Author's note: Hello, there! I hope you enjoyed reading this story (my first Tabby fic). I'd like to thank my super-awesome beta-reader Smackalicious. She's the coolest! And of course thank you for R&R. Always a pleasure to hear from you. C' ya!
It was Saturday morning and the bright light of day shone in through the blinds that were apparently unable to block out the sun any longer. A ray of light fell on his face which made him squint and pull the covers over his face. He had been awake for quite some time now, but had just not dared to move, thanks to his attempt of running a marathon yesterday. So he just lay there moping, busying himself with hating himself and the rest of the world.
He was angry at her. What was so hard to understand about taking it slow? It certainly didn't include premature declarations of love. No, not last time he checked. It was all her fault, because she had manoeuvred him into a situation he didn't know how to deal with. It didn't take much to put one and one together. Go figure, when you cornered a scared animal, there was a high chance it was going to bite you.
Yesterday he had been running. The physical exertion had served him to release some of his anger and left him sore. His thighs felt heavy and when he lay still for a while and then moved there was this momentary, sharp stinging sensation. The ache was a reminder that he wasn't twenty anymore and also that running like a mad man wasn't such a brilliant idea after all. It didn't resolve any conflicts, but it did make you tired and exhausted. The anger was still there. Well, that was only half true. Admitting this was already a major progress in itself.
His full bladder forced him to finally get up. He groaned as he sat up in bed and carefully swung his legs over the edge. Tony winced as his bare feet touched the cool wooden floorboards. He slowly got up, cursing silently as his legs started throbbing again. Like an old man, he started hobbling towards the bathroom and passed the mirror without even throwing so much as a glance at his reflection. Normally he didn't let a chance pass by to look at himself whenever a reflecting surface offered the opportunity, but this morning he felt no desire whatsoever to see himself eye to eye. He flushed the toilet and washed his hands, his eyes fixed on the sink the whole way through, determined not to look up.
His mood varied from being angry at Abby to unhealthy self-loathing for being a cold hearted bastard who wasn't able to say 'I love you'. Those bits during which he called himself a jerk, asshole and worse, actually extended in length the longer he was fully awake, right to the point where all he wanted to do, was tell Abby how sorry he was. He hadn't seen her all week and he kind of missed her.
But seeing her was completely out of question now, wasn't it? It required a preliminary apology and probably a declaration of love. He wasn't sure how to do either. He dragged his sore body back to bed again and slumped down on it. Okay, he could probably do the first part and manage a credible apology, but generally grovelling wasn't his style. Tony DiNozzo didn't grovel - period. He made a face at the mere thought of it and massaged his forehead with his fingers. Correction, he was willing to grovelling when it involved Abby. Because the worst part of this tragedy that was starting to assume soap opera-like dimensions, was that he really did love her, he just didn't know how to say it. The words just wouldn't leave his mouth. Frustrating, that's what it was! Utterly fucking frustrating!
When was the last time he had said those words and really meant them, anyway? Off the top of his head he couldn't remember a single incident. He went further back through the years. College? No. High school? He couldn't really remember high school all that clearly. A few impressive episodes stood out like when he had dated those two cheerleaders simultaneously or when his football team had won the playoffs. No, he was pretty certain he hadn't said it back then either. Ummm….there wasn't much left to go through anymore. His childhood? Anyone who first heard his Italian surname simply assumed that he had been brought up in one of those typically Italian extended families. You know, the ones were everybody hugs and kisses all the time and there's a lot of food and little kids running around everywhere.
Nope, the DiNozzos were newly rich and just as conservative as anybody else in their neighbourhood that mostly consisted of golf playing country club-goers. Neither his mother nor his father were very big on the emotions. It wasn't like he had seen them an awful lot, anyways. They were mostly busy either spending money or making it. "Yeah, go blame your parents, Tony. The easy way out," Tony thought sarcastically.
He rarely talked about his family, occasionally he had little slips of tongue, but most of the time he kept quite about his childhood. A grown man that was bitching about his parents not loving him enough….well, that was most certainly a no-go, completely un-manly and besides that, unattractive.
