If he were being honest, he knew better than to invite her down into the basement. The last time she'd been down there should have been warning enough to stop him. At the very least, it should have been enough to keep him from sliding the sandpaper into her outstretched hand and putting her to work on the boat beside him.
Her smile when he had though...
He couldn't help wondering- at least in the back of his mind- if he kept playing with fire, hoping he might end up a little singed.
Be worth it, Katie?
Gibbs shook himself, sighed. Turning back to his table, he scooped up his too warm beer and took a long pull from the bottle.
He'd been trying, with little to no success, to keep his eyes on the boat and his thoughts far from Kate. He needed the ability to focus, still hadn't found it by the last swig.
Kate shifted. The sounds of sandpaper faded a moment later. His eyes moved to her without a second thought, without a proper risk assessment. She had one hand wrapped around the boat frame, eyes on him. Kate tilted her head to rest against her hand, smiled. He swallowed roughly, shifted his weight up off the table.
If he were a smarter man, he'd probably know how to deal with his feeling for Kate by now. Or, if he were less broken, he'd probably just confess and hold on tightly as love ran its course. But Gibbs had been standing still for too many years. He'd been drawing lines and repeating rules for too long to just stop now.
Wanting to stop-finally have a damn good reason to stop-didn't mean he had the first clue how to make it happen.
He sighed and held himself and his beer bottle too tightly to be comfortable.
Kate bit against her lip. He forced himself to look away. Staring a hole into the side of his boat felt like the safest option. It had to be better than lashing out at Kate for...well, for looking like she might want him to kiss her as much as he wanted to do it.
God, Katie. How'm I supposed to survive you
He heard her turn back to the boat, heard the sounds of paper scrapping over wood resume.
Dropping the empty bottle onto the table beside him, Gibbs took a step closer to her.
"Kate, I-" he started, taking another step. He had no follow up to offer her.
"What are you going to name it?" she asked, glancing over her shoulder at him.
He blinked. Of anything she could have said, any question she had every right to ask of him, he hadn't been able to predict that one. It threw him off balance.
"The boat," she said, tapping the wood beside her head. "Boats usually have names, right?"
"Right," he said, glancing at the boat, trying to recover language skills. "I, uh...was gonna call her Kelly."
He regretted it instantly, hated himself for the honesty the moment the name had left his lips. Taking in a sharp breath, Gibbs braced himself to be reminded again of what he had lost.
Kate didn't ask. When he summoned the courage to look at her, her eyes were sad and she gave him a small nod. Probably she knew too much, but he didn't dare ask her. He didn't want to know.
Gibbs tried to swallow around the lump he knew as sadness. He refused to give it power tonight. He'd grieve-for the millionth time-when Kate had returned home. The bourbon would still be there then. Right now, the heartache made him want to reach out for Kate all the more.
It tore at his walls, and he didn't quite want to rebuild just yet.
"I like it," she said, smiling over at him."The name and the boat. "
He nodded his relief, somehow found a smile in return. He drew in his breath, gathered up his courage.
"How 'bout dinner and a movie," he said, wrapping his own hand around the boat frame. "I'll cook."
"You cook?" Kate asked, her smile growing wider.
He narrowed his eyes, even as the tension in his shoulders eased. Teasing, he knew, could work with. The smile on Kate's face nearly erased the ache in his chest. Nearly.
Not a date, he told himself, no matter what it felt or sounded like. No matter what he actually wanted.
"Made ya breakfast didn't I?" he said at last, pulling the sandpaper from her hand and tossing it to the table.
If he didn't look at the boat again, he might just be able to make it upstairs without breaking.
"You did do that," she said, spinning and heading for the stairs. "I'll help."
She flashed another smile over her shoulder.
Flipping off the light at the top of the stairs, Gibbs shut the door behind him.
Tomorrow, he'd have rules and lines to remember.
Tonight, he refused to think about tomorrow.
Gibbs had turned on a black and white movie. Kate hadn't caught the name of it, had lost the plot somewhere along the way. Every blink seemed to last longer than the one before.
Her mind kept trying to break past the haze of exhaustion to remind her that falling asleep on his couch-or him-would, at the very least, be embarrassing when she woke up again.
One more minute and she'd get up. It didn't matter how full her stomach felt, or how warm the fire and Gibbs had become. Kate tried to pull her eyes open again.
Kate shifted, drew in a slow breath.
She heard a door open nearby. The sound of the wind picked up for a moment, before fading out again. Even half-asleep, Kate knew she shouldn't be able to hear that from behind the bedroom door.
Kate swallowed. Running her fingers over the couch cushion, she forced herself to remain calm and think things through. She had woken once, she remembered after a moment. The fire had been dying, the TV turned off, the room dark and warm.
He had...no, she had only imagined the rest. Dreamed it. Gibbs wouldn't have been holding her, arm heavy around her waist. He hadn't actually rumbled out a 'sleep, Katie' and pulled her in closer still...
Kate sat up slowly. The table had been cleared of dishes, all evidence of the night before emptied from the living room-Gibbs included. She hoped he had gone out for coffee, feared he had left for work without her. The thought caused an ache in her chest she hadn't expected.
Shoving the blankets to the side, Kate climbed to her feet.
As embarrassed as she felt, Kate reminded herself as she climbed the stairs to shower, she'd only fallen asleep on his couch. She hadn't tried to sleep with him, at least. The thought didn't bring much comfort to her, the breach seemed the same.
Kate showered, dressed, and dried her hair in the silence. She waited as long as possible before scooping up her car keys and heading down the stairs. The door opened halfway down, and Gibbs came into view. She let out a breath, felt relief for the first time she'd woken up.
"Gibbs, I'm-" she started, stepping off the stairs and closer. "I'm sorry about last night."
He didn't answer, held out a cup of a coffee, and a folded over brown bag. She reached out, took them from him and watched him turn away again.
"C'mon, Kate" he said, over his shoulder. "Got a case."
The smell from inside the bag made her stomach growl, and she only stared at his back for a moment before hurrying after him.