Title: Family Affair
Author: Jo. R
Rating: T/mild M later on (15+)
Pairing: Abby/Gibbs, Tony/Ziva, slight McGee/other
Spoilers: Slight spoilers for character-related info mentioned in 'Frame Up', 'Ravenous', 'Bloodbath', 'Ex-File', 'Internal Affairs', 'Judgement Day', 'Last Man Standing'
Summary: Follow-up to my story 'Possession'. A new case, old faces and relationship changes.
Authors Notes: Second NCIS fic – thanks for the great response to my first :)
Soft country music played in the background but she could barely hear it above the steady breathing in her ear. Abby Sciuto couldn't bite back the giggle that erupted when another puff of air caused her hair to move and tickled the skin of her still tender neck.
"I'm trying to concentrate," she chastised with a grin, turning her head slightly to glance at the man behind her with sparkling green eyes. "If I screw this up, you'll have no one but yourself to blame, Gibbs."
He chuckled, the sound a low rumble close to her ear as his breath disturbed the locks of hair tied up into a messy pony tail. The arm around her waist tightened as the hand resting over hers continued to guide it and the block of sandpaper over the smooth grain of his boat. His new boat – one he'd begun to build just days ago. "Not much to screw up at this point, Abs."
She snorted indelicately and let her head lean back against his shoulder as she stared at their joint hands. "I'm sure I can find a way."
They worked in silence for a few moments and Abby let her mind wander to the events that had led them to this point. She stifled a shudder at the memory of being held captive by the crazy Steven Laffiter, the man who'd filmed every moment of her abduction to taunt Special Agent Jethro Gibbs and the rest of his team, the man who'd removed the cobweb tattoo on the back of her neck without permission but thankfully without leaving a scar. It'd only been a week since he'd been killed, a bullet to his head courtesy of the NCIS Agent standing behind her but she was already beginning to feel more like her old self – as much as she could, anyway.
She'd spent all of her time recuperating at Gibbs' house – on his orders. He'd even taken time off work to be with her, to make sure she was okay – hence the new boat beginning to slowly take shape in his basement. Abby had finally convinced him that it was time for them both to go back to work but now, on the eve of her first day back at NCIS since her abduction, she was beginning to wonder if she was really ready for it.
Gibbs' house had become a safe haven, a place she hadn't had to leave unless he was at her side. The others came to visit her often – most nights, in fact – and she did feel guilty at being responsible for taking away some of Gibbs' privacy by being the cause of so many out-of-hours visitors to his home. They hadn't talked about her moving out to her apartment but she knew she'd have to soon – the fact that they didn't really talk at all was beginning to bother her, especially as she was certain he knew how she felt about him but had yet to let her know if there was a glimmer of hope those feelings could ever be reciprocated or not.
They were definitely close, she thought to herself, enjoying the warmth of his body as it almost cradled hers, but then they'd always been close. Gibbs had always been more open and affectionate with her and just because he touched her more and invaded her personal space on a daily basis whilst she remained his houseguest didn't mean that he felt the same attraction for her that she did for him. She rationalised it as being his way of showing her he cared, that he'd been worried about her and was relieved she was okay.
It meant he cared, even loved her – it didn't mean he was in love with her.
But then there was that kiss, no matter how brief it'd been...
The sigh escaped her before she could stop it and her hopes that maybe he hadn't heard it were dashed when his hand stopped its soothing movements and he took a half-step away from her.
"Something wrong, Abby?" The arm around her waist shifted, his hand resting on her hip as he gently turned her away from the boat to face him. Concerned blue eyes bore into her when she reluctantly lifted her gaze to his.
She couldn't lie to Gibbs; hadn't been able to in the nine years they'd known each other. Still, she tried, forcing the corners of her mouth upwards in an attempt at a smile. "I'm fine." The sceptical look he gave her made her smile droop a little. "I was just wondering if you were getting sick of me yet. And thinking that my apartment's probably feeling neglected, if it's even still in one piece. Or unless I've picked up a roommate without knowing it while I've been here." The latter was said with a thoughtful air, an acknowledgement that her apartment wasn't in the safest part of town and wasn't exactly a secure building.
A frown marred his brow and Gibbs stared at her intently in silence as the seconds ticked by. "DiNozzo's been keeping an eye on the place," he said eventually, evading her main concern quite smoothly. "You don't need to worry about squatters stealing your stuff – what little of it hasn't been moved here, anyway."
"I'd noticed that," the smile that curved her lips was small but genuine. Her TV, DVD player and vast collection of CDs and DVDs had slowly made their way to Gibbs' house in the seven days she'd been staying there as his guest, as had most of her wardrobe thanks to Ziva David, Timothy McGee and Tony DiNozzo, all of whom were determined to make her as comfortable as possible regardless of what their boss had to say about his home being invaded in such a way. The more she thought about it, the more she realised that their visits had always coincided with a visit from Doctor Donald Mallard, who always seemed to find something desperately urgent to talk to Gibbs about whilst the others trouped in with her belongings and stashed them away in various rooms of the house. Her smile faded and she forced herself to hold his gaze. "I appreciate everything you've done for me, Gibbs, but I really don't want to outstay my welcome and I don't want you to feel like you've gotta let me stay here out of some stupid sense of obligation..."
"Obligation?" His eyebrows rose and he took a slight step forward, satisfied when she instinctively stepped back and came into contact with the bones of his boat. "You really think that's why you're still here, Abs?"
Abby swallowed impulsively but refused to let herself be intimidated. "Isn't it?" She returned in an attempt at evenness, her voice a little huskier than normal despite her best efforts to remain unaffected by his closeness. "Why am I still here, Gibbs? Why'd you bring me here in the first place instead of leaving me at the hospital or letting one of the others volunteer to watch over me? McGee would've let me stay at his place, so would Ziva. Even Tony would've been willing to give up his bachelor pad..."
Her voice trailed off as he shifted again, chest brushing hers as he crowded further into her space. Her back was pressed against the curved wood beams they'd been sanding, the smell of sawdust and Gibbs having a heady, almost intoxicating effect on her senses.
"Abs..." His voice was lower than she'd ever heard it, more of a growl than a whisper. He leaned forward, his face just inches away from her own. "Maybe it's time we had that talk now."
Her tongue darted out to lick her dry lips and her eyes dropped away from his for a split-second. "Maybe it is."
The air between them grew heavy with tension as the silence stretched out between them. Abby debated internally whether to make the first move or not, tilting her face up to his. She watched the emotions flitter across his features, saw the uncertainty in his eyes fade into something else as ice blue heated and darkened. Her breath caught in her throat, the distance between them growing ever-smaller in painstaking increments. She felt his breath, warm on her face, and fought against the impulse to close her eyes, wanting to be able to remember and savour every single second...
"Abby..." Her name was a whisper, said with such awe that her heart rose in her chest and beat an unsteady rhythm against her ribs. Gibbs lifted a hand to her cheek, finger stroking her skin tenderly as he slowly lowered his mouth to hers.
Their lips had barely had a chance to meet when a loud bang from above startled them both. Abby leaned against the boat as a frustrated sigh escaped her while Gibbs steadied himself with his arms resting on the wood either side of her. They both glanced up at the first creak of the stairs, surprise showing on both of their faces as the identity of the intruder became apparent.
Making her way half-way down the stairs to the basement level before she spoke, the retired Lieutenant Colonel Hollis Mann barely batted an eyelid at the scene before her, instead choosing to focus on Gibbs, a confident smile stretching across her face as he dropped his arms wordlessly to his sides.
Gibbs gave Hollis Mann a brief glance before turning his attention back to Abby, cursing internally at the untimely interruption as he tried to regain his composure and steady his racing heart. He smiled a little as he looked at her, disappointment and uncertainty on her face, and it was all he could do not to lean in and kiss her despite their audience.
"Am I interrupting something?" Mann asked, an eyebrow arched when both Abby and Gibbs started, having forgotten her presence.
