Everything was checked and double-checked. They couldn't enter the art gallery before the opening of the exhibit but McGee had acquired the blue prints and they'd been studied and discussed by Gibbs' team and Agent Mann. All exits were memorised and a plan of action was put into place in case the worst happened.
Abby chose not to be part of the discussion, trusting Gibbs and the others to do their jobs, leaving her to check the eyes and ears the Directors had requested were fully functioning prior to being fitted to each member of the undercover party – herself included.
Her excitement at being reunited with her brother was almost entirely replaced by a sense of dread that he could be in danger. Instead of being pleased as she dressed up in the striking dark-green dress she'd chosen for the occasion, she found herself reluctantly adjusting the satin halter-neck straps as she surveyed herself in the mirror of the bathrooms at NCIS headquarters.
"Are you okay, Abby?" It was Hollis Mann who asked, meeting her eyes in the mirror as she helped zip up the back of Ziva's form-fitting midnight-blue gown. "It's not too late to change your mind..."
"It is. I promised Nick I'd be there." She smiled weakly. "I've never broken a promise to him before."
Hollis smiled as she turned to let Ziva zip up the back of her own evening dress, dark red in colour. "You must be close to him. I don't have any siblings."
"I don't know whether you're lucky or not," Abby murmured, soothing down her dress before turning her attention to her hair. "I love them, Nick and Sophie, but they're hard work sometimes."
"You practically raised them," Ziva pointed out, joining the conversation. "You have the love of a sister and the worry of a parent."
"Sounds tough," Hollis chimed in. She settled at the counter next to Abby and reached for the make-up bag between them. "We won't let anyone hurt him, Abby."
Abby tried to smile but failed, her eyes betraying her anxiety as she clipped up most of her previously curled hair atop of her head. "Thank you."
While she looked down to find her lipstick, Hollis and Ziva exchanged concerned glances in the mirror's reflective surface.
"You have not mentioned your brother much before," Ziva continued the conversation, fixing a smile on her face as she ran a hand through her loose curls. "I look forward to meeting him."
Abby smirked. "He'll be thrilled to meet both of you, I'm sure. Nick can be a bit of a lady's man when he puts his mind to it."
"Surely he can be no worse than DiNozzo." Ziva arched an eyebrow when Abby just laughed. "Really?"
"He's a photographer," Abby pointed out, some of her nerves dissipating at the casual conversation. "An artist is always in search of his muse. That's one of his favourite chat up lines."
Hollis rolled her eyes as she applied a shiny lip gloss. "Why do men think women will fall for such corny lines? Do they really think we're so starved for compliments that anything will work?"
"They are men," Ziva shrugged. "They do not understand that it takes more than flattery to capture a woman's interest."
"It's not our interest they're trying to get." Abby gave her companions a knowing look. "We should take bets on how many guys will try to give you their numbers tonight."
"Their numbers?" Hollis looked surprised. "It's an art showing, not a nightclub."
Ziva frowned. "Why would they give us their numbers and not you?"
Her freshly painted lips curved up in a smile as her eyes, made even greener by her dress, glittered. "First, there's no sleazier crowd than a bunch of bored art critics who only go to these things for the free drinks and pretty girls. Second, who's gonna be brave – or stupid - enough to give me their number with Gibbs scowling at them?"
"He is very protective of you," Ziva agreed with a knowing smile. "More so recently."
A slight blush coloured her cheeks and Abby shrugged her bare shoulders. "After what happened with Laffiter, you can't really blame him."
"I heard about that," Hollis said quietly. "McGee said Jethro killed the guy."
"Just in time, too," Ziva confirmed with a nod. "Though I was referring to the change in your relationship more than the incident with Laffiter, Abby."
Abby's blush deepened when she noticed both women staring at her. "What?"
"The innocent look will not work, Abby. We've all seen the way he looks at you." Ziva smirked. "And you have always been his favourite."
Fortunately for Abby, she was saved from having to think of an answer by a loud knock on the door, followed by Tony's voice. "Hey, ladies? If you could come out some time tonight, it'd be good!"
Rolling their eyes and giving themselves a last minute once over in the mirror, the three women left the sanctuary of the bathroom and went out to greet their dates for the evening.
Though they arrived well before the invitation specified, the gallery was already swarming with people by the time they got there. They were welcomed warmly by the suit-clad ushers on the doors and shown inside with a crowd of other newcomers.
Arm in arm with Gibbs, Abby led the small group, eyes scanning the crowd anxiously for her brother. A wide smile spread across her face when she spotted him, surrounded by a half-circle of glamorous looking men and women and it took only a moment for the weight of her gaze to register and Nick Sciuto to search her out.
The dark-haired man gave her a grin as familiar as her own and excused himself quickly, crossing the room in a few long strides. He opened his arms as she flew into them, catching her easily and lifting her, twirling her in a circle before setting her back down on her feet. "Hello stranger."
"Hello yourself." Abby beamed at him, an arm wrapping around his waist as she let her head rest on his shoulder. For all he was her baby brother, he was at least five inches taller. While Abby was slender, her brother was broad and wound a muscled arm around her shoulders.
"Guys, this is my brother and man of the moment, Nick Sciuto." She glowed with pride as she gazed up him. "These are the guys. Gibbs, Tony, Ziva, Tim and Hollis."
Nick Sciuto held out a hand and smiled warmly when Gibbs took it. "Pleased to meet you all and put names to the faces at last. Abby's told me a lot about you. A whole lot. It's hard to get her to stop talking, actually."
While Tony made a sound that could be construed as agreement, Abby nudged her brother with her elbow. "Careful what you say, baby brother of mine. I'm sure your adoring public would just love some little Nicky stories to pad out their reviews of tonight's exhibit."
"Warning received and duly noted." Nick grinned, affection written all over his features. "Speaking of the exhibit, I hope you guys don't find it too dull. I know Abs probably dragged you here to keep her company."
"Not at all, we're big fans of the arts." Tony returned the grin. "I'm a big fan of little Abby stories, too, so if you have a moment to spare..." He ducked before Ziva could hit him with the hand she'd raised, darting behind Gibbs for protection. "Hey, boss, thought we discussed making that a new rule."
Gibbs smirked at him and said nothing. He instead turned his attention back to Abby and her brother. "You want to look around, Abby?"
"Definitely." She leaned on her tiptoes to brush her painted lips against her brother's cheek before stepping away from threading her arm through Gibbs'. "You go do what you have to. We'll have a look around and meet up later, okay?"
Nick gave them a slight bow. "I hope you enjoy what you see."
He was accosted almost the moment he stepped away from them, leaving Gibbs to turn to his team and give the order to spread out, keeping their eyes open for Alexis Giovanni, Simon Cross and Elanna Maslov. Securing an arm around Abby's waist, Gibbs escorted her to the first set of photographs, black and white crowds oblivious that the moment they were experiencing was caught on film forever.
They circled the exhibit, Abby admiring her brother's work while Gibbs tried to keep his mind on the job at hand and not the woman on his arm. Hearing the others speaking through the earpiece he wore helped, especially when McGee and Hollis confirmed Alexis Giovanni was in attendance.
She turned to look at him, the happiness on her face dying under the intensity of his stare. "He's here, isn't he?"
"On the other side of the room. You can stay here…" Even as he spoke, Abby glanced around the room, trying to find her brother, heart pounding when she failed to spot him in the crowd. "Or you can come with me."
"Is Nick with him?" She asked quietly, knowing the question would be heard by the other members of the team. There was only a small pause, wherein Gibbs received confirmation that he was and nodded, his expression grim. Squaring her shoulders, Abby tried to push her worry aside. "Then I'm coming with you. Maybe I can get us an introduction."
With more than a little reluctance, Gibbs escorted her around the room to the place Giovanni had last been spotted. He was forced to stop when Abby came to a stand-still mid-step, her green eyes wide with disbelief as she stared at the group surrounding her brother.
Unable to see a reason for her reaction, Gibbs glanced at her in concern. "Abby…?"
"Amanda." She stared at the back of the blond haired woman standing close to her brother, her face pale. "That's Amanda." She narrowed her eyes, trying to get a better view of the person standing next to Giovanni, a woman, she could tell from the dress, but someone who's face was blocked from view by her brother's form. "She wouldn't have left Sophie on her own, Gibbs, and there's no way Soph would leave the house unless she was forced."
His arm tightened around her waist and she felt his body tense. "Then let's go see what they have to say. Maybe it's something innocent, Abby. They might just want to surprise you…"
Nick moved as he spoke and he caught his first glimpse of the middle Sciuto sibling, saw the strain on her face beneath the make-up she wore and the fear lurking in the depths of her hazel eyes.
Only one member of the group they approached was genuinely pleased to see them. Alexis Giovanni moved as if to embrace Abby warmly, stopping only at the scowl he got from the man standing behind her. He held out his hand instead, a broad grin on his face.
"I'm Alexis Giovanni, proud owner of this establishment. You must be Abigail. Nick has told me so much about you."
An eyebrow arched in her brother's direction, Abby slipped her hand out of his as soon as it was polite to do so. "All good things, I hope," she answered with as bright a smile as she could manage, hands moving effortlessly as signed to her sister. 'What are you doing here, Sophie? What's going on?'
"Of course," Giovanni smiled charmingly, his eyes briefly dropping to her rapidly moving hands. "Are you and your partner enjoying the exhibit?"
"Very much," Gibbs answered on her behalf, casting Nick a look when Abby's brother refused to meet his gaze. He, too, signed to Sophie when the young woman failed to answer her sister's question, speaking aloud as he did so. "It's good to see you again, Sophie. Abby didn't mention you would be here." 'Don't worry, Sophie, it'll be okay. Can he understand sign language?'
