AN: I know there've been quite a few 'haunted Tony' stories recently, but no I'm not jumping on the bandwagon. I wrote this a year ago, for a 'zine, and decided to risk it on FF.
The bull-pen was emptying rapidly; it was one of those rare nights when everyone had tied up everything, and no-one wanted to get caught for anything else, and they were all trying to leave with some dignity and no sign of indecent haste. The members of the Major Case Response Team were no different from anybody else; they liked a private life when they could lay claim to one, and they headed for the elevator. Abby had come up from the lab for a chat while the last few tests ran out, and as McGee called goodnight to her, she went back down to put her babies to bed.
She stopped dead at the entrance to her domain, blinking in surprise – one member of the MCRT hadn't headed home. He sat hunched up on one of her swivel chairs, head down, dangling a grinning Bert idly between his hands, and the bemused, unhappy expression he was wearing sent Abby rushing to his side at once.
"To-neee! What's wrong?" She pulled up another chair, sat beside him, detached Bert, who remained on his lap, and took his hands.
Tony laughed; a wry, unamused, embarrassed sound. He looked at her and shrugged his shoulders. "I expected 'what are you doing here'…"
"Well, I'd have asked that if I'd needed to," she said practically. "Something's wrong. You're here, so you want to talk to me and Bert about it." She waited… Tony said nothing, but shifted awkwardly in his chair, and Bert trumped impatiently. "So, talk, then."
"Don't know where to begin." His voice was low, and a little shaky, and she felt suddenly rather afraid. How dreadful could this be?
"Tony… Well, let me start you off. Why did you come to me? Not Gibbs? Or Ducky? Or – or Jimmy? I know you talk to him sometimes, and he talks ever such good sense… people ought to listen to him more often – but you do of course, so -" She collected herself. "What is it that I can do that no-one else can?"
He squeezed her hands, then let go of them, and what he said next made her realise that he was giving her the chance to run.
"You can tell me if I'm being haunted. Because if I'm not, I must be losing my mind."
Abby's reaction was pure Sciuto. Her eyes widened. "Oh, wow, Tony! Who's haunting you? Tell me! Oh – it's not – "
"No!" He grabbed her hands back; he didn't really even want to hear the name. It was difficult to speak it. "It's not… Kate. I don't know… it's my thoughts… it's like being haunted by me."
She read his mind. "You're not suddenly schizophrenic, Tony," she told him earnestly. "You have so many random pretend insanities you like to play with; suddenly acquiring a real one just isn't you. Start at the beginning."
Funny how Abby's sideways view of the world always brought comfort somehow. He smiled wanly, and took a deep breath.
"You remember… when… not long after she... died…I told you…" he dragged in another long breath, and bit the bullet. "I went running, in East Potomac Park. Grey, chilly morning… I heard her footsteps behind me, keeping time…"
"You said Kate was watching your six. I remember that. I cried a bit. So did you. But, I thought you said this wasn't Kate."
"It's not. You know… I've never done that exact route again, ever. I never will. But three mornings ago… I was doing the circuit by the Tidal Basin, and I heard the footsteps. I put my hand on my Sig and turned round; there wasn't anyone else about. And then I thought, 'Oh, but there is,' and it wasn't me. It wasn't me thinking it." He glared; he glared defiantly at Abby of all people, what was he doing... but he dared her to scoff. She just tilted her head to one side, and he subsided guiltily.
"It wasn't you?" Abby's gaze was intense, but her tone wasn't disbelieving.
"That's right. I didn't hear a voice… I'm not hearing voices, Abby!" he protested anxiously, although he knew she hadn't accused him.
She said nothing, but her steady gaze said 'I know that, silly!'
"The thought came into my mind, and I didn't put it there; that's the closest I can explain. It freaked me out for a minute, then I shrugged, and kept on running. I figured it was my own footsteps echoing off the bridge, and it didn't happen again. Next morning, I ran there again, just to show myself I wasn't put off by a stupid idea. Except that I felt as if I wasn't just showing me. It didn't happen when I passed the bridge. Hah. So there."
He shook his head, and again Abby didn't interrupt as he willed himself to go on. She just went on squeezing his hands, rubbing her thumbs comfortingly over the bases of his.
"It happened," he said tightly, "about two hundred yards further on, where there was nothing for an echo to bounce off… and it wasn't in time with my feet. And a thought came into my mind that was like… like twenty years ago – my frat brothers laughing at me when I wouldn't take their word about something. It was like, 'come on, DiNozzo, you know something's going on here.' I thought I should just get it out of my head, and then the next thought was no, don't – that it needed to be in there. It felt like a plea… and it felt stubborn, Abs, as stubborn as I am. It was like a reflection of me… younger me that I haven't been for years, suddenly back with me. I'm not making any sense, am I?"
