From the trajectory of the bullet that sliced through the air between them, there was no doubt in Tony's mind who the intended target had been. For that reason, he tightened his grip on Kate's hand as they stumbled down the stairs of the building after Gibbs and Ziva, neither one of them able to keep up due to injury. He felt breathless and wobbly on his feet but wasn't sure if it was due to his slow recovering from the pneumonic plague or a reaction to the knowledge that he'd almost lost her again. Kate herself as struggling due to having the wind knocked out of hr by the bullet she'd taken to the chest – thankfully, though, it had been stopped by the vest she'd been wearing.
The one that had so narrowly missed her head would've done a lot more damage.
It was by silent agreement that Tony and Kate stayed at the shot-up car to wait for back-up while McGee accompanied Gibbs and Ziva in their search for the building the shot had come from. When the others were gone, Tony drew Kate against him, pleasantly surprised when she didn't protest.
"He was trying to kill me," Kate said softly, her voice half-muffled against his chest. His arms tightened around her in silent agreement but Tony couldn't bring himself to speak. "Why me? Why not Gibbs?"
"I don't know," Tony admitted, eyes sliding shut for a moment at the images playing through his mind, horrific pictures of Kate lying dead at his feet. "He won't get the chance again."
It was a combination of sheer luck and Ziva's instincts that led them to the right building. She dismissed two of McGee's suggestions and moved on, leading them straight to the would-be sniper nest.
Though he was a little out of breath by the time they reached the roof, McGee still observed and committed to memory everything that happened when they reached their destination.
He heard a cry of anguish escape Ziva's lips and watched as both her and Gibbs rushed over to the motionless form on the ground beside the spent cartridges. He followed them at a slightly slower pace, noting the tears glimmering in Ziva's dark eyes and the obvious worry lining Gibbs' face.
Ziva immediately pushed her hands against Abby's wound, seemingly oblivious to the warm blood spilling out over her fingers while Gibbs pressed his fingers to the tattoo on her neck, feeling for a pulse.
McGee watched relief cross his boss's face when he found one and had his cell phone out and in his hand before Gibbs could even think about making it an order.
"Ari could not have done this," Ziva murmured, more to herself than to either of the men around her. McGee heard the torment in her voice, the utter despair she tried valiantly to keep from showing on her face. "He would not hurt Abby."
"Someone did." Gibbs let his fingers linger over the soft skin of her neck for a brief moment. "What will you do if she wakes up and tells you it was Ari who stabbed her?"
Ziva couldn't or wouldn't answer. She dropped her gaze back to her unconscious colleague and stayed silent.
"Ambulance is on its way, Boss." McGee put his phone back in his pocket and slipped of his jacket, crouching down beside Ziva as Gibbs reluctantly stood to survey the area. He folded his jacket quickly and eased it under her hands. "It'll help slow the blood more than your hands."
"Thank you, Agent McGee." The smile she gave him was worth the cost of replacing the jacket and made something in his stomach tighten. He returned the smile with a nod, the tips of his ears burning, and stood to join Gibbs.
"You think it was Ari?" McGee asked, deliberately keeping his voice too quiet for Ziva to hear.
Gibbs glanced at him and inclined his head. "Can't think of anyone else who's trying to kill us, McGee." He sighed and looked away, eyes narrowed as he tried to spot the building they'd been on when the terrorist had attacked. "If Abby hadn't been here, Kate would be dead."
Momentarily surprised, certain Gibbs had been the target, McGee couldn't help but gape at his boss. "He was aiming for Kate?"
"I think so. Don't know why." The sound of sirens could be heard from the street below. "Go down and tell them where we are then called DiNozzo and Todd. We need to record both scenes, see if he left us anything to go on."
McGee nodded but was stopped from leaving when he glanced at Ziva and caught a glimpse of a tear running down her cheek. "What about Officer David?"
"What about her?" Gibbs half-turned and looked at the woman leaning over Abby's unconscious form.
"She's obviously upset," McGee pointed out. "Maybe she knows there's a chance Ari did this and she'll be willing to help us out."
Gibbs watched the woman in question for a few moments, his gaze dropping every so often to the prone form beside her, which didn't escape McGee's interest. "We'll see what Abby says when she comes round. If we can get her on our side, Mossad might be willing to listen."
No ifs or maybes, a definite 'when'. McGee got the impression that anything else wasn't up for consideration. He left to follow his orders and once again found himself wondering about the past relationship between Gibbs and the former forensic scientist. He knew Gibbs had been married three times in the past but he'd been certain all of his ex-wife's were redheads.
Maybe he was wrong.
Waking up in the morgue was always a surreal experience but as it wasn't the first time it had happened, Abby wasn't too disturbed by it. She stared at up at the familiar ceiling for a few moments, trying to recall if anything had changed, trying to remember the last time she'd woken up there.
It'd been a long time ago, when she'd still been the bouncy Goth forensic scientist she still sometimes wished she was. The last time she'd woken up there, it had been to Ducky's smiling face and the smell of freshly brewed tea.
There was no scent of tea on the air to greet her as she struggled to sit upright, just a sharp pain in her stomach when the movement aggravated the stitches keeping her injury closed.
"Right." She closed her eyes and willed the nausea away, remembering all too clearly the feeling of the knife being pushed into her flesh, slicing effortless through skin and muscle with a sickening sound she was sure she'd never forget. "Ari."
Grief and anger coursed through her and she lifted a hand to her eyes, determined not to give into the sudden urge to cry.
"Hey." Gibbs kept his voice gentle but still startled her. She let her hand drop and saw him push himself off the gurney beside hers. "How you feeling?"
"Like I was stabbed in the stomach." She tried to smile but the attempt fell flat. She curled a hand over her injury protectively, wondering how long he'd been there. Wondering how much of her he'd seen. She wasn't in the same outfit she remembered choosing from her meagre collection – surgical overalls weren't something she owned, which meant someone had undressed and redressed her. "How long was I out?"
