Author's Note: This one is for Relic. Thanks for letting me hang out with you, and for giving me a break from my day to day life. Also, thanks for the beta!
Abby checked her email, while talking to Tim on the phone. "It's not that I want someone to die. Of course I don't want anyone to die. It's just…"
"That it's been three days, and you're tired of working on cold cases?" he guessed.
"I know what you mean…"
Abby could hear Gibbs' voice in the background. Tim whispered urgently, "Gotta go."
He hung up on her before she could reply. Maybe we have a case. That thought made her smile. As soon as she hung up, the phone rang. Cocking her head to the side, she gave the phone a quizzical stare before picking it up. "Hello?"
"There is a man named Maxwell Frank here in the front lobby. He doesn't have an appointment, but would like to see you."
"Max is there?" This would make the day much more interesting. She hadn't seen Max since college, and had only recently been in contact with him again through emails. "I'll be right there."
In the lobby, she pulled Max into a hug. "It's so great to see you!"
"It's great to see you too Abby," he said.
She stood back to get a better look at him. "Look at you! I almost didn't recognize you in that get up."
He laughed, "It's not a get up, it's a suit."
"And a tie!"
Shaking his head, he said, "You haven't changed a bit."
"I'll take that as a complement."
"Can't change perfection," he said with a smile that made the corners of his eyes crinkle.
"Come on, let's get you a visitors pass, and you can come meet my friends." She took his hand and pulled him towards the front desk.
Instead of going with her, he held her back. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you in private if I could."
Noting the serious expression on his face, she nodded and led him to a bench in the lobby. "Is this private enough?"
"I was hoping to talk in your office."
"You can't come to the lab without clearance. But my boss, Gibbs, will give us the go ahead if he's there. If he's not there, then I'll have to ask the Director."
He put a hand over hers and said "Listen, Abby, I know it's been a long time, and we haven't kept in touch very well, but I have a favor to ask you."
With an encouraging smile, she said, "It doesn't matter how long it's been, you'll always be my friend. Go ahead and ask."
"My house was broken into last night."
"They took lot of expensive things, but I can replace those. The one thing I can't replace is my grandmother's wedding ring. It's the last thing she gave me, and I promised her I would give it to my wife when I got married. I want the ring back."
Understanding that perfectly, Abby squeezed his hand in sympathy. "What can I do to help?"
"The cops couldn't find any fingerprints, and they made it sound like this kind of thing happens every day. They seemed to think the chances of getting the ring back were slim to none. I was hoping you could come to my house. See if you can find something they missed, and maybe run a fingerprint if you're able to find one."
"Oh." Looking for evidence wasn't an issue. She could take the rest of the day off, and do that on her own time. But using the lab's equipment to run the fingerprint was very much against the rules. I won't worry about that now. There may not be any evidence to run. "Well, let's go up to see Gibbs, and I'll ask him about taking the afternoon off."
Max leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks, Abby."
A few minutes later they were getting off the elevator. Abby pulled Max along with her towards Gibbs. "Gibbs! You're here."
"I am." He stood up to greet them.
"Gibbs, this is Max Frank, my friend from college. Max, this is Gibbs," Abby said.
"Nice to meet you," Max said, and held out his hand.
"Hi," Gibbs said as he shook.
Abby introduced Max to the rest of the team, and then turned back to Gibbs. "Would it be okay if I took the afternoon off? I want to take Max to lunch and catch up."
"It's okay with me," he said. They hadn't had a new case for days. "Let Vance and Ducky know you're leaving early."
"Thanks, Gibbs. Can I take Max down to my lab with me to grab my stuff?"
"On it, Boss," Tony said. He stood to follow the pair down to the lab.
With a pout Abby said, "Gibbs."
He gave her a steady look without comment. With a defeated sigh, she said, "Okay."
When the elevator doors closed, Tony turned to Max with a smile and said, "You knew Abby in college?"
"That's right," Max answered while straightening his tie.
Aiming a smirk at Abby, Tony said, "Was she a Jell-O shot girl back then too?"
"Tony!" Abby gave him a light smack in the arm.
Max smirked. "I guess some things never change."
Done teasing, Tony turned to Max and said, "What do you do for a living Max?"
The elevator doors opened, and Abby took the lead towards the lab. Max said, "I run my own company."
When Max didn't elaborate, Tony said, "What kind of company?"
"I sell specialty toys for kids ten and under. It's a web based company." When he saw the lab, he said, "Wow, Abby! This is awesome."
"I know!" she said with a huge grin. "Just let me make a couple of quick calls, and we'll be ready to go."
She walked into her office, and picked up the phone. While she was talking, Tony said, "What's your website called?"
Max gave him a tight smile and said, "Do you have kids?"
Surprised by the guy's shift in demeanor, Tony said, "Nope, just making conversation."
"Feels more like an interrogation."
Taken aback by that statement, Tony wasn't quite sure what to say. His gut told him that this guy was not someone he wanted Abby hanging out with. He forced a smile, and said, "Really? Maybe it feels like an interrogation, because you have something to hide."
"Look, Tony was it?" Tony gave him a nod. "I'm not in town all that often, and I'd just like to visit with my friend without getting the third degree."
Holding up his hands in surrender, Tony said, "No problem." But he felt like taking the guy down to the interrogation room to ask him a few probing questions.
Coming out of her office with a smile, Abby said, "Okay, I'm ready to go."
