Without Fail

Author: B. Cavis
Website: B/Side: The Writings of Beka Cavis

Rating: R
Category: Angst, Romance

Spoilers: Through season one.

Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: "She runs every thought over her tongue every night before she goes to bed. And when she's done with them all, she'll do it over again."




Fuck world peace and fuck the homeless. Every wish upon her stars are selfish and singular, and she refuses to feel bad about it, either. The eyelashes she catches off her cheek are blown off her right pointer finger, mechanically accompanied by her silent wish. The same one, every time.

Every birthday candle carries the invisible soil of his name and every penny lost to a fountain asks for a rip in the space-time continuum to change something she knows can never be altered.

It's a fool's wish. And she's just the fool to ask it over and over again.

...Besides, the homeless have never done anything for me, she thinks, and hates herself for the thought but hates him more for it. For reducing her to this. Wishes and pennies and dreams on dandelion heads. White and copper hopes that will never come true.

She hates him. She loves him, still, but she hates him more for making her love him, and there's no way she'll ever be able to look him in the eyes without the urge to tear into him with her teeth overcoming her.

A snippet of a song drifts through her head now, sitting in the small bistro and carefully studying her menu while Michael rubs his fingers down her arm, and she lets it whisper in her ears before blowing it away.

"Crazy. Crazy in love with you..."

She thinks she might have gotten the words wrong. It's not important anyway. The much more important issue is the fact that she's thinking about him.

Again.

She's always thinking about him; no big shocker. Emotional scars take a while to fade into thin white lines, and this one is red and violent on her skin. But the fact that he's on her mind right now, sitting in a bistro with a man who models underwear for a living sitting in front of her and loving her with his eyes...

It's foolish. She should stop.

So of course she can't.

The little bell above the door rings, and she glances over out of habit. A young man, light brown hair, with a huge grin on his face walks in with a swagger that screams ownership. The waitress smiles at him, and he purrs back before taking a seat for three and ordering a soda.

No threat there, she thinks to herself, and wonders if the salad comes with the onion soup.

****

She fears that she's become one of those women.

Maybe she's like them now. The hopelessly in love and hopelessly blind and hopelessly abused women who flash across the television screen with stretch pants and wife beaters on. The ones who go on Montel and get pity and "aw"s with each stupid tear. The idea of being like one of the images she yells at when she catches a snippet of a story in her rolling wave of channel-surfing disturbs her.

Greatly.

She's become a talk-show title, she realizes with a shudder. A Lifetime made-for-TV movie on what not to be with your husband. Next week, Oprah will recommend a book about her and her struggles with that most treacherous of organs.

He's reduced her to a shadow of blood and pain. The red crown on her head is rusted and stiff with sweat and tears, and when she lets herself pause, she feels much older than she really is. He strengthened her at one time, invigorated every inch of her body with ice water and blue, and now he ages her with his absence.

Laura feels halved. Feels like she's been cut and sanded down into a bleeding stump of her former self.

The former self had less pain in her eyes. Her former self had less knowledge in her blood. She's not sure which one she would rather be, but she knows which one she is.

Hence the pennies (and sometimes dimes) lost in the waters of alabaster and stone. Hence the coins and the lashes and the pollen. Wishes tossed into the galaxy in hopes of a shortcut through time.

Wishes. Prayers. Meditation. All because she's still searching. Still looking in her own memory and sifting scenes through her hands on a daily basis; searching. She goes through each section in brilliant Technicolor detail and looks in all the corners for what she needs, but it never obliged. Never finds "the look."

The look.

She revisits her memory over and over again, replays it as many times as she can before the scene grow thin on the film and start to warp and snap. She freeze-frames her own life in 20/20 perfection, and looks for it.

The look that she's desperate to remember. One that she wants to be able to know she saw in his eyes just once without it being a figment of her denial-desperate imagination or a reflection of her own face in dark pupils.

She needs to see the love in the blue; needs to find a scene where it can be remembered, and without a playback, she fears she might really go off the deep end.

