Author: Ice Cube
Spoilers: For Hiatus, part I and for Bait. Anything else prior to Hiatus may be mentioned in passing, but nothing overly specific.
Disclaimer: Right, if I owned them anywhere outside of my dreams, the characters that are forthwith mentioned in this story would be making me a lot of money and very happy…so no, they aren't mine, and I'm a just out of school with no money, so if you're going to sue, feel free, you won't get anything.
Characters: Tony and Abby - could be seen as Tabby if you stand on your head and squint.
Archives: Feel free; just let me know where so I can find it again.
Summary: He'd seen that McGee and Ziva weren't going to accept him taking over. And he could accept that. But then Abby stepped forward, too. Tony hadn't expected that. Tag to Hiatus, part I.
Warnings: To those who think that I am capable of writing a fic that is torture free…I can't, and thus, if you don't want to see h/c, various possible tortures, and other forms of angst, find another story.
While I'm still too impatient to wait for someone to proof it after I've written it, Kylen has been beta-ing pretty much everything I come up with whether or not I use it. I apologize for any mistakes, and if you email me to tell me that they're there, I'll fix them later.
Reviews are always a plus, it's great to know that people are reading my stories and like them, but as I'm a horrible reviewer, I won't hold my breath for them. Flames, however, will be treated with the utmost respect they deserve…they will be ignored completely or poked fun at with friends.
That said, on with the tale…
ABBY: You're not Gibbs, Tony.
TONY: You're right. Acting like Gibbs doesn't make me the boss. Being senior agent does. So if drinking coffee, staring or whacking the back of your head helps me lead this team…live with it!
ABBY: You're not Gibbs, Tony.
~ 3x23 – Hiatus, Part I
As soon as the elevator doors blocked Tony's angry countenance from view, the words she had just spoken crashed over Abby like a bucket of ice water. The hurt look he threw specifically at her as he ground out "drinking coffee" before turning that angry look on the rest of the team startled her. It wasn't often that Abby got to see beneath whichever mask Tony had donned and the Goth found she didn't much like it. When the agent was hidden behind silver doors, Abby realized that it was she who had put the look there. Not McGee, not Ziva. Her. What she didn't understand was why.
The breath that Tony had been holding in since his outburst came rushing out in a burst of renewed anger and turned into a brief coughing fit. He slammed the emergency stop button on the elevator and wiped a hand across his face as if he could physically rid himself of the emotions that had bubbled far too close to the surface. He knew how to do this without Gibbs. He did. He'd done it before, and the man currently lying in a coma wouldn't have elevated Tony to senior agent if he couldn't handle it. Right?
He could blame his father for the insecurity that was gripping him right now. He could blame all of this on how he'd been raised and cop out an excuse about how sooner or later it was going to come to this. But the truth of the matter – in his mind – was that he just didn't know how to handle all of this. When Gibbs had gotten himself taken hostage by Kody Meyers, Tony had taken charge in a heartbeat. That was what he was being paid to do, after all, and more importantly, it was what Gibbs expected of him. The fact that Gibbs had called him 'Boss' instead of asking for Ziva or, God forbid, McGee had given Tony the confidence he needed to tell off the Director, put up with Ziva's cold attitude towards the boy, and ultimately to stand down the snipers and save Kody's life.
Way back then – because it felt as if it were a lifetime ago after the past day's events as opposed to just a few months – Ziva and McGee had fallen in line and had accepted his role as temporary lead. There hadn't been questions or concerns, and he hadn't had time to think about it. There was a fifteen-year old kid in danger of losing himself and his hostages, and neither Kody nor Gibbs had time for Tony to figure out if he was going to be able to step up to the plate. So he just did it and went over the 'what-if's' later.
Now, however, things were different. Gibbs wasn't just in the next room, conveniently taking himself out of the lead role to protect a kid. He wasn't off at a conference leaving Tony to sort through paperwork and mundane tasks. And that was the crux of the matter, wasn't it? Every time previous, Tony had an idea of when he could turn the reigns back over. No one really wondered if he was going to have to do this on a permanent basis, because clearly Gibbs was indestructible and even bullets to the shoulder from sadistic terrorists weren't enough to keep him out of the rotation for too long.
