Disclaimer: I don't own anything but my soul. I've borrowed the following characters from Bellisario and the amazing actors who portray them.
A/N: Bloodbath contained such a wealth of storyline I think I could write a million fics on that episode alone. Also, apparently I've been in an odd mood lately. This marks the third NCIS fic in two weeks where I've killed off a character. A million thanks to thoughtgoddess for the awesome and speedy beta'ing. For 100situations, #13 death
He is halfway to the elevator when the phone rings. The bullpen is empty, the rest of his team having left an hour ago, and he is tempted to let the call go through to dispatch. If it is important enough they will call him on his cell. If not, it can be taken care of in the morning. He is a step closer to the elevator when it rings again, and something has him turning back to the room and returning to his desk. He might have blamed it on his gut, but it probably has more to do with the fact that he is going home to nothing. Overtime hours on a case hold more interest then an empty house.
"Gibbs," he barks into the phone when he picks it up mid-ring. He listens in silence to the speaker on the other end and hangs up the phone without replying. When he walks into the elevator he skips over the button that will let him out on the ground floor, and instead hits the one labeled B1.
Before the elevator doors even open up he can hear the pulsing rhythm of what Abby likes to call music. Good. He was afraid she had already left for the night, and he isn't in the mood to track her down. Sitting at her desk and reading some sort of technical manual, she doesn't even notice his presence until he slides the power button of the CD player to off.
"Hey! I was listening to that," she exclaims, scowling. When she looks up to see that Gibbs is the one standing at the edge of her desk, the scowl is transformed into a grin. "I thought you'd be at home and hard at work on your boat by now." She closes her book and spins in the chair to return it to the bookcase in the corner.
"Abby." He doesn't want to tell her about the phone call from his friend, but he has to. He can't let her hear it from anyone else, and as interwoven as the various DC law enforcement agencies are it wouldn't be long before the news leaks.
"Just a sec." A beeping from the other room has her walking past him and heading for her GC/MS. Gibbs waits patiently as she opens the lid and removes a dozen small vials. She loads more from a waiting tray, and closes the lid again. "Sorry, Gibbs. I wanted to get that last load in so that I can go home sometime tonight. If you guys could get a case where nothing needs tested for a change that would be great. I swear, I am so-"
"Abbs," he interrupts.
"I know I'm a little more hyper than usual. It's not my fault, though. Tony brought me a Caf-Pow! and then so did McGee. And of course you brought me one, and Ducky and I met at the coffee shop this afternoon and he treated me to a Venti mocha. So if anyone is to blame for-"
"Mikel Mawher is dead." Like ripping off a band-aid, he tells her without warning. Breaking the news to her gently wouldn't make it any easier for her to hear or for him to say.
"What?" Frozen in place she stares at him, uncomprehending.
"He killed himself. They found him in his cell this morning." He had been curled up in the corner of the room with a plastic bag over his head, but Abby didn't need to know about that. She also didn't need to know about the note they had found clutched in his hand. "I have a friend who is a prison guard. He recognized Mawher's name, knew that I had a vested interest in the case. He thought I might want to know."
"Suicide?" It is the only fact that penetrates the fog caused by Gibbs' words. Mikel was dead. He had taken his own life.
"Yeah. I didn't want you to hear it from someone else." He takes a step towards her, but she steps back at the same time and wraps her arms around herself.
"Thanks," she says because there doesn't seem to be any other response.
"He's dead, Abbs. He can't hurt you any more." Not any more then he already has. Gibbs still gets angry every time he remembers her hiding in the elevator or sitting on a table in Ducky's morgue with an oxygen mask around her neck and fear in her eyes.
"Okay." She turns towards the printer that sits on the counter and removes a stack of papers, reading the report on top without understanding the words printed on it. "I need to work on this," she says without looking up at Gibbs.
"There's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow, Abb." He doesn't know what he had expected, but this withdrawn silence doesn't seem right. "Let me give you a ride home, or at least walk you to your car."
"I just want to finish up a couple of things, then I'll go. I'm fine," she lies. Abby carries the reports to her desk. Passing the CD player she turns it on and turns the volume knob even higher then it had been. Even if he had spoken she wouldn't have heard him, so Gibbs reluctantly turns and leaves the lab.