"Great," Max said.
Tony turned to Abby. "Got your cell phone?"
Her eyebrows scrunched together in confusion. "Of course. Why?"
"Just checking. Have a good time."
After seeing them off, Tony strode with determination to Gibbs desk. "I don't like him. He's… hinky."
Gibbs and Tony shared a look. Gibbs had decided years ago to trust Tony's instincts. He turned to Tim and said, "Discreet background check on Max Frank. Let us know what you come up with."
"Got it, Boss."
# # #
Two hours later, Abby took the elevator down to her lab. It's not sneaking in. It's my office. I can be here anytime I want. She glanced down at the paper bag in her hands, and swallowed hard. It's wrong. You know it's wrong, so why did you agree to do it? Gibbs won't like it if he finds out. If you just tell Gibbs, he might agree to it. He doesn't always do things by the book… when someone's life is in danger. But you already promised Max, and if Gibbs says no… Gibbs words replayed in her head. 'I'd hate to start smacking you like I do DiNozzo.' 'It won't be on the head.' At the time she'd found it somewhat amusing. But right now, that statement made her stomach lurch. He'd said it with a hint of humor, but there was no doubt in her mind that he would smack her if he thought she deserved it, and in this moment, she thought she deserved it.
With a sigh, she poured the contents of the bag onto the counter. She'd found four fingerprints that didn't belong to Max. Her eyes darted over to her equipment, and back to the evidence. She glanced to the door, half expecting Gibbs to be standing there with a scowl on his face. "It's his grandmother's ring," she muttered to herself, and started scanning the fingerprints.
Once the computer was searching the database for the fingerprints, she sat down to wait, and fiddled with the rings on her fingers. Before she had time to worry too much about what she had done, the computer beeped. "A match already?" There on the screen was a mug shot of one Herbert Polinski, wanted in three states, for burglary, and assault.
Two of the fingerprints she'd found belonged to him, and the computer was still trying to find a match for the other two. She picked up her phone and dialed Max.
"Max, it's Abby."
"You have something already? I thought it would take a lot longer."
"Usually it does. You just got lucky, I guess. Two of the prints are from a guy named Herbert Polinski, and the computer is still working on the other two."
"Ever heard of him?"
"His rap sheet is…"
Abby stopped mid-sentence, when she heard someone clearing his throat behind her. She turned to see Gibbs standing directly behind her. Her stomach did a dive, and her mouth hung open. She could tell from his expression, that he already knew something was going on, and he was not happy.
"Abby?" Max's voice on the other end of the phone called to her.
"I have to go. I'll call you back." She hung up on him, and stammered, "Gibbs…"
"What's going on, Abs?"
Darting her eyes over to the door, so she didn't have to look him in the eye, she said, "Um… Nothing?"
Not buying that for a second, and finding himself fairly irritated with her deception, he grabbed her arm, turned her to the side, and gave her a solid swat over her skirt.
"Oh!" Surprise pushed out any other emotions for her at this point.
He turned her to face him again, and let her go. "What's going on?"
A blush climbed up her neck, and settled into her cheeks. They made eye contact again, and she couldn't take the disappointment she saw in his face. "I'm sorry!"
"Don't apologize. Tell me what the hell you're doing sneaking into your own lab after asking for the afternoon off."
She blurted it all out in a rush. "Max told me that his house was robbed yesterday, and his grandmother's ring was stolen. The cops couldn't find any fingerprints, so he asked me to go see if I could find any. I found four of them, and I didn't see the harm in bringing them here to run them through our database."
Gibbs shook his head, and raised his voice. "You didn't see the harm?"
"I mean, I know that technically it's against protocol, but…"
Tony's voice interrupted from outside the hall a second before he came through the door. "Did you find her, Boss? I have the file on…" He trailed off after seeing the expressions on their faces. "Bad timing?"
Without taking his eyes off Abby, Gibbs held out his hand, and Tony handed him the file. Gibbs asked Abby, "Why isn't your cell phone on?"
"It is," she said.
Breaking the news to her gently, Tony said, "We've been trying to call you for fifteen minutes now. When you didn't answer, we had Tim track your cell phone."
"Oh…" While she thought that over, she turned towards her office door. Her cell phone was in her purse on the desk, and when she saw it, she remembered switching it to vibrate when she was in Max's apartment. "I put it on vibrate, and forgot to put it back."
The computer made a pinging noise behind her. The other two fingerprints had been matched to a woman named Susan Abbot.
"Go turn that off," Gibbs told her, nodding his head towards the computer.
Gibbs' reaction to her slight protest was immediate. He'd turned her to the side, swatted her rear, and turned her back, before Abby even had time to complete her sentence.
"Boss." Tony's voice held disapproval.
"Ow." Abby said after the fact, with a pout on her face. She put both hands back to cover her rear from further assault.
Ignoring Tony, Gibbs kept his focus on Abby. "Turn it off."
Abby walked to the computer and closed the scanning software. The room grew silent. Abby turned to face Gibbs with her back against the computer stand.
Gibbs handed the file to her. With surprise, she said, "You had Max checked out?"
"Sorry, Abs," Tony said, "that's my fault. Something seemed off about him."
She gave him an accusing glare.
Gibbs pointed to the file and said, "Tony was right."