Tony clamped down on those memories. He couldn't deal with Ari haunting his thoughts on top of the bare truth. Gibbs was lying unconscious and intubated in a hospital bed and his doctors were only guardedly optimistic. There was nothing to suggest Gibbs would be back telling them all what to do and heading slapping him into line – but there wasn't anything to suggest that he wouldn't, either. They just didn't know. There was nothing but Abby's positive attitude and everyone's faith that he could and would survive this unscathed. He was Gibbs, after all.
It shouldn't have mattered. Gibbs was out of commission and in the chain of command that both Tony and his boss believed in, it meant that Ziva and McGee still answered to him and it shouldn't have been a problem. Except it was. For some reason or another, no one was falling into the carefully scripted protocols that put him in charge and sent all bad guys running in fear. That's how it worked in the movies; that's how it worked on television. The actors put on their masks and played the parts of good guys in white hats – and the black hats went to jail, no questions asked. And Tony knew that he was the best actor of all. He acted so well that even when the mask slipped and the tenacious investigator he really was buckled down to get the case closed, no one noticed that part. No one but Gibbs saw past the rich kid frat boy playing at cops and robbers so he could act out his favorite movies.
And because of that, now McGee and Ziva were doubting him. Even as the anger began to pick up again and Tony dimly realized he should be starting up the elevator, he could spell out the reason why they were. On top of everything else, they weren't prepared to follow him because for the first time, they knew that Gibbs wasn't just around the corner waiting in the wings to swoop in if Tony goofed off too much. When push came to shove, it turned out that his team didn't trust him. After all this time. It hit him like a hard punch to the gut and an ice-cold shower all at once. He'd worked for Gibbs for almost five years now. If the man didn't trust him to run his team in absentia, Tony wouldn't have made it this long – he'd been witness to that after the incident with Blackadder in Cádiz.
Tony knew he'd been getting frustrated. He knew that asking McGee to run down that many hits on a BOLO was pointless. But damn it all they needed to be doing something. They needed to track down the asshole who blew Gibbs up and who was now threatening even more trouble. But they had nothing. A name and some taggants which were pretty much useless and some hope that the idiot Captain wouldn't try to screw them over and pick the wrong picture. Tony had some faith that Ziva would cajole him into the truth. He knew that Abby would try her best to narrow the matches on the Semtex. He knew that McGee would…do whatever it was he did with computers and get Tony something to lock his teeth into. He trusted them – why couldn't they do the same?
The anger that had been building in his gut finally exploded in a moment of pure abandon. Tony saw the fisted hand seconds before it made impact with the metal doors in front of him and he tried to pull the punch. He was successful enough to keep the bones from shattering and leaving the team another man down, but the shock of metal meeting fist was still strong enough to send pain signals reverberating up through his shoulder and into his back. His cup of Gibbs-like coffee dropped unceremoniously to the ground as he clutched at the appendage in attempt to stave off some of the pain. He supposed he should count himself lucky that the metal was smooth as none of the skin on his knuckles tore, but the blood was already beginning to pool under the surface and was sure to bruise.
The emergency stop switch was thrown again as Tony hit the down button and collapsed back against the wall. He needed to focus.
Abby knew that when Tony didn't want to confront something, he was a master at making himself scarce. There were plenty of things he could feasibly be doing that would both further their progress on the case and simultaneously keep him far away from the current conflict. She hadn't even bothered to go looking for him, knowing that when he had calmed down enough, he'd find her.
So the last thing the forensic scientist was expecting when she walked into the lab was to be startled almost out of her platforms. Abby had made it all the way over to Major Mass Spec before she heard the rustling of someone shifting body positions. The rush of fabric against floor covering had her spinning around so quickly it gave her a head rush. When the world settled back into focus, Abby finally noticed Tony sitting against the wall under her window. Without being able to see his face, she got a fleeting image of a lost little boy hiding from bullies before their eyes finally met, Tony pulling a long-practiced mask of indifference firmly into place.
"Sorry. I'll get out of your hair." Tony pulled himself to his feet.
Abby couldn't ignore the defeated look on Tony's face or the way his shoulders slumped as his feet dragged. If he allowed this whole thing to continue eating at him, Tony was never going to be able to find Pula and his negative thoughts just might be enough to do Gibbs in. She couldn't have that.
