Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo walked into the squad room after a long afternoon of gathering evidence in the latest case in Rock Creek Park.
“DiNozzo! Take that stuff down to Abby!”
“Oh, OK,” said Tony. He began to walk towards the elevator but then stopped and turned towards Gibbs, “You know, Boss, Abby really misses you when you’re out of the office. She’d like it if you took this down to her.” Tony smiled hopefully.
“I told you to do it,” said Gibbs.
“I know, Boss. I heard you. DiNozzos are known for their good hearing.”
“Just not so good for taking notice of what they hear,” commented Gibbs drily.
“Boss?” said Tony innocently.
“I told you to take the evidence down to Abby.”
“And I heard you,” Tony assured him earnestly, “But I was just thinking how it would make Abby’s day if you took it down. You know, her face would smile that happy smile … and she might give you a hug …” Tony’s voice trailed off wistfully.
Gibbs stared at Tony: it wasn’t an unsympathetic stare, but he wasn’t moved, “Take the evidence down to the lab, Tony,” he ordered.
“And fix this thing with Abby! It’s crazy that you’re scared to go down there.”
“I’m not scared,” protested Tony, “It’s just …”
“Fix it,” said Gibbs.
“Use some of that DiNozzo charm you’re always going on about,” said Gibbs.
This suggestion seemed momentarily to cheer Tony and he hefted the evidence box more firmly and strode towards the elevator. Once he was inside, however, and his finger hovered over the button which would take him down to Abby’s lab, his resolve faltered once more.
Gibbs was omniscient and spotted the hesitation. He marched over to the elevator and put a foot inside. Tony brightened at the thought that Gibbs was going to accompany with him, but hope faded as Gibbs simply jabbed the appropriate button and retreated back to the squad room. “Now!” he barked as a farewell.
The elevator doors closed on Tony’s forlorn expression: Gibbs wondered if he would ever see his new agent again.
Tony DiNozzo had been working permanently at the Navy Yard for nearly a month and, on the whole, it had gone well. He had suspected (rightly as it turned out) that Gibbs would be a hard taskmaster, but he welcomed such a wholehearted approach to their important work. Ducky and Gerald had turned out to be congenial co-workers and, on the occasions when Tony found that Gibbs’ Gibbsness had palled, he had found Autopsy to be an unexpected source of comfort and reassurance. The baggie bunnies in Evidence were proving to be immune to his brand of charm but he was optimistic that they would succumb. No, all in all, the move to the Federal world had gone smoothly – apart from Abby Scuito.
Tony was puzzled. Abby’s reputation in the Navy Yard was one of eccentricity, brilliance and friendliness so Tony had gone down blithely to introduce himself to the forensic scientist and found that gossip about her brilliance and eccentricity had been mostly accurate – unfortunately it seemed to have gone astray where her friendliness had been concerned.
Abby had initially smiled benignly but when she learned Tony’s identity the smile had faded and been replaced by a look of cool hostility and Tony had found himself backing out of the lab hastily as he decided to wait for Gibbs to introduce him.
The next visit to the lab, in Gibbs’ company, had seen Abby hug Gibbs enthusiastically, accept a kiss on the cheek from him along with a giant CafPow and then give Tony the cold shoulder. Tony was used to people not liking him but usually it was a result of closer acquaintance rather than an instant dislike.
The pattern had continued. Hugs, warmth and smiles for Gibbs and blank stares for Tony. She would speak to Gibbs and ignore Tony. Tony had tried to get her to warm up to him – or even acknowledge his existence – but all his efforts were fruitless. He had exercised his considerable charm but the atmosphere dropped to freezing from merely cool. He had brought her CafPows which were ignored. He found a vintage set of Tarot cards but these were left on her work bench. He tried being funny; he tried being strictly professional, but nothing worked. Tony prided himself on his resilience – three police forces and numerous boarding schools had toughened him up, but Abby proved to be his breaking point. He started avoiding going down to her lab unless it was with Gibbs, but Gibbs noticed and, finally, told him to sort it.
So, Tony strode resolutely towards the Scuito sanctum and braced himself. Given the opportunity he would have left the evidence and scarpered, but the threat of Gibbs was more powerful than the threat of Scuito, so he went forward to his potential doom.
“Abby!” he called. Unsurprisingly there was no reply. Tony had impressive lungs and could make a good noise, but his cry was drowned by the latest sound blasting from Abby’s music. Tony considered how dangerous it would be to lower the music and then shuddered at the potential fallout from such a hazardous act. He took breath and shouted even more loudly: it was unfortunate that, at that moment, there was a pause in the music so that, in the sudden silence, the DiNozzo voice bellowed at Abby who emerged from her inner office with a scowl on her face.
Tony squirmed and checked to see if his exit was clear.
“What?” demanded Abby.
Tony hoped it was a good sign that she had actually spoken to him but suspected that silence might be better.
“I brought the evidence down,” said Tony humbly. He had a good idea, “Gibbs told me to.”
Abby glared at him, “Put it down there!” she ordered.
