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Hired Help

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Summary: ‘Chip’ obviously is not working out well. And Abby does need the assistance, so what if she went looking for it herself?

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
NCIS > Oz-CenteredPaBurkeFR15420,143227744,77612 Feb 063 Mar 06No

Chapter Four (Club Hoppin')

****


Timothy McGee adjusted the hem of his black, silk shirt awkwardly. Abby slapped his hands away. “Quit! You look very nice.”

Tim’s hands gravitated toward his collar. “At least let me . . .”

She slapped his hands away again. “You look sexy with the collar unbuttoned.”

“It’s more than the collar, Abby. It’s half the shirt. One button?” he bargained. The black T-shirt underneath was skin-tight and outlined every muscle . . . or non-muscle. He was too pudgy to be a believable Goth.

“No. Sexy this way,” Abby refused to budge on the subject.

Tim still was not convinced. “Do you really think I look sexy? I mean . . . not that I care . . . or anything. And I’m sure that I don’t look sexy. I look stupid.”

“Sexy, McGee. You are.”

Tim still balked.

“If you want, I’ll ask Ziva when we get there and she’ll agree.”

Tim thought about it. And then saw the growing thunderstorm on Abby’s face. “I trust your judgement.”

“Good. Now about the lipstick . . .”

“No, Abby. I draw the line at make-up. I am going with you and I’m dressed in these ridiculous clothes. But absolutely no, I am not going to let you put any make-up on me.”

“Timothy, are you saying that the Goth style is ridiculous?”

“Yes.” Then he blinked. “On me!” He backtracked. “Goth on you is cute, I mean, attractive. Not that you don’t look nice in anything that you put on but Goth suits you. You never look ridiculous, except maybe when you put on the purple suit but even then you looked cute in your strangeness . . .”

Tony cleared his throated. “McGee, old boy, you are digging yourself in deep.”

Tim looked at Tony and then looked again. Tony had sat still long enough for more than lipstick. Abby had added eye shadow and liner. “Tony, you look ridiculous.” Maybe ridiculous was stretching it a bit, but he did look strange. But on Tony, with Tony’s attitude, he could pull it off.

Tim McGee was not Tony and he felt like he looked ridiculous and thus he looked ridiculous.

“How do I look?” Abby twirled around in place.

“Absolutely ravishing.” Then Tim blushed. He did not say that. He might have meant it, it might have been something that he was inclined to write in his novel, but he just did not say that out loud.

Abby beamed with the compliment. She was wearing a form fitting, floor-length black dress, with a deep V-neck and a thigh-high slit up the center. The plain material of the dress was purposeful; it drew a person’s eyes to the white leather corset that matched the white wig. Abby finished the outfit with her normal knee-high black leather boots and a multitude of silver chokers.

Tony rubbed his hands together in anticipation. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Tim rolled his eyes. “At least call it as it is, Tony. It’s a circus, it’s runaway train hurdling toward a cliff with no bridge in sight.”

Tony opened the door for Abby and then pushed McGee out into the hallway. “Don’t be such a pessimist. We are going to see Oz in his natural habitat.”

“I don’t think so,” Abby argued. “I don’t know what his natural habitat is, but I’m not sure we’re going to see it tonight.”

“I’m just curious to see what Ziva will be showing up in,” Tony tossed his keys up in the air and caught them. “Hey, Abby. You want to be the driver for the night?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll do it,” McGee offered.

“No, McGee. You need to get drunk. You were almost dead. You really need to unwind after something like that.”

McGee hissed in Abby’s ear. “I don’t need to unwind.”

She patted his arm consolingly. “This is just Tony being nice.”

“I think I prefer him being mean.”

“Hey Probie! Abby!” Tony stood by the passenger’s door of Abby’s Beatle. “The night’s a-wasting here!”

“Can he be mean without calling me ‘Probie’? Can he be nice without calling me ‘Probie’? Ziva’s the newest member of the team,” McGee complained.

Tony revealed that he’d been eavesdropping. “Yeah, but Ziva’s hot. You’re not, Probie.”