"Tony, wait." Abby reached out to grab onto a sleeve and was shocked by the flinch. Things were far from all right between the two of them. Holding her hands up even as she pouted and stepped forward to block the door, the Goth wasn't about to let him out of her sight.
"Abbs, I…I can't do this right now. I don't want to…"
"Tell me this then. Of all the places you could have gone to hide out, why did you pick my lab? Ducky's gone; you have access to MTAC or Interrogation. But you came here."
Tony started to respond but found he had nothing quirky to say about it. He just shook his head and moved to beat a quick escape.
"I don't think so. What did I do?" Abby's tone was almost plaintive.
"What did you do? What did you do?" Tony snorted in disbelief before shaking his head with a cold smile on his face.
"I expected McGee to balk. I figured Ziva would have some kind of comment. But you? I thought you'd know better. I thought you...never mind. It's not important." Tony deflated almost as quickly as he'd become riled up and slumped into Abby's chair.
The scientist watched for a few minutes as Tony played idly with one of her voodoo dolls before he spoke again. This time his voice carried a hint of quiet vehemence. Abby couldn't tell if it was directed at himself or at her.
"I don't care if they don't like it. Do they think I wanted Gibbs to be in that explosion? That I wanted him to get blown up and to be in a freaking coma? Do they think I like it any better than they do that all of a sudden I'm in charge – no warning, no chance to figure things out?" Tony threw down the small figurine in his hands and blew out a quick breath. He could feel his hands starting to shake and the tension in his shoulders was starting to give him a headache.
"It doesn't matter. It's my job to take over if he can't be here and it's their job to suck it up and deal with it. I shouldn't have to justify myself to them – to you. You, of all people, should know that this is the last thing I want. You should have…I should have…" There was no point to denying that what everyone else thought was starting to catch up with him. And maybe they were right. Maybe the reason that they didn't trust him was that he didn't deserve to be trusted.
"But I'm not Gibbs, right? So it doesn't really matter because I'm just a screw up and nobody should trust me, right?" The anger was gone; the emotion that had fueled him had run its course. Now all that was left was sarcasm and just a hint of acceptance.
It was this small crack in his carefully constructed walls that Abby saw and had her both trying to defend herself and reassure him all at the same time.
"That's not what I said, Tony, and you know it." How dare he twist her words into something like…like that. A look of hurt crossed her features before it was replaced by indignation. Gibbs had been hurt so badly that he was actually in the hospital and she clearly hadn't had enough Caf-POW to deal with that – or maybe it was too much, she wasn't really sure. Her silver-haired fox had looked so un-Gibbs-like and now Tony wasn't acting like Tony and it just wasn't fair.
"You were getting a big head up there and someone needed to bring you back down to where the rest of us are trying to function."
Tony glared half-heartedly. A big head? Is that what they all think? All he wanted to do was hold down the fort until Gibbs got back, but there was so much going on and so little time to get his own head on straight. National security was at risk and all of a sudden it was on his shoulders to make sure the unthinkable didn't happen. So it was up to him to find the invisible man, figure out what he was planning, and stop whatever attack was imminent before it could be carried out. He had no real leads, no idea of what to do next, and the only man who could tell him what to do was lying in a coma in a hospital bed. Tony wasn't being arrogant or egotistical; he was just utterly frustrated and lost.
""DDo you think it's any easier for us?" Abby cut him off, not quite finished with her train of thought. "That just because you come in pretending like everything's fine that we'd be able to pretend like nothing was wrong? We're not all Ziva, you know."
Tony scoffed at that but rose to his feet, intent on finishing the conversation.
"Look, Abby. I don't want to fight. I told you I didn't want to do this now, it's not important. Just…leave it, all right?"
"No, please. Not now." Tony needed to get things back under control. He needed to figure out how to bottle this all back up and forget it ever happened. The agent wasn't sure how this had all spiraled out of control but all he wanted to do now was get down to Interrogation where Ziva was supposed to be getting Mahir out of lock up and into a mood where the pompous captain was willing to give up Pula. Tony half hoped that the assassin in her crossed the line and he had to step in and pull her off. At least then he might feel useful instead of on the verge of falling apart.
