A/N: Less than 4 hours until the premiere! We're almost there guys! Until then, here's another chapter to get you through the wait.
Harper Dearing's trail grows cold once again, much to Gibbs' fury. Vance tasks everyone not on a case with helping rebuild the digital file databases destroyed in the blast. Entering pages of case data is mindless, dull work, but it provides a much needed distraction from the limbo they currently find themselves in. The days pass, no new leads are found; Gibbs begins to make them drill down all the dead ends again, reviewing the evidence with a fevered tenacity, a single-minded determination to hunt the man down. She's pretty sure she's never seen their steely-eyed leader this affected by a case, running purely on bad coffee, looking ready to split at the seams. But then, Dearing has left them all frayed in their own ways, still unsteady, and she's not sure they'll ever fully regain their balance.
McGee returns to work on a Tuesday; he's restricted to desk duty only, but seeing him across the makeshift bullpen serves to push the Earth back onto its axis slightly, brings some of the cheerful tenor back into Abby's voice.
She finds it harder to keep her distance from Tony at night. Their stay in Florida has effectively broken down their meticulous barriers even further, and her traitorous subconscious craves his proximity even more, causing her body to shift closer to his as she sleeps. She wakes one night to find her torso pressed his, a heavy arm curled around her waist, his steady breath across her forehead. Cautiously, she removes herself from his arms, forces herself to the furthest edge of the mattress, feeling guilty for how much she instantly misses his warmth.
It becomes a constant struggle to stay on her side of the mattress.
Surprisingly, it's McGee that first attempts to bring the team out of their slump, pull them back together again. Usually their resident Goth insists on team bonding, while the rest of them scramble to find an excuse, but this time it's Tim who is insistent upon a team dinner. "To celebrate life," he explains somewhat poetically, even staring down Gibbs passive aggressive resistance until he gruffly agrees to go. Tony jokes that the explosion has made their resilient Probie brave. She believes there is more truth to that statement than he realizes.
Two weeks after McGee returns to work, they all find themselves at dinner. Gibbs is present, sulking slightly at having giving in, but with an amused sparkle in his eyes as he watches them that hasn't been present since the attack. Abby begins to emerge from her funk, talks animatedly about connecting with her biological brother. Even Ducky makes it to the event, and Palmer can't seem to stop smiling. She watches them all around the table fondly, sends a silent thanks to the universe that they are all safe. It feels good to have her family back.
Jokes and stories are traded around the table, and Tim is right; this is a celebration of life, of the fact they are all still here, that Dearing tried but couldn't destroy them.
She hasn't heard this much laughter between them since before the attack.
After dinner, Abby drags the younger members of the MCRT team out for drinks and dancing. The bar is loud, the bass reverberates in her chest, and really all they want to do is fall into bed after the way Gibbs has been driving them relentlessly through every new lead, but Abby is smiling again and they are all high on the feeling of being reunited, so they follow her onto the dance floor, drink shots to Tony's birthday that had been forgotten in all the tragedy and chaos.
They stumble into her apartment at half past two, more from exhaustion than the effects of liquor-they are still on call- and on auto-pilot, they make their way to her bed, barely taking the time to remove their shoes before collapsing onto it. Maybe it's the two drinks she had, but she doesn't even consider moving away from him as he slides an arm around her waist, pulling her back against his chest as sleep claims them.
She jerks awake in the early dawn at the sound of the garbage truck outside the apartment to find them still in the same position; her fingers loosely laced with his against her stomach. Slowly, she attempts to disengage herself from him, move to her usual retreat at the edge of the bed, when suddenly his arm tightens around her waist, pulls her back into him as his breathing shifts. He's caught her.
"You know," he says groggily, eyes still closed against the pre-morning darkness, "you don't have to move every morning. It's not like you're taking advantage of me." His words are laced with amusement, and slurred with sleep, and she imagines he most likely isn't fully awake. It's the only way to explain how he would be so bold as to continue to pull her closer, bury his face in her hair.
"Besides," he continues, hand rethreading lazily with hers, "you smell nice." She wants to laugh at his whimsical reasoning, but then he slides his nose along her shoulder, inhaling deeply, rests his forehead against her neck with a content hum. She freezes, heart pounding in her chest, confusion swirling in her mind as she fights the simultaneous urge to push him away, force them back into the safety of separation, and pull him even closer still.
Uncertainty pools in her stomach as she struggles to find an appropriate response. He's warm, solid, and damn him, she isn't supposed to feel this way, comforted and safe. He's her partner, her friend; what they are doing here should feel awkward, feel strange; she shouldn't want to run her fingertips along his hand; shouldn't want to curl her body around his because it simply feels right.
"What are we doing here Tony?" she whispers, as much to herself as to him; his proximity making her head spin slightly; her limbs feel heavy, lethargic as she fights the urge to simply give in, to relax in his embrace.
He gives a small sigh, his breath warm through the t-shirt. "Sleeping," he murmurs simply, as though it is the easiest question in the world—maybe it is- and then sleep reclaims him, and she lays in the darkness, arguing with her thoughts. She tries to convince herself to move away, replace the distance between then, but in the end it's a losing battle. His hand feels nice in hers, his breathing an even pulse between her shoulder blades, and frankly she isn't even sure why she's fighting this anymore. She falls back asleep against him in the early morning light until Gibbs calls, dragging them from each other with a new case.
They stop pretending to sleep on opposite sides of the bed.
A/N: Thanks for reading! Reviews are lovely, and a wonderful warm-up for liveblogging for the premiere!