A/N: By far, the fluffiest piece I've ever written. Never thought I'd use the 'L' word (no, not 'lesbian') so many times in one fic. Took me forever to write.
Spoilers: Broken Bird, teeny bits from Bloodbath, Frame-Up, Driven.
Lesson VIII -- Hypnophobia
She sits silently in the backseat of his car, musing aimlessly. Her knees are drawn up against her chest, arms wrapped around them guardedly as she huddles in the corner diagonal to the driver seat. She closes her eyes and buries her face between her arms.
Her eyes burn with the heated dryness that accompanies a prolonged lack of sleep and she shuts her lids tighter in a rather futile attempt to moisten them. She feels the chill of the late night seep through the hidden breaches of his vehicle, sending goose bumps to form across the lengths of her arms. Opening her eyes for a dreadful moment, she discovers the twill knee-length coat flung over the head of the seat beside her and promptly grabs it.
The coat is fetchingly worn and smells of him distinctly as she brings it to her face. She wraps the thick garment over her legs and arms, the mixture of sawdust and mild cologne on its collar soothes her beyond her comprehension. Her body is tired and her mind weary, but she doesn't dare rest—not by her own initiative.
She doesn't expect him to come this early. She had thought his lingering presence in the sanctuary of his car and coat would be enough to comfort her. She hadn't wanted to bother him with her troubles, so she had aimed to seek solace from objects closely associated to him. She had hoped their overpowering influence would have lured her to sleep by now, so she wouldn't have to face him and his inquisitive nature.
And she had thought she had it under control.
Her eyes relax and her cold-stricken limbs begin to warm themselves. The silence, assuasive yet forlorn, bores her, but she welcomes it regardless, trusting it might induce some much needed rest. But it doesn't, as the images she has tried, with all her might, to elude return.
The gentle rustling of keys accompanied by a lack of audible footsteps alert her from a restless and drifting limbo. She cowers further into her corner and watches him, cautiously, as he approaches.
The dim misty glow of streetlights provides adequate lighting as he reaches his vehicle. He had forgotten his coat, and reluctantly made his way back to retrieve it despite the cold of the night. Keys in his hands, he walks swiftly to the back seat, but a dark figure behind the tinted glass halts his stride. He raises a hand to his belted gun as he strains his aging eyes to recognize the person. As quick as his arm had gone up, he lowers it back down.
With the duskiness of the night in addition to the dark tint of the window, he finds difficulty in assessing her situation. He comes closer to the window, but refrains from opening the door.
To confirm it is who he thinks it is, he signs to the person, knowing only she would be able to understand and respond. Abby?
From her side of the glass, she can see him clearly as day. Exposing only her hands from beneath the safety of his coat, she signs, Hi, Gibbs.
He doesn't know why he continues to sign, when it would be easier to just open the door and speak, but something about their unique form of communication impels him. What are you doing here?
Come in. She can't stand to see him waiting in the cold on account of her.
He opens the door and beside her, takes the seat where his coat had been. The rush of cold air slams against her exposed skin and she draws the coat closer around herself, shivering. He shuts the door quickly, sending a last surge of chill throughout the insides of the car. He turns to look at her, studying the figure her body creates beneath his coat.
"Going to tell me why you're in my car, freezing to death?" He keeps his distance, sensing her unusual restiveness.
Forcibly stopping her body's incessant trembling, she stays silent, conjuring up a suitable answer. She takes a deep breath and turns her head opposite him, hiding her face. "Needed some place to think."
"So you chose my car," he states blankly, not at all surprised by her reasoning. He turns to look straight ahead, staring at nothing in particular.
"Yeah." Her voice is barely a whisper, but his acute ears pick it up without trouble.
He clasps his hands over his lap. "Tell me about it."
"No. It's nothing…" She trails off, abstaining from starting one of her usual endless rambles. Snuggling closer into the depths of his coat, she can't help but let out a soft sniffle. "You can't…you don't need to help."
He brings his eyes to look at her. Her hair is loose, hanging freely over the fabric of his jacket; the two shades of black are almost inseparable. Her boots stand unworn on the floor of his car. He cannot see her face but is more than curious.
He moves closer, cautiously at first in case of any disfavor, and stops only when his thigh comes to lightly touch hers. He reaches for her chin and turns her head to face him. The contact of their skin makes them both tremble, but he shrugs it off and faults the cold, guessing she has done the same. Her face is void of makeup and her eyes are slightly bloodshot. The normal pallor of her skin seems more sickly than ever. He feels his heat boil at the cause for her pallid appearance.