The word 'yes' was on the tip of his tongue and Gibbs opened his mouth to reply when a gentle hand to his chest stopped him.
"Nothing that can't be continued later." Abby gave a little shrug when he gave her a questioning look. "I think I might call it a night. It's gonna be a long day tomorrow and I need to get some sleep."
She made to move by him, her arm brushing his when Gibbs stopped her with the slightest of touches. Ignoring his former girlfriend, he lifted his hand to brush her black bangs back from her face, fingers lingering deliberately. He covered the distance between them to brush his lips against her cheek in a familiar gesture, pleased that she blushed when he pulled back.
'This isn't over,' he signed, eyes locked with hers. 'I'll follow you up soon.'
Abby smiled and gave him a small nod, some but not all of the disappointment lifting from her eyes. The smile faded as she passed Hollis, giving the other woman a wider berth than necessary as she skirted around her to reach the base of the stairs.
Gibbs watched her leave, unable to tear his eyes away, and only when she disappeared from view did he turn to his boat and begin clearing away his tools, inwardly berating himself for forgetting to lock the front door. In the week Abby had been staying with him, he'd foregone his usual routine of keeping the door unlocked, preferring instead to keep his home secured against intruders as a small measure in keeping Abby safe. He'd only forgotten that evening because they'd ordered take out, he remembered, and his hands had been full with bags from the local Chinese when he'd arrived home.
"Not the welcome I was hoping for," Mann spoke wryly, evidently grown tired of being ignored. "I'm sorry if I caught you off-guard. I did consider calling but thought I'd surprise you instead."
"Should've called." Keeping his back to her, Gibbs walked from the boat to his bench, neatly storing the tools in their rightful places. He tensed when he heard her approach and kept his back straight when two slender arms wound themselves around his waist. "I'm not interested, Hollis."
Her arms dropped to her sides but she didn't move away, staying stubbornly close even as he turned to face her. "I missed you," she told him honestly, her eyes shining with genuine regret. "I should never have left with things the way they were between us."
"Shouldn't but you did." Gibbs shrugged and took a step to the side, bypassing her easily. "It was for the best. Guess I should thank you, really."
"You don't mean that." Her confident demeanour slipped a little but she regained it quickly, shaking her blond hair back from her face as she moved to follow him across the basement. "Jethro, I know I made a mistake but so did you. You should have trusted me enough to tell me about your family. I shouldn't have had to hear it from your ex-girlfriend."
The way she said it, the way she so-casually dismissed the late Director Jenny Sheppard caused his hackles to rise and Gibbs spun on his heel, throwing her a heated look. "Maybe it should tell you something that I trusted Jen and not you."
He failed to mention how Jenny Sheppard had discovered the truth or the fact that no one in his close knit group had known the truth until he'd had no choice.
A shadow passed over her face but it was gone before he had a chance to decipher what it meant. She gave him a sympathetic smile instead, reaching out to put a hand on his arm and apparently unfazed when he moved so she couldn't reach him. "I heard about Director Sheppard. I'm sorry, Jethro, I know you were still close to her." When he said nothing to acknowledge her condolences, Mann continued talking. "I wanted to give you a heads up because of our history. Director Vance contacted me and offered me a position at NCIS. I accepted, on a trial basis, so from tomorrow, we'll be working together again. I just thought I'd give you the courtesy of knowing before you show up at the office tomorrow morning."
Gibbs stared at her blankly, speaking only when several minutes passed and he realised she had no intention of leaving without something more from him. "Am I supposed to say thank you?" He waited for a moment. "What Director Vance decides has nothing to do with me unless it affects my team and I doubt your assignment to NCIS will. I have my team, you'll have yours."
"We'll be part of the same team, Jethro. Both working for NCIS out of the same office... Avoiding each other will be impossible, no matter how hard we might try. I wanted to clear the air to make sure you wouldn't feel uncomfortable but I see now I shouldn't have wasted my time." Annoyance crept into her tone and she pushed by him to get to the stairs first. She hesitated half-way up the stairs, almost as though she was waiting for him to say something.
Gibbs waited until he heard her leave, wincing a little at the slamming of his front door before he traced her steps, hitting the light switch on his way out of the basement. He detoured to the front door, making sure it was locked securely before turning off the lights ad making his way upstairs, stopping by the bathroom to answer the call of nature, slip out of his jeans and exchanging his t-shirt for one that wasn't so covered in sawdust.
He did a quick check of the upper level of the house, making sure lights were off and windows were closed before slipping into the master bedroom, closing the door softly behind him as he stood ad waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness.
Once he could see the faint outline of the bed, Gibbs made his way forward, easing himself onto the mattress carefully as he slipped under the covers and settled himself against the pillows. In a matter of seconds, Abby rolled towards him in her sleep, head nestling against his shoulder as her body curled around his.
Neither had mentioned their sleeping arrangements, or how it just seemed to have become routine to share his bed. He'd started off in the spare room, insisting she needed the rest so should have the better bed but somewhere over the course of the week, he'd started sharing it with her, both managing to sleep better than ever in the company of the other. He smiled in the darkness, wrapping his arm around her to secure her body to his as he closed his eyes. The tension in his limbs caused by Hollis' unexpected visit eased in Abby's presence and he found himself drifting off to sleep, lulled by the comfort he got from the warm body beside him.
A bouquet of black roses sat on the desk in Abby's office. Ziva David studied them with a critical eye, arms folded across her chest.
"Glaring at them won't make them go away," Tony DiNozzo advised wryly from the doorway. "They're flowers, not probies."
"Shut up, DiNozzo." She tore her gaze away from the floral arrangement to glare at him instead. "They do not look right. I want everything to be perfect for Abby's return but I cannot see what is wrong."
Tony said nothing, swallowing the usual teasing retort out of gratitude. He knew Ziva and Abby had gotten closer in the years they'd been working together but he still remembered the animosity between them at the beginning and was pleased that the sometimes distant Mossad Officer as willing to go to so much trouble to make Abby's return perfect. "Looks a bit lopsided." He moved a few of the stems, head tilted to one side and then stepped back to stand beside her. "How's that?"
"Better," Ziva agreed after a moment's contemplation. She shifted to look at him out of the corner of her eye. "Do you think Abby will like it?"
"She'll love it." He gave her a reassuring smile, reaching out to put a hand on her arm. Together, they walked away from the desk, out into the main part of the lab. "Did you hear we've had a new recruit?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Mann, yes." She gave him a sidelong look but was successful in her attempt at keeping her expression neutral. "Sorry, Special Agent Mann. I overheard Director Vance talking about her assignment on my way to my car last night."
Tony nodded knowingly. "Which is why you've gone to the trouble of finding black roses for Abs."
Ziva let one shoulder rise and fall in a casual shrug. "I was going to get her a cupcake but thought the flowers would last and may keep her ghosts up longer."
"Spirits," he corrected with an easy, almost affectionate grin that he tried to hide from her as she glanced his way. "Keep her spirits up longer."
"Spirits, yes. Whatever." She waved a hand dismissively and led him out of the lab towards the elevators. "I am concerned that her presence may make it harder for Abby to settle back into her lab. It has been almost a month since she was last here."
The reminder of how long it had been dragged a sigh from Tony's lips. The first two weeks of Abby's absence had been difficult as they'd had to deal with a temp in place of their bubbly and undeniably skilled forensic scientist but the week after had been worse, when they'd realised she hadn't left voluntarily and had been subject to a mad man's whims for a fortnight without them even realising she was gone. The last week had been spent trying to get her lab back into the condition Abby liked and expected, whilst simultaneously working a case without their boss and their favourite lab tech.
"You know Abby," he said eventually, letting her precede him into the elevator when it arrived. "Give her some loud music and a caf-power and it'll be like she never left. The lab's her second home; it won't take her long to get back into the swing of things."
