McGee-centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.
Chapter 370: The Knight's Lady
As they settled into their third month of… whatever this thing they've got is, there are certain things that Borin deeply appreciates about Gibbs.
First off, he has never, not once, gotten sharp or annoyed with her when she's had to break a date. The fact that he doesn't get huffy about it, how, 'Look people's lives are on the line,' actually does trump dinner in front of the fire for him makes her happy and makes her try to miss fewer of said dinners.
She has, twice now, cut meetings that were running long, short, so that she could make it to his place for dinner.
His own personal level of been there/done that means that when she's stuck and spit-balling, he asks good questions and usually has good ideas. Though 'Tell 'em all to go fuck off,' one of his bits of advice, may not always be practical, but it is often a satisfying idea. And, even if she won't act on it, it's fun to have someone else who gets how annoying the brass is.
And, due to budget levels, she's still in the field on occasion. Like everyone else at CGIS under her, she takes a turn on call for weekends, but there are also cases where she gets called in because she is who she is and she's damn good at the job. If she's getting called in, it means the case is already at stratospheric levels of FUBAR, or 'delicate,' or both, so both times she was having very bad days, when she just needed to get out of her head, out of her world, out of all the shit that goes on and the monsters out there, when she headed to his place with a bottle in one hand and metaphorical steam pouring out of her ears, he was more than willing to knock back a few shots, fuck her until she couldn't see straight, and then just relax quietly, instead of asking her lots of questions about what was going on.
Though the second time it happened, after the first round, when she was laying against his chest, feeling the vaguely tickly roughness of his chest hair against her cheek, he quietly said, while petting her hair, "When it was me, there were some things I didn't want to take home. I wanted them out of my head as fast as I could get rid of them. So, I'm not gonna ask, because I'm thinking you don't want to talk, not because I'm not interested. If you do want to talk, I want to listen." She nodded at that and kissed his nipple.
"Just want to fuck until I can sleep."
He kissed the top of her head. "I'm good for that, too." And then flipped her onto her back and started to kiss his way down her chest.
She appreciates that she can bitch to him about the job, and he doesn't suggest that she should quit if she finds it so frustrating.
There are more, tangible, things she appreciates about him, as well.
He almost always smells good. Okay, not always. She'd been curled up on his sofa, reading, when he got home, raggedy, dirty, and sweaty from that day of tearing down chunks of the house of black mold (as she thinks of it) and she'd gotten up to hug him, gotten about three feet away, and promptly came to the conclusion that he smelled so bad that even Mona didn't want to get near him.
(He saw her come near, saw her stop, step back, stop breathing, and said, 'Give me fifteen minutes,' before depositing his clothing in the washer, and walking naked up to the shower. Fifteen minutes later, he was still in the shower, and she slipped in behind him, much happier with how this was working.)
But most of the time, he smells right to her. First time she can ever remember seriously thinking about stealing a t-shirt or two so she'd have something man scented to snuggle up against when she's alone.
And, if he knows she's coming over, he shaves. She likes that. Likes that he makes the effort, and how smooth his skin is newly shaved.
She likes how, sometimes, when he's not expecting her, and she just drops by, it's clear he hasn't shaved for a few days, and he's pleasantly stubbly.
Actually, she likes the fact that he's hairy all over. She's always said that if she wanted some sort of hairless, girly thing, she'd date women, and the men who can grow body hair, should. And he can, which she likes. Plus, she suspects he'd find the idea of ripping it all out or shaving it horrifying, which she also likes. She finds men who spend longer on their grooming than she does on hers disconcerting.
She likes the fact that he's in damn good shape. She's got men twenty years younger in her office that aren't in half as good of shape. A lot of them. She loves the fact that he can keep up with her. She works hard to keep her body the way it is, to make sure she's quick and limber and ready to deal with whatever may come her way, and she appreciates that if she says, "Get a swim with me?" because that's her exercise of choice (She knows he's more of a runner or fighter, and maybe one day she'll join in on Bootcamp, but not yet.) he grabs a pair of trunks and is ready to go.
She loves the fact that he can keep up with her on other levels as well. Sure, he's not twenty-two, or fifty-two for that matter, and his left knee won't agree to go along with marathon sex if they're kneeling, but he's happy to use his tongue and fingers when his dick's out of the game, and he can go a damn long time with said dick.
