PLEASE SEE CHAPTER 1 FOR WARNINGS AND DISCLAIMERS
Authors Note: Company was delayed so….for better or for worse...
Gibbs threw his cell phone on the desk with far more force than was prudent. Tim winced, hoping the supply of cell phones in the file drawer was not yet exhausted.
"Still no answer?" Tony asked, receiving only an annoyed look from his boss as a response.
"But this was part of the plan, no? To allow her enough wire to hang herself?"
"Rope, Ziva," Tony corrected almost automatically, causing the former Mossad agent to make a face at him.
Actually Gibbs hadn't been thrilled when he had found out exactly what Kort's plan entailed, but he did want Ashlynn free and clear of the CIA. Not to mention, he was none-to happy to find out the extent of some of the girl's lies. He just hadn't thought she'd be quite this stupid! Part of him had hoped all of this wouldn't be necessary, that Ashlynn would just come clean and trust him for once! Well, when he got his hands on her, she would be very, very sorry she hadn't gone that route. "You still got her McGee?"
"Yeah, boss," Tim answered motioning to the monitor in front of him. Little did Ashlynn know she had never truly been out of Gibbs' line of sight. He had known exactly where she was from the moment she had stormed out of the building.
The elevator dinged and Fornell emerged, "Ready?" he asked lifting an eyebrow.
"Oh, yeah, I'm ready," Gibbs replied and the look on his face had his entire team pitying the girl he was going to retrieve.
Ashlynn stared at the glass of amber liquid in front of her, having barely touched it. Three days ago she had stormed from the NCIS headquarters intent on 'showing them.' As she sat here contemplating, though, she wondered if perhaps she had let her anger get the best of her. Maybe she should have just taken Gibbs up on his offer and let him drive her to his place. When left alone with her temper, she often seemed to make questionable choices.
Ash closed her eyes and allowed the melody the Jazz band was creating to wash over her. The intro was followed by an intricate improvisation by the saxophone player, and Ash smiled as the pianist then started to improvise the harmony. Ashlynn liked Jazz for its complexity and the unique character of the improvisation.
Opening her eyes she looked critically at the cell phone on the table and considered turning it back on but finally shook her head. Ash had called three times to check in and talk to the boys since she'd been away. If she was honest with herself, hearing Gibbs' voice had been comforting as well. Each time he had encouraged her to come back to his place and talk. The last time she'd almost given in, but on some level Ash had known that if she did that, she would be admitting that she needed someone. She supposed everyone needed someone at some point in time, but right now it was important for Ashlynn to prove, to herself if no one else, that she could stand on her own two feet and make her own decisions.
So the teen had refused to answer the numerous calls from Gibbs today, finally just turning the thing off. She should have known the rumors would get back to him. Damn he wasn't going to be happy! Well in another day or so it wouldn't matter anyway. She just had to figure out how to avoid him and still get a chance to say goodbye to her brothers. Ash had to fight back tears at the thought. Somehow this was turning out to be a lot more difficult and complicated than she had anticipated.
Closing her eyes once again as the tune changed, Ashlynn tried to lose herself in the music so that her present worries wouldn't seem so poignant. This piece featured trumpet and base solos. Ash opened her eyes with a start when a hand descended to rest on her shoulder. She looked up to see Gibbs on one side and Fornell on the other. Despite her various run-ins with the NCIS agent, the girl was certain she had never seen him look quite so furious and given their track record that did not bode well! The FBI agent, on the other hand, almost looked amused before his face became a mask of stony seriousness.
"Go away," Ashlynn stated reaching for her glass only to have it yanked from her grasp and set firmly on the other side of the table, sloshing over the rim with the sudden change in movement. She offered Gibbs a sour look.
"Afraid we can't do that," Tobias replied, pulling something from his pocket. "This is a warrant to search your person and your belongings."
"For what?" the teen demanded.
"A set of previously unidentified fingerprints at a three-year-old crime scene was recently identified as yours. We are searching for anything related to that case."
"You have got to be kidding me!" Ash replied, but soon realized that they were not as Gibbs snatched her purse from her side.
He pulled out her wallet, and gave her a pointed glare upon removing the counterfeit driver's license. Nothing compared to his expression when he pulled out the equally bogus passport or the airline ticket to Greece.
"You know good and well this is a witch hunt because I refused to go along with their stupid little plan!" She all but yelled, deciding to take the offensive.
Taking hold of her arm, Gibbs pulled Ash none too gently from her seat. "Come on," he said curtly. The teen didn't miss the fact that these were the first words the man had uttered.
"No," she responded defiantly, trying to pull her arm free. "I'm not going anywhere with you."
