Epilogue: Part One
"Heads up, Probie."
McGee scowled. Tony grinned. Then he threw another peanut and got McGee square between the eyes.
McGee blinked coldly, left eye still watering. "Do you want something?"
"Got a joke for you, Probie."
Across from him, Kate groaned.
"What." McGee sounded very resigned.
Tony threw a peanut. "What does a pirate ride?"
McGee swiped the nuts off his desk. "A ship?"
"No, a HARRRRRley."
"Tony, you know I don't have the eye patch anymore—"
"Wait, wait, here's another one. What do pirates smoke?"
"CigAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRrs." McGee just sort of sighed and watched the peanut bounce of his collar.
"One last one, Kate. McGee! What part of the military do pirates join up to?"
McGee gave in. "The Arrrrrrmy?"
Tony gave him a stern look. "The Navy, Probie!"
Across the bullpen, there was a sigh.
Tony glanced over at Kate. She was frowning at her computer screen. He picked up a peanut carefully, aimed.
"You even try it DiNozzo and she'll garrotte you."
Tony ducked, but the hit didn't come as Gibbs sailed past, the smell of black coffee scalding his nose. "Yes Boss."
Kate looked at him disapprovingly. "Tony, you shouldn't be eating those anyway. Do you know what peanuts do to your cholesterol levels?"
"Come on, they're tiny. How much fat is in a peanut?"
She slammed a drawer shut. "But you really can't afford it."
"Hey, all muscle here!"
"Coming Boss—" he grabbed the files, shoved them into a pile. Grasping his cane, he limped over to Gibbs's desk to give him the files.
As he passed her, he heard Kate muttering. "I meant fat from your head, Tony."
Tony pulled a face at her, and she pulled one right back.
"Kate, where's Ducky's Autopsy report?"
"Here." She reached over and slid it across his desk, a brief look of pain flitting across her face.
There was a rapid clicking noise, and everyone quickly got out of the way as Abby barrelled into the bullpen.
Gibbs winced as she ran into his foot. "I thought you put brakes on this thing."
"It cramped my style." Gibbs grabbed the blood test waving in front of his nose.
"For the sake of our toes, you may want to reconsider." Tony quipped as he limped back to his desk.
Abby grinned, sliding smoothly beside McGee to peer over his shoulder.
Tony sat back down. He glanced at the clock, and felt an uneasy jolt.
Not long now.
Gibbs watched them.
Abby, McGee, Tony, Kate.
Three months. Some of the hardest he'd had.
McGee no longer wore the eyepatch, but Tony had recited enough pirate jokes that even Ducky was threatening bodily harm. His hair had grown back, and Kate had lost her bruised look. Abby was alive, alert and smiling, which he knew had been almost too much to hope for.
But there were still signs.
Three months and Dinozzo still had a nasty limp, and Kate could barely stand straight from a chest brace and scarred feet.
He glanced at her sidelong. She was teasing McGee, tone gently and eyes oddly blank.
Gibbs's eyes fell on Tony, suddenly quiet and unsmiling. There was a sheen to his skin.
Kate was watching him. Tony looked up. She didn't turn away, her eyes narrowing.
He shook his head slightly, and she gave a sort of sigh.
The two had been tied to their desks, and were driving him crazy, let alone each other. Yet here they were, with a communication that was beyond even Gibbs.
It hadn't all been bad. Good things had come out of this, happy moments.
There had been wheelchair races (Tony won), crutches (Kate), first to solid foods (Abby, surprisingly, though not to be complained about).
He could remind himself of that, when things got hard.
"Gibbs…" Kate's voice was quiet.
Tony heard the lift open before Kate spoke.
They turned to look, at Tony felt a pain shoot down his leg.
Fornell had come, three FBI agents following behind.
"You ready to go?"
The trial had come.
Nothing like they could have hoped for, wanted. Rooke hadn't said a word since they'd got him, so the trial was on physical evidence and their testimony alone.
Him and only him would stand trial.
Not the mysterious woman Kate had spoken to.
Not the ones who'd cracked their bones and followed orders to kill.
The FBI had booked them into a hotel in New York for the trial, mainly to keep them protected. Tony was with McGee in the drive.
For most of the time there was quiet between them.
"Something's up with Abby."
"What?" Tony's eyes had been half closed.
Tony snorted. "Of course there's something wrong. We're about to go to trial."
"No, it's not that."
Tony didn't bother to try and question. For him reading Abby was like watching ripples; he could see the damage but not the reason for it.
McGee knew. He always did.
"What do you think it is?"
"I don't know. She's not talking to me again." McGee had gotten better at keeping his voice blank.
Tony didn't reply, and McGee didn't continue.
It kept at him, though.
Checking in, being told strictly to keep to their rooms, there was a thought echoing inside his head.
