Series: The Babylon Project #3
Chapters: 001 Word Count: 4344
Pairing(s): - No Pairing -
Summary: When does a coping mechanism stop being a coping mechanism?
Author Notes: I want to express my heartfelt thanks to
Yes, Mann is in this story. I didn't care much for her, I'll be honest. I abohr character bashing so I hope I have dealt fairly by her.
"The truth points to itself."
"I do not understand."
-- Kosh and Delenn: Babylon 5:"In the Beginning"
The case was closed at 13.28pm Zulu Time on a warm Friday night. Everyone had been sickened by the perp’s depravity; Gibbs would never show it publicly, but if the murderer had decided to make a run for it, then he’d have had no compunctions about putting him six feet under. Save the taxpayers the expense of putting the dirtbag up in Leavenworth for the rest of his natural.
His team was, for want of a better term, wiped out. They had given everything they had to give working on the case as it had dragged out over the last couple of days. Other agencies had been found wanting, but not Gibbs’ team. He was proud of them; he’d never tell them that, but then they already knew.
Once Ziva had carted the scum bag (his arm twisted up behind his back) away for processing, Gibbs had slipped down to Autopsy to have a quiet word with Ducky. Officially, it was to tell him to release the bodies to their respective families. Unofficially, it was to ask him to round up Abby and meet him in the parking lot in about half an hour.
He didn’t want them to go home alone; that was all there was to it. It was enough to salve his conscience and avoid giving thought to the unholy mess better known as his feelings for those he cared about most in his life.
When he arrived in Autopsy, it became clear that he didn’t need a reason have a quiet word with Ducky; Abby was already there. The pair of them were seated at Ducky's desk, drinking tea and talking quietly. They turned to face him as the doors to Autopsy swished closed behind him; both bore signs of how much the week had taken out of them.
"Hardy confessed. Ziva is processing the dirtbag," he began as he leant up against the table closest to them. "You can sign off the paperwork on Monday morning, Duck," he said, emphasizing his last words as he watched Ducky reach over to the files on his desk.
The innocent look on Ducky's face as he slowly pulled his hand away from the paperwork made both Abby and Gibbs smile.
"Either of you guys got any plans for tonight?" Abby asked plaintively. She drained her mug and slowly pushed herself out of the chair, her usual energy sapped by the week's events.
Gibbs smiled slightly as he shook his head; he didn't even have to ask. Abby would make noises about wanting to grab something to eat, Ducky would mention a couple of places that he knew were still open and then Gibbs would suggest a little place he knew, the ‘owner’ didn't mind take out, the beer was cold and the chairs were comfy. Guilelessly the others would agree, knowing full well that he was inviting them back to his place. As he had a number of times past.
"Meet you guys in the parking lot in half an hour?" Gibbs asked, cutting to the chase with a smile.
There were no words, but there were tired smiles and nods of agreement. He could hear them debating the finer points of Chinese versus Italian as the elevator doors closed behind him.
When Gibbs arrived back in the Bullpen, he saw his three agents in a huddle by the large office window that looked out onto the Navy Yard. They were arguing about something, when Tony should have been herding them out the door for pizza and Bond movies. 'Officially', he didn't know about Tony's methods for keeping himself and the other two sane after cases like this one; unofficially... Abby has hearing a bat would envy. Gibbs was glad that they had *something* to help them unwind.
"Hey!" he barked, more for show than anything else, "What are you three still doing here? Go home!"
They scattered guiltily to their desks. By the time he had sat down at his own desk, they were saying "goodnight" and already halfway to the elevator, where the argument started up again, to be cut off mid flow by the closing of the elevator doors.
Gibbs shook his head and opened his desk drawer. He pulled out his gun and his badge and walked to the elevator. If he knew Ducky and Abby, they would be standing right by Ducky’s Morgan, Abby perched on the hood, as they waited for him to meet them, chatting about something that Gibbs had two hopes of understanding. With luck, they would have settled upon what to eat and all he had to do was provide beer, plates and a comfortable bed to sleep in.
