CHAPTER 23

Abby stared at them, a stunned expression on her face.

"Does he….Do you….Is that how you all feel?"

Reluctantly everyone nodded.

Gibbs thought his heart was breaking, Abby looked so forlorn, so alone, so confused. All he wanted to do was go to her, wrap his arms around her and make everything ok. He caught her eye and held her gaze.

"I'd like to go home now please" she said in a subdued tone.

Gibbs jumped forward and took hold of her, gently leading her from the apartment and into the car, leaving the others to look after themselves.

Tony sat down heavily, his head in his hands. Ziva sat next to him, her head on his shoulder; she pulled Tim with her, her arm around his waist. They sat that way for a long time, each of them connected to the other and at the same time completely alone.

Gibbs assumed that by 'home' Abby meant his house, so he drove there, keeping one eye on the road and the other on Abby. She looked smaller, more vulnerable than he had ever seen her.

As soon as they were in the house, he pulled her into a hug, Abby didn't pull away but she didn't hug him back either. When he let go, she turned and run upstairs.

Gibbs started to make coffee then stopped, coffee was the last thing his body needed. He looked at the stairs, the though of climbing them was too much, he went to the sofa and lay down, his only concession to making a bed was to take his boots off.

For the first time in months his gut wasn't telling him to be on the alert, before falling into a deep sleep he had time to realise that Abby's reactions tonight, while upsetting were natural and genuine.

Two nights later Gibbs was in bed, lying awake in the dark, thinking. He had talked with Ducky about the latest development and he was in agreement that this was a good sign, anything Abby chose to do now would be her own decisions, un-swayed by any manipulation. Gibbs didn't like the idea of losing Abby from his life, but he knew he was powerless to stop her, if that's what she felt she had to do. He was troubled by her accusation that they had behaved like Curtis, he hadn't thought of it that way at all, but now he understood that other than intention, there was little difference in what they had done.

A creak from his bedroom door brought him from his reverie. "Abby?" He said softly.

The door opened wider to reveal Abby standing nervously.

"Come on in" Gibbs said sitting up.

Abby hesitated then went into the room, perching on the edge of his bed.

The light spilling from the hallway let Gibbs see the tears coursing down Abby's face, he reached out and took hold of her hand, the only bit of her he could reach easily, he pulled gently, trying to get her to come closer.

After a momentary pause, she did move and allowed Gibbs to fold her into his arms.

Eventually, when he could tell by her breathing she had stopped crying, she pushed away and he made no effort to stop her. She didn't leave though; instead she climbed into the middle of the bed and sat cross legged.

"Can we talk?" She asked in a small voice

"Of course"

"I remember everything"

Gibbs stayed silent, waiting for her to continue, her internal struggle was being played out across her face, he knew he couldn't rush her.

"Why?"

"That's a pretty big question Abs."

"You never gave up, any of you, despite everything I did and said, you kept trying"

"We love you" Gibbs said simply with no hesitation.

"Even now?" Abby's voice was barely above a whisper.

Gibbs leaned forward and lifted Abby's chin, forcing her to look him in the eye "Yes"

His obvious sincerity was rewarded with a tiny smile.

Tony, Ziva and Tim all woke up to the same text message.

'I have the best friends in the world. I love them'

Gibbs stood at the bar watching his team, it had been Ducky's idea to have a team night out. At times it was awkward with long silent pauses, at times the joviality felt forced, but they were here, all of them and they were trying. He knew that there would be difficult days ahead as they re-built bridges and let wounds, both real and imaginary heal but he knew they would make it and be stronger than ever.

THE END

A/N phew! Finally we got to the end, I want to thank everyone who has stuck with this story, set up alerts and submitted reviews, it was this unexpected response that kept me writing till 2am when common sense told me I should be sleeping!

I'm sure you will have noticed that at no point in this story were we ever inside Abby's head and we never found out how Curtis came into her life and got such a hold over her. That was deliberate – a companion piece is being written that will re-tell the whole thing entirely from Abby's POV.