Title: Ghosts II: Message in a Bottle
Author: Jo. R
Rating: R for suggested violence
Pairings: Abby/Gibbs, McGee/Ziva, Tony/Kate
Category: Alternate Universe, Drama, Angst, Romance, Friendship
Spoilers: Previous story, 'Ghosts'.
Summary: The past catches up to Abby in more ways than one.
Author's Notes: Follow-up to 'Ghosts', hopefully answering some outstanding questions.
The first time they had met had been in celebration of two loved ones finding happiness with one another. They'd barely spoken, just exchanged polite smiles and shared an eye roll or two when the loved-up couple got a little too nauseating.
The second time, they'd both been caught in the same explosion and, trapped by debris and rubble, they'd had no choice but to talk to one another in an attempt at getting through the experience. Abby Sciuto still had the scars from the bits of ceiling that kept her pinned to the ground, small silver lines like cobwebs across the otherwise smooth skin of her stomach. Ziva David still had a small scar on her left leg behind her knee and it still ached sometimes when she got too cold or had to stay in the same position for an extended period of time.
They'd been friends ever since, close friends and partners. After the explosion in which they'd both almost lost their lives and both lost people they cared about, they became almost inseparable. Abby accepted a position within Mossad working for Ziva's father, working with Ziva, and moved into the two-bedroom apartment Ziva lived in.
That was three years ago and Abby was struggling to acclimatise to life without Ziva in it every day. She missed getting dressed to the sounds of the Israeli woman singing in the shower. She missed the smell of the herbal tea Ziva liked mingling with the scent of freshly brewed coffee and, more often than not, burnt toast in the mornings. She missed having someone there when she got home after a long day, having someone to talk to about what she'd done or heard or even about the rubbish that was playing on television.
She'd only been in Washington DC without Ziva for three weeks and although she'd once called the city her home, she was struggling to settle in. She'd been offered a permanent job at NCIS – in the labs – and had accepted with a surprising degree of reluctance. She'd made it clear to Director Jenny Sheppard that she viewed the position as a temporary one but the Director, having heard from her predecessor that the role was notoriously difficult to keep filled due to a certain agent on her team, had been willing to accept that in the hopes that Abby would change her mind.
Working at NCIS again was like slipping on a pair of summer sandals after a long winter in heavy boots; comfortable and easy and a nice change of pace. Not that Abby wore sandals; she had done in Tel Aviv but the climate was distinctly different there and she was more than happy to get back to the tall boots she'd once worn as her trademark around the Navy Yard.
Slowly, the old Abby was re-emerging – what was left of her, anyway. There were aspects of her former self that could never come back, her slightly naive view of the world and faith that bad things didn't happen to good people to name only two.
She crawled out of bed when the alarm went off, wishing she could bury her head under the covers and stay there all day. While she loved her job and quickly re-established most of her old routine, there were still a few things she wasn't quite comfortable with yet. Working with Agent Gibbs' new agents being one; working with the man himself being the other, biggest obstacle she found herself facing.
They hadn't spoken about their relationship or lack thereof since that fateful day in his basement when Ari Haswari had been shot and killed. He hadn't tried to broach the subject and neither had she; they were both trying to get used to being around one another again without the added tension of their would-be relationship.
She shook herself mentally and gave herself a harsh look when she made it to the bathroom mirror. There'd be no dwelling on the past or what might have been, she told herself firmly. There was too much at stake in the present for that.
Abby took a shower and dressed quickly, grabbing her purse and keys on her way out of her apartment. She hadn't bought a car yet so was relying on public transport. She glanced at her watch as she jogged down the stairs of the apartment building, frowning when she realised she had less the five minutes to make it to the bus stop.
In the end, it didn't matter what time she left her apartment or what time the bus made it to her stop.
She didn't make it to work.
Ziva David paced the bullpen anxiously, wringing her hands in front of her. She paused every time the ding of the bell signalled the arrival of the elevator, her shoulders slumping when none of the people getting off it were the black haired woman she was waiting for.