Ignoring Tony's previous reaction to her trying to keep him from leaving, the Goth grabbed onto his sleeve and hauled him back to face her. She turned his chin until green eyes met her own.
"Listen. I…I know you're disappointed in me."
Abby didn't want to believe she'd let down the carefree man standing in front of her, but the fact that she had was staring her in the face. She wasn't sure how Bert got wrapped up in her embrace, but the loud noise seemed to spur Tony into speaking.
"No, it's not that." He shook his head. "You know, sometimes you just have to lower your expectations."
Tony grimaced and then stormed out; scoffing that he was pretty sure he'd heard that quote in a movie somewhere and it was one that he wouldn't want to confess to having seen.
It was a testament to how badly Abby needed to make this right that instead of placing Bert down somewhere carefully, the Goth simply tossed him on one of the lab benches before storming out the door. She'd be damned if she was going to let Tony escape into the safety of the elevator.
"You're not going anywhere, Mister. Not until we sort this out." Abby heard the ding of the elevator and scooted in through the doors before DiNozzo could hit the door close button and shut her out.
When the metal finally did slide shut behind her, Abby didn't even give the car the chance to rise before throwing the switch. It really was a wonder, she thought idly, that the elevator managed to pass inspection every year with the excessive wear on the brakes. Statistics began to flow through her head before she clamped down on them and focused on the man standing in front of her.
Or rather, had been standing in front of her. Sometime in the milliseconds between her making a stand and losing her focus on elevator deaths, Tony had deflated. The stress of the events that led them here finally cracked through his defenses and had left him unable to even complete the seemingly indomitable task of standing. Abby looked down to see him crouched in the corner of the elevator much like a baseball catcher would be. His chin had dropped to his chest and both hands were fisting in the normally well-kempt hair. Tony looked like a man barely holding it together and it reminded Abby that though he had been exuding confidence and unwavering faith since the explosion, Tony was not Ziva either. In fact, he was far from the cold-mannered Israeli and Gibbs being out of the lineup so to speak had to be affecting him as badly as it was affecting the Goth.
Abby hunkered down next to Tony and made sure that her knee brushed against his. In the turmoil that was currently their little family, he needed something to anchor to. Something that wasn't going to get tossed around in the storm no matter what was thrown at them. What little Abby knew of his past reminded her that nothing in his upbringing had prepared him for the steadfastness that should be family.
The sight of Tony clenching at his hair caught her attention and the bruised knuckles stood out sharply. She hadn't noticed that before. Reaching up, Abby tangled her fingers in his and gently pulled the injured hand to be inspected more carefully. Ducky would have to take a look at it later, but as far as she could tell, nothing was hurting him too badly.
"Look, Tony," she began quietly, "about what I said upstairs."
"Just…just forget it Abbs. Okay? I get it. I'm not as good as Gibbs and a pretty piss poor choice as an alternative. I don't even like coffee."
The attempt at wry humor was lost amidst how tightly Abby could hear him trying to hold in his emotions. 'DiNozzo men don't cry'…she'd heard Tony say it before.
"Tony. I didn't mean it like that. I never said you weren't as good as Gibbs." Of course that's how he would hear it. If there was anyway DiNozzo could take something to mean he was worthless, it was almost assured that he would. She knew better than that.
"I never said that…I never even thought it. You're not Gibbs, Tony. You need to stop trying to be. No one expects you to be a carbon copy of him. You're more than capable of taking over for Gibbs by just being you. Just being Tony. Let the Bossman scowl and overdose on coffee and yell at Timmy. That's never been you – you said it yourself. You're not in charge of this investigation because you're Gibbs. You're his senior agent and you know better than to think he'd let you be that if you weren't cut out for it."
Abby had said all of that in one breath and had to pause to gulp in oxygen before she could continue. She didn't have a chance to before DiNozzo cut her off.
"I know that. I think. But even knowing that, it doesn't mean squat if no one else sees it." He held up a finger to keep her from interrupting and the quick shift in positioning almost had him toppling over – Abby's quick reflex steadied him both physically and emotionally.
