Need to Know
Still not at all sure she was happy about this, Kate pressed the button to alert the doctor of her presence, then settled down into a chair in the waiting room. She stared at the brass plate on the door which was engraved with the words Megan Reeves, PhD, and wondered why she let herself be talked into it.
Of course, if she was honest with herself, she knew exactly why she'd said yes. She'd tried to tell her sister she was fine, really, but Rachel had just given her that look - half big sister and half 'you do remember I'm a psychologist, don't you?'
Even that might not have had the magic effect were it not for the way her sister had been fussing over her, worrying about her diet, and basically mothering her into submission ever since she'd arrived back in the country. The suspicion the appointment was also for Rachel's peace of mind was what had stopped Kate from arguing any more.
They all understood Kate hadn't meant to hurt them by staying away for so long, and she knew it hadn't been anyone's fault, least of all hers, that Ari and his team had abducted her, but she still couldn't shake the desire to try and make amends. She wasn't sure if it was leftover guilt from half-remembered catechisms or her own doubts about whether she could somehow have gotten in contact, even come home sooner. Whatever it was, she was doing everything she could to make the people in her life feel better.
She hoped Rachel was right, hoped seeing this doctor wasn't a waste of time. Hetty had assured them there were excellent counsellors and psychologists on Oahu, but Rachel hadn't been satisfied with that. No great surprise; Kate might be a seasoned agent in her thirties who'd survived an abduction and lived seven years off the grid, but she would always be Rachel's baby sister. Sometimes it was infuriating, but it was also deeply comforting.
The door clicked open and Kate looked up. "Hi."
"Hi, Agent Todd. Or can I call you Kate? Or Caitlin, if you prefer?"
Kate repressed a shudder. It was a small thing, even a rather silly thing, given all the other trauma she'd been dealt, but Ari had made her hate her own given name, and she wasn't sure she'd ever come to terms with that. "Kate's fine, Dr Reeves." She'd rarely used the longer version, but it hadn't been a source of discomfort when other people did. Sometimes it had even been endearing - she'd found it quaint when Ducky insisted on calling her Caitlin - but now it was tainted.
The doctor came across exactly as Rachel had described her, right down to the air of warmth and sincerity, and as Kate followed Megan into the office and settled herself into a comfortable leather armchair, she was aware she was being watched in a way that yet again made her think of her sister.
"So. Kate." Megan smiled softly. "Rachel's always talked about you, since way before you came back, and she told me some more when she made this appointment, but I'd like to hear it from you. You know, just tell me a little about who you are and why you're here..."
Kate shrugged. "Um... I don't know exactly why Rachel wanted me to come to you, to be honest. Especially when I'm moving away."
Megan's mouth twitched, in a way that suggested she was repressing a larger smile.
Kate felt reasonably sure it wasn't personal, but it was unexpected and a little unnerving. "What?"
"I'm sorry, it's just-" Megan grinned sheepishly. "You know, I wasn't sure why she wanted you to see me at first," she admitted. The grin turned warm and mischievous, which took at least five years off her face. "This isn't my usual line of work these days. She twisted my arm a bit."
Kate's mouth dropped open, then she scrambled to apologise, half-rising from her seat. "Oh! I'm so sorry, Dr Reeves, I had no idea- I don't want to waste your time. I thought-"
Megan held up both hands, and Kate reluctantly settled back down. "No, no really. You don't need to apologise. I was happy to help, Kate. And please, call me Megan - I mean, if you want to. Some people aren't comfortable with informality, some people, well, it helps them relax a little. And..." She shrugged eloquently and pulled a face. "It's ridiculous, I know, but 'doctor' makes me feel absolutely ancient."
Kate laughed. 'Doctor' really did seem much too stuffy a title for this woman. "I guess I can understand that. Thank you... Megan." It might take her a while to get used to it, but it also made this whole thing seem less intimidating somehow.
It also helped that Megan wasn't remotely intimidating, and had already made Kate feel very calm and safe. It was striking how relaxed Megan was, how comfortable she seemed in her own skin.
Kate couldn't help a stab of jealousy. Even before her abduction, she hadn't always been at ease with herself. Since then... well, she'd forgotten what that even felt like.
She shook her head and dragged her wandering thoughts back to the conversation. "I still don't understand - I mean, Rachel twisted your arm to see me?" She trailed off, confused.