McGee huffed as he slid into the backseat. “She’s going to look silly as a Goth too,” he muttered. Abby’s gaze met his in the rearview mirror and she gave him a brilliant smile. He had no idea what he had just said, but he was glad he had said it.

Abby didn’t have to ask for directions. She knew where The Black Widow was located. Tony filled the silence to the club with, in Tim’s opinion, inane chatter. There was already a line waiting outside when the trio arrived. Abby parked her Beatle. Tim was quick to slide out of the car to open Abby’s door for her.

She smiled in appreciation. “That’s sweet of you, McGee.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony called over his shoulder. “He’s quite the gentleman. We’re a couple minutes early, do you think Ziva’s here already?”

Tim placed Abby’s hand in the crook of his elbow. “It is partly selfish,” he confessed. “I figure everyone will be looking at you and gloss over me.” He paused. “I mean that in a good way.”

“I know you did.”

Abby and Tony confidently led the way to the back of the line. A teen that had been chatting with the bouncer intercepted them.

“Abby?” he asked.

Abby smiled. “Yes?”

The teen looked relieved. “I’m Jordy. Oz is busy with the sound check but you guys can come in now if you want.”

“We want,” said Tony.

Jordy nodded and turned back to the bouncer. Abby, Time and Tony followed during which the lab tech took the opportunity to observe the teen. He was horribly thin, but in the I’m-growing-too-fast-to-fill-out-my-frame way and not the drug-induced way. Abby could see a little of the family resemblance in the cheekbones and the shape of the eyes. Jordy was taller than Oz, but then most guys were. He wore black jeans, cut-up, a black T-shirt with writing, and combat boots. The ends of his naturally black hair were dyed blue to match his eyes. His hair was on the longish side, curling at his collar and tucked behind his ears. He had two brass earrings in his right ear and matching black leather and brass bracelets on each wrist.

Why brass? Why not silver?

He wasn’t dressed to impress anyone, not even other Goths. He wasn’t wearing any makeup. His naturally pale complexion and his illness left his face whiter than Abby’s. His eyes were bright and shiny, like he still had a bit of a fever. Jordy rubbed some sweat off his face and Abby noticed the black and blue nail polish. Abby thought that the teen should probably be home in bed. So intent on figuring out Jordy, Abby didn’t see the hand reaching for McGee until it grabbed his arm.

McGee stopped to address the person waiting in the line and Abby stopped with him.

“Ziva?” McGee’s jaw dropped. “You don’t look too terrible.”

Tony heard and turned. The shock quickly faded from his face and a lecherous look replaced it. “Yes, I won. I knew you’d make a hot Goth.”

Ziva simply shrugged. “If you’re jumping to the nose of the line, I want to as well.”

Jordy waited for the group by the bouncer. He glanced over Ziva and nodded that she could join Abby and the others. Abby wondered what Jordy thought when he saw Ziva. His eyes had simply skimmed the Israeli, top to bottom, and then he had shaken his head. Why?

Ziva’s look should have had him drooling like Tony. She had straightened her naturally curly hair. That was probably the main reason why the team members had not recognized her. It was straight and full down her back. Ziva had braided twenty-five to thirty little braids around her face and then tied them back in a sloppy knot that left ends hanging out every which way. It served double duty; Ziva had a unique hairstyle and her hair was out of her face. She wore all silver jewelry; her Star of David exposed for all to see. Her single pair of silver, hoop earrings were a little too small for Goth standards, as were her rings. Ziva’s black leather jacket was slightly too fitted and slightly too long. It was unbuttoned and framed Ziva’s generous, exposed cleavage. Abby reluctantly admitted to herself that while she liked the beaded bodice of Ziva’s black silk shirt, she would have wanted long medieval type sleeves to go with it. She wore a long leather skirt, black of course, that ended mid-calf and completed the ensemble with black boots.

Her makeup was done perfectly and her nails were painted black. Ziva had the attitude to pull it off. She looked Goth. Abby tilted her head and saw the outfit as a complete object. Ziva was almost Goth, she corrected herself, closer to Preppy Goth, or as Abby viewed it, appropriated work attire.