Gibbs leaned in close, the threatening tenor to his voice sending chills up Ashlynn's spine. "Tobias has some questions. When he's done, it's my turn. Do you really want to start this here?"
Swallowing hard Ashlynn gave a quick shake of her head and allowed herself to be led out to the car with no more fuss.
By the time they reached NCIS headquarters, Ashlynn had recovered much of her temper. She had a few questions of her own! Determined not to let the two infuriating men take the lead, the teen started her inquiries as soon as they entered the small interrogation room.
"So, if this is an FBI case why are we at NCIS headquarters?"
"Do you know a General William Stockton of the United States Marine Corps?" Fornell asked Ashlynn instead of answering her question.
Caught off guard, Ashlynn took a moment to assess the FBI agent before taking a seat. Oh, yeah, she remembered that name. Deirdre had taken her daughter with her to case his place. Her mother had decided against the job. She had liked the man too much. Deirdre was funny that way. Ashlynn supposed General Stockton's being a Marine answered the question of NCIS involvement…well to some degree. This still wasn't something in which they would normally become involved.
"My mother went out with him a couple of times. She even took me to his place once."
Fornell took a seat as well, but Gibbs remained standing, arms folded. "Three years ago a very rare and expensive coin collection was stolen from his house. Your fingerprints were at the crime scene. "
"I just told you I had been in his house," the girl responded with a roll of her eyes.
"Your fingerprints were found on his computer, in his private study off of his bedroom."
"I was a curious kid," she replied with a shrug.
"Were you aware, that General Stockton's gardener, a retired Marine Corp Sergeant, was killed that night during the robbery?"
"What? NO! You know good and well that if someone was hurt, Deirdre wasn't involved! Not her MO."
Fornell nodded. "True. Still we have to follow-up on every lead. As it turns out, we got lucky. We have DNA evidence from the crime."
Having watched the interrogation without comment thus far, Gibbs caught Ashlynn's gaze, "All we need to do is give Abby a call, get a DNA sample and you're done with this."
Meeting his steady gaze, Ashlynn was quiet. As the seconds ticked by and nothing was said, she finally looked away. "You know I had nothing to do with this," she finally mumbled quietly.
"Then let's get a DNA sample and move on," the NCIS agent suggested.
"No," Ashlynn stated with unexpected steel in her voice. "I want a lawyer."
Gibbs scowled at the girl who just lifted her eyebrow at his attempted intimidation. Finally, the NCIS agent turned to Fornell and cocked his head toward the door. Both men got up and exited. Gibbs returned in moments walking straight up and putting his arms on the table, leaning in close to Ashlynn.
"Okay, everyone's gone. It's just you and me. Now how about a little truth?"
"Truth? Like how this whole thing is a farce to intimidate me into agreeing to your agencies' little 'opportunity'?" Despite her defensive words, the girls' eyes darted about and Gibbs knew she was trying to avoid the issue.
"Ashlynn," Gibbs growled.
The man eased back off the table, cocking his head sideways, "I thought you liked Abby," he stated softly, "Trusted her."
"I DO! What does that have to do with anything?"
"You don't trust her to run a DNA test? You think we're part of some sort of conspiracy here?"
The shocked, confused look on Ash's face was what the man had been shooting for.
"No, of course not! It's not that at all."
Gibbs took a seat and looked straight into Ashlynn's blue-green orbs. "Why else wouldn't you want Abby to run a DNA test?"
Unable to look away, Ashlynn felt that Gibbs' blue eyes were reading the most intimate details of her life and her face flushed pink. Finally she was able to drop her gaze to her lap. "You know," she whispered hoarsely, looking back up to confirm her suspicion.
Gibb's eyes once again glinted with anger. "I want to hear you say it."
Somehow, Ash couldn't deny the quiet command.
"You're my father."
The silence that followed seemed oppressive. There wasn't the slightest movement of air to offer some bit of solace or distraction, as the moment seemed to stretch into an eternity. Ashlynn couldn't believe the relief that she felt when he finally spoke.
"You were going to leave the country without telling me," he accused angrily. "Why?"
"I wanted the boys to have a fresh start. I didn't want to get in the way."
"I agree with Cam…that's really a line of bull."
Her eyes narrowed, "You were eavesdropping."
With a shrug, the man continued as if she hadn't spoken. "Kort even gave you the chance to come clean and avoid this mess. What were you thinking?"
"I don't like being manipulated," she snapped. "Besides, I really believed – believe – it's for the best." Ash paused and bit her lip, "Gibbs," the teen started taking a calming breath. "This doesn't really change anything."