His first stop when he gets to the office the next morning is Abby's lab. At first glance everything seems normal; music is playing, though not as loud as the night before, there is a half full Caf-Pow! next to Abby's computer, and Abby is typing furiously on the keyboard. Then he steps into the room and little details jump out at him. There are three empty cups in the trash can already. The shirt Abby is wearing is suspiciously similar to the one she had worn the day before, and when Abby turns in her chair to greet him there are dark circles noticeable under her eyes.
"Hey Gibbs," she says with forced cheerfulness.
"You didn't go home last night." He is prepared to reprimand her, but the scattered papers covering the work station draw his attention. The name Mikel Mawher jumps out at him from the top piece of paper. After picking it up, holding it at arms length and squinting his eyes he realizes what it is. Somehow Abby has gotten hold of Mawher's prison records, including the report of his death. The second piece of paper he picks up is a photocopy of a rambling note, full of promises of love, memories of togetherness and angry blame for a life about to end.
"You're not the only person who has friends," Abby comments before Gibbs can ask any questions. "I needed answers."
"Answers for what, Abbs?" he asks softly.
"I don't know," she answers honestly. "Mostly I want to know why, and none of the reports answer that question."
"He was a screwed up guy. A defective lunatic, remember?" he says, parroting the words once spoken in a drunken rambling.
"Yeah, but he was my defective lunatic. He forced me into being the center of his universe, and even when he was locked behind bars he still found a way to get to me."
He could have sent McGee to the evidence locker to check out the materials they need to go over. He had been sitting at his desk for too long, though, and needed to stretch his legs. For that reason he leaves McGee to answer the phones and heads for the stairs.
"Thanks," he says shortly as he signs the chain of evidence sheet for the clerk.
"No problem, Agent Gibbs. By the way, did Abby find what she was looking for?"
"Abby was here about an hour ago. She asked for the evidence for a case, said that she was looking for a piece of information that she missed. It was strange. Usually when she comes up it's only for recent cases, but the evidence she signed out was for a case from last spring."
"Mawher," Gibbs says harshly, not needing to ask for the name of the case. With a sharp wrenching in his gut he leaves the confused clerk with the evidence he had checked out and runs to Abby's lab. It's empty, the silence of the room uncomfortable.
On the desk in her inner lab he finds the cardboard box that holds the evidence of Mikel Mawher's invasion into their lives. When Gibbs takes the lid off the first thing on top is a piece of paper in a clear plastic bag. It's the fake suicide note they had found in his car, forged in Abby's handwriting. Shit. Up a single flight of stairs and out the lobby doors, Gibbs runs into the employee parking lot. Abby's car is gone.
She's not at home, not at the cafe or bowling alley or any place he can think to look. It's only after a call to the office and help from McGee that he finds her; fortunately her phone is on even if she doesn't answer, and the computer genius is able to use GPS to track her down.
The trees are starting to turn a rainbow of fall colors, and if he hadn't been intent on finding Abby he might have been able to appreciate the view. As it is he jogs along paths that are meant to be taken at a slower pace, and scans the surrounding area for black hair and pale skin. Twice he thinks he sees her, but both times it is someone else; he's not the only person here with a mission, though theirs is different and more somber.
He finds her, finally, sitting on a step leading up to an elegantly carved crypt. She looks up when he approaches, but doesn't seem surprised to see him.
"GPS tracking or did you put out an APB on my car?" she asks without mirth. He doesn't bother to answer. He kneels in the grass in front of her and rests a hand on her forearm. He's about to speak when she beats him to it. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"You didn't need to know." It's as simple as that, he believes. She had already been through so much, and didn't need to know of that last unfulfilled threat. If Mawher's hadn't died and she hadn't gone looking, she still wouldn't know. Curiosity isn't always a good thing. It does more than kill cats.
"He was going to kill me, Gibbs. He wrote a note in my handwriting, a good enough forgery that at first I thought it was something of mine that he had kept until I read the words, by the way. He had a gun, and a plan, and if he had..."
"He didn't." He stops her before she can finish the thought. A hundred times already he's pictured the scene in his head, and he doesn't need it narrated by her. Sleepless nights have been spent wondering how it would have happened, where they would have found her. One thing he is certain of; he never would have believed it to be a suicide, and would have worked the case until he had caught the bastard and delivered him to Ducky.