“Do I pass?” Ziva asked wryly.

“Almost.” Abby waved to Jordy and her teammates. “We’ll catch up with you.” Abby dragged Ziva to her Beatle and unlocked the passenger side door. Ziva followed good-naturedly.

“What did I miss?” Ziva asked.

“Accessories.”

“Accessories?”

Abby reached into the seat back pocket and pulled the belt from there. It was wide, with a large skull and crossbones buckle. Then she dug around the glove compartment filled with assorted jewelry. She pulled out a studded leather choker and handed both to Ziva. “Add these,” Abby ordered.

Ziva complied and watched Abby dig through and untangle the rest of the chains.

Abby happened to glance up to see the Israeli removing her Star of David. “You’re supposed to wear both,” she said, slightly exasperated.

“May I ask you questions?”

“If you’re not holding a knife to my throat for an answer.”

Ziva considered it. “Why are you helping me?”

“I refuse to sit at a table with a fake Goth.” She patted the seat. “Put your boot up here.”

Ziva placed her foot as directed, trying not to get dirt on the seat. “What is wrong with my outfit?”

“It’s too put together. Not enough anarchy.” Abby leaned over the boot to wrap a chain with a single skull and cross-bones charm around Ziva’s ankle.

“No one but you would have noticed,” Ziva argued.

“Not true. Jordy saw straight through it.”

“He did not resemble the other males.”

“Nope.” Abby rustled through the rest of her charms. She didn’t think any of her crosses were appropriate. Most of her jewelry was at home. What was she going to do? Why did she care how Ziva looked? Why was she wasting emotions and energy on Ziva? She wasn’t Kate who would appreciate it. For a moment there, Abby had forgotten to whom she was talking to.

Kate.

It would have been so fun to drag Kate to this club.

Kate would not have dressed appropriately either.

Kate.

The joke.

Her last gift.

Abby’s only gift from beyond the grave.

Kate’s parents had found it cleaning out Kate’s house. It was probably stashed away for Abby’s birthday. Kate had found some cheap charms somewhere, a unicorn, dragon, farie, mermaid and gargoyle. All the charms were horribly over-done and glitzy. Abby loved them. They would have been perfect for Ziva’s outfit, to have the pirate symbol on one side and multiple fairy tale creatures on the other.

But Abby closed and locked her car door. She would not offer those.

Not to Ziva.

Not ever.

“What did Jordy’s shirt mean?”

Abby dragged her mind out of the grave. Kate was not here now but her other friends were. McGee was here to harass. Abby’s mind shifted gears.

Jordy.

His shirt had writing on it.

Oh, yeah.

Abby suddenly grinned as she was reminded. ‘If you’re really a Goth, where were you when we sacked Rome?’

“Isn’t it great,” Abby gushed. “I wonder where he found it.”

Ziva’s annoyance flitted across her face. Abby ignored it and strode for the front door of the Black Widow. The bouncer let her in without a challenge. It said a lot about how Oz was regarded. Ziva slipped in behind her. Abby continued to ignore her and concentrated on the atmosphere of the club.

Initial assessment? Abby rated it a nine out of ten. It had the expected strobe light and blacklights set up. To keep the theme of the club, they had set up a series of lights that made it look like spiders ran up the walls. Some big, some little, but they all moved in the quick, creepy crawl of spiders. Abby thought that they looked like LED’s. Made sense, that would be the easiest way to create the effect.

Lit spiders ran along the top of the bar. Fake plastic spiders and spider rings were thrown about carelessly. The crunch under her feet indicated that several had fallen to the floor. The unevenness and the unexpectedness of the floor texture added bonus points in Abby’s mind.

Tony waved from a corner table. Jordy was gone. Tim had claimed the far (corner) chair to hide. Abby would make sure he changed seats before the night was through. She would insist he dance with her . . . many times out of sheer perversity. The band wasn’t playing yet, but Oz was no where to be found. The DJ had the music cranked way up. Abby took a seat near the dance floor. She looked through the spiders on the table. Several were the cheap, black plastic rings. They made Abby smile. She put a spider on every digit on her left hand. She reached for spider ring number six when it jumped out of reach.

