Actions

Work Header

Mele Kalikimaka

Chapter Text

1GIBBS

Gibbs grinned to himself as he crossed the small office space NCIS Pearl Harbor called home. Kate was in an animated discussion with a guy Gibbs recognised as the Brit he'd seen on his first visit here, and who'd popped up several times during the sporadic Skype conversations he'd managed to finagle with Kate over the last couple months.

He dredged his exhaustion fogged brain for more details. Will? Yes, Will, that was it. He seemed like a good guy, but more importantly today, his timing was perfect. Being able to sneak up on Kate hadn't been part of the plan, but it wasn't a bad addition. Surprising her was... pretty fun. Gibbs couldn't remember the last time he'd done something so ridiculous and spontaneous as this, but he was also feeling a kind of excitement and anticipation he'd half forgotten existed. As long as Kate didn't just shoot him on sight...

Will's expression changed as he spotted Gibbs' approach, and Gibbs put a finger to his lips, hoping Will wouldn't blow his cover at the last moment. He'd always seemed a little eccentric to Gibbs, kind of a kook, for a supposed intelligence officer, but it was obvious, as Gibbs came within earshot, that he was taking the conversation in a direction Kate hadn't expected, skilfully providing just enough distraction for Gibbs to sidle up behind her unnoticed.

He nodded his thanks, and allowed himself the luxury of attracting Kate's attention with a tug on her ponytail. "Hey, Katie."

There was a sharp intake of breath, then she whipped around, her face a picture of shock. Gibbs half expected her to ream him out for creeping up on her again, like she had months ago on the Aiea trail.

What he hadn't expected - hadn't dared even hope for - was the way she launched herself at him for a hug that knocked the air right out of his lungs. He looked at Will, who was grinning widely - in fact looked like he was trying very hard not to laugh - and then back down at the woman in his arms.

After a long moment of bewilderment, it suddenly occurred to him Kate was hugging him - really hugging him - and there was no guarantee this degree of unprompted affection would last or be repeated, so he'd best make the most of it. He wrapped his arms around her, let his fingers brush lightly over her hair, and took the opportunity to simply enjoy the moment.

When her death grip around him finally loosened, Gibbs forced himself to release her as well, and tried to arrange his face into something more 'it's really good to see you' and less 'I am about to have a heart attack'.

"What are you doing here?" she asked breathlessly. "I mean- I'm glad, I just..."

"I, uh-" Yeah, he hadn't really thought this through at all. "I wanted to surprise you." He shrugged at his own ridiculously slender justification. There was probably no need at this point to admit he had called in half a dozen favours, and travelled for at least sixteen hours on both military and civilian transport. Or to confess that thanks to their latest case, apart from a few hours of fitful sleep on the first leg of his journey, he'd been awake since 6am DC time... yesterday morning.

Right? Right.

"Well, you succeeded. Good surprise." Kate took a step back, probably, he thought, trying to regain her composure, but she was still smiling broadly at him and didn't seem embarrassed by her reaction. It had definitely been worth it.

"Didn't you guys have a case?"

Gibbs blinked. Attempting to think was like wading through molasses. "Ah, yeah." He tried to remember what the case had even been about. "Yeah, we wrapped that one up last night." Which felt more like last week, but Kate didn't need to know that.

"So..." She frowned a little - not angry, just confused. "But I got a message from Abby and she said you were all sitting down to watch It's a Wonderful Life, and you'd found Tony's dad for him... how did you... when did you...?"

Crap. He'd forgotten Kate knew about that tradition, hadn't bargained on Abs getting ahold of her either. "Yeah, I, uh-" He really had not thought this throughHe should at least've had his story straight, maybe had some kind of excuse or something for-

She moved into his space again and reached up a hand to touch his cheek. "Good God, Gibbs, you must be exhausted." To his surprise, Gibbs realised her eyes were shiny, as if she was close to tears. "Best Christmas present ever," she murmured. "Thank you."

She leaned into him and wrapped her arms around him for another hug. Totally bemused but willing to go with the flow, he hugged her back. So far, so good. He hadn't thought this far ahead - he hadn't thought much at all, to be fair - but really, he could not have imagined this reception.

When he found himself relaxing into her and pressing his face into her hair to soak up her scent, he forced himself to pop his eyes open. This was not the time or the place to get carried away just because he had her in his arms at last - no matter how pleased to see him Kate seemed to be.

He was, he told himself sternly, here to make sure she was okay, say happy Christmas, spend some time with her, be her friend. Being here with her... it was good. It was enough. It was not something he would allow himself to take for granted.

He reluctantly made himself look around, seeking a distraction, and found one. He had almost forgotten they had an audience.

Will had discreetly retreated, and was sat at a desk overflowing with papers and files, but when he glanced over and caught Gibbs' eye he grinned widely and winked, giving a double thumbs up. Gibbs wondered how exactly Kate had explained his previous visit, his regular attempts at communication. The knowing look and satisfied smile on Will's face suggested... good things.

Between that and Kate's enthusiastic welcome, Gibbs felt pretty encouraged, and he was sure his pleased expression bordered on the idiotic.

Kate gave him one last squeeze, made a little satisfied noise he tried hard to ignore, and then she was turning to Will, though this time she kept a firm hold on Gibbs' arm as if she didn't want to risk him vanishing. No chance, Katie.

Will didn't even need her to ask the question. "Go get coffee. I can hold down the fort while you're gone. Don't worry about a thing."

"You are the best." She knuckled his head and he protested, but it was obvious it was a well worn gesture of affection. "I'll be back... um, soon."

Will grinned again - apparently he was just as good natured as he'd seemed over an Internet connection. "Take your time, Kate." He caught Gibbs' eye. "I'm sure you two have a lot of catching up to do."

The smile was infectious, and Gibbs grinned, signing thank you as Kate tugged on his elbow, then following her out of the building.

WILL

Back in the bullpen, Will smiled to himself, then picked up the phone on the desk and rapidly dialled a familiar number. "Rich? Yep, it's me. Change of plans, mate. Something came up. Kate's going to be, um, busy - yeah, for at least the next couple of days I should think..."

Chapter Text

2. KATE

"So, where are you staying?"

Kate wasn't yet quite up to asking how long he was going to be in Hawaii. Surely not just one day this time. DC was much too far away.

"Ahh..." Gibbs looked sheepish. "This was kinda last minute. I guess I should see if anyone on base-"

"Okay, then you stay with me." She said it firmly and confidently, and inwardly congratulated herself on not sounding nervous - or too eager, for that matter.

He stopped dead, looked at her, blinked in an almost comically slow fashion. She was caught between the desire to scold him for his deplorable travel habits, and the warm, fuzzy feeling he'd done something so absurd just for her. "Really?"

She cocked her head at him. "My couch is comfortable, and it's Christmas Day, Gibbs. Do you really think you're gonna get a better offer?"

He nodded, a wry smile appearing. "When you put it that way..."

She laughed at his tone, and dug in her bag for her keys. "Plus you can sleep this afternoon while I finish up at work, have a shower if you want."

"You sayin' I smell?"

"No! I didn't, I just meant..." She caught the look on his face and realised he was teasing. "Gibbs!" She thumped his arm.

He grinned, looking pleased with himself at having gotten a rise out of her. "You sure it's okay to have me on your couch the next few days?"

A few days? She couldn't help how ridiculously happy that made her, and she laughed again. "It's fine, Gibbs. It's good. It'll be fun."

He gave her a sidelong glance, looking less than convinced. "Me as a houseguest? You have a weird definition of fun."

She shrugged. "I have good coffee - Kona coffee. We'll be okay."

He raised an eyebrow and grinned. "Well, yeah, Katie. That'll definitely help."

NCISNCISNCIS

Since he was actually staying longer than twenty hours this time - and especially since he looked ready to fall sleep on his feet - it seemed logical to just take Gibbs straight back to her place. She smiled to herself when he dozed off against the window on the short car journey home, and when they arrived she let him sleep for a couple of minutes just because it was so unusual but so nice to see his face utterly relaxed.

Eventually it occurred to her he might wake up and discover her staring, so she reached out to pat him gently on the cheek. "Hey Gibbs. Wakey wakey." He mumbled slightly. "There's a couch inside that's much more comfortable than the car seat."

As he slowly stirred, he leaned into her hand, then one eye popped open. "Wha'?" He squinted, looking thoroughly confused.

She stifled the urge to burst out laughing. She was so not used to this side of Gibbs, and she would never have expected it to be quite so adorable. "You need to come inside and get some sleep, and I need the car to go back to work."

"Oh. Okay." He peered up at her, and then raised his hand to touch the back of hers. There was an awkward moment in which Kate suddenly realised she was kind of cradling his face, then he looked away, she withdrew, and she shook her head, getting her mind back on the task at hand.

At least Gibbs was an experienced light traveller, and she knew how tired he must be when she took his go bag from him and he didn't protest, just meekly followed her up and into her apartment.

It took her only a few minutes to find blankets and a pillow, and to show him where the bathroom and the coffee were located (she gave herself props for concentrating on the essentials), and then she didn't really have an excuse to stay longer.

"I better get back to work. I'm sure Rich'll be okay with me taking a couple of personal days, but there's stuff I need to finish off before then."

Gibbs followed her to the front door. He'd kicked off his shoes and socks already, and there was something endearing about him padding round her apartment barefoot, eyes still bleary from his long journey. She grinned up at him, still finding it hard to believe he was really here.

"Sure." He yawned hugely. "Prob'ly be asleep on the couch when you get back."

She laughed. "That's okay. You need it. Catching up can wait till tomorrow."

"Uh-huh."

"There's a spare key in the bowl in the living room. You know. Just in case." He nodded. "So I'll see you in a few hours okay?" She hovered in the doorway. Part of her had the ridiculous notion he'd somehow disappear while she was at work, and she really did not want to leave. But her work ethic was too strong, and with a sigh she shrugged. "Okay. I'll see you later."

"Yup." Gibbs leaned down and kissed her, briefly, chastely - shockingly.

Instinctively she leaned towards him as he pulled away, then caught herself and took a step back. Did he just...? She forced herself to keep breathing steadily, to not completely freak out, to look up at him, though she could feel her cheeks flushing.

By his expression, she was fairly sure Gibbs had surprised himself as much as her. He looked decidedly startled.

"See you later," she said again, her voice unnaturally high.

He bobbed his head, bright eyes meeting hers for a moment, then inspecting the doorframe. "Yeah."

She smiled, hoping she didn't look too thunderstruck, and made herself walk away, wondering how she was supposed to manage any work now.

She turned back once, and it didn't help matters at all when he was still standing in her doorway, a slightly goofy half smile on his face.

Safe in her car, she allowed herself a few seconds to close her eyes and press her lips together. What the hell just happened? She wasn't sure what was freaking her out more, the kiss or her own response to it. She shouldn't be having palpitations over what had been hardly more than a brush of his lips over her own, no matter how... unexpected. "Oh, God." She was toast.

On autopilot, she started the car and set off, making a supreme effort of will not to look and see if Gibbs was still standing there. She didn't know whether she hoped he'd gone inside or if she wanted him to watch her drive away, but either way, she was sure glancing back would be bad for her mental health. And she'd already had more than enough problems on that front before he'd kissed her.

She took a deep breath and sternly told herself to get a grip. She needed to regain her composure before she got back to work, or Will would have a field day. She was gonna get the third degree about Gibbs' visit anyway, for sure, and being flustered would not help her case.

She would go back to the office, do her work, and she would not spend the afternoon trying to figure out what was going on. That was a question for later.

And if her treacherous memory would quit replaying his mouth on hers in technicolor and surround sound, she might even make it that far without losing her mind.


 

GIBBS

As he watched her drive away, Gibbs caught himself grinning foolishly again and shook his head. He probably should feel embarrassed or guilty or like he needed to apologise or... something - not to mention that he was reacting like he was fifteen and had never touched a girl before - but try as he might, he couldn't make himself.

I just kissed Kate Todd.

And while it might have been accidental, inappropriate, way too soon and probably the stupidest thing he'd done in years... he really couldn't feel bad about that.

Chapter Text

3. KATE

She let herself in and took a deep, calming breath. A small, crazy part of her wanted to yell out, 'Honey, I'm home!' but after the unexpected kiss goodbye, she felt unusually self-conscious.

Instead, she closed the door softly behind her and made her way to the living room. Gibbs was, as promised, asleep on her couch, though he was stirring within seconds of her arrival.

"Hey."

"Hey, Katie." He sat up with a yawn, stretched, rubbed his hands across his face, and Kate gave in to a sudden impulse and reached down to run a hand through his sleep-mussed hair. He stilled under her touch, his eyes closing for a moment, and then he looked up at her, a wonky grin on his lips. "What time is it?"

"6pm." She grimaced apologetically. "Took longer than I'd expected to wrap things up, but I have two whole days off and Rich said I could definitely take a third if I needed to, as long as we don't land a case before then. I mean, I don't know exactly how long you're staying or if there are other people you want to..."

He rose from the couch and Kate trailed off as he wrapped her in a warm hug. "I got no one else I need to see," he rumbled in her ear.

She was grateful her idiotic grin was hidden against his shoulder. "Right. Okay." He had obviously freshened up in the shower while she was out, and he smelled slightly of her soap but mostly of himself. Coffee and sawdust and Gibbs. It was a familiar and deeply comforting scent to have wrapped around her.

She gave him a squeeze, then reluctantly let go. It might take her a while to get used to how good he was at hugs. "I thought maybe we could order in pizza?" The menu had been doing double duty as a bookmark, but at least she could find it quickly.

"Sounds great. Want me to do the honours?"

She nodded, handing it over. "Number's on there. Order whatever you like, I'm sure it'll be fine. I just need to shower and change, then I'm all yours." Gibbs gave her a slightly odd look and she replayed the sentence in her head. "I mean-" She shook her head. Best not go digging a hole. "I... will be right back."

By the time she returned after her shower (and after a stern talk with her reflection about not making a fool of herself), she was a bit more at ease.

It was kind of funny seeing Gibbs all casual, in a light shirt and slacks, still barefoot and apparently entirely at home. He was lounging on her sofa as if he was a regular fixture, glasses perched on his nose, the TV guide in his lap and a cup of coffee in one hand. He glanced up when she reappeared, and gestured to a tall glass of orange juice on her coffee table.

"Thanks." She had to admit, she was a little touched he'd thought to get her a drink. He's even found coasters, noted the part of her that was becoming more like her mom every day.

"Figured you probably don't need the caffeine."

"And you do?" she joked. "Addict."

He shrugged, smiled easily at her, and she grinned back, then flopped down on the couch beside him and grabbed the juice to take a long sip.

At least things hadn't gotten awkward. Given she still hadn't figured out how she felt about anything beyond being really glad to see him, maybe The Kiss should just be ignored. It was a weird aberration, and though it had occupied more of her thoughts this afternoon than she cared to remember, it would be stupid to let over-analysis spoil the pleasure of his visit.

Gibbs closed the guide, slipped his glasses off, then yawned hugely and loudly and rubbed his eyes. "I'll be better company tomorrow, promise."

"That's okay. We can just chill, maybe watch some TV." She smiled. "It's nice to have you here, even if you're sleepy."

He chuckled. "TV sounds good. Not sure I'm fit for anythin' else. If you move halfway across the Pacific, I guess you better get used to jet-lagged visitors."

She bumped her shoulder against his. "Thanks for coming," she said softly.

Gibbs shrugged, looked at her sideways, and the corner of his mouth twitched.

Kate could feel herself starting to blush. She opened her mouth, realised she had nothing to say, and was relieved beyond measure when a knock at the door broke the awkward moment.

"Pizza."

"Pizza," he agreed.


Gibbs had somehow found a black comedy he insisted she'd love on a classic movie channel she hadn't even known she had. She couldn't decide what was more astonishing, the fact he was apparently a secret film nerd, or that despite being a confirmed technophobe, he had managed to get to grips with her TV remote.

At least his taste was good, she had to admit. Even if she was still baffled at his DiNozzo-like knowledge of black-and-white British cinema. Between a belly full of pizza and a good movie, not to mention comfortable, undemanding company, it was turning into a really relaxing evening.

She didn't realise she was drifting till Gibbs nudged her. "Hey, Katie, you can't fall asleep. This is a classic."

"Since when were you a film buff?"

He shrugged. "Don't tell Tony."

She giggled. "I don't know, Gibbs, don't you think that's something team members should know about each other? I mean you never-" Gibbs tickled her and she yelped. "Okay, okay, I promise. Your secret's safe with me."

"Good." He looped an arm casually around her and pulled her in closer to his side. "You never know how I might retaliate."

A note in his voice had her looking sideways at him, and although he was focused on the screen, there was the slightest hint of a smirk at the corner of his mouth that made her think it was entirely deliberate.

She grinned and gave in to the temptation she'd been fighting for the last hour, resting her head on his shoulder.

Gibbs shifted slightly, his hand moving to her waist, both of them settling into a comfortable position. He dropped a light kiss on the top of her head, then turned back to the movie, and she smiled at the peaceful domesticity of it. She probably shouldn't get used to this, but oh, she could. She really could.


 The next time she woke, it took a moment to figure out where she was. The living room was dark, the television was off, and she was nestled up to Gibbs, snuggling in as if he was a pillow, an arm wrapped somewhat possessively around him and her face buried in his chest, warm and secure with his heartbeat a steady thud against her ear.

