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Strand F

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            Having just spent a hellish fortnight in assisting Jethro and Co in their fervored attempts to capture a domestic terrorist with a marked propensity toward creating horrific mind-altering substances, Ducky found he was more than just a little glad to be finished with his autopsy of the half-mad perpetrator. Because whilst Tobias Plaskett’s biological warfare had already been more than adequate enough to earn himself the condemnation of the entire nation, his further depravity in trying to poison the trio of filed agents working under Jethro via weaponized powder had all but earned himself an admittedly brutal, yet well-deserved, death at the hands of one enraged Marine who had violently bludgeoned said man to death with a large stone.

            Which was precisely why Ducky was currently glancing down at his latest visitor with abject and uncharacteristic disgust, for it seemed all but impossible for him to forget that the mutilated corpse had once housed the essence of a man who had caused numerous and ghastly paranoia-fueled suicides with his wanton drugging of anyone unlucky enough to get within ten feet of him.

            But, rather than dwell on such distressing thoughts, Ducky simply shooed them from him mind with resolve and began, instead, to attack the bloodies cadaver with gusto, his fervor to be finished fully motivated by his desire to return to the coziness of his home and reward himself with a soothing spot of chai after such a draining ten days. In fact, so effective was the promise of such a revitalizing beverage, coupled with the enticement of finally being able to delve into the pages of a book he had purchased weeks ago, that Ducky almost failed to hear the soft footfalls of his pseudo-son coming up behind him.

            “Dad…” Jimmy hesitantly began, worrying him greatly. “You’re needed in the bullpen. There’s been…well…there’s been a problem.”

            Taking a very slow breath so as not invite any undue panic into his person, Ducky meticulously set aside his favorite scalpel and turned to face his nervous assistant, steeling himself for the news that Jethro was pitching one hell of a fit over being suspended for caving in a suspect’s face with a rock.

             “What is it, lad?” Ducky prudently inquired, wishing to be made fully aware of the situation before storming into the battle unprepared.

             “Well.” Jimmy faltered, looking quite pale. “Remember how Gibbs put the agents and Abby down for a nap as soon as they got back from dealing with the Plaskett situation?”

            Reflecting somewhat distastefully upon the rough manner in which Jethro had held an exhausted and subsequently defiant Anthony in an armlock until he’d finally slipped off into a much-needed sleep, Ducky frowned and only hoped that the young agent in question hadn’t thought to push his luck by awakening early and trying to drive home as he had earlier insisted upon doing.  Because fatherly feelings for the boy aside, Jethro would have no doubt headslapped the boy into blindness should he have attempted to do something so foolish.

             “Lad, you must tell me what the trouble is at once.” Ducky encouraged, only a little firmer than before.

            Taking a very deep breath to bolster himself, up until the point he began to look quite like a puffer fish, Jimmy squirmed a bit uncomfortably and looked resolutely down at the floorboards before answering.

            “Well, they didn’t wake up…as agents.” Jimmy unhelpfully supplied.

            Heart still thudding madly within his chest after having heard the first half of his child’s sentence, as there had been no good cause to pause so dramatically before bringing it to its conclusion, Ducky brought a hand to his chest in a vain attempt to settle the thumping and once more asked the same question, albeit much more firmer than was his usual wont.

            “Whatever are you going on about, lad?” Ducky pressed, entirely unable to tolerate any more of his child’s vagueness.

            Seeming to understand that his father-figure was rapidly losing patience with him, and appearing to pale all the more because of it, Jimmy swallowed a bit uncomfortably but nonetheless pressed forward as admirably as possible for one so meek.

            “Well…We think the agents must have breathed in some of that powder from earlier. And…And when Tim kissed Abby, it might have gotten into her system.”

            Feeling as if the words had dealt him a physical blow, Ducky recoiled slightly and found it necessary to lean up against his favorite autopsy table for support – regardless of whether or not said equipment was currently being occupied by one very mutilated corpse.

            “Do tell me, lad, what was in the powder?” Ducky inquired, once more steeling himself for the worst.

            “It was Strand F.” Jimmy clarified, thankfully without any unnecessary pauses.

            Despite such a clarification being far less worse than Ducky had began to fear, he found that it was only mitigatingly so. For while his beloved agents and forensic specialist would not be suffering from any of the more nefarious effects those other variations of the same strand caused, they would currently be dealing with the very unpleasant side-effects Strand D caused in its  hosts.

            “Tell me plainly, lad, “Ducky stipulated, “How old are our agents and Abigail at the moment?”

             Wisely sensing that any undue stammering and vagueness would only result in him receiving significant censure from his father-figure, a very rare and unwelcome occurrence in his life, Jimmy squared his shoulders and valiantly met his eyes before answering as candidly as possible – which was to say, not at all.

            “That’s the bad part.” Jimmy grimaced. “They’re all way younger than expected.”

             “How young?” Ducky pressed, sincerely hoping that his lad’s severe expression was more theatric than appropriate to the situation.

            Alas, it was not to be so. For just as soon as the question had finished leaving his lips, Jimmy’s face became solemn once more and his words faltering.

            “Tim…Tim…Tim told us he was…six.”

            Unable to believe that so significant a reversal in age had occurred, as the greatest regression recorded as of yet was ten years, Ducky was forced to concede that Victoria was, perhaps, quite accurate in her accusations that his hearing was going south.

            “Forgive me, lad.” Ducky frowned, somewhat embarrassed. “But I’m afraid I must have misheard you. Did you just tell me that Timothy believes himself to be six?”

            “Six and a half.” Jimmy nodded, suddenly uncomfortable. “And…Abby says that she’s four…and a half.”  

            Blinking quite stupidly in response to such an unwelcome revelation, as such a significant reversal in age was unprecedented up until that moment, Ducky remained silent for quite some time until he felt sufficiently recovered enough to speak with any ineloquent stammering.

            “What of Anthony and Caitlyn, lad?” Ducky fussed. “How old are they at present?”

             For although he held a certain fondness for the inexhaustible Abigail, along with the more mild-mannered Timothy who reminded him of his own boy, he held an even greater regard for the sole female agent he had come to regard as a granddaughter, all the peculiarity of that reciprocal relationship aside. And, where regarded Anthony in the whole bewildering situation, it was only rational that he might not wish for any significant harm to come to his best friend’s surrogate son either. For not only did his closeness with Jethro enable him to feel the man’s worries and pains as his own, and vice-versa, so too did he selfishly not wish to deal with the sudden resurgence of that which he dubbed ‘Papa-Bear Gibbs,’ as such a character was all but intolerable to be around for any great length of time.

            “Well, they’re too busy crying at the moment to get any answer out of them.” Jimmy elaborated, still not as entirely helpful as one might have wished in such an unheard of and trying situation. “But…they can’t be any older than two, I would think.”

             Uncharacteristically flustered for the first time in decades, Ducky’s responding utterance sounded much more akin to something that leave with his child’s mouth rather than his own.

            “This is…This…Well, this is not good at all.” He finally managed, somewhat peeved at himself for being so ineloquent.

            “I know.” Jimmy groaned, looking greatly aggrieved. “Which is why you’re needed in the bullpen – right away.”

            Not failing to sense the urgency within his child, as an overwhelmed Gibbs had no doubt ordered the easily-intimidated young lad to fetch him as soon as humanly possible, Ducky smiled reassuringly at his anxious assistant and clapped a soothing hand on his shoulder.

            “I take it you don’t wish to accompany me into the fracas?” Ducky teased.

            Coming to resemble a ghost at the suggestion he do anything of the sort, Jimmy looked longingly at the corpse taking up residence on their favorite table and let out a strangled sound from the back of his throat.

            “It’s quite alright, lad.” Ducky humored, giving his shoulder one last squeeze. “I shall go on my own. You may stay here and finish with Mr. Plaskett.”

             “Thank you.” Jimmy sighed, evident relief flooding over his expressive features.

Chapter Text

             

             

            Whilst Ducky could not truthfully proclaim to have never witnessed any bizarre visages over the course of his lengthy career as Medical Examiner, having once had the dubious pleasure of finding eighty dollars’ worth of coins in an obese Admiral’s stomach, he could honestly proclaim to all those who might wish to hear that he had never once expected the sudden deaging of half his colleagues to be a scenario he would be forced to contend with. For not only had the knowledge of such an age-reversing process not been made known up until a month ago, so too had its effects been somewhat middling up until that very moment. But rather than dwell on how such an advancement in science had been made, much less pause to consider the ramifications of such an amazing feat, Ducky stepped bravely in the chaos, fully prepared to render his assistance by any means possible.

            “Glad you could finally join us, Mallard.” Vance growled, his rudeness understandable but by no means acceptable.

            Quirking a warning brow at the errant Director, in a silent warning that any further sarcasm would be met with the sharpest of rebukes, Ducky calmly strolled across the bullpen and plucked a screeching black-haired toddler from the frazzled man’s grasp, not at all pleased at the irreverent manner in which said man was holding the loudly protesting child.

            “My goodness,” Ducky chided the careless man, “Whatever do you think you’re doing holding a child like that?! Do you wish to see her joints pulled from their sockets.”

            Formally pristine shirt covered in what could only be human bile, a putrid mess that had very likely stemmed forth from the howling toddler he had earlier been dangling as far away from his person as possible, Vance simply glowered sharply at him as he fished free from his pocket a handkerchief with which to blot away some of the vomit from his clothing. And whilst Ducky didn’t much appreciate such an underserved and severe look being leveled at himself, as he had done but naught to warrant any such unfriendliness, he kept his censure to himself for the moment in favor of dealing with the much pressing problem quite literally screeching in his hands.

            “Now, now, lassie.” Ducky gently chided the shrieking toddler, grabbing hold of one her flailing fists before it could make contact with his nose. “Whatever is the matter? Why are you caterwauling like a banshee, hmm?”

            While such a silly simile would have ordinarily made a tantruming Victoria giggle, or at the very least cease her hollering, such a well-intended absurdity only seemed to aggravate the red-face toddler even further. For without any preamble, nor nary a warning, the flailing little girl held on his hip threw back her tiny head and brought forth her surprisingly hard forehead down on his chin. And though Ducky would later reflect that he perhaps ought to have anticipated such a violent response, as his own granddaughter procured a similar gleam in her eyes before she was about to bite, he found at the moment all he could do was curse loudly and drop the child as a sharp pain radiated down his chin. An instinctual response which the rouge toddler seemed to take in great stride despite the height at which she had been dropped, for mere moments after her bare feet had touched the floor she was scampering off toward the elevator – only be grabbed, at the last moment, by a very helpful young lad who could only be Timothy.

            “Do you see why I was holding that little gremlin like that?!” Vance snapped, a vivid bruise very clearly beginning to form on his nose. “The little shit is a terrorist!”

            Understandably taking great umbrage with the fact that she had been addressed in so unseemly a manner, as no doubt whatever little censure she had received from her parents had contained only niceties, Abigail paused in her struggle to free herself from Timothy’s grasp long enough to stomp her foot and screech her retaliation at the Director.

            “Not a gremlin!” Abigail thundered, blue eyes flashing dangerously. “You’re a toad!”

            And, with that particular bit of criticism eloquently expressed, the renegade toddler hissed loudly in her captor’s terrified face before subsequently biting down on the young lad’s fingers with all the ferocity of a feral pitbull.

            It was only then that Ducky’s normally inexhaustible patience ran out completely. For not only had her unpardonable actions caused an innocent Timothy a great deal of pain, the extent of which he was bravely trying to conceal by holding back a flood of tears, so too had she made yet another audacious attempt at escaping to the elevator. An unsanctioned exodus that would have almost certainly been guaranteed had not Ducky successfully anticipated her next move via the experience he had garnered after a long three years of dealing with Victoria’s own senseless meltdowns. For whilst a more inexperienced adult might have simply stomped after the young girl in question, in a great haste to contain the problem, Ducky knew all too well that such an act would enable the young girl to maneuver circles around him the very moment he got too close for comfort. And so, given that he had no great wish to play such a game of cat-and-mouse, Ducky cleverly waited until the errant girl made to dash past him before wordlessly snatching her up and bringing a firm hand down on her backside – as he so sorely been tempted to do when she was fully grown and in the midst of one of her adult-sized tantrums.

            “That is quite enough, Abigail Rae!” Ducky rebuked, plopping her stinging bottom down into Jethro’s swivel chair. “Now you’ll sit there nicely and quietly until I’ve finished tending to the young man you just bit without reason.”

            And, unable to keep from thinking that Abigail’s parents (and Jethro) had done the lass no real favors by allowing her to become so shamefully spoiled, the former in childhood and the latter in her adulthood, Ducky kneeled to tend to the wounded Timothy with a slight frown on his face.

            “It’s okay.” The chivalrous lad bravely maintained, his hazel eyes full of moisture as he tried to protect the younger girl. “It doesn’t hurt.”

            Sincerely doubting the veracity of such a claim, as the assaulted digits were not only bleeding but sure to bruise as well, Ducky clucked his tongue and gently collected the damaged fingers into his grasp.

            “Be that as it may,” Ducky humored, “We wouldn’t wish for your wound to get infected, would we?”

            Looking quite solemn once the idea of infection had been put into his still-forming brain, as his youth no doubt prevented him from understanding just how easily such a thing was avoided, Timothy sat markedly still and somberly shook his head in reply.

            “Then let us tend to his wound, shall we?” Ducky hummed, giving the needlessly frightened lad a reassuring smile.

            Seeming to recover some of his earlier resolve after seeing just such a smile, in a manner very endearingly similar to Victoria, Timothy rewarded him with a much shyer version of the same expression and opened his mouth to respond to the rhetorical question previously put to him. But before the timid lad could so much as get a single syllable off his tongue, much less articulate that which he wished to say, Jethro prevented such a happy occurrence by loudly making known his desire that Ducky stay in the bullpen.

            “Duck,” The beleaguered Marine groaned, “You cannot leave me here alone with…this.”

            His unfaltering compassion having already been stirred toward the man the very moment he had arrived in the bullpen to find said individual struggling to soothe the two wailing babies on his hips, Ducky immediately set out to reassure his oldest of friends that he wasn’t about to abandon him anytime soon.

            “Never you fear, Jethro.” Ducky soothed. “You’ll be happy to find that I always carry a portable first-aid kit with me in my lab coat.”

            Appearing to be just as relieved as he had been the day Anthony had been declared officially cured of the plague and fit to return home to convalesce, Jethro dramatically let out the breath he had been holding before immediately resuming his bouncing of the distraught babies in his arms.  

            “It’s smart to have a first-aid kit.” A suddenly talkative Timothy opined. “Were you a Boyscout?”

            Uncharacteristically reluctant to launch into a lengthy narrative about all the childhood organizations a young boy could join in Scotland, as there were far more pressing matters at hand to be dealt with, Ducky simply smiled sanguinely and removed from an inner-pocket of his coat the aforementioned first-aid kit.

            “Not quite.” Ducky divulged, gingerly disinfecting the wounded fingers before guiltily bandaging them up in the unattractive band-aids provided. “But you’re not far off, I suppose.”

            Rather than attack such evasiveness with a fervored demand for clarification, as Victoria most certainly would have done, Timothy simply accepted his vagueness with all the mildness of a well-raised child and instead moved the conversation unto a topic far more concerning to his own person.

            “You didn’t wash you hands.” Timothy calmly mentioned, as if he were reporting on no more than the weather. “Scout Master Dave wouldn’t give you a badge.”

            Effortlessly able to detect that the young child currently under his direct supervision viewed his Scout Master with no particular regard, other than as a vehicle for receiving a few coveted badges, Ducky smiled brightly and winked conspiratorially at the pleasantly surprised youngster seated at his feet.

            “Then let us be thankful that Scoutmaster Dave isn’t here.” Ducky advised, tucking his first-aid kit back where it belonged.

             Nodding a very vigorous assent to such sound advice, Timothy frowned slightly and allowed the first thing in his mind to make itself known via a spontaneous utterance.

            “Scoutmaster Dave is bossy and smells like cats.”

            “I see.” Ducky replied, graciously allowing such rudeness to go uncensured given the circumstances.            

            Taking such a distracted response as implicit permission to continue the conversation, Timothy climbed clumsily to his feet and clung to his hand in a gesture of affection.  

            “That’s alright, though. Because next year I get Scoutmaster Ted.” Timothy warbled. “He lets you take a test until you pass.”

            “That’s rather fortunate, is it not?” Ducky responded, wondering how best to put an end to the conversation without being rude.

            Because as enjoyable as it was to have such a riveting conversation with the young lad in question, which was quite so, it was abundantly clear that Jethro was in dire need of assistance with the babies howling in his arms.

            “It is.” Timothy agreed, quite somber. “Because Peter Stark was dropped on the head and now he can’t pass tests the first time.”

            Refraining himself from diving into a lengthy lecture on the emergence of learning disabilities in small children, the majority of which did not stem from being dropped on the head, Ducky simply nodded his head to show he was listening and waited patiently for the little boy in question to lose steam.

            “I help Peter a lot, though.” Timothy assured. “Because it’s not his fault he got dropped on the head.”

            “That’s very charitable of you.” Ducky praised, smoothing the little towhead’s hair.

            Although Timothy frowned deeply in response to such an affectionate gesture, in a manner that seemed to suggest he hated nothing more than to have his hair fussed with, the young lad politely kept his complaints to himself in favor of continuing the conversation at hand.

            “We have to help everyone, not just people who weren’t dropped on the head.” The young lad sermonized, no doubt fully indoctrinated with the Christian religion at that point.

              “Such great wisdom you have.” Ducky lauded, plucking up the hefty boy with some struggle and depositing him on a chair well away from Abby. “Now be a glad, would you, and keep an eye on the elevator, hmm? I wish to know if anyone comes in.”

            Such an assignment was, of course, a bogus request at best, designed to do nothing more than keep the small lad preoccupied whilst the younger, and more needy, children were dealt with. But, given his great youth, as well as his general propensity for desiring to assist those around him, Timothy immediately took the bait without hesitation, his chubby face set into a mask of fierce concentration as he fixed his hazel eyes on the elevator door and took to keeping watch.

            “Would you like for me to hold one of the babies, Jethro?” Ducky finally inquired, feeling somewhat guilty as he discovered that young Anthony had already fallen asleep up against his shoulder.      

            “Grab Kate, would you?” Jethro requested, unsurprisingly unwilling to surrender Anthony.

            More than just a little willing to oblige, as there was no greater feeling in the world than to hold a baby in one’s arms, Ducky hurried over to his oldest friend and gently stretched out his arms to extract the still-bawling Caitlyn from the Marine’s arm. But before he could so much as get his finger’s on the young lass, much less heft her unto his own hip, Caitlyn whined pitifully and surprised them all by clinging desperately to the slumbering Anthony.

            “Now, now, lass, it’s alright.” Ducky soothed, gently removing the baby from Jethro’s embrace. “There’s no need for all this fussing, now is there?” He shushed, running a hand up and down her back to comfort her. “Everything is perfectly alright now, Caitlyn. There’s no more cause for all these tears, is there?”

            Gradually settling as Ducky kept up his endless litany or cliché phrases, Caitlyn eventually ceased her sobbing long enough for her exhausted body to compel her to fall asleep, the tiny digits of one hand endearingly clinging to a fistful of his shirt whilst those belonging to her dominate hand found their way into her mouth.

            “Well now that we have that taken care of,” Vance growled, “What are we going to do about this little terrorist?”

            Although it was quite unnecessary to follow the peeved Director’s accusatory finger in order to discover just whom it was he was maligning, he nonetheless allowed his eyes to trail after the dark digit from force of habit alone.

             “There’s no need for name-calling.” Ducky chided, obligation coaxing him to defend the pouting Abigail rather than genuine compassion. “She’s just a little girl at the moment.”

            And even though Ducky was all but certain an older Abigail would have done the exact same thing whilst held against her well, whether it was for her own good or not, he found that he could not, in all good faith, bestow upon the little girl the same amount of disapprobation as he would upon the older version of herself.             

            “Abs is just hungry.” Jethro intervened, quick as always to excuse the girl’s abhorrent behavior. “Aren’t  you?” He added, glancing down at the sulking child.

            Just as she always did when fully adult, the justifiably admonished Abigail shamelessly seized upon the reprieve being granted to her by a far-too-lax Jethro and eagerly assented to the validity of the poor excuse being offered her way.

            “I’m starbing!” The toddler groaned dramatically, clutching at her stomach.

            “Shhh.” Jethro softly admonished, holding a finger up to his lips. “Why don’t you take that chocolate muffin that’s on my desk, hmm? That should fill you up.”

             Despite being sorely tempted to suggest that the girl ought not to be rewarded for her earlier naughtiness with just such a treat, as a chocolate muffin was more akin to a dessert than a proper afternoon snack, Ducky clamped down on his lip to remove the temptation and felt his blood pressure rise as a result.

            “Really!?” Abigail squawked, taking no heed whatsoever of Jethro’s earlier request she be quiet.

            “Shhh.” Jethro once more encouraged, cuddling Anthony close. “And yes. But you need to be quiet, alright?”

            “I can be quiet!” Abigail agreed, not quietly at all.

             Only narrowly resisting the urge to chide the small girl for her flagrant flouncing of the one simple rule Jethro had bestowed upon her, for fear that such an action would only provoke a row between himself and the overly indulgent Marine, Ducky tutted softly beneath his breath and tried not to wince as he watched the half-wild Abigail shimmy up Jethro’s desk and perch herself atop a tall stack of papers to eat the muffin in question.

             “Seriously now,” Vance sighed, once the toddler seemed settled, “What are we going to do about…this.”  

            Despite understanding perfectly well why the sudden deaging of the majority of his team warranted such panic within the Director, as no doubt the amount of paperwork such an unprecedented incident would require was sure to be staggering, Ducky found the irreverent manner in which he referred to said agents distasteful at best.

            “Now, now.” He chided, as mildly as his ire would allow. “There is no cause for all this panic. Sooner or later the virus will have run its course.”  

             Seeming to have forgotten the fact that all those infected with just such a virus were soon recovered within a fortnight, if not sooner, Vance colored brightly despite the darkness of his skin and all but barked out his dismissive response to such sage wisdom.

            “My agents are toddlers!” Vance snapped, all but frothing at the mouth.

            Refusing to degrade himself by barking back at the Director in return, as such uncouthness was far beneath the dignity of his person, Ducky frowned slightly and quirked a warning brow in the direction of Vance.

            “Toddlers who I do believe are off rotation.” Ducky calmly pointed out. “As well as deserving of a lengthy break after two weeks straight of overtime.”

            Unable to refute the idea that the regressed agents in question were long overdue for some quality personal time, as well as some rather generous overtime pay, Vance almost immediately deflated as he filled the room with a loud sigh.

            “I suppose we’ll need to call their next of kin, then.” The Director decided, looking all but ready to collapse from sheer exhaustion alone.

            “I think we both know that Jethro isn’t going to surrender young Anthony to his biological father anytime soon.” Ducky scoffed. “And as for our little Forensic Specialist, her parents are both deceased.”

            Having the grace to look somewhat mortified at the sheer foolishness of his earlier statement, Vance rubbed at his temples and seemed to contemplate the worthiness of the career he had chosen for himself before deigning to speak.

            “Well, what about Kate and Tim?” Vance growled, wanting nothing more than for the problem at hand to be taken care of.

             Noticing that young Timothy had flinched at the unpardonable sharpness of the Director’s tone, Ducky calmly ruffled the young lad’s hair with his free hand before frowning reprovingly at Vance.

            “Tell me, Director,” Ducky sanguinely requested, “Do you know of any feasible way in which an unrelated adult could ship two underaged children halfway across the country without significant expense or trouble on behalf of The Yard?”  

              Unable to rationally assert that such an undertaking would be of no great trouble and significant cost, as the price of shipping off two unescorted minors was sure to be as astronomical as the suspicion shipping off two unrelated minors would cause, Vance sighed heavily and looked ready to ring his own neck.

            “I’m sure their parents would fly out – “

             “Director,” Ducky frowned, “The lad’s father is currently undergoing a very rigorous round of chemotherapy at the moment. It would be more than just a little unkind to make him deal with this particular problem on top of everything else. And, as for Kate, I do believe her parents are off in Bali for the next several weeks.”

            That was not to say, however, that Mr. and Mrs. Todd would ever entertain the idea of inconveniencing themselves by caring, once more, for the child they liked least of all.   

            “I guess I’ll just have to call up Child Services then – “

            “You’ll do no such thing.” Jethro growled, latent parental instincts having already kicked in long ago. “I’ll be taking the little bastards.”

             Looking as scandalized as if Jethro had just suggested he was putting in his retirement, or perhaps had just announced he was defecting to the much-loathed FBI, Vance blinked stupidly for quite awhile before a feeble attempt at a coherent response.

            “You can’t just – “

            “I am more than overdue for some vacation time.” Jethro growled, clutching Anthony close to his chest.

Chapter Text

 

 

            While Gibbs could honestly say that he marginally understood his older friend’s general disregard for the sanctity of carseats, given that said individual had grown up in a time and place where small children were simply held in their parents laps until they were old enough to remain upright in a chair of their own, he had all but refused to even entertain the man’s ridiculous and reckless suggestion that the children be driven around without the benefit of proper restraints. Because whilst Tim was certainly…big enough to escape the need for a booster, there was no way in hell that Gibbs would ever let Abby and the babies get into a car without having them properly restrained into appropriate carseats first. Which meant the rear-facing variety for the babies, and a frontward-facing one for Abby – whether or not said little girl cared for such an arrangement or not.

            “Honestly, Jethro,” Ducky sulked, clearly at his wits end after having been sent off in the midst of rush-hour traffic to fetch the much-needed seats. “You’re being more than just a little ridiculous at the moment.”

            “The guidelines are there for a reason, Duck.” Gibbs calmly dismissed, meticulously readjusting the chest-strap said Medical Examiner had placed in much too low a position on Kate. “And I know for a fact that Jimmy would never let you take Victoria anywhere without her carseat.”

            In fact, Gibbs could still effortlessly recall the uncharacteristically angry fashion in which Jimmy had stormed the Morgue last year upon having made the inadvertent discovery that his father had been ferrying Victoria off to preschool with nothing more than a seatbelt to keep her contained in a moving vehicle.

            “My point still stands.” Ducky scowled, uttering perhaps the harshest condemnation of his assistant he had available in his repertoire.

            Fully unwilling to enter into yet another heated debate about the merits of carseats, an argument which he felt was entirely ridiculous to be having in the first place, what with the research on such a matter being all but inexhaustible and impossible to argue against, Gibbs simply frowned and silently contemplated to himself how it could be that such an educated Medical Examiner could be so frustratingly lax when it came to the matter of carseat safety.

            “Well,” Gibbs shrugged, “As long as these kids are under my care, they’re going to be in proper restraints.”

             Once again looking as if he were about to argue against the necessity of a toddler being put into a carseat, rather than the simple booster seat he wrongly felt would be more appropriate, Ducky tutted beneath his breath and opened his mouth to make known his grievances only to be unceremoniously prevented from doing such by an angry Abigail erupting into yet another fit.

            “Timmy’s not in a carseat!” The little girl squawked, aiming her bare foot at the back of the passenger seat only to come up several feet short.  

            Forcing himself not to lose his infamous temper as he once more leaned across Kate to rebuckle the tantruming girl back into the seat she seemed determined to vacate, Gibbs smiled softly in a feeble attempt to evoke a calmness he did not truly feel and gently tousled the furious child’s snarled hair.

            “Timmy’s older than you.” Gibbs patiently reminded. “Now why don’t you sit still before you drop Bert?”

            Narrowing her eyes in the very familiar, and dangerous, fashion she had developed to warn off those who were pestering her beyond tolerance, Abby wound back her dominate hand and launched Bert at the dashboard with a strength that was more than just a little surprising.

            “I don’t want to sit in a carseat!” Abby squalled, drowning out the sounds of Bert’s distressed farting.

            “And I don’t like paying taxes.” Gibbs mildly retorted, swatting the girl’s errant fingers away from the buckles containing her. “But that’s the law. Like sitting in your carseat until you’re big enough to not need it.”

            Seeming more than just a little determined to argue for the sake of arguing alone, Abby promptly disparaged his sage wisdom by hissing ferally in his face before fruitlessly kicking, once more, at the seat that contained Tim.

            “I don’t want to get fat like Timmy!”

            Unable to keep from wincing at such unabashed cruelty, as it had been quite some time since he had been forced to contend with that particularly disquieting facet of childhood, Gibbs stood rooted to his spot and was unfortunately far too stunned to prevent Ducky’s intervention in the matter.

            “Abigail!” The old-fashioned man rebuked, firmly swatting her thigh. “That was markedly uncalled for! Shame on you.”

            Only narrowly restraining himself from plucking the assaulted girl out of her carseat to comfort her, such reluctance only coming forth from the understanding that Ducky would only immediately undo such soothing by plopping the child back from whence she came, Gibbs frowned guiltily and sought to rub the soreness from the little girl’s thigh – understanding that such an action was but one of the few he could hope to get away with whilst Ducky was still present.

            “Abby,” Gibbs lectured, using his softest of voices, “Timmy isn’t sitting up front because you think he’s fat.  It’s just because he’s taller than you.”

            Because even though Gibbs did feel badly for the toddler after watching her receiving such a stinging slap to her bare leg, he felt a hundred times worse for the little boy who had just had his weight so cruelly put under scrutiny. For it was not so very long ago, in a relative manner of speaking, that his beloved Kelly had come home crying from Kindergarten with the infuriating news that some first-grade boys had compared her to a cow at recess.

            “And fatter.” Abby angrily maintained, still striving ardently to kick her victim’s seat.

            Although Gibbs understood that the young girl in question was likely just overly-tired, and unforgivably cranky as a result, he found that he could not help but be a little peeved with said child when he glanced in the rearview mirror to find Tim slouched down in his seat with tears in his eyes.  

              “You’re not being very kind, Abigail.” Gibbs chided, making known his disappointment by frowning.

            Because even though Abby could, admittedly, be a little bit of a handful whilst she was fully grown and in the midst of one of her sleep-deprived tantrums, or in the midst of one of her disorienting caffeine-highs, she was seldom ever outright malicious in her acting out – only slightly intolerable.

            “It’s okay.” A very soft-spoken Tim mumbled from up front, his voice as suspiciously thick as it was heartbreaking.

            Ever the stern taskmaster when it came to dealing with the discipling of children, whereas Gibbs (perhaps) tended to be a bit indulgent, Ducky stepped in to offer his assistance without being asked and firmly cupped a startled Abby beneath the chin before directing her gaze unto his own.

            “Regardless of what Timothy proclaims, your behavior is most certainly not acceptable, young lady.” Ducky lectured, refusing to take the girl’s youth into consideration. “And I must insist that this abhorrent behavior of yours ceases lest you plan on welcoming a trip across my knee.”

            Although Gibbs was all but certain that the young girl hadn’t understood the majority of what Ducky had just said, as the older man had a slightly annoying proclivity for assuming that everyone had the same inexhaustible wealth of vocabulary as did he, he could tell that Abby had not failed to comprehend the threat such a lengthy warning had conveyed. For not only did her blue eyes grow comically wide upon taking heed of the promised trip over her assailant’s lap, so too had she looked desperately toward Gibbs for salvation.

            “Now, I must insist you apologize to the young lad you just maligned.” Ducky further lectured, giving Gibbs no real leeway to reassure the child.

             Despite having appeared to be quite terrified at the prospect of a spanking mere seconds ago, Abby displayed her innate penchant for reckless disregard of her own life by glowering up at her disciplinarian with a heated intensity that put any in Gibbs’ repertoire to shame.

             “I’m sorry, Timmy.” The recalcitrant child sneered, giving forth one of the worst apologies Gibbs had ever heard.

             Keeping much in line with what Gibbs knew about Tim as a person, which was that said individual was meek to a fault, the small boy in question sniffled softly before bravely daring to speak despite the tightness in his throat.

            “It’s okay.”

             Appearing to be disgustingly smug about the manner in which she had driven her fellow passenger to tears without an significant effort, Abby smiled a cloying sickening smile in his direction and, as a result, very nearly provoked him into anger before he reminded himself that said little girl was four…and very likely tired, hungry, and completely bored out of her mind.

             “Here, Abs.” Gibbs offered, pressing a coloring book borrowed from Victoria into the child’s hands. “Why don’t you color for a bit, hmm? I’d sure like a picture for my fridge.”

             Glancing down at the coloring book with as much disgust as a four-year-old could manage, which was actually a surprising amount, Abby huffed dramatically and crossed her arms over her chest before telling Gibbs the biggest crock of shit he had ever heard since the day a homeless man on the street had once strived to convince him that aliens had been responsible for his missing leg.  

            “I don’t like princesses.”

            Despite being fully aware of the fact that Abby was all but obsessed with all things Disney, Gibbs refused to allow himself to get annoyed at such blatant lying and settled, instead, for trying to pacify the toddler as quickly as possible for the sake of all those around her.

            “Well,” Gibbs reasoned, “Why don’t you color Sebastien or Flounder then?”

            “I don’t like them, either.” Abby scowled, giving him one hell of a stink-eye.

            Once more feeling as if his blood pressure was beginning to rise to dangerous levels, Gibbs clamped down hard on his tongue to keep from snapping at the errant girl and forced himself to count to ten before speaking.

            “What about the racoon from Pocahontas.” Gibbs suggested. “I know you like him.”

            “Nope.” Abby promptly dismissed, turning up her nose. “I want my barbies.”       

            Feeling somewhat frustrated by such an innocent request, as it was all but impossible to fulfill given that Jimmy had, unfortunately, stopped plying his daughter with such toys last year after said child prodigy had persisted in dissecting them and writing their autopsy reports at school during recess, on the grounds that whilst such emulating behavior at home was certainly endearing, it was likewise very difficult to explain away to the teachers in her advanced courses why a barbie might need to have her scalp removed to check for proof of aneurism, Gibbs expelled an infuriated breath through his nose and patiently reminded himself that yelling was not an appropriate reaction when it came to contending with a stubborn toddler.

            “We don’t have any barbies.” Gibbs informed, bracing himself for her reaction.

            Taking on a scandalized expression at such unwelcome news, in a manner that seemed more appropriate to someone who had just been told to go copulate themselves with a cactus, Abby glared daggers up into his face and looked more than just a little ready to spit in it.

            “Then I’m not happy.” She announced, her affliction very grave.

            “I can see that.” Gibbs hissed, temper rising. “What would make you happy?”

            Taking a very long moment to consider the simple question, wherein said little girl had very clearly contemplated her repertoire of things she was positive would be out-of-the-question and selected the most egregious of those options, Abby tapped at her chin in an endearing fashion that was almost immediately eclipsed by her next suggestion.

            “Let’s go to the park.”

            And though Gibbs would have more than accepted the innocent motivation behind such a question had said request actually been innocent in nature, he could tell the mischievous expression on the little girl’s face that Abby already understood that such a suggestion was impossible to comply with at the moment and, likewise, had only come about from the desire to cause trouble by being needlessly difficult.  

            “We most certainly are not going to a park.” Gibbs avowed. “The babies are exhausted.”

             And, in truth, Gibbs felt that the babies would be more than just a little likely to sleep until the Rapture barring some act of nature, or Abby, awakening them.

            “They can sleep in the car.” Abby dismissed, glancing in open disdain upon the sleeping Tony to her right.

            Before Gibbs could even shut down such an absurd idea, much less explain the folly behind leaving two vulnerable babies alone in a hot car in a city filled with creeps, Tim stepped in and did the job for him – albeit far less eloquently.

            “Babies can’t sleep in cars!” The little boy gasped. “They’ll get heat-pokes!”  

             Only kept from laughing at the boy’s adorable mangling of the word heatstroke by Abby’s foreboding scowl, Gibbs quickly stepped in to add a little authority to the statement that had so displeased the little girl.

            “Timmy’s right, Abs.” Gibbs assured, smiling softly. “Why don’t you think of something else?”

              Without even pausing to consider her next request, in a manner that seemed to suggest that the little girl was filled to the brim with mischief, Abby smiled brightly and jerked two thumbs at the sleeping babies.

            “I want those.” The little girl promptly decided, referring to the brightly-colored teething rings that had come with the purchase of the carseats.

             “Abby,” Gibbs frowned, “The babies need those for their teeth.”

            Because even though Ducky hadn’t been entirely able to deduce, without any trace of doubt, the exact age of said mostly nonverbal babies, said Medical Examiner had felt strongly that the duo were no more than twelve or thirteen months at best – and, as a result, in very real danger of getting sore gums as their molars came in.

            “Then I want my barbies!” Abby hollered, very nearly startling Tony awake. “Mommy always keeps barbies in her car!”

            More than just a little desperate to pacify the little girl before she woke the babies and heralded forth yet another one of their infantile and discordant screeching fits, Gibbs counted to ten once more and forced himself to smile in the hopes that such an action would fool his body into thinking he was not at all as angry as he felt at the moment.

            “I’m sorry, Abs, but I don’t have any barbies.” Gibbs explained. “Pick something else.”

            “Like napping.” Tim suggested, somewhat tersely.

            Despite being more than just a little understanding of such sudden moodiness in the little boy, as said child had recently been both verbally and physically assaulted by the girl in question, Gibbs frowned at the uncalled for nastiness and opened his mouth to suggest that such a remark hadn’t really been necessary – only to be promptly interrupted from doing so by Abby’s sudden decision to seize up the large box of crayons and wind back her arm in a clear attempt to nail Tim in the head with them.

            “You’ll have no such projectiles, lassie.” Ducky scolded, seizing the makeshift weapon from her hands before Gibbs had even been given time to recover from his shock.

            Seeming to have forgotten her earlier fear of being spanked by the older man, or perhaps just simply reckless in her anger, Abby sneered up into his face and screeched her response as loudly as possible.

            “But I want to color!”

            Sensing that some sort of détente was called for before somebody ended up being headbutted again, or perhaps punched, Gibbs decided that the only reasonable course of action would be for him to negotiate with a terrorist for the first time in his life.

            “You can have the crayons.” Gibbs allowed. “I just need you to promise not to throw them, alright?”

            Despite the relative success such a bargain seemed to have created, at least where the contentment of Abby was concerned, Gibbs was unpleasantly surprised to find that Ducky still found it necessary to intervene and stick his nose into the affair.

             “Jethro,” The Scotsman frowned, pulling him away from the crowded car and closing the door, “A word with you, please.”

            More than just a little peeved with the interference, as he felt it was quite unnecessary given the way in which he had already rectified the situation at hand, Gibbs frowned at his closest of friends and struggled not to let his ire make itself known in his voice.

            “Yes?” He hissed.

            “Would you mind telling me what it is you think you’re doing trying to reason with a four year old?” Ducky demanded, quirking his brow in that annoying manner he took on whenever displeased. “Because up until today, I had fully believed you to be far wiser than what your current behavior is suggesting.”

            Sufficiently startled by the uncharacteristic bluntness of his normally tactful friend, as well as properly embarrassed at being so accurately called out, Gibbs felt his cheeks color up a bit as he worked to conjure up even a negligibly justifiable excuse.

            “She’s upset.” He attempted, grimacing at the feebleness of his own excuse.  

            “She’s also four, Jethro.” Ducky rebuked, effective as always at making him feel like an errant schoolboy caught peeping in the girl’s locker-room. “So if you wish for her to behave herself on the long trip home, I suggest you toughen up and lay down some ground rules.”

            Despite the inarguable wisdom of such age-old advice, Gibbs found himself frowning at what he perceived to be a vicious attack against Abby.

            “Duck, you know how headstrong she can get.”  

            “Abigail only behaves in that manner because you allow it.” Ducky heatlessly accused, bringing up the same-old tired argument. “And while I grant you that it would be exceedingly difficult to get a fully grown woman under control, I’ll remind you, yet again, that Abigail is currently four.”  

             “Exactly.” Gibbs agreed. “She’s four – just a baby, if you ask me.”

             Looking somewhat disgusted at the very notion that a four-year-old was far too young to receive any real discipline, as the Scottish man was old-fashioned to a fault, Ducky scoffed audibly and shook his head.

            “Jethro, would have you allowed Kelly to behave so abhorrently?” The Medical Examiner bluntly inquired.

            “Of course not.” Gibbs scowled, not sure of what his friend was getting at. “But Kelly was always well-behaved.”

            Barring, of course, that small stubborn streak she had developed in first-grade, but still…such a phase had been remarkably short-lived and mild in nature compared to those of her peers.

            “Kelly was so well-behaved only because you permitted nothing less, Jethro.” Ducky opined, meticulously readjusting his glasses.

            Entirely unable to argue against such sound logic, as both he and Shannon had been very quick to extinguish any unsavory behaviors in Kelly before they could become habits, Gibbs found himself resorting to growling rather than participating in an honest and fair debate about the proper rearing of children.

            “So what?!” He demanded. “Am I just supposed to crack down on Abby, without any warning whatsoever!?”

            “Yes.” Ducky passionately assured, not so much as blinking at the sudden harshness of his tone. “As both Vance and myself have been begging you to do for the last several years.”

             Never one to enjoy having his parenting called into question, whether in regards to his daughter or his pseudo-niece, Gibbs rolled his eyes and threw his hands up into the air to denote his complete exasperation with the conversation at hand.  

             “You like act like Abby is out of control or something.”

            “Abigail bit Anthony not ten days ago, Jethro, whilst a fully-functioning adult.”  

            Unable to think back upon such a fracas without some degree of disgust, as all Tony had done to incite such an attack was to unknowingly poke Abby in the ribs whilst she was in the middle of contending with some pretty nasty menstrual cramps, Gibbs frowned slightly and strived to put the conversation at hand to an end before anymore incidences of Abby’s misbehavior could be brought up.

            “Tony…provoked her.”

            “Jethro,” Ducky sighed, “If it were Anthony to have bitten someone, I have no doubts, whatsoever, that you’d have taken a hand to his backside.”  

             Despite being a firm proponent of not striking your children after they misbehaved, save for a just a few swats in some very rare and extenuating circumstances, namely the intentional endangering of oneself and/or others, Gibbs kept his views on that particular bit of discipline to himself in order to enter into yet another exhausting debate with his friend.

            “Tony is my kid, Duck.” Gibbs reminded. “Abby is…Abby is more like a niece.”

            And, as such, Gibbs felt it would be entirely inappropriate for him to mete out the same sort of discipline he dished out to Tony.

            “Jethro,” Ducky calmly rejoined, “These children are going to be under your care for at least a week, if not more. Do you truly wish to contend with a little tyrant for that length of time?”

            Whilst Gibbs found himself fully unable to construct any argument that would refute anything that his closest of friend’s had just said, or implied, he still found himself scowling as he stomped back to the car.

            “You don’t always have to be right, you know.”  

            “I don’t have to be.” Ducky agreed, purposely refusing to refute the insinuation that he was never wrong.            

            Yanking open the back door of his car, to remove the very strong temptation he felt towards telling the smug Medical Examiner to go service himself with a glove coated in Icy-Hot, Gibbs sighed heavily beneath his breath before patiently buckling Abby, once more, back into her seat.

            “These buckles stay on.” Gibbs ordered. “And you can have the coloring book and a handful of crayons, or nothing at all.”

Chapter Text

             

           

            Despite his newly-formed resolve to be a little bit firmer with Abby, at least as much as his conscience would allow, Gibbs soon found, much to his and Tim’s shared consternation, that it would be a hellish fifteen minutes before Abby ceased her renewed tantrum about being confined into a carseat long enough for her exhausted body to overrule her will and force sleep upon her. A timeframe which, whilst seemingly small of duration, was more than just a little hellish given that both babies had awoken as a result and resumed their deafening banshee screeching. A natural consequence of the tantrum which, whilst awful on its own, was only magnified in its severity by the fact that it had understandably alarmed the parking-garage guards sufficiently enough to necessitate Vance’s interference before Gibbs was allowed to leave the building without Child Protection Services being called on him.

            “Is all little kids like that?” Timmy groused, rubbing the cheek that had so recently been assailed with a purple crayon.

Allowing himself an indulgent and amused smirk at the notion that Tim didn’t consider himself a little kid, despite being, in fact, no older than a first-grader at best, Gibbs glanced at the boy on his left and sought to reassure him.

            “Nah.” Gibbs comforted. “Some of them are real easy.”

            “Good.” Timmy sighed, taking his words as Gospel. “Cause Mommy says I’m going to have a brother soon and I don’t want one like…I want a nice one.”

