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A Test in Partnership Chapter One "Hey, hey, hey Kate. Kate. Kate.

." Kate looked away from her computer screen, her eyes taking a moment too long to focus on Tony, who was hunched over his desk, his head resting on the smooth surface. They had been working this case for nearly four days now. It had gone from being the simple murder of a petty officer in his living room to some mess involving conspiracies and blackmail and three other dead marines and navy officers and a bunch of other crap that Tony was too tired to keep track of at this moment. "Kate if I ask you to pour this scorching hot coffee down my throat, will you?" "Possibly," Kate replied, taking a long sip of her own coffee. "I do not think Gibbs would be too happy if you were to choke, though. I do not feel like having him angry at me." "YeahI'll just worry about the choking part when it comes. So come on, get to it let's get that crap into my mouth." McGee, of course, chose that moment to wake up. He tilted his head at Tony, narrowing his tired eyes in confusion and slight horror. "That did not come out the way it was supposed to. Umrewind. Kate's going to pour scorching hot coffee down my throat." "That sounds like it would hurt," McGee said slowly, wincing at the thought of someone forcing coffee down his throat. "So did the other thing Tony said," Kate said with a slight smirk. She wasn't about to admit that she was as exhausted as her male co-workers. "Come on Tony, you know if Gibbs comes in here and sees you lounging around he is going to slap you silly." "Maybe it'll wake me up," Tony shot back, yawning widely. Gibbs, of course, chose that exact moment to walk into the bullpen, and extra-large coffee in hand. He slapped Tony upside the head as he walked past the senior agent's desk. "You three better have something for me." "Does a concussion and exhaustion help?" Tony asked as he straightened up, running a hand through his on-end hair. "Are those things going to help us figure out who killed Petty Officer Rallis?" No answer. Gibbs looked around at his tired team. He understood. He was tired too. But the director had been breathing down his neck to get this case wrapped up when he'd found out that the case was connected to a series of other open cases. So there'd be no rest for the weary until the murderer was found. "Hey boss, I think I have something," McGee said about twenty minutes later. All eyes turned to the junior agent, hope evident in everyone's expressions. "I was going through the phone records of the other three murdered officers, and I found a similar phone number on each record. The number is registered to Russell Shay." "AKA the last guy to see Petty Officer Rallis alive," Tony chimed in. Gibbs opened his mouth to say something, but Tony beat him to the chase. "Take Kate and go talk to this fool. Again. Got it boss." Tony and Kate hurried out of the bullpen, too tired to even argue about who was going to drive. Tony had the keys, so Kate let him have the responsibility. "Stop for breakfast on the way?" Tony asked as the elevator closed. Russell Shay lived two hours out of DC. This drive was going to suck.

"Fine by me," Kate replied, sounding mostly disinterested. She probably would have agreed to sex if Tony had been brave enough ask. People did strange things when exhausted, after all. They went through the donut shop drive-through, Tony getting an egg sandwich that was going to be hell to try and eat while he was driving, Kate getting a regular bagel with cream cheese, and both investing a large coffee. "So Zee-vah," Tony said as they pulled onto the highway. "How's life?" "Little talk, Tony? Really? I suppose you are going to ask me about the weather next." "The expression is small talk Kate. Small talk." Kate rolled her eyes, muttering something about stupid American idioms. "And no, it isn't small talk, I'm genuinely curious. I have no idea what's going on in your life right now, I'm completely out of the loop." "And I am not exactly sure why it matters to you what is going on in my life." It didn't, Tony supposed. She was right; he was trying to make small talk. He'd have done anything to keep himself awake. "Aw come on Zee-vah. Give me something to work with here. What's going on with you and CI-Ray?" He didn't quite get the response he'd been expecting. Kate's expression darkened significantly, and she looked away, glowering out the window. "We are done," she said simply. Tony tilted his head a bit, curious. "Or I guess a better way of putting it is that I am done with him. Not that he is aware of it yet, considering I have not heard from him since he left." "Is that why you're done with him?" "Do you really think I am that shallow?" She had a point there. "An oldacquaintance " Translation: sex buddy, "from Mossad was kind enough to get in touch with me a few weeks after Ray left and inform me that Ray is in Israel. Working with Mossad. With my father." Oh boy. "I am not completely sure what he is doing, but I have no interest in being involved with someone who is working closely with my father." She was glowering as she added, "Contrary to prior belief, I do tend to learn from my mistakes." Tony sighed, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. He didn't want to admit it, but he'd kind of hoped that things would work out for Kate. She'd had enough difficulty and deception for one lifetime. Even if he hadn't thought Ray was right for her, she seemed to like him enough "I'm sorry," he said after a moment, and Kate rolled her eyes. "You can drop the pretense, I know you hated Ray. Too many lies involved when it comes to the CIA, right?" Well yeah, that was definitely part of it. Tony bit his tongue to keep from voicing the other reasons he hadn't like Ray. "Whatever. I think I will take up a hobby. How hard do you think it is to build a boat in a basement? I mean, I will need to get a basement, but I can worry about that part later. Maybe I will start out small, building model boats in my living room, that sounds easy enough" "You've been spending too much time with Gibbs," Tony said with a light smile. "Don't give up so easily Kate, a couple of bad relationships is no reason to turn into a bourbonsucking hermit."

"If you say so." There was something to be said, though, when two of her relationships had ended in the man dying, one involved a man that was only dating her because her father ordered him too, and one ended because she didn't know if she could trust the man. "I am beginning to think there is something wrong with my judgment." "Well okay then. Tell you what, next time you want to date a guy, run him by me and I'll decide for you whether or not he's a good person." Kate raised an eyebrow at Tony, smiling just a little. "Will any of them be good enough for you?" "Uhprobably not." Kate shook her head, laughing a bit, and Tony mentally patted himself on the back. When he managed to make Kate laugh, he considered it a good day. "What about you?" Kate asked after a moment. "Are you and EJ still?" Tony shrugged. "That petered out a while ago," he said without regret. "Apparently things being easy aren't the only requirement in a relationship. The sex was nice, but I mean there was no" "Feeling?" Kate guessed, and Tony nodded. "Just as good. She was all wrong for you, you know." Tony snorted at that. "How long have you been wanting to say that?" Kate didn't answer. Tony guessed the answer was a while. "Whatever. It was fun while it lasted, right?" "If you say so." They lapsed into silence. Kate nestled back against her seat, closing her eyes. After a few moments her breathing evened out, and she was asleep. Tony watched her out of the corner of his eye, amazed, as always, by how young she looked in sleep. He couldn't help but wonder, though, what had happened to the snoring. She used to snore, didn't she? It was a relief to finally pull up in front of Russell Shay's house. "Up and at 'em Kate," Tony said as Kate stirred, her eyes fluttering open. "Let's talk to this moron and get it over with." They climbed out of the car and headed up the pathway. "Mr. Shay," Tony called, knocking on the door. "It's Agents DiNozzo and Todd with NCIS, open up. We need to talk to you." The door opened after a moment, revealing the thin, wiry man they'd spoken with at the beginning of their investigation five days earlier. "Agent DiNozzo, Agent Todd. Hello again. Can I help you?" "You mind if we come in?" Tony asked, nodding towards the living room. Shay nodded, stepping aside and allowing the two of them into the house. "Is this about Carl Rallis again? I told you guys everything I know" "Actually this is about Kevin Harding, Connor Pomera, and Thomas Brown. Do any of those names sound familiar to you?"

"Uhshould they?" "Well seeing as how you called all of them" Tony words were cut off by a short yell of surprise and pain and the sound of electricity; he whirled around just in time to see Kate crumple to the ground. "Kate!" Tony stopped short as the beefy man that had tasered Kate pulled out a gun, holding it to Kate's unconscious form. "I wouldn't move if I were you, Agent DiNozzo," Shay said, his voice calmer and colder than it had been not thirty seconds earlier. "He tends to be a bitoh, what's the word I'm looking fortrigger happy." Tony raised his hands slowly, keeping them in the air for the two men to see. "Good." He heard Shay move to stand behind him, and he began patting the agent down, taking his gun from the holster at his waist and the back-up from within his jacket. He also took Tony's phone, dropping it on the floor and bringing his foot down on it, and he found Tony's handcuffs, which he then proceeded to use to cuff Tony's wrists behind his back. "Now. You are going to do everything we say, or we are going to put a bullet in this pretty agent's head. Any questions?" Tony grunted once in acknowledgement of Shay's words. Shay pushed past Tony, going to take the gun from his partner. He kept it trained on Kate as the larger man stooped down, picking Kate up and throwing haphazardly over his shoulder. "Walk," Shay ordered Tony. Tony glared at Shay before turning away. "Right to that door there, go on." Tony gritted his teeth together, doing as he was told. The large man opened the door, giving Tony a shove. The man barely managed to catch himself before he went headfirst down the stairs the door had opened up to. He took the shove as a hint to go down the stairs. "Hey, careful with her!" Tony protested angrily as the man deposited Kate carelessly onto the cement floor. "You're not in any position to be telling us what to do DiNozzo," Shay snapped as he handed the gun back to the large man as Kate started to stir. "Owwhat" She cut herself off with a sharp gasp when she saw the gun pointed at her head and, in a very Kate-like fashion, she started to take a swing. But the Taser shot had left her slower than usual, and the man had plenty of time to swing the gun aroundleveling it with Tony's head. "Move and I put a bullet in his head." Kate froze mid-swing, her eyes widening. "Right-o," Shay said with a smirk, and Tony instantly got a bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. "Stand up Agent Todd. Slowly now, that's it" Kate stood on slightly shaky legs; Tony noticed she was favoring her left side. Shay's smirk tightened as he moved closer to Kate. "Now remember one wrong move and we kill DiNozzo. And you wouldn't want that, would you? Arms out." Tony bit his lips until he tasted blood as he watched Shay "pat" Kate down. This pat down consisted of grabbing her breasts as he searched her for weapons and making an extra effort to pay attention to her back side when patting her legs down. If only looks could have killed Shay would have been dead on the ground. But Kate held her temper, well aware that Tony's life was in her hands.

These guys were good. They knew the partners would do anything they wanted as long as they continued to use one against the other. It was a foolproof plan. Unfortunately. Shay finished patting Kate down; her weapons were discarded and her cell-phone received the same fate as Tony's. Shay retrieved a rope from a table in the corner; it was a hefty rope, probably for climbing. He tied Kate's arms behind her back before forcing her to sit down against a wall, and Tony was forced to sit along the wall opposite hers, so she was facing him. "Now," Shay said, shoving his hands into his pockets. He looked almost amused. "Unfortunately for everyone involved, I've still got a bit of time before our ride gets here to get us out of this dump. Unfortunately for you, you've got a bit more time before Agent Gibbs notices that you're both missing. And these walls are soundproof. So what do you say we have a little bit of fun until our ride gets here?" "If you're flying the coop anyways you might as well tell us the truth," Tony said through gritted teeth. "You killed Petty Officer Rallis, didn't you?" "And Lieutenants Harding and Pomera," Kate spoke up. "And Petty Officer Brown. Right?" "That's for me to know," Shay said with a smirk. "And you smart little NCIS agents to figure out." Tony growled under his breath, doing some math in his head. It took roughly two hours to drive out to Shay's, traffic-dependent. Probably half an hour to talk to the man. Two more hours to drive back. Another half hour for the food stop Tony was bound to make. Meaning it would be three hours, at least, until Gibbs started to suspect something was amiss. And when he did, it would take him two hours or, knowing his driving, more likely an hour and a half for him to get out here and investigate for himself. Which meant they had anywhere from four and a half to five hours before Gibbs found them. That was plenty of time for Shay to do whatever he wanted with them and make his getaway. Not to mention that while Gibbs was looking for them, Shay would be able to get nice and far away. Shit. Shay walked over to the table where he'd gotten the rope and picked up a syringe. Tony and Kate both winced at the sight of it; they each had separate but equally bad memories associated with needles. Tony's stomach turned when Shay started towards him. "What do you" Tony started to say, but the large man instantly turned, leveling the gun with Kate, and Tony fell back against the wall again, feeling paralyzed. "Fight them Tony!" Kate shouted at once, completely ignoring the gun pointed at her head. "You have no idea what is in that syringe, do not let them" But the words were yelled in vain. Shay grabbed Tony's arm, finding the most prominent vein and shoving the needle in, pressing down on the plunger. Instantly Tony felt sluggish, his muscles lax. "Don't worry," Shay said as he turned back to Kate. "It's nothing that'll kill him, it'll just keep himrelaxed for the time being. Nothing to worry about."

The second man turned the gun back to Tony as Shay moved closer to Kate, tossing the syringe aside. Tony tried to open his mouth, to tell him to stay the hell away from her, but the words didn't quite make it up his throat. Shay grabbed Kate by the shirt, yanking her up and shoving her against the wall. She winced as her head connected with the solid surface. This was an all-too-familiar position. She didn't like it. But then Shay leaned in, whispering, "Cooperate or we'll kill him." And the tension drained from Kate's body all at once. Her eyes connected with Tony's own, slightly glassy gaze. Even with the drugs slowing him down, though, he'd realized what was about to him. There was horror in expression, and he was shaking his head, silently begging her to fight. Then Shay's lips were pressing themselves against hers, his hot breath washing over her face, and she winced, squeezing her eyes shut. "Hey, what about me?" She heard the large man complain, and Shay chuckled. "In time Rawling. We've got plenty of time before we get out of here, don't worry. You'll get your chance." Shay's hands started playing around Kate's body, grabbing her breasts and groping them roughly. Kate pressed her lips tightly together, determined not to let any kind of pain show. She would not give this bastard any kind of satisfaction. No way. He pushed himself closer to her, moving his hands down to her pants and shoving them down, along with her underwear. Tony watched, disgusted and sickened, as Shay ridded the obstruction of his own pants and boxers; somehow in the midst of groping Kate, he managed to get a condom on. He was good, Tony had to give the bastard that. He wasn't going to leave any DNA behind. "Stop," he tried to stay, but the word was a garbled mess. Damn it, damn it, damn it. His partner was being raped right in front of him, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Damn it! Kate couldn't stop the pained gasped that slipped through her lips when Shay thrust into her. She bit her lip until she tasted blood. For a very brief moment, she was thrown back in time, back to the sun-baked prison she'd been held in for three months. Back to the time when all she'd been was a sex toy, used to satisfy the needs of the men holding her prisoner. She was brought back to reality very cruelly when Shay thrust into her again. For a moment she wondered if she would have just rather stayed in Somalia. It seemed like an eternity before Shay was finally done. He pulled out of Kate one last time and stepped away, allowing her to slide down the wall and crumple against the floor. "Your turn," he informed Rawling, holding his hand out for the gun. Rawling passed him the gun before kneeling down next to Kate. Rawling was rougher than Shay. Or maybe it was just because he was bigger, Tony wasn't sure. Either way, Kate's pain was more obvious this time. Rawling kept her pinned to the ground as he thrust into her again and again. Tony tried to focus on Kate's face; her expression was impassive, her eyes squeezed shut. Tony felt sick; he was suddenly glad he hadn't been able to eat that stupid egg sandwich.

Kate "Finally done, are you?" Shay asked as he moved over to stand over Kate. Rawling was just standing up, zipping his pants. Kate opened her eyes just a bit; Shay was letting the gun hang at his side now. Tony was still drugged, of course. And he probably figured that Kate, in her current position, didn't pose much a threat. Big mistake. Kate swung her leg, catching Shay in the ankles and bringing him down with a yell. The gun flew from his hand, landing less mere inches from Tony's feet. "Tony get the gun!" Kate shouted, lunging at Rawling the best she could. On the one hand, she caught him in the knees; that was good. On the other hand, he came down right on top of her. That was bad. Tony tried desperately to grab the gun with his feet, but to no avail. Shay had already taken the gun, leveling it once more with Tony's head. Rawling growled as he straightened up, freeing Kate. She coughed roughly, rolling onto her side just in time to have Rawling grab her arm, throwing her against the wall. "You stupid bitch," he snarled, throwing his fist into her stomach. Kate almost fought back until she saw that Shay was once again in possession of the gun. Now she just doubled over, struggling for breath she had barely regained to begin with after having twohundred pounds come falling down on her. A car horn sounded from somewhere outside. "That's our ride," Shay said, backing up towards the basement door. "Let's go Rawling, come on." Rawling let Kate fall from his grip; she crumpled to the floor and stayed there. "Thanks for the fun, Agent Todd," Shay called as they started up the stairs. The second later the sound of a door opening and closing reached their ears. Then they were alone. "Kate?" Tony called desperately, finally regaining some use of his voice. "Kate!" The beaten woman straightened up a bit, forcing herself to focus on her partner. "Are you okay?" She asked quietly, her voice wracked with pain. Tony's mouth almost hit the floor. "Are you serious? I'm not the one they justthey" His voice drifted off as he struggled to figure out what to say. Kate cast her eyes around the basement; they hadn't left anything behind for them, not even her weapons. "Are you okay?" "I will live," she promised, trying to push herself onto her knees. That failed when pain shot through her upper body and she fell back to the floor with a yell. "Kate!" "I am fine." Kate brushed off Tony's concern the best she could. That wasn't strictly true. Her left side was burning where the Taser had hit her, her entire body ached from that stupid oaf coming down on her, and her lower half was throbbing in time with her heart.

But she couldn't let Tony know she was in so much pain. They had bigger things to worry about now; like the fact that they still had a few hours yet before Gibbs would even think to come looking for them. "Are you sure you are okay?" Kate asked, curling into a ball to try and minimize the pain. It was a tactic she had learned in Somalia; somehow making herself small made her hurt less. "I'm fine, Kate! All they did was drug me" "Drugs can be as bad as torture depending on what kind they are." "Yeah well all this stupid drug is doing is making it very hard to think and move. Give it a rest. Worry about yourself." "I am okay." "Yeah, that's why you're curled up a tiny ball. Give it a rest Kate, you're in pain. Just say it." Like it would be that easy. The next few hours were, without a doubt, the longest of their lives life. Tony tried to stand a few times, but his legs kept going out from beneath him. God damn drug. Kate tried to stand as well, only to have pain incapacitate her. It took everything she had in her to keep from yelling out. A few times she was sure she was going to black out, but Tony kept her talking the best he could. As the time dragged by, the drug slowly worked its way out of Tony's system, and Kate's breathing became a bit more labored as the effort to hide her pain became more and more difficult. Finally, finally, finally the sound of the basement door opening reached their ears. "Hello?" Tony called at once, not really thinking. Kate shot him glare, but before she could tell him to shut it, a familiar voice called back. "Tony?" Thank god. "I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear McGee's voice," Tony muttered before raising his voice once more. "No, James-freakin'-Bond. Would you just get down here?" McGee yelled to Gibbs, then quickly made his way downstairs. He stopped dead when he saw the position his fellow agents were in. "What happened?" "You know what, how about we explain later? Help Kate, I've got handcuffs on. Unless you've learned how to pick-locks in the last five hours." Gibbs came down just in time to hear Tony, and instantly made his way over to his senior agent, kneeling down beside the young man and setting to work on the handcuffs. McGee quickly went to Kate, pulling a knife out of his pocket and cut away the ropes around the woman's wrists. "Are you okay?" He asked as Kate started sit up and she winced noticeably. Her answer was predictable, of course. "I am fine. They drugged Tony"

"They beat the hell out of Kate," Tony butt in at once as Gibbs finally got the handcuffs off his wrist. "You're both going to the hospital," Gibbs said firmly. His tone left no room for argument; even Kate didn't bother trying. "McGee, switch." McGee found the order confusing, understandably enough. But Gibbs, with his ever observant gaze, had seen what McGee had miss; that Kate's pants were undone, her underwear ripped. "Need help?" McGee asked as he walked over to Tony, who was attempting to stand. His legs were shaky, but they managed to support his weight nonetheless. "Nah, think I'm good." He looked over at Kate. The woman was leaning, a bit heavily, on Gibbs' shoulder, her eyes closed. They were still on the floor. Gibbs looked at his men, jerking his head towards the stairs, and they got the hint. They stayed silent until they were upstairs and outside. Tony leaned against the car as McGee called for an ambulance. Before he was quite aware of what he was doing, he was bringing his fist down on the hood and swearing at the top of his lungs. "Damn it!" McGee jumped, staring at the agent with wide eyes. He didn't dare ask what had happened in that basement. Gibbs wasn't surprised when Kate tried to stand. He was even less surprised when her legs went out, and she crumpled back to the ground. To say she looked disgusted with herself was an understatement. "What did he do to you?" Gibbs asked quietly. Kate just shook her head. "Okay." He wouldn't force her. "Come on." He took her arm, wrapping it around his shoulders and carefully helping her stand. He would have carried her if he thought she would ever allow it. But she wasdefinitely too prideful for that. It was difficult, navigating the narrow staircase to get themselves upstairs. Kate needed to stop twice, her breathing labored, pain obvious in her expression. Gibbs tightened his jaw, trying not to imagine everything he wanted to do to Russell Shay. That son of a bitch It literally hurt to look at Kate. Tony's stomach pitched as he watched her limp out of the house, Gibbs supporting a good deal of her weight. McGee opened the back door of the car so she could sit, and Gibbs carefully helped her sit down. She was trying to be strong, but Tony could tell she was close to passing out; she rested her head against the backseat, letting her eyes flutter shut. Gibbs looked at Tony, silently asking what the hell had happened down there. Tony just shook his head, gritting his teeth together. He had a feeling this was going to stay with them for a long time.

Tony was discharged from the hospital only an hour after he arrived. He wasn't really hurt not physically, at least. And by this point the drug had more or less metabolized, so there was nothing for the doctors to do. Kate was a different story. She was pretty much out when they brought her in, exhaustion and pain getting the best of her. She had been whisked away the moment she had been brought the ER door. That was nearly three hours ago; Tony hadn't seen her since.

Now he was sitting in the waiting room with Ducky, who had arrived not long after Tony had been released. He'd brought Kate's and Tony's go-bags, not that the latter had been necessary, but hey, it was the thought that counted. He had filled what would have otherwise been a painful silence by recounting tale after tale that Tony forgot pretty much the moment he finished the story. But he was grateful to Ducky for trying. Finally a doctor came out and said they could see Kate. He had tried, quite desperately, to get Kate to stay overnight for observations, but of course Kate would never allow such a thing. Ducky hung back, allowing Tony to take Kate's bag and see her by himself. She probably didn't want too many visitors anyways. Kate was sitting on the edge of her hospital bed, staring very hard at the floor when Tony walked into the room. She looked up, her lips twitching into a small smile when she saw Tony. "Are you" "Please," Tony cut her off, setting the bag down on the bed next to her. "For the sake of my sanity, don't ask if I'm okay." The small smile faded, and Kate nodded slowly. And suddenly Tony felt bad. "Sowhat's the final damage count?" He asked in a desperate attempt to change the subject. "A concussion, a couple of cracked ribs, and a rather bad burn from the Taser. I will be fine." Tony noted that all the injuries were above the waist. It made him wonder what she was editing out. "I'll wait out in the hall while you change," he said after a moment, backing out of the room and closing the door behind him. He wasn't really surprised to find Gibbs waiting out in the hall. The men stared at each for a long time before the older of the two finally spoke. "I'm taking her back to my place for the night. You're welcome to join, but you're taking the couch." "Well as inviting as that sounds" Tony said with a grim smile, running a hand through his hair. "I'm fine. I don't need a babysitter. And you know she's going to say the same thing." "Yeah well she's not getting a choice. What happened down there, DiNozzo?" Tony half-considered not answering, but it wasn't like it really mattered. They were going to have to write reports about the entire mess anyways, he'd find out sooner or later. "There were two of 'em. Shay let us in the house, this big guy got behind Kate and tased her. They had a gun on her, Shay said if I didn't cooperate, they'd shoot her. He took my gun and back up, cuffed me, then they brought us down to the basement. Kate was coming around, so they turned the gun on me and pulled the same crap." "Threaten one partner to subdue the other." Tony nodded slowly before continuing. "Shay shot me up full of some crap, don't know what it was exactly but it made everything kind of fuzzy, couldn't really move or think. While I was drugged, they" His voice drifted off, and he squeezed his eyes shut, sucking in a sharp breath and willing his stomach to stay where it was. "They took turns raping her." Gibbs winced unnoticeably. He'd had a feeling. But having it confirmed was a different story entirely. "They let themselves get sloppy though, I was still drugged and I guess they thought Kate wouldn't

be threat. She brought 'em both down, but the big guy came down on top of her when he fell. He started hitting her, then their ride got there and they both flew the coop." Gibbs gave Tony a moment recover from telling the story before saying, "Big guy got a name?" "Shay called him Rawling. If that's his first name, it's probably damn unique." "Then let's hope it's a first name." The door to Kate's room opened then, effectively ending the conversation as the woman stepped slowly out. She'd refused pain medication, of course. No doubt she was feeling each and every one of her injuries now. "Gibbs," she greeted the man quietly. "You're spending the night at my place." "That will not be necessary" "I don't remember when this became a debate." Kate opened her mouth to argue, but gave in quickly, sighing and closing her eyes. "Fine," she muttered, clearly lacking the energy to argue. That right there scared Tony; Kate was never too tired to argue. "Invitation still stands, DiNozzo." Tony held his breath as Kate raised her eyes to look at him; those awful, empty, dead eyes. The eyes that had stared at him in Somalia as she flat out told him she was ready to die. "I'm okay. I'll justget Ducky to give me a ride home." He turned and half-ran back to the waiting room. Kate ducked her head, pressing her lips tightly together. She flinched a bit, surprised, when Gibbs rested a hand on her shoulder. "Come on." Ducky was mercifully silent throughout the ride to Tony's building. Tony thanked the older man with the best smile he could manage as he climbed out of the car and headed up to his apartment. The elevator was broken, of course; Tony didn't really mind though. Movement made it harder for him to think. Because god knew he did not want to think. A Test in Partnership Chapter Two "Gibbs this is really not necessary," Kate said quietly as Gibbs led her into the front hallway of his house. Gibbs shut the door behind them, ignoring Kate completely. "Fine. Do youmind if I take a shower? I hate the smell of hospitals, itclings to me." "Sure. You know where it is." Kate nodded, heading slowly up the stairs. Her cracked ribs did not appreciate the strain of movement, and pain was radiating through the lower half of her body, making the act

of walking more work than it really should have been. She could feel Gibbs' stare on her back, probably wondering if she was okay. He knew everything that had happened in that basement, after all. No doubt he was questioning her mental state as well as her physical one. Great. It was a relief to get behind the safety of the closed bathroom door. Kate found a fresh towel and washcloth and dug a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt out of her bag, setting them on the counter before turning on the water and slowly getting undressed. The water was far too hot when Kate climbed into the shower. It pelted her skin, sending pinpricks of pain through the points of contact and instantly overheating her body. It felt good though a nice distraction from the pain throbbing through the rest of her body. She set to work with working shampoo through her hair, trying desperately to get the hospital smell out of her hair. Hospitals. She hated hospitals. She finished her hair and grabbed the body wash, squirting some of it on to her washcloth. As she began rubbing the washcloth up and down her body she shivered, squeezing her eyes shut to fight off the inevitable flashbacks of Shay "checking" her for weapons, pressing her against the basement wall, groping her, thrusting into her again and again No, no, no, Kate thought firmly, shaking her head angrily. She could not afford to get caught up in that; one bout of PTSD was enough for one lifetime. But she couldn't quite rid of the feeling of their hands roaming over her, using her body, abusing her, violating her over and over and "No!" The single word tumbled off of Kate's lips, and the washcloth slipped from fingers as her hands flew up to clutch the sides of her head. She gritted her teeth together, trying desperately to stay where she was, not to slip back into that place, she couldn't go back there, she didn't want to Knock-Knock-Knock "Kate?" Kate's eyes flew open, her head snapping up to look through the shower curtain. "I am okay," she called shakily. She forced her arms back to her side, her entire body trembling. Damn it, now Gibbs was going to be even more worried about her. She collapsed against the shower wall, letting her head fall back so the water could pelt her face. After a moment she knelt down, picking up her washcloth and beginning to scrub her skin with renewed vigor. Gibbs was waiting for Kate when she exited the bathroom, leaning against the wall opposite the door. He stared at her for a long time, taking in her tired expression and red skin. After a moment he held out his arms. A very, very small part of Kate's mind ordered her to blow him off; she'd shown enough weakness to last the next six months. But a much bigger part of Kate's mind was screaming for the comfort that only a father's arms could provide. And so Kate stepped forward, allowing Gibbs to envelope her in his

warm grip. She buried her face in his shoulder, her breath catching in her throat. Gibbs tightened his grip when a small but discernable sob made its way past her lips.