"Well, I don't mind doing a favour for an old friend, anyway, and-"
"An old friend? Rachel didn't tell me that, either." She would have to have a word with her sister about full disclosure.
"Friend. Mentor. Occasional lifesaver. She's been good to me." Megan smiled again, and Kate couldn't help but return it. It was that kind of smile. "Helping out her sister, well, I couldn't refuse. Then she told me the basics of what happened to you, and I understood why she'd thought of me."
Kate raised her eyebrows. "Oh yes?"
Megan's face turned serious, and her voice was quiet and earnest when she spoke again. "I'm a counsellor now, and a trained psychologist, but I used to be a federal agent. FBI, working out of Los Angeles." She looked down at her hands, and Kate's inner profiler couldn't help being curious what she was thinking, what she was remembering. "I... I was sent on an assignment that shook me up pretty bad. I didn't want to do it, but I wasn't given a choice." She frowned, shaking her head as if to dislodge a bad memory. "It took me a long time to get my head back on straight. Eventually I realised I wasn't cut out to be a lifer."
There was a moment of silence and Kate wondered what the story was here. Then Megan looked up, and another easy smile chased away the mystery. "So... I know what it's like being a fed, being a woman in that environment. I've seen my share of mental and physical trauma. I've done a lot of work in women's prisons, too; I've seen firsthand the effects of captivity, the culture shock of suddenly getting your freedom, things like that. I've also had, um, personal experience with the pressures of long distance relationships." She fiddled with the understated but beautiful ring on her left hand that Kate hadn't noticed before. "I'm in a good position to understand some of what you've been through, and to help. I know you'll be in Hawaii soon and I know your sister is pulling strings to make sure you have absolutely the best care the island can offer-" Kate rolled her eyes with a smile "-but you know, sometimes it's just nice having extra folks on your side. It's not ideal, but I'll be here if you need me." She grinned mischievously. "And you know, Rachel will probably be on your case less knowing she's done her best for you."
Kate couldn't help but laugh. "Sounds like you know my sister pretty well."
They shared a knowing grin, then Megan continued, "I also know big sisters, period. She's taking care of you the best way she knows how."
There was something in the way she said it... "You have a big sister." It wasn't a question.
"No." Megan paused for a beat. "I have three."
Kate laughed again. "Oh, gosh."
"Yeah. You got off easy there, trust me." Megan grinned again, looking quite pleased with Kate's reaction to that tidbit. "So."
Kate could feel the shift in the room as Megan sat back in her chair and waited expectantly.
She'd been debriefed and analysed (officially and unofficially) enough times to recognise that Megan was leaving her space to think and to start talking. She fought back the sudden self-consciousness and took a few deep breaths as she thought through what had been said.
Megan was tall and slender and sharp featured, but there was something decidedly maternal, even comforting, about her. Maybe Rachel had been right. Maybe it would be good to have Megan to call on.
"I -what did Rachel say about long distance relationships?" It was the only thing she was still confused about. "I don't really - I mean, I've been back in the country less than a fortnight, I'm not dating anybody..."
"Those pressures aren't confined to romantic relationships, you know, especially when you've practically come back from the dead. I'm sure your colleagues are finding it hard to let go again, and you probably aren't finding it that easy yourself."
Kate opened her mouth to deny it, then sighed. She could still vividly remember the guys' faces when she'd emerged from her debriefing at the boathouse, the shock and disbelief. The way they couldn't stop touching her, hugging her - even Gibbs, for goodness' sake - as if they weren't quite convinced she was really there. The reactions from everyone back in DC, and the disbelief when she'd announced she was going to Hawaii... They weren't happy with her, not at all, even though they were doing their best to hide it. Ducky was the only one who trusted her with this decision.
She chewed on the inside of her lip. It was going to be hard, for her and for them. She needed to leave, to get some space. She knew full well they didn't mean to put any pressure on her, but her friends wanted her back, wanted the Kate they'd known, and she wasn't sure that version of herself even existed any more.
At the same time, it was going to be a wrench. She had to get away from the stress of DC, but it felt like someone was stabbing her in the heart whenever she let herself think about actually getting on a plane and travelling so, so far away. Abby was still presenting her with counter arguments against the posting, and even though the others kept quiet about it, she was sure she could see reproach on their faces when the subject came up.
"I guess..." She sighed again. "Yes, I suppose you have a point. They... they're trying, but they don't understand."
"And I'm scared, because they want me back, and I'm- I don't know if I'm the same person I was seven years ago. I don't know if I can be the me they're expecting, the me they want."