So, given this level of appreciation, she's getting… curious, is probably the right word, as to how he ended up with three ex-wives, because from everything she can see, he's a keeper.
But she's also not insane, and a man who's been divorced three times is a man wearing a huge, neon proceed with caution sign.
Of course, it's not just proceed with caution on his part. Though there's a lot of that. After all, three other women liked this man enough to marry him, and maybe he did have unerringly bad taste, but…
They had to think things were going good, right?
They must have liked him, too. Must have liked this whole, life-with-him-thing, right? That's part of the whole get married thing, you like being with each other.
And it went bad, somehow. Somehow this is good and right and fun and everything stopped being all of those things.
And one time it didn't. One time where it was good and right and fun and love and everything a marriage is supposed to be, and then it was gone.
She knows all about the time it didn't go bad. About that weird space of the memory of something cherished and beloved and how to work a new life into that, letting it go enough to have a life, but keeping it close because it was so much who you are and were.
She's very aware that there's a boat in his driveway with no name on it. Everything else is done. It's ready for the water. Except for the name.
She stopped wearing it a decade ago, but she still has her engagement ring. She still has the pictures of the two of them, and she's sure Jethro has more than the shots he showed her.
So, she gets it. And she gets not knowing exactly what to do about that. She doesn't want him to feel like he has to cut Shannon and Kelly and who they were and what the meant to him out of his life. Just like she doesn't want to pretend there was no Liam, or burn his pictures, or any of the rest of it.
I'm not in love with her… He had said. And she's not in love with Liam, not anymore. But she still loves him, loves the life she had with him, and she knows Gibbs still loves Shannon and Kelly, loves the life he had with them.
She supposes that's a good thing. A man gets to fifty-seven years old and never loves anyone, and you've got to see that as an even bigger glowing, neon back the hell off sign than three ex-wives.
Then there's her own proceed with caution. This is good. It's very comfortable. It's easy in a way even Liam wasn't. It's really freaking scary because it is good and it is comfortable, and she could easily see herself snuggling into this man and staying there forever and she hasn't felt that way in a very long time and the last time that was true it got ripped away and…
And sometimes she feels like he's taking her apart. When they're at it slow and gentle, or just sitting around quietly, or when she's drifting off to sleep and he snuggles in just that little bit closer. Sometimes that feels like unraveling, cracking… shifting, like old dry plates of… something, armor maybe, are slowly moving into a new configuration.
And she's not sure if that's good of if that's just setting up for another heartbreak.
Lots of ands.
Abbi Borin hasn't had any hope about a man, or a relationship in a long time, and that's under all the ands, under the proceed with caution signs, under the fear and doubt, a tiny sprig of hope, trying to grow strong.
Still, three ex-wives. That's something to talk about it.
They're at his place, post-sex. She thinks this is true for both of them, it's certainly true for her, that it's easier to talk about intimate things when they're naked and relaxing.
There are some things she just can't talk about dressed. Her clothing is as much armor as her personality sometimes, and for some things it just has to come off before she can get into them.
So, she's laying across his bed, he's on his stomach, looking very content. She rolls a bit, so she's facing him, one leg draped over his hips, fingers gently stroking along his spine. He turns his face toward her, but his eyes are closed.
"So, three ex-wives?" she asks.
He doesn't exactly smile, but there's a sort of sheepish grin on his face as he opens his eyes, propping up on his elbows. "Yeah. Three ex-wives."
He rubs his face and looks uncomfortable, rolling onto his side to face her completely. "Because I really can be dumber than a box of rocks. And no one was kidding when they said the second B was for bastard."
"You still dumber than a box of rocks?"
He gives her his uncertain look. "I hope not. But I didn't think I was then, either. I do know I'm not a bastard, at least not that kind, anymore."
"That's a start."
He gives her his agreeing look. Then came the sheepish one. "I missed her." Sad smile. "And I chased after anything that was like her that I could find, and then I made sure it didn't work," he sighs, thinking about the trafficking he's hoping to do and wondering if this counts as an entirely new and even more spectacular way of making sure it never works again. "Trying to do better with you, because I'd like this to work."
She nods at that, kissing him.
"How about you?" He strokes her shoulder. "Ever get close after…" He doesn't know the name of her Marine.
"Liam. No." She shakes her head slightly. "Decent number of 'friends,' a few lovers, but I never let anyone stick around long enough to ask."
"Gonna let me stick around?" he asks, eyes serious and watching hers.
