It was that dream again. The one where he looks around from his laptop with his headphones still on to see the car filled with exhaust and Abby's lifeless body slumped in the passenger seat.
McGee awoke with heaving chest and thumping heart. The sheets were twisted into a long thin log up the middle of the bed. The bedcover lay in a crumpled heap on the floor along with the book from the bedside table.
He lay very still for a moment; eyes squeezed shut, swallowing hard, trying to control the surge of panic. The tide of despair ebbed. Hyperventilation had left him dizzy; his extremities tingling from the un-required influx of oxygen. He shivered as the blanket of sweat cooled in the stark early morning air.
"I'm sorry Abby," he whispered quietly.
Knowing she had forgiven him was not enough; he would never forgive himself.
He had always absorbed himself in his work; so much so that his parents had taken him to have his hearing tested as a child. Naturally, his ears could detect sound just fine. It was the neural pathway to the brain that was the issue.
Sometimes the ability to block the whole world from his consciousness was a blessing; like when Tony and Ziva were messing around, but now he would only ever view it as a curse. Never again, he vowed, would he let himself divorce from his surroundings.
He held no illusions: if Gibbs had not appeared at that precise moment, witnessed Abby's desperate pleas, dropped his precious coffee and smashed the car's window to haul her to safety in his arms - the vision of Abby's motionless form that burned its way into his nightmares every night would have been reality.
His first feeble attempt to peel himself away from the damp bed resulted in a single raised knee and the effort required for the simple movement nearly reduced him to tears. He couldn't remember the last time he had slept through the night. No matter how exhausted his body, his mind would not relinquish its torturous hold. Except at work; when it was light and safe and his mind was convinced there were plenty of people around to protect Abby, only then he would find himself nodding off. People were starting to notice.
Sometimes Abby would catch him silently watching her in the lab. She would give him an exasperated: "I'm OK, McGee" and he would look away, feeling the color creep up his cheeks to the very tips of his ears. In the beginning, she would come over and give him a reassuring hug but those times were becoming less frequent. He suspected she was starting to get a bit annoyed by it. In truth, he was beginning to feel like a stalker.
He wanted to call her, to drive over, to feel her safe in his arms and never let go. His mind flashed back to her hug in the evidence garage, his gentle squeeze of her hand to let her know just how much he cared. It comforted him to feel that she understood.
With a supreme effort of will, he tried for the other leg and managed to raise its knee to match the first. Gently, he rolled out of the bed and onto the floor. He looked down at his watch; it was 5 am, he might as well get up. Almost 3 hours sleep tonight: a personal record.
He clawed his way up the bed to a full stand giving thanks that Abby couldn't see how fragile he was right now. The bathroom mirror revealed what he feared: puffy, bloodshot eyes hair ruffled almost to a stand from incessant nocturnal writhing. A shower would hide a multitude of weaknesses.
He had given up driving and returned to the bus, both because it seemed safer not to drive and because the interior of cars was starting to freak him out.
Tony was waking him again. The results of a long forgotten search scrolled down his screen. He couldn't even remember why he was searching. It's not as if he could read the words. How long he'd been there he could not tell, but his back and neck had cramped from being slumped so low in the chair and there was a sweaty patch in the fold where his chin touched his chest. His mouse swung on its cord from his desk like a hypnotist's pendulum.
Tony was slapped him on the back good naturedly, but the concern was there in his eyes, watching him just a little too intently. Peripheral vision revealed Gibbs and Ziva silently monitoring his every move. An uneasy calm surrounded them, as if they expected him to shatter any moment.
They had sent him to Ducky days ago for a check up. He could not remember speaking once to the old man. When Ducky took a blood sample, he had slid out of the chair. The jury was still out on whether he had passed out or simply fallen asleep. Everybody seemed worried.
"You're doing it again, McGee."
The harsh tone in Abby's voice breached the dam he had built around his emotions and a few tears sprang out before he could shore up the damage. He looked away hurriedly to avoid crumbling before her and typed something nonsensical on the keyboard.
Abby glided around the room to stand behind him.
"We probably won't get many hits on a BOLO for a twhyuaer htues," she said squinting at the screen.
His shoulders slumped: she knew. At this distance she was probably acutely aware of the trembling of his fingers as they hovered over the keyboard.
She circled around him and pried an eyelid open. The drops and cucumbers recommended by his sister could only do so much. They couldn't hide the masses of tiny broken blood vessels that criss-crossed the delicate skin around his eyes or the complicated network of blood red lines that radiated from his iris.
"Have you had any sleep?"
"Not much," he admitted pulling his head from her.
She picked up her phone and he heard her say "Gibbs, I'm taking McGee home."
There was no protest on the other end.
He offered no resistance as she led him through the lab, into the corridor, down the elevator and out into the car park parking lot. It was only when they reached her car that he baulked.
But all he could see was the smoked filled cabin and Abby's soulless body draped grotesquely across the seat.
"McGee, I'm OK.'"
His head snapped to look at her face and he realized he was panting like a deranged madman.
Abby opened the door for him, encouraging him to enter. He licked his lips nervously reflecting this would be so much easier if she didn't drive a hearse. Seeing her in the driver's seat rendered swallowing impossible.
The rhythm of the engine soon lulled him to sleep and before he knew it, they were outside his apartment and Abby was cupping his face gently in her hands whispering his name.
She led him through the living room to his bedroom, noting the uncharacteristically unkempt state of the apartment. Pulling him to a sitting position on the bed, she undid his shoes, took his gun, his badge and his handcuffs and, with a single stroke of his hair, slowly laid him out on his back.
He watched through the glazed windows of his eyes as she slowly tidied the room; straightening the sheets and replacing everything the way it would have been if she had been there; say last week, before all this happened. Then she kicked off her shoes and snuggled under the covers with him. He curled one arm around her and gave her a squeeze. It was still light, it must be four in the afternoon; what was he doing in bed?
"I'm OK, McGee," Abby's voice was low and distant.
The car was back, full of smoke, his headphones were still on. Gibbs was telling him he was too late.
"I'm OK, McGee."
Where had that come from? Not the car, surely, he could see her lying there slumped in the passenger seat.
He started awake. His arms and legs were askew and Abby was cowering on the bed, her arms raised protectively. Gasping and disorientated, he watched Abby straighten the sheets and smooth out the bed. She lay down again.
"Close your eyes," she said softly.
He gulped audibly but did as he was told. He felt himself float off the moment his eyelids touched.
Then he was back at the laptop with his headphones on, Abby's orphaned laptop sitting forlornly at his side. He saw the car fill with smoke then Abby frantically bashing on the window. The inevitable was coming and he could not stop it. He willed himself to turn around but his attention stayed rooted to the screen.
"I'm OK McGee."
He woke with a shout to find his arm crushing Abby's body and his head slammed against hers. It was still light but evening was fast closing in. Abby rubbed her hand across his chest soothingly and muscles he didn't even know he had began to uncoil.
He sank deep into the mattress.
It was cool and dark when he woke. There were no nightmares in the eerie silence but neither was there any trace of Abby. Groggily, he rolled out of bed. A sound from the living room caught his attention and he poked his head around the corner to find Abby playing on the computer.
Abby turned and smiled fondly at McGee standing tall in the doorway with sleep tussled hair.
"I'm OK, McGee."
He smiled gently, "I know."
Thanks to Shellie Williams for the fantastic Betaing