What are you doing, Abby?
An hour later, he was lying flat on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. McGee had vanished.
In the end, he sighed and got to his feet, leg aching.
The corridor was empty, aside from a boulder sized security guard standing by the stairs, who politely ignored him as he limped along.
He peeked into the girls' room.
Kate was not there; Abby was stretched out along her bed, and for a second he thought she was sleeping; the television murmured quietly and the light flickered across her face, turned away and bleached under the half-light.
He moved to close the door, and she jolted, head turning.
She blinked. "Don't worry, I wasn't sleeping."
Her head has turned back and away before he moved beside her bed. Her legs were bone white like a mannequin's, tattoos glowing like paint on her skin. He sat down beside her and saw her face tighten as her legs slid slightly against the dip.
"It's just pins and needles, Tony." She said it breezily like she did everything else, and Tony found a part of him wondering how much of Abby was an act. Her eyes slid off him to focus on her feet.
"Well, that's good, if you're feeling something—"
"Not when it hurts." She leant forward, rubbing her calf gingerly.
He looked elsewhere, and Abby felt her dead legs.
The time had been less kind to Abby. It had taken her three days to regain consciousness, eight to talk, two weeks to sit up and eat.
But three months later, and her legs were still sleeping.
"Can I ask you something?"
She wasn't looking at him, rubbing her legs as though she thought she could draw the feeling back into them.
"Yeah." He said it softly, and the reluctance was barely hidden.
Her voice was just as quiet. "I'm not me, am I."
She looked at him, and it was Tony who had to turn away.
The weeks after Abby had woken up had been…the only word Tony could find that would fit was horrific. He remembered seeing her wake for the first time, only for a few seconds, but her eyes were blank. He'd watched them move, flicking, looking at nothing. Tony had been there, and her eyes had slid over him before she sunk back.
Even then, he knew something wasn't right.
And he remembered Gibbs. Even as Abby had stared, eyes sliding of them like they weren't there, Gibbs tried. Told Abby her name, about NCIS.
Nothing about why she was there.
Tony was still focused on his kneecap.
"That's a statement, Abbs." He muttered, the joke coming out flat and dead.
Abby said nothing, closed her eyes.
Tony hadn't been able to stand it, walking out the third time Gibbs tried to make Abby remember, tried to make her react.
He was in a wheelchair, then; it turned out his walk with McGee when he first woke had been a bad choice. He hadn't asked the doctors for the prognosis, and they had been careful to give him a vague idea.
He told himself he didn't care; it could have been worse.
Then again, it could have been a lot better.
He'd gone to Kate's room, and was surprised to find her awake, looking out the window with clear eyes.
She turned, blinked. She had gone grey, like Abby, and like he probably had; though he wasn't getting near a mirror anytime soon to see.
She shifted slightly, to look at him better. "You've got a beard."
He rubbed his chin. "That's probably optimistic." It annoyed him that he continued to grow stubble while his head remained stubbornly bald.
She smiled, but it was only small and wasn't there for long. "What day is it?"
"Tuesday," He looked at his hands, rubbing a thumb over his scabbed knuckles. "Three days since you were brought in, a week since…"
He frowned. What where they calling it? A revenge plot, something like that. He had decided he didn't care about that, either; though he knew he couldn't keep it out for long.
Kate was dragging herself up, face creased and tight. That went with her lucidity; She had been on heavier painkillers than him, sleeping most of the past four days. Ducky had mentioned her dose had been lessened, and her face showed it.
"Should you be doing that?"
"No." She sat back, and there was a slight sheen to her skin. He could hear her breathing, shallow and tight. His eyes moved along to her feet, bound hard and tight with white bandages.
Bare feet and a northern winter were never meant to go together; Frostbite had sunk into her feet with the lacerations, and it wasn't a pretty picture. He was there the last time they changed the bandages, and she had nearly broken his fingers as they bound them tight.
Tony heard the footsteps, turning slightly as McGee came up beside him. He looked pale and tired.
"Abby?" Tony asked him quietly. McGee just shook his head.
"Abby." Kate looked between them, suddenly alert. "Is she awake?"
"Not really." McGee slumped into the chair next to her bed. Kate looked at Tony, questioning.
He told her, and her saw the pain in her face. Abby should never have had to go through that, she was a civilian.
McGee was standing by the window, looking lost. "I don't know what to do."
Kate smiled a little sadly. "Maybe you should bring her Bert."
The hard thing was, McGee did the next day. It didn't do a thing, but he left it beside her bed.
Tony had been staring at his knuckles in the quiet, rubbing a thumb over the raised scars. He glanced up, and saw Abby's cheeks were wet. She was so still he hadn't heard, and he was suddenly sick with guilt.
