Heroes And Demons by ceilidh
A/N: Well, here we are - the end of another story. It's turned out rather longer than the four or five chapters I originally had planned, but I've still enjoyed writing it. Thanks as always to everyone who have taken the time and trouble to review it.
Now, this final chapter is rather longer than its predecessors, simply because I thought it would flow better as a single instalments, rather than three individual ones. Even though it closes this story, though, I have left the ending open for a possible sequel, so stay tuned!
So, for the last time for now, enjoy, and I hope to be back here soon!
Heroes And Demons
Chapter Fourteen - Promises Made, Promises Kept
As the elevator doors opened, a blast of unmistakeable music almost knocked Gibbs back into it. For once, though, even when he saw Abby jiving exuberantly though her lab, he didn't, couldn't, smile. She looked so happy, so full of her irrepressible spirit. But, Gibbs knew, all that was about to change.
She'd made a mistake, and then stood quietly back while Tim McGee paid a painful price for it. Now, however much it hurt him to do it, and her to sit and hear it, she had to face its fallout.
So it hurt him, more than he dared to show, that Abby now turned to greet him with such enthusiasm – the smile that could light up an entire room fading, and then vanishing, when Gibbs failed to return it.
She'd seen that look enough times to know that whoever was on its receiving end was in trouble – her conscience already telling her what she'd done to warrant that unsettlingly piercing stare.
Abby just hoped that a genuinely concerned observation would help to defuse the oncoming tirade of Jethro Gibbs' infamous temper.
"Hey, Gibbs, you… um, you look kinda trashed-"
"Yeah, well, I've been up all night, Abs, talking over a crime scene with McGee," Gibbs replied – deliberately keeping his eyes trained on hers, refusing to release them, as he reached into his shirt.
"Got some evidence for you, Abby. I want you to tell me the real story behind it-"
Drawing out her toothbrush, he then placed it, with careful calm, onto the workbench beside them – knowing, from her reaction when she saw it, that Abby already knew what was coming next.
"My – My toothbrush," she said at last, fidgeting uneasily as she re-met Gibbs' eyes – any temptation she'd felt to fudge her way around it scuppered by the disappointment within them.
Shame now joined the guilt which had been niggling at Abby's conscience for the last three days.
This amazing friend, the mentor who'd become a second father to her – damn it, she'd let him down. The unwise silence which had deceived him, misled him, had left her in one almighty deep hole.
Only complete honesty, expressed in a quietly shaky admission, was going to help her climb out of it.
"I – I left it in his car, and – and though he didn't like it, I – I made him go down and get it for me. I opened the door, thinking it was him, but it – it wasn't… it was Mikel instead, that's how he got in. I let him in, Gibbs, without checking who it was, and… I – I guess Timmy's just told you that?"
Smiling to himself, at the pet-name that only she could use and get away with, Gibbs then sighed. It pained him to admit it, but – yes, Tim McGee, and his own conscience, had been right all along.
This brilliant young woman, the closest thing he'd ever have to Kelly, wasn't his faultless daughter. She made mistakes which, until now, he'd turned a blind eye to, as only every doting father could.
But not any more. After tonight, Gibbs sadly reminded himself, he couldn't let that continue.
"You'd guess right, Abby. Yes, Tim's told me what really happened that night," he said at last – pausing for a moment, gathering breath for the quiet, carefully stressed words that eventually followed.
"But he didn't tell me by choice, or to break the trust between you that you've broken against him. He did it because of what my misassumption, my actions, and their consequences, were doing to him. I punished him, Abs, because I assumed that he'd disobeyed my orders and left you unguarded-"
Her expression alone, a telltale hitch in her breathing, told him how genuinely remorseful she was. But for his sake, for hers and, most crucially, for Tim McGee's, Gibbs knew he had to tell her the rest.
"I forced him to kneel, Abby, at his desk, in front of everyone he works with, because of your mistake. And that punishment hasn't just humiliated him in front of his colleagues, Abs, it's hurt him. Badly.
It's brought back memories so painful for him that he's barely slept, for three nights, because of them. He's been having nightmares, re-living those memories. And tonight's has hit him really hard-"
The rising alarm on her face silently broke his heart – enough for him to now try to reassure her.
"He's okay, Abs. He's sleeping now, up in the quiet room, and Tony's with him," he added gently – squeezing her hand, keeping that contact between them as he steered her towards a nearby stool.
"But before I take you up to him, you and I need to have a serious talk about our part in this. We're both to blame for what happened to him tonight, so… sit down, Abs. This could take a while-"
Knowing better than to argue, not daring to even try, Abby nodded and shakily did as told – the nervousness of her next words speaking volumes for the guilt that now niggled her conscience.
