Title: Some Time To Fall Apart
Spoilers: Hiatus, end of season three.
Summary: After Gibbs resigns, Abby heads home. Angst ensues.
Author's Note: I'm well aware that this idea has been done a hundred thousand times. Well, a few, anyway. I just wanted to try my hand at it.
I stumble through my front door, mechanically pushing it closed behind me and engaging the lock before allowing the truth to penetrate my numb brain. Gibbs is gone. And he wouldn't even let me try to talk him out of it.
Scarcely an hour earlier, I'd watched his weary form disappear into the elevator. Through vision blurred by tears, I'd continued to stare in that direction until McGee placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "Abby..."
"I'm fine," I said, the words ringing hollow in my ears. I shrugged him off, meeting his concerned gaze with a forced smile that probably looked as unnatural as it felt. "I'm gonna go home, get some sleep. I'll see you tomorrow."
On total autopilot, I'd gone down to the lab – taking the stairs rather than an elevator just like the one Gibbs had ridden out of the building – and begun the routine tasks of clearing up and shutting down various machines. The silence rang in my ears as I picked up my bag and flicked off the lights, and still I felt nothing.
I drove home in a daze, cancelling a call from McGee, then one from Tony, then switching off my cell altogether. I already knew what they'd try to say, what I just couldn't hear right then.
Now, dropping into an armchair, I sit in the darkness, finally allowing the tears to fall. As my protective defences crumble, I break down, drawing my knees up to my chest as giant sobs wrack my entire body.
Through good and bad, I've stayed at NCIS, knowing I could get through anything with Gibbs' support. He's been a constant in my life for the past six years, sharing my triumphs, cushioning the blow of my defeats with hugs and caffeine. For the past three days I've barely slept, terrified that Gibbs might die before I woke, then by the thought that he might never regain the memories that made him the Gibbs I know and love.
When he embraced me in the squad room, telling me he could never have forgotten me, I felt such relief that things were beginning to stabilise again. To have him resign barely an hour later… it's just too cruel.
I weep for what seems like hours, until I have no more tears left in me. My head aches fiercely, and the scientist in me knows I'm dehydrated, but I can't bring myself to move. A lead weight of depression pins each of my limbs in place, and when I hear the knock at the door, I don't even look up.
The faint but distinctive timbre of Gibbs' voice causes me to jerk upright in the chair. "I know you're in there, Abbs. Open up."
Disbelief lending me a shock of adrenaline, I scramble to my feet and lunge for the door. Gibbs stands on the doorstep, dressed casually in jeans and one of his boat-building shirts, his myriad cuts and bruises highlighted by the moonlight. As he takes in my dishevelled appearance and blotchy, makeup-streaked face, his eyes widen slightly, and he takes a step forward.
"I didn't think…" I start, but my voice emerges a croak. Swallowing, I finish by signing, my hands shaking a little. I didn't think I'd ever see you again.
Without a word, Gibbs pulls me into a hug, and I cling on, discovering as I bury my face against his shoulder that I do have a few more tears to shed. He holds me tightly, kissing the top of my head, whispering, "It's okay. Just let it go…"
When I manage to get it together enough to invite him in, he follows me into the lounge, flicking on the light I neglected earlier. "I'm gonna get you some water."
As he moves about in the kitchen, as certain as to the location of the glasses as if he were in his own home, I feel a flush of shame. He's just gone through a horrible ordeal, and still he's the one being strong, comforting me.
I take the water he offers and sip it slowly, relieving my parched throat. "I'm sorry," I tell him, as soon as I can manage to speak without breaking down again. "You weren't meant to see this." He shakes his head as I ask, "How are you feeling?"
Gibbs shrugs, running a hand through his hair. "Tired. Pissed off. I don't know, Abbs."
I open my mouth, then close it again, not trusting myself to speak. When do you leave? I sign.
"In the morning," Gibbs replies aloud, not questioning my method of communication. "I wanted to say goodbye properly – not with an audience."
I nod slowly, some of the sting of his farewell at the office abating even as the ache of his departure increases. "Where will you go? Back with Franks, to Mexico?"
"For a while. I don't know how long I'll stay… I just need to get out, away from this goddamn government." He stares down at his hands, jaw clenched. Even when he was on Ari's trail, after Kate died, I've never seen him look quite so… what? He's beyond angry – that's part of it, but he seems almost broken. Gibbs showing weakness was something I hadn't been able to adjust to when he was in the coma, and it still unnerves me now.
"Do you wanna talk about it?" Instinctively, I reach over and lay a hand over his, startling him into looking up at me. After a second's hesitation, he covers my hand with his free one.
He tells me about his first wife and daughter in a voice devoid of emotion, relating the basic facts without adding any emotional touches. My horrified mind fills in the blanks, and inwardly I weep for him. "Gibbs…" I whisper, when he falls silent. "I…"
"Me too," he interrupts softly, cutting off the sympathetic cliché I was about to finish. "For that, and for what happened today."
He seems lost, heartsick, completely different to the Gibbs I know. Tony would try to piss him off, to get him back to the short-tempered Special Agent we're all used to. The thought doesn't even cross my mind.
"Not your fault, Gibbs. Not then, and not now."
He nods, but I know it'll take time and a lot of thinking about to finally convince him of that.
"Will you stay here tonight?" He looks at me quizzically. "I just don't like to think of you all alone in that empty house."
Gibbs nods again, slowly, and I don't have to fake my smile. It's bittersweet, but it's genuine.
It's too much effort to head upstairs. We're both physically and emotionally exhausted. By unspoken mutual agreement, we stretch out on the couch together, his chest pressed up against my back, his arm loosely draped over my waist. Any other night, and I'd be going crazy, trying not to think about his breath on the top of my head, the slow, steady beat of his heart.
Tonight is different. We draw comfort from our silent embrace, taking only what is offered. I want to stay awake, to be aware of as much of our time left together as possible, but the lack of rest over the past few days has caught up with me. I drift off into a thick, dreamless sleep.
And when I wake, alone, in the midday sun, and find only a note on the coffee table, I'm hardly surprised. Distraught yet resigned, I unfurl the scrap of paper to find a Mexico phone number and a short message. For emergencies. Don't cry over me any more, Abby. This isn't goodbye.
Tears sting my eyelids again, but I dash them away impatiently, swallowing the lump in my throat. Tucking the note into my pocket, I head for the shower, stripping away my clothing and stepping under the hot spray. The liquid that trickles down my cheeks is water, just water from the shower, because I'm not crying, not sinking to the floor and letting the fluid wash over my face, not shaking with ragged sobs that echo through the steamy bathroom.
This isn't goodbye. I have to believe him. And I will be okay. But first I need some time to fall apart.