The wall above Tony's entertainment center certainly was interesting. Tony had been staring at it for the past hour and a half, a mostly full bottle of beer hanging from his fingers. It was too quiet in the apartment; he should put on a movie, or turn on music, or something. But that would have involved movement. Something he just didn't have the energy for right then. And the wall really was interesting Tony's entire body felt numb as he watched Shay grope at Kate, shove her pants and underwear away, then his own, and begin thrusting. He thought he heard small, pained noises from Kate, though the drugs may have been causing him to hear things "Damn it," Tony groaned, running a hand through his hair. He looked down at the beer bottle in his hand, and after a moment he raised it to his lips, tipping it back and draining half the bottle in one sip. He wondered vaguely how much he was going to have to drink to make these memories go away. Well this was what alcohol was for, he supposed. Several hours and far too many beers later, Tony was knocking on a familiar door. He didn't quite remember getting dressed or leaving his apartment or hailing a taxi (because unfortunately his own car was still at NCIS), and how he had recalled Gibbs' address was for beyond his comprehension. But now he was standing on Gibbs' front step, knocking on the door and leaning heavily against the doorframe. "DiNozzo," Gibbs said tiredly as he threw open the door, giving the senior agent a glare that didn't quite register in the drunk man's mind. "What the hell are you doing?" That was certainly a good question. "I-I need to seesee Kate," he slurred after a moment. It seemed like the only answer that made sense. Gibbs made a noise in the back of his throat, grabbing Tony's sleeve and dragging him into the house. "Where-Where's she?" Tony asked, looking around. There was no Kate in sight that he could see. "Where's Kate?" "She's upstairs. Sleeping. And you're out of your mind if you think I'm letting you see her when you're like this." Tony opened his mouth to protest; the words were cut off when Gibbs slapped him upside the head. "Get your ass on the couch and sleep this off." "Butbut Kate" "You can see her in the morning when you're not drunk," Gibbs said firmly, shoving Tony into the living room. "Now lie down. Sleep. You're going to regret this tomorrow." Tony collapsed onto the couch, burying his face in his hands and swallowing hard. "Is she okay?" He asked after a moment. It was probably the most coherent thing he had said in the last five minutes. "She'll live," Gibbs said quietly, resting a hand on Tony's shoulder and giving him a light squeeze. "And so will you. Get some sleep." Tony lied down, almost against his will, reaching out and grabbing the blanket off the back of the couch, dragging it over his tired body. He was out in no time. Gibbs watched his

senior agent for a moment before looking down at his watch. It was about time for him to go wake up Kate and make sure she wasn't in a coma. But as Gibbs made his way back upstairs, he found Kate leaning against the wall outside of the guestroom, her arms crossed tightly over her chest. Her jaw was pulled tight, her expression even more unreadable than usual and that was certainly saying something. They stared at each other for a long moment before she finally pushed herself off the wall and went back into the guestroom. Gibbs sighed, rubbing a hand over his mouth. He knew his agents could come back from this he had faith in that. He just didn't know how long it was going to take.

Tony groaned as consciousness slowly reasserted itself. Oh boy. His head felt like it was about to split open. Ouch. Okay Tony, think. You drank last night. Did you do anything that's going to make it impossible to face human beings? He scrounged his face up in thought. He had drankand drankand drankthen he'd gotten his jacket on, and he hadhe'd gone outside and hailed a taxi. But where had he gone? Suddenly the smell of sawed wood assaulted Tony's nose, and he groaned loudly. He knew that smell. It was the smell of a certain silver-haired man's house. Crap. Tony really hoped he was imagining that smell. He didn't want to think about what he could have possibly said to his boss in his drunken stupor. Please say I'm dreaming, please, please, please It took a bit of effort, but finally Tony forced his eyes to open. And there it was the ceiling of Gibbs' living room. Oh crap. He had gone to Gibbs'. Crap, crap, crap. A small cough caught Tony's attention, and he sat up slowly. Kate was leaning against the wall near the living room door, watching him a rather unreadable expression. Tony stared at her for as long as his pounding headache would allow, and finally he had to squeeze his eyes shut. "Yes, I would say last night was not your brightest hour, was it?" "Finest," Tony corrected automatically. "It wasn't my finest hour." "I think brightest works in this case as well." Well she wasn't wrong. Tony ran a hand through his hair as he forced his eyes to open again. His gaze found Kate again just in time to see her slide down the wall, settling on the floor. She looked exhausted; Tony wondered if she had slept at all last night. "Howhow are you?" He managed to ask after a moment. Her answer was as predictable as ever, of course. "I am fine. I am not the one who spent last night drinking and getting drunk then taking a cab halfway across the city just to drop in and visit my boss." Tony winced. Yeah, she was right not his brightest or finest hour. "What exactly did you hope to accomplish? I mean, besides drinking yourself into oblivion." What had he wanted to accomplish? Oh, nothing much. Except maybe getting the memory of watching his partner being raped right in front of him out of his head. But he wasn't about to say that to Kate. "Right, right, I'm an idiot. I know. Try not to hold it against me, huh?"

"I will do my best." They lapsed into silence for a few moments. "Boss-man gone?" Tony asked after a moment, and Kate nodded slowly. "Hewants to get to work withwith finding Shay and Rawling." Tony didn't miss the slight hesitation in Kate's voice, the almost indiscernible shaking when she said those bastards' names. Tony gritted his teeth together; he would have liked nothing better than track them down himself and tear them both apart limb from limb. But his head was pounding. He knew he was going to be useless at the office, and anyways, there was no way he was leaving Kate by herself. Gibbs had most likely already laid down the law and informed her he'd have her thrown out of the building if she tried to go to work. At least, that was the only reason Tony could think of as to why Kate hadn't gone in with their boss. "Sowhat now?" The three words carried so much more weight than most people would have expected. Kate looked up from the floor, empty mahogany eyes meeting pained green. She considered the question for a moment, before saying, "Nowit is almost noon. We should probably think about eating. We will probably have to order out, I doubt Gibbs keeps much more than coffee here" Translation, Tony thought bitterly as he watched Kate standing up and wander into the kitchen. Now we start compartmentalizing and acting like the hellish day that was yesterday never happened. A bottle of ibuprofen was sitting on the coffee table. Tony grabbed it and worked the cover off, popping a couple pills into his mouth and swallowing before jumping up and following Kate. The next hour or so passed in relative silence. They ordered a pizza, and Tony fought Kate down to pay (he had, in his drunken stupor, at least remembered his wallet), and they sat down to eat at Gibbs' table when the pizza arrive. Tony hated how hard this seemed; usually any time he spent with Kate, whether they were talking or silent, was easy, comfortable. They'd long ago gotten to that place where words just weren't necessary for them to communicate one simple look, and they could practically read each other's mind. But the channels of communication were closed now. Every look Kate gave Tony (and there weren't a lot of those) was empty and unreadable; he may as well have been sharing pizza with a stranger. "Do youwanna talk about it?" Tony finally asked, his voice sounding strange and foreign even in his ears. Kate looked up from the pizza slice she had been picking at. They were both still on their first slices; neither had much of an appetite. "We are both going to be doing enough talking in the psych evaluations you know Gibbs is going to make us go through. Do you really want to put yourself throughmore torture by talking about it now?" Well she had a point there. Still, Tony wasn't sure it was healthy for them to be bottling things up until their psych evals. "I just thinkyou know, maybe you'll feel better if you talk"

"Tony if you are trying to tell me you would like to talk, I will be more than happy to listen," Kate interrupted calmly. Tony paused mid-sentence with his mouth hanging open. Now he felt bad. Kate had been through so much worse than him, how could he let her think he was the one struggling with all this? While Tony was lost in thought, Kate stood up, taking her glass in hand going to get something to drink. Tony jerked back to reality as the sound of glass shattering echoed in his ears, and his eyes focused on Kate. Somehow, her glass had slipped and crashed to the floor; her normally steady hand was shaking visibly. Tony's eyes flew to her face, but her gaze wasn't glassy, as he had expected. Not a flashback, then. "Kate?" Her head snapped around to look at Tony, and she crossed her arms quickly and tightly across her stomach, looking away again. After a moment she stepped carefully around the glass to go in hunt of a broom and dustpan. Tony stared after her, his jaw clenched tight. He really couldn't have hated himself any more at this moment even if he tried. Eventually Kate came back; Tony's offer to clean up the glass fell on deaf ears. He shouldn't have been surprised, he supposed. But he would have felt bad if he hadn't at least tried. "Are you okay?" He finally asked as she finished scooping the glass into the dustpan and threw it away. "And please don't say you're fine." She didn't say anything for so long, Tony wondered if she'd decided against silence in place of her default answer. "It isnot like I have not dealt with something like this before," she finally said, turning away so she wouldn't have to face Tony. "I will be fine." Tony knew she was talking about Somalia. Kate had admitted to him once, when she had been so wasted she hadn't been able to tell if she was talking to Tony or herself, that she had been raped in Somalia more times than she had been able to count. "If you wanna talk" "I do not want to talk," Kate interrupted firmly. Tony pressed his lips together, words chasing themselves around in his head. "Fine," he said firmly. "Then I do." Kate looked around, surprise sparking to life in her eyes. "I want to talk about it. I want to talk about what it was like to watch them hold a gun to my head while they told you if you didn't cooperate they'd shoot me" "Stop" "I want to talk about what it was like to watch Shay pin you against that wall and rape you and watching that oaf Rawling" "Tony" "I want to talk about what it was like to sit there for hours afterwards and watch you curl up on the floor in pain because two guys had just raped and beaten you" "Just stop!"

The shout cut Tony off mid-sentence; Kate whirled around, her eyes flashing dangerously, and Tony knew he had gone too far. "Why can't you ever just leave things alone?" Kate asked angrily, her fists clenching at her side. "You push and push and push like you think it is going to do any good, but you will never talk about things that are bothering you, you are such a hypocrite sometimes I cannot stand it, and I am so sick of you pushing! I am begging youplease, please let it go. It is bad enough that I am going to have to relive it in the psych evals. I do not want to do it with you as well." Tony held his breath as Kate finished her rant. She didn't look nearly as angry as the words may have lead a bystander to believe. If anything, she looked desperate. Like she was just begging Tony to let everything go. And he was tempted to just grant her wish and drop the entire subject. If she didn't want to talk, she didn't want to talk. But he couldn't let it go. Not yet. "I was down there with you Kate. I was there too. I know everything that happened already. Nothing you say is going to make me think any less of you. If that's what you're worried about, you don't have to. I could never think any less of you. You gotta know that." Kate stared at Tony for a long time. The defensiveness drained from her expression, and suddenly she just looked exhausted. Tony wondered, between having to wake up every hour because of the concussion and the fact that she was just Kate, how much sleep she had gotten the night before. Her eyes were empty again, unfocused, as if she had fallen into a trance. It was frightening. "They were going to kill you." Tony stiffened a bit, pressing his lips together as Kate focused her still empty gaze on him. And suddenly, he wanted to find these sons of bitches. And he wanted to put a bullet in each of their disgusting heads. "What was I supposed to do?" She sounded as if she was begging him for an answer. And in a way, Tony realized in disgust, she was. She was looking for him to tell her she should have done things differently, should have found a way to get them out of there. He had an excuse, he had been drugged. But Kate didn't have the luxury of using the same excuse. Tony wondered if she had just lied awake last night, going over everything in her head, seeing what she could have done, what had gone wrong. What shehad done wrong. "Nothing, Kate. There was nothing you could have done." The answer didn't seem to satisfy Kate. Though if Tony was honest with himself, he hadn't expected it to. A Test in Partnership Chapter Three Tony and Kate both went back to their own apartments. Gibbs drove them both home with the promise to pick them up in the morning and drive them to NCIS with the understanding, of course, that they were to do nothing more than pick up their cars and promptly exit the Navy Yard until next week. Somehow, Gibbs knew they would actually listen. They both seemed completely drained there was no way they were in any condition to handle work. Even they had to admit that.

Kate sighed as she let herself into her apartment. It had only been two days since she had been here but everything felt different. She was familiar with this feeling; and she absolutely despised it. But she ignored it the best she could. She dropped her keys on the coffee table and threw her jacket and go-bag onto the couch before heading into her bedroom. She dug out a pair of sweatpants and a long-sleeve shirt and promptly went into the bathroom. Despite her very long day of doing nothing, she feltdirty. She knew it was mostly in her head a side-effect of what those bastards had done to her. She'd felt the same way for a very long time after Somalia. But whether or not it was in her head wasn't important. What was important was making the feeling go away. So she went into the bathroom, closing the door and turning the water on as hot as it could go. It only took moments for steam to fog up the mirror and fill the room, wrapping around Kate like warm, invisible blanket. She stripped down, running a finger over the bruises that decorated her chest and stomach and wincing when she brushed against her injured ribs. Those were nothing though. Surface injuries. They would heal. She climbed into the shower, letting the too-hot water wash over her. She ran her hands through her tangled hair, wincing when her fingers caught in the knots. She stood under the spray for a long, long time, letting her head hang back and the water stream over her face. She had absolutely no energy to even raise her arms and put shampoo in her hair. Everything just hurt. Not in the physical way those aches, for the most part, had subsided. Like everything else this hurt, this exhaustion, all of it was in her head. Her very, very messed up head. Kate's knees gave out as a wave of fatigue rolled over her, and she crumpled against the bathtub floor, very nearly whacking her head on the faucet. She pulled herself into more of a sitting position and pressed her back against the tub wall, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. The water continued to wash over her, still too hot. She barely noticed. "Cooperate or we'll kill him." Kate shivered as his warm breath washed over her ear, and suddenly he was pressing his lips against hers, and if she hadn't been afraid he would give the order for the big man to shoot Tony, she would have brought her teeth down on his bottom lip. But she didn't, and he began moving his lips down to her jawbone, her neck, any bit of skin he could find. She could feel one hand groping along her body as the other fumbled with her pants, pushing them and her underwear away. And then he forced himself into her. Her body reacted automatically, trying to pull away, but the wall behind her kept in her place. He thrust again and again, and she squeezed her eyes shut, choking back the pained sounds that threatened to rise in her throat Kate's eyes snapped open with a startled gasp. Sometime while she had been lost in thought, the water had turned cold. Icy, really. Kate was surprised to find herself shivering quite violently. She stumbled up, her legs shaking and cramping from being in the same position for so long. She fumbled to turn the water off and climbed unsteadily out of the shower, grabbing her towel and wrapping it tightly around her body. She was cold but that was what she got, she supposed, for sitting under an ice cold stream

of water for who knew how long. Because she had no idea how much time had elapsed while she had been trapped in that flashback. She dressed hurriedly, still shivering, and after a moment of thought went into her bedroom and straight to bed, wrapping the blankets tightly around her body in an attempt to ward the tremors running through her. She tried to close her eyes, but every time she did the images flashed through her mind, and her eyes flew open again. Right. As if she'd really had any hope of sleep actually happening tonight.

The wall really was interesting. Somehow, Tony had found himself back on his couch, staring at the wall above his entertainment center was one more. He was without alcohol tonight he was in no mood for a repeat of that morning. So instead he just stared at the wall. It really was an interesting wall. Gibbs had informed them, when he'd been driving them home, that they were both scheduled for psych evaluations this coming Monday. Tony knew for a fact he was never going to pass. There had been exactly two things on his mind since lunch how the hell he was going to help Kate and how much he hated himself. A very, very small part of Tony's mind kept trying to tell him it wasn't his fault, they had been ambushed and restrained and he had been drugged, there was nothing he could have done to stop any of it. But the images of Shay and Rawling on top of Kate weren't ones that were easily banished from his mind. And a larger, much less rational part of him kept saying he should have found a way to stop them or better yet, he shouldn't have let them be ambushed to begin with. He wasn't sure how he could have stopped it, but he should have. He should have found a way. Your partner was raped right in front of you, you're damn right you should have found a way to stop it. Why'd you let them get close enough to drug you? You should have fought back when the gun was on you, you should have done something, anything to protect her. You let them take you out though. And you let them rape her. Twice. And then after all that she was the one that fought back, not you. She tried. Why didn't you? Tony ran a hand through his hair, squeezing his eyes shut. Anyone else would have told him the blame was misplaced and again, the tiny rational part of his mindknew it was, but he couldn't help himself. Yeah. There was definitely no way he was passing that psych evaluation. He needed to stand up. He needed to eat. Shower. Maybe get some sleep. But all he could do was stare at the wall and wonder if this self-loathing would ever go away. He had a strange inkling for some alcohol. But the ghost of a headache was still hovering in the back of his head, and he couldn't find it in himself to go into the kitchen and get the beer out of the fridge. You know you could at least try and do something to help Kate, a voice in the back of Tony's head berated himself. She's the one they hurt, she's the one that'sreally suffering. But you're too busy sitting here feeling sorry for yourself because you screwed up. Some freakin' partner you are.

It was bad when the voices in his head started making sense.

Gibbs sighed as he knocked on Kate's door. He'd received a call from DiNozzo about an hour earlier telling him not to bother picking him up he really had no use for his car right now anyways, he'd take a taxi and swing by the Navy Yard when he wanted it. So Gibbs had bypassed DiNozzo's apartment and gone straight to Kate's. Except the woman wasn't answering her phone. Or her door. Gibbs knocked again. He'd give her five more seconds than he was picking the lock. Right as Gibbs was preparing to do just that, the door flew open. One look at Kate told Gibbs everything he needed to know; her eyes were heavy and bloodshot, her hair tangled in knots, and she was still wearing her pajamas. That coupled with the gun Gibbs found being shoved in his face let him know that she hadn't slept last night she was exhausted and sleep deprived and obviously a bit paranoid. She lowered the gun to her side as soon as she saw who she was pointing it at. "Oh." Slightly awkward pause. "Sorry." "Don't worry about it. But word of advice for the future." Gibbs tapped the peephole built in to Kate's door. "This is what these things are for." "Right." Kate sighed heavily, running a hand through her hair. "UhI am sorry, I did not realize what time it wasclearly" "S'fine. I can wait while you get ready." "Actually II do not really think I will be needing my car, I do not really plan on going anywhere any time soon. I can take a taxi to the Navy Yard if I need my car later" "Ah." Gibbs looked Kate up and down, raising an eyebrow at the young woman. After a moment she began to squirm under his examination. "DiNozzo called me earlier to say pretty much the exact same thing, you know." For the first time something other than absolute apathy registered in Kate's mostly empty gaze. "He did?" She asked after a minute, and Gibbs nodded slowly. "WellI guess neither of us need our cars, then." That was the part that worried Gibbs. Ducky looked over his shoulder as the Autopsy doors slid open, and Gibbs walked in. "Ah, Jethro. What can I help you with today?" "Wellhonestly, I'm not entirely sure." Intriguing. Ducky turned his chair so he was looking at Gibbs, who was leaning against the wall near the refrigeration units. It didn't really take a genius to figure out why the man was here. "This wouldn't happen to have anything to do with two certain agents of yours, would it?"

Gibbs pressed his lips together and nodded, running a hand through his hair. "They're not even trying to argue with me about coming in. I told them they weren't allowed to work until next week, and they just accepted it." And when one stopped to consider the fact that Tony had come in to work while recovering from the plague and Kate had come back to work mere days after spending three months being brutally tortured "I can see why that would concern you. It has only been two days though. Perhaps they just need time to process everything, get back on their feet" Ducky's voice drifted off as Gibbs shook his head. "They don't even want to leave their apartments. Both their cars are here and they're showing absolutely no interest in coming to get them." Gibbs closed his eyes for a moment before saying, "You know they both ended up staying at my place the other night. DiNozzo showed up on my doorstep around eleven drunk out of his mind, he slept on my couch. When I got home last night they were both still there. They weren't even talking to each other though." "Oh dear." It was definitely a bad sign when Kate and Tony weren't talking to each other. But then, Ducky understood. Or at least, he thought he did. "Well they didjust go through quite an ordeal. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Kate, being raped and knowing your partner is there watching, and Tony seeing everything happen and being helpless to do anything about it? They probably don't know what to say to one another. I certainly wouldn't." Yeah. Gibbs had to admit, if he was in Tony's position, and it had been Jen in Kate'she wouldn't have had a damn clue about what to say either. Of course, that would have half been because he would have been too busy drinking himself to death. Still, he knew none of this was good for them. The self-imposed isolations, the inability to talk to one another "They need to snap out of this." "If only it were that easy."

Tony stared at his cell-phone. He had brought Kate's number up about ten minutes ago. Now he just needed to find it in himself to hit the call button and put the phone to his ear. He was starting to regret telling Gibbs not to drive him to NCIS he was going nuts in his apartment. He needed to get out. Now. Okayokay. Here it goes. Okay. He hit call. The tinny ringing sound echoed down the line nearly five times before Kate finally picked up. "Todd." She sounded tired; Tony winced as he realized he had probably woken her up. Crap. Way to go DiNozzo. "Hello?" Kate tried again when she received no answer. There was a moment's pause, presumably as she pulled the phone away to look at the caller ID. "Tony!"

Tony blinked a couple of times, running a hand through his hair. Focus. She's going to be pissed if you woke her up for no reason. "Uhhey. Wanna do something?" Another pause, presumably as Kate considered this question. "What do you want to do?" She finally asked, and Tony grinned weakly. At least that wasn't a no. "How about a movie night? Orafternoon is a better way to put it, I guess. We can order pizza, spend the afternoon watching movies, it'll be fun." The unspoken it'll be normal didn't go unnoticed by either of them. "Okay." Yes! "Do you want me to come over?" "Nah, how about I go over there? You order the pizza, I'll try and get a cab. If the pizza gets there before I do I'll give you the money later." Kate paused for a moment, considering this. "Sounds good," she finally said, and Tony would have bet his life on hearing the hint of a smile in her voice. "See you soon." And she hung up. Tony stretched his arms over his head as he stood, looking towards his movie collection. He wasn't really in a comedy mood, and his extensive action movie collection definitely wasn't going to be welcome at this particular movie event. What to bring, what to bring It took nearly half an hour for Tony to get himself over to Kate's apartment. Yeah, he was definitely going to be needing to get his car back. But he'd worry about that later. "Hey Kate, it's Tony," he called as he knocked on the woman's door. It took longer than it probably should have, but finally Kate opened the door. She was still wearing pajamas, he noted as his eyes swept her over. So she hadn't gone anywhere today either. "Pizza here yet?" He asked as he stepped into the apartment. "It just got here. Do not worry about paying me back, you can just pay for the next pizza." Fair enough. "So what are we watching today?" Tony put on his best grin as he held up the stack of movies in his hands. "We're going for Christmas in July today." "But it is October." "Okay, Christmas in October then. Miracle on 34th Street, It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, Nightmare Before Christmas actually I'm not sure if that's a Christmas or a Halloween movie, but it had Christmas in the title so I grabbed it. I think you'll like it, and as we all know I have yet to be wrong when it comes to you and movies." "I believe it is probably best if I just let you keep thinking that," Kate said, shaking her head as she went into the kitchen to get plates. Tony stared after her, not quite sure what to make of that statement. "So what are we watching first?" They decided on A Nightmare Before Christmas first. This one was more revenge than anything for the last time they had watched The Sound of Music, and Kate had insisted on singing along to the entire thing. Kate lost her patience with Tony's opera bravado singing not even halfway through the first song. Revenge was sweet. "Why do you even own this?"