"She'll be here," Special Agent Tim McGee assured her, getting up from his desk to stand in her way when she would have turned and paced away from him. He reached out and gently took hold of her arms – he knew she could kick his butt if she wanted and didn't want to give her a reason to try. "I still don't get why you didn't go to her apartment when you got here last night."
The Israeli beauty arched an eyebrow. "Are you complaining, McGee?"
A light blush stole over his face and he shook his head, a bashful smile on his face as he remembered how he'd offered her the use of his bed for the night so she could keep her return to DC a surprise – and how he'd been intending on taking the sofa but she had had another, much more fun solution to the lack of space. "Not at all, though you do steal the covers," he told her in a low voice. "But if you'd gone to see Abby last night, you wouldn't be so nervous about seeing her now."
"I am not nervous," Ziva denied with the shake of her head. "I am merely... uncertain as to how she will react to news of my assignment here."
"She'll be as thrilled as I am," McGee told her softly, his expression earnest. "She's missed you, I'm sure."
"Sure of what, McGee? That you'll be transferred to Antarctica if you don't keep your hands to yourself in my time?" The sound of Gibbs' voice, of the slight bitterness in it, had McGee letting his hands drop to his sides.
Ziva frowned, both at the way McGee stepped away from her and at the glare Gibbs gave them both. She put a hand on her hip and met his cool blue eyes without flinching, something no other member of his team had been able to do in weeks. "We were discussing Abby's reaction to finding out I will be working here," she told him matter-of-factly. "Tim believes she will be happy to see me."
Gibbs' response was a grunt as he sat down at his desk. He turned his computer on, hitting the side of the monitor after a few seconds when it remained black. "Stupid damn thing..."
"Here, Boss." McGee braved his anger by leaning across the desk and pressing the power button of the monitor, quickly moving back to stand at a safe distance as the screen flickered to life.
There was no word of thanks from their boss, just another glare. Ziva opened her mouth to protest but closed it when McGee looked at her and shook his head in warning.
The elevator doors opened again and a giggling Special Agent Kate Todd emerged, followed by a grinning Special Agent Tony DiNozzo, who looked more than a little pleased with himself. As Ziva watched, McGee shook his head at them both and made a cutting motion across his throat with his hand, silencing their laughter almost immediately.
Gibbs, it seemed, was not in the mood.
Ziva's frown deepened. McGee had told her the night before that Gibbs was not the man she would remember and it appeared he was right. While Gibbs had been suspicious of her when they'd first met, he'd been almost friendly towards her when she'd left. Almost, because she was related the man who'd tried to destroy him but at least he'd been polite about it.
"Shouldn't Abby be here by now?" Kate asked as she approached, her purse safely stored in the bottom drawer of her desk. "Her bus isn't usually this late."
Tony and McGee exchanged a glance before looking down at their watches. Ziva crossed her arms over her chest as they exchanged another long look.
"What is it?" She demanded, her eyes narrowing as Kate moved to the phone on her desk and dialled an obviously familiar number.
The answer came from Gibbs, his voice flat but his eyes flickering in concern as he stood up to join them. "She should've been here by now. You sure she's not already in the lab?"
"Positive, Boss." McGee stood a little closer to Ziva than before. "We've been here since seven."
"We?" Tony asked with a smirk. The smirk vanished when he was rewarded with a Gibbs head slap. "Thank you, Boss."
Kate hung up the phone, her brow furrowed. "There's no answer on her cell. It just goes straight through to voicemail."
Director Jenny Sheppard chose that moment to join the group, the expression on her face suggesting that the news she had wasn't good. "We've had a phone call from a terrorist group claiming to be allied with Hamas."
"They have Abby," Ziva murmured, her hands tightening on her arms even as McGee put a hand to her back and the others straightened in concern. "What do they want with her?"
"They claim she helped capture a number of their supporters in Israel, including one of their leaders." Jenny caught and held Ziva's gaze as the other woman paled. "You've heard of Ayal Petral?"
