The bedroom was dark. Heavy curtains covered windows that reached the ceiling and that occupied the wall in front of the door and half the one before the bed.
It was definitely a scenic flat, Ichabod mused.
When Abby and he had come upon that old style condominium in Georgetown, it had been love at first sight. At first, Ichabod thought his mate had agreed to buy the place only to make him happy. It was so different from what Abby was used to, it seemed a case of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide’. But then Abby just got into it and transformed every room into her style. Eclectic didn’t even begin to cover it. Steel and hardwood floors, terracotta tiles and a big American fridge covered in black bat-shaped magnets that kept in place several clan related photos.
Every room had a different colour theme: pastel walls, stencils and borders, candles, cushions, amps. It was home like nothing else had ever been.
The bedroom had a big brass bed, with sheets and comforter in a deep red hue and it was placed diagonally, in the N-E corner. The tall windows ended in a bench with fluffy cushions. It was comfortable, cosy… Ichabod hoped it was enough to cheer Abby up a bit. The stress she had to endure while she tried to clear Tony had taken a toll on her.
He kept stroking her hair, trying to keep his mind away from thoughts of revenge to project a little calmness to his distressed mate.
Ichabod laid down, spooned behind Abby and sighed. It had been one hell of a week.
Abby was running. Her breath was coming as fast as the beating of her heart, or the sound her boots should have made on the floor.
It was pitch dark and she felt walls all around her trying to capture her.
She kept running, bone tired and afraid. Why was she alone? Shouldn’t someone be there, with her? To find her?
Her lungs ached, her heart was going to burst in her chest. She tried to yell, but no sound came from her mouth. Feeling the panic rise, she turned, arms outstretched in front of her, searching for a wall, a door, anything, only to come into contact with the cold steel of bars.
She was in a cell. Complete silence around her. She opened her mouth, tears streaming down her face.
ELENA! and woke up shaken and crying.
You said you would always find me…
Tiredness first, then stress, fear… Ichabod had given a new name to Abby’s silent mood every couple of days. He had hoped that working together again would have eventually cured her melancholy and chased away her nightmares. The bags under her eyes, though, told another story.
It had been the fourth night in a row he had woken around 3 am alone, his mate wandering around their home tired and afraid. She was distancing herself every day more and he was beginning to get preoccupied.
Tony skipped the elevator in favour of the stairs. He was whistling a melody as he entered the lab, but stopped abruptly at the door.
Ichabod was the only occupant and he stood, in his ancient suit, arms behind his back, patiently waiting for… him? DiNozzo instantly tensed.
- Where’s Abby? – He asked, voice cold.
In the last week everyone had noticed her change. No more loud music or incessant chatter. No smiles, no irony or sarcasm, no joking. The light in her eyes had disappeared.
Tony and Jethro had thought that, after getting rid of Chip and a couple of days of vacation, she would have been back to her old self, but it didn’t seem that way.
Nick expected a report every day for any news about Abby, Speed called the other night quite agitated, and now Ichabod.
Tony crossed his arms on his chest and assumed his most cold and pissed expression. He knew he had succeeded in getting the boy afraid when he paled further and swallowed.
- Explain. – He said.
- Well, … she’s out with Dr. Mallard. For lunch. – He managed in a small voice.
Damn, he was so used to Tony’s antics and jokes, he had forgotten the warrior within.
- How is she? – Tony kept his voice cold.
Ichabod sighed and started to explain.
- Since that first night, you know, after Chip… well, she keeps having these nightmares… - , his last word ended in a whisper as Tony’s eyes got a glowing emerald that promised a slow and painful death.
- Why the hell are you saying this now? – he asked in a hiss.
Instantly Ichabod lost his calmness. He started pacing between the counters and moving his arms around.
- I thought… I thought she needed a bit of peace and quiet and she’d feel better… but she isn’t. I’m getting worried, Tony… she always wakes up yelling… - and he stopped, looking askance to DiNozzo, clearly tired and worn-out.
- Yelling what? – Tony asked in a whisper.
Ichabod swallowed. – Elena… you said you’d find me… -
For a moment, silence reigned in the lab. Tony had closed his eyes, covering them with his right hand.