'I don't think so. He doesn't like it when we sign.' The answer came from Amanda, who smiled bright at Gibbs and Abby as she did so. "We wanted to surprise her. Nick mentioned it'd been a while since he'd seen both of his sister's so we thought this was an opportunity too good to pass up. I'm Amanda. Amanda Layton. I live with Sophie."
"Jethro Gibbs." Gibbs took the hand she offered him and smiled. "Abby's date." 'We know something's going on. Whatever it is, we're going to make sure you're all okay.'
"It's a nice surprise," Abby chimed in, her cheeks beginning to ache from the falseness of her smile. She was concerned at the way Sophie refused to look at her and refused to reply, her hands clasped in front of her as though she was purposely trying to keep them still. 'Sophie, please. Let me know you're okay.' "I suppose I should be thanking you, Mr. Giovanni, for making this reunion possible."
Pleased at being included in the conversation and undoubtedly not-so-pleased at being unable to follow what wasn't being said aloud, Giovanni turned his full attention on Abby though he wound an arm around Sophie's waist, pulling her against him. "No thanks are necessarily and please, call me Alexis. I'm just one of the family now, aren't I, Nick?"
"Sure." Nick tugged at the collar of his shirt uncomfortably. "One of the family."
'What's wrong with Sophie?' Abby glanced from her brother to Amanda, anger threatening to overtake her own fear at the look on Sophie's face as she was anchored to Giovanni's side. "It's good to know there's someone out there taking an interest in my little brother's career. How did you guys meet, anyway?"
"An artist I had dealings with introduced us when your brother was touring Europe, seeking inspiration for this exhibit," Giovanni answered smoothly. "I asked to look at his work and was impressed. He has an eye for seeing the true beauty in life, not a surprise considering the company he keeps."
'Sophie hasn't spoken since we left New Orleans,' Amanda signed. "You're very kind, Alexis. Nick was very lucky to meet you; you've done so much for him."
"I could use a drink," Gibbs cut in before Giovanni could reply, ignoring the glare he got for being so rude from the Italian. "Can I get you ladies anything? Abby? Sophie?" 'I'm going to talk to the others. Will you come with me, Sophie?'
"I'll have a white wine, thanks. Why don't you take Sophie with you?" Abby gave him a grateful smile and reached out to take her sister's arm before anyone could object. "You'll help Gibbs, won't you, Soph?" 'Go with him, Sophie. Please.'
Her sister nodded after a short pause, stepping away from Giovanni, who reluctantly dropped his arm from her waist but instantly replaced her by reaching out for Abby's arm, effectively trading one sister for another.
"What do you think of your brother's work, Abigail?" It was Giovanni's turn to ignore the glare Gibbs aimed at him, his hand pressing against the small of Abby's back as he gave her a polished smile. "He said you are responsible for making it possible for him to follow his dreams, for which I must thank you for."
"I've always been an admirer." Abby looked to Gibbs, giving him a small nod in response to the question in his eyes, giving him permission to whisk her sister away and leave her alone. "Even when we were kids, he was constantly taking Dad's camera and running around the yard."
"Your father encouraged him?" Giovanni's pale eyebrows rose. "Nick has not mentioned your parents much, I'm afraid."
"They died in a car accident when we were younger," Nick answered, his voice gruff. He, too, watched Gibbs and Sophie leave, his shoulders slumping a little. "Abs took care of me and Sophie after that."
Covering her surprise at having her brother acknowledge that fact was easy; trying to keep herself from slapping the man beside her when she felt his hand edge lower was a harder feat to achieve. "We're a very private family, Mr. Giovanni." She took a slight step away, grinding her teeth when he responded by following. "Losing our parents was quite difficult for us all so we don't talk about it much."
"I see. Then I am sorry for your loss." His fingers stroked the small of her back through the green satin, his attention fully focused on her. "Nick told me you work for something called NCIS. Forgive my ignorance, but I do not understand what it is you do?"
Alarm bells went off in her head but Abby tried to keep the panic from showing on her face, glancing surreptitiously towards the bar in the hopes that Gibbs was on his way back. As a non-field agent, she'd foregone the eyes and ears the rest of the team had, counting on them to do the work while she hopefully kept her brother out of it. They'd all expected Gibbs to be with her all night, hadn't counted on there being more than two Sciuto siblings to keep an eye on. "I'm a forensic scientist," she answered eventually. "I process evidence."
"It must be interesting." His hand crept lower, just hovering above the curve of her behind. "Do you help catch criminals?"
"Not personally, no." She glanced at her brother, an eyebrow arched as if to ask for his help but Nick responded by clearing his throat and looking away. "I wonder what's taking so long with those drinks. If you'll excuse me, I'll see what's keeping Gibbs and Sophie..."
Giovanni's hand moved from her back to her arm swiftly, his grip almost bruising. "I'm sure they'll be here soon. Why don't you let me escort you around in place of your date? I'm sure you're eager to view the rest of Nick's work."
Unable to think of a way to refuse that wouldn't involve her knee meeting his crotch and drawing too much attention to them, Abby forced a smile and nodded her agreement. There were four Agents working the room, not including Gibbs. Surely there'd be at least one of them keeping an eye on Giovanni.
She let him guide her away reluctantly, annoyed with her brother when he remained beside Amanda, an arm wrapped around the blond woman's waist and annoyed at Amanda for not doing her job and making sure Sophie was okay.
"You do not look old enough to be the big sister Nick spoke about," Giovanni murmured, his voice too close to her ear for comfort. "From what he described, I was expecting to meet an old maid with grey hair, not a vibrant young thing like yourself."
"I'm flattered but I assure you, I'm not as young as I appear to be." 'Nor as naïve,' she added inwardly, eyes searching the faces they passed. Her heart rose when she thought she caught sight of Tony and Ziva, only to fall when the dark haired woman turned around and revealed herself to be a stranger, not a friend. "You said you were introduced to Nick by a mutual acquaintance. Can I ask what it was about his work that made you willing to go to the expense of so many exhibits?"
"His work is beautiful. He has a talent for seeing beauty in the ordinary things in life, like I said." He glanced at her and saw the scepticism on her face, a grin taking hold of his lips. "Honestly? I see an opportunity to make money from prints of your brother's photographs. They will be desired on a commercial level, by businesses and home owners alike to decorate their properties. Several pieces are a talking point and if marketed properly could easily sell a million times over."
Abby bit back a sigh, certain her brother would be disappointed to hear the Italian-American's plans for his work. She opened her mouth to say as much when a sudden movement caught her eye and she glanced across the room to see Gibbs – minus Sophie – striding towards them. A genuine smile broke out across her face when Giovanni was forced to relinquish his hold on her so Gibbs could resume his rightful place at her side. "Is Sophie okay..?"
"Getting some air with McGee," Gibbs murmured, handing her one of the glasses he held. "Did I miss anything?"
"Mr. Giovanni was just explaining why he'd go to the trouble of setting up these exhibits for Nick," she told him, cuddling into his side as his arm wound around her waist. "He thinks there's money to be made in Nick's work."
Gibbs smiled, full of charm, at their host. "Isn't it always about money?" He asked conversationally. "There's very little a man won't do for it."
Giovanni inclined his head, a glimmer of annoyance showing briefly on his face. "We are all businessmen at heart, are we not? It is in our nature to earn as much as we can so we can properly protect and care for those we love. A modern-day primal instinct, as it were."
"That's an interesting way of putting it," Gibbs commented, his interest appearing to be genuine. He shifted when Abby leaned into him further, glancing down at her just in time to see the discomfort on her face when Giovanni's attention returned to her once again. "We'd hate to keep you from speaking to your potential customers, Mr. Giovanni. Maybe we can speak again later in the evening?"
Giovanni hesitated for a split second before he gave them a small nod. "Of course. I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of the exhibit." He bowed to them gallantly and left them alone.
Leaning against him, Abby let her head rest against his shoulder for an all-too-short moment before pulling herself together. "Is Sophie really okay?" She asked, pulling back to look at him. "There's something going on, Gibbs. Neither Nick or Amanda would look me in the eye."
"She's not speaking. I told McGee to take her outside for some fresh air. Maybe some distance between her and Giovanni will help." He touched her cheek softly. "You want to go check on her?"
Smiling softly, Abby nodded. "Keep an eye on Nick, will you? I think…" She bit her lip and looked nervously over her shoulder. "I think he's in trouble, Gibbs."
He leaned down to place a gentle kiss against her forehead, not caring whether or not they were seen by the other members of his team or what the Director thought at that moment in time. "We'll do everything we can to help him, Abby. I promise. Now go take care of Sophie. She needs you."
Another quick smile and she was gone, disappearing into the crowd and leaving him momentarily on his own. His solitude didn't last for long, however, as Tony and Ziva approached to discuss what their next move would be.
The cold air hit her like a wave when she stepped outside and Abby found herself wishing she'd stopped to get her coat. All thoughts of going inside to retrieve it were forgotten when she caught sight of her sister's slender form, sitting hunched over on a wall to the side of the building with McGee's jacket draped over her still shivering shoulders. The Agent himself knelt in front of her, concern etched into his face.
"Hey, McGee." Abby spoke softly as she hurried towards them, not wanting to startle the armed agent. She gave him a quick smile as she crouched down beside him opposite her sister as best as she could in the dress she wore. 'Hi Sophie.'
Her sister's hands twitched in her lap as though she was going to respond but Sophie stopped herself, fingernails digging into the flesh of her palms.
'Sophie, please talk to me. You're safe now. McGee's here and he's armed. No one's gonna hurt you, I promise.'
After what felt like an hour but in reality was only a few minutes, Sophie's hands began to move hesitantly. 'He said he'd kill us if we said anything. He said he'd kill you.'
