against all odds ;; iv – will you think that you're all alone when no one's there to hold your hand?
Title and lyrics from Permanent by David Cook. There is a bit more Gabby in this chapter, although not quite as much a peek into Gibbs's side of things as I'd hoped to give - I ended up cutting this chapter a bit short and deciding to leave the rest of the storytelling for the sequel, Love and Country. So if you enjoyed this story please look out for that one. I hope to post the first part within the next few days.
is this the moment when i look you in the eye?
forgive my broken promise that you'll never see me cry
and everything, it will surely change even if i tell you i won't go away today
will you think that you're all alone when no one's there to hold your hand?
when all you know seems so far away and everything is temporary, rest your head
Curiosity killed the cat. Abby is nothing if not curious, and she thinks with trepidation that this is the real reason she's returned to New Orleans. The idea of reconciliation is a little beyond her, and she got closure a long time ago – at least, she thinks she did, when she's not too busy wondering what "closure" really means, or trying not to think about it at all. McGee and Tony's well-meant advice does weigh on her mind, but it's the what if that gives her the cojones to make the plane reservations, to ask for the time off from work, to make it all the way to the airport and on the plane without turning back.
Until, of course, she's sitting in the passenger seat of a rental car next to Tony, speeding down a side street towards her uncle's bar, and then...well, then she can't decide if she wants to throw up or jump out of the car and hop the next Greyhound the hell out of there. So much for courage.
In this instant she is eternally grateful that Tony insisted on coming with her, and she leans over the console to lay her head on his shoulder. She's a little worried about leaving her babies alone with a temp intern, and she knows Tony is worried about leaving matters in the hands of McGee, but it's just the weekend and cases have been slow anyway. She swallows her longing for the familiarity of her lab as Tony pulls into the parking lot in back of the bar.
Her uncle is standing behind the bar drying a glass when they enter, and the familiarity of the scene causes something to tighten in her chest. No matter how many times she leaves, this will always feel like home to her, even when it shouldn't anymore. Shadows filter through the stained windows of the bar, flickering across the dim room. She's always loved this place in late afternoon, just before the crowds rush in.
At his enthusiasm she can't help but smile, and she rushes around the bar, meeting him halfway and crushing him into a hug. Well, really, it's the other way around; her uncle Teddy dwarfs most men. She pulls back a second later, reaching for Tony's hand to pull him over towards them.
"Tony, this is my Uncle Teddy. Teddy, Tony DiNozzo...a friend."
They exchange pleasantries and Teddy fixes Tony a drink before he turns to Abby again, all seriousness. She swallows hard. She knows he knows why she's here, and somehow she longs for the comfort of simpler times, when she could just come to visit her uncle and moonlight as the confused, geeky high school girl pretending to be a cool bartender on weekends.
Things weren't even all that simple then. They never were.
"I told you not to come," he says quietly, but they're standing close enough to Tony that she knows Tony can hear them talking, so her hands come up instead, the movements choppy, impatient. Tony hates it when she keeps anything from him but he trusts her enough not to demand an explanation...right now, anyway. At least, she hopes he does.
'He's my father,' she signs emphatically. She can read Teddy's overprotective worrying in the lines of his face, and it's not that she doesn't understand – she does. But she thinks maybe she can't bury this anymore. Maybe she shouldn't.
'You don't owe him anything, Abby.' Teddy takes a tense breath as her eyes flicker away from him, and he reaches out to turn her face towards him once more. 'Eric or your father.'
"Don't I?" she responds out loud, harshly, before turning away from him and grabbing the keys off the bar. "I'm going to the hospital. I'll be back later."
Tony, who has been watching the exchange with muted interest, stands, but she motions impatiently for him to sit back down. "I'll be fine," she adds insistently before he can say anything, reaching to squeeze his hand. "I'm sure my uncle will have no problem passing the time with embarrassing stories of my childhood." As she turns to push the door open, she shoots Teddy an entreating glance. 'I love you,' she signs, before disappearing through the door.
Tony's on his third glass of bourbon before the conversation really starts to get interesting. It's a Sunday and Teddy's not opening up the bar, whether out of respect for his dying brother-in-law or because of Abby's visit, Tony can't tell. Somehow he thought it'd be awkward to be stuck alone with Abby's uncle while she's gone, but the alcohol seems to help. He's even coaxed a few childhood stories out of the other man.