"I hope you are right, Tony." Ziva stared at the metal doors ahead of them, stepping out as soon as they slid open, confident that Tony was following right behind her. She paused, sensing him come to a stop at her side. The former Army-Colonel-made-Special-Agent Hollis Mann stood in the middle of the bullpen, apparently in the midst of an animated conversation with Director Leon Vance. "I really hope you are right."
They hadn't spoken about the interruption the night before in much detail. Gibbs had explained the purpose for Hollis Mann's visit, studying her carefully to gauge her reaction. Abby, for her part, worked just as carefully to keep her thoughts to herself, remaining non-committal to the news whilst she reminded herself that there was no commitment between herself and Gibbs – and even if his ex was back on the scene, it was her who woke up wrapped up tightly in his arms.
"You sure you're ready for this, Abby?" Gibbs cut the engine to his car and twisted in his seat as they sat in the car lot of NCIS Headquarters. "If you want a few more days..."
"To sit around wondering what state I'll find my lab in?" She aimed for a light smile, all the while knowing it wouldn't completely reach her eyes. One hand was pressed against her stomach, where butterflies fluttered anxiously, whilst the other fidgeted with the black and red scarf she had tied around her neck in lieu of her usual collar thanks to the still healing skin. "I'm fine, Gibbs. I need to get back to work and so do you."
He reached out to take the hand fidgeting with the silk scarf, his fingers tangling automatically with hers. "If it gets too much for you, if you want to go home, find me and let me know. There's no shame in needing more time to take care of yourself, Abs."
A wry smile curved up the corners of her red-painted lips. "So says the guy who took all of an afternoon off when he was shot in the shoulder."
"That's different, Abby." The concern didn't lift from his eyes, making them a slightly darker shade than normal. "An injury like that doesn't compare with what you've been through."
"I got to be the houseguest of a psycho in a crappy house for a while. I'm over it. Well, not really over it but I'm okay. Really," she insisted, bringing their joint hands so she could brush a reassuring kiss over his knuckles. "I need to keep busy or I'll keep going over it in my head. I keep thinking there was something I should've done, a way to escape or let you know sooner that I was in trouble... Besides, you need me here. Tony says things are backing up in the lab because the temp who was covering for me quit on Tuesday and if you catch a major case this week, you're going to need someone you can rely on to process the evidence and put a positive spin on things..."
"Is that what you do?" The smallest of smiles played on his mouth, affection almost entirely replacing concern in his expression. "Put a positive spin on things?"
"Positive, quirky, unique... Same thing," Abby decided cheerfully. She leaned across impulsively and pressed a quick kiss to his smiling lips. "Admit it, Gibbs, you need me." She untangled their hands and had her car door open before he could protest. "Life without me would just be dull and boring and you'd forever be lost without me."
Gibbs moved quickly, opening his own door and stepping out, shutting it behind him before walking around to her side of the car. He waited until she'd fished her backpack out from the backseat and straightened before reaching passed her to close the door, pressing her against it as he did so, regardless of the security guards and multiple cameras no doubt capturing the moment on film.
"Gibbs..." She didn't struggle or protest against the action, just tilted her head up and gazed at him curiously, surprised he'd make such a move in clear view of so many people.
He lifted a hand to her face, stroking her cheekbone before lowering his hand to rest against the skin of her neck not covered by the scarf. "I would be lost without you, Abby. That's why I can't ever lose you."
He felt as well as saw her swallow, watched as a flush spread over her cheeks while her green eyes darkened slightly. "I'm not going anywhere."
Gibbs said nothing but took a step forward, body pressed against hers as his other hand came up to cup her face. His fingers stroked her skin softly, carefully, as though he was afraid she'd break if he was too rough. A finger ran over her lips and she shivered, parting them instinctively just moments before his mouth descended on hers.
Nothing interrupted them, not even the sound of a car alarm going off nearby could penetrate the air that surrounded them.
His lips were gentle at first, cautious and sweet. Abby let her eyes slide shut, unaware that Gibbs did the same as her arms wound around him, one hand playing with the silver hair at the back of his neck. She felt the tentative touch of his tongue against her lips and opened them, eagerly accepting his need to deepen the kiss, tasting the bitter aftertaste of the morning's coffee mingled with something uniquely Gibbs.
They parted after several long moments, both breathing heavily. Abby leaned against the car as Gibbs leaned into her, his forehead pressed against hers as he struggled to regain his composure enough to pull away completely.
"We have to go inside," Abby murmured, easing back just enough to look comfortably into his eyes.
Gibbs exhaled slowly, hands sliding down to rest at her waist. "Yeah. Work awaits."
A small smile broke out across her face and her ordinarily pale cheeks turned a pretty pink in colour. "I was thinking more along the lines of not giving the security guards any more of a show without having to charge them to view it."
He glanced over his shoulder, saw one incredulous looking guard standing next to his grinning companion and felt his cheeks heat.
"Oops?" Abby supplied, a little too cheerful to be seriously bothered by the witnesses. He studied her carefully and realised with a jolt that that her sparkle was finally back, her smile finally reaching her eyes. "C'mon, Gibbs. We've got jobs to do, lives to save..." She pushed him away with a gentle hand against his chest, making up for it by linking their arms together as she threw her backpack over her other shoulder.
"Lives to save?" Gibbs let her lead him across the lot, easily forgetting the security guards they left behind as he focused on the woman walking beside him, a bounce in her step he hadn't realised he'd missed until it was back after an extended absence.
"Sure!" She threw him another bright smile. "You know, you catch a case, catch the bad guy, save the innocent, give comfort to the victims grieving family... You save lives. Well, make some of them a little bit better. Not without my help, of course, but we've already discussed that..."
Her voice and animated chatter comforted him as they entered NCIS Headquarters together, calming the nerves he would never admit he felt.
To the surprise of the other members of Gibbs's team, Abby was unfailingly polite to the newly appointed Agent Mann, actually welcoming her to NCIS before slipping away to her lab, much to the bemusement of her colleagues.
The former lovers were cool to the point of icy towards one another in comparison, curt with each other because of the Director's presence but unable to disguise the palatable tension between them.
"I was just explaining to Agent Mann that I don't have a team picked out for her yet," Director Leon Vance told Gibbs with an assessing look. "Perhaps you and your team can give her guidance on which available Agents she might like to consider?"
A second of silence.
"Agent Lee is good," Timothy McGee supplied, wincing only a little at the looks he got from his partners. "She's not part of a team at the moment."
"Thank you, Agent McGee." Mann rewarded him with a pretty smile. "I look forward to meeting her." She glanced at Gibbs, a flicker of disappointment on her face that was carefully masked by another smile, this time aimed at the Director. "You said you had some personnel files for me to look at, Director?"
Director Vance returned her smile and motioned to the stairs. "They're in my office. Shall we?" He escorted her with a hand to the small of her back, a nod the only form of acknowledgement of Gibbs and his team got as he whisked the newest addition to NCIS away.
"Phew." Tony made an exaggerated gesture of relief and hurriedly walked to his desk before Gibbs had a chance to issue his customary head slap. "Welcome back, Boss. Did ya miss us?"
"Like a hole in the head, DiNozzo." Gibbs sat down at his own desk, pleased to see it was relatively clear of paperwork to catch up on. "Why don't I have any coffee?"
McGee almost leapt to his feet at the implied order, appearing almost pleased to have an excuse to leave. "On it, Boss."
Gibbs watched the younger Agent fumble with his jacket, which caught momentarily on the back of his chair, waiting until just the right moment to add to his order. "Pick up a Caf-Pow while you're there, McGee."
"Not a problem, Boss."
Ziva smiled at her computer screen as McGee scurried off to the local coffee shop, her anxiety fading as they settled quickly back into their usual routine. Her smirk grew as the phone on her desk began to ring, the lit up button showing the call originated from the forensic lab.
An almost deafening squeal assaulted her ears, followed by the enthusiastic babbling she associated with the Goth forensic scientist. She laughed, unable to help herself, and ignored the surprised looks from her colleagues.
