Title: The Coffee Break Case
Word Count: ~2200
Summary: McGee, Abby, and a pot of really bad coffee. It all adds up to nothing but trouble.
Genre: Fluff. Humor.
Notes: Thanks to a. loquita for beta duty!
Abby squints down the bar. "I'm telling you," she says in a near whisper. "He's watching us."
It's about the fortieth time she's said it since we sat down – or it feels like it, anyway. In reality it's probably more like four. But since it's not like Abby to be paranoid, it might as well be forty.
Of course, this week at work was a bad one. Abby'd had not one court date, but three, which was like filling out a requisition form for Abby Sciuto Mental Break, Quantity 1. And Gibbs was even more unbearable than usual, having been forced to represent the Director for three days straight at some big politico conference downtown. And then, on top of all that, there was that stalker that Ducky had briefly acquired. So yeah, not the best week ever. And it's about the only explanation I can come up with for Abby falling out of character.
Still, the prosecution had won one case, and the other two were shoe-ins even without the forensics. And Gibbs, after a satisfying Friday afternoon of torture-the-staff, had locked himself safely away with his boat for the weekend. Even Ducky's stalker had, in the end, turned out to be nothing more than an overzealous cub reporter with a set of lock-picks, a morbid fascination with homicide, and a yen for a Pulitzer prize.
Besides, a little mocking never hurt anyone, least of all Abby.
I lean forward, blocking her line of sight to the other end of the diner, and when she scowls up at me and opens her mouth to speak, I put a finger to my lips to shush her.
Her eyes narrow, and to tell the truth she looks pretty suspicious, so obviously I have to pour it on a little thicker.
I make my best C'mon, Abby face and she rolls her eyes, but when I lean farther forward and beckon her closer, she leans in too.
"What?" she hisses, her mouth close to my ear.
I get distracted for a minute, because that feels kind of nice, actually.
"McGee!" This time her voice isn't so soft, and I have to bite back the Ow! that wants to come out.
Oh, right. "Abby," I say softly, then I pause. For effect, of course. Nothing at all to do with the warm rush of her breath against my neck, or whether I'm enjoying the way her leg's so close to mine. But then she begins to shift in her seat, impatient, and I finish the thought. "You're imagining things."
I can't help grinning, because when she purses her lips like that it's really kind of cute; then she smashes her hand down on the counter, and I wince. I expected her to be pissed, but I'm not sure what that liquid is that her slap splashed everywhere.
"Ew," I say.
She balls her hand up in a fist, like she's going to punch me in the nose. "You didn't even look, McGee."
I stare, and she stares back; then her eyes narrow, and I sit back and look over my shoulder. It isn't something I like to admit, but I might have a little problem with saying no to Abby.
But that doesn't mean I have to be nice about doing everything she tells me to.
I make a show of scanning the whole room, twisting in my seat and even leaning sideways and craning my neck to get a view of the door to the bathrooms. Same tacky vinyl seats, same not-exactly clean floor, same incongruously middle-class patrons. I've probably been here a couple dozen times since I discovered it last year. One of its many charms for me is the fact that it doesn't ever change.
"Okay," I say turning back to Abby and giving an exaggerated shrug. "I looked. There's nobody watching us, Abby."
"Well of course there isn't now, Mr. Subtle." She makes a face at me and turns back to her coffee. As she stares into the cup, the wrinkles in her forehead deepen, and I wonder if there's more going on here than a bad week at work.
I bump her shoulder with my own. "I can be subtle when I want."
She snorts. "You're about as subtle as this coffee. And by the way, I'm thinking of taking a sample of the coffee to analyze. I think it might be dangerous."
The coffee really is foul. "It's not that bad," I protest for the sake of form.
Abby takes a swallow and cringes. "No, I think there are some heavy elements in this that haven't been discovered yet, McGee. How do you drink this stuff?"
"I don't really come here for the coffee."
She kicks the bag at my feet. "Timmy, I don't really think tacky-yet-trendy is the mood you want to go for in your next book."
"It's just to get the creative juices flowing," I say, feeling a little defensive and beginning to wonder why I even brought her here.
Oh, right. That little can't-say-no-to-Abby thing I've got going on.
"Creativity," she says, drawing out the word, "and as a bonus, a Nobel Prize for chemistry waiting in your coffee cup."
I resist the unhealthy urge to tweak her nose. "Maybe I should put my stalker in my next novel."
From the look on her face, saying that hadn't been any safer. "He was staring at us."
I don't point out that he could easily have been staring at her. She does kind of stand out. "And is he still staring now?"
"No," she says. "He's –"
Her eyes widen, and then she shoves me, and before I hit the floor, I have just enough time to reflect that Abby pushing me off a diner stool is way more out of character than paranoia.
The next several seconds pass in a blur that remind me uncomfortably of my first year or two as a field agent, with my brain chiming in really helpful comments like Abby, Coffee, and Gun!
Maybe it's not Abby having the mental break after all.
When I've got my own sidearm out and the commotion's finally stopped, I look up from my half-sprawl at Abby, eyes wide, standing over me wielding an empty and very broken coffee pot.
I really didn't see that one coming.
She says something that sounds like eek, and I look next to me and see the guy she's knocked to the ground clutching his head and screeching.
Guess Abby was right about him watching us.