'No one's going to kill us,' Abby signed. "He threatened them. Said he'd kill them if they spoke." 'Who is he, Soph? What does he want with you?'
Sophie shook her head, tears falling from her eyes as she looked up. 'Not me, Abby. His boss wants you and Nick. He said…' Her hands faltered and she reached up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. 'He said he's been told he can keep me as a reward once he delivers you and Nick to his boss.'
Relaying the information to McGee, knowing it would be heard by the others, Abby's hands began to move again, fluently coaxing information from her sister. 'No one's going to keep you and no one's going to hurt you, Sophie, I promise. I will never let that happen. Did he tell you anything about his boss? Or what he wants with me and Nick?'
'No. I thought his boss was going to be here tonight but there's been no one else, just him. He scares me, Abby. He keeps looking at me.'
Easily imagining what her sister meant, Abby clenched her jaw after telling McGee what she'd said. 'When this is over, he'll never be able to look at you again. Is there anything else you remember that might help us? We know he's a bad guy. How did Nick get involved with him in the first place? Why? He's always been about the art, not about the money.'
Sophie bit her lip guilty and looked away for a moment. 'Nick said he's tired of having to rely on you for everything. He said he wanted to prove he doesn't need looking after so when Alexis offered him the chance to get his name known, he went for it. He said… He said he'd pay for my surgery when he made enough money so I could be independent, too.'
"What surgery?" Forgetting herself, Abby frowned. She watched Sophie's brow furrow and realised her sister had been watching her hands, not her lips, waiting for a response. "She said Nick got involved with Giovanni for the money but that it was all about selling his photos, not drugs," she said for the team's benefit, hands moving furiously as she continued speaking with her sister. 'What surgery, Sophie? This is the first I've heard of it.'
'I know. I'm sorry, Abby.' Another tear tracked down Sophie's cheek and Abby had to fight the impulse to wipe it away. 'I read about an experimental surgery taking place to help people who were born deaf. It's only in trial stages and it costs a lot to get into if you can't get a referral. Doctor Johanson wouldn't refer me so Nick said he'd give me the money when he'd established his reputation.'
'Why didn't you come to me? I could've helped, I could've done something...' Abby stopped signing so she could rub her eyes, struggling against the sting of moisture there.
'You always help us, Abby. We're not kids anymore! We can't rely on you for the rest of our lives, it's just not fair! I didn't tell you about it because I knew you can't afford it, not without having to make some pretty big sacrifices and you've already made enough of those. And I didn't want you to feel bad about not being able to help.' Sophie looked at her imploringly. 'Please don't be mad at me. I'm just so tired of being a burden.'
'You're not a burden, you're my sister.' Unable to hide the tears shining in her eyes, Abby blinked them back. 'I love you, Sophie. I would do anything for you and Nick. It hurts that you didn't come to me with this, because Nick's now involved with this guy who is serious bad news and it could've all been prevented if you'd both just been honest with me and let me help.'
"Abby?" McGee rose, putting a hand on her shoulder both as comfort and as support as he got to his feet. His hand moved to his gun. "They've lost sight of Giovanni. Boss said to meet them in the lobby."
'Come on, Sophie. We've got to go inside. Stay behind me and you'll be safe.' Abby reached for her sister's hand, tugging her up to her feet so Sophie couldn't respond.
"Aww, isn't that sweet? Always the protective big sister." His smirk audible in his voice, Alexis Giovanni took the steps down to their level two at a time, the gun in his hand unwavering. His smirk widened when Abby stepped in front of her sister, pushing the slightly younger woman behind both her and McGee. "Has anyone ever told you you've got to let them go, Abigail? All little birdies need to fly the nest someday."
"Maybe they do but today is not that day." Abby stood her ground even as McGee tried to edge in front of her. "Who are you working for, Giovanni? What are they paying you to do this?"
"More than you can imagine," Giovanni answered, his eyes gleaming. "It's worth more than my life to tell you who he is, Abigail. He wants that honour for himself."
Eyes narrowed as she felt Sophie tremble behind her, Abby squared her shoulders against a flinch when the gun was pointed right between her eyes. Her heart pounded in her chest but she refused to give in to her fear, knowing any information she could get out of him would be relayed back to Gibbs and his team and might help protect her family and hundreds of others even if the price she had to pay was her own life. "What does he want with us? Your boss is into terrorism, right? Stealing secrets and selling them to the highest bidder? What would he want with a photographer and a forensic scientist?"
For a second, Giovanni appeared surprised at what she knew. Then the smirk returned on his face, alongside the click of his weapon. "I don't want to kill you, Abigail, but I will if you stand in my way. He promised me Sophie and I plan to collect."
"If he wants me, he won't be happy if you kill me," Abby reasoned quietly. "Just tell me who he is and we can work this out. Maybe we can make a deal…"
"I'm not interested in a deal. I want what I'm owed." A bead of sweat ran down the side of his face but his aim of his weapon didn't falter. "I could kill you now, take her and be out of the country before he knows what's happened."
"You could be." Abby shrugged one shoulder, noticing a movement in the shadows out of the corner of her eye but telling herself not to react. "I'm thinking you don't just deal drugs, you take them, too. You're not looking so steady there, Giovanni. Give it up, protect yourself."
"If you put the gun down, we can talk," McGee spoke up, his arm tensed as he tracked the other man's movements with his gun. "You got in over your head, got involved with the wrong people… Give us the information we want to know and we can keep you safe."
"I can keep myself safe," Giovanni sneered. "I just want what's mine."
"I hate to be the one to break it to you but Sophie is mine and I'm not giving her to anyone." Her voice hard, Abby reached behind to take her sister's hand, squeezing it reassuringly even though Sophie couldn't hear her declaration. "Whoever he is, he had no right to promise her to you."
"Drop the weapon," McGee ordered, his voice loud in the otherwise quiet night. Abby wondered for a moment why he'd shouted, then realised he was trying to distract Giovanni from whoever was creeping up behind him. "You're only making it worse for yourself. Drop the weapon and we can talk."
"No. No, I don't want to talk." Giovanni shook his head. "He's on his way," he threatened McGee. "He's on his way and he'll kill you where you stand. He wants Nick and Abigail and you're not gonna be able to stop him from taking them. You can't stop me." His finger edged towards the trigger. "If the bitch's dead, he'll think you killed her. I'll tell him you killed her and I took Sophie because you were gonna kill her, too."
"Not going to happen. You won't make it out of here alive," McGee responded, his arm steady. "Final chance, Mr. Giovanni. Put the weapon down now."
His finger twitched over the trigger as two shots rang out in close succession. McGee pushed Abby and Sophie out of the way, a cry escaping his lips as a bullet grazed his arm. Giovanni dropped to the ground, blood pooling beneath him where it poured from the bullet-shaped wound in his shoulder.
Abby glanced up to see Hollis removing Giovanni's gun from his reach, her recently fired weapon still pointing at the man on the ground.
"Everyone okay?" Hollis asked, sparing them a brief glance.
Sophie wept quietly into her sister's shoulder, arms wrapped around Abby's waist as the sister's sat together on the cold ground. McGee groaned as he pushed himself up right, his face paling even more when he took in the blood staining the sleeve of his jacket.
"McGee!" Reaching out to him with the arm that wasn't holding her sister, Abby's eyes widened in alarm. "You got shot!"
"Just a scratch," McGee muttered, shrugging out of his jacket as the three other agents appeared. "It's nothing, Abby. Take care of your sister."
Abby frowned, torn between the two of them. She was relieved when Tony knelt down beside them and began teasing McGee about getting hit, the tone of voice not matching the concern in the senior agent's face. Wrapping both arms around Sophie, Abby looked up again to see Hollis and Ziva haul Giovanni up on his feet between the two of them.
Gibbs crouched down beside her, hand against her cheek. "You okay, Abs?"
"Yeah. I'm okay." She let herself lean into his palm. "I think I know who his boss is."
Instead of looking surprised, Gibbs nodded grimly. "I think I do, too."
She started to say more but cut herself off, eyes scanning the small group of people who'd left the gallery on hearing gun shots. "Where's Nick?" She wondered aloud, heart skipping a beat when she realised he wasn't among the crowd. "Gibbs? Where's my brother?"
The art gallery was evacuated following the shootings. Names and contact numbers were taken for all who were in attendance, even those who swore they'd seen or heard nothing out of the ordinary. Every room was checked and while a substantial amount of cocaine was found in one of the safes in the back rooms, there was no sign of Nicholas Sciuto or Amanda Layton.
Agent Mann escorted Giovanni to the hospital, accompanied by Officer Hasen. Tony and Ziva were left in charge of getting witness statements and collecting evidence while McGee submitted to Ducky's ministrations in the morgue and Abby helped Gibbs question her sister.
'Is there anything else you can think of, Sophie? Anything that might help us find Nick?'
Sophie shook her head. 'He wouldn't have left willingly. He wouldn't have left us in danger.'
'Are you sure?' Gibbs hated himself for asking, watching Abby tense beside her sister, but it was part of the job and, like it or not, that job included interrogating the Sciutos. 'Amanda's gone missing, too. Is it not possible they left together to go somewhere safe till this whole thing blows over?'
'It'll never blow over, Agent Gibbs. I don't know who Alexis was working for but I know they lent Nick a lot of money. Until Nick can pay it back, it's never going to be over.'
'What did he borrow the money for?'
Sophie glanced at her sister before answering. 'He wanted to be able to take care of himself, and Amanda, without Abby's help. I think he invested it in something or maybe put a deposit down on a house of his own. Before he went to Europe, he and Amanda were arguing a lot about having to rely on Abby. Amanda told me he said he felt like he was still a kid, living in the house Abby owns, off the money she sends us.'