Ziva tensed noticeably. "He was the leader of a Hamas cell responsible for the bombing of a synagogue in Tel Aviv. Both Abby and I were caught in the explosion. It is how she became involved with Mossad."
Jenny sighed deeply. "I'm sure she's regretting that decision at the moment. They're holding her captive and say they'll kill her if their demands aren't met within twenty-four hours."
"What are they demanding?" Gibbs glared at her as though the Director herself was responsible for the situation.
"They're demanding the release of Ayal Petral. If he isn't freed from his imprisonment in Israel, they will kill Abby."
If possible, Ziva blanched even further. She leaned heavily into McGee, who wrapped his arm around her waist. "Ziva...?"
"It is impossible to meet with their demands, even if my father and the Israeli government would allow it," she informed them quietly, grief already etched into her features. "Ayal Petral is dead. He died seven months into his incarceration."
There was a moment of tense silence as the news was ingested, the good mood most of them had had getting up that morning disappearing rapidly.
"Then we'll have to find her before the deadline." Kate let a hand rest on her hip, her expression solemn. "Does MTAC have any leads on where they're hiding?"
"We're working on it," Jenny told her with a nod.
"We'll go question her neighbours," Tony decided, glancing at Gibbs for confirmation. "Maybe one of them saw or heard something suspicious."
Gibbs gave him a nod, a glimmer of the old Gibbs sneaking through the cold facade he'd created for himself. "Kate, Ziva, work from MTAC and contact Mossad. See if they know anything that could help. McGee, DiNozzo, you're with me."
He strode out of the bullpen without looking back. The three original members of the team exchanged faintly relieved glances with Jenny at the return of the old Gibbs while Ziva straightened her back and stepped away from McGee, her stomach churning at the thought of what Abby was going through.
"She'll be okay," McGee murmured to her before leaving with Tony, giving her hand a quick, reassuring squeeze. "She's tougher than she looks."
Ziva forced a smile and lowered her eyes so he wouldn't see the doubt in them. She'd met Ayal Petral's supporters before, both she and Abby had.
It'd been pure luck that they'd escaped with their lives.
The metal cuffs dug into the skin of her wrists and the gag in her mouth tasted foul. She couldn't see anything thanks to the ripped cloth they'd used as a blindfold but she could hear people murmuring in low voices and footsteps that almost made it to the door of the room.
Abby recognised enough of the language being used to know it was Hebrew and found herself wishing, not for the first time, that she'd learnt more of the language when she'd been in Israel.
She'd known her past would come back to haunt her some day but she'd never guessed that it would be so soon. She felt the dampness of the wall she was sitting against soak through her clothes and almost into her skin and suppressed a shudder as memories came back to her.
Memories of being in a similar cell, in stifling heat.
Memories of hearing the cries and screams of others like her who were being held against their will, tortured for what they knew.
She and Ziva had survived the ordeal but only barely. They'd supported one another, kept each other going with both small talk and meaningful conversation. They'd stopped each other from giving up, speaking about their hopes and dreams for the future, their mutual goal for a danger free world to live in.
She never would have survived without Ziva at her side. How was she supposed to do it now?
The sound of footsteps approached the door again and she held her breath, half-hoping they'd go away like all of the other times. They didn't. A lock clicked and hinges that had grown rusty over time creaked in protest as they were forced to support the weight of a heavy door.
The footsteps got closer, until she could feel the presence of another body in close proximity to hers.
The newcomer crouched down beside her and untied the blindfold around her eyes with cold hands. She had to blink a few times to let her eyes become accustomed to the gloomy room and she couldn't stop a gasp from escaping her as she met the green eyes of the man beside her.
"We cannot tell you anything that may be of help, Ziva." The newly appointed Director of Mossad stared at his daughter unsympathetically from the screen in MTAC, apparently not bothered in the slightest by the twin glares being directed at him by Kate and Ziva. "We have no knowledge of what happened to Petral's supporters after he was captured. He refused to tell us anything about them or where we could find them."
Ziva's glare intensified. "I do not believe that. There was a team of Mossad officers following each known member of his cell in the months following his arrest. There was even talk of an undercover operative amongst them."