Her eyes come to greet him, giving him view of the hapless bags beneath them. He moves his hand to cup her cheek and she graciously leans into his giving palm. "Tell me."
She covers her mouth with his palm, her eyes pleading for him to drop the subject. His captive glare bores into her, and the persistence of his touch breaks her. She speaks softly into his hand, feeling the lines of his calluses against her moving lips. "You know what it is."
Indeed, he does.
Her long years of working at NCIS has made her increasingly immune to the consequences of federal police work. It seems each year a disaster would happen, reducing the number of their makeshift family by one. As tensions between countries rise, the chances of an agent getting shot between the eyes or blown up by a pipe bomb increases proportionally.
She's learnt to deal with it, shrugging off the emotional strain with hours of sleepless work and a temporary bout of hysteria. The risk of losing another agent, even a friend, is not what concerns her—not any more. She understands the hazards that come with the job, and she praises her agents for staying brave. It's the risk of losing someone whose business does not entail such perils. Someone like Ducky.
The assault on his being had hit her hard, but she masterfully hid it behind an uncharacteristically steady composure when confronted. The others had been suspicious at first, given her opposing reactions from various times before, but had soon learned to never doubt her coping methods. They didn't question her, with the exception of Jimmy, thinking it was about time for her to face the reality of NCIS. They couldn't have been further from the truth.
Special agents are one thing, medical examiners are another.
The façade of her composure doesn't last, and now, with him, it's completely vanished. He understands how she feels, grappling with the same emotions many times himself. It never gets any easier, but one learns to conceal it. Eventually, one learns to accept it.
"Ducky is going to be fine," he reassures her, knowing somehow it won't exactly help.
Feet off the seat and on the ground, she responds, "I know." Her eyes drop from his view, and he feels the weight of her wilting head against his palm.
It's different this time. He knows he won't be able to make her talk like usual. He decides to add a bit of input, hoping to bait her. "But that's not what's bothering you."
"No, no. Don't get me wrong. I love Ducky, and I would never want anything bad to happen to him, but…" She reaches out an arm to push his hand away, but ends up holding it in place against her face, instead. "…he's not one of you guys. He shouldn't…he shouldn't have went through all of that. He should never have been hurt in the first place."
He feels a fresh tear slip through the crease between his hand and her face, warm and dismaying. He tilts his head to look at her better, a thumb softly caressing away the moisture. Her eyes are filled with tears now, the burn of dryness no longer a trouble. "He's out in the field every time we have a case. The danger's always there." He pauses for a moment before continuing. "This time was no different."
"No. It wasn't. The area was supposed to be secured. There should have been police there, protecting him. Even the civilians could have helped, but they all just stood there. How could they have let her get to him?" She doesn't know where she's going with this rant, as she only feels the need to blame it on something, anything.
But he agrees with her there—it should not have taken place. "Nobody's to blame, Abs. It happens." He lets her head fall against his shoulder, their hands now linked upon his lap. "Besides, Duck's alright now."
She nestles her head closer to him when she feels his cheek press against her hair. She entwines her fingers with his, squeezing tight, never to let him go. "And if it happens again, Gibbs? I don't think I can handle that." The stifling of a sob causes him to pull her closer. "I don't think Ducky can handle it again."
He's quick to assure her, "It won't." He grabs her hand with a force to match her own, his thumb fraying against the soft flesh between her pollex and index to calm her. "It won't."
"You don't know that. You said it yourself. " She turns her head into him, obscuring her face in the warm crook of his neck. "Anything can happen. Nowhere is safe. Nobody's safe."
The heat of her breath and a flash of déjà vu hit him simultaneously. For once, he's at a loss for words. He knows she is right, that even he—Leroy Jethro Gibbs—cannot protect them all and save the day, everyday. But hell, he can try. "I'll keep you safe, Abby. With my life, I'll keep you safe."
"No!" She's quick to look up at him, locking with his gaze. Her speech is slow, slurred if only slightly. "I can't lose you too…"
He watches her eyes well up, blinking slowly as she fights away the urge to sleep. She's tired and he knows it. "Abby, when was the last time you slept?"
She had wanted him to change the subject from the beginning, but this isn't what she had in mind. "I don't know. A day ago. Maybe two."
"Abs. It's been a week since Ducky was stabbed."
"Alright. It's been a week. What's the difference?" Giving him a wry look, she leans her head against the soft leather interior of his car.
"This isn't good for you. You've gotta sleep."