            Seeing as how Sarah was the only other McGee sibling he knew about, or that Tim ever seemed to talk about, Gibbs frowned in confusion and looked to the boy for answers.

            “A brother?” He asked, wondering if he had perhaps misheard the child.

            “Uh-huh.” Tim nodded, suddenly somber as he fiddled with hangnail. “I was supposed to get a sister before, too, but Daddy said that God changed his mind and sent the baby back to Heaven.”  

             Unable to keep from grimacing as he recalled the unpleasant memory of Shannon miscarrying a pregnancy in one of the earlier stages of their marriage, Gibbs suddenly found himself at a loss for what to say.

            “Oh.” He managed, unsure of how to go forward.

             “Mommy was said for a long time.” Tim babbled, childishly unaware of the inappropriateness of having such a conversation with a relative stranger. “But it’s okay, because now she gets to have two boys.” And, much in character with a child who was only just beginning to understand the vaguest concepts of empathy, Tim added: “I don’t think I want a sister anyways.”

            Thinking of the way in which an adult Tim seemed to absolutely dote upon the sister that was a full thirteen years younger than himself, to the point that their relationship took on more of a child/parent feel rather than that of a sibling bond, Gibbs smiled and tousled the boy’s hair.

            “You know, in a few years or so you might just change your mind.”

             “I don’t know about that.” Timmy scoffed. “Mommy says she’s done asking for babies after this one.”

            Although that very clearly wasn’t the case, given that Sarah had eventually made an appearance, Gibbs humored the young boy by playing along.

            “People change their minds, you know.”

            Becoming so suddenly quiet at such a response that Gibbs began to worry he had inadvertently said something wrong, Timmy sat uncomfortably straight in his seat and nibbled nervously at his lip before finally deigning to speak once more.

            “Do you think God would change his mind if I asked him to give back my sister? Because it would make my Mommy very happy if he did.”

            Painfully recalling the endless pleas he, himself, had made to God in the vainest of hopes he could somehow be permitted to trade his life for that of his daughter’s, Gibbs felt his throat grow tight and found it very difficult to respond.

            “I don’t…I don’t it works that way, Buddy.”

            “Yeah,” Timmy frowned, seeming to shrink in his seat. “That’s what Daddy said.”

            Having by that point become far more uncomfortable than he could bare, which was saying something for a man who had seen more than his share of death and war, Gibbs gruffly cleared his throat and shamelessly tried to change the subject.

            “Do you like music, Tim?”

            Seeming just as relieved to have had the topic at hand summarily dismissed without prejudice, Tim perked up a bit and nodded his head.

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Why don’t we turn on the radio, then?” Gibbs suggested, hoping that the little boy would drop off into a nap of his own.

            For despite being arguably far too old for enforced naps, it still stood to reason that any impromptu regression called for a bit of reenergizing slumber.

            “But won’t that wake the babies up?” Tim fussed, peering around the back of his seat to check on the welfare of Tony and Kate.

            Thinking with some small sense of fondness that the little boy would make a great father someday, should he (in fact) chose to have any children in the future, Gibbs smiled calmly and shook his head.

            “Trust me, Tim, those two will sleep for as long as they can. Babies sleep like the dead at that age.”

            “Oh, okay.” The pudgy towhead readily believed, refusing to even entertain the idea that an adult might be wrong. “Let’s listen to some music.”

            “Good idea.” Gibbs smiled, magnanimously allowing the child to take credit for his earlier idea. “What do you want to listen to?”

             Despite the relative ease of such a question, as it was no more harder in nature than inquiring what someone’s favorite food or color might be, Tim nibbled nervously at his bottom lip in a very clear display of an anxiety-induced tick and looked shyly away from Gibbs’s face to stare down at his feet.

            “What…what music do you like?” Tim finally managed, trying and failing to be slick.

            “I’m asking you.” Gibbs patiently rebuttled, not falling for such a trick.

             “We’re…We’re supposed to put others first.” Tim fussed, beginning to look as if he was being entrapped.

            Beginning to wonder if whether or not and an adult Tim’s general inability to put himself first stemmed forth from some remarkably shitty religious indoctrination in his formative years, Gibbs struggled to conceal a scowl as he hastily sought to reassure the young boy that it was not at all sinful to prioritize oneself every once in a while.

            “Sometimes it’s okay to put ourselves first.” Gibbs asserted. “A car can’t carry anyone if it runs out of fuel.”    

             “Oh.” Tim said, looking only slightly less doubtful. “Do…Do you like God music?”

            Knowing without asking that the small boy in question was only asking about that particular genre because he felt that was supposed to enjoy, Gibbs dug into his surprisingly large cache of childhood-psychology knowledge and sought to outwit the timid Tim and his own game.

            “Not really.” He replied, sighing loudly for extra emphasis. “Do you like anything else?”

             Painfully unable to abandon his principal of putting other’s desires first, and equal parts far too bashful to assert his own wishes into a conversation, Tim looked as if his teeth had just been yanked free from his mouth with a wrench as he mumbled his answer.

            “I’m not supposed to listen to music with swearing.”

            “There is plenty of music without swearing, Tim.” Gibbs smiled. “Trust me.”

            “Well,” Tim frowned, still clearly uncomfortable, “I like play music, I guess.”

             Although Gibbs had been introduced to a seemingly endless amount of movies and music during his lengthy span as Tony’s father, he was honestly stumped by his tiny passenger’s request. For while he had been forced to sample everything from Techno to Grunge during the many incidences in which he had ferried his kid around the city, he was all but certain the genre of ‘play’ music had never come up.

            “Play music?” Gibbs finally asked, hoping for clarification.

            “Yeah.” Tim nodded. “Like the stuff they do in plays.”

             “Ah, you mean like in musicals.” Gibbs grinned, turning on the radio and turning it to the station Tony liked best. “Gotcha.”

            Fortunately for Gibbs, it was the sounds of Fiddling on the Rooftop that filled his car, rather than the fucking horrendous noise of the Gentile Cats he couldn’t stand.

            “This is the one with the Jews!” Tim pipped happily, sitting up straighter in his chair.

             “Don’t call them that.” Gibbs automatically corrected, calm but stern. “They’re Jewish, not Jews.”

             Hazel eyes going quite wide at the heatless rebuke, Tim’s cheeks flamed a vibrant shade of red as said boy squirmed uncomfortably in his seat and resumed looking down at the ground.

            “It’s alright, Tim.” Gibbs soothed, patting his head. “You didn’t know.”

            “But now I do.” The little boy said somberly, looking as if he was expecting a much firmer rebuke.

            “But now you do.” Gibbs parroted, hopefully happily enough to calm the anxious child.

             Gradually allowing himself to relax upon making the discovery that his calm utterance seemed to have worked wonders with reassuring his oldest charge that he wasn’t about to receive a tongue-lasting for his innocent mistake anytime soon, Gibbs stretched leisurely at a stop sign and indulged himself with a garish yawn before taking off once more – only to almost immediately have the pleasurable feelings such actions evoked removed from his person as Tim suddenly decided to break the silence with yet another awkward question.

            “Why am I fat, Gibbs?”

            Hands nearly falling off the steering wheel at such an unexpected question, as he had been entirely unprepared for anything of the sort, Gibbs grimaced and wondered how best to approach the situation at hand. Because while he had already dealt with his Kelly experiencing such self-loathing, there was just something different about a parent discussing weight with their child compared to a relative stranger doing so with a kid that wasn’t even remotely related to them.

            “Well,” Gibbs struggled, unwilling to resort to denying the truth of the matter, “Do…Do you go outside and play a whole lot?”

             Looking as if that were one of the most absurd questions he had ever heard in his life, Tim frowned and shook his head vigorously.

            “I gots lots of chores to do.” The boy frowned, deflating quite a bit.

            “Don’t you ever go biking with your friends, though?” Gibbs inquired, thinking with no small amount of fondness upon the memories of him doing just that with his own friends.

            Turning more than just a little pink in response to the innocent question, Tim nibbled fretfully at his lips and sighed.

            “Mommy says it’s too dangerous.” The child bemoaned. “And I don’t know how.”

             Feeling his temper flare up quite a bit at that particular bit of news, in a very similar fashion to what it had when he’d first discovered Senior had never taken his child fishing, Gibbs gripped the steering wheel much firmer than necessary and struggled to school his face into a neutral mask.

             “Your daddy never showed you how to ride a bike?”

            “He’s sick a lot.” Timmy frowned, suddenly appearing to be several years older.

            Feeling like a complete asshole for having failed to remember that John McGee was a three-time cancer survivor, as well as war veteran, Gibbs inwardly cursed himself and strived to change the subject before the uncomfortable topic of illness and death could be brought up.

            “Don’t you ever walk to the park…play some baseball with the other boys?”

            “The Catholic boys do.” Tim confirmed. “But I’m not supposed to play with them.”           

             Thinking that such a misguided separation of religions had been more than outdated when he was a young child, especially so when it came to sects of the same damn Christianity, Gibbs shook his head and wondered, not for the first time in his life, just what it was about religion that made people so damn crazy.

            “Well, don’t your own friends play baseball?”

            “There’s not enough of us.” Tim complained. “And Tom and Will won’t their sisters play, even though that’s mean.”

             In full agreement with the fact that it was cruel to refuse girls the rights to play simply because of their gender, as one of the best pitchers on his childhood team had been Mary-Beth Greene, Gibbs nodded and added his two cents to the conversation.

            “Yeah, that does seem kind of shitty – mean.”

            Having the well-mannered grace to pretend like he hadn’t just heard a curse-word, Tim furrowed up his brows and assailed Gibbs with yet another awkward question.

            “So…am I fat because I don’t play baseball?”            

            “It might…Well…Being outside would help you lost a little weight, maybe. That’s all.” Gibbs struggled to explain. “But…you also need to watch your eating, too. You don’t a whole lot when you’re feeling bad, do you?”

            Knowing for a fact that an older Tim did just that, at least before he had successfully lost forty pounds and kept them off, Gibbs was not at all surprised when a guilty expression flickered over the boy’s features.

            “Don’t feel bad, Tim. Lot’s of people do that.” Gibbs assured. “But maybe instead of eating when you feel bad, you could do something else.”

            “Like what?” Tim inquired.

            “Like maybe go read a book or something.” Gibbs suggested. “Or talk to someone if you’re feeling bad.”     

            Pausing but a brief moment to consider such sage advice, Tim nibbled at a hangnail for a brief spell before finally summoning up the courage to ask another question.

            “Can I talk to you?”

            “Sure.” Gibbs allowed, beyond flattered. “That sounds like a good idea to me.”

Chapter Text

Although the strangling of small children had honestly never been something Gibbs had ever considered once in his long life, at all, a cantankerous Abby seemed more than just a little determined to test his resolve on such a restraint. For not only did the little girl suddenly perk up like Cthulhu would after a long thousand year rest, which was to say quite dramatically and with a deafening roar,  not ten minutes away from the house, but so too did she further expand upon such further chaotic energy by popping a startled Kate in the mouth the very moment she began wailing in response to such a rude awakening. Which, of course, in turn meant that a sympathetic Tony began howling in unison with his unjustly wounded comrade.  

            “For God’s sake,” Gibbs thundered, unfortunately causing Tim to flinch, “I’m about to lose my goddamn mind!”

            And thusly declared, Gibbs unceremoniously whipped his car into the crowded parking lot of a franchised grocery-store, startling a small crowd of boys who had gathered near a shopping cart trolley to await the return of their mothers, and angrily slammed on the breaks in total disregard to the yellow lines that dictated where the owner’s of said establishment would like their customers to park – earning himself several angry honks from a newly arrived woman until one of his trademark glares rendered her as silent as a mime.

            “What the hell is the matter with you, Abby?!” Gibbs barked, his fierce temper finally provoked into life. “Why would you hit a baby!?”

            Not so much as flinching at the increased volume of his voice, even though the other three children in the car most certainly did, Abby stared into his face with all the calmness of someone who felt they were in full control of a situation and fearlessly made known her response via some shouting of her own.

            “She woked me up!” The little tyrant snapped, turning to glare daggers at a still crying Kate.

            More than just a little taken aback by such blatant lying, as it was not often anyone had the balls to fib straight to his face, Gibbs temporarily found himself at a loss for what to say and resorted, instead, to glaring as he worked to reassert some control into the situation.

            “You woked Katie up!” Timmy argued, chivalrously stepping in to defend the helpless baby while Gibbs was indisposed.

            “Did not!” Abby screeched, her little lying face turning bright red.

            “Did too!” Tim argued, morally outraged on behalf of the babies.

            “You’re a liar, Timmy!” Abby ironically accused, looking fully prepared to launch herself at the small boy. “You woked the babies up!”

            Having never once been forced to contend with the increased ability to annoy that small children seemed to enjoy whenever gathered in groups, as Kelly had been an only child for the entirety of her life, Gibbs found himself on the verge of a nuclear meltdown as Abby launched a green crayon at Tim and only narrowly missed his eye.

            “I don’t care who woke the babies up!” Gibbs snapped, feeling his blood pressure rise to dangerous levels. “You can’t just hit a baby, Abigail Rae! You could have really hurt Kate!”

            “I don’t care, Ibbs!” Abby snapped, scratching at his face and coming up several feet short. “I don’t like Kate!”

            Justifiably dumbfounded by such blatant brattiness, as not even the strong-willed Victoria would behave in so abhorrent a fashion, Gibbs simply started at the tantruming girl in disbelief before his concern for the baby finally overpowered his shock and prompted him to crawl into the backseat.

            “Katie,” Gibbs sighed, gently examining the wailing baby’s face, “You’re alright.”

            And, truth be told, his statement was no mere lie either, for Abby had thankfully had the ‘prudence’ to assault Kate with an open palm rather than with a more dangerous and painful closed first. Not that such a revelation had any real bearing on the traumatized infant clinging tightly to his hand for comfort, of course. For no matter how many soothing words Gibbs whispered into her ear, and no matter how many strokes he applied to her silky hair, it wasn’t until he stroked her beneath the chin in a fit of desperation that she ceased her crying and gradually settled back into her seat – all but encouraging the still sniffling Tony to do the same with a remarkably expressive, yet watery, smile sent his way.

            It was only then that Gibbs decided to move unto Abby, finally taking the advice Ducky had been giving him for the last several years.

            “You absolutely will not hit one of the babies again.” Gibbs lectured, grabbing the errant child beneath the chin to force her gaze unto his own. “I mean it, Abigail Rae. I don’t care what happens, but you cannot hit a baby – ever. You could really hurt them.”

             Sniffling dramatically, but not at all remorsefully, Abby nodded as much as the hand beneath her chin would allow and swiped angrily at the tears in her eyes.

            “I mean it, Abigail Rae. If I see you do that again I’ll…I will spank you.”

            He wouldn’t, of course, based on matters of principal alone, but the chronically misbehaving little girl didn’t need to know that. She need only think that he would.

            “Okay, Ibbs.” Abby tearfully agreed. “I pomise.”

             “Alright then.” Gibbs grunted, kissing her brow. “Let’s get home.”

            And, without even waiting to see if anyone had any protests about just such a decision, Gibbs effortlessly slipped back into the front seat and piloted the car back unto the highway without another word – ushering in a new ear of peace up until Tim began to squirm uncomfortably a few minutes later.

            “You good, Tim?” Gibbs inquired, not failing to notice the manner in which said little boy had crossed his legs. “We’re almost back to my place.”

            Despite looking as if he wanted to do nothing more than please the current adult in charge of him, Tim grimaced guiltily and placed his hands between his legs.

            “I got to pee.”

             “I don’t suppose you can hold it, can you?” Gibbs asked.

            Casting Gibbs a dubious expression that seemed to convey he could no more hold it in then he could suddenly grow wings and fly, Tim squirmed all the more and made a very stressed sound from the back of his throat.

            “Alright, alright.” Gibbs soothed, steering his car towards one of the seldom used entrances to a walking trail. “If I pull over, are you going to be able to use a bush or something?”

            “Uh-huh.” Tim hastily agreed. “There’s no poison ivy though, is there?”

            “No, not in the city.” Gibbs reassured, parking on the shoulder.

             “Good.” Tim sighed, having clearly experienced a very unfortunate encounter with said plant in his short life. “That stuff is the worst.”

            Sensing that he didn’t have much time left before his passenger seat was soaked in piss, Gibbs smiled his agreement but impatiently leaned across Tim to open the boy’s door for him.

            “Alright,” He directed, unbuckling the boy, “Head off into that trail a few steps and go.”

            “Be right back.” Tim promised, dashing out the door in the blinking of an eye.

            Having complete faith in the well-behaved boy to behave responsibility with the privilege of being unsupervised for a short spell of time, as said child had displayed nothing but exemplary behavior in the short duration of time he’d been under his custody, Gibbs leaned back in his seat and fiddled with the radio as he awaited the return of his oldest ward. A duration of time, whilst slightly longer than expected, that thankfully hadn’t lasted long enough for any real fear to set in. For before the third minute could even herald it’s arrival, much less settle itself in, Tim was back in the car with a noticeable pinkness coloring his cheeks.

            “Sorry I took so long, Gibbs, there was girls walking by.”

            “You’re good.” He assured, pulling the car back unto the road. “You were only gone a minute.”  

             Instantly relaxing upon making the discovery that he wasn’t in any sort of trouble for taking a good three minutes to pee, Tim smiled brightly and apparently felt bold enough to ply Gibbs with yet another slightly uncomfortable question.

            “Why can’t girls pee standing up?”

            Wishing not for the first since leaving The Yard that Ducky was with him to answer some of the more awkward questions, as said man seemed to have no real filter when it came to discussing anatomy, Gibbs grimaced and fixed his eyes resolutely upon the road.

            “They don’t have…They don’t have the right equipment for that.”

            “Oh.” Tim pipped, thankfully not asking for any specifics. “Is that why they can’t camp?”

            Wondering how it was possible for a young Tim to be so inadvertently sexist, when the adult version of himself was so damn chivalrous, Gibbs frowned slightly and sought to disabuse his young ward of such a silly notion.

            “Girls can camp, Tim.”

             “Scoutmaster Dave says they’re not supposed to.” Tim informed, seeming to place great authority on said man’s opinions.

            “Well, he’s wrong.” Gibbs simply stated. “Why wouldn’t girls be able to camp?”

             Without so much as missing a beat, Tim proudly answered the question with all the confidence of a little boy who had been repeatedly told the same thing over and over.

            “Because they can’t pee in the woods.”        

            “They can if they squat.” Gibbs countered, gratefully pulling into his driveway. “But enough of that for now, we’re here.”

            Taking only a brief to survey his home and find it lacking, Abby made a disgusted noise in the back of her throat and promptly made known her dissatisfaction with her new living arrangement.

            “It’s small.” Abby disparaged. “Where’s your pool?”

            Understanding that small children didn’t have the necessary verbal filter to prevent causing any hurt feelings, at least not until they became school aged, Gibbs refused to take the insulting appraisal of his house to heart and turned to face the rude girl as calmly as possible.

            “I don’t have a pool, Abs.”

            Looking as if that was one of the biggest tragedies in her young life, Abby scrunched up her face in abject confusion and frowned.

            “Why not?” She demanded. “Are you poor?”

            “Abby!” Tim scolded, completely aghast. “That wasn’t nice!”

            “I was just asking!” Abby snapped, glowering fearlessly at the older boy.

            “Well, it wasn’t a nice question!” Tim huffed, refusing to back down.

            Sensing an impeding assault would soon be coming if he didn’t step in and deescalate the argument currently brewing, Gibbs looked firmly at both of the culprits until they quieted and looked at their toes.

            “ENOUGH.” He declared, his tone brooking no argument.

              Despite such a simple word being more than enough to cow Timmy into submission, Abby seemed to take it as a challenge that needed conquered.

            “We should have lefted Timmy in the road.” The little girl opined.

            “Abigail!” Gibbs scolded, in abject disbelief of her gall.

            Having either forgotten his earlier warning that he would spank her should she persist with such awful behavior, or perhaps having simply never believed him in the first place, Abby actually rolled her goddamn eyes at him and scrunched up her nose.

            “I was just saying, Ibbs!”

             “Abigal Rae – “

            Click.

            Feeling all the blood in his body boil as the undisciplined toddler unbuckled the first of the straps keeping her contained, Gibbs clamped down hard on the steering wheel and only relented his grip when he felt the accessory begin to crack.

            “Don’t. You. Dare.” He warned, locking eyes with the little terrorist.

            Click.

            And, just like that, Abby was both out of her carseat and the car in a fraction of a section, heading off inside his unlocked home like her very life depended upon it. Which, given the extreme anger Gibbs was currently experiencing as a result of her behavior, it very likely did.

            “Motherfuc – “

            Cutting himself off before he could finish uttering the colorful epitaph, as it was abundantly clear that Timmy felt very uncomfortable with the usage of such language, Gibbs clamped down on his tongue to keep from roaring out his frustration and all but forced himself to count to start counting to twenty.

            “Do…Do you want me to go get her?” Tim nervously asked, before Gibbs could even get to thirteen.

            Feeling as if it would be wildly inappropriate to outsource that particular bit of discipline to a six-year-old, as well as not wishing to have to contend with another case of bitten fingers, Gibbs took a deep breath and shook head.

            “You had better not.” Gibbs decided. “C’mon.”  

            It was only after he had opened the backdoor of his crowded vehicle that Gibbs was suddenly confronted with the conundrum of how one was supposed to remove two babies at once, nevermind carry them both inside. Because whilst he could, theoretically, unbuckle them both at once, such a decision would still run the risk of one of the babies flinging themselves out of their carseat whilst he got the other unto his hip. And even if such an unsavory side-effect did not, in fact, occur, he would still be faced with the great difficulty or removing the remaining baby whilst with the other still on his hip.

            “I can take, Katie.” Timmy offered, wisely sensing the dilemma. “She’s smaller.”

            Although Gibbs had grown up in a time where it was not at all unusual for an older sibling to mind their younger family members, he was all but confident said child-minders had been at least ten or twelve and, as such, fully capable of safely carting around those they were minding.

            “Timmy,” Gibbs reasoned, “Babies are heavier than they look – especially when they’re sleeping.”

            And, despite the little boy’s earlier and misguided assertion that Kate was somehow lighter than her same-aged counterpart, Gibbs honestly felt that the difference in weight between the two babies was negligible at best.

            “I can do it, Gibbs.” Timmy promised, flexing his muscles. “I’m really strong!”

            Seeing no other way in which he could get all the children inside, and thusly save his property from whatever damage Abby was currently wreaking on its insides, Gibbs sighed aloud his frustration but nonetheless gave into his oldest ward’s request that he be allowed to help, silently wondering to himself, all the while, how it was that the parents of multiples ever survived their first year.

            “I only need you to hold Kate for a second, alright?” Gibbs stressed, carefully extracting the girl from her seat. “I’ll pick her just as soon I grab Tony.”

            “I got this, Gibbs.” Tim assured, gently and expertly accepting the conked out child into his arms.  

             Smiling encouraging at the helpful young boy, with more confidence than he felt, Gibbs quickly moved to the other side of his car in order to extract a snoring Tony before disaster could strike ala Tim dropping the delightfully pudgy infant in his clumsy arms.

            “Alright, hand her up.” Gibbs directed, kneeling to better assist the small boy with the transfer.

            “You’re right, Gibbs.” Tim panted, once Kate was safely relocated. “Babies is heavy.”

            “But not too heavy for a strong boy like you, right?” Gibbs flattered, unable to keep from grinning as Tim’s face erupted into the brightest of smiles. “Now get the garage door for me, would you?”

            Riding high on the relative success of having been able to hold a pudgy baby for the length of half-a-minute, Timmy practically hopped and skipped across the dimly-lit garage to yank open the door as earlier requested.

            “After you, Sir.” Tim insisted, waving him on inside.

            “Why, thank you.” Gibbs obliged, strolling into his living room.

Chapter Text

            Almost immediately gratified by the miraculous sight that greeted him just as soon as he made his way into the living room, as Jimmy had evidently snuck over to his unlocked house and baby-proofed whilst everyone else was still contending with the decision of what to do with the newly-deaged children, Gibbs let out a very relieved sigh and resolved to do something extraordinarily kind for Ducky’s timid assistant the next time the opportunity presented itself. For not only had diabetic young man in question seen to it that all the doorways and stairwells were properly blocked off with gates, so too had he had the foresight and prudence to bring over Victoria’s old Pack-N-Play and place it safely in the midst of his living room.

            “Alright,” Gibbs grunted, carefully lowering the babies down into the new mesh confinement, “In you go.”

            Although he was not at all surprised to find that both babies immediately awakened and began wailing upon their unceremonious depositing into the unfamiliar Pack-N-Play, as such was only a natural response for any child put into such disorienting situation, Gibbs found he could only frown in sympathy and kiss both their brows in a vague gesture of comfort before immediately moving unto the more important task of locating Abby before said little girl could hurt herself or set his house aflame.

            “Can you keep an eye on the babies, Tim?” Gibbs reluctantly inquired, feeling quite badly for continually placing the burdens of child-minding unto the boy. “Just for a minute?”

            “Sure.” Tim readily agreed, all but bouncing over to the Pack-N-Play. “I won’t take my eyes off of them.”

            And, sure enough, the little boy promptly fixed his hazel eyes upon the distressed babies with all the concentration of a surgeon trying not to nick a major artery.

            “Thanks, Tim.” Gibbs responded, rewarding the boy with a small smile before stalking off.

            And, having not failed to notice the ominous manner in which the baby-gate formerly barring access into the kitchen was now freely swinging back-and-forth, Gibbs naturally directed his first line of inquiry into that inherently dangerous room – inwardly praying all the while that he would not stumble into just such a room to discover that Abby had inadvertently sliced her hand open wit a knife or elsewise set something important ablaze in the microwave or oven.  

            “Abigail!?” Gibbs growled, stomping into the unlit kitchen without any preamble, “Are you in – “

            Cut short from finishing his sentence upon espying the rogue child standing proudly atop his kitchen table, whilst she passionately worked to gulp down an entire bottle of chocolate syrup, as well as her shirt via the natural consequence of her aim being poor, Gibbs felt his jaw drop at the very same time his blood-pressure skyrocketed.

            “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Abigail Rae!?”

            Startled enough by the sudden appearance of her temporary guardian storming into the kitchen with the fiercest of scowls upon his face, Abby hastily yanked the incriminating syrup away from her mouth just long enough for the sticky concoction to drip down her neck and unto heirloom table beneath her feet.

            “I was hungry.” Abby calmly informed, irreverently dropping the syrup bottle unto the floor.

            Forcing himself to count up to thirty until he acted, as he did not wish to inadvertently harm the young child in his anger, Gibbs stood still up until the moment his self-imposed timeframe had elapsed and then promptly stomped himself over to the errant young girl and yanked her from the table, unceremoniously plopping her back down upon the floor where she belonged.

            “Just look at you!” Gibbs ranted, thoroughly at his wits end. “You’re covered in chocolate!”

            “Well, this shirt is too big for me anyways!” Abby sassed, using the back of her hand to swipe away some of the chocolate from her face. “So just relax, Ibbs.”

            Despite it being more than just a little true that the clothing Ducky had procured for the female children currently in his custody were far larger than was strictly appropriate, on virtue of the fact that they’d been forced to contend with whatever spares of Victoria’s Jimmy kept tucked away in his car, it was likewise also true that such castoffs were far better fitting and more comfortable that whatever cheap dollar-store knockoffs Ducky had scrounged up for the boys to wear.

            “You can’t just climb up on things, Abigail Rae! It’s dangerous.” Gibbs lectured, blood still boiling. “And you can’t just run off either! What were you thinking?!”

            “You made me mad!” The young girl raged, passionately offering up one of the weakest defenses Gibbs had ever heard in his life.

            Perhaps for the first time in his life starting to regret the fact that he hadn’t ever been even marginally firm with Abby, as his failure to do so had clearly done her no favors, Gibbs frowned reprovingly at said little bandit and kneeled to be on eye-level with her.

            “You know what?!” He growled, grabbing her beneath the chin to force her gaze upwards unto himself. “You can either fix your attitude or plant your little ass in a corner for the next five minutes. The choice is yours, Abigail.”

            Jaw comically dropping in response to such a harsh bargain, as no doubt it was one of the very few times in her young life that anyone had ever deigned speak to her in such a manner, Abby stood rooted to the spot and simply stared into his face with no small amount of confusion clouding her features.

            “Well,” Gibbs growled, after several minutes has passed, “What’s it going to be, little lady?”

            Taking a ridiculously long amount of time to consider her options, in either a mark of childish indecision or blatant disrespect for his authority, Abby scrunched up her in an admittedly endearing fashion and blew out a breath through her nose.  

            “I guess I gots to fix my altitude then, Ibbs!” Abby huffed, sounding markedly bereaved over the possibility that she might need to at least marginally behave.

            “Good.” Gibbs sighed, thoroughly relieved. “Now let’s get that syrup off your face.”

            And, to show that such a request was not actually a question but a command, Gibbs firmly grabbed the filthy child by her hand and all but dragged her over to the kitchen sink, ignoring her repeated lamentations and protests as he lathered up a clean rag with soap and scrubbed her face free of the grime she had somehow managed to accumulate during her short stint as a preschooler.

            “C’mon now, into the living room.” Gibbs directed, scooping up Abby once the work of cleaning her face was done.

            Although the little goblin almost immediately went limp in his arms, to further her protest against being told what to do, Gibbs found that he couldn’t remain all that angry in response. For upon making his return to the living room, his temper was almost immediately mollified by the adorable visage of Tim entertaining the babies by making theatrically ridiculous faces.

            “Sit nicely.” Gibbs ordered, unceremoniously plucking Abby down unto the sofa before turning on his television.

            Surprisingly heeding his request, in a pliant fashion he had not believed her to be capable of, Abby slumped against the back of the sofa but nonetheless stayed put long enough for him to find some old reruns of Tom & Jerry being aired.

            “Ibbs,” Abby casually inquired, eyes glued to the screen, “Why is your tv so small?”

            Fully prepared to inform the little girl that the reasoning behind him not having a large television was because such a luxury was unnecessary for a person who spent the majority of their free-time working on creating a boat, Gibbs cleared his throat and opened his mouth – only to be untimely cut off by a surprisingly stern Tim.

            “Be nice, Abby.” The helpful towhead warned, briefly glancing away from the babies to further his censure with a frown.

            “DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO – “    

            Prudently stepping in to soothe the rising tensions before Abby could think to make a projectile of the heavy remote, and thusly give Tim a small concussion, if not a black eye, Gibbs hastily snatched the remote away from the little girl’s side.

            “Abigail.” Gibbs warned, effectively silencing her midsentence. “I’ve had enough. Sit. Be quiet. And watch TV.”   

              Waiting until the stubborn child in question gave him a sign that she would submit, via the slumping of his shoulders and an accompanying sigh, Gibbs released a little sigh of his own before depositing the brick of a remote atop his television and moving on to investigate the contents of the half-dozen boxes Jimmy had brought over along with the Pack-N-Play.

            More than just a little pleasantly surprised to find that the first two boxes contained a myriad of clothing items suitable for all the children currently under his temporary custody, along with a few pairs of differently-sized shoes as well, Gibbs moved unto the remaining boxed with a gusto that was surprising to him given the fact that it was children’s items he was currently investigating.

            “God help me,” Gibbs thought, peering into the third box, “I’m going to have to be nice to Jimmy for at least three months.”

            For not only had Palmer been kind enough to provide him with some much-needed clothing, so too had he gone the extra-step by supplying the children with all the various toys an exceedingly-advanced Victoria had lost interest in.

            But it was the last two boxes that gave Gibbs cause for the most relief, as Jimmy had seen to it that they were literally filled to capacity with diapers and wipes, as well as bottles and formula. Because with as preoccupied as he had been with acquiring the appropriate carseats for the children, as well as ferreting them home, the highly-necessary and all-important diapers had slipped his mind. Making it an absolute fucking miracle that he had managed arrive back home without any disgusting messes to clean out of the carseats, much less off the babies.

            “Alright you little goblins,” Gibbs addressed, strolling over to the Pack-N-Play, “Let’s get you diapered up.”

            Understandably having no real desire to play any sort of part in so intimate a facet of childrearing, especially when their was a girl involved, Tim immediately fled the vicinity and took to the relative safety of the sofa, albeit as far away as humanly possible from a thoroughly distracted Abby.

            “Up you go.” Gibbs murmured, smiling softly as he plucked up Kate.

            And, rather than remove Tony from the Pack-N-Play as well, and subsequently run the risk that said toddler’s innate sense of curiosity would prompt him into crawling off toward danger, Gibbs left the indignant baby to contemplate the injustice of being separated from his friend as he gently laid Kate down on a changing mat. An action, which should have been quite the easy feat given her size, that was made all the more difficult by said little girl’s staunch unwillingness to remove her tight grip on his shirt and her stubborn persistence, once lying down, to immediately sit up and reach toward Tony.

            “For God’s sake,” Gibbs sighed, hastily fetching said boy free, “Why can’t you two get along this well as adults?”

            Understandably receiving no answer from either of the babies in response to such a rhetorical question, save for a small gurgle of amusement from the boy, Gibbs softly sighed and rolled his eyes in good-natured bemusement as he gently deposited the babbling Tony next to the far quieter Kate. It was only when Kate squeaked exuberantly upon coming into contact with her male counterpart once more, and Tony grabbed her hand in response, did Gibbs lose his resolve to be annoyed at twin-like antics of the babies and give into his desire to smile.

            “You’re just like a little koala, aren’t you?” Gibbs murmured, gently coaxing Kate to lay back with soft pressure applied to her shoulder. “A quiet, clingy, pretty little koala.”

            And, truth be told, while Gibbs believed all babies had their own unique sort of beauty, Kate really did seem to possess more of such a quality than most other babies. For not only did she have endearingly doe-like blue eyes, so too did her long dark hair fall down her back in soft waves – the overall adorableness of such a visage only further compounded by the irresistible and endearing pudginess of her baby belly.

            “Gibbs,” Tim squawked, looking away from the television right as he had finished undressing her, “She’s naked!”

            “How else do you propose I get a diaper on her, Tim?” Gibbs heatlessly inquired, snagging up a diaper from the nearby box.

            Either far too embarrassed to give any answer to such a question, or perhaps having no real solution to the problem that didn’t involve a naked baby, Tim simply turned bright pink before turning his focus back unto the television.

            “Alright, Koala.” Gibbs hummed. “Let’s get you fixed up.”

            Laying impressively still for being such a young baby, in a manner he only wished Kelly had, Kate nibbled greedily on the fingers of her free hand and pliantly allowed Gibbs to diaper her with nary a complaint or squirm, her intense focus all but concentrated on her male counterpart and the indistinguishable conversation they seemed to be having amongst themselves.  

            “Now let’s get you dressed.” Gibbs decided, sitting the small girl up.

            Because whilst Gibbs was not one of those people who believed small children ought to be covered up completely for 24 hours a day, in some sort of misguided Puritan belief that undressed babies were sinful or distracting, he most certainly did not want to contend with the very strong possibility that either one, or both of the babies, would remove their diapers in a childish display of exhibitionism and leave their messes on the furniture or flooring.

            “Let’s see you get out of this.” Gibbs challenged, selected a pair of footed green pajamas with the zipper in back.

            Just as complacent when being dressed in the pajamas as she was with being diapered, Kate sat perfectly still and was, as result, far more difficult to dress than any toddler with a desire to assist would have been. Because not only would she refuse to bend a limb in natural response to an armhole being presented to her, so too would she go unnaturally stiff as a result and require manual manipulation to get her arm or foot to go where it belonged.

            “There we go.” Gibbs encouraged, finally able to zip up the back of her pajamas. “All nice and snug.”

            And, without even bothering to await a response he knew would not come, Gibbs promptly plucked up the clingy baby and plopped her down to the left of the changing pad, moving so quickly and expertly that the needy little Koala did not even have time to attach herself to his shirt again.

            “Your turn now, Monkey.”  

            Despite looking greatly indignant at being yanked away from his new best friend without any warning, and babbling a long string of nonsense in testament to that outrage, Tony almost immediately stifled his complaints once he was laid back and able to grab Kate’s hand once more.

            “You little fuckers have no idea how adorable you’re being, do you?” Gibbs accused, speaking softly enough so that the older two children couldn’t overhear him.

            Because while it could have just been his own parental bias kicking in, given that he considered the boy of such an adorable duo to be his own, he full-heartedly believed that the two young toddlers currently in his custody could give any Gerber baby a run for their money. Especially Tony, who not espoused a thick set of black curls and large green eyes, but also a heart-melting set of dimples and a dopey smile as well.

            Although, all things considered, it would have been all the more useful to Gibbs if said boy’s angelic appearance actually matched his behavior. For whereas Kate had been pliant and still to a fault during her diapering and dressing, Tony was all but determined to assist with both such actions – very nearly resulting in his diaper being put on backwards and his head going through an armhole. But, if Tony felt any sort of disgruntlement in response to such unintended consequences, he certainly didn’t show them. For just as soon as he was sat back upright, he hastily crawled over to Kate’s side and passionately babbled something that was clearly amusing to his similarly dressed friend.

            “They could almost be twins.” Gibbs thought, smirking as the babies shared laughter filled the room.

            Because even without the added assistance of being dressed in the same pajamas, the only marked difference in their appearance was their eye color – as Kate’s brunette hair was very nearly dark enough to pass for black in the right light.

             “Alright, come along now.” Gibbs encouraged, only narrowly managing to get the both of them in his arms.

            Receiving only a babble of agreement from Tony in response to such an indirect order, Gibbs sighed loudly from sheer relief and nearly whooped for joy when he found, upon placing the two babies in the already assembled playpen, that neither one cried or clung to his shirt.

            “Here.” Gibbs announced with a small smile, pouring out the boxful of infant toys into their enclosure. “Go nuts.”  

             Curiosity prompting him to stand watch for a short while, as he harbored an absurd interest in seeing which of the toys each child might take an interest in, Gibbs made himself as unobtrusive as possible by standing stock-still and breathing shallowly – such efforts being almost immediately gratified by the unsurprising, yet endearing, fashion in which both young children crawled over to the discarded box with an excited and curious gleam in their eyes.

            ‘Go figure.’ Gibbs thought, his smirk turning into a grin as he watched the babies bat at the box’s cardboard flaps. ‘They never go for the expensive crap.’

            Unless, of course, that expensive crap was the class-ring Kelly had pilfered and flushed down the toilet in her toddlerhood.

            “I’m going to start supper.” Gibbs informed the older two. “Keep an eye on the babies.”

            Although he received no response whatsoever from Abby, who was practically glued to the television despite its inadequate size, Tim seemed to perk up at the announcement and looked up at him with hopeful eyes.

            “Can I help?!”

            Rather than outright deny the young boy such an innocent request on the grounds that he was needed to stay and keep an eye on the babies, Gibbs faltered for a moment and debated the matter in his head before reluctantly coming to the conclusion that the four-year-old would likely be fully able to alert him if something was happening with one of the babies. And that, Gibbs thought, coupled with his shrewd hearing, ought to be enough due diligence to make everyone involved happy.

            “Sure, Tim.” Gibbs allowed. “Why not?”

Chapter Text

            While he had initially started out his impromptu cooking session with Tim with the feeblest of hopes that the small boy would prove himself useful rather than a hindrance, as Kelly at that age had frequently dropped everything or elsewise tweaked recipes with disastrous results, Gibbs was soon made to regret his earlier assumptions when Tim proved himself to be quite the capable sous-chef. Because not only was he capable of handling a full gallon of milk without dropping it, which was truly a blessing, so too could he accurately measure ingredients with a precision even Gibbs couldn’t claim to have.

            “You must cook with your mom.” Gibbs assumed, giving the red sauce they had just created a stir.

            Looking as if Gibbs had just insinuated he liked to wear dresses and makeup, Tim scowled but kept his tone respectful as he made a very unneeded attempt to defend his honor.

            “I’m a boy, Gibbs.” Tim asserted, looking greatly offended.

            “What’s your point?” He patiently countered. “Do you think boys can’t cook?”

            Despite looking more than just a little unsure of himself, Tim nodded timidly a few times before parroting back to Gibbs whatever nonsense he had clearly been fed from the authority figures in his life.

            “They can if they have to.” Tim informed. “Like if the women are gone.”

            “Women have names, Tim.” Gibbs gently scolded. “And didn’t you have fun cooking with me just now?”

            Clearly uncomfortable with the idea of confessing to any such thing, as no doubt some very rigorous and traditional gender-roles had been adhered to in the McGee household, Tim fidgeted for quite a bit before finally answering as diplomatically as possible.

            “I liked measuring stuff.” He allowed, earnest yet uncomfortable. “It’s like science stuff, kind of.”

            “You’re right.” Gibbs agreed, plucking up the boy and depositing him unto the counter for a better eye-to-eye conversation. “But even if it wasn’t, it’s still okay to do the things that girls like to do.”

            For not only had he shamelessly allowed Kelly to partake in wrestling and skateboarding, with Shannon whole-heartedly adding her own encouragement, so too had he once harbored an enormous affection for a pretty baby-doll he’d stumbled across at a rummage sale as a small boy. And despite all the teasing he’d gotten from the other boys in his kindergarten class, as well as a number of the girls, there had been no force on Earth adequate enough to convince him to part with Margaret – at least not until he’d stuck her in the fireplace to see if she was as fireproof as one of his friend’s older brother had claimed.

            “Just because we can, doesn’t mean that she should.” Tim recited, seemingly from force of habit alone.

            “I’m telling you its okay to like cooking,” Gibbs reiterated, “Not that it’s okay to start fires or bully someone.”

            “But – “

            “Tim,” Gibbs interrupted, “There isn’t a thing in the Bible that says only girls can cook and only boys can camp. I promise.”

            Seeming to gradually warm up to the idea that perhaps it wasn’t all that wrong to enjoy something traditionally feminine, or perhaps simply more willing to experiment so long as neither of his parents were around to witness it, Tim’s concerned frown gradually faded away and was replaced by a tentative smile.

            “I didn’t think there was.” The small boy confessed in a whisper. “Because I’ve been going to church forever and nobody ever said nothing about that.”

            “Then it’s settled.” Gibbs smiled, depositing the first-grader back unto the floor. “Boys can do girl things and girls can do boy things.”

            “Except pee standing up.” Tim contributed, intuitively stepping aside as Gibbs carried a steaming pot of noodles to the sink to drain.

            Unable to keep from chortling in response to such an unexpected utterance, as he had thought that such a topic had already been put out of the boy’s head with the aid of time, Gibbs shook his head with certain fondness and tried not to burn himself as he emptied the spaghetti noodles into a strainer.

            “Do you think you can sit the table, Tim?” Gibbs inquired, wishing to keep the helpful boy feeling useful.

            “Uh-huh!” The small boy readily agreed. “That’s easy.”

            “Great.” Gibbs lauded. “The plates are – “

            Kept from finishing his sentence as the independent and helpful Tim cleverly dragged a chair over to the correct cupboard, and subsequently climbed atop it to fetch out six plates, Gibbs shook his head and wondered just how much had been expected of the young boy at home. Because whilst a few chores were completely acceptable at that age, provided they were age appropriate, it seemed to Gibbs like Mr. and Mrs. McGee had been those types of parents to place an ungodly amount of responsibility unto their son’s shoulders while at the same time fostering an unhealthy amount of codependence in their daughter.

            “Where are the napkins?” Tim inquired, once the plates had been safely placed on the table. “I can’t find any.”

            More than just a little embarrassed to confess that he didn’t keep any around, on the grounds that he was a fully grown man perfectly capable of not making a mess of his supper, Gibbs made a great show of peeking into a drawer and frowning when he (naturally) discovered that the napkins he didn’t keep around were gone.

            “I must have ran out.” Gibbs fibbed. “We’ll have to make do without.”

            Casting him a very queer look, in a manner that seemed to suggest he knew he was being purposely deceived, Tim pursed his lips but nonetheless snagged a roll of paper towels from the counter.

            “It’s okay, Gibbs.” Tim comforted. “We can use these for now.”

            “Good idea.” Gibbs appraised. “Why don’t you get those on the table while I fetch the babies.”

            Having already begun to do just that, Tim simply nodded to show that he had been listening – clearly not wishing to break the intense concentration that placing silverware atop of napkins required.

            “I’ll be right back.” Gibbs assured. “Don’t touch the stove.”