I'm not sure what's worse – the grin Tony's been wearing all day, or the moment when Abby finally recovered from her shock and demanded that I hand over my coffee-soaked shirt. If she had to go to all the trouble of defending me bodily, she'd said, she deserved some compensation, and she still wanted that coffee sample.
Closing my eyes, I remind myself firmly that mentally editing that moment so that it's Abby demanding compensation in the form of me taking off my shirt, period, is inappropriate. Very inappropriate. Must not have fantasies starring coworkers on company time. Especially not fantasies starring Abby, who can find far more creative ways to hurt me than breaking a coffee pot over my head.
But if that scene were to make its way into my next book, well, who could blame me?
There'll be time enough for composing that prose later, though. Much later, once I've shaken off the lingering miasma of embarrassment that the incident report I've just finished has left me with.
Turns out there's a lot of paperwork to do when you don't get shot in a tacky-yet-trendy diner.
I stand up, thumbing through my printout one last time with an air of what I hope is casual disregard. As I cross to Gibbs' desk, Ziva props her chin on her hand and watches me.
"All done?" she asks.
"Yep." I place the stack of papers front-and-center on the desktop to await Gibbs' return, my movements exaggeratedly careful, then I make a show of dusting off my hands. "You can stick the proverbial fork in me."
"Good." She adds her smirk to Tony's. "Then maybe you'd like to go for some coffee."
She seems very pleased with her jab; I decide to be the bigger man, or person, and ignore it. "Hard to believe I've been doing this long enough to have a vindictive ex-con after me," I say.
Tony leans back in his chair, propping his feet on the desk. "If you were anyone else, I'd say it's a sign you're a real man," he says. "But seeing as it's you ..."
"Perhaps it just means you should have put him away for longer," Ziva suggests.
Okay. Abby stealing my shirt in to prove that she's fine definitely does not outrank the combined mockery of Tony and Ziva on the list of the last few days' aggravations. Not that I can really blame them. Investigating the minutiae of how I spent my weekend is not how anyone wants to use up what would otherwise have been a rare light Monday.
But I'd never tell them that. "Tough, when he got the maximum the statute allowed," I say instead.
Ziva turns back to her computer screen, that sly smile still tugging at the corner of her mouth. Tony, on the other hand, just changes tacks. "I still don't get how you didn't recognize him, Probie."
I try not to wince. After all, Abby hadn't recognized him either, and she'd stared at him quite a bit more. "In my defense, the last time I saw him he was about a hundred pounds heavier and sporting considerably more facial hair."
"Nothing to do but exercise when you're in the pen," Tony says. "Maybe we could all take some lessons. Might improve our reaction time."
He raises his eyebrow as he glances at my midsection and tugs at the waistband of his own pants; I snort and open my mouth to respond only to find myself short of a good comeback.
I'm saved by Ziva's expression, turning serious as she studies her computer screen. Tony's feet hit the floor with a clunk, and I take a step forward to lean against her desk.
Ziva's head tilts from one side to the other and she squints as she continues to read.
"What's up?" Tony asks when she doesn't speak.
She lifts a hand and beckons me around behind her desk. When I get a glimpse of the screen, I have to suppress a groan.
The headline's bad enough: Famous Crime Writer Books His Own Stalker. The grainy cell phone picture of me flat on my back and drenched in coffee is far, far worse. I'm pretty sure anyone who didn't know better would mistake me for the perp.
Tony's never going to stop smiling.
Eventually I escape and make my way to Abby's lab on the pretense of important, case-related work. In reality I've got no such excuse, but anything is better than enduring the endless mock-fest the squad room has become.
Abby's suspiciously nice, making work for me where I know there's none, and I can only assume this means she's already seen the link now making the rounds of every e-mail inbox in the entire organization.
Turns out I only thought last week was the bad one.
After about an hour, she shuts off her workstation. "It's time to go," she announces as she walks the room, turning off the machines one by one.
"It is?" I ask, surprised.
"Yes." She removes the sample from the table in front of me and replaces it in the cooler.
"Okay," I say. "It's time to go."
"Good boy." She curls an arm around mine and hugs it as she pulls me toward the door. "Buy me dinner, McGee."
"Dinner?" I'm full of good comebacks today, it seems.
"Dinner," she says, releasing my arm to punch the elevator button. "You know, to make up for the whole coffee thing."
I'm trying really hard to ignore the fuzzy, warm feeling I'm getting that's way beyond can't-say-no-to-Abby syndrome. It would be easier if I could stop staring down into her eyes. "Are you sure you want to be seen with me?" I ask finally. "We could get shot at again."
She bounces on her toes. "Well, not if you listen to me."
"Hey," I say, "I'm the field agent here."
"Yeah, some field agent," she snorts. "Abby, you're imagining things."
I sigh and look up at the ceiling, warm and fuzzy feelings completely vanquished.
Then I feel her fingers twining with mine, and I look back down to find her smiling. "You don't have to be the big hero with me, McGee."
"Because I'm already a hero to you?" I try.
She raises and eyebrow and stares balefully. Yeah, that's definitely the word. Balefully.
"Yeah," I say. "I should know better."
The elevator doors open, and she steps in, pulling me after her before she drops my hand. We pass a floor or two in companionable silence before she speaks again.
"I think you still have a crush on me, McGee."
I smile and give her the only answer I can.
"Abby, you're imagining things."