Spoilers: Takes place immediately after "Chimera". So many wonderful levels of interaction in that episode, and it always seemed a little muddled and unfinished to me. Hence the beginning of this chapter.
"They-did-not-name-it-the-Puppy!" - Ziva David
Ten months earlier…
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to clear the multitude of thoughts running around in her head. When her Halloween plans had been thwarted yet again by her job, she certainly hadn't expected the emotional rollercoaster she'd experienced the past twenty-four hours.
It wasn't having the team suddenly sent out into the middle of the ocean. That wasn't anything new to her, having them called out on a whim to the most remote of locales. It wasn't the threat of some strange unknown disease killing all of them. It wasn't even Ziva's superstitions that had her worried. It was how close her team had come to getting themselves blown to bits.
At first she couldn't fit all of the pieces together, because it just didn't make sense. She knew that something had happened to the doctor on board, which was when the team had been called in. Once on board they found the ship abandoned, and Ducky proclaimed the doctor had died of viral hemorrhagic fever. Jenny finally got it out of Commander Skinner that the Chimera was looking for undiscovered biological species, in direct violation of the ban on biological warfare research.
It was after that when everything went all…well…hinky. Russian pirates arriving, and then the ship being destroyed? It didn't make any sense. Of course, if the-powers-that-be did honestly think a virus had been let loose the best form of quarantine was to destroy the ship and the people on board, letting it sink to a watery grave at the bottom of the ocean.
When she'd heard the Chimera had been scuttled she'd been distraught, to put it mildly. It took about half an hour cornered in the Director's office for her to calm down, and another fifteen minutes of clarifications from Jenny to really understand the game that had just been played. Jenny explained that no one knew until Gibbs called in what had been discovered on the ocean floor, and that was when it all finally started to make sense. The scenario that Commander Skinner had fed to them was an elaborate ruse, meant to cover up the true nature of his plan.
Skinner knew all along about the nuclear warheads. Rather than keep them for the United States government to turn over to the Russians, he chose to circumvent the system and approach the Russians directly. He'd expected to sell the warheads to some rebel group, but to his shock the actual government came in as the top bidders. The Russian government had worked with Skinner to set up the pirate ruse, to make it look like a random attack; when in reality the Russians were just going in and grabbing the warhead. None of the crew would have known any different since they'd abandoned ship, and once the exchange was over Skinner was going to dispatch a ship to pick the crew up out at sea. The ship would be destroyed, and with it any evidence that could implicate Skinner in the plot.
Having to scuttle the ship with the NCIS agents on board was unfortunate, but explainable through the biological agent theory. The Commander thought that everything had gone off without a hitch and no one was the wiser until Gibbs called in reporting back to the Director what he now had in his possession.
Once she'd calmed down and returned to her lab, a few keystrokes from Abby led to the money trail, and that's when everything completely fell apart for Skinner. Much to her and the Director's delight he was now sitting in a holding brig awaiting further action and criminal charges.
She jerked her eyes open and spun around from her station at the lab bench, grinning widely and opening her arms towards the person walking through her doorway. "Ducky! How are you my friend?"
"Tired," he said after giving her a brief embrace. "It's been quite the long week."
She motioned for him to sit in the chair next to her. "Being on a ghost ship while investigating an Ebola-like virus will do that to you, I think. Where's everyone else?" she asked, looking around to see if anyone was lurking in the doorway.
"They're still on the Truman. They had reports to file and debriefings to attend. I begged off the worst of it and hitched a ride home on the first transport I could find."
"Too much politics, not enough decisions?"
"Exactly my dear. I'm far too old to be playing those games. Then again Jethro isn't exactly ideal for it either. Especially given his one silly rule."
"It is better seek forgiveness than ask for permission," they said together, smiling the whole time.
"I swear he was a bull in a china shop in a previous life, to use a horrible cliché."
"You have to admit Ducky, he may be unconventional but he does get results."
Ducky nodded slowly. "That he does. It's just a full-time job sometimes to cleanup the mess he leaves behind."
As they were talking she started walking through the lab, carefully initiating the shutdown procedures on most of her equipment. "I'm just finishing up for the evening. Do you have any plans?"
"Not particularly. I stopped to see mother as soon as I returned this afternoon but she wasn't exactly happy to see me. She'll hold a grudge for a few days since I missed several of my daily visits."
"Well Ducky, this is your lucky evening. Despite it being a Friday night, I have absolutely nothing planned. Would you like to join me for dinner? I've been lonely with no one around this week."
He sat back slightly, contemplating her invitation. Truth was he had been looking forward to a quiet evening in front of his fireplace, reading a book on Egyptian anthropology he'd picked up recently. After spending a few minutes with her, however, he found he was craving interaction with people more than he'd anticipated. "I'd love to Abby," he finally replied, standing back up once again. "Shall I meet you in the lobby in about ten minutes?"
He was rewarded with a bright smile. "Sounds like a plan. I'll even be your chauffer for the evening."
Abby bounced around slightly on her feet for the next few minutes, silently willing her equipment to move just a touch faster so she could finish turning them off. When they were done she rushed over to her office, threw on her coat and ran out the door to meet up with Ducky.
Several minutes later they were settled into her car, hoping that it would warm up quickly since the evening had a bit of an autumn chill. "Where are we going?" Ducky asked once he'd fastened his seat belt and they'd pulled out on to M Street.
"I am going to treat you to my favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It's called Odeon Café and it's just north of DuPont Circle on Connecticut."
