Disclaimer: I sold my soul to buy NCIS. Turns out, my soul wasn't worth nearly enough D:

Spoilers: 10x24 "Damned If You Do."

Time Setting: A month or so after everything blows-over-but-not.

Notes: This is a look into my interpretation of Abby's psyche. I've always felt that her expression of feelings is more of a choice than an impulse, in the sense that she can act 'proper' if she wants to but would prefer not to; and this fic, a conversation between Tony and an OC about our favourite scientist, is pretty much the only way I know how to highlight that. I'm not usually an Abby-writer, so I do beg forgiveness if you think I've misrepresented her in any way. This fic is not so much 'Abby' as 'Abby-centric', obviously. It also has the slightest (and by 'slightest,' I mean, like, a line) dash of Tony/Ziva, because. But I tried my best to do justice to Abby, so I hope you enjoy it!

-Soph


Act

"She looks happier with all of you here."

The observation, coming from Tony's right, had him startling and swivelling around to meet the wizened face of his favourite bartender.

"Who?" Tony asked. "Ziva?"

"No," Pete answered, though the twinkle in the old man's eyes suggested that he knew very well the path which Tony's thoughts often followed. "Abigail Sciuto."

"Abby?" Tony contemplated that. "Well, I mean, we did work together for years—"

"You did, but then all of you left, and she's been torn up about it ever since."

"She has?" Tony raised his eyebrows. "She hasn't mentioned anything about that to us."

"And how would she mention it?"

"She's Abby. She'd find a way." It was self-explanatory, really.

"Would she?"

Before the rhetorical question had even left Pete's mouth, Tony was already wondering. He no longer knew Abby as well as he used to, as much as he—and she—liked to pretend otherwise. It was all the result of the very natural progression of Time and Introduction of changes, new people, altered dynamics; still, Tony regretted not being able to say with any certainty how Abby felt about anything.

"How do you know, then?" he blurted out. "That she's been torn up?"

Pete took the good-humoured challenge in stride. "She told me."

This time, Tony was genuinely surprised. "Abby told you? So, she's been here? Without us?"

The blue eyes twinkled again. (It was completely alarming how much Pete was like a happy Gibbs with a little more beard and a lot less Marine, if Tony were to be honest with himself.)

"She does have friends outside of work, y'know," Pete said.

Tony felt a little hurt over that. "It's just that … this is our bar. Like, the team bar. Where we used to go for celebrations and after difficult cases," he explained somewhat plaintively.

"Oh, I know. She's never been here with somebody else." At what must undoubtedly have been confusion etched into Tony's face, Pete continued, "She has been here to see me, though."

"Oh," Tony supplied awkwardly.

Pete grinned. "Is that so unbelievable?"

"Well, I don't know—people don't usually visit bartenders…. But then, she is Abby."

"She is that," Pete agreed. "I think she fancies me a lonely old man who could use a friend."

"That doesn't sound like you."

"That doesn't, but I'm not going to complain about the offer of friendship." Pete's gaze returned to the table where the former Team Gibbs was seated, Abby and Ziva laughing and teasing a clearly embarrassed McProbieNoMore. "Anyway, I was saying … she's happier with you here. Think it's because she knows where you are and how you're all doing."

"What's it to you?" Tony questioned abruptly. Pete was a nice guy, but the bartender's unexpected insight into the way his group functioned was starting to unnerve him.

"It's nothing to me," Pete answered simply. "I'm sharing something I think you and Timothy and the ever-lovely Ziva have missed."

For a moment, Tony was tempted to reply snappishly, but he bit his tongue. And then he sighed. "I don't think we ever thought about how quitting would affect her."

Pete nodded. "Understandable. This had nothing to do with her, from the technical point of view. She isn't a direct part of your team."

"Right," Tony confirmed. "And we would have given up our jobs for her, too, but I guess it's different. Giving up your job as an active field agent and giving up your job as a lab tech—it's just different."

"How so?"

"Well, lots of teams need Abby. Lots of teams don't need us—we were just making a stand that we didn't like how things were going. That, and we were finally taking responsibility for the crap we'd gotten involved in over the years, and Abby's never gotten into any trouble."

"Hmm," Pete replied noncommittally. "I think Abigail simply sees it as a further breakdown of her very own Team Gibbs, though."