"You are more than welcome, Abby. It is good to have you back." She listened for another moment, tilting her head to the side as she contemplated what was being said to her. "I should be able to get away for lunch. Unless we get a case, of course," she added at the look she received from her boss. "Okay. Bye, Abby." She hung up with a smile and lifted her gaze to meet Tony's when she became aware of his staring. "Is there a problem, DiNozzo?"
Tony grinned, leaning back in his chair with his arms crossed above his head. "Just wondering if it's an exclusive lunch date or if you'd like an escort?"
"Since when do I need an escort, Tony?" She rolled her eyes at him dismissively. "Abby and I will be fine on our own, thank you."
"Ah, I see." He gave her a knowing look and lowered his voice meaningfully. "I sense a girl talk moment coming on. Will there be a slumber party, pillow fights? I'll do your hair, you do mine? Can I come?"
Gibbs tuned out Ziva's response, fighting back a smile as he logged onto his computer and reached for his mail.
It was good to be back.
Lunch was a strictly girls-only affair and the state in which Abby and Ziva returned mildly concerned him. Gibbs wouldn't admit to being worried that she was out of reach for the first time since her return, nor would he admit to being more than a little concerned at what details Abby had chosen to share with her friend. From their smiles and laughter as they made their way into the bullpen, he could only assume that their conversation had indeed taken a personal turn.
Still, Ziva didn't act any differently towards him and the sight of Abby looking so cheerful was enough to waylay any serious concerns he might have had. She positively glowed, beaming at him when she caught him looking at her.
"Have fun, ladies?" Tony raised both eyebrows at the women who had their arms linked together.
"Much!" Bouncing a little on her feet, Abby smiled impishly as Ziva lowered her head to hide a blush. "Don't look so disappointed, Tony. We brought back leftovers."
Abby disentangled herself from Ziva and walked over to Tony's desk, setting down a previously unnoticed brown paper bag. She opened it and fished out a small box, pushing the rest of the bag towards Tony. "This is for McGee. You can have the rest." She moved over to McGee's desk, setting the box down with a bright smile at McGee. "It's not a cupcake but it's full of chocolate goodness."
"Thank you, Abby." McGee smiled at her, reaching for the box gratefully. His eyes widened when he caught sight of the chocolate brownie inside, stomach growling in appreciation. "Looks great."
"Oh, it is. Almost better than sex," Abby informed him with a serious expression. Without waiting for his reaction, she turned on her heel and started for the elevators that would take her down to her lab. Halfway there, she paused and turned back, fixating on Gibbs with a mischievous glint in her eyes. "Oh, Gibbs, the results you wanted should be in if you're interested."
A split second of confusion followed, none of which showed on his face. Gibbs got up from his seat, barely noticed by Tony and McGee, who were both already engrossed in their leftovers, and followed her to the elevators, a hand resting on the small of her back.
"Results, Abby?" He murmured, leaning close to whisper in her ear. She gave him a blinding smile in response, taking his hand and tugging him into the empty elevator when it arrived. "What results am I supposed to be waiting for?"
She just laughed and waited for the doors to close behind them. She leaned across him to hit the emergency stop button, smirking when his hands reached out to steady her as the metal box came to a sudden halt. Turning in his arms, she grinned up at him, her hands moving to rest on his shoulders.
"It wouldn't have been fair not to bring you something back but I thought you'd prefer to get it in private."
Before he could ask, she pushed him back against the wall of the elevator and rose up on her feet so she could press her lips against his. After a second's hesitation, he responded, opening his mouth to let her tongue sweep inside, their kisses laced with coffee and chocolate from her own dessert. His fingers dug into her hips through the material of her black jeans, pulling her body closer to his before he spun them around and pinned her against the wall so he could take control of the embrace.
Her hands moved from his shoulders, smoothing over his chest through his shirt. She toyed with the top button, fighting an internal battle of restraint against desire. It was only when she felt his finger against the soft skin of her back beneath her t-shirt that she remembered the decision she'd come to less than an hour before and the real reason she'd enticed him into the elevator with her – okay, she corrected herself mentally, the second real reason.
A groan of protest escaped him when she pulled back, an almost smug smile arranging her swollen lips. She reached up with a hand that wasn't entirely steady to wipe away the smudges of lipstick around his mouth, her fingers lingering against his skin.
"Three dates," she told him, her voice wavering a little under the weight of his gaze.
Gibbs blinked, trying to clear his head enough to process the two words and make sense of them. "Any dates in particular or just random ones off the top of my head?"
"No, Gibbs. Not date-dates. Date-dates." Abby took another step back and crossed her arms over her chest. "I want three dates. Three, proper dates. I'm going to move back into my apartment, you're going to take me out on three dates..." She smiled even as her cheeks became tinged with pink. "Then we'll discuss sleep overs."
"Discuss?" It was his turn to smirk, amused at her ramblings.
"Okay. So there'll probably be very little discussion and more action but you get the point." She bit down on her bottom lip. "You do understand, right? I mean, you're okay with... y'know. Waiting. A little."
He considered the request, his expression thoughtful. "Three dates," he repeated slowly "I can work with that."
"You can?" Abby sounded both surprised and disappointed, covering it with a sheepish smile when he arched an eyebrow. "I mean, good. That's good."
"Abs..." He pushed himself off the elevator wall and stood in front of her. "It doesn't mean I don't want to because I do. A lot. But I want to do this right, the way you deserve."
Relief flooded her features even as her blush deepened. Still, uncertainty lingered in the depths of her eyes. "Well, now that's settled, I really do have to get back to work. You won't believe the state my lab is in. The backlog of evidence is appalling, Gibbs. I have to log and process it all and distribute it to the different teams and hope it's not too late to catch the bad guy." She reached passed him to reactivate the elevator, a gasp escaping her when he grabbed her arm and pulled her towards him. "Gibbs...?"
"Three dates, but you're not moving back into your apartment." He brought a hand to her lips when she started to protest. "I'll move into the spare room but you're staying where I can keep an eye on you. No buts, Abby. For my own piece of mind, I need to keep you where I can get to you if you need me."
"What about me being in a place where I can get to you?" She tilted her head to the side, pigtails jiggling with the motion. "Seriously, Gibbs, moving back to my apartment might be the only way I can stick to the three-date rule."
Gibbs tried not to smile but couldn't keep his face entirely straight. He was flattered, part of his brain still having trouble believing that she wanted him as much as he wanted her. "I'll put a lock on the door," he murmured, reaching passed her to activate the elevator. "Get back to work, Abby. Come by the bullpen when you're ready to go home."
Realising there was no point in arguing with him, Abby gave him a sloppy salute and skipped out of the elevator when it came to a stop on her floor. Gibbs waited until the doors were closed before letting the smile spread over his face.
Their first day back went smoothly and, true to his word, Gibbs moved back into his spare bedroom that night. They didn't discuss plans for their first date nor did they exchange more than a few short kisses as they attempted to slow down the pace of their progressing relationship.
At three am in the morning, Gibbs was awoken by his cell phone after having finally fallen asleep, unaccustomed to sleeping alone in a bed that wasn't his. He was half-dressed when the door to his room opened and a sleepy looking Abby walked in, rubbing her eyes as her tousled hair hung around her face.
"Problem at work?" She yawned, crawling into the mess of tangled sheets he'd left behind, savouring the lingering warmth and the scent on the pillows she'd spent most of the night missing.
"I'm needed in MTAC. Director wouldn't say much." He watched her bury her face in his pillow as he buttoned his shirt. "I'll have Ducky swing by and pick you up on his way into work."
Abby mumbled something undecipherable, cracking open an eye when the bed dipped under his weight as he sat beside her. "I can call a cab. No need to drag Ducky all the way over here for nothin', Gibbs."
"You're not 'nothing', Abs. I'll call Ducky if I can't get back for you myself." He ran a hand over her tangled hair. "Get some sleep."
"Mm'kay."She gave him a sleepy smile, snuggling further into the blankets. "Have fun."
