Part Twenty-Three


The body of Drew Barton went unclaimed. Abby studied him as he lay on a slab in the morgue, recalling everything she'd learnt about the man who had believed himself in love with her.

He'd been an only child to parents who had abandoned him with his maternal grandmother when he was six. When he'd turned eight, his grandmother had died and he'd been moved from one foster family to the next. By the age of nineteen, he had several petty convictions under his belt for theft and minor assault. A criminal profiler had deemed him a potential threat to society but he'd been let loose on the streets, sentenced only after being found guilty of manslaughter after a bar brawl had turned serious.

In prison, he had met Mikel Mawher and Tommy Doyle, the first of his fellow inmates to take an interest in him. He'd been a loner up until that point, keeping to himself, but Ducky had theorised that he'd liked the attention, liked the friendship the two men had offered him and had used it to boost his own confidence until he felt able to branch out on his own.

Unfortunately for Doyle and Mikel, his newfound confidence had come with a price, and that price had been their lives.

The doors to the morgue opened with a gentle swish behind her but she didn't turn to see who had joined her. A few moments later, soft footsteps told her who it was and the soft hand on her arm made her look up.

"You shouldn't be down here, my dear," Ducky told her quietly, concern in his light blue eyes. "There's nothing you can do for the boy."

"I don't know why I feel guilty," Abby confessed, crossing her arms over her chest as she returned her gaze to the body in front of them. "I feel responsible for him, like it's my fault he ended up here."

"He was beyond help before you met him, Abby," Ducky assured her. "His psychological profile showed a need for dependency, and a degree of instability I don't think anyone could have reached through."

Abby sighed and shook her head. "He was so convinced that he loved me, Ducky, so certain we were meant to be together."

"You were the subject of his fixation," he explained. "He saw you as the ultimate goal, probably in no small part due to Mr. Mawher's infatuation with you. He probably listened to Mikel talk about you and began to associate you with being free from prison, free from his past. You were his salvation and he fell in love with the idea of what being with you represented."

"If I was his salvation, why couldn't I convince him to put the gun down?" Abby wondered. "Why did he have to make them shoot him?"

Ducky shrugged his shoulders, momentarily at a loss at what to say. "The human mind is a vast and complex thing. Perhaps part of him didn't want to survive, perhaps he couldn't cope with the realisation that the reality he'd created, the fantasy that had sustained him, would never be true. Or perhaps he hadn't meant to die and truly believed that if he erased what he may have believed to be the one obstacle to your affections, you would change your mind about a life with him. It's something we will never really know, Abby. The dead often don't give us those kinds of answers."

Abby shuddered at the thought of what could have happened if Drew had been a better shot, her mind supplying her instantly with an image of Gibbs' lifeless body on the empty gurney beside him. Still, she felt sorry for the man who had died not more than a few days ago.

He reached for the sheet covering Drew's body and pulled it up further, covering the dead man's face and hiding him from her view. "You have nothing to feel guilty for, Abigail. The man made his choice. Now you have to make yours." He waited until she looked at him. "Leave the dead to rest, Abby, and let the living live."

She managed a wan smile and let him usher her from the morgue, glancing back over her shoulder one last time at the closed drawers behind the body on the gurney. There was something else she had to do, she knew, before she could act upon the advice Ducky had given her and she wasn't sure it was something Gibbs would understand.


Grey clouds looming in the sky above, threatening to rain down on them seemed like fitting weather for a funeral. She stood alone watching the coffin as it was lowered into the ground, her eyes stinging but determined to let no tears fall.

In a few days, there would be a headstone erected to mark the grave of Mikel Mawher but Abby doubted if anyone would care enough to visit. His parents had died a long time ago and his siblings had decided they wanted nothing to do with him after finding out their brother had been sent to jail.

Mikel hadn't always been crazy, she thought to herself, casting her mind back to the early days of their relationship. She'd loved him as much as she'd been able to at the time, as much as she could while she was trying to deny her growing feelings for someone else. They'd shared the same interests, loved the same things. Mikel had understood her in ways no one else, not even Gibbs in some aspects, ever could. They might have even had a future if he hadn't grown too possessive, too demanding of her time, forcing her to realise he wasn't what – who – she'd wanted.

When things between them were good, they'd been wonderful; he'd been kind and considerate, putting her wants and needs before his own. Then things had started to change and he'd grown too serious for her, talking in terms of forever, becoming fixated on the idea that dying together would be the ultimate act of commitment...

