Seems I've always got something to apologize for. Yet another computer crash...this is not the year for electronics, it seems. At least not for me. But my trusty little Chromebook is trucking along fine now. And now that I've figured out how to get Google Docs to work with this site, yay. So, the continuation. Thanks for hanging in there with me; hopefully updates will be much more frequent now. It's been awhile, so a quick check-in with the timeline as well - this follows canon through mid season 9, then dovetails into its own AU.

Charity and Amanda had been debriefed as quickly and gently as possible, in order to get them back to their families. The difference between the two sets of parents was clear to any observer; Amanda's parents were anxious to get her home and smother her with love, while Charity's parents were only a few short steps away from blaming the victim. Gibbs curled his lip; he hated seeing parents taking the gifts life offered for granted. Ducky had noticed it too, and he whispered to Fornell about making sure social services followed up with both families.

Pratt had tried to fight, which made the arrest that much more delightful for Gibbs. He'd been hoping Pratt would choose suicide by cop, but they hadn't been quite that lucky. Nevertheless, Gibbs had gotten a few good blows in. He was able to stop short of actual police brutality, which might have let Pratt walk, but he didn't know if he'd have been able to if Abby hadn't been recovering so well.

Abby and Charity both squealed with delight upon their reunion, each fussing over the other's wounds. Sometimes, that was the best thing to be said about an ordeal, that everyone had emerged alive and if not well, at least on the road to recovery. Gibbs hung around while Fornell dealt with Amanda and her family giving Abby and Charity a few more minutes together before Charity had to deal with her parents. It seemed to be doing them both good, and anything that made his girl smile like that was worth Gibbs' time.

It wasn't done yet. The psychological wounds would remain; there were still hearings and trials to endure. But the worst was over. And Gibbs could rest easy knowing Abby's attacker was in jail where he belonged - and that she was recuperating in his home, where she belonged for the time being. His family was safe, and that was all that mattered.

Somehow, without any pre-planning, Gibbs' team all ended up in his living room the next Saturday night. Abby had been cleared by her doctor to return home, and she had asked Tim to come help her pack. It wasn't as if she really needed the help, considering she only had about a duffel bag's worth of personal items at Gibbs' house, but Gibbs smiled and pretended to buy the story. It wasn't his first rodeo by far, but he knew how it was for young couples, and he trusted them to exercise their best judgement, knowing he was just downstairs.

Tony and Ziva had wandered by later in the evening, claiming they'd happened to be in the neighborhood and wanted to peek in on Abby. As much as he did value his alone time, Gibbs didn't mind in the least and after determining that none of them had eaten yet, he got to work rectifying that situation. Fortunately, he always kept extra food in the freezer in case of unexpected guests. A Marine was always prepared.

Tim was sitting on one end of the couch, Abby draped casually across his lap. Tony and Ziva were curled together on the other end, with both pairs pretending to fight over the popcorn bowl. Tony fed Ziva pieces of popcorn when he thought Gibbs wasn't looking and Gibbs pretended not to notice. A silly, syrupy thing, sure, but ultimately minor. They were watching a John Wayne movie marathon on the public broadcasting station; "The Quiet Man" had just finished and the opening scenes of "True Grit" were playing on the screen. It was actually rather cozy, an adjective Gibbs had not associated with any part of his home but the basement in some time.

Eventually, Tony's finger-gun reenactments of the gunfights gave way to his borrowing Abby's crutch and escalating the battle to something approaching the level of Capone's Chicago. Ziva rolled her eyes and protested that if he was trying to substitute the crutch for a Tommy gun, he was doing it wrong. He sniped back at her, Tim nudged Tony to shut him up, and Abby had already fallen asleep with her head in Tim's lap. Gibbs shook his head and cleared his throat, pretending to be annoyed. His whole team, together, unwinding as a felt good. More than that, it felt right.

