those teeth in my throat.”
He’d sat up, so they were sitting facing each other, knees almost touching.
“I don’t know what I would have done if I anything had happened to you,” she said, surprising both of them by tearing up a little. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but she didn’t dare.
“I was scared you were going to die,” he admitted. “Losing you…”
He took her hand and held it almost too tightly.
“Maybe we should stop lying to ourselves, then,” she said, leaning forward and looking up into those amazing blue eyes. “That woman was right, you know?”
“Life is short,” she said, softly.
“You’re not wrong about that,” said Gibbs, who could barely speak.
“You know what you always say about that rule?” she said, completely unaware of the minefield she had wandered into.
“Yeah, the one from the other day? ‘You don’t waste good’,” she said.
“Oh.” That rule.
“So… is it OK if I do this?” She leaned in and brushed his lips ever so softly with hers, before sinking back onto her own bed, unable to break his gaze.
“Definitely,” he said. “In fact, I think we should do it again.”
“Did you find them?” asked the seer.
“You know we did,” said the blond man.
“Did it work?” asked the blonde woman.
“That it did,” said the seer, inclining her head. “You are worthy guardians.”
Note: I’ve time shifted a little. For Buffy purposes, it is about two years post series in a world where Buffy and Spike found each other after Sunnydale. Buffy and Spike have been assigned as guardians for Kate and Gibbs.
Rule one: Don’t die - Buffy Summers
Rule five: You don’t waste good – Leroy Jethro Gibbs