            “I won’t.” Tim promised, meticulously adjusting a fork so it sat flush with a spoon.

            Having already come to the conclusion that the young Tim was just as obedient as the older version of himself, if not more, Gibbs took the young boy at his word and more than happily left him alone to finish his work as he moved into the living room to collect the younger children for their evening meal.

            “Supper is ready, Abs.” Gibbs announced, turning off the television. “Go to the kitchen and pick out a chair.”

            “What’re we having?” The preschooler inquired, crawling over the back of the couch to get unto the floor.

            “Spaghetti.” Gibbs answered, bending down to remove Kate from her enclosure.

            “Good.” Abby smiled. “I like pasghetti.”

            And, just like that, the rambunctious girl was merrily skipping off to the kitchen, leaving Gibbs behind to contemplate the ominous undertones of the girl’s statement – that being, of course, that there would have been hell to pay if he had served up a meal she didn’t like.

            “At least your easy.” Gibbs murmured to Kate, giving the baby a quick squeeze before settling her down at his feet. “All you want is to be held.”

            And, sure enough, just as soon as she had found her diapered butt hitting the floor, Kate whined in protest and immediately clamped her chubby hands around his leg, making the prospect of removing a still-babbling Tony from the enclosure far more difficult than it needed to be, but thankfully not impossible.

            “Alright, you little Koala.” Gibbs grunted, scooping up Kate. “Come here.”

            Almost immediately pacified once she was back in his arms, and cuddled close for a moment or two, Kate smiled dopily and used her slobbery fingers to pat at his chin in what could only be an infantile display of affection.

            “Save some of that spit for your boyfriend.” Gibbs advised, stooping to pick up Tony only to discover that said baby was no longer at his side.

            “Ony!” Kate squawked, looking just as alarmed as he felt.

            “Calm down.” Gibbs encouraged, giving her yet another squeeze. “He’s right there.”

            ‘Right there’ being, of course, the kitchen doorway he was currently trying, and failing, to stand up in by grabbing hold of one part of the wall and foolishly reaching for the other that was well outside his grasp.

            “Well look at that, Katie.” Gibbs smirked. “You’re still the smart one.”

            Having no real interest in anything other than her newly rediscovered friend, Kate understandably ignored the comments of the man holding her as she began to whine desperately for Tony.

            “And Tony is still the popular one.” Gibbs opined, hastily scooping up the boy before he could knock his head against the wall.

            Immensely happy to step into the kitchen and discover that nobody had touched the stovetop or oven, and likewise just as relieved to find that Abby was sitting nicely at the table upon a cushion Tim must have secured for her so that she might actually see the table, Gibbs smiled brightly at the young boy before gently depositing the two babies into their highchairs.

            “Good work, Tim.”

            “Thanks.” The small boy replied, beaming from ear to ear. “I like to help!”

            “And I appreciate that.” Gibbs assured, pouring out a glass of milk for both of the older kids. “Now, who’s ready to eat?”

            Not at all surprised when both of the older kids vigorously voiced their desire for food, as the Plaskett situation had made it all but impossible to eat anything other than few bites of food at a time, Gibbs smiled and obliged both of the older children when a generous helping of spaghetti.

            “Thanks, Ibbs.” Abby chirped, blue eyes all aglow.

            “Yeah, thanks!” Tim parroted, carefully cutting up his spaghetti with a fork.

            “No problem.” Gibbs expressed, turning his focus unto the babies.

            First tying matching bibs around both of their necks, to stave off whatever portion of the impending mess he could, Gibbs then heaped both of the plastic bowls on their trays full of the spaghetti he had meticulously cut up as finely as possible.

            “I don’t suppose you two can feed yourselves, can you?” Gibbs inquired, dubiously placing baby spoons into each of the babies delightfully chubby hands.

            Determined and as messy as always, it seemed as if Tony set out immediately to challenge such an innocent assertion. Because not only did said baby give him a very dirty look, which was quite the surprising visage on a babies face, so too did he plop his little spoon into the spaghetti with surprising dexterity before bringing up a victorious spoonful of food to his mouth.

            “Well, I suppose that’s what I get for assum – “

            “Ibbs!” Abby interrupted. “Timmy isn’t eating!”

            Popping a quick mouthful of spaghetti into Katie’s awaiting mouth, as said girl had made it quite clear she wasn’t at all inclined or able to feed herself, Gibbs frowned and turned to investigate the bizarre scenario of an any-sized Tim not wanting to eat.

            “What’s the matter?” Gibbs inquired, looking at the petrified boy. “Do you not like the sauce?”

            “Gibbs,” Tim whined, “We didn’t say grace.”

            Unable to keep from wondering just how much religious indoctrination the older McGee’s had thrust upon their children, especially their eldest, Gibbs frowned but nonetheless humored the small boy, figuring that everyone had the right to practice their religion so long as it didn’t hurt anyone.

            “Go ahead, Tim.” Gibbs obliged, turning to spoon another mouthful into Kate’s mouth.

            “You are my God,” The little boy solemnly intoned, “And I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

            More than just a little uncomfortable with the way in which Tim had been so perfectly able to recite such a passage without stumbling over the more complicated words, as no doubt a lot of rigorous practice had been involved, Gibbs mumbled his responding Amen without any passion and was promptly drowned out by Abby’s more enthusiastic one.

            “There.” Gibbs sighed, giving the small boy a encouraging smile. “Now eat up.”

            “Thank you.” Tim sighed, looking absurdly relieved.

            “You’re welcome – “

            “Ibbs!” Abby once more interrupted. “I need help cutting my pasghetti!”

            Glancing away from a suddenly ravenous Kate to find that Abby had been quite sincere in her request, as almost every inch of her lower face was covered in sauce, Gibbs grimaced and only prayed that a rag would take care of most of the mess, as he had no desire whatsoever to bathe the children that night.

            “I gots it, Gibbs.” Tim cheerfully announced, leaning across the table to assist Abby.

            “Thanks, Tim!” Abby beamed, speaking kindly to the older boy for the first time since they’d been deaged.

            “You’re welcome.” Tim graciously allowed. “Now eat your spaghetti before it gets cold.”

Chapter Text

Although he ought to have expected such a disaster to result from any meal involving sauce, as Kelly had been notorious for staining any clothing that wasn’t black, Gibbs still found himself sorely disappointed to discover that he wouldn’t be able to get away with just using a soft rag to clean the babies up. Because not only was every square inch of their faces covered in sauce, so too had their individual heads of hair wound up covered in mushy noodles and generous helpings of the same sauce.

            “Maybe you shouldn’t have let the babies feed each other.” Tim unhelpfully opined, moving around the table to collect the dirty plates without being asked.

            “It’s easy to say that now.” Gibbs grumbled, gingerly removing the useless bibs from the necks of the babies. “Hindsight it 20/20, after all.”

            Because while he could admit, to himself at least, that it really had been quite stupid to let two clumsy babies feed each other spaghetti, at the time that such an activity had been occurring he had been far to overwhelmed with the sheer adorableness of the situation to intervene until it was far too late.

            “Gibbs,” Tim politely inquired, “Where’s your dishwasher?”

            “I don’t have one.” He grunted in response, using a soft rag to at least mitigate the severity of the current sauce-problem. “Just put them in the sink, alright?”

            Looking quite scandalized at the suggestion he might not be allowed to assist in some manner with the after-supper cleanup, Tim stood rooted to the spot with a stack of dirty plates in his hands, his hazel eyes full of consternation and panic as he jiggled a foot and contemplated what he ought to do next.

            “I’ll do the dishes, Tim.” Gibbs worked to soothe. “Don’t worry.”

            “Is that all?” The small boy questioned, his voice nearly inaudible.

            “For tonight it is.” Gibbs announced. “You’ve done more than your fair share.”

            And, sensing that the small boy would need a little bit of encouragement before he let the matter of not being allowed to help drop, Gibbs left the babbling babies in their highchairs to grab a startled Tim by the hand.

            “In fact,” Gibbs decided, “All you’re going to do for the next few hours is watch some television.”

            “What about me, Ibbs?” Abby pestered, giving him a miniature heart-attack by slipping down off her improvised cushion-booster. “What do I get to do?”

            “You can go with him, Abs.” Gibbs assured, snatching up her hand in his own. “But you need to do as he says while I’m giving the babies their bath.”

            Shocking both Tim and himself to no small degree when she nodded in enthusiastic agreement to the plan, Abby took full advantage of their surprise by practically pulling them into the living room without any regards to their own lack of enthusiasm.

            “Ibbs! Ibbs!” Abby babbled, jumping up unto the couch. “Can we watch that cat and mouse show again!?”

            Not wishing to give her an answer in the affirmative before he could fully ascertain whether of not any reruns of Tom & Jerry were currently playing, Gibbs snatched up the remote and flipped through the channels only to find that whatever network had been playing such a cartoon had now moved unto playing the news.

            “Sorry, kids.” Gibbs apologized. “It doesn’t look like that show is playing anymore.”

            “It’s alright, Ibbs.” Abby sweetly assured. “We can watch Addalin.”

            Taking a brief moment to decipher what the little girl had just said, and coming to the conclusion that she had meant Aladdin, Gibbs flipped through the channels again until both kids enthusiastically interrupted his search when they espied the blue genie on screen.

            “Oh, good.” Abby squealed. “It just started!”

            “Is Aladdin okay with you, Tim?” Gibbs inquired, wishing to be fair.

            Once more squirming in that familiar fashion that meant he was either uncomfortable or troubled, Tim grimaced and looked guiltily at the floorboards.

            “You’re not going to tell on me for watching it, are you?” The small boy fussed, stubbornly refusing to look at the screen.

            Figuring that such classic film had been banned in the McGee household only on the grounds that it briefly showcased another, non-Christian religion, Gibbs had no qualms whatsoever about obliging the young child such a request.

            “Your secret is safe with us, Tim.” He promised, giving the boy a conspiratorial wink.

            “Good.” Tim relaxed. “Because I like Aladdin.”

            Refraining himself from seeking out an answer as to how Tim knew he enjoyed such a film, as it had been made abundantly clear that he wasn’t supposed to have watched it, Gibbs placed the remote in the older child’s hand and took off into the kitchen, pausing in the doorway only briefly to remind a thoroughly distracted Abby that Tim was in charge.

            ‘Alright,’ Gibbs thought, ‘Let’s see what mischief the babies have gotten up to.’

            Pleasantly relieved to walk into the kitchen and find that the only trouble brewed in his absence was the inexplicable smear of spaghetti that had suddenly and inexplicably appeared on the wall above the stove, Gibbs sighed contentedly and made a mental note to remove the sauce before it could dry and ruin the paint.

            “Which one of you is the major-league pitcher?” Gibbs playfully interrogated. “You?” He asked, plucking up Kate. “Or you?” He questioned Tony, likewise picking him up.

            “Uh-oh.” Tony babbled, a very familiar and mischievous gleam in his eyes.

            “Mystery solved.” Gibbs smiled, shaking his head. “Now let’s move unto the real work.”

            And, with that said, Gibbs ferreted the babies through the downstairs and up his stairwell, eliciting several peals of laughter and squeaks from them as he alternated veering from the left to right whilst making whooshing and vrooming noises.

            “Alright,” Gibbs panted, slightly out of breath as he entered the bathroom, “The airplane lands here.”

            Understandably disappointed by such an untimely end to their impromptu trip, both babies babbled passionately and pawed at his chin in an effort to get him to change his mind.

            “We’ll take a ride back downstairs once your bath is done.” Gibbs promised, setting the babies down on the floor to undress them. “How does that sound?”

            Despite their obvious inability to understand any of what had just been said to them, given their youth, the tone of voice Gibbs choice to use was more than enough to excite the babbling duo into excitement again – making it both very difficult to undress and undiaper them, as they seemed determine to show their enthusiasm by vigorously flapping their arms up and down.

            “Keep it up and you’ll be able to fly on your own.” Gibbs remarked, gently depositing both babies into the tub. “Then I’ll really have to worry.” 

            Receiving only two blank looks in response to such clever commentary, Gibbs sighed and started the tap, keeping his calloused fingers beneath the resulting stream until he felt, at last, that the water would neither scald nor chill the babies currently in his care. It was only then that he stopped up the tub and added in a generous portion of the bubble-bath an adult Tony liked to leave behind in case the frequent desire to spend the night at his father’s house presented itself.

            “I didn’t think to bring up any toys.” Gibbs apologized, gently tackling the more energetic baby’s face with a soft rag. “But you’re not staying in there very long, anyways.”

            Making his response to such an executive decision known via a clumsy fistful of bubbles lobbed in his face, Tony giggled uproariously and blew a very slobbery raspberry into his face, earning for himself some very encouraging giggles and snorts from his quieter counterpart.

            “Oh, I see.” Gibbs murmured, plucking up a handful of suds. “It’s going to be like that, is it?”

            And, before either baby could even react to his sudden and playful change in tone, much less move to defend themselves accordingly, Gibbs impishly blew the suds into their unsuspecting faces, his impulsive actions almost immediately causing both babies to shriek with laughter and babble for more of the same.

            “Let’s get washed up first.” Gibbs encouraged, tackling Kate’s face. “Then we can play.”

Chapter Text

           

            Emerging from his steamy bathroom a good forty-five minutes later, with two thoroughly exhausted babies resting on either hip, Gibbs made a great effort to facilitate their falling asleep by breathing as shallowly as possible and likewise tiptoeing as quietly as possible back into his suspiciously silent living room. Because whilst the pseudo-twins currently situated in his arms weren’t exactly or outrightly in the throes of a deep and much-needed sleep, he was hopeful enough to assume that they would eventually nod off at any moment provided that nothing and/or nobody startled or excited them into a sudden second-wind of energy.  

            “Hey, Tim.” Gibbs whispered, not wanting to startle the young boy by suddenly appearing without warning. “How was the movie?”

            “Was good.” The young boy yawned, the top of his blonde head invisible from behind the couch. “Real good.”

            Intuitively sensing that the babies in his care wouldn’t be the only children going to bed early that evening, as Tim sounded more than just a little on the verge of sleep, Gibbs indulgently allowed himself a small smile as he silently thanked his lucky stars for such a fortunate outcome.

            “How about you, Abs?” Gibbs softly inquired, moving very slowly toward his kitchen.

            “Abby falled asleep.” Tim whispered, barely awake himself.

            Hardly daring to allow himself to hope that just such a glorious event had taken place, as he had rapidly come to believe that the young Abby was practically inexhaustible, Gibbs tiptoes a bit further into the living room and nearly cried out in joy when he discovered the four-year-old conked out beneath a yellow blanket Tim must have secured for her, one chubby hand endearingly pressed to her pale cheek and the other tightly clutching a quietly farting Burt to her tiny chest.

            “I’ll carry her up to bed soon.” Gibbs assured, assuming that the way in which Abby was currently using Tim’s legs as a pillow had to be uncomfortable. “Are you sleepy, too?”

            “Huh?” The exhausted first-grader mumbled, far from eloquent.

            “Are you tired, too?” Gibbs patiently repeated, smiling fondly as he watched the eyelids of his deaged agent droop dramatically.

            Understandably more than just a little determined to prove himself the proverbial big boy, Tim rubbed impatiently at his heavy eyes and struggled to sit up as straight as the heavy weight on his legs would allow.              

            “I’m wide awake, Gibbs.” The good-natured towhead proclaimed, failing to hide his enormous yawn afterwards.

            “Alright.” He humored, charitably hiding his amused smirked. “I’m going to feed the babies.”

            “Does you need any help?” Tim blearily asked, struggling valiantly against the seductions of sleep.  

            Almost immediately wishing that he had only one baby in his arms at the moment, so that he could drape a blanket over the fatigued little boy’s frame and ruffle his hair, Gibbs frowned and wondered to himself, once again, how it was possible for single parents of multiple children to survive in the timespan that their children were not yet of age to attend school on a regular basis. Because whilst Kelly had, on rare occasion, been just as spirited and irritable as any child would be after an occasional restless night or long stretch without food, he had always been able to manage her without any significant effort on his part – even when Shannon had been away at the moment to take in a little bit of personal time. But, and that was a very strong but, he had not only had two hands available to wrangle her during those occasions but also the full use of his undivided attention as well.

            “No.” Gibbs indulged. “You stay put and keep comfortable.”

            “Thank you.” Tim breathed, not even bothering to open his eyes.  

            Figuring it best to put an end to any further conversation, on the grounds that such a distracting activity would only serve to motivate the boy to keep awake, Gibbs simply smiled at the prostrate young towhead before slithering his way into the still slightly-messy kitchen.

            “Alright.” Gibbs yawned at the babies, “Bottles then bed.”  

            Although the clearly fatigued Kate stubbornly failed to make any sort of verbal response to such an exciting declaration, other than to whine irritably and bury her face even further into the collar of his shirt, Tony perked up slightly and slapped weakly at his chin in a gesture that Gibbs was quickly starting to associate with affection and gratitude.

            “Baba.” The small boy jabbered, green eyes all aglow with desire.

            “Exactly.” Gibbs agreed, carefully slipping the very vocal boy into one of the highchairs.

             Fully prepared to follow suit with the clingy koala that was currently cemented to his side, for not only were her sharp baby talons currently cutting into the sensitive skin of his neck but also likewise making it exceedingly difficult to prepare a bottle, Gibbs stifled yet another yawn and gingerly made to remove the needy child that was practically embedded glued to his hip – only to almost immediately regret such a harmless and well-intended action when said girl squawked loudly and further pressed her fingernails into his flesh.

            “Alright, alright.” Gibbs placated, feeling blood begin to dribble down his neck. “You can stay, just get your nails out of me.”

            Only digging her claws further into his flesh in response to such an obliging concession, Kate whined irritably and nuzzled her tiny head even further into the crook of his lightly bleeding neck.

            “You’re lucky you’re so damn adorable.” Gibbs grumbled, struggling to open a container of formula with just one hand. “I hope you know that.”

             Far too exhausted and fussy to offer up any clever commentary in return, Kate actually huffed a breath of hot hair into his neck before bringing her slobbery fingers up into her mouth in a sad attempt to self-soothe. And whilst Gibbs would have ordinarily held the disgruntled baby closer and bounced her a bit, in a well-practiced attempt to assist with such soothing, he soon found, much to both their consternation, that he could only mumble nonsense at her as he labored to make not only one, but two, bottles without the use of his dominate hand.

            “This would have been a whole lot easier if you would have just let me set you down for a minute.” Gibbs groused, giving both bottles to Kate to hold. “Much easier.”

            Naturally having no real care in the world as to what grief her infantile actions had caused her temporary caretaker, Kate simply chewed on one of the nipples of the freshly-made bottles and impatiently squawked when a newly picked up Tony tried to steal her attention by flailing his arms up and down.

               “She’s just tired, Monkey.” Gibbs explained, kissing the top of the affronted boy’s black curls. “And hungry.”

            And, in all honesty, Kate was not the only thoroughly exhausted individual beneath his roof. For not only were the older two children already fast asleep atop his couch, in an exceedingly heart-warming gesture of temporary solidarity, so too did Tony look ready to collapse at any given moment.

            “I’ll have you up to bed in just a minute.” Gibbs whispered to the youngest two currently in his care, tiptoeing into the living room. “Just as soon as we get some food into your bellies.”            

            And, thus said, Gibbs collapsed ungracefully into his favorite recliner before kicking up the footrest and stretching his feet out to better facilitate the comfort of all involved. A small act of consideration, whilst small in nature, the babies clearly seemed to appreciate as they smiled brightly up into his face before greedily attacking their bottles with a gusto that could put a grown man to shame.  

            ‘I’m going to give you two so much shit about this when you’re older again.’ Gibbs silently avowed, smirking evilly to himself as he watched both children snuggle further into his side and grab up a fistful of his shirt.

            Seeming to inexplicably understand that a little bit of blackmail was, indeed, inevitable in their near future, Tony made a chivalrous and valiant attempt at securing some leniency for both himself and Kate as he pulled his empty bottle away from his mouth and looked up into Gibbs’s face with as much innocence and sweetness as his big green eyes could manage.

            “Dada.”

            Throat suddenly going tight from whatever allergen was currently floating around his living room at the moment, Gibbs blinked a couple of times to forcefully evacuate the dust from his eyes before giving the small boy a tight squeeze. Because while the older Tony certainly had no qualms whatsoever about addressing him as ‘dad’ outside of work, or ‘daddy’ when he was delirious with fever or high off of a medley of pain pills, there was simply something transcendently touching about being recognized as a babies parent for the first time. But, as much as he would have loved to stay in the recliner and snuggle the babies all night, as he had once done with a colicky Kelly, Gibbs reluctantly recalled that he had two other children to attend to.

            “Alright.” Gibbs sighed, setting the emptied bottles aside on an end table before slipping out of his chair with both babies in his arms. “Time for bed.”

           

Chapter Text

Having fully intended to simply share a bed with the babies for the night, as they were more than old enough to avoid getting smushed and smothered in their sleep, Gibbs shuffled into his room fully prepared to sacrifice the majority of his queen-sized bed to the duo of slobbering and incontinent children currently under his care – even if meant he might, eventually, have to deal with a very unpleasant diaper blowout in the middle of the night. Because apart from having sleep in the Pack-N-Play, which would no doubt be very hard on their underdeveloped backs, there was simply no other option for safe sleeping arrangements, as he didn’t implicitly trust the older children to share their beds with the littler ones and not accidently hurt them.

            Thankfully for the sake of his new bed, and freshly-laundered linen as well, Gibbs was immediately overwhelmed with relief upon flipping on the lightswitch with his elbow and discovering the bubble-gum pink crib Jimmy had thoughtfully tucked behind the footboard and dressed up in fresh linens and blankets. Because overwhelmingly pink or not, which nobody but him would mind, the thought of being allowed the private sanctuary of his own bed was a blessing he had not thought he’d be able to enjoy that night.

            “Alright,” Gibbs breathed, “In you go.”

             Deciding to slip Tony into the crib first, on the grounds that said boy was far less clingy and likely to awaken than his needier counterpart, Gibbs twisted and contorted his body until the boy was, at last, safely ensconced behind the wooden bars. And though there was absolutely nothing he would so little wish to do then run even the most mitigable risk that he might provoke the slumbering koala in his arms to spring back into consciousness and cry loudly her complaints about being parted from his person, Gibbs bated his breath and followed suit with Kate, going about the process so slowly and carefully he felt as he could somehow understand the pressure a bomb-defusing expert went through on a daily basis.

            ‘Thank God.’ Gibbs breathed, once Kate had been safely tucked beneath the blankets without incident. ‘Crises averted.’

            Seemingly aware of the precarious and stressful situation they had just put their caretaker through, and subsequently appearing to take great pity on his person as result, both babies yawned in unison and promptly warmed his heart by immediately pressing their foreheads against each other and linking hands. And while, admittedly, Gibbs knew that his next actions were beneath the dignity of someone so moral as himself, he found he just couldn’t resist the urge to remove his cellphone from his pocket and snap a picture of the two. If not to have further ammunition and proof for his future teasing, which was for sure going to happen, then at the very least to use as evidence of their ability to get along the next time the two got into another yet another argument. For it they could get along as small toddlers, during a time in which their brains were not fully formed, they could surely get along as fully-functioning adults.  

            “Goodnight, Monkey.” Gibbs whispered, kissing the boy’s forehead. “Goodnight, Koala.” He added, smoothing Kate’s hair.

            Waiting by the side of their shared crib for just a moment or two, in order to fully ascertain that both babies were asleep and in no real danger of awakening, Gibbs smiled softly upon their sleeping frames before silently, and reluctantly, backing himself out of his silent bedroom.

            ‘Let’s just hope it goes this easy with Abby.’ Gibbs thought, reluctantly making his way back into the living room to deal with said little girl.

            More than just a little pleasantly relieved to discover that Abby was still snoring softly away atop of the makeshift pillows that were Tim’s legs, with a farting Bert still clutched closely to her chest, Gibbs sighed softly and gently scooped the sleeping toddler up into his arms, striving valiantly all the while not to allow himself to think of just how familiar and painful it felt to be carrying a little girl up to her bed after she’d fallen asleep during a Disney movie. Because no matter how many years had passed since Kelly and Shannon’s death, on some mornings it still felt as if his small family was alive and well until the side-effects of a fitful sleep wore off and left him as bitter as always.  

            ‘Abby is smaller than Kelly ever was, though.’ Gibbs observed, forcing himself to focus on the differences between the two girls. ‘And paler, too.’

            Somehow seeming to become aware of the sudden anguish that had filtered into her caretaker’s person, or perhaps having sensed the sudden stiffness in his posture, Abby stirred weakly in his arms and cracked open of her pale blue eyes.

            “Ibbs?” She mumbled, burying her face into his neck.

            “Hey, Abbs.” Gibbs smiled, pushing his way into the first guestroom. “It’s time for bed.”

             Nodding sluggishly in agreement to just such a plan, Abby clutched Bert even closer and bonelessly allowed Gibbs to deposit her upon the bed and drape the blankets over her chest.

            “Can I has another hug?” The slightly disoriented preschooler asked.

            “Of course.” Gibbs indulged, stooping down to give her a tight squeeze.

            And, once that small act of affection had been completed to the satisfaction of them both, Gibbs perched himself atop the bedside table and rubbed at the little girl’s shoulder until she fell completely asleep once more. It was only then that he turned the bedside lamp on, to offer up a little comforting light should she awaken in the middle of the night, and backed out of the bedroom.

            ‘Three down, one to go.’ Gibbs silently celebrated, once more returning to his living room.

            Not at all surprised to find that Tim was still fast asleep atop the sofa, as he had been the only child to not to take an impromptu nap on the ride home, Gibbs strolled over to the occupied furniture and braced himself before hefting the not-so-little boy up into his arms. And while the weight of such a child was, in fact, considerable when compared to that of the little who was just two years younger than him, Gibbs forced himself to keep his breathing even so as not to embarrass the sensitive towhead if he awoke. Because as thick-skinned as said first-grader liked to pretend to be, there was simply no way in hell his feelings wouldn’t get hurt if he took notice of the way a grown man was struggling to get him up the stairs.

            It was only once Gibbs was in the middle of the stairwell, an exceedingly dangerous distance from the ground, that Tim suddenly awoke with a violent start and blindly began to go about trying to free himself by aiming several well-formed punches at his captor’s face – his sleep-addled mind having clearly convinced him that some sort of monster or vicious animal was attempting to carry him off to its lair.

            “TIM.” Gibbs coaxed, gently shaking the panicking child. “You’re alright, c’mon now. It’s just me.”

            More than just a little leery of the way in which the child in his arms had reacted, as there was no cause whatsoever for such flagrant panic, Gibbs frowned a bit uneasily and couldn’t help but wonder if Tim had, perhaps, experienced a frightening situation involving some unsavory person carrying him out of his bed. But rather than dwell on such unsavory thoughts, or run the risk of traumatizing the child by making any unwelcome inquires, Gibbs simply repositioned the hefty child unto his hip before resuming his upward climb.

            “Gibbs!” Tim whined, still squirming to be let down.

            “What do you need?” He asked, keeping a firm grip on the boy.

            “I want…Will you puts me down?” Tim meekly requested, losing all the fight within him as he gradually awakened.

            While Gibbs would have ordinally been more than happy to grant such an innocent request, on the grounds that every child ought to have as much bodily autonomy as possible, he felt it was necessary to refrain from fulfilling the little boy’s wishes on the grounds that said child was still clearly not fully awake.

            “I’ll put you down at the top of the stairs, alright?” Gibbs negotiated, wishing to give the uncomfortable towhead some degree of control.

            Meekly nodding his consent to the idea, as he had no doubt been taught not to argue with adults at a very early age, Tim worked to conceal his disappointment at not immediately getting his way by forcing a creepy half-smile unto his face.

            “Did you think I was a burglar or something?” Gibbs teased, finally able to deposit the little towhead at the head of the stairs.         

            “No.” Tim frowned. “I thought you was…I – I didn’t think you was a burglar.”

            Seeing all sorts of red flags after such an ominous half-confession, Gibbs struggled to conceal his troubled frown as he ushered the timid first-grader into the remaining guestroom via a hand on his shoulder.

            “Up you go.” Gibbs declared, playfully tossing a surprised Tim unto the bed.

            Earning for himself a surprised giggle at such sudden playfulness, Gibbs allowed himself a smirk of his own as he watched the oldest in his care rapidly burrow himself beneath the blankets to prevent any further mischief from taking place.

            “Ibbs.” Tim protested, trying and failing to be stern. “I didn’t say a bedtime prayer.”

            “Go ahead, Tim.” Gibbs obliged, taking a seat at the foot of the bed.

             Appearing more than just a little nervous to be reciting something so important in front of the person who was temporarily in charge of him, as no doubt he feared significant reprisal for any mistakes that might be made, Tim kicked his feet beneath the blankets for a bit and nibbled at his lips.

            “Do…Do you think God will be mad if I stay in bed and pray?” Tim fussed, having finally gathered up his courage to ask.

            “Nah.” Gibbs swiftly assured. “I think He’s got bigger fish to fry.”

             “Good.” Tim sighed, before pressing his hands together above the sheets. “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the glower and power forever and always. Amen.”

            Despite being more than just a little troubled at the perfect manner in which the small child was able to accurately recite such a prayer, as the advanced vocabulary should have been enough to trip up any other first-grader, Gibbs swallowed down his concern and readily offered up the praise he knew said child was expecting.

            “You did a real good job.” He allowed, carefully repositioning the blankets back over his ward’s chest. “Did you want the lamp left on?”

            “I can has the lamp on?” Tim asked hopefully.

            “Of course.” Gibbs indulged with a smile. “I’ll even leave the hall light on, too – and the bathroom one.”

             Looking as if he had just been offered the entire world by being allowed to sleep with lamp on, Tim smiled brightly and stretched out his arms to hug Gibbs around the neck.

            “You’re more than welcome, Tim.” Gibbs humored, gently extracting himself. “And I just want to let you know that if you need me for anything during the night, you can come and get me, alright? I promise I won’t get angry.”

            “At nothing?” Tim questioned, full of wonder.

            “At nothing.” Gibbs agreed with a smile. “Now, do you need anything else before I go?”

             Nibbling at his chapped lips for a spell before answering, in a manner Gibbs had quickly come to associate with the boy’s very evident anxiety, Tim kicked his feet a little before eventually shaking his head no.

            “I don’t think so?”

            Knowing perfectly well that the little boy was far too shy to outright request anything of him, Gibbs wagered a guess as to what need the anxious towhead was forbidding himself before responding.

            “How about a story?” He offered.

            “Gibbs,” Tim huffed, “I’m six.”

            Once more coming to the unsavory conclusion that a lot of responsibility had been placed upon Tim’s shoulder when he was still quite young, no doubt as the result of his father’s frequent illnesses, Gibbs swallowed down a disapproving frown before turning his focus back unto the eldest child under his roof.

            “I don’t know what that has do anything.” Gibbs dismissed. “Now, what kind of story would you like to hear tonight?”

             Taking an absurdly long time to contemplate the situation he currently found himself thrust into, Tim squirmed about like a dehydrated worm before it eventually dawned in his little head that Gibbs was giving him an out by not making him outrightly ask for a story himself.

            “I like space.” Tim confessed in a whisper, for once not mentioning God first. “I want to go to the moon when I’m bigger.”

            “The moon huh?” Gibbs questioned, pleasantly surprised.

            Because while an older Tim was quite obvious with his interests in all things science, his area of expertise had fallen more on the subject of computers and technology rather than space and its many planets.

            “Yeah.” Tim nodded. “I want to see if there are any aliens out there.”

            “Space is a pretty big place.” Gibbs allowed. “I’m sure there might be.”

            If not of the variety that was green and misshapen, then surely of some other, as of yet undiscovered variation.

            “Do you think God would be mad at me if I made friends with an alien?” Tim worried, the fear of the Lord having clearly been instilled within him at an early age.

            “I don’t think God would have created aliens if he didn’t want us to make friends with them.” Gibbs opined.           

            Taking a moment to contemplate that little bit of wisdom, and seeming to find it as sound as it was relieving, Gibbs smiled shyly up at him before making his childlike appreciation known.

            “I wish you was my scoutmaster.”

            “You might not feel the same way in thirty years or so.” Gibbs teased, forgetting himself.

            “Huh?” Tim frowned.

            “Nothing.” Gibbs hastily dismissed. “Now, did you want that story about aliens or not?”

            “Please.” Tim requested, as well-mannered as always.

             

Chapter Text

Having finally seen the oldest child in his care off to bed a good fifteen minutes ago, after spending a good half hour regaling said boy with a markedly inspired tale of a young alien boy who had made an unsanctioned trip to Earth on the Midnight Space Shuttle, and subsequently learned that it was both okay to be a little adventurous and to try new things, within certain limitations of course, Gibbs shuffled into the sanctuary of his private bedroom at a little past ten that Thursday and gracelessly collapsed atop his bed, not so much as bothering to undress and don his pajamas before crawling beneath the weight of the blankets. Because as familiar as he was with long grueling hours of backbreaking work, such an unhappy facet of life being the courtesy of his long stint in the Marines as well as his position of team lead for a very active branch of crime scene investigation, he felt entirely and shamefully unable to remain awake for even another moment after spending so many endless hours with the four small children now under his care.

            Unfortunately for him, as well as the sake of his sanity, his veritable insomniac of a father chose to make his weekly call right as Gibbs felt himself finally drifting off into a much-needed sleep, his well-meaning intentions effectively and inadvertently assuring that his only child would not be able to enjoy and significant rest until the small thrill of a late-night phone call had run its course.

            “Hey, Dad.” Gibbs yawned into the phone, speaking softly so as not to awaken the babies sleeping at the foot of his bed. “What’s up?”

            Seeming to sense his exhaustion with the intuition only a parent could possess toward their child, Gibb’s wizened and kind old father gritted his teeth on the other end of the phone and exhaled a little nervous breath before answering, very clearly still afraid of creating yet another inadvertent rift between the two of them even though the last of them had been expunged a good five or six years ago.

            “You okay, Leroy?” His father tentatively asked. “You sound…exhausted.”

            “I’m fine, Dad.” Gibbs quickly fibbed, more out of habit than a genuine desire to dissemble. “How are you?”  

            Hearing all the tension and irritation his father felt at being lied to expelled with yet another sigh on the other end of the phone, a sound that had never failed to fill him with guilt, Gibbs frowned and guiltily begin to nibble at his thumbnail in a manner he hadn’t replicated in the several decades between his mothers death and now.

            “Well, I suppose I’m closing down the store for a week or so to finally get some of those damn renovations done.”

            More than just a little surprised to hear such a confession coming from the mouth of his old-fashioned father, as it had taken said man thirty years just to allow a microwave into his home, on the ridiculous grounds that such a contraption would give the entire household radiation poisoning, Gibbs frowned and wondered what or who had finally managed to spur on such a serious change.

            “Renovations?” He parroted back, perhaps wondering if he had just misheard.

            Because as ridiculous and childish as such an insidious hang-up was, which was admittedly quite so, Gibbs still couldn’t help but think that any woman marrying his father would somehow manage to replace his mother in said man’s heart. For even after all these years, all these decades, he just couldn’t bare the thought of his beloved parent’s memory being mitigated or cheapened in any fashion – no matter how benign the intentions.

            “Yeah. I think it might be a mighty fine idea to finally get more food freezers into the store, Leroy. Might just be that it keeps some of the prissier folks from leaving town to shop for their groceries.” Dad explained. “Hell, I might even add in a small café while I’m at it. You know…like Mama always wanted.”

            Unable to keep from smiling sadly as his brain conjured up half-a-dozen remembrances of him sharing an early coffee with his mother out in the backyard, a time in which they’d hide out in the small thicket of trees and discuss war stratagems for his army men and debate over what sewing patterns would look best for a new sundress, Gibbs bit down hard on his bottom lip and tried to pretend that he couldn’t still smell the scent of her floral perfume in the air.

            “And you think you’re going to get this all done in a week?” Gibbs questioned, not even bothering to hide the incredulity in his voice.

            “I’m not.” His father immediately corrected. “The Capulet boys are.”

            Thinking fondly upon all the childhood summers he had spent with said similarly-aged boys, a pleasant time during which they had hunted down frogs in the Myrtle’s pond and played at being pirates in the small thicket of woods outside his house, Gibbs indulged himself with a small smile and the while inwardly chastising himself for not having kept in touch with the three brothers. Because while he only ever visited Stillwater nowadays to visit his father, and assure himself of said man’s health, it would inarguably be very nice to hook up with some of his former friends and grab a drink or two at the pub.

            “So you’ll actually be done in five days, then.” Gibbs opined, knowing that the Capulet brothers had been large for their age since elementary school and equally as inexhaustible.

            “Maybe. But it’s best to hedge your bets, you know.” Dad advised, clearly opening what had to be his seventh can of Dr. Pepper.

            Clamping down hard on his tongue to keep from making a hypocrite of himself by suggesting that perhaps all that pop consumption wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world for a man of his age, or anyone for that matter, Gibbs swallowed down a frown and wondered just how it was that his father had managed to keep all his teeth and not lose any to decay.

            “I suppose it’s better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.” Gibbs agreed, getting up on his knees to peer over the footboard and check on the babies.

            More than just a little relieved to find that all the conversation suddenly taking place in the room had failed to cause either one of his youngest to stir, and equally just as touched to find the both of them with their respective thumbs in each other’s mouths, Gibbs grinned wickedly and only wished that he wasn’t currently talking to his father so that he might snap a quick picture of such a scene.

            “Say, Leroy…” His dad cautiously began, securing his child’s focus once more, “I know you’re busy and all but…why don’t you take some time off of work, huh? We could go out fishing before the season is done, maybe have ourselves a little fish fry. Hell, why don’t you see if Tony can take some time off, too. It’ll be a real family even, then.”

            Almost immediately flooded with guilt upon realizing he had no other choice but to turn down such an enticing offer, even though he wanted nothing better than to spend a little quality time with his son and father, Gibbs frowned heavily and began to nervously chew the nail on his thumb again.

            “Dad, I want to, really, it’s just that – “

            “You can’t get off of work.” His father interrupted. “The Director is on your case so now isn’t a good time to ask. Your knee is acting up again. Tony has a small head cold. You can’t trust anyone else to be in charge besides yourself or – “

            Feeling his face color pink with the shame of knowing he had blown his father off one too many times to have any real right to feel offended, Gibbs fussed at his thumbnail once more and stared steadily down at his bedspread, somehow unable to meet his surviving parent’s eyes even when they hundreds of miles away.

            “Now really isn’t a good time.” Gibbs defended, the words sounding ridiculously weak even to his own ears. “I’m…There was an accident at work and – “

            “Is Tony okay!?”

            “You know I would have called if he wasn’t.” Gibbs sighed, suddenly a hundred times more exhausted.

            “I don’t know.” His father mumbled, somewhat reprovingly. “You two have a pretty ridiculous standard for what constitutes as ‘okay.’”

             Already having had this conversation half-a-hundred times with a beleaguered Ducky, who had gradually become far less tolerant of dealing with the after-effects of a cracked bones and mild concussions being left untended to, Gibbs rolled his eyes and expelled an annoyed breath of air from his mouth.

            “Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Leroy Jethro.” His dad immediately, and alarming, reprimanded. “You didn’t even call me when that damn boy broke his legs! But the Lord knows that if that child gets a simple case of the sniffles, I won’t hear the end of it until his nose stops running.”

             More than just a little mildly annoyed at the way in which his father continued to persist in dismissing his very real concerns about Tony’s state of health, as if he was somehow overacting when he fretted over what complications a cold might cause to a body that had survived the fucking plague, Gibbs scowled and enthusiastically voiced a defense to such behavior.

            “It was just the one leg that wasn’t broken, the other one was cracked.” Gibbs loudly huffed. “And do I need to remind you that he had the plague?”

            “Leroy,” His dad sighed, clearly just as disinclined to argue, “What happened at work?”

            Briefly considering the thought of concocting up some bullshit story about a minor car accident or mild food-poisoning, so as to protect the privacy and dignity of his agents, Gibbs fidgeted atop his blankets and worried at his now-bleeding thumbnail - for despite his own advanced age, and the fact that he had not technically lived beneath his father’s roof in decades, he still felt absurdly afraid to be dishonest with his father.

            “Well,” Gibbs sighed, finally giving into the primal fear, “Have you been keeping up with the news on that Plaskett guy?”     

            “It would be hard not to.” His father quipped, referring to the near 24-hour news coverage said terrorist had received. “Aren’t some researchers in Minnesota trying to isolate some gene he created or something? To reverse the aging process?”

            Unable to keep from comparing the tactful loquaciousness of Ducky to that of his father’s unrefined bluntness upon realizing that it took the former ten seconds to say what would take the later a good ten minutes to say, Gibbs gave a small sigh of relief and thanked his lucky stars that he wouldn’t be spending all night on the phone after all.

            “Well, speaking of that, Dad,” Gibbs began, “My agents are currently…not adults anymore.”

            “Leroy, you need to be less vague.” His father insisted, voice sounding strained.

            Immediately taking such sound advice to heart, as he, himself, didn’t like it any more than his father did when people stammered or danced around an important question, Gibbs sucked in a deep breath and only prayed that his agents would forgive him for betraying their privacy before answering.

             “My agents got nailed with something of Plaskett’s dad,” Gibbs obliged, “And now they’re several years younger than before.”

            “How much – “

            “My agents are children, Dad.” Gibbs sighed. “Small children.”       

             Fortunately for the sake of his sanity, as well as that of his patience, his father wasted neither one of their time by asking any insipid or unimportant questions like a person less familiar with his line of work would have done.

            “How small are we talking, son?”

            “Six, four, one, and one.” Gibbs elaborated, the confession far more exhausting then it was relieving.

            Not at all surprised by the silence that followed such a declaration, as such unprecedented news was inarguably a great deal of information to take in, Gibbs slumped back against a small mountain of pillows and wished, once more, that Shannon was there to assist him with such a mess.

            “And I take it they’re all staying with you?” His father wisely guessed.

            “Well,” Gibbs exclaimed, suddenly feeling the need to excuse his decision, “Kate’s parents wouldn’t come and take her, and Abby’s are dead, and quite frankly I didn’t know how we were supposed to ship Tim over – “

            “Calm down, Son.” His father encouraged, steadfast as always. “Now just how long have these kids been staying with you?”

            Forcing himself to take a deep breath, as he knew his father would keep stopping the conversation if he felt he was getting worked up again, Gibbs sucked in greedily and gracelessly expelled the excess air through his nose.

            “Just today.” He replied, frowning as he realized he likely had several more days of babysitting to go.

            “And you already sound like shit.” His father teased, the mischievous glint in his eyes practically visible even a hundred miles away.

            “Gee, thanks.” Gibbs grumbled, not at all as insulted as he might have been had it been anyone else to speak so rudely to him.

            Chuckling warmly on the other end of the phone, and apparently cracking open yet another can of Dr. Pepper, his father slurped loudly, and appallingly, before making a reply.

            “Look, Leroy,” He began, “Why don’t I swing by tomorrow to help out for a little while. It’s not like I have anything better to do for the next week anyways.”

            Despite being extremely grateful that his father had taken it upon himself to ask such a selfless question, to the point that he was absurdly touched, Gibbs forced himself to refuse such a lucrative offer. Because not only were his agents not the responsibility or problem of his father, a man who had experienced absolutely no say in their hiring, so too was said man far too old to assist in the minding of several small children. And, all those compelling reasons aside, the inarguable fact still remained that his father deserved to have a little downtime after so many tumultuous years of dealing with all his bullshit.

            “But you wanted to fish – “

            “The fish will wait, Leroy.” His father calmly interrupted. “Your sanity won’t.”

            Just as unable to deny such a fact as he was unwilling to surrender a fight, either verbal or physical, Gibbs scowled but nonetheless sought to keep his voice even and his tone respectful.

            “Are you sure? I don’t want you to feel as if your obligated – “

            “Leroy, it’s fine.” His father assured. “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

             Ridiculously relieved that he had not actually been the one to decide upon such a thing, as it somehow served to mitigate a portion of the guilt he was currently feeling, Gibbs slumped even further into his pillows all whilst silently resolving to do something very kind for his father in the future.

            “I don’t think you know what you’re getting into.” Gibbs warned, giving his father one last change to renege on his offer.

            “I survived you,” His father scoffed, “Anything compared to that will be a breeze.”