He lifted his eyebrow.
"I'm still moving into the place Deirdre leased. I'll go to Georgetown. We can catch up on the weekends," she informed him resolutely.
"You really think I'm going to let my fifteen-year-old daughter live out on her own?" Gibbs seemed almost amused by this.
Ash scowled. "Documents say I'm eighteen."
"I was there when you were conceived."
"I'll be sixteen soon."
"Still not going to happen. So, Cam knew about this?"
"Just my age. As far as he was concerned, mom and I doctored the documents so that if anything ever happened, I could take custody of the boys…until I got them to you. Don't hold that against him; it's actually something Deirdre came up with long before she died."
"I won't. So I know why you were headed to Greece - another thing that is NOT going to happen - but why in the HELL did you put the word out that you were picking up business where your mom left off?"
"You know you can't believe every rumor that you hear," the girl hedged, wincing from the sheer volume his voice had attained.
He leaned in close, "Cut the crap, young lady!" he growled. "What exactly were you thinking? Are you actually stupid enough to try following in Deirdre's footsteps or just insane enough to try and use that as a ruse to draw out Covas?" He bellowed.
"Well, the CIA wasn't getting anywhere, and since I was somewhat annoyed after that last meeting…" Ash allowed her tirade to taper off after noting Gibbs' expression. The word irate probably wouldn't adequately describe the look on his face.
Ashlynn slumped back into her chair, "Admittedly not one of my best ideas," she sighed crossing her arms. "I was mad, okay? Vance, Fornell, Uncle Trent…" She sat up then, shaking her head. "That son of a bitch set me up!"
"He cares more than you think. Believe me, it's nothing to what the CIA might have done, particularly if you'd made it out of the country," he offered his daughter a glower, "No more blackmail attempts, by the way. I don't know what Deirdre had that she was using against the CIA but it's done and over with as of NOW," Gibbs warned.
Ashlynn rolled her eyes and heaved a sigh.
"I'm waiting for an answer."
"Fine! But as it's locked in a safe-deposit box out of the country, I think it's going to have to wait," she remarked snidely.
"You need to lose the attitude, little girl."
Shooting daggers with her eyes, Ashlynn refused to dignify his comment with a response. She might be his daughter but she WAS NOT a little girl!
"Which reminds me, you and I have a little unfinished business," he remarked standing to make his way around the table.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she snapped, scooting her chair back.
"Oh, I think you do. I warned you not to do anything stupid. And I know I told you what would happen if I found out you were lying to me." Stopping just in front of the girl, he started to unbuckle his belt.
"You can't be serious!"
"Oh, I am very serious," he countered drawing the leather through the belt loops with one hand while reaching to forestall Ash's escape with the other. As Ashlynn had noted on previous occasions, a physical struggle with the man was a lost cause. Not that this stopped her from trying. She actually landed a few solid hits, probably due to Ziva's training. Ultimately though, her futile efforts ended with a very pissed off Gibbs flipping open the button of her jeans and yanking them down around her knees before he pulled her face down across his lap.
Having set the belt on the table for the moment, he brought the palm of his hand crashing down on Ashlynn's silky black panties. The impact actually took her breath away. After fifteen equally thunderous swats, he paused. "Do I have your attention?"
Ash nodded, tears already leaking from the corners of her eyes. "Good because if you fight me any more, we can repeat this whole thing when we get home. Understood?"
With another nod the teen sniffed, trying to quell her tears.
Gibbs picked up the belt from off the table. SMACK! Ashlynn couldn't stop the squeal that escaped her lips. Somehow she didn't remember it hurting this bad last time. SMACK! SMACK! SMACK! Though Gibbs had a habit of asking the person over his knee why they were getting spanked, this time he broke with tradition.
"You do not do STUPID things that can get you jailed or killed! SMACK! SLAP! SMACK! SLAP! Gibbs seemed to find a certain rhythm as he lectured. "You will never, under any circumstances, for any reason, pick up your mother's trade!" The belt continued to reign down relentlessly on Ash's scantily clad backside. "YOU DON'T LIE TO ME!"
Ashlynn gasped as the horrible piece of leather connected with the under curve of her bottom several times. She had no doubt in her mind that she was going to be feeling this for a few days.
"No more fake IDs, no more clubs, no more drinking." Tears streamed down Ashlynn's face as a seemingly unbearable fire built in her backside. "No more sneaking around or secret agendas. I need to know where you are, what you're doing, and you damn well better keep your cell phone with you and ON at all times! Are we clear?"
"Y-y-yes," Ashlynn was able to answer between sobs. To her relief, the spanking stopped and Gibbs tossed the belt back onto the table.