Tim had been eager to take Abby out on an official date, but she'd held out on one condition, that she be able to walk unassisted. She wasn't embarrassed about her temporary handicap, and they went out several times on "not-a-date" adventures. But Abby apparently had plans for what she had taken to calling their next first date, and they didn't involve a crutch. Whatever it was, she was keeping it close to her chest. Tim had no idea what she was up to, but he was more than happy to assist her with the physical therapy that would bring them that much closer to their goal.

Abby's substitute in the lab had been about as straight-laced as Abby wasn't. It had been amusing at first to see the competent but unnerved tech making his way around Abby's lab, but the charm had soon worn thin. It was good to have her back. The crutch certainly didn't slow her down once she was back in her element. In fact, Tim often found her using it as an extension of her arm to tap a button or nudge something she otherwise wouldn't have been able to reach. He wouldn't have been surprised if she ended up keeping it afterwards for exactly that purpose.

They both knew full well they were dating, even if they didn't call it that. Just because there was a rain check pending on their actual "date," it didn't mean their relationship wasn't evolving, deepening. Abby might have had her secretive plans, but Tim had a few of his own as well. He intended to make it an event to remember. It took some measure of flexibility, considering he had no idea where they'd be going or what they'd be doing, but life as an NCIS agent had taught Tim many lessons in adaptation.

Abby grinned triumphantly and high-fived Tim, who had accompanied her to the appointment, when both the neurologist and the orthopedist completed their follow-ups and declared she was free to banish her crutch to a dusty corner of the closet. She'd been feeling herself getting stronger; she'd intentionally left it behind sometimes. But now it was official. And now it was time to put her plan into action.

"So, Timmy, still up for that date?" she teased, knowing what the answer would be.

"Boy, am I." He kissed her cheek. "You've had me waiting nearly two months trying to figure out what you're up to."

"And you call yourself an investigator." She laughed, softening the jibe, and kissed him on the cheek in return. "What say we cancel our movie plans tomorrow night and go on a date?"

"Sounds perfect," Tim agreed. "When should I pick you up?"

"Three," she announced. "But not at my apartment."

"Where, then?" he asked.

"The Musain," Abby told him. It was an old but homey cafe in her neighborhood named after the students' meeting place in Les Miserables. It also had an incredible pastry selection. And since their romance had rekindled over a muffin, it seemed an appropriate place to start. "I'll tell you the rest when we get there."

Tim had managed to put part of his plan into action. Nearly everyone at the coffee shop he frequented suggested the traditional over-the-top romantic gestures - thirteen red roses (one silk), jewelry, nothing one couldn't pick up watching a few chick flicks. But Abby wasn't traditional and Tim didn't want his approach to be either. The roses, he'd obtained in a rainbow of colors, figuring she'd anticipate black. He'd talked to her favorite tattoo artist and gotten a gift certificate - something the shop didn't normally do, but they'd been willing to make an exception for Abby.

Abby had loved both the flowers and the gift. His confidence bolstered, Tim had to exercise willpower not to throw all his cards on the table before their lattes arrived. He was a little nervous about the poem, considering the disaster their last experience with poetry as a couple had been, but this was different. He hadn't written it, for one, and he kept the lighthearted tone. And Abby liked Emily Dickinson, a woman who had definitely seen both the dark and light side of life. He was feeling good about it.

Tim wasn't sure where he'd thought the evening would be going, but knowing Abby, he had headed in figuring he was ready for anything. He was wrong - but in a delightful way. A scavenger hunt, he hadn't expected, hadn't even considered. But as Abby led him on a merry chase through Dupont Circle and beyond, he was having the time of his life with her. He had no idea how long she'd spent setting it all up, but he was impressed.

"Okay." Abby handed Tim a folded piece of paper, this one tucked inside an old dictionary at a combination used bookstore and coffee shop. "Last clue. This one's the money shot."

Tim laughed, unfolding it and reading aloud - though Abby knew perfectly well what it said; it was her handwriting. "The Old 97's, 3/20/01?" He frowned, looking at her curiously. As was typical of a scavenger hunt, the previous clues had sent them to another location. But he didn't know what to make of this one. He was pretty sure the first part was the name of a band, but the date had no significance for him.

"It's a clue, Timmy," she urged him, grinning like a child at Christmas. "Google is allowed."

Without hesitation, Tim had his phone in his hand, searching for the band and the date. The first result was from Wikipedia, but despite its iffiness as a scientific resource, he thought he had his answer. "'Question.'" It was the name of a song, released on that date. He smiled at her. "Am I supposed to ask you something to get to the end?"

"Oh, it isn't the end," Abby replied, grinning. "At least I hope not." She leaned closer, singing softly. "Someday somebody's gonna ask you...a question that you should say yes to…"

Tim laughed, a little nervous and a little disbelieving. He recognized the song now that he heard it, and he knew what it was about. "Are you proposing to me?"

Abby's eyes widened and she laughed as well, but not awkwardly. ", I guess it could be taken that way. But...I know you like tradition, so I wouldn't…" Her rambling trailed off and she grinned at him a little goofily. "Do you want me to be?"

"What were you going to ask me?" Tim was more curious now than anything.

"I was going to ask you if you wanted to be exclusive." Abby chewed on her lower lip, briefly, shifting her weight. "I mean, I know we basically are now, but officially. Whatever the grownup version of 'going steady' is."

"I didn't know it was called anything else," Tim mused. He laughed at both their presumptions. "I guess getting married would be pretty exclusive, if we get there." He kissed her quickly, just a peck on the lips before he answered. "Yes, I would like to be exclusive. Very much."

"Me too." She leaned in, sealing it with a firmer kiss. "I love you, Timmy."

"Love you too, Abs." Tim pulled her close to him, strolling by the shops lining the street, his arm looped around her waist. It was a perfect, quiet end to an adventurous evening. Abby had been quite creative in hiding her clues - one had even been on Roosevelt Island. "Gotta admit, this whole adventure certainly outdoes my poem."

"Poem?" She pressed closer to him, smiling. "Did you write a poem for me?"

"Um, not exactly," Tim admitted. "Emily Dickinson wrote it. I just...adapted it. I was trying to be cute. I don't know…"

"Timothy McGee!" Abby stopped walking, swatting him playfully. "You can't tease me like that and let it drop. I want to see it. Or hear it. Whatever you were planning."

Fortunately, it was very short, so even if this ended badly, there was a quick out. "Oh, you know, the little ditty...'to have a Susan of my own...'"

Abby laughed, clasping her hands together. "Are you saying you want an Abby of your own?"

"I am," Tim answered. "...and you know, there's some speculation that Emily was actually in love with her friend Susan…."

"I know!" Abby nodded quickly. "It's obvious from the letters there was something. Poor Em. Wrong place, wrong time." She turned back toward Tim, putting her hands on his chest. "But you, you'll always have me."

He tilted her chin upward so he could kiss her again. "Promise?"

"Always, Timmy."

Tim took a deep breath. This, he hadn't planned, but it felt perfect and right. "Marry me, Abby. I don't want to live without you ever again."

Her eyes filled with tears, but the beaming smile she gave him was reassuring. "Okay. I don't want that either. Yes. Just...yes."

Tim reached out to wipe her face gently. The time hadn't been right years ago, much as he'd wanted it to be. All they'd been through was just preparation for this moment. He kissed her, more passionately than he usually did in public, but the gawkers would just have to get over it. "I love you," he whispered again, "and I don't care what anyone thinks. Bigots, my dad, anybody. You'll always be my angel."

"And you're my geek in shining armor," she replied, the same response from years ago, but this time with so much more meaning behind it.

"Thank you." Tim hugged her tightly, then started walking back toward the Metro. "Come on, let's go find you a ring you can show off at work on Monday…"

The End

...sort of.

End of this story, yes. But there will be more. "Nine Weeks," already posted, is a preview of coming attractions. Next story in this series will deal with the wedding, as well as the Tiva. Then comes McAbby babies. Yes.