Abby opened it and started reading. Max had done a two month stint in prison for drugs and weapon possession a few weeks after college. Since getting out, he had been implicated in multiple drug deals, and four murders. He was on the FBI watch list, but hadn't been convicted of anything since his first prison stay. She shook her head, not wanting to believe it. "But he was so sweet…"
"How well did you know him?" Gibbs asked.
"It was my last year of junior college when we met. We had a statistics class together. The teacher was so dull, and the class was so easy, that we ended up spending most of the class sharing a notebook and writing notes to each other. We lost touch after graduation, but started to talk again by email about six months ago."
"So you knew this guy for a year, and you're willing to bend the rules for him?"
Staring at the ground, she muttered, "He's a friend." After an uncomfortable silence, she asked, "Are you gonna tell Director Vance?"
"I should, but I won't." He took the file back and said, "Normally I wouldn't tell you what to do on your off time, but this guy is bad news, and he's using you. In a few hours, I want you to call him back, and tell him the other fingerprints didn't come up with a match."
Not used to being on Gibbs' bad side, Abby felt completely out of sorts, and after reading Max's file, she felt much less inclined to break the rules for him anyway. She gave Gibbs a meek, "Okay."
"Because we aren't going to involve the director, we're going to do things unofficially tonight. Tim will stay with you, just in case Max decides to stop by for a visit. Tony and Ziva will stakeout his house to see what he does with the information you already gave him. And then you and I will talk again tomorrow morning."
"Do we have to tell Tim and Ziva? Tony could stay with me tonight."
Tony said softly, "They already know something's up, Abby. You came back after taking the afternoon off."
While she considered that, Gibbs added, "It's not up for discussion."
She winced at his sharp tone, and nodded in compliance.
Gibbs didn't exactly regret reprimanding her, but he couldn't take her reaction without giving her some comfort. With a sigh, he walked over and pulled her into a quick hug. He kissed her temple before letting her go. "Get your stuff, and come upstairs."
After being assured that Gibbs still loved her, even if he was mad, Abby felt slightly better, but the thought of talking about what she'd done with the whole team was not appealing.
Upstairs, Gibbs was the first one out of the elevator. Instead of going to his desk, he walked through the main room. While he walked, he made eye contact with both Tim and Ziva. "Conference room."
They immediately got up to follow; sending questioning looks towards Abby, and then towards Tony, when Abby didn't make eye contact. Tony's expression was enough to make them keep quiet.
Once they were all sitting at the conference room table with the door shut, Gibbs turned to Abby and said, "Explain."
# # #
Three hours later, Abby opened her front door, and let Tim in. They'd stopped at Tim's house first, so he could pack an overnight bag. Tim had been to her house many times before, both as a lover and a friend, but today seemed more awkward then usual. "Um… Should I put my bag in the guest room?"
"Oh," she said, as if she'd been so engrossed in her own thoughts, she had to take a second to realize what he was talking about. "Right. Yes, the guest room."
He disappeared into the room for a second to put his bag down. When he came back, she was biting at a nail, and staring at her phone. It was shaped like a skull, and sitting on the kitchen counter staring back at her. "You ready to call?" he asked.
"No." She turned to him and said, "How can Gibbs expect me to lie? I suck at lying. Max will know something's wrong. Not that I think Max deserves the truth, but still."
Tim looked at his watch. "Gibbs is going to call in half an hour to ask you how it went, so unless you want to lie to him, you'd better call Max."
Picking at her nail polish, she said, "Do you think it was wrong?"
He'd been thinking about that question since hearing her confession in the conference room. "I don't think it was wrong of you to want to help your friend."
She frowned. "That's a nice way of saying yes."
He rubbed a comforting hand down her arm and said, "It was wrong of you to do it behind Gibbs' back."
She couldn't disagree. "Yeah."
"Ready to call?"
She took a deep breath and grabbed her cell phone out of her purse. When Max answered she said, "Hi Max, it's Abby."
"Hey Abby, I was afraid you weren't going to call back. What took you so long?"
"Sorry. I got caught…" she'd planned to say I got caught up in work, but hesitated on the word caught once it was out of her mouth. "I mean… I had a bunch of work to do, and once I started doing it, I lost track of the time."
"That's alright, I understand. Did you get a match on the other fingerprints?"
"No. Sorry. No match on the other set of prints."
There was a longer then normal silence on the line. Max said, "Is the computer still working on it?"
"No. I wish I had better news, but those fingerprints aren't in the database."
After another awkward silence, Max asked, "Okay. What about that guy, Herbert Polinski? What can you tell me about him? You said something about a rap sheet."
"Oh yeah… Well… There really isn't much to tell."
"You found out about me, didn't you?" Max asked, voice angry.
"What?" She forced a laugh. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Look, Abby, I've run into this more times then I can count. You know about my record. You don't have to admit it; I can tell that it's true."
"I thought I knew you," she said, hurt coming through in her voice.
"You do know me."
"The guy I used to know, wasn't interested in drugs, and couldn't hurt a fly. I don't know who you are now, but you're not that guy."
There was a short silence on the line, before Max said, "I'm sorry, Abby, you're right. Going to prison changed me. I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of, but that's why I came to you. I couldn't let the cops come in and look at my place. It had to be someone I trusted. Someone who knows who I really am, not the man they accuse me of being."
"Yeah, but if you lied to me about that, how can I believe anything you say? I'm not helping you get back things that you bought with drug money," Abby said with finality.