He made a show of glancing at his watch though she suspected from the shadows under his eyes that he knew without looking. "It's almost thirty hours since we found you. Ari's still missing."
She didn't protest or ask what Ari had to do with it, confirming his suspicions on who was behind the attack on her. "Is everyone else okay? He didn't hit anyone?"
"Thanks to you." Gibbs walked towards her, crowding into her space. He set one hand on the gurney beside her and lifted the other to her neck, fingertips tracing the lines of the spider web tattooed onto her pale skin. "This is new."
The light touch made her shiver but if anyone asked, Abby would say it was because of the low temperature in the morgue. "I got it a year ago."
"In Israel?" His fingers were warm against her skin and she tilted her head unconsciously to give him better access.
"No." Her eyes slid shut of their own accord, a sigh escaping her when his hand cupped her neck fully, his palm resting heavily against her skin. "Gibbs..."
"What happened to Jethro?" He took his hand away after a moment more, his eyes fixed on hers when she opened them. The look on his face was intense and she knew before he spoke what he was going to ask. "Why did you leave, Abby?"
"I couldn't stay." Her gaze dropped meaningfully to the hand resting beside her leg. "No wedding band."
"Steph's long gone." He tilted her face up with a gentle finger under her chin. "If you'd stuck around, you would've known that."
"Stephanie was never the only problem and you know it." Abby sighed softly, wincing when the movement jarred her injury. "Where's Ziva?"
An answering sigh escaped him as he recognised the change in subject for what it was; a diversion away from the real conversation they needed to have. "Last I saw, she was heading for MTAC to talk with the Assistant Director of Mossad. She wouldn't leave you till she knew you were going to be okay."
"She's a good friend." A ghost of a smile curved her generous lips and he could see the genuine affection she held for the Israeli woman. "Does she know it was Ari who did this? Does Mossad know?"
"I think she's waiting to hear it from you before she tells them. The Assistant Director wasn't very receptive of the idea as far as I know." He watched her expression change. "Is there something I should know, Abby? About you and Ari?"
Abby was saved from answering by the sound of someone clearing their voice. Both she and Gibbs turned their attention to the door and saw Ducky and Jenny standing there. How long they'd been there, neither knew, but from the look on the Director's face, Gibbs suspected they'd been watching for a while.
"Abigail, my dear." The smile that arranged Ducky's lips was warm and genuine, his blue eyes lit up in a way Gibbs couldn't remember seeing in quite a long time. "It's so good to see you again, though I wish the circumstances were different."
"Me, too, Ducky." Abby tried to get off the gurney she was on but Gibbs stopped her with a hard stare. Instead, she had to settle for leaning over to hug Ducky when he approached her, one hand still against her stomach as she wrapped her other arm around him. "I've missed you so much," she murmured, no fears or tension keeping her from showing how she felt about the doctor. "How's your mother?"
Ducky drew back with suspiciously bright eyes but neither Abby or Gibbs commented on it. Jenny just watched the three of them curiously, knowing there was a shared history between them that she knew nothing about. "Mother is well, thank you. She'd be very pleased to see you."
"I'd like to see her, too." Abby's smile faded a little as she realised it might not be possible but she forced her mind away from her personal feelings and concentrated on the frowning Director. "Director Sheppard, is Ziva still talking to Mossad?"
"She is, though the Assistant Director asked to speak to her in private." Jenny surveyed her almost as intently as Gibbs had. "If you're feeling up to it, I'm sure she'd appreciate your company."
"I'm up for it." She tried to get down again, only for both men to glare at her. "I need to do this, guys. I need to tell them it was Ari."
Ducky reluctantly stepped away and let Gibbs help her down. "You need to rest, my girl. As soon as you're done in MTAC, I want you back down here for at least an hour. I want to check your stitches, too."
"She'll be here, Duck." Gibbs' tone left no room for argument. He gave Jenny a curt nod and put an arm around Abby's waist to escort her out of the morgue.
Assistant Director Eli David of Mossad glared at his daughter from the screen in MTAC. Ziva fought the urge to wrap her arms around her middle defensively and held her father's stare.
"Do you believe Ari would turn against us, Ziva?" Eli demanded, his eyes hard – either at the accusations she'd made or the belief Ari had turned against them. Ziva didn't know which, though she suspected it was the former. "Do you believe he has so little regard for us that he would betray his country, his people, his family?"
"I cannot say for certain but the knife found with Abby is an exact replica of the one I have." Ziva held her ground, vividly remembering the blood stained blade found beneath Abby's crumpled form. "When she regains consciousness, she will be able to confirm or deny Ari's involvement in the assignation attempt on Agent Todd and the attack on her person."
Eli's expression was stormy. "You would believe her above Ari? You must not forget that she was one of these people, Ziva. She once worked for NCIS and may still feel a sense of loyalty towards them."
"If you doubted her loyalty, you should never have recruited her for Mossad." Ziva tilted her head to the side, a challenging glint in her eye she didn't use often on her father – if at all. She, however, had no doubts about Abby's loyalty to her. They'd become close friends in the four years they'd known one another and Abby was one of the few people she would trust with life – the only person, really, if she thought about it truthfully. "Abby has given up much for Mossad's cause or have you forgotten? She has no reason to implicate Ari if he is innocent."
The door to MTAC opened and she turned to glare at the intruder, her expression softening when she saw the paler than usual face of her friend. Ziva smiled at her in welcome though her eyes were guarded when she noted the way Agent Gibbs refused to leave her side and shut the door firmly behind them, sealing himself into the room as well.
"Abigail." Eli's voice was curt, almost to the point of cold. Ziva could tell it had surprised Gibbs but Abby remained unaffected by the lack of concern.
"Director." As curt as he'd been, Abby acknowledged him with the slight inclination of her head.
The Assistant Director – soon to be Director of Mossad – stared at her in silence for a few moments, waiting for her to give in first, sighing when she didn't. "Can you identify your attacker and explain to me why you were there in the first place?"