"Sure I will, Abs." Gibbs made himself stand up and walk away, knowing every second he spent in the room was one second more he had to resist the temptation to crawl into bed with her and go back to sleep. He jogged down the stairs, locked the door behind him and let the new day begin.
There was a group already waiting for him in MTAC when Gibbs arrived. Director Vance, Agent Mann and Ziva were waiting for him, the latter apparently as in the dark as he was as to why they'd both been called.
"Agent Gibbs, glad you could join us." Director Vance gave the officer at the control desk a nod. "Now we can begin."
The screen flickered to life and a man who was somehow familiar appeared on the screen. As Gibbs tried to place him, Ziva took a step forward and did the job for him. "Father?"
"Ziva." Director Eli David gave his daughter a warm smile before he addressed the others in turn. "Leon, my friend, it is good to see you though I wish the circumstances were different. Special Agent Gibbs, an honour to finally place a face to the name. I have heard much about you and your team from my daughter. And you must be Agent Mann, Director Vance tells me you will be working alongside Agent Gibbs and my daughter in this matter."
"And what matter would that be?" Gibbs asked mildly. "Directors?"
"A matter of National and International security, Agent Gibbs." It was Director David who answered, all pleasantries push to the side as business took over. "Mossad recently became aware of a rogue operation we believed to be operating out of Israel. Further intelligence reports suggested that the cell here is just one of many all over the world and that the main base of operations is in your country, Agent Gibbs. We were successful in our attempts at tracing the Israeli base and managed to take one of the operatives working out of our country into custody while his partner escaped, presumably back to the United States."
"The operative you captured, how much has he told you?" Mann looked between the two Directors. "Has he told you what kind of risk this organisation poses?"
Director David gave a troubled sigh. "A very high one, to us all. Before he... expired... the man we know as Tariq Varlin informed us that his group have been stealing and selling top secret information from a variety of agencies all over the world. They don't care about the chaos that could be caused by such a breach of security not do they seem to care who they pass the information to as long as they make a profit. We believe they have damaging intelligence gathered about Mossad, NCIS, the CIA, the FBI, MI5, the KGB and Homeland Security amongst others. Such information does not only jeopardise the lives of many innocent civilians across the world but could also be used against any agent or officer who works for us and their families should someone with a grudge against a particular individual or agency get hold of it."
"You have evidence lifted from the cell you found in Israel?" Gibbs clenched his fist, a familiar feeling of anger beginning a slow burn in the pit of his stomach. He thought about the Agents he knew, about the people who would pay to hurt them and their families, thought about the terrorists who'd salivate over the kind of information Director David alluded to and felt sick.
"I do, Agent Gibbs. I am on my way to Washington DC with it now."
"You're coming here?" Ziva clasped her hands behind her back as she stared at her father. "Is that safe?"
Director David's gaze softened as he looked at his daughter. "I will be well protected, Ziva. I have to ensure that the evidence is personally delivered to NCIS, for my own piece of mind."
She understood, of course, but couldn't ignore the dread that coiled in her stomach at the thought of her father leaving the relative safety of Mossad Headquarters in Israel. She knew he was a prime target for many of Mossad's enemies and travelling the world would make him even more vulnerable to attack. "Who do you have travelling with you?"
"My top officers, after you, of course." He gave her a reassuring smile. "Do not worry so, Ziva. I shall see you soon. Leon, Agents Gibbs, Mann." He nodded at the three people doing their best to blend in to the background while he spoke to his daughter. "I must go and board my second plane of the day."
"We'll see you soon, Eli." Director Vance returned the nod with one of his own just seconds before the transmission ended. He turned to his agents, his expression solemn. "What Director David was unable to tell you via the feed is that we believe this organisation has a wide spread network of operatives, some of whom may work for the agencies who have been compromised."
Gibbs frowned, his eyes narrowed slightly. "Is there any evidence to say there's someone working out of NCIS?"
The expression on the Director's face said it all. "Discretion is of the upmost importance, Agent Gibbs. While I want you all to cooperate with the other agencies involved to eradicate this threat, I must ask you all to investigate your colleagues at NCIS and report any suspicions directly to me." Director Vance raised a hand to quell the question he knew was coming. "You can tell the other members of your team, Gibbs; they've already been thoroughly vetted."
"Does that include Abby and Ducky?" Ziva asked curiously. "Abby will need to be involved in processing the evidence," she added when the Director seemed to hesitate.
"Doctor Mallard can be told if you feel it is necessary, though I'm not sure how involved in this investigation he will be." Director Vance held his head high at the twin glares he was receiving from Gibbs and Ziva. "I am still in the process of reviewing Ms. Sciuto's personnel file and have some questions I would like to ask of her and yourself, Agent Gibbs. She will no doubt be assisting you on the case but I don't want you to tell her anything more than you need to. Is that understood?"
Both of his hands clenched into fists, indignation joining anger as he glared at his boss but Gibbs gave a reluctant nod of his head. "Perfectly," he said, jaw aching with the effort to control his temper. "I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you have now if you've got the time." When the Director nodded in response, Gibbs took in Ziva and Agent Mann with one hard look. "Call DiNozzo and McGee. Get them briefed on what's going on."
"Shall I call Abby...?" Ziva spoke up just as he turned to follow Director Vance out of the room, the concern she concealed from her voice showing on her face.
"I'll call her when I'm done," Gibbs answered eventually, not wanting to involve the forensic scientist until he knew why her loyalty was being questioned. He didn't want to upset her or cause her to worry, not until he knew whether there was something for her to worry about. "This won't take long."
Ziva watched him stalk out of the room and wrapped her arms around herself when Agent Mann moved away. She chewed anxiously on her bottom lip, unsure who she was more worried for; her father, or her friend.
To his credit, Leon Vance didn't wince as the door to his office was slammed loudly behind him. He walked steadily to his desk, settling himself in his chair before he lifted his eyes to stare at the irate agent in front of him.
"I suggest you take a seat, Agent Gibbs," he motioned to the chair opposite his desk. "This may take longer than you think."
"I doubt that. I've known Abigail Sciuto for almost ten years. I took part in her interview myself, reviewed her references and the background check that was carried out at the time. She is one of this agency's best assets and you're out of your mind if you think for one minute she's involved in this." Anger made his eyes flash though they remained as cold as ice. "I will not tolerate you dragging her name through the dirt because you're struggling to find a scapegoat to blame for any leaks you might have found in NCIS."
"Take a seat, Agent Gibbs." The Director's tone was hard. "I am aware of Ms. Sciuto's assets and I am aware that she is one of the best in her field. However, I have some questions I'm not sure even you will be able to answer." He waited, for several moments, until Gibbs reluctantly sat down opposite him. "The first matter is a sealed file that exists in her record. Despite the high clearance she was given when she started working for NCIS, the contents of that file was never disclosed and cannot be accessed without a warrant. I don't want to go down that route if it can be avoided, Agent Gibbs. I don't want to give Ms. Sciuto a reason to leave us if she is uninvolved in this situation." He crossed his hands over a file on his desk and met Gibbs' gaze. "Has she ever mentioned the contents of the sealed file to you?"
"I've never asked," Gibbs answered honestly. "She was fifteen years old when that file was created. It has no relevance to her work here at NCIS and is no one's business but hers unless she chooses to share it."
Director Vance moved his arms, hands resting against the file. "How much do you know about Ms. Sciuto's family?"
Gibbs shrugged, struggling to keep calm against the voice in his head that told him to keep quiet, to respect Abby's privacy and the trust she had placed in him. "I know she has a brother who likes to travel and a sister who is deaf, like her parents. Her parents died in a car accident in New Orleans eight years ago, the other driver was never found."
"Are you aware a substantial amount of money leaves her bank account after she's been paid and is transferred to an account both her brother and sister can access?"
