Abby danced between the boxes and boxes of evidence that were piled around her lab from both the safe house and the storefront while machines buzzed, beeped and analyzed their samples. She paused in front of her computer and took a large swig of Caf-Pow! vacuuming up every last caffeinated bit before chucking it into the trash can where it came to rest next to four of its siblings. Grabbing a specimen jar from the crowded table, she squirted some of the fluid on a slide and, whirling around in perfect sync with the Death Eaters' Greatest Hits, she stopped in front of the microscope.
While she was examining the sample, Abby heard the elevator beep and counted the fifteen seconds she knew it took her boss to walk into her lab before speaking.
"I don't have anything yet Gibbs. Just a lot of random data that doesn't mean anything yet, but my babies know this is important and are working as hard as they can on it. We should have something soon."
The Death Eater's track switched to Brain Matter's latest single, but there was no response from her boss.
"I can't work with you here Maestro. I need you to go upstairs and do Bossman stuff so I can call you back down here when I have something."
She finished determining the liquid in the jar was bleach, though she suspected as much from the smell, and looked up to see her Silver Fox leaning casually against the refrigerator, holding a Caf-Pow!
She dodged a box of unidentified substances that was lying on the floor and snatched the Caf-Pow! from his grasp.
"Weren't you listening?" she asked after taking a deep draw of the red liquid.
"When was the last time you got some rest, Abby?" Gibbs asked, noting the deep circles under her eyes and tired, unfocused look in her green eyes.
The Goth was taken aback by the non sequitur.
"What do you mean?"
"Sleep," Gibbs repeated, laying his head on his hands and closing his eyes for a second.
Abby thought hard, moving the toe of her platform boot in small circles on the tile. "Yesterday morning. I fell asleep while Major Mass Spec was running the skin samples from Ducky," she confessed guiltily.
"A few days ago."
"When was the last time you ate?"
"I don't have time for this Gibbs," Abby said as she placed her Caf-Pow! next to Bert before dumping a new box of evidence onto her table. She began pulling out carefully labeled plastic baggies and placing them in the queues she had set up earlier in front of each of her babies. Judging by the length of the lines, Gibbs estimated the machines would be working for at least a week analyzing all the samples that had been gathered at the scenes.
He pulled a large sandwich from behind his back and laid it next to the Caf-Pow!
"Eat that and drink less of those," he instructed, motioning to the Caf-Pow! "What's DiNozzo gonna say when he comes back to find you've run yourself ragged?" he added, knowing that even though the two did not share a romantic relationship, they cared very deeply about each other. There had been many an occasion when Tony had resorted to practically tattling that Abby had not yet left her lab in order to get Gibbs to intervene on the Goth's behalf, giving her the choice to go home willingly for a few hours or having her locked out of the security system for an indeterminate amount of time.
Abby's eyes widened in shock and her hands flew to her mouth. "Oh God, I completely misread the signs. You came here, bought me a Caf-Pow! and food and told me to take care of myself. Something's happened to Tony – Timmy told me there were shots fired but Tony was fine and he was ordered to go home by you. I broke Rule Three, Gibbs: I believed what that lying, little MIT-grad told me – oh boy is he going to get it the next time I see him. Okay, Bossman," she paused and took a deep breath. "I'm ready for it. What's wrong with Tony, Timmy, Ziva, Ducky, Palmer or yourself? And don't lie to me, cos I can tell when you're lying."
"We're all fine, Abs," Gibbs reassured her. Nothing a long session at the gym, followed by some beers and a heart-to-heart couldn't fix, he thought to himself, not wanting to worry the Goth further.
Abby narrowed her eyes at her boss. "You just lied to me: you looked down and to the left," she observed, her tone softening. "What aren't you telling me, Gibbs?"
One of her machines began flashing behind Abby's back, saving Gibbs from answering her original question.
"You've got something," he stated, pointing at the monitor.
"Not now, Abs."
With a deep sign, she switched her attention to her computer. "Not just one something," she stated. Abby continued typing at her computer while Gibbs stood expectantly by her side.
"Today, Abby?" he asked after a long moment of silence.
"I'm working on it Gibbs. I'm just a little worried about why you aren't telling me what happened at the—"
"Okay, okay. Here we go: it will take at least another eight hours for a full analysis on the swabs from the storefront but the hemastix test you ran was conclusive. The substance at the scene was most definitely human blood."
"Don't know yet, but the blood's type AB."
"Well that's a start. On that same tangent, McGee and Ziva traced the underground passage to this corner," she pulled the picture of the storefront onto the plasma. "Given the time of day and the position of the windows, there is no way Tony would have seen the shooter."
"How'd CSU miss it?"