"Because it's a classic. Not to mention it has my two favorite holidays mixed into one, who wouldn't want to own this movie?" "Anyone over the age of ten." "There's no age limit on good movies." Kate rolled her eyes, almost smiling. And that right there made this entire thing worth it, for Tony at least. Neither of them ate much pizza; they just couldn't work up the appetite necessary for it. It was just nice being in each other's company. Not being alone with their thoughts and memories. It was nice. Too bad eventually the movies had to end. "So what do you want to watch next?" Tony asked as the closing credits rolled onto the screen. Kate's answer was immediate. "Anything that does not have singing." Tony grinned as he started through his movie list. "Ahwell, despite it's rather misleading name The Christmas Carol doesn't have much singing, if any. I really don't remember. How about that?" Kate shrugged her consent, though her expression made the threat on his life clear if it turned out he was lying about the singing thing. As the opening credits came on, Tony did the one thing he swore he wouldn't do he started watching Kate out of the corner of his eye. She was curled up in the corner of the couch, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees, her head resting on the arm of the couch. She looked exhausted; there were light circles under her eyes, a clue as if Tony needed one that she hadn't slept the night before. And he got the feeling that there was no way she would be passing a psych eval either. A Test in Partnership Chapter Four TickTickTick Kate shifted her eyes to the clock hanging on the wall over the doctor's head. They had been sitting here for nearly ten minutes in absolute silence. This was certainly a new tactic. Dr. Thompson followed Kate's gaze, then looked back down at her notepad. She hadn't taken any notes yet, which Kate couldn't help but feel a bit suspicious about. Usually by this point a doctor would have at least made a note about the fact that she was refusing to talk. She wondered what this woman was making of her silent patient. Finally, after nearly fifteen minutes, it was the doctor that had to break the stalemate. "Is this a new tactic you're trying?" She asked, and Kate turned her gaze to the woman, confusion clear in her expression. "During your evaluations a couple years back Dr.

Brackham noted that you liked to talk quite a bit. She got the feeling you were trying to convince her that you were okay to return to work." Kate shrugged, crossing her arms tightly over her stomach. "It worked," she mumbled unwillingly, shooting a glare out the window. "I was cleared to return to work, was I not?" "Indeed you were. Dr. Brackham was quite impressed by the lengths you were willing to go to in order to satisfy her." Kate kept her mouth shut now. She didn't know where Dr. Thompson was going with this. And honestly, she didn't exactly care. "I can't help but notice that you don't seem to be making the same effort this time though." Ah. She should have known. "Why don't you tell me about what happened in that basement." "I am sure you have read mine and my partner's reports, you know perfectly well what happened down there." "I do," Dr. Thompson admitted easily. "But I think I'd like to hear it from you, if don't mind." "And if I do mind?" "Then the next forty minutes are going to go by very quietly and very slowly." Kate pressed her lips together, closing her eyes for a moment. She didn't want to admit it, but she really didn't care if she passed this evaluation or not. "I let myself be overpowered," she mumbled finally, ducking her head. Right on the edge of her vision she saw Dr. Thompson straighten up, just a little. "Is that right? Because you said in your report that you were caught off-guard from behind." "Same difference," Kate replied at once. "II was not paying attention to what I was doing, I let one of them get behind and take me down, and I let myself be used as leverage against my partner so he would cooperate." "It sounds as if you're blaming yourself." Well gee, Kate couldn't imagine why that was. "You know it's not uncommon for rape victims to blame themselves for what happened to them" "Really?" Kate asked sarcastically, gritting her teeth together. "Please, tell me more, I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be raped." Dr. Thompson took no offense to the sarcasm. She had a feeling Kate was just reacting to be calling a victim. "I am not blaming myself for being raped," Kate muttered, almost to herself. "I am simply stating facts. I allowed myself to be used against my partner. I endangered his life because I was careless." A quick note went on the notepad and Kate scowled a bit. "I still don't think I quite understand how you were careless. Should you have known you were walking into a trap?" "It was our second time going to talk to Shay. If we go back for a second time it is because we believe there is something suspicious about the person. I was tootoo lax going into the house, I should have known better. Always expect the unexpected." "You had no reason to believe there was a second person in the house"

"Well I should have!" Kate burst out suddenly, much to Dr. Thompson's surprise. She threw herself out of her seat and start pacing around the small room. "I should have been paying more attention, keeping an eye on everything, I never should have allowed him to get close enough to tase me. It was stupid, it was careless, I put my partner's life in danger" "Agent DiNozzo." Kate froze mid-rant, looking over her shoulder at Dr. Thompson. "What?" She asked, cursing the small bit of helplessness that leaked into her voice. "Agent DiNozzo. He's your partner, right?" Kate nodded, not sure where she was going with this. "You haven't called him by name once since we started this session. It's always been 'my partner, my partner.' Why is that?" Kate opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, trying to make sense of this statement. "Iwhat does that have to do with anything? You want me to call him by name, fine, I put Agent DiNozzo's life in danger. Is that better? Is there really such a difference that you have to point it out? You know this is why I hate psychology, you make something out of nothing, it is ridiculous!" Dr. Thompson waited patiently as Kate finished. By the time she got to the last word, she was almost yelling. Which was odd considering barely ten minutes earlier she had been refusing to speak at all. She was standing near the wall next to the door, her chest heaving as if she had just run a mile. As Dr. Thompson watched, the anger drained from the young woman's expression. Suddenly she just looked exhausted and very, very close to tears. "Kate?" She fell back against the wall, running both hands through her hair and letting her head fall back so she was staring at the ceiling. "I just want to go home," she mumbled after a moment. Dr. Thompson tilted her head, a bit surprised by the statement. "You didn't want to come to work today?" Kate shook her head slowly. "Kate do you want to pass this psych evaluation?" There was a long, long moment of silence. "What is the point?" Kate asked finally, still staring at the ceiling, her eyes moving back and forth across the white expanse. "Nothing ever changes. And I am just soso sick of it. I am sick of losing people I care about, I am sick of watching people die, I am sick of constantly putting his life in danger, I am sick of coming face to face with monster after monster after monster and the end result is always the same. I am soso sick of all of it. I justwant it all to stop." It was certainly a lot. Dr. Thompson had to think for a moment before she finally picked out the one thing that seemed the most relevant. "His lifeare you talking about Agent DiNozzo?" Silence fell for so long, Dr. Thompson began to wonder if she would get an answer. "His life has been threatened far too many times because of me. It needs to stop." There was really no answer for that.

TickTickTick "You know Doc there's this great new innovation called a digital clock." Dr. White nodded slowly. It had been almost five minutes since the session had started. This was the first time Tony had bothered to speak. "Guess I'm just old-fashioned then." Tony snorted, running a hand through his hair and gritting his teeth together for a moment before he spoke. "You sound like my boss," he said finally, a bit of twisted amusement slipping into his tone. "Is that a bad thing?" "Not at all." "Then I'll take it as a compliment." There was another moment of silence. "Why don't we talk about what happened with you and Agent Todd last week?" Tony sighed heavily. Where the hell was he supposed to start with that? "It's pretty cut and dry. We went to talk to a suspect, Agent Todd was taken down from behind and I was told if I didn't cooperate, they'd shoot her. Just like we wrote in our reports that I'm sure you've read." "And what happened next?" "They took us down to the basement. Agent Todd woke up, and they turned the gun on me and told her if she fought back they'd shoot me. They handcuffed me and tied her hands behind her back, kept us across the room from one another. They drugged me, then they" His voice drifted off. Between Gibbs and the report he'd written, he'd had to relive this twice. Both times this was the part he'd had the most difficulty telling. "They raped Agent Todd," Doctor White filled in the blank gently. Tony nodded, running a hand through his hair. "They eachtook a turn with her. They let their guard down when they were done and she tried to fight them." Tony shook his head, leaning forward so his elbows were on his knees. "I mean, can you image that? Two guys just finished raping her, and she was still trying to fight them. And I didn't do a damn thing. I just sat there like a useless lump while they were" "What were you supposed to do?" Dr. White asked quietly as Tony's voice drifted off once more. "I dunno, something, anything. I meanshe's my partner, I'm supposed to have her six, I'm supposed to protect her. And all I did was let them take her down, I let myself be used against her, you know she would have fought back if it hadn't been for me. If I hadn't let them drug me, if I had been more careful going in, if I had just" "Just?" Dr. White prompted. Tony shook his head, frustrated. "I don't know! I've been going over it in my head over and over and over every day since it happened, and I just don't know. I don't know how any of it happened, I don't know how I could have stopped it. All I know is my partner was held hostage and raped less

than twenty feet away from where I was sitting and there just should have been something I could have done to stop it!" There was a moment of silence as Tony finished his rant. "Sometimes things happen, Tony," Dr. White said finally. "They happen to people we care about, and they're terrible, but no matter how hard we try, we have to accept that there was nothing we could have done to stop it." Tony made a noise in the back of his throat, smiling grimly. "I accepted that when she was held hostage by a sociopathic psycho terrorist for three months. He beat her too, he raped her, and I've accepted that there's absolutely nothing I could have done to change that. I know things happen that are outside of my control. Butthis wasn't. She was right there, and I should have been able to protect her. I let them catch us off-guard, I let Kate get hurt, I screwed up. This was preventable. I know it was. It had to have been." He sounded so sure of himself. "You were drugged, Tony. You were drugged and bound with your own handcuffs. I know you're as aware as I am of all these details. Do you really think, given those facts, that there was something you could have done to help Agent Todd?" "Yes," Tony said firmly. "There justhad to have been. I'm supposed to protect her, it's as simple as that. All I needed to do in that house was watch her back, make sure that guy didn't get close enough to hurt her, and I failed. I was too careless, all I could think about was how tired I was, and how hungry was, and look what happened." Dr. White didn't have much of an answer for that. "She's gone through hell her entire life, you know. Things were supposed to be different for her here. I swore I'd make things different. But I couldn't protect her down there. I was less than twenty feet away while they raped her, and there was absolutely nothing I could to protect her. II failed." He made it sound so simple.

"Neither of them passed their psych evals." Somehow, Gibbs wasn't surprised to hear that. He looked down at the folders on Vance's desk; he could only imagine what the reports within the folders said. "Dr. Thompson and Dr. White are recommending that Todd and DiNozzo be suspended with pay until their next evaluations." "You want me to outcast them because they're understandably too screwed up to pass an evaluation right now?" Gibbs asked, a bit annoyed. "Forget it, I'm not going to keep them from coming to work if they want to." "Hmn." Vance made a noise in the back of his throat as he picked up one of the folders and flipped it open. "If they want to, huh?" Gibbs didn't like the sound of that. "According to Dr. Thompson, Todd's showing absolutely no interest in coming back to work. She wasn't even trying to pass her evaluation." Gibbs closed his eyes, pressing his lips together. He wondered if he should have seen this coming. "She will. She just needs time. She wouldn't know what to do with herself if she wasn't working." Somehow, he sounded more confident about this then he felt.

Ducky wasn't really surprised when Gibbs walked into Autopsy, and the first thing he said was, "They both failed." It didn't take a genius to figure out who "they" were. "From what you've described of their behavior I can't say I find that too shocking. I spoke to both of them before they went in for their evaluations and I have to admit, I didn't believe they were going to pass." Gibbs sighed, running a hand through his hair. "The doctors think they should be suspended with pay until their next evaluations." "Well the time away from work might do them some good. The problem is that they could very well try and close themselves off the way they did last week, which would definitely not be good for them." "So basically this is a no-win situation." Ducky nodded slowly. Gibbs made a noise in the back of his throat. "So what the hell am I supposed to do?" "Leave the choice in their hands. Tell them they're both welcome to take time off if they need it, but if they want to come in that's fine too. I think we both know what decision they'll make." Normally Gibbs would have agreed with that. Except "The good doctor doesn't think Kate wants to come back to work." For the first time Ducky actually looked surprised. "And I think she's right. Kate should have been able to pass that evaluation no problem, she could write an entire book on how to lie to psychologists. If she failed it means she doesn't want to pass." "And you cannot make her come back if she doesn't want to," Ducky finished Gibbs' unspoken thought. "Unfortunately," Gibbs muttered, shaking his head. He hated this. He felt as if his entire team was falling apart. And there was nothing he could to fix it. Damn it all.

Tony finished wailing on the punching bag and doubled over, breathing hard. His knuckles were cut to hell and bleeding but somehow, the pain felt nice. The sting that assaulted his nerves when he flexed his fingers was a welcome change to the anger that had been coursing through him since he'd walked out of the psychologist's office. He knew there was no way in hell he had passed that psych evaluation. And while the thought kind of pissed him off, he couldn't say he was surprised. What pissed him off more was the fact that he had met a very despondent Kate on the way to the elevator. They had shared a ride up to the bullpen, neither speaking until right before the doors opened and Tony finally dared to ask, "How'd it go?" The doors had dinged open and Kate had been halfway out before she said, "I failed." And she'd said it so matter-of-factly that Tony had slammed the button for the gym with a little more force than what was necessary. He had gone into the locker room to change into his sweats and headed into the gym to begin beating up the poor punching bag that

had the unfortunate task of being imagined to look like Shay's and Rawling's disgusting faces. Tony sighed as he headed back towards the locker room. He detoured to the sink and turned the water on, washing the blood away from his knuckles. He winced when the water hit the fresh cuts and gritted his teeth against the pain. He could handle a little bit of pain, no big deal. It was what was going to come later that he was worried about. He worked with a team of trained investigators someone was going to notice these cuts and question him on them. And after all the talking he'd just done, he really wasn't in the mood to explain. McGee couldn't remember the last time a silence had felt so oppressive. He and Kate were alone in the bullpen; Tony and Gibbs were who the heck knew where. Kate had come back from her psych eval, barely acknowledging McGee when he'd asked her how she was doing, and she'd sat down at her computer and turned it on. The only sound that had come from her since was the clacking of her fingers against her keyboard. "Hey, do you uhwanna go get something to eat? I don't know about you but I haven't had lunch yet." Kate stopped typing, shifting her eyes to look first at the ceiling, then at Gibbs' empty desk, then at Tony'sanywhere but at McGee, in other words. "I amnot really hungry actually. Thank you for the offer though." McGee stared at Kate for a long time. There were dark circles under her eyes no surprise there and her clothes appeared to be hanging on her rather than fitting her. She had lost weight. Also no surprise, McGee supposed. Just worrisome. Well okay then. McGee had learned long ago not to argue with Kate. So instead he stood up, grabbing his jacket and heading to the elevator. He met Tony, who was just on his way out the man looked as exhausted as Kate, he noted as he gave McGee a nod of acknowledgement before heading to the bullpen. He was probably eating as well as their female co-worker Tony walked silently into the bullpen, his eyes sweeping over Kate. "Hey." Kate looked up from her computer. Something unreadable flashed in her eyes for just a moment before they faded back to the dark blankness they had been for the last week. "What's up?" "Nothing much," she replied after a long, long moment of deliberation. "You?" "Ah, you know" Tony held up one of his injured hands. "Just beat the crap out of a punching bag. Let's see what the psych lady makes of that." Kate almost smiled. Almost. "That is probably not good for you, you know." "When have I ever done what's good for me?" Fair enough. Tony went to sit down when Kate didn't answer. They sat in silence until McGee returned, setting a sandwich on each of his teammates' desks before going to his own desk to eat. A Test in Partnership Chapter Five

This was harder than Kate had expected it to be. Not the dealing with what was going on in her head part. She could handle that. Maybe she couldn't handle it in a way anybody approved of, but she could handle it. As long as she got through the day, who cared how it happened? But facing Tonythat was a lot harder than it should have been. The two of them had been through so much together. Hell, he had shot and killed one of her boyfriends, and they'd managed to come back from that. So much had happened to them in the six years they had known one another. Now, though Every time Kate looked at Tony, something pulled tight in her chest, making it hard for her to breathe. Her vision would start to go dark, a tell-tale sign (as she had learned after Somalia) that a flashback was coming, and it took every ounce of willpower she had (which wasn't much at the moment) to keep herself in the present. Every time her eyes met his, she felt an overwhelming guilt that almost made her want to break down. There were a thousand different emotions running through her head all at once, all warring for dominance, and most of the time it gave her a headache. So when Gibbs told them that she and Tony they were welcome to take some more time off until their next psych eval Kate all but jumped on the chance. She would have done anything to get out from under everyone's prying, worried eyesand away from Tony. Kate sighed as she rolled over, the sound of knuckles on wood echoing through her apartment. She wasn't asleep, of course that was a luxury she was sure she would never be allowed again. But she was comfortable, which it made it very tempting to ignore whoever was knocking on her door. Her conscience wouldn't allow that to be an option, though. She sighed as she dragged herself out of bed and headed towards the living room. "Didn't wake you, did I?" Gibbs asked as Kate opened the door to reveal him standing on the other side. Kate shrugged, not bothering to answer; it wasn't like he sounded apologetic enough to actually be worried. "Mind if I come in?" It seemed more of a demand than a request. So Kate stepped aside, allowing Gibbs to step into her apartment. She had a feeling she knew what was coming; she just didn't know if she had the energy to deal with it. "Do you blame DiNozzo for what happened?" Kate's mouth just about hit the floor. Okay, maybe she didn't know what was coming. "IIwhat?" She finally managed to get out after a couple of failed attempts. "No, Ino! Of course not! Nono." Gibbs nodded slowly as Kate's voice drifted off. "Who are you trying to convince? Me or yourself?" Kate opened and closed her mouth a few times, once again at a loss for an answer. "You're avoiding DiNozzo." At least it wasn't a question. "I am not"

"You told the psychologist you didn't want to come back to work." So much for confidentiality. "Why?" Kate ran her hands through her hair, squeezing her eyes shut. Why was he doing this to her? "I justneed a break, Gibbs. You told us if we wanted to take some time off before our next psych evals we could, so why are you acting like I am such a terrible person for wanting to take the time?" "You never have before." "I have done a lot of things recently that I have never done before," Kate shot back, losing her patience. "Before I never would have allowed myself to be snuck up on and used against my partner. Clearly things have changed, wouldn't you agree?" The words came out slightly more bitter than Kate had intended. She cursed herself silently, but of course the damage was already done. Gibbs' expression didn't change as he watched Kate rock back on her heels, pressing her lips together for a moment before speaking again. "I justI need a break, Gibbs. I could never blame Tony for any of this but right nowI cannot face him either. I justcan't." Her voice cracked on the last word, and Gibbs felt a mixture of sadness and fury pull tight in his chest. Sadness because he hated seeing such a strong woman so close to breaking under the many horrors she had faced in the admittedly short time she had been alive. And fury towards the sons of bitches that had caused this to happen. He was going to catch Shay and Rawling if it was the last thing he did. "I just need a break," Kate murmured again. She tried to be discreet as she dragged a hand across her eyes, attempting to wipe away the tears that were welling in her eyes. Gibbs didn't miss it, of course. He stepped forward slowly, bringing his arms up around her trembling body. And when he was sure she wasn't going to pull away and sock him, he drew her against his chest, letting her head come to a rest against his shoulder. "I am sorry," he heard her mumble as she buried her face in his jacket. Gibbs smoothed her hair back, pressing his lips lightly against the side of her head. "Nothing to apologize for Ziver," he assured her quietly. He could only imagine what was going on in her head; he wouldn't pretend for a moment he understood any of it at all. But he knew what depression looked like, and he knew enough of Kate's past to know it would be no surprise if she was finally giving in to the overwhelming emotions that she had pushed away for so long.

Tony stared hard at the empty desk sitting across the bullpen from him. Kate hadn't come in to work that day. He knew he shouldn't have been surprised; she'd said she wanted to take some time off. It had been a surprise when she had said that, but once Kate made a decision she usually didn't go back on it. Still, it was like a punch in the gut every time Tony saw that empty desk. Kate had never taken time off. Not when she had gone undercover and was almost killed by Hoffman. Not even after Somalia. She just didn't take time off. She didn't like having time to herself. She didn't like having the time to think. Work occupied her mind, gave her something to do. It just wasn't natural for her to take time off.

Tony jumped as something connected with the side of his head. He looked down to see a ball of paper on the floor, then looked up at McGee. The junior agent, surprisingly enough, was the one responsible for tossing the balled up paper. "What?" "I've been trying to get your attention for ten minutes. You've been staring at Kate's desk for half an hour. You know it's not going to get up and start doing tricks if you stare long enough, right?" Tony didn't bother answering that. "Are you okay?" "I'm" Fine, he wanted to say. He was fine. But it just sounded soKate-like. And somehow, Tony couldn't bring himself to say it. McGee waited for a few, until he realized he wasn't going to get an answer. "Do you wanna talk?" What an idiotic question. "What, are you trying to be a therapist now?" Luckily, McGee didn't take offense. "Nope. Just figured maybe you'd want an ear to talk into. You don't have to keep everything bottled up, you know. Sometimes it's good to talk to someone, even if it's just for the sake of talking." Oh boy. His little Probie had really grown up. Seven o'clock that night found Tony and McGee sitting at a bar a couple blocks over from the Navy Yard. Tony drained his third drink and waved the bartender back over to them for a fourth. McGee was still on his first drink. "Do you think she blames me?" Tony finally asked as he took a sip of his drink. McGee looked towards his co-worker, tilting his head a bit. "Do you?" Tony shrugged, taking another sip. "I don't know. Yes. Probably. She should. I really screwed up there, McGee. I let us get captured. I let myself be used against her. I messed up." McGee nodded slowly, taking another sip of his own drink before answering. "You know somehow, I doubt Kate sees it that way." Tony was quiet for a long, long time. "You know I went over her apartment last week. Stayed there for six hours watching movies. We probably said thirty words to each other the entire time I was there. Six hours. She won't talk to me; she can barely look at me. You really think she doesn't blame me?" "Kate doesn't talk to anyone," McGee reminded Tony patiently. "She never has. If there's a problem, she'll handle it on her own until she thinks she's okay, then she'll start acting like nothing ever happened." "But it'sdifferent this time." McGee couldn't exactly deny that. "It justit feels different, you know. Something's not right. She's not right." "You're not exactly in your right mind either," McGee pointed out. "And I don't mean just because you're well on your way to drunk. Lookyou guys went through alot last week. I

can't say I would know what to do in your position, because I really don't have a clue. But even I know that things aren't just going to go back to normal overnight. You just need time to heal. You two always come back from things, though. I don't understand how, but you do. You'll come back from this. You always do." Tony wished he could be so optimistic. "When did you get so wise, McProbie?" McGee smiled softly as he finally finished his first drink. "Not wise. I've just gotten a lot of chances to watch the two of you. History tends to speak for itself." That was true enough. Tony really, really hoped it held true this time as well.

More people have knocked on my door in the last week than in the two years I have lived here, Kate thought as she opened her door to find much to her surprise Abby standing in the hall, plastic bags clutched in her hands and a hopeful expression in place. "Abby?" "You doing anything?" The Goth asked cheerfully, and Kate looked over her shoulder at her slightly cluttered apartment. Up until that point she had been sitting on the couch with a cold cup of tea while trying to focus on a book. "Not really," she finally admitted, because she really wasn't. Abby grinned. "Great, so I was thinking how about a girl's night in? My friend's band just put out a new demo, I figured we could listen to that and I brought a bunch of stuff for us to do, it'll be fun!" She sounded so excited. Kate really hated to shoot her down. "Actually Abby, I was kind of hoping for a quiet night" "Nonsense," Abby said at once, ducking under Kate's arm and moving deeper into the apartment. "You've had quiet nights all week; you need a little bit of human contact. Come on it'll be fun. I brought a bunch of stuff for making cookies, have you ever baked before?" Kate had to seriously think about that. She was pretty sure the answer was no. "It'll be fun, and it's been months since we did anything together" She was right about that, Kate realized with a pang of guilt. Except it wasn't months more like years. The last time she could remember seeing Abby outside of work was when she'd spent the night at her apartment because her own place was being fumigated. Since then Kate had been too caught up in her own life first Mossad and Michael, then the aftermath of her abrupt departure and Somalia, then Ray to remember that she had a very good friend in the over excitable Goth who had made her work the hardest for her friendship. Abby put the CD into Kate's stereo and turned up the volume as the music started blaring. Kate winced and automatically turned the volume down to a level thatwouldn't have her irritable old neighbor calling the cops. Abby accepted the compromise and bounced into the kitchen to get everything ready for a night of cookie making. Well there were certainly worse ways to spend a night

Abby was in rare form as she bounced around the kitchen, humming along to the screeching guitar chords emitting from the speakers in the living room. She was digging through drawers and cabinets looking for bowls and spoons. She seemed so happy an emotion that was strangely foreign in Kate's head. And it certainly wasn't something she'd seen much in the last week. She was so busy being amazed by how cheerful Abby was; she didn't realize that the Goth had pulled open her junk drawer in hopes of finding more a spoon. "Oh." The surprised, slightly breathless syllable jerked Kate back to reality. She focused on Abby as the woman turned around, something small and red and square clutched in her hand Oh. "It isnot what you think," Kate tried to say as Abby stared, open-mouthed, at her friend, fingers wrapped tightly around the empty ring box. Her voice was lost, though, in the music still blaring in the background. After a moment she turned and made her way back into the living room. Abby followed just as she was snapping the music off. "Sowhat, should I say congratulations?" And there goes the night, Kate thought as Abby's voice took on a slightlywell, bitter tone. That was really the only way to describe it. Though why bitter Kate couldn't imagine. "It is not like that, Abby," Kate explained as patiently as she could. Her tone felt slightly flat though. "I know you like your secrets, Kate, and keeping your personal life separate from work and everything is important, especially after what happened with Rivkin and everything, but for you to get engaged and not tell any of us is just" "Abby I am not engaged," Kate interrupted loudly, realizing this was the only way she was going to get a word in. Abby stopped mid-sentence, her mouth hanging open. "The box was empty when he gave it to me," Kate explained. This was probably the only chance she'd get; she had to make it good. "He said it was aa promise." "Sounds like an empty promise to me," Abby said before she could stop herself and she bit her tongue, instantly feeling bad. Kate shrugged as she fell back against the wall, sliding down the plaster until she was on the floor, her knees pulled up to her chest. "I suppose so. It does not matter though." Abby wasn't really sure what that was supposed to mean. After a moment she walked over to Kate, sliding down so she was sitting next to her, her knees pulled up to her chest as well. "Do you wanna talk?" She asked after a moment, her voice low. Kate stared at the floor for a long, long time, and after a while Abby figured she just wasn't going to answer. "These last few months, Abbythey have just beenhectic. Everything with the Port -toPort killer and Ray and being held captive by Cobbs" Abby flinched at that. Kate had never spoken about her more recent, admittedly short but no less terrifying excursion as a hostage. "Abby if Itell you something do you promise not to fly off the handle?"

"Of course," Abby replied at once. It didn't really require much thought. Kate was volunteering information for the first time inwell, ever. There was no way Abby was going to ruin it. "You cannot tell anyone else." Oh boy. Abby couldn't help but wonder what she had just gotten herself into. "I won't. What's going on, Kate?"

