SUMMARY: "There's more if you're interested." Gibbs is definitely interested, and not in the evidence.
She's still in the ankle-length white dress when she takes young Sarah Niles on a trick or treat run around the office, although she's no longer wearing the blond wig. The upper part of the cross on her back is there for everyone to see, including him. And he can't help remembering the exchange from the previous night:
"Not bad for a blonde."
"There's more if you're interested, Mister President."
He knows she is referring to the case, but damn that reference to the suspected relationship between JFK and Marilyn Monroe. Of course he's interested. He's more interested than he should be, than he has any right to be, considering these past five months. He'd be a fool if he didn't know how hurt she was when he retired to Mexico, and Jackson Gibbs didn't raise no fool. But he's also relieved that the relationship with his lab rat now appears to be back on track. And he wonders what might happen if he were to tell her that yes, he is interested in more.
He feels bad that he wasn't able to take her out for her pre-birthday dinner. It's become a ritual for them; they leave from the Navy Yard and hit a nearby bar and grill. They knock back a few beers, shoot a few rounds of pool, and talk about anything other than work. At midnight, he buys shots and they toast her birthday and the coming year. He knows so much about her because of these nights, and she knows nearly all there is to know about him. She doesn't know about Shannon and Kelly; but no one else does either, including Ducky. That's his solitary burden to carry. Nevertheless, she knows more about him than he is willing to disclose to anyone else, and he knows she knows not to say anything to anyone else. That's how strong their trust in each other is.
He is mad at himself for not calling her to formally cancel. Yes, she knows that the cases always take priority over any kind of social life, but that doesn't excuse him from not doing the polite thing and calling her. He knows she's heartbroken and thinking he completely forgot that it was her birthday and, in his mind, the gift he snuck onto her desk while she wasn't looking can never make up for that.
That's the reason – after the case has been wrapped up and Landis is in custody – he takes the elevator down to her lab and invites her to join him at that nearby bar and grill. He silently pleads with her to accept, although his hands don't move, and breathes a sigh of relief when she does. They drink a few beers, shoot a few rounds of pool, and talk of anything other than the women who were killed by Landis. As always, he thanks the dear Lord that she was not among the casualties, just as he's done every case since Ari killed Kate and tried to kill her. He long ago decided he would lose his soul if he ever lost her.
She sits on the table in Ducky's lab, embarrassed by Tony's revelations. He wants to slap the other agent sideways for not bringing the information regarding Mawher to him first. He would have preferred to discuss the situation privately with her, but now it's out in the open and everyone knows. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that she didn't want anyone to know about this relationship gone bad. Everyone has aspects of their lives they keep to themselves. This was hers until today.
She's right of course. If he'd known about Mawher, he would have done something about it. He's not sure if he would have used a baseball bat as she suggested, but he knows exactly how intimidating he can be when he wants. Mawher would have never stood a chance, and he makes a note of pointing this out the first time they come face to face at Mawher's business. Perhaps, as a senior field agent, he should have kept the interview professional, but this is her, damn it, and that makes it very personal.
He's mad at almost everyone for what happens, including himself. He's angry with DiNozzo for the public airing of her problem, and he's mad at Mawher for being the problem. He's mad at her for not telling him what was wrong, and he's mad at himself for not noticing there was anything wrong. He adds McGee to his list after he inadvertently lets Mawher get to her, even though she admits she's the one who opened the door. He doesn't even want to think about Ginger the Defence Attorney and her weasel of a client. What the hell did he ever see in her anyway, besides maybe the red hair? He takes a perverse pleasure in making her conduct her interview in the elevator, with Bert the Farting Hippo looking on.
Taking her home with him that night is probably not the wisest move he's ever made, given how fragile she is. He almost feels like he's taking advantage of her when she curls up beside him in his bed, refusing to let him leave her. He holds her shaking body close, awkwardly stroking her back as she silently cries. When he wakes up in the middle of the night and realises she's gone, he briefly wonders if she was ever there at all, until he hears movement in his basement and he races downstairs to find her on the verge of a drunken depression. And he knows he shouldn't place his hand over hers when she's sanding the wood, and he knows he should yell at her when she manages to chisel a chunk of wood right out of that strut, but he's also always known he's weak when it comes to her.