            Knowing himself to have been one hell of a royal asshole growing up after his mother had died so prematurely, Gibbs at least had the decency to refrain himself from feeling any sort of genuine indignation at such a uncomplimentary assessment.

            “You make it sound like I was some kind of terrorist.” He groused, the words lacking any real sort of heat.

            “You weren’t a terrorist.” His father swiftly assured. “Terrorists have a cause they stand behind. You were just destructive and mischievous for the sake of chaos alone.”

            Feeling legitimately outraged at such a slanderous claim, as his frequent bouts of mischief had often (or at least sometimes) been directed at the bullies that terrorized the playground, Gibbs gave a theatrically offended gasp as he glowered out at the walls of his darkened bedroom.

            “Maybe if I had been better supervised…”

            “The eyes of God couldn’t have kept you in check, Son.” His father opined, adding his own dramatic flair to the conversation.

             Thinking somewhat fondly upon all the various mischief he had managed to wreak within the walls of the oppressively small church his mother had forced them all to attend, the likes of which had involved tying girls pigtails together and dying the Holy Water black, Gibbs fought down a smile and wondered, briefly, if all of an adult Tony’s stress-inducing behavior was some sort of Karmic justice for the way he had treated his own father during his youth.

            “Mom could always keep me in line.” Gibbs sighed, still keenly feeling her loss even after all those years.

            “Your mother was some sort of higher power.” His father asserted, the longing in his voice palpable. “She could have scared the Devil straight.”

            “No arguments here.” Gibbs agreed, having more than once been on the receiving end of her wrath.

            Seemingly just as uncomfortable about the idea of reminiscing about the long-deceased Anne as was his only child, as the both them liked to prepare themselves for such an emotional undertaking, Gibbs cleared his throat and desperately searched his brain for a safer topic to steer the conversation towards. But before he could so much as decide upon a topic, much less open his mouth and let it be made known, his father had cleared his own throat and taken such a duty upon himself.

            “So it’s settled – I’m coming over tomorrow.” The older man decided, his nonchalance forced. “I’ll even bring a couple of Walleye, too.”

            “Will you – “

            “Yes, I’ll make up some of my special fish batter, too.”

             Instantly perking up at such happy news, as there was no food Gibbs loved more than fresh and properly-battered fish, Gibbs resolved to be extra nice to his father and to likewise stock up on Dr. Pepper.

            “You’re the greatest, Dad.”

            “Sure took you long enough to figure that out.” His father grumbled, a hint of amusement coloring his voice.

            “I blame teen angst.” Gibbs deflected, looking for any sort of excuse to absolve him of his horrendous behavior.

            Because while his initial acting out after his mother’s death had certainly been expected by his father and teachers, there had been absolutely no excuse for the increasing severity of his rebellion the older he became. For if his mother had been around to witness any examples of such depraved morals in her only child, Gibbs would have been over her lap before he could blink and walloped until he was breathless.

            “That only accounts for six years of your tomfoolery.” His father uncharitably pointed out.

            “I can’t be held completely responsible.” Gibbs weakly defended. “It’s the Sinclair blood in me that made me so goddamn wild.”

            “Well, it certainly didn’t help with any – “

            Kept from hearing what his father’s retort to such a feeble excuse would be as Kate suddenly stirred in her crib and loosed a frustrated whine into the air, threatening to wake not only Tony but the rest of the house as well, Gibbs sighed and swiftly slipped out of his bed.

            “Dad, I have to go. One of the babies is fussing.”

              “Have you tried dipping a pacifier in whiskey?” His father advised, clearly believing it to still be the fifties.

            Briefly wondering if it would have perhaps been a better idea to simply hang up the cellphone rather than put it on loudspeaker, as he really had no wish at all to be barraged with antiquated and dangerous parenting advice, Gibbs shook his head and impatiently lifted the now actively crying Katie from her crib.

            “I am not giving a baby whiskey, Dad.”

            “I’m talking no more than thimble-full, Son.” His father pressed further. “Just a little something to take the edge off, you know.”

            Entirely unable to keep from rolling his eyes upon hearing the absurd assertion that a baby might need alcohol in order to relax, rather than a simple diaper change or bottle, Gibbs clamped down on his tongue to keep from inquiring if his father had finally gone insane from old age.

            “You let me do it for Kelly.” His father defended.

            “No,” Gibbs correcting, rubbing the crying baby’s back. “You did that when me and Shannon weren’t looking.”

            An unsanctioned bit of deception which, well-intended, had very nearly seen the culprit banned from the house until Shannon had stepped in and threatened them both with flaying if their argument woke up the conked-out newborn in her arms.

             “It worked thought, didn’t it?” His father gloated, stubbornly set in his ways.

            “I am not giving my – I am not giving Kate alcohol!” Gibbs growled. “She’s one, for God’s sake.”

            “Suit yourself.” His father deescalated. “Maybe try a stick of celery or a carrot if it’s her teeth that’s bugging her.”

            Wondering if teething was, indeed, the problem for the little girl, as her diaper was as dry as a bone and her belly very recently filled with both spaghetti and formula, Gibbs stuck an investigative finger in Kate’s mouth to feel for any newly emerging teeth and was promptly rewarded for his efforts by having his pointer finger clamped down on.

            “I don’t have any of those in the house.” Gibbs sighed, gently extracting his finger.

            “I can’t believe that you and Tony still refuse to eat any vegetables.” His father grumbled, quite the hypocrite as he drank only pop. “You know I’m going to make you eat some when I come up.”

Not at all concerned by such a threat, as he had long ago perfected the art of hiding various vegetables until they could be properly discarded of, well away from prying eyes, Gibbs bounced the fussing baby on his hip and immediately steered the conversation back to more prying matters.

“Dad, we’re talking about the baby here.”  

             “Try a pickle, Kiddo. I know you have those in the house.”

             “Alright. Thanks, Dad.” Gibbs expressed, bouncing Kate on his hip. “Love you.”

            “Love you, too.” His father reciprocated. “Bye now.”

             

Chapter Text

            Swiftly ferreting a loudly wailing Katie downstairs right as the danger of her cries awakening the entire household became imminent, Gibbs swiftly jogged into the kitchen with the distraught baby still on his hip and only prayed that Abby, at the very least, would remain sleeping throughout the fracas. Because fierce love for the little girl aside, there was no way in hell he could handle an undisciplined toddler atop of a potentially-teething baby. Not without losing his mind, at the very least.

            “Hush now.” Gibbs implored, feeling a bit desperate as the wails failed to cease. “I’ll have you fixed up in just a minute.”

            Earning only another angry screech in response to such a mild request, as well as ten sharp fingernails pressed into the sensitive flesh of his neck, Gibbs panicked and nearly ripped the door of the refrigerator in his haste to retrieve the pickles.

            “Here,” Gibbs encouraged, thrusting the pickle into her mouth, “Give this a try.”

            Understandably startling as the unfamiliar object was shoved into her mouth without any ceremony, and only the flimsiest of warnings, Kate’s blue eyes went as wide as saucers before she delicately clamped down on the vegetable for an investigate taste. And while Gibbs was initially very hopeful, mistakenly believing the expression on her face to be that of wonder, he was almost immediately disabused of such an erroneous assumption when Kate physically gagged and blasphemously yanked the offending vegetable out of her mouth and indignant squawk. And, as if that insult were somehow not enough to get her point across, the outraged and fitful child looked him in straight in the eyes before expelling a mouthful of slobbery pickle juice into his face.

            “You are so lucky you’re adorable right now, Caitlyn Elizabeth Todd.” Gibbs advised, using his free hand to swipe his face clean with a paper towel. “So lucky.”

            Simply scowling up into his face with an unrepentance that could put even the coldest of psychopaths to shame, Kate impatiently slapped at his chin and literally growled into his face, a fierce yet pitiful desperation in her bright blue eyes.

            “What is it, Katie?” He hummed, holding her closer. “What do you need?”

            For to be quite frank, if it was not her teeth that were bothering her, which now seemed not to be the case, he was completely at a loss as to what was ailing her. Because having checked her diaper thrice in fifteen minutes, and finding it just as dry and clean as when he had put it on, and having likewise fed her not that long ago, there was no easily discernable reason for her to so damn worked up. Unless, of course, she had unfortunately fallen victim to the Achilles heel of all young babies.

            “Your tummy hurts, doesn’t it?” Gibbs sighed, pressing a gentle palm against the disgruntled girl’s stomach.

            Finding said bodily organ to be quite hard, and not at all as soft as it should have been, Gibbs frowned sympathetically and was not all surprised to find his efforts rewarded a pitiful whine and pinching of the fingers.

            “Yeah, I got it.” Gibbs soothed, gently lifting her from his hip.

            Fully aware of the fact that his clingy little koala wouldn’t very much appreciate being removed from so secure a position, as she had some of the worst separation-anxiety he had ever had the displeasure to witness, Gibbs swiftly repositioned her over his shoulder and patted her diapered rear a few times to give reassurance that he was still there. And while such a universally soothing action did not seem to placate the fussy baby at all, once he began walking throughout the bottom level of his house and firmly patting her back Kate seemed to settle somewhat marginally before, finally, five minutes later, expelling an enormous burp out of her body.

            “That’s better now, isn’t it?” Gibbs hummed, moving the gassy baby back to her favorite position on his hip. “But let’s get the rest of that out before you get worked up again.”

            Not even giving the little indigestion-sufferer time to register what had just said, much less to react to his next actions by digging her talons into the irritated flesh of his neck, Gibbs removed the small child from his hip once more and plopped her down unto the couch cushions, causing Kate to expel a small fart of surprise before cooing up into his face with clear appreciation written on her features.

            “We’re not quite done, yet.” Gibbs forewarned, getting down unto his knees.

            A blank look being the only reaction he received, apart from yet another harmless slap on his chin, Gibbs shook his head with mild amusement before moving unto the more unpleasant work of degassing an admittedly, and surprisingly, smelly baby. But rather than shy away from the unpleasant side-effects of such a task by making use of a medical mask, as he had once done the first few months of Kelly’s perpetually gassy life, Gibbs simply bit the proverbial bullet and began to cycle Kate’s pudgy legs for her – an action which evidently seemed to delight the formerly irritable infant as she giggled wildly and pulled at his hair in the mistaken belief that they were playing some sort of game. Which, to be quite fair, he supposed they were from her undeveloped point of view. Only, if that were really the case, he would have hoped for a far more palatable reward than the gigantic and manly fart he received instead.

            “Good God, Kate.” Gibbs gagged, having never witnessed flatulence so vile. “Something that…big shouldn’t come out of something so small.”

             Far too preoccupied with the very important task of reveling in her newfound comfort, a task she went about by babbling softly with a dopey smile on her face, Kate didn’t so much as flinch or protest when she was scooped up and promptly redeposited back unto his hip.

            “Back to bed with you, Stinky.” Gibbs declared, carting her up back up the stairs to his bedroom. “Before you set the carbon monoxide detectors off.”

            Simply burrowing her face into his armpit in response, in a heart-wrenching fashion that reminded him of Kelly, Kate sighed softly and contentedly and for once left her deadly talons away from his skin.

            “Goodnight, Kate.” Gibbs whispered, slipping her off his hip and into the crib.

            In an outraged fashion that would not have surprised him had he not been so painfully exhausted, the clingy baby in his care almost immediately protested with a shrill shriek before presumptively lifting her chubby hands at him. And though Gibbs really didn’t want to encourage any co-sleeping with his agents when he didn’t have to, especially not with one of the girl’s, he found his strong sense of empathy would not allow for him to force the girl to sleep where she did not wish to.

            “You’re going to regret this so much when you’re big again.” Gibbs heatlessly cautioned, slipping into his bed with the baby still in his arms. “I’m going to tease you mercilessly about this.”

            Blinking in mild surprising when the baby smiled brightly up into his face and snuggled even closer to his person, rather than shy away as Kelly would have done once she decided it was time for bed, Gibbs smiled softly in return and ran a soothing hand up and down the little girl’s back.

            “Go to sleep, Kate.” He encouraged. “Tomorrow is going to be another long day.”

             

Chapter Text

            More than just a little familiar with early mornings, a personality trait both he and Leroy had shared ever since the boy was small and nonverbal, Jackson was not even marginally hesitant to walk into his son’s house unannounced at half past seven. He was, however, more than just a little bit surprised to find that the small house his son currently owned was eerily quiet and still half-dark. Because no matter how ill of exhausted his child became, or drunk, Jackson had never known his son to sleep past seven.  And so, with that slightly concerning thought in mind, as well as with the encouragement of having been previously invited into the home, he shucked off his slightly muddy boots and left them on the back porch steps before slithering his way further into the kitchen.

            To say that he was more than just a little surprised to see a small child standing on a chair in front of the stove would have been a most egregious understatement. And to say that he was made only a little livid to discover that said appliance was on full-heat while the unsupervised little boy stirred away at something in a giant pot would have likewise been just as foolhardy a statement. Because while he knew his son to be quite strict when it came to treatment of his agents, especially a fully grown Tony, he had never had occasion to think that the person he had raised would be so cruel and heartless as to make a child cook breakfast for him. But, rather than give into such a fierce and disappointed anger, as he so greatly wished to do, he forced himself to take a deep and calming breath before investigating the matter, as he was never one who enjoyed jumping to conclusions.

            “You shouldn’t be at the stove.” Jackson calmly advised, gently lifting the child from his makeshift perch. “What do you think you’re doing?”

            Although he had fully expected there to be a little bit of fear in response to his sudden appearance, as what sort of child really enjoyed being chastised, Jackson was nonetheless painfully unprepared to contend with the sudden assault delivered to his calloused finger by a mouthful of sharp teeth. And, as a most unfortunate result, reflexively and harshly dropped the shocked boy unto the freshly wax floor before he fully understood what he was doing.

            “Fuck!” Jackson exclaimed, more out of genuine concern for the fallen boy than for his bleeding fingers. “Are you okay, Kid?”
            Practically frozen to the floor with sheer terror, the agent he suspected must be a deaged Tim simply trembled violently as he started up into his face with wide and fear-filled hazel eyes. But before Jackson could so much as reach down and assist the traumatized child back unto his feet, much less offer up an sort of comforting words, the pudgy boy had seemingly recovered his wits and scrambled to his feet, his face still as pale as milk but his legs newly steady.

            “I didn’t mean to scare you.” Jackson immediately apologized, sinking down unto his knees to appear less threatening. “I just didn’t want you to get hurt.”

            Looking all but ready to pass out from sheer terror as Jackson stretched out his arms to give the boy’s hand a comforting squeeze, the pudgy little towhead gasped loudly and covered the zipper of his pants with one hand while slapping blindly at Jackson’s face with the other.

            “C’mon now.” Jackson softly reprimanded, moving a hand to his now fiercely stinging his cheek. “There’s no need to get so worked up. I’m not going to hurt you.”

            Proving himself quite unwilling to stick around and decipher the truth of that statement for himself, an admittedly smart move when faced with a stranger several feet taller than you, Tim frantically shook his head several times in staunch denial before kicking him hard in the shin and scurrying off.

            “Fuck!” Jackson softly exclaimed, clutching at his freshly wounded leg.

            It was only after he had loosed such a foul epitaph into the air that he felt himself capable of functioning once more. However, instead of take off after the rouge little boy who had just rudely assaulted his person more than once, and subsequently run the risk of traumatizing the little boy even further, Jackson simply hobbled over to the stove and busied himself with minding the oatmeal that was currently in very real danger of becoming burned.

Fortunately for the integrity of just such a food, it was not long at all before his son shuffled blearily into the kitchen, his work clothes wrinkled and a sobbing six-year-old firmly situated on his hip. But though Jackson could sense the sheer exhaustion radiating off his boy in palpable waves, as well as recognize that his son was in very real danger of becoming overwhelmed, he stood safely back from the scene and allowed Leroy to work it out for himself, as he knew, from experience, that no parent or guardian liked to have their parenting encroached on.

“Tim.” Leroy hummed, practically dancing around the kitchen in his frantic attempt to calm the little boy. “It’s alright. You’re okay.”

Only able to grimace guiltily as Tim spluttered and coughed into Leroy’s neck, far too upset to even breathe properly, Jackson kept his face stonily directed down at the pot of oatmeal and wondered, with no small amount of consternation, if his face had become frightening with age. Because prior to that morning, his good-natured smile had never failed to make a child feel welcome in his arms.

“C’mon now, Tim.” Leroy hummed, sinking down into a chair with the boy still glued unto his person. “You’re going to make yourself sick again.”

            Almost immediately flooded with even more guilt upon realizing he had terrified the deaged agent well enough to cause him to throw up, Jackson found himself biting down hard on his tongue to keep himself from giving the distressed child a hug of his own. For God help him, he couldn’t stand to see anybody cry – least of all because of him.

            “I’m sorry!” Tim wailed, face still hidden in Leroy’s neck. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”

            “Tim, you were scared.” Leroy assured, rubbing the towhead’s back.

            Clearly experiencing a full-fledged panic attack, of the likes Tony experienced whenever faced with needles, Tim sucked in air greedily but didn’t seem fully able to expel it properly.

            “You thought he was a burglar, Tim.” Leroy labored to soothe, the color on his ward’s face no doubt frightening him.

            Sensing that there might soon be a nuclear meltdown to contend with if something wasn’t done to get both worked-up males calmed down, Jackson hastily abandoned his resolve not to get involved in the whole affair he, himself, had started.

            “C’mon now.” Jackson assisted, using the softest voice in his arsenal. “There’s no need to get so worked up. I’m not mad. I shouldn’t have surprised you like that.”

            “See?” Leroy coaxed, giving the small boy a squeeze. “Nobody is mad.”

            Still refusing to remove his face from the crook of his employer’s neck, Tim simply tightened his hold around the older man’s neck and sniffled loudly, no longer panicking but not yet calm, either.

            “Tim, do either one of us even look mad?” Leroy gently interrogated, giving the small boy yet another squeeze.

            “No.” The rotund boy confessed. “But…But are you?”

            Not failing to catch Leroy’s concerned frown in response to such a terrified question, Jackson frowned as well and wondered, with no small amount of anxiety, if Tony wasn’t the only one his son’s team to have shitty parents.

            “I’m not mad, I promise.” Leroy assured, ruffling his charges hair.

            “And I’m not mad, either.” Jackson likewise promised. “I shouldn’t have sneaked up on you like that.”

            Finally pulling his face away from the sweaty crook he had buried it in earlier, Tim swiped at his nose with the sleeve of his pajamas and looked timidly up into Leroy’s face with very red and watery eyes.

            “I’m not going to get spanked?”

            Once more confounded by the very idea that some parents thought it necessary to actually hit their children in order to teach them a lesson, and likewise failed to see how such a lesson could backfire, Jackson shook his head in disgust at the idea that it wasn’t already illegal.

            “NO!” Leroy promised, looking the child straight in the eye. “Neither one of us will ever spank you.”

            “But…You said you’d spank Abby.” Tim sniffled, his tone too soft to be accusatory.

            Having more than once thought that an adult Abby needed a good smack or two to the bottom, despite his fierce anti-spanking stance, Jackson smirked and gave his son a pointed look before turning back to the stove.

            “If she hit the babies.” Leroy stipulated. “You’re not going to hit the babies, are you?”

            “No!” Tim earnestly asserted, a look of horror in his hazel eyes. “But…I don’t want Abby getting spanks either. It hurts.”  

            “It would only be a swat or two with my hand.” Leroy promised. “And only if she did something like hit one of the babies.”

           

              

             

Chapter Text

            Having through sheer force of will alone gathered all the children to the kitchen table for breakfast, even a very grumpy Abby who had claimed to be far too tired to walk herself down the steps, Gibbs slumped down with relief in his chair and eagerly chugged down the coffee his father had been kind enough to refill for him, seeing as how the small child currently cemented in his lap prevented him from doing so himself. For Tim, still evidently traumatized a good twenty minutes later, had suddenly and stubbornly decided that he wanted nothing at all to do with a man who wasn’t Gibbs – especially one who had already scared the bejesus out of him not too long ago. But while he was more than just a little indulgent of such a need, as contrary to what most people believed he wasn’t a big enough asshole to forbid a small child some much needed comfort, he was also more than just a little troubled by Tim’s most recent behavior. Because while a certain amount of clinginess in a baby was certainly understandable, not to mention predictable, such behavior in a first-grader, no matter how charming and endearing, was almost certainly a bright red flag. But rather than press the clearly troubled boy for information, and thusly run the risk of said child closing in on himself, Gibbs simply allowed the clinginess to stand for the moment and did his best to feed himself with a lapful of a very plump boy.

            “Tim,” Gibbs sighed, when after a full ten minutes he glanced down at the child’s plate to find it still full of food, “If you don’t eat up, I’m going to have to feed you myself.”

            Far too proud to allow such an egregious indignity against his person, Tim frowned petulantly in one of his first displays of genuine emotion and snatched up his spoon from the table with all the attitude of a sleepy and fully grown Abby. But rather than reprimand the ornery child for such uncalled for unpleasantness, as he would have ordinarily done, Gibbs allowed the attitude to go unchastised on the grounds that it hadn’t been outrightly malicious or hurt anyone.

            “Is Katie this much of a cocklebur when she’s big?” His father distracted, currently struggling to eat his own breakfast while the very fussy baby in his lap seemed determined to keep a firm hold on his fingers.

            “If she is,” Gibbs began, “It’s not with me.”

            Far too preoccupied with trying to keep Katie’s talons out of his forearm to respond, as the fidgety baby had already done quite the number on such a large stretch of his skin, his father simply nodded to show he had been listening before gently pressing a purple teether into the baby’s chubby hand in the ridiculous hope that such a brightly-colored toy would be enough of a distraction to save him from any more scratches. But before Gibbs could so much as inform his father that Kate preferred the green to the purple, much less warn him that such a tactic wouldn’t work on that particular baby, Kate narrowed her large blue eyes to slits and viciously dug her fingernails into the palm of his hand.

            “Okay, little lady.” His father grimaced, gently extracting the offending fingers. “You made your point.”

            Dealing with issues of his own when it came to the lap-sitting of small children, namely a large amount of grape jelly actively being spilled unto his work pants, alongside the loss of sensation in his left leg, Gibbs smirked unsympathetically in his father’s direction and was only somewhat annoyed when said man failed to pay him any heed.

            “You ought to trim her nails before she hurts herself.” His father advised, holding a napkin to his bleeding forearm. “Or one of the other kids.”

            Somewhat distracted by the Herculean task of trying to keep Abby’s dirty hands off his coffee mug, as the little girl in question seemed to have made a game of trying to pilfer it, Gibbs did not so much as glance at his father as he answered.

            “It’s not like I just have a set of baby nail clippers lying around, Dad.”

            “Leroy Jethro,” His father frowned, “You look at somebody when they’re talking to you. Don’t be rude.”

            Believing the prospect of eating broken glass to be immensely preferable to listening to yet another one of his father’s ridiculous lectures on manners, Gibbs forced himself not to roll his eyes as he turned back to face his slightly annoyed father.

            “I don’t have anything to cut them with.” He repeated, sarcastically refusing to even blink his eyes.

            “Not even a nail file?” His father pressed, giving him a warning quirk of the brow.

            Sensing that he was one smart remark away from getting a thorough tongue-lashing, something he especially wished to avoid in front of the children, Gibbs blinked in a gesture of genuine repentance and gave his response as politely as possible.

            “It’s not like I have a manicure kit just laying around.” He grumbled.

            “Are you telling me Tony has never left something like that in his room? His father challenged.

            Never one to enjoy being defeated in battle, whether verbal or physical, Gibbs scowled angrily at his toast and refused to admit that there was, perhaps, something of the sort up in Tony’s bedroom – as his Senior Field Agent’s desire to look nice and well put-together didn’t just stop at his clothing and hair.

            “I thought so.” His father gloated, downing his third Dr. Pepper.

            “Just because there might be a nail file upstairs,” Gibbs grumbled, “Doesn’t mean that Katie will let you use it on her.”

            For if said little girl was anything like Kelly when it came time to cut hair or trim nails, his father was in for one hell of a meltdown the very moment he approached Kate with a nail file. Which, knowing the deaged agent as well as he did, he would wager would almost surely involve a copious amount of scratching and screeching.

            “She will if I use it on Tony first.” His father confidently asserted. “Just you wait and see.”

            And, with that said, Gibbs watched with no small amount of jealousy as his father expertly scooped Tony out of his highchair to join the fussy baby already on his lap.

            “You’re more than welcome to try.” Gibbs allowed. “But I’m not going to be held liable when you need sutures.”

            Finally having become bored of her makeshift game of capture-the-coffee, once what little attention she was receiving from the sport had greatly diminished, Abby perked up at the suddenly playful conversation and asserted herself into it with all the confidence of a young child who had never once been told off for interrupting.

            “What is suitors, Ibbs?”

            “They’re stitches, Abby.” Tim proudly informed, finally brightening up for the since time since his disastrous run-in with Gibbs’s father.

            Just as intuitive as always, a personality trait he had inarguably passed down to his only child, Gibbs’s father latched unto the little boy’s excitement and expertly steered the child into an ice-breaking conversation with himself.

            “Where’d you learn such a thing, Tim?” The older man interviewed, legitimately excited to converse with the little boy. “You weren’t in the Boyscouts, were you?”

            Despite still being clearly somewhat suspicious of the older man he had just so recently assaulted, as he was understandably still concerned he might be punished by said man for such an act, regardless of how many times he had been reassured that he wouldn’t, Tim brought his head away from Gibbs’s chest long enough for his shirt to unwrinkle as he bravely looked his father in the eyes or, to be more accurate, the eyebrows.

            “I am.” Tim proudly informed. “I’ve got a whole bunch of badges!”

            “Oh yeah?” His father encouraged. “Which one was your favorite to earn?”

            Furrowing up his little blonde brows in very clear concentration, Tim nibbled on his chapped bottom lip for awhile before finally deciding upon an answer to such a very important question.

            “The space exploration one.” Tim resolutely declared, hazel eyes all aglow. “I want to go to the moon.”

            “The moon, huh?” His father parroted, cracking open yet another can of pop.

            “Yeah, I want to discover it first so I can own it.” Tim clarified.

            A bit baffled to hear that a six-year-old was concerned with the ownership of a place, rather than just the discovery of it, Gibbs shifted the little towhead on his lap and smiled invitingly into his face.

            “The moon is an awfully big place to own.” Gibbs opined.

            “Yeah, but if it was mine I would be in charge of who could come over.” Tim sagely stated.

            Gut churning uncomfortably at such a somber statement, as the undertones of it were quite ominous indeed, Gibbs hid his concerned frown behind his coffee mug and caught his father’s eyes from across the table.

            “Say, Tim?” His father smiled, in between sips of pop. “Have you ever made a rocket out of a pop bottle?”

            “Like a space rocket?” Tim excitedly questioned, siting up straighter in Gibbs’s lap.

            Taking just a moment to slap a bored Abby’s hand away from his half-empty can of pop, she having moved unto a different target in the hopes it would yield better results, Gibbs’s father smiled brightly at Tim and nodded his head.

            “Sure, you know of any other sort of rocket?”

            “No, I don’t think so.” Tim frowned, adorably answering the rhetorical question.

            “I don’t either.” Gibbs’s father chuckled. “So let’s go launch us a space rocket in the backyard.”

            Despite being somewhat reluctant to allow any such backyard experiments to happen within the bounds of his property, on the grounds that the both of them had been forced to make emergency trips to the hospital when he was still small and in need of assistance for his science projects, both educational and recreational, Gibbs nonetheless clamped down on his protective protests when Tim hopped down off his lap in a very groin-endangering action and scurried off to slip his shoes on.

Chapter Text

           

            Seeing as how it was a good ninety-three degrees outside, in the shade, Gibbs had all but held the children in his care hostage until he’d been suitably assured they were adequately coated in enough sunscreen to protect their delicate skin (three coats) and filled with enough water to hydrate a small horse. Because despite his father’s repeated and ridiculous assertions that he was being oppressively overprotective, he wasn’t at all willing to even marginally jeopardize the kids currently in his custody by giving them sunburn or heatstroke – no matter how much Abby protested against having the part in her hair sprayed with the oily formula in his possession, and no matter how ardently his father tried to convince him that all that water was an unnecessary diuretic.

            “Now don’t go blowing off anyone’s fingers.” Gibbs forewarned, frowning nervously as he watched his father and the oldest two children hurry toward the door.

            Feeling the annoyed eyeroll his father directed at his back, rather than actually seeing it, Gibbs played ignorant of sch an act to preserve the peace and busied himself, instead, with the very important task of manipulating Kate’s very fine and long brown hair into matching pigtails. Because as greatly unnecessary as such an action might appear to anyone who had not had the pleasure to raise a little girl, particularly one with very long hair, Gibbs had enjoyed enough experience in that particular area of expertise to know that letting freely-flowing hair get wet was only a recipe for tear-inducing snarls and knots.  

            “For God’s sake, Leroy.” His father mildly groused, hefting a very excited Abby unto his hip to keep her from taking off prematurely. “The doctors managed to reattach your pinky, didn’t they?”

            Glancing down at the formerly damaged digit residing on his left hand, and squinting unbecomingly to see the small scar that was the only proof remaining of the fact that his father had blown off an entire third of his finger off with an illegal and improvised rocket launcher, Gibbs struggled to conceal an amused smile and instead playfully feigned irritation.  

            “What about my eyebrows, Dad?”

            Stubbly cheeks blooming bright red with embarrassment, as he was no doubt recalling the fashion in which his enraged wife had chased him halfway around town with a still sizzling frying pan, Gibbs’s father frowned and feigned a sudden interest in making sure one of Abby’s pigtails was properly secured with the purple hairband his son had selected.

            “They grew back.” He grumbled, still fiddling with the preschooler’s hair.

            “Not in time for picture day, they didn’t.” Gibbs argued, expertly tying off the last of Kate’s pigtails.

            And even though more than enough time had elapsed for him not to feel embarrassed by such a remembrance anymore, at least not so long as he wasn’t around those who had once laid witness to his eyebrowless face, Gibbs had not yet forgotten the humiliation he had felt at the time as he faced his third day at school with drawn-on eyebrows.

            “Let it go, Leroy.” His father grumbled. “Your mother already gave me hell for that one.”

            “Well,” Gibbs playfully antagonized, “What about that black eye you gave me right before prom? I got coronated king looking like a battered child.”

            And, perhaps most important of all, Lucy Finnigan had spent the whole evening screeching at him about ruined prom night pictures instead of putting out in his truck like her younger sister had done the previous year.

            “And what about my broken teeth?” His father calmly challenged, referring the infamous pumpkin-launching incident that had gotten him banned from seven stores. “Or my bruised di – “

            “DAD!” Gibbs interrupted, completely flabbergasted that his father would even entertain the idea of swearing in front of children.

            “I’m just saying, Leroy, you gave me more than my fair share of injuries.” His father defended. “Christ, between the two of us we must have raked up thousands in dental bills.”

            Painfully unable to refute such a claim, as Leroy himself had made at least half-a-dozen emergency trips to the dentist before he had even graduated to middle school, if not more, Gibbs blushed himself and carefully hefted both his babies unto his hips.

            “Dad, go bring Abby out into the yard before she explodes.”

            Complacently doing as he had been bid, as Abby looked almost ready to pee herself from sheer excitement alone, alongside Tim who looked all but ready to bounce out of orbit, Gibbs’s father paused only long enough to grab up the little boy’s hand before scurrying off out the kitchen door.

            “We’d better hurry off after them.” Gibbs advised the babies. “The authorities might need witnesses for the carnage.”

Understandably oblivious to the context of what had just been said to them, but elsewise fully aware of the playful tone, both Katie and Tony smiled up into his face before slapping his chin in perfect synchronization.

            “You two are going to leave a permanent mark on my chin by the end of the week.”

            Extremely delighted by the very notion that they might responsible for something so permanent, both children giggled uproariously and continued to patter his chin with their slobbery and pudgy little fists – prompting Gibbs to grin and playfully bite at their assaulting fingers as he carried them out the door and into the heatwave.

              “Jesus.” Gibbs winced, sweat beading up on his forehead almost immediately.

            Either far too young or far too excited to be likewise as effected by such an oppressive heatwave, both children in his arms continued their babbling and took to flailing their chubby arms the further they got into the yard.

            “You two are a pair of squawking chickens.” Gibbs heatlessly accused, plopping the both of them into the kiddie pool he usually used to store excess water for the small garden he kept.

             Having no legitimate outside toys for the small child to occupy themselves with while in the shallow pool, Gibbs improvised as best as he could by depositing a few of the bath toys Jimmy had brought over yesterday. But true to the nature of every small child, all the plastic boats and floating rings were promptly ignored in favor of pursuing the very noble art of achieving full nudity. But rather than intervene and try to prevent such a natural behavior from occurring, Gibbs simply sank down into a nearby lawn chair and sat back to enjoy the antics of his youngest. And seeming to almost immediately sense the amusement of his beloved caretaker, Tony sought to behave as adorably as possible by grinning cheekily before pulling down his trunks with significant assistance from his newest best friend. It was only when they tried, and failed, to remove his securely-taped diaper that they moved unto getting Katie out of her two piece – a veritable Herculean task as the top he had wrestled unto the little girl was just a little bit snug and tugged at her hair when lifted.

            “Seriously,” Gibbs sighed, once both babies were clad in nothing but their diapers, “Why can’t you two get along this will when you’re big?”

            Simply dropping Katie’s wet swimsuit unto his bare feet in response to such a rhetorical question, Tony giggled madly before splashing back over to his best friend to assist her with the very important task of plucking up dandelions and decorating the cool water with them.    

            ‘It’s always the simple toys.’ Gibbs smirked, chuckling as the small duo worked together to collect all the yellow flowers surrounding the pool.

            And that, indeed, seemed to be the case for the older children as well, for a quick glance over at Tim and Abby swiftly assured him that both Tim and Abby were absolutely enthralled as they watched his father work to assemble a bottle rocket with nothing more than an empty bottle of pop, a few sharpened pencils, and a small pinch of baking soda.

            “Dada!” A small voice distracted.

            Jerking in surprise as something soft landed on his feet and tickled his toes, Gibbs glanced away from the sight of Tim positioning the rocket, and was more than just a little shocked to discover that it had been Kate to deliver the flower to his feet and Kate the one to address him with such a title.     

            “Gibbs.” He calmly corrected, not at all prepared to allow another little girl to call him by such a name. “And thank you for the flower, sweetie, it was just what my toes needed.”

            Not at all bothered that her attempts to address him affectionately had been corrected somewhat tersely, Kate grinned toothily into his face before splashing back over to her newest partner in crime, wherein she engaged the little boy trying, and failing, to stick a flower behind his ear.

            It was only when a loud pop filled the backyard with noise, and the improvised rocket launched into the air, that the two babies abandoned their quest of floral decoration and instead moved onto the nobler adventure of getting their tiny bodies over to the scene of the launch. Which for both babies, of course, meant flinging themselves gracelessly out of the refreshing pool and unto the damp grass surrounding it. But whereas Katie could easily manage to climb up unto her chubby legs and waddle clumsily toward Tim, Tony’s proclivities clearly lay more toward speaking as he only crawled a few feet before quickly loosing patience with his more mobile friend and squawking for her return. And never one to disappoint, especially not her newest best friend, Katie happily lurched her way back to the distressed little boy and patted his hair. But rather than simply plop down beside him afterward, and wait for him to be recovered enough to crawl again, the little girl clearly had a much better idea in mind.

            “Ony.” She warbled sternly, uttering her first word before kissing his cheek.

            It was then, and only then, that she grabbed up his pudgy hands in her own and yanked him upright, all but ignoring his many repeated protests until he was, at last, firmly planted upon his bare feet. And suffice it to say that the adorableness did not stop there. For evidently not yet completely satisfied with her good works, Kate babbled something encouragingly into Tony’s ears before slowly, and carefully, leading the little boy forward as she impressively walked backwards. Of course, given the fact that they were both newly-mobile and clumsy, only a few steps were managed before they fell atop each other and swiftly came to the decision that crawling was better than walking at the moment.

            It was with a bittersweet aura tinging his memories that Gibbs watched the children at their various play, his thoughts more somber than sweet as he slumped down in his lawn chair and reflected upon how  hard he and Shannon had worked to fill their house with dark-haired and blue-eyed children. If not for themselves, then at the very least for Kelly, who never once ceased to make her requests for a brother or, preferably, a sister or two. Unfortunately for all involved, Fate had seemed perfectly against them in such an endeavor though, almost as if it knew what would happen years later and could justify robbing him of one living child. Because not only had he been forced to deal with two discouraging miscarriages in the earliest stages of their fledgling marriage, a strain in their union that had only been relieved with the safe birth of Kelly a year later, so too did he have to live with the depressing knowledge that Shannon had died five months pregnant with another daughter he would never see again.

             “Are you okay, Ibbs?” Abby surprised him, scampering up his lap before he could recover.

            “I’m fine, Abbs.” Gibbs fibbed, smoothing down the few strands of hair that had escaped her braids. “Go play.”

            Squinting up into Gibbs’s face with a very knowing look, Abby simply pressed her cheek against his chest and squeezed her arms around his neck.

            “I think I’ll stay for a bit, Ibbs.”

Chapter Text

            Seeing as how it was now nap time for the three youngest children currently in his custody, something that he had decided upon shortly after a very disastrous lunch, as said cranky trio had experienced seven Goddamn meltdowns between themselves, resulting in an endless amount of tears and screeching, Gibbs was currently held hostage upon his sofa by the passed out little girl currently using his arm as a pillow – as he didn’t even dare entertain the idea of setting her down for fear that she might awaken and raise the dead with all her shrieking. And if that alone was not sufficient motivation for him to keep still, which it most certainly was, the fact that a very skittish Tim had suddenly grown comfortable enough to snuggle himself into his side definitely was.

            “ – And Europa is the smallest.” The little boy exhaled, finally having finished his lengthy lecture on all the moos Jupiter possessed. “And it might even have water under it!”

            Genuinely interested in such an obscure topic, as he had honestly had no real idea that there were so many goddamn moons in their particular universe prior to that afternoon, let alone that Jupiter was teeming with them, Gibbs listened intently instead of just politely and happily engaged the plump towhead currently pressed into his side.

            “Really now?”

             “Uh-huh.” Tim yawned, rubbing at his eyes. “That means aliens might live there.”

            Wondering if the timid first-grader’s enthusiasm for space-exploration had tapered off naturally in favor of writing literature the older he became, or had perhaps been discouraged until the child had found in necessary to replace it with something more practical, Gibbs concealed his frown by turning his head to yawn and briefly entertained the idea that an older McGee might yet still be interested in just such a topic – only far too reserved and self-conscious to admit it.

            “Does it now?” Gibbs questioned, smoothing his blonde hair.

             “Yeah, it’s in the Goldilocks zone.” Tim mumbled, practically burrowing into his chest.

             Somewhat relieved to realize that he might soon have all four children asleep at damn near the exact same time, as such an occurrence would give him such much-needed alone time, Gibbs smiled smugly and worked to facilitate the emergence of slumber in Tim by rubbing his back.

            “And what’s that?” Gibbs quizzed, keeping his voice low.

            Clearly flustered by such an innocent question, as he had furrowed up his blonde brows and frowned in response, Tim nibbled at his thumbnail for a lengthy spell before finally summoning up enough confidence to give answering it a shot.

            “It’s…It’s this...It’s where if a planet is in this spot, it might have life.” Tim finally managed, doing his very best to explain a very advanced concept.

            “Is there a lot of those planets?” Gibbs asked, still genuinely curious.

             Because, if he was being quite honest, all he honestly knew about space-exploration was that Neil Armstrong had landed on the moon in 1969 – and that was only because Shannon had made him watch the footage of it with her on their anniversary. And as for his beloved Kelly, well, her primary interests for the last four years of her life had been horses and King Arthur, the end result of which had been that he now knew way too much about both such subjects.

            “There’s a whole bunch!” Tim softly exclaimed, respectfully keeping his voice low in respect to the sleeping girl just a few feet away. “But it’s hard to know how many, because we can’t get rockets that far yet.”

             “I’m sure we’ll get there one day.” Gibbs assured, kicking his feet up unto the coffee table.

            Hazel eyes all aglow with the promise of what might be one day, Tim smiled softly and looked wistfully off into the distance.

            “I’m going to plant my flag on Mars.” Tim confidently declared.

            “You already have a flag?” Gibbs humored.

             Frowning slightly in consternation, in an adorable fashion that made him look like a middle-aged man, Tim rubbed blearily at his eyes and pondered the matter for a lengthy spell before finally answering.

            “Not really.” He confessed. “But my mommy could make me one. She’s good at that kind of stuff.”

             Despite being genuinely interested in the conversation at hand, Gibbs simply nodded in favor of responding and rubbed at the meek towhead’s back, methodically continuing such a soothing motion until, at last, a full ten minutes had elapsed and Tim was fast asleep with his little blonde head in his lap.

            “Well now,” His father crooned, idling back into the living room after his shower, “Isn’t that just the cutest.”

            Never one to enjoy letting his soft side show, except where Tony was regarded, Gibbs feigned mild distress and grumbled out his reply.

            “I have so much drool on my clothes right now.” He groused. “And grape jelly.”    

             Not at all buying into his theatrics, his father simply smirked before plopping himself down into the recliner.

            “Consider yourself blessed.” The older man advised. “When I was raising you, there wasn’t a day that went by where you didn’t have me covered in mud or frog slime.”

            Thinking back fondly upon his early childhood, wherein he had his friends had spent hours hunting down frogs to scare the girls with, and their mothers as well, Gibbs smiled tauntingly over at his father and wondered just how it was that he had survived his early years without getting straggled for turning the house into a herpatarium.

            “At least it wasn’t vomit.” Gibbs defended. “Remember how Kelly would always throw up on you just as soon as you got out of the shower or changed clothes?”

             “She had impressive range.” His father agreed. “Like something straight out of the Exorcist.”

             “Only far less devilish.” Gibbs amended, forever protective of his little girl.

             For apart from a brief and admittedly hellish stint with colic in the early stages of her life, Kelly had been the very definition of an easy, and happy, child.

            “Say, Leroy…” His father began, getting a very worrying expression on his face, “How are you dealing with having all these little kids in the house?”

             “It’s fine.” Gibbs growled, never one to enjoy his father’s therapeutic meddling.

            Because even if said interference usually wound up making him feel slightly better about whatever was troubling him, it was a terribly grueling process to achieve such a catharsis.

            “Leroy – “

            “I’ll manage.” He hissed. “It’s not like I don’t expect Tony to give me a few grandkids one day.”

             Because apart from his son being a dyed-in-the-wool homosexual, Gibbs had never once been lead to believe that children were out of the picture for his Senior Field Agent.

            “It’s hard though, isn’t it?” His father pressed.

            “You know that it is!” Gibbs snapped, only to immediately regret his behavior when his father’s face fell. “Kate…Kate called me Dada.”

            “Ouch.” His father flinched, suddenly not so eloquent.

             Forcefully swallowing down the sudden lump that had come into his throat, as it did no good to cry over things that could never change, Gibbs directed his gaze away from that of his father’s and studiously stared at the floor as he tried, and failed, not to think about how Kelly’s first word had been Dada, or, how bright her big brown eyes had been when she’d said it.

             “Kate was just confused, is all.” His father worked to soothe. “Tony’s been calling you that all day, you know.”

            “Yeah, I know.” Gibbs agreed, his voice a little hoarse.

            “Leroy,” His father sighed sympathetically, “Why don’t I go and make you some hot chocolate?

            Ache in his chest diminishing slightly as he realized his father still remembered what he liked to drink when feeling disgruntled, as it was admittedly somewhat touching, Gibbs nodded at his father and smiled appreciatively.

            “Sure, Dad.”

            “Of course.” His father agreed, squeezing his shoulder as he walked past. “I’m always here for you.”

            And even though it had taken him far too long to realize it, far too long, Gibbs slumped back against the couch cushions with the comforting knowledge of knowing it to be true.

Chapter Text

Given that it had started raining profusely halfway through the children’s naptime, in a very clear testament of just how much the universe seemed to both hate and actively conspire against him, Gibbs had very nearly come close to losing his goddamn temper before his unflappable father had wisely stepped in and assembled a small for the three smallest children out of a handful of cardboard boxes he had dug out of the garage. Because if an obscenely clingy Katie had not been insistent upon being held without intermission the very moment she had wakened, making it necessary for him to hide her behind the shower curtain when he wished to take a piss, both Abby and Tony had seemed absolutely determined to get into whatever contrabanded items they could. A very aggravating proclivity which had very nearly led to a hopelessly curious Tony ingesting a handful of rusty coins from the wallet his father had left on the coffee table and a ceaselessly naughty Abby climbing up unto the refrigerator to play with the knife-block he’d hidden up there. The natural end result of all such behaviors being, of course, the rising of his blood pressure until his father had intervened.