"I was there to talk to Agent Haswari, Director." Despite the pain it caused, Abby crossed her hands behind her back and stood with her back ramrod straight, her shoulders tense. Almost at attention, Ziva noted in approval, even as her heart broke at the verbal report. "I was able to trace a cell phone number I'd been given from another undercover operative to the building and when I got there, I saw Agent Haswari preparing to assassinate a target I could not identify. I confronted him and he told me to leave. I refused and informed him I couldn't let him go through with his plans and was able to distract him just in time. He stabbed me in retaliation and left me to die."
His lips pursed, Eli glared at her. "Are you certain he intended to harm you, Abigail? Perhaps he mistook you for an enemy?"
"He called me by name, Director. He knew it was me."
There was a moment of tense silence. Ziva was grateful her father's attention had shifted to Abby, certain he would be disappointed by the emotion showing on her face. Despair, grief, anger, pain... She felt an array of feelings, her heart aching with the knowledge that the gut feeling she'd had when she left Israel was proving to be right.
"You say you distracted him," Eli continued eventually. "If you believe him to be a traitor, why did you not simply kill him yourself?"
Ziva heard Abby's quick intake of breath and noted Gibbs' undisguised interest in her answer.
"I tried," Abby admitted softly. "I couldn't pull the trigger."
Another stony silence followed her confession. Ziva instinctively reached for Abby's hand, clasping it firmly away from her father's gaze.
"Investigate the situation further, Ziva," Eli ordered. "I want Ari captured alive and brought back to Israel for interrogation." He seemed to hesitate, his gaze shifting from his daughter to the woman beside him. "I believe this is where our association comes to an end, Abigail. Your resignation has been accepted."
The connection was terminated before Abby could respond. Ziva turned to her instead, brown eyes wide and almost accusing.
"You did not tell me you were planning to resign," she accused, drawing her hand away so she could cross her arms over her chest. "Where you going to tell me?"
"As soon as the situation with Ari was resolved, though I guess Mossad have decided they don't want me t see it through." The wry smile on Abby's face was forced. "There's nothing for me in Israel anymore, Ziva. You know that. I was going to tell you, I promise."
Though she believed her, Ziva couldn't get over the hurt and betrayal as quickly as she would have liked. She ignored the hand Abby held out for her and looked passed her. "What will you do now? You have no home, no job..."
"I'll find something." Abby let one shoulder rise and fall. "I've had a few offers from a couple of different agencies in the US. I might accept one of them or I might find something else altogether." She bit down on her bottom lip when Ziva still refused to look at her. "If you want me to help out with finding Ari, I will. Or if you want me to just disappear, I can do that, too."
"I don't know what I want." Tears glimmered in her eyes but she refused to let them fall. Ziva tightened her jaw and let her arms drop to her sides so she could clench her hands into fists, using the pain of her fingernails digging into her palms as a distraction from the relentless ache in her chest. "I just want this to be over."
She strode out of the room without looking back, forcing her mind to focus on finding Ari and forgetting everything else. There was only so much a woman could handle and she was rapidly reaching her limits.
The three members of Gibbs team sat crowded around Kate's desk, cartons of Chinese food resting on almost every available surface. McGee kept glancing surreptitiously at the stairs leading to MTAC while Kate and Tony kept trying to sneak glances at one another without being caught. Eventually growing tired of the game, Kate nudged Tony's side and motioned to McGee with her head.
"Who are you looking for, McGee?" Had he being paying more attention, McGee would have noticed the smirk on Tony's lips. "You think Officer David might need a shoulder to cry on when she's done being grilled by her boss?"
Startled at the mention of her name, McGee's head turned so quickly Kate winced in sympathy. "Officer David? No. Why? You think she'll be upset?"
While Tony continued to smirk, Kate rolled her eyes at him and gave McGee a gentle smile. "You really like her, don't you, Tim?"
"What?" His cheeks flushed even as he shook his head in denial. "I don't know her," he protested. "I've only known her a few days..."
"And you've been caught staring at her more times in those few days than I've ever caught you staring at Kate," Tony pointed out with a grin. He shrugged when Kate looked at him. "What?"
She gave him a curious look. "You take count when McGee stares at me?"
It was McGee's turn to direct the conversation away from himself and he took it gratefully. "He takes note whenever any guy looks at you, Kate. He gets jealous when you look back."
"Oh, really?" An amused smile curved the corners of her mouth as Kate turned her attention to the man sitting next to her instead of the one opposite. "Is that true, DiNozzo? You get jealous of other guys checking me out?"
A shadow passed over his face and Tony shrugged. "You're not theirs to check out."
"So what does it mean when you check me out?" Kate wanted to know, the smile growing wider when he ducked his head in embarrassment. She leaned closer, invading his personal space. "Does that mean you think I'm yours or that you have some kind of duty as a guy to check out every woman that passes by?"
"I don't check out every woman," Tony denied quickly. It was true, too – and had been for the last few months, though he'd never admit that to Kate. "Just the good looking ones," he added quickly, a trademark grin on his face.
"Then why are you not fawning over Officer David?" Kate wanted to know, her eyes alight with mischief. "She's certainly attractive. Very beautiful, in fact. Even McGee thinks she's hot..."
McGee's protest was ignored as Tony shrugged and considered how to answer. "Maybe she's not my type."
"She's exactly your type, Tony," Kate retorted. "So why aren't you chasing after her?"
"Because the only woman he's been interested in chasing for the last four months is you, which isn't a surprise since you've been flirting big-time recently and all you seem to be able to draw is Tony." McGee delivered the blow with a rare smirk, pleased to have once got the upper-hand over both Tony and Kate, both of whom could do little but gape at him. Footsteps on the stairs caught his attention and he saw a blur he recognised as Ziva David hurry passed their desks towards the elevator and was up on his feet before he'd even considered what he was going to do. "See you later."
He left two stunned and equally embarrassed agents in his wake.
"You've been drawing me?" Tony gave her a sidelong glance, wondering where she'd hidden her sketch pad this time.