If they weren't in the lab, where anyone could walk in, this could almost be funny. Actually, not funny, but something else, something a lot more serious and definitely more intimate. She's handcuffed him to her, and he's known for a long time that she has a strong penchant for handcuffs. But the mood is all wrong. It's not just that they're in her lab where anyone could walk in; it's also a matter of trust. She's not using the cuffs on him because she has absolute trust that he won't hurt her, but rather because she doesn't trust him not to hurt her.
The perversely ironic thing is that he's dreamed of her and handcuffs more than once, especially while he was in Mexico. It was as though his subconscious had been implying something more than just simple trust of the scientist, considering he was the one in the cuffs more often than not. The dreams were a lustful pleasure upon which he dared not dwell in the harsh light of day. He'd left her behind, along with his old life, in Washington. After his retirement and his move to Mexico, he'd contacted her just once – via postcard – with the cantina's phone number in case of emergency. Perhaps it said something that she never called, although she did give the number to Ziva when the Israeli woman was in trouble.
Now the vision of the two of them playing with the cuffs in a large bed has been tarnished. Even if the dreams continue once he leaves Washington again, they will always be a reminder that he screwed up big time. Of all the things he's done that he's not proud of, this is the most unforgivable. Not even three failed marriages have made him feel as low as he does now.
Still, when he's handcuffed to her in her lab and she's hugging him tightly, he can't help but imagine that this is a precursor to them becoming much, much closer. Not that he dwells on that fantasy, because otherwise Mexico is going to be an even lonelier exile than it was before.
"I am hugging you all in my mind."
He can't help but smile at her words and the expression on her face as she mentally extends her hug to everyone in the room. Damn, he loves her when she's like this. She's quirky, yet extremely smart; something the trainer obviously doesn't appreciate. The thought that this outsider, who doesn't even know what they do in this building, should try to curtail Abby's natural character is the real crime here. The annual sexual harassment awareness class is a complete waste of time. It's the one time of year he actually hopes for the phone call notifying him of a case. None of his team is politically correct, but there's never been a complaint. Hell, he can see Jen trying to hide a smile at the way his team is disrupting the session. He's proud of all of them, even though he definitely does not want to know what Ziva did to make DiNozzo jump like that.
However, the trainer's attitude towards his lab rat is infuriating. He can't imagine a life without her hugs. He can't imagine a life without any kind of physical contact with her, and he wonders now how he survived Mexico without it. It's become a craving, second only to his need for coffee. He acknowledges how much time they spend in each other's personal space when at the Navy Yard, and he knows it's more than this stranger in their midst would say is appropriate. Never mind that the definition of harassment is subjective. If she feels he's harassing her every time he leans over her shoulder, he's amazed she hasn't said anything. Words have never been her weakness.
It's a relief when he receives the phone call and has to order his team to gear up. He sees some disappointment in the room when DiNozzo, Ziva and McGee stand up, despite Palmer having just provided some entertainment by asking about touching dead naked people. He knows Abby and Jimmy will continue the fun, however, and he makes a mental note to ask Jen for the highlights later. For now, though, he has to focus on the case, and not on how he feels whenever she gives him one of her amazing hugs.
Hours later, he comes damn close to knowing what life permanently without her might have been like. He wants to hate McGee, just as he felt he should after the situation with Mawher, but McGee doesn't have eyes in the back of his head and hadn't anticipated this particular situation. He knows she'll forgive the young agent, which means he'll need to as well.
"Permission to hug?"
He tells her she never needs to ask and holds onto her, never wanting to let go. He came so close to losing her and he's not about to refuse her anything. Even that which, until now, he's been so reluctant to give. He's been thinking since Halloween about how to tell her he wants more; he just didn't know until now that he might only have a certain amount of time in which to do it.
He might pretend otherwise, but even he feels fear. It's with some trepidation that he heads down to her lab after filing the paperwork regarding the bastard who intended to kill one colleague but murdered another instead. He wants to file attempted murder charges for what his programming almost did to her, but that decision is out of his hands.