"Abby, please," his voice wavered, "I need you to help me. I lied to you about what was taken. It wasn't my grandmother's ring. It was my son."
Abby's voice softened, "What?"
"My son, Dakota, is four years old, and I'm all he has. His mother, Susan, was a drug addict, and dangerous around Dakota when he was tiny. I tried to get her clean, but when that didn't work, I told her to leave and never come back. I hadn't heard from her for over three years. But last night, she took him from me, along with a lot of money I had in the safe. I know she couldn't have done it alone. I don't care about the money. I'm just terrified she'll hurt Dakota. I can't go to the cops, because they'll want to know where my money comes from, and then I'll be in prison, and Dakota will have to go to foster care."
Now that she'd heard the whole story, Abby knew she had to help. Even if Max was a drug-dealing murderer, no four-year-old deserved to be kidnapped by a drug-addicted mother by a guy like Herbert Polinski. "The second set of prints matched Susan Abbot."
Tim, who had been leaning against the counter, now stood up straight, and started shaking his head no at her.
Ignoring him, she said, "That was his mother right?"
"Yes. Both the other prints matched her?"
"Damn, I was hoping for more. What can you tell me about Herbert?"
"He's wanted in three states for burglary and assault. From the random nature of his alleged crimes, I'd say he's a thug for hire. His last known address was here in town on the west side, but that was from a few years ago. I think the street name was Lincoln…"
As Abby talked, Tim became more and more animated. He shook his head, made hand gestures for her to stop, and mouthed the words, no and stop, but she kept talking. While Abby was trying to remember the exact address, Tim grabbed the phone out of her hand, and hung it up.
"Hey!" she said in protest.
Tim leaned into her personal space. "I can't believe you Abby! After reading that guy's file, you're still helping him?"
"You don't understand, Timmy. His son was kidnapped. I had to help."
"He's been lying to you the whole time! How do you know that's not a lie, too?"
"How do you know it's not true?" she asked, her voice showing irritation. "What if I didn't help, and the kid ended up dead?"
Running a hand over his face in frustration, Tim gave up trying to reason with her. He got out his cell phone and said, "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes tomorrow," as he dialed Gibbs' number.
Eyes wide with apprehension, Abby shook her head no, and squeaked, "Don't call Gibbs! I'll tell him when…"
Tim heard his boss answer, "Gibbs."
Abby was tugging at his sleeve to get his attention, shaking her head, and urgently whispering, "No, let me tell him."
Knowing his boss hated long explanations, Tim didn't think Abby would be the best person to tell him at this point. He said, "Abby gave Max all the information she'd found."
Tim cringed at the noise level, and held the cell phone out towards Abby.
With a glare that promised retribution, she snatched the phone out of his hand, and punched him in the shoulder, hard enough to make him wince.
"Explain!" Gibbs voice was so loud over the phone, that both of them could hear him.
Abby put the phone to her ear and said, "It's not as bad as Tim made it sound, Gibbs."
She cringed, but continued to try and defend herself. "Max wants my help, because his four-year-old son, Dakota, is in danger. He's been kidnapped by his drug addicted mom, and Max is afraid for him."
After a short pause, Gibbs said, "Do you have proof?"
"Proof?" she asked.
"Proof that he's not lying to you again. Some pictures of him with his kid? A ransom note? Some reason to trust him?"
"Well…" she stalled while thinking it over, "…I didn't have time to get proof."
Not happy about the punch, Tim leaned down close to the phone and said, "There was no record of Max having a child in his file."
She put her hand over the phone and hissed, "You're not helping!"
"Neither are you!" he hissed back.
"Abby?" Gibbs asked, wondering if they'd been disconnected.
"I can't believe you called him!"
"I can't believe you gave Max the information!"
Gibbs overheard their bickering. "Abigail!"
Turning away from Tim, she put the phone back to her ear. "I'm here."
"You did the exact opposite of what I told you to do." His voice was calm and serious. "If I weren't worried about leaving you alone right now, I'd give you a days suspension for this, even if it had to be an unofficial one."
Her eyes stung, and she had to take a deep breath to keep from crying. "But what if Max is telling the truth? What if his kid is being held somewhere against his will? We have to help him."
"Damn it, Abby, are you listening to me at all?"
"Yes, I am! I just think you're missing the big picture here. There's a kid in danger. That comes first."
She could hear him sigh, and knew she'd won. "Okay, Abs, we'll look into it, but don't think for a second that this discussion is over between you and me."
"Thank you, Gibbs."
"Don't contact Max again without consulting me first."
"I mean it, Abby."
After a short pause he said, "Put McGee back on."
She handed the phone back to Tim. "Boss?"
"Find out if there's any truth to Max's story, and call me when you have something."
"Don't let Abby use the phone."
Tim thought this was easier said then done, but answered, "Got it."
Gibbs hung up, and then called Tony to give him the update, and to see if there had been any movement from Max.
Tim and Abby put aside their squabbling and worked together to do research on Max, Susan Abbot, and Herbert Polinski. By eleven o'clock that night, they still hadn't found any record of Max having a son, or any children for that matter. They weren't able to find Herbert's current whereabouts. And worst of all, they couldn't find any record of Susan Abbot having had a child either. Tim called Gibbs with the bad news, and learned that Max hadn't left his house the entire evening.
When Tim hung up, he turned to Abby and said, "Tony says Max hasn't left the house."