McGee groaned as he shoved his drunken friend onto the couch. Tony laughed a little, his glassy, unfocused eyes drifting up to the ceiling. "M'Gee? Where are we?" "My place," McGee informed the man patiently. This was the third time in about as many minutes that he'd inquired about their location. "It's closer to the bar and I don't really feel like driving you home. You can just crash here tonight and clean yourself up at the office in the morning." In retrospect, McGee should have guessed that going to a bar with an obviously depressed Tony wasn't a good idea. The man had drunk what McGee could only guess was at least twice his body weight in alcohol. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. But not by much. "Here," McGee said as he found a blanket in the closet and draped it over Tony's wiggling form. "Go to sleep DiNozzo. You're going to regret this in the morning." Tony was quiet for long time, his eyes still on the ceiling. "I really screwed up, didn't I Timmy?" "Well getting drunk probably wasn't the best idea you've ever had, but work is optional for you until your next psych eval, so I guess it probably doesn't matter one way or the other" "No, no, not that," Tony said, waving McGee off. "Everything. I screwed up everything, didn't I? Everything with work, everything with Kate. Especially with Kate. I screw up a lot when it comes to her, don't I?" "It'll be all right, Tony." The words were said in vain, of course. McGee had been saying them all night; Tony didn't want to be comforted though. He just wanted to be selfloathing. Somehow, he had gotten into his head that everything that had happened in the basement and Kate's current condition were all his fault. There was no convincing him otherwise. "What if she never comes back?" McGee didn't have an answer to that. A Test in Partnership Chapter Six There was no music playing in Abby's lab when Tony walked in the next morning. He had to admit, he was glad; his pounding headache wouldn't have allowed him to spend too much time in the lab otherwise.

Stillit was strange. "Abby?" Tony questioned uncertainly as he walked into the lab. The lack of sound was almost unnerving. Abby always played music. Unless something was really,really wrong. Tony went through a quick mental list. No one had died, no one had been blown up, no one had contracted a potentially deadly disease, no one had left the team, no one was being held hostagein fact it had really been a quiet week, all things considered. So why no music? Abby looked quickly over her shoulder; her expression was troubled and startled all in one. "Oh. Hi Tony. What's up?" "UhGibbs and McGee went to follow up a possible lead on Shay's oaf of a partner Rawling." Which Tony, of course, was no longer allowed anywhere near. "It was lonely up in the bullpen, so I figured I'd check in with my favorite Goth. I feel like I haven't seen you in forever." "That's because you haven't," Abby said with a smile, poking Tony in the side. "How's that hangover?" "You and McGee gossip like old women," Tony complained, rubbing the injured spot. "And it's fine. Barely a headache now." "Good. Not going to drink again anytime soon, are you?" "No promises there." He had given up on promising not to drink. "I have no intentions of it, if that helps." "Sure." Abby shook her head, smiling a bit. "Missing Kate?" Ah. The magic words. Tony's small smile fell away and he sighed, running a hand through his hair. "She'll be back." Abby couldn't tell if he was trying to convince her or himself. "She just needs some time. She'll be back. She'll be back, right?" "Of course she will be," Abby replied, sounding more confident than she felt. "She's Kate. She'll come back from this. She will. She has to." "Right." Tony sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Okay, enough about Kate. You already know everything that's going on with me so tell me, what's happening in the everexciting life of Abby Sciuto?" Abby smiled the best she could as she proceeded to fill Tony in on everything he had missed in the last week. A big part of her mind was still half in last night, sitting on Kate's living room floor with the woman in question, trying very hard not to show the pity she was feeling as Kate had told her the secret she had been harboring for the last six months. And all Abby had been able to do was wonder how she had managed to deal with it alone.

Kate's eyes snapped open, a strangled sound that was somewhere between a gasp and a yell escaping her lips. She tried to sit up, but her entire body felt paralyzed; she couldn't move. Her subconscious had dragged her further back in time last night; back to Somalia, predictably enough. Over and over she had been forced to relive the beatings, the endless hours of "interrogation," the hot, un-breathable air of the day and the freezing cold nights Kate groaned as she finally forced herself to roll off the couch. She'd fallen asleep there after Abby had left, too exhausted to even consider dragging herself to her room, her bed. She knew that should have worried her, but really she could have cared less. Never a good sign. She went into her room to get changed so she could at least try and face the day. She needed to go out, do some shopping, she was almost completely out of food But she couldn't seem to find the energy for that, either. She barely managed to get herself into her room; she collapsed onto the bed, curling up in a ball at the top of the pillow. She knew this was bad. She had dealt with it before, after Tali died and Arithis road wasn't going to lead anywhere good. Just get over it. So you were held hostage. So you were raped. It's not the first time. And with the way your luck has been, especially the last few years, it very likely will not be the last. Just get over it. But no amount of chastising could get her mind to snap out of this. The idea of even trying to leave her apartment was too much for Kate to handle. Everything felt too heavy

Tony sucked in a deep breath as he stared at the door in front of him. He was pretty sure coming here made him a masochist of some sort, but he couldn't help it. It was driving him nuts, not seeing Kate every day the way he usually did. And it was worse because he knew she was locked up in her apartment, suffering silently, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to help. Come on Tonyman up. Knock on the door. Face Kate. Face your mistakes. He raised his fist and knocked three times on the door. Silence answered. "Come on Kate," Tony muttered, running a hand through his hair. After a moment he knocked on the door again, holding his breath. Andnothing. Maybe she wasn't home. That would have made sense. With the hours they kept, Tony doubted she had much food, she'd probably need to go shopping. But he knocked again anyways, hoping beyond hope that she would magically appear to answer the door. Come on Kateplease answer the door Nothing. And while Tony wanted to believe that she was simply out and about, something in the back of his head wouldn't let him let it go that easily. So instead he knelt down and began working on the lock. He just needed to see that the apartment was empty and he'd be able to leave it alone and no one would be of the wiser

It took a bit of work to get the lock to click open, but finally he succeeded and slipped into the apartment. From where he stood, he could already see that the living room and kitchen were empty, and everything was silent. He really was being stupid. But he moved further into the apartment, heading towards Kate's bedroom. Just a quick check And there she was. Curled up at the top of her bed. Fast asleep. AtTony checked his watch. Three in the afternoon. Either nightmares had really given Kate hell last night orhe didn't want to think about the alternative. "Katie?" Tony asked quietly, shaking the woman lightly. Her reaction was instantaneous; she shot up, one hand flying under her pillow and grabbing her gun and shoving it into Tony's face in one swift motion. Her eyes were wide and glassy and slightly wild, and Tony could only hope that she came back to reality before she pulled the trigger because god knew he wasn't going to be able to duck in time. "Kate, Kate hey! It's me, it's Tony!" It took a very long time, and once or twice Tony swore he saw her finger tighten just slightly on the trigger, but finally Kate blinked, her mind slowly bringing itself up to speed with the reality in front of her. Tony didn't dare breathe until she had set her gun aside. "Sorry." They spoke at the same time, then quickly cut themselves off. Tony smiled sheepishly; Kate returned the smile with a slightly lost stare. "I shouldn't have woken you up," Tony said after a minute when it became apparent Kate wasn't going to speak. "Sorry, I was justI was worried." "About what?" "You're kidding, right?" Tony asked in disbelief. When Kate didn't answer he simply sighed, running a hand through his hair. "How are you?" It took Kate a long moment to answer. "I am fine," she finally said, and Tony sighed. He should have guessed as much. "How did you get into my apartment?" Whoops. He'd really been hoping she wouldn't ask that. "Well uhyou knowyou got me that pick-lock kit that one Christmas" "Good to see it being put to good use. Now why did you feel the need to break into my apartment?" Oh boy. He'd really been hoping she wouldn't ask that. He had no clue how to answer. What was he supposed to say? His gut had told him something was wrong? He had needed to see her? "I justI wasum" Damn it, damn it, damn it! Why was it so hard to talk to her? Why couldn't he just make a joke, why did this have to be so damn awkward? "I'm sorry," he finally said, pushing himself off the bed. "I didn't mean to bother you or anything, I'll just go." He hadn't really expected her to stop him as he stood up and left. It just would have been nice if she had. Stupid, stupid, stupid. You should have left her alone, she doesn't need you of all people bothering her, why do you have to be such a pest "Tony?"

He stopped with his hand on the doorknob, a tremor of surprise running through his body. He hardly dared to believe that Kate was actually standing somewhere behind him, calling out to him, stopping him But she was standing there when he turned around. As far away as she could get without physically leaving the room, but standing there nonetheless. She had stopped him. She didn't want him to leave. Of course now she didn't seem to have any clue what to say. They stared at each other for a long time and Tony noticed, for the first time, that something wasmissing. They'd had more staring contests like this than he could even begin to count. But there had always been something in the stares. But now "You're coming back, right?" Tony finally asked. The question had been on his mind since Kate had decided to take the week off until her next psych eval. Kate nevertook time off, no matter what the situation. He didn't think his concern was too misplaced. Especially when she didn't instantly say yes and act offended that he would dare to ask such a ridiculous question. When she finally did speak, her voice was hesitant and unsure and soso un-Kate-like. "Ican we just get through this week, Tony? Why are you worrying about it now?" Bad. Very, very, very bad. Tony felt as if his heart was falling in on itself. No, no, no. She couldn't leave. The last time she had left was still burned into Tony's mind. He remembered how much he had missed her, how much it had hurt to look at her empty desk day after day, how much it had hurt when another day would come to a close and he would realize she hadn't called again Oh stop being so selfish, a voice spoke up in the back of Tony's head. Jesus, she's going through hell right now and all you can think about is how much it would hurt you if she were to leave? You know maybe you should have thought about all this before you let yourself and her be captured by those bastards. He hated it when the voices in his head made sense. "Sorry," he finally said, running a hand through his hair. Kate t least managed to look a little confused. "There is nothing to be sorry for." If only she realized how wrong she was. "Would you really hold it against me if I decided not to come back?" Tony thought about this for a moment. Not that he would ever hold anything against Kate. But would he be able to blame her if she were to decide she'd finally had enough of being surrounded by death and pain every single pain? If she'd had enough of putting her life in danger and risking whatever mental sanity she mighthave left? Would he blame her if she decided she wanted something more something better for her life? "No. I just don't want you to make any decisions you're going to regret." Kate nodded slowly. "I won't," she said after a moment. The two stared at each other for a long time; Tony was torn between leaving and going over to where Kate was and taking her in his arms and never letting go. Because no matter how selfish it was, he knew damn well that he wouldn't be able to survive if she were to leave.

"If I asked you to talk to mewould you?" There was a long, long moment of silence. Tony waited, holding his breath. There was a strange glint in the back of Kate's eyes, something Tony saw every now and then when he was trying to get her to talk about Somalia. She wanted to talk. She wanted to spill her guts, to tell him everything that was going on in her head. But something was stopping her. And until Tony got around whatever the obstacle was, she was going to be locked up tighter than a high security safe in the Pentagon. So he switched tactics. "Please Kate. Pleasetalk to me. Whatever you're going to throw at me, it's fine. It's not going to make me think any less of you. Nothing ever could. I just want you to know you can talk to me. Please." Kate was shaking her head before Tony had finished speaking. "There is nothing to talk about, Tony." Of course there wasn't. "Fine butif there wasyou know you can talk to me, right?" "I know." Kate had always been exceptionally good at lying. Hell, it was what her father had raised her for. Tony had always been convinced that if she were to take a polygraph and say she was a twelve-foot purple bear with ice-cream cones for hands and a pink nose, the polygraph wouldn't be able to tell she was lying. But somehow, Tony knew she was lying now.

Gibbs looked up as the sound of footsteps on his basement stairs reached his ears. He wasn't surprised to see Tony coming down; if anything, he was surprised the man hadn't come sooner. Tony walked over to the stool, staring at the floor as he dropped down, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. Gibbs held up his bottle of bourbon; Tony shook his head slowly. Silence fell. Gibbs returned his attention to his latest project, and for a moment Tony flashed back to Kate saying she was going to take up boat building in place of trying to date. Was it possible that they'd had this conversation mere hours before their entire lives were turned upside down? "I don't know what to do." That was something they had in common at the moment. "She's so messed up right now. I want to help her, I really do, but" "But you're not exactly right in the head yourself." Leave it to Gibbs to put it so bluntly. But he was pretty much right. "I don't think I can do this, boss. I don't know what to say, I don't know how to talk to her. I don't know what to do." Gibbs clenched his jaw, his back stiffening just a bit. With everything Tony and Kate had brought themselves back from, he found it hard to believe that this would be what

destroyed their partnership. He wished he could help. But he knew there was nothing he could do. They needed to work this out on their own. He just hoped they could. A Test in Partnership Chapter Seven Tony's next psych evaluation went about as well as he had expected it would. Dr. White tried, in vain, to help Tony understand that what had happened to Kate wasn't his fault but Tony, especially with everything that had happened in the last week, wouldn't be moved. It was no surprise when Tony failed once more. But he was better off than Kate. She didn't bother even showing up for her psych eval. At least this time when Tony went to knock on Kate's door she actually answered. Of course it was noon and she was still in her pajamas. But at least she answered the door. "What the hell?" Tony finally managed to say. He had driven over here struggling with what he was going to say to her. He didn't want penalize her for blowing off her eval he wasn't her boss after all, and it was her choice. But Jesus, what was she doing? "What?" Her voice fell flat; she made absolutely no attempt to pretend she didn't know why Tony had shown up unannounced on her doorstep. "Did you forget you had a psych eval today?" "Why bother going? I know I am not going to pass." Well way to put it so bluntly. "So if that is all you came for" And with that she started to shut the door. Tony grabbed the door quickly and put enough weight on it to keep her from closing it. His action earned him what was very close to a glare. "What do you want from me, Tony?" "I want you to at least pretend you have some interest in coming back to work." "Perhaps I am tired of pretending." Wow. Those were familiar words. "Did you ever think of that? Maybe I am tired of pretending that these things never get to me, maybe I am tired of pretending that I am okay." "Then stop pretending," Tony replied at once. "No one here has ever made you think you have to pretend. But don't throw away everything you've worked so hard to get. Don't turn your back on everything." Don't turn your back on me. Kate stared at Tony for a long time. After a moment she turned and headed towards the couch. Tony didn't hesitate to follow. He closed the door behind him, his eyes never leaving Kate's back. She was standing near the window now, looking out onto the street. "You know sometimes I look in the mirror and I do not recognize myself." The words surprised Tony a bit. He wasn't sure what he had expected her to say or if he had expected her to say anything at all. But he certainly hadn't been expecting something like that. "Wellyou've changed a lot." Hell sometimes he looked at Kate and he barely recognized her. But he had a feeling that saying as much wouldn't earn him any points.

"My father raised me not to let anything get to me. I could never be sad or upset or angry or even happy. He taught me to channel any kind of emotion into making myself a better fightera better soldier. The closest I ever came to feeling anything was when Tali diedand even then all I did was use the emotion to hunt down the bastards responsible and kill them. I never would have let this get to me before." She ran her hands through her hair, locking her fingers behind her neck. "I do not want to go back to work. I am tired of the pain, I am tired of the death, I am tired of seeing it all on a daily basis. And itworries me that I do not want to go back. Because I should want to. I have come back from so much worse, you would think by now I would beI do not know, strong enough to get over itor at least get through it. But lately I have been so weak I hardly recognize myself. And I do not like it and I do not know how to change it." By now Tony was pretty much at a loss as to what he was supposed to say. This was the most Kate had spoken to him in a while and he would admit, he was more than a little surprised. "You're not weak." It was the most he could think to say at that moment. "You're notyou're the strongest person I've ever met, how could you even thinkc'mon Kate" "I do not feel so strong right now." "Yeah." Tony sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I know the feeling. But just the fact that you've made it this fardon't you think that says something about just how strong you are?" "That depends is there a difference between being strong and stubborn?" Tony had to smile, at least a little, at that. At least she could admit that she was, in fact, stubborn. "In your case, I don't think so," he assured Kate quietly. She sighed quietly, squeezing her eyes shut. Tony didn't envy what her head must have been like at that moment; he was a bit selfishly glad that he didn't have to be in there. Kate leaned a shoulder against the wall; after a moment she slid down until she was on the floor and let her head fall against the wall as well. "Kate?" "I think it is just too much." She seemed to be talking to herself now more than Tony. "There is too much going on, and I am justI am" Tony waited while Kate struggled to find the right words to describe the chaos in her head. He couldn't remember the last time he had seen Kate at such a loss for what to say. Kate always knew what to say. After a moment Kate turned so her back was pressed against the wall, and she was facing Tony completely. The first thing he noticed was the shame shining in the back of her eyes. Shame? "I hate being like this." The words were said in a small, shaky, un-Kate-like voice. And Tony's heart just about broke when she said them. "It might help if you talk" "Does it help you when you talk?" Kate cut Tony off, and his mouth snapped shut. He thought back to his most recent psych eval, to the one before it. No. It reallyhadn't helped

to talk. His answer must have shown on his face. "Talking does not help anything, Tony. It did not help after Somalia, and I very much doubt that it would help now." Yeah, she was probablywait a minute. Tony's thoughts grinded to a halt as he latched on to something Kate had said. "You never talked about Somalia." Kate opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, momentarily looking like a deer caught in headlights. "II know I did not talk about it, that is what I am saying" "No, you said talking didn't help," Tony interrupted gently but firmly. "That means you tried talking about it and it didn't do any good." Silence. Tony got the feeling that Kate was trying to figure out how to get herself out of this mess. She failed. "Talk to me Kate. Who did you talk to after Somalia? Gibbs, Ducky? McGee?" The idea kind of pissed him off; she wouldn't talk to him, but she talked to someone else? Kate closed her eyes for a long moment, sucking in a deep breath. "The night afterafter everything with the Damoclesand Mossad" Wait a minute; was she reallytalking about this? It took Tony a moment to catch up with her. "I was still staying at the Navy lodge. Ducky came by, and I wasI was not in a good place." Tony tilted his head, leaning forward so his elbows were on his knees. "Meaning?" He prompted quietly and Kate sighed, opening her eyes again so she was looking at him. "I was so drunk I could barely see straight and I did not recognize Ducky when I opened the door." Yeah. Definitely not a good place. "He came in, got rid of the alcohol I had, and stayed with me for the night to make sure I did not hurt myself. The next morning when I was sober and hung-over, he gave me the name of a friend of his in the psychology field. I really had no choice but to go he'd called her before I woke up to see if she could squeeze me in that afternoon and he evendrove me to the appointment." Yeahthat sounded like Ducky. "Sowhat happened at the appointment?" Tony asked after a moment. He didn't really expect Kate to answer, and was definitely surprised when she did. A small, bitter smile pulled at her lips as she spoke. "It took her half a session to diagnose me with PTSD and depression. I will not pretend for even a moment that either of those things surprised me, but it stung all the same, having it pointed out by a stranger that had known me for all of thirty minutes." Tony would never admit it, but he wasn't overly surprised either. And he'd always thought she bounced back too quickly "She medicated you, didn't she?" Kate nodded slowly. No surprise. She had been too okay too quickly. He should have known there was something else at work there, playing behind the scenes "I hated it, butit made things better. The nightmares did not seem as bad, I could deal with everything that had happenedthere." Except she hadn't dealt with any of it. She had suppressed it. But it wasn't Tony's place to say that. He did, however, have a question. "So what's different this time?" Kate pressed her lips together, clearly not quite understanding the question. "Even last timeyou managed to fake your way through the psych evals, they cleared you to go back to work"

His voice drifted off as Kate shook her head. "I did not pass the psych evals I went through after Somalia. I justdid not fail either." Tony's confusion must have shown on his face because Kate elaborated. "Dr. Brackham was well aware of the fact that most of the things I said to her during our appointments were lies. Vance informed me after my application was finally approved that I was walking a thin line." Informed. Tony snorted silently. It sounded more like a threat to him. "It was not that he doubted my loyalty; he just was not sure I would be able to handle the moregruesome aspects of our job. His doubts were warranted, of course. All the more reason for me to want to do well" "So all the more reason to medicate," Tony finished the thought as Kate drifted off, and she nodded slowly. "You asked what is different now. The truth isI am just tired. I was sick of being dependent on anti-depressants and I was sick of going to a therapist twice a week so I stopped both about six months after I started. It was not easy at first, but Ilearned to ignore it. The feelings are always there, and every now and then they would come back to haunt me, but mostly I was under control. Thenthen Cobbs came along." Tony's stomach tightened at the mention of that bastard's name. "Cobbs came and Mike died and II" Her voice drifted off again and Tony tilted his head. There was definitely something going on here. Something more than the fact that she had been kidnapped and tied up and held hostage in a dusty barn for hours. "Kate?" He prompted quietly. Kate sucked in a deep breath, her face twisted into an unreadable expression. "Iwas pregnant." Tony felt as if the floor had gone out from under him. It was lucky he was sitting down. "I was pregnantand then I was not. The stress of being held hostage was justtoo much the doctor said. Everything lately has just beentoo much." Tony floundered for a moment as he tried to figure out the best thing to say. What could he say, really? He couldn't believe she had been living with this for months, dealing with it on her own, and all the while putting on a good face for everyone else, acting like nothing was wrong, like her entire life hadn't been turned upside down in more ways than she could count No wonder she was breaking down. "Diddid Ray know?" Tony had to struggle not to scowl when Kate shook her head. "I found out I was pregnant right before I found out Ray was working on the Port-to-Port killer case. After that we were not speaking for a whileand then everything with Cobbs happened, and the next day I found out about the miscarriageand I did not have the heart to tell him before he left." Tony had to admit, this kind of pissed him off. He hated that Kate hadn't come to him with all this (he would have been more than happy to give her a shoulder to metaphorically cry on), but at the very least Ray should have been supporting her. Some boyfriend. He's all the way in Israel, a snide voice in the back of Tony's head spoke up. You sit across from Kate every single day at work, what exactly did you do to help her? Okayso the voice had a point. Tony would worry about that later though. Right now he had bigger problems; like the fact that his partner was crumbling right before his eyes and there was little, if anything, he could do to stop it.

"Do youstill have the number for Ducky's friend?" The question surprised Kate a bit; her eyes met Tony's for the first time, a spark of shock clear in the otherwise empty mahogany orbs. "Ithink maybe you should give her a call," he said in response to her unspoken question. "I know you said it didn't help but before, butmaybe talking to someone who's already familiar with everything you've gone throughit might help more than you think, you know?" Kate was silent for a very long time. "I do not want to talk," she finally said, pushing herself up. Her legs shook slightly as she put weight on them after being curled in the same position for so long. Tony stood as well, running a hand through his hair. He probably should have been expecting that answer. "I think you're going to figure out sooner rather than later that that's not an option, Katie."

Gibbs stared at the plasma. Well, glared at the plasma was probably a more accurate way of putting it. If looks could have killed and the plasma had been a living creature, it would have been dead on the floor. But in the poor screen's defense, it really wasn't at fault. It wasn't aware that it was displaying the pictures of public enemy number one AKA Russell Shay and a sketch of his accomplice (whose identity they were still no closer to finding; he didn't have a driver's license and he wasn't in the Navy). "These bastards are probably relaxing on a beach in Mexico right now," Gibbs growled suddenly and McGee jumped. He was about to say that there hadn't been any hits on Shay's passport in the last two weeks, but that probably didn't matter considering Shay was most likely capable of getting his hands on a fake passport. The mention of Mexico inevitably brought Mike Franks to McGee's mind; he shook his head quickly, ordering himself to focus on the living. "If that's the case there's not much we can do, short of jumping on a plane and going to Mexico to find them." McGee bit his tongue the second the words were out of his mouth. Yeah that was smart; put the idea in his boss' head. Not that Gibbs probably hadn't already thought of it himself. It scared McGee that the silver-haired man didn't answer for a long time. "I want them found McGee." Yeah. Like McGee didn't already know that. "On it boss." Of course that was easier said than done. McGee had been working around the clock trying to compensate for the fact that they were, for all intents and purposes, two agents short. Tony had been drifting in and out (not that McGee didn't know where he was going) and Kate waswell, not there. The long hours were starting to take their toll on McGee, though. Gibbs could see that just by looking at him. "Go home, Tim." If ever three words had surprised McGee more. "Boss?" "You're not doing any good here if you're about to drop from exhaustion. Go home and get some rest, this will all still be here in the morning." Unfortunately. McGee hesitated for

a long moment before finally deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth. He grabbed his bag and bid his boss an uncertain good night before leaving. Gibbs stared after the younger man's retreating back before going to his desk and dropping onto his seat. His eyes swept over the three empty desks around him, lingering the longest on the one directly to his right. His team was falling apart. And he didn't like that there was nothing he could do about it. A Test in Partnership Chapter Eight Tony jerked awake as suddenly as if someone had shouted in his ear. He wasn't sure why; it was dead quiet, and he hadn't been having a nightmare that he could rememberwait a minute. Where was he? He looked around, wishing his eyes would adjust to the darkness pressing down on them. It took him a moment realize that there was something warm resting against him. In the dim moonlight filtering through the window he realized it was Kate, her head on his chest, eyes closed. She looked surprisingly peaceful in sleep; Tony couldn't remember the last time he had seen her face without any sign of disturbance. Waitthat was the wrong way to put it. He was quite sure he had never seen the woman in front of him completely at peace. Even at her most relaxed, Kate always had a guarded air about her. Even when she was sleeping, she didn't generally look peaceful though that may have been because he had known her hand was resting on the gun under her pillow. But for oncefor the first time in six yearsshe actually looked peaceful. He was sure there was some kind of irony in there somewhere. Tony hated to disturb her, but he was afraid if she woke up on her own, half-asleep and disoriented, she wouldn't realize who he was and lash out. But then again if he woke her up, she might lash out anyways. It was a nasty catch-22. Before Tony could decide what to do, Kate started to stir. Tony cringed, holding his breath and not daring to move a muscle. He wanted to be as non-threatening as humanly possible. It didn't work. In the time it took to blink Tony's arm was twisted behind his back, a knee burying itself in his stomach as he was exposed to the side of Kate she more often than not kept hidden. For some reason Tony felt as if she had become ashamed of her super ninja skills after Somalia. Maybe because they reminded her of what she had once been a person that kind of scared her now. But that wasn't really the point at the moment. "Oof! Ow! Katie Kate, it's me, it's Tony! Down ninja, down!" There was a moment of calm, and suddenly Tony was able to breathe freely. He looked around just in time to see Kate press herself into the arm of the couch, as far away from Tony as possible given the limited space. Her chest was heaving as if she had just run a long distance, her eyes wide and slightly glassy not quite with reality then, but at least she had registered the sound of his voice. She knew where she was, then, at least vaguely. So Tony did the one thing he did better than anyone else in the world: he talked.