"It's okay to be scared, Kate."
Kate snorted. "Not if you want to be a federal agent, it's not."
"Is that what you want?"
Kate stopped short. It was a question she hadn't even considered. She thought about it, turned the idea over in her mind. "I... think so?" The well of silence was begging to be filled. "Yes. I want to be part of something that matters. I loved my job." She shrugged. "There isn't anything else I want to be more, you know?"
"Yeah, I know what you mean." Megan smiled encouragingly. "From what I hear, you were good at it, too. Director Vance is pulling a few strings to make sure NCIS gets to keep you."
Kate blinked. "Really?"
"Really. They don't give the Presidential Medal of Freedom to just anybody, Kate."
Kate blushed. The fact the agency had done that for her - that Gibbs had put her forward for it, that Director Morrow had approved it - was still incredible. She felt almost guilty at the honour she'd been given.
Megan interrupted her thoughts. "And Kate? Words matter. You said it yourself, you want to be a federal agent - 'be', not 'do'." Megan paused. "It isn't just a job for you."
"No, it's not!" The words spilled out, and Kate was slightly surprised by her own vehemence. She laughed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so offended. I don't know where that came from."
Megan grinned knowingly. "It's okay. That attitude is going to help you a lot in putting your life back together. Not everyone has a really good reason to keep going when things get painful or difficult. You do. 'When the going gets tough'..."
Kate laughed again. "Yeah, I guess you're right,"
"You also have a lot of people watching out for you, people who really care and want to help. Rachel tells me that she's been bombarded with requests from your friends at NCIS, all asking what they can do to make this easier."
"That sounds about right." She smiled fondly. "They don't understand, but they're really trying, and it means a lot."
Megan twisted her ring around on her finger again. "The unexpected perk of working in law enforcement. The friends you make when you're putting your lives in each other's hands... those are very special."
"Are you still in touch with your team in LA?"
"Yeah. Some more than others - most of them are still on the West Coast, so it's an effort to stay in touch, but we manage... One of them moved to DC a couple of years ago, so I get to have lunch with him whenever we're both in town, and I think about the others all the time, even though I don't see them often. When we do get to meet up, though, that distance, the months or years since I saw them last... it never seems to matter. I'd still trust any one of them with my life." She gave Kate a kind but assessing look. "Your real friends stay your friends even when you're several time zones away, Kate."
Kate laughed ruefully. She hadn't realised she was quite so transparent. "I guess. It just feels like... I mean, I disappeared for seven years and now I'm about to disappear again. I'm scared they'll never forgive me."
"Oh, I think they will." Megan grinned. "From what I've gathered, they're all so overjoyed to have you back, you could move to Mars so long as you promised to keep in touch."
"I hope you're right."
"I'm sure I am." Megan's easy confidence was contagious, and Kate found herself grinning back. "You have a lot of stuff to work through, Kate, but considering what you've already dealt with, the people you have watching your back... you'll get there." She leaned back in her chair and grabbed a legal pad and a pen from the pile beside her. "Okay, so I know some of it from what your sister told me, and Director Vance gave me a little more when he rang to give me the third degree."
Kate blinked. "He did what?"
Megan laughed. "He just wanted to make sure 'one of Gibbs' best people' - a direct quote, by the way - was being cared for properly. Don't worry, I expected it. He's looking after his assets." She shrugged again, as if getting phone calls from agency directors was something she regularly did three times before breakfast. "Vance made it very clear you were to get the best treatment possible. He takes his responsibility toward you very seriously. I'm to report directly to him."
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry."
Megan shrugged and laughed again. "It's okay. It's actually nice to know you have that support framework in place, family, friends, coworkers. If Gibbs weren't so famously monosyllabic, I would've expected to hear from him, too."
Kate couldn't help laughing in response to that, but then her amusement faded. "Do they have to know... everything?"
Megan shook her head. "No. Your privacy is paramount in this situation. Everyone will protect it as far as possible, Kate, even beyond doctor-patient confidentiality. Obviously the Director is in the loop, that's unavoidable, but all I'll be passing on is your general wellbeing; anything else you share is up to you. He just needs to know you're going to be okay, he won't pry. And Agent Gibbs requested permission to read the files and debriefings from the last couple of weeks, but only if you agree and are okay with that. They want to do whatever they can to help."