He was a man's man. You know, like that guy in 'What Women Want'. It was not like he watched the movie ever. Okay, he had watched it, but only because the leggy Las Vegas showgirls in it had managed to attract his attention. Admittedly they had been there only in the beginning of the movie, when they did this flashback into the early years of the bloke Mel Gibson was playing. Gee, that must have been a pretty good childhood! He would have switched places anytime.
As if on cue, the doorbell started ringing. In his head he weighed the alternatives of either staying in bed and let that ringing take care of itself or getting up and answering the doorbell. He decided for the latter and hobbled towards the door. Through the peephole he could see the postman hovering before the door with an unnerved expression on his face. He was checking his watch and shaking his head.
Tony opened the door and after a rather monosyllabic exchange, he held a packet in his hand. For a moment he looked at it in confusion, wracking his brain from who could have sent it to him. He carefully shook it. It told him nothing about the contents of the box. It was rather big though and strangely light. He decided to rip off the featureless brown paper, it was wrapped in. As he tore away the first shred off paper the words 'Frankenstein's Monster' and 'Nosferatu' were revealed. He quickly discarded the box on the living-room table and stepped away from it as it was a ticking time bomb.
He had been waiting for that for about what? Three weeks? And it had to pick this moment to arrive? Precisely this moment?! Maybe this was God's revenge for his uber-bastardness. Probably. Or maybe it was a sign? "Signs, since when do you believe in signs?" He started pacing in front of the living room table until his gaze fell on a CD lying there on the floor, carelessly discarded next to the bottle of red wine, he had emptied on his own yesterday. A crazy plan started forming inside his head.
When Abby entered her lab on Monday morning, there were two boxes lying on her desk, each of them wrapped neatly in plain black paper. There was no card, nothing to tell her who had left those mystery presents there. She took up one of the boxes, weighed it briefly in her hand and then shook it. Abby wrinkled her forehead pensively and put the present back on the table. Maybe those were not for her after all. She started walking back and forth in front of the desk, hoping that while she was pacing the solution to the dilemma would come to her. It was her growing curiosity, however, that dictated what course of action to take next.
She took up the box again and tore the paper away with childlike eagerness. Her approach to that task was rather impulsive. There are people who carefully pry away the sticky tape from the paper which they fold up neatly once they are done unpacking the gift. In a way this simple routine reflected one's attitude to life. The methodical un-wrappers are the considerate ones who like to be in control of situations and the chaotic un-wrappers, who approach their task with great eagerness, are usually passionate individuals and can easily find fulfilment in the small pleasures of life. Abby like to think of herself as belonging to the latter category.
What was revealed, when the wrapping was gone, was totally unexpected though, a brand new 'Frankenstein's Monster' collectible. Under normal circumstances she would have let out a loud squeal, but the little post-it note that clung to the box's transparent foil, from underneath which miniature Boris Karloff stared at her, made her heart miss a beat. There was just one word written on it. "Sorry."
"Damn right," she said to no-one in particular and placed the box back on the table to take the other one. Same size, probably similar content. After another un-wrapping orgy she laid eyes on a beautiful 'Nosferatu' collectible - a perfect rendition of Max Schreck's features.
"Oh, come to, momma, sweetie!" Not a squeal, but close enough. She pressed the box to her chest affectionately as if it were a little child. "I'll give you a nice home where you can stay with Frankie here and all your other pals." The smile on her face never wavered, that is not until she saw that another post-it note was attached to the box. Ugh! It read: "Give me a chance to explain why I was being such a jerk. Please!" The last word was bolded and underlined twice. "I'll meet you here after we're done with the case?" She frowned. It was not signed. It didn't need signing anyway. She knew exactly who it was from. One week with not so much as a single word from him and now this! He certainly had nerve! Did he honestly believe he could bribe her into liking him again? Still, she didn't know whether to dread the thought of seeing him again or look forward to it.