            “Abby, you need to be careful!” Tim chastised, hastily jumping off the couch to pull Katie aside so that her fingers didn’t get trampled. “You don’t want to break her fingers!”

            Having up until recently proved himself thoroughly unwilling to abstain from his entirely self-imposed task of keeping a watchful vigil over the younger children, no matter how much either he or his father had tried to distract him with toys or books, it was not until Gibbs had found something about space on the History channel that the little boy had relented and lessened the severity of his watch down to only glancing over at the children every few minutes or so.

            “That boy will make a great father someday.” His dad observed, coming into the kitchen to steal another can of pop from the fridge.

            “He’s already a good brother.” Gibbs assured, thinking of the fatherly way in which Tim treated Sarah. “But I have to make a few phone calls right now, can you keep an eye on them?”

            “Sure thing.” His fatherly happily agreed, sauntering the living room to join Tim on the couch.

            Waiting until his father had successfully engaged Tim in a conversation about the feasibility of colonizing the moon, as he didn’t wish to have any little eavesdroppers attending to his adult conversation, Gibbs reluctantly pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and forced himself to make the first of the calls. Because as much as Ducky had earlier asserted that such an act was highly unnecessary, especially where regarded Kate, Gibbs genuinely believed that a parent had every right to know what was happening with their child.

            “Hello, is this Mrs. Todd?” Gibbs politely inquired, when after the seventh ring somebody finally answered.

            “Yes.” A woman replied, her tony very clipped. “Who is this?”

            Finding it more than just a little absurd that a parent wouldn’t have the number of their child’s employer in their phone, or at the very least committed to memory, Gibbs felt himself scowl but nonetheless strived to keep his tone even.

            “This is agent Gibbs, ma’am.” He explained, growing more uncomfortable the longer it took her to response. “Your daughter’s boss.”

             “I thought Rachel worked for a Jewish firm.” Mrs. Todd quipped, sounding somewhat accusatory. “Gibbs doesn’t sound like a very Jewish name to me.”

            More than just a little perturbed by the fact that Mrs. Todd seemed more annoyed at the possibility that she might have been lied to rather than genuinely distressed as to why her child’s employer was calling her without warning, Gibbs felt his stomach turn icy and struggled to be civil as a result.

            “Your youngest daughter, Mrs. Todd.” Gibbs corrected. “You know, Kate.”

            “What about her?” The aloof woman demanded.

            Kept from making his answer straight away, as Mrs. Todd had inexplicably pulled the phone away from her ear to chew out a resort main for moving too slowly to fetch her a towel, Gibbs was forced to wait somewhat impatiently for the rebuking to finish before he could respond to the question earlier delivered to him. 

            “Mrs. Todd, your daughter inhaled a very powerful strand of virus while in the line of duty.” Gibbs bluntly explained. “She’s one.”

            Not at all surprised by the long silence that followed, as it was honestly a lot of information to take in all at once, Gibbs sat stiffly in his chair and waited for a bit of the parental panic he was sure must follow such news to occur.

            “Where has she been placed?” Mrs. Todd finally demanded, very aggressively.

            “I thought it would be best if – “

            “You don’t honestly expect us to take her, do you?” Mrs. Todd interrupted. “I mean for God’s sake, we’re on a pleasure cruise at the moment. How do you expect we get off?”

             Never once wavering in the belief that there was no force on Earth powerful enough to keep him away from Tony whenever said man needed him, whether they were just a few feet apart or miles, Gibbs found himself utterly flabbergasted that such a basic parental instinct seemed to be absent in Kate’s mother.

            “Ma’am – “

            “And don’t go thinking any of her brothers can take her!” She warned. “They’re far to busy to be bothered with that mess.”

            Given what an adult Kate had already told him of her older brothers, all of it unsavory and equally as unsettling, Gibbs could honestly say that the very idea of abandoning her at one of their doorsteps had never crossed his mind.

            “You’ll have to get her to Rachel, I suppose.” Mrs. Todd decided. “I can wire you some money for the trouble.”

            “That won’t be necessary, Ma’am.” Gibbs assured.

            “Well, you can’t just ship my daughter off to a foster home. How bad would that look?”

            Only narrowly resisting the urge to suggest that she already looked quite poorly in his eyes, Gibbs clamped down hard on his tongue before answering.

            “I thought she could stay with me, ma’am.”

            “With you?” She parroted, perfectly snide.

             “And the other deaged agents.” Gibbs confirmed.

            Pausing there for a very long moment to converse with a man who could only be her husband, Mrs. Todd managed to enrage him even further by purposely speaking loud enough for her words to be heard but not quite deciphered.

            “There are other deaged agents?” She finally asked. “Staying with you?”

            “Yes.” Gibbs agreed, a bit of an edge creeping into his voice.

            “Are you even licensed to do that?” Mrs. Todd sniffed.

            “Look, it’s either me or foster care.” Gibbs warned. “Because I’m not shipping a little girl halfway across the country to a sister I’ve never met.”

            Halting all further conversation to once again have a muffled conversation with her husband, a man whose tone was just as icy as her own, Mrs. Todd wasted a good seven minutes before she allowed him back into the conversation.

            “How much did you want for all that trouble?” She demanded.

            “I don’t want anything.” Gibbs assured, thoroughly outraged.

            Once more breaking away from their conversation without any warning, to shout at her husband that he most certainly was not going out off the room looking like a slob, Mrs. Todd returned to the topic at hand with a far more surly attitude than she had started with.

            “Of course you want some money.” Mrs. Todd declared.

            “I’m a Marine, Ma’am. I take care of my own.” Gibbs assured.

            Making an annoyed sound in the back of her throat, one the drew the hairs up on the back of his neck, Mrs. Todd grumbled something to her husband before refocusing back on the conversation at hand.

            “You can keep her.” She allowed, erroneously believing she had any real choice in the matter. “So long as you don’t allow word to get out that we didn’t fly out to fetch her. Heaven knows everyone would overact to that.”

             “I’ll call you when – “

            “Only call me when she’s back to normal.” Mrs. Todd interrupted. “I need to talk to her about this Senator’s son I’ve been trying to set her up with.”

            “Of course.” Gibbs allowed.

             Click.

            Blinking in surprise as Mrs. Todd unceremoniously ended the conversation without any real signs she was about to do so, Gibbs scowled deeply but nonetheless forced himself to go through with dialing the number to Tim’s childhood home.

            “Hello, McGee residence.” A feeble voice answered immediately.

            “Mr. McGee,” He frowned, “This is Gibbs.”

              “Gibbs?” The Admiral wheezed. “What – is Tim okay?”

            Feeling more than just a little guilty to be bothering a cancer patient with such troubling news, as his own mother had seemed to take a turn for the worse whenever anything troubled her, Gibbs nibbled at his thumbnail for a short spell before pressing forward.

            “Your son had been infected by a powerful virus, Mr. McGee.” Gibbs began. “He’s six.”

             “Goodness.” Mr. McGee exhaled, sounding quite ancient. “Lizzy! Lizzy!? Come here a moment, would you?”

             Once again subject to the minor annoyance that came with being put on hold while those on the other end of the phone shared a confidential conversation, Gibbs shook his head and decided it was late enough in the afternoon to treat himself with a beer.

            “Hello?” A female voice timidly spoke into the phone. “This is Elizabeth, Tim’s mom. We…We can be there – well, not us, we’ll have to send Sarah, but she…she can get him tomorrow morning once her finals are done. I hope…I hope that won’t be a problem.”

             “Mrs. McGee – “

            Promptly cut off from finishing his sentence as the sounds of raw and anguished crying funneled into his ears, Gibbs squirmed uncomfortable and took a long swig of his beer, wondering if, perhaps, he really ought to have taken Ducky’s advice and not called.

            “I know…I know it’s a lot to ask of you but I just can’t think of any other way. John…John hasn’t feeling all that well lately and I don’t…I don’t want to leave him alone.” The sobbing housewife confessed. “If…Maybe Sarah could talk to her professor and…see if he might let her take the test earlier.”

             “Mrs. McGee,” Gibbs sighed into the phone, “That isn’t necessary. I know things are hard for you right now.”

            Feeling like the very definition of an asshole as more poorly-concealed sobs flooded into the phone, Gibbs all but gnawed on his thumb as he waited for the distressed mother to recover herself well enough to speak.

            “It’s…This is just a temporary thing, you know.” Elizabeth sniffled, clearly not referring to her son’s deaging. “We’ve been through this before.”

             Having once held onto the same ridiculous hope that his mother would somehow manage to recover from the disease that had caused her to lose all her hair and weight, even when his father had finally manned up and told him it wasn’t going to happen, Gibbs felt his heartstrings being pulled on and could only respond the way he had once hoped to be responded to.

            “Of course.”

            “Is…Is my Tim alright?”

             More than just a little relieved to find the conversation being steered back to a much safer topic, Gibbs sighed softly beneath his breath and did what he could to relieve the sensitive woman’s fears.

            “Tim’s doing great.” Gibbs soothed. “He’s actually playing with the babies right now.”

             “Babies?”

            “He wasn’t the only agent that got infected.”

            Taking only a brief moment to digest such information, which was more than generous given its bizarre nature, Mrs. McGee sniffled loudly but nonetheless answered far more calmly then before.

            “Are they alright, too?”

            “Yes, I promise you that.” Gibbs swiftly assured.

            Because even if his father was currently trying to give him a heart attack by lifting Abby above his head in a makeshift areoplane ride, Gibbs was reasonably sure that the little girl’s notoriously hard head would survive unscathed were she to be dropped.

            “And he’s behaving himself?” Elizabeth pressed.

            “He’s been practically perfect, to be honest.” Gibbs admitted. “I think you got lucky.”

            Relieved to hear a soft chuckle on the other end of the phone, as he didn’t think he handle any more tears, Gibbs sipped comfortably at his beer and listened as Elizabeth McGee spoke fondly of her little boy.

            “Timmy was always the easy one.” She agreed. “When was Sarah that gave us a run for our money – almost like she was trying to make up for all the easy years we had with her brother."

            Having been made privy, via an aggravated Tim, to all the miscellaneous mischief Sarah had gotten up to as a young teenager and college-age woman, as said agent had often needed to request time off in order to go save his sister from what trouble she had found herself in, Gibbs smiled politely but didn’t dare offer up any information about any such incidences – assuming that Tim, like all good brothers, would have mercifully kept his parents in the dark about their youngest child’s misadventures.

            “I can just imagine.” He opined, instead. “I’ve never seen a six-year-old so well behaved.”

            “Six?” Elizabeth parroted, seeming to suddenly remember the point of the call. “He…My Timmy is sleeping, isn’t he? I know he had problems with that when he was – Oh, excuse me, John wants to speak to you.”

            Seeing as he had no real choice in the matter, Gibbs impatiently waited for the phone to be transferred and wondered, idly, if perhaps a conference call on loudspeaker would have been more appropriate.

            “Gibbs?” A croaky voice demanded. “You said my boy was six?”

             “Well, six-and-a-half.” Gibbs amended, hoping to inject a bit of humor into the conversation.

            Receiving, instead, only a very stony silence in response to such well-meaning levity, Gibbs shifted uncomfortably and contemplated the idea of passing off such an unrewarding job to his father. Because if his mother could frighten even the Devil himself, his Father would likewise be just as able to talk him back into Goodness.

            “He’s not acting out, is he?” John McGee growled.

            For the first being made privy to infamous Admiral voice an adult Tim had shamelessly confessed to still be afraid of, Gibbs sat up a bit straighter and couldn’t help but think the reason that Mr. McGee had survived three bouts with cancer was because Death was, perhaps, more than just a little afraid of him.

            “Tim has been perfect.” Gibbs swiftly assured.

            “He’s not doing any of that biting nonsense?” Mr. McGee interrogated.

             “None.” Gibbs happily lied.

             “And he’s not peeing the bed either?”

            Taking only a brief moment to ponder over whether or not a problem with bedwetting was the reason Tim seemed so reluctant to have anyone come into his bedroom without warning, Gibbs cleared his throat and was, at the very least, able to answer honestly.

            “Not that I’ve seen.”

             “Good.” Mr. McGee sighed, hoarse voice softening. “I had to sort of crack down on him at that age.”

             “Really?” Gibbs asked, somewhat tersely.

            “It damn near broke my heart having to be so firm with him.” Mr. McGee abstractly confirmed. “But he was biting damn near everyone, it seemed. He even took the thumb clear off his grandfather’s hand one night when he went to read him a story.”

            Stomach flooding with an uncomfortably cold chill at such news, and the casual way in which it was delivered, Gibbs sucked down a greedy gulp of beer before prying carefully into the matter.

            “His Grandfather?”

            “Yes.” Mr. McGee confirmed. “And I don’t know what the hell that was all about. It just seemed like one day he suddenly couldn’t stand Lizzy’s dad anymore.”

             Despite having already had his suspicions practically confirmed, Gibbs wished to be absolutely sure of things before hunting down the wrong man and beating him senseless.

            “And he never told you why?”

             “I was going through chemo at the time, Gibbs. I didn’t have time to force an answer out of the boy.” The Admiral blithely dismissed. “But I imagine it was because his grandfather reeked of tobacco and cat piss.”

            “Really now?” Gibbs questioned, in too deep to turn back.

            “I mean it was just awful, Gibbs. Eventually the smell got so bad Lizzy wouldn’t even let him come around the house anymore.” John elaborated. “Seemed a bit extreme if you ask me, but I imagine Lizzy was just plain tired of scrubbing the walls clean every time he came.”

             Harboring the intense desire to ascertain whether the Admiral was genuinely clueless or simply deflecting any reasonable accusations of neglect away from himself, Gibbs swallowed up the last of his beer and strived to keep the conversation going – no matter how uneasy it made him feel.

            “I see.”

            “Either way, I never really liked that man.” John confessed. “He gave me the creeps.”

            Completely baffled as to why anybody with a functioning brain would allow a person who gave them the creeps around their young child, especially one whose visits resulted in their child acting out, Gibbs inwardly questioned the integrity of the officers who had promoted John McGee to Admiral and idly wondered if, perhaps, there had been a little bit of bribery going on.

            “You should always trust your instincts.” Gibbs lectured. “Maybe your wife was right to keep him away.”  

             “Maybe.” Mr. McGee readily agreed. “Tim started behaving again just as soon as that man stopped making his monthly visits.” And, pausing there for a bit of water, the Admiral continued: “Anyhow, Sarah will get there just as soon as possible, alright?”  

            Sensing that his conversational partner was starting to get weary, whether from stress of the topic at hand of the effects of his illness, Gibbs swiftly stepped in and once again assured the McGee’s that he was perfectly fine with caring for their child.

            “You don’t have to send Sarah. I can take care of Tim.” Gibbs offered. “I know things are hard for you right now.”     

            “Tim’s my boy, Gibbs, I can’t just leave him on his own he’s so small.”

             “He won’t be alone. I already have three other deaged agents with me.”

             “I…Let me talk to Lizzy real quick.”

             Having no real grounds on which to deny him such an innocent request, Gibbs slumped down his chair and waited patiently for either one of the McGee’s to return to the phone.

            “Gibbs?” A terse voice asked, the sudden unfriendliness of it surprising him. “I don’t know if it’s the best idea to leave Tim alone with a ma – with a stranger when he’s so small.”

            Feeling any icy chill run down his back that had absolutely nothing to do with the strength of his air conditioning, Gibbs sat up a bit straighter and couldn’t help but feel as if he was a small child once more in threat of getting his knuckles wrapped by an annoyed teacher.

            “Your son recognizes me, Mrs. McGee.” He tried to reason, reflexing moving the knuckles of his free hand beneath his thigh.

            “I don’t know what that has to do with anything.”

            More than just a little surprised to find that the woman an adult Tim had once described as Mr. Rogers without a Y-Chromosome could be so…frightening, Gibbs felt an uncomfortable knot form up in his stomach and wondered, fretfully, if Mr. McGee had somehow misconstrued their conversation and related a false message to his wife.

            “If he recognizes me, that means I’m not a stranger.” Gibbs tried to rationalize.

            “I don’t understand why you would even want to care for a bunch of small children anyways.” Mrs. McGee huffed. “They should be with their mothers.”

             Deciding then and there that Elizabeth McGee must have been made privy to what was going on between her father and son at some point in time, and subsequently channeled that trauma and guilt into a misplaced sense of fear toward all older men in close proximity to her child, Gibbs allowed that nefarious bit of sexism to go unchallenged and focused, instead, on trying to get Mrs. McGee to see reason.

            “Tony is my son.” He reminded the suddenly combative woman. “And Katie and Abby had nowhere else to go.”

             “Just how long have you had Timmy for anyways?” Mrs. McGee interrogated. “Why didn’t you call us sooner?”

             Not all enjoying the thinly-veiled accusations being leveled his way, Gibbs suddenly found that he couldn’t keep up the false friendliness in his voice.

            “Your husband is very sick, and I didn’t want to upset him with any worrying news.”

            “I…That…That was probably for the best.” She sighed, suddenly deflating. “John didn’t have a very good yesterday…”

            Not knowing how to response to such uncomfortable news, as he was neither friend nor family, Gibbs fiddled with the tab on his empty beer bottle and couldn’t help but think of how annoyed he had gotten whenever anyone tried to patronize him when his mother was actively dying.

            “Tim told you, didn’t he?” Mrs. McGee suddenly accused, her voice barely more than a whisper.

            “He didn’t.” Gibbs gently refuted. “But I figured it out.”

             Inhaling quite sharply, as if the news had physically hurt her, Mrs. McGee went dead silent for several moments before finally seeming to remember she was having a conversation on the phone.

            “I sent that man away when I…when I found out.” Elizabeth breathed, her voice trembling with rage. “And I know I should have told John but…Oh, Gibbs, he was just so sick at the time and Timmy…Timmy begged me not to. Poor thing was just so embarrassed and – I sent that man away, that very night. I know…I should have…I should beat him to death with my frying pan but…Oh, God, he…he was my father. I never spoke to him again but I should have…I should have killed him.”

            “How long was it before you – “

            “Tim was eight when I walked in…Two years.”

            Unable to even imagine how much psychological damage could have occurred in a young boy keep such a secret to himself so long, and internalizing all the nasty feelings that came with being molested, Gibbs resolved to inquire into whether or not a fully-grown Tim had ever attended therapy to deal with such a traumatic experience.

            “Mrs. McGee, I’m so sorry – “

            “Can I…Can I just talk to my Timmy?”

             “Of course. Give me just one second.”

            Setting the phone aside on the kitchen table, so as not to tempt a very curious Abby with it, Gibbs poked his head into the living room and silently gestured a slightly-disappointed Tim into the kitchen.

            “It’s your mommy.” Gibbs explained. “She wants to talk to you.”

            Mild disgruntlement with missing part of his show quickly forgotten at such happy news, Tim all but flew to the table and slapped the phone up to his ear.

            “Hi, Mommy!”

             “What?” Tim frowned, seemingly confused. “Why do you want – okay, Mommy.”

            More than just a little insulted as Gibbs watched the little boy sneak him a furtive glance before opening the pantry and stepping inside, as no doubt the integrity of his character was still being questioned by Mrs. McGee, he rolled his eyes as dramatically as possible and flipped off the offending phone – once Tim had closed the door, of course.

            “Okay, I’m alone now, Mommy.” Tim declared, loud voice easily carrying through the door.

            While Gibbs would have otherwise allowed the small boy some privacy in his conversation with the mother who had raised him, he found himself entirely unwilling to move from his perch at the table, telling himself that he ought to have some inkling of an idea as to just what sort of nonsense his temporary ward was currently being fed.

            “But I like Gibbs, mommy.” Tim defended, sweetly outraged on his behalf.

            “No, Mommy.” He immediately promised afterwards. “I promise.”

             “I’ll keep my jeans on all the time, Mommy…No, I won’t get into nobody’s bed.”

            “If he does, I’ll bite really hard, Mommy.” “Don’t worry.”

             “I love you too.”

            Emerging from the pantry with a somewhat troubled expression on his doughy face, Tim looked like quite the guilty party as he hastily shoved the cellphone into Gibbs’s hand before taking off for the general safety of the living room.

            “Hello – “

            “You can keep him for the week.” Elizabeth allowed. “But I will be calling every night before he goes to bed.”

            Now knowing Elizabeth to be of the type of protective constitution that would enable her to rip the throat out of anyone who dared trifle with her children without nary a hesitation, Gibbs treaded carefully and felt a genuine fear he had experienced since he had once been forced to tell his mother he had called his father an asshole.

            “I understand.”

            “Good.”

             Click.

            Taking a long moment to recover from such an unsettling experience, Gibbs found it was a good ten minutes before he was able to move into the living room and join the children and his father.

            “Good lord, Leroy, what happened?” His father interrogated, nearly dropping Abby.

            “I think I just saw the face of Death.” He confessed.

            And it was, of course, in the form of one very protective mother-bear.

             

             

Chapter Text

            “Alright, Abbs.” Gibbs grunted, seating himself on the floor. “Let’s get this tea-party started.”

            Having already been seated upon the wooden floorboards for a good ten minutes as she patiently awaited for him to finish changing Tony’s diaper and surrender him back to Kate, Abby gave him quite the reproving look before finally deciding to show him some lenience by handing him over a plastic teacup that was filled with what was, hopefully, water and not actual coffee.

            “Let’s get done for business.” The little girl began, putting on a very stern expression.

            “Good idea.” Gibbs agreed, pretending to sip at his beverage. “Shall we discuss making renovations to the west wing of the castle?”

            He was, of course, referring to the massive blanket fort Tim had erected for the babies with only very minimal assistance from Gibbs’s father – a remarkable display of creativity and independence that had resulted in a fabric castle the size of a small cabin.

            “No.” Abby sniffed. “We need to discuss the foreign persuasion.”

            “Oh.” Gibbs softly exclaimed, having not expected that all.

            Because while Victoria was most certainly adept at discussing such politics at her tea parties, amongst other more advanced topics, he had never pegged Abby down as having been a child who enjoyed such conversations.

            “The goblins are burning our people and raping our crops.”

            Very nearly choking on his water at the exact same time his father nearly dropped Kate, Gibbs struggled to recover himself and took several minutes to respond.

            “What?”

            “They’re bastardly villains.” Abby assured, mistaking his shock for enthusiasm.

            “Abbs.” Gibbs frowned. “Where...where did you hear such things?”

             Looking up into his face with an expression that clearly conveyed she believed he had lost his senses, Abby rolled her pretty eyes to the ceiling and shook her head condescendingly.

            “The History channel.”

            “You watch the History channel?” Gibbs interrogated, more than just a little dubious.

             “With Daddy.” Abby confirmed, pouring him more ‘tea.’

            Starting to suspect that a young Abby had never been told ‘no’ once while growing up, or while fully grown, Gibbs frowned and began to wonder if it was even possible for such blatant spoiling to be correcting after so much had elapsed.

            “Ibbs.” Abby frowned, oblivious to his discomfort. “What’s a dollar cost?”

            “What do you mean?” Gibbs questioned. “There’s four quarters in a dollar if that’s what you’re asking.”

            Narrowing her pretty eyes in a very clear warning that she was about to lose her temper with him, Abby huffed loudly and crossed her arms.

            “No, not a dollar.” She corrected. “The dollarcost.”

            “I don’t think I know what you’re talking about.” Gibbs apologized.

            “You know, Ibbs.” Abby encouraged. “Where all the Germany’s took those people to camp?”

            Feeling immediately out his depths at such an advanced question, as what adult really expected to hear something like that for a four-year-old, Gibbs spluttered for a bit before turning to his father for assistance – only to find that said man was quite keen to take the cowards way out as he grabbed up the babies and steered Tim toward the kitchen with a gentle nudge.

            “Who wants ice cream?” The older man distracted, wholly unapologetic as he smiled back at his only child.

            “Abbs?” Gibbs encouraged. “Don’t you want some ice cream?”

            Staring him straight in the eyes with a fierce resolution that would have been impressive on an adult, let alone a little child, Abby pursed up her pink lips and didn’t so much as blink as she pressed him, again, for more answers to her uncomfortable question.

            “Ibbs,” She repeated, “What’s a dollarcost?”

             “I really don’t think you should be listening to those types of shows, Abby.” Gibbs stalled, hoping to change the subject completely.

            “I don’t always listen to them.” Abby stipulated. “Sometimes Daddy forgets to turn the volume on.”

             Knowing that any suggestions he made about her not watching them either would meet much the same dismissal, Gibbs sighed and wondered just how little he could get away with explaining.

            “Why did all those people go to camp, Ibbs?” Abby persisted. “It didn’t look very fun.”

             Thinking that was perhaps one of the most egregious understatements of the century, if not the millennium, Gibbs sighed and rubbed wearily at his temples.

            “They didn’t have a choice, Abbs.” He answered, surrendering to her curiosity. “Some very bad people were put in charge of Germany and…they decided that everyone they didn’t like had to give live in those camps.”

            “But those camps were gross.” Abby frowned. “They had mummies everywhere.”

            Immensely relieved upon the realization that the little girl had mistaken corpses for mummies, as it eliminated yet another unpleasant conversation before it could begin, Gibbs shifted a bit uncomfortably and couldn’t help but think he would rather be giving ‘the talk’ to Kelly rather than having this little history lesson.

            “Why didn’t they like those people?” Abby fussed, the complex subject of evil having never once occurred to her.

            “Some people are just bullies, Abby.” Gibbs simplified, wishing to keep things PG.

            Taking only a moment to digest such powerful information, Abby furrowed her dark brows and formed a fist before holding up in front of him.

            “If anybody tried to do that to me, I’d punch them in the nose.”

             Not at all surprised to see that a smaller Abby believed herself to be as tougher than she was, as that was one of the bigger flaws a fully-grown version of herself possessed, Gibbs shook his head and wondered how it was the little girl had survived childhood without getting punched in the face herself.

            “Abby,” Gibbs began, pulling her unto his lap, “When you punched Katie yesterday, you were kind of being a bully, too.”

             Frowning with all the embarrassment and indignation of a toddler who had never been reprimanded before. Which, given what he had learned from her upbringing, wasn’t really all that surprising.

            “I didn’t mean to punch, Katie.” She excused. “I was just mad.”

             “I know.” Gibbs assured, smoothing down her hair. “But you can’t just punch people when you’re you mad. People don’t want to be friends with someone who hits them.”

             Looking as if that was the very first time that such a thought had ever been conveyed to her, Abby blinked in surprise and allowed the logic of it to flood into her brain.

            “That’s what Ms. Felicity says.” The little girl frowned. “But I think Jenny and Lucy don’t like me just because I’m prettier.”

            “You didn’t tell them that, did you?” Gibbs interrogated.

            “Yes, I did.” Abby argued, seeing no fault at all with such behavior.

            More than just a little annoyed with the elder Scuito’s for not even bothering to teach their daughter anything about being kind and compassionate, as that was one of the very first lessons he and Shannon had worked on with Kelly, Gibbs shook his head and tried not to take out of his frustrations on the little girl.

            “Abby, you don’t always have to say everything you think.”

             “Then what’s the point of being able to talk?”

             “So you can say nice things.” Gibbs suggested, struggling to get the message through to her.

            “I do say nice things.” Abby defended. “I told Maggie her barbie was pretty, even though she cut all her hair off.”

            Gradually coming to accept the fact that Abby was far too young, and far too spoiled, to fully grasp the concept of the Golden Rule just yet, Gibbs reluctantly decided to surrender the topic for another time.

            “Let’s go get some ice cream, Abbs.”

             Instantly giddy in response to such happy news, the four-year-old dashed off into the kitchen before Gibbs could even climb to his feet, much less take after her. Although, once he finally did manage to make it into the kitchen, knees protesting the entire way, he almost immediately wished he hadn’t.

            “What the hell happened in here?” Gibbs exclaimed, looking at the carnage.

             “Well…” His father began, feigning complete and total ignorance of the severity of the mess, “There was an incident.”

             Gazing in horror upon the visage of a very amused Tony being covered head-to-toe in chocolate ice-cream, spoiled dessert dripping down from his hair unto the floorboards, Gibbs gave his father and incredulous look and only received an amused smirk in return.

             “Kate decided Tony was overheating.” His father suggested, plopping Tony into the sink he had already filled with bubbles.

            “And what about Tim?” Gibbs demanded, gesturing at the blonde hair that had been turned brown by dessert.

            “Kate must have thought I looked hot, too.” Tim opined, wiping ice-cream out of his hair with a wet paper towel.

Chapter Text

            If Gibbs has thought that sheer stubbornness was perfectly exemplified in the form of one young Abigail Scuito, and her older version as well, he was soon proven to be most egregiously wrong – for it was Tim who now seemed the determined winner of such an onerous title. Because not only had said boy promptly and vehemently refused the request that he bathe, just as soon as it had been made, so too had he remained steadfast in such an immature decision up until the point Gibbs felt he was soon going to lose his temper.

            “You have half a gallon of ice cream in your hair.” Gibbs repeated, speaking through gritted teeth. “You’re taking a bath.”

            Sticking out his bottom lip in a very clear and aggravating display of petulance, Tim glared up at him with hateful hazel eyes and crossed his chubby arms across his chest before stomping his foot in an uncharacteristic burst of anger.

            “I know that!” The angry towhead snapped, his manners gradually having begun to diminish the longer they had quarreled. “But I can take one by myself.”

            Refusing to even entertain the idea of allowing such a dangerous activity to go unsupervised, as an uncomfortable amount of children drowned in their bathtubs every year, Gibbs shook his head and forcefully counted to twenty before trusting himself to speak again.

            “You are six.” Gibbs reminded. “I am not leaving you in a bathtub full of water by yourself.”

            Because not only did Gibbs not want to live with the guilt of knowing he was at fault should Tim get hurt or kill by such a blatant display of negligence, so too did he not wish to deal with the sheer fury of Elizabeth McGee should either such even occur.

            “I’m old enough to use a knife, Gibbs.” Tim argued, struggling to keep his tone as respectful as always.

            Sincerely hoping that such a privilege was only allowed to the small boy while at some closely supervised Boy Scout activity, as six was far too young to be granted free reign of a dangerous weapon, Gibbs kneeled down on the floor to appear less threatening and looked the stubborn child straight in the eyes.

            “Tim, you can wash yourself.” Gibbs allowed. “But I am not leaving you alone in the bathtub. It’s dangerous.”

            “Then I can’t take a bath.” Tim decided, his resolve unyielding.

            Feeling himself getting more than just a little worked up in response to such unreasonableness, Gibbs clamped down hard on his tongue and silently counted to forty before trusting himself to speak once more. Because for as ornery as Tim was currently being at the moment, he had been letting Abby get away with far more attitude.

            “Tim,” He frowned, “Tell me how we can make this work.”

            “By giving me some privacy.” The little towhead growled.

            “I’m afraid that’s off the table, Buddy.” Gibbs apologized, reaching out to place a hand on his shoulder.

            “I’M NOT YOUR BUDDY!”

            Promptly thrown off-guard as Tim immediately jerked away from his hand and slapped at his fingers, Gibbs simply blinked stupidly a few times as he watched the husky boy scurry off down the hall with surprising speed.

            ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake.’ Gibbs inwardly growled, wincing slightly as he rose to his feet and listened to his knees pop in return.

            Deducing quickly that the little boy must needs still be on the upper level by the way in which his wooden steps had failed to give their customary squeak whenever met with any real weight, Gibbs naturally began his search by peering into each and every bedroom residing on it, his anger and impatience quickly turning into worry and fear as he made it through all the rooms but Tim’s without having heard so much as a peep of the troubled child.

            “Tim, I know you’re in here.” Gibbs called out softly. “Come on out. I’m not mad.”

            Receiving no reply whatsoever in response to such leniency, Gibbs sighed loudly and slowly lowered himself unto his knees to peer beneath the bed, believing just such a space to be the only rational place a small child could hide in such a room for, given its status as a guest room, it was not exactly filled with any excess furnishings or personal affects.  

             “Tim – “

            Cutting himself short upon espying only several dust-bunnies and a misplaced gym sock hiding beneath such a cramped space, Gibbs felt his blood turn icy with fear. But rather than succumb completely to the effects of raw panic, and thus run the risk of terrorizing the other small children currently in his care, he took several deep breaths and paused to reassess the situation at hand. It was then, and only then, that Gibbs came to the reluctant conclusion that Tim must needs be in the attics. And, sure enough, when he went to test such a hypothesis by pulling on the flimsy handle of the tiny door that lead up into just such a space, the door creaked open with all the ease of one that hadn’t been properly closed the last time it had been used.

            ‘It just had to be the attic.’ Gibbs groused, struggling to fit his broad shoulders through the tight stairwell.

            Sweating profusely by the time he’d made it to landing, which was more than just a little embarrassing reminder of his increased age, Gibbs swiped impatiently at the sweat beaded up on his brow and tried to affect as he crept into the claustrophobic space.

             “Tim…come on now. This has gone on long enough.” Gibbs encouraged, methodically peering into all the boxes and chests lying on the floor. “I’m not mad. I just need to know where you are.”

            Seeing as how he was once more met with nothing but silence, Gibbs furrowed his brow and seated himself upon an old rocking chair as he thought back to the years when he, himself, was a small child an in want of hiding place to avoid getting chewed out by his angry mother on the rare occasions he managed to provoke her. And, sure enough, when Gibbs tilted his head back to examine the dusty rafters, his eyes soon rested upon a very angry boy practically wedged into the corner of the ceiling.

              “Tim ,” Gibbs sighed, locking eyes with the little towhead, “I know – “   

            “Go away.” The small fugitive growled, angrily swiping tears from his eyes.

            Groaning wearily at the idea of being forced to climb up after the little rogue, as the space between rafters and ceiling really was quite the squeeze, not to mention the thrice-damned splinters, Gibbs shamelessly tried to secure a little bit of mercy for himself.

            “Are you really going to make me climb up there?” Gibbs asked.

            “You can try.” Tim scoffed.

            Seeing as how he was never one to back down from a challenge, no matter how ridiculous in nature, or who it was delivered by, Gibbs mustered up all the upper strength he still possessed and only somewhat gracefully wriggled himself unto the narrow rafter directly across from Tim.

             “Well, now that I think I broke my back for you, can we talk?”

            Even though Tim only frowned stubbornly into his face, Gibbs swore he saw the corner of the boy’s chapped lips turn up a little bit.

            “I mean it, Tim, I might not be able to get down.”

              Or, at the very least, not without significant injury and embarrassment to his person.

             “You know,” Gibbs tried, after the boy remained stubbornly silent, “I used to hide in my attic when I was small, too.”

            Seeming to finally accept the fact that he wasn’t going to be left alone any time soon, and perhaps even made genuinely curious by what his guardian had just said, Tim stuck out his bottom lip even further but nonetheless met his eyes across the small expanse between them.

            “Why?”

            “It was the only place my mother couldn’t reach me.” Gibbs confessed.  

             For only a solid five feet tall when wearing her favorite heeled boots, Ann Gibbs had been thankfully far too short to pry him down from the rafters even with the aid of a broom.

            “Did you get in trouble with your mommy a lot?” Tim fussed, empathetic as always.

            “Not a whole lot.” Gibbs smiled. “Only when I skipped school.”

            “Why’d you skip school?” Tim gaped. “I like school.”

            Wondering if perhaps the reasoning behind the little boy enjoying school so much was because he got a little break from doing all those chores while at home, Gibbs frowned and resolved to help an older Tim learn how to say no.

            “My teachers thought I was dumb.”

             Because even though Gibbs could speak a good three languages by the time he’d hit fifth grade, the fact that he’d had a particular inclination for playing pranks and daydreaming had earned him the reputation of a dunce.

            “My mommy says that nobody is really dumb.” Tim quipped.

            “I think she’s right.” Gibbs humored.

             Seeming to calm somewhat upon hearing the compliment paid to his mother, Tim wriggled himself a little ways out of the corner and wiped some dust from his face.

            “I’m sorry I broke your back.”

             “I don’t think it’s really broken.” Gibbs dismissed. “Marines are made of tougher stuff than that.”

            Hazel eyes all aglow with a sudden excitement Gibbs hadn’t expected, Tim beamed brightly and nearly fell off the rafter before correcting his balance.

            “You were a marine!?” Tim pestered. “My Daddy is an Admiral! I got to see his boats for my birthday!”

             “Just the once?” Gibbs questioned.

            “Sometimes Daddy is really busy.” Tim frowned, playing with the dust and dirt on his rafter. “You’re not going to tell him I ran away, are you?”

             Instantly made angry by the raw fear showing in the little kid’s hazel eyes, as no child should have to fear their parent that much, Gibbs swallowed down the bile in his throat tucked those negative feelings away to be dealt with at a later time.

            “I won’t tell.” Gibbs promised. “I know you were scared.”

            “I just want some privacy is all.” Tim stressed. “I don’t want – I – “

            Sensing that Tim was getting very worked up about the idea of anyone being in the same room as him while naked, which was understandable given what he now knew, Gibbs sighed and frantically searched his mind for a solution that would make them both happy.

             “What if I shower?” Tim offered. “Mommy lets me shower.”

            “That might work.” Gibbs agreed. “But…If I’m going to leave you alone, I need you to hum or sing something so I know you didn’t slip and fall, alright?”

             “I can hum really loud!” Tim promised, finally relaxing. “But…Can I lock the door?”

            While Gibbs would have actually preferred that he didn’t do such a thing, on the grounds that it wasn’t at all entirely safe, he nonetheless found himself giving in, knowing, as he did, that the bathroom door could just as easily be kicked down should the need present itself.  

            “If that’s what it takes, sure.” Gibbs allowed. “Now, can you get down by yourself or – “

            Not even waiting for the question to be finished, Tim nodded confidently and flipped himself right off the rafter with all the grace and energy of a professional acrobat, sticking his landing perfectly and leaving Gibbs to wonder just how he was going to get down himself.

            “Do you need me to go get your Daddy?” Tim offered, seemingly sensing his dilemma.

             “No, I can do it.” Gibbs grumbled.

            And thus said, he maneuvered himself carefully to the very edge of his own rafter before slowly moving to lower himself down to the ground. Only, instead of landing on his feet as he had fully intended, it was his ass that came into contact with the hard, wooden floorboards.

             “LEROY – ARE YOU ARLIGHT?!” His father hollered, aggravating his already forming headache.

            “YES!” He lied, struggling to his feet.

            “THEN WHAT ARE YOU DOING ACOBATICCS UP THRE FOR?”

Chapter Text

            Having woken up the following morning to a Saturday that was a grueling 103 degree by nine in the morning, an unsavory weather phenomenon that had resulted in both his babies waking up with uncomfortably sweat-filled diapers, and his father refusing to even entertain the idea of leaving the slightly-cooling atmosphere of his basement, Gibbs finally lost his actual cool with the weather and children sometime before lunch upon making the discovery that Abby had actually wedged herself into the fucking refrigerator the very moment he’d gone to change the shirt Tony had peed on – an ingenious and unsanctioned spurt of creativity that had nearly resulted in the entire house being torn apart before Katie had tugged on his shoelaces and gestured at the slightly-opened kitchen appliance.

            “Abby,” Gibbs sighed, nearly at his wits end as he pulled her free, “What were you thinking?”

            Looking no more worse for the ware despite having only recently been laid out atop of a carton of eggs and half a watermelon, Abby looked dolefully up into his face and seized his hands with her own smaller, and chillier, ones.

            “Ibbs,” She declared, every bit as dramatic as always, “I’m going to melt into a puddle soon. Can we go out in the pool?” She begged, blue eyes wide with hope.

            Although Gibbs would have happily agreed to just such a plan had the small pool been large enough to encompass all four children, which it most certainly wasn’t, Abby soon seemed to find his reasoning behind such a refusal unfathomably cruel and intolerable.

            “It’s far too hot outside to be playing in the backyard anyways.” Gibbs tried to further reason. “You’ll get sick sitting under all that sun.”

            And, not to mention, most egregiously sunburned. Because Gibbs had soon learned, much to his great chagrin, that even the strongest of sunscreens in his possession had failed to protect her extraordinarily pale skin from getting slightly burned the previous day whilst she played at launching bottle rockets with Tim and his father. Because no matter how ardently his father had sought to assure him that the tiny bit of pinkness showing within the part of her hair was simply due to the stress of being brushed a bit too rigorously, Gibbs was smart enough to recognize a sunburn when he saw one – no matter how mild.

            “Don’t you have a sprinkler?” Abby fussed, looking every bit the part of a flower wilting under an unforgivable sun.

            Having always preferred to water the small garden he kept by hand, as by doing so he was able to check for weeds at the same time, Gibbs was unfortunately unable to fulfil yet another innocent request of the little girl currently in his care. But rather than explode in a fierce rage in response to such a disappointment, as he had greatly feared that she would, Abby deflated and flopped dramatically unto her back, shamelessly pulling up the skirt of her pink barbie dress to allow the cooler kitchen tiles to refresh the backs of her legs.

             “Good Lord, Abby.” Gibbs groaned, quickly turning himself away from the sight of her pink underwear. “Pull your skirt down.”

            “But I need to air out my lady bits, Ibbs.”  The immodest toddler protested, making no real effort to sit up and adjust her clothing. “I’m sweaty down there.”

            Understandably having no real idea as to how he was supposed to respond to such blunt honesty, Gibbs simply blushed and allowed himself to wonder what his next course of action should be. Because as much as he took great stock in keeping his house and all its accompanying appliances in pristine condition, the simple fact remained that he couldn’t crank up his air conditioner any further without risking a circuit break that would leave them all sweltering in the darkness. Nor, he thought, did he dare take four small children down to the Dairy Queen just a few blocks away – at least not without the help of the father who was currently refusing to either leave the basement or put on pants. Although, if he was going to be taking care of the children for the next five days or so it would be necessary to learn how to manage them on his own – just in case they were still small by the time his father left to return to Stillwater.

            “Abbs,” He coaxed, finally making up his mind, “Go get your swimsuit on.”

            Needing no further prompting, other than yet another fruitless request that she lower the skirt of her dress back down to where it belonged, Abby dashed off out of the kitchen and up the stairs, her heavy footfalls clomping loudly up the stairwell in an obnoxious fashion that had Gibbs’s head throbbing as he walked into the living room to collect the babies he had left under Tim’s keen supervision as he went to hunt down the missing Abby.

            “Hey, Tim.” Gibbs smiled, interrupting the story he was reading to the babies. “Why don’t you go put on swimsuit?”

            Despite looking somewhat put out at the idea of not being able to finish reading his story to the babies, as the book had of course been about aliens, Tim quickly concealed his annoyed frown and scurried off to do as bid, having no doubt been taught in his early childhood not to question authority. And while Gibbs was honestly relieved he didn’t have to deal with any additional defiance given that Abby exuded more than enough for them all, he did find himself somewhat wishing that Tim would display a little more…childlike reluctance in response to being asked to do something he didn’t wish to do. Because even Gibbs, himself, had been known to be a hellion when faced with the thinly-veiled demand that he put on shoes before going somewhere important.

            “C’mon, you two.” Gibbs announced, carefully maneuvering both his youngest unto his hips. “Let’s get you into your swimsuits.” And, pausing there to sniff out the culprit responsible for an exceedingly foul smell, he gagged before adding: “And a fresh diaper for you, Katie, you little skunk.”

            Appearing to be ridiculously proud of such a feat, as her male counterpart had yet to come anywhere near as close as she had to creating such biological weapons, Katie grinned as maliciously as a baby could manage before grunting and depositing yet another load into her nearly-full diaper.

            “You little shit.” Gibbs grumbled, breathing through his mouth.

            Erupting into a shameless fit of giggles with her partner-in-crime in response to such an affectionate chastisement, Katie’s blue eyes flashed with mirth alongside Tony’s green and effectively managed to quell Gibbs’s annoyance before it could even begin to properly form, much less take root.

            “You’re laughing now,” Gibbs allowed, lowering his little stink-bomb atop the changing mat that now seemed permanently attached to his bed, “But let’s see how funny you think this is when you’re big again.”

