Thanks to cattylizzie for the beta and all of you for reading.
A third body found two days latter meant they were working a serial killer case. Abby didn't feel that she could abandon her team during such a case, nor did she think it fair to the lab tech that was temporarily taking over for her to thrust him into the middle of it. When Jason called her after three week to let her know that the house had been completely gutted and was ready for construction to begun, she had to put him off. It was another week before the case broke. She called the airline for a flight the moment Tony assured her that their suspect was the killer, and had Gibbs sign her leave of absence forms as soon as he was out of interrogation. She planned on being gone for six weeks.
The shear amount of paperwork that had to be filed meant most of the team was busy the next morning when she was scheduled to leave. Ducky volunteered to drive her to the airport. He arrived at her home an hour early with a two orders of pancakes from the cafe down the street. In his other hand he carried a box of filtered air masks.
"They are designed for painters," he explained as he handed them to her. "They should do nicely in keeping out those biological particles that troubled you the last time."
"Thank you, Ducky." She kissed him on the cheek before opening up her suitcase to fit in the masks.
It was strange when she arrived at the New Orleans airport. She and the handful of people that disembarked from the plane walked down hallways that were nearly deserted. None of the shops or restaurants were open, and only a handful of gates were lit for arrivals. Abby was relieved when she made her way past security and found Jason waiting for her.
"Hey, sis." Jason gave her a hug and snatched her carry on bag from her, slinging it over his shoulder.
"I am perfectly capable of carrying my own bag," she argued lightly, but she didn't attempt to take it back. "How are you, Jace?"
"Hungry." He grinned at her, and she shook her head. Some things never changed, and her brother's bottomless appetite was one of them.
"Let's stop somewhere on the way home," she said, tensing slightly at the word i home /i . "I could go for some gumbo and a piece of crawfish bread. No one in DC makes a good gumbo."
"Of course they don't. You can't expect Northerners to know Cajun, now can you?" He deliberately thickened his light accent into a rich southern drawl. Abby punched him in the arm, laughed, and dragged him toward the baggage claim.
"Used as a getaway car? Seriously?" Jason laughed and sighed at the same time. "Poor DiNozzo."
"I'm surprised he didn't have a funeral for the car after it crashed." Abby, needing to fill the silence during the drive from the restaurant to her parent's house regaled her brother with the more amusing work stories.
"A classic like that? A guy's got to grieve." He thought of his Harley, which he had fortunately been able to save from the storm, and empathized with the man.
"Why am I not surprised? One of these days I'm going to have to introduce the two of you. I just hope Gibbs is around when I do; he'll slap some sense into the both of you."
"Now that's just mean."
When they drove around the corner, Abby lost the glib retort she had been about to give her brother. The street that she had left a month ago didn't look any better. If possible it looked even more dilapidated. With no one tending to the yards weeds had grown tall and thick. Most of the houses were still abandoned, and the few, like her parents', that showed signs of life all had plain white trailers parked in front of them.
"What are those?" Abby asked, wrinkling her nose. The trailers were basically large white boxes with small windows and rickety metal steps leading up to the door.
"That is what we now call home," he replied irritably. "It's a FEMA trailer. I'd tell you what FEMA stands for, but when I told mom she threatened to superglue my fingers together." It had been a common threat in their childhood, their deaf parents' version of washing their mouths out with soap.
"All of you are living in that thing?" The trailer was smaller then her ballistics lab. For some reason it had never occurred to her, the question of where everyone would live while the house was being worked on.
"You think that's bad, wait until you see the bathroom. Mom calls the shower/bath tub a tuna can."
"How is she?" Abby asked reluctantly. She had put off asking for as long as possible, but as they pulled up in front of the house she needed to know.
"She's okay. A little quieter then usual, but that's to be expected, right?" Abby only nodded. Jason led her up the steps and knocked on the door.
"Dad still doesn't trust you with a key?" Abby teased. Her brother shook his head.
"Oh, I have a key. If I wanted to I could use it on a couple thousand trailers, they all have the same locks. And trust me, that's a well-known fact, one that criminals and police alike take advantage of." When their father opened the door, Jason pointed out the haphazard mix of metal with a padlock dangling from it. "We've rigged up a lock of our own. It's not pretty but it works."
Less then a minute after walking into the dimly lit trailer, Abby knew that Jason was lying, to her or to himself. Their mother was not fine. She was sitting on the couch in the corner of the space, watching the muted television. In a single glance Abby could tell that she had lost weight, but the thing that troubled her the most was how completely still Gloria was. The mother she has always known was constantly in movement; hands that would flutter and flex even when not speaking, and eyes that searched for clues that ears couldn't give. Now her eyes were fixed on a soap opera, her hands still in her lap. Gloria has always hated soap operas.