"There is a lot of talk that is untrue," Eli David retorted calmly. "We never had an undercover operative working with Petral. We attempted it but the officer was amongst those killed in the explosion."
"But you don't deny you had people following the known members of his cell." Ziva waited a beat, an eyebrow arched when he was too slow to deny it. "When did they come to America and how are they unaware that Petral is dead?"
Eli David let one shoulder rise and fall in a non-committal shrug. "I cannot say when they moved to America but I can tell you that we have done our best to keep anyone outside of Mossad from knowing that Petral is dead. It would cause too much political unrest and awaken too many old feuds to risk. It is unfortunate they believe he is alive and will only free Abigail in exchange for his release but there is nothing I can do to help you or her now."
"It's your fault she's in this trouble," Ziva seethed, hands clenching painfully. "If you had not inducted her into Mossad, she would not have become a target for these monsters. Surely you see that you are responsible for this? You have a duty to her to protect her."
"My duty towards Abigail ended when she resigned from Mossad and killed my son," Eli responded just as coldly. "I am afraid I can spare you no more time. I wish you luck in finding Abigail before the deadline is up. I suspect you will need it."
The screen went blank and an angry sound escaped Ziva. Kate put a sympathetic hand on her arm, hazel eyes dark with concern for both the Israeli woman and the missing forensic scientist.
"He is impossible," Ziva ranted, running a hand through her dark curls. "After all Abby has done for our people, after all she has lost..."
"How did Abby get involved with Mossad?" Kate asked quietly. She met Ziva's gaze and held it, curiosity winning out over respect for the privacy of the black haired woman she was starting to befriend. "You said it Petral was linked to your father's decision to recruit her. How?"
Ziva exhaled slowly, her shoulders slumping with the gesture. "Abby first came to Israel when her brother asked for her. He was a diplomat in the country on official business when he met and fell in love with my sister, Tali. They were engaged to be married and were very much in love. The four of us were visiting the synagogue to speak with the Rabbi there when the bomb Petral and his people had planted went off. Nick and Tali were killed instantly. Abby and myself were trapped for hours. It wasn't until we were rescued that we were told Nick and Tali were dead."
"That's when your father recruited her to Mossad? When she was reeling from the murder of her brother?" Kate looked appalled and Ziva found she couldn't blame her.
"He said it gave her passion for the cause, that he could help her get vengeance for her brother." Ziva's nose wrinkled to show her distaste. "Abby was very close to her brother. She adored him. When he died and she didn't, her parents somehow decided to blame her. He was the youngest and it was her job to protect him. She joined Mossad as much to get away from them and be allowed to stay in Israel as she did to help capture the man responsible for Nick's death."
"That's so sad." Kate barely managed to stifle a sigh, thinking of each of her three brothers. Sure, they were pains in her ass most of the time but she loved them all and couldn't imagine how she'd feel if she lost one of them in such a horrific way. "But you caught the bastard. You and Abby."
Ziva inclined her head slightly. "We did but not before we were captured ourselves. He knew he'd killed our loved ones and took pleasure in tormenting us with it. My father always said we should have planted a bomb of our own when we made our escape with Petral as our hostage. Now I wonder if perhaps he was right."
Kate's hand tightened on Ziva's arm momentarily. She had to clear her throat before speaking, her eyes soft with sympathy. "We'll find her, Ziva, and we'll make the bastards pay if they've hurt her."
A little reassured by the steely determination, Ziva returned Kate's smile with one of her own.
No one saw anything, no one heard anything. Gibbs was only just keeping a hold of his temper when the neighbour from the apartment upstairs could only ask if the woman they were looking for was the "hot piece of ass" who kept turning him down.
Given his apartment smelt as bad as he did and he obviously hadn't bathed in quite some time, not one of the Special Agents were surprised.
"The neighbour across the hall said she left on time." Tony reported, meeting the others in front of the building. "Mrs. Waylin said she passed Abby on the stairs and that she seemed in a rush but still stopped to give her a smile."