"What?" Kate frowned, uncomprehending. "Gibbs doesn't - why would he need my permission? The stuff in the files isn't like a medical record, is it? It's not as if it's privileged information."
Megan was looking at her in a searching, empathetic way that made Kate think of Rachel again. "He doesn't need it, Kate. He wants it. He's choosing to ask. He and the Director made it clear that your files are need to know only." She paused, then continued more quietly, "No one wants to violate your trust or consent. After everything you've been through..."
Kate looked down, swallowed. It hadn't even occurred to her she would be given a choice. That Gibbs and Vance had thought this far ahead, further ahead than she had, that the Director was willing to afford her whatever measure of privacy he could manage - they're on my side. After being on her own for so long, she'd forgotten what that was like, what it meant on a day to day basis. She blinked back the sudden tears in her eyes, blindsided.
"You don't have to decide right now, if you're not sure."
She shook her head. "I, uh... I think I'm okay with Gibbs reading them." She trusted implicitly that he would keep the contents to himself, and maybe it would be good for at least one person to know everything without her having to actually talk about it or explain herself. Gibbs of all people would understand that, wouldn't he?
"Okay." Megan nodded. "Now..."
"Now for the hard stuff?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so." She gave Kate a moment to compose herself, and an encouraging, sympathetic smile. "So... I understand you were held captive for some time after you first disappeared from DC."
Kate nodded and looked down at her hands. She could feel herself stiffening up. Even without the training she'd had on the job and the psych classes she'd taken in college, common sense would've been enough to tell her that learning to talk about and deal with what had happened to her was necessary for her mental health, that in the long run it would help, but... I don't wanna.
"And during that time you were subject to a high degree of trauma, both mental and physical?" Megan had a file open on her lap, but her attention was all on Kate.
Kate forced herself to answer out loud this time, though she could only manage a strangled 'Yup.'
Megan leaned forward slightly, and when Kate glanced up there was compassion and empathy on her face.
"I know this is hard to talk about. I know it doesn't feel like it now, but I promise it will get easier with time."
Kate pursed her lips. Yet another thing she knew in theory, but it was a lot harder to accept when it was happening to her. Megan's sincerity was obvious, she truly believed what she was saying, but Kate felt deeply unconvinced. It was so easy to say. "I kind of thought I'd made my peace with it, but coming back home, I just..." She'd thought the nightmares had gone for good, years ago, but they'd come back with a vengeance. "I didn't expect it to trigger everything, to be so... immediate. It feels like it happened yesterday."
"You were in survival mode, Kate. You didn't have any other choice, you had to lock it down. That's how you got through, how you made it back. But it's not healthy to live like that forever. Coming back home, to a place you think of as safe, only to face all those terrible memories..."
Kate sighed and pulled a face. "Basically, I spent seven years repressing it and now the bill has come due."
"Something like that. I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news."
"I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. It's just..."
"It's one thing to learn about it and another to experience it."
Kate smiled tightly. "Exactly."
"I know you just want to forget about it and move on, but unfortunately it doesn't work like that. Your body isn't going to let you."
She wanted to deny it, but unfortunately she knew from experience that it was true. Nightmares and panic attacks had become an unwelcome feature of her life again after years of respite. The anger she'd once felt had returned as she realised the pain she'd been put through was still there, waiting for a chance to come back and hurt her again when she least expected it.
"I had a friend in college who was raped..." Megan was the one looking down at her hands now, and Kate hoped her flinch at the word wasn't as obvious as it felt.
She doesn't know. Kate tried to focus on what Megan was saying.
"She decided she was going to tough it out, but her body wouldn't let her forget, either. She ended up with PTSD, getting into drugs, really- it really messed her up. It took such a long time for her to get help, and she ended up with so much more to recover from." She shook her head. "Kate, you're a strong woman, but you've been through severe trauma, and you've never had the chance to deal with it, never been able to stop and heal." She looked up and shrugged. "You deserve that chance, Kate. You deserve the help. It's that simple. It's nothing to be ashamed of, or a sign of weakness. You need help just as much as if you'd been shot or gotten cancer. What you're dealing with is every bit as real and devastating, in some ways more so."
Kate knew there were tears in her eyes. She couldn't help thinking it would've been so much easier if she'd just been shot. A bullet wound... she understood how to deal with that, and it was an injury the people around her understood. This, this felt like someone had reached in and messed with her mind, damaged her soul, and she didn't know how to explain it to herself, let alone to anyone else.