The conversation is silent for several moments before Teddy asks, "What are your intentions with my niece?"
Tony blinks owlishly, more from surprise than from the alcohol (he's not that drunk yet, honest), setting his glass down onto the bar a little harder than perhaps is warranted. "It's not like that with me and Abby," he responds, utterly serious. "We're just friends."
Teddy, looking like a man who's been through this rodeo once or twice before – and like someone whose bad side Tony would not enjoy being on – raises an eyebrow in such an almost Gibbs-like manner that Tony feels a sudden stab of longing in his gut. "Oh?"
The corners of Tony's mouth quirk up ruefully. "Yeah." He takes another long sip of bourbon. "Her heart belongs to someone else," he adds regretfully, setting his chin in his arm, which is propped up on the polished bar. "But we're...well, family," he says finally, wistfully.
"Good," Teddy responds emphatically. "That's good. She deserves somebody decent in her life." He takes another swallow of the amber liquid. "Lord knows she's spent her whole life trying to make things better for everybody else."
Tony is relieved he meets with her uncle's stamp of approval, because he is really sure he wouldn't want to take this guy in a fight. But mostly he's enjoying the pleasant haze that always comes after a few glasses of good bourbon, at least, unless you're a morose drunk – Abby is, but Tony usually isn't. He thinks Gibbs would be, though. No, Tony is a thoughtful drunk, and sometimes that can be more dangerous.
Everything about New Orleans is just like she remembers, which is part of the reason, she thinks, that she doesn't come back here. It's enough to have nightmares about her childhood, to have spent so many years ignoring her mother's death, her father's abuse, her brother's rejection. There are plenty of things she loves about the city of her childhood – the smells, sights, sounds. Being able to walk down the street and not feel like the freak she sometimes does around the Navy Yard. The comforting familiarity of knowing the streets like the back of her hand.
But there are other things that will always be the same, things she doesn't miss. Her father's dismissal. She isn't sure, standing over his hospital bed, what she expected from him; perhaps that like so many dying Catholics he would seek repentance for his sins. But for David Sciuto to repent for anything, he'd first have to admit he was in the wrong, and it would be a cold day in hell before that ever happened. And Eric, sleeping the sleep of the righteous, merely looks at her as if she should have come prepared to apologize to their father – for what, she doesn't know.
She doesn't miss the words getting stuck in her throat. She doesn't miss feeling like a child, terrified and alone and unable to defend herself.
When Abby finally returns from the hospital, all the lights are off except the upstairs den, where she can hear her uncle and Tony talking. She's not sure if it's exhaustion or just the desire for solitude that drives her to go straight back to the guest room, but she collapses in bed with barely enough energy to pull off her shoes and slide under the covers. She slides deep under the waves of slumber, sleeping the sleep of those who have no closure and no longer expect any. When Tony follows her to bed several hours later, she's too far gone to feel the tension radiating off him as she cuddles unconsciously into his arms.
Later, she's not sure what exactly she did to upset him. Their parting with her uncle in the morning is cordial enough, after she assures Tony that she doesn't want to stay for a few more days. She thinks the plane ride back is mostly alright. But the silence the whole way home, and once they are inside his apartment, is stifling – not the comforting simplicity she's used to. She wants to chalk it up to jet lag, but after they both shower and are in bed, he turns away from her, and she can't help feeling stung.
"What's wrong?" she asks quietly, and if she thought she might be reading him wrong, his clipped response tells her she's not.
If she weren't busy being disturbed by the lack of communication, the passive-aggressiveness of his remark might have amused her. When he lets out a heavy sigh, she presses, "Right. You've barely spoken two words all day today. What the hell is your damage?"
He rolls over and pins her under the weight of a heavy stare, and she swallows hard, suddenly wondering if this is a conversation she wants to have right now. "My damage?" he asks, and starts to say something else but cuts himself off. The unspoken question still hangs in the air, though, choking her.
Abby emerges from under the covers, walking over to the window across from the bed. "You're angry at me...why? Because you had to pry the story of my sordid childhood out of Teddy?"
His voice softens, just barely. "He thought I knew. Otherwise he wouldn't have said anything." She hears the rustle of the sheets – he's sitting up, and she can feel his stare on the back of her neck. "Dammit, Abby, I can't be there for you if you don't tell me what the hell is going on. I would never have let you go back there if I'd known – "
She turns around at that, her green eyes flashing. "Let me?"