'Does Nick have any money of his own? Any source of income?'
'None. He spent his inheritance from our parents on travelling the world, sold his share of the house to Abby to get enough money to buy a car and new camera. The only money he and Amanda have between them is what Abby pays Amanda to stay with me and what little Nick makes from doing commercial work around town.'
'So he started to resent having to take money from his sister, went travelling with money he got from her and met Alexis Giovanni?'
'Alexis promised him fame. He gave him money as an advance on what he said Nick would earn. Nick was suspicious at first but Alexis said he'd shown some backers of his prints of Nick's work and they'd said to give him an advance to prove they were serious about it.'
Gibbs nodded and signed a thank you to her, motioning for Abby to follow him to the corner of the interrogation room with the tilt of his head. "I'm going to have to ask her about your father, Abby."
"I know." Abby exhaled slowly, seeming to deflate in front of him. Her eyes searched his face. "I'm gonna have to tell her, aren't I?"
He put his hand on her shoulder, fingers brushing the skin of her neck above the collar of the t-shirt she'd changed into it. "I think it's gonna come out whether you tell her or not. She'll take it better coming from you."
"Ask her your questions first. I don't want to tell her in an interrogation room if it can be helped."
They returned to the table and Sophie gave Abby a questioning look as her sister once again settled in the chair beside her. 'Are you okay, Abby?'
'Fine. Gibbs has a few more questions he needs to ask, Soph, then we'll get out of here.' Abby looked at Gibbs and nodded, waiting for him to continue. "Go on."
'Did Alexis Giovanni ever mention why his boss was so interested in your family, Sophie?'
'Never.' Sophie shook her head, her hands moving in quick, agitated motions. 'Not that I know of. He and Nick talked a lot but Amanda wasn't allowed to sign to me very often. I don't know she or Nick know but it was never mentioned to me. Do you know why? Has something happened?'
'We have a theory,' Gibbs answered slowly, gaze shifting from her face to Abby's. 'We think the man behind this might be your father – your biological father. Sophie, have you seen or heard from Ryan Montague since he and your mother divorced?'
She gave her answer in the way she hesitated, in the way she lowered her gaze guiltily and stared down at the hands she clasped together in her lap. Beside her, Abby removed her hand from her sister's arm and closed her eyes, not quick enough to stop a tear from sliding down her cheek but she'd managed to wipe it away before Sophie noticed it had been shed.
'Sophie, we need you to tell us everything. We think he might be connected to an ongoing investigation.'
'You think he's the boss Alexis was talking about. The one who wanted Abby and Nick?' Sophie glanced at her sister, a pained look on her face when Abby kept her head bowed and eyes closed, no longer focused on the conversation. 'She'll never forgive us. The one thing she's asked us for since Mom and Dad died was to keep away from our father and let her know if he tried to get in touch and we didn't do it.'
A tear ran down her face but Gibbs hardened his heart against feeling sorry for her, a feat that was easier to do when he glanced at Abby and saw pain in her own green eyes. 'Why did he contact you, Sophie? What did he want?'
'He said he didn't want anything – he just wanted to see his children, to be part of a family. He offered us money, Nick and me, when he found out Abby owns the house because we sold our shares to her when Mom and Dad died. Said he was trying to make amends for everything.'
'He didn't ask for anything in return? Didn't give you any conditions that you had to keep?'
'Just that we didn't tell Abby. That's why I refused to take any money off him. I'm not sure if Nick did or not, he never said, but after that first meeting, I refused to have anything to do with him. He didn't come to the house again after that but Amanda and Nick were acting weird for a while so they might've met him outside. I wouldn't know.'
'Because you refused to leave the house.' Gibbs did give her a sympathetic look then. 'Did he say why he didn't want Abby to know?'
Giving her sister an apologetic look, Sophie signed her reply slowly. 'He said she wouldn't have forgiven him for leaving Mom and that she wouldn't approve of us seeing him again since he didn't get in touch once he left. He said he wanted to approach her in his own time, try making it up to her for what he did.'
'Did he say anything about how he'd come into his money? Anything at all about the line of work he's in?'
'He said he worked for the government but when Nick asked which one, he wouldn't give him a real answer. Just said that he had his fingers in many pies or something like that. He said he travelled a lot, if that helps at all.'
A knock on the door to the interrogation room kept Gibbs was asking another question. He fixed the door with a glare as it opened, wondering who would risk his temper by disturbing him during an interrogation even if the person he was questioning wasn't a suspect in the true sense of the word.
Ziva appeared in the doorway, her stance apologetic. "Sorry to interrupt, Gibbs, but we have some CCTV footage we think you should see."
Gibbs motioned to the screen in the corner of the room. "Set it up."
The footage Ziva and Tony wanted to show him was from a building across from the art gallery, the camera of which focused on the back alley between it and the gallery's back door. Tony and Ziva joined them in interrogation, fast-forwarding until the time of the shooting.
"You can see Amanda Layton leaving the building of her own accord. She just stands around for a few minutes, then the car pulls up." As Tony narrated, a black limo pulled up beside the blond woman. After hesitating for a second, Amanda opened the door and got inside it. "Fast-forward a few more minutes and you see someone get out of the car – someone who clearly isn't Amanda. He gets out his phone, makes a call and a minute later…"
Nick Sciuto appeared at the back door, walking down the steps to greet the man who's back was to the camera. The two men held a conversation for a moment or two, with the stranger motioning to the car before Nick got in it, an unhappy expression on his face.
"He wasn't forced, Boss. He got in the car voluntarily." Tony kept his eyes fixed on Gibbs, not wanting to see Abby's reaction to the revelation.
"He may have been blackmailed," Ziva pointed out. "There is no audio on the tape nor do we have a clear view of Mr. Sciuto's face so we do not know what was said."
"Any way we can ID the guy he's taking to or get the plate of the car?"
"We don't get a clear view of the plate though Abby might be able to make something of the blurred image we do get. We do, however, get a look at our guy's face." Tony pressed play and they watched as the man turned, glancing up and down the street. Tony hit pause when his face was mostly to the camera. "Might be able to get a visual ID on him if we run it through the database…"
Abby cleared her throat from behind them. She stood with her arms crossed over her chest, leaning against the wall behind the chair where her sister sat with her head in her hands. "You don't need to run it through the database. His name is Ryan Montague. My father."
Her face paled as soon as the words were out of her mouth. She pushed herself up from the wall and left the room in a hurry, leaving the door open behind her. Gibbs hesitated for a split second, ordering Tony and Ziva not to leave the room with a look before he left in search of her.
On her knees, one hand holding her bunches back from her face, Abby closed her eyes and braced herself with the other arm against the toilet seat. She inhaled deeply through her mouth, waiting until she was sure her stomach had settled before twisting her body so her back was against one wall of the cubicle, her knees pulled up to her chest.
Tears streamed down her cheeks but she was helpless to stop them – just as she was helpless, she thought, at keeping her siblings safe.
The door to the ladies washroom swung open and she clenched her jaw to keep back a sob, body trembling with the effort.
"Abby?" She heard his footsteps cross the floor towards her but lowered her head and kept quiet. "I know you're in here, Abs."
She heard the doors to the other cubicles squeak on their hinges. "I'm fine, Gibbs," she said with a sigh. "I'll be out in a minute."
"Good. Then I'll wait." His feet appeared at the door to her cubicle and she watched as he moved to lean against the neighbouring door.
Abby stayed where she was for as long as she dared. She willed him to leave but knew he wouldn't, not until she'd faced him. She got to her feet unsteady and flushed the toilet, dragging her feet as she turned to unlock the door. "I'm okay."
"You don't look it." He studied her as she walked on wobbly legs to the sinks.
"Such a way with words. No wonder you've been married so many times." She kept her gaze fixed on her own reflection as she turned the cold tap and waited for the water to be at its coldest before splashing it over her face and rinsing out her mouth. Feeling a little bit better after the fact, she shut off the tap and closed her eyes. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Gibbs said nothing, just walked over to stand beside her, staring at her intently.
"It's my fault," she murmured, eyes closed even as she felt him move behind her. "I drove him to this." Still, he said nothing but she felt his arms wrap around her waist, drawing her back against him. "I belittled him, Gibbs, made him feel like a kid. That's why he did it. That's why he took Giovanni up on his offer, got involved with my father. I shouldn't have done it. I don't know what, exactly, but I shouldn't have done it."
"If you don't know what you did wrong, how can you be so sure you shouldn't have done it?" He clasped his hands together at her front, resting his chin on her shoulder. "All you've done is support them, take care of them. You did nothing wrong, Abby. This is not your fault."
A tear ran down her cheek and his hand rose to wipe it away. "How can it not be? Nick's mine, Gibbs. He's as good as mine and he's in trouble because of me." She turned in the circle of his arms, searching his face for answer he couldn't possibly have. "Why did he have to come back, Gibbs? What does he want with us?"
Not having an answer for her, Gibbs ran his hands over her back, drawing her closer until she was able to let her head rest on his shoulder.
Tony and Ziva met Abby, Gibbs and the two Directors in the lab, who were standing in front of the large screen against the far wall.
"McGee's with Sophie," Tony supplied before his boss could question him. "They're chatting up a storm."
"McGee can't sign." Abby frowned at him, glancing at the doors as though expecting her sister to be there.
Ziva shrugged her shoulders and moved to stand beside her father. "They are talking through email. McGee brought her a spare PDA so he can keep her company while she is waiting."
"I think he has a crush," Tony added confidingly, the grin sliding from his face at the look Gibbs threw him. "Which has nothing to do with the case at hand so we won't talk about that. Again. Ever. What do we know about Montague? Anyone?"