"It's okay Kate, you're okay. You're safe. You can hear me, right? Come on Kate, just focus on my voice. You are safe. You're notyou're not in that basement, or in Somalia, or wherever you're seeing yourself right now. You're with me, you're okay. I" I'll protect you. I'll never let anything like this happen to you again. I promise. "I'm here. I'm with you. You're in your apartment. You're safe. It's okay." He wasn't sure if that last part was completely true. Slowly, very slowly, Kate came back. About half a second after she managed to focus on Tony her expression morphed into one of absolute humiliation and before Tony could say anything she had curled her legs up to her chest and run her hands through her hair before burying her face in her palms and resting her forehead against her knees. It seemed almost wrong to say anything now. It was Kate who eventually broke the silence. "You can go, Tony." She would say something like that. "I don't think I can leave you like this in good conscience" Tony started to say; his voice drifted off when a slightly wild mahogany gaze met his. "I would like to have my nervous breakdown in piece if you do not mind." "I'm sure you would," Tony said as he stood up, stretching; he winced when his limbs popped. "Tell you what, you have your nervous breakdown, I'll go make some tea. Call me when you're done, okay?" And with that he walked away. Kate watched him, too surprised for a moment to remember she was supposed to be having a nervous breakdown. She should have known better than to believe he'd actually leave her alone, of coursethat would have been just too much to ask given Tony's nature. She supposed just going into the kitchen was a fair compromise. It took Kate a long time to uncurl from her tightly wound position. There was a myriad of emotions running through her mind, most of them negative. The fear and anxiety from her panic attack were still very present; the terror of being back in the basement with Rawling or Shay on top of her; the humiliation of knowing Tony had had a front row seat to the aforementioned panic attackeverything was going back and forth and back and forth in her head, emotions at war with one another, fighting for dominance, all equally important and all demanding the utmost attention. By the time Kate had finally collected herself enough to face Tony, the tea had long since gone cold. But she took it and she drank it (Tony could definitely crossmaking tea off his list of possible career choices after NCIS) and she even managed to get a couple of ibuprofen down with only the excuse "I have a headache" to get around Tony's questioning gaze. Tony's head was still spinning slightly from everything he had learned earlier that day. On the one hand, he was all but over the moon that Kate had actually talked to him he could remember when the last time she'd confided in him was. Wait. Had she ever confided in him? Not the point, a voice in the back of Tony's head reminded him. Right.

"It is late," Kate commented suddenly, her eyes focusing on the clock above Tony's head. He turned to see that it was just after midnight late indeed. "Guess we needed the sleep." They stared at each other for a long time; Tony couldn't help but notice that Kate couldn't quite seem to meet his gaze. A normal person never would have noticed. But he wasn't a normal person he was Tony, and damn it all if he didn't know Kate better than anyone else. He saw the way her gaze slipped just slightly to the left, focusing on the corners of his eyes whether than his eyes themselves. It was a tactic she'd used a lotimmediately after Somalia. "Hey." Kate met Tony's gaze for a split second before returning her attention to whatever she was looking at to avoid Tony's eyes. "Iare you okay?" God it was such a stupid question. Tony didn't even know why he was asking it. But he just had to saysomethingright? Tony could almost hear the disparaging quality of the voice in his head. DiNozzo justshut the hell up. Kate was silent for a long time, staring at her cold cup of tea as she contemplated her answer. Tony was surprised she had to think; surprised that the usual "fine" wasn't just tumbling off her lips. "Would youthink any less of me if I said I do think so?" And here Tony thought tonight had reached its quota on surprise. Had Kate just admitted for a human being to hear that she might not be okay? And exactly what did she meant would you think any less of me? At what point had Tony at all presented himself as the kind of guy who demanded Kate be one hundred percent ninja 24/7 without fail? It didn't seem possible. The members of Team Gibbs' had all seen one another at each other's worst at one time or another how was it Kate could still, after all this time, believe that she couldn't show her true self to them? To him? It just didn't make sense. "Tony?" The man snapped back to reality; Kate, it appeared, was still waiting for his answer. Except he didn't really know what to say. No just wouldn't have been strong enough. Are you freakin' crazy? wouldn't go over well. And nothing else seemedright. "There isabsolutely nothing you could saythat could ever make me think any less of you." Well okay. That worked. "I promise." Kate opened and closed her mouth a few times, clearly unsure of what to say to that. What kind of answer had she been expecting? Yes, Kate, I'll hate you forever if you say you're not okay? Exactly when he had become another one of the damn Mossad people she had worked with for so long? The partners stared at each other for a longlongtime. And finally

"Ido not think I'm okay."

"There are no extradition treaties with France." No. No there weren't. The two men that were currently at the top of Gibbs' "Must Die Before I Do" list had found their way to one of the countries that wouldn't extradite them to the US where they could face the punishment they deserved if not in court, then at the hands of one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. McGee looked nervously at his boss. He had been silent even by Gibbs' standards, he had been silent ever since Interpol had kicked a possible location their way for Shay and Rawling. The two had been spotted in Paris, of all the damn places. Paris. "What now?" McGee asked after a moment, his voice low. And Gibbs, god help him, he really just wanted to hit something. What now, McGee asked. Well wasn't that just a great question. Because the truth was, they couldn't do a damn thing. Unless Shay and Rawling went somewhere that was in the US' jurisdiction, there was absolutely nothing Gibbs and McGee could do about them short of initiating a little bit of miniature mob justice, of course. God damn laws. McGee seemed to guess at what his boss wasn't saying. They were going to get away with it. Shay and Rawlings were going to get away with what they had done. They were going to get away with the hours they had spent torturing Tony and Kate. They were going to get off completely free, zero consequences. The sons of bitches were free. While Tony and Kate were trapped in their own, personal hells. Gibbs disappeared from the bullpen. And McGee, unable to stand the pressing silence on all sides, headed down to the lab visit his favorite forensic scientist. No music playing in the lab seemed to have become a norm ever since this whole ordeal had started. Abby was sitting her office, typing busily; she jumped when the office door slid open, and quickly threw a smile on when she saw McGee standing there. "Hey McGee. What's up?" McGee had planned on saying he was fine. Really he had. There was no reason to dump the sad reality on Abbynot quite yet, at least. But he couldn't stop himself. "The bad guys don't always win, do they Abby?" The Goth tilted her head, confusion alight in her features. "Rawling and Shaythey're in France, Abs. We can't touch them there. Unless they leavethey're going to get away with it. They did horrible things, and they're just going to get away and itit's not fair. It's not fair, Abby. The bad guys can't always win." To anyone else, the words would have sounded childish and stupid. But to Abby, who knew what McGee had been going through the last couple of weeks watching the team,

his family, systematically falling apart that his fears of Rawling and Shay winning were utterly justified. She also knew that McGee had been putting in long, long hours trying to keep up with Gibbs and find those bastards. And he was probably at the end of his rope. Finding out that it had all been for nothing was probably a serious blow to his psyche. Honestly, he looked like he was ready to cry. And Abby didn't blame him one bit. Oh Timmy She sighed silently as she stood up and stepped forward, enveloping McGee in the strongest hug she could manage. McGee hesitated for a moment, as if unsure how to react, before he finally returned the hug, holding Abby as tightly as he could. Because this, he realized, was what he had come down here for. He'd needed this. He'd needed someone who could, without words, tell him that somehow, some way, everything was going to be all right. A Test in Partnership Chapter Nine Kate stared almost glared at the tiny card clutched in her hand. It had taken hours of digging through the shoeboxes full of junk in the back of her closet to find the card she'd tossed in there months and months and months ago, unwilling to look at it anymore but unable to throw away for god-knew what reason. Now she knew. Tony was passed out on the couch; he'd fallen asleep there nearly twelve hours earlier and hadn't moved since. A couple of times Kate had actually checked to see if he was still breathing, as morbid as that sounded. He was very much alive, of course; and very much asleep. Apparently he needed it. Kate sighed as she pushed herself up, her legs protesting at the movement; she'd been curled up on the floor for a long time now. She managed to hobble over to the bed and collapsed onto the mattress, picking up her cell-phone off the table and weighing it one hand, holding the card in the other. "Just think about it Kate," Arielle said encouragingly as she held the card out to the stubborn woman who, nearly six months after being unwillingly dragged here but their mutual friend, had finally made the decision that she didn't need therapy anymore. Arielle clearly didn't agree. But it wasn't like there was anything she could do to stop Kate, either. "I will think about it," Kate agreed, taking the card and shoving it into her pocket. She had no intentions of ever coming back here, of course. Therapy. What a joke. Kate closed her eyes, swallowing hard as she dialed the number on the card and put the phone to her ear. One ringtwo rings "Hello, this is Dr. Simons' office. How can I help you today?" Deep breath. She'd very much hoped to never do this again

"Hellothis is Kate Todd." "Oh, Kate!" Kate could almost see Anne's eyes lighting up. The elderly secretary had become rather fond of Kate in the six months she'd been going to the office every week. "What can I do for you, my dear?" "Well I" In theory, it probably wasn't too late to pretend she had just called to say hello "Would you like to make an appointment?" Damn it all. "Just name a day, dear, I'm sure we can find a time for you." "Any day is fine," Kate muttered into the phone. "I am currentlyout of work." There was a beat of silence. "What are you doing today at three?" Talk about not wasting any time. "Does that work for you?" "Three is fine," Kate mumbled after a moment, hating herself more and more with every passing second. God she was weak "Well, all right then," Anne was unnaturally cheery for someone who worked in a therapist's office. Sometimes Kate hated it. "We'll see you at three then, won't we dear?" Kate said goodbye and hung up, barely managing to resist the urge to throw her phone across the room. Weak, weak, weak. The mantra chanted through her head over and over. She was weak. Weak. Weak. "What was that?" Kate nearly flew out of her skin as she turned around to see Tony standing in her bedroom door. "Finally awake, are you?" She asked as casually as she could manage. Her questionresponse didn't satisfy Tony. Of course. "Who were you on the phone with?" "Why do you always have to be so nosy?" Kate shot back. It probably would have been easier for everyone involved if she just told him she'd set up an appointment with her damned therapist. But she wanted to hold on to whatever pride she had left. If she had any left. "It's part of my job description. You know that." Kate scowled the best she could; she was fairly certain she hadn't done a good job of that. She wasn't sure what she was supposed to say now. She did not want to tell Tony the truth. She wasn't completely sure what was stopping her; it wasn't like Tony wasn't already completely aware of how screwed up she was. "What's that?" It took Tony pointing it out to make Kate realize that she was still clutching Arielle's card tightly and visibly in her fingers. She hid it away quickly, but of course, the damage was already done. "Kate" "I do not want to talk about it," Kate said finally, cutting through Tony's disapproving tone. "Not right now. Please."

Tony frowned, clearly not liking this answer. He considered his options for a moment before saying, "If not now, when?" Kate didn't know what to say to that. She knew she owed him this much they'd learned in the past that secrets between partners never led anywhere good. But at the same time, she couldn't bring herself to talk. Not to him. Not yet. "I am not sure." It was an honest answer, at least. Not something she was always known for. "I'm sorry, but I cannot give you an exact date and time. I do not think it works that way. Tony was quiet as he considered this. He knew she was right; he had to know. Even he didn't like it. "Soon?" He finally asked, and Kate sensed a very clear note of insecurity in his voice. It killed her to see what all of this was doing to him; after all, there was a reasonhe hadn't been cleared for work yet either. But at that moment, she didn't have the energy to worry about how to fix his problems. Hell, she couldn't even fix her own. "Soon," she finally agreed. It worked. It was an ambiguous statement; not a promise. And maybe soon, she really would be ready to talk to him.

"Take a seat, Kate," Anne said with a smile as Kate walked in to the office. "Arielle will be out in a minute." "Great." Kate sighed as she all but collapsed into a seat. Anne tilted her head at the obviously tired woman, pursing her lips together. "Long week, my dear?" "You might say that," Kate murmured, running a hand through her hair. Anne looked like she wanted to say more, but then Arielle walked out of her office, effectively saving Kate. She was going to be talking enough as it was; she didn't need to be doing it any more. "Hello Kate. Ready?" "Am I ever?" Arielle's office hadn't changed much in the year and a half that separated Kate from the last time she had been here. She sat down on the edge of her usual chair, tangling her fingers together and staring hard at the carpeted floor. "So I'm not going to be lie," Arielle said as she sat down in the chair across from Kate's. "I was rather surprised when Anne told me you were coming in. I always hoped you would take advantage of this place, but I think we both assumed that the last time you would be here would be the last time." Kate nodded her head once, still keeping her eyes down. "So what changed?" It took Kate a moment to answer. How, exactly, could she sum up everything that had been happening. "It has been a longyear," she said finally. "A lot has happened." "Such as?"

This was always the part Kate hated the most. Arielle refused to let her be vague. "I lost a very good friend back in May," she said finally, something pulling at her heart as she thought about Mike Franks. "My team had been working a case, a serial killer who had been traveling all over the country and ended up in DCdo you remember Mike Franks? I think I told you about him before" "Mikeyour boss' old boss, right?" Kate nodded. "You definitely mentioned him, he's a rather eccentric older man, isn't he?" "Yes," Kate agreed quietly. "Anyways he was murdered by the serial killer. It hit everybody very hard. Iguess it was a reminder that none of us are actually immortal." Arielle made a note on her notepad, and Kate quickly looked down at the floor again. "That's a lesson you learned a long time ago though, isn't it?" Damn it. She'd known that was coming. "I guess even I need a reminder sometimes. Anyways, things became kind of complicated after that, and somehow I ended up being captured and held hostage by the killer." She shifted her eyes up just in time to see Arielle put on a decidedly neutral face. "That must have brought up some bad memories." Kate closed her eyes for a moment, remembering how it had felt to lie on that barn floor, how hot it had been, how the stifling air had reminded her far too much of Somalia "It wasunpleasant." Another note went on the notepad. "That was months ago though, Kate. I'm not saying it's not relevant, but" "It is certainly not helping," Kate murmured, rubbing her eyes. This was the part she had been hoping to avoid. "There are a lot of moving pieces involved in this story." "Well I have time if you do." Kate sighed. This was going to be a long hour. "I started dating someone last year. It wasnot an easy relationship by any means, but I guess I hoped I could make it work. But I found out he was lying to me about some of things, and II couldn't handle that. Right after that I found out I was pregnant, but before I could tell him I was captured by the serial killer andlater I found out that I had miscarried." Another note went on the notepad. That was one thing Kate had always given Arielle credit for; she'd listened to all the horrors Kate had suffered in Somalia, and she'd done it with a straight face and no sign of the disgust she was no doubt feeling. If nothing else, she was good at what she did. "You're certainly right about their being a lot of pieces here," she said after a minute. Now they were getting to the hard part. Kate ran her hands through her hair, refocusing her attention on the floor. "Last month Tony and Iyou remember Tony, right?" Arielle flipped through her notes. "Partner, saved you from Somalia, very complicated relationship?"

That didn't even begin to cover it. But she knew the basics. "That's right. Anyways we had been trying to track down the murderer of a marine involved in a drug ring, and we ended up at the killer's house without realizing it. We werecaught off guard by the killer and his partner. I was tased from behind and knocked out, and I guess while I was unconscious they used me to control Tony and they got us in to the basement. When I woke up they drugged Tony and used him to control me so I would not try to fight back. We were both disarmed and tied up, and while Tony was watching the menthey" This was the part of the story she had dreaded telling. Luckily, Arielle took pity on the woman. "They raped you, didn't they?" Kate nodded once, squeezing her eyes shut. "With your partner watching." Another nod. "Things became a littlefuzzy, after that. The men became relaxed, and I was able to fight backkind of. I ended up making things worst, one of the men fell on top of me, and I ended up with a concussionall I really know about what happened after that is that the men left us and we were left down there for almost four hours before Gibbs finally found us." Arielle busied herself for a moment with making a series of notes on the notepad. "And yet even with all this I find it hard to believe that you're here of your own free will," she said finally. "I am here because I am tired of watching my life spiral out," Kate replied stiffly. "I have not been to work in a month and I have absolutely no incentive to go back. This isthe first time this has ever happened to me. I have never not wanted to go back to work. Usually when something bad has happened work is the first place I go. It is a distraction, I need it. But nownow all I seem able to do is sit around and think about everything that has happened and hate myself for letting it happen." Another note on the notepad. "You hate yourself?" She asked after a minute. Kate fidgeted slightly. "I feel like I do. So much has happened in the last year, and itit is getting to me. I feel helpless, I feel useless, and I feel disgusted for feeling helpless and useless. I have never let things affect me like this before, and I do not understand why it is now." "Because this isn't just one thing. This is a lot of things, and they keep building on one another." Kate didn't have anything to say to that. "You and I both know you never really dealt with Somalia. Yes, you sat here every week and talked about it, but the way you spoke, it sounded like you were repeating stories someone else had told you. At no point during our sessions did I feel like you were coming to terms with what had happened to you." Well she certainly had a point there. "So now you have that, on top of losing a very good friend, on top of another hostage situation, on top of a miscarriage, on top of another hostage situation." Well. She really was held hostage a lot. "You feel the way you do now because your life is finally catching up to you." "Then maybe I am sick of my life," Kate muttered, running a hand through her hair. Another note on the notepad. "Kate I know you made the decision to take yourself off the anti-depressantshave you ever thought about going back on them?" Kate pressed her lips together, closing her eyes. "I do notwant to"

"It's not a sign of weakness," Arielle said quietly. "You are not a weak person. I think that's the part you've always struggled with most. You perceive needing something like medication anything that would help you as a weakness. It isn't, though. The fact that you've made it this far only shows just how far you've come." Kate opened and closed her mouth a few times, trying to figure out the best response to this. "Tony said the same thing to me," she finally managed to get out. Arielle smiled faintly, making another note. "Well if Tony said it then it must be right." "Do not tell him that, it will go right to his head." Another smile. "Really though, Kate. If I were to write you a prescription, would you use it?" Kate looked down at the carpet, tangling her fingers together once more. Would she?

Kate was surprised, but not really, when she walked out of the building her therapist's office was in. A tall, familiar figure was sitting on a low stone wall that separated the street from the park. "You're losing your touch," Tony said with a small grin as Kate approached him. "You were following me in a green Sedan, started at my apartment building and kept a rather steady pace the entire time, but you lost me for a bit about three miles from here when two police cars came speeding down the street" "All right, all right," Tony grumbled standing up. "You're still the most amazing ninja I know, I get it." "Well I am the only ninja you know." They stared at each other for a moment, each clearly wondering what needed to be said now. After a moment Kate looked down at the piece of paper clutched in her hand. "It's not a sign of weakness." "Sorry Tonybut are you up for making one more trip?" Tony tilted his head, clearly curious. "Sure. Where we going?" Kate sighed. She had been so sure she would never have to do this again "I need to drop something off at the pharmacy." A Test in Partnership Chapter Ten Kate was unhappy, to say the least, to find herself back on antidepressants. She took them as instructed, of course she was nothing if not a dutiful little mental patient. But she hated that she was once again dependent on these stupid little capsules that were basically dictating how she felt.

And somehow, it felt worse that this time around, Tony knew. In the long run, it didn't really make that much of a difference. It wasn't like Tony was constantly monitoring her, making sure she took her medication or anything. In fact for all intents and purposes, it really made no difference to her life that Tony was aware she was taking antidepressants. And while Kate was well aware that everything she was feeling was purely psychological, it still made what was going on in her currently messed-up head very confusing. Well, even more confusing, really. Okay so maybe there was something to that therapy thing people were always talking about "Ugh." Kate groaned as she stared at the tiny pill in her hand. How was it possible that such a tiny thing had made such an enemy out of her? She couldn't remember the last time she'd felt such hatred towards an inanimate objects The sound of knuckles on wood echoed through the apartment. "Wonder who that could be," Kate muttered as she tilted her head back and threw the pill in her mouth, swallowing quickly. She pulled her hair back and wrapped it in a ponytail as she made her way to the door, looking quickly through the peephole to confirm what she already knew Tony was standing on the other side of door, waiting for her. "Hey Zee-vah," the man said as happily as he could manage. In one hand he had a cupholder with two cups (one, Kate noted with a tiny bit of amusement, was marked tea), and in the other he had a bag. Donuts, she assumed. "Ready to go?" "I am capable of driving," Kate informed Tony dryly as she slipped her jacket on. "Well that is still up for debate. But in the mean time I figured I was in the neighborhood" "And how far did you have to drive to be in the neighborhood?" "Just from my neighborhood to yours with a quick stop at our favorite coffee shop." Kate rolled her eyes at that. Part of her was kind of annoyed that Tony was doing this, but a slightly bigger part was amused as usual, Tony had that effect on her. And yet another part of her was glad that she was again noticing the effect he had on her. The ride to the office was quiet and slightly tension filled. Luckily, Tony knew better than to think the tension was his fault. Kate always got this way when she was about to talk to the office shrink. She picked at the donut he'd brought for her and barely managed to take two sips of her tea. Man. She was really upset

"I am still not sure I want to come back to work." Dr. Thompson was surprised, to say the least, when her most stubborn patient not only started the conversation, she'd started it before she was sitting down in fact, she was hardly even in the door.

"Wellokay then. Why don't you take a seat, and we can talk about it?" Kate was frowning as she shut the door and took her usual seat. Her fingers were tangled in one another, tension ringing in her every movement in twitch. Her back was completely straight, her elbows tucked tightly in to her sides. "I know I should want to go back," she said after a minute. "After how hard I worked to get here and get a place here and on Gibbs' team, it should not even be a question. I love my jobI really do. But with everything that has been happening latelyeverything I have seen" Dr. Thompson waited for a moment after Kate's voice had drifted off before she spoke. "That's understandable. You've seen more in the thirty years you've been walking on this earth then most see in their entire lives. It only makes sense that at some point it would get to be too much." "It should not be, though," Kate muttered stubbornly. "I am not the kind of person that things get to. I amI am" "Human?" Dr. Thompson guessed calmly. She probably should have been surprised when Kate shook her head. "That is not allowed." "You're not allowed to be human?" Of all the insane things Dr. Thompson had ever heard "Weakness is not allowed. That is the way it has always been." Of course. Dr. Thompson had skimmed the notes from Kate's psych evaluation when she'd come back from Somalia. She had said something incredibly similar then as well. "I do not like feeling weak." "Not too many people do." Sometimes generic answers really were the best. Kate needed to realize that what she was going through was natural, after all that it made her human. Whether she liked it or not. "Kate I'm going to be perfectly straight with you right now most people would have already had breakdowns long before they got to this point if they'd lived your life. But you, you've always picked yourself up and kept going, almost without a second thought. In the last six months alone you've lost a friend, been held hostage by a serial killer, and then held hostage again and raped by yet another serial killer. Honestly I would probably be more surprised if you weren't reacting like this." Kate couldn't tell if that was supposed to make her feel better. "You feel weak right now, Kate, but the truth is you're probably one of the strongest agents I've ever met." Kate wasn't entirely sure what to make of that. Again, she decided silence was the best answer to give. "So you know you should want to go back to work," Dr. Thompson said after a moment, moving on. Kate nodded slowly. "But you don't want to. Not yet." "Pretty much." "Then we'll split the difference. How does desk duty sound?" It sounded like the worst thing Kate had ever heard. But if desk duty forced her to go back to work, then fine. Who knew? It may have been exactly what she needed.

"She's letting me take care of her." Dr. White looked up from her notepad, surprised. Nearly twenty minutes had passed since Tony had taken his usual seat on the other side of the room. This was the first time he'd spoken. "Agent Todd?" Dr. White guessed after a minute. That was the only 'she' she could imagine Tony would be talking about. "Yeah. I mean, it's not much. She let me drive her here today, and I brought her tea and a donut that she at least tried to eat. And last week she uhwell, she had a few errands to run, and I was curious because she wouldn't tell me about them so I followed her, and she knew I was following her but she let methat's pretty big, you know." Dr. White didn't say anything she didn't want to interrupt Tony. It wasn't often he voluntarily spoke, after all. "It feelsnot good, exactly. I mean, there's nothing good about this situation. But the fact that she's letting me help her, or at least letting me tryI don't feel as useless anymore." Which was certainly a big deal. But Dr. White couldn't help but notice that Tony's gradual one-eighty was directly linked to his partner's willingness to let him in to her life. It was interesting, and something she made sure to make note of. The two of them clearly had aninterestingrelationship. Certainly complex. Dr. White could honestly say she'd never seen a partnership like it before. Ever. "You like being able to take care of Agent Todd?" It took Tony a minute to answer. "She always tries to be strong." It was a cryptic answer. Luckily, Dr. White was saved from having to push further. "I know I don'thave to look after her, but I can't help it sometimes. Call it a male thing or just a partner thing, I don't know. But sometimes things happen, and I feel like it's my job to make sure she's okay. It's not always a job I'm good at, but I try. I have to try." "You feel like you have to take care of her?" "No," Tony said quickly. "I meanyes. Kind of. I don't feel obligated to, if that's what you're asking. It's justnatural, I guess. Not that she's ever let me before. Which is what makes all of this so much moreI dunno. Significant, I guess." "Taking care of her makes you feel better." Well when she put it like that, it sounded kind of selfish. Tony was pretty sure he wasn't describing any of this right "I guess. That's not why I do it, though." "I know," Dr. White assured him gently. "You do it because you care about her and you want to make sure she's okay." "Wellyeah." It took Tony a minute to realize what he'd just agreed with. "I mean, she's my partner, of course I care about her. Partnership, it requires a certain level of trust, you know? You have to trust that your partner cares enough about you to want to help you. And you have to know that your partner trusts you enough to let you help her."

Partnership. It was something that was obviously important to Tony. Dr. White made another note on her notepad, examining everything she'd observed with some amount of curiosity. She had definitely never seen a partnership like this one before. There was a level of dependency, at least on Tony's part, that hardwired his emotions to the wellbeing of his partner. The worse off she was, the more he felt it. Dr. White had a feeling she would have to speak to Dr. Thompson and find out the generalities of what was going on with her patient before she made a decision for Tony One thing was certain, though: Agent DiNozzo and Agent Todd were certainly two of kind.