She'd been on emotional overload today. She wanted to believe that her friend Max was still the guy she remembered from college, but the evidence was stacked up against him. A sad sigh escaped her lips, and she said, "I guess that's it then. He lied to me, and I played right into his hands like a dummy."
He sat down next to her on the black leather couch and put an arm around her shoulders. "Don't beat yourself up about it. I've always admired the way you see the good in people."
She leaned her head on his shoulder and said, "Thanks Timmy." After a few seconds she said, "Do you think Gibbs would believe it if I called in sick tomorrow?"
"Yeah. Probably not."
Tim sympathized. No one wanted to face Gibbs when they knew he was pissed because of something they'd done, but he figured it must be worse for Abby, since she rarely pissed him off. After a few minutes, Tim realized Abby had fallen asleep on his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head once, and leaned back to get comfortable, letting her sleep.
# # #
The next morning, Abby and Tim woke up to the sound of a phone ringing. They quickly realized that they were snuggled up together on her couch, and quickly pulled apart. The phone rang again, and Tim said, "That's mine."
He dug into his pants pocket and answered it. "McGee."
Gibbs said, "We've got a case. Dead marine at the shipping yard. Stay with Abby until she's in her car, and on her way to work, and then call me for directions."
After he hung up, Tim said, "Hurry and get ready. We've got a case."
"Awesome!" Abby cheered.
Tim looked at her like she'd lost her mind. She toned it down and said, "I'm thinking Gibbs being distracted will be a good thing."
"Putting off talking to him isn't going to make the problem go away."
"How do you know?" She said with an optimistic smile. "Maybe by the time the case is done, Gibbs will have forgotten all about it."
Tim snorted in disbelief, and said, "Sure. I'll make coffee while you take a shower."
# # #
When Abby got to the office, she searched for birth records with the name Dakota Abbot and Dakota Frank, but came up with nothing again. The words gullible, stupid, and sucker went through her mind, as she thought about the way she'd given Max exactly what he'd asked for both times she had contact with him. She felt like calling him to tell him exactly where he could stick his friendship, but didn't want to do anything to make Gibbs angrier than he already was.
Mid morning, her phone rang. She reached a hand out, but hesitated before answering. She just knew it was Gibbs, and could already hear the disappointment in his voice. On the third ring, she picked up. "Hello."
"Maxwell Frank is here in the front lobby again asking to see you."
Abby was too stunned to react at first. "What?"
"Maxwell Frank. The man who came to see you yesterday? He's here again."
She couldn't pass up the opportunity to tell him to screw off. "I'll be right down."
As she walked to the elevator, she thought, Gibbs told me not to contact Max, but he didn't say anything about him contacting me. She nodded to herself as she stepped into the elevator. No need to bother Gibbs with this. He's busy with a real case.
When she got to the lobby, she didn't see Max anywhere. She went to the front desk and said, "Someone called me to say I had a visitor."
The man nodded, "That was me, and you just missed him. He didn't tell me why he left, just walked out the front door. You can probably catch him if you hurry."
She rushed out the front door, and saw Max's back about a block away, opening his car door. She rushed towards him and called out, "Max!"
He stopped digging through his car, and turned to look at her. He smiled and waited for her. She caught up to him and glared. "You lied to me again!"
He spread his arms wide in surrender, and smiled wider. "Guilty as charged."
"Do you even have a son?"
"None that I know of."
She shook her head in disgust. "We're no longer friends. Don't contact me again."
With a smile still on his face, Max said, "Sorry, but I'm not done with you yet." He stuck his hands in his jacket pockets. "I need you to do one more thing for me, so we'll need to be friends for a little longer."
"As if I'd ever help you again."
"The thing is, I have a gun pointed at your chest, so if you enjoy breathing, then you'll help me."
She looked down at his jacket pocket, and could see the outline of a gun pointed towards her. Fear and disbelief rushed through her. "What happened to you, Max?"
His face contorted in anger, "What happened to me? Prison happened. My parents disowned me. And I don't mean they just didn't visit. They visited once, and it was so they could tell me how ashamed they were, and that they wanted nothing to do with me ever again. I got put in a cell with a guy twice my size. And when I got out, no one would hire me. So you'll have to forgive me if I'm not the same naive person you knew back then, but you'd better believe me when I tell you I will shoot you, and I will aim to kill." He pointed to a dark blue car that was parked by the curb next to them, and said, "Get in the car."
Abby believed he would shoot her, but she didn't think he'd do it here and now in broad daylight, with at least five witnesses that she could see down the street. She turned and tried to run back to the NCIS building, but felt his arm circling her waist as she tried to get away. She shouted at the top of her lungs, "Let me go! Get your hands off me! I'm being mmff…"
His hand clamped over her mouth. "Shut up!" he yelled, and pulled her towards the car, while she struggled. He saw a few people looking at them and whispered, "Stop it, and get in, or I'll slam your face against the car hard enough to knock you out before I shove you in."
He felt her stop struggling, and assumed this was compliance. He took his hand off her mouth long enough to open the car door, and then shoved her down into the seat. The back of her head hit the top of the car as she was falling into the seat. "Ow!"
He shoved her legs in, and slammed the door shut. He could see a man rushing towards him, and pulled out his gun. The man stopped in his tracks, which gave Max time to get in the car. Abby tried unsuccessfully to get the passenger door open, while Max peeled off down the street.