"He's our biological father," Abby answered softy, clicking a button on the hand-held remote she had to bring her father's record up on screen. "He comes from old money, wasted most of it drinking when he was married to my mother. Despite what Sophie and Nick believe, he didn't leave us out of choice. He was arrested for attempted murder and domestic abuse of both my mom and me."
Tony and Ziva exchanged looks. "Attempted murder of whom?"
Abby swallowed the lump in her throat, drawing strength from the hand Gibbs lay on her arm. "My brother. Nick was teething, crying. My father was drunk. To cut a long story short, I found him in Nick's room with a knife and we fought. He was arrested that night and my mother and I took out restraining orders against him so he couldn't come back. As far as I was aware, he had no interest in finding us and my brother and sister had no interest in finding him." Abby cleared her throat and clicked the button again. "We've managed to trace a couple of properties he owns both in the United States and parts of Europe, including several in DC which might be where he's hiding out. He was under investigation by the FBI for money laundering but the case was dropped due to insufficient evidence. "
"Money laundering is a big step away from threatening national security," Director Vance commented, staring at the man on screen. He glanced at Abby out of the corner of his eye, trying to find some resemblance between father and daughter but failing to see it. "Anything to suggest why the sudden interest?"
"He's interested in money and always has been," Abby muttered under her breath. She cleared her throat at the marginal increase in pressure on her arm and pressed the button again. "He was cellmates, briefly, with a guy called Luis Arman. Arman was suspected of being involved in a fledging terrorist group but, again, there wasn't enough evidence to hold him on those charges. He was arrested for murdering a prostitute during Mardi Gras. It looks like my father got in touch with Arman's group when he was released from prison and picked up where Arman left off."
Peering at the screen at the second man who'd appeared on it, Director David frowned. "Is there a way we can track Mr. Arman?"
"Unfortunately not. He died in prison before he was due to be released." Abby pressed the button again and Arman disappeared, her father taking place in the centre of the screen. "I have the list of DC properties printed out. There's no residential listing for Ryan Montague but he does own three warehouses, a nightclub and a building currently being leased to a Chinese restaurant."
"Then it's over to you and your team, Agent Gibbs." Director Vance gave them a brief nod. "Keep me informed of your progress. There are several agencies waiting for me to contact them. Director David, will you be staying for the remainder of the investigation?"
Director David shook his head regretfully. "I wish I could, Leon, but there is a situation in Israel that I must attend to. My plane leaves this evening." He shook hands with the NCIS Director. "Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Officer Hasen will remain here for as long as you need him."
Director Vance left the lab for MTAC. Abby walked over to the printer, partly to get the print out of addresses and partly to give Ziva and her father some privacy. Gibbs shook the Mossad Director's hand and followed her, leaving Tony and Ziva to say their goodbyes.
"Agent DiNozzo, I regret that we will not be able to share an evening meal but I am pleased we were able to meet. It is good to know who is watching my daughter's back." Director David held out a hand and, after a brief hesitation, Tony took it. "I hope to see you again."
"Likewise, Sir. Have a safe journey home." After giving the man's hand a final shake and giving Ziva a look she couldn't decipher, Tony moved away, busying himself with memorising the details still on screen of Ryan Montague.
"My Ziva." Opening his arms to her, Director David embraced his daughter warmly. "I am glad you work with such good people," he murmured, his mouth close to her ear. "I see now why you are so attached to them."
Ziva blushed and buried her face in the crook of his neck. "I told you they were good people. Thank you for allowing me to come back here. I wish you did not have to go so soon but I understand." She took a step back and smiled at him, composing herself in a split second from loving daughter to dutiful Mossad officer and liaison. "Let me know that you have arrived safely."
"I will." Director David promised. He walked away from her reluctantly, pausing on his way out of the lab to say goodbye to Abby. "My thoughts are with you, Abby. I hope your family is well."
"Thank you." Abby gave him a quick, impulsive hug. "Goodbye, Director."
Taking his leave of them, Director David glanced back once to see his daughter surrounded by her team, her friends. His heart eased a little at the sight, eyes lingering on Tony DiNozzo and the way the Special Agent stood a little closer than was necessary to Ziva, watching her carefully unaware he, too, was being watched. She was in good hands, Eli David decided with a sigh. Not her father's hands, but good hands nonetheless.
"DiNozzo, you and Ziva check out the addresses on the list. Discreetly." Gibbs passed one of the pages in his hand to Tony. "If there's anything suspicious, call it in. No going in without back up even if you make a positive ID."
"What are you going to do, Boss?" Tony folded the paper up, eyeing Gibbs curiously.
Gibbs arched an eyebrow at being questioned but said nothing on it. "I'm gonna go see if Giovanni is awake, see if he can give us an address or contact number. You have a problem with that?"
"Nope. Not at all, Boss." Tony motioned to the door. "Let's go, Ziva. I'm feeling generous so I'll even let you drive if you beat me to the garage."
"I will be driving regardless, DiNozzo." Ziva smirked at him and followed him out of the room. "I have the keys."
Gibbs rolled his eyes at their exchange. "I'll leave McGee here," he told Abby quietly. "If you want to take Sophie home, that's okay, just take McGee with you."
"Where do you mean by home?" Abby tilted her head to the side. "Your place or my place?"
"Home. The place you sleep at night, Abby." He pressed a kiss to her forehead and walked away.
"Right." Abby exhaled slowly. She glared at the image of her father on screen for a second, hitting the button to make the picture go away. Figuring McGee would be able to keep Sophie occupied for a little while longer, she opened a browser screen and started typing commands, starting a wider search on her father.
'You're good with computers,'
'You're good with computers,'McGee typed admiringly, watching the answering smile spread across Sophie's face as her fingers flew over the keyboard in reply.
'Not as good as Abby but I'm getting there. Not much else to do when you're in the house all day. She's mentioned you, Agent McGee. Said you're a good guy.'
McGee lowered his head to hide his blush. 'I hope that's all she said. Abby has a way of saying too much sometimes.'
Sophie smiled again. 'She said you'd dated casually. Said you were a really good guy and she hoped you found someone special. I read your book, too. Deep Six? It was really good. Is it true they're talking about making a movie of it?'
'There's talks going on but I don't really know anything yet. Think the guys would shoot me if it went ahead, though. They weren't so keen on it.'
'Well, you did base your characters on them.'
'Abby told you that?'
Sophie shook her head, eyes focused on the screen as she typed. 'Not until I mentioned reading the book and said the character of Amy really reminded me of her. She found it funny that I thought so, then told me she knew the writer – you. I hope the movie goes ahead. I'd like to see it. Hopefully I'll be able to hear it, too, if I ever get into the trial.'
'Tell me more about the trial. I'm curious to know how it works.'
'I'm not really sure, to be honest,' Sophie admitted with a wry smile. 'The way it was described to me is that the part of the ear that's causing the problem or obstruction will be removed and replaced with a bionic part. In my case, it might not be successful in both ears but there's a good chance they'll be able to make it work for one of them.'
'It'd be strange for you. Suddenly hearing for the first time in your life. I can't imagine what that's going to feel like.'
'Neither can I! :)' Sophie lifted her hands from the keyboard to run them through her hair before continuing. 'I think the hardest part, assuming I'm lucky enough to get a place and it works, will be learning to speak aloud. I don't know how words sound. I know what they look like, how to sign them, what they mean, but I have no idea what they or anything else sounds like. It's a scary thought to be honest, I'm not really sure whether I want to get in or not.'
'You do. You wouldn't have done so much research or talk so animatedly about it if you didn't. I hope you get in, Sophie. You deserve it.'
It was Sophie's turn to blush and she lifted her eyes from the screen long enough to give him a shy smile of thanks. 'You don't know me, Agent McGee. I hurt my sister and all she's ever done is take care of me.'
'She'll forgive you. Abby's got a big heart and she loves you. She'll understand.'
'I wish I could be so sure. I've never seen her so upset, not even when Mom and Dad died and she realised she'd be stuck taking care of us.' Sophie sighed. 'Speaking of Abby, she's on her way over here. Don't mention anything about the trial to her, okay? I don't want to bring it up yet. She'll just feel bad that I didn't tell her about it or that I can't afford it.'
McGee nodded and hit the escape key just as Abby approached his desk, her bag slung over one shoulder. "Everything okay, Abby?"
"Yeah." Abby motioned to Sophie to join her and signed to her sister as she spoke to McGee. "Gibbs said we could go home once I was done in the lab."
"He said I had to go with you," McGee agreed quietly, standing and unhooking his jacket from the back of his chair.
"I know. Do you need to stop by your place on the way?" Relieved when he shook his head no, Abby let her shoulders slump in exhaustion. "Great. You know the way to Gibbs' house?"
If he was surprised at request, McGee didn't show it. Her sister, on the other hand, frowned in confusion. 'We're staying at Agent Gibbs' house? What's wrong with your apartment?'
'Nothing. I've just been staying with Gibbs for a while. Long story, Soph. I'll tell you sometime.' Having no intention of telling her sister about the events that had led to her change of address, Abby zipped up her jacket and turned expectantly to McGee. "Lead the way."
"Has he regained consciousness?" Foregoing any formal greeting, Gibbs met Mann and Hasen with a question.
"He has but he's refusing to talk to us," Hollis replied quietly, staring through the observation window at the handcuffed patient. "I'm 'the bitch who shot him' and Officer Hasen is too like 'the bastard screw up' he left in Israel."
Gibbs, too, watched their prisoner. "Was he on drugs when you shot him?"