"How do they miss anything?" Abby countered with a small grin. "But seriously, the shooter was very careful. He cut out the tile inline with the grout," she clacked a few keys and the picture of the tile corner appeared on the plasma. "If you didn't know it was there, you'd never have seen it. The hinges were also recently greased so they wouldn't squeak when opened.
"On to the slightly better news," she pulled up a picture of the stairs on the plasma. "See that?"
"No," Gibbs replied stepping closer to the screen.
"How 'bout now?" she magnified the picture. There were two staggered footprints but one had a heavier toe print that stretched for a few inches.
"Yup, our shooter tripped going down the stairs and probably reached out to steady himself."
"You get a match?"
"Patience, Gibbs. I already called McGee: they're getting me some samples from the general area and hopefully I can get a print or match some DNA. But you want the really great news?"
The Lead Agent remained silent, waiting for the Goth to continue.
"Fine, Gibbs, I can see you're not in the mood. These boots are specially made by Betula, a manufacturer in Germany. They have an outlet here, but the quality is not even close to being the same."
"No, but I can say with 100% certainty that this person was also at the original scene." A few mouse clicks later and two shoe prints appeared. "The one on the left is from Carson's safe house and the one on the rights in from the staircase. See that," she pointed to the large crack in the heel of the shoe.
Gibbs leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. "That's good work, Abs."
Abby smiled proudly and grabbed Bert from his perch above the computer screen. She squeezed him tightly as Gibbs left the lab, producing the rather unusual noise that always made her feel better for some reason.
"We'll find them, Bert," she reassured her hippo. Then she paused: there was something wrong with the way Bert was acting. Usually he was a little cheerier when she had found something important.
She examined her stuffed animal more closely. "What is it, Bert?"
She crouched down and followed his line of sight. "Oh, Major Mass Spec has something for me! His beeper must be broken again! What a smart hippo you are!" she lauded her animal.
Abby gently placed Bert down on the table and dashed over to her Mass Spectrometer.
She looked at the results printout and gasped. "This is so not good."
"You're not real," Tony informed the figment of his imagination that was standing not two feet away from him.
"Of course I'm real, DiNozzo. Unless you've made a habit of seeing dead people?" she smirked. Kate Todd walked past her partner and into his bathroom where she took a second to evaluate the interior decorations. Nodding her approval, she riffled through his drawers until she located the worn first aid kit.
She wordlessly handed Tony a Band-Aid, knelt down next to her former partner and began to pick the phone pieces off the floor.
"That's not funny," Tony returned.
"Of course it is."
Tony opened his mouth to respond, but then caught himself. "What am I saying? I saw…I saw you die. You can't be here…now…in my room…"
"Oh, I'm real, DiNozzo," Kate said, reaching out her hand. "Touch me."
"Not in that way," she amended as a mischievous grin crossed Tony's face. "Just take my hand, DiNozzo."
Tony cautiously reached out, his fingers barely brushing Kate's skin. It felt like a normal hand: soft, warm… If it was warm that meant there was still blood pumping through her person. But if that was true, that meant he was completely losing what little sanity he had left.
"This can't be happening," he breathed.
"Oh, it's happening."
"Let's just pretend for a microsecond that I'm dreaming this whole thing. Which would technically be a dream within a dream, kinda like the movie Inception if you get my drift."
Kate stared at him blankly as she finished collecting the last bits of phone.
"Never mind then. Your ghostly self clearly never has time to make it to the movie theater. But that's beside the point. What I meant to ask you is why are you here?"
"Because you need someone to talk to."
"About what exactly?"
"I dunno," Kate shrugged. "Life, death, the Pursuit of Happyness?"
"Now I know I'm dreaming. Kate Todd is here in my bedroom, fully clothed, and making movie references." Tony sunk his head into his hands and groaned loudly.
Kate shuffled over and ran her hands in circles over Tony's back. "Dreaming or not, I'm here for you DiNozzo, for as long as you need me to be."
The two sat in a comfortable silence before Tony spoke up.
"I miss you Kate." I miss you Kate? he grimaced as soon as the words had left his mouth. She wasn't even real! Why the hell was he speaking to an empty room, pretending his former partner was here, and unloading his innermost feelings to her? Maybe too many years on the job was causing him to act like Jack Torrance in The Shining…Maybe it was a good thing he was moving on…
"I miss being here too," Kate admitted. "That job at NCIS was the best thing that had ever happened to me."
"Your sister stopped by a few weeks ago," Tony said, cringing as he realized that might bring up unwanted feelings.
Clearly since she was dead, I'm imagining this whole situation. So she would know that her sister stopped by since I know her sister visited. Tony scrubbed his face with his hands. "Of course you knew. That was a stupid comment."
"So, what was she like?"
"Well, she's a lot like you. Smart, sweet, kinda hot."
"I may be a figment of your imagination, DiNozzo, but I can still kick your ass for thinking about my sister like that," Kate growled.