Abby eeped in response. Tony chuckled.

Abby hit Tony and reached for that particular ring again. It had a black piece of thread tied to it and trailed to Tony’s seat, probably a stray thread from Tony’s shirt.

Tim leaned over the table so that he would be heard. “Sorry, Abby.”

Tony didn’t apologize. “I knew you would go for the rings.”

“They’re fun,” Abby protested.

“I will buy the first round of drinks,” Ziva volunteered. “What are your preferences?”

Tony opened his mouth.

“I know yours,” Ziva cut him off.

McGee waited for Abby to order a whiskey before asking for a beer. Ziva nodded and wound her way to the bar. The club was filing up fast. The dance floor filled up faster. Tim watched the patrons writhe and grind to the music. And in the midst of it all, two couples were slow dancing in their own little world. No one even looked twice at them. McGee relaxed at that. If, or rather when, Abby dragged him onto the floor, he wouldn’t feel pressured to dance like all the others.

Ziva showed up with the first round of drinks and then left when a guy asked her to dance. She didn’t even make it back to the table when a girl asked her to dance. Ziva had a natural beat and grace that made her a popular dance partner. Tony wasn’t bad. He asked a whole slew of girls to dance, one right after another. The females of the club seemed to find humor in the way he flitted about and the way he went for the girls with the biggest bust line. They all saw straight through him. Tony, being Tony, didn’t care. He was having fun.

The DJ ended the song and introduced the band. Tim winced at the first line of the lyrics, not quite his music. He wished that he had re-confiscated his earplugs that he had planned on bringing. Abby had been scandalized by them. Then he remembered that he was here to watch Oz and glanced around the stage. The slight co-worker was there, and had always been there, but among the excessive movements of the lead singer and the drummer, he nearly disappeared into the woodwork. Tim watched Ziva examine the face of every member of the band. She nodded to Oz and he nodded back. She had ignored the band before; she would not make the same mistake again. She had learned her lesson and was merely thankful that no blood had to be spilled to make it stick.

Tim watched Ziva people-watch. She had been trained to find the most interesting –or dangerous- people and he would learn by watching her. He followed her line-of-sight until he could figure out what interested her with each individual . The first several that Ziva had picked out were like the NCIS crew, just playing at the Goth scene. One such girl with waist-length red-blonde hair had asked Tim for a dance. He had blushed and politely refused. She had given a Gallic shrug, which drew his eyes down to her bare shoulders and black leather corset, and wandered off toward the bar. The second group to attract Ziva’s, and by extension McGee’s, attention were wasted. From the looks of it, they had imbibed on hallucinogens. They could get dangerous if they reacted to their visions but were mostly stumbling around.

The next single person to draw Ziva’s attention was a pretty African girl. She wore black vinyl skin-tight pants and a deep orange Indian-style top. The bright pattern covered her breasts and then draped over her left shoulder. Her hair was braided into cornrows with orange and red beads at the ends. The beads had clacked with every beat of the music and every sway of her hips. She did not dance with anyone in particular. She danced with the music. She looked like she was there to have a good time, but Ziva was eyeing her like she was an enemy. What was it about the African that had Ziva on edge?

The African was smooth and elegant, sexy if McGee was honest with himself. He saw power and discipline in her stride. She refused most dance partners and ignored others. Suddenly, Tim thought he knew what Ziva saw; the stranger moved with a sense of purpose that Gibbs possessed, a leashed power. Then the African slid her hooded gaze onto the stage. She watched Oz and Oz watched her back. Tim couldn’t read anything in either one’s expression but the African’s movements became more . . . languid, liquid, heated. It took a moment for Tim’s ears to catch up with his sight. She was dancing only to the notes of the bass guitar. She heard the chords most dancers took for granted.

“That’s Arauj,” a voice said in Tim’s ear.

Tim nearly jumped out of his seat. Jordy was leaning over him and following his line-of-sight to the African. Aruaj was not an American name, subconsciously McGee had known that she was from the African continent.

“In orange?” Tim confirmed.

Jordy nodded.