"Is – Is that why he hasn't been to see me, or talked to me? I – I mean, is – is Timmy okay?"
He would be okay, of course, once he'd slept and let Abby make her hyper-fuss peace with him, but – well, as Gibbs so wearily knew, that moment of precious reconciliation was still a long way off.
Trust on three sides had been broken. On his side, at least, that trust had to be re-built, and re-earned.
To do that, she had to be honest with him. Before that, though, he had to be equally honest with her.
"No, Abby, he isn't," Gibbs said at last, forcing himself to ignore the disappointment on her face.
What followed next was too much for him, though, as eyes of purest green widened in purest horror – a guilt-ridden mind turning a simple 'two-plus-two-equals-four' equation into advanced string theory.
"Oh, my God, he's - he's leaving, isn't he?" Abby whispered, ploughing tearfully on before Gibbs could stop her.
"He's – He's so mad at me that he's gonna leave, and – and never talk to me again, and- and…"
Knowing if he didn't stop her now, he'd be in serious trouble, Gibbs gently caught her shoulders – giving them just enough of a shake to bring that hyper-panicked imagination back under control.
"No, Abs, he isn't leaving. Tim isn't going anywhere," he assured her, with the gentle patience borne from much experience.
"But we've made mistakes that have hurt him, Abs, and now we've got to take their consequences-"
A thankfully calmer nod was a promising sign – but Gibbs knew he couldn't just leave it at that. However much it hurt, she had to know that she'd almost wrecked two priceless friendships.
After what had just happened, though, Gibbs kept his next words on the gentler side of his temper.
"He's hurt, and angry, that he was punished for something that was your fault, and I don't blame him. He's angry, and disappointed that you didn't tell me, yourself, what really happened that night, and… well, Abs, I'm disappointed too. I thought you had more respect for him, for me, than that-"
Just as he'd expected, and quietly hoped, those last words brought an instant, and heartfelt response.
"But I do, Gibbs! I do respect you, and Timmy! I'd – I'd never do anything to jeopardize that!"
He couldn't doubt her word now. You couldn't fake a reaction as heartfelt, or so emotional, as this. It was her actions then, though, at Tim McGee's apartment, that he still needed to challenge.
"Then why didn't you obey him when he told you not to open that door?" Gibbs asked quietly – his eyes widening slightly, as another rush of tumbling words caught him, very rarely, off-guard.
"I – I don't know, Gibbs! I – I mean, I know it was dumb, and – and stupid of me, to do it, but… well, I'm me, Gibbs! I – I just couldn't believe that anyone out there wanted to kill me!"
As hard as he tried to restrain it, Gibbs now smiled as he compared one brilliant mind against another. Such innocence, such naïveté against danger, and – yeah, he dryly decided, it had to be a geek thing.
Tim McGee had learned to overcome it, of course. He'd had to. If he hadn't, he'd be dead by now.
But however breathtakingly intelligent Abby was, in this sheltered protection of her environment – well, as he'd often found himself, her independence and curiosity often broke all rules of sense, restraint, and reason.
Until now, he'd turned an indulgent blind eye to it, as only a father could to his favourite child, but – well, if he was to show his respect for Tim McGee, Gibbs knew that now he had to make an exception.
"Hell of a way for you to find out otherwise, wasn't it, Abs?" he said at last, re-meeting her eyes – knowing from a quiet sniff, a shaky nod, that he'd made his point, but still driving it home anyway.
"Someone was out to get you, Abs, and Tim had already risked his life to protect you from them. That's why I assigned him to you, again, that night, because I knew that he would keep you safe. He knew your life was in real danger, Abby. That's why he ordered you not to open that door"
Another sniffle, louder than last time – and Gibbs had already guessed what was coming next.
As the true extent of her recklessness that night sank in, he slid an arm around her shoulders – his next words slightly softer, as they had to be, but still firm enough to be fully understood.
"He was doing his job, Abs. He was doing what I'd told him to do, to keep you safe-"
Turning her to face him, Gibbs then lightly gripped her shoulders so that she couldn't turn away – his next words quiet, but still holding a slight edge of lingering anger, and undeniable authority.
"You're not a child, Abs. You're an adult who should know their responsibilities, and account for them. And I don't mind if you do make mistakes, Abby. It's how you learn not to make those mistakes again.
But I do mind, I will mind, if you make a mistake and then let someone else take the blame for you, while you stand back and let them.
Tim's gone through hell tonight, Abby, because of your mistake, and my misassumptions from it. Don't you ever let him, or me, or anyone else, take the rap for you like this again. Clear?"
He'd driven that last point home as he'd had to do – hard and fast, with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. As a shaky nod accepted it, he then drew her closer to him, to whisper a final, gentler afterthought.