It was... really comfortable, actually. Part of her was tempted to settle right back down and let herself spend the night with him, but the mere idea of waking up tomorrow morning draped over him made her blush. She reluctantly eased away, carefully extricating herself from his embrace, grateful that between jet lag and sleep deprivation he was out cold.

For a moment she just stood and looked. The streetlights outside the window gave just enough illumination to move around without tripping over things and to see that he was resting peacefully, a slight smile on his face. Given the time difference he was dealing with, he'd probably wake up way before she did, but at least for now he was getting some rest after his long journey.

There wasn't much to be done about the fact he was asleep fully dressed, but he could deal with that if he woke in the night. Carefully and quietly she hefted his feet up onto the couch so he was at least more or less horizontal, and tucked a blanket around him, feeling both absurd and rather protective.

She couldn't resist running a hand over his hair and leaning down to kiss him on the temple, but then forced herself to stand up, turn round, and walk out of the room before she did anything too foolhardy.

As she pottered around getting ready for bed, she grinned. It was so nice to see him... more than nice. Really quite a wonderful surprise, and meant more than she could measure for herself, never mind explain to him. It would be good to catch up properly, and whatever was going on, however uncertain and confused her feelings were... she was so very glad he was here. Beyond that...

She slipped between her sheets and curled up, still smiling. He was here. For her.

She didn't know what to make of his visit. She wasn't even sure exactly what he was to her, what he was becoming. Colleague, rock, comforter; embarrassingly longwinded crush. Friend. A really good friend.

But most importantly of all, he was here. And in the face of that, nothing else seemed to matter very much.

She offered up a silent prayer of thanks to whoever might be listening, hugged her pillow happily, and finally let herself drift off into sleep.


 NCISNCISNCIS

A/N: if anyone is wondering, the film they watched is called The Ladykillers (original B&W version, of course!), and if you haven't already watched it, you really should!

Chapter Text

4. KATE

Kate rolled out of bed, still half asleep, and decided she needed coffee. A lot of coffee. She rubbed her bleary eyes as she padded out of her room and down the hall, stretched, yawned - and stopped dead.

Gibbs was in her kitchen. Washing up, by the looks of it.

She blinked a couple of times and pinched herself in the arm just to make sure she wasn't imagining things, or possibly dreaming. Gibbs being on Oahu at all was something she still hadn't yet come to terms with. Gibbs in her apartment? Acting all house-trained? In a t-shirt and boxers? She suddenly realised she was idly checking out his butt, closed her eyes, and coughed over-loudly before opening them again.

Thank God. He'd turned to look at her, and his backside was now safely out of ogling range. He was smiling warmly, which admittedly she still wasn't used to and which was enough to leave her feeling a little befuddled, but 'Gibbs is smiling at me' was a much easier thought to deal with than 'Gibbs has a surprisingly nice ass'.

"Mornin'," he greeted her, sounding ludicrously chirpy for a man who'd arrived dead on his feet yesterday lunchtime.

"Coffee." She was fairly sure that had been 'Good morning' in her brain, but apparently it had got scrambled on the way to her mouth.

Gibbs didn't seem too bothered, just chuckled and poured her a mug from the freshly brewed pot (she assumed her decent supply of beans was probably part of the reason for his good mood), even adding her usual milk and sweetener without protest before passing it to her. She nodded her thanks, planted her hip against the counter, and took a large gulp. It was kind of strong - not unexpectedly - but at least it wasn't black. And hey, maybe a good jolt of caffeine would enable her to process finding her boss in her kitchen. Ex boss, Kate, ex boss... and she didn't even want to think about why that distinction felt so important right now.

Gibbs manoeuvred easily around her as if he was entirely at home, and once the initial shock wore off and the coffee started to kick in, she noticed the stack of pancakes waiting at her breakfast bar.

"Hungry?" he enquired over her shoulder, his timing, as usual, unnerving.

Her stomach growled before she had a chance to answer, and she tried not to look completely bewildered as Gibbs pulled out a stool and ushered her to sit down. She took another slurp of coffee, and realised she'd somehow reached the end of the cup already. Before she'd even had a chance to open her mouth, Gibbs was taking it from from her and topping it up.

She took it back from him and found herself staring, again, as he snagged a couple of pancakes, sprinkled them with powdered sugar, and started in on them with gusto, apparently perfectly relaxed and not remotely fazed by the situation.

She forced herself to stop gaping at him like he was from Mars and took a pancake, trying to tamp down her confusion. This kind of behaviour was a whole lot more domesticated than she'd ever imagined Gibbs was capable of. Sure, he still ate kind of like a pig at the trough, but he'd actually made the food and it was just... not what she would've expected.

His hair was sticking up comically at the back of his head and she had to tamp down the urge to reach up and smooth it down. Gibbs seemed quite comfortable, but she still felt like she was taking liberties by touching him uninvited. Or maybe she was just scared of what she might do if she didn't keep herself in check.

It was the idea of him in boxers that had her off balance, she decided. Gibbs in pants she could deal with. Gibbs in shorts might well have nice legs, but shorts were different.

Gibbs in her home, all gently crumpled from sleep and still in his underwear was just... well, kind of unfair. Especially when his leg brushed against hers and he looked up at her, grinning around his mouthful of pancake.

She smiled weakly back. He must have woken in the night and stripped off to something more appropriate to sleep in, and she was half cursing herself for leaving him there alone. Waking up like that would have been embarrassing, but the fact she was sitting here tongue-tied, like a teenaged virgin who'd been paired up with the cutest boy in the class, might actually be worse.

It occurred to her that friend-Gibbs was, in his own special way, at least as confusing and bemusing and infuriating as boss-Gibbs had ever been. At least the rules had always been clear with boss-Gibbs, their roles in each other's lives carefully defined and accepted. Now he had, for the second time, travelled thousands of miles to see her, had made her breakfast, and every time she glanced up she got a little thrill of... something, to find him looking at her, smiling at her. A memory from yesterday resurfaced, that wholly unexpected kiss that had been so shocking, and she could feel herself blush.

She took a deep breath and returned her gaze to her plate. Once they'd eaten, they could go somewhere... anywhere. Anywhere outside that wouldn't involve Gibbs in his undershirt and boxers at her breakfast bar would work just fine, and then maybe she would be able to think about all this without going totally crazy.

Maybe. Well, she had to hope.

Chapter Text

5. GIBBS

The view was nothing short of glorious once they got out of Honolulu. Gibbs couldn't help thinking that he could get used to living somewhere where the sea was always so near at hand... even though he was mainly looking out the window in order to not stare at Kate.

They'd stopped to get malasadas and poke at food trucks Kate had assured him were amazing, then followed the highway round the coast. Part of him wanted to insist on wining and dining her somewhere a little more special, a little more... well, romantic, if he was honest, but maybe it was for the best. His resolution to keep this whole thing on a 'just friends' basis, at least for now, was already proving even more challenging than he'd anticipated.

Kate had apparently gone native in her choice of driving music, but he found he didn't mind. The soft thrum of the ukulele and a soulful voice made a perfect backdrop to the sea and mountains. He'd admitted to Kate that he'd never quite made it to the North Shore when he'd been here as a Marine, and he had the impression she was rather excited to show him something of the island that he'd never seen before.

Much as he hated that she lived so far away, he couldn't deny she seemed like she had settled in well. She looked better than he had seen her since her reappearance; tanned, healthy and smiling. He felt quietly proud of her for successfully making a new home for herself. It was hardly her fault she was further bewitching him in the process.

They finally pulled in at Turtle Bay, and Kate navigated the large parking lot with the ease of familiarity. "This place is kind of a 'best kept secret' among the locals, you know?" she explained as she retrieved their bags of food and gave him a rolled up picnic blanket to carry. "I expect the tourists will find it eventually, but they haven't yet."

Gibbs looked over at the hotel that dominated the bay. "You sure 'bout that, Katie?"

She followed his gaze, then laughed and lowered her voice conspiratorially. "Well, we aren't going to that beach. This one's special. Secret."

He cocked his head to one side, raised an eyebrow. "So when did you get initiated into all these local secrets, huh?"

She grinned. "Oh, I have my sources."

He thought about it for a second. "Will?"

Her ripple of laughter was all the answer he needed. "It's just as well no tourists ever get near him - if he knows a local beauty spot or the best place to go for food, he has to enlighten you, can't help himself. I think he must be distantly related to Ducky."

Gibbs chuckled. "Yeah." He shook his head then laughed again. "Yeah, that would explain it."

"Wouldn't it? I'm glad he showed me this place, though. It's a bit of a walk, but it's totally worth it."

Kate lead the way down along one piece of road, then another, to a break in the greenery that she confidently took, despite the fact it looked decidedly unpromising.

For a while they walked in silence. The trail, such as it was, wound along the shore, over rocks, then through some trees, then back to clambering over rocks, and Gibbs began to feel vaguely lost. He loved the idea of more privacy, fewer people, and he could easily believe that not many tourists made it this far along the coast, but he hadn't expected a half hour's walk to get there.

Kate had obviously done her fair share of hiking since he was last here, he realised, somewhat impressed. She had almost baulked at cutting down the hillside when he'd introduced her to Kalalauo Falls, and now here she was - in flip-flops no less - making her way along an unmarked trail as if she'd been walking it since she was a child.

They cut off inland again. "You sure you know where you're going?" He hadn't meant to actually voice his doubts, but he wasn't used to relying on someone else's sense of direction over his own. Fortunately, she just laughed at him.

"Of course I do, Gibbs. You worried we'll get lost and end up having to live in the forest till someone comes to rescue us?"

When she put it like that... His idiot brain supplied unhelpful images of spending a couple days alone out here with Kate, foraging together, snuggling for warmth at night, and he tried to ignore the ridiculous notion getting lost on purpose would be a good thing. He suspected sleeping on the ground wasn't her idea of a romantic time, and he was supposed to be keeping this platonic, anyhow. He forced himself to concentrate on her voice as she continued talking, apparently blissfully unaware of his regression to teenaged boyhood.

"I promise, it's worth it." She grinned. "Just don't get a coconut on the head, they don't get picked down here so sometimes they just fall unexpectedly."

He looked upwards, slightly alarmed, unsure whether she was just pulling his leg. Kate merely laughed again and grabbed his hand to pull him along behind her. Well... he figured he could deal with potential death by coconut if she was going to keep ahold of his hand, which she apparently was.

Eventually they emerged from the forest onto the edge of a small, deserted bay. There was a narrow strip of sand around calm waters, and no one else in sight. "Wow." He looked around, took in the gold, green and blue all round them, and then back at Kate who was grinning up at him, clearly delighted by his reaction.

"This is Kawela Bay."

"'Kawela'?"

"It means 'the heat'."

He raised an eyebrow.

She grinned and looked away from him. He got the impression she was rather proud of herself for knowing, even if she was also a little self-conscious about it. "The local kids are educating the haole. Worth the coconuts?"

He pulled her closer to wrap an arm around her shoulders. "Definitely. Gorgeous view." She didn't need to know he wasn't really talking about the scenery. She slipped her arm around his waist casually, leaning into him, as if this intimacy was second nature, and he closed his eyes for a moment to savour it.

When Kate had looked her fill, she tugged on his waist and lead him down into the trees then out onto the beach. They stood on the shore and looked out over the water. Out beyond what Gibbs guessed was a reef, he could see intrepid souls braving the winter surf, but this lagoon was quiet, waves lapping gently against the sand.

It was hard to believe there was such a secluded place only a short walk from the huge, crowded resort.

"If you're here at the right time of year and you get lucky, sometimes the turtles come to swim and sunbathe here too."

He shook his head. It was almost unreal, a genuine slice of paradise, and they had it to themselves. Kate had brought them to the most romantic spot imaginable, and he wanted to believe it was intentional, but he hurriedly squelched that notion.

The fact she was sharing a special place with him was enough. It would be unfair on her to read more into it just because he wanted it to mean something else.

"So, sun or shade?"

"Huh?" He looked down at her, confused. She had him daydreaming. I am so totally and completely screwed.

She laughed up at him, and it was all he could do not to just give in, bend down, and swallow her laughter in a kiss. "You want to eat in the sun or in the shade?"

He managed to drag himself back to reality enough to make sense of the question. "Hmmm. Shade."

She nodded and lead him over to a stand of trees where they could lean back against the trunks and enjoy the view out over the water.

Kate dug out the food and two forks, then settled herself down next to him, close enough that her shoulder brushed his and the scent of her hair was making him want to pull her into his arms and kiss her stupid. He settled for digging into his food as the safer option.

They ate in comfortable silence, the waves and seabirds and the occasional shout from a distant surfer a relaxing soundtrack. Kate finished her lunch and opened the bag of malasadas, and Gibbs didn't comment when she popped one into her mouth whole (she grinned up at him, her cheeks like a hamster, as if she was being terribly mischievous), then settled back down with her head resting on his shoulder.

It was tempting to desert the last of his poke in favour of sliding an arm around her waist, but he had been trying very hard not to come on too strong and scare her with his painful eagerness. He made himself continue to eat at the same steady pace. Only when he'd swallowed the last mouthful and put the paper tray back into the bag did he allow himself to slip his arm around her, resting his hand on her hip. He kept half-expecting her to get self-conscious about how tactile they'd become with one another, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from wanting to be close to her. When she just let out a deep sigh and nestled herself snugly in under his chin, he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and smiled. If she was okay with it, he definitely wasn't about to grumble. He was just glad there was no one around to see the stupid grin on his face.

As much to distract himself as out of hunger, he snagged a malasada with his free hand and bit into the doughy sweetness. So far, so good. She hadn't even threatened to shoot him, she was happy to spend time showing him round the island, and he could definitely get used to being her pillow.

In all the vague hopes and fears he'd had on the flight out here, it hadn't for one moment occurred to him it could possibly go quite this well. He didn't want to get ahead of himself. There was no guarantee on when or even if Kate might be ready for more than friendship with anyone, and given his age and his track record and the fact he lived a continent and change away, only a fool would think he was the best man for the role.

He smiled and shook his head. He was a fool, a stupid old fool. He did want more. But he'd settle for whatever she was willing to offer, and still think himself much luckier than he deserved to be. He just had do his best to not screw it up.

His mind drifted to the gift that was burning a small but very persistent hole in his pocket. Finding the perfect moment to give that to her was going to seriously test his abilities in the 'not screwing up' department. It had been a total impulse buy, something he hadn't been looking for but had been unable to resist. It was just too perfect, too right. The idea of actually presenting her with it, though...

He had absolutely no idea how she'd react, or if he might as well have enclosed a note saying 'oh, by the way, I'm so completely in love with you I can't think straight'.

On the other hand, if he went home without giving it to her, he would be spending the entire journey back kicking himself for his cowardice, and after more than four thousand miles of that, he'd walk with a limp. And besides, he knew she'd appreciate it, and he wanted her to have it. Maybe he should just man up and give it to her, trust her good sense and their friendship that she wouldn't get freaked out.

Kate made a small, satisfied noise, leaning closer into him, her hand casually slipping down to touch the skin of his leg as she relaxed. He grinned to himself, very pleased how comfortable she'd gotten around him. Yeah, he was totally okay with being her pillow, and had no complaints about her napping on him, either. As habits went, it was one he could fully endorse, and right now, it might even give him enough time to come up with a plan.

Chapter Text

6. KATE

After food and an impromptu nap (she wasn't sure how that kept happening, but given her often disturbed nights and bad dreams, she wasn't complaining), they kicked off their shoes and took a walk along the beach, occasionally paddling out a little way into the water. It wasn't warm enough to tempt Kate for swimming, but there was a childish pleasure to be had from sinking her toes into the wet sand and letting the water swirl around her ankles.

Gibbs had quizzed her about the area, and she'd surprised herself with what she knew. Now they'd fallen into another comfortable silence, enjoying the scenery and the shared moment, occasionally brushing shoulders, but not needing to comment on everything they saw.

He grabbed her hand to get her attention and pointed out over the water to seabirds hovering and diving. Kate couldn't help the warm feeling in her belly when he didn't let go, and leaned into his side with a happy smile.

It was nice to share these places with someone else, as they'd been shared with her, to realise that on some level she now belonged here, felt at home. And it was particularly nice to share them with him, if she was being truthful.

The afternoon was wearing on more quickly than she liked. They'd arranged to meet her team and a few other friends for dinner, and though she was looking forward to properly introducing them to Gibbs and him to them, it also seemed like one day had already slipped by so fast. Part of her would be so happy to just stay home and order another pizza, and not have to share his visit with anyone else.

They started back down the beach towards where they'd picnicked. At least they could stay a while longer and still have time to freshen up and get to the restaurant promptly.

She didn't realise she had let out a huge sigh until Gibbs looked at her curiously. She shrugged. She had no way to explain properly without potentially putting her foot in her mouth, and since she did that on an alarmingly frequent basis when he was around anyway... she'd rather not attempt it.

"I'm really glad you came to visit." She glanced away for a second. It was true, even if it wasn't the whole truth. "Seriously, best Christmas present ever." Peering up at him, she was relieved to note the easy smile - she hadn't managed to embarrass him, or indeed herself.

They walked a few more paces, and then he stopped, turned to look down at her, searching her face.

"Actually, Kate..." He cleared his throat and dug around in his pocket for a moment. "I, uh... well, Mele Kalikimaka, I guess." He held out the small package rather diffidently.

Kate's jaw dropped. He'd gotten her a present? It was so... so unGibbslike of him. She didn't know whether to be shocked or surprised or touched or just plain embarrassed. "Gibbs... I didn't-" She shook her head. "I didn't get you anything, I didn't..."

