14. An Imminent Threat
"It may be nothing," McGee couldn't help but open.
They were the same words the Director had used on him an hour before.
He'd been apprehensive (to understate it wildly) upon being called into her office, but his well-organised, linear mind reassured him that if anything truly catastrophic had happened, Gibbs would have been the one to learn of it first no matter how difficult he'd made himself to find.
Director Sheppard sat at an angle, her legs crossed and her head tilted speculatively, but she still wasn't managing to look at all casual. Her perfectly manicured fingers were white where they clenched in her lap. "This may be nothing, agent McGee," she'd said with the kind of offhandedness that was painfully not offhand.
He nodded dumbly, trying not to fidget or look down his nose or burst into stuttering nonsense. He had to stay cool, let everyone else know they could count on him. There had been only a handful of moments in his career he'd had to step up and be the guy instead of diligently plugging away in the background, blissfully following orders- he was using all stray brain-power to continually remind himself that he'd more or less managed on those occasions and could do this.
"Agent Daryl Weston has failed to check in this morning."
McGee stared, uncomprehending, "Ma'am?"
"He is the only person in the agency who knows where DiNozzo and Abby have gone to ground." She stood up and marched over to her windows, her back rigid, "He was chosen deliberately because he had no personal connection to anyone on your team and he has never worked any particularly high profile case. He was ground up trustworthy, but not much else. No distinctions. He once before went AWOL to rescue a little girl's teddy bear out of a creek and his CO is not worried about his tardiness yet, but his CO also doesn't know about the operation."
He felt liked he'd swallowed his tongue. Weston's boss may not be worried, but the director sure was. Her voice was chilly and no-nonsense but with a slight crackle of tension as she struggled for detachment, her face startlingly pale against her red hair. He didn't blame her. He and Ziva had been knee deep in sick-making files on the guys after Abby for the past month and he'd been having nightmares even when he was certain she was safely untraceable. He was starting to have nightmares when he was awake, though that might be expected with Gibbs on the warpath and increasingly impossible to be around. No one could talk to the man, not even about their thoughts on the case. McGee was half convinced he'd seen Ziva-the-unflappable start to flinch away from his snapping jaws.
"Not to be... to sound... why are you telling me, Director?" McGee wondered if even she was afraid to tell Gibbs.
She shot him a look, clearly reading his mind, "Gibbs doesn't need to know until it is an actual situation, I don't want to hit that particular panic button without confirmation. Tony's gone, you are the senior agent on the case. Go deal with it. Use your own judgement."
He had that sinking feeling of being totally out of his depth and the familiar conviction that he had made a serious error in choosing his career path. He hadn't felt it for some time, but it was back with a vengeance. That niggling voice that reminded him he'd never be a street-smart type, that he thought inside the box, that he was a lousy liar, that he couldn't intimidate a fly with his baby-face and noodly build, that he just didn't measure up. McGee had become practised at drowning it out with a laundry list of his none-too-shabby accomplishments and a reminder that he was still green and learning, but it was getting louder the more the weight of command responsibility fell on his shoulders.
'Tony's gone', she'd said, not 'unreachable in the field', just 'gone'. The choice of words smacked him as ominous, to say the least.
But Tony was gone and McGee was on his own. He was at the rudder, because Gibbs had fire in his eyes and had long since stormed off to man the harpoons.
"Understood, Ma'am," was all he said.
Funny how it never seemed like DiNozzo did anything until he wasn't around and the whole place fell to pieces. Funny how McGee had started thinking Gibbs wasn't such terrifying person to have to deal with until Tony was not there to mellow him out by drawing most of the heavy artillery his own way. Or stand up to him.
McGee knew he wouldn't get in Gibbs face about anything unless it was literally life and death.
Which reminded him of the old argument he'd started having with himself when he got to know DiNozzo better and had ceased to be intimidated by him: was Tony unafraid to poke Gibbs with sticks because he was actually that stupid, or did he have balls made of titanium alloy?
There was always both. Either way, if DiNozzo made it back in one piece, McGee was going to give him a hug and a freaking medal. His unofficial job- to say nothing of his official one- was much harder than he made it look.
Meanwhile, Ziva was staring at him like he was something she'd found on the bottom of her shoe. "Nothing?" she repeated, incredulous, "Maybe nothing?"
"Weston has been absent-minded before," he tried to project calm authority and quiet dignity (taking a leadership model from Ducky rather than from his two Alpha Male direct superiors- one had to know where one's limitations lay, or rather, one learned after embarrassing oneself enough). "It's possible he got caught up in something and forgot to call in."
Ziva was even more flummoxed by this than by his first assertion, "Are there no standards in American Intelligence? If the man is that unreliable, he should not have been chosen to safeguard the lives of two of the agency's people: he should have been fired!"
"They thought he was perfect for it because he was so unlikely."
She threw up her hands.
McGee edged along the plasma screen beside his desk as Ziva spun in a small aggravated circle in front of it, "Do you think we should go check out his house first or just assume it's a situation and tell Gibbs?"
She froze. She met his eye and glared at him. Then she shrugged, "You are ranking officer, it is your call, McGee."
Man, she was playing dirty. He sighed heavily.
"I've got his address, let's go." He better just be sick or have fallen down in the shower or anything but kidnapped by mercenaries and leading them right to... "Gear up."
"Should we leave a note for Gibbs?"
He sighed even harder, "Yeah, why not." He wasn't planning on living to retirement anyway.
Abby looked like Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Her blonde bob was swept back in a mock up-do, her make-up was low-key and old fashioned, and her full cocktail dress flared out from a tiny cinched waist. The sweetheart neckline had involved terse discussion and Tony operating the airbrush with his hand over his eyes, but the end result was that she looked as perfect as the late Princess had ever looked. Perfecter.
