This case has been bugging him since the start, and he's starting to wonder if he should have stayed retired after all. He still can't figure out the new director, both Abby and Ducky are off their game, and the trail has run cold. He hasn't slept properly in what feels like a decade.
All in all, it's the perfect opportunity for a mental breakdown, so he really shouldn't be that surprised to find her sitting on his boat when he makes his way down the stairs. She's fiddling idly with the Presidential Medal of Freedom that hangs round her neck even in death, and inspecting the nails on her other hand. He stops for a second, and considers just turning round and going back up into the kitchen, making himself some really strong coffee, but it's not like this day could get any worse. Breakdown or not, he still needs something relaxing to occupy him and allow him to tune out for a while.
When she hears his footsteps she looks up with a bright, dimpled grin, and despite the strangeness of the situation he manages to be relieved that he's getting a version of Kate who seems pleased to see him, not the vengeful apparition who reflected all his worst fears back at him after she was shot.
"Hey, Gibbs." Her greeting is cheery, as if she's just popped in for a quick drink on her way home from work - and as if that wouldn't be weird anyway, even if she wasn't dead.
"Hey, Kate." It's a ridiculously, laughably banal greeting, all things considered, but it's all he's got. There are so many questions he wants to ask he doesn't know where to start. Aren't you dead? Why are you here? How do I crack this case? Does being dead mean you can give me some insider information? Did you ever wonder what would've happened if you hadn't started working at NCIS? Why did you have to go and die on me? Have you forgiven me for not being able to protect you?
He wants to laugh at that. Well, Kate, a dead woman just turned up in my house, what does that tell you? He shrugs instead. "Tough case."
She nods sympathetically. "I gathered."
"Been spying on me?" He'd meant to say 'us', not 'me', but it's too late to take it back.
"Gibbs, it's 3am, you only just got home, and you're heading for your boat, not your bed. What was my first clue?"
He thinks about that for a moment, then nods. He's already at his workbench, his mind figuring out what he'll be working on tonight, his hands reaching for the cracked mug and his bottle of bourbon. She kind of has a point, though his basement has seen more of him than his bedroom for a long while now.
"Federal agent, shot in the head. Long range shooter. We can't find him. She was young...She was a she. She reminded me of you.
She cocks her head to one side, studying his face, and her expression makes him feel like his unspoken words are shimmering in the air between them.
"Got any tips?" he asks, trying to be flippant and not really succeeding.
She shakes her head a little. He recognises the look. It's somewhere between exasperation and sadness, and it's the one she turned on him when he rebuffed her well-meaning attempts to make him open up. He never got to tell her that he was grateful she tried, grateful she kept trying. That it wasn't her fault or her failing that it never worked.
"You'll figure it out."
"You think?" It comes out sounding more sarcastic, more bitter, then he'd intended.
"Care to share how?"
She smiles, apparently impervious to his foul mood. "You always do."
The fact that she still has faith in him when he let her down should probably be touching or at least encouraging, but it just makes him feel angry.
"Yeah, infallible Special Agent Gibbs, that's me." Except that I keep failing, I lost you, I lost Jen, who will I fail next?
"You didn't fail me, Gibbs." He's sure he didn't say that out loud. Either she sees what he's thinking, or she reads his expression better than he realised. He's not sure which of those explanations bothers him more. "You did everything right. You had no way of knowing what Ari was planning. You saved a lot of lives that day. And I chose to put my life on the line; for the President, for the Navy and the Marine Corps. For those people on the pier. And... for you."
She doesn't sound angry, or even resigned. She's just stating a fact, her choice, her sacrifice. Willingly made. It doesn't make him feel any better.
He sighs. Takes a slug of bourbon, turns to grab the sanding block and paper from the bench, cautiously approaches the boat and the dead woman who's currently using it as seat and pulpit.
"What's really bothering you, Gibbs?"
"I miss you, Kate."
She seems amused, which wasn't the reaction he'd've expected. Then again, he hadn't expected those four words to pop out when he opened his mouth, so clearly his expectations aren't all that reliable tonight.