Fifteen minutes later, they were in an abandoned warehouse. Now that they were alone, Abby was more wary of what he might do to her, and less willing to risk an escape attempt. She followed him to a table with a smashed laptop on it. The area was well lit, and there were two working computers, and some tools next to it. Max pointed to the laptop and said, "I need you to get the information off of the hard drive."
She picked it up to get a better look, and shook her head. "I'll try to get as much information as I can, but when a laptop sustains this amount of damage, there's no guarantee that any of it will be salvageable."
"Well for your sake, I hope it is."
She swallowed down her fear, and tried to concentrate on the task at hand.
# # #
When Gibbs got back from the crime scene, he decided to take the evidence down to Abby himself. It would give them a chance to talk. He wanted to make damn sure she knew that he wasn't pleased with her behavior the past few days, and that he expected better from her in the future. He sighed on the elevator ride down to her lab, not looking forward to the upcoming talk, but believing it was necessary.
He stepped out of the elevator, and was caught off guard when he couldn't hear her music playing. "Abby?"
After a quick look at the lab and the office, he confirmed what his gut was already telling him. She wasn't there, and something was wrong. He set the evidence down and called the front desk. "This is Agent Gibbs. Did Abigail Sciuto slide her card this morning?"
"Let me check… Yes, Sir. She should be… Hold on." He overheard the woman talking to someone else, but couldn't make out what they were saying. A male voice got on the line, "Agent Gibbs?"
"Ms. Sciuto left about fifteen minutes ago."
"Max Frank came to see her, but he left before she got to the lobby. She ran out of here trying to catch him before he got too far, but she hasn't returned to sign out."
"Damn it!" Gibbs muttered, and slammed the phone down. He pushed Tony's extension.
"Abby's missing. Get down to the front lobby, and see if she's still out on the sidewalk talking to Max."
Tony was standing before Gibbs completed his sentence. "On my way."
He hung up, rushed towards the door to the stairs, and called out over his shoulder, "Ziva, elevator to the lobby. Tim, track Abby's cell phone. She's AWOL."
While his team went into action, Gibbs signed off the evidence to Ducky for safekeeping until Abby's return. By the time he got to the lobby, Tony was shouting at the desk clerk, and Ziva was speaking with a local police officer near the front door. They both saw Gibbs at the same time, and the three converged in the middle of the lobby.
"She's been kidnapped. She left the building almost twenty minutes ago, and met up with Max about a block away." Tony said.
"We have a witness who saw Max forcing Abby into a car against her will at gunpoint," Ziva added.
"I told her not to contact him!" Gibbs muttered in frustration. He hated the helpless feeling that came over him when he knew one of his team was in danger, and he wasn't with them.
"Tim's tracking her cell phone, just in case she has it on her," Tony said, needing to focus on the belief that they would find Abby, and that she would be in one piece when they did.
Gibbs headed to the elevator, and flipped open his cell phone to call Tim.
Tim answered before the first ring had finished. "Her cell phone is in a warehouse on the corner of forty-ninth and Alder, Boss. Please tell me you found her, and it's just her phone that's missing."
"Meet us down in the armory to suit up."
# # #
Abby wasn't having much luck retrieving information from the laptop; but then again, she wasn't actually trying to. Hoping that Max didn't know much about computers, she meticulously cleaned all the pieces, biding her time until someone came to find her. She closed her eyes and prayed that Gibbs was already back at the office, had noticed her absence, and was looking for her.
"Stop stalling, and get to work."
With a frown, she looked up at Max and said, "What's on here that's so important to you?"
He grabbed a fistful of her shirt and yanked her so that their faces were almost touching. "None of your God damn business. Just fix it."
More determined then ever to stall, Abby said, "I'm going to need a soldering iron."
He pulled a box out from under the table, and handed her one.
"Oh," she said, surprised that he'd been able to produce one so quickly.
"Don't fuck with me Abby. If you can't get me what I want, you'll no longer be of use."
She nodded, hooked the hard drive up to one of the working computers, and started typing in commands. Max paced around the warehouse, letting the gun hang down by his leg, while she worked. Then she heard the voice she'd been waiting for.
"NCIS! Drop your weapon!"
Abby ducked down under the table before Gibbs finished his sentence. Max cursed, but wasn't stupid enough to point his gun at anyone. He dropped it on the floor carefully, and held his hands up in surrender. Tony reached Max first, kicked the gun out of his reach, and roughly cuffed his hands behind his back. He led Max towards the front of the building, giving him his Miranda rights as they went.
Gibbs heard Ziva shout from the back door of the warehouse, "Clear!"
And a few seconds later Tim shouted, "Clear!" from the far corner, where he'd been checking behind some boxes.
Gibbs holstered his gun and called back to them, "All clear!" while walking towards Abby who was still crouching down under the table.
He knelt down next to her. "You okay?" he asked, and held his hand out to her.
She took it, and they both stood up. Realizing the danger was over, she grinned, hugged him tight, and said, "Gibbs! I knew you'd save me!"
He hugged her back, trying to reassure himself she was safe.
Tim and Ziva were both walking towards them, and holstering their weapons. Once Ziva saw that Abby was safe, she headed for the warehouse door, and pulled out her phone to call their contact at the FBI. Tim got closer to Abby, waiting for his turn to see for himself that she was okay.
Still holding her, Gibbs said, "Did he hurt you?"