He meets her gaze steadily. "You know what I mean." Tiredly, he runs a hand through his mussed hair. "McGee's advice was well-meant but even he would have changed his tune if he'd known the kind of man your father is."
She can tell the last few words are hard for Tony to push out. Her father was not a father. He was an abuser, a jailor; connecting the word "father" with the man she left in that hospital bed is difficult even for Abby. She lets her gaze drop to her hands as she leans back against the windowsill. "I should have told you," she acquiesces finally.
"Why didn't you, Abbs?" Sadness is woven into his words. "Do you even trust me?"
Her head snaps up at that. "It's not about trust, Tony. Of course I trust you." She holds his gaze, walks over to the bed, willing him to believe her. "I don't talk to anyone about this."
"You talked to Gibbs."
Abby doesn't answer at first, because she knows there's no defense she can offer. It's a guess, albeit an accurate, well-informed one, and offered with no small measure of hurt on Tony's part that she never came to him. She does look away first, though, as she sits down heavily on the edge of his side of the bed, facing him.
"It was a long time ago." The little Gibbs knows of her past was found out mostly accidentally; Abby was a bit of an emotional wreck when she started working at NCIS. They never spoke of what she told him, short of her exacting a promise from him not to go after her father, just as they never spoke of his revelations to her about Shannon and Kelly.
Tony reaches for her hand, snapping her out of her reverie. "I can't be him, Abby," he says almost apologetically. "But I want to be there for you. And I can't when you don't talk to me."
A few tears escape her eyelids and she reaches up angrily to brush them away. "I don't want you to be Gibbs, Tony," she counters with some vehemence, squeezing his hand. "He's irreplaceable." Tony's face nearly falls at that, and she adds, "And so are you, dammit. You're my best friend." She leans forward, her forehead against his. "I love you. I don't want you to be anyone else."
His thumb strokes the back of her hand as they stay that way for a few moments, and she's ready to breathe a sigh of relief until he pulls back a bit. "You're in love with him."
It's not quite an accusation, but it's not a question, either. She doesn't pull her hand away, but she turns her head as a wave of emotion tightens around her heart. Around the lump in her throat she manages to say the thing she's been thinking all along, when she lets herself think about Gibbs at all. "Yeah. Not like it changes anything."
She's busy trying to fortify her walls as she brushes off the declaration, makes it sound less than it is. But everything is just too much, and when Tony pulls her into his lap and wraps his arms around her, the bitter, warm tears spill over. "How long?" he asks, brushing his lips against her forehead.
"I don't know," she admits truthfully, in a whisper. "It doesn't matter." She sniffles, catching her breath. "A long time."
"It does matter, Abbs," Tony says, resting his cheek against her hair. "It does."
"No," she counters, anger creeping into her voice, "it doesn't." She leans into his chest, saying the words that she knows they've both been thinking all along. "It was hard when we lost Kate, but he chose to leave us, Tony. Twice." Her hand finds his again, gripping it, trying to find the strength to say the thoughts out loud. "No, it wasn't just about us – it was about the job, about the politics. About his damn coma. But he walked away from everything, Tony. Not just NCIS." He walked away from me.
Somehow once she's said the words out loud, the implication that has haunted her all along – that she's not good enough, that they weren't enough, that they didn't mean enough to him – it doesn't seem quite as big or scary or earth-shattering as it does in her head. Somehow laying her insecurities bare in front of Tony makes the burden a little easier to carry. But mostly she's just exhausted.
"When Tim told me about the explosion, I thought I'd never be so scared in my life," she says softly against Tony's chest. "Seeing him in that hospital bed...I thought as soon as he got his memory back I'd try to find the words to tell him." She gives a rueful, despairing chuckle. "Life is too short, and all that. But then...then he just left. He didn't even give us a chance to say goodbye. And when he came back...it was just business. He wasn't our Gibbs anymore." Her voice breaks on the words. "You guys are the only family I have now. And he wasn't... he didn't want to be part of it anymore."
She can feel the dampness of Tony's tears against her forehead. She doesn't think she's ever seen him cry, not even since Gibbs left. Tony is their rock now, the one holding them together, and she wishes he didn't have to bear it alone. As they both lay down again, she pulls him close and sends up a silent prayer that they'll be okay. All of them.