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In These Quiet Moments

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He knew something was wrong as soon as the elevator jerked to a stop and her eyes flew to the emergency switch to see if he had flipped it, as he had done so many times in the past. Seeing his hands calmly at his side killed a quip she had had at the ready, and in the span of 15 minutes, the light had gone from her voice, leaving them in a wordless dark. Despite silence being his conversational currency, he had grown accustomed to hers being the opposite, so much so that he caught himself searching her out during the day, often under the pretense of a case to obscure the fact he just wanted to hear her laugh. She wasn’t laughing now and it unsettled him. He didn’t have to ask what was wrong; he knew enough about her past to guess, and what he didn’t know for certain, he could glean from his own experiences. The pulse point at the base of her throat was alarmingly noticeable even in the elevator’s eerie blue emergency light. She stood stock still, eyes open but to the floor. He suspected she didn’t sit because it would only make the box feel smaller. She was spooked and she was in trouble.

He didn’t speak, partly out of habit but mostly out of recognizing there wasn’t much to say. There was no question that wasn’t obvious, no consoling word that wouldn’t seem like a hollow defense against the demons she was fighting with hands that repetitively clenched and unclenched. So instead, he did what he knew he was best at- action. Slowly, he held out a hand towards her, palm up, steady, sure and safe. She fought it for a moment, and that, too, was something he recognized in himself. The fear of admitting a weakness was almost as strong as dealing with trauma. Letting someone behind the wall gave them the power to wound, and the wall would have to be built twice as strong. He took no joy in knowing his walls were nearly impenetrable. He did find a strange comfort in knowing hers weren’t nearly as thick when she finally, blindly reached out for his hand.

…..

She thought she was over it, at least in public, at least at work, at least in front of him. It was one thing to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, alone in a room that had 2 night lights; it was quite another to let it seep through the cracks in front of a man whom she’d grown surprisingly (unsurprisingly?) close to over the last year. She wasn’t a woman who needed a man to protect her or make her feel safe- her independence was one reason she joined the Army. It was one reason she hesitated taking the hand that was offered. But maybe, just maybe, she could let herself accept it from this man.

He probably didn’t even hear his own dismayed growl when she placed her shaking hand in his outstretched lifeline. She almost laughed at his reaction, because she knew it wasn’t directed towards her, but instead towards anything and everything that caused her harm that he couldn't slay. His protectiveness was near-legendary, but there was something more in his sentinel role when it came to her and it was that singular focus that invited her into his arms without shame. Still, she felt compelled to apologize, but was stilled by his hand on her head and a quiet hush. She knew all about Rule 8, but there was something in his touch and words that offered a forgiveness rather than a censure, and it brought her in closer. She was surprised to feel his pulse under her fingers, but it quickly made way for a kind of fascination, a newfound interest in the warm metronome that was his life. The smell of him, the sturdiness of him, the safety of him had her clutching at his shirt, keeping her demons at bay.

…..

Feeling her hand in his, he realized the clenching and unclenching wasn’t just a defensive motion; it was to stop them from shaking, and the trembling in his warm hand was nearly his undoing. It seemed to be hers, as well, because the second his fingers curled around her hand, she crushed herself into his chest. He could almost feel the apology leave her lips, and he brought up his free hand to the back of her head and whispered something unintelligible into her hair, stopping her words. It had nothing to do with Rule 8 and everything to do with the fact she had nothing to apologize for, especially to him. Bringing her fingertips to the hollow of his throat, he let her feel his heartbeat, hoping the moderate cadence would slow hers. He felt her other hand clench tighter, balling up his shirt in her fist, but it seemed to comfort her and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop her if that’s what she needed. While he continued to run his fingers through her hair, his right hand gently stroked down her back to her waist where he pulled her in even closer, as if his entire body could shield her from harm. A soothing rhythm along the hem of her shirt inadvertently brought two of his fingers to skim a thin ribbon of skin exposed by the motion and he at once felt the unusual softness that scars often brought and a hardness against him as she tightened at the touch.

He suspected a number of people had seen the scars; she wasn’t entirely shy or self-conscious about them, but he did wonder how many people were allowed to touch them. Was he the first person without medical reason? Was he the first man? He had to tamp down a surprising flash of anger that flooded through him at the thought of other men having the privilege of holding her, of seeing her hidden fears. This wasn't about him, he had to remind himself, though the feel of her under his touch made him wonder if it wasn't a whole hell of a lot about them. Cautiously, he drew his fingers up and under the hem, one guarded inch at a time, hyper-aware to any protest she might have had. Hearing none, he continued.

…..

She had lost track of the number of people who had seen her scars. From doctors to interns to buttoned-up insurance agents to curious onlookers at the gym. Hell, even the man holding her had seen them. She wore them like a badge and had no shame in showing them. Touching them was something entirely different. Doctors learned to back away once she could change the dressings on her own and bed partners grew frustrated when they could look but couldn't touch. And yet, like nothing, dry calloused fingertips charted a gentle map of discovery over troubled terrain, and once the automatic flinch had passed, the wall-building that usually followed passed, too. There was something in his touch that reminded her of the woman she was, not the woman she had been, and it was a revelation that years of therapy couldn't uncover. With her panic crashing and fading against his unbreakable levee, she tried to swallow the tears that threatened again, knowing he wouldn't understand that they were good tears.

…..

He felt her shudder again. All too aware of what it meant, he gripped her tighter, laying the flat of his palm against her scars, long fingers spreading and covering as much of the hurt as they could. It took him a minute to realize he was humming, and it took two verses in to realize it was an Irish lullaby his mother used to sing to him. Closing his eyes at the memory, he thought only of the woman in his arms.