****

The man in the corner table has been trying to get the waitress's number for ten minutes when the woman shows up. Laura hears the bell and peers around Michael's head cautiously, to see a woman of about 30 take a seat to him and offer a wry smile.

She teases him and laughs, and he puts his hand to his chest like he's wounded. Laura smiles to herself. Cute couple. A bit young to have children coming to meet them, but perhaps they're waiting for a friend or a family member.

Maybe, she theorizes, this is the first time the man is meeting his fiancee's mother, and he is so nervous that he is flirting with everything in a skirt to try and feel normal. It seems odd, though--the flirting seemed genuine with one of the women he approached, and that confuses Laura for a moment before she remembers that people are not inherently good.

He's probably cheating on her with at least three other women, fucking them socially on the weekends, while telling her that she's all he could ever ask for.

The thought makes her sick and anxious. Should she say something? No, wouldn't be appropriate.

She watches the brunette sip at her glass of water with pity in her eyes. Poor thing. Another divorce in the making. Another woman who will end up just like me.

The idea is much more depressing that she thought it would be. She looks back at Michael and smiles at an appropriate part of his story.

Good boy.

****

She had been so in love with that man. Had fallen so completely ass over tea kettle into that ravine that it was almost impossible to climb her way out of it long enough to entertain a logical thought. And it was entirely the blue's fault.

Those blue eyes cradled her in warmth and pulsed heat through her body with every heartbeat. For the love of those eyes, she would have thrown herself silent into the Potomac and never looked back up to see if he was pleased. She would have killed, raped, maimed, and done anything distasteful he could have asked of her for the love of those eyes.

Not that he ever did. Jethro never asked her for anything that she wasn't 100% willing to do in the first place, which just fueled her love and desire for him even more. A man who didn't ask her for anything but her company and presence when he came home--what could be better? What could be more perfectly seamless?

This has to be love, she had told herself, and nodded every time she thought it. This must be love.

And, in a sense, it had been.

She had loved him, cherished his very air, and desperate to believe he felt the same, she let the calm affection in his eyes be contorted into something different through hers. She'd seen those blue eyes of his and had fallen and tried oh-so-desperately to drag him down with her.

She'd wanted him to love her, and in her desire she'd mistaken his gentle lust for the emotion that her mother and father had shared. The dark need that the blue waters had swallowed her up in wasn't love, and she can see that now, but back then those eyes were all she could focus on. A warm field of blue that wrapped her in comfort and lust, and confused her mind enough to have her mistake it for what she needed.

So now she looks. Desperate for something to appease her worries and her silent fear of abandonment, she spends hours looking. She thinks back to the love she gave him while they were still married--examines the way she looked into his eyes for three years, and remembers how every day she would equal parts love and hate him more than the last time.

Loved him for his force. Hated him for his forcefulness.

And she can see all this now, but back then she was blind. Hot, thick love was in her eyes, and no amount of blinking could get it out long enough for her to see through her own illusions to test his view of her. It was only later--after she'd filed the papers and moved out to be on her own turf--that she had sat back and taken a good hard look at their time together and realized that she had never seen the Potomac promise in the blue abyss as it had been in hers.

She had paced in her new apartment for days, begged the sky for a reprieve that she couldn't take. Thought aloud and loudly, and screamed her frustrations into her hands when it got to be too much.

Fingers clenched tight into individual balls of pain pressed hard up against her thighs, she would rock back and forth on the carpet and try to find some evidence to appease the demon that perched daintily on her shoulder. Did he ever look at me like I looked at him? Did he ever hold me the way I did him? Did he ever really love me? Did he ever love me the way I loved him?

And no answers would come. To this day, nothing has come. Laura has been running the same data over and over again in her head, and because of it she is nowhere nearer to finding a solution than she was four years ago last July.

She runs every thought over her tongue every night before she goes to bed.

And when she's done with them all, she'll do it over again. Without fail.

Fuck the homeless, Laura thinks again, quiet and without regret. My wishes are my own.

****

Michael makes a joke, and she laughs for just long enough. Recently, she's been getting the feeling that he might just be falling in love with her. And while half of her doubts that she can deal with having a second husband before she's done scrubbing away the issues the first one left, the other half of her knows that recently she's been looking at his naked ass when he gets out of bed in the morning and thinking that she can't remember ever being more content.

