He can hear her heart beating.
He thinks it wakes him, but then he takes the thought back because it can't be possible. Yet it keeps him alert, keeps him watching her sleep with the moon under her skin.
Thump. Thump. Like The Tell-Tale Heart, under the floor and drumming of guilt.
She feels him watching, her eye peels open. Once it sees his face, the other follows.
He can't say a word, but she must hear it in the jackrabbit leaps of his heart, because her hand touches his cheek.
"We can wait, Tim. Please. It's only three weeks."
He brings her close, but the small roundness of her stomach keeps him from full contact. His face is in her hair, she smells like African violets and smoke.
Her lips touch his aching forehead, fingers brush his eyelids.
"We'll be okay. I promise."
Later, she sleeps while he does not. He rests his hand on her heavy stomach, feels the shifting movement of their forming child, the double tap of both their hearts.
You could never tell one was broken.
That was four days ago.
Now he sits shaking, Gibbs on one side and Doctor in front. Abby is unconscious in a room nearby with her face snow white and her heart all a flutter.
"Sir, were you aware of her condition?"
Normally they would have called him husband, her wife. Someone must have called ahead or something to tell them, or else why? His mind is stuck on this, and Gibbs's fingertips bite gently into his shoulder.
"We were aware." It comes out squeaky, and with all that's happening how can that annoy him?
This doctor doesn't have time to coat the bitter pill. "She needs surgery."
Yes, McGee knows. Tricuspid heart valve has a split, it flutters like crazy in the wind of her blood. They were holding out till it was thirty weeks, till the baby might survive out in the open.
From mother's womb untimely ripp'd...
His brain has moved on, from Edgar Allan Poe to Shakespeare, numbly reciting half forgot speeches.
The Doctor sees he's short circuited, leans forward. There's plaque on his teeth, and a mole with a saluting hair bobs on his cheekbone.
"Do you know what this means?" Say it slowly, maybe he'll understand that way.
He understands, too much and not enough.
"She will recovery, partially. But the damage on her heart and the resulting scarring makes surgery at a later date much harder. This type of damage means life expectancy is drastically reduced."
So she'll die, he repeats inside, and Gibbs must hear because those fingers dig in again.
"What are you suggesting?" Gibbs can't restrain himself.
"Perform a C-Section; take her to surgery immediately, repair the valve."
His head lifts up with a creak. "But the baby."
"Newborns have survived more premature than this."
"But it's rare, isn't it."
The man gives a deep throated sigh. Truth is like bile, it stings on the way up.
"Yes. Fairly rare."
Gibbs's fingers in his shoulder again, but he doesn't notice.
He's stuck, because he's done the calculations and either way the percentages are the same. One live, one die.
Like flipping coins.
Head Heads, they both survive.
Head Tails. He loses one, keeps another and their grief, their blame, their knowledge.
But there would be another tails too, because he couldn't lose them both.
How kind life is, to give him these two hours. Precious moments.
Abby will not wake, not with what they've got her on. He has to decide.
He was given that right.
He looks at Tony.
Buddy. Not McGee, Probie, McGeek.
Buddy, a high last note from anxious vocal cords.
He looks away but feels Tony wince all the same.
"Sorry." The sound of a throat clearing. "I bought you a coffee".
It's held out with a hand that barely shakes. He takes it, but just puts it on his knee and stares at it. Tony sits down beside him. Normally he can count on Tony to fill the silences, but tonight they both fall short.
An awkward hand on his shoulder. Tony is fairly good at situations like this, but this is way over everyone's heads.
"We know it's hard for you to decide, McGee. Take your time."
He feels his head rise, slowly. "What would you do?"
Tony's face slackens, because he's realised he's boxed himself in. He looks at his coffee, swirls it around like he's thinking about it.
But McGee can tell the thought was always there, and it just needs time to extract itself.
"The baby… might not live. Even if it comes out later."
He says it with such difficulty, such hesitation, that there is the possibility of forgiveness. But McGee knows, deep down, that Tony loves Abby more, wants her to live. The understanding should make the hate less.
Must be so easy to think without this weight.
"They said the baby's a girl."
Giving the baby gender, a form, the hint of identity, has changed nothing for Tony. She's still just a possibility, a maybe. A chance he can afford to miss, at the risk of losing Abby.
He's known her longer.
There's a coin in his pocket. He twist it round and round, and debates. Surely it would make no difference. Then when it falls crashing to earth, he can point a shaking finger of blame.
