She’d been thinking about it long before she picked up the phone. It had been in the back of Abby’s mind since the computer had been rendered toxic ash, but at the same time Abby respected the Winchesters’ need to be off the federal radar. That’s why when she did make the call it wasn’t from work; it wasn’t even from her cell phone. It was from a bus stop phone booth. The fact that it was after two am and she was a block outside of a Not-Quite-Rave-But-Close-Enough and had seen a few too many Goths necking with their teeth also had a lot to do with it.
It wasn’t really the Goth thing. Abby was totally down with that. It was more the two-weeks-ago-we-destroyed-a-haunted-computer feeling of surreality that had struck her at odd moments and had her wondering if ghosts were real, what else was? Abby had always been open-minded, but she was also a scientist, and right now it was a little harder for her to reconcile the two.
That guy had had really big teeth.
The phone was not in the best shape, but it worked. Abby dug into her purse to pull out that woman’s number who had first put her into contact with the Winchesters. It took a few rings before it was answered, but she sounded awake at least.
“Yes, hi,” said Abby. “I don’t know if you remember me but I called about a haunted computer a few weeks ago?”
“Yeah,” the woman said cautiously. “You get it taken care of?”
“Yes. Yeah, the guys helped us out,” Abby hastened to reassure her. “Actually that’s why I’m calling. You don’t happen to have their new phone number do you?”
“New number?” the woman sounded surprised and nerves and guilt made Abby rush ahead.
“Yeah. I tried calling them again but it was disconnected and I really need to talk to them.”
There was a long silence on the other end. “What about?”
The words stuck in her throat, too stupid to utter now that she had to. Abby shook her head, the tips of her pigtails brushing her shoulders. “Never mind,” she said. “It’s not a big deal. Look, thanks anyway.” Speaking with this woman, Abby had never felt more like a . . . a poser than she had since she first put on black lipstick in the fifth grade.
“Where can I reach you?” the woman surprised her by saying before the phone was an inch away from her ear.
“You got a phone number?” the woman asked with a touch of exasperation.
“Yeah,” Abby gave her her cell number, and a minute later, after she’d hung up, was cursing herself for not just asking the woman about vampires. Then she swore again as the chill of the night hit her all of a sudden. The area was bright with lights and the music blared out of the club where the party was still going strong, but Abby couldn’t shake the feeling of someone watching her, waiting to sink teeth into her neck. For once her morbid curiosity of what that would feel like was not buffered by the comfort of rationality. Shaking away the shivers, Abby hurried to her car and home to the safety of her own coffin.
The call, when it comes, woke Abby up at one in the morning and it took a moment for her to register the sound of her phone vibrating on the night stand.
“Wha-?” She was much closer to asleep than awake when she answered.
“Who is this?”
The name jolted her awake and she sat up abruptly. “It’s the middle of the night!”
“Sorry. I had to wait till Dean was out.”
“So what’s up?”
Abby blinked hard, wanting to press about his brother but she could guess why Sam waited for him to leave. Even knowing that he was probably innocent of most of what the FBI accused him of, he hadn’t struck Abby as very nice.
“I am,” she said blinking her eyes again as she wiggles back so she could lean against the head end of her coffin. “And you are,” she added. “Obviously.”
“Why did you want to get in touch with us?” Sam sighed, reminding Abby that it was still late in whatever time zone he was calling from.
“Oh, right,” she said, feeling more stupid now than she had when tracking down his number again. “It’s nothing really. Nothing bad, I mean, no computers or ghosts or fanged ponies stalking me or anything.” He waited quietly for her to talk herself out. “Just . . . I was wondering about vampires.”
There was a pause before Sam spoke. “They’re real,” he said quietly. “Most of them have been hunted down, they’re practically an endangered species, and the ones that survive try not to draw attention to themselves by killing people, but they’re around.”
“Oh.” Abby didn’t think she was surprised except that she was.
“Nothing. I was at a rave, except it wasn’t really a rave because the laser system broke down so there were no lights, and anyway, it ended up being lamer than a one legged man, and there were some seriously creepy people there. And I don’t use the word creepy lightly.”
“Was anyone hurt?”
“No. But after the computer attacked Tony and rewrote its own code – which was not creepy so much as spooky and beyond frustrating, like when your friends come in the middle of the night and put all your furniture on the roof, that ever happen to you?
“No,” said Sam with a smile in his voice.
“It sucks. But I got kind of freaked out by all the Goth necking that was going on.”
“So you tracked us down again.”
“Sorry? Look I’m not going to turn you in or anything. Your innocent and the FBI forensics people should be fired. And the agent on your case because he’s an idiot. You would be so much better off if you were being chased by NCIS.”
“I’d much rather we weren’t being chased by anybody.”