He can read the look on her face, the mix of knowing her past patterns and hoping to not repeat them, but knowing they're patterns for a reason. "Not planning on sending you off. Hope I don't scare you off." He can read the look on her face that says trying may not be succeeding, but she's going to try, and he can live with that. Trying might be all either of them can do. It's a good first step.
"What made you want to try again?"
The hip with the new scar is the one that's face up. Her fingers lightly ghost over it. "Just creased me, you know? Didn't even notice it until Flant told me I was bleeding, but it got me thinking. Wasn't sure if I wanted the job to be all I ever had or was. I don't want to give it up, but… I don't want it to be my everything, either. A week later, you want to get coffee, why not? I like you. I'd told you not to be a stranger. Worst comes to worst, we spend twenty minutes drinking coffee trying to think of something to say."
"Worst didn't come to worst."
"Nope. How about you, why'd you call?"
His eyes trail over her body, making one reason very clear. "Pretty red hair, great voice, you do your job well, you don't take shit from anyone, and you can stand up to me. My ideal woman."
She wiggles her butt a little. "Great ass didn't hurt, did it?"
He kisses her, hand resting on her bum. "Not at all." He could let it lie. They could just stay here, warm and comfortable and together, maybe nap some, maybe get some dinner. But he can't just let it lie. He's got to bring it up, because it's not fair, to either of them, to know what he wants to do, to know how bad it could be for her, and to do it anyway without telling her.
Like he said, he's not a bastard, not that kind, at least, not any more. The guy who married Stephanie to give himself a cover for fooling around with Jen is long, long gone. He takes a deep breath. "Why CGIS?"
She can feel this is important, to something, but she doesn't know what, or why it would be. "Wasn't supposed to be CGIS, didn't even know they had an investigative service. Was going to be FBI, or you guys. But, I finished FLETC in '05. It was the beginning of a six month hiring freeze. I was the last class to go through for a year. Coast Guard was small enough, and understaffed enough, that it still had a bit of budget left, so cool my heels for six months, and no promise of a job after, or go with them. I couldn't just sit there for half a year, so I applied, they liked me, I'm with the Coast Guard."
"It's not about serving the US or defending the borders from whatever's out there?"
She shakes her head. "If I could still do that, I'd still be a Marine. I can serve people. I need to serve people. But, patriotism's lost its shine over the years. I mean… what the fuck did we do over there, Jethro?" She rubs her eyes. "What did I lose my team for? Since '14 the whole bloody place is a mess again, and ISIS grabs a new chunk of it every day." She sighs, shaking her head, he can feel she's hit the point where angry on this is all burned out, and all that's left is defeat. "CGIS is about catching killers, tossing drug smugglers in jail, returning stolen people home, and feeling like… Feeling like there's a reason I'm still here."
He nods at that, gets that in his bones. The bullet, the blast misses by a hair and kills everyone else, and you've got to wonder why you're still there. Gotta make yourself feel like you earned the second chance.
She looks at him, head tilted, thinking about being just out of FLETC, and the prospect of six months of nothing followed by job hunting. She couldn't have done it. She still couldn't do it, day after day of just… nothing. "What are you doing, Gibbs?"
He sends her his huh? look, and she shakes her head. "I can't retire from this. I'm never going to be able to retire from this. And you're worse than I am. So, what are you doing? You didn't just retire. You'd be climbing the walls, going insane if all you had was woodworking and me. You need it, just the same way I do. So what are you doing?"
He smiles, and she catches the bit of wary sadness in the back of his eyes. "I don't know." He licks his lips and there's a sad smile on his face. "Hopin' I'm not a whole new level of stupid. I've got something in the works, but I don't know if it'll ever come to anything beyond in the works." He swallows. "Would you be willing to trust me on it? That if it ever goes from an idea to real, that I'll tell you about it first?"
She looks at him for a long moment. He's scared. His guard is up and he's trying to get away from something on this. And that scares her because this is Leroy Jethro Gibbs, and she's never seen him scared before. "Am I trusting you because it's dangerous or because it's illegal?"
"Oh, Lord." She winces and rubs her face. "Yes, I'll trust you on it, but don't make me. You're not telling me because you think I won't like it, won't stick around for it, so tell me now. If you're willing to set it in motion, you're already set on it, so, if this is it, this is it, let's get it done."