"And Ash, you ever fight me like that again, I won't stop with pulling down your jeans."
After what had just happened coupled with the fact that she still lay dangling over her dad's knee, one would have thought Ashlynn couldn't be any more embarrassed but she blushed nonetheless. At this point, the teen was determined that there was never going to be a next time!
Gibbs helped her stand and she quickly rearranged her jeans. Gibbs then pulled her into his arms and like both the other times she had found herself in this position, Ash just succumbed to the need for comfort and leaned into his embrace. She was tired. Tired of keeping secrets and tired of trying to prove to everyone that she was strong enough to take care of herself. In her dad's arms, she just felt so safe like nothing in the world could touch her and this time she wasn't the first to pull away.
"Ready to go home?" Gibbs asked, leaving his arm around her shoulder to lead her from the interrogation room while he grabbed his belt with his other hand.
"Doesn't Abby need to collect a DNA sample?" the girl asked as they made their way down the hall.
"Abby isn't here right now. She took the boys home," Gibbs answered, one corner of his mouth lifting in a grin. At her incredulous look, he continued, "Ash, you've lived with me on and off for weeks. It wasn't really that big deal for me to get a DNA sample."
Her eyes narrowed, "So this whole thing with Fornell…"
"Was necessary," he interrupted as he hit the button for the elevator. "The interrogation up to the point when Tobias left will go on record. Of course we will need to do an 'official' DNA test so that you will be cleared of any suspicion. You will also then be officially recognized as my daughter, and a minor. That should get the CIA off your back. Tobias says the FBI's willing to give you a little time and space as well, just so long as you don't leave the country."
"Uncle Trent told you how old I was, didn't he?" Ash asked acerbically as they both entered the elevator.
"Let's just say there were quite a few things that didn't add up. I was suspicious long before talking to Kort." It was obvious to the man that Ashlynn was still far from convinced. "Kort's hardly my favorite person, but this time he seemed to be acting in your best interests."
The girl just scowled still angry with the CIA agent.
"Why were you so set against telling me the truth?"
"Don't give me that."
"Well, that was part of it," she insisted. "I wasn't exactly thrilled about your house rules either."
"And?" Gibbs stared the girl down, unwilling to let this go.
Ashlynn looked away and sighed. "You didn't approve of Deirdre. You were attracted to her but you didn't approve. I'm a lot like her." She bit her lip, "The boys, well, they're boys and they both have a lot of you in them." Ashlynn paused not exactly sure how to say the rest…or if she really should, "You already had a daughter, one you loved very much," she finally finished in a whisper.
Gibbs stepped towards Ashlynn and lifted her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes. "I have had two biological daughters, both of whom I love very much. I have a couple of surrogate ones too, that I feel the same way about."
Though Ashlynn's lips curved upward, the smile didn't reach her eyes. "Yeah, I hear Abby's your favorite," she said with a wink. She didn't believe for one moment that she could compete with Kelly's ghost. Being Cam and AJ's sister was one thing but now that he knew she was his daughter, well, that was different. How could he look at her without wishing it was Kelly that had lived?
The drive home was quiet, father and daughter each absorbed in his/her own thoughts. Ash shifted uncomfortably, thinking the ride to Gibbs' house had never seemed quite so long. She was relieved when Gibbs pulled into the drive.
Abby met them at the door, throwing her arms around Ashlynn first thing. "Oh, I'm so glad you're alright!" The Goth then held the teen at arms length fixing her with a scowl. "Don't you ever turn your cell phone off again," she admonished before throwing her arms around the girl once more. "And how dare you keep a secret like that from me, well us, but mostly from me! Aren't we friends?"
"Of course we are Abby! And I've already been read the riot act, okay?"
Abby stepped back and grinned at Ashlynn, "Oh, I just bet you have," she observed flashing a knowing look at Gibbs.
"Ash! You're back!" AJ wrapped his little arms around his sister. "You're not gonna leave agin are ya, Ash?"
Ashlynn returned his hug, lifting the boy up into her arms. "No big guy, I'm not," she said casting a quick glance at Gibb. Even Cam came in for a quick hug as she put her younger brother down.
"You mean it?" the ten-year-old demanded.
"Yeah, I guess you're stuck with me for the foreseeable future."
AJ was jumping up and down now. "Can we show her the surprise now?"
"Can we, Dad?" Cam threw in.
"Please, Gibbs?" Abby added, looking nearly as excited as the boys.