She made no noise, even as he pulled her forward so her head rested on his shoulder. She hugged him tightly. Her breathing was deep and even, but he could feel the dampness spreading.
He hugged her, and wondered how he had let himself ignore how bony she still was.
He felt himself sigh.
"This is bullshit." It came out harsh.
He felt her laugh shortly into his shoulder.
"Never would've guessed, Tony."
He felt rather than saw someone stand by the door and watch them. The steps were soft as their owner backed away, and Tony had the nasty feeling they were McGee, which was all he needed.
Abby pulled herself up, wiping her cheek.
"Oh, I got snot on you."
He brushed it away. "What's McGee done?"
She didn't even bother to pretend she didn't know what he meant. "He hasn't done anything," she said quietly. "He's been... wonderful." There was regret, the way she said it.
"You might want to tell him that. He thinks you don't want him around."
"I know. It's just... It's going to disappoint him so badly when he realises."
Her eyes shut. "That I'm just acting."
He stayed with her, and eventually her eyes drooped shut. He accidentally brushed against her leg as he stood, but there was no reaction at all.
He carefully shut the door behind him, stared along the empty corridor.
Abby was different.
Not as many smiles. Silence in the lab. And sudden anger that made the likes of Palmer race from the lab.
It wasn't just her though, they all had.
McGee, who'd turned sullen. He was angry, at how he'd been blocked out by survivors guilt. He couldn't identify with what had happened like Tony could, and it made him so angry. He'd played nursemaid to them for a months, and he still couldn't even begin to know what had happened. At least when he'd had the eyepatch, he could pretend.
Poor McGee. Tony could tell how he despised himself for feeling like that.
Kate was… distracted.
He couldn't think of another word. She always seemed to be thinking about something else. She hadn't called him pathetic in a long time, though he had been waiting. Provoking her, even.
They had stayed at each other's apartments, because they both knew they couldn't stand to be looked after, and together it was a mutual disability. Sheer luck the first time (too much rain, Gibbs called McGee in) turned into habit they didn't want to think about.
She woke him up when the nightmares made him groan, and he did the same to her; insomnia was better when there were two to share it. It had worked.
He hadn't been over for two weeks, and it worried him more than he liked to admit.
Not worth thinking about.
Tony spent the evening wandering through the hotel corridors, which they had been forbidden to do. The FBI had warned them to stay put, but Tony couldn't bear to. Gibbs and Fornell had vanished after they got there, and he couldn't find Kate.
He ended up at the bar sculling whisky, which he had never liked in the first place.
It was past midnight when he came to his door. He looked at it for a moment, wondering if he wanted to go in and have McGee stare at him.
She smelt of bar too; Salty and stale, and it was so foreign on Kate he felt himself recoil.
She touched his shoulder, but there was a distance there. "Looks like I'm not the only one self medicating." Her smile was lop-sided, sarcastic.
She tried to brush past him, but he held her by the arms. She blinked at him, and he couldn't see past the fog that he swore had never been there before.
His eyes widened. "You're drunk."
She absorbed it in silence, considering, and he had the feeling she was only half listening. He suddenly wanted to prod her into a reaction, goad her into a fight. He could do it easily.
Anything for a reaction.
Then she was smiling at him. "Hypocrite".
She half raised her hand, and for a split second he thought she was going to touch his face, but it landed on his shoulder and pushed him in the direction of his room.
"You should sleep. It's nearly 1 am."
She slipped through her door before he could wonder how she could be so sensible while she was drunk; then he wondered if the alcohol had been on her breath or whether he had imagined it.
Her door shut with a click, and he never got his answer.
You're there again.
A hand at your throat, the crunch of feet on your spine; there's only darkness and the reek of sweat and metal.
Oh, and the noise.
How could you forget that.
Flashes of images, they're meaningless compared to the sounds in the darkness.
Guns, feet, helmets like insects and the smell of blood like foreign spice. You can taste it as feet nail you in the ribs once, twice, splintering bone.
Those you can stand.
But you can hear Kate and Abby, can't see them but only hear as you're crushed down into the concrete. Something awful is happening, but you can't move, you're motionless and bleeding into the concrete.
You can't stand to hear them scream, but the silence that falls is worse.
You can't move in the silence.
Tony didn't jerk out his nightmares, didn't gasp and sit up covered in sweat and fighting for breath.
Waking came slowly, and he stared at the ceiling.
That was a new one. He didn't know whether he preferred it to the choking. But then, it was better than seeing dead faces.
He closed his eyes, blinking the thought away. In the quiet, he could hear breathing.
McGee had come in during the night, sprawled face down and half falling from bed. As a quiet sleeper, McGee was unnerving.
Tony stared harder, kept his mind like slate. Cold, blank. But light was creeping across his ceiling like fog, and words rose like waves in his mind.