            Entirely unphased at the very real threat of any future teasing being leveled her way, Katie simply babbled away happily to Tony once he was placed by her side and opted to pass the time spent getting her explosion taken care of by pulling at Gibbs’s ears whenever he came close enough for such an action to become possible without significant effort on her part.

            “I’m done, Gibbs!” Tim announced proudly, waltzing into his bedroom with a pair of Batman trunks on. “But…Can I wear a shirt if we’re going somewhere? I don’t want my belly poking out.”

            Not at all surprised that the clever six-year-old had correctly deduced that they were about to make an excursion, Gibbs smiled proudly at the little boy and sought to relieve as much of his self-esteem issues as possible.

            “You’ll need a shirt when we go out to eat,” Gibbs allowed, “But won’t you be uncomfortable swimming in a top?”

            Squirming uncomfortable despite the levity of the question, Tim fidgeted with the drawstring of his trunks and stared down at his bare toes.

            “I don’t want anyone making fun of my belly.”  

            Forcing himself not to break stride as he wrestled a suddenly squirmy Katie into her adorable two-piece bathing suit, Gibbs gently tugged a chubby arm though the proper hole and only blinked in surprise when Tony slapped his cheek in the misguided belief that he was hurting his friend.

            “You can’t let what people think of you keep you away from doing what makes you comfortable, Tim.” Gibbs lectured, pretending to nibble at Katie’s fingers as he pulled her remaining arm through yet another hole in the swimsuit. “But if you really want to wear a shirt in the pool, that’s fine, too. I’m not going to make you do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

            “Nobody wants to see my belly.” Tim frowned, slapping at his stomach. “I think I’ll wear a shirt.”

            Feeling immensely guilty as he realized he had no doubt contributed to an older Tim’s lack of self-esteem by poking fun at him whenever it took him longer than the other agents to hustle over to a crime scene, or to climb a flight of stairs, Gibbs hid a frown behind Tony’s curls and resolved to do better in the future – and not just whereas his most junior’s weight was involved. Because as much as he held great stock in being a hard-ass, there was simply no excuse for him to ravish someone’s confidence like that.

            “Do the kids at your school make fun of you, Tim?” Gibbs fussed, swapping out Katie for Tony on the changing mat.

            “No.” The little towhead mumbled, honest yet ashamed. “But Mr. Meyers moos at me during gym.”

            Flooded with rage at such unpleasant news, as the bullying of children was just simply despicable, Gibbs felt his flame with heat and wondered, idly, for harmless purposes, of course, if said gym teacher was still alive and able to be found. Not because he wanted to hogtie him and leave him in the sun, of course, but just so he could have a few words, or three, with him.

            “And what do your parents think about that?” Gibbs inquired, as mildly as his anger would allow.

            “Daddy says Mr. Meyers is just trying to help me lose weight.” Tim confessed, squirming guiltily in the doorway. “Mommy says he could be nicer about it though.”

            Unable to keep from wondering just how Elizabeth McGee had managed living with such a bastard as her husband in the house, given that she seemed far too kind to even entertain the idea of allowing so much negativity around her children, Gibbs sighed beneath his breath and expertly slipped a pair of Batman trunks unto Tony before said baby could rip off his diaper and pee into his face again.

            “Tim.” Gibbs sighed, patting the mattress. “Come here a moment, would you?”

            Clearly assuming that he was in some sort of trouble for not immediately agreeing to an adult’s suggestion that he not wear a shirt in the pool, Tim struggled to conceal a worried frown and sluggishly moved himself forward until he reached the bed. And though it was made blatantly clear by the fear radiating in his expressive hazel eyes that he would much rather stand than place himself in the vulnerable position of sitting, Tim audibly swallowed down those concerns and courageously hefted himself unto the bed.

            “Relax.” Gibbs encouraged with a smile. “You’re not in trouble. I just want to have a chat with you is all.”

            Far too hopped up with nervous energy to sit perfectly still, Tim nibbled at his horrendously chapped lips before finally deciding to pull an unresisting Tony unto his lap in a very clear effort to keep himself from bouncing off the bed.

            “You’re a smart boy, Tim.” Gibbs began, taking Katie into his own laps. “So, tell me, what do you know about dogs?”

            Understandably confused as to why such a subject was being introduced into a conversation about weight, but otherwise far too polite and timid to make any inquiries, Tim bounced a delighted Tony on his knees and shook his head.

            “I know there’s almost 400 different kinds.” The helpful towhead offered.

            Having honestly begun the day believing that such a number was closer to eight than four hundred, Gibbs blinked in surprise and worried, slightly, if his mental capacities were starting to decline somewhat. But rather than focus on such a trouble thought for very long, and thus run the risk of working himself up, Gibbs tucked that concern away to be dealt with later and moved unto more pressing matters.

            “I didn’t know that.” Gibbs confessed, wanting the boy to feel good about himself. “But that’s not exactly what I was getting at.”

            Pride in his intelligence lasting only so long as the space between Gibbs’s fractured sentences, yet another mark of his clear lack of self-confidence, Tim smiled uncomfortably and squeezed Tony tight enough to earn an indignant squawk from both babies.

            “What I wanted to explain,” Gibbs began, “Is that dogs are kind of like humans in some ways.”

            “How?” Tim asked, so genuinely curious that he hardly reacted when Tony yanked on his ear.

            “Well,” Gibbs began, careful to select his words, “Dogs live in a sort of pack society. Do you know what that means?”

            Appearing horrifically insulted that his understanding of canine biology was being brought into question, Tim chomped down hard on his bottom lip but otherwise had the fearful prudence to hide his glower behind Tony’s head.

            “I’ll take that as a yes.” Gibbs allowed, turning up the corner of his lips to show Tim that he wasn’t at all angry with such a response. “So anyways, as I was saying, people are kind of pack animals, too. And what I mean by that is, well, groups of people and dogs tend to have a few leaders and a lot of followers. You got me?”

            Looking very much like he had just been introduced to a concept straight out of an advanced calculus book, Tim looked up into his face with blatant alarm showing on his features and didn’t even bother to try and hide his confusion.

            “Only a little.” He admitted, wincing as Katie caught hold of some of his hair.

            “What I mean to say,” Gibbs began, carefully extracting Katie’s rouge fingers from Tim’s hair, “Is that sometimes the leaders of the group will harass, or bully, one of the followers if they see them as weak…or if they get a reaction out of it.”

            “Oh.” Tim exclaimed softly, the message seeming to click in.

            “Now, it’s only when the follower shows the leaders that nothing they can do will bother him that the leaders get bored and leave him alone.” Gibbs finished. “And you, Tim, are far too smart to let anything anybody says about you get your worked up, aren’t you?”

            Taking several long moments to digest everything that had just been said to him, Tim sat perfectly still with a thoughtful frown on his face even as Tony squawked impatiently in response to no longer being bounced and slapped at his chin.

            “I really didn’t want to wear a shirt in the pool anyways.” Tim finally smiled.

            “I’m real proud of you.” Gibbs encouraged. “That was a very mature decision.”

            Grinning widely enough to show his teeth in response to such mild accolades, Tim squirmed happily and very nearly dropped Tony unto the floor before Gibbs quickly intervened and removed the wriggly baby from his lap.

            “Let’s go check on Abby.” Gibbs encouraged. “She’s been left alone for far too long.”

            “Want me to check the fridge?” Tim inquired, already slipping off the bed.

            Wishing not for the first time that said little boy would stop feeling responsible for the welfare of the smaller children, at least not to such a stressful extent, Gibbs allowed himself to sigh inwardly even as he smiled softly.

            “I don’t think that’ll be necessary.” Gibbs ventured. “I think she might still be in her room.”

            Because if Gibbs was not mistaken, or currently experiencing an auditory hallucination, he swore he could hear the soft and rhythmic sounds of a little girl dancing in the room directly next to his own – the familiar sounds far more agonizing than he would ever care to admit out loud.     

            “Let’s hope so.” Tim sagely opined, already slipping out the door.

            Thinking it best to prevent the little boy from confronting a potentially misbehaving Abby on his own, as the few times said towhead had attempted such a thing he had wound up injured, Gibbs quickly collected the babbling babies into his arms and hurried after him, hoping against hope that he was not too late to prevent a quarrel or assault from taking place.

            “Abby,” Tim suddenly gasped, seconds before Gibbs could reach her room, “What are you doing?!”

            Having been led to suspect, from Tim’s indignant tone, that some great calamity or unspeakable mischief had taken place within the walls of Abby’s temporary bedroom, Gibbs hastened his footsteps and all but lurched through the door – just in time to see the deranged toddler in question finishing a crooked cartwheel that soon left her sprawled out on her ass and breathless.

            “Abbs,” Gibbs fussed, “Are you alright?”

            Giggling as madly as a lunatic filled with drugs, Abby sprung back unto her feet with all the grace and ease of a toddler and laughed uproariously until her little pale face was a garish and splotchy red.

            “We need to get you to an exorcist.” Gibbs sighed, not entirely able to conceal his amused smirk.

Chapter Text

Given that Gibbs’s usual restaurants of choice involved those with a liquor-license, as well as several flat-screen televisions playing a variety of different sports games, Frida’s Café had honestly never been anything more than a blip on his radar as he drove past the small building on his way to work during the weekdays. Because while he enjoyed a homecooked meal as much as any old-fashioned man did, which was quite a lot, the fact that there always seemed to be at least a handful of small children running about in front of their windows had been more than enough to keep him from trying such a highly-rated café. At least it had, up until today.

“Alright, Abbs.” Gibbs sighed, parking as close to the door as he could. “Remember our deal?”

Rolling her pretty blue eyes towards the Heaven in response to hearing such a question asked for the fifteenth time in as many minutes, Abby muttered something about annoying men beneath her breath before sitting up in her carseat and looking him straight in the eyes through the vantage the rearview mirrors provided.

“If I hold Timmy’s hand until we make it inside, we can all have ice-cream.”

Made somewhat uneasy by the way in which the spirited toddler had reworded the stipulation until it seemed like the terms of such were a choice rather than a demand, Gibbs frowned slightly and turned in his seat to raise a warning brow at the little girl.

“And?”

            “And if I don’t, you’re going to make us all go home and have fish for lunch.”

            Having learned, much to his mutual chagrin and satisfaction, that Abby would much rather eat broken glass than even entertain the idea of eating any fish that wasn’t in stick form, Gibbs had not even hesitated to use such a juvenile peculiarity against her – because, God help him, the threat of timeouts just didn’t seem to be doing the trick at the moment.

            “Exactly.” Gibbs agreed. “So, let’s behave ourselves.”

             “I won’t let go.” Abby promised, for once earnest. “Can I get out of this thing, now?”

            Not even needing to turn around to realize that the disgruntled toddler was referring to the carseat she so loathed, Gibbs gave the child a little nod before unbuckling his own seatbelt and slipping out the door. But rather than go to fetch free the babies from their own proper restraints right away, as a crafty Abby was no doubt hoping he would, he quickly moved forth to stand in front of the door she had crawled toward and put his weight up against it until a very clever, and intuitive, Tim had come to join him. It was then, and only then, that Gibbs stepped aside and allowed the energetic toddler to burst free from vehicular imprisonment – her freedom, while no doubt exuberant, also very short-lived as an uncharacteristically stern Tim snatched up her hand within seconds.   

             “That’s too tight, Timmy!” Abby protested, struggling in vain to free herself from the iron grip holding her hostage.

            “And it’ll get even tighter if you keep squirming.” Tim calmly cautioned.

            Seeing as how the very vocal Abby hadn’t protested that such a grip was actually hurting her, as she no doubt would have had that honestly been the case, Gibbs decided not to undermine Tim’s fledgling authority by making the suggestion he slacken his grip. Because not only would such an action further solidify into Abby’s head that she didn’t need to mind Tim while out in public, so too would it invite the very real danger of her slipping free and running headlong into parking lot traffic.

            “Don’t let her go.” Gibbs encouraged the helpful towhead. “You’re doing a good job.”

            And, thusly declared, he quickly shuffled over to the back of his vehicle and popped open the slightly-dusty trunk, waiting, somewhat impatiently, until said storage area had fully opened to remove the double-stroller residing within – not because he actually cared about keeping the yard-sale find his father had scrounged up in near-near new condition, but because he really didn’t wish to ding any of the paint of his somewhat new car.

            “Alright, Monkey.” Gibbs smiled, opening the left back door. “Time to relocate.”

            Having up until that moment been thoroughly enthralled with the self-assigned task of trying to gnaw upon two teething rings at once, a disastrous experiment that had only resulted in a copious amount of drool soaking into his shirt, Tony whined indignantly in response to being removed from his carseat and plopping into the stroller without warning – going so far as to even threaten tears before Gibbs shook his head and distracted the boy with his car keys.

            “See, life isn’t so bad for you right now.” Gibbs lectured, struggling to maneuver the giant stroller to the other side of the car. “Because when you’re big again, I can guarantee that nobody is going to cart you around like a royalty.”

            Pausing briefly in his frenetic shaking of the keys to cast Gibbs a look that seemed to perfectly convey he knew full-well that the spoiling of his person would never stop, no matter his age, Tony babbled something that could only be sassy before turning back to further rattle his makeshift toy.

            “At least you’re not such a smartass.” Gibbs grumbled, reaching into the other side of the car to collect his koala.

            Looking absurdly affronted on behalf of her disparaged friend, Katie actually glowered up into his face before digging her impossibly sharp talons into his exposed forearms with enough force to draw forth two small trickles of blood.

            “Jesus!” Gibbs winced, gently prying the baby away from his person. “Is this how you get back at me for all those headslaps?”

            Understandably unable to decipher the meaning behind the angry babbles he received in response, and more than just a little grateful for such a small mercy, Gibbs simply smiled smugly into the unamused face of his youngest girl before swiftly depositing her into the remaining seat in the double-stroller- an underhanded bit of maneuvering that, while relatively harmless, seemed to absolutely enrage her until Tony intervened and chivalrously forfeited the car keys into her hands.

            “Don’t forget the diaper bag, Gibbs.” Tim advised, mistakenly believing that his temporary caregiver had left such a sacred object in the car.

            “Believe me,” Gibbs stressed, “I won’t.”

            Because if there was currently anything in his life that Gibbs would allow himself to forget, it most certainly would not be the all-important diaper bag. For it seemed, to him, that if one baby was not actively filling their diaper at the most inconvenient of times, the other most certainly was. Which was precisely why Gibbs had ignored his father’s earlier accusations that he was being ridiculous and filled said bag with more than a dozen diapers despite the relative and expected brevity of their little impromptu outing.

            “Alright, Tim.” Gibbs encouraged, chucking the bag in the small storage compartment beneath the storage. “Lead the way.”

            Absolutely delighted with having been given so much responsibility, as said little boy had started out the day in a somewhat disgruntled state after being forbidden from using the stove without supervision, Tim beamed brightly and made a very great and theatrical show of looking both ways several times before finally deciding the near-empty parking lot was safe enough to traverse.

            “You need to look both ways.” Tim sagely lectured a very bored Abby. “Because getting hit by a car hurts.”

            Given that the little towhead had spoken quite authoritatively on the subject of being hit by a moving vehicle, something that most children shouldn’t be privy to, Gibbs’s concerned curiosity was almost immediately piqued – as was Abby’s.

            “Did you get hit by a car, Timmy?” The little girl interrogated, blue eyes all aglow with concerning excitement.

            “Uh-huh.” The helpful towhead confirmed. “I got ran over by a float.”

            Despite being somewhat aghast at the fact that any parent would let a child get close enough to a parade route to get run over by one of the floats, yet equally just as relieved to understand that most vehicles in a parade only went 5-6 miles an hour, Gibbs sighed and shook his head and wondered, once again, just how it was that Elizabeth McGee had managed to survive running a household without the help of her constantly-absent husband.

            “Oh.” Abby frowned, standing aside on the sidewalk to allow Tim to hold open the door for an elderly woman. “I’m glad you didn’t get squished.”

            “Thanks.” Tim smiled, cracking open the front door a little wider as Gibbs drew near.

            More than just a little pleased to see that his two oldest were currently getting along, with neither squabbles or assault seeming imminent, Gibbs thanked his lucky stars and smiled brightly into their faces as he expertly navigated the double-stroller through the front door of the café.

             “I didn’t let go of Timmy’s hand.” Abby proudly announced, tugging on his shirt. “Does this mean we get ice-cream?!”

            Promptly cursing himself for the fact that he had been stupid enough not to specify that good behavior was also a requirement to receive the coveted ice-cream, and not just the handholding, Gibbs inwardly cursed himself even as he sighed in defeat.

            “That was the deal, wasn’t it?” Gibbs grumbled. “But if you don’t behave, you’re not getting sprinkles.”

            Effectively, and absurdly, cowed by such a mild threat, as there was no dining experience Abby enjoyed less than snacking on ice-cream without any brightly-colored sprinkles to garnish it, the loquacious toddler almost instantly stopped tugging on the back of his shirt and quit her bouncing as well.

             “Welcome to Frida’s Café,” A young teenager distracted, hurrying to greet them, “How are you – “

            Promptly cutting herself short midsentence as her large brown eyes fell upon the two babies currently strapped into their stroller, the youthful waitress startled Gibbs with a loud squeal before dropping down to her knees to coo into the faces of Tony and Katie.

            “Oh my God,” The waitress crooned, “Twins!

              Having neither the inclination nor the energy to launch into a lengthy explanation on how all four of his subordinates had managed to get deaged by a deranged terrorist, Gibbs allowed the incorrection assumption that Katie and Tony were twins to go unchallenged, figuring that so long as such a fib didn’t actively hurt anyone, there was nothing really immoral about keeping the truth to himself.

            “You might want to watch out for your earrings.” Gibbs cautioned, not failing to catch the dangerous gleam in Kate’s eyes.

            Seeming to only just then remember that she was wearing some very dangly and colorful earrings, their waitress instantly moved to pull her face back a few inches only to discover, at the last minute, that Katie had some very surprisingly dexterity and strength despite her youth.

            “Shi – Sugarplums.” Their waitress hissed, wincing visibly as a large hank of her curly hair wound up in Kate’s iron grip.
             Immediately stepping in to assist the hapless waitress, as he much preferred his food to be delivered without any spit, Gibbs gingerly stooped over the giggling culprit and gently applied pressure to her chubby fingers until, at last, she had no real choice but to surrender the hair back to its rightful owner.

            “She’s got quite the grip on her.” The rescued girl smiled, rubbing at her head.

            “At least it wasn’t your earrings.” Gibbs opined, blushing slightly as Katie proudly held up several strands of dark curls for the world to see.

            Seeming to believe that having a large chunk of hair forcefully ripped away from her head was honestly no big deal, their perky waitress simply smiled cheerfully before leading the way to a table large enough to accommodate them all.

            “How old are they?” The friendly waitress inquired, glancing away to mouth something at a passing waiter.

            “One, one, four, and six.” Gibbs answered, gently depositing a squirmy Abby into the chair directly next to the one Tim had selected.

            Not failing to notice the way in which the little girl was several inches far too short to eat comfortably at the table, much less see over it, Gibbs frowned and turned back to their helpful waitress.

            “I don’t suppose you have any highchairs and booster seats, do you?” Gibbs inquired, glancing around the restaurant and failing to spot any.

            “Boomer should be right over with those.” The skinny waitress assured. “He just had to run to the back to get them.”

            Despite being of the opinion that keeping such frequently-used equipment in the back was a ridiculous decision for any restaurant to make, Gibbs kept mum and was promptly rewarded for his restraint when a burly young waiter returned seconds later with a highchair in either arm and a booster seat on his head.

            “Special delivery.” The goofy young man sang, prompting several giggles from both Tony and Abby.

            “You look like a goon, Boomer.” Their waitress blushed, hiding her mirth behind her thick pad of paper.

            “God couldn’t us both beautiful, Kenzie.” Boomer flirted.  

            Sensing that a fair bit of flirting was going to take place before the teenager’s attentions were returned to their customers, Gibbs shook his head in mild annoyance and calmly extracted the required items from the waiter’s hands.

            “Here, Abbs.” Gibbs encouraged, holding up the booster. “Try this.”

            “Ibbs.” Abby huffed, thoroughly embarrassed. “Those are for little kids!”

            Coming to the reluctant conclusion that his good luck had lasted far too long, as Abby had not even pitched a fit when faced with the unpleasant prospect of being buckled into her carseat, Gibbs sucked in a deep breath and steeled himself for the battle he was sure would come. But before he could even so much as contemplate what words might make the toddler see reason, much less give voice to them, Boomer stepped in and did an admirable job of redirecting the spirted little girl.

            “And just how old are you, little lady?” The bearded boy inquired, calmly facing down her glare with an impressively passive expression of his own.

            “I’m four.” Abby growled. “And a half.”

            Becoming theatrically alarmed at such news, to the point that his green eyes became as wide as saucers, Boomer shook his head and turned to face Gibbs with all the reluctance of a Private having to inform his Superior he had messed up.

            “I’m sorry, Sir.” The older teenager somberly began. “But I can’t let your daughter use that booster seat if she’s only four. Those are just for big kids.”

            More than happy to play along with such a ridiculous farce if it meant avoiding a public tantrum, Gibbs sighed dramatically and frowned sorrowfully as he wriggled Tony into one of the highchairs.

            “Sorry, Abbs.” He apologized, depositing Katie into the remaining chair. “Looks like you’ll have to wait a few years to use one of those.”

            “Maybe you’ll be taller next year.” Tim contributed, having wisely caught on to the charade.

            More indignant than a scolded cat, Abby huffed loudly enough to draw the attentions of several other diners before hopping down of the chair and yanking the booster free from Boomer’s unresisting hands.

            “I am a big girl.” She snapped, slapping the plastic seat down unto her chair.

            “Of course you are.” Kenzie immediately pacified, smiling brightly at Abby before turning back to her boyfriend. “Go back to the kitchen, mister. Those potatoes aren’t going to peel themselves.”        

            Hastily moving to do as bid with a dopey smile on his face, Boomer bowed theatrically to them all before cutting a hasty retreat back to the kitchens.

             “The stroller isn’t going to be in the way, is it?” Gibbs inquired, eager to get the conversation back on track as he hefted Abby up unto the booster.

            “Of course not.” Kenzie grinned. “I’ll park it in the back while you enjoy your meal.”

Chapter Text

            More than just a little relieved to find that all four children were still currently behaving as their waitress, Kenzie, scurried off to fill and collect their drink orders, Gibbs sighed with abject relief and allowed himself to slightly relax his posture – hoping, as he did so, that such a move wouldn’t somehow encourage the universe to punish him for getting so complacent.

            “Tim,” Gibbs inquired, “Why aren’t you coloring?”

            Glancing down with mild disdain upon the uncolored picture of a kitten Kenzie had been kind enough to provide both the older chin, alongside a giant cupful of crayons, Tim sighed loudly and pushed the sheet over to a vigorously coloring Abby.

            “I’m six, Gibbs.” Tim huffed, sneering at the crayons.

            Once more made to feel profoundly sad that Tim hadn’t honestly been granted full permission to be a small child due to his father’s frequent absences and health issues, as even he had been allowed the full privileges of childhood while his mother lay dying, Gibbs sighed inwardly and only hoped that he could manage to get the little towhead into the mindset of a small child while he was still currently small and allowed to get away with such behavior.

            “I don’t know what that has to do with anything.” Gibbs calmly dismissed, confidently plucking a purple crayon from the large cup. “Because I, for one, really enjoy coloring.”

            And, thus said, Gibbs slid the abandoned coloring page over to himself before carefully, and methodically, beginning to go about the process of designing a spacesuit over the uninspired body of the smiling feline. A crafty bit of artistry which, while juvenile in its composition, was soon proved to be more than just a little enticing to the priggish six-year-old currently in his custody.

            “You forgot the utility flap.” Tim meekly advised.

             “You had best get one drawn on then.” Gibbs advised, pushing the paper across the table to the little space-enthusiast. “I have no idea where something like that would go.”

            Taking a very long moment to consider the appropriateness of him coloring in a cartoon cat at the wizened old age of six, in a studious fashion that might have been adorable had it not likewise been so saddening, Tim nibbled at his bottom lip and fidgeting before, finally, selecting a dark green crayon with which to sketch a utility flap unto the space suit.

            “You’re a really good colorer, Gibbs.” Tim appraised, his compliment perfectly genuine.

            Despite being perfectly secure in his masculinity, which really he was, Gibbs felt his cheeks flame a bit at the appreciation being shown his artwork. Because even though both his mother and his Uncle L.J. had expressed a keen enough desire in his artistic skills to talk him into taking further lessens with a fancy city-artist, a pretentious twit who only went by some made-up first name, Gibbs had never truly felt comfortable with owning such a talent after his father had laughed up a storm upon learning his only child had been accepted, with a full scholarship, into the prestigious Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Art. For as clueless as his father had been about how much that laughter had stung at the time, there was just something about a parent scoffing at your dreams that seemed to deflate a child’s aspirations and encourage them to settle for something else.

            “Thanks, Tim.” Gibbs managed, ridiculously effected by the remembrances of his father’s disparaging laughter. “That was really nice.”

            “Are you an artist, too?” Tim pestered, clumsily drawing a space helmet unto their cat with a bright pink crayon.

            “I could have been.” Gibbs allowed. “But I let the Marines have me instead.”

            Because even though he had already been registered and signed up for his first week of classes at one of France’s finest artistic institutions, and had his security deposit already wired over to his French landlord, his well-meaning father had taken it upon himself to stress, to no small degree, that an art degree was practically worthless and not worth the paper in was printed on. And, not only that, one of his favorite high-school teachers had gone to great pains to get him alone after graduation so that she could give the unsolicited, and unwanted, advice that the Marines would be a better career choice given that they were no doubt straighten him out in the manner an art school never would be able to.

            “Why?” Tim further interrogated, setting aside his crayon to look him in the eyes.

            “Because I wanted to help people.” Gibbs answered, not wishing to launch into a lengthy diatribe about unsupportive parents. “And it paid better.”

            “Oh.” Tim contributed, looking suddenly thoughtful. “You can still draw on the weekends, though.”

            “Yeah,” Gibbs allowed, “I suppose I could.”

            Although, given the temporary nearness of his father, Gibbs would have to wait a little while before he felt fully comfortable enough to start making use of his watercoloring skills again. Because grown man or no, Gibbs just didn’t much feel like getting laughed at by his father for doing something so traditionally feminine – at last not now that they were reconciled.

            “Mommy says we shouldn’t let our talents go to waste.” Tim lectured.

            “Your mother is a smart woman.” Gibbs appraised.

            “Mommy is a saint.” Tim readily agreed.

            More than just a little pleased to receive further confirmation that Tim had at least had the benefit of one solid parent in his life, whereas Tony and Kate had seemingly had none, Gibbs smiled reassuringly at the plump little towhead and silently resolved to see if there was anything he might be able to do to aid said woman as her husband battled yet another round of cancer.

            “Here we are.” Kenzie sang, returning to their table with a tray full of drinks. “Four milks and a coffee – extra strong.”

            And with that being said, their perky young waitress happily delivered each beverage to the three oldest individuals at her table before happily, and without being asked, collecting the bottles Gibbs had left waiting on the table and filling them with milk from the extra cups she had thought to bring along.

            “Are we ready to put food orders in?” Kenzie hummed, woefully oblivious to the giant tip she was going to receive at the end of their meal. “Or would you like more time?”

            “I think we’re good to go.” Gibbs decided. “The babies and Abby will have the grilled cheese with fries and Tim and I will have a burger with fries.”

             “Sounds good.” Kenzie chirped, happily collecting the menus. “I’ll be right back with those.”

            Nodding his appreciation at the exceedingly intuitive waitress they had been lucky enough to get assigned to, Gibbs sipped slowly at his steaming coffee and relaxed his posture even further, the way in which his wards were now currently behaving giving him the confidence that today might, in fact, be a good one after all.

            “You’re a brave man, taking out four little kids like that.”

            Only somewhat annoyed by the casual sexism of such a compliment, as the casual insinuation that men were poorly-equipped to handle children was not the worst thing he’d ever been forced to contend with, Gibbs smiled stiffly at the elderly woman passing them by and forced himself not to object when said octogenarian ruffled Katie’s perfectly groomed hair.

            “Well,” Gibbs grumbled, “They’re all well-behaved.”

            “And cute.” The old woman crooned, promptly annoying Abby by patting her head like a dog. “They must take after their mother.”

            Seeming to intuitively gather that one of her favorite people in the world had just been majorly insulted, Abby bristled like a feral cat squaring up to a large dog and glowered powerfully up into the face of the perpetrator before opening her mouth to give her what was sure to be a very thorough dressing-down.

            “Here, Abby.” Tim wisely intervened, shoving an onion ring into her mouth. “Try one of these.”

           

Chapter Text

            Boasting a grand total of nine differently-sized waterslides, as well as two separate pools that kept the older children away from the babies and toddlers, the Splash Zone was understandably a very popular place for families with young children on a day when the temperature had hit triple-digits before noon. Because not only was the space far safer than any lack or public pool, given that it was entirely enclosed in a very secure building, so too did it espouse enough frigid air-conditioning and frozen margaritas to make even the fattest and laziest of parents comfortable and relaxed enough to entrust the entirety of their children’s safety into the hands of the countless teenaged lifeguards surveying the area. Not, of course, that Gibbs, himself, would ever be so negligent and lazy.

            “Caitlyn Elizabeth Todd,” Gibbs lectured, “You get that band-aid out of your mouth this instant.”

            Struggling not to visibly gag as Katie opened her mouth wide enough to allow an attentive Tony to remove it for her, with four of the fingers he had just gracelessly shoved down his diaper only moments ago, Gibbs grimaced and pulled free from the diaper bag resting near his side the cellphone he had tucked away for safekeeping. Because as ridiculous as his inquires might seem to the untrained mind, he felt it would be nothing short of prudent to ascertain whether or not Katie’s mouth was in need of a copious amount of mouthwash.

            “Tim, why don’t you go join those boys over there for a game?” Gibbs suggested, studiously refusing to acknowledge the angry and impatient text Ducky had sent his way. “You can’t be having much fun watching the babies play.”

            Despite wearing an anguished expression on his face that clearly conveyed he would much rather eat broken glass than spend another moment of watching Tony and Katie playing with a toy boat together, Tim smiled feebly and tried to appear much more confident with his answer than he truly felt.

            “They’re not my friends.” Tim mumbled, looking longingly over at the deeper pool.

            “They could be.” Gibbs suggested, as encouragingly as possible.

            Because Abby, after all, had experienced absolutely no trouble at all in making friends with several of the other little girls swimming in the toddler pool. In fact, so popular had the little girl become in the space of such a short time that it became quite evident, to the chagrin of several of the other children, that she was now the proverbial Queen Bee of the toddler pool. Although, much to his great relief, Abby didn’t seem all that keen on abusing such a sacred position other than where it involved securing the choicest seat beneath a small water fountain for herself.

            “They won’t like me.” Tim fussed, looking down at the toes he had stuck into the water.

            “Why wouldn’t they like you.” Gibbs scoffed, always eager to work on fixing the boy’s self-confidence.

            “Because I’m fat.” Tim grumbled, practically spitting out the last word.

            Glancing over at the small group of boys currently squabbling over what position each of them would take to play water polo, and noticing a freckled brunette who was several sizes larger than his own little towhead, Gibbs sighed and wondered how best to approach such a delicate topic. Because as much as he might like to assert that said boy was not, in fact, large for his age, the blunt fact still remained that Tim was a good twenty pounds overweight by his generous estimations. And so, as a result, it would have to the self-confidence he worked on, as nothing could be done about the weight in so short a time.

            “Tim,” Gibbs began, “Just because you’re a little – “

            Unceremoniously cut short from finishing his lecture by the jovial redheaded man who had decided to seat himself just a few feet away from Gibbs to watch his own children at play, Gibbs scowled and clamped his mouth shut before quickly coming to regret such hasty rudeness when he took note of what the freckled man was trying to do.

            “Hey, Gavin!” The larger man bellowed across the facility. “Do you boys need another player?!”

            Shamelessly oblivious to the angry looks he was currently receiving from the young mother whose reading he had just inadvertently interrupted, the man who had earlier told him his name was Pete smiled brightly at Tim before turning back to grin at his own approaching child.

            “You guys are short a few players, aren’t you?” Pete stressed.

            “Yeah!” Gavin readily agreed, a concerned frown on his face. “We need three more.”

            “Well,” Pete announced, gesturing at a blushing Tim, “You’ve got one more right here!”

            Profusely freckled face breaking out into an earnest grin in response to such good news, as the young boy clearly took his sports very seriously, Gavin hurried over to a mortified Tim and practically pulled him up unto the soft cement.

            “C’mon!” The energetic boy encouraged, tugging Tim toward the bigger pool. “We can just play four on a team. I don’t want to wait for any more players.”

            More than just a little touched to realize that there were still some honestly good parents left in the world, as well as children, Gibbs smiled politely at Pete and made to thank him for going to such lengths to make sure the shy Tim was included with the other boys.

            “Thanks for that.”

            Jovially shrugging of his appreciation as if instilling good manners in his child was simply something every parent made sure to do, Pete smiled sanguinely and waved to a redheaded little girl playing with Abby in the pool.

            “My Cassidy is practically afraid of her own shadow.” Pete admitted. “I know how it is.”

            “Is that here, over there?” Gibbs politely inquired, gesturing at the skinny redhead playing barbies with the other girls.

            “Yeah,” Pete grinned, as proud as a lion, “She was born without an arm so she tends to be a bit self-conscious around other kids. I’m honestly surprised she’s playing with them now.”  

            Despite knowing his behavior to be more than just a little rude and intrusive, Gibbs craned his neck to survey the freckled toddler and was, quite honestly, surprised to discover that she did, indeed, not have a left arm.

            “Abby can make friends with anyone.” Gibbs mumbled, not wanting his actions to be taken note of by the father.

            “Same as your little boy right there.” Pete observed, gesticulating at Tony.

            Unable to keep a small smile off his face as he watched an angry Katie splash angrily at the other tiny girls that flocked over to her ‘twins’ side to fawn over him, Gibbs shook his head and only hoped that his youngest girl wouldn’t resort to violence to get her way.

            “You don’t know the half of it.” Gibbs grumbled, thinking of all the trouble a fully-grown Tony got into with his dates. “That boy is a girl-magnet.”

            “Doesn’t look like your girl enjoys that, though.” Pete remarked. “I think she’s getting a bit jealous now.”

            Thoroughly unable to deny such a teasing accusation, as the both of them had just watched Katie spit water into a little girl’s face when she yanked Tony’s hair, Gibbs grimaced and shrugged his shoulders.

            “She’s very protective.” Gibbs allowed.

            “I wish Wren and Hazel got along that well.” Pete sighed, watching as two redheaded babies squabbled over a toy duck. “It’s hard to keep track of two babies when they hate each other.”

            Having been fully prepared to suggest that Pete’s twins didn’t really hate each other, up until he watched one slap the other in the face with a floating pool ring, Gibbs winced in sympathy with the assaulted toddler and was surprised when she quickly recovered enough to punch the culprit in the nose.

            “How may kids do you have?” Gibbs asked, surprised that any parent would take their kids beating each other so calmly.

            “Just five.” Pete assured, smiling over at a nursing mother watching the older kids at play. “For now, anyways.”

            Completely taken aback by the calmness Pete imbued into the air when mentioning that he and his wife were not yet done having children, even after a grand total of five births, Gibbs hid his concern behind his margarita glass until recovered and reemerged much calmer.

            “I suppose it’s better to run through a fire than walk though it.” Gibbs quipped.

            “I’ll be sure to remember that the next time Blythe is up with colic.” Pete laughed.

            “And when it comes time for college.” Gibbs added, shuddering on behalf of his conversational partner.

            “Don’t remind me.” Pete groaned. “Keeping Gavin in Boy Scouts is hard enough. It seems like they’re always wanting money for a trip or something.”

            “Just wait until Girl Scouts.” Gibbs advised.

            Because even though he was reasonably sure that Boy Scouts spent a lot of money for their camping trips and out-of-state outings, Gibbs knew from experience that girls in Girl Scouts spent a great deal of money on pizza parties and fancy outings to make up for the fact that they didn’t get to do anything exciting like shoot guns of canoe.

            “I don’t…I don’t really think Girl Scouts is the thing for Cassidy.” Pete frowned.

            “She’s no different than any other girl.” Gibbs debated. “I’m sure she would like it.”

            The small troop that an adult Kate was in charge of, after all, had several girls with physical disabilities and that had never stopped them from doing things like horseback riding and archery lessons.

            “The last time we tried putting her in a troop, she came home in tears because the other girls kept making fun of her arm.”

            Wondering, not for the first time, just how it was that some parents seemed to have no major qualms about raising their children to be bullies and terrorists, Gibbs scowled and was only comforted by knowing that Kelly had always been as sweet to one of her peers as she was to the next.

            “You know, my agen – my niece has a troop of her own.” Gibbs offered. “Cassidy might fit in better there.”

            “Really now?” Pete asked, sitting up a bit straighter.

            “Yeah, I’ll get you the troop name before we leave. But…She’s real good with all sorts of kids, I promise.”

            In fact, Kate’s skills with dealing with the troubled children they came across in their field of work was one of the things he admired most about her.

            “Thanks.” Pete smiled. “I’d like that.”

            “No problem.” Gibbs shrugged.

            And, with nothing more to say on the subject, both of them lapsed into a comfortable silence as they watched their respective children at play. It was then, and only then, that Gibbs realized just how nice it was to have kids again – even if it was only for a few days.

 

Chapter Text

            More than just a little relieved to stumble back into his house after a good four hours spent at the Splash Zone, during which time he had been forced to change three disgusting diapers and break up a fight between Abby and the bully who had tried to take over the toddler pool without being privy to the fact that one of the little girls within had a great proclivity for breaking noses, Gibbs sighed loudly with relief and allowed himself to relax before promptly stepping on one of the plastic forks Abby had left out after playing tea-party with a reluctant Tim.

            “FUCK!” Gibbs barked, unable to keep the vulgar word from slipping out.

            Coloring brightly as two of his very scandalized children looked up into his face with their mouths agape and their eyes wide with shock and incredulity, Gibbs silently cursed himself and impatiently kicked the offending cutlery safely to the side.

            “Leroy Jethro,” His unamused father admonished, sliding into the living room with a pop in hand, “What did you just say!?”  

            Unable to keep from feeling like a small child as his father turned his seldom-used glare unto him, as the last time such an expression had crossed his features was the first, and last, time Gibbs had sworn at his mother and received a spanking from his notoriously lenient father, Gibbs swallowed down a lump in his throat and clutched the babies in his arms closer – not at all adverse to using them as shields so long as it worked.

            “He said,” Tim began, covering a giggling Abby’s ears, “Fuck.”

            Given that the older boy seemed to understand the severity of such a swear, judging by the way in which he had covered Abby’s ears and whispered the word, Gibbs kept his chastisement of the little towhead very mild indeed.

            “Tim,” He frowned, “Don’t say that.”

            “But your Daddy asked a question.” Tim defended, meekly looking down at his bare feet.

            Already knowing that there was no way in hell he was going to get away with swearing in front of the children when his two oldest were more than old enough to reassure his father that it really was the horrific F-word that left his mouth. Because fully grown or not, there was simply no way in hell that Jackson Gibbs would allow such barbarity to go unpunished. Which meant, much to his great chagrin, that he would soon be receiving one hell of a lecture regardless of whether or not the children were awake and present for it.

            “Leroy Jethro,” His father began, showing the seriousness of his disapproval by setting aside his can of Dr. Pepper, “What were you thinking swearing in front of the children?”

            “I just had a plastic fork go through my foot.” Gibbs snapped. “I obviously wasn’t thinking at all.”

            Knowing almost instantly that he had crossed the line after barking at his father like he was some sort of subordinate, as the unamused glint in said man’s eyes was enough to make his blood run cold, Gibbs took a precautionary step back toward the front door and pondered the morality of abandoning the children to avoid the rare display of his father’s wrath.

            “Just who do you think you’re talking to?” His father demanded, the perfect calmness of his voice more than enough to frighten a demon into submission.

             “I was just saying – “

            “I asked you a question.” His father interrupted, shooing the older children into the kitchen with a motion of his hand.

            Despite being somewhat touched by the way in which Tim seemed loyally hesitant to abandon him to his fate, which was quite so, Gibbs couldn’t help but feel as if a small knot of ice was building up inside his stomach.

            “I’m talking my father.” Gibbs answered, perfectly polite.

            “Well, you could have fooled me.” His father moodily grumbled. “Because most grown men I know don’t disrespect their father’s like that.”

            Already knowing that he would have to do a great deal of ass-kissing to get back into his father’s good graces, a status he did honestly wish to return to, Gibbs frowned in repentance and looked his father straight in the eyes.

            “I’m sorry, Dad.”

            Never one to hold a grudge, as that particular talent had fallen upon his wife and son, his father seemed to deflate almost instantaneously as he moved across the room to lightly smack him on the back of the head.

            “Don’t let it happen again.”

            “I won’t.” Gibbs promised. “And I really am – “

            Cut short from issuing forth yet another apology as Katie squealed loudly and pulled on the collar of his shirt with enough force to choke him, Gibbs gagged and quickly turned his focus unto the little girl so that she might not retaliate by resuming her strangling.

            “What is it, Koala?” He inquired, quirking a curious brow at her.

            “Dada.” She babbled, stubbornly refusing to stop addressing him in such a manner so long as Tony continued to do so. “Fuck.”

            Feeling a rising horror beginning to take over his senses, as the realization that small children would repeat anything they heard belatedly came to the front of his mind, Gibbs shook his head frantically and frowned down at the giggling girl.

            “No, no, no.” He firmly rebuked. “Don’t say that, Katie.”

            Bright blue eyes twinkling in the mischievous fashion she had quickly picked up from her ‘twin,’ Katie grinned wickedly before slapping his chin with her slobbery fingers.

            “Fuck no.” She warbled, gummy grin on full display.

            “Now look you did.” His father rebuked. “You got the baby cussing like a sailor.”

            “I didn’t do it on purpose!” Gibbs defended. “What do I do?”

            Because as much as he had liked to assert himself as a man with good parenting skills, the frustrating fact still remained that he was utterly clueless as to how something like this ought to be handled. For Kelly, God bless her, had never once in her short life developed a potty-mouth.

            “You’re just going to have to wait it out.” His father advised. “She’ll get bored enough of that word so long as nobody reacts to it.”

            “Are you sure?” Gibbs fussed, cringing as he listened to Katie whispering an endless stream of fucks to her amused male counterpart.

            “Positive.” His father soothed. “Now let’s get these kids down for a nap.”

            Having felt since noon that he, himself, was in dire need of a long afternoon nap, Gibbs nodded more than just a little eagerly to such an excellent plan.

            “Will you take Abby?” Gibbs requested. “Katie won’t sleep if I’m not the one to put her down for a nap.”

            And as admittedly absurd as such a statement might seem to anybody within his small circle of acquaintances and family, it was the God’s honest truth. Because not only had Katie clawed his father in the face the previous night, as he attempted to slip her into the crib, so too had she bit at Gibbs’s thumb when he attempted to surrender her back over to his father for a second attempt.

            “I got it.” His father assured, smiling calmly as he took his leave of the kitchen.

            Figuring that the twins would still be far too full from the additional ice-cream he had added to their healthier lunch to desire their customary bottles, Gibbs immediately made his way upstairs, not knowing how much longer he could hold out without collapsing from sheer exhaustion. Because young though he was compared to his father, there were simply few things in life so exhausting as minding four small children in a very public place.

            “Alright, you two.” Gibbs yawned, gently dropping the babies atop the very plush quilt resting on his bed. “Time for a quick nap.”

            Or, thought he, crawling beneath the blankets himself, a long nap.

            “Dada.” Tony babbled sleepily, instantly scooting to his side.

            “Monkey.” Gibbs affectionately replied, carefully repositioning the baby so that the quilt covered his still-damp body.

            Understandably not wishing to be left alone at the top of the bed while her twin was safely tucked up against their beloved caretaker, Katie whined pitifully and desperately wriggled her hands in his direction, her big blue eyes flooded with tears and her bottom lip wobbling dangerously.

            “Calm down. I didn’t forget about you, Koala.” Gibbs readily reassured, hastily plucking the distressed girl up before sliding her beneath the quilt on his free side.