She stood long after the minister and coffin bearers had left, staring down into the hole at the wooden coffin that held the body of a man she had once cared for, remembering the sweet man he'd been what felt like a lifetime ago. When an arm slid around her waist, she tore her gaze away, to look at the man who'd come to stand beside her.

"Thank you," she said softly, knowing it was the last place he would have chosen to be.

"I'm not here for him," Gibbs told her, his blue gaze never once straying to the coffin. "But I know you needed to be."

They stood together for a little while longer before she allowed him to take her hand and lead her to where he'd parked.


He drove in silence, following the familiar route to his house, pulling up on the driveway behind her car.

There was no dog barking in greeting as McGee had moved into a new apartment and taken Jethro with him, a fact that both pleased Abby as she was glad her friend was settled again but saddened her as she found she missed the dog's presence.

Gibbs escorted her to the front door, his hand a warm and comforting presence against the small of her back. She fished her own key out of her purse instead of waiting for him to find his and unlocked the door, preceding him into the house.

She went straight for the couch and sat down, her hands moving to start unfastening the boots. She was surprised when Gibbs moved to kneel on the floor beside her but didn't protest when his hands replaced hers and he eased the boots from her feet.

Once the offending boots had been put aside, his hands returned to her feet, rubbing her arches firmly as a soft moan of pleasure escaped her and she let her head fall back against the couch.

"Don't know how you can walk in those things," Gibbs muttered after a moment.

"They're comfortable most of the time," Abby replied, letting her eyes slide shut.

A companionable silence fell over them, punctuated by the occasional sigh from Abby as Gibbs continued his ministrations. She opened her eyes to look at him as his hands left her feet and caressed their way up her legs, taking time to massage her calf muscles before he pulled away only to join her on the couch.

She moved to lean against him almost immediately, curling up against his side with her head resting against his shoulder as his arm wrapped around her own. She listened to the sound of his breathing and moved her hand to his chest, feeling his heart beat reassuringly beneath her palm.

As they sat together, just enjoying one another's company, Abby surveyed the living room and contemplated how much it had changed in the short space of time since their relationship had begun. More and more of her belongings had made it across from her apartment but if Gibbs had noticed, he had decided not to say anything.

It was an issue that would have to be addressed, she knew, because she had no intention of out staying her welcome even though she didn't plan on moving back into her apartment.

"Do you have any plans for the weekend?" She asked after several long moments, watching her hand as it rose and fell along with his chest. She felt his lips against the top of her head and smiled to herself, enjoying once more the tender side to him she was finally allowed to fully see.

"None that can't be changed." His arm tightened around her shoulders. "There something you want to do?"

"Not want," she corrected, reluctantly shifting so she could sit up straighter beside him and look him in the eye. Taking a deep breath, she fixed what she hoped was an easy-going smile on her face. "I was thinking about my apartment. I really don't think I can be happy moving back there, not knowing..." She squared her shoulders against a shudder. "I know the cameras have been removed and the holes have been filled but I don't think I could ever relax there, not to mention I think I have a phobia of opening closet doors." At his look of understanding, she continued on. "Would you mind coming with me to look at a few places? I was thinking I could look in some different neighbourhoods. I know you weren't happy with me living there in the first place... Would that be okay?"

For a moment, Gibbs said nothing. He stared at her with a maddeningly blank expression, hiding what he was thinking, what he was feeling. It was one of his traits that she envied as well as being one that sometimes drove her crazy. "What if I said I did mind?" He asked eventually, his tone just as neutral as his expression.

Abby couldn't quite manage to keep the surprise from showing on her face, or the mild hurt she felt from colouring her tone. "I'd say you don't have to come with me if you don't want to. I'm sure Tony or Ziva or McGee..."

"Abs." The note in his voice stopped her from continuing and she stared at him. "I don't mind because you want me to go with you. I mind because it'd be a waste of time and money."

"It's hardly a waste," she protested. "I need somewhere to live..."

"You're not happy living here?"

For the second time in as many minutes, she found herself struggling to school her features in a neutral expression that could rival his own. "I...Is that what I'm doing? I mean, I love it here, with you, but I don't want to outstay my welcome or make you feel like we're rushing things..."

"If you weren't welcome or I was worried about rushing things, I wouldn't have given you a key," Gibbs pointed out. He turned to face her, using the arm across her shoulders to turn her, too. "If you want to look for your own place, I'll help, but if you want to stay here, you're more than welcome."

Abby bit down on her bottom lip and gazed at him thoughtfully. "If I stayed, would I be living here as a roommate or...?"

He arched an eyebrow, a small smirk on his lips. "What do you think, Abby?"

