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Dancing at Midnight

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The day has begun to look like it will be very long. It is just past 10am, and already Ducky thinks that he will be falling asleep on the couch in his office tonight. His current guests are demanding more of his time than usual, and he doesn't want to make them wait for answers any longer than they must.

The doors slide open as he focuses his attention on paperwork, but he doesn't look up to see who has entered. He's worked with everyone long enough that he can identify each of them by the sound of their footsteps.

"Good morning, Abby. Busy night in the lab?"

Abby smiles and gives him a curious look. "How'd you know I've been here all night? You've only been here since 7."

Now it is his turn to smile, and he rests a hand on her wrist in a fashion that one might easily mistake for paternal affection. He speaks very quietly into her ear as he passes her on his way back to the steel table. "I heard you when you left the house."

Abby quickly glances over to see that Palmer has not overheard this exchange; from the way he is humming quietly to himself, he's off in his own little world, and wouldn't hear any discussion unless it was directed specifically at him.

"I'm sorry," Abby says quietly. "I didn't mean to wake you."

"Nothing to worry about, my dear." Ducky assures her, and turns his attention to the folders Abby is holding. "Are those the toxicology results for our young Marine here?"

Abby flips open the top file and begins to read from the page, mostly for show. She's already memorized the contents. "Turns out that Jack really did feel a need for speed. He was pretty messed up; I'm surprised no one noticed it."

Ducky nods. "That is odd. But I'm sure will get explanations, in time."

"Yeah." Abby pauses, running her index finger along the side of the autopsy table. "So, are you free for lunch, Ducky?"

Ducky shakes his head, and can't help but smile when Abby affects an overly-theatrical child's pout for a moment. "I really should stay here. Gibbs will be expecting answers quite soon."

"He always does," Abby sighs heavily. She's exaggerating, but Ducky can tell that she's genuinely a little upset. "But we're still going to that opening tonight, right?"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world, Abby. I've cleared our evening with Gibbs, and we'll be leaving here just past 5. That should leave us plenty of time to go home and change."

Abby grins as she turns to leave. "I'll be ready."

*****

They arrive at the party late; the official reason was that Abby had a sudden problem with her dress. (Unofficially, Abby came downstairs wearing it...and only made it halfway to the front door before Ducky unzipped it and pulled her down to the floor.)

Ducky introduces Abby to a few colleagues, who smile politely and go back to sipping their champagne. The men seem more accepting of her, while many of the women give them both disproving looks over the rims of their glasses.

Abby gives polite smiles to everyone she is introduced to. She pretends not to notice how many they never look her in the eye; they're too busy making lousy attempts to hide their disdain for the ink on her body. Many of the men, she realizes, are looking at her with one of two looks. One says 'You're a terribly curious woman, and I'd love to have a cup of coffee with you and pick your brain for hours'; the other clearly telegraphs that they would like nothing more than to turn her over their knee and see how long it takes before she begs them to fuck her.

She shudders slightly without realizing it, and rests a hand on Ducky's arm, smiling sweetly at the woman he is speaking to. "I'm sorry, but would you both excuse me for a minute?"

They both nod, and the woman (Abby is pretty sure her name is Melissa) leaves to get another drink at the bar. Just after Abby leaves, a man approaches Ducky. "Doctor Mallard! Good to see you."

"Good evening, Jack."

"The young lady I saw you with a moment ago, who is she? She's quite stunning."

Ducky sips his drink. "Abigail is a colleague of mine."

Jack looks at him over his own drink and smirks, raising an eyebrow. "Just a colleague?"

Ducky hesitates, unsure of how to respond, but Jack chuckles and takes another drink. "Still not a poker player, I see."

"I never have been, Jack, you know that." Ducky relaxes, realizing that Jack's just messing with him. "No, Abby is not just a colleague of mine, Jack. We've been involved for quite some time."

Jack claps him on the shoulder "Good for you. I'm glad to see that you're happy."

Ducky smiles. "Yes, Jack, I am happy. We're both happy."

*****

Abby dries her face, and stares at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She'd expected that people would be disproving of her relationship with Ducky, sure, but she never imagined that all these brilliant minds-these people who have been educating themselves for longer than she's been alive-could be so fucking stupid.

She tells herself that she really should be used to it by now; the dirty looks from around the edges of newspapers, the snide remarks overheard in restaurants.

The truth is, she's only resigned herself to it. It's become a cycle, she realizes: a nasty remark is made, she smiles and shrugs it off, while trying not to shatter inside, and it just keeps going. Every day, it seems, someone else has something to say about a 27-year-old scientist being in a relationship with a 63-year-old medical examiner.

Nevermind that it's a loving, stable, relationship. No, the only thing that most people see are her tattoos and collars, contrasting with his fine suits and the little bit of grey beginning to creep in around his temples.

Abby steps into a stall to check her nylons which (as expected) got a run in them almost as soon as she put them on. As she's searching her purse to see if she has any clear nail polish to fix them, the bathroom door is pushed open, and Abby hears two women begin speaking. She tries not to eavesdrop, but it quickly becomes clear that they're talking about her. And if someone's talking about you, that doesn't really make it eavesdropping, Abby figures. That just makes it...overhearing.