"The bus driver said she didn't get on the bus which means she was taken somewhere between here and the stop," McGee chimed in. He glanced up and down the street. It wasn't a notoriously unsafe neighbour but he knew Abby should've been able to afford something a little more upmarket. "It's a five to ten minute walk that way." He motioned up the street. "Looks like there's a couple of alley ways, some residential buildings..."
Gibbs nodded at his assessment and started to walk in the direction McGee had pointed, expecting them to fall into step behind him. "There would've been people around at that time in the morning. Parents and kids on the school run, professionals going out to work... Someone has to have seen something."
"We'll do a standard sweep of the neighbour, call in some back-up to help with door-to-door enquiries." Tony pulled his cell phone out of his pocket as he spoke, falling slightly behind them as he made the necessary calls.
McGee fell into step with Gibbs, glancing at the older man out of the corner of his eye. "You think they'll give us the full twenty-four hours if they find out he's dead?"
"Not likely, McGee." Gibbs kept his gaze fixed ahead, his tense jaw the only outward sign of his agitation. "Which is why we have to find her before the twenty-four hours are up."
She swirled some water around her mouth and spat it out with a grimace. It did little to ease the bad taste the gag left behind but it was a start. Abby accepted the glass he held to her lips for a second time, sipping the water and letting it soothe her aching throat before she attempted to speak.
"I thought you were dead," she told him in a whisper. "Eli said you died in the explosion."
"Eli lied." Her brother, her baby brother she'd believed to be dead for over three years stared at her solemnly. "He knew I was alive the whole time. I thought... He told me he'd tell you when it was safe."
"I guess it's never been safe, then." Abby blinked back the moisture that stung her eyes and gave him a watery smile, gazing at him hungrily. "I can't believe you're really here." The smile faded and a hopeful look took its place. "Tali...?"
Nick dropped his gaze, shaking his head. "She died, Abs. I held her. There was nothing I could do..." He lifted his head, fresh pain blossoming on his face. "She died."
"I'm so sorry." She fought the wave of grief that threatened to wash over her and wished her hands were free so she could touch him, so she could prove to herself that he was really alive and sitting just a few feet away. "I know how much you loved her."
Her brother nodded, unable to deny it. "She's the reason I'm here," he admitted quietly. "I had the opportunity to infiltrate the group and took it so I could bring them down." He glanced over his shoulder, towards the door that was slightly ajar. "They think I'm one of them. I guess I'm the reason you're here."
"What? Why?" Abby's eyes narrowed as she stared at him in disbelief. "Do they know you're my brother...?"
"No, not at all." Nick lifted the glass to her lips again. "I gave them your name as a bargaining chip with NCIS and Mossad so I could see you. I've been gathering information for years and thought it was finally time I passed it on."
Abby swallowed the water gratefully. "What kind of information...?"
"The kind that can save hundreds if not thousands of lives." Nick set the glass down and met her enquiring gaze. "It's all on a microchip but I can't just give it to you and let you go. We've got to make it look like you escaped and we've got to hide it so they won't find it if someone catches you."
She watched her brother for several long moments, searching his expression. "What's the plan?"
"I was hoping you'd say that." He gave her a relieved smile and reached out to squeeze her still bound hands, leaning closer to whisper the plan into her ear.
While Abby and her brother were planning her escape, Gibbs and his team were trying to find her. They found two witnesses who saw a woman matching Abby's description being bundled into a non-descript white van and, between the two of them, were able to get a picture of the direction the van had taken.
The group reassembled in the lab, which was strangely silent without the music that usually accompanied their regular forensic scientist and stood around waiting while Ruby Rae, Abby's assistant, and McGee painstakingly went through all of the CCTV footage recorded that morning in search of the vehicle.
"There." Gibbs' eyes were narrowed as he stood in front of the plasma screen, pointing to the image in the left-hand corner. "There's Abby."
Ziva moved to stand beside him, arms crossed over her chest as she stared at the grainy image. "That is her," she confirmed.