The coin made me do it.
The thought makes a laugh sit at the base of his throat, waiting.
McGee senses her there, even if he didn't hear her come and didn't hear her sit. Ziva smells like tiredness. They'd had all been out in the field, before he got the call Abby had collapsed across the MTAC floor. What was she even doing there?
A hand on his shoulder. "McGee."
Her eyes are as always, shadows you could pour secrets into but would be lost in the dark.
"I don't want to decide." It comes out halting, and the laugh squeezes the base of his throat experimentally.
Her fingers tighten. "But you have to. "
"She'll die if I don't do anything; the baby might die too. And even if they do a C-section, Abby still might die in surgery."
The little laugh knows its chance is gone, and strangles him out of spite.
Ziva's hug is different from Abby's, so he can't pretend, even with his eyes half closed so all he sees is black hair.
She says the words carefully, so only he will ever hear, and even then there will always be doubt.
"It's very hard, to lose a baby.'
Lose, misplace. Like objects. Like…
That tone, a voice of secrecy. Hugging so no one else can hear.
A voice like fog. "Yes."
He doesn't ask; that tragedy can wait, because frankly this one is hard enough for him to cope with, and the secret has already been lost in her eyes.
But now it's like Abby.
"She's never going to forgive me." Stating, hoping for salvation. A contradiction.
"She will not forgive herself, McGee."
That is enough of an answer. He squeezes his eyes shut but it has the reverse effect of what he wants, so now a section of her hair will frizz.
Her voice shakes slightly. "You know what she wanted."
He make a noise into her coat, swallows.
"But she will forgive you either way."
McGee sits back. He's sure his face is covered with tears and his nose leaking, but he doesn't care, he doesn't care.
"Can you promise that?"
Through the glimmer of wet eyes, her look is ethereal and very clear.
Neither can say a word.
Gibbs has a hand on his shoulder, and McGee wishes he wouldn't.
He tells them.
"So what?" She's dubiously inspecting a stuffed giraffe from Ziva, before placing it carefully on top of the pile of softness in the centre of the lab floor.
Toys, a tower of love for something barely his hands' width. You pick up a dinosaur (apatosaurus), squeeze it till it squeaks. You both sit on a rug spread out, like a picnic. It's raining outside, so this is cosiness, comfort.
This could work, you think.
You repeat, voice firm. "So, we've decided William if it's a boy."
"You decided William. I still maintain he'll get called Willy in school."
You settle back, push away the useful but mildly inappropriate breast pump that Palmer gave her. "With any luck he'll get your cool genes."
She smiles, eyes half closed. "Brownnoser."
"What about for a girl?"
She pauses. "How about…"
She doesn't say it, but you know. It's crossed everyone's minds.
It feels like a dishonour, to take her name and give it to another as though to accept her memory had gone. Maybe he has misunderstood, maybe she wouldn't mind, but he can't get the thought out of his head.
She sees, smiles and shakes her head to say she understands. Another name comes out instead. "How about Georgia?"
"Like the Ray Charles song. The state."
"Georgia." You roll it around, it tastes like air. "Maybe."
A concession. She grins, because she can sure as hell turn that into a yes. She picks up a bat with felted wings, makes it sing to her stomach.
"Hey there. Georgie Girl…"
Did you smile? You think so.
"I don't think the baby can hear you."
She shrugs, then looks at you slyly. "Tony said you were shooting blanks. People are wrong."
You frown, decide to stick gum on Tony's car. "Good wrong?"
She leans across till her face almost touches yours, and her smile is like light. "Very good wrong."
The dinosaur squeaks in your hand.
It should be raining.
It should be something.
The sky's one monstrous white canvas, staring at you blankly and refusing to let it be your emotion, so you have to fill it all yourself.
Alone now. You weren't before, when they told you. When your knees gave out and Ziva and Tony on either side grabbed you under the arms to stop your body falling. You think your heart kept going, plummeting to the centre of the earth, because there's this big gaping hole inside.
Alone now, except for her sleeping form.
Your head is resting against the window, watching the sky as your breath leave marks like wings against the glass.
Bell tolls in your head.
Maybe it was just wishful thinking, that little dream in your head of cosiness. Maybe it was meant to be, and nothing you did could have changed it.
Maybe it was just sheer, dumb, stupid bad luck.
Maybe it's you.
You'll never know.
There's a sound behind you.
She's waking up.