Hollis Mann closed the door behind her with a shake of her head. Sure, Jethro lived in a quiet neighborhood, but he should learn to lock his front door. You never knew who would just walk in unannounced around breakfast time.
She glanced around the hallway, looking for evidence to verify that Jethro was actually ‘home’. His car was parked outside, but that didn’t mean that he was actually there. Scuttlebutt said that he’d caught a real FUBAR of a case during the week, which would explain the radio silence at his end. She understood, of course; she wasn’t like the others.
Her eyes alighted on the small side table by the door. Jethro always dropped his mail and keys there, regular as clockwork. She glanced at the mail precariously piled up on it; the top letter was postmarked 48 hours previous. Sure enough, right next to the pile were his keys. No cell phone, which was understandable; it would be either on the bedside table or on the basement workbench. At this time of the morning, she was hoping for the former, but knowing Jethro, the latter was just as likely.
For a moment, she thought about calling out, announcing her presence. It was only polite. Not to mention that Gibbs' gun pointed at her face did tend to offend. She gave the matter a moment’s thought before discarding it. Who else would he be expecting to be walking through his house this early on a Saturday morning? Best that she didn't go there, the list of people that he'd pissed off had to be measured in miles now.
With a shake of the head, Hollis walked down the stairs to the basement. More likely than not, she’d find him under the boat, asleep. He’d be twenty kinds of cranky when she woke him up certainly but it was nothing that a blow job wouldn’t be able to fix.
It took her a couple of minutes to discover that he wasn’t there. Which was a surprise as she figured that after a case as fucked up as scuttlebutt was reporting, he’d head down there for quality time with his boat. It didn’t take an investigator of her experience to figure out that if Gibbs wasn’t under the boat, he should be under the covers upstairs.
For a moment, Hollis hesitated at the bottom of the stairs out of the basement. While she, rationally, discounted any idea of ‘gut instinct’ (preferring to rely on solid evidence as a basis for her decisions) she couldn’t deny that ‘something’ held her back. It was strange, the sense that there was more than one other person in the house.
Gibbs would be alone; there was no one else. There was nothing out of the ordinary to show that there was another person there. She hadn't seen anything strange outside, so why was she hesitating?
It wasn’t that she hadn’t been in Jethro’s bedroom before. She had, on a number of occasions and very memorable they had been too. The man jealously guarded his privacy, but given that they’d been seeing each other for a while now, she felt that she had the right to gain access to his private spaces, physical, if not mental.
She wondered if he had ever let anyone get that close to him. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe one day she would be allowed to get that close to him. Succeed where others had failed. It would be a challenge and a challenge was something that she’d never learned to walk away from. One of the reasons why she liked him so much.
Slowly Hollis walked up the basement stairs and along the hall to the stairs leading to the second level of the house. As she did so, she reviewed some of the memories she had of walking along it with Jethro. Or rather, stumbling along entwined with him, as she passionately returned his kisses and caresses. It was a credit to both of their trainings that they actually made it upstairs (or in one very memorable instance, not) without injury.
Again, she paused at the foot of the stairs. She glanced behind her at the front door and then upwards at the out-of-sight master bedroom. Her team would be surprised at her hesitancy. Should she leave him to rest and recover from his hellish case or should she go upstairs and join him?
Experience told her that Jethro would be lying naked under cool cotton covers. The sunlight would be streaming through the curtain, warming his pale bare skin. If she went up there now, she knew that she’d most likely find him half awake and horny. A state that she liked a hell of a lot. Making love with him was a powerful experience; none more so than first thing in the morning, with him on his back, those piercing blue eyes sensually half closed as he cradled her hips as she straddled him and slowly rode him to orgasm.
Hollis glanced up the stairs, heat coursing through her from her memories of being with Jethro. She started up the stairs with a determined step; she had nothing else planned today, so shouldn’t she entice him to spend the day in bed with her? Make some more memories and perhaps help him put the case behind him.