"His Doctor found a high amount of cocaine in his blood. He's going through withdrawal, Jethro, and it isn't pretty. That's why we moved out here to keep an eye on him." Hollis stifled a yawn with the back of her hand. "Abby was right; he doesn't just deal drugs, he's an addict, too. It's going to be tough on him."
"Tougher still if he won't talk." Gibbs gave her a considering look. "Go get some sleep. I'll get someone here to cover when I leave."
"I'm fine," a yawn cut her off mid-protest and she smiled sheepishly in response to his arched eyebrow. "Okay. Want me to report back here or the Navy Yard?"
"Navy Yard will be fine. You okay to drive Hasen back to his hotel?"
Hollis gave the Mossad Officer beside her a quick smile and nod. "Of course. See you in a few hours."
The pair left, walking closely as they talked, earning a speculative glance from Gibbs before he stepped into the hospital room, shoulders squared.
"Mr. Gibbs," Giovanni snarled at him, straining against the handcuffs. "Or should that be Agent Gibbs? I was wondering when you were gonna show up."
"I'm here now." Keeping his voice calm, Gibbs stood at the edge of the bed, trying not to think about how close the man lying in front of him had come to shooting Abby. "You got something you want to tell me, Giovanni?" Giovanni swore at him and continued fighting against the metal holding him in place. "Like how you met Ryan Montague and got caught up in his games?"
Surprise arranged his features but it was gone in an instant, replaced by a desperate anger Gibbs recognised as being more to do with drug withdrawal than anything else. "Bastard used me. He'll kill me. Let me go. Get me out of these and I'll talk."
"I can't do that. You need medical attention." Dragging the plastic chair meant for visitors to where he stood, Gibbs straddled it casually. "I can keep you safe if you talk. Get guards on the door, 24-7. You're gonna go to prison, Giovanni, but I might be able to swing a reduced sentence for ya if you talk to me."
"Guards won't stop him," Giovanni spat. "He's got eyes everywhere. Followed me everywhere. He's probably watching right now. Watching and listening."
"That's the drugs talking," Gibbs said softly. "Just paranoia. There's no way he could've bugged this room, Alexis. Our guards will stop him but I'll only assign them to you if you tell me what I want to know."
Giovanni glared at him though his eyes couldn't stay in one spot for long. "I don't know anything. I'm an art dealer. I deal art."
"And drugs, but we'll get to that. You're fingerprints and DNA was found in Israel in a suspected terrorist base. You were working there with a man called Tariq Varlin. He got caught, you escaped. We also found fingerprints of Elanna Maslov and Simon Cross. Are they here in the US? Hiding with Montague?"
"Simon Cross is dead." Giovanni appeared smug. "Got cold feet when he found out Montague's daughter was NCIS. He refused to have anything to do with it and wanted out. Montague said he could go but he sent Elanna after him."
"Elanna Maslov killed him?"
Giovanni nodded and stopped fighting against the handcuffs. "She'd do anything the old man asked her to do. They're together, if you know what I mean. Elanna and Montague. She's young enough to be his daughter but that doesn't seem to matter." His smirk returned. "Doesn't seem to bother you, either. You're doing his daughter, right? The goth? She's hot. Much sexier than I was expecting but then Montague hasn't seen her in years, not since she was a kid. Maybe I should've asked for her instead of the deaf one. Bet she's real feisty in bed, right?"
Gibbs merely arched an eyebrow and crossed his arms over the back of the plastic chair. "Where's Cross's body?"
"In the freezer." Giovanni seemed surprised he didn't know such an obvious answer. "Montague couldn't risk it being found and having people ask questions till he's got Abby on side. That's what he wants her for, you see. He wants her to join the team, help him hide the evidence, use her expertise to make us untraceable. He thinks she'll agree to anything to keep her brother safe."
"Is the freezer where his headquarters is?"
"Below them. You really don't have anything, do you?" Giovanni struggled against the cuffs again, the clinking of metal against metal hurting his head but he refused to give up. "Let me go and I'll tell you more. Hell, I'll take you to it. Just get me out of these things and let me pick up some stuff from my place."
"By stuff, you mean cocaine." Gibbs kept his expression still. "I'm not going to do that, Giovanni. We're not doing this on your terms. You help me, then I help you."
Giovanni snarled. "You're just using me. You say you'll help but you won't. You'll put me away for the rest of my life or let him kill me."
"I'll do what I can if you help. You have my word on that."
They stared at one another for several long minutes. Giovanni gave up rattling the cuffs and sunk back down on the bed, sweat streaming down the sides of his pale face as exhaustion set in.
"You promise you'll do what you can?" Giovanni watched him warily, swallowing hard when Gibbs gave a nod in response. "Montague's staying in the apartment above the restaurant. Cross's body's in one of the spare freezers, locked up. The staff are all illegal immigrants; he threatened them with deportation if they said anything."
"How many people are staying with him?"
"At the apartment? Just Elanna." Giovanni closed his eyes in defeat. "The others are spread out but most of 'em will be in town at the moment. Montague wants to introduce his kids to the group; he's hoping having them on side will prove to everyone that he's serious."
"Serious about what?" Gibbs leaned forward slightly. "Is he a terrorist, Giovanni?"
Giovanni laughed then; a short, humourless sound. "No, Agent Gibbs. He doesn't care who he sells the information we collect for him to. He just wants to make money and prove he can do what other people can't. He doesn't give a shit about what happens after the money's in his hands. He wants to prove to the others he's serious about making money so they realise they can make money, too, if they stay loyal to him."
"I'll call those guards, and a lawyer." Gibbs got to his feet, sliding the chair away as he moved to stand closer to the head of the bed, leaning down until his face was inches from Giovanni's. "If you ever so much as think about Abby again, I'll kill you."
Giovanni opened his mouth to make a retort but snapped his jaw shut when he caught a glimpse of the threat glittering in Gibbs' icy blue eyes. He nodded wordlessly and closed his eyes as Gibbs straightened and left the room.
The Chinese restaurant was put under surveillance and guards were called to protect Giovanni as he recuperated in hospital. Satisfied that there was nothing else to do until morning, Gibbs decided to send Tony and Ziva home for a few hours sleep.
"Not really feeling tired, Boss," Tony protested, stretching his arms above his head. "I could do with something to eat, though," he added at the dark look Gibbs gave him. "You coming, Ziva?"
"Where?" Ziva shrugged into her jacket and fasted the belt around her waist. "I am off Chinese for some reason."
Tony grinned. "Wondering whether the chicken is really chicken? I was thinking about pizza. Beer and pizza, to be specific."
"As long as there are no anchovies," Ziva agreed easily, not sure who was more surprised by her assent: Tony, Gibbs or herself. "I will pay my share."
"Nah, it's on me." Tony swung an arm over her shoulders casually, leading her to the elevators. "Least I can do since you didn't kill me on the drive back."
Gibbs let them leave before following, stepping into the empty elevator when it returned. He let his head lean back against the cool, steel wall, a sigh escaping him when a hand kept the doors from closing completely. "Ducky."
"Jethro." His friend greeted him with a nod. "Heading home at last?"
"Need to get some sleep for tomorrow." The doors slid shut and Gibbs stood up straighter. "You talked to Abby."
It was the almost accusing way in which it was said that made Ducky raise an eyebrow. "I did."
Gibbs uncrossed his arms to let them fall at his sides, fists clenching and unclenching impulsively. "Next time you have something to say, say it to me. Abby has enough to deal with."
"I'm aware of that, Jethro, that's why I wanted to voice my concerns." Ducky sighed when his friend wouldn't look at him, reaching passed him to activate the emergency stop. "I don't understand why you're taking it so personally, Jethro. I merely expressed a concern that perhaps she was using her relationship with you to avoid facing what happened to her."
Gibbs turned, staring at his friend face-on, making them both uncomfortably aware of the height difference. "Steven Laffiter isn't the first man to lay his hands on her, Ducky, but he will be the last. We're both aware of what she went through and she doesn't need you or anyone else reminding her."
"You're talking about her father. Yes. At the time, I was unaware of the circumstances and if I caused her further upset, I will apologise but I will not be intimidated by you, Jethro. You are not the only one to care for Abigail." Ducky pulled himself up to his full height, his voice firm. "I am worried Abby will cease to be the woman we both know and love if she does not confront the fears she now has as a result of her experience with Laffiter. Do you really want her to become dependent on you, Jethro? To be afraid to leave the house without you?"
A beat of tense silence followed. Gibbs exhaled slowly, the tension easing from his body as his shoulders slumped and he took up a more casual stance. "No. No, I don't want her to change." He moved to lean against the wall, his head tipped back. "You're right, Duck, I'm sorry. She wants to take self-defence classes; I told her I'd help out and teach her how to use a gun."
"Your concern is understandable, Jethro." His own voice softer, Ducky sighed. "You really do care about her."
Gibbs looked at him through half-closed eyelids. "I love her," he admitted honestly. "I don't think... A woman hasn't meant this much to me since Shannon."
"I wondered as much. I've seen you with three of your wives, Jethro, not once have I seen you like this. Perhaps with Jenny, but not with any of the ex-Mrs. Gibbs." Ducky smiled. "You have a very special woman in Abigail. Both you and she deserve every bit of happiness you can get from this life."
A grateful look was all he could manage. Gibbs remained where he was as Ducky reactivated the elevator, moving only when the doors slid open. The two friends crossed the car lot together, saying their goodnights as they went their separate ways.
Gibbs drove automatically to his house, unable to focus all of his attention on the drive ahead so was grateful that there was little traffic on the roads. Only one light was on to greet him. The door was locked when he tried to open it but instead of being annoyed, he felt mildly relieved that McGee was thinking about security instead of either of the Sciuto sisters.