Kate covered her embarrassment with a challenging look and met his interested gaze. "You've been chasing me?"
"You didn't notice?"
They'd moved closer without realising it. Tony let his gaze slip to her lips, warmth spreading through him when he looked back up in time to see her own eyes drift downwards. He didn't know which of them reached out first but the next conscious thought he had was that her lips really were as soft as they looked.
"So you did decide to abolish rule 12 after all." The low murmur didn't disturb them but the growl that accompanied it had them jumping apart in a hurry. Both Tony and Kate looked sheepish as Gibbs glared at them but neither were particularly apologetic.
"Move your hand, DiNozzo," Gibbs warned, his eyes narrowed. "You, too, Agent Todd."
Beside him, Abby nudged him in the side, a small smile on her face even if it didn't reach her eyes. "Let them be, Gibbs," she told him quietly. "They're not doing anyone any harm."
"Rule 12 exists for a reason, Abby." Gibbs retorted, waiting for his agents to follow his orders, satisfied when Tony and Kate put a respectable amount of distance between them. "Romance between agents never works out."
"You weren't saying that four years ago," Abby countered, a flash of hurt on her face that disappeared so quickly Kate had to check with Tony to make sure it'd been there at all.
Gibbs shifted his attention to her then, his features softening for an instant. "You were never an agent."
"I suppose there was never any romance, either." She stepped away from him, deliberately forcing his hand to drop from her back. "I can find my own way back to autopsy. You and your agents have a terrorist to find."
She walked away, her shoulders stiff, and neither Kate or Tony were fooled into thinking it was because of her injury. They looked to Gibbs, more intrigued than ever, but their boss ignored them and made his way to his own desk, lashing out at the filing cabinet with his foot as he passed it.
"There's definitely something there," Tony murmured to Kate, his voice barely higher than a whisper.
Kate rolled her eyes and threw a noodle from her forgotten Chinese at him. "You think, DiNozzo? What gave it away?"
He grinned at her and picked the noodle up from where it'd fallen onto his arm, holding her gaze as he put it in his mouth and swallowed. "You want to go grab a coffee or something?"
"We shouldn't really leave the building," Kate replied warily, a little voice at the back of her mind reminding her of Ari and the threat he still posed. "Ari's still out there."
"That's why I said or something."
He made it through the elevator doors just before they slid shut. Ziva stared at him from where she stood in the far corner of the elevator, arms folded over her chest as though she was trying to make herself look as small as possible.
"Hey." He kicked himself internally but couldn't think of anything else to say. She looked upset and angry and, God help him, extremely beautiful with her cheeks flushed and her eyes glittering. "You okay?"
"Do I look okay, Agent McGee?" She glared at him fiercely, moving her arms so her hands could rest on her hips.
"No, not really." McGee bit back a sigh and half-wished Gibbs was there to slap the back of his head. "I mean, you look great, but you're upset."
"Very perceptive of you." A little of her anger seemed to drain away and Ziva let her arms fall to her sides, resting heavily against the back wall of the elevator. "Why did you come after me, Agent McGee? I was under the impression your people distrust me as much as they do Ari."
"Not all of us." McGee shook his head in protest. "And it's just McGee. Or Tim."
Ziva frowned in confusion. "What is?"
"My name. You don't have to call me Agent McGee all of the time." He took a step forward and hit the emergency stop before he could stop himself. "I was there when we found Abby on the roof. I know you care about her. It's normal to be upset when someone you care about is hurt – you don't have to hide it."
She snorted and shook her head. "You do not know my family, Tim. Crying is a sign of weakness and I am not weak."
"I never said you were but you're just human like the rest of us." He held her gaze, inwardly wondering why he suddenly felt confident in her presence – wondering where the urge to protect this woman who obviously didn't need his protection had come from. "Is Abby going to be okay? That's not why you're upset, is it?"
Ziva closed her eyes on a sigh and let her shoulders slump. "Abby will be fine. She has chosen to stay in American rather than return with me to Israel. She is no longer Mossad and no longer my partner."
Abby staying in the US...? Filing away the thought and the speculation that her decision might have something to do with his boss, McGee returned his attention to the woman in front of him. "You can still keep in touch," he offered quietly. "Email and online chatting are a great way to talk without costing a fortune. It's not like she's leaving your life forever."
"With Abby, that may be exactly what it means," she responded softly. "She said there was nothing keeping her in Israel any longer."
"And you think she should stay because of you," he finished her thought easily enough but was still startled when she opened her eyes to look at him in surprise. "You're obvious close."
Ziva smiled a little in agreement. "She is like a sister to me," she agreed. "We have been through a lot together."
"So she'll probably want to keep in touch with you, even if she's not living in Israel." McGee shrugged when she gave him a questioning look. "There's no point in getting upset about something that hasn't happened yet, Ziva."
She gazed at him for a few seconds, a smile playing on her lips that he couldn't decipher. "Are you always so kind to strangers, Tim McGee?"
"Only the pretty ones." He almost slapped himself in the forehead and did allow a groan to escape. "I must be channelling Tony," he muttered. He flushed at the confused look on her face. "I was going to go on a coffee run. You're welcome to come with me if you want some fresh air."
Ziva contemplated the offer for a few moments. "I would like that," she said eventually, watching him activate the elevator once more, seeing the grin on his face that he did his best to hide. Maybe she wasn't losing a friend as much as gaining one.
"Great." McGee joined her at the back of the elevator as it stopped at the second floor, smiling innocently at the agent who stepped inside and gave them a curious look, no doubt wanting to know why it'd taken so long for the elevator to make it down a level.
McGee just smiled.
Ducky wasn't in the morgue when she got there but two people she didn't recognise were. Abby watched them for a moment or two before clearing her throat, trying to see the humour in the situation but unable to quash a little bit of bitterness that everyone at NCIS seemed to be hooking up with their colleagues after she'd left.
