The literary world was abuzz over Thom E. Gemcity's newest book. The as-yet-unpublished work was garnering praise from reviewers and readers alike. The chance for a preview, read by Gemcity himself with a Question-and-Answer period following, drew standing-room only crowds. The press-junket was scheduled to coincide with the release of Deep Six: The Annotated Edition, and the book-signings after the reading often stretched three hours or more.
It had been a grueling two weeks with at least one, sometimes three, cities per day and McGee was exhausted. His publisher had wanted DC to be the kick-off point, the only city where he would be in two stores in one day. McGee had insisted on making San Diego the two-store stop, and DC the first and last stops on the tour. He was beginning to regret that decision.
Glancing at the time, he noted they were over two hours behind schedule, almost the same amount of time the plane had been circling Dulles International. McGee closed his laptop and stretched his legs, thankful that the publisher had sprung for First Class seats. One final engagement Saturday and he would be free to return to his work. It would be nice to get his hands on his typewriter again, to do some actual typing instead of writing in his notebook.
He flexed his hands, imagining the weight of the keys beneath his fingers... and the weight of his gun in them. As tired as he was, McGee was even more homesick. He missed his typewriter, his colleagues, his bed, his friends, his family, his work, and most of all, he missed Abby. McGee searched for the lights of the Washington Navy Yard beneath him. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone.
Abby's cheerful voice answered, "McGee!! You made it home, okay?"
"Not yet. I'm stuck in a time-loop over Dulles. Talk to me, Abbs." McGee listened contentedly as Abby prattled on about the cases she was working on, her latest music find, and Tony and Ziva's latest squabble. An occasional inquiry of "He did?" "What‘d you find?" and "No kidding?" was all that was needed on his part for the next half hour.
Finally, he interrupted, "Abby?"
"I was beginning to think you weren't paying attention," Abby huffed.
McGee could picture her pouting lips and twinkling eyes. "I always pay attention to you, even when I'm not," he teased her back.
"Paradoxical, but true," she giggled.
"Abs, I have a thing Saturday. The publisher's throwing a reception for the East Coast book dealers after the reading on Saturday. I'd really like you to be there."
"You asking me on a date, McGee?" Abby's voice was a peculiar mix of belligerence and concern. "I thought we..."
"Not a date -- not unless you want it to be." McGee closed his eyes and slumped back against the seat. The weariness he felt poured out, "I just... I just need you to be there. Please."
"Of course I'll be there, Timmy! What's wrong?" All trace of her earlier belligerence was gone.
"Nothing. I'm just tired, that's all."
"You're supposed to work tomorrow, aren't you?" Abby's frown came through in her voice. "You stay home, I'll tell Gibbs..."
"No. I'll be fine. All I need is a good night's sleep in my own bed. I'll see you tomorrow. ‘night Abs. Don‘t work too late." McGee started to close the phone when he remembered. "It's formal. The reception. It's at the Hay-Adams."
Thursday and Friday went by quickly. When he came in on Thursday, Abby was waiting in the bullpen to give him a bone-crushing hug. Ziva teased him about having a woman in every city with an airport. He handed out the gifts he had gotten in what little spare time he had.
While the girls showered McGee with affection, Tony grumbled, "It's about time you got back! While you were off playing Best Selling Author, I was stuck having to do the work of three people."
"Three..." McGee trailed off, realizing too late that he'd been set up.
Tony winked at him. "Ziva was useless with you gone. She moped around like someone ran over her puppy."
Ziva picked up a paper clip and advanced on Tony. He backed away quickly, right into Gibbs' descending hand.
"Ow! That one hurt, Boss."
Gibbs glowered at Tony, "Not as much as my foot up your arse will. Get to work you two. McGee! With me."
Whether The Boss had taken pity on him, or was punishing him, McGee wasn‘t quite sure. Instead of trying to bring him up to speed on the case in progress, Gibbs had him making and fielding phone calls, entering case notes into the system, and doing all of "the computer stuff."
Tony complained incessantly about McGee coming back from two-weeks "lazing around" on vacation and then skipping out on the legwork. An extra pizza mysteriously appeared with the lunch order Tony called in on Friday. No one was surprised when it turned out to have all of McGee's favorite toppings on it.
Despite wanting to be back in the field, McGee was secretly pleased at getting desk duty. He was able to acquaint himself with the current case, as well as review the files on cases he had missed. It also gave him a chance to have Ducky X-ray and strap up his aching ribs.
McGee knocked on the door, again. He wished he had worn his coat, instead of leaving it in the limousine. A light breeze blew in from the coast, and skittered down the collar of his tuxedo jacket. The late-afternoon sun that shimmered through the autumn leaves did nothing to offset the slight chill in the air.
When she opened the door, he completely forgot about how cold it was. His breath caught and blood rushed to his face and elsewhere. Abby wore a strapless, red-and-black plaid sheath that clung to every curve. The black cut-velvet shawl revealed tantalizing glimpses of a plunging décolleté.
"If you want to see more, you'll have to get me inside where it's warm." Abby's throaty chuckle stirred a familiar ache in his heart.
The ride was silent, for the most part. Abby seemed to sense his fatigue and placed her hand over his. He smiled and gave it a squeeze. "Sorry, I'm not the best company tonight."
"It's okay. I figured you were running your speech in your head. We can talk after the reception." Her eyes betrayed her. She was worried. "If you‘re not too tired."
Two blocks before they reached the Hay-Adams, they passed the stragglers. Abby looked though the window at the line of people and shivered a little. The limousine had seemed a bit pretentious at first, but now she was thankful for the anonymity the tinted windows provided.
"Timmy, are ALL of these people here to see you? "
He glanced across her at the snaking mass and nodded. "Yeah. Weird, huh?"
"Creepy. How many of them are Landon wannabes, do ya think?" Another ripple went through her body.
Draping his arm around her, McGee gave her shoulder a little squeeze, "Relax, Abbs, no one is going to hurt you. I promise. They'd have to get through me, first."
Abby snuggled into the comforting arm and smiled. "And that's why I love you. Besides, how many psychotic javelin-throwing murderously fanatical fans can one author have?" Her eyes widened as she caught the deeper implications of his words. "You're packing?" she exclaimed, feeling for his side-arm.
Fending off her groping hands, McGee shrugged. "Portal to portal, Abbs. We're on the tip line this weekend."
Eyes narrowed, Abby carefully looked him up and down. He squirmed beneath her critical gaze. Finally, she smiled. "Wow, who's your tailor -- Q? Or the Secret Service? I can spot a shoulder holster a mile away, but that jacket fits perfectly."
Just then, the car pulled gently to a stop under the ornate porte-cochere of the Hay-Adams. Abby watched, more awe-struck than she cared to admit, as the driver walked around to her side of the car, which faced the red-carpeted steps.
"Show time," McGee muttered.