"No. He threatened to, but you got here before he could."
Now that he knew she was safe, all the fear and worry he'd had for her over the past twenty minutes channeled itself into anger. He let her go, glared, and said, "What the hell were you thinking, Abby?"
"Um…that you'd save me?" she really didn't want to think about the events that led her to this point.
He leaned into her personal space, "I told you not to have any contact with him." His voice went up in volume as he continued to berate her, "I told you to consult me first, and then the second I was out of the building, you ran down the street chasing after him! I can't protect you if you won't follow my orders! So what the hell were you thinking?!"
Her chin quivered, and instead of answering him, she whispered, "I'm sorry."
"That doesn't answer my question!"
"I… I was thinking that my friend betrayed me," a tear went down her face, "and I wanted the chance to find out why."
Tim hated seeing Abby upset, and took a step closer to her. Trying to be the voice of reason, he said, "The FBI will be here soon, Boss. She'll need to give a statement."
Taking a deep breath, Gibbs tried to calm down. Looking at Tim he said, "Make sure she gives an accurate statement, and then take her home."
Tim nodded, Gibbs left, and Abby broke down into tears. Tim pulled her into a hug. "It's okay. He was just worried about you. He'll calm down in a few hours."
When she was calm enough to speak again, she said, "Yeah, he'll calm down, but that doesn't make what I did right, and it won't make him forgive me."
"Gibbs could never stay mad at you, Abby."
They heard sirens outside, and Abby pulled away from him. She wiped her face with the backs of her hands, and tried to calm down.
# # #
A few hours later, Tim was in Abby's kitchen, looking through the refrigerator. "How about a sandwich?"
"I said I'm not hungry."
He shut the door, and turned towards her. She'd been lying on the couch with her head propped up on the arm for the past hour. It was almost five, and he knew she hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. "How about soup?"
"Timmy, stop," she whined.
"You have to eat something, Abby."
"How can I eat when he's still mad at me?"
Tim sighed, not having an answer. "He's just tied up with paperwork. I'm sure he's not still mad."
She brought her head up and made eye contact with him. "You could go get me a Caf-Pow," she suggested.
"I'll get you a Caf-Pow if you agree to eat a sandwich with it."
He was putting on his jacket, when the doorbell rang.
Abby jumped up, and was suddenly very glad she hadn't had anything to eat, because her stomach was doing somersaults at the prospect of having to face Gibbs. But the idea of not facing him wasn't any more appealing.
When Tim realized she wasn't going to move, he went to the door. After looking through the peephole, he let Gibbs in. "I was just about to go to the store, Boss."
"Go home Tim. I'll take it from here."
Feeling uncomfortable, Tim thought about how much he hated it when Gibbs yelled at him in front of the others, and figured Abby would rather he went home. He muttered, "Night Abby."
"Thanks for everything Tim," she said with sincerity.
"Anytime." He turned back to Gibbs and said, "She hasn't eaten since this morning."
Gibbs gave him a curt nod, and Tim left, shutting the door behind him.
The two regarded each other for a few seconds, before Gibbs said, "Sit."
She sat, while he took off his coat, and set it over the arm of the couch. He sat down next to her, close enough that their knees were touching. "I just got off the phone with Fornell. They were able to salvage some of the information off the hard drive. Susan Abbot was Max's girlfriend, but if her emails are to be believed, Max was abusive, and she was afraid of him. She hired Herbert Polinski to help her crack Max's safe so she could escape and start a new life where Max couldn't find her."
Feeling sick to her stomach, Abby whispered, "I can't believe I helped him."
"But you did."
"I did," she agreed, keeping her eyes focused on her lap.
Suddenly feeling tired; Gibbs leaned back against the couch. He closed his eyes, and sighed. "I'm not sure what to do here, Abby."
"I'll do whatever you want to make up for it, Gibbs."
The room was silent while he thought about that. If their relationship were strictly professional, he'd suspend her without pay for a week, and put her on probation for a couple of months. But they'd moved past professional to friendship a month after she started working for him. And after all the years they'd spent being friends, he couldn't help but see her as a surrogate daughter. He knew she felt the same familial bond towards him, and that made what he was about to do even harder. Because really he did know what to do, he just didn't want to.
He sat up and looked her in the eye. "I'm disappointed in the choices you've made the past couple of days."
"Me too," she admitted, and tried to keep the tears at bay.
"Why didn't you come to me before you ran those prints in the first place?"
"Because I thought you'd say no," she said quietly.
She couldn't take the look he was giving her, and focused on her lap again. "That's not a good enough answer. I say no to lots of things, but you still come to me and ask. You know I'm not big on protocol, and you know I'll always do my best to help you, so why didn't you trust me this time? We could have avoided a lot of this."
The room was silent for a few seconds, while Abby thought that over. She couldn't hold back the tears any longer, as she said, "I… I guess I was ashamed of myself, even while I was doing it, and I didn't want you to be ashamed of me, too."
"Never gonna happen," he assured her.
"How can you say that?"
"Because it's true."
"I gave Max the information after you told me not to! I got myself kidnapped by not following your orders! How can you not be ashamed?"
Gibbs smiled fondly at her, "Because your heart is always in the right place. You were trying to help a friend. That's misguided, not malicious."
Knowing that he understood her motivation for going against his orders made all the difference to her, and she smiled at him through her tears.
