Title: Alternative Accommodation
Rating
: K+
Spoilers
: Pre-NCIS, so not really. Maybe a brief mention of Gibbs' first marriage a little later on…
Summary
: When Gibbs is called out to a crime scene, the only witness identifies herself as Abby Sciuto, a newly-qualified forensic specialist from the victim's hometown… Pre-series. Gibbs and Abby friendship fic.

Author's Note: Not entirely sure where this came from or why. And I'm fairly sure it reads pretty amateurishly… honest opinions would be nice, please! Also, ignore the fact that it realistically takes hours to process a crime scene. Realism has abandoned ship, here. XD Final note: the surname 'Tolliver' is a reference to one of my favourite series of books - the Grant County series by Karin Slaughter. Read them, read them, read them!


Slamming shut the door of the sedan, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs crosses the street and heads into the apartment building, knowing without glancing back that his team, Stan Burley and Tara Willoughby, are trailing after him.

The specifics of this case are vague – a call was placed directly to NCIS, not referred by Metro Police. All Gibbs knows is that in apartment number seven, a marine is dead. The caller, a young woman, was too distressed to provide further details.

The door to the apartment in question stands ajar, and with a glance back at his agents, Gibbs draws his weapon and steps cautiously into the room. The body is sprawled out on the floor, clothed in a bloodstained private's uniform. There's no sign of any other inhabitant, and Gibbs motions for Burley and Willoughby to clear the bathroom and bedroom. Silently, his agents move off to do as he asks, and Gibbs creeps toward the darkened kitchen, his gun held ready.

A soft gasp and a scuffle reaches his ears, and he flicks on the light to find a girl, barely out of college, getting shakily to her feet; her hand held out in surrender. "I don't have a weapon, I swear."

Cautiously, Gibbs lowers his firearm, looking the girl over. She's dressed in an ill-fitting grey suit that does her slender frame no justice, and from the way she sways slightly as she takes a step forward, she's unused to balancing in the heels she's wearing.

"Are you the one who called NCIS?" Gibbs asks, following standard procedure. When the girl nods, he motions for her to sit back down at the kitchen table, taking a seat opposite her. "Why were you sitting in the dark?"

She takes a shaky breath, brushing a tear from her cheek. "I like the dark. It's comforting."

There's something about her that's instantly likeable, though he can't put a finger on what. She seems small, scared, but she isn't a hysterical wreck like most of the female witnesses he's come across this week have been. The timbre of her voice is unusual – a low, husky Southern drawl.

Before he can begin to question her, Burley appears in the kitchen doorway. "Rest of the apartment's clear, Boss."

Gibbs issues the usual orders – sketch and shoot, bag and tag – before turning back to the young woman, belatedly flashing his badge. "I'm Special Agent Gibbs."

"Abby Sciuto." Her eyes flit to the living room, and the pain in them is clear. "And he… he's Rick Tolliver. I mean, he was-"

"Why'd you call NCIS instead of 911?" He's genuinely curious – he can count the number of times a civilian's done that on one hand that's missing four fingers.

Abby shrugs, drawing her knees up to her chest and resting her chin on them. "All Metro could have done was seal off the area and call you guys. Figured I'd cut out the middleman."

Surprised, he examines her anew. "How do you know so much about police procedure?"

"Just finished a degree in forensic science and criminology," she says, rubbing her temple as if massaging away a headache. "Been in touch with Janine in your records department for a while, researching for my thesis. Had the Navy Yard's number stored in my cellphone, so I called it."

Making a mental note to check with the records department to verify her story, he cuts to the chase. "Can you tell me what happened?"

Her lips tightening, she glances toward the living room again and nods slowly. "I left at three for a job interview downtown. Came back… around five-fifteen, maybe… and Rick…"

Her distress is plain, and Gibbs doesn't press her. "Did you move the body?"

Abby shakes her head emphatically. "No, sir. Didn't even touch him. There was nothing I could have…" Her eyes fill with tears, but she swallows resolutely and continues, "So I came in here, and I called you guys."

"Anyone out there who might have wanted him dead?"

She shakes her head, scowling. "Not Rick. He's… he was… everyone's best friend. And if I knew, do you think I'd wait around for you to ask the question?"

Gibbs regards her calmly. "You have a point."