His bedroom door was ajar when she reached the second floor. She smiled slightly at that. At least she could guarantee that he’d wake up with a smile on his face. The door opened noiselessly at her gentle push and she stepped through, just as quietly.
Gibbs was there all right. He was fast asleep in his bed, just as she thought he would be. She hadn’t expected to find Gibbs’ Medical Examiner and Forensic Scientist lying, fast asleep, either side of him.
If Hollis had walked in on the three of them in flagrante, she doubted that she could have been anymore surprised by what was in front of her.
She took a deep breath and began assessing what was before her the same way as she would assess a crime scene. Hollis would die before she admitted that it was the only way she could handle what she saw.
Jethro was close to his team, she knew and accepted that. She was close to her team too, but she wouldn’t share a bed with them. Fraternization and sexual harassment rules put paid to that and even if they didn’t, she had to maintain distance as team leader. It was the only way it could go down. That... and none of them would exactly win beauty pageants, even if she did contemplate it.
NCIS did things differently to Army CID that was obvious.
Everyone had their ways of dealing with bad cases. Her team’s favorite was to go out and get ripped. None of them had gone AWOL yet, but she always spoke softer and had a pack of Tylenol on hand the next day. In recent weeks, her way had been to come around to see Gibbs (if he wasn’t on a case himself) and spend time with the man. It helped her a lot.
She had thought that Gibbs’ way of coping was to work on his boat. Not that that surprised her, there was something rather relaxing about working on the boat. Or at least that’s what she had thought his way was until that moment.
So why did he do it? It was obvious that it had nothing to do with sex. All three of them were dressed in nightclothes, Gibbs in t-shirt and pj pants. Ditto his forensic specialist, who was, to Hollis' mind, dressed a lot less slutty than usual, although Hollis was sure she was missing some kind of joke with the cookie reference on Scutio's pants. Doctor Mallard was dressed in the sort of pajama suit that she’d only ever seen in old films. She never thought that anyone in real life would wear anything like that. Then again, it was fair to say that Gibbs’ ME was a very queer sort.
Scutio shifted in her sleep, snuggling closer to Gibbs as she did so. Hollis heard the surreal sound of a fart ring out in the room. No one stirred as she looked around for the source of the sound. Her eyes alighted on a toy hippo nestled between Gibbs and his forensic specialist. The same one that Hollis was sure that she had seen in sitting in the lab.
Definitely different to CID.
Yet, it didn’t answer why they were there in the first place. It wasn’t for sex, that much she was sure about... so what was it? More to the point, whatever it was, why couldn’t Gibbs come to her for it (whatever it was.) Why did he have to go to them for it?
She epitomized everything that a guy like him should ever want or need. Between them, neither Doctor Mallard nor Miss Scutio came even close. Whatever it was, it didn’t explain why she was standing at the end of the bed looking on and they were cuddled up with the man she had fallen in love with.
Hollis was so caught up in her ‘crime scene’ that she didn’t realize that she was being watched.
With a start, she looked down into steady blue eyes looking back. Unbeknownst to her, Doctor Mallard had been awake, propped up on one elbow, calm, aware eyes on her.
For a long moment, the doctor and the officer watched each other, each waiting for the other to make a move.
Instead it was Gibbs who made the first move. Years of training helped her to control her startle at the sound of his voice.
“Duck, you wanna take Abby downstairs, get the two of you some coffee?” he stated as he gently shook the young woman awake.
“Yes, Jethro,” the older man replied as he moved with a quickness that Hollis didn’t think he possessed.
“Whoa!” Abigail exclaimed, sitting abruptly up, still cuddling the toy hippo. “What are you doing here?” she cried out, curling up in a ball, putting Gibbs as a defensive wall between the two of them.
Hollis thought about replying for a heartbeat but the retort died on her lips. It would not help and it would only serve to exacerbate the situation.
“Abigail, would you care for some breakfast?” the doctor asked, holding a hand out to her.
“We still got some pizza from last night?” she asked as she gracefully rose from the bed and brushed past the other woman as if she didn’t even exist.