“Is she Oz’s girlfriend?”

Jordy quirked a half-smile, much like Oz. “Not yet.”

So Tim asked the obvious question. “Why not?”

Jordy shrugged. Apparently, he had used up all his words for the conversation. He gathered up all the dirty glasses and moved on. Then Abby pulled Tim out onto the dance floor and the lesson was temporarily over. When he stopped to catch his breath and look around again Arauj was gone. Ziva was resting, leaning against a wall with her drink. After she sent her current dance partner scurrying off, Tim stood beside her.

“What happened to the girl in orange?” Why had she left when Oz was still on stage? He was plainly her reason for showing.

Ziva didn’t act surprised that ‘the girl in orange’ was someone to be noticed and kept track of. Ziva nodded to the stage door. “She followed a couple outside. She hasn’t been back.” Ziva’s voice turned wry, even though she was speaking loudly, “I tried to follow, but Jordan intercepted me.”

Tim wondered why. Ziva went back out on the dance floor and Tim went back to the corner table. He managed to hide for two full songs before Abby came looking for him. They danced through the band’s first set and through their break. Abby was in better shape than he. Tim really needed to work out more, and concentrate on his endurance. Tony had been nit picking since the beginning, but that had just been Tony. Kate had accepted him as he was. So had Ziva. As had Abby, but now his pride was getting pricked. He needed to run more, before Gibbs said anything.

The band’s second set finished and Oz joined them at their table. Abby apparently felt that Tim could sit with Oz and went to find another dance partner. She and Tony danced a couple songs. She even managed to dance a song with the band’s drummer, that popular guy. Oz showed no jealousy at the groupies that latched onto the lead singer or the drummer. He didn’t even acknowledge that it happened. He slumped in his chair by the wall and watched the masses dance. Soon after, Jordy wiped down his last table and wandered over to the NCIS corner. Tim was about to offer the teen Tony’s seat, but Jordy leaned against the wall beside Oz and then slid down to the ground.

“He okay?” Tim asked Oz.

Oz ruffled Jordy’s hair, like older siblings often do, and nodded. Jordy didn’t complain though. If anything, he leaned into Oz’s touch. Tim was sure that the teen was quite ill to have that response in public. Jordy closed his eyes and pillowed his head on Oz’s leg. His breathing instantly evened out. Tim knew that his jaw dropped. Surely the teen had not fallen asleep with all this . . . racket that the DJ considered appropriate music?

Oz reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. He flipped through to a new text message and then relaxed.

Jordy, moving slowly and sleepily, reached for the cell phone and Oz let him have it. Jordy read the message, chuckled weakly and then handed it back.

Tim made a wild leap in logic. “Arauj?”

Oz nodded. He considered his phone for a moment and then handed it to McGee. McGee read the message. ‘Made it home, Daddy. Safe and sound. Want me wear a Catholic uniform next time?’

Tim blushed. He looked at Oz and noticed that his co-worker was blushing too. Tim felt instantly better. “She was here alone and left alone. It’s good to check in,” he told Oz.

Oz nodded his agreement. They had followed too many missing person cases that had grown cold because no one had expected the victim to call to say that they had arrived that their destination. Many times a full day passed before anyone realized that someone was missing.

Tim felt for Oz though. He had been trying to be gentlemanly but Arauj had twisted it around. McGee determined then and there not to tell anyone, specifically Abby, anything about the girl in orange. He felt less strange sitting in the corner with Oz and Jordy. More than anything, he did not feel the urge to talk and that was comforting in this uncomfortable environment.

By the end of the night, Oz was looking just as gray as Jordy. The pallor made the two of them, with their normally light complexions, look like ghosts.

As Abby was getting ready to leave, she pulled Oz aside. “Why don’t you both stay home tomorrow? I can handle the lab and you both look like you need a months’ worth of sleep.”

Tiredly, Oz smiled. “And no one will be able to claim that I contaminated the evidence.”

“Just for a little while.”

Oz looked over at Jordy. The teen was sound asleep on the floor. “Thanks.”

“Not a problem, go take care of him.”

