Sorry for my extended absence! My computer finally failed me and has now been replaced with an old but trusty IBM. Les Miserables fandom swallowed me whole. I've been crazy busy. And, yadda, yadda, the usual excuses. But I promise I haven't given up on this story or any of my works-in-progress. If I don't know where they're going, I either don't post them or take them down, because I'm with many of you – a story that never finishes can be so frustrating! But, yeah. So a lot has happened in Season 10 since I wrote last. Fortunately, the story is still near the middle to end of Season 9, so it doesn't affect this tale, but expect to see pieces of recent events woven as things progress, even though the story dovetails into AU territory. (Also, am I the only one in favor of a standardized keyboard? This new laptop has the Fn and Ctrl keys reversed from what I've been used to and it's driving me nuts because I touch-type.)
Even though it wasn't her bed, it was nice to be in a real bed again, especially when Abby knew she was under Gibbs' watchful care. No one would hurt her here, not in Gibbs' house. And she hated feeling scared, wondering if her attacker might come back to finish the job. It wasn't like her. But, as Ducky had reminded her, the anxiety was totally normal. In fact, he'd said, he would have been more worried if she wasn't fearful. That didn't mean Abby had to like it, however.
Abby grabbed her crutch, which Gibbs had left within easy reach for safety, and gently made her way downstairs to the main level. She still wasn't capable of going anywhere fast, but she could get around, and her nightmare had left her shaken. Gibbs wasn't on the couch, which meant he was probably in the basement. But, typical Gibbs, he heard her before she got to the basement door.
"Hey, Abs." Gibbs crossed to her and led her to the couch to sit. "You okay? It's late."
"I could ask the same of you," she pointed out.
Gibbs shrugged. "You know me. Always something to be done. I'm not the one who needs to heal."
Abby did her best imitation of Gibbs' wry smile. "I can sleep when I'm dead."
Gibbs smiled and kissed her forehead. "That had better not be for a very, very long time."
That did it. Abby leaned into his embrace. "I'm just...I'm scared, Gibbs. For Charity. For me. For anyone who just happens to look different."
Gibbs hugged her, obviously taking care to avoid the sore spots. "That's what you have us for, Abby. To protect you. To find her. To keep this from happening to anyone else. We've got leads. We're close."
Abby nodded. "I'm a little surprised you're not out there on the trail yourself."
"Not my jurisdiction," Gibbs replied automatically.
That got a chuckle out of her. "Since when has that ever stopped you before?"
"True," Gibbs admitted, nodding. "But I've got a deal with Fornell. If I stay physically out of the case, he tells me everything he knows."
"That still hasn't stopped you before," Abby pointed out.
"Of course not." Gibbs shook his head. "But one thing has. If I find him before we find Charity, I have to keep him alive. I'm not sure I can promise to do that. And if I rough him up for answers, the defense is going to turn your relationship with my team into a way to blow our case. Once Charity's safe, no promises."
Abby wasn't sure whether to be touched or worried. As usual with Gibbs in these cases, it was a bit of both. "Okay." She settled against his chest comfortably, sensing neither one of them was going anywhere in the next few minutes. "I heard Tony come in earlier. Is everything okay?"
"Fine," Gibbs assured her. "We had a talk."
Coming from Gibbs, that wasn't always a pleasant thing. "What kind of talk?"
"It was...a discussion of the rules," Gibbs said carefully.
Abby raised her eyes to look up at him and could see his smirk. "You mean about him and Ziva?" They could always read each other like that. "Was that anything like the talk you had with me and Tim?"
"Similar," Gibbs confirmed, "but different."
Abby nodded. "Well, of course it would be; they're two totally different relationships. With different history and personalities. But...oh, Gibbs, this is so great! You know I always thought Rule Twelve was a bit strict anyway."
"Don't get carried away," Gibbs advised, though he hugged her a little more firmly. "I have no intention of allowing the squad room to become the next Peyton Place. I trust all of you to use discretion, as well as-"
"Staying professional," Abby finished. "We know, Gibbs. And we will. But...this is still so great!" Her mind was still troubled in many respects, but she was happy to latch onto this piece of good news. She grinned, amused by an idea. She wasn't at all sure she was ready for marriage yet; she'd just now reconnected with Tim on that level. But she no longer ruled it out for the future. "If Tim and I get married, you're going to walk me down the aisle, right?"
Gibbs kissed her forehead again, his smile letting her know he was deeply touched. "Abs, it would be my honor."
Lauren Tate, the survivor of the crash that had killed Ashley and Sara, had been remarkably helpful, giving a detailed description of their father's erratic behavior and the dysfunctional home life he'd provided. She'd even known of a second family home in the Virginia mountains, one she said the girls had been dragged off to spend summers at. Lauren hadn't known anything about it other than that it was in the middle of nowhere, with horrible cell signal and no wi-fi. Her friends had complained of being bored stiff during those visits, like any self-respecting children of the electronic age. It actually sounded somewhat relaxing to Gibbs, if it hadn't been for the psychotically fanatical father's involvement.