As the day progressed and slowly turned into night she started shooting more frequent looks at the door. She became more fidgety, played more often with the many silver rings around her fingers. At some point she even grabbed her super-sized cup of Caff-Pow and threw it in the dust bin. Caffeine certainly didn't contribute to her finding her inner calm. In moments like these, she desperately wanted to be one of those girls that always managed to keep their cool and therefore had a better shot at keeping a situation under control, but that was not to be. She was who she was. Most weeks it was okay to be her, but not this week. No, this week it wasn't.
Abby tried almost everything to distract herself. She hated paperwork, but somehow she got that mad idea into her head that it would at least keep her from thinking of Tony for a while. Big surprise there! It did not help at all. She read about the first line of the report that lay in front of her, then her interest was suddenly captured by the water circle that had formed where her Caff-Pow had stood. She dipped her finger into it and doodled with it on the surface of the table, then crunched her nose in disgust and wiped her drawings away.
After that she tried researching on the computer. She tried playing Halo. She even gave her professional magazines a shot. But seeing as she couldn't seem to concentrate on anything longer than ten seconds, it was all senseless. In a way she was kind of happy when he finally stepped through the door. It meant she didn't have to wait anymore.
When she heard the whooshing sound of the sliding doors she turned around to stare at him wordlessly with her arms crossed over her chest. She wasn't going to make this easy on him, not after the day she had had. Oh, and not to forget the week she had been through!
"Hi," he said and paused afterwards as if he expected her to return his greeting, but she never answered. Abby just sat there, staring at him. She of all people knew best that the silent treatment was very unnerving.
"I guess I deserve that," Tony sighed.
Instead of an answer, she signed something. Thanks to the abrupt motions of her hands and the saccharine smile on her face, he could tell it was most likely something rude.
"And that too, probably."
She cocked her head and looked at him like she wanted to say "What is the point of all this?" Her refusal to talk to him did not make this any easier on him. As a matter of fact it made him feel very self-conscious and nervous. An uncomfortable silence settled in the room.
"That probably means I'll do all the talking." Her eyebrows rose at that. Bad move, he quickly caught himself, "As I should, because the jerk always talks." He let out a nervous laugh, which seemed even more awkward given the silence. It only occurred to him now that the lab was missing the usually background noise. There was no music playing, which was a bad sign in itself.
"I'm sorry, for not..," he commenced and then stopped abruptly to throw a desperate look around as if he was looking for help. "No, that's just not right...How do I say this? Damn!" He paused to contemplate his next words. "Yeah, that might work," Tony said finally. "You know how it is with actors, right? They sometimes get cold feet when they about to perform on a big stage for the first time…What's the word again? Erm...stage fright! Yeah, that's it. You know what you're supposed to say, but the right words just won't come out."
"Ummumm," she said. He took that noise as a little concession she made towards him, maybe even a sign that he was going in the right direction.
"God, this is difficult! I just don't want to screw this up!" He ran a hand through his hair.
"The stage fright analogy was a bit…unusual, but you're doing okay under the circumstances," she said finally and he couldn't help but feel relieved about the fact that she had decided to talk to him again.
"Yeah, I know, but give me some credit. I'm not good at apologies, ask the girls at WeHateTony."
"I know that website."
"You could say that."
"Okay, the stage fright thing was a bit off, I admit that. See, the problem there…well, the problem there was not what you said."
"Gee, that's a relief," Abby interjected sarcastically.
"…it was how I handled it and I handled it badly," he continued.
"No, not badly. Like an insensitive, macho pig," she corrected.
"Alright like an insensitive, macho pig. Now you're quoting from that website, aren't you?"
"I had a feeling." He scratched the back of his neck sheepishly.
"Anyways, the point is, I would have liked to have handled it better. As a matter of fact I would have liked to have said the right thing."
"The right thing? The right thing?" She paused as if she was contemplating his words. "Okay, I'm afraid you'll have to help me there, Tony, what is the right thing?"
"The right thing is…," for a second it looked like he was actually going to say it, but then he continued with something else, "…something I have trouble saying. It's not that I don't want to or that it isn't there, just that I can't, because…well, I can't…just not yet. I need some time to feel my way into it, you know. It's not that easy for me."