“But then you’d have Gibbs after you and he’s on your side. No, really,” she added when Sam started to laugh. It was a tired laugh but heartfelt, and Abby smiled at hearing it. Their one meeting hadn’t given her the impression that he got a chance to laugh that often.
“At least somebody’s on our side,” he said after a minute.
“The best somebody,” said Abby. A companionable silence trailed out between them. Abby could still hear Sam breathing on the other end, a lifeline though she wasn’t sure which of them was reassuring the other.
Finally, Sam cleared his throat. “Was that all you needed?”
“Yeah,” said Abby. “Thanks.”
“Yeah.” He lingered on the line for a minute or two longer, and Abby didn’t want to hang up first so she waited. “Good night,” he said.
When he ended the call, Abby put her phone down but she didn’t go back to sleep immediately. She wondered if he would throw his phone out now.
A few days later, Abby decided to give in and test her hypothesis by calling Sam back to see if he picked up.
“Sam!” She grinned, delighted.
“You didn’t throw out your phone!”
“Should I have?” Sam asked guardedly, less delighted than Abby that she had called.
“No. I just wasn’t expecting it.”
“Ok.” He sounded like Tim did when he was having trouble keeping up with Abby.
“How are you?” She hadn’t asked last time and felt like she’d failed her mother for not remembering the basic courtesies. Sam was once again taken aback by the question and Abby just wished he would get over it already.
“Uh . . . fine, I guess.”
“Yeah? Um. How are you?”
“Very glad you didn’t throw away your phone.”
“It is! See now we can talk.”
“Right. So, uh, was there anything you needed?”
“No,” said Abby. “Just calling to see if you’d pick up. I can come up with something if you want. Like, are werewolves real? Elves – ooh, leprechauns! Are they real? Like tiny little gnomes out to steal your gold and nip your heels. I bet they tie your shoelaces together, too.”
That got a laugh out of Sam. “I’ve got to go, Abby.”
“Oh.” Abby rocked back on her heels. “Okay. But don’t throw your phone away. I won’t trace it, I promise. Or even tell anyone else. Except maybe Gibbs because he tends to find out everything anyway, but he’s not out to get you so it’s okay. Okay?”
“I’ve got to go,” Sam repeated, not committing one way or the other.
“Okay.” Abby wasn’t that disappointed. He’d answered after all and that was something so he must trust her at least a little.
“Bye.” It was another moment before the call ended, like Sam was waiting on her. Abby held her cell in both hands, with a conspiratal grin on her face. “Our secret, okay?” she told her phone. Her phone was in agreement.
The next time Abby called Sam, she had a legitimate question.
“In the heart.”
“Not really. In human form they don’t know they’re out every full moon killing people.”
It sounded horrible, and Abby wished she could see Sam. He sounded like he might need a hug and that bothered her because she couldn’t give him one over the phone. Instead with no other choice, she simply forged on.
“What about leprechauns?”
It became a kind of game and Abby went through all the fairy tales and monster stories she knew. Which was a lot. By the time she had to resort to the internet, Sam was no longer thrown off by her calls. He started talking more too, and their conversations began to fall into a pattern. Abby would quiz Sam and try to stump him. Sam would editorialize and distill fact from fiction. How ichors were different from humors and how sometimes neither one of them was blood. Then, fascinated, Abby would ask more questions than Sam knew how to answer and end up explaining PCRs and Major Mass Spec and how TLC went a long way toward a maintaining equipment but she drew the line at ritual sacrifice no matter how tempted.
He never talked about what he was hunting, never talked about his brother, never said where they were. Sometimes Sam didn’t pick up, sometimes she heard Dean in the background and Sam would tell her to call back later. He never called her.
Abby didn’t talk about cases or the team and only called from home. Each time after she pressed send there was a moment when she wondered if this was the moment she got the robot woman telling her that his phone was out of service.
Then one day, two months in, it did.
It wasn’t until Gibbs didn’t leave her lab that Abby realized she hadn’t stopped thinking about it. She was hot and her music was giving her a headache so she had shut it off, glancing at her cell that kept its promise and its secrets on the center of her desk.
“What?” she asked Gibbs when he just raised an eyebrow. “What, what? Bullet, shell casing, murder weapon. The end.”
Gibbs just kept up the Stare of Doom, and Abby had promised, but this was Gibbs, and she had made an exception for him so it didn’t count as breaking it, did it? “I’m worried about a friend,” she said finally. “Not a boyfriend. Just a regular friend who’s phone is out of service and I have no idea if he’s all right or got sucked into the sewers and eaten by a monstrous alligator. That can happen, you know.”
Gibbs took a hold of the finger she stabbed in his chest, squeezing it and letting it go. “You think he’s in danger?”