            Sniffling pitifully as she immediately pressed up against his side to garner some comfort from his body heat, Katie dug her talons into the skin of his chest and nuzzled her head against him, her actions both endearing and quite painful.

            “You’re lucky you’re so cute.” Gibbs grumbled, working to soothe her via methodical back-rubbing. “Because I wouldn’t let an ugly baby get away with cutting me.”

            Making no real response other than to stick two of her fingers into her mouth and suckle, in a manner eerily similar to way her twin preferred to self-sooth, Katie pressed further against him and closed her eyes, leaving her dark lashes to cover her cheeks as she quickly, for the first time, fell into a deep sleep.

            “Thank God.” Gibbs muttered, thinking of the usual nightmare it was to get her to sleep.

            “Dada.” Tony yawned, rubbing his little face into his arm. “Dada.”

            “No need to get jealous.” Gibbs chuckled, pressing his forehead against Tony’s. “I’ve got two arms. I can cuddle you both.”  

           

Chapter Text

            “Ibbs!” Abby squawked indignantly. “We can’t hear the music!”

            Indulgently lowering his notoriously booming voice a few octaves, so that his father and the older children could continue to watch The Jungle Book unhindered, Gibbs hushed the frenetically giggling baby in his arms, in good faith to Abby’s request, before promptly, and conspiratorially, hefting an impatient Tony and Katie up unto his shoulders in preparation to deliver his twelfth airplane ride. Because as much as his father had heartily asserted that such a high-energy game was dangerous, to all three of them, Gibbs saw absolutely no harm in such antics given that he was a Marine and highly-unlikely to drop either baby unto the floor. And, even if such an unsavory event were to occur, not that it would, he was more than confident enough that the fall of six feet wouldn’t outright kill the twins. Bruise them, maybe, but that, in Gibbs’s mind, was just simply a part of growing up.

            “Uh-oh!” Gibb playfully quipped, beginning to roll his shoulders. “Turbulence!”

            Squealing loudly in anticipation of the rigorous bouncing they were sure must come, as they had been playing at malfunctioning airplanes for the last fifteen minutes, both babies went limp over his shoulders, to better allow him to keep a better grip on their legs, and clung tightly to the back of his shirt.

            “Ibbs!” Abby huffed, getting more and more annoyed with every passing minute. “Can you go be fraudulent somewhere else?”

            Seeing as how the whole entire point of putting a movie on was to coax the slightly crabby older children into sleep, without any fits being thrown despite the earliness of the hour, Gibbs happily assented to the idea and left his living room to cart the babbling babies upstairs and into his bedroom – figuring that if he was going to exhaust the twins by wrestling them, he ought to do so atop the bed they frequently shared, as by doing so that would only eliminate the need to transfer them in the future.

            “Crash landing!” Gibbs unceremoniously announced, falling backward unto the mattress.

            Chuckling in tandem with his squealing babies, Gibbs lay slightly breathless atop his quilt and gave into his uncharacteristic feelings of mirth, not even bothered by the way in which his ear was currently being tugged on by a surprisingly strong Katie.  

            “Well now,” Came a very familiar face, “Isn’t this cute.”

            Not even needing to sit up to know that it was Ducky who had come to pay a visit, at the most inconvenient of times as always, Gibbs remained couchant and didn’t even bother to lift his head in greeting – the length and strength of their friendship allowing him to do so without any hurt feelings arising.

            “Hey, Duck.”

            “Good evening, Jethro.” The prim Scotsman returned, promptly seating himself atop the mattress before plucking Katie up unto his lap.  

            Not at all discouraged from his cuddling as Katie squawked indignantly and slapped at his chin in response to being removed from her previous position of frolic, Ducky simply smiled sanguinely at the assault and gave the disgruntled child a good squeeze.

            “Fuck!” Katie protested, slapping at the older man’s thighs. “Fuck!”

            Surprisingly tranquil in the face of being cussed at by an angry baby, Ducky simply smiled brightly into Gibbs’s face as he pressed his wrinkled cheek against the top of Kate’s hair.

            “Oh, how wonderful. She’s trying to say my name!”

            Figuring that there was no real sense in delaying the inevitable, at least not whereas Ducky was involved, Gibbs sighed heavily and reluctantly sat up.

            “No, no she isn’t.” He sighed, already preparing himself for the scolding he was sure must come.

            “Jethro!” Ducky hissed, clutching Kate protectively. “What on Earth were you thinking – Swearing in front of the children!?”

            “I was thinking that the baby who hadn’t said more than two words since she got here wouldn’t suddenly decide to become vocal.” Gibbs grumbled. “If anything, I’m surprised it wasn’t Tony who picked it up.”

            But, sure enough, just as soon as Gibbs had finished delivering his very poor defense, Tony perked up in his lap and beamed openly into Ducky’s face.

            “Fuck!” He prattled. “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck.”

            “Shame on you, Jethro.” Ducky further remonstrated. “Just look what you’ve done.”

            “I stepped on a plastic fork.” Gibbs defended, the bottom of his foot still violently throbbing.

            Somewhat surprised, and marginally offended, when Ducky didn’t launch into his usual interrogations as to whether or not he was up to date on his tetanus boosters, Gibbs scowled and rolled his eyes and only half-listened to the following diatribe.

             “I’ve stopped on half-a-dozen of Victoria’s scalpels, Jethro, and I’ve never cursed in front of her.”

            “Why does a toddler even have access to scalpels in the first place!?” Gibbs retaliated. “I think that’s a bit more worrying that a little swearing.”

            Because, at the end of the day, a little but of cussing hurt nothing at all except for a few people’s delicate sensibilities. Whereas the gifting of blades to young toddlers, in return, presented a lot of dangers to everyone involved.

            “Don’t be absurd.” Ducky promptly dismissed. “I dulled the scalpels before giving them to her for use on her barbies.”

            “Because giving a toddler dull knives if better than giving her sharp ones.” Gibbs scoffed.

            “Of course it is.” Ducky calmly asserted. “Dull knives are far more dangerous than sharps ones.”

            “I’d argue that any sort of knife in the hands of a toddler is dangerous.”

            “Not with Victoria.” Ducky firmly asserted. “She has an astounding technique when it comes to knife-handling.”

            Not at all doubting that the brilliantly advanced little girl was adept at yielding a scalpel when it came time to lobotomize her barbies, as she had once had the unsanctioned honor of removing a spleen from one of the morgue visitors, Gibbs sighed theatrically at his lack of an argument and turned to more underhanded methods to win the argument.  

            “Does Jimmy know you’ve been letting her use scalpels again?!”

            “Does Tony know you’ve been doing background searches on his dates?”

            Not even wanting to contemplate the dramatic meltdown Tony would experience should he ever discover that his father was preforming background checks on all his dates, Gibbs shuddered and bonelessly surrendered the win to the man with the higher-ground.

            “That’s a nice bowtie you’ve got on, Duck.”

            “Thank you, Jethro. It was a gift from Jimmy on Father’s Day.”

Chapter Text

            More than just a little worked-up, as well as surprised, when a very fussy Tony woke him up at the witching hour with an upset stomach, no doubt as the result of the two slightly-spicy bowls of chili he had eaten for supper, Gibbs groaned loudly and quickly ferried the screeching baby into the bathroom before he could wake the whole household – trying, all the while, not to feel too immensely guilty for being the responsible for such discomfort in his infant son. For foolishness of exposing small children to potentially stomach-upsetting foot aside, he still felt, somewhat passionately, that his temporary lapse in parenting skills wasn’t at all that severe when one considered the fact that an adult Tony could gulp down an entire extra-large pizza to himself without experiencing any gastrointestinal distress. That such a rare, and slightly concerning, skill had only been developed later on in his life was just a simple fact that he couldn’t have known until it was far too late to make good use of such important knowledge.

            “Oh, I know.” Gibbs crooned, sitting upon the toilet as he held the distressed boy close to his chest. “It’s your stomach, isn’t it?”

            Making no real response to such heartfelt commiseration other than to increase the volume of his wails and bury his face into the fabric of Gibbs’s pajama shirt, Tony promptly broke his father’s heart into a million tiny, guilt-filled, pieces. Because innocent mistake or no, the sad and troubling fact that he had been the one to cause such pain still remained. And that, coupled with the fact that there was no easy fix for such a disquieting problem, wounded him to no end.

            “I know, I know.” Gibbs hummed, gently lying the distressed baby down on the cool tiles even as he loudly protested. “Let me just get this stinky thing off of you, then I can pick you back up.”

            Understandably not at all best pleased with being parted from his beloved caretaker for even a minute, especially so when such a necessary act was quickly followed by the unceremonious wiping of his inflamed and sore bottom, Tony screeched as loudly as a banshee and slapped at his chin – only instead of the action being of an affectionate nature, per usual, it was as the result of a fierce, primal rage motivated by his desire to escape the cold wipe his father was currently inflicting upon him.

            “I know, Monkey. I know.” Gibbs sympathized, hastily scooping him up just as soon as a fresh diaper had been taped around his waist. “Let’s go get some peppermint tea into that tummy of yours.”

            Whining quite feebly as he laid his disgruntled little head against the chest of his caretaker, a tearful Tony clung tightly to his shirt and sobbed heartily into his shoulder, the presence of the warm and salty moisture effortlessly serving to make Gibbs feel a thousand times worse than he already did.

            “I am so sorry, Monkey.” Gibbs ardently apologized, stroking the boy’s back. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have had more sense than that.”

            Seeming to garner some sort of comfort from the sound of his father’s voice, so long as it was coupled by the symphony of his heartbeat, Tony sniffled loudly but managed to refrain from loosing yet another wail as Gibbs carted him into the kitchen and threw some water and a teabag in a mug before tossing the lot into the microwave – meanwhile praying, all the while, that Ducky would never make the discovery of his failure to use a proper kettle for such a purpose. Because as prim and proper as such a man liked to proclaim to be, he really could get quite worked up over something so silly as the perceived wrong way to make tea.

            “You’ll feel better in just a moment.” Gibbs promised, walking with the distressed boy around the kitchen. “You’ll see. Papa will make this all better.”

            Opting to remain perfectly silent in the face of an upset stomach, Tony simply scowled into Gibbs’s shirt and stuck a fistful of the fabric into his mouth to gnaw on. And even though he was not reasonably certain that it was the smartest of ideas for him to allow the little boy to stick such detergent-treated clothing into his mouth, Gibbs happily allowed the behavior to continue on the grounds that the comfort garnered from such an act far outweighed any potential danger.

            “Here we go.” Gibbs hummed, fetching out the tea once the microwave had dinged. “Let me just get this into a bottle, and you’ll feel better in no time.”

            Seemingly oblivious to the way in which his clinginess was currently making it very hard for his father to pour the warmed tea into a bottle for him, much less cool it beneath a stream of cold water, Tony whined irritably and clawed at his neck every time Gibbs jostled him or moved too quickly.

            “Here,” Gibbs encouraged, flopping down into a chair before sticking the bottle into Tony’s mouth, “Try this.”

            Initially grimacing as the unfamiliar taste of mint tea coated his tongue, in a disgusted fashion that would have thoroughly insulted Ducky to his very core, Tony glowered up at him though tear-filled green eyes and made to push the offensive bottle away before slowly, and reluctantly, coming to the conclusion that the taste was not at all so awful as he initially believed.

            “There we go.” Gibbs encouraged, holding the bottle at a tilt to prevent the boy from swallowing too much air. “Isn’t that better already?”

            Far too engrossed with guzzling down the soothing liquid as quickly as he could to respond, Tony simply burrowed closer to Gibbs and closed his eyes, his attentions on nothing other than the bottle he was frantically nursing.

            “You’re just like Kelly.” Gibbs mildly accused. “Wolfing down everything in front of you like you’re a starving dog.”

             Cracking one beautiful green eye open to glare at the man who persisted in interrupting his meal with irrelevant factoids about a girl he had never met, Tony snuffled loudly and angrily dug one of his fingernails into the skin of Gibbs’s forearm – in a very clear, and painful, testament that he was learning just as many bad habits from his twin as was Kate learning from him.

            “You know, my favorite time with Kelly was rocking her to sleep when she was still small.” Gibbs murmured to Tony, allowing his voice to further calm the boy. “I used to sit up with her for hours, even after she’d fallen asleep.”

            There had just been something about holding his sleeping daughter, Gibbs reflected, that had seemed to make all the hurts and rages of the past seem far less important than they had been at the time. And even now, as he held his boy to his chest and fed him a bottle, the feelings of warmth he received in exchange were almost enough to allow him think upon his deceased daughter without too much anguish and pain.

Chapter Text

            “For the love of God, Katie, would you quit eating the sand?!”

            Pausing but for a brief moment in her manic pursuit to turn ten percent of her body weight into sand, the toddler in question looked him straight in the eye with an expression of sheer malevolent curiosity before shoving yet another fistful of playground sand into her drooling mouth – prompting Gibbs to gag even as the woman beside him guffawed loudly at his distressed expression.

            “Just be glad she’s not sticking things up her nose.” The pudgy brunette advised. “You have no idea how many trips to the emergency room I had to make because my Madeline decided shoving things up her nose was the next best thing besides cupcakes.”

            Reacting the way any nervous parent would in response to being fed specifics about yet another potential danger small children could get into, Gibbs grimaced and contemplated removing everything smaller than a batter from his house until the children in his care were fully grown again.

            “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.” Gibbs mumbled, smiling as he watched an uncharacteristically well-behaved Abby interacting with the babies.

            Because not only was said four-year-old currently not retaliating whenever one of the twins dug their nails into her exposed ankles or undid her efforts to erect a giant sandcastle, so too was she perfectly gentle when it came time to removing sharp sticks from their chubby hands or shooing away rogue wasps from her defenseless charges.

            “Your little boy is quite the catcher.” His bench-neighbor further observed, entirely oblivious of his general disdain towards conversations with strangers. “He hasn’t missed a ball yet.”

            More than just a little proud of the fact that Tim seemed to be a natural when it came time to catch a flying football during an impromptu game of the tackling variety, Gibbs smiled politely and wondered if it had only been the self-consciousness of his weight that had kept Tim from participating in sports as much as Tony had. Because while said boy would never be quite fast enough to pull of being a quarterback of track star, he had all of the hand-eye-coordination and dexterity to make one hell of a wide receiver or shotputter.

            “He’s good with his hands.” Gibbs allowed, breaking into a proud grin as he watched Tim expertly dive to capture the football being played between two teams of seven.

            “A real manly man.” His bench-mate agreed. “Hopefully he’ll make a fine example for your younger son.”

            Thoroughly confused by the thinly-veiled insinuation that Tony was in some sort of dire need of proper male influence, as a grown Tony just oozed manliness, Gibbs frowned at the stranger sitting next to him before turning his face to the sandbox to investigate the matter.

            “Hopefully they’ll influence each other.” Gibbs retorted.

            And, thus said, he hastily removed himself to the crowded sandbox, whereupon he carefully seated himself upon the splintery wall nearest to his own children and rewarded them with a small smile for their good behavior. For apart from a small run-in with a little girl who had tried to pull Tony over to the swings, and received a nasty bite from Katie in return, there had been no major incidences that had made Gibbs feel as if returning home were the appropriate action. Because even if the bite had been hard enough to draw a bit of blood, the fact still remained that victim had nearly pulled Tony’s arm out of his socket to get what she wanted. That Katie had only reacted in the way that mostly all nonverbal toddlers would have was only to be expected, if not lauded for the genuine concern that such a behavior exhibited.

            “Dada!” Tony babbly brightly, waggling a half-bald barbie in his direction.

            “Would you look at that.” Gibbs encouraged, giving the mutilated doll a small wave.

            Because even though he knew most fathers would have an absolute fit upon finding their boy playing with toys meant for ‘girls,’ Gibbs saw absolutely nothing wrong with allowing such desires to go unpunished. Hell, he had been as happy as a clam when Kelly had expressed an intense desire to go fishing with him and accompany him to the shooting range – as had Shannon, who was more than just a little happy to get some rare alone time to herself in the afternoons.

            “Tony and Katie are giants!” Abby happily explained to Gibbs. “They have to knock down my tower before the knights come with their trouble-says.”

            Politely restraining himself from suggesting that the twins were only engrossed in such an imaginative game so long as permission to knock over the small sand towers wasn’t retracted anytime soon, as their brains were far too underdeveloped to understand the concept behind such impressive creativity, Gibbs simply smiled and gently redirected Tony’s attention back to the tower Katie was currently eating large pieces out of.

            “I think you mean trebuchets, Abbs.” Gibbs corrected.

            “I wasn’t sure.” The small toddler confessed. “It’s hard to read lips on the television.”

            Wondering just how often one of her parents failed to remember that their only daughter wasn’t deaf and subsequently in need of different and specific accommodations, Gibbs frowned slightly and tried not assume that such inadvertent forgetfulness was one of the primary reasons behind Abby’s desperate attention-seeking.

            “You’re an expert signer, though, aren’t you?” Gibbs distracted, helping the energetic girl build up a fourth tower. “It sometimes takes adults years to learn how to do that.”

            Seemingly started by the discovery that her caretaker had learned she was perfectly fluent in sign, Abby’s blue eyes went as wide as saucers even as her mouth dropped open.

            “How did you know I could sign?!”

            “I’ve seen you do it.” Gibbs confirmed, hastily snatching a stick out of Katie’s hand. “I think you sometimes forget that we can all hear and just sign out of reflex.”

            “Oh.” Abby quipped, slightly taken aback. “Can you sign?”

            Pleased to have found some way to bond with the small girl that didn’t involve barbies or awkward tea parties, Gibbs smiled brightly and immediately signed the following:

            ‘Yes, I can. I learned when I was big.’

            ‘Cool.’ Abby signed back. ‘None of my teachers sign.’

            Hardly even able to imagine how frustrating it must have been for a young Abby to be tossed into an environment where her main preference of communication was all but unheard of, and probably discouraged, Gibbs felt keenly for pseudo-niece and pondered the wisdom of the older Scuito’s for not trying to find a more inclusive environment for their daughter to learn in.

            ‘It’s a hard skill to learn.’ Gibbs soothed. ‘But you can sign to me whenever you want.’

            ‘Thanks!’ Abby frantically signed, hopping over to kiss his cheek. ‘I love you.’

            ‘I love you, too, Ab –”

            Unceremoniously cut short from finishing his sentence as a very aggressive older child stomped into the sandbox and kicked a giant wave of sand into an unsuspecting Katie’s face, Gibbs almost immediately saw red and lurched to his feet, fully prepared to throttle the pasty little asshole until he remembered, at the very last moment, that Kate was far more in need of comfort than avenging.

            “Come here, Katie.” Gibbs crooned, quickly scooping up the wailing girl before brushing the sand from her face. “You’re alright, it was just a bit of sand – “

            Apparently taking great umbrage with the fact that his first assault had been so inconsequential, at least whereas bodily harm was concerned, the pasty little sandbox tyrant glared daggers up at Gibbs and made to kick another batch of sand into Tony’s very alarmed face. But before the little gremlin could even so much as move his colorless foot forward, much less blind his chosen victim with a flood of sand, Gibbs quickly yanked Tony up into his other arm and avoided such a disaster by mere seconds.

            “Listen here, you little – “

            This time interrupted by a righteously enraged Abby roaring, rather than the actions of the pasty demon who had just so recently drawn his ire, Gibbs reflexively clamped his mouth shut so as not to swear and turned to reassure the toddler in his custody that her interference, while appreciated, was not at all needed. Only, much to the chagrin of the local playground bully, Abby was far quicker to act than Gibbs was to speak.

            “YOU CAN’T JUST KICK SAND IN MY BABIES FACES!” Abby thundered, all righteous fury as she pushed the unrepentant victimizer out of sandbox and unto the grass.

            And, seemingly not at all satisfied with that act of vengeance alone, Abby hopped out of the sandbox after her prey and promptly stomped on his chest with enough force to draw the breath right out of his colorless chest.

            “You better not do that again.” Abby threated, kicking the boy’s shin. “Or I’ll flay you.”

             Appearing to take great umbrage with the fact that a girl several inches shorter than him had just kicked his ass, in a very crowded park nonetheless, the mannerless seven or eight-year-old lurched clumsily unto his feet and drew back a bony fist before Abby had even been given enough to realized what was happening. And though Gibbs wanted nothing more than to protect the little girl by pulling her out of the line of fire, he was woefully unable to do so with two crying babies in both of his hands – leaving him, instead, to watch in terrorizing anxiety as Abby flinched and braced herself for the punch to the nose she was sure most come.

            “What do you think you’re doing?”

            More than just a little relieved as Tim suddenly appeared out of nowhere and stepped between the two quarreling children, as well as somewhat chagrined as he watched the fist come into contact with his boy’s shoulder, Gibbs waited to see what would happen next and was pleasantly surprised, and made immensely proud, as he watched his only towhead effortlessly toss the pasty skeleton into the dirt with one good shove.

            “Timmy.” Abby squawked. “He was gonna punch my nose! AND he kicked sand in the babies faces.”

            Normally jovial face twisting up into a mask of sheer fury at such news, as he took his duties as the oldest very seriously, Tim reached down and yanked the culprit to his feet via his shirt collar before throwing him down unto the grass again.

            “I think you should go place someplace else.” Tim suggested, looking calmly down into the face of his fallen, and crying, foe. “I don’t want to see you around the sandbox again.”

Chapter Text

            Although Timmy was reasonably certain that he was far too old to still be waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares, as Daddy was constantly telling him he should be able to control his imagination now that he was a first-grader, he found he couldn’t quite help the fact that he had awoken at the witching-hour thoroughly drenched with his own sweat after dreaming of his Grandfather Bleddyn pulling him down into a giant puddle of mud as Daddy watched on with his cold and unfeeling Admiral eyes and did nothing to help him.

            ‘Calm down, Timmy.’ He scolded himself, pressing a hand against his rapidly-beating chest. ‘Grandpa isn’t here now…this is Gibbs’s house. Nothing bad can happen here.’

            Mommy wouldn’t have allowed him to say over if that was the case. Because Mommy never let him do anything that might wind up with him getting hurt – no matter how many times Daddy would use scary Admiral voice on her and lecture her about how getting hurt was just a part of growing up and growing tough for a boy.

            ‘Even though,’ Timmy thought, crawling out from under the covers, ‘He didn’t really want to be all that rough and scary like Daddy was.’

            Because he knew from watching everybody in school avoid Clark Hill on the playground that nobody wanted to be friends with someone they were afraid of. And Timmy never wanted to find himself without friends, as he imagined that sort of life would be rather lonely and boring to deal with after a few days. As not only would you have to eat your lunch alone at the table, like only the weird janitor did, so too would you be forced to colonize the moon (the baseball diamond) all by yourself. And what was the good of having all that land to yourself if you couldn’t share it with the people that were nice to you? After all, Daddy never seemed happy about getting another reward or promotion anymore once his friends stopped coming around to play poker or watch the game.

            ‘It’s because he yells too much.’ Timmy understood.

            Because even though Mommy refused to share with him all the things she felt he was far too young for, Timmy didn’t need to be told that the reason Daddy’s friends and brothers stopped coming by was all because of the night Daddy had slapped him on the back of the head in front of all of them for bringing him the wrong kind of beer by mistake. Because if there was only one thing Daddy hated more than crying, it was being told he wasn’t allowed to discipline his son whatever way he pleased.

            ‘Daddy hit me hard enough to see stars, even though he didn’t tell me what kind of beer he wanted.’

            But, rather than allow himself to keep thinking back on the night, and experiencing all the negative feelings he knew he ought not have, Tim simply sat up in bed and hastily removed his sodden pajama shirt, not really enjoyed the way the wet fabric chafed against his skin and rubbed in raw.

            ‘I wish Mommy was here.’ Tim thought to himself, slipping out of the bed and struggling to find another shirt for himself.

            Because even though Daddy would never let him sleep in their bed when he was home, not even that one time Tim had gotten run over by the float and hurt his ankle, Mommy would let him do it whenever Daddy was away at work – which seemed to happen a lot these days, it seemed to him.

            Daddy hadn’t even made it to his big science presentation on the mood – even though it was usually only the big kids who got to go up on stage and give theirs in front of the auditorium. And even though Mommy had said there would be other presentations for Daddy to see, and Grandpa Penny had taken him out for a sundae afterwards, it still made him feel a little bitter that Daddy hadn’t been there to see him get the very first blue-ribbon in his whole entire school’s first-grade history. Because Daddy was never ever at any of his important things, even when he didn’t have to work or do the chores Tim was still too short to do. He hadn’t even come to Timmy’s very first Boyscout camping trip! Which meant that he gotten stuck sharing a tent with Billy Green and his Daddy – making him feel as if he was pushing in on something that really wasn’t meant for him, even if they were super nice to him and pretended not to hear him crying about it that night.

            Gibbs doesn’t ignore me.’ Timmy heard himself thinking, somewhat bitterly.

            And even if he was a bit stern at times, like when Abby tried to do backflips off the back of the couch, Timmy was almost one-hundred percent certain that Gibbs would at least let him sleep on the foot of his bed tonight, because he already shared his bed with both babies – even though Katie smelled something awful most of the time and Tony liked to kick in his sleep.

             And, so it was, that Tim decided a quick trip to Gibbs’s bedroom was in order. Because even if he did feel brave enough to fall back asleep on his own, he didn’t, the frustrating fact still remained that he needed a little help getting the sweat-soaked bedding into the washing machine given that the quilt was so very heavy and the washer far too high for him to access without dragging a chair from the kitchen – the noise of which would just wake Gibbs anyways.

             And, thus decided, Timmy crept down the darkened hallway without further ado, all the while inwardly hoping that Gibbs wouldn’t be too very annoyed with him for waking him up at the ungodly hour of two in the morning for something so silly as a dream about mud. He was a big boy, after all. Even if he felt rather small and scared at the moment.

            ‘Gibbs won’t yell, at least.’ Tim thought to himself, softly knocking on the door.

            “Is that you, Abbs?” Gibbs called out. “Come on in.”

            Taking only a brief moment to wonder how it was that Abby was the very clear favorite despite her constant mischievousness, even if she was rather nice at times, Tim frowned and shuffled awkwardly before deciding to speak – figuring if he had already come all that way, he might as well do what he came for.

            “I’m not Abby.” He confessed, keeping his voice low. “Can I still come in?”        

            “Of course.” Came the low rumble.

            Not really knowing what to do now that his request was granted, as he had still been somewhat doubting that he would even be allowed into the room, much less the bed, Tim shuffled his feet and nibbled at his nails, wondering if it was still too late to turn back and return to his own bed – even if it was sweaty and uncomfortable at the moment. But before he could even come to a decision, much less act on it, the door was being pushed open and his face flooded with a soft light.

            “You alright, Kiddo?” Gibbs asked, kneeling down to look him in the eye. “You look kind of pale.”

            “I had a nightmare.” Tim confessed, hating himself as he felt his bottom lip wobble.

            And, just like that, he was suddenly in Gibbs’s arms on his own volition, chubby arms wrapped tightly around the man’s stubbly neck and his face buried in the soft fabric of his shirt. But rather than shove him away as Daddy would have, and bark at him to grow up, Gibbs simply squeezed him tightly and hefted him up unto his hip before rubbing at his back.

            “Hey now, it’s alright.” Gibbs mumbled, not even flinching as Tim soaked his shirt with tears. “You’re alright now, it was just a bad dream. Nothing can hurt you here, not with me around.”

             One-hundred percent believing that nothing could happen to him so long as Gibbs was around, Tim sniffled loudly and tried his best to stop his obnoxious crying so that he wouldn’t be banished back to his own room for the night. Because as much as he was a big boy and not afraid of the dark anymore, the thought of returning to his empty bed wasn’t one that made him feel very good inside.

            “Do you want me to call your mommy?” Gibbs hummed, slumping down atop the mattress with Tim still in his lap.

            Feeling all the more overwhelmed with emotion as he realized that Gibbs didn’t huff dramatically like Daddy did whenever he was forced to support to his weight, like that one time Tim had broken his ankle and needed help getting out of the car, Tim cried even harder and clung tighter to Gibbs.        

            “Don’t – Don’t – Don’t call Mommy.” Tim finally managed, not wanting her to worry.

            Grateful to find that Gibbs didn’t immediately argue with him on the subject, as much of his teachers would have done when faced with his pleas not to call Daddy about a bad grade in gym, Tim sniffled loudly and tried not to drip snot unto Gibbs’s shirt collar.

            “C’mon, buddy, talk to me.” Gibbs encouraged. “How can I make you feel better?”

             Surprised to hear such a question, as only Mommy ever asked him that, Tim blinked stupidly a few times before coming up with a reasonable answer.

            “Mommy just sits up with me for a while.” Tim informed, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.

            And even though Mommy would also ramble on and on about all the mischief she had gotten up to with Grandma Penny when Grandpa was away at work, Timmy didn’t think it would be very nice of him to ask Gibbs to do the same. Because even though Gibbs’s daddy was still alive and well, Timmy just knew it made Gibbs really sad to think and talk about his own Mommy and Grandma.

            “I can sit with you.” Gibbs patiently agreed. “But did you want me to set you down first? I know you don’t like being held all that much.”

             Totally amazed when Gibbs actually asked if he wanted to be put down, as not even Mommy would ask him if he wanted a hug before she squeezed him, Tim felt even more tears flood into his eyes.

            “I don’t want to move.” Tim admitted, hiding his face in Gibbs’s neck.   

             “Then you don’t have.” Gibbs promised, rubbing his shoulder. “Did you want to talk about your dream, Tim? It might make you feel better.”

            Even though Timmy didn’t really want to admit to what kind of dreams he was having, as Daddy had once gotten super mad the one time Timmy had told him about the dream he had once had of him being an angry bull, he found he couldn’t help but trust that Gibbs wouldn’t get angry at him for sharing about his dreams.

            “I dreamed Grandpa was pulling me down into the mud.” Tim whispered, feeling himself shiver. “I couldn’t breathe.”

             “Is your grandfather a scary man, Tim?” Gibbs gently inquired.

            “Yeah, but not scary like Daddy is.”

            Because even though Timmy didn’t have the words for it, he couldn’t help but think that Daddy was scary like an angry dog was scary and Grandpa was scary like the thought that something might be hiding in your closet scary – one lasting just as long as it took the dog to stop barking and the other lasting all night long.

            “I’m sorry to hear that.” Gibbs frowned. “You shouldn’t have to be afraid of either one of them.”

            Not even needing to look Gibbs in the eyes to know that he was telling the truth, as his voice alone was enough to confirm it, Tim pressed even closer into his chest and wondered why Daddy couldn’t be as nice as he was.

            “Can I tell you a secret, Gibbs?” Tim asked. “Without you getting mad?”

             “Of course.”

            Taking Gibbs’s promise as Gospel, Tim sucked in a deep breath and gathered up all the courage he possessed, not wanting to chicken out about saying what he wanted to say – as he knew it would only make him feel better in the end.  

             “Grandpa touches me between the legs.”

            Stubbornly keep his eyes squeezed shut, so that he didn’t have to Gibbs’s face in case he was frowning or scowling, Tim clamped down hard on his bottom lip and began to wonder, after a long silence had passed, if he really shouldn’t have said anything at all.

            “He shouldn’t do that to you.” Gibbs finally mumbled. “I’m sorry.”

            “I don’t like to let him.” Tim sniffled. “But Daddy get’s really mad if I – “

             His confession cut short as Gibbs hugged him and nearly squeezed all the air out of him, Tim squeaked in an embarrassingly unmanly fashion and blushed deeply.

            “Tim, whatever happened to you, it’s not your fault, alright? You’re just a kid, and adults shouldn’t be taking advantage of you like that.”

             “But Daddy says I’m supposed to be strong.”

             And even though being strong apparently meant never crying, no matter how sad you were, and never losing in a playground fight, no matter how big the other kid was, Tim really did want to be strong so that his Daddy could be proud of him and maybe stop yelling at him all the time.

            “You are strong.” Gibbs insisted. “Strength isn’t something in your muscles, it’s in your heart. And it takes a special kind of strength to keep being so kind when you’ve got so much on your plate.”

            “You don’t think I’m weak for letting him – “

             “You didn’t let him do anything. Your grandfather was just taking advantage of the fact that you’re smaller than him. None of this is your fault, Tim. None of it.”

            Feeling yet another wave of tears spring into his eyes at the news, as he had so badly wanted to believe that it wasn’t his fault for being so small and helpless, Tim clung tightly to Gibbs and thought maybe, just maybe, if he told Mommy about everything, she wouldn’t let Grandpa come over any more. And, more importantly, since it wasn’t his fault, Mommy wouldn’t be angry at him either, even if it was her daddy she was sending away.

            “Do you want to sleep in here tonight, Buddy?” Gibbs asked, brushing away his tears with a thumb.

            Far too overwhelmed to even speak, Tim simply nodded before reluctantly slipping off Gibbs’s lap and unto the tall mound of pillows.

            “Slip under the covers then.” Gibbs encouraged. “And try not to wake the babies.”

             

Chapter Text

            Having faced off with several terrorists and hardened criminals over the year, as well as dealt with an endless of number of physically-abusive wives and girlfriends, Gibbs found, much to his own consternation as well as that of everyone around him, that he was thoroughly and stubbornly unwilling to admit he had met his match in a stubborn four-year-old girl who refused to accept the terms of her well-earned timeout. Because as much as he could endure seemingly endless hours of gunfire in a country with a triple-digit heat-index, and as much as he could tolerate getting screeched at by an irate redhead for hours, Gibbs found the aggravating manner in which Abby waited until his back was turned to leave her corner far more irritating than he could bare. For not only did such an act make him far angrier than he ever wished to feel toward a child, especially a small one, so too was she quickly coming to make his question his infamous resolve and tenacity. And Gibbs didn’t appreciate anyone who made him question himself – least of all a fucking toddler of all people.

             “Abigail Rae,” Gibbs impatiently growled, for what had to be the thirtieth time in as many minutes, “Get your little butt back in that corner.”

            Looking at him as disdainfully as a cat might like at the owner who deigned to scold it, Abby puckered up her pink lips in a condescendingly smug fashion and rolled her pretty blue eyes at him before skipping off into the kitchen.

            “Tim,” Gibbs sighed, putting his hands to his temples, “Keep an eye on the babies, would you? I need to step outside for a moment.”

            Already having taken it upon himself to snuggle up with the babies on the sofa, as the both of them were still crying softly half-an-hour after Abby had backhanded Katie for tugging at her pigtail, Tim nodded his consent to the idea and continued rubbing both babies’ backs.

            “Count to ten.” Tim sagely advised, looking away from the babies for but a moment to deliver such sound advice. “Maybe twenty.” The small boy quickly amended.

            Unable to keep from thinking that seventy or ninety was a much better number where regarded getting his temper back under control, as he was dangerously near the boiling point, Gibbs clamped down on his tongue hard enough to blood and all but stomped out into the relative peace of the backyard – hoping for a little bit of quiet so that he could figure out what to do with the stubborn Abby before his father arrived back home from his quick trip to the farmers market and took matters into his own hands. Because as much as his father didn’t believe in spanking children, save for that one time Gibbs had been stupid enough to tell his mother to go to Hell, he could be rather sterner than necessary when it came time for discipline. And even though Gibbs was exceedingly angry with Abby for backhanding Katie in such an uncalled-for fashion, for reasons so feeble they didn’t bare repeating, he really didn’t wish for the little girl to have to deal with a mouth-soaping or an evening spent in bed without any supper. He was, although he hated to admit, far too soft-hearted to allow such a thing to occur.  

            “Honestly, Jethro.” A very familiar voice sounded behind his back. “I never thought I’d live to see the day when you, of all people, were bested by a four-year-old.”

            Stubbornly refusing to turn around and acknowledge his friend, as he knew by doing so he would only be encouraging the Medical Examine to become smugger than he already was, Gibbs scowled deeply and stubbornly stared down at the plush grass at his feet in a petulant manner that would have absolutely infuriated his father yet only slightly annoyed Ducky.

            “This isn’t a regular four-year-old we’re talking about.” Gibbs grumbled. “It’s Abby.”

            “Don’t feed me that trite nonsense, Jethro.” Ducky rebuked. “Need I remind you that I have Victoria for a Granddaughter?”

            Having no real argument that would lend him any success in protesting against such a comparison, as a young Abby did bare the same remarkable amount of stubbornness as Victoria did, Gibbs settled for giving the first argument that came into his mind – never one to enjoy being bested in either physical or verbal battle.

            “Victoria isn’t Abby.” Gibbs reminded the Scotsman.

            “She might very well have been had she been given half the chance.” Ducky calmly rebuttled, seating himself beside Gibbs without invitation. “Afterall, what strong-willed child wouldn’t like to be given full reign of the house?”

            Unable to argue with such sound logic, as Victoria would very likely be half-wild were Jimmy not every bit just as stubborn as she when it came time to making rules and dishing out discipline, Gibbs scowled ever deeper and kicked at the unlucky stone that just so happened to be unfortunate enough to be settled near his foot.  

            “Is it really all that fair to ask that I be so hard on her?” Gibbs protested, feeling as if he had already lost the battle before it had even begun. “She’s only going to be four for a few more days at best.”            

            And even though such an argument was, at best, very weak in nature, Gibbs did honestly feel as if a little bit of leniency was called for when dealing with all the children given that they were only going to be small for so long.

             “That may be, Jethro,” Ducky allowed, “But what are your plans for Abigail once she’s fully grown again? Surely by now you must come to have realized she’s entirely out-of-control.”

            Protective as always towards his subordinates, especially the women and especially his Forensic Scientist, Gibbs immediately made to defend Abby from such unfounded accusations.

            “Abby is just…spirited. It’s not like she’s ever seriously hurt anyone – when she was big, at least.”

            Granted she had slapped an infant Katie in the face twice by then and chomped down on Timmy’s fingers a small handful of times but, Gibbs reasoned, what toddler didn’t experience an occasional tantrum or two?

            “Need a remind you that she bit an entire chunk of flesh out of Anthony’s arm for no other reason that he poked her in the ribs? Or that she beat the ever-living hell out of Timothy last Christmas?”

             Thoroughly surprised by the second portion of Ducky’s sentence, as a flustered Tim had full-heartedly and passionately claimed the resultant bruising of such an altercation had come about via an armed mugging, Gibbs grimaced and inwardly prayed that Ducky was perhaps mistaken about such a fact, as it would just kill him to discover that Abby could be so recklessly violent.

            “Tim just let her kick his ass?” He scoffed, clinging tightly to denial.

            “Of course he did.” Ducky persisted. “Do you honestly believe Timothy would raise a hand to any woman?”

            Unable to answer in the affirmative, as not even he had raised a hand to the wife who had taken a tire-iron to the back of his head, Gibbs grimaced and resolved to impress upon Abby, once fully-grown again, that laying hands upon anybody, especially those in her team, was not at all acceptable behavior.

            “I dare say that Timothy would have needed to spent the evening in the hospital had it not been for Sarah.” Ducky further contributed, clearly taking Gibb’s silence for further denial.

            “I take it Sarah kicked Abby’s ass?” Gibbs inquired, already knowing the answer.

            “Quiet soundly.” Ducky confirmed.

            Feelings more than just a little wounded upon discovering that Abby had lied to him about the nature of her two black-eyes the day after Christmas, stating that they were from a rollerblading accident rather than a well-deserved pummeling, Gibbs shook his head and glared down at the grass.

            “I’m afraid it’s your unyielding indulgence primarily responsible for her abhorrent behavior, Jethro, both now and in the future.”  

            “I just don’t like being tough on her. She reminds me so much of Kelly.”    

            Granted not behaviorally but certainly where regarded their mutually perky and chipper personalities.

            “And yet you allow her to behave in a fashion you would never have permitted Kelly to.”

            “Well,” Gibbs frowned, “Kelly never cried like Abby does when she’s in trouble.”

             In fact, apart from a few sniffles or two, Kelly took her rarely-needed timeouts like an absolute champion.

            “Jethro, Abby is almost never in trouble with you. That’s the problem.” Ducky advised.

            Feeling as if such an assumption was patently unfair, as he could bring up at least three or four incidences of him reprimanding Abby for something or other over the many years they had worked together, Gibbs huffed loudly beneath his breath and tried to make his friend see reason.

            “Ducky, have you seen how she cries when she actually is in trouble?”

            Because Gibbs, God help him, could not help but think that such a sight was far more pitiable than anything he had ever seen in his long life – and that was saying something.

            “Jethro, how would you react if Tony cried whenever you got cross with him?”

            Honestly thinking to himself that he would become quite enraged should his child think to do something so shamefully manipulative, as he had raised the little idiot far better than that, Gibbs rolled his eyes and shook his head.

            “That would be different, Duck. That would mean he was trying to manipulate me.”

            “And you honestly believe that Abby isn’t doing that to you now?” Ducky scoffed, the disbelief in his voice almost enough to make Gibbs question his position.  

             Because while Gibbs would honestly never allow himself to believe that one of his subordinates could be so maliciously deceptive, he was started to become a little disquieted when he realized several people held the same opinion about Abby being out-of-control.

            “Abby wouldn’t try that with me.” He defended, hating to hear the doubt in his voice.

            “Jethro, how quickly does Abby stop crying when your infrequent and mild scoldings are finished?”           

            “I…”

            Feeling his stomach twist up uncomfortably as he slowly, and reluctantly, came to realize he’d been being played for a fool for years by the crafty and deceptively innocent Forensic Expert, Gibbs grimaced and wondered just how it was that he could have been such a dumbass.

            “I don’t mean to rub salt in the wound, Jethro, but I have spent years watching that girl giggle behind her hands the very moment you leave her alone to reflect on her actions.”

            Unable to put into words just how badly it hurt to discover that one of the very few people you loved more than life itself were so callously manipulating you, and without any remorse at all, Gibbs clamped down on his tongue and wondered if things could ever return to normal between him and a fully-grown Abby. Because as absurd as such a caveat might seem to most people – Gibbs could never tolerate a person who lied to him, and especially not one who deceived him so egregiously.

            “I’m…I’m not the only one who spoils her, Duck.” Gibbs frowned. “Everyone is going to have to crack down on her too.”

            “Jethro, the others only spoil Abigail because you have them absolutely terrified to go against her. I mean, for God’s sake, even Kate has professed a desire to punch her in the nose every now and then.”

            Unable to keep from grimacing as he thought back upon the suspicious manner in which any heated squabbles between the two girls seemed to evaporate just as soon as he stepped into a room to investigate the cause behind such ruckus, Gibbs shook his head an inwardly cursed himself for being such a stubborn moron.

            “I ruined that girl, didn’t I?” Gibbs sighed.

            “It didn’t start with you.” Ducky charitably allowed. “It might have solidified with you, however.”   

            Feeling as though it would be ridiculously absurd of him to get angry at Ducky for telling him the truth, especially so when that was all he really wanted out of anybody who he called a friend, Gibbs massaged his temples and couldn’t help but feel guilty as he contemplated how righteously outraged and overlooked his agents must have felt whenever they watched Abby getting away with something they would have been headslapped for.

            “You don’t think it’s too late to start trying to reign her in?”

            Because even with Abby being as young as she was, it had taken Gibbs over half a decade to get Tony over his abandonment issues. And Gibbs honestly just didn’t have enough patience to put that much effort into a brat.

            “I should think not.” Ducky promptly assured. “At least not if you’re consistent.”  

             “Pray for me, then.” Gibbs sighed, climbing to his feet. “Because I’m about to walk into the fire.”

            Appearing slightly amused at his theatrics, or perhaps simply relieved that something was finally going to be done about Abby, Ducky smiled softly and remained rooted to the concrete step.

            “God speed, Jethro.” The Scotsman obliged. “Send the other children out and I’ll entertain them for a spell.”

              Relieved that he would not have to depend upon Tim to mind the babies for any longer than he already had, as it was not at all right for a guardian to make their children watch the smaller children they had been given no say about, Gibbs walked more calmly then he felt into the living room and promptly sent Tim off into the backyard with the babies – promising the small boy an extended bedtime for all the trouble he’d gone through with minding the two fussy babies.

            ‘Now unto the hard part.’ Gibbs thought, stalking into the kitchen where the sounds of Abby humming could be heard.

             And, sure enough, Gibbs’s assumptions were soon proven correct upon his subsequent spying of the small girl happily eating out of a container of frosting with a soup spoon.

             “Ibbs.” Abby smiled, mouth full of vanilla frosting. “I was just – “

            “Save it.” Gibbs growled, slapping the can of frosting out of her hand before throwing the toddler over his shoulder.