"I mean, honestly, I cannot believe it. I'm sure it's some sort of practical joke on us all. The man is a well-respected doctor, not to mention a brilliant, world-traveled lecturer. What could he possibly gain from being seen in public with that girl?"

Abby grimaces; she recognizes this voice. It belongs to a woman she met less than half an hour ago, and who she's pretty sure hated Abby before she even said hello. Her name is Patricia, and she told Ducky that she'd just opened up a new plastic surgery clinic in L.A.

"She really is just a girl, too. She hardly looks old enough to vote, let alone be here tonight." The second woman sounds unfamiliar.

Patricia makes a stricken face; Abby can see her through the tiny gap in the stall door, reflected in the mirror. "What could he possibly see in her?"

Abby steps out of the stall then, and steps up to the mirror to check her hair. She barely looks at the stunned (and slightly ashamed) looks on the ladies faces. "Well, for one thing, I'm absolutely incredible in bed. Now, if you'll excuse me?"

Abby gives them a bright, cheery smile and flounces out, leaving the women staring after her, unable to think of just how to react. By the time she finds Ducky standing with two other men, discussing the differences between American and European soccer, Abby's cheeks hurt from smiling so much.

"Abby, I'm glad you're back. We could really use your opinion on something." Ducky slips an arm around her waist easily, and nods toward the other men. "These gentlemen keep insisting that all the best soccer players are born here, and I'm trying to make them see the error of their logic. Do you think you could enlighten them?"

"I would love to, Ducky, but it will have to wait for another time. I'm sorry, but I've just been called back to work, and you know how Gibbs gets if I don't show up right away. Could you give me a ride back to the office, please?"

Ducky looks skeptical for a brief moment, but says goodbye to his colleagues and follows Abby to the doors, stopping only to get his coat.

When they get outside, Ducky turns to enter the parking lot, but stops when he notices that Abby isn't beside him. He turns back to find her sitting on the steps of the building, resting her hands in her lap.

"Abby? What's wrong? Are you sick? I can call Gibbs back and tell him-"

"Gibbs didn't call, Ducky." Abby look up, and her eyes are shining with tears she won't let fall. "I just needed an excuse to get out of there, and Gibbs was the best reason I could think of."

Ducky stares at her for a long moment, then pulls off his coat and slips it around Abby's shoulders. "What happened, Abby?"

Abby shakes her head. "No offense, but I really doubt you'd understand, Ducky."

Ducky watches her silently for a moment. She's pulled the sleeves of his coat around herself tightly, and she's moved away from him just enough that he's hurt by it. Her reasons suddenly become clear to him. Too clear.

"The women sniping about us in the ladies room, Abby, do you know who they were?"

Abby looks up, surprised. "How did you know?"

Ducky wraps his arms around her shoulders, rubbing them a bit. "I spoke to Gibbs before we left, and he said that under no circumstances would he call either of us tonight."

"I'm sorry, Ducky, I didn't mean to lie. It's just that these women were so...so mean, and I had to get out of there. I just, I'm just getting really sick of all the things they have to say about me. About us." Abby sighs and lowers her head to rest on her knees.

Ducky settles a hand on Abby's back. "That's quite all right, Abby. And I do understand, despite what you may think."

"So what do we do about it, Ducky? I mean, we can't ignore all the nasty comments forever, can we?" Abby turns her head and looks at Ducky sideways.

He has to smile, because as Abby turns her head, her hair falls forward, revealing the spiderweb inked on her neck. At the same time, his jacket begins to slip sideways off her shoulders and she reaches up to grab at it with both hands. In doing so, two other tattoos are revealed, and Abby doesn't try to cover them. "My darling Abigail. I believe you've just answered your own question."

Abby looks at him curiously. "I don't understand."

Gently, he takes her wrist in his hand, keeping the jacket pulled down near her elbow. "Now do you see? You've never cared what people thought of your physical appearance, and you've always been open when answering questions some curious child-or adult-has had about it. And I really don't think that you care all that much about what a few stuffed-shirt women have to say about us."

"No? Then why was I in such a hurry to leave the party, Ducky?" Abby gives him a small smile, which Ducky returns equally.

"Well, obviously, you snuck a peek into the kitchen, and hatched a brilliant plan to get us both out of there before we ended up with a terrible case of food poisoning from the salmon." Ducky says with a wink. "That, or your shoes hurt your feet, and you couldn't wait to take them off. I can't say for sure which it was."

Abby sits up, pulling Ducky's jacket up over her shoulders. "The kitchen was that bad?"

"Well, no, actually; I took a peek at it while you were getting another glass of champagne, and it was actually quite clean. Very organized, too."

"That's good. But, to tell you the truth, I'm not really hungry. I could go for some dessert, though. I'm in the mood for some ice cream. What about you?" Abby stands, extending a hand to Ducky.

Ducky stands and brushes a hand down the back of Abby's dress to get rid of the dust from the steps. "That sounds like a wonderful idea. Lead the way, my dear."