The couple jumped apart guilty, confusion and uncertainty on their faces when they realised the intruder wasn't someone they knew.
"Sorry to interrupt." Abby took a step further into the morgue. "I was looking for Doctor Mallard...?"
"He's just gone to get a blanket and pillow from the forensics lab," the young woman babbled nervously. "He said he was expecting a patient – a live one, not a dead one. Dead ones wouldn't usually use a blanket or pillow but then you wouldn't expect to see a live patient in the morgue, either."
The man beside her cleared his throat and interrupted her babbling with an affectionate smile. "You must be Abigail Sciuto. Doctor Mallard said you'd be coming down after you finished in MTAC. I'm Jimmy, Jimmy Palmer. I'm his assistant. And this is Ruby Rae, she's our forensic scientist."
"A temp, really. And I thought I was going to be an assistant rather than the lead lab tech and oh my God, did you say Abigail Sciuto?" The young woman's eyes widened, the hand that wasn't still in Jimmy's pocket moving to her mouth. "The same Abigail Sciuto who was published in 'The Forensic Examiner'?" When Abby nodded in confirmation, a high-pitched squeal escaped Ruby and she extracted herself from Jimmy so she could move closer and hold out a hand. "I love your work!" She exclaimed. "I've read every paper you've ever written."
"All three of them, then." Abby smiled politely and took the hand she was offered. She suddenly felt very old. "I'm flattered, Ms. Rae."
"It's Ruby, please. And I didn't just read the three you've had published, I've read the ones that you wrote as part of your degree, too. You have such a natural ability and instinct with forensics." Ruby shook her hand vigorously. "No offence, but I thought you'd be older. I studied your papers when I was at university."
"I'm older than I look," Abby assured her with a small smile.
"And yet you're only as old as you feel," Ducky added as he walked into the room. He carried a folded blanket in his arms with a pillow balanced precariously on top – both black with a red satin trim.
Abby took the pillow off him and looked down at it in surprise. "I thought these would be long gone by now."
"Of course not." Ducky walked over to the empty gurney she'd been resting on not an hour ago and set the blanket down on top of it. He turned to look at her with a solemn expression on his face. "We kept all of your things in your lab, my dear girl. Ready for you coming home." He didn't give her the chance to argue with his statement, looking to Jimmy and Ruby instead. "I didn't expect you both to still be here."
"We were just on our way out, Doctor Mallard." Jimmy ushered a still beaming Ruby out of the morgue. "It was nice to meet you, Ms. Sciuto!"
Abby shook her head and followed Ducky to the gurney. "Was I ever as young as Ruby?"
"You were... enthusiastic," Ducky answered diplomatically. He spread half of the blanket down on the cool metal and motioned for her to get up onto it. "Up you go and lie back. I want to see your stitches before I let you get some sleep."
"I miss being enthusiastic," she confessed with a sigh. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the soft material of the blanket. "I miss a lot of things about the way I used to be."
"Hmm." Ducky was gentle but she still flinched when he examined her stitches – not only because of the flash of pain but because of the other scars she knew he could see. "What exactly possessed you to move to Israel, Abigail? It seems to have done you more harm than good."
She waited until her skin was covered and the other half of the blanket was tucked around her before answering. "It's complicated, Ducky. There were a lot of factors... I just couldn't stay here."
"Because of Jethro?" He walked to his desk and rolled his chair over to her, sitting beside her and taking her hand. "He missed you. We both have."
Abby searched his face for any glimmer of anger or accusation but found none. Ducky was as calm and caring as she remembered him being and the relief that he hadn't changed was enough to bring tears to her eyes. "Nothing happened between us," she said eventually. "And despite what you and he might think, he wasn't the only reason I left. There were a lot of things going on back then. Things I couldn't tell even you about. Besides," she added, trying to avoid the curiosity that sprung into his eyes at her words. "Gibbs was still married to Stephanie when I left."
"Not for long afterwards." Ducky gave her hand a pat she thought was meant to be reassuring. "Though I don't believe he would betray his marriage vows or that you would be willing to indulge in an affair whilst he was married, I believe there was indeed something between you. I was here, my dear Abigail. I remember watching you both fall."
She closed her eyes against the tears that threatened to fall and wished she could block out the memories that flooded back at his words. "I fell further than him. And harder." Her voice was barely a whisper, full of remembered pain as well as fresh anguish. "I couldn't stay, Ducky. If I'd stayed, I would've lost myself completely."
His fingers rubbed the back of her hand soothingly. "I always suspected you were frightened away by the depth of your feelings for him. Just as I always had hope that you would find your way back to us."
She turned her head and opened her eyes to look at him. "I'm not back. I can't stay. I'm not sure he'd even want me to."
"Nonsense." Ducky gave her a look that made her feel like she was being foolish. "I doubt a day's gone by that Jethro hasn't missed you, Abigail. Are you aware he's chased away every forensic scientist who has tried to replace you? I believe subconsciously he has always believed you would return."
"I doubt that." She laughed shortly but it was a bitter, unhappy sound. "I think it's sweet that you're trying to play match-maker, Ducks, but it's not going to work. It's far too late for that."
Ducky watched her close her eyes, signalling an end to the conversation. He gazed at her for a while longer, waiting until he was certain she was asleep before turning his attention to the person lingering in the doorway of his morgue. "Is it too late, Jethro? Or are you going to let her walk out of your life again?"
Gibbs had no answer but Ducky hadn't been expecting one. The Doctor turned his attention back to his patient when she sighed in her sleep and when he looked up again, Gibbs was gone.
Ari Haswari was nowhere to be found.
Not even Ziva could get hold of him, which she was still surprised at even though she knew he'd tried to kill her best friend.
They followed every lead they had and she found she fit in well with Agent Gibbs' team. Though DiNozzo still treated her with suspicion, McGee and Kate had been more welcoming and she found herself wondering what it would be like to always work as part of a team, knowing there was someone there who had your back no matter what the situation. In Mossad, agents often worked alone. She'd never had a partner until Abby had come along and even then, they tended to split up a lot of the time. Abby didn't really like field work – she was good at it, but she preferred to be working in a lab or somewhere doing research or even running an operation from the command centre.