Unlocking the front door, he swung it open and stepped inside, stopping when Abby appeared in the t-shirt she used for sleeping and a pair of baggy sweatpants, a finger pressed to her lips.
"McGee's asleep on the couch. Sophie's sleeping in the spare room." She moved passed him to close the door, locking it securely. "You hungry? There are some leftovers in the kitchen?"
"I ate at work." He watched her, noting how comfortable she seemed in his house. "Could do with a drink, though."
Abby smiled. "I'll get you one. You want to work on your boat for a bit or just go to bed?"
"Bed, I think." Gibbs took his jacket off and dropped it over the banister of the stairs.
"Go on up. I'll get you a drink, turn off the lights and be up in a minute." She disappeared before he could speak, leaving him alone in the hallway.
Seeing no reason not to follow her orders, Gibbs made his way upstairs and to his room. He changed out of his suit, into sweatpants, and was searching for a t-shirt when the bedroom door opened and Abby stepped inside, two glasses in one hand, bottle of bourbon in the other. He decided to forgo the t-shirt, joining her as she settled on the bed and poured two generous helpings.
"Long day," she commented, sipping her own bourbon as he downed his in one. "Did Giovanni tell you what you needed to know?"
"He told me enough." Gibbs set his glass down on the bedside cabinet, taking her glass and doing the same. Raising his hands to her head, he untied the ponytail that kept her black hair in place, running his fingers through the silken strands. "You're beautiful, Abby."
She blushed under the intensity of his gaze. "Flattery isn't necessary, Gibbs. You've already got me in your bed."
"It's not flattery, it's the truth." His hands continued stroking through her hair, pushing it back from her face. He dropped his hands to her shoulders, trailing his fingers down her sides until he reached the bottom of the t-shirt, grabbing the material in his fists as he tugged it up gently. Abby raised her arms obediently, silently, letting him pull it off over her head. Throwing the t-shirt away, he returned his hands to her body. He held her slender waist in his hands, his thumbs moving in circles over her skin.
His eyes darkened and he lowered his mouth to hers, kissing her softly, tongue teasing her lips until she parted them for him. He pressed her back against the bed, hands blindly searching for hers as they shifted into a lying position. Lacing their fingers together either side of their heads, Gibbs kissed her slowly. He tore his mouth free of hers after several long moments, only for it to return after he'd caught his breath.
His hands left hers to run down her sides, nimble fingers slipping under the waistband of her sweatpants, easing them over her hips when she lifted them from the bed. Reluctantly tearing his mouth from hers again, he trailed his lips over her skin, down her neck. Together, they pushed her sweatpants down and Abby kicked them off as her own hands moved to his waistband, tugging his pants over his body, feet doing the rest of the work as she shifted the cradle him with her thighs, one hand moving to his head, stroking his hair gently as his lips teased her, caressing every part of her body he could reach.
Tugging his head back up to hers, Abby wound her arms around his neck when he settled against her, pulling his head down so she could kiss him sweetly. She gazed at him tenderly, lips swollen from his kisses, her cheeks flushed. He leaned in to claim her mouth again, tenderness giving way to desperation as urgency swept through him.
A while later, they lay together, breathing heavily as their bodies cooled and heartbeats gradually slowed. Shifting to pull the blankets out from underneath them and then over them, Abby threw an arm and a leg over his body, resting her head on the pillow beside his as she watched him reach over to shut off the light.
He lay back, his hand covering hers where it rested against his chest, turning his head to face her when he sensed her gaze on his face. "You ok?"
"I was going to ask you the same thing." She smiled but her eyes were worried. "You're different tonight."
"Different?" He shifted to stare up at the ceiling. "I'm fine. Just thinking."
"About the case?" She propped herself up on an elbow, looking down at him. "Is there something I should know?"
Gibbs shook his head slightly. "No. It'll be over tomorrow, Abby. One way or another."
She bit her lip, leaning forward. Her hair brushed his face and he found himself looking at her again, unable to resist the lure of her eyes. "Will you kill him if you have to?"
"My father. Nick. Either of them. If it comes down to it." She lowered her gaze. "I'm not going to ask you not to. And I won't... I won't blame you if you do. You've got to do your job, regardless of who they are."
"Abby... I can't make you any promises. I wish I could." He lifted their hands, pressed her palm against his lips. "I won't lie to you like that. And I won't say that I don't want Montague to hurt for what he did to you because I do. I can say that neither of them will get hurt if there's a way to take them into custody without it."
"Just do your job and be safe." She leaned down to kiss him, pouring her heart and soul into the kiss before settling back against him. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you, too."
Already counting her brother amongst those she'd loved and lost, Abby closed her eyes and tried to sleep through the ache in her chest. Gibbs lay awake for a long time after she fell into a fitful sleep, soothing her when she cried out, easing her back into sweeter dreams with his voice and touch.
The sun was shining and the cold breeze that had held the capital in its grip for the past few weeks gave way to gentle warmth that washed over its residents soothingly. It felt wrong to be going to work on such a beautiful day, wrong to have such a beautiful day ruined by the sense of threat and foreboding that hung over them.
In her lab, as far away from MTAC as she dared to be, Abby tried to keep her mind off Gibbs and his team as her sister exchanged emails on the computer in her office with her online friends. She found herself watching the clock, counting the seconds as they passed by, recalling the itinerary she'd unwillingly memorised of the day's events.
She knew the surveillance team were waiting for her father and Elanna Maslov to leave their apartment above the Chinese restaurant. As soon as they were gone, Gibbs and his team would follow while Hollis Mann led a team compromising of NCIS, FBI and CIA agents into the building. The first team, Gibbs' team, would follow, hoping he led them to the others involved, possibly her brother, while the second team collected as much evidence as possible and searched for the body Alexis Giovanni had told them was there.
It was the first team she couldn't stop worrying about.
Six Caf-Pows and eight hours later, her worry had increased tenfold. She couldn't sit still, couldn't concentrate on her work, yet couldn't bring herself to go to MTAC and ask the Director for a status update.
She jumped when the doors slid open to admit someone, pressing a hand to her heart when Ducky stepped over the threshold and immediately walked towards her.
"Have you heard anything? Is it over?"
"Abby." His expression grave, Ducky opened his arms to her. "My dear girl, come here."
Her back straightened to the point of pain. Abby wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stop her body from trembling. "Someone's hurt," she mumbled, searching his face. "Someone... Someone's dead?"
Ducky covered the distance between them, wrapping his arms around her tense frame. "I'm sorry, Abby. I'm so, so very sorry."
He caught her when her legs gave way, dropping to the ground beside her when they crumpled beneath her weight. He held her as she sobbed against his chest, rubbed her back as a father would soothe a child after a nightmare, wishing it would be as easy to make her pain go away.
He knew the moment he stepped into the warehouse that it was going to go wrong. It was more than a gut feeling, more than an instinct shouting at him to get his team and go.
Maybe the sight of Amanda Layton's body lying on the floor a few feet away from where he stood had something to do with it.
Her lifeless eyes stared up at nothing, dried blood from the jagged gash at her throat staining her skin, caking her clothes and colouring the floor beneath her.
Voices echoed around the room they were in and Gibbs motioned his team forward, sidestepping the body. There'd be time to see to the dead later; the living was his priority for now.
"You killed her. I can't believe you killed her." The voice belonged to Nick Sciuto and echoed around the building as the NCIS Agents approached the door to the larger section of the warehouse. "You just... She's dead."
"Calm down, Nick." A female voice purred, accompanied by the sound of heeled boots clicking against the cement floor. "We will take care of it. You do not need to worry."
"But you killed her. Just like that. Oh, god. There's so much blood..."
A low chuckle and a third voice joined the fray. "She'd outgrown her purpose, Nick. She wanted too much. Greedy people do not survive in this business for long."
"But I loved her. I loved her..." Disbelief bubbled to the surface and a long, drawn out moan accompanied the words. "I loved her and she's dead. I let you kill her."
"You could not have stopped us." The woman – Elanna Maslov – retorted sharply. "If you had tried, you, too, would be dead."
Gibbs moved so he could see into the room, frowning when he realised there were only three occupants. Three living occupants. There were two more bodies, dumped in a corner on the floor like trash.
"We do not need her, Nick. We don't need anyone else." His father, Ryan Montague, spoke soothingly in a strangely accented voice – parts of Europe mixed with a Southern drawl. "The three of us can accomplish so much together. And, once we have Abby..."
"Abby'll never join you. Us." Nick choked on the words, running a hand through his hair. "She won't... I can't believe I agreed to this. I can't believe... Oh, god, what've I done." He dropped to his knees, tears catching in the fluorescent light that shone down on him. "What did I do."
Elanna gave him a disapproving look, circling him until she stood beside his father. "I am disappointed," she declared, hands on her slim hips. She tossed her head, dark curls bouncing around her face. "I thought your son would be more like you, my love. Not so weak and spineless."
"Give him time, Ellie." Ryan Montague reached out for her his lover, drawing her into his arms. "It's still early days. Don't you remember how you were after your first kill?"
At his words, Nick gave another anguished moan. "I killed someone. I'm a killer. Oh god."
"I did not throw up and cry for my mother," Elanna responded dramatically. She wound her arms around Ryan's neck. "Do we really need him, Ryan? We have made so much money already..."
The sound of a bullet being fired rang through the building and echoed in his ears. Elanna slumped forward in her stunned lover's arms, blood oozing from the wound in her back. Ryan stepped back, letting her body fall to the floor as he reached for his own weapon.
"Don't." Nick rose to his feet slowly, still clutching the gun he'd used to kill one of his father's associates – the gun he'd used to kill Elanna. He pointed the gun at his father as Ryan Montague pointed his gun at him. "I'll do it. I'll kill you, too."