"Okay," she said, in a very small voice. "I- I'll try."
"Good." Megan paused, and Kate could almost see her thinking, see her figuring out what to tackle next. It felt like she was choosing her words with exquisite care, and Kate braced herself, fearing she knew what was coming. "Kate, were you... sexually assaulted by your captors?"
Kate had expected it, but still she cringed away from the accusation, looking fixedly at the books on the wall and reading a shelf's worth of titles before she had her breathing under control.
She wasn't sure if Megan had seen her reaction to the mention of rape, or if it was just obvious she was hiding something, something big and painful and shameful.
"I didn't- I wasn't..." She swallowed hard, choking around the words. "I was never actually raped, I wasn't... Nobody did- nobody..." She trailed off. She really didn't want to look at Megan again. Thinking about this made her feel used and dirty and guilty, and she was sure it showed.
Kate shook her head, suddenly defiant. Don't wanna. She was painfully certain Megan was going to make her think about things she would far rather leave safely sealed up in distant corners of her mind.
"Kate," Megan said again. "I know this is hard." There was something in her voice this time that forced Kate to look up. "I know you want to push those feelings and memories down as far as they can go, but stuff like this... It's like-" she paused for a moment, as if searching for the right metaphor "-it's like nuclear waste. It's dangerous, and it's hard and costly to deal with, but if you don't deal with it, it leaks out, it poisons everything, and it doesn't go away."
The fact Kate knew Megan was right was no comfort at all. She still wanted to run away from this conversation. Taking a deep breath, she managed a stiff nod.
Megan tentatively reached out a hand. "May I?"
It was that which undid her, the simple request for permission to touch. Suddenly tears were streaming down her cheeks and she clutched at Megan's hand, vaguely aware she was holding on too tight, was probably causing pain, but unable to stop herself any more than she could stop the heaving sobs.
Eventually she managed to exert some kind of control, get her breathing back to normal. There were still tears on her face and in her eyes, and she mopped at them with the handful of tissues that had appeared as if by magic. I guess counsellors have to be prepared for people to fall apart.
Megan was looking at her with open, genuine concern on her face. It was becoming very clear to Kate why Rachel had wanted her to come here.
"I'm sorry, my emotions are all just-" Speaking felt almost impossible, her throat closing up as if her body didn't want to talk about this any more than her mind did. "I'm not usually so..." She pulled a face. She felt so fragile - so weak.
Megan smiled, gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "It's okay, Kate. You're safe here. You're allowed to be vulnerable."
Kate managed a tight smile in return. "Easy for you to say."
Megan nodded. "I know. It's much easier from my side of the conversation. It bears repeating, though. Especially with people who are used to being self-reliant and who find it... difficult to accept help."
"You mean, stubborn, bloody-minded federal agents?"
Megan's smile widened and she shrugged eloquently. "Hey, you said it, not me."
To her own surprise, Kate laughed at Megan's tone, and some of the tension in her stomach unknotted. "I just feel so..." She shuddered. "I still feel so... so dirty, so ashamed. When I think about it, all I want to do is stand in the shower and scrub myself with a scouring pad until the hot water runs out. It's horrible. And it seems so silly. It was so long ago, and it could have been so much worse. I feel like a fraud."
Megan sat up straighter. "Okay, Kate, listen good, because this is really important. Firstly, it's not silly. Trauma is trauma. This kind of pain - it doesn't magically become less because 'it could have been worse.' Our bodies react to stress, and for some people it takes something much less than being kidnapped and assaulted. If this happened to someone you cared about, would you expect them to get over it just like that-" she clicked her fingers "-because no one actually raped them?"
Kate shook her head sheepishly. "When you put it like that..."
"Oh believe me, that's how I'm putting it, Kate. This is the opposite of frivolous. This is extreme trauma. You're absolutely allowed to need help recovering, even if you're a badass. You hear me?"
Kate nodded obediently, unable to stop a little grin. "You would've made a good big sister."
"I guess I must've learned more from being the youngest of four than I realised. Being an FBI agent didn't hurt, either." She narrowed her eyes. "And quit trying to distract me, this is important."
She said it with a smile, and Kate grinned again, then mimed zipping her lips shut.
"Good. Okay, now where was I?"
Kate 'unzipped' her mouth. "It's not silly."