He nodded, not really having anything to add at this point to their discussion. That was one thing that he enjoyed with Abby yet seemed contradictory to their personalities. They both had a tendency to ramble on with stories, so when they were together you would think they'd be fighting over who got to talk more. The unexpected result was great periods of silence between them, comfortable lapses in conversation, where neither one felt the need to fill the void.
Despite this, he started fidgeting slightly after a few blocks had passed them by. "Something on your mind?" Abby asked gently.
He sighed deeply. He hadn't even mentioned this to Jethro yet, but he felt like he needed to discuss his decision with someone. Abby was the next best thing in his mind. The day he met her, he suddenly discovered she was the daughter he didn't realize he was missing from his life. "I'm thinking of selling the estate."
As he'd expected she audibly gasped. "But why? I thought you loved living there."
"When I retired I had all of these grand plans. Mother was going to finish out her years with me, I was going to write and do some lecturing for the Smithsonian, I was even considering renovating part of the house into a bed and breakfast."
"So what happened?"
Her brow furrowed. "But you had known each other for years before you moved here."
"Yes, we did. And that's exactly what led to the demise of my plans. When my predecessor left NCIS Jethro came to me and basically wouldn't take no for an answer until I agreed to come work with him. You know how persistent he can be when he puts his mind to something."
Abby grinned, imagining exactly how their conversations must have gone. "So how long did you hold out?"
"Two days? TWO days? Duckman, I have to say I'm disappointed in you. I would have expected at least a week."
"I think he did too. He still says I caved far too easily. I think it means I wasn't nearly as ready for retirement as I'd originally thought."
"So is this why is your mother upset with you, because you want to sell the estate?"
"Oh no, I haven't mentioned it to her and I don't plan on mentioning it to her. Mother unfortunately is too far gone mentally to really comprehend it. What capacity for understanding she has left is very much rooted in her past, and she is very particular about staying true to our roots back home in Scotland."
Abby bit her lip slightly, not quite sure how to phrase her next question. "Hey Ducky?"
"Why don't you ever talk about your father?"
There was a protracted silence in the car. In fact, Abby couldn't recall another time when she'd seen Ducky rendered quite so speechless. "Why don't you talk about yours?" he finally responded.
She snorted lightly. "Point taken. Some things are just better left unsaid."
Ducky looked over to her, his eyebrow slightly quirked. He obviously wanted more of an explanation than she'd just given.
"What's Abby's Rule number one?"
"Don't lie to Abby," he replied without hesitation.
"I'm going to let you in on a little secret Ducky," she continued, her voice suddenly becoming soft. "The origin of that rule is the reason I don't talk about my father."
"Say no more my dear. I understand completely."
She glanced over at him and saw the one expression on his face that she'd always hated from people - pity. "No, it's not anything like that," she replied, rolling her eyes. "I don't have some sob story of neglect or abuse or torture. It's more the way my family dealt with my mother's illness, which was by telling me as little as possible until it was too late."
She'd never been open with anyone before about her parents outside of Gibbs. Ducky knew her parents were deaf, but that was about the extent of his knowledge. To hear her talk about them was so unexpected that he wasn't quite sure how to respond. Little did he know he wouldn't have time to think of an appropriate response.
You see, unlike some of her co-workers Abby was actually a rather cautious driver. As such, when the light they were approaching turned yellow she slowed the car. Her intent was to stop, rather than accelerate to blast through the intersection. Unfortunately the car behind her had other ideas and the resulting squeal of brakes forced her to jerk her head up to look in the rearview mirror. She had no time to react before they were thrown forward in their seats from the impact.
After a about half a minute of stunned silence, Ducky quickly opened the door and walked around to the back of the car. "Oh dear," he muttered under his breath. "I fear you are going to need a few weeks in the body shop, my friend."
Looking to the car that had rear-ended them he saw a very scared looking teenager in the driver's seat. He motioned for him to get out of the car and guided him over to the grassy median where he tried to calm him down until the police arrived. It was minor, and both cars were still drivable, but he knew that incident reports would have to be filed.
After about ten minutes, numerous retellings of the minor crash, and several frantic phone calls from the teen's mother he looked back towards the slightly dinged up vehicles. He realized with a start that he hadn't seen Abby amongst crowd of people now gathered in the grassy median. He finally spotted her still sitting in the driver's seat, completely unmoving. It was like she hadn't reacted at all to the accident, her hands still gripping the steering wheel. When he squinted to look a little closer, however, he noted that she had clenched her muscles so tightly that her hands had turned completely white.
Walking over to the car Ducky opened the door slowly and knelt down beside her. "Abby?" he inquired while reaching out and placing a hand on her shoulder, only to remove it quickly when she jumped. "Abigail?" he said again, a little more loudly than before. "Are you with me?"
When she didn't respond he looked over at the police officer that was talking with the other driver. "Perhaps you should be calling the paramedics after all, just to be on the safe side."
"Already done Dr. Mallard. Standard procedure, even in minor accidents."
He nodded his head slowly, shifting his attention back to Abby. He couldn't explain why she would be so shaken. The impact, while jolting, wasn't all that severe. Both cars were slightly crumpled but still completely drivable. The situation may have been shocking, but her customary reaction would be to get hyper-talkative and jumpy, not to shut down and be silent. Just as he was about to stand he heard her whisper, a plea so faint he thought he imagined it.
He reached over and gently placed his hand under her chin, forcing her to turn her head and look him in the eye. There was only one word he could think of to describe what he saw there – confusion. "Abby?" he inquired once again. "Are you hurt, my dear?"
She blinked several times while tilting her head slightly, first to one side and then the other. "Ducky? I see your lips moving, but…" she trailed off, her voice faltering. "Why can't I hear?"