"Three kills in one night." Ryan Montague stared at him with cold respect. "Won't your sister be so proud."
"Keep her out of it. Keep them both out of it." Nick's arm wavered but stayed upright. "Why would you do this to me? You're my father! You're supposed to protect your children, not force them to kill..."
Ryan laughed loudly. "Your mother never told you. I'm not surprised. Abby, on the other hand... I'm surprised she didn't."
"Tell me what?" Nick stared at him. "I don't know what you mean."
"That's obvious," Ryan scoffed. "I mean that your sister hates me yet she let you continue to believe that I just left you. She didn't tell you that I beat your mother, did she? It was easy to do; she was too scared to say anything, too grateful for the children I gave her to leave. Then when she was pregnant, there was always Abby herself. She fought more than your mother ever did; she was always more of a challenge." He laughed again, a sound that sent shivers down Gibbs' spine. "She screamed, too. Cried most times but no one could hear her. Your mother slept through it, Sophie slept through it... Then there was you. You were my son and I was so pleased you weren't damaged like Sophie until you started crying. And wouldn't stop. You cried every night for a week and your useless mother slept through it. Abby didn't; she always tried to get to you and calm you down but not that night. That night I got to you first."
Nick's focus on the weapon in his hand faded, his grip loosening as he became distracted. Gibbs watched and motioned for Tony, McGee and Ziva to move into place.
"If I hadn't dropped the knife and cut myself picking it up, you would be dead." Ryan didn't seem at all bothered at telling his son the truth; he seemed to delight in watching the horrified realisation dawn on Nick's face. "She stopped me. Abby. Stabbed me with my own knife, stupid girl. Grabbed you, took you into her room. I followed her while your mother and Sophie slept on oblivious. There was so much blood shed that night, Nick; most of it mine but some of it hers. If I hadn't been so drunk, I would've killed her but she fought back, held her own." A note of pride crept into his voice. "She would've been such a good asset to have. Now I'll have to kill her after I've killed you. Can't have anyone linking me to this, can I?"
"It's too late, Ryan. You're already linked to it." Gibbs called out into the stunned silence that followed. "Federal Agents. You're surrounded. Put the gun on the floor and your hands above your head slowly."
Gibbs, along with McGee and Tony, emerged from the shadows, weapons pointed at father and son. Ziva remained hidden, moving stealthily along the wall behind Ryan Montague.
"Special Agent Gibbs, I presume." Ryan kept his arm steady, his eyes never leaving his son. "You're too late. The party's already started without you."
"It hasn't ended." Gibbs refused to let himself look at Nick, not even when the younger man began sobbing in earnest. "Put the gun down."
"Or you'll kill me?" Ryan grinned. "Surely not! I know too much. I can give you names of all of the spies within your precious agencies. Dates they supplied me with information."
"I'm sure a cautious man like you would keep that information saved somewhere secure for blackmail purposes." Gibbs didn't falter. "I've got no qualms about shooting you, Ryan. I'm just waiting for you to give me a reason."
"You'll shoot me because of what I did to my daughter?" Ryan's grin turned into a leer. "I heard on the grapevine that you're sleeping with her. I only hope she's a better lay than her mother was. My advice? Go for the foreign women. They know a thing or two about pleasing a man." His gaze didn't flicker. "Isn't that right, Officer David? I know you're there. The fourth member of the team. I'm surprised you're not the one screwing your boss but then it might just've been Elanna who went for the man in control. Which one of you is she doing? The strong Agent DiNozzo or the intellectual Agent McGee? Or perhaps you're doing the boss, too, and Abby doesn't know it. Or maybe she knows it and takes part. I don't really know my daughter very well so I couldn't say..."
"I think you've said enough." Tony's finger twitched on the trigger of his gun, angry outrage wrestling with the need to say calm.
Gibbs clenched and unclenched his jaw. "Put the gun down. Now."
"No, I don't think so. You're not going to shoot me, Agent Gibbs, because you know I'll put a bullet through Nick here if you try and how will you explain that to poor Abigail? 'Hi, honey, I'm home. I killed your father, who killed your brother but we got what we were looking for so it's all okay.' She loves her brother, Agent Gibbs. More than she values her own life." Ryan sounded disgusted at the thought. "If you're responsible for his death, I can guarantee you'll be ending any chance you have of warming her bed again."
"Shut up! Just shut up!" The angry scream came from Nick, the gun rising again in his unsteady hand. "Stop talking about her like that. She's not yours to talk about, you bastard! You sick, twisted, son of a bitch!"
Ryan chuckled. "Such language. Maybe you're more like me than we thought, hmm?"
"I am nothing like you." Nick's eyes blazed. "Nothing at all." His hand shook, his fingers trembling as they slid over the trigger. "I am nothing like you," he repeated, pulling the trigger back and firing a bullet into his father's chest, into his heart. "I am nothing like you." A second shot rang out, hitting his father's shoulder as the older man fell to the floor. "You son of a bitch." A third joined the first and second, this time piercing the flesh of his father's stomach. Nick moved slowly closer to the body, pointing the gun at Ryan Montague's sightless eyes.
"Nick. That's enough." Gibbs kept his voice soft, his gun at the ready. Nick glanced at him, appearing surprised that there was anyone else in the room. Shock was beginning to set in, Gibbs saw, and felt a pang of sympathy for the young man who'd become a mass killer in such a short span of time. "You can put the gun down now. He's dead."
"He's dead." Nick repeated it slowly, dry lips struggling to form the words. He dropped the gun to the floor with a clattering sound that bounced off the walls. "I killed him. I killed all of them."
Gibbs approached the broken man as his team spread out. Tony called for back-up, Ziva and McGee explored the rest of the warehouse cautiously before declaring it clear.
"Boss, there's a laptop over here. Could have the info we're looking for."
"Bag it and tag it, McGee. You're responsible for finding it if it's there." The underlying meaning was clear; Abby's involvement in the case ended there and then. Speaking more quietly, Gibbs put a hand on the trembling arm of his lover's brother. "We're going to have to take you in for questioning, Nick. Do you understand that?"
Nick looked up, his face blank. "You'll have to arrest me. I killed people. I murdered them."
Gibbs inclined his head slightly. "There'll be an investigation; charges will be brought against you in due course. The more you cooperate, the more lenient the judge will be."
Nick nodded but Gibbs suspected he hadn't heard what had been said. He remained silent as Tony approached with handcuffs, pulling his arms behind his back and securing his wrists.
Black shoes flew off in both directions the moment she stumbled through the door. Abby couldn't care less about where they landed, just that they were finally off her feet.
She hated funerals; hated court even more.
She heard Gibbs say goodbye to McGee and made her way down into the basement. Her sister had opted to stay at her newly furnished apartment – formerly rented by Abby herself – instead of retiring to Gibbs' for the night and Abby suspected McGee planned to join her there after he'd managed to shake off Tony and Ziva – not a hard feat, she was sure, since the pair had taken to spending a lot of their off-work hours alone together. McGee was slowly learning sign language and Sophie was slowly learning to speak after being included in the exclusive trial thanks to a glowing recommendation from one Doctor Mallard and a generous contribution to the research facility hosting it by one Thom. E. Gemcity.
The entire team had turned out for the trial, determined to support Abby and her sister. Their support was appreciated but now it was over, Abby just wanted to forget about it. She couldn't bear the thought of her brother beginning his life sentence behind bars, couldn't stand to imagine him sitting alone in his cell, dwelling on what had happened.
She heard the door close and listened for the familiar footsteps on the stairs, not disappointed when they came just seconds later than she'd been expecting. Strong arms wrapped around her as she began sanding the newly applied planks, brow furrowed in concentration. "I'm okay."
"I didn't ask." Gibbs let his lips brush against her neck, reaching passed her to guide the motion of her hand with his.
She body lean back against his, turning her head to allow his lips better access to her neck as his hand continued to move hers over the wood, slowly smoothing out the rough surface. "You sure you don't want me to move in with Sophie?"
"I'm sure." His teeth grazed the sensitive skin and she shivered, holding back a gasp but releasing it as a sigh when his lips pressed against it.
"Keep that up and we won't get much work done on the boat tonight," Abby warned, no real annoyance in her voice as she closed her eyes and let him move their joint hands from the boat, sanding block falling to the floor, forgotten for the time being. He turned her to face him and walked her back against the skeleton of the boat. "Stop looking at me like that. I'm not going to break."
Gibbs said nothing but moved his hands to her shoulders, kneading her muscles through the material covering them.
"It hurts." She spoke quietly, almost in a whisper. "It feels like I let him down."
"You didn't. He said so himself." His hands continued to work their magic, one moving to the back of her neck, rubbing the skin bared to his touch.
"Saying that doesn't make it any less true." She heaved a sigh, winding her own arms around his neck as she moved forward, forcing his hands to drop to her back as she clung onto him. "I feel like I've lost him. Like he died, too."
Again, he chose silence over a verbal reply, knowing there were no magic words to ease her pain and make everything better. Instead he held her, arms tightening around her when he felt the first tears fall against his neck, offering the only comfort he could, hoping it was enough to see her through.
A long while later, curled up on the former coffin in the corner of his basement – now with padded cushions and minus one wall – Abby began to speak in a low voice, telling him about her childhood, about the pranks she'd played on her brother, the way she'd ganged up against him with Sophie, letting the younger girl take credit for some of the jokes to help her feel part of their games.
He knew, listening to her, that she'd be okay. She was stronger than she looked, his Abby; she'd been through more than anyone realised and would continue to get through it, just as he would, by each other's side with the support of their friends, with the makeshift family they'd formed together.
Thanks for all the lovely comments - I never know where/how to stop a story once I start so I hope it was okay :) :)