"I kind of figured." She let out a long drawn sigh. "Does that mean you're never going to be able to say it? Because I kind of need to hear it now and then. Remember me? The girl who likes bone crushing hugs?"
"See, that's where my plan sets into motion."
"Your plan?" she asked incredulously.
"Yes, approximation - careful approximation." He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and produced an unlabelled CD. He marched over to her computer, looked at it uncertainly, then he found the CD-Rom drive, opened it and inserted the disc.
"Okay," Abby said slowly in a tone that clearly indicated she thought that he was completely out of his mind.
A few seconds soft piano music came out of the speakers and the sound of it seemed as outlandish to the whole situation as a hippo dressed in a pink tutu dancing down Main Street.
"Tacky," she said disdainfully. There was still some residual anger she felt towards him.
"Just bear with me, okay?" He stepped before her and held out his hand like he was asking her for a dance on prom night.
She looked out his extended hand uncertainly.
"Come on, you know you want to," he said to her and tried his best charming smile.
"It's not like I desperately want to, but I'm willing to give it a try," she said and finally took his hand. His skin felt cool against hers and there was this prickling sensation again, that kind of giddy, excited feeling she always had when she was around him. She had carefully repressed it in the last couple of days, but now it had returned full force.
He drew her closer into something that was more a hug than a dancing posture. It felt kind of awkward, especially thanks to the fact that this situation was unknown territory to her. She looked at him nervously with a dear caught in the headlights expression, not knowing how dancing was going to resolve their issues.
"When's been the last time you slow danced?" he asked softly, his voice close to her ear. It was low and smoky, very intimate. She could help but remember another situation when it sounded like that.
"Umm…probably never. I did go to prom alright, but the whole standard dancing thing just isn't for me," she admitted.
"You sure? Because I had you down for the slow dancing type, especially since it's something like dancing and hugging combined." Tony turned his head and looked at her with a grin. His sudden proximity was very unnerving to her. She was somewhere caught in the limbo of still being mad at him and enjoying his presence at the same time.
"It's okay, I guess…Wanna finally tell me what this is about?" Abby asked with a hint of impatience swinging in her voice.
"Yeah, right. Since I'm a complete klutz when it comes to saying the right words, I thought I let another Tony handle that for me. Just listen, okay?" His request was soft spoken and right as if on cue as the words had left his lips the pleasantly smoky voice of Tony Bennett filled the room.
The night is like a lovely tune, beware my
How white the ever constant moon, take care, my foolish heart!
There's a line between love and fascination,
That's hard to see on an evening such as this,
For they give the very same sensation.
When you are lost in the passion of a kiss.
Your lips are much too close to mine, beware my foolish heart!
But should our eager lips combine, then let the fire start.
For this time it isn't fascination, or a dream that will fade and fall apart,
It's love this time, it's love, my foolish heart!
She could see why he had picked that particular song. It was that kind of song that was more than just nice words and a lovely tune. It told her something about him and not just anything, but precisely how he felt - his most intimate thoughts. With every line she heard her anger was fading and she understood a little better, understood why he couldn't tell her that he loved her just yet and his need to hide behind a song for now.
He softly sang along to the words "It's love this time, it's love," as they swayed through the room and she wordlessly hugged him closer. They stood like this for a while even when the last notes of the song had rung out.
"It's okay," she finally said and looked at him with watery eyes.
"Yes, I get it now."
"Okay," he said for a lack of better words to express the relief he felt, now that this problem no longer stood between them. Abby rested her head on his shoulder and he petted her back. She let out a sigh and some of the tension she had felt all week fell off of her. It was in moments like this Abby usually had epiphanies and precisely then she had an epiphany concerning her relationship with Tony.
"We're quite an odd couple, don't you think?"
"As in Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon?" She could hear him grin even when she wasn't looking at him.
"No, silly," she punched his upper arm and looked at him. "As in you and me. I'm always the pushy one who's moving too fast and you're..."
