Acts of Hubris - Part 13
by: Tamsin Bailey


He found Abby in his bed. Awake. Curled on her side and staring into nothing. When he called her name softly from the doorway of the guest bedroom she did not look at him.

He crouched down by the bed, dismissing the twinge in his knees. "Hey," said softly. Finally she looked at him, but she had no words, just a wearily empty anticipation.

"Abby," he started again, but he had nothing after that. She broke into the silence by sitting up, watching him without expression.

"I'm tired of crying Gibbs. I just...I don't want to cry anymore."

He cocked his head, not sure where she was going.

"I cried," she told him in a low voice that was unbroken by emotion. "I told myself I wouldn't. When I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop him. That I would just turn my head and pretend it wasn't happening. But he wanted me to cry. He called me names, and just kept hitting me until I did."

Her eyes moved off him, but her voice kept on. "I couldn't even close my eyes. He told me when...when I was on the ground that if I closed my eyes he'd cut my eyelids off and I believed him. So you want to know what I remember, Gibbs? I remember his chin. I remember his chin really well."

He hadn't expected this. Her to tell him these things, when it hardly mattered if he knew anymore. It darted inside and Gibbs curled around the knot it made in his chest. Fought to breath, fought to keep his heart beating. It hurt to hear this. It surprised him how much it hurt.

There was protection in being an investigator. The ones that didn't burn out learned how to keep tragedy outside themselves. To listen to a victim's story as nothing more than a series of facts, always pressing them to remember more, think more, relive more. Sympathy without empathy, and only so far as it served to get the story.

Stripping that protection away, listening not just to Abby's words but to the things that echoed behind them, imagining those things; he thought it would kill him. But like the tide it crested, leveling to a point where he could again draw breath.

Now Abby was looking steadily at him again, waiting for his reaction.

Damaged, Ducky had said, and he hadn't stopped at what Jack Ryker had done. He had thrown the gates wide to include the actions of Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Not until he saw the wariness in Abby's eyes did Gibbs really understand what had made his friend so angry.

Abby had not called him to the hospital for vengeance. She had wanted his comfort and his safety. But all he had done since then was refuse her. By interviewing her like any other victim; by spending his time running around after the man who had hurt her; and by acting like throwing Jack Ryker in jail was some kind of Rubicon that could make her all better.

Those tears she was tired of crying were ones he had given her to cry, and her words had been a test.

It shivered through him, how close he had come to screwing it up. Without the warning of Ducky's baffling anger, he would have missed hers. He would have opened his mouth and tried to quench the burn of those memories by saying Jack Ryker was in jail, that he could never hurt her again.

The truth was, Jack Ryker would be hurting Abby for a long time to come. Nothing could change that. Except time. Understanding. Good friends. Not words. Certainly not the vengeance he had been so relentlessly pursuing.

Standing up, Gibbs pivoting around to sit next to her on the bed, using an arm to tuck her close beside him. He held her, rocking a little, until the stiffness went out of her muscles and she pressed her face against his neck, shoulders hitching in a single stifled sob.

"I'm sorry, Abby," he whispered against her the crown head. "I'm sorry."

)()()()()()()()()()()()(

These are the moments they mark.

It takes a month for the last of the bruising to fade away. Six weeks is the first day back at work. Three and six months are celebrated with negative viral titers in Ducky's lab. The fourteenth month ends with a judge's gavel: 10 years of his life for half an hour of hers.

The return of hope is a moment shoved amongst a jumbled rush of misplaced keys and coffee and late that propels her past a strange male human with nothing more than a harried annoyance. Realization makes her stop short enough that he runs into her back. Before and After she understood, but the idea of after the After is completely new.

Feeling the snap and pull of her muscles as she tumbles a body over her hip, pivoting to warningly press the side of her foot into the flesh of the woman's throat, looking down at the surprised 'o' of her mouth, fingers wrapped around the offending shoe and her dark hair fanned out against the gym mat. It's a funny picture and she laughs as the other woman grumbles and accepts a hand up, but they both know something has changed. It's a tool now, not an exercise, and she feels solid and safe inside her own body.

She has a date, and he has (with his incredible and sadly unsung talent) weaseled all the pertinent details out of her. Who, what, when, and where. A background check shows two unpaid parking tickets, a very high credit score, and a nearly miraculously Alpha Chi Delta commonality. A lie gets him some face time, and his badge and gun get him a very sincere assurance of gentlemanly behavior. The next morning she gives him a sweet smile, and fist to the gut.

She lets her hair grow in blond, kept tight against her head. Then on a completely ordinary Tuesday he goes into her lab with coffee, for a kiss, and there are little nubs on either side of her head, held by twin electric pink bands. He reaches out to touch the bristled end of one with the tip of his finger, and her smile is wide and without a hint of shadow.


A/N: Well folks, here concludes the story. Now that I've enticed you into reading all the way to the end, I'll let you in on a secret. I've never done anything like this. I've always been good at writing, but this is my first try at carrying a plot through 60+ pages. Writing and editingf this took 8 months, some pretty icky research, and an incredible amount of thinking. In the end, I think I did okay, but success is, as ever, in the eye of the reader. If you think I carried it off, please, please tell me. If you have ideas on things I could do better, tell me that. If you think I did an awful job and should never be allowed near a keyboard again, you can tell me that too, but I'll only use one please.

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