"I became aware of the fact that Abby financially supports both of her siblings after Laffiter disclosed the information when he had her captive. We haven't talk about it but I assume it's why she lives in a crappy apartment when she should be able to afford better on her salary – unless we're not paying her as much as we should be." He kept his expression neutral. "I assume there's a reason you pried into her personal accounts?"
The Director grimaced and opened the file, picking up a photograph and sliding it across the desk to Gibbs. "Can you identify either of the men in this photograph?"
His brow furrowed, Gibbs picked it up carefully and stared intently at the two men in the picture. One he didn't recognise at all but the other he'd met on a few occasions, one being at the funeral of Ben and Gloria Sciuto. "The man on the left is Nick Sciuto, Abby's brother."
"The man on the right was identified by Mossad as being the second operative in the Israeli cell. The one who got away." Director Vance leaned back in his chair, studying Gibbs' reaction. "Can you think of any reason why he might be meeting with Mr. Sciuto in Venice, where the picture was taken?"
Gibbs could think of no such reason. "I know Nick travels a lot. It's possible he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." He lifted his gaze from the photograph. "If he is involved, I can guarantee Abby doesn't know about it. She would have come to me."
"Like she came to you when she filed for a restraining order against Mikel Mawher?" He waited a beat, letting his agent consider it. "I don't want to believe she has anything to do with this, the opportunity to gather the kind of intel we're talking about has been there." The Director took back the photograph and slid it into the file. "I would advise you not to mention this to Ms. Sciuto. If she isn't aware of her brother's involvement, it would be in her best interests to keep it that way until we know more."
He wanted to argue but Gibbs knew Abby's innocence would be better proven by genuine surprise at seeing the photograph first hand. "I won't tell her. My team will have questions; you mentioned your suspicions in front of Ziva and they're just as protective of her as I am."
"All the more reason to get this over with." Director Vance grimaced. "I suggest you call Ms. Sciuto and ask her to meet us here. If she divulges the contents of the sealed file, we'll work under the assumption that she doesn't know any more than she should about the situation. I want to believe in her, too, Agent Gibbs. I know she's had plenty of job offers over the years and has shown nothing but loyalty to NCIS and her colleagues."
Gibbs stood, his posture tense. "If you wanted to believe her, you would. Abby isn't capable of doing anything that would hurt someone else. She's not like us."
He walked out before Vance could comment or question him. The Director picked up the file and placed it in the top drawer of his desk, his expression troubled as he considered Gibbs' reaction and his absolute faith in the forensic scientist.
He wanted to believe his agency was safe from spies, free from informants but the connection between the Sciuto siblings and the man Mossad had identified was impossible to ignore.
The three of them sat crowded around one desk, backs to the other agents milling around the bullpen in the early hours of the morning. Ziva had updated her teammates on the conversation held in MTAC within the first ten minutes of their arrival and the group were now discussing Director Vance's implication against Abby with varying degrees of outrage and anger.
"Doesn't he think she's been through enough?" McGee whispered furiously. "Like she'd do anything against NCIS – or any other agency for that matter, unless Gibbs told her to."
"He's making it really hard to like him," Tony agreed, clenching his jaw. "It's one thing to split up up, another to go after Abby. Gibbs is so not going to be happy."
Ziva glanced up at the mention of their box, past experiences telling her that he had a knack for appearing whenever his name was said. She let her shoulders slump a little in relief when he failed to materialise, fixing her gaze on the door to the director's office. "He has been in there for some time. Do you think we should call Abby and warn her…?"
"Call her at Gibbs' place?" Tony arched an eyebrow. "We're not supposed to know she's still there, are we?"
"He took her home last night," McGee pointed out. "And we haven't been asked to help move her stuff back to her place yet."
"We could just call her on her cell phone and see if she answers?" Ziva looked between them. "I do not want her to get upset by this."
"Neither do I, David, which is why I'm gonna go get her and bring her in to sort this mess out." The sound of Gibbs' voice made them all jump. They turned to face him, guilt on their faces. "The next person I hear talking about it gets transferred to Antarctica."
They watched him pause momentarily at his desk, grabbing the gun from the drawer automatically. "Director David emailed some of the less sensitive reports across. McGee, get them off that thing. Ziva, you might need to translate. DiNozzo, you and Ziva go to the airport to escort the Director and his guards here if I'm not done by then."
Tony opened his mouth to protest, closing it with a snap of his jaw at the sharp well-aimed kick to his ankle. He instead glared at Ziva and held his silence until Gibbs was safely enclosed in the elevator. "What was that for?"
"I was saving you from yourself," Ziva retorted, crossing her arms over her chest. "You were bound to say something that would anger Gibbs and in his current state, I did not think that was wise."
"You might have ended up needing brain surgery, Tony," McGee agreed, wincing at the thought. "Can't remember the last time I saw Gibbs this angry."
The three lapsed into momentary silence as they contemplated their boss's mood. They'd seen Gibbs angry many times – it was almost a fortnightly occurrence – but he was always harder to deal with when there was a personal connection between his anger and the cause of it.
"He got really pissed when you and Director Sheppard were under investigation for the murder of La Grenouille," Ziva pointed out thoughtfully. "He tries to protect those he cares about and gets frustrated when he is unable to do so."
"He should be able to protect Abby," McGee answered after a short pause. "She's done nothing wrong."
An array of colourful scarves were spread out all over the bed in front of her. She surveyed them each with a critical eye, trying to decide which one would look better when the white shirt she'd chosen to wear. Not one of her scarves would work, Abby decided with a sigh, not even the cute black one dotted with skull and crossbones.
Resigned to the thought she'd have to make do with only a necklace, Abby raised her arms and undid the plaits she'd woven her hair into earlier. She shook her head, letting her hair fall about her face in tangled curls.
"Should've got Ziva to bring my straighteners," she muttered, running her fingers through her hair. Her hand lingered near her neck, fingertips gently running over the area of skin where her tattoo used to be. With a sigh, she walked into the en-suite mirror, pulling her hair away with one hand as she traced the area with the fingers of the other hand. The skin was as healed as it was going to get, still slightly pink with a slightly shiny surface associated with a new layer of skin.
Seeing it bare, without the familiar black lines, etched painstakingly into her skin still caused a surge of something indescribable in her stomach. Her eyes stung for a second until she blinked the unwelcome moisture away. She let her arms drop to her sides, watching as the hair fell over her shoulders, concealing her neck from view.
"No pigtails today, Abs?" So engrossed in her thoughts, Abby didn't sense his approach and gasped as she spun around to face him, a hand pressed against her racing heart. "Sorry," Gibbs apologised, lounging casually against the doorway of the bathroom. "You okay?"
"Peachy." She smiled for him but the concern didn't ease from his eyes. "I thought Ducky was coming to get me."
"Change of plan." He didn't move from the doorway, just watched and waited for her to move. She turned back to the mirror, taking her time in applying her make-up. He noticed her hand wasn't quite steady as she applied the red lip colour to her mouth but said nothing, just biding his time.
When she was finished, she put everything back into the case she'd been keeping her things in whilst staying at Gibbs' house, hoping he'd get tired of looking at her and leave her alone so she could compose herself. She'd answered his questions about her captivity, written a statement and followed the procedures she'd had to but she'd refrained from speaking about how it affected her as much as she could. She didn't ordinarily mind sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings with Gibbs but while their relationship was changing and left her uncertain of the new boundaries between them, she wanted to wait until she'd had a chance to reacclimatise to everything that had happened before opening her mind to anymore else – even Gibbs.
When everything was put away neatly, Abby glanced in the mirror and met his gaze. There was something on his face she didn't like, something that made her stomach turn over uneasily.
"Something's wrong." It was a statement, not a question. She flattened her hands against the bench either side of the basin and steeled herself for bad news. "Is everyone okay...?"
She turned, disbelieving. A dark eyebrow arched in question as she crossed the room towards him. "You're scaring me, Gibbs. Just tell me what's wrong."