McGee zeroed in the camera they'd identified and they followed Abby's progress in silence. She made it half-way to the bus stop before the white van the witnesses had described pulled up alongside her. They saw two men get out and Abby kicked at one of them when they grabbed her arm. She put up enough of a fight to warrant a third man getting out of the van, Ziva was proud to note, and it took all three of them to get her into the back of the van.
No one else on the street seemed alarmed by her abduction and both Gibbs and Ziva made silent promises to themselves that she'd be moving to a new neighbourhood as soon as she was found.
"It took a left at the top of the road." McGee spoke mostly to himself, clicking a few buttons to zoom in on the van. "I think I can make out a license plate."
"Run it," Gibbs ordered. "And put out a BOLO." He strode away from the plasma screen to stand over McGee's shoulder at the computer. "Ruby, you think you can track the van and feed directions to us in the car?"
Ruby was slightly startled at being addressed and nodded her head a little too enthusiastically. "Of course, Agent Gibbs. I mean, I'm sure I can."
"Good." Gibbs started out of the lab. "DiNozzo, Todd, with me. David, McGee, follow in the second car."
The clock was ticking.
Raised voices woke her from the nap she'd been trying to take. Abby blinked in the darkness of the room, her arms aching from being in the same position for so long. She glared at the restraints around her ankles and clenched her teeth the best she could with the gag once again in place.
She couldn't understand what they were saying but she was willing to bet whatever it was didn't mean good things for her.
Her suspicions were confirmed when her brother returned, his eyes troubled. He held a syringe in one hand and a set of keys in another, placing the latter down so he could undo her gag. "They know Petral's dead," he told her quietly, crossing the distance between them as quickly as he could. "I need to get you out of here. And fast."
"What's with the syringe?" Abby looked at it warily, seeing the needle was a little bigger than most she'd seen.
"It's the only way I can think of for giving you the chip in a way that won't be detected." Nick held the syringe up for her to see. "I can insert it under the skin so they won't find it. Just tell me where."
Still wary but willing to risk it because it was her brother doing the asking, Abby tilted her head, baring the unmarked side of her neck to him. "Do it." She closed her eyes when he leaned closer, syringe in hand.
"I don't have anything to numb the area," Nick hesitated, running a finger over the smooth skin he was about to inject. "It'll hurt."
"I'm used to pain," Abby murmured in response, clasping her hands together as much as she could. "Just do it and we'll get out of here."
There was a hot flash of pain and she clenched her jaw to keep back a cry. Her skin stung and throbbed and it took a few deep breaths to stop the nausea she felt from overwhelming her.
"It's done." His fingers soothed the sore area and she found him watching her in concern when she prised open her eyes. "I won't be coming with you, Abs," he told her quietly, his thumb still moving over her skin. "I can't... I'm gonna need to disappear when this is over. There's a chance I won't ever be able to be me again."
"I'll come with you." She tried to hold his gaze but he looked away to undo the cuffs around her wrists and the chains around her ankles. "Nick," she implored softly, waiting until he looked up at her. "I don't want to lose you again."
"You won't." He flashed her a smile and rubbed her bruised wrists when they were free. "I'll keep in touch if I can."
"And if you can't?" Abby got to her feet with his help, clutching his hands almost desperately.
Nick leaned forward to press a soft kiss to her forehead. "At least you'll know I'm alive this time. That somewhere out there is a guy who loves you completely and utterly and who'll always look out for you, no matter where he is."
"You're such a sweet talker, little brother of mine." Tears clogged her throat and stung her eyes but Abby refused to let them fall. "Let's get out of here."
It was always a damn warehouse, Kate thought with distain. She and Ziva held back as Gibbs led McGee and Tony towards the front doors of the building. She gave Gibbs a nod when he motioned for them to go around the side of the building to cover any exits and picked her way silently across the tarmac though judging from the raised voices inside, it was doubtful the terrorists would have heard a stampede of elephants arrive.
She glanced at Ziva and saw her own concern mirrored in the Mossad officers eyes; angry voices meant bad news in a hostage situation.
Ziva stood next to the back entrance, as close as she dared and frowned as she listened intently to the voices within. "They know Petral is dead."