Tony did as directed and cast his eyes around the lab trying desperately to think of a conversation starter but somehow voodoo dolls and enlargements of crime scene photos didn’t kick anything off for him.
“Well?” demanded Abby.
“Well …” began Tony.
“Are you mocking me?” asked Abby threateningly. Tony wasn’t sure exactly which scientific instrument she was holding in her hand, but he hoped he wasn’t going to make contact with it.
“What?” he asked in a bewildered voice.
“Repeating what I say.”
“Oh, I didn’t. Well, I guess I did but that was just coincidence. And I know that the Boss has a rule about them, but they do happen … and they just did. I wouldn’t mock you, Abby … I mean Ms Scuito. I mean, who would? They’d have to be crazy … or have a death-wish or something.” Abby’s gaze softened slightly, and Tony summoned the courage to speak again, “Um, do you think you could put that down …” he pointed to her hand …” it’s making me nervous.”
Abby looked at her forceps and, realising that she had been waving it around and that, in theory, she abhorred violence put Felicity down gently on her workbench.
“Felicity wouldn’t have hurt you,” she said cryptically.
“Thank you,” said Tony, wondering who Felicity was.
Abby crossed her empty arms and resumed glaring duties. The implication was clear: it was time for Tony to go. Tony began to back out of the lab but then remembered Gibbs’ directive and that he was more scared of him than Abby. He turned back, swallowed and said,
“Why do you hate me?”
Tony thought for a moment that Abby wasn’t going to answer as the stare didn’t soften. He was wondering what to do if she didn’t reply but then she did speak,
“I don’t hate you,” she said as if the words had been forced out of her.
“Really?” said Tony sceptically, “’Cos you sure act as if you do.”
“I don’t hate you … I sort of hate the idea of you.”
“What? I mean, excuse me?”
“I guess you might be OK,” said Abby. “I mean, you’re good looking … and you’re tall. I like that you’re tall.”
Tony found himself relaxing.
“Although you do think you’re God’s gift to women which is kinda annoying … I mean, does that charm really work?”
Tony deflated, “Apparently not,” he said sadly.
“And Gibbs says you’re OK at the job … and I have to say that you haven’t screwed up the evidence. Yet,” she added darkly. “And your crime scene sketches are better than some people’s.”
“Thank you,” said Tony a little doubtfully.
“So, are we done?” asked Abby.
Tony thought about saying yes and retreating – this was, after all, the longest conversation he had had with Abby. In fact, it was the only conversation he had had with her and he supposed it was a step up that she acknowledged his existence. Somehow, however, he knew that this slight rapprochement was not what Gibbs had in mind when he ordered him to sort it.
“No,” he said bravely, “We’re not done. What do you mean, you hate the idea of me?”
Abby slumped on a stool and sighed,
“I have tattoos,” she announced.
Tony wondered what the correct response to this revelation was. Somehow, he thought that neither saying he’d have to be blind not to have noticed nor informing her that there was currently a book open on what her next tattoo would be tactful. He settled for a knowing nod and it seemed that Abby didn’t need a verbal response.
“It takes me a long time to choose them,” she continued.
Tony brightened as he thought he might be about to get an inside scoop on the subject of the next tattoo.
“I have sensitive skin,” she said.
Tony thought about retreating … it seemed that Abby was rambling, and he remembered that she had dangerous chemicals in her lab which could prove useful weapons should she decide that she hated him as well as the idea of him.
“And although Clive is gentle …”
Tony nodded sympathetically although he was completely bemused.
“When he tattoos me …”
“Ah, Clive is your tattooist …”
“Of course, … who did you think he was?”
Tony shook his head to try and communicate that he hadn’t had any idea.
“As I was saying, Clive is very gentle …”
“Good to know,” said Tony.
Abby lapsed into silence. Tony allowed the silence to continue for a few moments and then prompted, “You were saying?”
“When I get a tattoo, it hurts,” explained Abby.
Tony nodded again, once more resolved never to get a tattoo.
“But I get them because they’re important to me. They speak to me …”
Tony shifted position away from the chemicals. He wasn’t sure that speaking tattoos proved anything about Abby’s sanity.
“And they’re with me forever – and that’s why having a tattoo is a big decision. It’s life changing.”
“Oh,” said Tony inadequately. “Well, that’s great. Good to know. If I ever felt like having a tattoo – which I don’t, I really don’t – I’ll bear that in mind. Thank you.”
“And each time I get a new one, I tell myself it’s the last one.”
“Right … but I’m guessing that, so far, it hasn’t been the last one,” said Tony with a gesture towards her adornments.
“That’s right … and it’s the same with friends.”
“When I make friends with people, they’re friends for ever. They’re like tattoos, do you see? Pain and joy.”
“And I hate it when I lose them,” she said with a catch in her voice. “Friends, I mean – I haven’t lost a tattoo yet. Although I was thinking about losing the rat behind my knee … that one might have been a mistake. But then I think that it would be upset if it got removed … it’s hard, you know.”
“And I lost Stan.”