Ichabod was standing still, waiting, sure that the second of Sylum had the answers he needed to help his mate. Then Tony sighed and, putting his hands in his pockets, turned halfway towards the sliding doors.
Ichabod recognized Gibbs’ stride instantly and tensed.
Tony shook his head. – Not now. – Gibbs glared, but kept quiet.
- I’ll talk to her.- Tony’s voice was devoid of any emotion, while his eyes… Ichabod swallowed, but not in fear this time.
- Come to the house for dinner, ok? – Tony gave him a little smile and Ichabod nodded relieved.
During the ride home, Tony tries to concentrate on those ordinary things needed when hosting your co-workers for dinner.
Charcoal for the barbecue, steaks and chicken, vegetables…
- I know what you’re doing… - Jethro says.
Tony sighs… damn. He turns his head and looks out the window into the darkness.
- They won’t leave me alone… - he tells, resigned.
- Would you want to? – And Tony takes a moment to reflect.
There had been good times. Perfect moments that surface on his sea of memory when he gossips with his ‘siblings’, or hears the catch in Warrick’s voice when Speed broods or gets himself into trouble… but they are inevitably tied to those others less pleasant memories.
- I don’t know… but there are things I’m happy to remember. And, even though it seems strange, this one is one of them. -
Jethro blinks and shrugs. Tony will tell him when ready. Until then, there is dinner to prepare.
T-bones and chicken are marinating in olive oil , coming directly from Meridius’ Villa, thyme and rosemary. A full-bodied red wine from Garda’s Lake is breathing in a decanter, while the tomato salad is waiting for the dressing.
Tony smiles, satisfied. The easy part of the evening is done. Jethro is out in the backyard taking care of the barbecue, listening with one ear to Ducky’s stories.
Ichabod is down in the basement, shuffling around, stealing glances towards Abby, who stares sightlessly at the boat.
Hands in the pocket of his jeans, Tony gets down the stair and looks sadly at ‘her’ little sister.
- Ichabod, go help Jethro before he strangles Ducky, please… - DiNozzo smirks a little and Crane nods and leaves. Abby doesn’t even twitch.
Tony reaches her and, as he gives her a one-armed hug around her shoulders, she tenses a little. But as his words register in her brain, she starts to struggle to get out of his arms.
- I know about your nightmares, baby… I know what they mean… -
Abby denies to ever have suffered nightmares, tells him he’s mistaken, only a little sleep deprived, you know how sometimes work gets in the way of a good night sleep, but her voice quivers, she is starting to tremble and in the end she turns in his arms, grabs his shirt tightly and starts crying.
Tony swallows convulsively to rein in his sobs and lowers them both on the ground, back against the ribs of the boat and starts telling a story…
... Dad was so busy, always at the Senate or meeting other high ranking citizens. He didn’t have time to take us to the Market. When he could make it, he always took you by the hand so you’d never get lost. When he couldn’t come with us, you usually stayed at home.
It was near your birthday and dad told you, you could have a new hair clip. You kept delaying, because he didn’t have time to spare to take you himself, but one day Razi got us ready to go to the market and you flat out refused to come because you were sure you’d get lost without dad. So I told you it didn’t change anything…
- Leave her alone, Elena… if she doesn’t want to come you shouldn’t force her. – Antonio’s voice took an authoritarian edge that grated on his sister’s ears.
- Shut up, brat. You’re only complaining because you want that sword you saw last time and you’re worried it’s already been sold. – Elena said quite pissed.
Antonio blushed angrily and crossed his arms on his chest, but kept following her. They crossed the kitchen and Elena smiled to Sophia, who winked and whispered something in her ear. Elena thanked her and ran out towards the cherry trees in the garden.
- Hey, wait for me, will you? – Antonio shouted after his sister, but Elena didn’t slow down. He was sure they were losing their time… damn, he could say farewell to that beautiful sword…
Elena stopped abruptly near the tallest cherry tree. It had a wooden ladder built and secured to its bark for when it was harvest time. During other periods, the kids used it to play, with Razi’s watchful eyes never leaving them.
Antonio scanned the branches, looking for his sister, but didn’t spot her. He turned towards Elena, mocking words on the tip of his tongue, and stared at her dumbfounded when he found she was smiling tenderly.