She threw him an apologetic smile. "Snail-tempo?"
"Ummumm." It was not like he was exactly pleased by her observation, but he couldn't protest either, since it was rather accurate. "So what do you suggest?" he asked gruffly.
"You speed up, I slow down?"
"That's it? I always liked to think I was more complex. I expected something deep, at least some psychoanalyst talk."
"No, I'm sorry to disappoint you, Tony, but you're really not that complex," she smiled at him sweetly. There was that familiar teasing tone in her voice again and he couldn't help but feel utterly relieved. As a matter of fact he was so relieved even failed to come up with any kind of repartee.
"So we're really okay again?" he asked kind of superfluously.
"We will be."
"Gosh, for once I'm actually expecting you're mind to be in the gutter and then you feign innocence? What do couples usually have after they reconcile?"
"Ooooh...," he said with a smirk, finally realizing what she was alluding to. Then his smile fell. "Wait a minute. We're a couple?!" The tone of his voice was definitely panicky. She was just about to give him a piece of her mind - her mouth was already open - but instead of a furious chain of words connected together by outrage, she only managed a gasp. He grinned at her smugly and said, "Gotcha."
"Oh, you thought this was funny?" Her eyes sparkled at him dangerously, then without a warning she kicked him in the shin
"Ow." He rubbed his leg with a petulant expression on his face.
"I'll show you fun, Mister!" She poked her index finger into his chest aggressively at which he slowly backed off. His retreat was soon stopped, however, when his back bumped against the wall. Abby stepped closer and placed her hands at each side of his head, her body pressing into his. She slowly rubbed her leg against the inside of his thigh in a suggestive rhythm. Almost out of their own accord, his hands reached out to pull her closer put she stopped him with a stern look and the words, "What on earth do you think you're doing, Agent DiNozzo?"
He let his hands drop to his side laxly with an apologetic smile on his face, willing to play her little game. She came closer. Her mouth was now only centimetres from his ear, her voice only a husky whisper. "I originally planned for this to go down in here. It would have been fun, hinky and dangerous, but guess what? Now I'm not in the mood anymore."
"That's really a pity," he said and turned her head to look her deeply in the eyes.
"Yes, it is," Abby replied, holding his gaze, "because now you'll have to wait till we're home and until then," she suggestively rubbed up against him, which elicited a soft groan from him, "…until then. I'll keep torturing you like this."
She might have been able to pull her little dominatrix stunt with McGee, but he was a different league. He could give as good as he got. "Oh, is that so?" He threw her his sexiest smirk, while his hand travelled up her leg only to stop at the middle of her thigh - she wore one of her little skirts which added to the effect.
She bit her bottom lip, her hands had travelled underneath his jacket and now roamed over his chest. He could feel her fingernails through the fabric of his shirt. "Or maybe we'll just stay here. My office chair's quite comfortable." She looked at him with a devious grin.
He pulled her closer and kissed her. It had been a week since he last done that, so the kiss was urgent, fuelled by a week's worth of frustration and loneliness.
This was an uncomfortable situation, but sometimes discomfort and doing the right thing went hand in hand. If there wasn't any effort behind it, maybe it wouldn't be the right thing after all, but that was a thought that was too philosophical for the situation at hand. How do you tell your ex-boyfriend that you're in a new relationship without hurting his feelings?
Abby had already prepared a plan, thought about what she was going to say, but as things go, the plan had gone to the devil the minute she had set foot in the café. She had arrived earlier and now had some time to kill until McGee arrived. She ordered a raspberry flavoured cappuccino and sat down in the corner from where she could watch the door. It was one of those posh cafés with framed black and white photographs on the walls and people, mostly businessmen who wore fine tailored suits, stared at her as they passed by. She sighed and emptied another pack of sugar into her cup and started stirring with that kind of obsessive zeal that is so characteristic of people who desperately try to distract themselves, be it even by the means of the most trivial task.