Working as part of a team was an interesting experience and one she would be reluctant to see end.
Just as she'd be reluctant to see her friendship with Abby end, which was what she feared would happen if she continued to hold her tongue. They hadn't spoken since she'd found out Abby had resigned from Mossad and while at first she'd been angry, they'd been through too much together for her to risk losing Abby completely.
Though removed from the case by Mossad, Director Sheppard had asked Abby to help out in the lab as the lab technician they had wasn't comfortable working such a big case on her own. That, and because Ruby Rae was one of Abby's biggest fans – and Ziva had her suspicions Ducky and Gibbs had had something to do with the Director's request, too.
Ziva found herself pacing outside the lab doors, torn between wanting to go in and wanting to go back up to the desk she'd been given to work at. McGee was the only one she'd told about her plan to make up with Abby. They'd been going out for coffee runs – jogs, she'd called them at first – together and she found him surprisingly easy to talk to. There was a lot she hadn't said – couldn't say – but she found him to be non-judgemental and always willing to offer advice. It was he who'd suggested she try and make amends with Abby and had suggested she take her former partner a large Caf-Pow – a caffeinated drink Abby was rapidly becoming addicted to – as a peace offering.
The sudden appearance of Ruby made her stop in her tracks, a glare arranging her features even as she realised it wasn't the lab assistant's fault that she'd been taken by surprise.
"Abby said you should go in before you wear the floor out," Ruby mumbled nervously, her gaze averted to the floor as she made her way to the elevator.
Ziva arched an eyebrow and found herself glancing down at the floor tiles she was walking on for a moment before she caught herself. "I will do that." She squared her shoulders and held her head up, her grip on the Caf-Pow in her hand almost tight enough to crush the container.
"It's about time," Abby spoke up from where she sat at the computer in the middle of the lab. Ari's face beamed back at her, a smug smile Ziva recognised on his face. "I was starting to think I had a stalker."
"Here." Ziva held out the Caf-Pow, her mind struggling to supply her with the words she wanted to say. "McGee said you had developed a taste for these... beverages."
"Caffeine in its best form," Abby declared with relish, taking the container from her. "Thank you." She sipped through the straw, a smile on her face. "These give me more of a buzz than Red Bull and that's saying something."
"Then perhaps I should not have got it for you." Ziva smirked, recollection on her face. "I had to sit next to you on the plane here while you drank several of those things. I would not wish that on anyone."
Abby's smile widened and she winked conspiratorially. "If nothing else, I'll be able to keep everyone on their toes." The smile faded after a few moments of tense silence. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I thought I'd have a chance when things were wrapped up here."
"You thought wrong." It was out of her mouth before she could stop it and Ziva gave her an apologetic look. "I am sorry also. I should have listened to you. I am sure you have your reasons for choosing to leave."
Turning back to the computer work station, Abby carefully set the Caf-Pow down. "I need to be closer to my family," she said after a short pause. "Not so close that I have to see them every day – I'm not that much of a glutton for punishment. But with everything that's happened..." She glanced at Ziva from beneath lowered eyelashes. "I never felt at home in Tel Aviv. You know that."
Ziva nodded in understanding; she did know. "You came to Israel to get over a broken heart but were never able to give it time to heal."
"Something like that." Abby gave her a wry smile and shook her head. "It did help, Ziva. Meeting you, becoming your friend..." Her expression softened. "It helped more than you can know."
Unexpected moisture stung her eyes and Ziva was grateful when Abby stepped forward and embraced her. "I will miss you so much," Ziva murmured, her own arms closing tightly around Abby's slender frame. "There is no one else I can talk to in Tel Aviv."
"You can email me. Or phone anytime. I'll always answer." Abby took a half-step back, her green eyes luminous.
The two women stared at one another in silence for a few minutes, sharing a look of mutual respect and affection. After a while, Abby chuckled and turned back to grab her Caf-Pow, taking a long slurp that broke the tension.
"Have you had any hits at the airports?" Ziva asked quietly, swiftly changing the subject back to their mission. She glanced at the image of Ari on screen and was surprised to feel a swell of anger instead of the affection she normally felt. "He has not tried to leave the country?"
"Not as far as I can tell." Abby's fingers flew gracefully over the keyboard. "If he has, he's made sure we wouldn't be able to track him but my instincts are telling me he won't have gone too far just yet." She lifted her gaze from the screen and glanced at Ziva. "He won't leave until he's made Gibbs suffer."
Ziva nodded in agreement, her brow furrowed. "I have been trying to work out why Ari would target Agent Todd. It would hurt Agent Gibbs to lose an any agent on his team but Ari could have easily taken out Tim or Agent DiNozzo instead."
"Tim, is it?" Abby gave her friend a speculative glance before shaking her head and growing serious. "I was thinking about that, too. Maybe it's because he's spent more time with Kate than the others and has a personal attachment to her."
"Or maybe because he thinks Agent Gibbs has a personal attachment to Agent Todd," Ziva continued quietly. "The easiest way to defeat an enemy is to make him vulnerable first. Perhaps he thought Gibbs would be weakened by Agent Todd's death though why, I do not know. There is no indication that they have ever had a romantic relationship... Abby...?" Noticing how pale her friend had gone, Ziva moved forward in concern. "Are you alright? Should I get Doctor Mallard?"
Shaking her head wordlessly, Abby sunk down onto her stool. "No, I'm fine. I'm okay." She bit down on her bottom lip and stared up at Ziva. "I think I know why he went after Kate," she said softly. "I think maybe it's my fault."
Ziva stared at her in confusion and reached out to lay a hand on Abby's shoulder. "How could it be your fault, Abby? You had no idea he planned to do this." She squeezed Abby's shoulder when her friend didn't respond. "What is important is that you stopped him, and that we need to find him now so he does not get the chance again."