"It needed to be there," Abby echoed softly. "Go on…"
"It keeps on happening, at random moments… I didn't get a chance to run this morning… woke up late – would you believe I hadn't slept that well? So I suppose I thought nothing would happen... but odd times when there's nothing particular to occupy my mind – I keep on thinking of my frat brothers, and how good those times were, when no-one expected anything of me that I couldn't give, that I wasn't happy to give! Between high school and Pa's expectations, Pa's disappointments... and leaving OSU and starting to hop police departments every two years or so…" his eyes were wistful. "No pressure – the academic work was a cinch, nobody was on my back and everybody was my friend. All those pretty girls... who only wanted you to give them a good time for a while..."
He grimaced, a little embarrassed, but remembered that Abby knew more about him than anyone else even thought they did, and loved him anyway. He swallowed hard. "The last time I did – think about it, I mean, I was sitting at my desk and I had to pretend I'd dropped something and go rooting around on the floor so the others wouldn't see my face – this wave of pain... of longing, I think – washed over me. I got the feeling of what it was like… was, not would be like, to have all that, for a short, happy time, and then have it all taken away. It wasn't me, Abs. It was someone else who felt like that. Who felt... heartbroken."
He shook his head again, ruefully. "It's like I'm thinking like a younger me who, maybe had… I asked, 'Did you die?' I actually wanted to hear someone say something, but -" he shrugged - "Hell, nobody did. I just got this feeling of…things not being simple. No simple answer... But I think he…it… whoever's in my head, needs me; there's some reason why it's my head, not anyone else's. Not the frat-boy thing either -"
"Not the frat-boy thing?" Abby was puzzled. "But you keep mentioning it. It's in there somewhere. It must have something to do with it."
"I don't think it needs me to go back to being one – I sure hope not... although I do get this feeling of kindred spirits – not certain I like it! I asked what I was supposed to do, and I got the feeling that I could work it out. Strewth, Abs, just listen to me! Is any of this actually possible? You see why I came to you?"
"Well, together, maybe we can, Tony. And of course I'm the right one to come to with this." Abby reached across and brushed her fingertips across his forehead, and her ferocious tone was the complete foil to the tenderness of her touch. "You look exhausted, Mister. Does this visitor remind you to eat?"
Tony shook his head vaguely. "Visitor... OK, that's what we'll call it then. All I get lately is the feeling I should be patient. But…"
He was back to staring at the floor. "You really will think I'm crazy…"
She smiled at him with immense affection. "You are, Tony. But not the way you mean. Tell me."
"When I decided I'd come down to see you, I remembered a sketch Kate did of me… you see, Kate again… with my tongue hanging out watching a girl go by."
Abby drew her breath in slowly. "Wow… you think Kate sent this visitor to you?"
He looked at her helplessly. "Maybe I'd believe in all this if it were her… Well, I started laughing… I got the feeling – that tongue hanging out feeling... that you're hot. Well, you know I think you are, but this wasn't me. The visitor likes you. I damn' well stopped laughing" His broad smile twisted into unhappiness and discomfort. "See? Crazy. I want this to stop, Abs."
"'Kay…" She jumped off her chair and wrapped him in an Abby hug, which he leaned into, and didn't fight, closing his eyes and drinking in, while he could, the feeling of safety in his best friend's arms. When she released him, she said firmly, "The first thing is for the two founder members of N.C.I.S.G.T. to walk round to the nearest pizza place, and get you fed a bit. We can talk more, and see what we can do."
"Ghost-hunting Team, Tony. What else?"
He'd said it before; she was the most healing person to be around that he'd ever met in his life. They didn't speak during the trip in two elevators, but she linked her arm through his, and held him up, emotionally as well as physically. She was far more at home with the dark and occult side of human nature than he was, far more in tune with the weirdness of the universe, and his story hadn't fazed her one bit. He'd been worried that even Abby wouldn't have been able to listen to him without sending for Ducky.
It was as they stopped to speak with Adie, the security guard at the front door, and the man himself appeared, that Tony got his next kick in the guts. He had no idea who the distinguished gentleman with Ducky was, a man about the same age as the Medical Examiner, but the agent had to drop the coat he was carrying, and feign annoyance checking the pockets as he picked it up again, until he had his game face back in place.
"Anthony, Abigail! It's so good to see that I'm not the only one who's able to leave at a decent hour! Ah… this is Doctor Gilbert Collingwood, my bridge partner for tonight. We've been down in Autopsy, planning our strategy, before challenging all comers at the Marriot."
The other man chuckled jovially. "A cool place, for preparing to keep cool heads." His eyes ran over Abby in a way that would have made Tony's hackles rise if they hadn't already been standing on end. He kept his face absolutely under control as the ME completed the introductions; even so, the other man shot him a very searching look as they shook hands. There was an aroma of good whisky in the air; some sampling of Ducky's finest had clearly been going on down in the ME's domain. Over the man's nose ran the sort of network of thready red veins that instantly suggested this was a regular thing for him. Tony stepped back and drew 'nice guy' around him like a comforter, grounded by Abby's arm through his.
He groaned in relief as the two doctors turned back to head for the parking lot, and as soon as they were out of the front door, Abby asked urgently, "What?"
"That obvious, huh? I hope Ducky didn't see it."
"I felt you shudder, Tony. And you were really stiff and tense all the time we were standing there."