“No. Yes. Maybe?” Abby didn’t know; that was the whole problem. “He deals with dangerous things, Gibbs. Anything could happen.”
“What does he do?”
Now she’d put her foot in it. So much for anonymity, and by the way Gibbs’s head did the Tilt of Doom, he was picking up on her twining fingers and Squinch Face of Guilt. “Dangerous things,” Abby repeated. “With . . . animals and . . .” she closed her eyes tight, “haunted computers.”
“Gibbs, I swear, he’s a really nice guy and it’s just him and his brother and I don’t think he really has any friends – it’s kind of sad actually, and I don’t even know how much of a friend I am because all we do is talk about monsters, and some forensics, but mostly monsters, and what kind of friendship is that?”
“Abs,” Gibbs’s hands settled on her shoulders, stopping the flow of words that felt like pure worry.
“I only have his phone number,” she said. “That’s it. I’m the one that calls him.”
Gibbs sighed, thumbs stroking her shoulders. “There’s not much we can do except wait,” he said.
Abby didn’t say that she was afraid she’d be waiting forever, but she had a feeling Gibbs knew what she was thinking. “I hate waiting.”
“I know.” Gibbs pulled her into a hug. Abby hung on, grateful he was there, and prayed Sam was okay. And his brother too.
“They didn’t do any of it. They’re just trying to help people.”
“I know,” said Gibbs. “I know.”
One day turned into two. Two into a week, and then three weeks had gone by. November had faded into December. In NCIS-time that translated into five cases, nineteen hours of overtime, and four days off. Abby tried the woman again but got nothing but a stone wall masking a worry of her own. Abby didn’t have time to worry about Sam, but she managed to fit it in anyway. After the first week she stopped staring at her phone every night. Gibbs was right, there wasn’t anything she could do but wait, so Abby went back to work and life returned to its normal over caffeinated state.
When her cell rang Thursday night, Abby answered expecting to hear Sister Gabriel returning her call after she’d had to bail on bowling.
“Abby?” It wasn’t Sister Gabriel.
“Sam!” Abby didn’t know whether to be shocked or surprised, but in either case she was very glad to hear his voice. “You’re alive! What happened? Are you okay? I was so worried.”
“We’re fine.” He sounded tired but unworried. “I had to destroy our phones,” Sam said. “GPS.”
“The FBI?” Abby asked. “You’re not calling from prison, are you?”
“No, we’re not in prison. It was someone else. We had to ditch the phones and scramble our IDs, and it takes a little while to get set up again.”
“Who was after you?” Abby bit her lip, realizing only after the words were gone that she’d crossed a line that both of them had been careful to keep their toes behind.
“Just . . . some guy that wanted me dead.” Sam sighed. The resignation and weariness released in that breath were palpable.
“Close your eyes,” she said.
“I’m going to send you a hug but you have to close your eyes to get it,” said Abby, wishing she were there to give it in person, because dammit, no one should sound like that, like it was normal to be hunted. “Are your eyes closed?”
“Yeah, they’re closed”. Sam thought she was ridiculous, she could tell, but right now she didn’t particularly care.
Abby switched to speaker, wrapped her arms around herself, and closed her own eyes, concentrating. “I’m sending it now,” she said. She really, really hoped he did. Not everyone could receive long-distance hugs, but she hoped Sam was one of them.
After a long silence, Sam said, “Thanks.” It was practically a whisper.
Abby let go and picked up her phone and Girtie the Giraffe, tucking her close. “You’re welcome.”
Sam was quiet and she heard him clear his throat a few times. Abby stayed silent. They were so far outside of their box, they were on a tightrope, and Abby didn’t think she could bear it if she slipped up. Sam had called her. With his new phone number when he could have as easily let her fall by the wayside.
“Do you think you could just . . . talk?”
“Anything. I don’t know. Something with a happy ending.”
“Yeah,” said Abby, brain already chasing after a suitable distraction for him, anything to give him a break from a life that wouldn’t cut him one. “You wanna hear about the first mystery I ever solved? Well, it wasn’t exactly a mystery except for the answer being mysterious to me, but it was odd. There was this old junkyard behind my house full of totaled cars and I was always trying to figure out what happened, but there was this one car, a 1983 Cadillac Cimarron that just didn’t make sense . . .”
Abby talked for an hour, pausing a few times to make sure Sam hadn’t fallen asleep. “I’m here,” he said each time, clear and wide awake.
After that things went back to normal. Abby called every week or two and asked about the Apkallu and surtrs, and Sam would balk and tell her what lies the internet spread. Every once in a while conversation would branch out to crazy things in the news that were true and not supernatural and from there merge into the world at large, poverty in Africa, and how fast Abby could wire a house. It wasn’t just Abby being weird and Sam putting up with her any longer. Somewhere along the way they’d become friends.