Once an actual address had been pinned down, word traveled through the grapevine to Gibbs' team. He, Tony, McGee, and Ziva had each gotten calls from different contacts, providing them with the location. Neighbors had reported seeing Simon Pratt going into and out of the home in the woods – and while no one had seen any young women, Lauren's witness statement provided the FBI with enough to obtain a search warrant. Gibbs, like the rest of his team, had been working hard to restrain himself up to that point, but now that they were so close, it was as irresistible as an open door. He smiled at his team, nodding, saying nothing official that would be overheard. But they understood and so they grabbed their gear and followed him.
The FBI was on scene, watching the house when Gibbs and his team arrived. Fornell strolled over to meet Gibbs, his eyebrows raising. "Couldn't stay away, could you?"
"Of course not." Gibbs smiled. "What's the story?"
"Not that it's any of NCIS' business," Fornell replied good-naturedly, "but Pratt just went into the house after we arrived twenty minutes ago. We've got the place bugged, but nothing yet. If he doesn't leave again in the next few minutes, we'll storm the castle."
Gibbs nodded. He wanted to waltz right in, naturally, but he understood that sometimes, less was more. He cast a dubious look at an agent he didn't recognize who came striding over, looking unhappy.
"What's NCIS doing here?" the agent asked Fornell, obviously put out. "There's no military connection."
Fornell shrugged and smiled. "Professional courtesy, Agent O'Hara. We think Pratt might have been involved in an attack on their lab tech."
O'Hara frowned. "You mean this guy was the one who went after Abby?" Gibbs didn't know the agent, but he wasn't surprised that O'Hara knew Abby. She was extremely social.
"Evidence suggests it's a possibility," Gibbs said, choosing his words carefully. His gut said yes but that wasn't proof enough for an arrest.
O'Hara's frown melted into a slow, gritty smile – the kind that, among law enforcement agents, usually meant justice was about to be served. "In that case, welcome aboard."
As minutes passed and it became clear they were going to have to serve the search warrant with Pratt inside the house, it was amusing to watch Fornell and his agents begin to play one of Tony's favorite games. It was the one he liked to call, I Don't See Any Other Agents Here, Do You? Practiced most often when agents from another agency, one not technically involved in the case but with a vested interest, were present at a crime scene. As far as Tony could tell, when the head count had been taken, Fornell's people were missing exactly four NCIS agents. Which was just how Tony liked it. They would be responsible for each other. The FBI would watch its own. And together, they were going to get to the bottom of this case.
Historically, this sort of situation went one of two ways. Either the suspect let them in and pretended to cooperate until they got too close or the suspect made the last stand upfront. Tony was always fond of the latter option, because it generally resulted in more bad-guy ass-kicking. And that was one of the many reasons he liked being a cop. Old West justice was definitely Gibbs' style and Tony could totally support that.
Pratt chose the option of trying to run, and Fornell and O'Hara gleefully pursued and tackled him. Tony and Ziva, along with another of Fornell's agents, moved toward the suspiciously padlocked basement door. Tony glanced at Ziva. She liked shooting locks. Actually, she just liked getting to shoot things, he suspected. "All yours, my trigger-happy Israeli."
Ziva grinned dangerously and fired at the lock, breaking it. She glanced over her shoulder at Gibbs for confirmation.
Gibbs nodded. "Check out the basement. McGee, you get the bedrooms. I'm going to see if Fornell needs any help outside."
Tony needed no help to translate that. "Save a piece for us, Boss!"
Never before had Ziva been so happy to see two young women chained up, obviously abused. Because they were alive. That was always a win. Yes, they'd need treatment, possibly even therapy, but they hadn't died praying someone would find them. Ziva rushed over, pulling out her knife to slice through their bonds.
"Oh, my God," one of the girls gasped. It took a moment to recognize her without the makeup Ziva had seen in the identifying photo. But it was Charity. "You're Abby's friends, from NCIS."
Tony flashed a winning grin as he helped Amanda to her feet, looking her over for obvious injuries. "Yes, we are. She's going to be real glad to see you."
Charity's eyes widened, a hopeful gasp escaping her lips. "You mean she's alive?"
"See, I told you," Amanda said softly, encouraging. Both still looked fearful, but that was entirely understandable.
"Are you ladies able to give me a statement?" the FBI agent asked. He seemed like a newbie, too hesitant, Ziva thought.
Charity nodded. "I...I think so. I don't recognize you..."
"He's FBI," Tony clarified. "One of the g-men."
"Without whom you would have nothing on this case," the agent shot back, a small, friendly smile on his lips. Ziva mentally upgraded her opinion of him a notch. Still a newbie, but one with sass.
"Come on." Ziva put an arm around Charity's achingly thin waist, supporting her as they walked toward the stairs. "Anything else we have left to do is best done away from this place."
Amanda nodded, exchanging a look with Charity. "I'll say amen to that."