Megan laughed. "Keep that sense of humour. Trust me, it's going to help." She held up her hand, three fingers raised, and tapped the first. "It's not silly, and you're not a fraud." She tapped the second finger. "This kind of trauma is remarkably resilient, and time alone doesn't necessarily heal these kinds of wounds, so you don't need to feel bad if you find you're still struggling." She tapped the third. "You have nothing to be ashamed of, but those feelings are perfectly natural. Talking this stuff out is like pulling an old splinter. If the skin grows back over a splinter, you get infection, you get pain, it becomes that much harder to get the splinter out. When you start to deal with those memories and emotions, you can clean away the splinter and all the crap that came with it, and you can heal properly, without stuff coming back to haunt you later."
It sounded all so logical and sensible, and Kate couldn't find an argument against it except... "But it hurts."
"I know." Megan's face softened. "I'm afraid there's no getting away from that. It hurts, it stinks, it totally sucks, and you didn't do anything to deserve it. The splinter was forced on you, but unfortunately it's stuck in there good and the treatment is a necessary evil." She shook her head. "I know it's hard to believe right now, but it gets better. And it gets less scary. The first time you say this stuff out loud is awful. It seems impossible, I know, but it will become easier with time. It won't always feel like you're about to throw up every time you even think about it."
Kate blinked. "That is... so accurate it's spooky. I never told anyone that. How did you know?"
"I'm not a mind reader, I promise. A lot of trauma victims have similar symptoms. The upside is that I've seen so many people feeling just like you do now, and I can tell you for sure it's possible to get better, that others have walked the same path and made it through, and that I knowyou can too. One day you'll wake up and realise the lead weight in the pit of your stomach has begun to disperse, and you can start to really get your life back."
"I promise." There was another pause, and Megan took a deep breath. "I know you'll probably hate me for asking this right now, but I'm still going to do it. What happened to you? You don't have to tell me everything, Kate, but believe me, the very hardest part is starting to talk about it. I'm not saying it magically becomes easy after that, don't get me wrong, but it gets... easier."
Kate managed a wan smile. "If it doesn't, I'm gonna come back and complain, you know that, right?"
"Yeah, I know. And you have a gun. So the fact I'm still sitting here means you can be pretty confident I know what I'm talking about, doesn't it?" Megan smiled when Kate reluctantly nodded, conceding the point. "Just... start wherever you feel able, okay? It doesn't even have to make sense or be in the right order. Just make a start, no matter how small."
Kate nodded. "Okay." She looked down at her hands and concentrated on trying to keep breathing. "I- the people who abducted me, the men... they were working for someone who had a beef with NCIS, and with our team in particular. They were planning a terrorist attack, and we foiled it. Saved a lot of people."
"Sounds like a success."
"It was. We thought we'd won, you know? But he was still out there, pretending to be one of the good guys, hiding his true colours. He almost killed me, tried to kill my friends. We went after him... got separated... his men abducted me and made me disappear. Made my friends think I was dead." Kate swallowed thickly. Of the many things Ari had done, that was the one she was finding most difficult to forgive. He hadn't only hurt her, he'd also put her friends and family through such pain. "And then his team, they wouldn't stop... touching me. Just because they could. Just to prove I was helpless. And they drugged me so I was too weak to do anything about it."
Megan frowned. "And yet they didn't..." She didn't have to say it out loud. Kate could see in her eyes what she didn't understand.
"They were-" Her throat was closing up again, and it was a huge effort to squeeze the words out. She swallowed hard. "They were saving me for Ari..." The thought made her want to vomit. "They didn't rape me because he wanted me, and he was convinced I secretly wanted to sleep with him. See, the second time he held me hostage, he tried to seduce me."
"Wait, the second time? And that wasn't when he kidnapped you?"
Kate shook her head. "No, that was the third time."
Megan's eyes were wide. "The third time? What kind of a psychopathic nutcase was this guy?"
Her tone was incredulous, and Kate laughed despite herself. "Mossad double agent gone rogue who had, um, kind of a thing for me."
Megan shook her head. "Wow. My God. That's some stalker, Kate. Please tell me they got him?"
Kate nodded. "Shot in the head."
"Thank God for that. Someone who takes you hostage three times... not someone you want to ever go free."
"I'm sure I could find a more technically correct term, but right now I'm inclined to go with 'complete and total whackjob.'" Megan shook her head again. "So... the second time, he tried to seduce you?"