"Din't expect you to." He glanced away from her and shrugged a shoulder, as if he was trying to seem casual. It wasn't working. "Saw that, thought of you. Sorry it's late."

She blinked, confused. "Late?"

"Christmas was yesterday."

"Well, then today's Boxing Day, so it's fine." His forehead creased. "Oh, it's a British thing, you see..." She shook her head. "Never mind. I'm turning into Ducky myself, I totally blame Will." There was more to her babbling, though. He seemed almost nervous, and it was catching.

Shaking her head again, she returned her attention to the parcel. Having no idea whatsoever what to expect, she was both impatient and clumsy, fumbling as she peeled back tape and tore at the silver paper. Eventually she got it unwrapped to reveal a small box, a jewellery box by the look of it.

She gaped at it, then turned a startled look on him; he shrugged again, smiled reassuringly, though he still didn't seem entirely comfortable. In fact, he almost seemed embarrassed now, strange as it seemed to even think it about him.

"Uh." He took the torn wrapping paper from her, folded and unfolded it between his fingers a couple of times before shoving it decisively into his pocket. "Don't s'pose you remember what I told you about kintsugi?"

"Of course I do. Mending broken pottery with precious metal, right? Making it more beautiful by mending it."

"Yup." He looked pleased, maybe even a little relieved, too.

Still more curious, but slightly reassured, Kate opened the box. Nestled inside was a tiny blue-green pendant in the shape of a heart. A crack ran across it, splitting the heart into three uneven pieces, and as she lifted it up, she saw the shimmer of silver mending the break.

Running a finger over it, she took a shaky breath as she realised it mimicked the kintsugi Gibbs had told her about, and the significance dawned. Beauty despite brokenness - no, beauty because it had been broken and then carefully, lovingly remade.

"Gibbs, I... It's-" She shook her head, blinked away the sudden moisture in her eyes. "Thank you. It's perfect."

"See?" He reached out to touch it, then wiped at a tear that had escaped down her cheek. "Bein' mended can be beautiful."

She closed her hands around the pendant and leaned into him, not willing to trust her voice, and not knowing quite what to say anyway. "Thank you," she whispered finally.

He wrapped an arm around her, tucked her head under his chin, and folded his own hand round hers.

Kate knew she was leaking tears onto his shirt, but since they were happy ones, she didn't bother to try and stop them. Eventually she took a deep breath and ran a hand over her eyes. "Sorry. I keep crying at you. I must look a mess."

Gibbs looked down at her with a half smile and one eyebrow raised, obviously amused, though she wasn't sure about what. He shook his head slightly, as if he wanted to say something but had thought better of it. "Wanna wear it?"

She looked down again at the pendant.

Its swirling colours were like a slice of the ocean, completely appropriate for this island she'd made her new home, and a sentimental part of her liked the idea of wearing something Gibbs had given her, of him leaving something behind with her when he, inevitably, had to go home. It would be a reminder of this day, and of his assurance on his first visit that her brokenness was not something he found ugly, which was even more precious to her than the pendant itself.

She didn't quite trust herself to speak without betraying her feelings, and instead simply nodded, letting him take the box and unwind the silver chain. He leaned closer to fasten it round her neck, fumbling slightly with the delicate catch. Kate felt like she probably should help him, but the feel of his warm fingers against her skin and his breath on the side of her face was something she wasn't ready to relinquish any more quickly than she had to. The moment had turned suddenly, unexpectedly romantic, and she was caught between trying not to read too much into it and simply wanting to enjoy it. Eventually the fastening caught, and he smoothed the chain carefully, shifting the pendant so it hung exactly between her collarbones.

He looked down at her, and with the gentlest touch of his finger under her chin, he lifted her head to catch his gaze. "See? Beautiful."

She could feel herself turning pink at the suspicion he wasn't really talking about the necklace. He was looking at her in a way she recognised from before she had gone missing, and which seemed to peek out more and more often these days. As if she was special, remarkable. Precious. A warmth that was pleasantly disconcerting even on Skype, and in person... in person the effect it had on her was overwhelming. It could almost make her believe she was just as special, just as beautiful and unique and irreplaceable as he made her feel, and she wanted to hold on to him and to that feeling so badly it would be frightening if she trusted him any less.

The kiss from yesterday was on her mind - again. If only she were a little braver... but no. She didn't want to make things any more complicated, Oahu and DC were simply too far apart, and friendship was less confusing. Mostly. She reached up to kiss his cheek instead, and when her lips somehow ended up on his neck, she tried to ignore the low rumble that escaped him.

Just good friends, just good friends. She repeated it to herself like a mantra as she slipped casually back into his embrace, her head against his shoulder and his arms around her waist as if this was completely normal, unremarkable behaviour for them.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Katie."

She closed her eyes, the better to imprint this moment in her mind. The feel and scent of him, the sensation of being held and protected, the unreserved acceptance. She wondered if Gibbs realised how safe he made her feel, how much his kindness meant to her. If she could only figure out a way to tell him without embarrassing them both.

Mantra or no mantra, despite her best efforts, she was slowly falling in love with him. After months of deflection and outright denial, she finally had to admit that, at least to herself. She'd always liked him, despite her better judgement, but 'like' had stopped being an adequate word for how she felt quite some time ago. And it was terrifying.

Not only was he, well, Gibbs, veteran of so many failed relationships, famously incapable of talking about feelings, not to mention that he didn't live on the same landmass as she did, but she didn't even know if she was capable of having a healthy relationship with anyone anymore. It had been so long, she had been through so much, she was so tired.

Even if he did feel something more for her than friendship - and moments like this made her hope he did, no matter how much she tried to counsel herself against it - the prospect of opening up that way was... daunting. Or if she was more brutally honest with herself, it scared the shit out of her.

If she wasn't careful, she was going to cry on him again. She made herself loosen her grip, although she was very happy when he kept an arm around her, and they walked slowly back to the picnic blanket. They sat down again, and there was no pretence this time they would just sit side by side. She happily curled into his embrace, one hand resting on his knee, the other reaching up to interlace her fingers with his where his hand was draped over her shoulder. She was a fool, she knew that. If she had the slightest sense, she would make herself treat him as a friend, just a friend, wouldn't indulge in this dangerously couple-like behaviour, wouldn't get used to him being around, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. She was a junkie, getting her fix while she could, and she'd just have to trust she would figure out a way to cope when he went away.

Chapter Text

7. KATE

Kate wasn't completely used to the vagaries of Oahu traffic yet, so they ended up reaching the restaurant rather early. They ordered drinks at the bar, then leaned against it side by side.

The awkward feeling she'd managed to squash so many times today had returned full force, and now she couldn't seem to push it back into its box. Telling herself time and again this was just friendship, and it was best for them both if it stayed that way, was no longer working. At all.

She could feel Gibbs' eyes on her, and it was an effort not to turn away. Meeting his gaze head on seemed impossible. She was afraid of what he might see.

He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and she knew she was turning pink again. The casual intimacy they'd fallen into was... nice. Really nice. She just hadn't quite gotten used to it yet. It kept making her feel things she had no right to feel.

"You okay, Katie?" The rumble in his voice was also making her feel things. She could almost curse him for being able to do this to her with no effort whatsoever. Almost.

She nodded. "I'm fine, I just-" She smiled and looked around, up, down, anywhere to distract herself, in the hope she would stop blushing already.

The bar was festooned with holly and mistletoe - she wondered idly whether it was real, if either plant even grew here on Oahu, whether it had to be imported, or...

Mistletoe. She glanced up again, a crazy idea forming in her head. A reason, an excuse, for something she'd unsuccessfully tried to convince herself she didn't want. The fluttering of nerves and excitement as she thought about it wasn't confined to her solar plexus. It seemed like out of nowhere her whole body was buzzing.

She nudged Gibbs' shoulder with her own and pointed upwards, grinning in what she hoped was a fairly casual, jokey way.

"Mistletoe." She gave him a challenging look, cocked an eyebrow.

He looked up, then raised an eyebrow of his own, and his mouth twitched as if he was repressing a smirk. "So it is."

At least she could blame it on something, instead of just giving in to temptation and kissing him senseless for no apparent reason, something she'd been growing increasingly concerned she might do.

And hey, mistletoe kisses didn't actually mean anything. Right? It wasn't as if she was abandoning all the carefully thought through and very logical reasons why she shouldn't do this; she was just bowing to tradition.

Even in her head, the excuse sounded absurdly slender, wouldn't stand up to the slightest scrutiny, but it seemed better than no excuse at all.

Gibbs took a long, slow sip of his beer, then set it down and turned towards her, favouring her with all his attention, his expression inscrutable, his focus unnerving. And oh, exciting. He brushed her hair back behind her shoulder, moved his hand to cup her face.

She forced herself to breathe evenly as he gazed down at her. She couldn't do much about her racing heartbeat or the colour in her cheeks, but she could at least refrain from actually panting, and so hopefully salvage a smidgen of self-respect.

Maybe.

He was looking at her... speculatively. Eyes narrowing a little, searching her face for something - she wasn't sure what.

"Well?"

He really did smirk now, and she cursed herself for breaking first.

"Well what?" Yes, he looked very amused. Damn him.

She tried out a few versions of 'so are you gonna kiss me or not?' in her head, and nixed them all. His eyes crinkled as he grinned again, and she wondered if she was that transparent. God, I hope not. It would be humiliating. Especially if he didn't take the hint and just do it already.

Kate bit her lip, nerves getting the better of her, and with his thumb he nudged her teeth away then soothed over the bite. She couldn't figure out what was going on in his head - if he was deciding whether or not he should kiss her, debating how he would kiss her, or simply trying to drive her out of her mind with sheer anticipation.

He was certainly managing the latter, whether it was intentional or not.

"Giiiibbs." It came out sounding a whole lot more petulant than she'd intended, but it seemed he was finally taking the hint as he bent his head down, even if he was grinning as he did so.

It was the lightest of kisses, just a brush of his lips against hers, but he didn't move away afterwards, his breath washing over her face, his mouth still hovering over hers, his thumb skating over her cheekbone.

She swallowed hard. It felt like an invitation, one she badly wanted to accept. A glance up into his eyes, seeking confirmation, made her gulp. It didn't take a trained profiler to recognise that kind of hunger.

Even with a terrified voice in the back of her head screaming this was a bad idea, a really, really terrible idea, she couldn't seem to help herself. Without allowing herself another moment to overthink it, she leaned into him, one hand on his chest as she reached up the last quarter inch to softly kiss him back.

She hadn't intended for it to escalate, had just wanted... more. A little more. But his arm slid about her waist, instinctively she tilted her head, and he growled as she let him in. Suddenly, unexpectedly, it wasn't a silly challenge at all any more but a real, fervent kiss. She whimpered into his mouth, her fingers grasping at his shirt, overwhelmed by the heat and need of it.

Oh God. She was going to melt. She'd forgotten what this was like - or maybe she'd never known in the first place, never been kissed this way before. She clung on more tightly, wanting more, wanting to climb inside the feeling and never leave.

In the midst of the confusion and elation she noticed the taste of coffee still on his tongue, the smooth firmness of his lips, and how his hand was calloused but infinitely gentle against her cheek. His other hand came to rest on her spine, tugging her close, and he held her steady as she rose up on her toes so she could pull herself still closer. Her fingers slipped into his hair, wordlessly begging him to keep going.

His kisses turned tender, languid, his mouth soft and delicious, achingly seductive on hers. All conflicting emotions were pushed to one side as she willingly sank into the moment.

She had no idea how long they were kissing, only that when he finally pulled away, she was nowhere even close to done. She leaned into his chest for a moment, feeling lightheaded and giddy.

She hadn't expected... she hadn't been prepared. And God help her, but she wanted to do that again and again.

When she glanced up, she was both relieved and gratified to find his eyes looked just as dazed and unfocused as hers felt. For a few moments they simply stood and stared at one another, then Kate forced herself to check her watch for the time and swallowed back a curse when she realised it was gone 7pm.

She took a few deeps breaths, glanced up at him, then away again. The expression on his face was not one calculated to leave her thinking straight. She felt like someone had reached into her head and scrambled her brain.

"I guess... we should go find the others..."

It was tempting to add, 'Or we could just go home and make out, whaddya think?', but she didn't want to let her friends down, she did want Gibbs to meet the team properly, and... and she couldn't actually think of a third reason when Gibbs was looking at her like he wanted to swallow her whole. She forced herself to take a deep, calming breath.

"Uh-huh," he said, but his voice was low and rough, and he didn't move.

The idea of grabbing his hand and making a dash for the door was becoming highly appealing, and when she heard familiar voices hollering her name, she had to close her eyes for a second and press her lips together not to swear. When she opened them again, Gibbs gave her a wry smile and shrugged a shoulder.

Reluctantly, she turned to greet her teammates, trying not to think too hard about Gibbs' hand, which had made its way to the small of her back and was resting a fraction lower than was strictly 'just friends' territory. His thumb stroked ever so lightly through the thin cotton of her top, and it was way too distracting for her peace of mind.

Introductions and hellos were made in a blur, and Kate could only hope she looked and sounded a lot more composed than she felt. No one commented on it, for which she was grateful, although the look Will gave her made her think he, at least, had noticed how flustered she was.

She stifled a sigh as they reached their table, reminded herself she really liked these people and wanted to spend an evening with them. It didn't help matters much when, as he pulled out the chair for her to sit down, Gibbs leaned over and whispered a promise in her ear: "Later."

Heat flooded her cheeks, and she looked down at her menu, wishing she could tamp down that particular reaction. She should have suggested a make out session while she'd had the chance.

This, she thought with a sigh, is going to be a really, really long evening.

Chapter Text

8. GIBBS

Gibbs was trying very hard not to growl with frustration. It was late, the roads were clear, and they would be back at Kate's in a matter of minutes, but it felt endless.

The nervous tension in his stomach was... embarrassing.

He did not fidget, for fuck's sake. He did not second guess every touch or smile or look. And yet here he was behaving like the clueless teenager he hadn't been in decades.

The rest of their evening had been fairly pleasant, once he'd navigated through a slightly awkward few minutes of attempting to make nice with new acquaintances when what he'd really wanted to do was drag Kate outside and make out in the car. For starters.

Conversation was a lot easier and more comfortable with a group of people who actually knew and understood what he did, and if he hadn't been able to stop himself looking at, touching, or whispering to Kate a little more than was probably polite, well, she hadn't seemed to mind. So much for keeping this platonic. So far, trying to make himself feel bad about that was a monumental failure.

He'd been cautiously optimistic she was as interested as he was in staging a repeat performance once they had a little privacy, had in fact intended to kiss her more or less the second they were alone again. Then somehow after the meal they'd got back to the car without the opportunity arising, silence had fallen, and he didn't know how to interpret it.

He thought, he hoped, she was just biding her time until they could actually do something, unable or unwilling to indulge in small talk in the meantime. Given how he generally felt about small talk, he should be grateful.

He really wasn't.

He found himself glancing over at her as she drove, willing her to look his way and smile or smirk or maybe confess she couldn't wait to get him into bed - however unlikely it seemed Kate would say such a thing aloud. Anything, anything at all to reassure him the current sizzling over his skin was mutual, not a figment of his imagination.

But her eyes remained steadfastly on the road as if driving was the most important thing in her life right now.

He knew getting them home safely was a necessary requirement if he was ever gonna get to kiss her again, but God, he'd feel so much better if she gave him a sign, a tiny sign... and he hated himself for being so utterly pathetic. Surely she wanted an encore just as badly as he did. Surely, surely she wouldn't want to pretend like it had never happened.

Surely.

Even when they arrived back at her apartment complex, he was still none the wiser. He followed her up to her apartment, trying and failing not to check out her butt as she climbed the stairs in front of him, and by the time they got inside, his usual cool, calm demeanour was on its last legs.

They stood in her living room, standing close together but not quite looking at each other, the atmosphere heavy with all the things they weren't saying.

It was a minute or two at most, but it felt like an eternity, and finally Gibbs shrugged a shoulder and decided he had nothing to lose, except perhaps the last shreds of his dignity. If he could just figure out how to tackle this...

"Uh, Kate?"

She peered up at him through her eyelashes.

On a lot of women it might seem coy, but he knew Kate well enough to be pretty sure she was just nervous. The fact it was ridiculously adorable was a side effect, not the point.

"About... what happened in the restaurant earlier..."

Trying to figure out how to apologise if he'd done something wrong while also making it clear he was absolutely one hundred percent up for a repeat if it was on the cards was the kind of verbal gymnastics he'd never been good at. He licked his lips nervously, then wanted to kick himself for being nervous at all.

At least she was, too. He really hoped it was for the same reason.

When she tilted up her head to look at him properly with those huge wide eyes, her horribly tempting mouth slightly open as if in invitation, he was suddenly sure he'd forgotten the entire English language. Guh.

It really didn't help at all that now he knew how she tasted, knew what it was like to have her body soft and surrendered against his, how she let out achingly needy sounds of pleasure as he touched and kissed her. The memory was so sharply delicious it was all he could do to keep breathing, let alone try to put one word next to another without resorting to begging.

She frowned, and he hoped it was just confusion or impatience, not anger.

"I mean, uh-"

"Gibbs?" Her voice was shaky but her eyes were dark and liquid. She stepped closer, and he swallowed hard.

"Yeah?" His own voice had suddenly gone all breathy at her nearness, the scent of her capturing him again.

She paused for a moment, searching his face, then took a deep, deliberate breath. "Kiss me."

It wasn't a request. It was a demand.