Tim left with Abby. Tony hitched a ride home with Ziva.

Timothy McGee’s night at the Black Widow was unforgettable . . . but not necessarily bad. In any case, it was over and McGee was glad.


****


Abby meandered down the long, wooded path with the crock-pot of chicken noodle soup in her arms. The stroll seemed to take forever, but after all she had done to get this far, she wasn’t about to stop now. First she had made the soup from scratch. Then she had snuck a peak at Gibb’s personal personnel files to get Oz’s home address. Then she had searched it on the Internet, which in the end had caused more trouble than it was worth.

She had cased Moon Drive for a good twenty minutes before stopping to ask an elderly lady where a certain address was. Abby had been slightly surprised to see the grey-haired gal wandering the streets so close to dark. Moon Drive wasn’t in the worst part of town, but it was dog-gone close.

The lady was a true Lady. She had had spirit and was the talkative sort that Abby knew from her childhood. The stranger had mentioned that she and several other young-at-heart women fed all the youngin’s cookies and called the cops when anything looked like it was going to happen on her street. And if the first call didn’t bring the cops, than the Lady would call one of her friends to repeat the call to the police. Abby knew, as did the group of women, that they were the reason that these streets were safer.

Abby enjoyed her visit with the grey-haired gal. And after she explained her mission to deliver homemade soup to a sick friend and the orphaned minor in his care, the elderly woman stopped eyeing Abby’s Goth apparel with suspicion. The woman had to have a look at the soup to verify the story; Abby had let her see and taste it. Then the Lady became all sorts of helpful. She told Abby that her soup needed a pinch more dill, that the street address she was looking for didn’t exist on Moon Drive and that if Abby didn’t wear so much make-up, she’d be a quite lovely young woman.

Abby agreed about the soup and then told the Lady that she had checked on the Internet for the address and had been led here. The Lady had told Abby in no uncertain terms that she had lived on Moon Drive all her life and there had never been a house attached to the address Abby was looking for. Abby had told the Lady a description of Oz and his cousin; the Lady had never set eyes on either of them. Abby believed her. If the Lady hadn’t seen the Osbourne pair, than they didn’t live on Moon Drive.

Then the Lady had made a comment that had stopped Abby in her tracks.

‘Why trust that Internet-thing,’ the elderly woman had said off-handedly, ‘when any two-bit hacker can change the information?’

Oz was definitely more than a two-bit hacker, and if evidence was to be believed he had someone looking for him and he didn’t want to be found.

The Lady did have a clue to assist Abby though, ‘Are you sure your friend said Moon Drive and not Moon Ridge?’ She then went one to explain that there was a Moon Ridge in the same area code and neighbors on Moon Drive were forever getting mail for people on Moon Ridge, so much so that most people on both streets used P.O. Boxes.

Abby had been hanging out with Gibbs for too long; she knew instinctively that Oz lived on Moon Ridge. It made perfect sense. Oz had a P.O. Box and by putting down the right but wrong street name, it would definitely slow down anyone coming after him.

Abby thanked the Lady profusely, checked for a map to Moon Ridge on her palm pilot and followed those directions to the woods she was currently walking through. She knew she was at the correct address this time. Oz’s dilapidated, old van had been parked in such a way that no one could drive all the way up the driveway; they had to park on the gravel near the road and walk the rest of the way. Two other older cars had been parked in the gravel pit. Abby couldn’t tell if either of them could run. She had parked her Black VW Bug and used the parking brake.

Now her arms were aching, the crock-pot was heavy. There was no end in sight. How long was Oz’s driveway?

The click made every hair on the back of her neck stand on end. That was no stick breaking, that was a rifle being cocked.

“Can’t ya read the signs? It’s sayz ‘No Tres-passin’.”

Abby hadn’t heard an accent that thick since she had moved out of Louisiana. “I’m here to visit a sick friend.”

“Lemme see yor hands,” the hick demanded.