Kate thought back to the scene, swallowed hard. "Yeah, he... he blew a woman's brains out without even blinking and then..." She shuddered. "He decided that was the perfect moment to try and get in my underwear. So I told him to go to hell, and he laughed as if I was just, you know, playing it cool. Her head was leaking out over the grass, and he laughed."
"Well, he sounds... charming." Megan looked genuinely shocked. "I thought I'd met the worst the world had to offer, but that's just... I'm so glad to hear he's dead." She shuddered. "I'm almost afraid to ask about the third time."
"He told me- he told me that he would make me want it." Kate could hear her voice going flat and emotionless as she tried to distance herself from the memories. "He kissed me, and when I wouldn't kiss him back, he was furious. He slapped me, and rubbed against me like - like a horny dog, like an animal. Then he told me that when I saw him again he'd teach me to be obedient, show me how a real man treats a woman, that when he was done with me I would beg him..."
She nodded. "He never clarified. It was just this threat. He said when he was done hurting them, torturing Gibbs, when he'd killed my friends, he was going to come back and make me beg. Then he drugged me and sent me off with his team, and told them he would castrate any man who tried to have sex with me." She managed a bitter smile. "He didn't forbid them from doing whatever else they wanted, of course, but I guess at least his arrogance saved me from being-" she fought against the shaking "-gang-raped."
"My God, Kate." Megan's voice was soft, her expression horrified. She held out her hand and Kate hung on to it gratefully. "No wonder you still have nightmares."
"But it never happened, I mean... he died, and it all fell apart and I got away from them, so... it could've been..."
Megan shook her head. "That threat - Kate, you were abducted, drugged, threatened and assaulted, and you had every reason to believe things would only get worse. You're allowed to be traumatised." She gently squeezed Kate's hand. "Don't get me wrong, 'it could have been worse' isn't a bad survival tactic when you're just trying to get through the day, but it's a terrible reason to decide you should be able to cope, that you can deal with this alone. You deserve so much better than that, Kate. You deserve to get the help you need to heal."
Tears stung Kate's eyes. Logically, she knew Megan was right. If it was the other way around? She'd be saying exactly the same thing, she would be doing everything she could to support someone she loved through this. If it was Rachel or Abby? She'd be moving heaven and earth, she'd be fighting tooth and nail for their wellbeing, and she'd enlist anyone she could find who might help. For some reason, it was so much more difficult to accept that help for herself. "I do?" It felt silly, this need for reassurance, but her logic didn't make it go away.
"You do." Megan's concern, her simple kindness, was absolutely genuine and rather overwhelming.
Kate took a deep, wobbly breath, closed her eyes for a moment. This might take some time. At least I'm trying. She had to believe it would get better, had to hold on tight to that.
She looked up warily. "Yes?"
"It's not your fault. None of this is your fault."
Kate sniffed back the tears that threatened again. She'd told herself that a thousand times. It didn't stop her needing to be told, needing to hear it out loud. "You sound like Rachel."
Megan smiled. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"And your sister is a very wise woman."
Kate grinned damply. "I hate to admit it, but she really is."
They smiled at each other for a moment, and Kate felt a surge of gratitude that she had people who loved her, who would go out of their way to help her any way they could. Megan was on her side, just like Rachel, like Gibbs, the director, even the guys and Abby. They didn't fully understand, they wanted her to stay close by, but they also wanted what was best for her. When it came down to it, they had her six, and they'd support her even when they didn't like or understand her choices.
Megan glanced at the clock. "I think maybe that's enough counselling for one day, don't you?
Kate smiled again, relieved. "Does it sound ungrateful if I say I agree?"
"Not at all. Been there, done that." Megan rolled her eyes and pulled a face. "When you train to be a counsellor, you have to go through the process yourself. I know it's not exactly the most fun you've ever had."
"That's one way of putting it."
"It will help, though, Kate. I promise." She squeezed Kate's hand once more and gave her a warm, kind smile before letting go. "In the meantime, I bet your sister is going absolutely crazy wondering how this went. How about we go find her and make her buy us coffee?"
Kate chuckled. She'd managed to convince Rachel she didn't actually need chaperoning to this appointment, but the downside was that she would undoubtedly be grilled about how it went. Coffee would be good, and it would assuage those big-sisterly feelings to see first-hand that she and Megan had connected. Megan clearly understood the need for moral support in this situation, and Kate was grateful.
"I like the way you think," she said with a grin.
Megan laughed. "You and me, kid, I think we're gonna get along just fine."
~ fin ~