She quietens then, looking a little ashamed. "I'm sorry. I've just… had better days."

"Understandable." Giving her a little time, he gets up from the table and draws a glass of water from the kitchen faucet. When he offers it to her, she takes a sip gratefully, then drains half the glass.

He questions her further, clearing up as many details as he can before heading out to join his team. Ducky and his assistant, Gerald, have arrived, and he checks in with them before letting his team know of the events that transpired before their arrival.

"Girl's name is Abby Sciuto – she's new in town, was planning on renting out the apartment while Tolliver was deployed."

"Where'd she meet him?" Willoughby asks, flipping closed her sketchbook.

"Grew up with him, down in Louisiana."

"When's the last time she saw him?" Burley chips in, glancing toward the kitchen.

"Around three years ago," Gibbs says, watching Ducky and Gerald lay out the body bag beside the victim.

Willoughby draws his attention back to the discussion. "How long's she been in town?"

"A little over a week," he replies, and watches one of her eyebrows rise thoughtfully as she considers the fact.

Tara Willoughby's new on the job, a replacement for his old partner and lover, Jenny Shepard, and he hasn't quite got a sense of her yet. Her instincts seem to be sharp, and he knows what she's thinking right now. If he hadn't interviewed the witness, he'd be thinking it, too.

"Alibi?" Burley asks, before Willoughby can.

Gibbs speaks the words offhandedly, though he already knows the conclusion his agents will come to. "Got lost coming home from a job interview."

The two exchange significant glances.

"We're taking her in, right?" Burley asks, a little uncertainly. He's been working under Gibbs for long enough to read the signs that something isn't sitting right with him.

"No."

Willoughby isn't as cautious about expressing her opinion. "What?! Why? Doesn't her story seem just a little suspicious to you?"

Gibbs shrugs. "She didn't do it."

Frustrated at the knock-back, Tara scowls. "How the hell can you know that, Gibbs?"

"My gut." Without waiting for a reply, he turns and heads back through the living room, needing to finish off dealing with the witness.

"His what?" Tara hisses, when she assumes Gibbs is out of earshot.

He doesn't need to glance back to imagine Burley's resigned shrug. "Don't ask."

Abby is sitting where he left her, fiddling with the sleeve of her suit. It takes her a couple of seconds to hear him approach, but then her eyes flick up to his face, filled with pain for a split-second before she masks the emotion. "So what happens now?"

Gibbs sits opposite her again, pausing for a second to work out the best way to answer. "We start investigating."

"I know that part," she reminds him, smiling crookedly. "Autopsy, bloodwork, tox-screens, black-lighting, DNA if the budget stretches to it, fingerprints, trace evidence testing…"

"Then why did you ask?" he cuts across her gently.

She bites her lip, shaking her head. "I guess I meant, 'what happens with me?'"

It's a question he's heard more than a few times, and each time his answer seems woefully inadequate. "You got family nearby? Friends?"

Rapidly, she shakes her head. "No family this far north. And I haven't been in town long enough to meet anyone. Rick was the only one I knew." Without giving him a chance to respond, she shrugs one shoulder wryly. "I know. Sucks to be me, huh? Gonna have to dip into my food budget to grab a hotel room somewhere till you're done with the apartment, I guess."

Watching her fingers twisting around each other agitatedly, he makes a quick decision; one he doesn't often make. "If money's a problem, you could always camp out in one of our conference rooms for a couple of days."

Startled, she stares at him. "Really?"

Inclining his head, he cautions her, "You'd be pretty restricted. Locked in when you're alone; under escort the rest of the time. We can't let civilians wander around the Navy Yard unchecked."

Her gratitude plain, Abby nods vigorously. "Totally. I mean, if I can bring books and music with me, I can take being cooped up anywhere. For a while, anyway."

Gibbs gets to his feet, and she follows suit. "Go pack a bag while I fill my team in. Meet you by the door in five minutes."

Abby squares her shoulders before stepping out into the living room, keeping her eyes trained on the bedroom door rather than letting her gaze wander to the devastation of the murder scene.

Ducky and Gerald have removed the body, and Burley and Willoughby are surveying the bloodstained scene one last time. They watch Abby pass by with furrowed brows, then turn their enquiring eyes on Gibbs as he approaches.

"Thought we weren't taking her in for questioning, Boss?" Burley says.

"We're not."