Abby sat, crumpled on the ground, resting her back against the cold stone wall of the house as she listened to Townsend's low voice.
Bex and Macey were gathering firewood, while inside the house, Zach was comforting Cammie, who, honestly, was handling this better than Abby was. Although, Abby had to admit, Cammie had a lot of practice being at the center of a devastating emotional catastrophes. Abby? Well...
Abigail Cameron usually ran away from those.
As she felt the cold stones leech away her body heat, Abby was reminded of just how much she hated the Circle of Cavan. She knew there was a bit of a waiting list for the opportunity, but she would very much like to destroy the Circle. Just, end them. Rip every member apart with her bare hands or blow them up or maybe plant the evidence for a series of fake betrayals so she can sit back and watch as the Circle collapse from within.
Because it’s the Circle’s fault that Cammie had been tortured and traumatized and they probably tried to turn her to a sleeper agent, horrible life changing things that operatives twice her age have never endured. And, a small voice in the back of Abby's head (one that sounded a little like her mother and a lot like Rachel) reminded her that she had only been forced to discover the grave of Matthew Morgan once. Cammie had done it twice.
But it wasn't just Cammie. Oh, yes, Squirt was easily one of the most important people in Abby's life. The Cameron family tree has been trimmed back pretty far, so Cammie may be the closest thing she has to a child of her own because Abby's never been sure if she wants kids. But Abby loves Cammie so much and Rachel so much and she loved Matt so much, and Joe. There was a time in her life that Abby had Rachel and Matt and Joe and Cammie and she saw them fairly regularly and they were all alive and healthy and mostly whole, but the Circle tortured Cammie and killed Matt and made Rachel cry and put Joe in a coma, and the Circle's forced her into making some emotional revelations and, wow, Abby Cameron hated the Circle of Cavan.
Abby had set her coat on the ground to protect herself from the snow, but her clothes were already soaking wet from kneeling on the ground, clawing at the ground the covered what was left of one of the best men that Abby had ever known. She honestly couldn't have felt colder as she contemplated the vile Circle and all of its worthless, traitorous operatives –
Townsend cleared his throat. He had ended his phone call, and was looking down at her with such genuine warmth and concern that Abby, for the most fleeting of moments, wanted to strangle him with her bare hands. But that wouldn't be very nice.
"Langley's sending two agents stationed in Milan. They're coming with a helicopter, and they'll be landing just above the tree line. They'll be—" His voice caught, and he looked away from Abby, whose heart suddenly started to break for this man who actually cared despite every affectation saying otherwise. "Exhuming the remains, and then they'll be flying us back to Rome. Gallagher's expecting us within the next 16 hours, and I will be personally seeing that the—the remains will be safely delivered to Langley."
Abby nodded. That sounded like protocol, and the habit of protocol made the next few hours seem a little easier. Well, aside from the fact that someone was going to have to tell Rachel, and it sure as hell wasn't going to be Cammie because the Squirt didn't need to deal with that when there's a perfectly capable adult around to do it instead. So Abby was going to have to tell her sister that no, there’s no hope. Her husband, one of the kindest and funniest men that Abby had ever known, a man was too good of a person to work for the CIA, really, was dead, and had been buried alone in an unmarked grave on a deserted mountaintop somewhere in Austria with none of the honor or sanctity that Matthew Morgan deserved.
"Thank you for calling." She murmured, her voice low and strained.
"Of course, Abigail."
They each took a few deep breaths and stared at the snow.
A thought passed through Abby’s mind about what this house misn't have been before the Circle used it as a safe house. She hoped it was something good. Something decent. Maybe it was home for a nice old hermit.
"Abigail?" Townsend's voice, still low and warm, interrupted her thoughts of the eccentric and wise artist she had decided lived in the house before. "You'd be warmer inside."
Abby shook her head.
"No. I'll give Cam and Zach some more time."
It was a weak excuse, but he nodded anyway. He either didn’t realize that she was lying or was just feeling generous enough not to say otherwise.
For a few silent moments, Townsend stood there, lamely. He wasn't looking at her, but Abby could tell he was keeping her in his periphery. Despite her sudden rush of gratitude for the man, she didn't care to know what he was looking for.
And then he surprised her by sliding out of his own coat, and placing it on the ground next to hers. He sat down beside her, copying her posture. Abby refused to show any degree of surprise that he was acting like a normal human being around her.
"He's a good kid for, well... I don't want to sound dismissive, but—"
"Don’t worry. We all thought the same thing. Except for Joe—he's known him since he was a boy. He denied it, but I swear, he had some fun playing Yenta for those two."
"A good way for a highly-qualified government operative to spend his time." He muttered, shrugging.
Abby nearly snorted, but not even the emotional trauma of finding Matthew Morgan after five and a half years was enough to knock Abby off her guard enough to allow her to admit she thought Townsend was funny.
But aside from snorting, she really didn't know what else she could do, so she sat there, in silence. So did he, for a moment.
"Abigail?" She tried to ignore the way that her shoulders relaxed, that she exhaled just a little bit, at the sound of his voice. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Well, there really wasn't, part of her thought, because Matt was dead and gone and Cammie was traumatized and was behaving strangely, but if anyone had any idea what exactly was wrong with her they're keeping pretty damn quiet, and Rachel was losing weight getting wrinkles from stress and Joe was still in a coma. But then she took another breath and gave him the simple answer, "Annihilate the Circle of Cavan."