The Italian-American sighed again. "There's nothing we can do about that."

"She's been looking for jobs for all of you, y'know."

"What?" Tony stared after the greying bartender, who had ambled away to tend to an impatient customer. Upon Pete's return, Tony asked, "Why?"

Pete shrugged. "Taking care of her own. She'd feel better knowing you weren't about to be turned out onto the streets after failing to pay rent for two consecutive months or something."

"We haven't—" Tony spluttered. "For God's sake, we have savings!"

"So you do, but Abby worries. She comes in here every other night wringing her hands and wondering whether you not calling means your phone line's been cut off."

"Oh," Tony said guiltily, cringing. "I guess that means Ziva and McGee haven't been calling her either."

"Not as much as she'd like, I suppose."

"But she could always come find us if it bothers her that much."

"She could, but that would mean she'd end up annoying you." Pete ignored Tony's blatant scowl. "Let's face it, Anthony: You can only handle Abby in small doses. Everybody can only handle Abby in small doses, because she wears her heart on her sleeve and no one likes seeing Emotion in all its uninhibited reality. So, she ends up not wearing her heart on her sleeve, but nobody notices because you simply expect her to act as she is feeling. And she acts happy."

"So, we think she's happy," Tony concluded.

"Yeah."

He flashed back to the time when they'd told Abby they quit. You're all crazy, she had told them, and he remembered that they hadn't appreciated the melodrama and the ensuing lecture about how they'd no longer be able to support themselves and how they'd no longer be able to save Gibbs because they couldn't support themselves and how she'd have to take care of them all from that moment onwards. How am I supposed to take care of four people plus myself? she'd asked, and they had told her that it had nothing to do with her.

Not in those words, exactly, but it'd ended with her sending them out of her lab and not speaking to them for two days.

When she'd called them individually and apologized for the 'major freak-out,' he'd thought she understood and forgave them. In retrospect, he now realized that understanding did not equal acceptance, and that acceptance did not equal a worry-free life.

Abby gave her love freely, but the consequence was that there was a lot of running around in her loved ones' wake picking up the pieces involved.

"She doesn't regret holding back her feelings from you all," Pete said casually, interrupting Tony's self-berating. "She doesn't mind that she can't talk to you about how worried she is; she just tells me instead."

"If that's the case, you're telling me, why, again?" Tony asked wearily. This never-ending conversation just seemed to be going in circles.

But then Pete leant forwards on his counter, the glasses he'd been wiping down pushed aside and forgotten in light of his earnestness. "Not a lot of people visit this humble lil' bar just to talk to good ol' Pete, to be honest," he said. "Abby's different, and I like to think that kindness begets kindness. I can't do a lot for her, but I can do her justice by representing her to a mutual friend the way I see her. What the friend takes from it, I can't control. But I get to walk away from this knowing that I tried my best to give her a little more peace in her tumultuous life."

"Huh." Tony stared, chastised, at the countertop, tracing the wood's familiar pattern with his gaze as he mulled over the bartender's words.

When he looked up again, Pete was already at the far end of the bar.

Blowing a breath through his lips, Tony slipped off his stool and sauntered back towards to the table where his friends were.

He had a plan.

"Hey," Ziva greeted him as he sat down beside her. "You were taking forever. What were you and Pete talking about, anyway? And where are our drinks?"

Tony frowned; it only just hit him that he'd gone up to the bar to order—but returned without having said a single word about drinks. "Uh, in a moment," he answered distractedly. "First, I have a proposition: Movie Nights, every Tuesday and Thursday. Refreshments provided by Yours Truly. We'll rotate who chooses the movie."

If anybody found the suddenness of the proposition odd, they didn't bring it up. Missing the camaraderie they had once had and the time they had once spent together, all were only too quick to agree to the suggestion.

Abby did narrow her eyes at Tony suspiciously, though.

Eventually, the goth snorted. "Subtle, DiNozzo. But I will supply the drinks, since I'm the only one with a pay check right now."

He beamed. "Deal."

And when Abby extended her hand with a flourish, demanding that they shook on it—he rejected the idea of spitting before shaking—Tony decided that a little melodrama in life did make things a lot more interesting.