"I think I'd be happy living here, if you're sure you don't..." His mouth pressing against hers cut her off mid-sentence and she smiled against his lips. She wound her arms around his neck and returned his kiss with a playfulness to match his own.

Drawing away several long minutes later, her cheeks flushed and her lips tingling, Abby felt a smile curve her lips. She eased him back with a hand to his chest. She saw his confusion but stood and offered him a hand, her smile growing wider when his fingers wrapped around her own and he stood with her.

"You know there was something else in those bags from the lingerie store you didn't get to see," she teased, lifting a hand to toy with the collar of his suit jacket.

His eyes already beginning to darken as a result of their kisses, Gibbs let his hands rest on her hips, his fingers flexing against her curves. "Oh, yeah?"

"Mmmhmm." She tilted her head a little, a suggestive glint appearing in her green eyes. "I could always go put it on. We could have our own little housewarming party, just you and me..."

He kissed her again, slowly, drawing out the moment for as long as he could. "Why don't we just go celebrate anyway and save it for later?"

A little breathless but very enthusiastic, Abby took his hand and led him to the stairs, answering without words.


Epilogue


Another successful case, another bad guy behind bars.

It hadn't taken much for the team to be persuaded to head straight to their favourite bar after work and it had only taken two rounds of drinks for them all to relax enough to enjoy the evening without remembering what had come after their last celebratory night out.

Tony and Ziva engaged in a heated debate over which of them had fired the shot that had disabled the kidnapper they'd cornered earlier in the day, both of them equally convinced that the bullet that had hit his shoulder had come from their weapon.

"You can prove it, can't you, Abby?" Tony implored, looking to the forensic specialist for back up. "The hospital sent over the bullet..."

"She will need to determine who it was anyway, Tony," Ziva pointed out, rolling her eyes in exasperation. "I do not know why you are so eager to find out it was my bullet that hit him."

"Because it wasn't yours, Ziva, yours missed by a mile!" Tony argued. "The trajectory was all wrong; you wouldn't have been able to hit him in the shoulder so cleanly from where you were standing..."

Abby smiled as the pair continued to bicker, taking a sip of her vodka and Red Bull as she tuned out of their conversation and into the one Palmer, Ducky and McGee were having.

"She reminded me of a young woman I once knew, back in Scotland," Ducky was saying.

"Doesn't everyone?" A more-than-a-little inebriated Palmer interjected. Jimmy's grin dropped when Ducky gave him a stern look. "I mean, sorry, Doctor Mallard, continue. Please. Really. I want to know."

McGee rolled his eyes and none-too-subtly kicked the ME's assistant's ankle under the table. "You were saying, Ducky?"

"Yes, as I was saying..." As Ducky continued his story, Abby heard Palmer call McGee a 'suck up' under his breath and had to look away as she tried and failed to stop a smile from spreading across her face.

Gibbs, sitting on her right, noticed and shrugged his shoulders in response. He glanced around the table, checking their colleagues and friends were engrossed in their conversations before leaning in, his hand covering her knee under the table. "You wanna make our excuses and leave?"

"Trying to get me on your own, Agent Gibbs?" Abby flirted unashamedly, closing the gap between them to steal a quick kiss. "I think that could be arranged..."

"Oh, c'mon, you guys!" The sound of Tony grousing made them look up. He shook his head but couldn't quite suppress the grin that tugged at the corners of his mouth. "Get a room if you want to do that."

"We have several," Abby retorted tartly, "want to know how many times we've used them?"

Gibbs rolled his eyes and got to his feet, ignoring the almost identical smirks on the faces of Ducky and his agents. Palmer, he noted, just looked confused as though realising for the first time there was something more to Gibbs and Abby's relationship. "Think that's our cue to leave..."

"But I want..." A well-timed slap to the back of his head cut him off and Tony grinned even as he lifted a hand to rub the spot. His senior agent watched as Gibbs helped Abby to her feet, rolling his eyes at the satisfied expression on the forensic specialist's face. "See you guys tomorrow. Don't do anything I wouldn't do!"

"That means they can do anything, yes?" Abby and Gibbs heard Ziva say as they walked out of the bar, hand-in-hand.

Sitting in the car beside him on their way to the place that had become their home, Abby replayed Ducky's advice to let the living live in her mind and smiled to herself once more, content that that was exactly what they were going to do.


Finis

I have to say it again - my deepest thanks go to all of you for reading this, leaving reviews, adding it to your favourites & alerts. You have no idea how much I appreciate the support, and how much I hope you've enjoyed the ride. *hugs to all*