Abby responded with a small nod but the colour took a long time in returning to her cheeks. "I think I know how we can do that, too."
The two women spent the next thirty minutes discussing the situation in hushed voices. A plan was formed and though Ziva hated every part of it, she knew she had no choice but to go along with it.
Even so, she found herself hoping Abby's theory was wrong and that Ari would not fall for their trap.
There was something going on but he didn't know what. Gibbs returned to his desk from a trip down to the lab to check on Abby only to find Ruby there in her place, the easily intimidated assistant telling him that Abby had chosen to leave early.
He'd been disappointed, having planned on asking her over to his place for dinner so they could finally have the talk Ducky kept insisting they needed and was half-considering dropping unannounced by the hotel he knew she and Ziva were staying in on his way home when he reached the bullpen.
It was the way Ziva was staring anxiously at her screen that told him something was going on; a feeling of suspicion that only increased when her cell phone rang and caused the Mossad trained assassins to jump.
Assassins were made of sterner stuff but there was obviously something weighing heavily on Ziva's mind.
He waited until she'd finished her phone call and stood, reaching for her jacket, before approaching her stealthily. "Going somewhere, Officer David?"
A flicker of guilt flashed in her eyes before she schooled her expression into one of neutrality. "I am going to make sure Abby is okay," she said after a moment's hesitation. "You are aware she left early, yes?"
"I'm aware of it, yeah. Just as I'm aware I'm being lied to right now." He fought the urge to grab her arm when she started to move as if to leave, positioning his body so she couldn't get between him and her desk instead. "Where is Abby, Ziva?"
Ziva glanced passed him, at the agents who lowered their gazes in an attempt at escaping detection and bit back a sigh. "She is in danger," she responded in a voice low enough that only he could hear. "You can come with me but you must promise to stay out of the way. I will not let you endanger her, Agent Gibbs."
"As if I would." Still, alarm bells were ringing in his head and his gut twisted with the truth of her words. Gibbs did grab her arm then, keeping her close when she would have moved away. "If anything happens to Abby..."
"Nothing will if we leave now," Ziva retorted, her brown eyes flashing. "You are the one putting her in danger by preventing me from getting to her."
Gibbs let her arm go after a split-second and strode over to his own desk, grabbing his gun and badge. He ignored his agents and motioned with his head for Ziva to precede him towards the elevators. "Where exactly are we going?"
"To your house."
It didn't look as though he'd made much progress with the boat though Abby suspected he'd finished the one she'd known in the past and burnt it, as was his style. She ran her fingertips over the wooden skeleton, enjoying the sensation of rough wood gradually giving way to smooth.
Watching him work on the boat had always been one of her favourite pastimes, though she hadn't had the opportunity to do so often. It was only when Stephanie was out of town on business or 'working late' that she'd let herself into the house, curling up on the chair in the corner with the blanket that held his scent wrapped around her as she watched him work.
It'd started when she'd had a bad day at work after an even worse break-up with her then-boyfriend. Stephanie had been out of town and Mrs. Mallard had been unwell so Ducky hadn't been able to invite her to their house. Gibbs had found her trying not to cry in her lab and insisted she go home with him for take-out and ice cream.
They'd never had an affair, despite what people thought. Not in the physical sense, anyway. In every other sense, yes, they'd perhaps done something wrong but Abby had forced herself to leave before it could go any further. She'd never been the other woman in a relationship and hadn't been about to start with Gibbs, no matter how much they might have wanted it.
There'd been a lot of hugs and platonic kisses to the cheek or forehead in the early days of their working relationship but those days had ended when the tension between them thickened and grew into something a lot less casual. In her final days at NCIS, they tried to avoid being alone in the same room together and never touched – no accidental brushing of their hands as she handed him an evidence report, no kisses to her cheek or pat on the shoulder when he got the results he wanted.
Being with him but not being able to touch or talk to him with the ease that had once been so natural was worse than not being with him at all, Abby had decided. She'd left because she couldn't stand the thought of him going home and making love to a woman who wasn't her, because it hurt to know he looked at her with so much love and undisguised lust in his eyes but went home and gave the passion she knew lingered beneath the surface to someone else.
Partly, anyway. She'd had other reasons, too. One involving her brother and another involving Gibbs, one that still hurt to think about, a betrayal of trust she'd never imagined him capable of. Even now she cursed the day she'd stopped by unannounced and been forced to watch him drive away with Stephanie beside him in the car. Even now she wished she'd just got in her own car and left instead of listening to the man who stepped out of the shadows of the house and told her not to worry, that the marriage wouldn't last.
They never did after what happened to the first Mrs. Gibbs.
"I see you have recovered from our earlier encounter." The voice didn't surprise her as much as it should have done but Abby's shoulders still tensed. "Enough to share your bed with him again, anyway."
"Careful, Ari, you sound almost jealous." Abby turned from the boat slowly, watching him walk down the remaining stairs and step out of the shadows into the dim light of the basement. "And for the record, I've never shared a bed with Gibbs. That's a pleasure both you and he have been denied."
Ari smirked at her, lifting his hand so she could see the light glint off the gun he held. "It is you who should watch what you say, Abigail."
"You're going to kill me regardless of what I say," Abby retorted calmly. "Revenge for stopping you from killing Agent Todd?"
"That, and because I realise now I'll get the desired effect so much more so with you." The smirk on his face widened and his eyes gleamed. "He is the one you spoke with Ziva about, isn't he? The American who broke your heart."
"You're the second person to say that to me today," Abby mused. "I never told anyone I had a broken heart."
"You inferred it." Ari arched an eyebrow. "And you certainly behaved like a woman in love does when the affair is over. You were reckless, out of control. It is why my father recruited you for Mossad."
"It wasn't all Gibbs' doing," Abby corrected quietly, her eyes dark. "And you know it." She walked towards the stool beside the workbench slowly and sat down, wondering in some distant part of her mind where the chair she'd used had gone and who – Stephanie or Gibbs – had gotten rid of it. "If you're going to kill me anyway, maybe you'd be so kind as to tell me why you're doing this. Why Gibbs? Why betray everything you stand for to get revenge against him for something I'm not even sure he's done wrong?"