McGee had been rather surprised when Kate had walked in to the bullpen for the first time in over month and taken her seat, booting up her computer and setting to work as if she had just been there yesterday. She had a backlog of paperwork and incident reports from the time she'd taken off, and there was no time like the present to catch up on all of that, right? A ping from McGee's computer caught his attention, and he looked back at his computer screen to find a message from Abby waiting for him. He'd just IMed her to let her know Kate had come in. Is she still there? McGee typed back a yes without thinking. He started typing again quickly, hoping Abby hadn't already run out of the lab. Don't come running up here and throwing yourself at her though, okay? You don't want to freak her out or anything. Give her some time to breathe before you go all Abby on her. It took Abby so long to respond, McGee began to wonder if he'd been too late. 'All Abby on her'? She finally sent back, and McGee breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't been too late after all. Wow Timmy, good to know that's what you think of me. Fine, I won't run up there and go all Abby on her. Happy? Whoops. Now she was mad. No, Abby, I didn't mean it like that She'd signed off before he could send the message. McGee sighed, dropping his head on his keyboard. Great. "Something wrong McScrewy?" McGee's head snapped up. Tony was standing on the edge of the bullpen, watching the junior agent with a half-smile. McGee blinked, looked at Kate who was still working then looked back at Tony. Well then. "Nothing at all. Just need to go down and talk to Abby about something." Tony sat down as McGee made his way to the elevator. The young man looked over his shoulder at his teammates as he waited for the metal box to arrive. There were no words for how happy he was to see both of them back at their desks. "Desk duty?" Tony guessed as he watched Kate work. She nodded, her eyes flitting away from the computer screen, her gaze meeting Tony's for a moment. "For how long?"

"Indefinitely." Ouch. "What about you?" "Decision pending. The good doctor said she needed to review a few things before she gave me a verdict." "What does she need to review?" "Who knows? You know these doctor-types, they're weird." Kate smiled, just a bit, at that, and Tony couldn't help but feel as if he'd accomplished something. They both set to work in silence, but at least it wasn't the uncomfortable type. The quiet was broken by Kate's phone buzzing on her desk. She hit 'accept' without checking the caller ID and put the phone to her ear. "Todd." Tony shifted his gaze to Kate just in time to see the color drain from her face and her mouth drop open just a little. His full attention was on her at once. Who in the world could have called that would have such a strong effect on her? The next thing she said sent his blood boiling. "Ray."

A Test in Partnership Chapter Eleven Half an hour. That was how long it had been since Kate had disappeared to deal with the phone call from CI-freakin'-Ray without having to also deal with the piercing green gaze of her obviously-furious partner. Tony couldn't figure out what was taking so long how long could it take to say, "Lose my number and never darken my doorstep again?" "Where'd Kate go?" McGee asked tiredly as he made his way back in to the bullpen. Tony welcomed the distraction of his obviously put-out teammate. "Taking a call in private. What's up?" "Oh you know, the usualtalking to Abby, open foot, insert mouth." Tony snorted, trying very hard not to laugh. He knew McGee always felt bad when he said something stupid to Abby especially when it resulted in him not speaking to her for hours on end. "Way to go. Please tell me you at least fixed it before you dragged your sorry butt back up here." "Yeah, it's fixed. Kind of. I had to sell my soul to the Caf-Pow gods." Tony made the rather smart decision that he didn't want to know what that meant. Luckily he was saved from having to ask by Kate coming back in to the bullpen. All other thoughts flew from his mind. "What's up?" He asked, instantly turning his attention to his partner. McGee rolled his eyes as he sat down at his desk. Tony had such a short attention span sometimes

"Ray is in town." McGee instantly turned to look at his teammates. This may have just been Tony rubbing off on him, but he'd never really liked Ray. Which was terrible, he knew after all, the man had made Kate happy. Wasn't that all that mattered? But something about the fact that they hadn't even known his name for the longest time and they hadn't met him until nearly seven months after he and Kate had started going out had just made McGee suspicious. And of course he knew why Tony hadn't liked the Miami man. "You're not going to see him, are you?" Tony asked. He'd been trying to go for casual; he failed. "Ihave not decided yet." "What's there to decide?" Tony asked instantly, all attempts at a pretense gone. "You told me you were done with him, remember?" "And I ambut I should probably tell him that, which seems like a rather tactless thing to do over the phone, wouldn't you agree?" Tony scowled, running a hand through his hair. It was obvious he didn't like this, and McGee wasn't sure he didn't disagree with the senior agent's misgivings. Kate had been dealing with a lot lately, and Ray seemed to have a habit of leaving a mess in his wake when he was in DCwould she be able to deal with Ray on top of everything else? Gibbs walked in to the bullpen then, effectively putting an end to the conversation. The three agents returned their attention to their computers, though none of them were actually focusing on their work. Kate was thinking about what she should say to Ray, Tony was wondering if it would be worth his life to follow Kate and spy on the exchange, and McGee was wondering how far behind he was on the times, considering he had no recollection of Kate ever saying she was done with Ray.

Dr. Leslie Thompson looked up as someone knocked on her office door. She shifted her eyes to the clock it was just after noon. Who would be coming to call during lunch? "It's open." "Hope I'm not interrupting anything," Candace White said as she walked in to the office. She was holding a rather thick file in her hands. So this was a business call. "Just a mediocre cart lunch," Leslie replied with a smile as she pushed her sandwich to the side. She already had a feeling she knew what Candace wanted to talk to her about. "What can I do for you, Candace?" "I need to talk to you about a patient of yours." And there it was. "Did we forget about doctor-patient confidentiality?" "I don't want to talk about particulars, just the things your patient and mine have in common."

Leslie was already standing to get the file of the patient in question. "Let me guess Agent Todd and Agent DiNozzo." "Was it ever really a question?" Candace's eyes widened when she saw Kate's file. "Wow. And I thought Agent DiNozzo had a lot going on." "It certainly is an impressive file," Leslie agreed. "She's made quite the record for herself during her time here. Now what was it you wanted to talk about?" "Have you cleared Agent Todd for duty yet?" "Not quite." No need to tell Candace that Kate had absolutely zero interest in being cleared for field duty. That was something that would stay between doctor and patient. "She's on desk duty for the time being." Candace took a couple of notes on the front of her folder. "Why do you ask?" "I've beenhaving some trouble figuring out what to do with Agent DiNozzo. His attitude has done a complete one-eighty since the last time we spoke, but I still don't think he's ready for field duty yet. I feel like I'm not wrong in assuming, though, that the one-eighty has something to do with Agent Todd. You didn't happen to notice any changes in her between this appointment and the last one, did you?" "As a matter of fact I did she was actually willing to talk to me." And given what Leslie had read in Kate's file that was saying something. Candace made a couple more notes, frowning a bit. "Something wrong?" "There's just something sooddabout this partnership. Have you noticed?" "His life has been threatened far too many times because of me. It needs to stop." Leslie frowned as well as Kate's words from their first session came back to her. "Agent Todd seems to think that she's put Agent DiNozzo's life in danger in the past. I get the feeling she thinks if she wasn't around, Agent DiNozzo would be safer." Candace looked up from the notes she'd been taking, pressing her lips together as she thought about the conversation she'd had with Agent DiNozzo just a few hours earlier. Agent Todd was a little mixed up, from the looks of it. "Oh boy. I'd recognized your thinking face anywhere. What's up?" "Well it might be nothing," Candace said slowly. "There's just something about Agent DiNozzo and Agent Todd that's worrying me. This partnership of theirs" "It's definitely odd," Leslie agreed, echoing Candace's words from a few minutes before. "But we're not evaluating their partnership, remember?" "Wellmaybe we should be."

"Stop staring at me." "How do you know I'm staring at you? You're not looking at me."

Kate turned her eyes away from her computer screen, her gaze meeting Tony's. "Stop staring at me," she repeated with a slightly triumphant smirk. Tony made a show of sticking his tongue out at her before returning his attention to his "work" except he wasn't really doing work. He couldn't force himself to focus long enough to do anything. "What are you going to do?" He asked finally. He'd been biting his tongue all afternoon, waiting for a time when they were finally alone. And five minutes ago, it had happened. Gibbs had left (probably to get a coffee refill), and McGee had taken off after receiving a text message; Tony had heard him muttering something about being a Caf-Pow slave as he'd left. "I do not want to talk about it," Kate replied after a rather lengthy silence. "You're going to break it off with him, right?" The glare that Kate threw at Tony wasn't quite up to her usual standards. But the fact that she was glaring at all was a good sign. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to pry. I justI'm sick of seeing him jerk you around. You deserve better than that, ya know?" Kate's expression softened and she looked down at her desk. "I am going to break up with him." It almost sounded like she was making a promise. "I have had enough of him and his games. Nothing good can ever come from associating with the CIA, yes?" It took everything Tony had in him not to cheer out-loud. Finally she understood. Now wasn't the time for cheering, though. "Well you know if you ever need help with a difficult boyfriend, I'll always have your back." It was a risky joke, and Tony was immensely relieved when Kate actually smiled a bit. "I know. Thank you." Her phone rang then; a check quick of the caller ID had her expression falling faster than a rock through water. "CI-Ray?" Tony guess, and Kate nodded as she hit the 'accept' button and put the phone to her ear. "Helloyesyesall right. I will be down in a minute." She looked rather put-out as she ended the call. "Call me if you need me," Tony said as Kate stood up, pulling her jacket on. "Seriously," he pressed when Kate didn't say anything. "If you need anything anything at all call me. Please." Kate hesitated for a moment right on the edge of the bullpen. "I will," she said quietly, and Tony's heart soared. "Thank you." And then she was gone.

Ray Cruz was sitting on a park bench across the street from the NCIS building. Kate hesitated as she stepped outside and her eyes landed on him. So much so much had happened in the time that had passed since he'd bestowed that empty ring box upon her. Kate wasn't even sure where to start.

Crossing the street might be the best way to start, a snide voice that sounded suspiciously like Tony's spoke up in the back of Kate's head. She almost smiled as she decided sarcastic or not the voice was right. "Hello Ray." The man looked up, his expression brightening when he saw Kate standing over him. "Kate," he breathed as he stood up and stepped towards her, his hands coming up to cup her face. It was almost instinctual for her to flinch away from the touch she stepped back, holding up her hands as if they were a shield. "What's wrong?" Ray asked, his expression morphing to concern in the time it took to blink. Why did he have to make things so difficult? Kate knew, in his own way, that he cared about her. His intentions were so misplaced though, his loyalties everywhere at the same time "We need to talk." There. That was a good start. They started down the path that cut through the park, and Kate was reminded of walking down this same path so many months earlier she had been mad at him then, so mad. She almost wished she could have been that mad now, too. "What's wrong?" Ray finally asked, breaking the silence. Kate sighed. She knew where she needed to start. "I still have friends in Mossad, you know." Ray's expression froze at that. "Friends I talk to on a daily basis. Friends who know I have been dating a CIA agent since last September. Some of them even know his name. And luckily they do not hesitate to call me when the man I have been dating has been working with my father." "Kate" "I do not care what your mission was," Kate cut Ray off at once. "It is none of my business. You should know, though, that I decided a long time ago that I want nothing to do with any man who is involved with my father. In any way." Ray was no idiot, thankfully; he didn't ask what Kate meant by that. "It's not what you think" "I told you I do not care." "Can I please explain?" Ray asked, and Kate noticed a note of forced patience in his voice. She hesitated for a moment before nodding, forcing an apathetic expression. "Yes. I was working with your father. It was temporary, though. It's over now, and it'll never happen again. I would rather resign than have to work with him again anyways." Kate almost smiled at that. Almost. "He has that effect on people," she admitted, ducking her head so her eyes were on the ground. "Did you ever plan on telling me about it?" "You know I couldn't" "You're right," Kate agreed quietly. "You couldn't. Which is exactly why we" She gestured between the two of them, "will never work. I have had enough of secrets. And I

have definitely had enough of boyfriends disappearing for months at a time without calling." "You knew when we got involved that this was the way it would be" "And I thought I could be okay with it. But that is not what I want anymore. It is not something I want to be a part of my life. Not anymore." For the first time Ray's mask slipped, and Kate saw that he was angry. "So what do you want me to do? Do you want me to quit my job?" "If I wanted you to quit I would have said that," Kate shot back, anger slipping in to her tone as well. "Your job is who you are, and that is not something I would try to take away from you. But your job is being secretive and lying and disappearing for months on end. And that is not something I can deal with. Not anymore. I'm sorry." She started to turn away, and was surprised when Ray grabbed her wrist. "Kate, wait" His voice got lost in the sudden din that was filling Kate's ears; she could feel herself being dragged back to the basement "Let her go or I will gladly give up my badge to punch your damn lights out." Kate and Ray jerked their heads around to look at Tony, who was leaning against a tree a few feet away. As wrapped up in their conversation as they'd been, neither had noticed the agent following them. Ray looked back at Kate; he was surprised to see that most of the color had drained from her face, and he released her wrist quickly. She wavered for a moment before taking a step back, away from Ray and towards Tony. "Please," Ray begged quietly. Kate shook her head. "I'm sorry." And with that, she turned and walked away. Tony shot a murderous glare in Ray's direction before jogging to catch up with his partner. The walk back to NCIS was spent in silence. As the building came in to a view, Kate pulled out her cell-phone and pressed a button before putting the phone to her ear. "Who?" Tony's question was cut off as his phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out, not bothering to check the ID before he accepted the call. "DiNozzo." "Want to get something to eat?" Tony was surprised when Kate's voice echoed down the phone line. "I will buy." Tony almost laughed.

A Test in Partnership Chapter Twelve "Dead petty officer in Norfolk, grab your gear." Not that Gibbs really knew he was talking to. The only member of his team currently cleared for field duty was McGee, and he'd jumped out of his seat and grabbed his bag before Gibbs had said two words. Tony, after much deliberation from the psych lady, had finally been cleared for desk duty; he and Kate were both sitting at their computers, still working their way through the backlog of paperwork that had accumulated in their absences. It was depressing, watching McGee and Gibbs walk towards the elevator. But a small part of Tony was well aware that he wouldn't be able to face going back to field duty before Kate was ready. And speaking of Kate "Where you going?" Tony just failed to sound casual as he watched Kate stand up and slip her jacket on. "I havean appointment." Right. She'd mentioned before that as long as she was on the anti-depressants, she had to meet with the therapist every two weeks to be evaluated. "Want me to drive you?" This, at least, earned him a small smile. "I am perfectly capable of driving myself" "Somehow I doubt that" "And someone should probably be here in case Gibbs calls. I doubt he would look too kindly on both of us disappearing, even if we are just here on desk duty." Kate paused for a moment before adding, "Thank you, though." And she left. Tony stared after her retreating back until the metal elevator doors closed, blocking her from sight.

Vance stared at the two doctors in front of him, taking a moment to make sure he understood exactly what they were saying "You're calling Agent DiNozzo's and Agent Todd's performances in to question?" "Not as individuals," Leslie corrected the director. "It's theirpartnershipwe have concerns about." Like everyone else in the building, Leon Vance was well aware of the ratherspecialquality of the partnership between DiNozzo and Todd. He'd have to have been blind not to see it after the way DiNozzo had pushed for the operation in Somalia. But he'd never thought to question it. They were partners. As long as their jobs got done, Vance didn't really care what that meant. "What does their partnership have to do with what happened to them?"

"Surprisingly, a lot," Candace jumped in. "Their partnership was manipulated and used against them in order to force their compliance in a hostage situation. As a result, both of them feel guilty for the pain they think they caused the other." "It's a very complicated situation." If there was one thing Leslie Thompson hated, it was the word complicated. But in this moment, it was the best she could think of. "Todd and DiNozzo can't be evaluated as individuals, at least not in this instance. DiNozzo is affected by Todd's current mental state, while Todd is affected by the guilt she feels for the position she put DiNozzo in. There's no way to separate their individual psyches." Vance wasn't sure he liked where this was going. "So then what do you recommend?" The doctors exchanged slightly weary glances; it was Leslie who finally answered. "We think it would bebeneficialfor Todd and DiNozzo to be separated, at least temporarily. Perhaps send one of them to a different team for the duration of their desk duty." Vance was right; he didn't like where this was going. While he had no real investment in Gibbs or his team, he knew for a fact that the silver-haired man would rebel the second he suggested splitting up the team, even if it was just temporary. "And what good will that do?" "In theory, it will give the two of them some space to recover without having to watch the other. The distance would give them perspective, and hopefully force them to reevaluate their partnership and the role it plays in their lives as individuals. As soon as their both cleared for field duty they can return to working together on Agent Gibbs' team. For the time being thoughit may be for the best to get them away from one another." For the best. Right. Too bad the doctors weren't the ones who had to explain that to Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

"So have you come to a decision regarding NCIS yet?" Kate hesitated, pressing her lips tightly together, and Arielle could tell she had touched on a sore spot. It had taken a while, but she'd learned, during her first round of having Kate as a patient, the tells that informed her when she was breaching a subject that the Israeli didn't want to talk about. They were subtle tells as was befitting of a woman who had spent her life wrapped up in secrets and lies but they were there, and Arielle had made sure to make note of them all. Kate had a wicked temper, after all; it was beneficial to the therapist to know when to back off of a subject. "Ido not want to leave." Well she was in a better place than she had been the last time they'd spoken. "But I am still not sure I want to stay, either." Or maybe not. "You realize that's contradictory, right?" Kate sighed, clearly frustrated. "I just do not know how much more I can take. I am tired of fighting, tired of death, tired of monsters. Butthe people I work withthey are all I have. They are the reason I am alive today. They have saved me more times than I can count in more ways than one. If I were to leave NCISif I did not have them anymore, I do not know what I would do." Arielle scribbled down a couple notes before speaking again. "And you think if you were to quit, you wouldn't have them anymore?" Kate shrugged. Whether she didn't have an

answer or she just didn't want to answer, Arielle couldn't tell. "From what you've told me about your team, I find it hard to believe that they would just cut all ties with you if you were to quit. Look at what happened in Somalia. They thought you were dead, but they still went out there to avenge you, didn't they?" Again, no answer. "If the only thing keeping you in a job is the fear that you're going to lose everyone you care about, then maybe it really is time for you to consider a career change." Kate really hated it when Arielle made sense. "I am not sure what else I would do," she admitted after a moment. Arielle wondered how long she had really been thinking about this. "I have been in some kind of law enforcement since I started working." If one could call Mossad law enforcement. "Kate how old are you?" "Thirty." The number shocked Kate the second she said it. Thirty. She had actually defied the odds and done what no one had believed she could she'd lived to see thirty. She almost wished Rivka Todd was still alive so she could rub it in her mother's face. "Exactly. I don't think it's quite too late for you to take up something new. You're a very bright and talented woman, I have no doubt that if you really wanted to, you could find something new to do and excel at it. You just have to decide if you want to or not." Decisions, decisions. Kate had learned long ago that she was no good at making decisions if she had time to think about them. Split-second decisions she could handle. It was when she actually started thinking that everything fell apart.

"No." Vance had to admit, he had been expecting that. He stood his ground though, refusing to cave under the glare that Leroy Jethro Gibbs was famous for. "I don't remember phrasing it as a suggestion," he informed his agent coolly. "Starting next week Agent Todd will be transferred to Intelligence pending her clearance for field duty. End of discussion." "Actually, it's not." Gibbs really didn't need this. Not on top of everything else that had been happening. He would sooner die then let Vance screw up his team.Again. "Now isn't the time to be transferring Kate out." "There are people more qualified then you who say otherwise." It didn't take a genius to figure out that Vance was referring to the damn office shrink. "Anyways Agent Todd's probationary period ended back in September. I reserve the right to do what I want with her now. And if I think her skills would be better served in Intelligence, then I'll send her to Intelligence whether you like it or not. End. Of. Discussion." And with that he held out the manila folder containing Kate's transfer orders. Gibbs glared at the director for a long time, refusing to take the folder. He knew he needed to stop this; Kate was in absolutely no mental condition to be transferred to another unit, working with people she didn't know. She needed friendly faces now. She needed McGee's quiet concern and Abby's hugs and Ducky's long-winded, distracting stories and Tony'swell, ability to be Tony. She needed the team her family. And while Gibbs couldn't say any of that without taking the chance of having his entire team put under scrutiny, there was no way in hell he was going to let Vance do this.

"The orders are going to find their way to her whether you like it or not, Gibbs. Wouldn't she take it better coming from you then from me?" That did it. Gibbs grabbed the folder from Vance's hand, turning on his heel and storming out of the office, taking care to slam the door behind him. Vance sighed as he sat down. That had gone better than he had expected. "Duck in cover," Tony said muttered when he saw Gibbs making his way out of the director's office. McGee and Kate looked up and cringed; Gibbs was mad. "I wonder what happened." It turned out the question was useless; Gibbs made his way in to the bullpen, stopping in front of Kate's desk and holding out the folder clutched tightly in his hand. Kate regarded wearily; folders were almost never a good thing. "What is this?" Gibbs' jaw tightened; the team could almost hear his teeth grinding together as he forced himself to utter two disdainful words. "Transfer orders." "What?" The combined yell of Kate, Tony, and McGee had everyone looking towards them, clearly wondering what the source of the noise was. Tony and McGee were out of their seats in the time it took to blink, and it was clear that willpower alone was keeping the senior agent from going up to Vance's office and punching the man out. Kate just stared at Gibbs, her mouth half-open as she tried to absorb this information. "Why?" She finally managed to ask. Gibbs half-considered telling her what he had deduced from his conversation with the director that the office shrink had recommended she be transferred, for whatever reason. But something told him that answer wouldn't do much good for Kate's psyche. "Vance decided that as long as you're confined to your desk he might as well make use of you. You're being sent over to Intelligence until you're cleared for field duty. Effective beginning next week." "No." Tony's voice, hard and angry, rang out across the bullpen. "He can't do this. He can't split up the team. Not again." "And I'm not letting him," Gibbs informed the younger man as patiently as he could manage. "But until I find an argument that isn't going to have all of us being sent in for evaluations, we have no choice but to play along with Vance." "So now we're playing his games? That's bull" "It is okay, Tony." The quietly spoken words surprised everyone, and they turned to look back at Kate. She was standing now, taking the folder from Gibbs. "We have to do what we have to do. Even if it means playing Vance's games." The way she spoke pretty much

broke Gibbs' heart. She knew she was being sacrificed to keep the rest of the team together. And she was accepting it. "Besides, it is only until I am cleared for field duty, right?" "Not even for that long," Gibbs said firmly. "I'm not done with Vance yet. Don't even bother emptying out your desk. You'll be back here before you know it." Kate smiled sadly; it was obvious she didn't believe that. "I should probably go break the news to Ducky and Abby," she said before she slipped out from behind her desk, moving to walk around Gibbs. He stepped in front of her, effectively blocking her path. "This isn't over yet Kate," he informed her quietly. "It is what it is," was the only thing she said before she moved around Gibbs and made her way towards the elevator. Gibbs sighed quietly as he turned to look at his remaining team members. Tony was practically murderous; if he'd had any sort of sniper skills, Gibbs would have almost been worried for Vance's life. McGee just looked shell-shocked. "It isn't over yet."

"Vance can't do this!" Abby exploded, and Kate was suddenly glad she'd gone to the Goth first. Ducky would have been sympathetic, something she didn't need right now. She needed someone that wasn't Tony to be pissed off on her behalf. And that was something Abby was good at. "Don't worry Kate, we'll fix this. McGee and I can hack in to the system and cancel the transfer order. There's no way we're letting this happen." "Abby it is only temporary." "Now it's only temporary. But what happens when Vance decides that he likes having you over in Intelligence? What'll happen if he makes it permanent? What if" "Abby I have been thinking about leaving NCIS." The words had the anger draining from Abby's expression, leaving surprise and shock in its wake. "Youwhat?" She finally asked, her voice shaking slightly. Kate sighed, running a hand through her hair. "Please do not tell anyone else." It didn't escape either woman's notice that Abby was quickly becoming the keeper of Kate's secrets. "I havenot decided for sure yet. I need a break though, I know that much. Perhaps getting away from the team will help me clear my head enough to make a real decision." Needless to say, Abby was hurt. She didn't ask for explanations, surprisingly. She only had one question. "What will you do if you leave NCIS?" "I am not sure." It wasn't getting easier to admit that. "I would stay in DC, but past thatI don't know."

Kate started to hate herself when she saw the tears welling in Abby's eyes. In the time it took to blink the woman was throwing herself at her friend, her arms coming up to wrap tightly around Kate's neck. Kate barely managed to make herself return the desperate hug. "Do you promise you'll stay in DC?" Abby whispered suddenly, and Kate blinked. "Of course. Where else would I go?" Abby sniffed as she dragged a hand across her eyes and pulled away to meet Kate's gaze. "I mean it. I can handle you leaving NCIS, even if I don't like it and Idon't like it. But you have to promise you won't abandon us completely and goI dunno running back to Israel or something. You can't leave us, Kate. Please." "From what you've told me about your team, I find it hard to believe that they would just cut all ties with you if you were to quit" Arielle's words from earlier rang in Kate's head, and suddenly she could feel tears stinging in the back of her eyes. She swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat, forcing herself to breathe evenly. "DC is my home, Abby. I would never leave. I promise." For some reason, this had Abby tearing up even more. She drew Kate back in to a tight hug, burying her face in her friend's shoulder. Kate pressed her lips together as she returned the hug with as much strength as she could muster. Things were changing, and it was clear that Abby wasn't a fan. But that was okay. Because Kate really didn't like it either. A Test in Partnership Chapter Thirteen Tony felt sick. That was the only way to describe the gnawing feeling in his stomach, the constant pulling in the back of his mind, the fact that his mouth felt drier than a desert. It was Friday. Three days had passed since Kate had been given the transfer orders. Gibbs had been in Vance's office at least six times every day arguing with the director to overturn the order, but to no avail. Vance was being a stubborn son of a bitch. And now Kate, despite Gibbs' orders, was cleaning out her desk. "No one else will sit at that desk." Tony hadn't mean to say the words aloud, but of course it was too late now. Kate looked up from the drawer she had been pawing through, surprise visible in her expression. "Sorry?" "You heard me. That desk is going to stay empty until you come back. If Vance so much as thinks about replacing you, I'll kill him." It wasn't so much a threat as a promise. Kate sighed as she finished emptying the drawer and closed it before lifting her head to face Tony. "Do not do anything you will regret later."

"Oh I won't, don't worry." He still couldn't believe Vance was doing this to them. How could he possibly think it was a good idea to split up the team now, after everything that had happened? How could he be doing this to them? To him? "What are you doing tonight?" Tony asked suddenly. "Nothing that I can think of. Why?" "Let's do something. Pizza, alcohol, movie. It's been a while since we've really done anything, you know?" It had been a while. Kate didn't want to think about why the reason for that was, though. "I am not sure" "Come on, it'll be fun. Besides, just because Vance is splitting us up" again "doesn't mean we can't still hang out. And we haven't had a movie night in forever. It'll be fun." "You said 'it'll be fun' twice." "Well that's how much fun it'll be." Kate rolled her eyes, but she was smiling. "Okay. Your place or mine?" "Yours. My TV is busted." Thankfully, Kate didn't ask why. Tony didn't feel like going in to detail about the night after they'd found out Kate was being transferred, when he'd decided it was a good idea to beat the crap out of his entertainment center and he'd accidentally knocked his TV over. "That must be killing you." "You have no idea. I'll swing by around five?" "Can we make it six?" The request surprised Tony a bit. "I have somethingsI need to take care of." Tony knew better than to question Kate. Not that he wasn't dying to know. "Six works too." Kate smiled, just a bit. That small smile made it almost possible for Tony to forget the sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. Almost.

Gibbs didn't bother looking up from his work table as the sound of light footsteps on the stairs reached his ears. He already knew who it was making her way down in to his basement. He looked up only when the footsteps stopped, and he saw Kate standing in the middle of the basement, looking down at the floor. Specifically, at the blood stain Gibbs had never quite managed to walk away.

"It feels like another lifetime," she said after a minute, finally looking up to meet Gibbs' gaze. "Six years ago I stood here I stood right here I stood over my brother's body and he had a bullet in his head. My bullet. I wonderif I had realized then what killing him would doif I had realized where I would end up as a resultif I would have made the same decision." Gibbs held her gaze for a long moment before looking down at the carving knife in his hand. It was the same knife Kate had given him after she'd come back from Somalia. "Do you regret the decision you made that night?" He asked finally. "You did not deserve to die." It wasn't exactly an answer. But Gibbs could read between the lines; she didn't regret saving his life. "This isn't over," Gibbs said, repeating the same answer he'd been giving his team for the last three days. "You're not going to be in Intelligence until you get off desk duty. You're not going to be there for a week if I have anything to say about it." "You don't have anything to say about it." The words weren't said cruelly. They were just a fact. "Vance has made his decision. There is nothing left for any of us to do." "So you're just going to give up?" Gibbs couldn't help the anger that leaked in to his tone. "That's not the Kate I know." Kate laughed hollowly at this. "Gibbs I do not even know who I am anymore. I look in the mirror and I do not recognize myself. I am not the same person who stood over the body of the brother whom she murdered. I am not the same person that called her retired boss when she was accused of murder and on the run from three different agencies. I am not even the same person who stood in this basement and begged for her boss' forgiveness when she asked him to make an impossible choice. I do not know who I am. AndI think I need the space to figure it out." It took Gibbs a moment to process this. To hear exactly what she was saying. "You want to be transferred." "No." She didn't even hesitate. That was good. "Butperhaps I need to be. Before I make anyhasty decisions" Gibbs was afraid to ask what that meant, "I need the space to think." It all sounded perfectly sound and logical. But Gibbs had a feeling, given Kate's current mental state, that it was a lot messier than she made it sound. "So you want me to stop fighting?" He asked after a moment. Kate smiled a bit. "I am not going to ask you to do anything that goes against your nature. I know you. You will continue to fight no matter what I say." Gibbs sighed as he stood at last, setting his knife down and walking around the table so he was standing in front of Kate. After a moment she stepped forward, and Gibbs wrapped his arm around her slim body, pulling her against his chest and hugging her tightly. She was right, of course. He wasn't going to give up.

Tony was surprised when he turned the corner to head down Kate's hallway and he found Abby and McGee sitting against the wall next to Kate's door. Abby had a Tupperware container in her lap and a pizza box was sitting next to McGee. "Uhwhat're you guys doing?" They looked around, surprised to see Tony walking towards them. It was Abby who answered. "Well I decided I wanted to cheer Kate up you know, I thought she'd be depressed seeing as how today was the last day with the team" "Temporarily." "Right. Anyways I got here, but Kate wasn't home, so I figured I'd wait. McGee showed up about twenty minutes later he had the same idea. Guessing you did too?" "Sort of. Kate and I had plans tonight." "Oh. Want us to go?" Part of Tony did want them to leave. He'd been looking forward to a night alone with Kate just the two of them, just like it had always been. But at the same time "No, it's fine. It'll be more fun with all of us, right?" Abby beamed, and McGee smiled. Needless to say, Kate was bewildered when she turned the corner ten minutes later and found Abby, McGee, and Tony sitting on the floor with a Tupperware container full of cupcakes, two pizza boxes, a case of beer, and a pile of movies. It was the best night Kate had had in a while. They cracked open the beer and broke in to the pizza while arguing over which movie to watch first Tony had brought a little bit of everything from every genre. Tony was in the mood for a comedy; the closet-romance in Abby wanted a love story; McGee wanted science fiction; and Kate just wanted them to choose already. It was she who finally reached out and picked up the first movie her hand landed on. Tony inspected the cover with a grin. "The Fugitive? I'm down with that." Abby and McGee consented with a shrug, and they sat down to start the movie, munching on pizza and cupcakes and sipping their beers. Four movies, two pizzas, twelve beers, and eighteen cupcakes later Abby and McGee, who had curled up on the floor in front of the couch, were fast asleep, their heads resting on one another's shoulders, McGee snoring lightly. Kate rolled her eyes as she draped a blanket over them. Tony was slumped over on the couch, out like a light as well. He already had a blanket on him. Kate stood in the middle of the living room, smiling a bit at her teammates former teammates temporarily former teammates whatever she was supposed to be calling them now. Friends. The word echoed through Kate's head, and her smile tightened a bit. Friends. That was almost certainly the right word in this case. Three people who had given up their Fridays

nights to keep her company and comfort her. If that wasn't what friends did, then she didn't know what was. Kate looked over at the clock. It was almost two in the morning. She wasn't going to wake them up and make them leave now. Even if Tony was going to be complaining in the morning about his back. So instead she turned off the TV and the light, whispering, "Toda. Lailah tov," before going to her room.

The clock read six a.m. when Tony jerked awake, groaning under his breath when his back twinged uncomfortably. It took him a moment to collect himself and figure out where he was. Kate's apartment. Kate's couch. He must have fallen asleep during the last movie. A quick inspection of the room told him that McGee and Abby were still there, also asleep Tony assumed that Abby had ended up McGee's arms after they'd fallen asleep and Kate was nowhere to be found. Tony sighed as he stretched, his limbs popping; he froze when he realized that the apartment wasn't as silent as he had originally assumed. There was a low noise, almost inaudible, but he recognized it instantly. Crying. Whimpering. Kate. In the time it took to blink Tony was off the couch and running to Kate's room. The woman was twisting in her sleep, her face twisted in to a pained expression. "Kate, Kate, Kate," Tony mumbled as he flew to her side, shaking her shoulder lightly. "Kate wake up, come on, it's okay. It's okay" Okay. What an empty word. Because it wasn't okay, not really. And nothing Tony said or did could ever change that. But he could pretend. If nothing else, the pure pathetic-ness of it all might make Kate feel a bit better. "Kate" She finally jerked awake and Tony was smart enough to get up and out of range before her hand went under the pillow to get her gun. Thankfully she came back to reality before she'd had time to point the weapon. "Tony?" Her voice was shaking and wracked with exhaustion. Tony hesitated before sitting down on the edge of the bed. "You all right?" Kate nodded wearily, running a hand through her sweat-soaked hair and disentangling herself from the blankets that had tangled themselves around her in her sleep. "It wasjust a nightmare. I am sorry if I woke you up." "You didn't," Tony assured her at once. "Don't worry. Do you want to talk about it?" A long moment of silence followed the question. "It wasstrange. I was in Somalia, and Saleem wasinterrogating me" Tony tried very hard not to wonder whatinterrogation had entailed for that piece of scum, "and then he turned in to Rivkin

and you came out of nowhere and shot him" Tony winced at that; at least she didn't sound angry about it. "And then he turned in to Ari, and a gun appeared in my hands and I shot him" "Wait, why did you shoot Ari?" If anything Tony would have assumed dream Gibbs would have appeared in the same fashion dream Tony did and gunned down Kate's dream halfbrother. Kate ignored the question though, continuing. Tony supposed he should have just been happy that she was actually talking to him about this. "Then the room turned into the basement, and Shay and Rawling were there, and you were tied up in the corner and" Her voice drifted off for a moment, and finally she shook her head. "It was basically a parade of every mistake I have made in the last six years." Tony was still confused about the Ari thing, but he let it go, realizing he wasn't going to get an answer. "It was just a dream, Kate." "The people in it are all real though. Or they were at some point, at the very least. Ari, Rivkin, SaleemShay and Rawlingthey are not just monsters my mind made up to torture me. They were all realand all the results of mistakes I have made." "That's not true," Tony started to say, but Kate shook her head again. "I ended up in Somalia because I was forced to choose between Mossad and NCIS and I chose wrong. Rivkin is dead because I was too blind to see the truth about him. AriAri" She couldn't bring herself to tell Tony the truth. Not quite yet. "I made more mistakes as Ari's control officer than I can count. I was careless with Shay and Rawling" "That one's on both of us Kate," Tony interrupted his partner quietly. He wasn't going to let her shoulder the blame for what happened with Shay and Rawling. Not when he was just as much at fault if not more. "It was just a dream. Don't let it get to you." Kate sighed, her eyes fluttering shut. And then she did something very surprising; she leaned forward, her head coming to a rest on Tony's shoulder. Tony hesitated for the barest moment before bringing his arms up and wrapping them around her weary body. He moved one hand to run his fingers through her hair, closing his eyes and reveling in the moment. It wasn't often Kate let him get this close. He wasn't going to do anything to ruin it.

It was ratherdisorienting, waking up on a strange floor wrapped in someone's arms. If not for the absence of a splitting headache, Abby's first thought would have been to wonder how much she'd drank the night before. Her eyes fluttered open and she looked around, still half asleep. The first thing she saw was McGee's peaceful, still-sleeping face. Oh god. Did we no wait, we still have clothes on. Okay. What were weoh right. We're at Kate's. We must have fallen asleep. I wonder why she didn't wake us up "Timmy wake up," Abby mumbled as she disentangled herself from him, shaking him. Sunlight was streaming through the living room window, and the clock hanging on the wall informed her that it was just after eight in the morning.

McGee mumbled something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like, "Five more minutes Mom," and Abby slapped the side of his head. He jumped as his eyes flew open. "I'm up! What?" He sat up and looked around, clearly confused. "Why are we still at Kate's?" "We fell asleep. I guess she felt bad about waking us up." A quick inspection of the room told Abby that Tony wasn't there. He'd probably left once they'd finished the last movie. "I'm going to go see if Kate's awake," she said after a minute, standing up and stretching. She cringed when she heard several distinct pops. She was getting too old for sleeping on floors Kate's bedroom door was half open; Abby popped her head in, her mouth falling open when she saw the sight in front of her. Kate and Tony. Lying on Kate's bed. The former wrapped in the latter's arms. Both fast asleep. A large grin slowly formed on Abby's face as she turned and all but ran back in to the living room. "What's with you?" McGee asked as she ran to her purse, fumbling to get her cell-phone. "Abby" "You have to see this," she said, grabbing McGee's hand and dragging him down the hall. He was as surprised as Abby had been to find the position their co-workers were in. Abby was over the shock; she was using her cell-phone to take pictures. "Abby knock it off," McGee said when he saw Kate beginning to stir. He grabbed her arm and dragged her quickly out of the room, not wanting to imagine what Kate and/or Tony would do if they found out about the position they'd been caught in. Not to mention what they would do if they knew Abby had photographic proof. A Test in Partnership Chapter Fourteen "Right now we're focusing on tracking a drug ring that was brought to our attention a couple of months agoTodd are you listening?" Kate blinked, her head snapping around to look at her new boss. "Drug ring. Yes. Sorry Agent Binns." Intelligence Analyst and team leader Agent William Binns frowned at the newest addition to his team. Kate Todd had at least seemed politely interested when she'd walked into the office but the more he went on, the more she seemed to be losing focus. He knew she'd been transferred here against her will, and that she was originally from Agent Gibbs' MCRT (a rather strange bunch those people were, but Binns had long ago stopped questioning it). He also knew that Todd had once been a member of the Israeli Mossad. This must have felt like quite the demotion for her. "You'll be working with Agent Hunt today. He's been tracking the movements of the suspected ring leaders; we're trying to zero in on the location of their lab." "Okay. Great."

Binns looked down at Daniel Hunt, who shrugged as if to say, "I'll do what I can with her, but don't expect any miracles." And Binns sighed. What had Director Vance been thinking, sending this woman to them? Binns was surprised, when he returned to check on Hunt and Todd about an hour later, to find that the latter had narrowed down the location of the suspected meth lab to somewhere within a ten-mile radius. Hunt looked like he was about to fall over; Binns checked his watch again to make sure he had really only left them an hour ago. "I am quite good at recognizing patterns," was all Todd said when Binns tried to ask her how the hell she'd done it. Well. Okay then.

There was nothing more frustrating than staring at an empty desk. Tony's jaw was clenched so tightly he would have been surprised if he didn't hear a crack. That god damn desk. Maybe it was cursed. Was it possible for a desk to be cursed? Maybe it just wasn't meant to stay occupied She's coming back, a voice in the back of Tony's head reprimanded him. She has to come back. This is where she belongs. She's going to go crazy trapped down in Intelligence staring at maps and listening to terrorist chatter. She'll be back before we know it . So why was Tony having such a hard time believing this? "Waiting for it to spontaneously combust?" Tony looked up at Gibbs, who had just come down from the director's office after round two-thousand with the man who had recently moved to the top of Tony's "Must Die" list. "She's coming backright?" Gibbs didn't answer. He didn't want to lie to Tony, but he didn't want to tell him the truth that he didn't know if Kate was coming back. That nobody knew at this point not even Kate herself, it would seem. Tony took Gibbs' silence for what it was, and tried to return his attention to his work. That was easier said than done, of course. McGee kept a careful eye on Tony throughout the day, waiting for any sign that the man was about to have a breakdown. It was stupid, McGee knew. But it had been a tough couple of months. It was completely possible that the first day without Kate would be the straw that broke the camel's back. Tony defied the odds though. Yes, he looked at Kate's desk a little more often than usual when he thought no one would catch him. But for the most part, he stayed quiet and kept his eyes on his work. Okay, that was a little out of the ordinary. But McGee figured if that was the worse Tony did, then not much could be said about it. And so the day passed more or less uneventfully. Tony kept looking at his cell-phone as if he was waiting for a text or call orsomething. Whatever it was, it didn't come, but Tony's attitude didn't change. Abby IMed McGee periodically throughout the day to see how everything was in the bullpen. Gibbs was in and out as usual, going back up to the director's office two more times before lunch and once after. McGee and Tony wondered if

Vance had threatened the older man's life to keep him out. Then they wondered if threats would even have had any effect on Gibbs.

Kate was surprised, when she made her way to her car at the end of the day, to find a certain someone sitting on the hood, arms crossed, clearly waiting for her. "I take it you missed me?" She asked with the faintest sign of a smile. Tony managed to return the expression. Barely. "Well, you know. A little. I meansort of. You know." Good god he was inept. He made a mental note to slap himself later, even as Kate let out what was clearly an unwilling laugh. "How about we go out for supper?" She suggested with a small smile. Tony's eyes all but lit up at that. He quickly masked his expression to one of half apathy. "SureI mean, you know, if you're up to it." "There is an Italian restaurant near my place," was Kate's reply "I have been waiting for an excuse to try it out." "Lead the way Zee-vah." It was a nice restaurant, all things considered. Small, and the lighting was dim, but not too dim that Tony couldn't see. Cozy. Certainly cozy. The booth Kate and Tony were settled in was tucked away in a corner, nice and private. All and all, not a bad place. Of course, the person sitting across from Tony made it all ten times better. "So what's Intelligence like?" Tony asked after they'd placed their orders and received their drinks. "It must be boring as hell down there." Kate hesitated long enough to make Tony nervous. "Iactually do not mind it too much." Tony's mouth nearly hit the floor. "I mean, it is only the first day, obviously. With time I'm sure it'll become boring, as every job does. Butthe working conditions are not too bad, and it is nice knowing I am not going to have to leave to spend hours on the field looking at a dead body" "You love working on the field," Tony responded instantly. "You hate being benched; it drives you up a wall." "I know," Kate replied with a tone of forced patience. "Butthings change, Tony." Now Tony was starting to panic. "What does that mean?" He asked, barely managing to keep himself calm. He didn't like the way she was talking. More hesitation. This definitely wasn't good. "It means sometimes people need a break. Even from something they love." Well that wasn't ominous or anything. Tony took a long sip of his drink to keep himself from saying something utterly stupid. "A break, huh?" He finally managed to get out. Well

that wasn't too bad, at least. "Andhow long do you think this uhbreakis going to last?" More hesitation; was she trying to give Tony a heart attack? "Tonyyou have to understand" "Do you want to leave the team permanently?" Tony hadn't really meant to interrupt her. But the panic was quickly building inside of him, and he couldn't stop himself from cutting off her would-be explanation. Was she really going to leave? "Idon't know." Not the answer he wanted to hear. "So what are you going to do? Ask Vance to transfer you permanently or just keep failing your psych evals?" "I don't know." Kate was starting to sound frustrated now. "I don't know Tony, okay? None of this has exactly been easy, you know. Do you think I want to leave the team? Leave you and Gibbs and McGee and Abby and Ducky and Palmer? After everything that has happened, everything I have gone throughthe last thing I want to do is throw away everything I have worked for." Tony's mouth was more or less on the floor by the time Kate finished talking. That was the most he had heard her say about herself ina while. It was surprising. To say the least. "Then why?" He couldn't stop himself from voicing the question. "Because." It wasn't much of an answer. "BecauseI do not know how much more I can handle. How much more violence, hatreddeathI can take. Day in and day out we see some of the worst humanity has to offer. We see good men die too early, we meet people who have been battered and abused, we watch the people we love get hurtdiethere is only so much of that we can be expected to take until we reach our limit. And then what happens?" Well, Tony thought, a bit bitterly, apparently you end up sitting in the back of a romantic restaurant saying all that to your useless ex-partner. Kate was still staring at Tony, though whether or not she expected an answer, he didn't know. Maybe she did. Maybe she wanted him to tell her what to do. Wanted the answers she couldn't manage to give herself. Too bad Tony didn't know either. "I can't help." The words slipped out before Tony could stop them, anger and desperation clear in his tone. Kate lifted her head, meeting Tony's gaze for the first time since they'd sat down. "I wish I could." Again, the words came before he could stop them. "I wish I could say something anything to make this pain better. I wish I could go back in time and take it all away. I wish I could stop us from ever walking into that god damn house. I wish I could put a bullet in both those bastards' brains. I wish there was something I could do, some magical remedy that would make this betterI wish I wasn't so useless. I wish I wasn't so damn incapable."

Tony was shaking by now; and he was only getting started. He probably could have gone on for another few minutes probably longer. But a hand rested itself over his tightlyclenched fist, slim fingers wrapping around his knuckles, and he stopped, his breath catching for a moment, his head lifting to look at Kate once more. It was only then that Tony realized how loudly he'd been speaking. Everyone in the restaurant was staring at him. He looked around for a moment, taking in everyone's gazes. "All right, show's over," he said after a minute. "Back to your meals everyone, go on now" He turned back to Kate, who was watching him with a mixture of pity and remorse shining in her chocolate-like eyes. "Sorry," he said after a moment. Kate gave him a small, sad smile as she began moving her index finger over his knuckles. "You should not apologize for how you feel." Such a simple statement and such a strange one, considering who it was coming from. "You are not useless, Tony, and you are not incapable. You can not do everything, you know." "Seems lately like I can't do anything," Tony muttered; he was mortified when he realized his eyes were starting to burn. "Son of a bitch," he hissed, lifting his free hand to dig his thumb and index fingers into his eyes. He couldn't believe this. Kate was the one having the mental breakdown; so why was he the one nearly in tears in the middle of a restaurant? Damn it all. Their food came then; needless to say, neither Tony nor Kate were hungry at this point. Tony's throat felt as if it had closed around itself, making it impossible for him to speak. Thankfully, Kate seemed to be in the same mind set. "I am very sorry, but do you think we can get this to go?" Thankfully, the waiter didn't seem to mind too much. He graciously took their plates to wrap up the food, and Kate turned back to Tony. "Want to go back to my place?" God yes. Tony still couldn't speak, but Kate garnered everything she needed from his expression. It was just after seven when they finally got to Kate's apartment, after a quick stop for beer. Tony used the drive to Kate's to pull himself together; he'd more or less recovered by the time he found himself standing in Kate's living room. "You know this is not your fault, right?" Tony turned to look into the kitchen; Kate was standing at the counter, her back to Tony, her hands resting against the surface. "Yeah, well it feels that way," Tony muttered against his will. He couldn't even begin to explain the mess of emotions in his head. And honestly, he didn't want to have to try. He just knew that he felt guilty. Soso god damn guilty. How could it not be his fault? "I know." The admission surprised Tony just a bit. "I feel the same way."

Silence fell over the two for a long time. Finally Kate turned to look at Tony, her eyes dark, her expression unreadable. "Perhapsthis transfer happened for a reason," she said finally. "A reason beyond psychiatrist meddling, I mean." Tony didn't like the sound of that. "Divine intervention?" He asked after a moment, and Kate shrugged almost helplessly. "I do not know. Butperhaps we should take advantage of it." YeahTony definitely didn't like where this was going. "Sometimes people need a breakeven from something they love. Right?" The tears in Kate's eyes would have been indiscernible to anyone who wasn't Tony DiNozzo. "Exactly." It seemed like something should have happened at that pointbut neither of them could move. Or speak. If Tony didn't know any better, he'd swear they'd just broken upexcept they weren't even together for god's sake. So what had just happened? "Can we have one more night?" Tony managed to get out after a moment. "I wouldlike that. Very much." A single tear managed to make its way down Kate's cheek. Tony rocked back on his heels for a moment before boldly taking a few steps forward. When Kate didn't back away, he brought his arms up, wrapping them carefully around Kate's slim body. She leaned into him, her head coming to a rest against in the junction between his shoulder and neck. They'd earned one more night. A Test in Partnership Chapter Fifteen "Umhi. I'm looking for Agent Todd." Kate's head snapped up, and she looked over her shoulder, surprised to find McGee standing at the office entrance, talking to Agent Delrose. "McGee!" Kate stood up, and McGee looked around, grinning when he saw his former teammate. "Hey! I tried calling, but you didn't pick up." Kate winced, pulling her phone out of her pocket. Sure enough, she had two missed calls from McGee. Blatant disregard for rule number three. Gibbs would kill her if he knew. "You have time for lunch?" Kate looked over at Hunt, who was in charge for the day (Binns was in MTAC with Vance). Hunt shrugged, and Kate grabbed her jacket. Lunch sounded good she'd skipped breakfast that day. "Where did you want to go?" Kate asked as they made their way out into the hallway. "A new diner just opened about a mile off base. Abby scoped it out last week, she said it was pretty good, figured we'd go see for ourselves."

"Abby is a food critic now?" McGee chuckled at the slightly amused tone in Kate's voice. "There must be a dry spell going on upstairs." "No cases in two weeks. I'm pretty sure Gibbs is going to shoot the next person who annoys him." "Or the next person who does not know how to duck." "True." They got to the parking lot, and McGee gently prodded in the direction of his car he loved Kate dearly, but no amount of experience had taught him to stomach her driving. Especially considering they were going out to eat. "So how've you been?" McGee asked as they pulled off base. He hadn't spoken to Kate since her last night with the team. Surprisingly, Tony seemed to have had very little info about her when McGee asked. "How's Intelligence? Ready to rip your hair out yet?" Kate smiled faintly as she answered. "I am all right. And Intelligence isn't actually that bad, surprisingly. Working with computers is more fun than I would have thought. I have gained a whole new level of respect for you." "Well at least someone has," McGee said, smiling. He couldn't help but note, though, that Kate didn't seem nearly as put out by working in Intelligence as he had expected. For a woman who loved to be active and moving, sitting at a computer station all day should have been torture for her. Kate hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "Howhow is Tony doing?" This puzzled McGee. And with good reason. "Heseems all right. Spends a lot of time staring at your desk when he thinks no one is looking, and he's on time every day, which is kind of weird. But all things considered, I think he's pretty good. Why do you ask? Haven't you been talking to him?" Because McGee, of course, had assumed that a mere transfer wouldn't keep Tony and Kate from speaking to one another. So he was surprised, to say the least, when Kate shook her head. "Nonot really. Not since I was transferred." They pulled up in front of the diner. McGee frowned as he turned the car off, turning to face Kate, who was staring determinedly out the window. "Why?" It didn't seem like such a hard question. McGee was surprised when Kate clumsily sidestepped it. "I thought we were getting lunch." And with that, she climbed out of the car. McGee climbed out as well, jogging around the car to catch up with her, and they headed into the diner together. McGee waited until they'd ordered their drinks and food to try approaching the subject again. By that time, Kate assumed he'd forgotten, and was shocked when he once again asked, "Why haven't you and Tony spoken to each other?" McGee waited for a moment and, when Kate didn't answer, "Did you guys have a fight?" It wasn't completely unlikely, after all. Hell, it might even mean that things were getting back to normal after all, Tony and Kate fought like they breathed. But "No. We did not have a fight, it is justcomplicated."