Maybe it's love. She doesn't really know anymore. She's not so sure she ever knew in the first place.

All she knows is that he looks at her like she's a glass of water and he's just crawled naked through the desert for weeks. He holds her without making her feel trapped, and he knows when "not now" can be changed into "oh God" with a few quick touches.

They live together without actually living together--one night at one place, the other at another's--and it's been working out surprisingly well so far.

Maybe she should marry him.

Laura plays with the paper thing that came off her straw and sighs internally. That thought has just a little bit too much angst lurking in the bottom of its cup, and she refuses to start sipping from it.

For now, she's just going to enjoy.

Michael's mouth turns up in a smile from something her throat bubbled out without her permission from her first, and she smiles along with him. He makes her want to do that.

Smile.

****

He never smiled. Never. Not in the entire time she'd known him, not once during their three years together.

Oh, he'd laugh. She'd do something he'd find amusing and beautiful, and he would laugh low and hard (which inevitably made her want to crawl into bed with him right now) into the air between them.

Sometimes, his mouth would do that quirking up thing that she doubts he's lost. Like something was just amusing enough in his detached point of view to warrant acknowledgment, but not laughter just yet.

He never smiled with her. She could never make him.

She wonders if he smiled for Ann or Jean, and doubts it. They didn't outlast NCIS either, and they are her silent, never introduced team in this emotional battle against Jethro Gibbs and his memory.

They are her comrades. She will never call them up and strike up a conversation with them. Her Christmas card list doesn't include them.

He managed to alienate the three people who would understand each other best in the world, and it is just another one of his sins to be added to the big heaping pile she already places squarely on his back.

She can't call them up; she can't invite them out to tea because neither one of them would ever accept. Jean was number one and Ann was number three--Laura was right in the middle. She was the replacement for Jean, and the one whose shadows "ruined the relationship" for the other.

For them, she will never be more than a name and a collection of vague, secondhand memories, but it's nice to know she's not alone. Not on her own side of solitude. Nice to know she's not the only one who's suffered.

She thinks now, in the post-divorce days that carry with them so much knowledge, that the woman who can make him smile will be the last. The first one to stick and the last one to join.

Laura almost laughs at the thought every time it comes to mind. All she had to do to secure his love was make him smile. And all she could do was make him laugh.

Damn Jethro Gibbs and his mouth of smile-less expressions. Damn him for never showing his teeth, and damn him for that corner of his mouth.

And damn her for not being able to overcome those things within him.

****

"Are you all right?" Michael asks her, and Laura takes a sip of her onion soup with pleasure.

"Hm?" She clears her throat and smiles at him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

He shrugs. For a man whose ass can dent bars, he's surprisingly unsure of himself around her. "You just seem... quiet."

She grins at him and steals his hand up to her mouth for a quick kiss to the knuckles and a mild suck on the edge of his thumb. The worry leaves his face and he smiles leeringly back. She laughs.

"Just distracted by how hot you're looking today, lover."

And they do on discussing whatever it was they were talking about. Laura honestly can't remember, and she can't bring herself to care as much as she should. It's wrong of her to treat Michael like this, she knows. Not to give him her full attention is less than he deserves, and it's wrong of her.

Not that she can stop. She's feeling particularly melancholy today. Must be the rain.

She glances outside quickly into the blinding sunlight where only an hour ago there was a thick mist of wet gray drops. Shrugs. Then it must be the sunlight.

The bell rings again, but this time her eyes are linked with Michael's as she slips her foot out of her heel and inches it up the inside of his khaki-clad thigh. His grin is getting wider by the moment, and she loves his smile.

It always bodes good things for her when he gets her home, and the building anticipation is making her cheeks feel flushed and hot. He's told her it's a great look on her.

A rumble comes from the corner table, and when Michael's eyes close in pleasure, she peeks around to see if the woman has discovered someone else's phone number in her fiance's pocket.