"That night was like a crime scene, Abs. Everything that happened that night were pieces of evidence. And I made a wrong call on that crime scene, Abby. I put Tim through that punishment, because…"
"…I screwed up, Gibbs, and let Timmy take the blame," Abby finished for him, meeting his eyes again – the silent acceptance of understanding on her face causing Gibbs to smile now, in genuine approval.
From her expression alone, he knew that Abby Sciuto would never make that mistake again.
Silence, inevitably, then set in between them - broken, finally, by the only voice, and words, that could.
"I'm – I'm sorry, Gibbs-"
Normally, of course, Gibbs would slap that hated sign of weakness straight out of the offender's head. For once, though, he gladly accepted it as he slipped a fatherly arm back around Abby's shoulders.
"So from now on, you're going to own up to all your screw-ups, Abs, without any help from me?" he said at last – fighting back a grin as two vigorously bobbing pigtails answered him more sweetly than any words.
Hugging her, he then pressed her toothbrush into her hand – meeting startled eyes with a gentle smile.
"Okay, then. Apology accepted, but… well, Abs, I'm not the one you need to say sorry to-"
He'd only stressed one tiny, single word, but Abby had still caught its significance, and its meaning – smiling back at him, but with rising apprehension as Gibbs led her out of her lab towards the elevator.
By the time they reached the bullpen, her comfort-grip on his hand threatened to cut off its circulation – hence the relief both of them felt when they found Tony DiNozzo working quietly at his desk.
For Gibbs too, of course, there was the puzzled surprise over what his senior agent was doing there – a bright smile answering the inevitable question before Gibbs could take another step towards him.
"Hey, boss. Yeah, he's okay. He, um, woke up just after you left. He's okay. I told him you had some, uh, stuff to do, and he went kinda quiet, like he knew what I meant-"
A silvery eyebrow rose. Two green eyes widened. And Tony DiNozzo knew he was in serious trouble.
Realizing that hadn't come out as sensitively as Gibbs would have liked, Tony then winced slightly – hoping a more tactful follow-up would save his long-suffering head from yet another chastising slap.
"He's, uh, okay, though, boss. We, um… you know, talked it all… uh, all over, then he hit the showers. In fact, you just missed him, boss, he's… uh, just gone to get some air. Said you'd know where he'd be if you needed him-"
To his open if rather puzzled relief, the frown on Gibbs's face turned into a broadening smile – an appreciative nod telling him that, for the moment at least, both his head and his hide were still safe.
Even so, Tony still kept tactfully quiet as he watched Gibbs lead Abby on through the bullpen – brotherly instinct urging him to follow them outside, but self preservation convincing him to stay put.
If Gibbs didn't whup his hide, he dryly reflected, he was sure that Abby would freely do so instead. And, as she'd so gladly remind him, at every opportunity, each time he annoyed her, she was a forensic scientist who could kill him and leave no evidence.
Finding a typically ingenious compromise, and once sure they'd left, he crossed to the main window – curiously following their arm-in-arm progress through the yard, towards a secluded spot by the river.
When he finally lost sight of them, Tony then sighed and, smiling slightly, returned to his desk.
He already knew why Gibbs had winced, so sadly, when he'd heard where Tim McGee had gone. Soon, Abby would find out why too, and – yes, God knew she'd need Gibbs with her when she did.
Until they returned inside, to mutually heal, Tony knew he could discreetly finish what he had to do.
As he watched lines of names scroll over his screen, he picked up his phone, and hit speed-dial six. A few moments later, he greeted the voice at the other end with a breeziness he didn't honestly feel.
"Hal? Hey, yeah, it's DiNozzo… yeah, long time no speak, bud, how's Baltimore treating you?"
Rolling his eyes as he listened to a broad, Bronx-edged run-down, he finally found a way into it – taking advantage of Hal Daley's pause for breath while he had those precious few seconds to spare.
"Yeah, Hal, it's… uh, not quite a social call. I need some, uh, help for a case I'm working on-"
Giving Hal time to find a pen, and himself to regain his composure, Tony then took a deep breath – knowing that, just out of his sight, Tim McGee was, for the third time, re-living a day of total hell.
Tony's only consolation, against the bitter fury that he'd felt, was that he knew who'd caused it – hence this covert call to the ex-partner who had a list of contacts the size of a phone directory.
All he needed was a name and a date of birth, and Hal Daley could find anyone, anywhere.
After some subtly gentle questioning, a silently enraged Tony DiNozzo could now give him both.
"Yeah, I need a full name check, Hal. Everything you have on a Jay Clark, that's C-L-A-R-K. Date of birth six ten nineteen seventy three-"