"I can't. Every time I close my eyes, I see someone getting hurt. It's just a silhouette, you know, all dark and shadowy, but I get this horrible feeling it's someone I know, someone I love." She closes her eyes in frustration, but it only fuels the emotion further. "Sometimes, when it gets real bad, I see me."
"It won't be you—ever." With his free hand, he pats his shoulder. "Come on, Abs. Rest a little, okay? I'll be here when you wake up."
"And if you're not?"
"You're going to have to take that chance." He forces a small chuckle, hoping the rare sight of his handsome half grin will up her spirits. It's an effort to lighten her mood, their moods.
"Not a chance I'm willing to take." She ignores his lure, as hard as it is for her to do so. She squeezes his hand hard. "Losing you is not an option," she states confidently; the change in her voice signals him to continue his blither approach.
"Neither is losing you." He brings their conjoined hands up between them and to his lips. He kisses the back of her hand and lets his mouth linger there. "Don't know what I'd do without your pigtails." He fiddles with a strand of her hair. "Or your makeup." He raises a thumb to press against her lips. "Or your voice." He trails his fingers down the length of her throat, making her giggle at the sensual warmth against her skin. "Or your laugh."
"Gibbs…" She glances down, embarrassed as she feels a tinge of red flushes through her cheeks.
He turns her head back to face him. "Or you." He looks her over, glad to see the touches of color returning. "Either I risk my life for yours or—"
Before he could finish the thought, she continues for him, "Mine for yours. It's high time I came around to saving your bum, Gibbs. I owe you. Big time." She lets out a deep sigh, eyes shutting tight as if it were a yawn.
"Not what I had in mind, but…" A slump of her head against his shoulder causes him to pause. "You don't owe me anything, Abs."
"I owe you everything. For all my stalkers, crazed assistants, and demonic cars, I can't thank you enough."
"You, here with me, is enough."
She suddenly finds herself loving the new direction of their conversation. She leans up to peck his cheek, wishing she had worn lipstick to more effectively brand her affection. "Such a softie, and that's why I love you."
He opens her hand which had been held tight against his with surprisingly spry fingers. Leaning his head over the top of hers, he signs against her palm, slowly and carefully to ensure his meaning. I love you.
A bright smile instantly takes form across her lips at the timid display of fondness, but she doesn't mind continuing his method. Love you more.
It's his turn for a grin; he can't believe he's choosing to partake in such childish games. I love you more than anything, anyone.
"Then say it," she demands. Her voice is firm and steady, quite the departure from earlier before. "I want to hear you say it, Gibbs."
He hesitates before answering, considering his options. "I say it, you sleep."
She slides her arms back beneath the coat, the motion causing it to fall from her shoulders. With a huff, she struggles to bring it back up to cover her, her hands bugging in and out of the soft fabric in her effort. "I can live with that."
Recognizing the chance, he grabs her hand and takes it up to his lips a second time, halting her frivolous movements. He clasps her hand intimately, cherishing the feel of it in his. His mouth to her palm, and the tiny hairs of his slight five o'clock shadow tickling her, he whispers almost inaudibly, "I love you."
She giggles at the tickle of his whiskers, the sound making his heart skip one, or maybe even two, beats. "Can't hear you, Gibbs." She wiggles her fingers to touch his nose. "You're gonna have to speak louder."
His lips move nimbly to her thumb, and he again whispers quietly against her skin. "I love you."
Closing her eyes, she replies, "Hmm? Louder, please…"
On the tip of her index finger comes a bolder admission. "I love you."
She lets out a yawn, and snuggles closer to him. He knows she's far from sleeping, but it's a start, so he tries again against her middle finger. "I love you."
A soft rumble of satisfaction comes from her throat, and he grins. Her breathing slows and her body grows limp. Traveling to her ring finger, he says seductively, only to hear a idle chortle in response, "I love you."
A single phalanx left, he aims to make this one count. With his free hand, he guides his coat to her shoulders, shrouding her body from the cold. He brings that arm to wrap around her frame, holding her as close as possible, unable to reach the nearness he truly longs for.
Caressing her hand before the final kiss, his lips make their way to her pinky. "I love you, Abigail Sciuto." He drops their united hands to his chest, holding it fast against his heart. "With every ounce of my blood, I will protect you…" He lets their hands, still closely joined, fall over the tight fissure between their touching thighs. He closes his eyes, and lets the calm rhythm of her breathing lull him away. "And love you."
Hypnophobia - A fear of sleep. What more of an explanation do you need? :P
Next: Lesson IX -- Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome.