by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Abby knew herself well enough to know that she was always going to be more comfortable in black fishnet and spiked collars and dark makeup than in pretty blouses and pale, stereotypically feminine shades of pink, but she also knew that if you wanted a job you dressed conservative. She'd interviewed at NCIS in a dark gray, high-necked blouse--white would have been better, but the tats would have shown through--and a pair of black slacks.

She'd worn her best shit-kicking boots, though. No one paid any real attention to your feet, and under the slacks they almost looked like dress shoes.

When she got the job, she figured that the best plan would be to play nice for a couple of months, render herself completely indispensable, and then slowly ease back into her own style. Like the frog that never noticed the water boiling around it if you turned up the temperature slow enough, by the time she was wearing collars to work they'd hardly blink an eye.

It might actually have gone that way, too, if she'd worn her hair down her first day of work.

Abby was poking around in the guts of one of the machines she'd be running in the lab, hair tied back into a ponytail, when someone cleared their throat behind her. She jumped, narrowly missing conking her head, and straightened up carefully.

An older man stood in the doorway to the lab, watching her with a contrite expression. He wore dress pants and a dress shirt, complete with suspenders and bow tie. "I must apologize," he said, "I hadn't intended to startle you. I merely came by to introduce myself."

Abby smiled, both at the apology and his wonderfully smooth accent. "No problem," she said, crossing the lab and sticking out her hand. "Abby Sciuto."

His handshake was firm and warm. "Donald Mallard," he replied, "but most call me Ducky. I'm the medical examiner for this illustrious institution." His lips curved a little, as if inviting her to share a joke. Abby didn't get it, but somehow she didn't feel left out.

"Ducky?" she asked instead, letting go of his hand a little reluctantly. "You sure? I've been saddled with a few nicknames I didn't much like."

"Oh, it suits me well enough. I'm not one to stand on ceremony. Although," Ducky's eye lit up suddenly and he raised a finger in emphasis, "it is interesting to note that not all societies consider nicknames familiarities or mere conveniences. The Vikings, for example, frequently considered the gifting of a nickname to create a particular relationship between giver and receiver, to the point that a formal ceremony and an exchange of gifts were required to acknowledge the occasion."

"Must have made introductions complicated," Abby said, tickled by the man's enthusiasm. "Imagine," she waggled her eyebrows, "you'd have to carry around a bag full of presents just to say hello to someone new."

Ducky chuckled in response. "Perhaps the shrewd Viking might simple have carried a single and exchanged it repeatedly."

"Ooh, re-gifting," she exaggerated a frown and shook her head slowly. "So not politically correct."

Ducky didn't answer and for a moment she thought she'd pushed it. "Excuse me for asking," he said just as she was about to apologize, "but is that a tattoo?" He gestured to his own neck to illustrate.

Abby flushed suddenly, her hand coming up automatically to touch the tat. So much for playing it safe. "Yeah," she said. "Why?"

"May I have a look?" he asked, apparently just curious. Shrugging mentally, Abby tilted her head to the side and tugged down the collar of her shirt to expose the rest of the spider web. "An unusual location for a tattoo," Ducky said absently, examining the design closely. "Beautiful workmanship, though. In my line of work distinctive body art and markings become something of a hobby. Are the choice of subject and location interrelated, or were your motivations purely aesthetic?"

Abby blinked for a startled moment and then broke in a broad grin almost despite herself. "Definitely interrelated," she said. "Spiders are all about creativity and weaving and connecting the past and the future and all the parts of life. Where better to put it than right over the carotid artery? All that life rushing by right under the surface."

"Hmmm, a point," Ducky said nodding, "though perhaps you might also have placed it over your heart."

"I'm kind of saving that spot," Abby confessed. Could she help it if she was a romantic?

Ducky raised his eyebrows. "You have others?"

"Loads," Abby affirmed, eyes twinkling.

She was hiking up her skirt to show him the tat on her thigh when Special Agent Gibbs walked in. She knew him because he'd been one of three people who'd conducted her interview. He hadn't said much, but the questions he had asked had been the horrible kind of questions that no one ever wants to encounter in a job interview. She must have done okay or she wouldn't be here, but he was the last person she wanted catching her displaying her upper thigh to a co-worker. Moaning internally, Abby smoothed her skirt back down and tried to look innocent.

"Ah, Jethro," Ducky said, apparently not at all disturbed at being found in such a potentially compromising position. "Ms. Sciuto has the most fascinating collection of--"

"Ducky," Gibbs interrupted with tangible impatience, "you can admire her tats later. Now I need you at a crime scene."

"Ah." Ducky turned to Abby and gave her a polite little nod. "Duty calls, I'm afraid."

Abby gave him a little wave, still a little on edge. Sure enough, Gibbs paused before he left. He gave her a long up and down look. She braced herself.

"There's no dress code in the lab, Ms. Sciuto," Gibbs said mildly. He turned briskly and left without waiting for a response.

Grinning, Abby bounced in place and turned to address the empty lab. "Score!"