Tony perched on a stool and watched Abby putter about her lab. They didn't have any urgent cases at the moment--he wouldn't have been playing the spectator if they had--but she'd found something to do. Probably maintenance, although he supposed it was possible she was running evidence for another team. The way Gibbs acted sometimes, it was easy to forget that there were other teams at NCIS. Every now and then she'd glance over her shoulder at him, but Tony just smiled at her and she'd go back to what she was doing.
At a quarter to five she threw him another one of those glances, but this time when he smiled at her she scowled heavily in return, pulled off her latex gloves with a snap and put her hands on her hips. "Okay, buster," Abby said, pinning him with a glare worthy of Gibbs. "Spill it."
Tony blinked. "Spill what?"
"Whatever it is that's wrong with you."
"There's nothing wrong with me," Tony protested. He had to fight down the urge to squirm on the stool.
"Hah!" Abby stalked toward him and jabbed a finger into his chest. "You're being quiet. You're never quiet. Alternately amusing and exasperating, yes. Quiet, no. Unless something's bugging you. Out with it already."
"I'm not exasperating," Tony said, pouting.
"And yet I'm feeling pretty exasperated right now," Abby shot back. "Come on, Tony. It's nearly five. Let's you and me go for a milkshake and you can tell dear Abby all about it."
Tony squinted at her for a moment and sighed internally. Abby was not in a letting-go-of-this mood. He had a feeling that was his own fault for sitting down her and letting her think about it for hours. Hopefully, with a little verbal tap dancing he could get through the conversation unscathed. "I don't need a milkshake, Abs," he said. "I need a drink."
"That's where you're wrong." Abby grinned suddenly. "Alcohol is a depressant and I'm thinking the last thing you need right now is to be more depressed. A milkshake, on the other hand--specifically, a chocolate milkshake--has caffeine, which is a stimulant, and chocolate, which has been scientifically proven to produce the same chemicals in your brain as sex does, and ice cream, which is the ultimate comfort food."
Tony blinked. "Sex in a glass?" he said at last.
Abby rolled her eyes at him. "Why am I not surprised that's the part you latched onto? So? I'm buying."
The diner they went to was a little hole in the wall place with real 50's decor. Not the shiny, pretty kind that most 50's themed diners sported, but the authentic kind. Tony loved it even before they served him the largest milkshake he'd seen in ages, with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. The shake was so thick he could barely get it up the straw and the minute he tasted it he knew he was spoiled for any other kind.
Abby let him have a couple of good swallows before she fixed him with her best fish-eyed glare and demanded, "So?"
He sighed. "I really don't want to talk about it."
"If you didn't want to talk about it, you wouldn't have spent four hours moping around my lab today," she said, supremely confident.
"Maybe I just wanted company," Tony argued.
"If you'd wanted company, you'd have made conversation. 'Fess up before I steal your milkshake and hold it hostage."
Tony slumped backwards in the booth and idly stirred the shake with his straw. "Okay then." He took a breath. Time to tap dance. "So. I, uh, I'm pretty sure I'm...in love."
"But Tony, that's great," Abby enthused. Tony scowled at her and she paused and grimaced a little. "Not great?"
"Not even close to great," Tony said. "So far from great that I can't even see great from where I am."
Abby leaned forward, arms folded on their table. "So what's between you and great?"
"Other than the fact that the person I'm in love with is pretty much the most inappropriate person humanly possible? Only about a hundred things." Tony leaned forward and sucked on his shake again, half to shut himself up and half to stop himself from stirring a good shake into nothing more than chocolate milk.
"Inappropriate how?" Abby quizzed. "Married?"
"She's a lesbian?"
Tony choked on his milkshake. Coughing, he pushed the glass aside and grabbed a napkin to wipe away the melted chocolate that trickled out his nose. "Not a lesbian," he managed finally. "There are other ways for someone to be inappropriate than because they're unavailable, Abs."
Abby frowned. "Well, it can't be because she's not interested. Not only are you hot, you've got scary crazy charm."
If they'd been on an even slightly less depressing topic, Tony would have preened. As it was he just pulled his shake back in front of himself and stuck a finger into it, ignoring the straw. "Thanks, but I'm pretty sure not interested is the key factor." Not interested on all sorts of levels. Tony sighed.
"You're sure?" Abby asked doubtfully. "Who is it? If it's someone I know, maybe I can ask strategic questions, find out more. Maybe I can even if I don't know her."
Tony shook his head. "Thanks for the offer, but I really don't think that's a good idea."
"Come on! Who can it hurt?"
"Me, if they find out why you're asking," Tony said.
"They?" Abby asked, eyeing him suspiciously. "Tony, are you playing the pronoun game with me?"
"Pronoun game?" Tony gave her his best innocent look.
Possibly not a good idea, as she only got more suspicious. "The pronoun game, in which you use 'they' and 'the person' and 'someone' instead of he or she and him or her in order to conceal the gender of the person you're talking about. And you so were playing it." She leaned across the table and pinned him with a glance. "Tony, are you in love with a guy?"