He'd debated trying to find a white tuxedo so he could look like Connery's Bond and match her in sheer pizazz (not to mention star power), but knew it was probably way too much like something he'd do for him to let Tommy Honeycut do it. Besides, they would draw more than enough stares from Abby looking like ten million bucks without his being flamboyant alongside her. He'd had to settle for a red silk shirt and a sport coat with black slacks. Not his favourite, in fact borderline tragically nineties-reminiscent, but it was cover-appropriate and he imagined he'd fit in reasonably well with the local folk. Red was a good colour on him, at the very least.
If he had his way, all evening events would be either club wear or white tie. Tony loved white tie, it was the only thing better than a military uniform for transforming any old schlub into a dapper motherfucker. Quasimodo could get a date in white tie. Or a double-breasted chalkstripe, but now he was getting sidetracked.
Unfortunately, the county's summer fête was just not classy enough to call for a strict dress code. More the pity.
More also the pity that pot luck meals were always such a crap shoot, because they'd taken too long to get ready and he hadn't eaten all day and he was pretty sure this casserole was made out of Alphagettis and hot dogs. He abandoned his fork in despair.
Some kind of folk-ish pop song was playing, but it had a slow, traditional waltz beat and couples were rising from the little clusters of tables and making their way to the centre of the hall. He knew he was going to ask before the observation was fully formed, she'd known too because she met his eyes as he looked up. They smiled conspiratorially at each other and stood in unison.
Abby seemed so much smaller without her platforms, without her spikes and her attention-arresting clothes and her lab coat swirling around her like a cape. His hand, splayed at her waist, almost spanned her entire back and he felt like he might break her. Not a worry he'd ever wrestled with before, considering Abby's enormous personality usually made the idea a difficult one to conceive. Her fingers were slim and cool lightly clasped in his and he remembered the strength of which they were capable with a smile. They waltzed sedately, the make-shift ballroom lights sparkling off her hair and the costume jewels she wore around her neck.
Tony felt like the room was shrinking, like they were in one of those Spanish soap operas with the Vaseline on the lens. She looked so softened by the natural make-up, the blonde hair, the dress- but he still knew every bit of her face, every shade of jade in her eyes. Her smile lines, as familiar as his own reflection, still warming his heart like it was the very first time he'd seen them.
"Have I told you lately that you're a beautiful woman?"
"Not today," Abby smiled wider, tilting her head to shoot him a coy look from beneath her eyelashes.
Good God, we're right on the edge aren't we. "You are an intensely beautiful woman." And I don't care.
She looked away across the dance floor and he didn't fight the urge to pull her a little closer, "What?"
"Did you ever think so before?" She was profoundly embarrassed, he could tell. Abby of the 'looks don't matter' to the point of coming around the other side philosophy. Abby full of confidence. Abby who was sometimes fragile and needed a flatulent stuffed hippo and many hugs to feel all right again. He shook his head fondly.
He leaned forward to whisper, his lips almost touching her ear, "You've always been beautiful, Abs. I miss your collar and your tats and your pigtails. They're so you."
If he didn't know better, he'd say she was on the point of blushing. "Didn't think you were into the scene."
"I'm not," he retorted evenly, "I'm into you."
There was a moment of total mutual understanding as the simple truth of that comment hung in the air. They both knew exactly what he'd said and that it could not be elegantly taken back. He didn't want to take it back. Her mouth was ruby red and glistening full. He leaned down to brush it with his and she stared into his eyes as they turned to the music; he was dizzy and hot and terrified. They drifted even closer, spinning.
Neither of them could, in good conscience, take credit for initiating the kiss. It wasn't something either of them decided to do, it was simply and all at once what both of them did, meeting exactly in the middle of the space which had been between them. At first, they pressed together fiercely, desperately, Tony's thumb just beneath Abby's ear, his long fingers following the graceful curve of her throat; Abby's fist clenched in the fabric of his lapel, her chin tilting further and further upward as she melted against him.
They drew apart, their eyes meeting for a moment before they came near again, tentative, their lips moving gently against each other in exploration. Abby's tongue slid along the inside of his bottom lip like velvet, tasting of the sparkling wine she'd been drinking. He felt like he'd been let back into the Garden.
Five years, she thought, five years he'd been sexy and strong and interesting and sometimes terribly chivalrous and always loyal and always the closest possible modern equivalent to a knight in shining armour and it had taken her this long, it had taken multiple threats on her life, just to realise that he wasn't just abstractly wonderful and deserving of someone who saw that- he was wonderful for her who did see that. He was different from everyone, literally everyone, she'd ever been close to and somehow he was perfect. She felt feverish, she had chills, she wanted to cry, she kissed him harder.
"You're an absurdly handsome man, have I told you that?"
"Not really directly," her cheek was pressed against his collar bone, her nose tucked into his throat and both her arms around his middle as they swayed to the music. She felt more than heard that he was slightly out of breath, "but I know you're not into it."
"Tommy. I am not not into it
"You seemed to hold it against me," he didn't quite argue.
Abby sighed into his chest, "Well, it struck me as unfair."
The song changed. They didn't notice.
They walked home, giggling in the dark, and she had a death grip on his hand the whole way. As they neared the top of their driveway, she stopped dead. Tony caught himself up sharply behind her.
"Pick me up."
He just looked at her, puzzled.
Abby turned around and raised her arms towards him, "Carry me over the threshold."
Tony's mouth made a little 'o' of shock and he seemed dumbfounded into speechlessness.
She wiggled her fingers encouragingly and smiled.
He shook his head once, put an arm under her knees and swept her up, "Dibs not telling Gibbs."