Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me.
Summary: It's an imprint, he thinks. It's real and it's not. (He wonders, sometimes, if she sees them, too.) Early season 3 Gibbs angst.
She appears in his basement without comment or forewarning.
By the time he's turned away from the wood, she's folded herself onto the stairs with her feet resting precisely on his bottom step. She never comes any farther than this, never crosses that line. Her feet never feel the cold seep of concrete.
(She'll never sidestep an invisible bloodstain on his floor.)
He observes her for a moment, watches as she leans one pastel pink shoulder against his basement wall. He doesn't bother to speak. If it was words she wanted, she'd go to DiNozzo. Distraction, and she'd seek out Abby.
(He won't let himself wonder why she comes to him.)
Snagging a coffee cup from the work bench, he turns his back. Once, twice, he blows breath in the mug before wiping it quickly with a rag. He blows once more and opens the bottle. He'd ask her if she wanted some, but this is Kate and his lips almost quirk at how that would end. Turning back to the stairs, he's not quite relieved to find her still there.
It's an imprint, he thinks. It's real and it's not, like flashes of red hair from the rear view of his truck. It's all the things that are left behind.
One step, then several more and he lowers himself to sit beside her on the stairs, tracing the handle of the mug with his thumb. There's the barest millimeter of space creating another chasm between them.
(There are all these lines he'll never dare cross.)
She gestures with her chin to his cell phone, resting beside its battery and a flathead screwdriver next to a pile of old nails. Her eyebrow lifts in silent mocking question. It's all so familiar, he can almost believe.
A puff of air escapes him in a humorless smirk, then only silence as he studies the mug. Shimmering liquid swims dangerously in a cream colored cup, a circle of bleeding darkness marring porcelain light.
It's too hard for him to look at her now, even if he can't see the blackened void the rooftop bullet left behind.
Sitting there in his basement, his ears ring with her silence, louder and louder like shock from the sound of a gun.
The sudden noise rattles him and his head jerks involuntarily to its source at the top of the stairs.
Ziva appears, backlit in shadows. The imprint fades away from his side.
(There's a gun in her hand and blood on his floor and when he looks at her all he sees is a child.)
But that was months ago and the floor is clean now save for the shavings of the wood.
"Tony has been trying to call. But your phone was…" She gestures vaguely, uncomfortable enough in this space that she never notices the dismantled cell or his startled eyes.
She never sees Kate vanish from his side.
"We were able to locate Sergeant Collins. He is on his way to DC for interrogation." Ziva presses her palms to her thighs, expecting a response. Her eyes avoid an invisible stain on the floor.
He wonders, sometimes, if she sees them, too.
"I am escorting him to NCIS within the hour." She swallows, then offers as she turns, "You should lock your door."
He leans against the wall, into the space where Kate had been only moments ago. (He tells himself it doesn't feel warm.)
When he speaks, there's no one left to hear.
"Wouldn't do any good, Ziva."