Just as so many things were when it came to the mystery that was Tony DiNozzo and Kate Todd. McGee was used to it by now. "What happened?" Kate deliberately put off answering, choosing instead to sip her drink slowly and cautiously, as if she thought it might be poisoned. "McGeehave you ever cared about someone so much that it hurt you just to look at them every day?" The question so out of left field, and so out of character for Kate, that for for a moment McGee was too stunned to answer. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, not even sure if Kate was waiting for him to answer, or if it had just been a rhetorical question. But she didn't elaborate, and McGee knew the ball was in his court now. And so he said the only thing he could think of at that moment. "NoI haven't." Well, maybe Abby. But that was beside the point. "But I know people who have. I have a friend" "A friend?" Kate repeated, raising an eyebrow, and a half smile pulled at McGee's lips. "Yes, a friend. And this is actually a friend. I have a friend who was in love with this woman and I mean head over heels, completely and obviously and entirely in love with her. And the woman was just as in love with him. The problem was, neither of them saw it. Oh sure, they flirted with one another it was almost sickening, actually, I couldn't stand to be in the same room as them sometimes. They flirted, but neither of them ever realized how the other feltor even how they themselves felt. "Thensomething happened. The woman had to go away. One thing led to anotherand the next thing any of us knew, we were being told that she was dead." Kate's amused expression faded into one of shock. Suddenly, this story sounded awfully familiar "It was hard on everyonebut it destroyed my friend. He fell apart. He didn't come to work for a couple of days, and when he finally did come backit wasn't him anymore. He barely spoke, he never smiled, and there was always thisthis look in his eyes. He was there physically, but mentally, hewell, to be honest, I think he died when she did. Then we found out she was aliveand he it was like he came back to life as well. He smiled again, he talked, he laughedall because of her." Kate felt as if someone had dropped a rock in her stomach. She'd never asked about what had happened while she had been in Somalia. Partly because she'd assumed that life had gone on, that no one had really been effectedhow could they, after all? But mostly, it was because she just hadn't wanted to know. McGee was quiet for a moment as he took a sip of his drink and gave Kate time to absorb all of this. Finally he set his cup aside and spoke again. "So no, I don't know what it's like to care about someone so much it hurts just to be around them. But I've seen what it does to people. I've seen the pain it causes. I've seen how it can slowly destroy a person from the inside out, until the person is sure they have nothing to lose." Kate was staring at the table now, her lips pressed tightly together. "ButI've also seen how much better it makes a person." Kate's head snapped up at this, her eyes wide as she focused on McGee. "I've seen how when one is happy, the other is happy. I've seen how it gives a person a reason to be alive. I've seen why it's so important to have a bond that deep."

To be honest, it made him jealous sometimes. When it had been McGee, Tony, and Kate, it had made sense that Tony and Kate had been close they'd been there longer than McGee. When Kate had come in, McGee had thought hoped, really that maybe this would be his chance to have a real partnership with Tony. He was no longer the new guy, after all it was him and Tony, and Kate was the newcomer. But of course, Tony and Kate had latched on to one another. And while Kate's summer in Somalia had under the most volatile circumstances given McGee and Tony a chance at partnership, anybody with eyeballs knew that the true partnership on the team was between Tony and Kate. And nothing was going to change that. Kate wasn't completely sure what to say. This conversation and this lunch weren't exactly going the way Kate had expected. She certainly hadn't thoughtSomalia would be brought up. To her, it was a long-dead subject. And wasn't there some ridiculous saying about not poking a dead horse? Not that she was sure what horses had to do with anything "Kate?" The woman shook her head, quickly refocusing on McGee. "You all right?" He asked, sounding slightly concerned. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to throw all that at you" "No, no." The woman shook her head again, quicker this time. "It is fine, McGee. Reallythank you for telling me. God knows Tony never would." "No," McGee agreed easily. "But then again, you'll never tell any of us exactly what happened to you in Somalia, soI guess you're both too stubborn for your own good." The food came then, effectively putting an end to the conversation.

"Hey McHoudini," Tony said as McGee walked into the bullpen. That didn't sound like it'd rolled off the tongue easily. "Where'd you disappear to?" "Went out to lunch." McGee hesitated for the barest moment before saying, "So how come you and Kate haven't been speaking?" Tony's head snapped up and whipped around to look at McGee, his eyes wide. "How did you?" "That lunch was with Kate." Tony's mouth stayed open, but no sound came out. "She asked about you." It took Tony a moment to respond to that. "Yeahand how's Ms. Intelligence doing?" "She seems all right. She avoided the question too, though." "What question?" McGee resisted the urge to slap his forehead. These two were going to be the death of him "Why aren't the two of you talking?"

Tony looked back at his computer, pressing his lips together for a moment. He was quiet for so long, McGee was beginning to think he was going to answer "We hurt each other when we're together." And there it was. McGee tilted his head as Tony finally started speaking, almost as if he couldn't stop himself. "I don't know what it is, I really don't, it's just likelike we bring out the worst memories when we're around one another. We tried to go out for supper a couple weeks back, and it was a disaster. We're miserable when we're together." Wellthat was just plain depressing. "You're miserable when you're apart too, though," McGee pointed out quietly as he sat down. Tony could act all he want, but McGee knew he missed Kate. And Kate missed him just as much. "I don't think you're doing yourselves any favors by doing this. You need to heal. And you're not going to do that while you're apart." Tony was quiet for a long, long moment before he finally said, "Very wise, McDoctor. You could teach a thing or two to those crackpots upstairs." "Do you mean the psychiatrists, or Vance?" "Pick." McGee chuckled, waking his computer up, and Tony smiled weakly. As much as he hated to admit it, the junior agent had made some good points. When had he gotten so wise? It wasdisconcerting. The conversation was dropped, and both men turned to their computers. After about five minutes of pretending to work, Tony pulled out his phone and opened a blank text message, putting in Kate's number. And he started typing. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Do we just LIKE making ourselves miserable? I know we said we needed some time away from each other, but this is stupid. It's bad enough we let Vance and the psych people separate us why are we separating ourselves too? He stared at the message for a long time before hitting 'delete.'

"Don't stay too late, Todd," Hunt said as he packed up to leave for the day. "See you in the morning." "Have a good night, Agent Hunt," Kate said without looking away from her computer. She really had no desire to go home home to an empty apartment with nothing waiting for her but the anti-depressants she'd been forcing herself to take religiously. And what kind of company were those? With Hunt and Delrose both gone, Kate was alone. She stared at her computer for another moment before pulling her cell-phone open, finding Tony's number in her contacts. He was probably right upstairs it was only five, after all. The Intelligence agents may have been able to work a nine-to-five day, but there was no way Gibbs would let McGee or

Tony leave before six, even if there was no case. It would be so easy to call Tony and see if he wanted to do something, or even to go upstairs and visit. It would be so easy Kate closed her contacts and stored her phone back in her pocket, packing her bag quickly and turning her computer off. She left the office, forcing herself to leave the building and head to the parking garage. A Test in Partnership Chapter Sixteen "How are you doing, Agent DiNozzo?" Tony couldn't help but scowl at the seemingly kind doctor sitting across from him. Who would have thought that such a gentle-looking woman could have screwed up his life so damn badly? "Is something wrong?" Dr. White asked, sounding genuinely curious, and damn it all, Tony suddenly really wanted to hit something. "You know damn well something's wrong. You and your other brain-friend told Vance to transfer Kate to another team, didn't you?" Dr. White didn't answer for a moment she suddenly seemed rather interested in her notebook, and whatever she was writing down. "Dr. Thompson and myself agreed and recommended to Director Vance that perhaps it would be in everyone's best interest if you and Agent Todd were separated for a time, yes. We thought it would be best for both of you." "Why?" Tony didn't mean for the word to come out sounding sopained. So wrong. Dr. White tilted her head a bit. "Do you miss her?" Tony gritted his teeth together, glowering at the doctor. "I don't want to talk about Kate." "You're the one that brought her up." "Because I still can't believe you told Vance to transfer her!" Tony hadn't meant to yell, and when he looked back later, he'd feel bad. Slightly. A little. Okay, not really. "What was so wrong with just leaving her with us and on desk duty? Who was it hurting?" "It was hurting you, Tony," Dr. White replied patiently, leaning forward and setting her notepad aside. "The relationship between yourself and Agent Todd is unlike anything I've ever seen in my many years working here. It's entirely unique, and honestly I'm not entirely sure it's healthy. This is space that both of you need." "Says you." "Well thankfully my opinion counts." Dr. White leaned back again, returning to her therapist role. "Tony doesn't it worry you that you're having such a strong reaction to be separated from your coworker?"

Tony opened his mouth to respondthen promptly snapped it shut again when he realized he was starting to wander into dangerous territory. Did it worry him that he was angry about having his partner the person he'd entrusted his back to for six damn years transferred away to rot down in Intelligence? As a matter of fact, no. He didn't think that was at all concerning. But that was the kind of answer these brain people loved to pick apart and analyze. And Tony wasn't about to give her that satisfaction. "I don't think you understand what it means to have a partner," he said instead, gritting his teeth together. Dr. White clearly wanted him to say morebut he wasn't going to give her that, either. He was done.

"How are things in Intelligence?" Kate regarded Dr. Thompson with an even, apathetic gaze. And she answered the question with one of her own. "Why did you have me transferred?" Dr. Thompson paused for a moment, tapping her pen against her notepad. "Dr. White and I recommended to Director Vance that you and Agent DiNozzo be separated for a time while you're still both trying to recover from what happened. It was Director Vance's decision that you would be the one who was transferred. And I can't speak for his actions." "Why did you say we need to be separated?" "Do you not like it in Intelligence? I was under the impression you were flourishing down there." Kate opened her mouth to answerand instantly shut it again. Because that was half the problem she was enjoying being down in Intelligence. No later hours, no dead bodies, none of the horrors of the human populationjust computers and numbers and probabilities and e-mails to field teams about where they needed to go. She had been in bed by ten o'clock every night since she'd transferred. "You took me away from my team," she said finally. "How is that in any way helpful?" "You'd be surprised what a change of scenery can do for a person," Dr. Thompson replied calmly, making note of the fact that Kate didn't actually answer her question. "You seem happier now that you're away from the MCRT." "Happier," Kate scoffed. "Right." And that was the other half of the problem she was happier. Not happier in the sense that she liked being away from Gibbs and McGee and Abby and Duckyand Tonybut happier, at least, now that she wasn't dealing with death and chaos on a daily basis. Confusing. Kate left her psych evaluation still not cleared for field duty (not that it mattered at this point) and with a spinning head. She'd tried not too think too hard about any of this. And this was why she hated psych evals so much. Especially office-mandated ones.

But there was one nonjudgmental person she could still talk to Luckily, Arielle had an hour open. It required Kate to leave work early, but she didn't really care about work at that point. Arielle was, at least, a third party. She wasn't evaluating her for work, and she didn't want Kate back on any teams. She just wanted to help Kate salvage whatever was left of the Israeli-American's mental state. Which, unfortunately, wasn't much anymore. "Hey there Kate," Arielle said with a smile as the woman walked into the office, taking her usual seat. "I'd ask how you're doing, but considering you're hereso what's going on?" Kate fidgeted uncomfortably, staring at the floor instead of trying to focus on Arielle as she spoke. "I wastransferred, recently. Under the recommendation of the office psychiatrists evaluating myself and Tony." Arielle tilted her head curiously, resting her pen against her lips for a moment before she dared to speak. "Where'd they send you?" "Intelligence." "And how's that going?" Again, Kate hesitated. Arielle made note of that. "II am not sure. I meanI am sure. And I think that is half the problem. Ienjoy working in Intelligence. More than one might believe, really. Usually I do not like being trapped behind a desk, but it is not so bad, really. It's different. And Ireally do not mind not being on the field. I am still accomplishing something in Intelligence, but I am not risking my life and working with bodies and victims" "And that difference is significant," Arielle finished the statement as Kate's voice drifted off. Unlike many, Arielle Simons had an accurate picture of what Kate had been like directly after her return from Somalia. She'd been plagued by nightmares every night, both of Somalia and of the other hauntings of her past the people she'd tortured, killed, watched die. As she'd dived back in to working at NCIS, those images were added to by the things she saw on the field the bodies, the victims, her first kill "Yes," Kate agreed quietly, finally raising her eyes to meet Arielle's. "I do not miss the field." And she never thought she would say that. "But II miss the team." Arielle tilted her head curiously. "You haven't seen them since you transferred?" "Wellsort of. It is hard they are working cases, working long hours, they are busy. I have seen McGee and Abby a couple of times, and I caught Gibbs once when he was getting coffee" "And Tony?" Kate dropped her gaze again, pressing her lips tightly together for a moment before she dared to try and speak again. "Wedecided" How exactly was she supposed to explain what they had decided? She couldn't even put into words in her head. "We thought maybe weneeded to get away from one another for a while. ToTo get our heads straight. We hurt one another when we're togetherand we know it."

Well at least they were aware of it, Arielle noted. She'd figured out a while ago that Kate and Tony had a strange relationship the man usually came up two or three times per therapy session, even if it was just to complain about some silly prank the man had pulled off at the office that morning. But she didn't bring anyone else up nearly as much. That certainly said something. "And how's thisbreakbeen going?" Long, long silence. Arielle was beginning to believe Kate just wasn't going to answer "I miss him." Well. Arielle had been in this business long enough to know how to control her expression so she didn't react to the things she was being toldbut actually hearing Kate Todd cop to the fact that she missed Tony? Arielle would have sooner believed someone telling her pigs were flying and the sky was falling. "Is that right?" She asked calmly, making another note on her notepad. "Are you surprised that you miss him?" Kate looked up at Arielle, raising an eyebrow. "You are fishing now," she informed the therapist, and Arielle set her notepad aside, leaning forward. "Maybe a bit. But that was a serious question, too. Kate have you ever noticed how much you talk about Tony? He was the first person from NCIS that you told me about, he is almost always the first person you mention when work comes upyou talked about six times in one session once. So I repeat: are you surprised that you miss Tony?" Andsilence. Kate was really good at this quiet thing. Arielle had almost forgotten that. "No." Another first. Arielle wondered for a moment if it was a sign of the end of the world. "Butthere is not much I can do about it, either." "Sure there is." Kate cocked her head a bit, giving Arielle a confused look. "You miss Tony. You think he doesn't miss you too? You know where he lives, it's not really that hard to go to his apartment and knock on his door I highly doubt he'll turn you away." "It's not that easy. There's a reason we decided" "I know," Arielle interrupted Kate patiently. "It's because you hurt each other when you're together. But staying apart isn't going to fix that, Kate. If you want to keep Tony in your life, you're going to have to learn to be together and not hurt one another. And that's not something you can do if you're avoiding one another and trying to run away." And once more, Kate looked down at the carpeted floor, clearly thinking hard. Arielle was surprised when she caught the woman trying to discreetly drag the back of her hand across her eyes.

Tony sighed as he sipped his beer, staring at his blank TV screen. He should at least put in a movie noise was better than silence, right? But it was far too much work to stand up and it required far too much brain power to decide what movie to watch. So instead he sat on the couch. Sipping a beer. And wondering what the hell he was going to do now.

The sound of knuckles against wood dragged Tony back to reality. Probably Abby, he reflected dimly as he pulled himself up, setting the beer down. It wouldn't do for her to catch him with alcohol she'd probably think he was just sitting in his apartment drinking himself to death Tony's mouth dropped when he opened his door to find a certain, dark-haired, Israeli wonder standing in the hallway, holding a pizza box. The former partners stared at one another for a long, long time. "I enjoy being in Intelligence," Kate said finally, her voice shaking just a bit if she had been speaking to anyone else, they never would have noticed. But it was Tony. And he noticed everything when it came to her. "I like being down there, and not having to deal with bodies and victims and death and despairbut I do not want to use it as an excuse to run away. And I am tired of trying to avoid you." Tony swallowed hard, trying to process these words. He couldn't really remember the last time Kate had been honest on this level After a moment, Tony stepped aside. A silent invitation. A soft smile pulled at Kate's lips as she made her way into the apartment. A Test in Partnership Chapter Seventeen Cleared for duty. Tony had never been more surprised to see the words in his entire life. After the way he'd flipped out at his last evaluation, he'd been sure he'd been on desk duty for the rest of his life. Dr. White had clearly lost her marbles. "Grab your gear," Gibbs declared as he walked into the bullpen, sipping his coffee. Clearly fate felt the need to welcome Tony back to the field. He stood up at once, grabbing his bag then stopped when he realized something was missing. "Boss?" Gibbs eyed Tony silently over his coffee cup. "Where's Kate?" Gibbs lowered his cup slowly; his next words made Tony feel as if someone was ripping his heart out and stomping on it. "She's not coming."

"Something wrong, chica?" Kate shifted her eyes to Hunt, who was watching her over a cup of coffee. "I was not aware Hunt was a Spanish name," she responded dryly, and Hunt chuckled. "I got a thing for languages. I can speak five fairly fluently. Impressive, non?" Daniel Hunt was, Kate had decided, the Tony DiNozzo of Intelligence. Overly inflated ego, loved to impressed, but underneath all the seemingly bad, he really did have a good heart. And he was easy to tease. "Siz gerekten etkileyici bir birey vardr," she replied, and Daniel blinked a couple of times.

"Uhright. You've got a freaky language thing going on too. How many do you speak again, four, five?" "Nine, actually," Kate replied with a slight smile, and Daniel chuckled, returning his attention to his computer. "My mistake. So seriously, what's wrong? You look majorly bummed." Kate raised an eyebrow. "Down. Depressed. Upset." "Oh. It is nothing." Kate looked over at the e-mail she'd been reading before Daniel interrupted her the e-mail informing her that she had not been cleared for field duty. Not that she was surprised. But the text she'd received from Tony ten minutes earlier had informed her he had been cleared. And a small part of her couldn't help but wonder: Why him and not me? There was a bigger part, though, that didn't mind as much a part that was happy for an excuse to stay in Intelligence. In front of the computer. Away from the field. The death. The bodies. The victims. The murderers. Needless to say, all of this led to one conflicted Kate. No one was really surprised when lunchtime rolled around and Tony popped into Intelligence. He'd been coming around a lot lately in the last week to drag Kate out for food. It reminded everyone suspiciously of a husband-and-wife pair. Not that any of them would ever voice that thought aloud Kate's reputation preceded her; most of them knew about her vast knowledge of how to kill people. "Can't believe the first case we pick up after I get cleared turns out to be a suicide," Tony said as they made their way out of the building, heading for the food cart. Kate made a noise of sympathy, secretly thanking whatever God existed that she'd been able to avoid that one. "So hey, you never answered my text earlier. Were you cleared or what?" Kate deliberately put off answering as she ordered a sandwich and a bottle of water. Of course, she could only avoid it for so long. "No," she finally said, focusing on the sidewalk instead of on Tony's face; she didn't see the disappointment that flitted across his expression. "Why not?" "They did not say." Tony got his food, and they went to sit down. "I guess someone finally figured out I am crazier than I sometimes let on." "That's not true," Tony said at once. Ironic considering he was the one who had always called her the "crazy ninja." "Let Gibbs loose on the psych people, he takes a few shots at them, they'll have you cleared in no time" "I do not want to be cleared." The words stopped Tony dead. His mouth dropped, the food in front of him forgotten, and he swallowed a couple of times. Kate deliberately avoided looking at him. "Youwhat?" Tony finally managed to say. Suddenly, Kate wasn't hungry; she stood up quickly, backing away from the table.

"I am sorry," she mumbled, quickly walking away. Tony stared after her, silently begging his voice to work so he could call after her, or for his legs to work so he could run after her anything to stop her from walking away. But his brain was frozen, Kate's last words ringing in his head. I do not want to be cleared. Why?

"Whoa." Kate looked over her shoulder, surprised to see Abby standing in the door of the Intelligence office. "McGee must think he's died and gone to heaven every time he comes down here," she said with a grin as she made her way over to Kate's station, earning herself a few strange glances when people saw how she was dressed. "Come on, let's get lunch." "I already left for lunch," Kate muttered, turning back to her computer. "An hour ago, actually." "Yeah, but you didn't actually eat, therefore that lunch is void and I'm declaring you need another one." And with that, Abby grabbed Kate's hand. "Abby I can't just leave" "Who's in charge?" Abby asked at once, looking around and no doubt planning to strong arm whoever she had to get permission to take Kate with her. "Just take her," Binns called without looking up from his computer, and Abby grinned triumphantly. "Thank you sir! Come on Kate." And with that, she dragged Kate out of the office. "Abby, I am not hungry" "You don't have to eat, then. We'll just talk." Gee. Kate wondered idly what Abby could possibly want to talk about. "So what's this I hear about you not wanting to come back to the team?" "I do not want to talk, either," Kate declared, pulling her hand out of Abby's grip. Abby sighed as she turned to look at Kate. "Kate, how long have we known each other?" The question surprised Kate a bit. "Aboutsix years, more or less." "Right. And in that time, you must have learned that no matter what happens, I always get my way. Right?" Yesyes she did. Kate couldn't argue with that, unfortunately. "You don't have to talk to me. In fact, I don't expect you to talk to me. However, I do expect you to listen to me, and follow me, and do what I say. Does that seem fair?"

Oh brother. Kate sighed as she gave in and nodded, and Abby grinned, taking Kate's hand again. "Great! Glad we worked that out." They entered the elevator; Kate was surprised when Abby hit the button for the basement. "We are going to the morgue?" "Kate, we've known each other for six years. In that time, I've learned something about you and that's that you'll only really talk to three people. Gibbs, Tony" The doors dinged open, revealing the older, smiling face of Donald Mallard. "And Ducky. She's all yours." And with that, Abby gently pushed Kate out of the elevator, hitting the button for her lab, smiling and waving to Ducky and Kate as the doors slid shut. "This feels like a set up," Kate grumbled. Ducky chuckled as he led Kate into the morgue, where the tea was already waiting for them. "No set up, my dear. Just an overdue conversation between two friends. Sit, sit" Kate did as she was told, and Ducky poured a cup, handing it to her. "Now, what's this I hear about you not wanting to return to field duty?" "Everyone gossips around here," Kate muttered, taking a sip, and Ducky chuckled. She was right, of course Tony had mentioned it to McGee, who had told Abby, who had all but run to Ducky. But there was no need for Kate to know that. "We're just concerned. This is quite a change for you usually after something happens you're itching to get back on the field" "Well I am not who I used to be." The words surprised Kate as much as they did Ducky. The older man raised an eyebrow, silently encouraging Kate to continue. "I am not who I was six years ago, Ducky. Or even six months ago." Ducky would certainly agree with that. "I have been thinking about it for a long time, ever since Franks" Her voice drifted off for a moment, and she swallowed hard before continuing. "I am tired of the death. Tired of the monsters. They're always there Shay and Rawling, CobbsSaleem" Ducky straightened up a bit at the allusion to Kate's time in Somalia. Of course, she didn't elaborate. Those secrets truly would join her in the grave. "Everything iseasierin Intelligence. Computer screens and numbers are easier to deal with then death and victims and monsters." Ducky couldn't disagree with that. He'd watched, for six years, as wild, impulsive Kate had grown and changed, becoming a beautiful woman who really couldn't even be compared to who she'd once been. The final piece of the puzzle had been Somalia the nightmare that had transformed Kate forever. It was no surprise that this latest hostage situation had finally put her over the edge. Lesser people would have broken a long, long time ago. "There's nothing wrong with wanting better for yourself, you know," Ducky said quietly, sipping his tea. Given the world Kate had grown up in, she certainly deserved better than seeing death on a daily basis. "Everyone is going to hate me," Kate replied, her voice shaking a bit. Ducky set his tea aside, reaching an old, withered hand out and placing it over her shaking one.

"We could never hate you, my dear," he informed her firmly. "We love you far too much for that. We just want you to be happy. And if you're happier in Intelligence than you are with the team, than who are we to take that away from you? We will support you onehundred percent." SomehowKate wasn't sure she believed that.

Gibbs didn't look up as a pair of light footsteps made their way down the stairs to his basement. He'd known this was coming when he'd heard Tony telling McGee Kate didn't want to be cleared for field duty. They were silent for a few moments; Gibbs could feel her eyes on his back. "Something on your mind, Ziver?" Gibbs finally asked, turning to look at the woman. She rocked back on her heels for a moment, looking down at the floor, unable to meet his eyes. "Ido not think I am coming back to the team," she said after a moment. Gibbs would admit, he wasn't entirely surprised. "Okay then." Kate's eyes dodged up to meet Gibbs' gaze at last. "I can't make you do anything you don't want to do. If you're sure this is what you want" "It is," Kate replied without hesitation, and Gibbs nodded. "All right." A moment of silence. "We'll miss you in the office." Suddenly, Kate's throat felt tight. She had to look away again to hide the tears threatening to well in her eyes. "You arenot mad?" It seemed like such a silly question to Kate. For Gibbs, it dragged him back in time, to a guilty Kelly standing next to a broken window, whimpering, Are you mad, Daddy? Gibbs held out his arms; Kate didn't hesitate to step forward, allowing Gibbs to wrap her in his warm grip. "Do whatever you have to do to be happy," he told her, pressing his lips to the top of her head. He didn't need to add, "We'll be here for you." She already knew that. Gibbs couldn't help but wonder, though, if Kate had realized yet what had already crossed his mind with her transferring to Intelligence, rule number twelve was null and void.

Tony wasn't surprised when he opened his apartment door and found Kate standing in the hallway, regarding him with an apprehensive gaze. "Hey." "Hey." Silence. "Wanna come in?" Tony finally asked, stepping aside. Kate nodded as she made her way into the apartment. He closed the door, andmore silence. "Listen"

"Tony" They spoke at the same time and instantly stopped, their mouths snapping shut again. "Go ahead," Tony said after a moment, and Kate sighed, running a hand through her hair before she spoke again. "Itold Gibbs I was leaving the team. I will be putting in the paperwork tomorrow." Tony nodded, pressing his lips together. "Good. I meannot good, obviously. Butis this what you want?" "Yes." The more people asked, the more Kate was sure. Yes. Yes, this was what she wanted. "Thengood. Well, still not good. But if it's what you wantif you're happy, I'm happy." A lie if Kate had ever heard one. "You don't look happy," she informed him wryly. He responded with the biggest, cheesiest, fakest grin she'd ever seen. "Tony" "Okay, okay." The smile faded, and Tony ran a hand through his hair. "LookI'm not going to pretend I'm happy you're leaving. Honestly, I think it sucks, and I'm gonna miss you like hell around the office. But I'm not about to try and make you stay with us. Do what you have to do, as long as it makes you happy." The honesty wasnot surprising, exactly. Appreciated, though. "Besides, it's not like you'releaving the country or anything. You'll be two floors down, and I have a pretty good idea of where your apartment is. It's not like we're saying goodbye. We justwon't be working together anymore. It's not goodbye, though." He paused for a moment before adding, "Right?" "No." The answer was instant and forceful it took them both by surprise. "Not goodbye." Never goodbye, a voice in the back of Kate's head added. Tony smiled wryly. "Okay then." After a momentKate smiled as well. "Okay, then."