"I can see that you get it now. I just…McGee and Ziva can poke fun at me all they want, that wouldn't bother me. But to know that they were only humoring me until I started to buckle down? They need to trust that I'm the right person to be leading us right now. And I don't think they do. I don't think they can follow me, Abbs. And then when you…you took their side. I just, I didn't expect that, not at all. I needed you to go to bat for me up there, and then I see you…and then…"
Tony trailed off as he tried to wrestle everything back into the box that was usually padlocked and guarded against leaking emotions out. They didn't accomplish anything, so why let others see his weakness.
The anger that had been present just moments before in her lab melted away almost instantly. Sure she had felt slighted that Tony had called her out on not having the DNA results because of the meeting he called. She had been annoyed that he couldn't see past what she thought was his newest power trip. That was partly why she'd spoken as she had. But all the same, she should have tried to calm the waters as opposed to adding more fuel to the fire.
Abby pushed herself off the floor of the elevator and slid around in front of him. Sitting back on her heels, her knees hit the ground almost underneath his. She grasped at Tony's forearms and waited for him to make eye contact.
"Tony. We don't need you to be Gibbs. And it's not just that. We don't want you to be Gibbs. Every time you try to be, it just reminds us more of how close he is to…" she trailed off before she said something negative and jinxed everything. When Tony started to speak to reassure her, Abby touched her finger to his lips to keep him from protesting.
"It's not that we think you're not capable. You are. But you're capable because you're Tony. We need you to be that competent – sometimes cocky – investigator that Gibbs hired. Because when you do that, it tells us that you think he's going to be okay too. And then we can focus on hunting down the mean jerk that got us into this mess and make him pay."
As Tony's chin lifted a little higher, Abby could see the light in them begin to return. Give him a purpose and motivation, and Anthony DiNozzo would never let you down. Abby had seen that since before Kate had ever come to work with them. Now he wasn't beating himself up for not being able to stop the inevitable. Now he might really listen to what she had to say.
"Look. I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean what I said upstairs the way it sounded and I never meant to hurt you like this. We're all trying to get our heads around this and we're all completely wrapped up in how to deal with the fact that Gibbs is hurt – badly. I just…"
"But don't you think I know that? Don't you think that this is screwing with my head just as much as everyone else?"
"Of course I do. I saw that upstairs, even if they didn't. But we all said things that shouldn't have been and we all need to take a step back and reset."
"Be kind, rewind?" This time Abby could see that she was getting through to him as the ghost of a smile accompanied the bad joke.
"Leave it to you, DiNozzo, to come up with a movie reference here. And don't think I missed the fact that you totally quoted Eight Below in there."
That got her a laugh as the levity gave him enough confidence to clamp down on that padlocked box. He had a job to do and needed to get his head in the game if he were going to make Gibbs proud. But first.
"Abby, you know I…I didn't mean…"
"Never apologize; it's a sign of weakness." Abby used her best Gibbs impression as she stared Tony down. "Looking for a way to apologize without apologizing?"
Abby's smile said he was already forgiven.
"Not sure if Boss has given that one a number, but if he hasn't, he should. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to go off on you like that, and I know better than to think that you'd ever hang me out to dry like that. With anything. God, if there's anyone I don't need to lower my expectations about, it's you. You've never let me down and I shouldn't have thought you'd start now. Forgive me?" The DiNozzo charm smile was in full effect as he tried to couple looking bashful and contrite all at the same time.
Abby pulled him to his feet and hugged him as hard as she possibly could. Only after he tightened his own arms around her in return did she let go and step back from him. She'd have to talk to McGee later to see what she could do to amend the situation, but it wouldn't do for anyone to know about that anyway.
"You gonna get Ducky to look at that hand?" She tried to 'Gibbs-stare' him down, but knew before she even asked that he wouldn't.
"I really do need to get to interrogation before Ziva hands Mahir his balls on a platter. I don't think McGee could keep her from doing it, do you?"
Abby snickered, but sobered up quickly.
"We're more than okay, Abbs. Always have been."
She nodded and flipped the switch to allow the elevator doors to open. Only when she had stepped out and the doors were almost closed again did she get the last words in. She knew better than to tell Tony when he had time to look embarrassed. After all, she really did know him better than anyone else currently in the NCIS building.
"'Cuz we're family."