(A/N and Disclaimer: Wow... it's a very, very long time since I wrote something for this fic. Apologies to everyone.
I own nothing to do with NCIS, least of all any of the characters, and I never will. This is probably the shortest of the chapters I've written so far; simply because I'm not quite back into writing this story yet after having it on ice for so long. But I'll work on it. Sorry if it sucks, though.
Warnings: Gabby, Gibbs' P.O.V and a lot of introspection coming up.
And that's all I really have to say. So let's go)

Chapter 4: In which Gibbs contemplates life, love, and Abigail Sciuto over a bottle of Jack and a half-completed boat.

Sometimes comfort comes from the oddest sources.
For some, it is a touch - a gentle tap on the shoulder bringing you out of a reverie and back into the real world. Sometimes it is a word - a gentle voice stirring something in your subconscious and reminding you that things can always get worse. For Gibbs, however, his catharsis came from his room, the place he could retire to without feeling threatened or angry as he left his troubles at the door. Maybe it was the oasis of silence, the smell of sawdust hanging in the air, the overpowering heat coming both from the boiler and the effort of his work, or the comforting feel of wood and metal and grinding tools beneath his hands. In other words, his basement.

He sighed, carefully laying down the wrench he had been using to meticulously screw a stubborn nut through the neat hole he had made in the smooth, curved underbelly of his boat. It had taken him twenty minutes to ensure that it was secure, and the perfectionist in him was finally satisfied. Odd how you can repeat an action so many times, over so many boats, and so many years; and still not quite be content with your effort when you're done.

He sighed, rubbed the residual sawdust off his hands and then off his shirt; before turning to the shelf behind him and pulling out a bottle. The square edge was familiar and reassuring beneath his fingers. He set it down and began hunting around for a mug or something else to drink from. Usually he would have had a coffee to hand but tonight - especially tonight - he felt the need for something stronger. Squinting around, he massaged his temples with his fingertips. His eyesight wasn't what it used to be; and stress, tiredness and the gloom of the basement weren't exactly making it easier.

Getting up and stretching his aching muscles, he looked at his half-completed boat. It was ironic, really. You put a certain amount of effort into a boat - buying the wood, sawing it into the jigsaw correlations, setting the framework, carefully screwing together the beams and tightening every nut meticulously by hand - tight enough to hold the thing together but not tight enough to strain or break the wood - carving in and painting the name onto the outer side and finally sanding and varnishing the main body - and eventually, after weeks or months of hard work, you get the result you expect. But you put a thousand times more effort into a relationship and after a tragedy and a slip of the tongue the whole thing goes pear-shaped and begins unravelling before your eyes like a cheap t-shirt. A week ago things couldn't have been better for him - with the team, and even more so with Abby. But now nothing seemed right, or indeed possible to ever make right again - and thanks to him, his temper and his downright stupidity Abby was spending a lonely, frightened and very confused night alone in interrogation. He doubted the blanket he had thrust at McGee to take down to her would be much comfort at all right about now. He hated himself for leaving her like that, but it had seemed like the only thing that made sense. At least she would be safe down there. Alone, with no caffeine and her grief and rage at him simmering over like a soup of emotion - but safe, if nothing else.

He swore angrily, before picking up the bottle of Jack and tilting it until he felt the liquid against his lips. Screw the mug.

He knew it was his fault. He shouldn't have pushed her away. Sitting here alone, with the alcohol slipping down his throat and into his bloodstream being the only thing keeping him warm, all the things he should have done came back to haunt him like old ghosts. He should have been there for her. Kate had been her best friend, and he knew from years of experience the gaping hole that left in your heart and the immense pain she was currently feeling. He should have taken her into his arms and held her, and let her cry it out - and maybe, just maybe, let her into his heart. She deserved that.

But she had mentioned Shannon. Of course, she had no idea what she had done to send him tearing away from her presence like a rabbit fleeing from a hungry fox. But it had hurt, and aside from not wanting her to sense in his eyes the secret arrow that had stabbed straight through his heart at Shannon's name; he had been afraid of losing it at her again. He had been scared for her, and scared of what he could do. Nobody else was getting hurt.

He sat down heavily, massaging his temples. They had been together for quite some time - and still he had never told her about his first wife. She had accepted the other three, understanding the problems in the various marriages and taking them in her stride - far from feeling threatened by his dubious track record, she had wrapped her arms around him and reassured him that she wasn't about to pull a fast one on him, too. But as for Shannon...he had never seen the need to tell her about the terrible events of fifteen years ago, or even the oasis of happiness for the ten years before that. He was glad it wasn't Kelly's name that had slipped out. Hearing his beautiful, long dead daughter's name thrown out casually - albeit unwittingly - by Abby would probably have been about enough to push him over the edge.

'...What's stopping you trusting me enough to let me know you?'
Her words replayed in his mind for what seemed like the thousandth time that night; the frustration and pain in her tone echoing and amplifying until the throbbing in his head escalated to a relentless pounding. If it was her keeping things - especially things as serious as his first wife and daughter - from him, like he was from her; he knew that he would have felt the same. Curious. Angry. Hurt that she didn't seem to trust him. He understood how she felt and why - but still, he didn't think he could deal with dredging up his dark soup of memories into the stinging light to tell her, or her possible reaction - what she might say or do at his sudden revelation. He was unsure of how she would take it, and whether or not he could handle telling her without his barriers breaking down and exposing himself and his feelings completely - and it was the not knowing that scared him. Marines weren't supposed to be scared - but if he was honest, he had been running scared for the last fifteen years.

It all seemed to come down to fear. And he hated himself for it.

Gibbs tipped his bottle right back to drain the amber liquid from inside. Then, he leaned back almost horizontally; staring at the ceiling and allowing the alcohol to numb his body, and stifle the sound of Abby's voice ringing in his ears.

...Why was nothing ever easy?