Maria was nestled between two branches, among little pink flowers, looking miserable. Antonio sighed.
- Hey… there you are. We were waiting for you. Helen is scolding Razi, because Sophia needs those spices for her cooking. Are you ready? -
Maria shook her head and whispered, - I’m not coming. –
Elena smiled. – Are you scared of all those people running around like headless chickens? –
Elena’s voice got serious. – You think I’d let you get lost? –
Maria’s head got up and she turned around to face her sister. Elena loved pranks and jokes, but this time there wasn’t an ounce of mockery in her eyes and Maria neared the ladder.
- You serious? – she asked in a whisper.
Elena smiled and with her hands on her hips told her, - Even if you got lost, I’d always find you, no matter what. –
Antonio stared a little hurt at his sisters.
Razi was praying. It surprised him he still remembered how to do it and hoped his prayer for patience could be granted, because he really needed it.
He was ready to go looking for ‘his’ kids, when all three appeared just around the corner, with Maria’s right hand firmly in Elena’s left one. He smiled proudly at ‘his’ oldest, but frowned at the dark cloud hovering over Antonio’s head.
Let’s face a thing at a time…
He steered them towards the chariot.
They left the chariot near the Market Place and went through the narrow streets separating them from the stalls, just to end in the middle of a heated transaction regarding precious cloths.
Maria stopped, eyes wide. There were too many people around her, with high voices, large vests that billowed, keeping her from seeing past them, they were too tall… she started to shake her head, absolutely terrified.
Razi sighed, ready to take them back and face Helen’s wrath, when Elena crouched down at Maria’s level and smiled reassuringly.
- Don’t worry, I’m here… I will not lose you. – Maria swallowed and nodded, keeping herself plastered to her sister’s side.
The Market was huge to her eyes, full of people, of unknown voices that scared her, but of shining and colourful things too.
Secure in the knowledge that her sister was there with her, Maria kept looking this way and that. There were too many things around her, she needed to tell them to slow down, she couldn’t see properly what was displayed on that counter… she loosened her grip on Elena’s hand a little and, as a rich and showy lady tried to go past them as if they weren’t there, she was forced to let go. Only an instant had been enough. The woman pushed her and she fell. When she got on her feet again, she couldn’t see them and panic settled in. She started trembling and crying. A man she didn’t know tried to touch her, but she pushed away his hands and, absolutely afraid, she hid under a counter.
Elena had lied, she should have known better…
The narrow street amplified the cacophony of voices that were coming from the Market. Elena felt the grip that Maria had on her hand get tighter and mentally prepared herself. When she was ready to bolt, she crouched down to be level with her and smiled. She took both her hands in hers and squeezed once to reassure her. Maria quieted and nodded.
Obviously it had to be one of those days in which nearly every citizen of Rome went to purchase something at these wobbly wooden booths.
Elena tried to avoid the numerous clusters of people that blocked the crowd’s flow, keeping her sister at her side.
Everything seemed to go smoothly, Maria was enjoying herself looking at all the items displayed on the counters and Elena breathed a sigh of relief. When a matron crossed their path. Without any regard for those around her, she expected everyone to shift and clear a passage for her. With nowhere to go because of the sheer number of people milling about, Elena was ready to stop between two sellers and wait for her to pass, when Maria’s hand slipped from hers. She felt her stomach drop. She got distracted as someone’s hands moved her on the side to let the lady pass and then she frantically looked for her little sister. She could not have disappeared!
Antonio was hyperventilating. Razi watched amazed how the kid slipped through the crowd like water, clearly with a precise purpose. As he stopped with an ecstatic smile on his face in front of a blacksmith, Razi understood. He turned around ready to joke a bit with the girls, hoping it would help Maria relax a bit, when he found out they weren’t behind them. An ice block settled in his stomach. He caught Antonio on the shoulder, as he was preparing himself to bargain, and brought him back beside him.
- We have to go… - He could not even finish his sentence that the kid was already complaining. – Stop. Right. Now. –The tone of voice and the glare froze Antonio’s protests.
- Your sisters are missing. Let’s go. – The kid nodded and followed him, after giving one last longing look at the swords on display.