He opened his mouth, then closed it again. Gibbs reached out for her, resting his hands on her hips and tugging her gently against him. His fingers curled and flexed around her curves, his eyes closing as she leaned against him, head resting comfortably against his shoulder. He let his cheek rest against her hair, inhaling the aroma of her shampoo and specially-made gunpowder fragrance and the underlying scent that was distinctly Abby.
Abby wrapped her own arms around his waist, snuggling into his warmth even as nerves fluttered in her stomach. She let herself linger in his arms for several long moments, her instincts telling her she'd be grateful for the memory the comfort his embrace gave her when it was over.
She pulled back first, hating the look of regret in his blue eyes even without knowing its cause and squared her shoulders. "Tell me."
Gibbs took her hand in his and lifted it to his mouth, lips pressing against her knuckles in a tender, almost reverent gesture. "In the car, Abby. The Director's waiting for us."
He hated lying to her but kept himself from mentioning the photograph on the way back to NCIS Headquarters. He told her about his conversation with Director David, about the suspicions they all had regarding spies in various agencies and about Director Vance's determination that any such moles within NCIS would be found immediately, meaning that every member of personnel needed to be investigated.
"Why me?" Her nose crinkled in confusion as she watched his hands tighten on the steering wheel. "I had a pretty thorough background check when I started. And I'm always getting checked before giving evidence in court or whenever we work with the FBI – I know they say they don't do background checks on us all but I'm pretty sure they do. They're almost as paranoid as the CIA and that's saying something."
Gibbs hesitated, choosing to busy himself with turning the car with care around a corner he'd usually have no qualms about. "The Director read your personnel file, Abs. He saw you have a sealed record."
She tensed, her face growing paler as he watched from the corner of his eye. She clasped her hands together on her lap, knuckles painfully white against the black material of her short skirt. "I was a minor when that file was created. It's got nothing to do with NCIS."
"I know, Abby, which is why I've never asked you about it." He reached across to cover her hands with his, surprised at how cold she felt. "He's going to want to know what's in it, Abby. Until you tell him, he's going to think you're hiding something."
"I am hiding something." She gave a snort of laughter but it wasn't a happy sound. "That's kind of the point of sealed records, Gibbs. But you know that." She pulled her hands free of his, waiting till he took the hint and removed his hand from her lap before crossing her arms across her chest. "Will everyone else need to know what's in it?"
Gibbs shook his head, staring out at the road ahead, grateful he knew the journey well and didn't have to concentrate on where he was going, just on the traffic that stood between them and their destination. "Just Director Vance."
"And you." She said nothing more, waiting until the car was parked in his usual spot before turning to him. "I want you to be there." She reached out tentatively, resting a cold hand on his leg.
"Then I will be." He covered his hand with hers, lacing their fingers together. "You're not alone, Abby. You're never going to be alone again."
The uncertainty on her face made her look more vulnerable, as did the trembling smile she managed to force upon her lips. "Can we get it over with? I just want it done."
They walked in silence into the building, through security and into the elevators. He stood behind her protectively, ignoring the glances they got from agents wondering why the usually vivacious forensic scientist stared down at her feet instead of greeting them all with smiles and enthusiastic chatter. He took her hand when they entered the bullpen, leading her passed the desks of his team and up the stairs towards the Director's office without comment.
Together, they entered the room when Director Vance called out for them to do so.
"Abby didn't look happy." McGee winced when two hands slapped him on the back of his head. "Ow! What?"
Tony frowned at him as Ziva watched their boss and friend walk silently up the stairs. "Stating the obvious, McGee. She wouldn't even look at us."
"Neither would Gibbs." Ziva's eyes narrowed as the pair disappeared, her eyes dropping to her watch. "We have to go, Tony. My father will be arriving in an hour."
His frown disappeared as his colour waned. "There's still plenty of time, Ziva. Traffic's not that bad, especially with your driving."
"Scared, Tony?" Ziva smirked, her concern momentarily pushed to the side as she enjoyed her partner's discomfort. "I assure you, you have nothing to worry about." She glanced at her watch again. "For another fifty-seven minutes, at least. How you behave in front of my father may or may not change that but he won't hurt you unless he is provoked."
"I'm not scared of dear old dad," Tony protested, ignoring McGee's knowing look. "Your driving on the way to the airport, however..."
"I will let you drive," Ziva offered, her smile amused. "If that is all you are concerned about."
Tony's glee at the minor victory died quickly when the car keys were thrust into his hand. He looked down at them and swallowed hard. Ziva's father was a man he'd heard little about, but what he had heard was enough to make him lose his appetite more so than meeting his ex-girlfriend's arms dealer of a father. Not that Ziva was his girlfriend – no, she was more than that; they were partners, and the man he was going to meet was the man who'd decided to train his daughter to be an assassin, a soldier and a ruthless killer.
"Canary got your tongue, Tony?" Ziva's smirk deepened.
"Ah, cat," McGee corrected with a smile. "The cat got the canary and your tongue."
"I do not have a cat, McGee," Ziva protested, forehead furrowed as her attention was momentarily diverted.
Even the mistake failed to amuse him as it once would've done. Tony instead pocketed the keys and glanced almost longingly at the desk scattered in reports printed McGee had printed from Gibbs' computer. "You sure you don't need me here, McGeek? There's an awful lot of reading to do..."
"There'll be more when Director David gets here." McGee grinned. "You go and help them bring everything back here."
"It was an order from Gibbs," Ziva reminded him in a sing-song voice. "Come on, DiNozzo. Stop being such a baby."
"I'm not a baby." Tony glared at her hand clenching around the car keys burning a hole in his pocket. "Just... worrying about Abby. Maybe I should stay here in case she wants to talk once she's done with the Director."
His teammates looked at him sceptically. "You think she would talk to you?"
"Over Gibbs?" McGee chimed in, eyebrows raised. "You don't exactly have a great track record of talking to Abby when she's upset, Tony."
"Better than you, McDork." Tony's eyes narrowed. "Who's she more likely to come to, you or me?"
"Gibbs," Ziva answered on McGee's behalf, impatience edging her words. "And if he were not available, she would go to Ducky. They will be a while, Tony. If we leave now, we may even be back before they are finished."
Unable to think of another excuse, Tony reluctantly left with Ziva for the airport, leaving McGee to split his time between reading reports and looking anxiously up at the stairs for any sign of Gibbs and Abby reappearing.
Her hands were folded sedately in her lap. Abby fixed her gaze on the back of the framed photo on Director Vance's desk, unable to meet the Director's eyes as he recounted everything Gibbs' had told her in the car. She fought the urge to fidget, working hard to keep her body in what felt like an unnaturally still state.
"As you're no doubt aware, we do comprehensive background checks on all employees when they first start at NCIS. I was reviewing your file, Ms. Sciuto, when I became aware of a sealed record in your past. As it dates back to your childhood, I'm sure it has no bearing on the current crisis we may find ourselves facing but you understand why I have to ask." Director Vance clasped his hands, resting them on the desk in front of him. "I would like you to give us authorisation to open the file without a warrant, though it would be in your best interest to disclose its contents before we were to do that."
"I'll sign whatever forms I need to in order to grant authorisation but I'm not saying anything until I have your word that the contents of that file will go no further than it has to." Abby looked up at him for the first time since entering the office, a vaguely haunted expression on her face. "While it has no relevance to NCIS, it would have a bearing on my personal life and I'd like your word that you'll help minimise any impact it might have."
A little taken aback by her eloquence, the Director paused for only a second before nodding his agreement. "It will go no further than this office and a few, select individuals. You have my word."
"Okay." Abby bit down on her bottom lip and stared down at her hands. "My father was a drunk. Not my adopted father, my biological father. Ryan Montague. He was rich, so he got away with doing a lot of stuff he shouldn't have done, including beating my mother and, when she wasn't available, beating me. Turns out there are some advantages to having a deaf wife and daughter –you can beat up the other kid without anyone hearing anything." She forced herself to lift her head, meeting first Director Vance's gaze before glancing over at Gibbs. "He beat us on and off for five years. When Gloria had Nick, things changed for a bit. He was calmer, didn't drink as much. I thought it was because he finally had the son he wanted and things would be fine but one night he came home really, really drunk. Nick was teething and wouldn't stop crying. Gloria and Sophie slept through it but I heard and went to take care of him..."