Her foot drops from Michael's thigh, and she puts it back in her shoe quickly. He opens his eyes, grins, and takes one of her hands in his to squeeze. He thinks she's building it up until they get home--driving him crazy.

Crazy.

It'll be nice to have company in that category, her brain thinks fuzzily.

Jethro Gibbs just walked in and sat down next to the woman and the man. Just took his jacket off and sat down like it was no big deal that he was in his ex-wife's space.

He doesn't know she's there. And the thought of having the drop on him in anything is decidedly appealing. She makes small talk with Michael about their plans when they get home (and he mentions a few things that if her head was on straight would send her straight for the door with him firmly in tow to go see how far his car seat can go back) and watches quietly as the scenario unfolds in front of her.

The woman's shoulder's drop their defensive pose, and she offers him a quick smile. The younger man nods his head in acknowledgment of someone he obviously views as above himself in some aspect.

The flirt views him as the boss, but judging from the softened features of the brunette, she views him as a friend.

Jethro is someone's friend.

That sounded odd even in her head.

****

He was particularly good at making her melt all over his hands.

Whatever his faults, whatever their issues had been, they hadn't spilled into the bedroom. Jethro Gibbs has hands that remember everything, and a cock that reached far enough inside her to make her wail.

He was good at what he did, and so was she. And on the days when she allows herself to remember the best lover she ever had, she thinks about those hands and that cock and wonders if they still remember her.

Does his body still have a road map imprinted on it of every place on her skin that makes her pant? Can his fingers still find all of her sweet spots?

Do his hands still remember her?

And then she hopes, desperately, that they do. That if he wanted to, he could still make her clutch at the bedspread and scream or climb on top of his lap and whine her needs into his neck. She hopes he still can, and with every memory of him that rushes over her, she hopes that he has one of her. One image of her skin. One tastebud on his tongue that remembers how the area behind her ear is flavored.

She hopes he hasn't forgotten. Prays he hasn't. And find herself suddenly unable to look him in the eye or any other area that isn't lickable.

Followed by guilt. Followed by self-loathing. Followed by anger for him, hatred for him, and the inevitable abandonment of her senses and the need to get on the road and drive fast and hard until she can tell herself she can't remember his touch anymore.

She runs away from herself when she has to. She has never been too proud to turn tail and flee.

But the hope persists. The desire to see the same longing in his eyes that he was able to pull out of her own body on oh-too-many occasions. The look that her ceiling has gotten on more than one occasion--waking up from a matrimonial wet dream in tears and sweat.

He has to remember, screams her internal sense of justice. He has to because that's the only way this world still be fair enough for her to continue living in it. It's not fair the she aches and he doesn't.

Eye for eye. Pain for pain. Want for want.

The story of Laura and Jethro. Rated D for "Disillusioned," "Denial," and "I wish he was Dead."

****

Eventually, inevitably, her meal ends. Michael offers up his card to the waitress and she gives him a smile as her lunch is taken out of his bank account.

He gets up and offers her his hand, and she takes it without a second thought. The place under his arm is comfortable and warm, and she loves that he is able to dwarf her without making her feel dwarfed.

Her hair is stark red against the black of his sweater, and he holds her with one hand around her waist like too much pressure will shatter her and not enough will let her slip out of his fingers like sand on the beach.

The table containing her ex-husband and his two friends is loud and full of laughter. Jethro had just placed his card on their waitress's tray, and the brunette is looking at him with distress in her face.

Michael steers towards the door, which means closer and closer to them, and their conversation seeps into her hair and clothing and skin. She'll taste it on her fingers for hours to come, but for now she just absorbs. And listens.

The brunette is protesting. "--I ate too, Gibbs; let me pay my own way." She looks nothing like Laura or Ann or Jean. Dark brown hair, serious eyes, and a mouth that seems to want to smile no matter what. Her suit is worth more than Laura makes in a month, but she wears it well.

A wealthy girl who doesn't value herself on wealth. Laura can understand how Jethro would value an opinion like that in his everyday life.

The flirt is laughing and tossing his head from side to side in amusement. A firm, rich laugh, surrounded by knowledge and strength. This man is smart, but doesn't play it up; strong, but doesn't show it off. He plays the fool, but if he needed to, he could present himself as anything necessary to his situation.