"Okay, lead the way," Jethro agreed motioning to the stairs. The three stampeded up with a curious Ashlynn not far behind and Gibbs bringing up the rear. They all stopped in the hall and then with a grin Abby reached up to pull the rope hanging from the trap door to the attic. Giving it a solid yank to bring the folded stairs down, she offered a dramatic "Ta Da."
Still puzzled, Ash climbed the stairs to the attic at the insistence of the excited trio. What met her eyes sent shivers down her spine. Wood floors had been polished and scattered with warm rugs. The walls had been dry walled and painted a sage green. Exposed rafters provided a low ceiling, which actually added to the cozy ambience of the large room.
An inviting double bed in the corner had a polished maple headboard and was made up with a forest green comforter as well as sage green accent pillows. The bedside table was a matching wood and Ash realized with a lump in her throat was probably made in the basement. A lamp offered a soft, friendly glow.
One good-sized window, forest green drapes pulled to each side, allowed natural light into the room. A comfortable, yet stately looking old armchair sat just beside the window with another lamp behind it for when the sun went down. There was a desk and chair on another wall as well as a bookcase.
"Do you like it, Ash?" AJ demanded. "I told them your favorite color was green."
"I love it, Bud," she assured her youngest brother pulling him into another hug.
"Hey, yer squishin' me," he complained, wiggling free.
"I helped Dad finish the walls and Abby with the painting," Cam stated proudly.
"You did a fabulous job, too," Ash said giving Cam a playful punch in the arm. "Thanks Abs," she said turning to the dark haired forensic scientist to give her a hug.
"The bossman did all the real work," Abby said, returning the girl's embrace enthusiastically. "Though, Tony's going to tell you differently of course! He and Tim helped get the furniture up here and boy did you miss the biggest whine festival of the season. Everyone lent a hand. Ducky donated the chair and Ziva picked out the bedding. Do you really like it?"
"It's perfect!" Ash replied to Abby, though her eyes drifted to Gibbs as she spoke the words.
"Okay, guys, time to start your homework," Gibbs ordered ignoring their groans. "Abs, you think you could call and have some dinner delivered?"
"Yes, Oh Fearless Leader," she replied smartly, offering a left-handed salute.
"Thanks," Ashlynn offered when the others had cleared out. "For all of this."
"I'm glad you like it," Gibbs answered with a grin before his voice took on a more serious edge. "Because you're going to be spending a lot of time here for the next two weeks."
Ash offered him a quizzical look. "You're grounded," he explained. "You're either here or at NCIS headquarters with one of the team."
Ashlynn fell back on the bed, quickly turning onto her stomach, her body started to shake with mirth. Gibbs looked at the girl afraid the stress of the past weeks might have been too much.
"Ironic, isn't it?" she said between giggles. "I've traveled all around the world my entire life and scarcely answered to anyone, but here, I barely get free of protective custody and now I'm grounded." There really wasn't anything all that funny about the situation but for some reason, Ash just couldn't stop laughing…it was cathartic.
Gibbs smiled and moved to take a seat beside his daughter, enjoying the sound of her laughter. Finally wiping her eyes, Ash gingerly sat up. "One thing I don't get."
"You did all of this before you even knew."
"I told you before, Ash, you're family. All that's really changed is that now you've got an earlier curfew," he paused "And maybe a few more restrictions."
"Gee, that's a comforting thought," she said rolling her eyes.
"Ash, earlier you mentioned my feelings for Deirdre. I'm not going to lie to you. There was a lot about her that I did not approve of," the man paused reaching over to run a finger along her cheek. "But you aren't her. I'm proud of you, Ashlynn. I'm proud of the way you've taken care of your brothers all these years. Proud of how smart, strong, and caring you are."
The girl swallowed convulsively.
Gibbs opened the drawer of the nightstand and took out an aged photograph. Standing it against the lamp, he got up, placed a kiss on Ashlynn's forehead, and started toward the stairs.
"It's a high school picture of my mother."
Ashlynn's eyes widened in surprise. "That's, that's…wow! I always thought I looked like my mom, but..."
Gibbs grinned at her. "Yeah, I'd say you have a bit of mine in you as well. But I don't see Deirdre when I look at you and I don't see my Mom. I don't see anyone but you, Ash."
Ashlynn looked up to meet her father's steady blue gaze, her blue-green eyes swimming with tears. "Thanks, Dad," she whispered. With a nod he headed down the stairs.
Lying back down on the bed, ignoring the painful sting in her bottom, Ashlynn looked around her new room and smiled. It was really good to be home.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well there were many more ideas that I just didn't fit in, but I have been rather compelled to get Ash's issues resolved. I hope I answered everyone's lingering questions. There will probably be a sequel…someday. Hope you all enjoyed this!