“I’m sure that we’ll be able to find something a little more nutritional than cold pizza, Abigail,” Doctor Mallard commented as he picked up two small bags from just inside the doorway. “Jethro’s main food groups do extend beyond coffee and takeout, my dear-” he noted as he nodded to his friend. It didn't escape Hollis' notice that Gibbs managed to raise a small smile at the dig at his expense. Far more of a reaction than her presence in the room had provoked. She tried not to let it show on her face but it still cut deep.
"You sure about that, Ducky?" the dark haired woman asked, as she took one of the bags from the Englishman. Hollis guessed that it had to be hers; black patent with extensive metalwork wasn't the doctor's style.
"Why don't you go find out, Abs?" Jethro said, offering her a smile. Hollis ignored the pain in her chest as she watched Scutio walk back to the bed and kiss Gibbs on the cheek. Mann took no notice of either Scutio or Mallard leaving, nor did she hear the gentle snick of the door closing behind them.
Abby knew that Gibbs would be okay, regardless of whatever Lt. Col. Mann (literally) threw at him. It still didn't stop her from straining her hearing as she changed out of her pjs into her 'emergency' clothes, in the bathroom.. The 'emergency clothes' that would pass for work, the ones that she kept in her 'overnight' bag in the trunk of her car. The bag (and its contents) seemed to get more and more use in the last couple of months and not just at Gibbs' place but Ducky's too.
What had started out as a comfort mechanism was fast becoming as necessary as caffeine to Abigail Scutio. Sometimes she wondered if she was the only one who had felt the shift.
The 'arrangement' had gone beyond friendship months ago. Abby was never been one for labels and could see no good reason to start with them now. She loved Ducky as much as she loved Gibbs and she was sure that the feelings were mutual.
Nevertheless, Abby still paused outside the closed bedroom door to see if she could hear the sound of raised voices, thrown pillows or anything that would entitle her to run in and find out what was going on. Knowing that Gibbs was going to be okay was one thing, but seeing proof with her own two eyes was something else. Something that, as a scientist, she needed to have.
“Finished, Ducky!” she called out as she walked back into the small, serviceable kitchen, only to find that he wasn’t there. Which was kind of odd as she’d only left him a few minutes before. She stepped over to the stove and gingerly removed the whistling kettle from the hob. Abby frowned; she knew Ducky too well. He wouldn’t leave the kettle boiling like that without good reason.
“Ducky?” she called out as she looked out of the window into the backyard. She wondered if he had decided to take a turn in the greenery as was his wont when visiting. It had surprised her to see that Gibbs had such a beautiful yard. For someone who, by his own admission, spent most of his time in his basement, it was a mystery how he did it. Abby chalked it up to one of those unknowable mysteries of the Universe, ranking up there with how Gibbs was going to get his boat out of the basement.
“Abigail, are you well?” Ducky asked as he appeared in the doorway. “I heard you call out my name,” he added as he fussed with his cuffs of his button down shirt.
“There you are!” Abby called out as she ran over to him and enveloped the older man in a hug. “I couldn’t find you!” she exclaimed, relief flooding her voice. “You’d left the kettle on and I thought you’d been kidnapped by space aliens-”
He laughed and hugged her back. “Nothing so sinister my dear,” he replied as he took a step back. It gladdened her to note that he didn’t break the embrace, his hands still resting on her shoulders. “I simply took the liberty of popping into the downstairs toilet to change into something more appropriate.”
“And very dashing you look too!” she told him as she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek before stepping away.
"Why thank you my dear! You look as lovely as ever,” he replied with a grin as he turned his attention to the steaming kettle. “Would you care for a cup of tea?”
“Love one,” Abby replied, smiling at him.
Silence settled over the kitchen as Ducky attended to making tea for the pair of them. It didn’t escape Abby’s notice that Ducky had primed the coffee maker as well. She wandered over to the kitchen doorway and stared up at the second floor. It wasn’t possible to see Gibbs’ bedroom door from her vantage point and Abby knew that; it didn’t stop her from trying though.