He nods and then kisses her, his eyes are so sad right now, and she's feeling sure that whatever he's going to come up with, it'll break her heart. "If I was going to do something… If my mind was already made up, and there was no talking me out of it… and if you'd approve of it… I'd hope… something where no one would get hurt… and someone, maybe several someones, in a very bad situation would get a much better one… but it was illegal, and if I got caught, you'd be in a shitload of trouble for not reporting it, 'cause it's in the realm of illegal you're in charge of…" He winces at that. "Would you want to know? Or would it be easier to not know, so you don't ever have to worry about not reporting it?" He figures that's specific enough for her to put the idea together and vague enough allow her to say, under oath, that she did not know what he was doing.
She ponders that for a long minute, thinking about what he's said and what she knows about him. No one gets hurt. So, he's not talking about sniping people. She knows she's got people who she wouldn't mind if they met a bullet, and she's sure he does, too. He wouldn't run drugs, not with what happened to his wife and daughter. Guns? That doesn't strike her as people in a bad situation to better. Bad situation to better… He's got to be talking about moving people.
That's not nearly as bad as she was afraid it could have been.
It's the hardest part of her job. For anyone who's got a conscience, at least. Poor, hungry people desperate for a better life, so desperate they're willing to literally die to try and get it, and it's her job to turn them away. They come in rafts, boats, in anything that'll float. Chesapeake isn't as big of an issue for that, but she did two years in Miami, where every day there was more of them.
It's why she transferred out of Miami. Couldn't stand fishing dehydrated, starved, sometimes dead people out of the water, and turning the living ones back to 'wait their turn in line.' She knows that for most of those people the line never ends, that there literally is no legal way to get into the US.
Poor, uneducated person, no family in the US, all he's got going for him is a willingness to put it all on the line for a better life. For him, they put up 10,000 visas a year, done by lottery. Tens of millions if not a hundred million people in that lottery. He's got a better shot of getting stuck by lightning than getting that visa. Next year, the exact same thing. Not like he gets a better shot of getting in the next year. Same odds. Because there is no 'line.'
But it's the job, and it's the law, and if she's stingy on allocating resources away from drug smuggling and murders to go after illegal aliens that's doing as much as she can do.
Gibbs can't even begin to put into words how much of a relief he finds this, when she asks, "Are you going to get caught?"
"Hope not." Because right now, that's all he can do. "Like I said, it's in the works. Don't have anything to move or plan on yet, so…"
"You gonna do more than hoping?" It's a serious question, gauging how carefully he's planning this.
He strokes her collar bone. "I am going to do everything in my power to make sure that I don't get caught. If it's hinky, we're not going to move on it. It's not some sort of go out in blaze of glory thing. I want to actually help."
She squeezes his hand, stopping his meandering finger. "And will 'everything in your power' extend to using my position in any way to help you not get caught?"
"No." He shakes his head. He won't, can't do that, or ask her to. "And I won't. I'll tell you, as specific as you like, if you want to know, or I'll go on 'fishing trips' if you don't, but I'll never ask for help, or for you to do anything that might get you in any trouble."
She nods and licks her lips. He's never seen that gesture on her, but he knows exactly what it means: a sort of contemplative uncomfortableness. "But you'd prefer I didn't ask what you were up to if I felt like I'd have to report it?"
"Yes." He thinks about that for a moment. "I guess I am asking you for something. I'm asking for you to look the other way. And I'm asking you to not ask me about it if you can't."
She kisses him, sweet and exasperated at the same time. "Jethro."
"Tell me about it. Don't want anything biting me in the ass as a surprise."
He lets the breath he didn't know he was holding out. "This goes right, and it never will."
He knows that look, it's extremely well-worn skepticism. "When does anything ever go 'right?'"
"Good point." And so, lying in bed, early May sunset mellowing into dark, Jethro tells her his plans. "It's just… ideas… right now." He tells her about Mike, and who Mike was, and what he thought Mike was doing, and what he and Penny and Ducky were trying to get started up. He tells her how they don't have any details, don't know how to find the girls, yet. But the boat's ready, the house will provide them with a launching point, how they have a lawyer on standby, how, right now, the ball is in Penny's court because she's the one on finding them a good contact.
For a long minute she just stares at him, and then sighs, pressing her hand to his chest. "You couldn't have designed a worse thing for me to know about if you had tried."
"I know," he looks and feels sorry about that.
"And there's no shot of changing your mind?"