A chameleon in a laugh. Laura can understand why this man holds Jethro's loyalty, and gives it back threefold.

"Kate," the chameleon chuckles, "there's no way you're going to win this argument. Give up now." He flashes his teeth. "It's nice of you to pay our tab, boss."

Jethro's eyes turn to him, all seriousness, but Laura can see the humor lurking underneath. He always did like busting someone's bubble. "Dinozzo, did you or did you not recently get my favorite car blown up?"

The smile fades from the chameleon's face. "Well... Boss, you wouldn't hold that against me, would you? It was a company car, not--"

"I am the company, Tony. You can pay for the drinks you kept getting to call the waitress over." He signs the receipt, and Kate sighs.

"You should have let me pay, Gibbs."

And his eyes swing up, startling blue in his face, and Laura blinks to see if maybe she's imagining having seen that look before. No, she's never seen this.

This is a little bit too intense for him to have ever aimed it at her.

Kate doesn't look away. Doesn't flinch, doesn't wince. She meets his eyes full-on and firm.

And Jethro Gibbs smiles.

"Katie," he begins, and the softness in his voice wasn't there a moment ago. "You didn't eat enough to feed a cat, and you worked until three last night. I can cover this."

"But--"

"Stop arguing," he soothes with a hint of steel on the edge of his tone. Her eyes soften. "Say 'thank you,' Katie."

"But--"

Tony laughs hard. "Just say it, Kate."

Her pride is swallowed down, and the part of her that wears pink slippers and diamonds instead of pantsuits and guns smiles soft and hesitant. It peeks out of her face meekly for a moment, before growing into something larger and grander.

And Jethro smiles back.

Laura bites the inside of her cheek and allows Michael to take her out into the sunlight and golden flecks of rain that still cling to everything.

"Are you all right?" he asks again, and this time she's not sure what she is, but she knows the answer she has to give.

"Take me home, Michael. And stay the night."

He opens a car door for her and she climbs in with dazed feet and numb legs. When he sits down beside her, she wraps her hand around his on the gear shift, and he gives her an odd look before passing it off as a need for human contact and kissing her cheek.

"Whatever it is, Laura, it's not worth your time and worry."

She blinks and looks over at him, the light from the raindrops on his windshield painting polka dots of light on his face. He's been chicken-pocked by prisms, and she can't remember a time when he's looked more beautiful; emotionally open, loving, and sitting beside her holding her hand.

"I love you," she whispers, and his eyes go wide. Her mouth is moving and she can't seem to shut it up, but the words that come out are flowing like the cleanest, coldest water and filling up the car. She hopes they don't drown. "I do, I do, I know I have been trying not to say it, and I know you probably didn't need to hear that while sitting in your car, but the moment just sort of happened and it just sort of came out and now I really can't take it back so please don't ask. It's just that I have a lot of issues that you probably don't want to deal with, and I understand if you want to stop this now because, let's face it, you could do a whole lot better than a divorcee who still wonders if her first husband loved her because he never smiled at her the way he did Katie and I--"

Michael must be afraid of drowning too, she thinks fuzzily a moment later. He moves forward in one swift movement and grabs her around the back of the head to press her mouth against his tightly.

She can't talk, she can't breathe, and all she can think is that this feels right and that it's about time something does.

He pulls away long enough to look into her face and whisper into her skin. "I love you too, Laur. I love you, and I don't care what the hell kind of issues you have with him. If he isn't with you now, then he doesn't deserve you and I don't care."

His fingers are wrapped in the short hairs on the back of her neck and she can't feel anything but his hands on her, and there's nothing else worth feeling anyway so what does it matter.

Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Gibbs, Kate, and Tony leave the bistro together. She doesn't look away from Michael's face and she doesn't think she ever will.

"I love you," he tells her again, and she can hear the truth in his tone echoing through his voice and pressing down on her from all sides.

I love you, his eyes whisper. Those perfect orbs of chocolate and cinnamon and warmth.

And Laura smiles.


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