Her voice broke and it was all Gibbs could do not to reach out for her. He waited, his own hands clenched, for her to continue, eyes hard but intently fixed upon her face.
"My father was there. He had a knife and there was blood on the floor. He'd cut himself, he was that drunk, and he was ranting about shutting the brat up once and for all. I attacked him before he could hurt Nick. He fell over, I picked up the knife and I stabbed him." She stared down at her hands again. "I tried to kill my father. He fought back and we must've been screaming at each other because a neighbour called the cops. We were both taken to hospital, both gave our statements... Gloria backed me up, said he'd been abusing us for years and he was arrested with restraining orders taken out against him. He said I'd tried to kill him but the Judge decided it was in self-defence and agreed to have the whole thing sealed so it wouldn't be on my record that I'd tried to kill my father when I was a kid. My Dad – Ben Sciuto – was the shrink the court appointed to counsel my family. Sophie's blanked the whole thing from her mind and my brother has no idea his biological father tried to kill him. We've had no contact from Ryan since then and I'd really like it to stay that way. If he were to find out the records had been opened, if he knew where we were..." Her head rose, her eyes panicked. "I've done everything I can to keep Sophie and Nick from finding him, to keep him from being involved in their lives and I can't let anything get in the way of that. Not even NCIS. I love it here, Sir, but if there's a chance this is going to get out because I work here, I'll have no choice but to leave. My family comes first. I haven't spent most of my life protecting them only to have it fall to pieces now."
"That won't be necessary." Gibbs spoke before the Director could. He gave the other man a hard look when Director Vance looked in his direction. "You're not leaving, Abby. You're needed here. What you've said goes no further than this room and the Director will make sure it stays between as few people as possible." Despite the witness they had in their boss, he reached across and took her hand securely in his. "Your father will never find out the records were opened."
It would take a lot of willpower, Gibbs knew, but he'd keep the promise if it killed him. As much as the voice in his head was screaming at him to find the bastard who'd hurt her and get revenge, he'd do his best to reign in on that impulse in order to keep Ryan Montague from being any more involved in her life than he already was.
Director Vance cleared his throat, fingering the file on his desk. "Thank you for your honesty, Ms. Sciuto, but there is one more thing I have to ask you about before I let you leave." He flipped open the file with a sigh, picking up the photograph and holding it out to her with a steady hand. "Do you know the man in this picture talking to your brother?"
Surprise written on her features, Abby took the photo from his hand and stared at it with a frown. "I recognise my brother," she said eventually, raising her eyes to his. "I don't... Why was someone taking surveillance pictures of my brother?"
"They weren't. He didn't interest them at the time." Director Vance folded his arms over the desk once more. "The man with him has been identified as being the second operative who evaded capture by Mossad in Israel. He was spotted conversing with your brother in Venice."
"Nick's a photographer. He had a show in Venice a few weeks ago." Abby studied the picture, her gaze flittering from the familiar face to the unfamiliar face. "He's trying to hit the big time, has a couple of shows coming up in the US. There's one in DC sometime this month I promised I go to but I'd forgotten all about it till now." She handed the picture back and met Director Vance's gaze head-on. "I have no idea who the other man in the picture is and that's the truth. I don't know what he was doing with my brother and I understand that you'll want to ask Nick about it. I can give him a call and see when he'll be in town if you like but I'd appreciate it if you'd keep my father out of any conversations you might have with him."
"Would your brother be willing to come in for questioning?" Director Vance ignored the warning look Gibbs gave him. "It would make it a lot easier for all of us if he came in voluntarily."
Abby smiled slightly. "He'll come in if I ask him to," she answered confidently. "He's a good guy. I'm sure he's got nothing to hide."
"I hope you're right." Director Vance returned her smile and closed the folder on the desk in front of him. "I think we're done here. I'm sure you've still got a lot of work to catch up on..."
"You have no idea." Abby brightened considerably at the thought of escaping to her lab and stood when the Director did, noticing Gibbs followed only a second behind.
Director Vance held his hand out for her to take, nodding when she did so hesitantly. "It's good to have you back, Ms. Sciuto. It hasn't been quite the same without you."
"Thanks. I think." She shook his head and turned to leave as soon as he released her. It was only a matter of seconds before Gibbs moved to follow, escorting her out of the office with a hand to the small of her back.
They moved to stand at the balcony overlooking the bullpen, side by side though Gibbs' hand lingered where it was.
"Are you angry I didn't tell you before?" Abby asked after a long beat of silence. She fixed her gaze on the bullpen below, watching as Agent Mann approached McGee's desk and the two struck up a conversation no doubt related to the pieces of paper spread out in front of them.
"Not angry." Gibbs shifted a little closer, watching her as she watched the duo below them. "We've both had our secrets, Abby. I'd like to think they're out in the open for the most part now."
She gave him a sidelong glance, an eyebrow raised in question. They both knew he had more secrets than she did, some of which he'd never disclose nor would she ever ask him to. "You're not having second thoughts? Not wishing... Not wishing I was someone else?" Her gaze dropped meaningfully to the blond woman talking to McGee. "I'd understand, you know. It would hurt like hell and take quite a while to get over but I'd understand..."
His body pressing against her side caused her to stop mid-sentence. Abby looked at him as the former Lieutenant-Colonel looked up at the feeling of being watched. Gibbs brought a hand to her neck, fingers moving her hair out of the way so he could feel the unblemished skin it hid.
"The only second thoughts I'm having involves leaving the house this morning and agreeing to your three dates rule." His eyes searched hers, his hand warm against her skin. He felt her pulse in her throat, felt her heartbeat increase. "You're an incredible woman, Abigail Sciuto."
A blush stained her cheeks and she smiled in spite of herself. "That's the one and only time I'll let you get away with calling me Abigail," she warned, leaning into his hand despite her words. "As for the three date rule, I was thinking about that. You cooked for me last night."
Gibbs looked at her, trying to process the leap in conversation. "I did. I always cook unless we have takeout because I refuse to let you burn down my kitchen."
Abby grinned, a glint in her green eyes. "A guy cooking for a girl in his own house sounds like a date to me. Don't you think?"
He arched an eyebrow. "One date down, two to go?"
"Mmm hmm..." She sidled closer, twisting her body slightly so she could face him. "Going out for coffee would be a great second date. I think I'll need a fix sometime around one if you can get away." She rose on her tiptoes and kissed him, slightly closer to his lips than was normal for a peck on the cheek before turning away with a mischievous grin. "I've got to get back to my lab and you've got to get back to work."
"I'll see you at 12.59," Gibbs countered, a grin playing about on his lips as he watched her descend the stairs two at a time. Leave it to Abby, he thought. She was the one wearing her heart on her sleeve, making herself vulnerable, yet she turned things around, twisted them until she was the one making things better for him, leaving him smiling when by all rights he should have been brooding over his inability to protect her even if what he wanted to protect her from had happened years before they'd met.
His smile faded as he followed her down into the bullpen just as the elevator doors opened to admit Tony, Ziva and the Director of Mossad.
"This is going to be a long day," Mann muttered, looking like she wished for her uniform back as she crossed her arms over her smart grey suit.
"The longest," he agreed quietly, standing by her side as the party approached.
"Boss..." McGee hesitated, glancing between the two of them and in the direction their forensic expert had disappeared. "Everything okay with Abby?"
Gibbs nodded, managing to give the younger agent a small smile to reassure him. "She's fine, McGee. Concentrate on the case."
Evidently satisfied, McGee returned the nod with one of his own and stepped forward to take one of the boxes Director David's men carried.
The hunt, it seemed, had begun.