"That guy, Collingwood, Abs. As soon as I saw him, the alarm bells went off in my head. I thought danger…I felt fury… helplessness… all directed at him. Not me. The visitor. I mean, I didn't like the guy for his leering at you. Hell, I didn't like him period, without the outside influence – but the feeling in my head, he... it... hated him!"
"I got that, Tony," Abby nodded in agreement. "I saw... bonhomie, self-interest, duplicity; probably great attributes for playing bridge – ooh, don't tell Ducky I said that – 'cause if he's like that he's really not the sort you'd expect Ducky to be friends with, 'cause Ducky's not like that at all... well, except for the bonhomie of course, but Ducky's is genuine. Perhaps he's just stuck with him for tonight. Your friend reacted to him – did you see the look he gave you? Course you did, you notice everything. It was as if he saw him in your eyes. Scary."
"Saw him?" He shook his head in protest. Abby couldn't hug him since they were still within sight of Adie, so she wrapped her right arm round his left like a python as they walked, and squeezed that instead. It worked; Tony subsided.
"Yeah, so, maybe he did. So… this visitor chose me as the happy recipient of his thoughts… and it has something to do with that guy – aaahh, listen to me, talking like all this is real! But if he doesn't give us something to go on, what does he expect us to do about it?" They waited, the goth studying her friend's face anxiously, but no random ideas obliged by hopping into his head.
Now it was Abby's turn to shudder, and Tony put his arm round her shoulders as they walked. They eased into laughing and joking, and he told her with a grin, "Hey…as long as Abs loves me, I can face the world, let alone the visitor."
"You believe he's there, then," she said with relief. "No more talk of going mad." He looked into her greeny-grey eyes, and smacked a kiss on her forehead. When they'd collected their favourite pizza, as they stepped back into the cold evening, he put his arm back again. With her height it wasn't easy for her to burrow under his shoulder, but she managed it.
Tony gave her the pizza to carry, to keep her warm, and put his cheek against her hair companionably, and they walked back towards the Yard in comfortable silence.
They were level with the Navy Yard Chapel when he surprised her by stopping suddenly in its shadow. She looked up at him, puzzled by the look on his face. It wasn't anything she'd ever seen on her friend's face before. What..?
Her eyes widened – he wanted to kiss her.
Out of the blue… or rather the dark night sky, here he was looking into her eyes; what was going on? She blinked… Tony…he was hot, and they found each other attractive, but... they'd always acknowledged it, and laughed about it, and never acted on it; it was in every way a Bad Thing. Yet now he was touching her hair, he hadn't said a word but his face was drawing nearer to hers, and her breath shortened; oh, she wanted to close the distance very much… hadn't she always wondered what kissing Tony would be like? But right now, one of them was going to have to say no – she took a reluctant breath –
He whirled swiftly away from her and punched the chapel wall hard, swearing long and violently under his breath as the shock of pain ran up his arm like electric current..
"Tony…" She went to him and put her hand on his shoulder as he leaned his forehead against the Victorian brickwork.
"I'm… sorry, Abs… I'm so sorry…" His voice was thick and hoarse. "It… Look, it was him. The thought just… He wanted to… try it on with you… he's a frat boy all right, the bastard. I'd never hurt you, Abs."
"I know, Tony. Rule twelve…"
He turned back to her, and held her shoulder gently with his left hand; his right hung at his side and dripped blood from the knuckles. "Nuts rule twelve, Abby," he said forcefully. "Rule twelve exists for Gibbs' sake. Because he got bitten. If I saw a good reason for it I'd break it without hesitation."
"So…" she said, trying to be light, "I'm not a good reason?"
"The best, Abs," he said shakily. "The very best. But you mean far too much to me… to go treating you like you're just any available pretty girl. Like a frat-boy would." He sighed. "Sheeeesh, Abs – it's horrific having to look back at my younger self like this… I mean, what an ass… I'm sorry…"
She took his hand and peered at the skinned and bleeding joints in the failing light. "Oh, Tony…" Her big, luminous eyes lifted to his face, full of sympathy and pain. "Distraction by pain... you are crazy, DiNozzo! Let's get back to my lab and fix this… and fill you with pizza and make you feel better. Did you feel anything from him when you said no?"
He defiantly put his arm back round her. "Oh, yeah. Guilt… backing off… whatever he wants with our bumptious Dr. Collingwood, he needs me to do it. He chose me to do it. If there'd been words, it was like, hey, man… no offence, just kidding around… if thoughts could wear a silly grin..." He gulped. "He's me all over again, Abs."
"He, whoever he is, is an irresponsible student type. Youare a federal agent who risks his life every day for the sake of others. So he needed your help; he knew you'd meet the man, and that you were the sort who would help. I don't want to hear any more rubbish just because you're upset."
Another gulp. "'Kay…"
Tony shoved his hand down into his pocket to conceal it as they stopped to give Adie a wedge of pizza, and headed back down to the sanctuary of the lab.
AN: I try to restrain myself from grovelling, but this isn't my usual thing, so I would like some feedback. Please?