"They have not mentioned her." Ziva took a step back and reached for her weapon. "It is only a matter of time before..."
Gunshots rang out and the shouts became angrier. They heard Gibbs' voice shout an order and the retaliating shower of bullets as the order went ignored.
They went through the door together, NCIS and Mossad working in perfect unison. Ziva took out the terrorist aiming his weapon at Gibbs, while Kate took out the one fighting with Tony. They both ducked behind empty barrels when their enemy realised the three NCIS agents had suddenly become five and the shoot-out that ensued was short but intense.
When it was over and the dust had cleared, the ground was littered with bodies. Some were alive and groaning in agony, some were barely clinging onto life and others were dead. The five of them worked well together, securing the scene, calling for back-up, searching the remainder of the warehouse for their missing friend.
Abby was nowhere to be found.
"Maybe they moved her before they discovered Petral is dead," Tony suggested, unwilling to give up hope on the black haired forensic scientist.
"She could have escaped," McGee chimed in, glancing between his lover and his boss, not sure which of them looked most disappointed and most in need of comfort.
Kate returned from inspecting one of the rooms, a woman's purse in her hands. "Abby's," she identified unnecessarily. "ID, credit cards, money, cell phone. They didn't take anything out of it."
"So she was here." Gibbs looked around the warehouse even as they heard the approaching sirens. "Question is where is she now?"
No one could answer. Ziva's imagination ran away with her, supplying her with an answer too painful to contemplate for long. She busied herself doing a second sweep of the warehouse, searching for some clue that they'd missed before.
McGee approached her quietly, hovering just close enough to comfort but not too near to be smothering. She gave him a grateful smile and continued searching with him at her side.
Doctor Donald 'Ducky' Mallard had just been about to leave with his assistant, Jimmy Palmer, to help collect the bodies of the terrorists killed in the shoot-out when the doors to the morgue slid open. "I'll be right there, Mr. Palmer. I just want to check we have enough gloves. There's nothing worse than realising you've forgotten them half way to a scene."
"The scene can wait, Doctor." Jenny's voice startled him and he turned around to say as much, only to be startled once more when he took in the sight of the dishevelled woman standing beside her. "We need your assistance here instead."
"Hey, Duck." Abby gave him a half-hearted wave, exhaustion plain to see in her face and posture. She'd barely taken a step forward when he decided to move towards her, taking her easily into his arms. "Feel like operating on a live patient again?"
Ducky clucked his tongue as he stepped back, eyes searching for any visible injury. "You seem to be making a habit of being my only living patient, Abigail. It's one you really must stop."
"I'll try," she promised with a wry grin, accepting his arm as he led her to the gurney. "If you try to stop calling me Abigail, that is."
"Of course." His eyes sparkled with relief that she was okay. "Now, my dear, what is it I can do for you?"
It was Jenny who answered, moving to stand beside Abby when the dark haired woman looked down. "We need you to retrieve a microchip that was injected beneath her skin."
"A microchip?" Ducky looked between them, obviously intrigued. "How did you come to have a microchip inserted into the skin of your neck?"
"It's a long story," Abby told him with a sigh.
"Good." Ducky smiled at her again, his affection for her obvious. "I've found that they're the best kind."
Jenny gave Abby an amused look and touched the other woman's shoulder companionably. "I'll leave you to it and let Gibbs and his team know you're okay."
"Thank you."Abby held it together until the doors closed behind her, the calm mask she'd adopted when Nick had dropped her off outside of the security gates at the Navy Yard crumbling in an instant.
"Oh, my dear." Ducky took her into his arms without hesitation, patting her back soothingly. "It's okay, Abby. You're safe now. Hush now. Everything's all okay now."
She told him what had happened between tears, clinging to him desperately as she mourned the loss of her brother once more.
Gibbs hadn't met anyone who drove as fast or as recklessly as he did until he'd met Ziva David. They parked their cars at the same time, neither sparing a glance for their passengers as an unsteady Tony helped a queasy looking Kate out of the passenger seat of Gibbs' car whilst McGee remained seated for a few moments more, inhaling deeply as the colour slowly returned to his all too pale cheeks.
