FINALLY GIVING IN
Jack had been the tender age of seven when he'd first met his Uncle Derek and Aunt Penelope's new baby girl. His father had pointed out the tiny pink bundle in a Washington hospital nursery and told him that he was responsible for her protection when her father and his father couldn't be there. So from seven years old Jack Hotchner had protected Gabriella Garcia-Morgan. He'd been there while she cried about breaking his mother's favourite troll figurine she'd taken to school for show and tell at age eight. He'd celebrated the perfect she'd gotten on her first math test in senior kindergarten. He'd shared banana splits with her on the days she decided the male species could curl up and die and he'd been the first one to hear about her acceptance to MIT. Jack would do anything for Gabi, and he had for years.
So there was absolutely nothing strange about the two of them wandering down the Mall on a cool April day, both of them munching on their own snacks. Gabi had just finished her third year at MIT and it was the first time they'd had the chance to hang out in months.
"It's so good to be back to the 'normalcy' of my life," Gabi said happily, licking at her popsicle. "If I hear one more thing about processors, ISPs or wormholes, I might shoot someone."
Jack shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder about your and your techie-ness."
Gabi laughed and linked her arm with his, pulling him against her side. "See, but that's one of the things I love about you. You put up with my techie-ness, as you so eloquently put it. I mean, even at home Mama talks about the work she's doing with the Bureau and about hacking.... I can't get away from it!"
"Is that what you're thinking of doing?" Jack inquired, wrapping his arm around her shoulders instead. Gabi had one year of school left, and while he'd been out in the work force for almost three years, he still remembered how daunting the end of college had been.
"Don't know," Gabi replied with a shrug and a grin. "Could be fun."
Jack pursed his lips. He lived for moments like these with her where nothing else really existed in the world. It had become more and more of a thrill to hang out with her, just the two of them, and while he knew why, he wasn't anywhere close to ready to admit that he had a crush on his sister's best friend.
"But I do have other offers."
That caught his attention, and fast. "Other offers? Like what? Homeland Security?"
He narrowed his eyes. "CIA."
She gave him a noncommittal shrug which, to most others would signal a wordless answer identical to the others, but Jack knew better.
"I can't tell you that," she said cheekily, throwing out the remainder of her popsicle. "Or I'd have to kill you."
He snorted in amusement. "You couldn't kill me."
"You don't think I could? Even to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans?" she asked arching a delicate eyebrow.
He flicked a finger playfully over her nose. "I don't think you could do it if your life depended on it," he replied with a grin.
"John Bradshaw Hotchner, did you just flick my nose?"
"Did you just use my full name."
Gabi planted her hands on her hips and turned up her nose. "I did. For flicking my nose."
"My mother is the only person who uses my first name."
"Awe," Gabi said with a little bit of a chuckle. "Poor little Mommy's boy."
"Oh, no way!"
Gabi took off laughing, racing away as fast as her rather athletic legs could carry. Jack raced after her, trying to anticipate her next movement until he finally caught her around the waist, pulling her with him to the ground. He rolled them until she was pinned beneath him, his weight keeping her from even squirming. "Say you're sorry."
"No," she refused, trying to wiggle against him.
He dropped his weight further on her, ignoring the way her hips fit against hers. "Apologize."
"Not going to happen, Hotchner."
So he let go of the hold he had on her wrists, and dug his fingers into her sides, well aware of every single ticklish spot on her body. She laughed hard, squirming and trying to push at his biceps to keep him from tickling her, from invoking such raging laughter from her diaphragm.
"Stop! Jack stop it! Stop!.
Jack was laughing with her, his legs still on either side of her hips to keep her within tickling distance. Eventually, he stopped tickling her, and their laughter died down. He could feel her, hyper awareness in her gaze.
"Go to dinner with me," he blurted.
Gabi blinked beneath him. "We always have dinner together."
Jack blew out a breath and rolled away, dropping his head to his hands. "That's not what I meant."
"That's not what-" She paused. "Wait a second, you're.... You're asking me on a date?"
He stayed quiet.
"No way. Jack, no way."
He sighed, pushing himself up in annoyance. "Just a simple 'no' would have sufficed."
"No, no, no. Oh my gosh, not what I meant," Gabi said, rocketing upwards.
He had to catch her because the blood rush made her dizzy. She always forgot that. "If you're about to tell me you meant to let me down gentler than that, save it."
"Jack, come on. Don't be mad."
"Don't be mad? Are you kidding me?" He crossed his arms over his chest.
She sighed. "This is totally not the way I pictured this going."
"Not the way you pictured what? You've thought about this?"
"Only for the last... oh.... four years or so," she replied. "Goodness, Jack, I wasn't blind. I have dreamed of this moment for years."
"You've been dreaming of this?" Dreaming wasn't something one usually associated with rejecting someone.
"I thought it was so incredibly obvious for a while there. But then you didn't say anything and I wasn't going to say anything...." She shrugged.
He ran a hand over his face. "I'm an idiot."
"I'm not much better. It's not like I'm some damsel that needs saving. I could have made the first move."
"So we've been dancing around each other for years?" Jack asked.
Gabi shrugged again. "Well, I don't exactly blame you. There's the age difference, there's the fact that you're the brother of my best friend and if this falls apart in any sort of ugly way it could tear apart our families.... It's not a big deal."
Jack blinked before bursting into laughter. Only Gabi could come up with all of that then spout it in one breath. "Excellent."
"Saturday? I'll pick you up at.... 6:30?"
Her grin was huge and bright. "Sounds excellent."
He mirrored her grin and held out his hand. "Can I walk you back to the Metro, beautiful lady?"
Gabi actually blushed and giggle. "Why of course, good sir."
Jack's stomach was doing flip flops. She'd actually said 'yes'. He hadn't meant to let it slip, knew that if anything terrible happened between them it really did have the potential of ripping apart their families, but really, she'd said 'yes'! Saturday couldn't come fast enough.
There is a next story. It starts with Gabi and Jack's first date and it's called Fair Winds and Following Seas.