“I’m carryin’ home-made soup that I spent considerable amount of time makin’.” Listening to the man’s accent had made her own slightly more noticeable. “I’ll turn around slow-like but I’m not going to ruin my hard work.” Abby did as she said that she would. The man standing before her looked like the stereotypical hick with his dirty flannel shirt and raggedy jeans. But his gun was of better quality of any backwoodsmen she had ever known, and it was better cleaned too. There was not a speck of mud on the outside of the gun and not a speck of dust down the barrel being pointed in her face.

Abby peered into the hick’s face. The fisherman’s hat covered his hair, but what she could see was a little shorter than expected. He had brown eyes and a two-day beard. He was filthy from head to toe. She glanced down to check, yep, from that ratty hat to the . . . were those US Army boots? Her gaze shot back to the man’s face, underneath the dirt and unkempt hair she realized that she had seen this man before.

“Captain Kilkenny?”

Red stained the man’s cheeks. “Sorry, Ms. Sciuto,” Kilkenny’s accent disappeared as if it had never been. “This would have gone a whole lot easier if you hadn’t recognized me.”

“Please call me Abby,” she invited even though the man had scared years off her life. “I really am bringing homemade soup to Oz and Jordy.”

“I’m sure that they’ll appreciate it, ma’am. But perhaps I should carry it up to the cabin and let you get back to your car before dark.”

Abby handed over the soup –it was getting very heavy and her hands were shaking from her near scare- but refused to step back down the trail. “Do you have any idea what it took to get this far?” she demanded with her hands on her hips.

“I can guess, ma’am.” Kilkenny tucked his rifle under one arm and the crock-pot under the other. Abby noticed that he still had his fingers situated so that he could pull the trigger. He was still on high alert, Gibbs would have been so proud.

“So the Moon Drive-Ridge mix-up was intentional,” she confirmed.

Kilkenny walked up the trail as if Abby hadn’t spoken. She hurried to catch up. “I’m right. This is a lot of work to hide in plain sight.”

Kilkenny nodded, not really agreeing or disagreeing.

So she tried again, “So are they home?”

“Yes’m.”

Abby let silence fall, but this time Kilkenny spoke up. “I have to ask, ma’am; just how did you find this address?”

“I had a nice long chat with one of the Ladies that live on Moon Drive. She had all sorts of information to impart.”

Kilkenny nodded thoughtfully this time.

Up ahead, Abby could see the log cabin through the trees. It looked run-down without actually being run down. It was weather beaten. Abby thought that it looked storybook like. Was this where the big bad wolf ate up grandma and tried to eat little red riding hood? Or was it the Love Shack, Baby? The trees were tall in this part of the forest and the brush was thick. It had been many years since a forest fire had affected this part of the woods. The shadows were oppressive, the air moist. Little wonder Abby hadn’t seen Kilkenny until he had revealed himself. But it still spoke of more operations experience than Abby had found in his Army file. She would have to mention this to Gibbs.

Kilkenny led the way up the steps. They squeaked. The soldier tried to juggle the crock-pot and his rifle in order to open the door for Abby. She smiled and reached for the doorknob.

“Visitor,” Kilkenny called. There was no answer but Kilkenny motioned for Abby to continue.

Abby opened the door with great anticipation. At first glance, Abby thought that no one was home. Then the lump on the couch shifted. Jordy’s head poked out from under his gray blanket. His hair was un-brushed and wayward. Ends stuck out in every direction. The flush that stained the teen’s cheeks was not merely his fever.

Abby smiled brightly at Jordy, as if nothing was wrong. “I brought soup.”

Jordy smiled slightly. “’Cuse me,” he mumbled. He wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and lunched for the bedroom. The blanket covered most of the lean body, but Abby caught a glimpse of paw-print boxers and the scars. Big, thick scars decorated the teen’s legs. Abby tried to keep her emotions off her face. Surely they weren’t intentional. But if they were . . .

Abby couldn’t keep the term torture from floating through her head.