The three agents trailed behind them as they marched into the building, waiting impatiently for the elevator to arrive at the third floor.
Abby stood staring out of the large window in the bullpen, oblivious to their arrival until Jenny gently nudged her.
Ziva reached her first because Gibbs slowed down, uncertain how she'd respond to the greeting he wanted to give her, and he was forced to watch with the others as the former partners embraced, speaking in quiet tones, both surprisingly close to tears.
"I can't believe you didn't tell me you were coming back," he heard Abby murmur, her arms tightening around Ziva even as she met his gaze over her friend's shoulder. "I spoke to you last week and you didn't say a thing."
"I wanted to surprise you," Ziva responded, drawing back with a beautiful smile on her face. "I am so pleased you are alive. I was so worried..."
"I'm fine." Abby kept hold of Ziva's hand as she stepped away. "It was touch and go for a while but I'm okay now."
If Ziva saw through the act, she didn't show it. None of them did. They all gathered around her, told her how pleased they were she was okay and, when they started asking questions, were told – ordered – by Jenny to give her some space before the Director excused herself, a small plastic vial containing a microchip hidden in her pocket.
Glancing at his boss, McGee saw him busily drinking in the sight of the forensic scientist and nudged Tony in the ribs, inclining his head meaningfully towards Gibbs. "You want some coffee?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I could go for some." Tony, in turn, nudged Kate, who struggled to keep a knowing smile off her face. "You wanna to get some coffee, Katie?"
"If you stop calling me Katie, sure." She rolled her eyes at the hurt puppy dog expression on his face and tried to catch Ziva's eye. "You coming, Ziva?"
"I do not drink coffee," Ziva began, before catching McGee's eye and seeing him motion to Gibbs behind their boss's head. "However, I would like some hot chocolate. I will bring you back a Caf-Pow, Abby. I think you deserve it."
Gibbs knew they were up to something but couldn't bring himself to think about it too much. He let them pass him without comment, listening to their banter as the foursome made their way to the elevators.
"Team NCIS saves the day again," he heard Tony say. "And you can bet we won't get any credit for it, either."
"Team NCIS had nothing to do with it, DiNozzo." Kate snorted derisively. "You boys would still be pinned down if it wasn't for us."
McGee chuckled and held the door to the elevator open for Ziva and Kate to precede them. "You've got to admit it, Tony. Without the girls, we'd be dead." He cried out when Ziva hit his arm. "Hey! What was that for?"
Ziva retorted calmly, her voice carrying across the bullpen towards them. "We are not *girls*, McGee."
"Yeah, McGee." Gibbs could hear Tony's smirk from a mile away. "Without the ladies, we'd be toast." It was his turn to cry out as Kate him across the back of the head. "Hey! I didn't do anything!"
"I know." Kate's laugh spilled out as the elevator doors slid shut behind them. "It just looked like fun."
Gibbs saw a small smile tug at the corners of Abby's mouth and felt an answering one tug at his own. He took a step forward, then another, and slid an arm around her waist. He wanted to kiss her, wanted to do more than kiss her, but wouldn't let himself do so in the middle of the bullpen.
"I'm glad you're okay," he settled for saying instead, staring at her intently as though committing every part of her to memory. "I thought..."
"I know." She interrupted him with a soft smile, moving her own arms so her hands came to rest on his shoulders. "I didn't think I'd see you again, either."
He tightened his arms around her waist and drew her closer, her head coming to rest on his shoulder, his head resting atop of hers. "We need to talk about this thing between us, Abby," he told her quietly. "I don't want to pretend anymore."
"Me either." Her answer was muffled against his jacket but he heard it as clearly as if she'd shouted it. "I'm so tired of running."
"So don't." His lips brushed the top of her head, his hands warm against her back through the thin material of her shirt. "Stay with me."
"For as long as you'll have me," she murmured in response.
"That's gonna be a long time, Abs."