“Ducky?” she asked as she walked over to sit down at the big wooden table that dominated the room. Ducky handed her a steaming mug of milk tea and took a seat opposite her.
“Yes, my dear?” he replied as he stirred his tea.
“Why do you think Gibbs is with her?” Abby asked, taking a sip of tea. “I mean, if he wanted sex, he could have asked us,” she stated baldly.
As soon as she had said it, Abby knew that it had been the wrong thing to say. The way that Ducky inelegantly spat tea across the big wooden table was testament to that.
She wasn’t going to take the words back. The genie was out of the bottle now and heavens help her… she was glad. Abby was always one for honesty and she felt nothing but relief that this ‘secret’ was finally in the open.
Abby knew that Gibbs’ original offer was as much about keeping her from dating psycho loser stalkers like Mikel as it was anything else. Instead of possible psychos, she got to cuddle him whenever she needed to. Which was a vast improvement all round.
Finding out that Gibbs had a similar arrangement with Ducky had been a surprise. A nice one, certainly. Of all the guys she worked with, Ducky was second only to Gibbs in pretty much everything. Falling asleep with him gently holding her that first time, waking up with Gibbs facing her the following morning had been something very special. She felt safe and needed and comfortable and… loved.
It had been on her recommendation that they continued with the ‘arrangement’. She had felt selfish at the time, having three really sweet guys waiting on her, what with seeing Marty and all. In the end, it had been the right call to make given how it worked out with Marty.
For Abby, the 'arrangement' had its basis in love. It was the kind of love that dear friends shared with each other. One that she had for all Gibbs' team and for Ducky (and Jimmy) too. The arrangement represented many things; comfort, friendship and love. Gibbs had given them so much and asked for nothing in return.
After all, it was obvious to Abby that Gibbs was with Lt Col. Mann for sex and not much else. Surely they could give him this small thing in return for all that he had done for them? Gibbs wouldn't be the first friend she'd slept with and she was hoping that perhaps Ducky would seriously consider the idea as well. She loved both of them and they loved her back; surely they could work something out?
“You realize what it is you are saying?” Ducky asked quietly, not looking up from his tea mug.
Abby nodded mutely. She put her head in her hands as banging her head against the table would end up giving her a headache and Ducky’s pity. Neither of which she wanted, especially as Ducky was never going to speak to her again because she had gone and suggested something so hinky that even he'd say 'no' and oh God couldn’t she just go back to bed? Start the day over again, this time without the emotional trauma.
She felt a warm hand rest on her forearm. “Abigail, look at me,” Ducky requested quietly.
Abby raised her head and looked into Ducky’s face. In his blue eyes she saw friendship, love and... was that understanding?
“It’s happened to you too, hasn’t it?” she asked softly as she lowered her hands to the table, not wanting Ducky to see how much they were shaking.
He nodded, a wry smile turning up the corners of his mouth. Abby replied in the only way she knew how. She pushed out of her seat and went around the table to envelope him in a hug.
She felt him return it after a moment’s hesitation, haltingly rubbing her back and resting his head on her shoulder.
Abby had raised her head to speak when she heard the open and close of a door upstairs. She stiffened in the embrace and turned towards the doorway. Ducky followed suit.
Sure enough, two figures were walking down the stairs in silence. Mann, back ramrod straight, eyes front, put Abby in mind of someone going to a court martial rather than leaving their lover’s bedroom. Gibbs was behind her, still dressed in the t-shirt and pj pants that he’d pulled out of the dresser the night before. He glanced quickly towards them before he and Mann disappeared from view as they walked down the hall to the front door.
Abby heard the door open, close, and the unmistakeable sound of a lock being turned. She felt Ducky pull away from her to stand up. He smiled at her before taking up a position at her side.
Gibbs appeared in the doorway. He looked hale and whole, if not a little tired. Nothing that a cup of coffee and a morning in bed couldn’t cure, Abby decided.
“I think we need to talk.” Gibbs said.