Kilkenny stepped between Abby and the disappearing male. The soldier was so studiously not looking at Abby that she knew that it was intentional. She averted her eyes and glanced around the main room. The fireplace was clean and well used. The rug in front of the fire had the normal burnt spots speckled on it. There were books lined against the far wall, again all well-worn. Abby couldn’t read the titles from her place by the door. The couch was the only piece of furniture in the ‘living room.’ No computer was plugged in. Oz’s laptop was still in its case, placed by the door. Two jackets were hanging up on hooks. Kilkenny shrugged out of his, hung it up and reached for Abby’s. He had placed his rifle by the door. The crock-pot had been paced on the rough, wooden kitchen table. She’d have to be careful. Old, rickety and barely sanded, that table was a splinter waiting to happen.

Abby grasped the first thought that came to her. “Do you guys even have electricity out here?”

“The generator’s running,” Oz answered.

Abby whirled.

Oz had followed Kilkenny and her into the cabin. Silently, of course, the man could sneak up on a wild animal . . . or a Marine.

“That’s good,” Abby said. “That way you can save the soup for later and you can eat it hot.”

Oz motioned to the wood-burning stove. “Don’t need electricity for that.”

“Good,” Abby answered. The following silence wasn’t too unnerving. Oz didn’t do a lot of talking during the workday and Abby had become used to it. It looked like Kilkenny and Jordy both preferred the silence as well. Jordan had stumbled out of his/ the bedroom in jeans and a ratty T-shirt. He looked barely awake. Abby noticed that he had tried to flatten his hair to something less bed-head-like. The teen had only been partly successful.

Kilkenny stoked the fire and Oz got a large pot out of a cupboard. He put it on the stove and poured about half of the soup into it.

Jordy reached into an adjacent cupboard and pulled out the only three bowls stashed there. He looked from the stack in his hands to Abby. He handed her the top bowl. “You should get some for making it.”

“No thanks.” Abby put the bowl back on the table. “I need to be getting home. This errand took a lot longer than I had planned.”

Oz looked up from his chore. He was pouring the rest of the soup into individual storage containers. “Abby. Thank you. You really didn’t have to do this.”

“Of course not,” Abby said perkily. “That was half the fun.”

A half smile slipped past Oz’s defenses. A matching smile could be seen on Jordy. Kilkenny just nodded solemnly.

Abby waved at the three of them. “I best be goin’.”

Kilkenny walked her to the door and picked up his rifle. “I’ll walk you to your car, ma’am.” He opened the door for her.

Abby waved at the Osbourne boys before following the soldier outside. She took a deep breath of clean air. This time, the Kilkenny’s silence didn’t seem quite so oppressive. Abby grinned. She had done her good deed for the day.


****


Gibbs walked into the lab and sniffed. “What’s that smell?”

Oz pointed to a crock-pot in the corner. “Abby’s lunch.”

Gibbs wandered over and lifted the lid. “What is it?”

“Potato soup.”

It smelled different from Abby’s normal potato soup. Gibbs replaced the lid. “Is Abby going to share?”

Oz shrugged.

Gibbs made a mental note to return to the lab around noon. Abby was a generous soul. "Oz, how close are you to Sana?"

"Nine months."

Gibbs frowned. “You’re going backwards.”

The chide would have made Tony scurry for his desk and Tim McGee insist that he was ‘on it’ but Oz just nodded.

“He created an alias.” The ‘again’ was highly implied but not spoken.

“But you lost time.”

“Finding when he had it made and where the money came and went.”

Gibbs nodded. It was upsetting news but Oz had gotten closer to Sana than any other agent, including Abby. Gibbs had quickly figured out that it was pointless to intimidate Oz. The younger man didn’t care enough about his paycheck or Gibbs’ respect to kowtow. Oz was too content, too satisfied, too knowledgeable about his own self worth to care about Gibbs’ opinions.

Or he cared and was careful not to show it.

Gibbs had noticed that Oz did not try to compete with Abby. His quiet and competent style complimented Abby’s perfectly. More times than not, the lab atmosphere was as if Abby was alone in the lab and a ghost was completing part of the work.

Oz wasn’t taking advantage of flirting with one of the few girls in the department, either. When McGee had cornered Oz about his behavior, his answer was simple.

‘She isn’t a redhead.’


****

The End?

You have reached the end of "Hired Help" – so far. This story is incomplete and the last chapter was posted on 3 Mar 06.

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