Ari chuckled, an unsettling sound that made her skin crawl. "Oh, Abigail. I will miss you. It will be worth it, though, to see the look on his face when he returns home and finds you lying in a pool of blood. As unable to save you as he was his wife and child." He saw her stiffen and laughed again. "Oh, yes, I know about Shannon and Kelly Gibbs. I can do my research, too, Abigail and I know how they died just as I know he never confided in you about them, which is no doubt one of the reasons you suffered so much pain. Your lover didn't trust you enough to confide his greatest secret in you. You had to discover it from someone else." He smirked at the surprised look on her face. "I overheard you telling your precious brother about it. About your meeting with a man named Franks who shattered the illusion you had of being the only woman in his heart."
"That's why you went after Kate, and why you're going to kill me." The surprise gave way to a calm acceptance. "I suspected you knew about Shannon but I couldn't figure out how. Now I know." She held her chin up a little higher. "What I still want to know is why you're willing to go to so much trouble. Why give up everything for this?"
"He has the misfortune of reminding me of my father," Ari admitted after another long moment.
Abby blinked, genuinely surprised. "Your father loves you. He'd do anything for you."
"He is a bastard, Abigail, and you cannot deny it." He shook his head and leaned against the shell of the boat. "From the moment of my birth, he groomed me to be one thing... His mole in Hamas. He sent me to Edinburgh to become a doctor so I could work in the Gaza camps alongside my mother. When he had her killed, I had no trouble convincing anyone that I wanted to join the Iz Adin al-Kassam."
"I doubt your father had your mother killed, Ari. From what I've heard, he loved her a great deal."
Ari snorted. "He loved her so much he was warming another woman's bed before her body had cooled. He planned it so I was visiting him in Tel Aviv. After years of planning, of using both my mother and I, he finally had his mole in Hamas." He laughed bitterly. "He has never known how much I hated him. I wish I could see his face when he realises he created not a mole but a monster, one eager to strike at the heart of Mossad and Israel." A small smile played on his lips. "One who stole from him his youngest daughter as vengeance for what he did to my mother."
"You?" Abby's eyes narrowed and her hands clenched into fists. "You were involved...? You sick son of a bitch..."
"Ah, ah, ah. Your mother should have taught you manners, Abigail. It might have saved your life." He straightened and took a step towards her, hand up as if to touch her cheek. "We could have been so good together, you and I. You have the potential within you to be so much more."
She turned her cheek away from his touch, clenching her jaw when his fingers brushed her skin. "I'm happy being the way I am, thanks."
Ari let his hand drop to his side and instead lifted the one holding the gun. "Then it is a shame you will not be able to live that way for much longer. Goodbye, Abigail."
Abby closed her eyes just seconds before a shot rang out. She exhaled slowly and let her shoulders slump when she heard the thump of a body hitting the ground, opening her eyes when she heard movement on the stairs. She blinked when she saw not only Ziva but Gibbs, too, and bit down on her bottom lip at the look on his face. "How long...?"
"Long enough." Gibbs stared at her solemnly, his expression unreadable.
Abby sighed softly and got to her feet, avoiding looking down at the body bleeding out on the cold cement floor. She focused instead on Ziva, who looked ahead blindly, tears shining in her eyes. "Ziva..." She reached out and took the gun from Ziva's hand, holding it securely in her own as she moved to block Ziva's view of the body. "I killed Ari," she declared quietly, meeting and holding Ziva's gaze when the Israeli glanced up at her. "You will tell your father and everyone else that I killed Ari in self-defence." She looked passed Ziva to Gibbs, a pleading expression on her face. "I killed him," she repeated, holding his stare until he gave her a nod of understanding.
"I must go and call my father," Ziva murmured. She glanced down at the body once before tearing her gaze away. She turned and walked passed Gibbs, clinging to the railing of the stairs as she made her way up to the ground floor.
Gibbs held his tongue until he was sure she was out of earshot. "His father is...?"
"Assistant Director David. Ari is – was Ziva's half-brother." Abby did look down at the body then, her fists clenching at the blood pooling beneath his cooling body. She shuddered and took a step away from Ari, unwittingly bringing herself that much closer to Gibbs. She kept her gaze fixed on the top button of his shirt, deciding it was safer than getting caught by his eyes. "I won't say anything to anyone about your wife and daughter. Nor will Ziva. She'll go back to Tel Aviv and I'll find another job... You won't have to see either of us again..."
His hand against her cheek caught her by surprise. She closed her eyes as he tilted her face upwards, his thumb stroking along the line of her cheekbone. "Abby... Look at me."
She didn't want to but there was a note of command in his voice she couldn't ignore. She opened her eyes and met his gaze, her heart pounding in her chest.
"I want you to stay," he told her softly, his voice almost too quiet. "I need you to stay."
"Gibbs..." Abby tried to speak despite the lump in her throat. "I can't be what you want and I won't settle for being second best..."
His finger against her lips stopped her from going further. "You don't know what I want, Abby. And you could never be second best."
She wasn't convinced and she knew it showed on her face. She watched him move closer, unable to get her body to move, and almost felt his lips against hers – so close, his breath warm against her – when a floorboard creaked and the moment was gone.
They stepped apart just as Ziva came into view, her composure regained but her eyes still showing her shock. "My father would like me to accompany to body back to Tel Aviv immediately. I have also called McGee, and he said he would inform the Director and the other members of your team, Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs somewhat reluctantly let his arms drop so Abby could start up the stairs towards her friend. He stared down at the body at his feet, satisfaction running through his veins even though he hadn't got to pull the trigger himself.
He heard Abby tell Ziva that it was going to be okay, that the worst was over and, for the first time in a long time, he let himself believe it was true.
End. There will be a short sequel tying up some loose ends, I think.