“The agent before you.”
“Oh … oh, I see. But Gibbs told me that Burley – I mean, Stan – asked for a transfer.”
“He did!” wailed Abby.
“So it wasn’t my fault that I’m here and he’s not.”
“I know!” said Abby with another wail.
“Is that why you’ve been mad with me? Because I’m not Stan?”
Abby nodded, “And I know it’s not fair … but I really miss him!”
“But if I wasn’t here, it wouldn’t mean Stan would be,” Tony pointed out reasonably, “I mean, he’s thousands of miles away in the Indian Ocean somewhere.”
It proved to be a mistake to remind Abby just how far away Stan was – she wailed even louder.
“But the USS Enterprise is due back at Norfolk in a few weeks. I’m sure you’ll see him then,” said Tony encouragingly.
“I know,” said Abby, “And we talk when we can … but it’s not the same.”
“I know,” said Tony. “And I miss some of the guys I worked with in Baltimore.”
“Sure. I know what it’s like to miss people.”
“Oh. That’s sad, I don’t like to think of people being sad,” said Abby.
“I’m sorry,” said Tony. “I mean, not sorry that I’m not Stan because I can’t do much about that but sorry that you’re sad because I’m not Stan.” Tony shook his head as he mentally replayed what he had just said.
“Thank you. And I’m sorry too – I mean, I’m sorry that you’re not Stan but I’m sorry that I’ve been mean to you.”
“I understand,” said Tony.
“And I guess,” said Abby hesitantly, “I guess I could try and be nicer to you …”
“That would be good,” said Tony.
“Oh, but doesn’t sound good …”
“You might have to dial back on the charm … ‘cos that doesn’t really do it for me.”
“OK. I could manage that.”
“Although you have got a nice smile … and pretty eyes and you are tall …”
“I can carry on being tall,” said Tony obligingly.
“But that’s the problem,” said Abby despairingly.
“Um, I can’t make myself shorter,” said Tony, “I guess I could try slouching a bit but I don’t think Gibbs would approve.”
“No, not you being tall – that’s not the problem. It’s just that I might …”
“I might start to like you.”
“And that’s a problem?”
“Like I said, you’d be like a tattoo – with me forever. And I’m not ready for that. You understand, don’t you? Pain and joy.”
“I guess,” said Tony. “Hey, why don’t you decide just not to hate me – that’s a start.”
“It would make Gibbs happy,” said Tony thinking of a clinching argument.
“It would?” Abby brightened at the thought of making her hero happy.
“Sure, he sent me down to … build bridges with you.”
“Yeah. He saw that I was … well … kinda reluctant to come down here.”
Silence fell once more as Abby absorbed what Tony had said. Finally, she held out her hand, “OK,” she announced, “I won’t hate you … but I won’t like you!”
Tony took the outstretched hand, “Deal! I can live with that.”
SOME TIME LATER
As Tony gradually regained consciousness, he was aware of the smells and sounds peculiar to hospitals but then he became aware of another, unfamiliar, sensation: his hand was being held.
Tony opened his eyes in surprise and saw Gibbs sitting by his bedside.
“What?” managed Tony as he tried to work out what was happening.
“You’ve been out for 5 hours … Carson knocked you downstairs when we were chasing him.”
“You got a concussion … but you fell on to a heap of garbage bags …”
“They broke your fall. You were lucky, no bones broken,” said Gibbs.
“Oh … that’s good,” said Tony. “What …?”
“I’ll go and tell your doctors that you’ve woken up,” said Gibbs.
Tony nodded and then realised that despite Gibbs having left the room, his hand was still being held. He managed to focus on his hand and then saw who was holding it,
“Abby!” he said softly.
“Oh, you’re awake,” she said as she opened her own eyes, “Oh, I meant to keep watch … but I must have fallen asleep. I’ve been so worried …”
“Yes, you were out for so long … but Gibbs said that he hadn’t given you permission to die, so you wouldn’t.”
“And I didn’t.”
“And Gibbs is never wrong,” mused Abby, “I mean, apart from choosing wives … and building boats in his basement and …”
“Abby, what are you doing here?” asked Tony breaking into her flow.
“I realised I missed you,” admitted Abby.
Abby nodded sadly, “I don’t think I hate you any more …”
“I mean, you can still be annoying …”
“But I might be beginning to see that the charm might work on some people … not me, you understand.”
“But I think I’ve got used to you. I might even be starting to like you. You’re not so bad after a while.”
Tony thought that might be the best compliment he had ever got, “Thanks, Abby. I guess I’ve got used to you as well.”
“In fact,” said Abby, “I think you’re like a piercing …”
Tony was tired and beginning to find it hard to concentrate, “What?” he mumbled.
“You know … a piercing. Takes a while for the throbbing to stop and the skin to grow back …”
Gibbs came back into the room to see Tony fast asleep with a smile on his face, “What’s up, Abby? What did you say to him?”
Abby beamed happily, “I told him he was like a piercing …”
Gibbs shook his head – somehow he felt he needed coffee.