…..

It was the humming that did it. The vibrations under her fingertips sent a soothing legato to her heart, but something more basic to the pit of her stomach. Describe what you see was a common therapy tool, and turning it around on herself, she was more than a little surprised at the image she could detail. A woman and a man, standing together, close, closer than close. An embrace. A touch. Hands on skin. Bodies pressed tightly from knees to shoulders. From an outsider’s perspective, this wasn’t about protection; this was almost seduction.

Blindly, both figuratively and literally, she replaced her fingertips with her mouth, faintly tasting the salt at the base of his throat. His heartbeat tapped harder against her lips than it did against her fingers, and he stopped humming. His response brought her attention back into focus and she berated herself for what she had done. It was never her intention to break down in front of him; it certainly wasn’t her intention to use that to reveal her feelings for him. The worry that he would feel manipulated into the situation made her pull back, but not for the first time, she appeared to have misjudged him, because he only held her firmer against him, and began humming again.

…..

When he felt her lips against his neck, he was sure his heart stopped, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. When he had offered her his hand that very first time, it was only ever to comfort. As he had done when she first allowed him to touch her back, he made sure to push down any personal feelings or wants. It wasn’t about him, he again reminded himself. It was about her. It was about a co-worker. It was about a friend. And if he wanted to have that talk with her about it ever, maybe, possibly being more, well, he could do that any time he liked.

He couldn’t stop his own eyeroll.

The truth was- and he wasn’t one to shy away from the truth- she scared the hell out of him. From the moment she blustered her way into his home with a cocky grin and overwhelming self-confidence, to this moment, when she was strong enough to shed both of those things, to let him see every side of who she was, when she was brave enough to strike the match between them. Before she could think she was making a mistake, before he could come up with some half-assed reason it was a mistake, he pulled her back in as she pulled away and began humming again. Though hesitantly, her lips returned to his throat, as if from this moment on, that was exactly where they should be. They were nervously still yet somehow managed to convey a sense of newfound ownership, laying a claim to a vulnerable entry point, but instead of being threatened by it, he felt a sense of security. Her claim was one of protection as much as it was ownership, and he couldn’t remember the last time a woman made that silent promise to him.

She was risking everything by being brave and she deserved him to do the same. Bowing his head without losing any contact, his lips found her temple, then her cheek, then her lips, humming all the while. When her mouth tilted up to meet his, the humming turned into something else entirely. Her grip on his shirt became something more. His touch on her back went from cool to burning hot and he suddenly couldn’t get enough contact.

…..

She had gone from wanting no one to touch her to not wanting this man to stop. She knew the key word was ‘this’, but she pushed the thought aside for later, wanting nothing more than to savour the now. ‘Now’ involved his hand searing an imprint on her back that she could feel burning into her lungs and lower. ‘Now’ meant his tongue seeking out hers. ‘Now’ encouraged her body to press flush against his, molding herself around his edges, filling all the spaces light tried to seep through. She couldn’t breathe, but she revelled in it rather than feared it, because he was breathing life into her.

…..

He felt love in the same measure he felt anger. He felt betrayal with the same intensity he felt desire. He just kept them hidden better than most people. But when the cap came off the bottle, few loved, raged, recoiled or burned as keenly as one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Now that the woman in his arms spilled the contents, there was no getting them back in. The hand that had been gently stroking her hair now gripped tightly and he could barely get enough of her mouth. He wanted to show her that marks didn’t have to be reminders of horror. It didn’t help that the only sound in the last 20 minutes beyond his humming was a soft moan that sent devilish promises right to his groin. Drawing on every last ounce of whatever Marine discipline he had left, he relaxed his hands and brought them up to cradle her face. He wanted to see her eyes, to see that their heads were on the same page their bodies were more than happy to scribble in. She didn’t hesitate, and bold brown eyes met his.

…..

She had been kissed countless times in her life, from the fumblings of teenage boys in the back of their parents’ car, to casual one-night stands, to semi-long term relationships. Each with various levels of success and heat. But she wasn’t sure she had ever been kissed like someone had been waiting forever for her to arrive; like he had been saving it for years, like something precious. And when she responded? It was the only permission he needed to show her how long he’d been waiting, how long he’d been saving it, how precious she was. Still, he pulled back ever so slightly, needing to know for sure, wanting her to be just as certain, as if her soft moans and reciprocating mouth wasn’t enough. His eyes were almost phosphorescent in the blue glow of the elevator light, and she shivered under his gaze. Pulling him closer, knowing he would misinterpret her body’s response, she could only smile and nod and kiss him again.

…..

It wasn’t how he wanted it to start, but now that it had, he didn’t want it to end. Which was why he wasn’t entirely surprised when the elevator lights flickered into life and the car jerked into motion. The outside world would soon insinuate itself back into their lives, but he wasn’t quite ready to let go just yet. Lowering his hands, she did the same, and their fingers met at their sides. Her eyes were closed but her smile was beatific. He realized he’d be happy just to look at her forever. Warm brown eyes opened, breaking the spell but not releasing him completely. He considered fighting her bewitching hold she suddenly had on his heart, but he just couldn't do it when she was looking at him with a mixture of expectation, nervousness and want. The elevator bell dinged, counting down their short time, and he growled at the inanimate prodding. Her laugh- the first one she had given since the elevator doors had closed- made him narrow his eyes, but he loved the fact that she was having none of his attitude.

Brushing her hair aside, allowing himself one more touch before the doors opened, he drew in a breath and said, “Guess we should talk.”

Her laughter grew, and when the elevator opened to the Bullpen, if anyone saw Special Agent Gibbs and Agent Sloane in a lip lock, no one said a word.

…..

-end