His smile faded. "But that doesn't mean I'm not angry. And it doesn't mean you're off the hook. I can't have you going behind my back to break the rules. I can't keep you safe, when you don't confide in me."
"I know, and I…"
He held his hand up, stopping her in mid sentence. "I think you deserve a spanking."
"A… A spanking?" she felt light headed and panicky.
"The boss, the friend, and the father in me are all in agreement here, but if you can tell me that you honestly don't think you deserve it, I'll rethink it."
She couldn't, and worried her bottom lip with her teeth.
He nodded in understanding, scooted to the edge of the couch, and put a hand on her upper arm. "Okay then. Over my lap."
When she felt him pulling her forward, she said, "But… But that's not…"
He stopped pulling, but kept eye contact. "The only thing that will change this course of action is you telling me that you don't deserve it."
She shook her head no, unable to do that.
Now that the decision had been made, he wanted it over as quickly as possible. He pulled her across his lap, and said, "I want you thinking about the things you did to land yourself here."
As if I could forget, she thought while staring at the hard wood floor that was six inches from her nose.
He wrapped an arm around her waist, flipped her pleated plaid skit up, and placed a solid swat in the middle of her black cotton panties.
"Ow!" Her body tensed in anticipation of the next swat, which was harder then the first. "Ow, Gibbs!"
The swats kept coming, harder and faster than Abby could handle stoically. Every time she'd gotten a tattoo in the past, she'd congratulated herself on having a high tolerance for pain, but that thought seemed ludicrous now. She couldn't keep her body still. Her booted toes kicked the floor on one side of his lap, and her head kept shaking no on the other side. Her right hand moved from the floor, to his pant leg, and back to the floor with a frustrated slap. She couldn't think or speak in coherent sentences, and soon she was reduced to high pitched noises of distress, interspersed with urgent pleading for him to stop.
Gibbs heard her pleading, but didn't stop. He was good at reading people, and he knew how guilty she felt. He wanted to make sure she felt like she'd paid for her mistakes before he stopped. His life had been full of hard decisions, but when he believed he was doing the right thing; he finished what he started, no matter how unpleasant the task.
Her movements suddenly became more frantic, and she cried out, "I'm sorry!" before breaking down into noisy sobs.
He slowed the tempo and the force of the swats and asked, "Are you going to bring evidence into the lab without asking me first?"
"Noooo!" she wailed, in between gulps of air.
"Are you going to give out information when I tell you not to?"
He stopped spanking all together, flipped her skirt back down, and helped her into an upright position, sitting on his lap.
She flung her arms around his shoulders, and rested her forehead in the crook of his neck. He wrapped one arm around her upper back in a hug, rubbed his other hand up and down back in comfort.
Through her tears she apologized repeatedly. In response, he murmured words of forgiveness and solace.
It took quite a while for her to calm down, but once she did, he said, "When I found out you were missing today…" He didn't trust himself to keep going, and had to pause. "I don't think my heart can take many more days like today." He felt her squeeze him tighter. "No more chasing down friends turned violent criminals. Right?"
"I promise," she said, feeling bad that she'd scared him.
He kissed the top of her head and said, "Good." He helped her to stand, and then got up himself. "Go clean up. I'll make you something to eat."
"You don't have to do that."
Realizing he wouldn't take no for an answer, she went to the bathroom. After blowing her nose, and cleaning the mascara off her face, she searched her own reflection. You deserved it, but what happens now? Do things go back to normal between us? Can things ever be normal between us again?
Half an hour later Gibbs and Abby were standing side by side, eating sandwiches at her kitchen counter. An awkward silence had settled between them, and neither of them knew exactly what to say to fix it.
Gibbs' phone rang. He answered, "Gibbs."
Abby watched his face while he listened to the person on the other end of the line. Finally he said, "That's good work Tony. You and Ziva call it a night." He hung up.
"Were they still processing paperwork from today?"
"Following a lead on the dead Marine."
"Oh." Abby put a hand over her mouth, and her eyebrows went up in surprise. "I forgot. I can't believe it! I completely forgot that we had a new case. I should be processing the evidence! Tim should have taken me back to the lab, not home."
"The evidence will still be there tomorrow. You needed some time off, and we needed to get things straight between us."
She had to admit that she would have been distracted if she'd been at the lab. There was the emotional upheaval of Max betraying her, the adrenaline rush of being kidnapped and rescued, and there would have been the nerve-wracking anxiety of waiting for Gibbs. Eventually she said, "Are they?"
"Are things straight between us?"
He considered it. "You tell me."
"I don't know."
"Was I too hard on you?" he asked.
She didn't have to think about that, "No. I mean, don't get me wrong here. It wasn't fun, and if it had been anyone but you... But I… I still can't say that I didn't deserve it."
"Did you learn something from it?"
"Yeah, not to piss you off." She said it with a smile, and he chuckled.
Getting serious she said, "I learned that I went too far, and that you love me enough to make sure it won't happen again."
He leaned over and kissed her temple. "Then things are straight between us."
She surprised him with a crushing hug. He returned it, and then said, "You should get some sleep. It's been a hard couple of days, and I need you on your game first thing tomorrow morning."
She gave him a peck on the cheek before letting him go. "I'll be there at o-six-hundred hours, processing real evidence."
Gibbs gave her an approving smile. "See you then."
She locked the door behind him, and headed to her bedroom, wondering how comfortable her coffin was going to be while sleeping on her stomach.