"You had no right to keep this from me." She's standing now, pacing between the crypt and a gravestone a few yards away. "No right. This is my life, it's happening to me, and good or bad I should be told have been told."
"No," he says simply, shaking his head.
"I'm not some weak damsel in distress that needs protecting, Gibbs."
"Never said that you were." Weak is not a word he's ever associated with Abby.
"And I hate secrets, lies, and people withholding the truth." Her childhood had taught her not only the power of words but of silence and she wouldn't stand for people using either against her.
"If you're looking for me to apologize, it's not going to happen." It's not about his rules, but the fact that he would do the same thing again.
"Trust me, I'm not holding my breath for that." She kicks up leaves as she turns, and is almost out of sight before he stands and follows her. He stays a few steps behind her as she follows dirt paths without any apparent destination. When they come to a break in the trees they are standing on the edge of a duck pond. Abby sits on the edge of a bench and pulls a trio of rolls out of her pocket, tearing off pieces and throwing them towards greedy birds who snatch them up. Gibbs wonders how often she comes to this cemetery and if this is where she met Mikel.
One of the rolls is gone before he moves to sit down next to her, the second scattered before she glances at him. The last roll she plays with, tossing it back and forth between hands.
"I was in love with him," she says, more to herself than to the man sitting next to her. All traces of anger are gone from her voice. "There was a point at which I thought to myself that he might be the one. We listened to the same music, liked the same clubs, and he understood my job in a way no guy I had ever dated before did. You know what's stupid? I was a little worried that he was too perfect."
"Not stupid, Abbs," Gibbs reassures, covering her hands with his. "You deserve someone who's perfect for you."
"I was thinking about how to tell you about him, even planning on bringing him to work one day so that everyone could meet him. But then my mail disappeared and my tires were slashed and I found a wiretap on my phone. I figured out it was all caused by Mikel, and mixed in with the hurt and anger was relief. I was ashamed, and I didn't want you to know I had blindly trusted someone who turned out to be a psychopath."
"I wish you had told me, Abbs. And as for falling in love with the wrong person I think I've got even you beat there." He guides her right hand up to his head so that she touches the twin scars only inches apart in his scalp, one from a baseball bat and the other from a seven iron.
"We are a pair, aren't we?" Abby reclaims her hand, running it along his jaw-line before breaking contact. She works on the roll that has been lying forgotten on her lap, tearing it into pieces almost too small for the ducks to find. "It almost makes you wonder why we keep going on dates."
"Don't mind me, Gibbs, I'm just in a funk. It's clear eventually and I'll be back to my cheerful self."
"I like you, cheerful or not." He knows that she already knows that, but figures she needs to hear it right now.
"I know you do, and I can't tell you what that means to me." She takes a deep breath, worrying her lower lip. "Gibbs, I know this is going to sound a little weird, but I was wondering..." Each word comes a little slower, like a toy winding down, and when it looks like she's not going to finish Gibbs nudges her.
"Anything you need, just ask."
"I'll ask, but you need to know that you can say no if the idea makes you too uncomfortable." She taps her fingers together nervously as she speaks.
"I've lived through Russian winters, Kuwait summers, and stake outs with DiNozzo; it takes a hell of a lot to make me uncomfortable."
Abby chuckles lightly at Gibbs list before sobering. "Would you come to Mikel's burial with me?"
"I know it's a lot to ask, and it's probably weird for me to even want to go after everything he's done, but..."
"I said yes, Abby. In fact I insist. You're not going alone." It takes a moment to sink in, but then Abby wraps her arms around him in appreciation. She breathes in the familiar smell of him and nuzzles against his shoulder. She could stay like this forever, she thinks. Gibbs speaks and shatters the spell. "Come on, I'll take you home."
It's only just noon, but she doesn't disagree; suddenly she is very aware of the fact that it's been a day and a half since she's slept. She lets him pull her up from the bench and they walk away from the duck pond with arms twined together.
"Hey Gibbs, you know I'm grateful for everything you've done for me, right?"
"I know, Abbs."
"Good. You should also know the next time you keep something secret from me that you shouldn't, I'll come after you with something sharper than a golf club and the scar won't be one that you can hide under that handsome silver hair of yours. Okay?"
"Okay." He pauses in the middle of the cemetery path and kisses her on the cheek. For the most part he's telling the truth.