"I'm working on that. Anything else?"
"Yeah. If you catch Catherine Goode, I need you to promise on your mother’s life that you'll give me an hour alone with her before anyone kills her."
"Deal." He answers immediately.
Abby weakly nodded, and turned her face away from Townsend so he could not see the minute shifts in her expression or the light behind her eyes change. Should she—could she—
"Townsend," she blurted. Well. That decides that. "You how know this job is good at reminding you of your own mortality?"
She turned back to face him. His expression was weary, and Abby wasn't sure if she had ever seen him look so tired.
"Yes." He said. Or maybe he asked. There wasn't enough inflection in his voice for Abby to tell.
"Well, in case you couldn't have guessed, I'm having one of those moments."
Abby took a deep breath just as a little crinkle appeared between Townsend's brows. Before she could second guess her own impulse, she wrapped one hand around the back of his neck, her fingers brushing through his hair, leaned in, and kissed him.
It was, as far as Abigail Cameron's first kisses go, middling. They both had cold, chapped lips, and they were both entirely too subdued by the day's events to have some spare enthusiasm to invest in the kiss. But, well, Townsend responded, and he responded favorably, which is more than Abby could say for Joe (which, to be fair, that kiss was just a ploy to get Joe and Rachel to pull their individual heads out of their individual asses wit's regards to their feelings for each other) and his technique was better than at least half of the people Abby had kissed in her life. In fact, Townsend kissed the way that she had hoped he would kiss (although she would take the fact that she had considered kissing him at any point in her life before they actually kissed to her grave).
He wasn't as formal as part of her worried he would be. He was, however... purposeful? Deliberate? And not in a bad way.
Abby pulled away as the kiss slowed. She had a flickering thought that she really needed to ask Macey if she had any lip balm, because Abby always hated chapped lips more than anything. But then she noticed the look in Townsend's blue eyes—am I ever going to call this man by his first name?—and Abby really wasn't sure what to call that look, and she really wasn't sure what to call the feeling that that look gave her, but it started behind her sternum and warmed its way down to her stomach.
Townsend dropped the hand that had been at her own neck, the thumb that had her gently tracing the edge of her jaw, and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"I suppose I should have asked you if you wanted to kiss your emotionally unstable CIA partner before I actually did it. Was that rude of me?"
He chuckled once. It was a sound she was a little surprised to hear.
"Abigail, if you had asked, I would have assumed you were taunting me. Asking would be very out of character for you."
"I suppose..." She cast her eyes down, toward the snow. His arm was warm, but she really was cold, and the girls should have collected enough firewood by now.
"Abigail." Her eyes snapped back to his. He was still looking at her in the same way, and she suppressed the urge to shiver again. "I am being completely sincere, so tell me—is there anything I can do to help you?"
She thought for three seconds.
"Can I call you? After we get back to Gallagher. I'll have to tell—I'll have to tell Rachel. Could we talk? After?"
And that request, the thing that she wanted him to do more than anything else, seemed monumental.
"Anything. Now come on." He stood, planting his feet before offering her a hand to help her up.
"Oh, wait." She said, as she bent down to snatch up both of their coats. "Please don't take this the wrong way..." She cast her eyes down as she held out his expensive wool coat for him to take. "But—"
"But don't engage in any sort of romantic behavior in front of your niece and her friends?"
Abby nodded, hesitantly meeting his gaze again. This time, there was a sparkle in his eye.
"Romantic gestures around teenage Gallagher Girls are like, chum to sharks. I'd prefer not to..."
"Turn this into a feeding frenzy?"
And then he led her inside the ramshackle little house.
Bex and Macey had returned, although Abby was certain she and Townsend had been sitting next to the only door into the house, which either meant that she and Townsend had been supremely and dangerously oblivious, or that they had crawled through the kitchen window. Abby decided that matter would need further investigation.
Cam was sitting next to the fireplace, wrapped up in a threadbare blanket. There was a small fire going, and she was feeding it bits of white fluff.
"There was plenty of firewood," Bex informed them, her voice overly chipper as they stepped through the door. She was ripping one of the couch cushions apart with her bare hands and seemed perfectly happy with her chore. "But not a single bloody twig that would be useful for kindling."
"We'll only be staying for a few hours." Townsend said, taking stock of the room. Zach and Macey were sorting through dubious cans of food they had found in the kitchen. Cammie was still feeding the ever-growing pile of cushion fluff provided by Bex to the fire, her eyes blank and fixated on the flames. As Townsend watched, Abby sat down next to her niece, and stretched her legs out before her.
"Langley is sending two agents and a helicopter to take us back to Rome. You should be back to school by dinner tomorrow."
Everyone but Abby nodded absentmindedly at Townsend's information, and then the man himself gave a formal nod of the head and left the room to do who knows what.
The remaining occupants of the sitting room continued about their tasks, until Macey, setting the last can of questionable food aside, and muttered, "At least one good thing came out of this."
From her spot on the dusty floor, Abby gave a questioning grunt, to which Macey responded with her own curious hum and an innocent look.
"I didn't say anything." Macey insisted as Abby continued to stare, blankly, at her. Abby sighed, ready to admit defeat to Macey McHenry's legendary stubbornness, but then she noticed the knowing smirks that passed between Macey, Cammie, and Bex, and Abby needed every remainder of her self-control to keep herself from groaning.