He hesitated. Did she just...? "You sure, Katie, I-?"

She huffed, glared at him. "For God's sake, Gibbs, just kiss me."

And now it was more like an order, her voice louder and firmer. She suddenly sounded so damn infuriated he laughed, the tension of the car ride dispersing in one relieved breath. Okay, direct it is.

It wasn't an invitation he was about to decline, and what kind of a Marine would he be if he didn't follow orders to the best of his ability? It was definitely the best one he'd received in years, if not decades.

He let her glare up at him for a couple more moments, even as he leaned closer and crowded her a little. Her breath hitched when he brought a hand up to touch her face, and he chuckled, slightly disbelieving. Good start. If he'd ever even imagined he could have this effect on her...

He ghosted his mouth along hers, kissing her as lightly as that first kiss in the restaurant, but this time he didn't restrain himself from teasing her, nipping gently at her lip, then pulling away before she could respond.

She whined - honest to God whined - and he had to close his eyes for a moment to not just throw her over his shoulder, caveman style, and carry her to her room. When he opened them again, she was reaching for him, like she had before, except this time there were no spectators, nothing to stop it from getting out of hand.

He grasped her hips to pull her close and she rocked against him as they kissed again. The low groan he felt as much as heard, the feel of her hands under his jacket, her nails digging into his back, the way her body moved against him, her mouth, opening under his in invitation. Yes...

She leaned harder into him, her arms tightening around him, a desperate little sob escaping before she whispered 'Oh, please' against his lips. His control was rapidly slipping away, his body taking over. He'd needed this, needed her, for so long. Discovering she needed him too was incredible. Waiting any longer was... unthinkable.

His fingers tangled in her hair, then slid down her spine to caress her backside, and hers found their way to the skin of his stomach. His gasp prompted a chuckle of triumph from her and he narrowed his eyes in mock rebuke before grinning and bending to swallow the laughter, which quickly turned to a moan. She shuddered, wound her hands into the fabric of his shirt as if she needed help staying upright, and he grasped her waist to hold her steady.

There was a voice in his head muttering something about bad timing, this wasn't a sprint, maybe they had things to talk about first, but it was so very easy to ignore it when the rest of him was overwhelmed with Kate, with how she felt and smelled and wanted him.

Fuck. She was addictive and it was doing things to his brain, enthralling him in a way he'd all but forgotten was possible. He was going to press her against the wall and take her right there if he didn't do something, and that was not, he insisted to himself, how he wanted their first time to be.

He summoned all his self control and managed to pull away a fraction, moved to kiss her jawline, nibbled the side of her neck, then buried his nose in her hair, enjoying the closeness, her warmth and scent, trying to get enough control over his legs he might be able to walk somewhere... maybe, he hoped and prayed, as far as her bed.

For a few minutes they just stood there. Gibbs attempted to get his breath back, with marginal success. Trying to recover his presence of mind was a lost cause.

"Satisfied?" he finally managed to ask. Even to his own ears, he sounded decidedly pleased with himself, but he figured it was excusable. His brain was about ready to melt out his ears, but he had Kate Todd in his arms. He'd defy anyone not to be at least a little smug in this situation.

He could feel her smile against his neck, her breaths coming shallow and rapid, her heartbeat a hard, fast thrum that mirrored his own.

Her laugh was husky and breathless, and when she looked up at him, there was a mischievous glint in her eyes that promised all kinds of trouble, in the best possible way.

"Satisfied?" She grinned wickedly and shook her head. "Not even close, Gibbs. Not even close."

Chapter Text

9. KATE

She didn't dare let herself think about all the reasons this might be a really bad idea, just grabbed his hand and pulled him behind her, leading him toward her bedroom.

He came willingly, his other hand curling possessively around her waist then drawing slow, suggestive circles on her back, sending delicious shivers down her spine. She'd dreamed about those hands... the memory made her walk faster.

Down the hall, through the door, then as she turned to face him, her knees hit the edge of her bed, and she let herself fall backwards, pulling him down on top of her. His body pressing her into the bed was delicious, as was the expression on his face.

Looping a hand around his head, she tugged his mouth to hers, and he readily complied, laughing even as their lips met for a slow, exploratory kiss, tender but thorough. His fingers traced the lines of her face, into her hair, down her neck, as if he was mapping her out, memorising her. As if he'd been waiting to do this for so long, he had to savour each moment in case he was dreaming. The fervour of their kiss from the restaurant was still there, the intoxicating heat, but it was tempered with a desperate kind of yearning which disarmed her completely.

Kate protested when he broke the contact, then whimpered moments later as he kissed a line along her jaw and down her neck. "God... Gibbs," she murmured, and felt his snigger against her throat.

"Either of those works for me."

She could hear the smirk in his voice and gave him a head-slap. "Smug basta- oh!" She lost track again while he worked the sensitive skin of her pulse point, harder now, his control giving way to pure desire, to hunger, like he couldn't get enough of her. His need was bewitching, overwhelming, almost scary in its intensity. She could hardly keep up, though her body was way ahead of her mind, so willing, so eager. She'd never expected it to be quite like this...

Her hands grasped his shoulders helplessly. She was sure she should be doing something, anything, to retaliate (it seemed natural to characterise making out with Gibbs in combative terms), but it was so hard to think straight when - oh! - his mouth was on her skin, and his hands were roaming over the sides of her breasts, round her waist, over her hips, softly teasing her, making her arch into his touch but still holding back enough she found herself begging for more.

"Please, Gibbs - oh - please don't... don't stop... God!"

He laughed again at her exclamation, a husky, satisfied laugh, and the very small part of her brain that hadn't yet melted into a puddle of want observed she was never going to live this down.

He buried his face in her skin and inhaled deeply, nibbled behind her ear, and then he was above her, looking at her with an expression that bordered on disbelief. "Katie. My Katie."

A primal, visceral part of her turned over joyously at the possessiveness in the whispered words, and she couldn't help her delighted smile.

He studied her face as if he was trying to learn her by heart, drinking her in, his eyes bright and wide and wondering as he smiled back down at her. He stroked her cheek with the pads of his fingers, touched her bottom lip with his thumb, then bent down and claimed her mouth with a kiss that was almost reverent.

His mouth was soft and hard, sweet and hot on hers, so good, so... so right. She groaned, then gasped as his roving hands finally stopped teasing her and slid up under her top at last to gently caress her skin.

All of a sudden something surfaced, vivid and dark, from a place in her mind she'd been trying hard to avoid. A memory of other hands, other fingers, not gently teasing but taunting her, unwelcome and unwanted - a touch meant to remind her she was at the mercy of others and had no choice in what did or did not happen, that she was helpless and defenceless and couldn't fight back, and the hands could touch her wherever and whenever they wanted. She shrank away from the sensation and curled up into a ball, protecting herself as best she could.

A familiar voice calling her name was all but drowned out by the other voices, voices making promises that terrified and horrified her. Discrete memory disintegrated into incoherent flashes, snatches of nightmares and images she was afraid to see in detail. There were hands reaching for her and she didn't know whose, didn't know if she could trust them.

She screwed her eyes shut, wrapped her arms around her knees and pulled herself into a tighter knot, trying to block everything out. A light turned on and she cringed away from it, afraid of what it meant, disoriented and scared. Her mouth was dry, a bitter taste in her throat.

There was a small voice in her head telling her to keep breathing: who it belonged to she wasn't sure, but it felt - trustworthy. It was a life raft, strong arms wrapping around her and holding her up, keeping her safe. She clung to it as waves of fear swept through her, as panic overwhelmed her and she shuddered under the weight of memory.

Keep breathing, Katie. Keep breathing.

Slowly, the tide began to subside and reality asserted itself enough for her to risk opening her eyes, first just a crack, and then properly, as her body reassured her that despite her mind's insistence, she was safe, no longer a prisoner or a hostage.

As her breathing calmed and the world came back into focus, she became aware of someone watching over her.

"Breathe, Kate."

Gibbs. Gibbs is here. I'm safe. Her head in his lap, her arms locked tightly around one of his, his free hand stroking her hair. She closed her eyes again, took a few deep breaths. Keep breathing. Gibbs would keep her safe. "You'll keep me safe."

"I will, Katie. I promise."

She hadn't meant to say it out loud, but his response settled deep down inside her and calmed her at least as much as his physical presence did. She snuggled in closer, smiled wanly when she felt him lean down to kiss her cheek. Eventually she relaxed enough to loosen her death grip on his arm and sat up to wrap him in a hug instead, burying her face in his chest where she felt secure, letting the even up and down of his breathing set the pace for her own.

When her heartbeat had subsided to something closer to normal, she raised her head enough to look him in the eye. "Thank you."

He smiled softly, shrugged a shoulder as if to say it was nothing.

"No, really," she insisted. "Thank you. And I... I'm sorry, for-"

To her surprise, he shook his head. One hand moved to cradle her face and he kissed her, sweet but fierce, then looked down into her eyes.

"You have nothing-" he paused for a second, and his expression grew more determined "-nothing to apologise for." He spoke quietly, but his tone was firm, deliberate. Another pause to let the words sink in. "Nothing, you hear me?"

Tears welled up. "Really?" She could hear the quaver in her own voice, the desperate uncertainty, the plea for reassurance.

He scanned her face, his thumb gently stroking her cheekbone, then his eyes met hers again, his face softening. "Absolutely nothin' at all."

Overwhelmed, Kate let her eyes drop from his and tucked herself under his chin again, enjoying the comfort of his presence and trying to wrap her mind around his assurances. Tears were sliding down her face and dripping off her nose, but just now she couldn't make herself care.

"Thank you," she whispered again. "Thank you... Jethro." The name was unfamiliar in her mouth, and it felt quite strange to use it, but somehow it also seemed... right.

Gibbs drew her in a little closer, chuckled softly. "You're welcome, Katie."

Yes, it was odd, but it was right, and he understood. She smiled and burrowed in, listening to the steady thump of his heartbeat under her ear. She could almost fall asleep like this, she realised, as the surge of adrenaline started to wear off and her body protested its aftermath.

She had no idea how long they'd been sitting there, how long the panic attack had lasted, how long it had taken for her to recover; she just knew she was shattered.

The sound of Gibbs stifling a yawn set her off too, and she looked up at him sheepishly. "Long day," she said, and he nodded, pulling a face that made her giggle unexpectedly.

Reluctantly she moved away from him, just enough to sit herself at the edge of the bed and take a few deep breaths, stretch, regain a bit more of her composure.

She felt him move to sit alongside her and looked up at him when he stood. He reached down to wipe the remaining tears off her cheeks, then took a step away from the bed, away from her.

His expression was regretful. "I should- uh-"

It dawned on her that having her fall apart on him mid seduction might have given him the wrong idea, despite her limpet impression afterwards. "Stay?" He seemed confused and uncertain, and really, she couldn't blame him. She reached out a hand to catch his and tugged him closer. "Please?"

Maybe she should explain she'd been imagining him in her bedroom for longer than she cared to admit. She wasn't about to throw him out now it had finally become reality, even if her personal demons were not making this easy.

He searched her face intently for a few more seconds, then nodded, looking relieved. Her own relief blossomed into a smile as he sat back down next to her and began to unbutton his shirt.

It occurred to her, as she started to peel off her clothes, that she should feel... what? Something. Self-conscious? Embarrassed to undress in front of him? But here she was unfastening her bra with one hand as she rescued her pjs from the end of the bed, and she was almost naked and it didn't bother her at all.

It was freeing. Gibbs could look his fill, and she was fine with that. She felt no need to hide, which seemed like a miracle in itself.

Things might have gotten a bit... complicated, this might not have gone as smoothly as she would've liked, but she was ready to jump and he was ready to catch her, and nothing else seemed to matter. The rest of it... they'd figure it out.

She stood to tug her sleep shorts on and smiled to herself in amusement. What a healthy attitude she was showing; Rachel would be proud.

As she reached to retrieve the pyjama top, she heard Gibbs' sudden intake of breath, then felt him lightly trace a finger down a line she had done her best to forget existed. She stiffened, but forced herself to stand still, let him see. Okay, so maybe this whole attitude adjustment thing will take a while.

She felt his breath against her skin before he placed the gentlest of kisses where the scar reached her waist, then stood and wrapped his arms around her firmly, protectively. She leaned back against him, relaxing into the comfort of his embrace.

"Katie... I- I'm so sorry you had to go through-" he paused, took a deep breath, cleared his throat "-all that."

"Me too," she murmured. She twisted round in his arms to look up at him. "But I'm glad I ended up here. With you." She rose up on tiptoe to kiss him, then drew away to slip the top over her head.

Gibbs had stripped down to boxers and undershirt, exactly how she'd found him this morning. Then she'd been embarrassed and surprised - and not a little turned on, if she was honest. Now she just wanted to cling on and touch as much of him as she could, relish the security of his presence, and she knew he'd let her. It was funny how much things could change in the course of one day.

She plucked at his t-shirt, and wondered if she had the right to insist he took it off. She wanted, needed to feel his skin under her hands and against her cheek, needed fewer layers between them - even if it was hypocritical when she'd just added one of her own.

"I- you're-" Was there a subtle way to tell him he had too many clothes on?

She didn't quite know how she could word it without it sounding like a come on when she was in no fit state to follow through. It wasn't as if Gibbs was about to berate her for being a tease here, but still...

She settled for skimming her hands up under his shirt and over his stomach, then shooting him a pleading look up through her eyelashes.

He smirked and she rolled her eyes.

"Cocky," she chided, and Gibbs just shrugged, the look on his face clearly saying he wasn't the one insisting on fewer clothes. He raised his arms to let her get rid of the shirt, and then unexpectedly one was under her shoulders, the other under her knees, and he was lifting her into the bed and climbing in after her.

Kate giggled again, to her own surprise, and didn't object in the least as he settled them down in an intimate embrace despite her bed being a queen sized monstrosity. He was strong and solid and reassuring, and having him here with her made her feel loved and protected.

His chin resting on his hand, he gazed down at her with unmistakable affection, and she smiled up at him.

"Thank you," she said again. "Thank you for making me feel safe."

The look on his face as he leaned down for one more kiss was an expression she'd never even dared imagine on his face, never mind aimed at her. Then he settled himself comfortably back against the pillows and pulled her in close.

"You are safe, Katie. I'll make sure of it."

It wasn't that she didn't believe him, but oh, it felt so good to hear him say it aloud. "You will?" she asked sleepily, the exhaustion of the last few hours finally catching up with her.

"I'll always keep you safe," he murmured, and the whispered promise was the last thing she heard before she finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

10. GIBBS

Gibbs woke in darkness, disoriented for a second as he processed where he was and what had woken him. Kate was tucked up under his chin, breathing deeply and apparently sound asleep. He let his eyes close to help him focus as he listened hard, trying to figure out if there was anything out of place, anything that might have woken him - besides the obvious novelty of being in her bed.

Then he heard 'it' again. Kate was mumbling something in her sleep. First it was an incoherent jumble, then his mouth went dry as a few words came out more clearly.

"Don't... please, don't, I don't... Please."

Instinctively, he smoothed a hand over her hair and gave her shoulder a squeeze, then reached over to switch on the bedside lamp. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light he realised there were tear tracks on her cheeks. She was definitely asleep, but he could see her eyes moving under her eyelids, and her face twitched with tension. He shook her gently, then more fiercely, but it didn't seem to penetrate; the begging intensified, and he realised with some horror that his attempts to wake her were getting incorporated into her nightmare and adding to her distress.

It was gut-wrenching, heartache-inducing to listen to. For a minute or two she would seem to settle down, then she would start to speak again, the words unclear but the tone one of desperate terror. Her breathing became shallow and erratic as panic took hold, and she stiffened in his arms.

He held her close, trying to hold on tightly enough she would feel secure, but not so tight she would feel trapped, rubbing her back in long, slow, soothing strokes, rocking her as if she was a frightened child.

It seemed to quiet her a little. He really hoped that meant he was doing the right thing.

"You're okay, Katie, I'm here. You're safe." He had no idea if she would hear him or not, but he had to try.

Kate had mentioned she was sleeping better these days, but if this was 'better', he didn't like to think what she'd been dealing with before. Surely it couldn't be restful if she was this afraid in her dreams, even if she didn't remember them. Was this a regular occurrence? If it was, he was amazed she was still functioning. He'd have to make her promise she'd talk to her doctors about it...

Or maybe this is my fault. It was an uncomfortable thought, but it was rattling around his head and ignoring it wasn't going to make it go away.

He was painfully aware of all the things he could and should have done differently. He'd told himself over and over that this was not a race, that he would take it slow and would not assume they were on the same page. That she needed time to adjust to her new home and new job, and to their growing friendship. Then Kate had shown an interest, and every last shred of common sense in his head had instantly evaporated.

Damnit. He hadn't even told her about Shannon and Kelly. What the hell was he doing thinking he had any right to start something with her before she knew the whole truth? She deserved better from him.

He stroked her back and her neck, pressed a kiss to her forehead, and offered murmured promises of devotion. It wasn't the kind of thing he was able to voice aloud to her yet, but here in the dark with her clearly in pain, it was easier to fall back on the truth. At least he could hold her and protect her and comfort her, even if that seemed a small thing to offer in the face of such obviously horrific nightmares.

Kate mumbled again, though it sounded less hurt, less pitiful now, more angry. The tone of her sleep talk was changing from fear to defiance, and he felt absurdly proud of her for telling off her dreamed demons this way. She was so much stronger than she ever realised or gave herself credit for. Her breathing gradually evened out, and the mumbling trailed off, though there was still tension in her limbs.