Tony opened his mouth to deny it, but a treacherous heat rose to the tips of his ears and gave him away. Abby's eyes widened comically. "You are," she crowed. "Who? No, wait, I know. It's gotta be Gibbs."
"Why Gibbs?" Tony sputtered.
Abby gave him a look. "Really, Tony. You trail around after him like a puppy who wants his belly rubbed. Do you even know what you look like when he tells you you did good? You light up. I thought it was just a straight boy crush, but apparently you aren't as straight as you make out. You've been holding out on me, buster."
Tony dropped his head to the table top with a thump. "I'm not a puppy," he told the table feebly. "I'm a cop. I just like to make sure he has what he needs."
"And you're a good cop," Abby said, patting his hand. "With really good taste. You and Gibbs? Very nice."
Lifting his head from the table, Tony stared at her incredulously. "Good taste? Abby, this is terrible! This is so terrible I can't even express how terrible this is. I'm screwed. This can't possibly turn out--"
"Oh, calm down. Gibbs loves you too, you know."
Abby calmly leaned forward and sucked her strawberry shake up through the straw before she answered. "If you're a puppy," she said in all seriousness, "then Gibbs is the guy who can't resist petting you."
Tony rubbed his hand over his face for a moment. "Can we give up on the metaphor? I'm having a hard time getting past the idea of Gibbs petting me."
Abby giggled. "I'm just saying he indulges you. All other things being equal, he gives you what you want."
"I'm really not seeing that," Tony said skeptically.
"Of course you don't. You're on the inside of the situation. No perspective."
"Even if you're right, indulging me doesn't translate into being in love with me," Tony argued.
Abby rolled her eyes. "That wasn't my only point, Tony. Just the most obvious one. I know the man. Trust me."
"Then why hasn't he done anything?"
"Ever heard of harassment?" Abby said impatiently. "He could get in serious trouble for coming on to you, even if you didn't mind. Worse, he'd never really feel sure that you said yes because you wanted to or because he was your boss. You're going to have to make the first move."
"Me?" Tony said, aghast.
Abby gave him an amused look and devoted herself to her milkshake for a minute before answering. She was doing that just to make him stew. He was sure of it. "Why do you have such a problem with that? You never have a problem making the first move on women."
"Gibbs is not 'women'," Tony said vehemently. "He's...he's different! He's Gibbs. I can't use a line on Gibbs!"
"Then don't use a line," Abby said. "Just be honest."
Tony pulled his milkshake back in front of himself and concentrated on stirring it, devolution into chocolate milk or not. "I'm not very good at honest," he muttered.
"You're on a roll right now," Abby said. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed. "Just keep going." She slid the phone across the table to him. Tony picked up it just in time to see the screen indicate that Gibbs had picked up. Tony hesitantly put the phone to his ear.
Of course. Gibbs had call display, same as the rest of them. His voice was a little concerned; Tony figured he'd called her name once already. "Ah, no. It's Tony," he said weakly.
"Why are you on Abby's cell?"
"We got a case?"
"No, I just..." Tony trailed off and looked across the table at Abby. She beamed at him and gave him a thumbs up. He swallowed, trying to settle the sudden butterflies in his stomach. "I, uh, need to talk to you. To tell you something."
"Does it have to be tonight?"
Tony gulped. "If I don't tell you tonight, I'm not sure I ever will," he said, so quietly he wasn't sure Gibbs would even hear him.
There was a long, long pause on the other end of the line. Tony closed his eyes, his heart thundering in his ears, his insides steadily growing colder and shakier. Please.
"My place. Thirty minutes." There was something almost anticipatory in Gibbs's voice. Something that made the cold knot in the pit of Tony's stomach heat right up again, even if the knot itself didn't go away.
"Thirty minutes," Tony confirmed. It took almost all his strength to make his voice sound normal.
The beep of Gibbs hanging up came over the line and Tony slowly flipped Abby's cell shut and slid it across the table back to her. "I can't believe you made me do that," he said. A vague sense of unreality had started to descend. Was this really happening?
"You did good, Tony," Abby said, reaching across the table and squeezing his hand. "Now go get your man."
"Oh, god," Tony moaned. "I am so screwed."
Abby snickered. "Not yet, but there's hope for the night."
"Abby, I can't...I just can't!" Tony slid out of the booth and got to his feet to pace, to agitated to sit still, but there were a few other people in the restaurant. He restrained himself, but didn't sit down again.
"Hey," Abby said, standing and reaching up to grip his shoulders. "Gibbs is waiting for you. You've got less than thirty minutes to get there. You don't want to disappoint the man, do you?"
"You know I don't," Tony said. "I'm just--" Scared. But he didn't say it out loud. "Tell me I can do this, Abs."
"You can do this," she said firmly. Turning him by the shoulders, she pointed him at the door and gave him a little push. "Go."