Even as the elevator heads downwards, he wonders if he's about to do something incredibly stupid. He jabs at the emergency stop button more than once as he contemplates his plan of action. Ultimately, his gut tells him to go for it. A Marine doesn't fall back during an operation because of fear.
He strides into her lab and calls out her name. "Abby?"
She's sitting at her computer, glaring at the screen. At the sound of his voice, she spins around and smiles. "Hey, Gibbs, what can I do for you?"
If only she knew. "What are you working on?" He crosses the room, comes around her desk and leans over her shoulder when she turns back to face the monitor.
"Ugh. The director wants me to submit a full report on what happened with OTTO." It takes him a moment to realise what she's talking about and he internally curses Jen for forcing this on his girl. "And I'm used to submitting reports on my part of the investigation, but this is different. How can I write about what happened? This is personal, Gibbs." She looks at him pleadingly.
"When does she want it?" He's hoping that Madame Director has made an exception to the expectation that all paperwork relating to a closed case is complete before leaving the building. Especially since it seems his raven-haired scientist has barely started.
She sighs. "Tomorrow morning, and I guess I could leave it tonight and do it tomorrow morning, but if I go home tonight I'm just going to keep thinking about it and replaying it in my mind. I mean, I could hit a club but it's the middle of the week and no one I know will be out which means I'll still be on my own with my thoughts. And even if I do meet up with people, I'm still going to be left thinking about it when I do get home." She wrinkles her nose. "I'm really just better off getting it done. I'm sure once it's done I'll feel a lot better, and maybe I won't still think about it. I mean, it could be cathartic for me, don't you think?" Her shoulders sink. "Oh, who am I fooling? I'm going to think about it either way tonight." She punches a few keys and the cursor moves to another line.
Everything has led up to this. It's the perfect opening if he chooses, and he does choose because he thinks he might know how they can both avoid thinking about her brush with death. "How about dinner?" he asks, speaking quietly into her ear.
"I'll eat when I'm done," she replies resolutely, still staring at the screen.
"You can finish the report tomorrow, Abs."
"Gibbs," she whines. "I just told you why I can't."
He leans in even closer to her. "Dinner, Abs. Just like we've done before. Drink a few beers and shoot some pool?"
Is it his imagination or does she shiver when he speaks? He wants to kiss her ear – it's so close – but he settles for staying close enough so she can probably feel his breath on her skin.
"Gibbs," she breathes.
He waits for whatever she might be about to say, but it appears his usually bubbly scientist is having trouble finding her words this time. He places a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Finally, she speaks. "Is this what I think this is?" She says it so quietly it's a good thing he's standing so close to her.
"I don't know. What do you think this is?"
"What do you want it to be?"
He can see her reflection in the monitor. Whatever she might be thinking, he can at least see she's not angry. She doesn't seem scared of him either, which is a good thing. "I nearly lost you today, Abby," he murmurs, "and I'm not ready for that to happen. You mean too much to me."
Her hand comes up to cover the hand that rests on her shoulder. "I'm still here, Gibbs," she replies. "You didn't lose me."
"I don't know what I'd do if I did."
"You won't, Gibbs." She suddenly turns to face him. For a moment, he's mad that she can see his vulnerability, but this is Abby. She's always seen through him. She looks him straight in the eye, and he smiles encouragingly. "Dinner sounds good, Gibbs, really good. But…" she looks back at the computer screen, "what about after dinner? I'm still going to be left thinking about what happened and what could have happened, and that's why…"
He silences her by cupping her chin and bringing her gaze back to him. "You won't have to think about it, Abs," he says firmly.
"Promise?" Her eyes look hopeful.
"I promise." It's the one promise he has felt good about making since his wedding vows to Shannon all those years ago.
Her face lights up as she jumps out of her chair, almost forcing him to step backwards. He holds his ground, though, as she flings her arms around his neck. She has a glint in her eye and, with the grin that's accompanying it, he has a feeling she's planning something. Knowing her as he does, he concludes he's in for an intriguing night and that she's going to determine most of what happens from this moment on.
But that's okay. She always had him wrapped around her little finger. And he's happy to stay there. She won't need to handcuff him, as she did before, but he'll have no objection if she uses the cuffs anyway. He'll take whatever she gives because if he could, he'd give her the world.