He sighed as he pulled her in closer, kissed her forehead again.

Much as he wanted to protect her, wanted to wrap her in cotton wool... Kate was a grown woman, and he didn't have the right to stifle her, to make decisions for her. They definitely had some serious things to talk about, and he couldn't excuse himself for his impatience, but she needed to find her own limits, her own weak spots, as well as figuring out where she had healed and was strong.

At least they both had a better idea where they stood with each other now. Even if the way it had happened hadn't exactly been ideal, it was impossible to deny the... the joy of that revelation - when he could bring himself to believe it.

"Gibbs. Gibbs?"

He looked down at her. Her eyes were open, just a crack, and her voice was fuzzy; she wasn't really awake. "I'm here, Katie. You're safe."

As soon as she heard his voice she smiled, her body relaxed against him, and her arm slipped around his waist as she pressed a contented little noise into his skin.

He couldn't help smiling back even though her eyes had closed again almost immediately. The fact his presence in her bed clearly made her feel better despite whatever was happening in her dreams... He turned off the light, shut his own eyes and pulled her closer still.

So maybe there were things that would take time, maybe they would both have to be patient while they worked this out, but if it made her feel secure, he'd be her anchor, and he was very, very okay with that.

Chapter Text

11. KATE

Kate woke safe and warm, and even before she remembered the reason, she was already smiling. Her smile got even wider as she realised exactly why she felt so good: her cheek was pressed up against Gibbs' chest, his arm was wrapped around her, and his heartbeat was a steady, reassuring rhythm against her ear.

She wriggled herself in even closer. It had been a very long time since she'd shared a bed with anyone, even longer since it had been someone she really liked. Back before her life had gotten turned inside out, she'd fantasised more than once about it being him. It was a good fantasy; it was indescribably better to wake up to the reality.

Her wriggling woke him up, but he didn't seem to mind. With a happy sound he rolled toward her and draped his free arm across her, pulling her closer.

She reached up to stroke her knuckles over his cheek. "Hey."

He opened one eye, then closed it again and grinned. "Mmmm. Not just a really good dream, then." He tightened his embrace for a moment and kissed her forehead. She could feel his smile against her skin.

"Nope, not a dream."

"Good. 'Cause if someone had woken me from this dream-" he shrugged "-well, they might not've survived."

She giggled, and felt the rumble against her body as he laughed along with her. He tousled her hair, then propped himself up on one elbow to look down at her.

"What?"

He smiled lazily. "Nothin'."

Kate decided she rather liked half asleep Gibbs. His hair was a ruffled mess, his eyes were barely open, and the look on his face warmed her all the way inside.

Finally, he leaned down to kiss her again, slow and sweet and gentle. She slipped a hand around the back of his neck, wanting to keep him close. When they surfaced for air it took him a second to open his eyes.

"Wow," he breathed.

She couldn't help herself. "Yeah. That's what they all tell me."

He rolled his eyes and grinned. Obviously the incident had been just as memorable for him as for her.

"Good times," he murmured.

"Uh-huh."

"Better now though," he rumbled. His eyes crinkled as he smiled again.

Kate gazed up at him. He was being so sweet, but she still felt guilty over how things had gone. "Gibbs, I'm-" God, this was so awkward. She tried to figure what she wanted to say, how she could say it.

Her uncertainty must've shown on her face. "What's wrong?"

"I'm sorry I couldn't-" She took a deep breath, trying to find the right words. "Last night- I mean, I wish I... It's not that I didn't want..."

For a moment he was frowning at her, confused, then he realised what she was trying to say and was shaking his head before she managed to finish the sentence. Cradling her face in both hands, he kissed her forehead, her mouth, then tugged her in close and rocked her gently. "Katie."

For a long while he didn't say anything else, though a couple of times he took a breath that made her think he was about to. Eventually he found his voice. "Katie, I didn't come here for that, I didn't. I don't want..." He rubbed a hand across his face and grunted. "Need coffee."

It was such a Gibbs thing to say, even in this unprecedented situation, that Kate sniggered. "You're so predictable."

He drew away from her, raised an eyebrow, a wicked grin appearing as he traced one finger lightly up her arm and drew a shiver of pleasure out of her.

"Oh, am I now?"

She bit her lip and her eyes closed involuntarily. She'd always had a bit of a thing for Gibbs, if she was honest, since long before he'd gone and made her fall in love with him, but it was going to take time to get used to her visceral response to his touch. There was a difference between finding someone attractive and realising they could melt you into a puddle with no apparent effort.

"When it comes to caffeine you are," she managed.

"Is that right?" he asked before bending to her neck.

"Uh-huh." If he expected to get sensible answers out of her while his mouth was on her throat, he was going to be disappointed. She could feel his laughter and ended up giggling herself.

He finally made his way up her jaw and to her mouth, where he gave her a relatively chaste kiss before leaning his head on his hand to gaze down at her again, his eyes wide and faux-innocent.

"So. Coffee?"

She raised an eyebrow. "One track mind," she teased as she clambered to the edge of the bed, then grabbed his hand to bring him with her. "C'mon, trouble, coffeepot's in the kitchen."

Chapter Text

12. GIBBS

Gibbs leaned his butt against the countertop, more than happy for now just to watch.

Even making a cup of coffee, Kate moved with a familiar purpose and assurance that had been a bit lacking the last couple times he saw her. She was settling in here and regaining her confidence. It was heartening, and it made him smile with considerable satisfaction and not a little pride.

He couldn't help noticing how she also had a kind of glow about her this morning. He was wary of taking too much credit for it, but it was hard to ignore the timing, the probability of cause and effect. It was possible the smile dimpling her cheeks and lighting up her eyes had absolutely nothing to do with him, or was only partly to do with his presence, but...

She glanced at him and arched an eyebrow. Impulsively he reached out to pull her close and drop a slow, heartfelt kiss on her mouth.

When he drew away, her eyes took a moment to flutter open. "Mmmm. I could get used to that."

"You'd better. You're stuck with me."

She giggled. "Possessive, aren't we?"

"Believe it." He shrugged a shoulder and grinned, unrepentant. "Been wanting to do that for a really long time."

She frowned slightly and studied him, her eyes narrowing, searching his face. Curious.

"Katie, I... I never meant for this to happen so quick, but I hoped... I did want it to happen, eventually." He scoured his mind for the words that would make her understand without putting undue pressure on her.

"Oh." Her cheeks turned slightly pink.

He resisted by a whisker the temptation to blurt out that he was in love with her, that he'd been more than a little in love with her before she'd disappeared and hadn't ever properly gotten over her even when he thought she was dead. He had a suspicion that might be kind of overwhelming, and decided to go for a less potentially terrifying version of the truth instead.

"Since you came back... Didn't wanna waste my second chance."

The searching look turned confused. "Second chance?"

He nodded, shrugged again. "With you. Last time 'round, I didn't... the timing was all screwed up, I didn't wanna mess up the team, but still." He pulled a face. "I should've-"

He trailed off. She was staring at him as if he'd suddenly sprouted horns.

"'Last time'?"

"When you were... working with me. With us."

She looked stunned. "You wanted- you liked-?"

He'd always assumed it was fairly obvious. "You didn't know?"

He didn't need an answer. He could see on her face she was genuinely surprised, struggling to get her head around the idea he'd already wanted her back then, never mind how he'd been carrying a torch for her ever since. She leaned in to wrap one arm tightly around his back.

"When we thought you were dead..." He closed his eyes, shook his head. Gentle fingers - Kate's fingers - stroked away the creases in his brow, and he reminded himself that however real it had seemed, however cleverly Ari had made them think she was gone forever, it had been a lie.

She's alive. She's alive and that bastard's not. He swallowed, tried to ignore the tightness in his throat. It was still painful to remember.

"I missed you, every day." He forced himself to voice it, knowing she needed to hear it, but man, it was hard to put himself back there, hard to put words around the aching memories. "Thought I'd got past that kind of pain. Thought no one else'd ever be close enough, thought I'd protected myself. Then... you were gone."

"Oh. Wow."

She nuzzled into his chest, and he held her tightly, afraid he'd scared her. "That a good wow or a bad wow?"

She laughed softly, and it eased the tension a little. "Um. Good. Bit... overwhelming. But good."

He let out a long, relieved breath. He hadn't completely terrified her; at least that was a good start, even if he was completely clueless how to move on from here. They had so much they really needed to talk about. Telling her about Shannon and Kelly was top of his priorities, but it was the start of a long, long list, and the very idea made him feel old and tired.

All he wanted to do was hold her and never let go. Truth was, he was pretty overwhelmed himself.

He pressed his face into her hair, murmured 'I love you, Katie', so very quiet she didn't have a hope of hearing it, but wanting to say it anyway.

There had already been too many huge revelations in the last twenty fours hours and there were more to come. He was trying desperately not to overload her, not to drop too many bombshells on her before they'd even had breakfast.

His stomach chose that moment to growl in protest, and when Kate's rumbled in response they both laughed, taking the edge off their heightened emotions.

"Okay." He could almost see her giving herself a mental shake, but the way she glanced up at him through her eyelashes was all kinds of pleased. With one more shy little grin, she turned back to the coffee machine.

Gibbs busied himself grabbing bowls and cereal and milk. He was quietly amused at himself for being so domesticated for Kate's benefit for the second morning in a row, still more amused to realise he didn't even mind.

She smiled her thanks when she saw, a touch of pink prettily decorating her dimples, and when she handed him his coffee, he leaned over to kiss her again. When he pulled away, she was blinking dazedly, and he only just managed to resist the urge to smirk.

"Kinda like being able to do that."

Both the dimples and the flush deepened as she grinned up at him.

"Me too."

They sat down and got on with breakfast in comfortable silence. It was nice how today he had the freedom to push a stray lock of hair behind her ear, to squeeze her knee affectionately, to let his gaze linger without worrying he was going to freak her out. It made her blush, but the pleased smile that came with the blush when she caught him looking said she was flattered, even a little surprised still.

He wondered how much time and how many repetitions it would take for her to really get her head round the fact he truly cared, regardless of all the baggage and the world of hurt still haunting her. That he planned to be there for her for as long as she'd have him, no matter what. How long it would take for him to say the words out loud, and how long it would be until she could accept them without reservation.

Maybe as long as it'll take me to get used to the fact she likes me back, he thought with a wry smile. He wasn't exactly the poster child for being well-adjusted and capable of allowing others in, after all.

He chuckled. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that he was gonna give it his best shot. Maybe they could learn together.

Chapter Text

13. KATE

"So, I thought maybe today we could take a picnic and hike up to one of the lookout points. The views are beautiful, and hopefully we can find some privacy and just... chill." Kate shrugged. She just wanted to spend the day in his company, and didn't much care where, but being surrounded by Hawaii's natural beauty seemed like a good excuse to sit in the sun with him, maybe find a secluded patch of grass and snuggle into his arms.

"Sounds like a plan." He smiled down at her. "I just got one condition."

She grinned. "Oh yeah?"

"Yeah." He took a step closer.

"What's that, then?"

He took her hands in his and squeezed gently. "Think you could use a more restful morning first."

Kate blinked.

She hadn't known what to expect, but it definitely hadn't been that. She opened her mouth, closed it again, then frowned up at him. "What?"

He shook his head, wearing the expression of tolerant frustration she'd seen more often aimed at Tony than at herself. "Kate, you're exhausted."

"I'm fine!" Okay, it would've been more convincing if it hadn't come out more like 'fi-hi-hine'.

"Katie-"

"I'm okay, really, I just- I'm all right, Gibbs, I am, I'm..."

"Kate, you don't have to be superwoman." He said it gentle but firm. "You got nothin' to prove to me, you don't gotta be the hostess or tour guide or... Oahu's goin' nowhere, we can see the sights anytime." He let go of one of her hands to brush his fingers lightly over her cheek. "I just want - need - you to be healthy, happy, and gettin' enough sleep, not- not pushin' yourself till you fall over."

"But I..." She was sure she'd slept better this last couple of nights than she had in months, and that wasn't even including the habit of falling asleep on Gibbs' shoulder she seemed to have acquired since moving to Hawaii. "I slept really well, it was really-" she could tell she blushing again "-it was nice... having you there."

Nice was an understatement, but never mind. And yes, she might be tired, but she really didn't want to waste a second.

The smile he gave her was warm and tender. "Was nice bein' there too, Katie." His gaze flicked down to her mouth for a moment. "Hell of a good way to wake up. Don't mean I can't see you're worn thin." He stopped for a moment, studied her face, as if he was deciding exactly what to say, then sighed. "I witnessed the, uh, nightmare."

She winced. "Oh." Oh, crap. "Did I wake you?"

She could practically watch him stifling the urge to roll his eyes. "You know that ain't what I meant, Kate."

She did know. "I don't-" She fought back a yawn that ambushed her out of nowhere "-I don't remember but..."

"Well, I remember."

He didn't elaborate, but his voice was fairly grim, and Kate was suddenly very glad she couldn't remember. She'd woken up in a cold sweat too many times in the last nine months, woken in tears or shivering with fear, been scared to go back to sleep. Her doctors told her she would get past the bad dreams again, that it was very possible they might even go away for good now she was getting the right treatment, but in the meantime she was haunted and it was... hard.

All she remembered from last night was falling asleep in his arms and waking the same way this morning. Definitely an improvement for her, but she hadn't wanted him to be subjected to her nightmare either.

"'M sorry."

"Hey." He cradled her face and bent over to meet her gaze. "Told you. You got nothin' to be sorry about." He shook his head. "You can wake me every damn night, it's fine, I'm not blamin' you or... I just wanna help, best I can. Whatever that means."

His thumb was lightly stroking her cheek, soothing, loving.

After a moment, she nodded. "Okay."

"And right now it means not leavin' you dead on your feet, okay?"

Kate managed a little smile. He cared so much. With all her experience of the big heart hidden under the layers of 'former Marine' and 'Boss' and 'the second B's for bastard', it shouldn't surprise her any more, but somehow it still did. And he'd cared for so long. She still wasn't over that realisation, the knowledge he'd been carrying a torch for her all this time. She could hardly get her head around it. Her eyes welled up, and she let herself lean into the touch of his hands on her face, taking a deep breath and trying to blink back the tears.

Thank you," she whispered.

"Kate, if you want- dunno if it'd help, but if you ever wanna talk about it..." He shrugged a shoulder and gave her a lopsided smile. "The dreams, or anythin'. Not so great with the words, but I'm a pretty good listener."

She found herself smiling more widely, and wrapped her arms around him for a hug. "Thanks, Gibbs. Guess Abs was right about you."

"Right about what?" He actually sounded worried, and she laughed.

"She always said you were a teddy bear, not a grizzly bear." She grinned up at him.

"Huh." He shook his head, his expression both fond and exasperated, then grabbed her hand and led her into the living room, sat on the couch and tugged her down beside him. "You like pushin' your luck, don't you?"

"Yup." She rested her head on his shoulder and didn't fight the yawn this time. "Don't let me sleep more than an hour. I missed you, I don't want to waste your visit." She could feel her eyelids growing heavy again now she'd actually admitted she was tired. "You sure this is okay, Gibbs? You flew a long way just to be my pillow."

"I'm sure, Katie." He tipped her head up so he could look her full in the face, and brushed his thumb along her jaw. "Besides, you don't need to entertain me." He shrugged, grinned. "Worse ways to spend a mornin' than watchin' you sleep."

"See, I don't know if that's sweet or just a little bit creepy."

Gibbs growled and pulled her into his lap, making her squeal. He swatted her butt and attempted a glare, which was not at all successful, and she was laughing too hard to even protest she'd been joking.

Then again, if her punishment was taking a nap in his arms, she figured she was getting the better end of the bargain. He was still muttering under his breath even when she stopped giggling, but at the same time he was arranging her comfortably, smoothing her hair away from her face, brushing a kiss against her forehead, and she grinned at the way he was looking after her even as he grumbled. She closed her eyes and curled happily into his embrace, the bulk and warmth and comfort of his body, the sense of protection that came with his arm around her shoulders.

"Thanks."

He chuckled. "Kate, I-" He stopped himself, as if he'd rethought what he wanted to say. "I care, Katie. Just... remember that, okay?"

She smiled again as she began to drift toward sleep. "Me too, Gibbs. Me too."

Chapter Text

14. GIBBS

He hadn't had the heart to cut her nap short, but when she started to stir he figured it was okay to encourage her into wakefulness.

"Hey, Sleepin' Beauty. I was s'posed to wake you half an hour ago." Her mouth curled into a smile and her cheeks went just a bit pink as her eyes blinked open. He grinned. He could make Kate Todd blush. Who'd'a thunk. "How you feelin' now?"

She nodded slowly, stretched out her back (he averted his eyes when the motion revealed a strip of toned stomach he very badly wanted to touch), then leaned against the arm of the couch, her legs still draped across his lap. "I do feel a bit better," she admitted, with another smile.

He nodded. "Good." He brushed her hair behind her shoulder, then idly ran a finger down the sole of her foot and noticed her toes twitch. A-ha.

He looked up at her and smirked.

"Gibbs..." There was a note of warning in her voice, but it was no use - he couldn't resist. Gently gripping her ankle with one hand, he tickled the arch of her foot, and she let out a yelp and squirmed.

"Gibbs!" She giggled and wriggled, and he just about managed to avoid getting a flailing elbow anywhere painful as she pummelled on his ribcage, protesting breathlessly and calling him names.

Eventually she flopped across his lap, "Uncle, I give, mercy!" When she looked up at him her whole face was alight with amusement and affection. He helped her sit up, and he was laughing and she was laughing, and then he leaned his head to hers and suddenly neither of them were laughing. Kate's hands were grabbing fistfuls of his shirt as he kissed her, and her body was flush against him, and the surge of want punched him deep in the gut.

She pulled herself up, broke the kiss for a moment so she could straddle him, a welcome weight against his crotch, and her eyes were dark and her cheeks were heated as she bent down again. He pushed up against her involuntarily, and she groaned into his mouth, her nails digging through his shirt, and it was everything he'd been waiting for and he wanted it all, but...

Even through the haze of desire, he could feel she was shaking slightly, and he couldn't ignore how she flinched when his hand inadvertently found the skin of her waist where her top had ridden up. She wanted him, clearly, she wanted him a lot, which was gratifying and amazing and almost enough to stop him thinking altogether - but only almost.

He forced himself to pull back, his forehead resting against hers as he tried to get his breathing under control. When he opened his eyes he could see the tears glistening on her eyelashes, the way her lips were trembling. He'd made the right decision, however much it stank.

"Kate." He swallowed down the heat and the need, tried to force his vocal cords to cooperate, tried to ignore the gravel in his tone. "Katie, I don't think..."

Without opening her eyes, she curled up, folded down into his chest, tucking herself under his chin. She sighed. "I know. I know." He felt her shake her head. "For a moment there, I thought I was gonna be okay, but then..." She sniffed. "This sucks."

He barked out a laugh. "One way of puttin' it."

"I'm sorry."

"Hey, hey." He kissed the top of her head, rubbed his hand over her back. "Not your fault, Katie. None of this is your fault."

"It sure feels like it is."

"Well, it ain't."

She looked up at him, smiled wanly. "I'm doing my best to believe that."

"Good." He held her gaze, wishing he had the words to express it, hoping she'd read the sincerity in his eyes.

Eventually she sighed again, though her smile was more natural now. "So I guess spending the rest of the day making out on the couch is a bust."

He laughed again at her tone. "I'm sure we'll find something else to do."

"Got any preferences?"

Well, she already knew he turned soft as butter in her company, so he might as well just be honest. "Long as I get to spend the day with you, I don't much care."

She blushed bright red and her smile was totally worth it. "Okay. Okay." She sat up, her expression turned thoughtful, and he could practically see her considering and dismissing the various options that came to mind.

When thoughtful started to look more like stressed, he spoke up again. "Anywhere you've never been but keep meaning to go? Might as well use your time off wisely."

She frowned. "I just want it to be special, you know? Suppose I pick somewhere new and it's a total letdown?"

"It's the company makes it special, Kate."

The worry on her face slowly evaporated. "When you put it like that..." She thought few a few moments longer, then nodded, decision made, the last of her tension draining away. "I know. The Makapu'u lighthouse trail. Especially this time of year, if we get lucky."

"Why this time of year?"

She grinned. "If it happens, it'll be a surprise, and if it doesn't, well, I don't want you to be disappointed."

His interest was thoroughly piqued. "Suppose I promise not to be disappointed?"

Her grin grew wider. "Nope, still want it to be a surprise."

"Please?"

She laughed. "That only worked on me the first time you did it."

He rolled his eyes. "Okay, you got me curious."

"That was the plan." She looked very pleased with herself. "We'll get shrimp from Kamekona's and maybe take a bag of malasadas up to the lookout with us, sound okay to you?"

"Uh-huh."

"Good."

NCISNCISNCIS

Kate was evidently a regular at Kamekona's, and quite possibly a favourite given the suspicious glances the big man threw Gibbs' way as he put their order together. Gibbs did his best to look friendly and non-threatening. It was either that or attempt to glare him into submission, and Gibbs wasn't at all sure he had the ability after the last twenty-four hours to scare a navy goat. He was too happy to be properly intimidating today.

At least the food smelled great, the waft of savoury flavours making his stomach growl in anticipation. He wasn't used to food trucks as anything other than convenient refuelling stations, but clearly things were different in Hawaii. Despite the underwhelming venue and the slightly disturbing picture of a shrimp with Kamekona's face on it, it seemed like lunch would be genuinely delicious.

They paid, then Kamekona fixed him with a grave expression, wagged a finger. "You look after her, yeah?"

Gibbs attempted to keep from grinning. It was kind of difficult to take the man seriously, with his round, friendly face that gave the impression he would be loath to even swat a fly and the ridiculous caricature emblazoned on his bright red apron, but it was clear he was absolutely sincere in his concern. Gibbs could respect that. "I plan to."

Kamekona looked at him a few moments longer, then nodded, apparently satisfied. "Okay. You okay, brah, you come back whenever."

It seemed safe to grin now. "Thanks."

Kamekona nodded again, gave Kate a smile, then shooed them away and turned to serve another customer.

Gibbs waited until they were out of earshot to chuckle.

"He's quite a character, huh?"

Kate laughed. "Believe me, you don't even know the half of it. I've heard some of the Five-0 guys' stories, and Kamekona's in almost all the most-" she paused, as if searching for the right adjective "-the most interesting ones, put it that way." She held up the bag of food and grinned. "Really good short order cook, though."

They were barely halfway back to the car (and Gibbs had already had it with the sheer number of tourists wandering aimlessly around downtown Honolulu and stopping every thirty seconds to take a photograph) when they were hailed.

"Hi, Kate, how's it going?"

They both turned around just in time for Kate to be engulfed in a hug by a guy who was, in Gibbs' suddenly paranoid opinion, way too young and good-looking to be touching her. "Sorry I didn't make it out last night." At least the embrace had been mercifully brief.

"Hey Steve, no worries. Gibbs, this is Steve McGarrett, he heads up the Five-0 task force for the Governor." She turned back to Gibbs and slipped an arm around his waist, tucking herself into his side almost possessively, or maybe like she wanted to show him off. "Steve, this is Gibbs, the guy I told you about. We used to work together."

Steve gave Gibbs a firm handshake and a smile.

"Welcome to Oahu. Any friend of Kate's." He looked back down at Kate, a touch of mischief showing on his face. "Heard a lot about you, but seems she's been holding back." He cocked his head and grinned.

Gibbs decided Kate's embarrassed but pleased smile and the adoring look she shot up at him did, after all, make up for her being accosted by random gorgeous men on the street.

"Good to meet you, McGarrett. Heard a lot of positive things about your team. Glad Katie's got people like you looking out for her."

"You bet, sir." Even standing at ease, with his hands on his hips, Steve's bearing was unmistakable. Military for sure; special forces most likely. "Small community here in law enforcement, especially at this level. We got each other's backs. Kate's 'ohana. We look out for our own."

Gibbs nodded approvingly, deciding he didn't hate this guy after all. (Well, not too much.) "Good."

Steve gestured toward the food truck they'd just left. "Gotta get the shrimp in or Danno's gonna kill me. Great to see you, both of you. Aloha." He nodded at Kate, casually but snappily threw a salute at Gibbs, then disappeared back into the crowds.

Gibbs turned to watch him go, and when he looked back at Kate, she was grinning widely.

"What?"

"You let him call you 'sir'."

She looked amused, and Gibbs shrugged. "He's military, probably don't even know he's doing it. Shoulda heard me when I started at NCIS."

Kate laughed. "I never imagined you as a Probie."

He raised an eyebrow. "No?"

"No."

He gave her a look. "Good. Let's keep it that way."

They walked a few more feet, winding through the throngs of people back to her car.

"Never really imagined you jealous, either," she said, conversationally.

Busted. "What?" He attempted an innocent expression, didn't think she'd buy it, but...

"Gibbs." She pursed her lips at him, shook her head. At least she looked amused rather than pissed.

He sighed. Yeah. He was so busted. "I'm only human, Kate." And I live thousands of miles away. And you're young and beautiful and I still can't quite believe you'd actually choose me.

She shook her head again, wrinkled her nose. "Well, as far as I know, Steve's seeing someone anyway, probably has women lined up around the block if that changes. Not really my thing."

Gibbs wondered how exactly McGarrett's apparent irresistibility was supposed to be a plus point here.

"Besides which..." She stopped suddenly, and he turned toward her.

She was looking up at him, her expression affectionate, if also a touch exasperated. She put her hand up to his cheek and went on tiptoe for a kiss. "You don't need to be jealous, Gibbs," she murmured. She held his gaze. "I- you- you really just don't, okay? I promise."

He studied her face for a moment, then nodded. "Okay."

She smiled again, softer this time. "Good." She nodded back, kissed him once more, then tugged on his wrist. "Come on, let's get out of this crowd."

Chapter Text

15. GIBBS

The Makapu'u Lighthouse trail was an easy one, more of a stroll than a hike, but since they were full of shrimp it was quite nice just to meander, fingers casually intertwined, occasionally bumping shoulders or pointing out a seabird or a particularly splendid view. Wandering hand in hand with a woman he loved was something Gibbs hadn't done in a very, very long time, and he'd forgotten exactly how good it was.

Although it was far from deserted, it was fairly quiet, a blissful contrast to the hubbub of Honolulu. It was windy, but they'd made a quick stop to see the view from a lookout point on the Pali Highway, and after the trade winds stealing their breath away and whipping Kate's hair about so hard it could take someone's eye out, the gusts blowing in off the ocean down here seemed positively gentle by comparison.

The trail itself hadn't looked that promising at the start, a rough paved road leading through scrubby land populated with grass, prickly pears, and another cactus he couldn't readily identify, but the further they walked the more the view opened out.

The sea was on the edge of his vision everywhere he looked, and at times it was almost as if they were floating over the ocean. The road turned sharply to the left partway up and they had stood there awhile and stared out along the shore that stretched for miles into the southeast, waves crashing against rocks far below.

Now it was following the line of the cliffs, the air was clean and sweet, and even though the wind was enough to justify their long-sleeved sweaters, it was still pleasantly warm in the bright sunshine.

"You did good, Katie." She frowned up at him. "The trail," he explained. "Definitely not a letdown."

"Oh!" She got a mischievous look on her face. "I thought it was the company that made it special, Gibbs?"

He laughed. "It is. But the views are a pretty nice addition."

She grinned, and he let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders instead, taking pleasure in the freedom to do so. It didn't seem credible that this time yesterday he'd been watching his every move, doing his best not to act like he was utterly besotted, trying to figure out when and how he could give her a gift without freaking her out. This morning he'd woken up with her in his arms. Even adding the panic attack and the nightmare into the equation, it was ludicrous how far beyond any of his wildest hopes things had turned out.

He dropped a kiss on her temple, and she leaned into him as her hand slipped around his waist. Yeah, this felt... really good.

You are one lucky SOB.

A large group coming down the trail had them stepping off the paved road into the edge of the brush, and a loud 'chipchipchipchipchip' of protest rose from behind them.

"Java finches," Kate supplied before he'd even asked the question.

He couldn't help but laugh at her pride in the ready identification. "You've really gone native, huh?"

Her smile widened and she nodded. "I guess. It's nice to belong. When I got back to DC, it just - it brought back a lot of bad memories. And I didn't... I don't know. I felt like a stranger in my own life." She shuddered a little, and he gave her a reassuring squeeze as they stepped back out onto the path and continued up the trail. "I'd come back to a place that was supposed to be my home, and found I'd somehow stepped into a nightmare instead."

It was all too easy to remember her reaction. She'd looked haunted when she'd first arrived back at the Navy Yard - her face tight and drawn. He didn't think he'd seen her look that pale before or since, even when she was in the middle of a panic attack.

"I hate being so far away, but-" She shrugged a shoulder "-it's just so good to feel at home here, you know?"

"Yeah." He'd felt the same unsettling displacement the first time he'd walked back into his house after losing his girls, had been chasing after a sense of home ever since. A sense of acceptance and belonging.

He hadn't realised until too late how much he'd appreciated it, but the way Kate had busted his balls and treated him like a fallible human being even when she'd been his subordinate was something he'd enjoyed. Sometimes it'd been frustrating as hell, too, but he'd loved her for it. Questioning his judgement, rarely calling him 'Boss' or being cowed when he glared at her, not assuming he'd always be right - hell, she'd even ragged on him about his hair... It had meant a lot.

It was nice to have someone who seemed to see him as a regular human being, not an untouchable legend. And it had been something way beyond nice how she'd nevertheless tried so hard and so often to reach out to him in some way; to make him open up, to include him and treat him as a friend, not just her boss, even though he'd rebuffed her at almost every opportunity.

He'd liked it but taken it for granted at the time, then missed it, desperately, after she'd gone. At least it meant he had the sense to value it now, to be secretly delighted, even when he pretended to growl, every time she teased him. It was like confirmation he had somewhere he belonged, someone he belonged to. He loved and was grateful for the family he'd found at NCIS, but this was something different than that, was something he hadn't had in a long time, that soothed an old, old ache. He would gladly spend the rest of his life with her laughing at him, if she'd only let him.

He looked down at her, ran a hand over her hair, then lifted up her face to give her a brief kiss which prompted a surprised and pleased squeak, but when she peered up at him questioningly he just shrugged, trusting an opportunity to try and explain what she meant to him would crop up in due time.

They walked for a while in thoughtful but companionable silence, until Kate suddenly jumped in front of him, waving her hands in front of his face. "Close your eyes, close your eyes!"

He gave her his best 'have you lost your mind?' look, and she just grinned.

"There's an information sign and I don't want you to see it."

He raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"It'll spoil the surprise."

He sighed exaggeratedly but closed his eyes as she lead him what felt like a half dozen yards or so along the trail.

"Okay, you're fine now."

"Don't s'pose there's any point asking you what this is all about, is there?"

He had no expectation she'd relent, but it was amusing to see the grimace of long-suffering patience cross her face. "No, no point whatsoever."

They walked a little further, then took a side trail. It was another paved path, smaller and even less well kept, but easy enough to follow between the cactuses, down closer to the cliff edge, past a pillbox, and onto an outcrop which gave them an unimpeded view over the water.

Kate stopped and grinned at him, then her gaze returned to the sea, hopeful, even expectant. Gibbs followed suit, wondering what exactly she was hoping they'd see.

"What're we looking for?"

She pursed her lips. "You really don't understand the concept of a surprise, do you?"

He shrugged and tried to adopt an innocent expression, savoured the over-the-top eye roll he was so perversely proud of prompting, then looked back out at the ocean. "Just don't wanna miss whatever it is you're so excited about."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the amused shake of her head, and with a laugh he slipped his arm around her waist so he could pull her in close. They stood for a few minutes, and he had to admit to himself there were worse ways to spend an afternoon than staring at the water with Kate leaning on him.

"There, there!"

She pointed. At first Gibbs couldn't figure out what had caught her eye. There was a spray of water and a shadow moving under the surface. For a moment he was still confused, seeing more shadows, another exhalation of spray that seemed to come out of nowhere, until suddenly a huge tail broke the surface and an unmistakable silhouette thumped down into the water with a crash.

"That was - was that a whale?"

She grinned hugely. "The humpbacked whales spend the summer in Alaska, then they come down here in the winter."

The absolute delight on her face was catching, and he turned back to look out at the ocean. It was tempting to watch Kate watch them, but it wasn't every day you got this close to a whale pod just hanging out, and the fact she'd wanted to share it with him made it that much more special. With no one else nearby, it was as if the whales were putting on a special show just for them. The tail smack wasn't repeated, but it was satisfying even to spot the huge creatures as they moved with deceptive speed back and forth, blowing out water, now and then one surfacing to slap playfully at the surface with a pectoral fin that looked enormous even at this distance.

"You know," said Kate eventually, "I don't think I even care about the lighthouse today. What say we just stay here and watch them?"

Gibbs looked down at the ground. It wasn't exactly built for comfort, but there were a couple reasonably flat bits, they had the blanket, and at least there were no cactuses. More importantly, it was away from the main trail, and a little peace and privacy with Kate while they sat in the sunshine sounded damn near perfect. Maybe it would even give them a chance to talk about a few things from his long mental list, but even if it didn't, he couldn't think of any other way he'd rather spend his afternoon.

He grabbed the blanket from the knapsack slung over his shoulder. "Sounds good to me, Katie."

Between them they got it spread on a flat-ish piece of ground, folded double for extra padding. Kate lowered herself gracefully down beside him, balanced the bag of malasadas in his lap, and rested back against his chest as if this was the hundredth time they'd had a picnic together, not the second. He dropped another kiss on the top of her head, smiled at the happy humming noise she made, and dug into the bag.

Sitting in the Hawaiian sun with Kate using him as her personal pillow again? Yeah. As far as he was concerned, life couldn't get much better than this.

Chapter Text

16. KATE

The whales had moved on, but Kate felt no desire whatsoever to move from her current location. In fact, the only real temptation she was facing was to fall asleep. She was sprawled comfortably against Gibbs, and it was only the relative hardness of the ground under their blanket that had stopped her from stretching out in the sun and coaxing him down to snuggle with her. At some point, they absolutely had to indulge in some al fresco canoodling. It would be a waste of Hawaii not to.

Even the wind blowing in off the sea had died down, and it was so comfortable and peaceful to be sharing another quiet moment. I am going to miss him so much. It was a thought she'd been trying to ignore all day.

She'd missed him horribly over the last few months when he'd been... well, so maybe he'd never exactly been 'just a friend' as far as she was concerned, but at least back then she'd been able to pretend. Electronic communication was better than nothing, but she was painfully certain it would seem even more inadequate than before. There was no substitute for kissing or touching or holding him, no substitute for sharing a bed. Not to mention all the things she so badly wanted to do but couldn't yet deal with.

They'd slipped so easily into this comfortable intimacy, and it felt so natural, so normal, as if this was where they'd been headed all along, and yet at the same time she couldn't get enough. He was absently stroking her wrist, tracing light patterns over the sensitive skin where her palm met her arm, and the simple contact was sending tingles down to her toes. Neither of them had said it out loud, but she'd seen a look on Gibbs' face a couple of times which suggested he'd had the same thought she was harbouring; it might take them a while to get past all her issues, but given the effect of a few soft kisses and the pads of his fingers innocently brushing against her pulse point... when they got there, it would be very much worth the wait.

It didn't stop her wishing desperately that they didn't have to wait, that somehow she could skip forward to the time when she was healed and whole and could act on those desires. The fact they hadn't gotten to make love yet seemed terribly unfair, and she was certain it would make saying goodbye that much more difficult.

"Penny for 'em?"

She glanced up, bit her lip, knew she was turning pink. Gibbs' mouth twitched as if he'd figured out exactly where her mind was at and was repressing a smirk. "Just... really glad you're here." She shrugged a shoulder and sighed. "And I'm really gonna miss you when you go back."

He leaned down and pressed a kiss to her temple.

"Me too. On both counts."

She sat up so she could kiss him properly, and it was slow and tender, and damn, but it was a shame about the rocks under this blanket. When they surfaced it took her a moment to open her eyes, and she guessed from his warm smile that he was thinking much the same as she was.

"So, it turns out we're really good at that."

He chuckled. "Yeah. Yeah, we are."

She planted her butt back down beside his, snuggled in happily. "How about yours? Penny for them?"

"How about my what?"

"Don't act dumb, it doesn't suit you." She elbowed him. "Your thoughts."

He laughed again, and she shook her head. She had a sneaking suspicion he did that on purpose; God knew it was a tactic he used on suspects to get their guard down. She might be annoyed he was doing it to her if he weren't so ridiculously charming about it.

"C'mon, Gibbs."

"Okay, okay." He paused, and she could feel the change in gear. "Lots of things. Kinda-" He shook his head and sighed. "Guess I'm still gettin' my head 'round this. Happened... fast." He interlaced his fingers with hers, rubbed his thumb along her skin. "Always hoped it might- eventually." He shrugged. "Knew you liked me some." He shot her a grin. "Never realised how much."

"You grew on me," she allowed.

"Lucky me." His expression turned pensive. "There's stuff... there's things I meant to tell you, things I should've told you already. Thought I'd have more time."

Kate gulped. What could he mean? He bumped his shoulder gently against hers, obviously noticing her reaction. "Nothing - I mean, not things that change this. I hope. Not for me, anyway. Just... stuff you deserve to know."

"Okay." She chewed on the inside of her bottom lip and tried not to let herself panic. She had to concentrate on the positives. He wasn't pulling away, and if it didn't change things for him, she couldn't imagine why it would change how she felt, either. But she couldn't help being nervous. She had no idea what he was about to say, but he suddenly looked so... so serious, so sad.

He took a deep breath, like he was psyching himself up, and let go of her hand to scrub at his face as if he was exhausted. "Long time ago, I told you I'd been married three times, not four."

It was a little embarrassing how she remembered that conversation with absolute clarity. She glanced sideways at him. "Yeah?"

He frowned down at his feet. "I didn't... I wasn't bein' entirely truthful."

He tugged at a piece of grass from where they were sitting, and proceeded to shred it. She got the impression he had no idea what he was doing, that the gesture was entirely unconscious.

"I got three ex-wives, but..." He shrugged. "Been married four times."

Kate frowned. She wanted to probe, to clarify, but there was something in the way he said it. He was either hiding a wife back home, which was absurd, of course, or... there was only one other explanation she could come up with, and it hurt just to think about.

She braced herself, and waited.

"Got married, when I was a Marine. Girl from my hometown. Shannon. My first wife." He heaved a sigh. "We were... happy. Really happy."

Oh, God. Her heart sank. She almost didn't want to hear what was coming. She could feel the shape of it, see all the clues she'd been given over the years, the pieces of the puzzle that was Gibbs falling into place.

"We-" His voice had gotten quieter, rougher, and she held her breath, not sure what could make this worse. "We had a daughter. Kelly."

Kate let out a gasp, then clamped her mouth shut. Did he mean...? Tears were stinging her eyes as the implications dawned, and he didn't need her falling apart on him.

She pressed herself into his shoulder, wrapped her arm around his waist, to try and offer what comfort she could. He rested his face against her hair for a long moment, breathing in deeply, as if he was drawing strength from her presence.

She hoped like hell it was helping him somehow; she'd never felt so inadequate. She wanted to say something, anything, wanted to express her love, her sympathy, her support, but she didn't think she could actually speak even if she had the words. She'd wondered about his past, sure, but she'd never even considered...

For a few minutes they sat in silence, side by side, and she unwillingly put together a few more pieces, aching for him as she figured it out. She'd seen Gibbs with enough children to know how good he was with them, how much he cared, how kind he could be; how far he'd go to defend and protect a kid who needed his help. With a child of his own?

There was no remotely happy ending to this story, it just wasn't possible. If he had a daughter still living, everyone of any importance in his life would know it.

"I- they-" He fell silent, and she looked up. He shook his head and swallowed hard, closed his eyes for a moment, set his jaw like he was summoning the will to continue.

She was tempted to stop him, not to let him finish. She felt like someone had grabbed her heart and was squeezing it, twisting it, and it was impossible to imagine how it must feel for him to talk about. She wound her fingers still more tightly into his sweater, pulled herself closer. He obviously needed to talk about this, wanted her to know, but it was... it was just too painful. Too painful to listen to, and clearly much too painful to tell.

He was busy destroying another piece of grass, as if the displacement activity would stop it from hurting him so much.

"She - Kelly - she was eight. I was serving - Desert Storm." He spoke quietly, painfully. "Shannon witnessed a murder, was gonna testify." Another deep, laboured breath. "They went into protective custody, and..."

Oh my God. His daughter had been eightOnly eight years old. A little girl still. Her daddy's pride and joy, Kate was sure.

"A sniper shot the driver of the car they were in. There was... a crash."

He didn't need to elaborate further. Kate didn't know what to do except hold him. He kissed the top of her head, then unexpectedly scooped her into his lap, pressing his face into her hair again, and his body shook as he wept, quietly, brokenly, clinging on to her like she was a life preserver, his fingers digging into her sides so hard it nearly hurt. Snug against his chest, her hand resting gently over his heart, she let her own tears flow at last. Help me. It was a plea, a prayer, for wisdom and strength, for some idea how to comfort him.

When his grip around her loosened enough to allow it, she reached up and wiped away his tears, then cradled his face, trying desperately to communicate all the reassurance and concern and love she had to offer.

Eyes still closed, he rested his forehead against hers, letting her stroke his cheeks, run her fingers through his hair; simple, physical affection. It both tore at her and deeply touched her to know he would let her see him weak and wounded, would accept her attempts to soothe and comfort him.

Eventually he heaved another breath, shaky but determined, and even managed a crooked smile when he opened his eyes. "Shoulda told you sooner, but... not good at talking 'bout it. Didn't tell anyone, not for years. Not even Ducky." He grew more thoughtful, staring out at the sea. She fancied he wasn't really seeing it, was looking into the past instead. "Actually, didn't really tell anyone so much as - they found out. Year after you... you..." He shook his head, unable or unwilling to finish the thought. "Long story short, it got kinda messy. Guess I'm not much of a one for sharin', mostly."

She couldn't help a dry laugh at his tone. "Guess not." Her voice was shaky too, and she cleared her throat. "I'm so sorry, Gibbs. I'm so..." She didn't know what to say, didn't know what she could say, in the face of such loss, such grief.

He turned to her, his eyes bright blue and shiny with emotion. "I wanted to tell you, though. Wanted you to know. I wanted..." The corner of his mouth quirked up again. "Meant to tell you sooner, though, not-" He laughed slightly. "Didn't expect things to change so quick. You were supposed to know before- before anything else could happen. So you knew what you were getting yourself into, so you wouldn't be going in blind." He shrugged. "So you could... protect yourself, I guess. Decide if it was worth the risk of bein' hurt. Tell me to leave you the hell alone if you wanted." He pulled a face. "You were supposed to get a - you know, 'informed choice'." She could almost hear the air quotes clicking into place, and tried not to giggle at his obvious distaste for the phrase. "Sorry."

"'Don't apologise, it's a sign of weakness'." The reply slipped out without any thought, and she immediately wanted to take it back, but he was grinning at her now, even if it was a little sad and still a little wonky. Maybe it hadn't been the most stupid thing in the whole world for her to say. "Sorry." He raised an eyebrow, and it was her turn to shrug. "Never was that great with rules. I really should've crocheted them on pillows."

That actually got another little laugh, and he folded his arms around her body and tugged her in close again. "I never expected- I didn't know I'd get another chance, Kate. I messed up, before. A lot. Couldn't get past it. Kept tryin' to replace her." He snorted. "You know how that worked out."

She blinked. She didn't know what to say, how to react. He couldn't get past it? Did he mean he'd learned how to, now? Figured things out? Or was she just another replacement, doomed to be another failure, and that was why he was telling her - so at least she'd be prepared?

Please, please let this be different. She made herself stay quiet, listen, give him a chance to make sense of it for her.

"I drove everyone away." His voice was low, and she had to concentrate to follow him. "Couldn't let it go, couldn't- wouldn't-" She felt him shake his head. "Makin' sure no one got too close. Datin' women, marryin' women I knew'd give up on me, let me down, cheat... The team'd be my family, but none of 'em would ever get close enough to let me hurt 'em that way."

"Rule 12?"

He nodded. "Among other things." He sighed. "Then you came along. Got in my face and grew your own balls, threatened to shoot me, and then- and then you kept tryna get me to open up, to talk about stuff, kept pushin', kept... carin'. No matter what I did or how much I growled." He sounded almost exasperated. "Makin' me care." He tugged on her hair. "Not s'posed to have a thing for brunettes, y'know. Not part of the deal."

She couldn't help laughing at his gently teasing tone, but decided this was not the moment to admit she'd briefly considered dyeing it red, once upon a time, to see if she could get his attention that way. She was different, then. In a good way. And that was an enormous relief.

She pulled away from him just far enough to look him in the eye, raised an eyebrow. "Gotta tell you, Gibbs, you're not exactly my usual type, either."

"You mean your grumpy ex-boss a decade and change older with three ex-wives in his baggage ain't your thing, Katie? Gee, I'm shocked."

He was smirking at her, and though that raw emotion in his expression hadn't magically disappeared, the smirk was so him, so damn Gibbsian. She shook her head and grinned, then let herself sink back into his embrace.

She hadn't meant to care about him, either, but she had, right from the get-go, liked him despite herself, despite him, and had only gotten in deeper from there. It didn't look like changing any time soon.

It was a little mind-blowing to her to realise he'd managed to get out of bed every morning all these years, carrying this grief around with him, let alone to actually function, to help other people... and he'd done it for so long without anyone even knowing. And here he was managing to smile, managing to be more concerned about the risk of hurting her, and really, he should've known she was way too bloody-minded to let this put her off.

She could've known from the start, she was sure it wouldn't have made the least bit of difference. If anything, the fact he could still care so much and so hard after life had hurt him so badly... it might be sentimental and foolish, but it made her love him more.

He touched her cheek to get her attention, took a deep breath. "I know I said you're stuck with me, but if you - I'd understand if..."

The fact he was offering her an out even now, despite not being able to actually say it out loud... She smiled, tried to make it reassuring. "My mom always said I have horrible taste in men."

He laughed aloud, surprised. "Well, you're definitely provin' her right, Kate." His face got serious again. "Katie, I just don't wanna hurt you."

"Gibbs... you can't guarantee that. No one can." She put a hand up to his face and hoped her conviction showed in her voice and her expression as she continued. "I don't want to protect myself from you. I don't need to. I..." She fiddled with the pendant at her neck. "Being broken doesn't have to be ugly, remember?"

He glanced down and touched the mended heart, then his eyes met hers again and she felt like he was searching her face for something, uncertain but oh so hopeful. Then, his fingers still touching the necklace, he leaned in to kiss her, so tenderly, so sweetly, his other hand slipping up into her hair, and she was safe and beloved and it felt like- it felt like home.

"You don't have to worry, Gibbs," she said, when they finally drew apart. "I meant what I said before. You have no reason to be jealous of anyone, and... I'm not going anywhere. I don't plan to run away or give up on you or - or anything." She touched his cheek gently, smiled. "I do care, I always have. Even when I was trying really hard not to." He laughed at her frank tone. "And you- you mean a lot to me. I'm here to stay. I'm all in. Okay?"

His thumb lightly caressed her cheekbone as he gazed at her for another long moment, then he nodded. "Okay." He pulled her in close and folded his arms possessively and protectively around her. "Okay," he whispered again, and Kate smiled and nodded against his chest.

They'd figure this out. There was something here and it was too good to allow for any other possibility. They were both far too stubborn to let go just because it might be hard. Despite all the challenges, Kate found she was strangely confident. Somehow or other, whatever it took, they'd find a way to make it work.

Chapter Text

17. KATE

It wasn't usual to be able to creep up on him, but when Kate reappeared after her shower, Gibbs was fully absorbed in what he was looking at, peering down through his reading glasses. She was slipping down onto the couch beside him before he even reacted to her presence.

He gave her a grin that was a touch sheepish and shrugged a shoulder, and she grinned back when she realised he had her phone and was looking through the handful of photos they'd taken on Nu'uanu Pali and the Makapu'u trail. She rested her head on his shoulder and smiled as he scrolled through them, stopping on the one a fellow hiker had taken.

"My favourite," he murmured, and she nodded.

Once, a very long time ago, she had secretly pilfered a snapshot of her and Gibbs from a set of crime scene photos, and had treasured it, albeit rather self-consciously, but this one was immeasurably better. They both looked relaxed and rather windswept, cheeks pink and eyes squinting in the sunlight. She was leaning back against him, grinning, looking up at him, one hand reaching up to touch his cheek. His arms were wrapped firmly around her waist, and he was laughing at something, she couldn't remember what.

Like a happy, normal couple, without a care in the world.

"Mind you, quite like this one, too," he added, flicking to another, and she thumped his arm when she saw it. He must have lifted her phone from her pocket without her noticing during lunch, and had captured her shovelling shrimp into her mouth.

"Gibbs!" She stole the phone back. "I'm so deleting that one."

"'S okay," he assured her as he put his glasses back down on the coffee table. He looked suspiciously satisfied with himself. "I already uploaded 'em all to the cloud."

She stopped, stared. "You- you uploaded a photo from my smartphone? You even know what uploading a photo to the cloud means?" She shook her head. "Who are you and what did you do with Gibbs?"

He was lucky she was in such a good mood, or his shit-eating grin might've landed him in big trouble. "McGee set me up." He shrugged. "Don't get too impressed, it's all I can do. Had a feeling it'd come in handy." His smiled widened. "And nope, don't have a clue what it means, 'cept I get to have those photos on my computer back home. All of 'em."

She shook her head. "First Skype, now this? Careful, at this rate you'll get dragged into the twenty-first century, and then the world will probably end."

He glared at her, but he couldn't quite hold on to the grumpy expression, the twinkle in his eye and twitch of his mouth giving him away. "Cheeky minx," he said finally, and she grinned happily up at him.

"Yeah, but you love me anyway." She wanted to bite her tongue off even as she said it - she hadn't meant to go near the L word with a ten foot barge pole - but he just smiled, and she breathed a sigh of relief she hadn't completely freaked him out.

She hastily got back on topic before things could get awkward. "That photo gets out, they'll never find your body," she said, evenly.

"And there was me thinkin' it'd go nice in the NCIS recruitment brochures."

She narrowed her eyes, and his grin only got wider.

He wouldn't pass it around, she was - well, she was reasonably sure - but did he have to be quite so irresistible when he was making mischief? It wasn't at all fair. "You realise there's still time for me to get a few blackmail-worthy shots of you, right?"

He shrugged. "What's life without risk?" After a moment of silence, he sighed, his smile fading. "Speaking of time. Got a call while you were in the shower."

Crap. She had a bad feeling she knew what was coming.

"They need me back sooner'n I thought. Day after tomorrow."

Her heart sank as she tried to figure out the math of flight times and time differences and- "Which means...?"

He shook his head and ran a hand over her hair. "Which means I'm on a navy transport tomorrow lunchtime." His voice was heavy with regret.

She looked down, trying to tamp down her excess emotion. She'd known he wouldn't be able to stay for long, but she'd been fairly successful at putting it out of her mind, and she'd really, really hoped she'd need to use the third day off she'd been offered. To suddenly find out they had less than a day left... She bit the inside of her lip and let herself curl into his side. Damn. This truly sucked, and she wanted to cry or scream or possibly both. "Bugger."

"Yeah." He let out a humourless bark of laughter. "Yeah, pretty much." He was softly stroking and playing with her hair, and she let her eyes close, enjoying the sensation. She couldn't think about tomorrow, not right now.

Being miserable about this wouldn't make it any easier, and if she let it wreck the time she did have with him, she'd be furious with herself after he'd gone. It was lovely to simply be held, feel his closeness. She wondered how attached he was to the hoodie he was wearing, and if he'd be willing to leave it behind for her. Something warm and soft that smelled of him would be... comforting.

Still, she couldn't help running through any remotely plausible scenario to keep him here longer or bring him back sooner.

Plausible or not so plausible, really. Any port in a storm. "McGee and Abby are basically geniuses, right?"

There was a pause as he processed her non sequitur. "I... guess..."

"You think if they put their heads together, they could work out some kind of-" she swirled a hand around vaguely "-quantum-sciencey-teleportation-instantaneous-magic-transport thingy between DC and Oahu?"

He laughed softly. "I'll tell 'em to get right on it."

"Good. Maybe then you could commute."

"That'd be nice."

"Gonna miss falling asleep on you." It wasn't particularly late, but it was so deliciously comfortable snuggling up on the couch with him, and she was warm and clean, already blissed out from her shower. She could easily slip into a pleasant doze.

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. You... you make a good pillow."

"I'm really very okay with that." He pressed his lips to her forehead, and she could feel his smile.

"You're all cosy, too," she murmured. God, she was so relaxed. Her voice was slurred even to her own ears. "Like you're a hot water bottle an' a pillow an' a... an' a teddy bear."

"Is that so?" He sounded amused, and she couldn't blame him.

"Uh-huh." She nestled closer into his shoulder. "I like it." She felt more than heard his chuckle, didn't even care that he was, kinda sorta, laughing at her.

"I like it too, Katie." His voice was soft against her skin. "I'll be whatever you need."

"Tha's nice."

"Yeah."

His hand had made its way up to the back of her neck, and his fingers were drawing tingly but somehow still soothing circles up into her hairline. As the easy silence between them lengthened she allowed herself to drift. She was almost obscenely chilled out. It was possible she'd melt into a puddle of goo right here; she just hoped Gibbs would be able to mop her up off the floor.

"Kate?"

"Mmhm?" She'd been at least halfway asleep, but there was a quiet urgency in his tone all of a sudden.

"If I ever... if anything I do - if I make you uncomfortable or scared or anything anytime... you tell me, all right? Anything. Ever. No matter what. Even if it seems small or silly or... whatever. Okay?"

She made herself open her eyes properly and look up at him. "I know you won't hurt me, Gibbs. It's not like you knew I'd have a flashback when you touched me like that. I didn't even know. It wasn't your fault."

"I know you know." He smiled, shrugged. "Doesn't matter. You need to be able to feel safe." He sighed. "Look, I'm bad at this, okay? You know that. I'm gonna mess up. Get caught up in cases, ignore phone calls, forget birthdays. There's stuff I'll screw up even on my best days. But I want you to feel safe with me, Katie, to know it's okay if something bothers you, to know I'm always gonna listen. No matter what. I can't promise a lot, but I'm promisin' you that."

She looked away for a moment, smiled, blinked at the sudden moisture in her eyes. He cared so much, it kept taking her by surprise. "Okay." She took a deep breath, tried to steady her voice. "You... you do make me feel safe, Gibbs." 'Safe' seemed like a huge understatement, a paltry word for everything he'd come to mean to her. "I mean - thank you. I understand, and I will remember and it means a lot, and... thanks."

She shook her head, frustrated by the inadequacy of everything she could think of to say. Whatever Gibbs might think, this wasn't small. This was enormous, it was a gift, and she couldn't begin to tell him what it meant. Not that he needed her to say it, most probably. She knew he wasn't big on talking about this stuff. That he was trying so hard meant a lot, but with Gibbs, actions spoke louder, and since she didn't have the words anyway...

"I really liked spending the night with you, you know." Despite the unexpected speed bumps, falling asleep and waking up with him had been wonderful. Kind of spectacular, really. As gestures went, as a way to say 'I trust you', this was a win-win. "I, uh, wouldn't mind that happening again."

A mischievous grin spread over his face. "That an invite?"

She nodded, smiling shyly. "If you're okay with sleeping with me when it's just, you know, sleeping, then..."

He winked. "Trust me, Katie, I am never gonna turn down an invitation to your bed."

She couldn't do anything about the heat rushing to her cheeks, but it was a very happy blush. "Well... good."

He got to his feet, and before she had a chance to protest he was holding out a hand.

She grumbled a bit but let him pull her up. "What?"

He smirked, tugged her in close and leaned down to kiss her. "Since we only got one more night to share a bed, whaddya say we make it start it as soon as possible?"

She grinned. "I say I like the way you think, Gunny."

"Good." With another laugh, he picked her up and unexpectedly slung her over his shoulder in a fireman's lift to carry her to her room. She yelped, then giggled uncontrollably, laughing too hard to protest, not that she had any desire to escape.

He peeled back the duvet and dumped her unceremoniously onto the bed, and she would have told him off except he was stepping out of his slacks and peeling off his shirt, and when he climbed in beside her and bent to kiss her, his body pressing her down into the mattress just for a moment, a thrill buzzed right through her.

Oh, he was dangerous. And it was wonderful.

He settled back into the pillow and tugged her closer, then pulled the duvet over them both. "Okay?"

She laughed breathlessly. 'Okay' was on a similar level of understatement to 'safe', but for now, it would do. She wrapped her arm around his waist and rubbed her cheek against his chest. "Trust me Gibbs-" She fought back a sudden yawn, Her voice had gone all low and sleepy and soft again, and she was so cosy and happy, she couldn't even find it in herself to glare at him for his amused chuckle. "I am very exceedingly definitely absolutely one hundred percent a-okay."

"Good."

Chapter Text

18. GIBBS

Gibbs had stopped looking at the clock, resigned to sleep being elusive tonight. At least it wasn't because a case had hit too close to home, or any other situation that required he drown it out with copious amounts of alcohol. As insomnia went, this bout was unusually positive - even enjoyable.

With Kate in his arms, he felt more at peace than he had for- well, for a really long time. He had a suspicion that was what was keeping him awake, not for any bad reason but because part of him just didn't want to miss a moment of this, couldn't quite believe it; was half convinced he was dreaming and would wake up on her couch (or worse, on his own couch back in DC) and realise he'd made the whole thing up.

Or maybe he was just painfully aware that all too soon he'd be thousands of miles away and he'd need all the good memories he could get to keep him sane until the next time he saw her.

She was sleeping peacefully, her mouth slightly open, the occasional really adorable little snore escaping. He laughed softly. She'd be absolutely mortified if she realised she made snuffly pig noises while she slept, but as far as he was concerned, it was just unbelievably cute. He'd waited a very long time for this, and it had exceeded all expectations. Her body pressed up against his, her lips moving occasionally against his neck, tickling deliciously, unintentionally teasing him into eager awareness... that probably wasn't doing much for his ability to sleep, either, though he was definitely not complaining. He was gonna need a seriously long, cold shower when he got up, but it was worth it for this moment right here.

He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then settled back again, wrapping his arms more fully around her. Maybe he'd sleep, maybe he wouldn't, but if the worst thing that happened to him today was lying awake with Kate tangled in his arms, one of her legs hooked through his, her mouth on his skin... well, that'd be a pretty damn spectacular day.

NCISNCISNCIS

When Kate woke up some hours later, she tried to sit up, and Gibbs restrained her with a wordless noise of protest. He felt her ripple of laughter under his hands and smiled into her hair.

"Just wanted to see what time it was."

He shook his head. "I set an alarm."

"For when?"

"For enough time to get you to work, me on my flight in one piece, an' not a second more."

There was silence and he opened his eyes to look down at her.

Her eyes were still full of sleep and she looked confused.

"I- I don't understand."

He tightened his arms around her. "Decided nothing else was as tempting as a couple more hours in your bed, if that's okay."

She raised her eyebrows and a smile crept over her face. "Actually... that sounds like a really good idea."

"I thought so."

Her eyes closed again as she sank willingly back onto his chest, letting out a noise he was certain wasn't intended to be quite so damn sexy. Then she brushed a kiss against his skin. The strangled grunt he made might've embarrassed him if he'd been capable of caring. He ran one hand down her back and then, very lightly, over her ass. She hmmm'd and nuzzled him, and he grinned.

Last thing he wanted was to make her panic or set off a flashback, and he quickly retreated to safer ground, but it was good to know a gentle caress of her butt was something they could get away with. Especially when she slid a hand underneath him and returned the favour with interest, chuckling at him when he let out what could only be described as a moan.

"Wicked woman."

"Just happy you like my bed."

"Oh, I sure do."

"Good."

"Yeah." He pulled her up so her could kiss her lips. "I'm thinkin' you'll like mine too," he murmured between kisses, "next time you're in DC."

She grinned against his mouth. "I'm sure of it." Then she tilted her head, his hands slipped up into her hair, she opened her mouth, and for a while there was no more talking, no more thinking, nothing except tenderness and pleasure and the low buzz of that unnameable chemistry they'd finally, blessedly given in to after all these years.

He'd been ignoring the baser reactions she was eliciting as best he could, but then her thigh slid between his, and his strained groan alongside the physical evidence didn't leave much to her imagination.

"Oh." For a moment she stopped dead, her mouth in a comically perfect 'O' of surprise. He was (mostly) grateful she had at least stopped moving. "Oh, God. Um." She blinked. "Wow. So... you really, really like my bed, huh?" Her cheeks had gone a little pink and her expression was shy, but she was also amused, smiling even as she carefully manoeuvred herself so she wasn't accidentally torturing him any more.

He let out a breath that was equal parts disappointment and relief. There was no question he instantly missed the sensation of Kate moving against him, but it was probably for the best that now he could actually think again - more or less. He grinned apologetically. "Yeah. Uh, sorry 'bout that."

"It's okay, I will..." Her blush deepened. "I'll take it as a compliment."

He couldn't help the burst of laughter. "Definitely."

There was a pause in which her expression shifted through several different emotions, then she caught his eye and took a deep breath.

"I wish I could, you know... help out. But I don't think I'm... I'm not sure I'm ready for that. I'm sorry."

She looked embarrassed again - no, ashamed. He wasn't having that. "Not. Your. Fault." He grinned. "Plus, I made sure I got a few minutes for a cold shower before we leave. Figured I might need it."

She blinked, grinned again, then giggled. It was a delightful sound. "Okay."

"Katie... I want you. I want you. No matter what." He shrugged. "The rest of it... we'll work out the rest as we go along. Give it time."

Her hand came up to touch his face, and he leaned into it.

"I hope... I really hope you're right, Gibbs. I want..." She sighed. "I want us to have... everything. I hate how difficult this is. I hate feeling like I can't give you all of me."

"Kate." It was hard to put words around it, especially when he was trying so hard not to put any pressure on her. He didn't do afraid, but the idea of what might come spilling out if he let it scared the everliving crap out of him. "I want..."

He wanted it all, too, of course he did. He had more sense than to pretend otherwise, even to himself. He wanted to kiss her all over, taste her body, make her fall apart and forget her own name, then bury himself inside her and feel her shudder with pleasure. But there so much more here than the simple urge to scratch a physical itch. He combed his hand through her hair, caught her eye and shook his head as he smiled. "Just want you."

Whether it was his expression or his touch or his words, he didn't know, but he felt her relax, saw her face soften with warmth and happiness.

She leaned down until her mouth was almost touching his. "I want you, too," she whispered. Then she was kissing him, and they would figure it out, he was sure. because he wasn't ever giving this feeling up. Not for the whole damn world.

Chapter Text

19. KATE

Waiting outside NCIS Pearl Harbor for Gibbs' taxi to appear, they were both silent, just standing side by side. Kate's head was tucked against his shoulder, her hand wound into his. She couldn't quite believe he was leaving already. The borrowed sweatshirt she was wearing would be all she had of his scent and his presence for however long it was until they saw each other again, and the only certainty about how long that would be was 'too long'.

The day had gone by so fast, his whole visit had, and suddenly she really hated the miles of sea and continent between her and DC. She was going to cry if she wasn't careful. It wasn't as if she was terribly worried about crying in front of Gibbs any more, though she didn't want to make this any more difficult than it had to be. She was just afraid that if she started, she might not be able to stop, which could make going back to work kind of awkward.

She heaved a sigh, then smiled at Gibbs when he turned to look at her.

"Hey." Her voice had gone all small and pathetic.

"Hey yourself." He searched her face. "'S gonna be all right, Katie."

She pressed her lips together for a moment, trying to summon up a little of the bravery and fortitude she'd mislaid sometime in the last ten minutes. "I'm just gonna miss you," she said with a shrug, fiddling with his shirt collar. "Saying goodbye... it's hard."

"Yeah." At least he wasn't trying to console her with empty platitudes. God knew the man could do complicated with the best of them, given his chequered past, but he also understood when she needed simple honesty, and she appreciated that.

He studied her face, touched her cheek. For a second she thought he was going to say something, but instead he shook his head, then bent down and slowly kissed her, so carefully and so thoroughly her spine melted and her brain turned to cotton candy and her mind floated out through her ears and danced around her head. When he broke away she was breathing hard, grateful his arms were around her to stop her from falling over.

Eventually she managed to open her eyes and look up at him, aware she was gaping and her expression was likely comic. This is what goodbyes are supposed to be like. As parting memories went... she reckoned this one would keep her warm at night for a good long while.

Gibbs looked oh so terribly satisfied with himself, and given she was fairly sure her knees had turned to marshmallow, she couldn't even pretend it wasn't justified. He pushed a strand of hair back behind her ear with one finger. "Wanted to do that last time we said goodbye." The confession came with a lopsided smile which Kate returned.

"I... kind of wanted you to," she admitted, and his smile widened.

"Wish I'd've known."

Kate tried to imagine how she would've coped if Gibbs had kissed her this way on that cold DC day and couldn't help grinning as heat rushed to her cheeks. "I don't know, Gibbs, if you'd kissed me like that, I might not have let you go back to work."

He shrugged a shoulder, his expression mischievous. "Oh, it woulda been worth it."

She laughed, reached up to brush a hand through his hair. "You're going to drive me nuts, aren't you?"

The smile turned into a smirk. "You drove me nuts first."

She giggled. Now there's something I won't get tired of hearing any time soon. She poked her tongue out at him. "I guess as long as it's mutual-"

A beep jarred them out of the moment as his taxi drew up, and she took a deep breath to steady herself. "Keep in touch, okay?"

He wrapped his arms tight around her for one last hug, and she closed her eyes for a second, trying to imprint the memory of his embrace more firmly on her memory.

"Aye, cap'n," he whispered in her ear, "I promise." And even more quietly, with a sighing laugh and a shake of his head, as if he simply couldn't help himself, he added, "I love you, Katie."

It was so soft she could almost believe she'd misheard him, except the expression in his eyes when he drew away repeated it so much more loudly. Suddenly she couldn't seem to catch her breath.

Then he was hefting his go bag on his shoulder, shoving his hands in his pockets. Looking as regretful to go as she was to see him leave, and her throat was too tight with emotion to respond with anything but a brittle, tearful smile.

There was another, more impatient horn blast, and he rolled his eyes, managing to make her laugh again despite everything. Then he was in the car and raising a hand in farewell, and it took her a moment to realise he was signing 'I love you' to her over his shoulder as the taxi drove away.

She took another shuddery breath, blew him a kiss, then hovered a bit longer, not quite ready to head back inside and admit their little Christmas idyll had finally ended. As soon as the car was out of sight, she suddenly wished bitterly that she'd had the courage and presence of mind to sign it back to him. She slumped against the wall, disappointed in herself and feeling utterly bereft.

"So. It's 'not like that', then?" said a voice by her shoulder, startling her.

She looked up. Will's tone was teasing, but his eyes were full of empathy.

"Shurrup."

Ignoring her grumpy tone of voice, he pulled her into a hug and kissed the top of her head. "You all right?"

She nodded.

"You lying?"

She nodded again, and Will rubbed her back soothingly.

"It'll be okay. You will be okay." Apparently he and Gibbs both had more faith in her than she did.

Her eyes were stinging with tears. "I missed him enough when we were just friends. I really didn't mean for this to happen."

Will shrugged.

"Life has a way of surprising us." He paused. "Well, surprising you, at any rate. Me, I'm just surprised it took the pair of you so long..."

Kate giggled damply and thumped him. "I hate you, you know that?" She peered up at him and poked her tongue out.

Will nodded, apparently satisfied. "Now there's the Kate Todd I've come to know and love." His smile was understanding. "We don't have a case, you know. You could just go home. I'll talk to Rich for you."

She shook her head. "No, no, it wouldn't be fair. And honestly, Will, I think I need the distraction right now."

He squeezed her arm affectionately. "Attagirl. Want me to come round for a film and popcorn after work?"

Kate managed a smile. "Bring me shave ice too, and it's a date."

"Deal."

One arm still draped over her shoulders, he tugged her back toward the doors, and she let herself be pulled back into reality.

Hana shot her a sympathetic smile as they wandered back into the team's corner, reaching out to touch her hand briefly, and Rich gave her a searching look, checking she was okay despite being in the middle of a phone call. Their concern made her feel a bit better - even if it also made her want to cry.

Kate sat down at her desk and forced herself to grab a file from one of the cold cases, then glanced up when her computer dinged.

wgthomasHI@ncis.navy.mil

'So, Wkend @ Bernies 2 good for tonight?'

She burst out laughing, gave Will a shake of her head and a glare she was sure was very unconvincing, then turned back to the screen, still giggling. This was going to be hard, for sure - possibly harder than she could even imagine right now - but her team had her back off the job as well as on.

She clicked reply.

crtoddHI@ncis.navy.mil

'you're an idiot. thanks xx'

With these guys in her corner... she even managed a little grin. Yes. It wouldn't be easy, but Will was right. She was going to be okay.

~ fin ~