Title: Word Salad
Rating: PG-13, T
Category: Angst, Hurt/Comfort
Summary: Sometimes it wasn't what you said, but what you didn't or couldn't say that really mattered. DiNozzo has a 'chat' with Abby. Sequel to The Onion.
Spoilers: References to Boxed In.
Disclaimer: NCIS characters belong to Bellisario, CBS and Paramount. No copyright infringement intended.
Chapter 1 - Noise
They strolled, her arm chain-locking his snugly, securely, tightly. She wasn’t going to let him go... not now... not now he’d come back. Two ‘missings’ in as many days were more than enough for her. She allowed the briefest of smiles to breach her face and let her head rest softly against his shoulder.
“Tony,” she whispered.
“Don’t do that again.”
The voice was low; the tone was half pleading, half threatening. He was expecting an ‘or else’ but it never came.
He stopped walking. Do what? he thought. Get myself locked in a shipping container with only a Mossad assassin for company? Overreact when said assassin didn’t invite me to dinner? Get myself in trouble by walking out when I couldn’t deal? Falling asleep instead of calling Gibbs? Not texting her back the night before? There were too many ‘thats’.
He turned to face her, his arm slowly unlocking, untwining from around hers and taking hold of both her hands, he looked apologetically at Abby and replied simply, “I’m sorry Abby, for all of it, for all of that.”
Abby smiled, her pigtails swaying in the evening breeze.
“Oh, I know you’re sorry Tony,” she stated matter of fact, “I just told you not to do it again.”
Tony smiled nervously, relinquishing his hold on Abby. She was right. She hadn’t demanded an apology nor had she expected an apology. But he still felt he needed to apologise. He always felt he needed to apologise to Abby.
Four words imprinted themselves in his mind.
He still couldn’t believe those four words. He couldn’t allow himself to believe.
“I was really worried about you Tony. You’d been missing all day yesterday. I could only get a general fix on your cell. We weren’t sure we’d find you. And then when we found you you went missing all over again... and I texted you... and you didn’t reply until this morning and... Tony...”
He could see the tears beginning to form in her eyes. How could he not be a bad person? He’d reduced Abby to tears. “I was really worried about you Tony.” Her words hung in his head. She had been worried about him. No one was ever really worried about him. Fighting back the feelings of self hatred swirling around his head, he stepped closer, put his arms securely around her and hugged for all he was worth.
Abby felt the difference immediately. This hug was needy... clingy. Abby wasn’t quite sure whether Tony was hugging her because she was crying or because she had just told him she had been worried about him. It was almost as if the hug was meant to reassure him not her.
“I’m okay now Tony... thanks.” She brushed the tears from her face with the back of her hand and released herself from his embrace. “You?” she tentatively asked.
He took a metaphorical step back.
He didn’t know how to answer that one.
It was a simple question. Not so simple answer. He was emotionally drained, the events of the past two days having thrust him to the heights of adrenalin overload and then cruelly pulling him down low into the depths of self-loathing. At this actual moment, he didn’t feel anything. He didn’t feel okay. He didn’t feel not okay. He just didn’t feel.
He had been running in ‘safe mode’ ever since Gibbs had... well ever since his boss had made him repeat those words... just four little words.
Not a bad person.
The words repeated themselves over and over in his mind. The last three he had no trouble with, but that first one... that first one was so hard to say, so hard to think, so hard to believe. He had tried to believe but...
“Come on,” Abby interrupted the awkward silence, sensing the internal struggle deep in Tony’s head. Gesturing for him to follow, she threw Tony a wink, “Let’s get a move on. I’m cold and you’re buying.”
The interruption brought a welcome relief from his thoughts. He braved a smile at Abby’s playful wink and briefly considered whether he had enough cash to last the night. Never could be sure when on a night out with Abby.
“You can spill all later, Tony,” she threatened mockingly, heading in the direction of the bar.
A combined wave of fear and horror gripped his stomach. He couldn’t spill... not everything... not anything. He started to feel again and a strange, unfamiliar urge to unburden himself of ‘those memories’ washed over him before fear and uncertainty rooted him firmly where he stood.
“Hey, DiNozzo! I’m thirsty, real thirsty,” Abby half shouted over her shoulder.
Now he really was worried. Jogging to catch up with her he kept his eyes firmly straight ahead and replied dead pan, “You know I don’t get paid ‘till Thursday... might need to hustle McGee for cash in the morning.”
Abby chuckled and, walking side by side with her trusted colleague and friend, she linked her arm with his once more. They walked on in silence, content with the sounds of the city, people, cars, sirens in the distance providing the background score.
Clump... Clump... Clump... Clump
What was that? Abby thought. It sounded familiar. The deafening sounds were equally spaced, a slight variation in tone between the first and second but hardly any between the first and third.
Clump... Clump... Clump... Clump
There it was again. Equal spacing. First and third sounds... maybe a 95% match, second and fourth probably a 98% match. As they waited at the crossing for the lights to change, Abby was convinced she’d heard the familiar sounds somewhere else, but she just couldn’t quite place them. She was puzzled but she’d figure it out. “You always do.” Gibbs’s words rang aloft in her mind.
As they stepped off the sidewalk to cross the street Abby glanced down, checking her footing. The clump, clump, clump, clump noise was back... and it matched her left and right platforms perfectly. Abigail Sciuto she started to mentally chide herself, you... and then stopped.
She frowned. It wasn’t right. The noise was different. It wasn’t the same. She knew what her boots sounded like. She knew what they sounded like in her lab. She knew what they sounded like on the carpet in the squad room. She knew what they sounded like in the elevator. She knew what they sounded like on the wooden floor of her apartment building. She knew what they were supposed to sound like on the concrete of the sidewalk. But somehow they had made a different sound. Why were they making a different sound? Had something changed?
She looked at Tony. Something had changed.
His noise had changed.