Tony raised his hands in surrender. "You asked. I was just being honest."
A loud knock on the door interrupted Kate's retort.
"Go away Sacks," Tony said loudly.
"It's not Sacks," McGee's voice returned.
"Well then, go away McGee."
"I'm not going anywhere, DiNozzo. When I thought I had made the mistake that would have ended my career, a wise man told me 'you don't want to be alone tonight'. So I'm here telling you 'you don't want to be alone tonight'."
"He was wrong."
"Just open the door Tony."
"No!" Tony panicked before realizing that McGee couldn't see Kate anyway, especially considering the fact that she wasn't real! He turned around to see where Kate was, but she was no longer sitting next to him.
He sprang to his feet and checked the bathroom, making sure his delusion hadn't just gotten up without his noticing, but he was the only one in his bedroom. As quickly as she had arrived, Kate Todd, or at least her ghost, was gone.
Tony heard the door rattling and decided to save McGee the trouble of picking the lock. He pulled the door open dramatically, a small grin crossing his features as the Probie fell backwards in surprise.
To his credit, the younger agent picked himself up as if nothing had happened and pushed into Tony's room.
"You didn't see anyone go past you in the hallway?" Tony asked cautiously, reassuring himself that he wasn't completely crazy.
"Forget I mentioned it," Tony walked over to the window and pulled it shut, wincing as the rusted metal ground against the frame. There was no way Kate could have opened that without his knowing. Oh right, she wasn't actually there, but then, who opened the window?
"So, what are you doing here?"
"I came to see you."
"Well, I'd've been a little worried if you'd've come to see Slacks, considering he tried to convict me of murder. Twice."
There was an awkward silence between the two that stretched on for a few minutes. McGee settled himself on the small chest of drawers that sat at the end of Tony's bed while DiNozzo opted for bed itself.
"How's the nose?" Tony asked, seeing the bruising had gone down considerably in the last few days.
"It's getting better. Hurts a little less every day."
"Well I'm glad to hear it."
Another uncomfortable silence reigned, this one slightly shorter than the last.
"You thirsty?" Tony asked, offering McGee his untouched glass of water. "It's a little mineral-ly and slightly gross, but its water."
McGee shook his head. "Gibbs didn't mean it, you know."
"Yeah, McGee? Then why did he say it?"
"People who care about each other say things they don't mean when they're worried."
"Yeah well McGee that doesn't make it okay."
"I know, but it happens in families all the time and everyone knows you two consider the team the closest thing to a family either of you have."
"I won't argue with you there. So…in this whole family situation, what happens next?" Tony asked in complete honesty. His family had never been one for touchy, feely emotions so this was uncharted territory for him. His most serious confrontation with his father had lead to his enrollment in the Rhode Island Military Academy and in all his relationships, the minor issues had been easily resolved with a deep kiss and a promise for another incredible night. In all his years at Gibbs' partner, he had never been in a fight of this magnitude. He was so unsure how to resolve this situation positively that he was willing to take advice from anyone…yes, even the Probie.
McGee was silent as he considered how to best answer the question. He had been working with Tony for seven years, but was still amazed by the childhood his partner appeared to have had and how he had managed to be successful in life without knowing how to resolve with an argument with people about whom he actually cared.
"You get mad, you fight," McGee shrugged, "you stew, you give them the cold shoulder, they don't return your calls, then you finally sit down and talk it out. And, yeah, it takes some time before the feelings are gone, but eventually people can get over it."
"That the real story or the Thom E. Gemcity version?"
"A little bit of both," McGee admitted.
Tony opened his mouth to respond, but was interrupted by the ringing of McGee's phone.
His partner was silent, offering only the occasional "yes, boss," before snapping the phone shut.
"A body was pulled out of the Potomac. Initial description matched Keenan's. Gibbs wants us on the scene." McGee snapped the phone shut and headed for the door. "Don't let this go for too long, Tony. He really cares about you and I know you feel the same about him."
"That's kinda nice—"
"That and I'd hate to be Senior Field Agent on his team—my head's a little too sensitive for the amount of Gibbs-slaps you receive." McGee headed for the door quickly before Tony decided to give him the head-slap of the century.
"Wait, McGee." The Probie stopped in the hallway and turned back to face his partner.
"Be careful," Tony said softly.
"I mean it, McGee. I'm not there to watch your six. If you come back with so much as a chipped nail, I will ride you so hard it will make your Probie hazing look like a birthday party."
McGee gulped loudly, his eyes wide in fright.
"Don't think I won't, Probie. You haven't even cracked the surface of my initiation tactics."
A smile tugged at the corners of McGee's mouth for he knew the threat veiled Tony's concern for his well-being.
"Got it, DiNozzo," he replied as he headed to the waterfront at which the body had been found, hoping that Keenan's body would offer more answers than questions