She thought about the last month, how it had flown by quickly. A month, that was usually the time limit to her relationships, because then she started getting bored. Tony made her feel a whole lot of things, but never bored, which was kind of funny, because she had already known him for a couple of years. She should have known all his little tricks by now. She should have, but it turned out that there were a whole lot of things she hadn't known about him.
He snored. Normally she hated snoring, but when he did it, it was cute. He liked to cuddle up in front of the TV with her, their limbs tangled with each other so they looked like a human pretzel. He'd be content just to hold her and it would be enough for her. She'd never been that comfortable with anyone and still been attracted to him. She always thought that those two things were mutually exclusive. It turned out they weren't. Sex with him was….rrrrrrr. It had her mentally purring, so that was a good thing and with time passing, they got even better at it. Maybe someday she would pass out during…
Her mind snapped back to the present. When McGee finally arrived, her nervousness surged to a new level. She gave him a welcome hug which was a little longer and tighter than usual and made him somewhat suspicious.
"Something wrong?" he asked as he sat down opposite of her. A moment of hesitation followed, which was filled with the noise of clattering cups, the hissing of the steam shooting out of the coffee machine, the metallic clinging of spoons put down on marble tables and the murmur of many voices talking simultaneously.
"No, no, nothing's wrong. Everything's fine, better than fine…peachy," she hurried to answer.
"Yeah." McGee nodded slowly and gave her a funny look.
"Well, alright," she conceded, "everything's fine, but I still have to talk to you about something. Do you remember our conversation from a few weeks back?" Abby paused hoping that maybe he already knew what she was getting at, but the clueless expression on his face told her otherwise. "You know the one where you got all jealous and wanted to know whether I was going out with Tony and stuff…"
"Yeah, I remember."
"Umm about that…I kind of have to tell you something." She scooted around uncomfortably in her seat.
"You and Tony are together, aren't you?" McGee desperately tried to keep the emotion out of his voice, but his neatly manicured fingers that were constantly tapping on the surface of the table and the red dots that were appearing on his face somewhat marred the effect.
"Yes," she admitted after awhile.
"Is it serious?" he asked after a moment he used for thinking as well as for gaining the upper hand over his feelings of irrational jealousy and hurt.
"Pretty much," she said without hesitation.
He briefly paused to process her answer and be able to react appropriately. "Are you happy?" McGee asked finally.
"Yes," she said with the hint of a smile on her lips. He could tell she was holding back, probably to be nice.
He let out a long drawn sigh, then reached across the table and squeezed her hands. It took a while for him to collect himself and find the right words, but eventually he did. Being friends with her was one of the best things that had ever happened to him…hell, meeting her was one of the best things that had ever happened to him and he didn't want to let her go ever again. It hurt to hear her say she was happy with another man, it would hurt even more seeing her together with Tony, but that hurt would lessen. It would be bittersweet friendship, but a friendship nonetheless.
"That's all that matters," he finally said with a hoarse voice.
"Thank you, Timmy, I know that this is not easy for you," she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.
He threw her a fragile half-smile. "He'd better make sure it stays that way or…" McGee announced darkly and for once that threat actually sounded threatening.
"Well, you'll have to get in line," Abby told him with a genuine smile. "Gibbs already made some pretty impressive death threats."
"No doubt." He let out a hoarse chuckle.
After they had taken that difficult hurdle, the mood began to lighten considerably. She had worried so much about hurting him with something she did or said that her tummy had started grumbling as it often did in times of stress. Now she slowly started to relax and McGee did as well. Their conversation skimmed over several topics but never dwelled on anything too serious for long. The feeling of being comfortable with each other gradually returned.
When McGee went to return their empty mugs to the counter an attractive young woman with light brown hair, who was queuing to get a cup of coffee, threw him a bright smile and Abby found that she had no problem with that. No feelings of jealousy – nothing. As McGee returned to the table she even flashed him a cheeky grin followed by a teasing remark, "That chick was totally checking you out, Timmy!"
"She was, wasn't she?" He said ever so slightly puffing his chest. And suddenly it was okay to joke about it (which would have been unthinkable a couple of weeks ago) and it felt good, because it meant that they were on their way to becoming friends again.