He shakes his head, looking at her, eyes soft and earnest. "Abbi, is it the right thing to do? If we can find them, we're going to be getting abused girls to a better life. Is that wrong?"
"No." There's not a hint of doubt in her voice.
He lifts her hand from his chest and kisses her palm. "Then why would you want to try to change my mind?"
Her eyes shut, and she kisses him again, fingers cupping his cheek. She stares at him for a long moment, and he can feel her make the decision. "You ever get a text from me that says 'See you Tuesday' you drop everything and head for the hills, got it?"
He nods, knowing exactly how serious that is. "You don't—"
"Hush. It's the right thing to do, so why wouldn't I help?"
"It's your job to not help. Stopping guys like me is exactly your job."
She stares at him for a long time, thinking, and he doesn't try to rush her. Finally she says, "We do the job because it makes a difference. Because we give other people some peace, and maybe we save some people by putting the bad guys away. But most of the time, it's too little, too late. We provide closure. Maybe for once it'd be nice to help provide some openings."
He nods. "Yeah. Ziva and Tony have been talking about having a baby soonish, I hope, and she talked about that, about how it's time to stop devoting life to death, and start devoting it to life."
"Yeah. It's good, Gibbs."
He nods. "If we find someone, I'll tell you."
"Jethro, don't get caught."
He smiles at her. "Can you think of any better reason to get thrown in jail?"
"No… But… I don't want to be visiting you there." She stretches and slides her hand down his naked side. "They don't let you do this in jail."
He smiles, feeling, very content, very... secure right now. Very, right, all over. "Friday night Shabbos. Not sure if it's at my place or Ziva's yet, but, would you come?"
"You mean, like bringing me home to meet the family?"
"I'd love to go to Shabbos with you."
He grins at that. Imagining her as part of the family.
She stretches and sighs. "It got dark while we were talking."
He notices that for the first time. "Yep."
"Good, because if you're going to get me involved in a major criminal conspiracy, you better buy me a damn good dinner, too."
He smiles at that, sitting up. "Wherever you want, my treat."
They're in the shower when one other thing about this springs to mind. He's certain that Borin will keep silent on this, but he also knows that it's a good plan for the conspiracy members to know who is who.
He's washing her hair when he says, "About our plan. Ducky and Penny are part of it. You know about it. The kids… suspect something is up, they also know I can't retire, but they also have not and will not ask about it. It's not the sort of thing we'll be chatting about at family dinners."
She turns around so her hair is in the water, rinsing clean, and then gently taps his shoulder so he knows to turn. "They don't know to protect them?" she asks as she starts to shampoo his hair.
"Yes. They'd agree. They'd approve. They'd probably want to help. But the fewer the people who know, the better."
"So, why do I know? This is a case where not saying anything really would protect me."
"You know how you don't tell the people you love about the job to protect them?"
He can feel her nod, even if he can't see it. But he figures it'd be good to say this next bit face to face, so he turns around to say, "Has that ever worked out for you? It's never worked out for me. And it wouldn't have worked here. You ever found out, or if I got caught, you'd hate me for not telling you."
"Yeah, but you'd still be pissed."
She nods. She would be.
"And I don't want to be lying to you. I've done it. Not said. Protected partners, friends, family, lovers. And it never works. They're always angry after. Finally someone put it like this: when you say, 'I was trying to protect you,' what you're really doing is saying, 'I'm going to do what I'm going to do, and I don't want to have to deal with your emotional reaction to it.' And, that's not fair or kind to the person you don't want to deal with."
Borin nods at that. "Never thought about it that way, but… that makes a lot of sense. 'This is hard enough without you being horrified/scared or crying on me about it. And I cannot take anything else on top of this, so please, back off.'" She goes back to massaging the shampoo into his scalp. That feels good.
"Yep. And that's it. For you, and for me. But there's this other person who's scared and worried and… And I've done that… more times than I want to say. Never, ever works. I'm trying to not make the same mistakes I've already made a dozen times."
She switches them around again, so this time he's under the water, rinsing off. "So, you're saying, with me, you're going to make new and different mistakes?"
"That's the plan."
She laughs at that.
He looks at her, tenderness in his eyes, seriousness, too. There are a lot of feelings, ideas, all of which probably could translate into words, if he worked at it, for a long, long time.
She strokes his face, sees him working at this, and then kisses him. "It's okay, Gibbs. I get it."
He smiles and kisses her back. "What do you want for dinner?"