"Of course you miss me. DiNozzo and McGee aren't exactly to your taste, and Ziva considers you her adoptive father. Abby's... well, she's Abby. And Jen's dead. You have no one to stare at any more when you let your mind wander."
He's surprised, shocked even, that she ever picked up on that. He never wanted to make her feel uncomfortable. He'd always thought he was a little more subtle than that.
"I didn't stare at you," he lies, wondering if you can actually lie to a ghost, or if there's some kind of spooky mind reading mojo that comes with being dead. Given that this is Miss Secret Service Profiler ghost, it's a long shot, but it's been a rough day and her turning up in his basement is a lot to process.
She laughs. "Did too. Honestly, there was one suit I stopped wearing to work because whenever I did I felt like you had me under a microscope. I like turning heads as much as the next woman, but I didn't want you to get shot because you were distracted by my ass..."
He can still remember that outfit. "I was not distracted by your ass!" He totally was.
She raises an eyebrow. "C'mon, Gibbs, it's not nice to lie to a dead lady."
He concedes her point with a shrug and a humourless laugh. "It's not your ass I miss, Katie," he admits softly.
He's sanding now. He tried to avoid getting near enough to touch her, but he's tired and clumsy, and so now he's just trying to ignore the fact that his hands passed through her as if she wasn't there. If he was the sentimental kind of person who'd imagine this kind of scene, he'd've at least expected some kind of ghostly chill when he got near her, or maybe a warmth, or his hair standing on end, or [i]something[/i]. Goosebumps. Prickles up his spine. Something to say that she's there, or that there's something, anything there. But whatever his eyes and ears are telling him, the rest of him says there's nothing, and it's almost disappointing.
She reaches out towards him, and he looks up in time to see her hand, which looks so solid and real, gently stroke through his hair and touch his face, and he still can't feel a damn thing.
"I'm sorry, Gibbs."
Usually he'd quote rule 6 at her, but he can't bring himself to. "I'm sorry too, Kate." He's sorry about a lot of things. "You were a good agent. A good person. I liked you." A lot. He trusts Kate to hear the things that he would like to say aloud.
He's really not sure how much stock he should put into that, considering that he's having a conversation with a teammate he saw die several years ago, but whether this is real or some illusion from his guilty subconscious, it's strangely consoling to hear her say it.
"So, how did you feel about me?" He hates himself for asking, but he can't stop himself.
She gives him that look, the one that says he's really not that bright and she can't decide whether to feel sorry for him or give up on him and his stupidity.
"Gibbs, you know there's no such thing as ghosts, right?"
He gives her a look right back, one that, he hopes, points out that her turning up in his home has left him feeling less certain about several things than he was half an hour ago.
"So I'm in your head, you idiot. If you couldn't figure out how you felt about me or how I felt about you when I was alive, then how's a figment of your imagination supposed to know?"
He can't argue with that logic, though he doesn't quite believe his imagination is this convincing. He has to believe there's something here that isn't just his brain having a strange moment.
"Can't blame me for asking," he says, and she grins.
"I guess not."
"I suppose that means you're not gonna help me with the case, either."
"I don't need to. You'll figure it out."
It should mean less when she's just informed him he's basically talking to himself, but for some reason this time it is actually just a little heartening.
She hops down from her perch on the keel and stands there, looking up at him in that earnest, Kate type way he still remembers fondly. He'd forgotten how tiny she was, not just in stature but in build. She was so opinionated and had such a personality, such a temper, was so at ease with a gun, so damn bolshy at times, this woman who grew her own balls and excelled in what many would consider a man's profession, that it was easy to miss how petite she was.
He doesn't remember her being so small next to him. He suspects that if he managed to rile her up, she'd make him forget her size again.
"Try not to be such a gloomy Gus, Gibbs," she murmurs with a grin. He can't help his answering smile. She reaches out and squeezes his arm briefly, though he still can't actually feel the pressure. Then she's gone.
Author's Chapter Notes:
He didn't expect to find anyone in his basement when he arrived home, much less her.