            Reflexively going limp out of a desire to make it more difficult for him to manhandle her, Abby clawed at his shoulder and huffed indignantly as he carted her up the stairwell.

            “What are you doing!?” She demanded. “Put me down.”

            “We’re going to have talk in my room.” Gibbs calmly informed her, keeping a firm grip on the toddler to keep her from slipping out of his arms.

            “I don’t want – “

            “ENOUGH.” Gibbs growled, voice rumbling in the stairwell.

            Effectively stunned into silence at such an outburst, as no doubt nobody in her young life had ever raised their voice to her, Abby went limp over his shoulder and almost instantly began to produce the waterworks. But rather than provoke Gibbs into a fit of pity like it usually would, the theatrics simply made him all the angrier as he stormed into his bedroom and kicked the door shut.

            “Ibbs – “

            Silencing the sniffling girl with a light tap to the back of her thighs, Gibbs flopped himself down into the rocking chair and placed the girl on her feet right between his legs before grabbing her chin and forcing her to look him in the eyes.

            “I’ve had more than enough of your misbehavior, Abigail Rae, and it ends now.”

            And, though it killed him to do so, Gibbs impressed upon the toddler the severity of his words by landing three sharp smacks to her backside.

            “Now, go put your nose in a corner.” He ordered, struggling not to feel like a giant jackass as Abby cried in earnest. “I’ll come get you in five minutes.”

             

              

Chapter Text

            “Honestly, Jethro.” Ducky sighed, only narrowly resisting the urge to roll his eyes. “Katie just has a little case of diaper rash, nothing serious. Slap a little cream unto her bottom and she’ll be as good as new, I assure you.”

            And, even though Ducky was honestly more than just a little miffed at the fact that Jethro had interrupted his quality-time with Victoria in order to have him come over and look at one of the twins’ fat and slightly rosy bottom, he refrained from any further censure upon seeing the genuinely distressed expression on his closest friend’s face. Because, at the end of the day, Jethro was honestly just trying to do his best for the children currently in his care.

            “Are you sure it’s not infected.” Jethro fussed, repositioning a reclined Katie upon the kitchen table so that her bare bottom was exposed for the whole world to see.

            “I’m absolutely certain, Jethro.” Ducky reassured, for the twelfth time. “At worst this is nothing but a very mild case of diaper rash.”

            In fact, should Ducky choose to remove his glasses and take another glance at the rosy surface currently being presented to him, he was not at all reasonably assured that he would feel confident enough to make the same diagnosis.  

            “Don’t look at me like that.” Jethro defended himself, rather sensitive where pertained the questioning of his sanity. “I never had this problem with Kelly. How should I know when to worry and when not to?”

            Intuitively sensing that Jethro was angrier at himself for allowing such a thing to occur on his watch, rather than legitimately upset at his friend for being dismissive of his worries, Ducky amicably played the part of peacemaker rather than taking umbrage with his friend’s sharp tone.

            “You can’t be too hard on yourself, Jethro. Looking after four small children if a few more difficult task than looking after one. It’s only natural something of this sort would happen eventually – especially with twins. After all, you cannot change two diapers at once.”

            “That may be, but it doesn’t make me feel like any less of an asshole.” Jethro grumbled, frowning at Katie’s slightly-pink buttcheeks.

            Wondering, to himself, of course, just why it was that Jethro couldn’t so much compassion to his agents when they were fully grown, as that would only serve to make the team function better, Ducky frowned slightly but nonetheless resolved to make his friend feel a little better about himself, for, at the end of the day, what good was having friends if they couldn’t bolster your spirits as needed.

            “Tell me, Jethro, does Katie seem one bit bothered by the rash?”

            Thankfully deflating as he turned his gaze down to the babbling baby who was currently making quite the game of kicking Ducky in the stomach with her bare feet, Jethro let out a relieved breath and graced the kicking infant with a small smile.

            “I suppose it can’t be too bad of a rash if it’s not bothering her.”

            “Precisely.” Ducky agreed, fetching up the abandoned diaper at Katie’s side with the full intention of putting it back where it belonged. “I do believe you need to let these Papa Bear instincts simmer down a bit, Jethro, else you’ll only make yourself sick with worry – Sweet Jesus, your baby just peed all over my hand.”

            And though it was most assuredly beneath the dignity of his person to do so, Ducky found that he could not held but frown down at the madly giggling culprit currently kicking at his stomach with a renewed vigor for just such an act. Because as absurd as such a thought might be to the naive, Ducky could have sworn that that mischievous girl had soaked his arm on purpose – his experience with Victoria having proven to him that small children were, in fact, quite capable of committing purposeful pranks.

            “Yeah, she likes to mark things like a dog.” Jethro explained, far too late for his advice to be of any real use. “That’s why I had to throw my boots out.”

            “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you put her up to this.” Ducky mumbled, fastidiously cleansing his hands with the wetwipes he always carried on his person.

            Grinning smugly in that annoying fashion he knew drove the people closest to him crazy, Jethro shrugged his shoulders and more than happily took over the diapering of Katie now that the danger of being peed on had passed.

            “If I had wanted to get back at you for whatever it is you think I ought to get back at your for, I would have had her use the other end.” Jethro assured, finishing his diapering of Katie by kissing her on the cheek. “And believe me, that stuff is near lethal.” The aging Marine advised, scooping up the unrepentant little girl into his arms for a cuddle.

            Although he knew his closest friend to harbor an immense tenderness for children, especially for babies, Ducky honestly almost couldn’t believe his eyes as he watched Jethro squeeze the deaged girl close and smooth her ruffled curls.

            “In that case, I do believe that will be the last diaper I ever change for you.”  Ducky decided.

            “Coward.” Jethro heatlessly returned, smiling softly as an affectionate Katie rubbed her face against his chest.

            Righteously indignant at such a markedly unfair accusation, no matter how mildly and disingenuously it had been offered, Ducky felt himself flare up like a cat and full-heartedly prepared himself to defend to his honor as best he knew how – with dry humor and scathing wit. Alas, before he could even so much as decide upon which rebuke he might like to use, much less bring it to life by speaking, the untimely ringing of Jethro made itself known.

            “Ibbs!” Abby immediately squawked, flying into the kitchen with the fragile cellphone dangling precariously from her feeble grip. “Your phone is singing.”

            Accepting the phone from the energetic little girl with an affectionate smile, Jethro glanced at the screen of the phone to see who might be calling him at such an hour only narrowly managed not to scowl as he reluctantly deigned to accept the call.

            “Keep an eye on the kids, would you?” Jethro asked, holding the phone against his chest to keep the caller from discovering he wasn’t being paid any heed. “Vance needs me for something.”

            More than happily acquiescing to such an innocent request, Ducky gently extracted Katie from Jethro’s protective grasp and charitably ignored the slaps to his face the disgruntled baby sent his way in response to such an unwanted removal. But rather than deal with such unearned assaults against his person any longer than he absolutely needed to, Ducky ferried the irritated baby in the living and happily deposited her into the playpen beside her male counterpart. A fact that seemed to appease both infants involved, as Tony all but squealed aloud with glee as he wrapped his chubby arms around a grinning Katie’s neck.

            ‘Good Lord,’ Ducky thought, ‘I don’t know why these two cannot get along so well when they’re fully-grown.’

            And, although it pained him slightly to be so abominably conniving and underhanded, Ducky found he couldn’t quite help but take a video of the two cuddling babies on his cellphone. If not for good-natured teasing purposes, then at the very least to serve as evidence that they had, at one point, gotten on quite well the next time they barged into his office needing him to act as mediator.

            “I am not coming into work at five in the afternoon to sign a ridiculous sheet of goddamned paper, Vance.” Jethro barked, mistakenly believing himself to be speaking softly enough to avoid being overhead by the children. “Forge my signature.”

            Thinking it would be wise to refrain from offering an irritated Jethro advice about how such an allowance would be a very dangerous precedent to set, especially so when a lot of papers being signed in their line of work involved potentially incriminating information, Ducky seated himself upon the sofa beside Abby and quickly turned up the volume of the television – even though it absolutely killed him to grant such a privilege to such an uninspired and sexist movie as Cinderella.

            “I have four damn children at home with me! Where am I going to find a babysitter at this hour?!” Jethro thundered from the kitchen, startling Tim into dropping his paper airplane.

            Despite the appalling selfishness of such a thought, Ducky found himself inwardly praying that the task of babysitter wouldn’t fall unto his person. Because as silly as it sounded, he did have a tea-party reservation with Victoria to attend to. And as sweet as said child was, which was quite so, she could also hold one hell of a grudge whenever somebody was foolish enough to make her feel slighted.

            “No, Vance. My Dad already left yesterday.” Gibbs growled, sounding more disappointed than angry. “And I’m not just going to hire some random teenager for the job.”            

            Once more feeling as if Jethro was being ridiculously overprotective of the children, as not even Jimmy was so fretful when faced with the prospect of leaving Victoria with a babysitter, Ducky pursed his lips and forced himself to keep quiet by picking out all the historical inaccuracies in the movie currently being played for Abby’s pleasure.

            “Let me get this straight. You want me to load four kids into my car, two of which are babies, and ferry them all the way to The Yard? Just so I can sign a fucking paper?” Gibbs barked into his phone, no longer restraining himself for the sake of the children. “What is wrong with you?”

            “Ducky!” The young Timothy gasped, dropping his airplane for the second time. “Gibbs is swearing in front of the little kids!”

            More than just a little amused by the fact that Timothy didn’t consider himself one of the children, even though he was only six years old himself, Ducky chuckled and patted the cushion directly to his left, encouraging the young lad to take a seat next to him in the hopes that either the movie, or conversation, would distract him from the argument going on in the kitchen.

            “I’m afraid Jethro is just having a little tantrum.” Ducky explained, patting the boy’s very blond hair. “He’ll calm down soon enough.”

            “Good.” Timmy sighed, relaxing against the cushions. “I don’t want the babies to learn any new swear words.”

            Hard-pressed to think of any swear word worse than the one Katie was already fond of using, save for perhaps the dreaded C-word Americans seemed to loathe so much, Ducky chuckled beneath his breath and decided to skillfully change the subject.

            “Tell me, Lad, how do you like spending time with Gibbs?”

            Because even though he felt as if he already knew the answer, it was always nice to get a confirmation for one’s thoughts.

            “I love it!” Tim happily insisted, perfectly earnest. “He doesn’t yell or spank me like Daddy does. But…“

            Not failing to notice the troubled expression that flickered across Timothy’s young features, Ducky sat up a bit straighter and smiled encouragingly at the youngster, not wanting to make the young lad feel uncomfortable in any way.

            “Is something the matter, lad?”

            “Do…Do you think Gibbs will still like me when I’m big again.” Tim mumbled, looking markedly unsure of himself.

            Slightly concerned as he realized Timothy might very well be displaying signs of remembering he had once been an adult, which in turn might lead a confusion-motivated tantrum, Ducky frowned inwardly and sat a little straighter on the couch.

            “When you’re big again?” Ducky parroted, hoping for a more innocent explanation.

            “I…Yes?” Tim frowned, looking very confused. “I…”

            “Timothy,” Ducky intervened, throwing the young lad a bone, “Why wouldn’t Gibbs ever like you? You’re a very charming, helpful, young man.”

            Rubbing somewhat angrily at his temples, in what had to be an attempt to clear his obviously befuddled brain, Timmy scowled frightfully and looked ready to quite literally explode.

            “I just… I think I had a dream Gibbs was yelling at me and hitting my head. But I wasn’t little or so fat anymore.”

              “I see. Did you tell Jethro about this?” Ducky inquired.

            For as intrusive as such a question was, Ducky thought such a sudden reemergence of adult memories in Timothy was very likely the cause behind Jethro’s earlier sullenness. Because as much as the hardened Marine refused to admit such a thing, he really did enjoy having children in the house again.

            “I tried.” Timmy earnestly insisted. “But he only looked sad and walked away. I think I hurt his feelings.”

            “I don’t think you hurt his feelings, lad. It would take quite a lot to accomplish that, I can assure you.”

              Visibly relaxing at such welcome news, Timmy slumped ungracefully into the couch cushions and looked, for once, like a proper six-year-old child instead of one masquerading as a mini-adult.

            “Ducky…Was…Was I big before now? After…?” Tim pressed, little blonde brows furrowed comically.

            Thinking it best not to overwhelm a young child with the complicated information that they had, in fact, been an adult up until very recently, Ducky smiled as reassuringly as possible and put his arm around the young lad’s shoulder.

            “No, of course not. You won’t be big until you grow up.”

            “Oh.” Tim frowned, taking a long moment to process the information. “I think I need to get my imagination under control.”

            Kept from informing the lad it was best not to keep something so very important under wraps by Jethro’s sudden return to the kitchen, Ducky sighed softly to himself and resolved, if there was time, to later impress upon the young lad such very sage wisdom.

             “Alight, Abby and Tim,” Jethro sighed, massaging his temples, “Make a trip to the bathroom. We have to leave in ten minutes.”

            Immediately launching himself off the couch to beat Abby to the bathroom, as any older sibling would do, Tim subsequently left him behind to deal with a moody Jethro.

            “What’s wrong, Duck?”

            “I’m sorry to tell you this, but I do believe your agents might soon be big again.”  

            Looking more sad than genuinely surprised at the news, Jethro sighed loudly and shook his head.

            “I kind of figured that out this morning when Abby asked me why she slept in a coffin when she was big.”  

             “We both knew it couldn’t last forever.” Ducky reminded, lying a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder.

            “No,” Jethro agreed, “But it was fun while it lasted.”

Chapter Text

            Although Vance been fully prepared to host Gibbs and his small squadron of deaged subordinates in his office, as he had been the one to necessitate the damn meeting in the first place to get back at his Team-Lead for consistently stealing his parking spot, he found he could not help but be thoroughly surprised by just how…paternal Gibbs seemed as he waltzed into his office, without knocking, of course, with two babies in his arms and the older two children trailing behind his back like ducklings. Because not only was a happily chatting Abby currently clinging tightly to the back of his untucked shirt, so too were the babies in his arms happily pawing at his chin in a somewhat synchronized pattern.

            “Alright, Abby, remember what we talked about?” Gibbs directed, craning his neck to look at the little girl standing behind him. “Don’t. Touch. Anything.”

            More than just a little relieved to find that Gibbs seemed to be putting at least a little pressure on Abby to behave, for what was surely the first time in either of their lives, Vance gave an inaudible sigh of relief before leaning back against his desk-chair and fetching free from one of his drawers a nice fountain pen.

            “Can I touch the floor, at least?” Abby sassed, startling Vance into dropping his pen.

            Sucking in a deep breath as he watched Gibbs whip around sharply enough to elicit several frightened squawks from the babies in his grip, as said Marine had never once exhibited any sort of anger towards his favorite Forensic Specialist, no matter how many times she might have rightfully deserved such ire, Vance sat stock-still and waited to see what would happen.

            “Abbs,” Tim immediately interviewed, clearly sensing an imminent showdown, “Let me show you how to make a dragon out of paper.”

               Thankfully in a very merciful mood that evening, Gibbs restrained himself from chewing the abashed toddler out for her attitude and charitably allowed the oldest children in the bunch to lead the most mischievous of the set over to a corner near the window and regal the younger with a piece of green construction paper and his origami skills.

            “Okay, you little hens.” Gibbs grumbled somewhat affectionately, depositing the two babbling babies at his feet. “Knock yourselves out.”

            And, thus said, Gibbs smiled, actually smiled down at them, and tossed at their feet a cheap wallet he had clearly stuffed full of fake money for their entertainment. A clever bit of ingenuity which was, while admittedly cheap, quite effective in diverting the duly-named twins. For within milliseconds of the cheap reticule hitting the carpet, the more dexterous Katie had the Velcro contraptions ripped open as the more vocal Tony looked on and encouraged her with one-word phrases.

            “Ook!” Tony announced happily, holding up a fistful of fake dollars for his father-figure to examine. “Ook!”

            Actually condescending to pause from his glaring at Vance to glance down at smile at the excited child seated at his feet, Gibbs stretched down at ruffled the boy’s hair before giving him the attention he was so clearly looking for.

            “Would you look at that?” Gibbs encouraged. “You’re rich.”

            Clearly not enjoying being outdone by her male counterpart, at least where regarded the attentions of her caregiver, Katie scowled in an alarmingly Gibbs-like fashion to show her displeasure and crossed her arm in a theatric huff.

            “There’s no need to get so jealous, Katie.” Gibbs gently admonished, pulling a small bag of M&M’s from his pocket and tearing it open. “Hold your hand out.”

            Instantly appeased by being given the great honor of receiving the first handful of the sugary candy, Katie immediately dropped the fifty-dollar bill she had been ripping up and eagerly thrust her chubby hand skyward – her impatient actions being almost immediately rewarded as Gibbs tipped a small number of the sweets into her slobbery palm.

            “Dada!” Tony squawked indignantly, clearly feeling very slighted.

            “Calm down.” Gibbs charitably admonished, dumping the rest of the candy into his child’s hand. “I didn’t forget about you.”

            Both of the younger children now suitably distracted with the very important task of devouring their circular candies one-by-one, in a painstakingly adorable fashion, if one ignored the way in which Tony removed a green candy from his mouth and placed it into Katie’s, Gibbs finally turned back to Vance in order to attend to the odious business he had been trying so ardently to avoid.

             “Well?” The gruff Marine demanded, quirking an impatient eyebrow at him.

            Feeling as if it were more than just a little bit ridiculous for Gibbs to be acting as if it were perfectly normal for someone such as himself to be so…cuddly, Vance frowned heavily and only narrowly resisted the urge to roll his eyes – figuring that he would still be able to tease his team lead later on about such sappiness when said man was in a better mood and the danger of him getting punched in the nose wasn’t quite so imminent.

            “I need you to sign these.” Vance declared, plopping a small packet of papers in front of him.

            Glaring down at the small stack of documents in a manner that seemed to suggest they had personally insulted both his mother and child, Gibbs angrily snatched up one of Vance’s favorite fountains pens and angrily began to go about scribbling out his name in precise cursive, his writing somehow both elegant and sarcastic despite the absurdity of such a claim.

            “You know I’m going to get back at you for this, yes?” Gibbs calmly inquired, purposely bending the quill of the pen he was using.

            Far from being in a charitable mood, as he, himself, had been the one forced to deal with the metric fuckton of paperwork the unprecedented deaging of four agents had called for, as well as been put in charge to leading the replacement team comprised of veritable morons, Vance glowered at his Team Lead and rolled his eyes.

            “No need for threats, Jethro. I’m more than familiar with your typical behavior.”  

            Looking as if he might have very well put the fountain pen he was currently abusing through one of Vance’s eyes, Gibbs narrowed his eyes but thankfully managed to restrained himself. Not for the sake of his superior, of course, but for the sake of the children he was currently tasked with watching.

            “Anthony, get off that chair.” Gibbs grumbled instead, not even needing to avert his eyes from the papers to know that his favorite agent was currently standing proudly on the chair Kate had helped him mount.

            Appearing to be quite affronted at the very idea he should have to dismount so impressive an obstacle after spending a good three minutes laboring to achieve such a feat, Tony squawked indignantly before deciding to pretend he hadn’t heard his father’s command and reaching down to assist Kate with her own climb.

            “I don’t think so.” Gibbs intervened, hastily climbing to his feet to place both babies back on the floor. “I am not adding a trip to the hospital unto the agenda.”

             And, before either of the recently disgruntled infants could protest their removal from the chair with any tears or wails, Gibbs shamelessly removed an industrial-sized box of tissues from Vance’s desk and threw it on the ground between them – eliciting several happy squeals from both children as the promptly began to rip the tissues out of their proper storage receptacle.

             “Excuse me,” Vance began, more annoyed out of principal then genuine grievance over the loss of the inexpensive tissues, “What do you think – “

            “Did I not warn you that bringing four small children to The Yard was a bad idea?” Gibbs interrupted, returning to his seat to resume signing.

            “Just hurry up and finish with those.” Vance grumbled, lamented the loss of the structural integrity of his favorite fountain pen. “Before they start ripping up the carpet.”

            Seeming to be ridiculously affronted at the very suggestion that his deaged agents would behave so abhorrently, even though only one of them was, in fact, his actual child, Gibbs gripped the pen in his hand ever tighter and caused the utensil to bend precariously.

            “The children are well-behaved, Vance, they wouldn’t – “

            “Uh-oh!”

            Somewhat alarmed as he watched Gibbs’s usually passive face flood with concern at such a simple phrase being uttered by Kate, Vance sat up straight in his chair and tried to determine what had happened in the four minutes nobody had been keeping an eye on her. For apart from some irritating smears of chocolate on the carpet, which would surely come out with a rigorous scrubbing, there was no real discernable sign of any mischief having occurred. Unless, of course, the filling a diaper counted in that regard.

            “Caitlyn Elizabeth,” Gibbs sighed, “What did you do?”

            “Uh-oh.” Kate repeated, blue eyes comically wide. “Uh-oh.”

            Becoming all the more alarmed as Gibbs seemed to become all the more serious, as he was usually always one to appeal to authority on matters such as these, Vance frowned and once more looked around his office to ascertain what might have been done to it.

            “Anthony,” Gibbs sighed, “What did Kate do?”

            “Uh-oh.” Tony somberly intoned, not at all helpful.

            “Yes, we’ve established that.” Gibbs patiently agreed. “But what is uh-oh? Show me.” Gibbs encouraged.

            Apparently all too unwilling to betray his female counterpart in such a selfish fashion, Tony shook his head in clear refusal to the question and looked to Kate for assistant. And though it was, of course, absurd for him to be thinking such a thing, Vance could almost have sworn that a conspiratorial glance was exchanged between the two babies before Kate giggled wildly and toddled over to the outdated and unused radiator beneath the window.

            “Uh-oh!” Kate proudly babbled, slapping the hulking monstrosity.

            “Uh-oh!” Tony agreed, toddling over to join his twin.

            Looking more exhausted than genuinely concerned with such behavior, in a manner that seemed to suggest that a lot of radiator-related hijinks had been occurring since his agents had been deaged, Gibbs sighed beneath his breath and reluctantly made his way over to the massive machine to investigate.

            “Kate,” Gibbs groaned, peering between the tiny slats, “What did you do?”

            “Uh-oh.” Kate answered simply, as if the question had been a particularly stupid one.

            Shaking his head in a fashion that was far more fond in nature than it was reproving, Gibbs bit down a smile before turning to face Vance with mock seriousness.

            “What?” Vance growled, instantly suspicious. “What is it? What did she do?”

            “You wouldn’t have happened to leave your car keys in reach of the children, would you have?” Gibbs asked, not even bothering to contain his mirth.

            Hands instantly flying to the small filing cabinet he kept near his desk as a sort of end table, Vance felt his stomach drop immediately upon finding that he had, in fact, been stupid enough to leave his car keys out.

            “I’ll take that as a yes.” Gibbs smirked, plucking up the babies. “Have fun fishing your keys out of that thing.”

Chapter Text

            Becoming a bit concerned as nine o’clock rolled around without nary a peep sounding from either of the older children’s bedroom, as usually both Tim and Abby were wide awake before the twins even thought of getting up for the day, Gibbs frowned down at the watch on his wrist and decided it would be best to check in on them. Because as much as it might make sense for an older child to occasionally sleep in, it was highly suspicious that the both of them had decided to do so at the same time. And while Gibbs didn’t necessarily think that such an unprecedent event meant that mischief was currently being made in his upstairs rooms, at least not where involved Tim, the troubling facts still remained that perhaps the two of them had caught a stronger version of Tony and Kate’s headcold and were feeling too ill at the moment to want breakfast.

            “Stay here.” Gibbs directed the congested twins, carefully slipping the two of them into their playpen. “Daddy needs to check on the big kids.”

            Blearily looking up at him through eyes glassy with the medication he had fed them just after breakfast, only after receiving Ducky’s full encouragement to do so, of course, both of his drowsy babies frowned at him in a heartbreaking fashion and nearly had him changing his mind. But, knowing as he did that such an act would be selfish, as there were currently two other children that needed his attentions, Gibbs remained strong and kept to his plan, pausing only to kiss each of their warm cheeks in a hurried gesture of comfort before moving on to make his way upstairs – leaving both of his disgruntled twins to collapse ungracefully unto their backs and stare angrily up at the ceiling in protest to their untimely ending of their cuddling session.

            ‘So goddamn dramatic.’ Gibbs thought to himself, shaking his head as he swiftly climbed his stairs. ‘The both of them.’

            But rather than dwell on such amusing thoughts for long, as that would only serve to distract him from the task at hand, Gibbs kept his pace steady and arrived at Abby’s closed bedroom door in under a minute.

            “Abbs?” He called softly, gently rapping on the door. “Are you alright in there?”

            Receiving no answer whatsoever in response to his simple question, not that he actually expected one were she to be actually asleep like he hoped she was, Gibbs once more rapped softly on her bedroom door before taking the resultant silence as tactic permission to enter the cozy little abode.

            “Abbs?” Gibbs called out again, creeping slowly into the darkness of the bedroom. “Are you feeling alright – “

            Cut short from finishing his sentence as he flipped on the lightswitch to discover a newly fully-grown Abby lying sprawled out atop her covers, fully starkers as her previous clothes must have shredded sometime during the reaging process, Gibbs grimaced and hastily dashed across the room to toss a blanket across the young woman’s form, the desire to protect her modesty outweighing, for a moment, his immense shock in finding his Forensics Expert newly regrown again.

            “Abbs,” Gibbs whispered, drawing near once she was adequately covered, “Are you alright?”

            Understandably met with silence in response to his admittedly ridiculous question, as it was quite clear that Abby was thoroughly conked out at the moment, Gibbs frowned at his own stupidity and set to mitigate the effects of such by placing a paternal hand against the sleeping woman’s forehead to check for fever. Because as normal as it seemed for someone who had just undergone the rigorous process of being turned back into an adult to be so deeply asleep immediately afterwards, he couldn’t help but wish to ascertain that such was the only side-effect of such a process.

            ‘It would have been nice to have been given a little warning.’ Gibbs grumbled, gently retracting his fingers once he found the forehead to be no warmer than it ought to have been.

            But rather than dwell on such a legitimate gripe for long, and run the risk of the babies getting into some sort of mischief as he tarried, Gibbs took his reluctant leave of the room and made his way down the hallway to check on the welfare of Tim.

            Except before he could so much as take more than a few steps down his pristine hallway, much less reach the door granting access to Tim’s bedroom, the space-enthusiast suddenly burst free from just such a space with a very troubled expression on his helplessly-emotive face. Although thankfully, for the sake of them both, Tim had the foresight to modestly wrap himself in a blanket before making so dramatic an appearance.

            “Gibbs,” Tim frowned, looking more than just a little unsteady on his feet, “What…What day is it?”

            Steeling himself for the dramatics he was sure must follow the serious revelation he was about to share, Gibbs took a steadying breath before answering the innocent question.

            “It’s Thursday.” Gibbs confirmed.

            “I slept all day!?” Tim fussed, hazel eyes going wide.

            A bit disconcerted by the way in which Tim seemed unable to recall any of the events of the past week, Gibbs frowned and wondered how best to approach the situation at hand before eventually decided on being truthful – figuring that even if the agent never managed to recall such things on his own, someone else would surely bring it up and put all attempts at secrecy to shame.

            “It hasn’t been a day, Tim. It’s been a full week.”

            No-longer pudgy face going alarmingly pale as such unwelcomed news registered within his mind, Tim wavered a bit on his feet and looked ready to collapse. But before such an unsavory event could occur, and thusly add a concussion unto his long list of concerns, Gibbs was at the reaged man’s side in mere seconds.

            “Tim, do you remember anything?” Gibbs encouraged, slowly guiding the dazed man back into his bedroom and unto the bed.

             Looking as if that was one of the hardest questions in the world he had ever been asked, Tim furrowed up his brow in the same manner he had been wont to do when small, and rubbed irritably at his eyeballs with the pads of his palm.

            “I…I think I was just sleepy a lot.” Tim mumbled, collapsing against his pillow. “I had lots of weird dreams, I think.”

            Taking the liberty of seating himself at the foot of Tim’s bed, as he hoped by doing so that said man could gleam a little comfort from the proximity, Gibbs sighed heavily and laid a bracing hand on the agent’s ankle.

            “Those weren’t dreams, Tim.” Gibbs corrected. “You’ve actually been six for the last week.”

              Despite spending the following two minutes looking as if he had never heard something so patently ridiculous in all his life, which was saying something for a man with a career that dealt with a myriad of psychologically disturbed murderers, Tim eventually seemed to come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that Gibbs never lied and wasn’t likely to have started while he was so incapacitated.

            “…How?” Tim questioned, squeezing his eyes shut as if bracing for impact.

            “Well, if you want a more scientific explanation, you’ll have to ask Duck.” Gibbs confessed. “All I can tell you is that you ingested some odd strand of virus that reversed the aging process.”

             Taking so long to process such information that Gibbs soon began to fear that he had been fallen asleep on, Tim remained silent as a church-mouse before finally breaking the silence with a terse statement.

            “I stayed with you.”

            “Yeah.” Gibbs agreed, giving the leg beneath his hand a squeeze.

            Emotive face blooming bright in a furious and alarming shade of red, Tim squeezed his eyes closed even tighter and turned to hide his vibrant face in the pillows.

            “I made you climb into the attic after me.”  

            “Don’t feel too bad.” Gibbs teased. “It wasn’t that hard of a climb.”

            Snorting derisively in a manner that seemed to suggest he recalled Gibbs falling gracelessly unto his ass in a feeble attempt at a functional dismount, Tim further buried his face into the nest of pillows on his bed and went even stiffer.

            “I bit your daddy – dad.” Tim groaned, sounding mortified beyond belief.

            “It’s alright, Tim.” Gibbs humored. “He only bled a little.”

            Apparently far too distraught at the moment to appreciate such golden humor, not that could be blamed given the bizarre circumstances, Tim made an uncomfortably animalistic sound before going about hugging a pillow to his chest.

            “I told…I…I shouldn’t have…I…”

            Not even needing to be told just what was troubling Tim, as he didn’t need a degree in psychology to figure out what would work somebody up that much, Gibbs frowned and gently gave the man’s leg a squeeze.

            “We don’t have to talk about…that…right now.” He soothed. “Not if you don’t want to.”

            Because as much as Gibbs knew that they would eventually have to discuss the matter between themselves at some point in the future, once said agent had been given time to recuperate first, of course, now was not the time to be badgering his agent to discuss the secret he had kept to himself for so long.

            “I…Is everyone else big again, too?” Tim deflected.  

            “Abby is.” Gibbs confirmed.  

            Turning his head away from the pillow to frown into Gibbs’s unexpecting face, Tim furrowed up his no-longer quite-so-blonde eyebrows and grumbled out his response to such a statement.

            “She bit me.” Tim groused. “Hard.”

            “Yeah,” Gibbs sighed, “I know.”

            Seemingly appeased with just the confirmation that he had, in fact, been bitten by his perpetually on-and-off-again girlfriend, Tim relaxed slightly atop of his mattress and looked far less worked up than he had previously been.

            “Tony and Kate are still small?” He fussed, forever concerned about those around him.

            “Still babies.” Gibbs confirmed. “How are you feeling, though?”

            “Just sleepy.” Tim confessed, once more rubbing at his eyes.

             Already sensing that a call to Ducky was in order, if not for support than for a wellness check on both Tim and Abby, Gibbs forcefully refrained himself from playing doctor to his agent and settled, instead, for a bit of coddling in the meantime.

             “Well, do you think you could eat?” Gibbs fussed. “I don’t know if you should go back to sleep just yet. You might not be able to sleep tonight then.”

            “But I’m tired!” Tim whined, shocking Gibbs with his volume.

            Because even when fully grown, Tim had never snapped at him in such a fashion before – no matter how sick or tired he was feeling at the moment. He simply hadn’t been raised that way.

            “I know.” Gibbs sympathized. “But I still think you should try and stay awake, alright?”  

            Receiving only a mutinous glower in response, the intensity of which thoroughly shocked him, Gibbs took a deep breath and continued trying to reason with angry young man.

            “Why don’t you take a shower, Tim?” Gibbs suggested. “I’ll go find you some clothes.”  

            “I don’t want to shower.” Tim grumbled, hiding his face in the pillows once more.

            Forcing himself to keep calm, as by getting angry he would only exacerbate the situation, Gibbs counted to fifteen within his mind and took another deep breath before responding.

            “You at least need to brush your teeth, Tim.” Gibbs directed. “Yours is the green toothbrush in the bathroom.”

            “I don’t want to brush my teeth. I’m tired.” Tim whined, stubbornly closing his eyes.

            “Tim, do you want me to call your mom?”  

            Hazel eyes going immediately wide at such a thinly-veiled threat, Tim all but flung himself off the bed and sprinted to the bathroom, not only inadvertently flashing Gibbs in the process but kicking him in the gut as well.

            ‘I probably had that one coming.’ Gibbs thought to himself, somewhat regretting using Elizabeth McGee as a threat.

            But rather than dwell on those thoughts for long, Gibbs sprang into action and hunted down some of the older Tony’s pajamas for the newly-grown Tim to use, figuring that said garments would be preferable to the alternative of the fancy suits Tony was unreasonably fond of.

            “Here, Tim.” Gibbs called out, flinging the pajamas into the bathroom. “You can borrow these.”

Chapter Text

            Struggling to his cellphone up to his ear as both of the babies seated in his lap seemed determine to pry it out of his fingers, Gibbs allowed an exasperated sight to leave his lips before resigning himself to the fact that an easy phone call was just off the table while he still had two mischievous children to contend with. One of whom seemed determined to capture and hide everything she could get her slobbery hands on and the other who seemed hellbent on not being ignored for even one millisecond. But rather than allow himself to be cross in response to such behaviors, as he might have with any children that weren’t his own, Gibbs simply humored the twins and allowed their play to go both uninterrupted and unscolded even as the phone continued to ring in his ear.

            “Hello.” Ducky chirped into the phone, slightly breathless.

            “Hey, Duck.” Gibbs greeted. “You busy?”

            Made somewhat uncomfortable as the sounds of ruffling bedsheets and blankets flooded into his ear, Gibbs grimaced and only hoped he wouldn’t hear anything else that would confirm for him his suspicions that both Ducky and Hamish had taken the day off of work to spend time…cuddling.

            “Not at all – Hamish quit that, I’m on the phone – What did you need, Jethro?”

            Despite being unable to keep from feeling as if he was a major asshole for cockblocking the two older men on the other end of the phone, for that was what was clearly going on, Gibbs forced himself to stay connected and only prayed he wouldn’t hear anything more salacious than what he was already hearing. Because as it already was, the heavy breathing was making him more than just a little uncomfortable.

            “Tim and Abby are big again.” Gibbs blurted right away, hoping his expediency would prevent further noises from making themselves known.

            “Oh.” Ducky quipped, uncharacteristically ineloquent.

            “Yeah.” Gibbs grunted, equally as loquacious.

            Understandably needing a moment to process such surprising information, or perhaps to simply get his fiancé off of his person, Ducky remained silent for quite some time before finally making a more characteristic response.

            “And just how do Timothy and Abigail seem to be fairing?”

            “Whiny. But mostly fine.” Gibbs divulged. “But I though if you had time today you could come and give them a quick checkup?”

            Because even though Abby and Tim both seemed fine, completely devoid of any fevers or any other troubling symptoms, Gibbs thought it would be best if he got his assumptions of health confirmed by someone with more medical knowledge than himself.

            “Of course – Hamish, stop – I’ll be over – Hamish! – in but a moment.”      

            “I don’t suppose you could find something for Abby to wear?” Gibbs bashfully inquired, feeling quite the bastard for putting so much work upon his friend during one of said man’s rare days off.

            Forcing himself to keep his hopelessly imaginative brain blank as the sounds of a squeaking mattress flooded into his ears, Gibbs stared stubbornly down at his babies and silently marveled at the fact that two men of Ducky and Hamish’s age could still behave raunchily enough to put two horny teenagers to shame.

            “Of course.” Ducky obliged, again slightly breathless. “But what of Caitlyn and Anthony? How are they fairing?”

            Glancing down at his lap just in time to witness the disgusting sight of an affectionate Tony wiping Katie’s nose with the hem of his shirt, Gibbs gagged and hastily diverted his eyes unto something far less nauseating, that being, of course, the television set currently playing Frozen for the thirteenth time that week.

            “Still small.” Gibbs clarified. “And still stuffed up.”            

            “Poor dears.” Ducky immediately sympathized. “Why don’t you see if a hot bath will help decongest them?”                          

            More than just a little amendable to such a holistic approach, as he had never liked giving small children manufactured-medicine in the very real fear that they might react poorly to any number of the chemicals, Gibbs resolved to do just that while he awaited for his friend to arrive – figuring that such an act would not only do the babies some good, but likewise give Tim some much needed privacy.

            “Sound good, Duck. See you in a bit.”

            “Goodbye, Jethro.”

             Not wanting to even entertain the risk that he might yet hear even more awkward noises on the other end of the phone, no matter how brief or mild, Gibbs hastily hanged up his phone and threw the object unto the nearby recliner, subsequently infuriating both of the irritable babies who had clearly been hoping to commandeering full use of the thing once he was done with his conversation. But rather than allow himself to become irritated when both of his disgruntled children loudly protested the untimely retiring of the cellphone with angry squawks, and likewise the clawing of his chin, Gibbs simply shook his head and calmed himself with the fact that both of the twins were ill and, as a result, understandably cranky and more than just a little naughty as a result.

            “C’mon, you little terrorists.” Gibbs grumbled, hefting both children unto his hips in a well-practiced move. “Let’s go take a bath.”

            Immediately perking up at the promise of a bath, as there was absolutely nothing either one of them enjoyed more than getting to play in water, save perhaps chasing after frogs in the backyard, both twins chirped happily and forwent their scratching of his chin in order to happily nuzzle their faces against his chest in a gesture of goodwill and peacekeeping.

            “I’m never going to be able to headslap you two again.” Gibbs lamented, depositing the two of them into either side of his empty sink.

            Clearly very aware of the soothing effect he had on Gibbs, whether small or big, Tony grinned toothily up at him in a gesture of unyielding innocence before snatching up the calloused fingers of his hand to give them a sloppy kiss. A markedly endearing act that Katie almost immediately emulated, apart from directing her smooch unto his wrist rather than hand, before shifting gears and spontaneously seizing a bottle of dish-soap with the clear intentions of funneling the liquid down her throat.

            “I don’t think so, little lady.” Gibbs forbade, hastily snatching the mild toxin out of her fingers. “I am not dealing with vomit on top of snot.”

            “Dada!” Katie angrily protested, bereaved at the loss of the soap. “No!”

            Thinking it more than just a little wise to appease the little girl with a peace-offering of some sort before she could get the other baby to join her protest, a skill she had become quite proficient in during the previous three or four days, Gibbs heatlessly rolled his eyes and supplied the annoyed little girl with an enticing purple plastic cup before plying Tony with a similar yellow one. An act of improvisation which, whilst unsophisticated in nature, more than served to pacify his twins as they happily began to go about yelling into their cups to enjoy the muffled sounds such an action caused.

            “Alright, you little monsters.” Gibbs smiled. “Let’s get your diapers off.”

            More than just a little willing to consent to his harmless request, as they had both been determined to go about the house fully-nude after Gibbs had given up his pursuit to keep them clothed and allowed them to galivant about without either shirt or pants, both of the twins carefully stood up and proudly displayed the newest skill they had learned the previous night – such being, of course, the ability to remove their diapers without needing any assistance.

            “I hope you two know that if you start peeing on my floor, I’m going to start duct-taping you into those things.”

            Giving Gibbs two very derisive looks in response to such a meritless threat, both of the twins smirked quite smugly before planting their bare butts back unto the bottom of their respective sinks.

            “Spoiled.” Gibbs grumbled, carefully reaching between each babies’ legs to plug up the sinks. “Spoiled rotten.”  

            Far from concerned about the fact that they were, indeed, quite spoiled by their very devoted caretaker, both of the twins gave him knowing smirks before turning back to their very important research on detecting all the different sorts of echoes a three-dollar plastic cup could produce.

            “You two are goons.” Gibbs affectionately accused, turning on the taps to produce a steady stream of warm water. “Absolute goons.”

            Squealing in surprise as the soft stream of water touched her bare thigh, while she was thoroughly distracted with trying to make a hat out of her cup, Katie turned accusatory eyes unto his person and growled out her second favorite word in the world.

            “Fuck!”          

            “Sorry.” Gibbs immediately apologized, hastily repositioning the spout. “It won’t happen again, Princess.”

            Giving him a look that effortlessly conveyed that it had very well better not happen again, not if he cared about preserving his life, Katie huffed dramatically before returning to the project of the day – that being getting her cup to stay put atop of her head.

            “Ook!” Tony encouraged the little girl, having succeeded where she could not. “Ook!”

            More than just a little shocked when such an act seemed to produce the very first quarrel between the two twins, a heated argument that seemed to call for an indecent amount of splashing and angry grunts, Gibbs shook his head and quickly turned off the water before hurrying over to his freezer to remove two ice-pops.

            “Okay, Okay.” Gibbs intervened, pausing to rip the treats open with his teeth. “No more of that. Give me the cups.”

            Looking more than just a little mutinous at the very suggestion they surrender something so precious into his hands, both babies scowled angrily at him and shook their heads until the frozen treats were dangled in front of their noses. It was then, and only then, that the plastic cups were flung to the floor and the treats collected – purple for Katie and pink for Tony.

            “Yum-Yum.” Tony babbled, by far the more vocal of the two.

            “Try not to slap each other with those.” Gibbs directed, grabbing up a clean dishrag to scrub at their filthy skin. “At least not while I’m looking.”

            Far too distracted with the devouring of their sweets to even dignify such an insinuation with any sort of response, whether verbal or physical, both of the twins slurped loudly and otherwise genuinely made a great mess of the activity that was supposed to help them get clean.

            “I took a shower, Gibbs.” A croaky voice sounded behind him. “And brushed my teeth.”

            Taking a brief break from the close supervision of the babies to turn around and greet a suspiciously teary-eyed Tim, Gibbs smiled reassuringly and pointed at the kitchen table – wherein he had covered a plateful of blueberry pancakes with another plate to keep the food warm.

            “Eat up.” Gibbs encouraged. “I made those just for you.”

            Peeking beneath the plate only long enough to scowl aggressively at the food resting within, Tim shook his head angrily and pushed the offending objects away from himself.

            “I don’t want breakfast.” He grumbled.

            “Tim,” Gibbs tried to reason, “I need you to eat. You just went through a very taxing process, and I’m sure you must be at least a little bit hungry.”

            Glaring at Gibbs as if he had just suggested a full bottle of bleach was the perfect breakfast, rather than three fluffy pancakes, Tim slumped down his chair and shook his head yet again, making it very clear, at least to Gibbs, that a full-fledged tantrum was quickly approaching if the situation at hand was not dealt with correctly.

            “I don’t like pancakes.” Tim protested, hazel eyes flashing dangerously.

            Having not heard a better crock of shit since Tony had once made the valiant attempt to convince him that he was allergic to tetanus shots, to avoid the much-dreaded inoculation, Gibbs scoffed audibly and shook his head.

            “I know you do.” He calmly asserted.

            “Don’t.” Tim argued, crossing his arms across his chest. “Not with syrup.”

            “Then don’t put any syrup on them.” Gibbs calmly suggested.

            Emotive face flooding with bright red color in response to such an innocent recommendation, as if Gibbs had insinuated the man’s mother was a whore rather than he abstain from putting a condiment he didn’t like on his food, Tim’s hazel eyes flashed dangerous even as he stomped his foot in apparently inexpressible outrage.

            “Tim,” Gibbs warned, making use of his ‘firm’ voice, “Eat up.”

             “NO!” The angry young man snapped, yelling loud enough to rattle the windows.

             Understandably just as startled by such an unexpected outburst as was their father, both babies dropped their ice-pops into the water and looked up at him with comically wide eyes.

            “Uh-oh.” Kate quipped, blue eyes entirely somber.

            “Uh-oh.” Tony parroted, likewise just as grave.

             Apparently taking great umbrage with the fact that two babies had taken it upon themselves to scold him for his proper lack of volume-control, Tim glared harshly at the both of them and all but spat out his answer.

            “Shut up!”

            Although neither of the babies understood the meaning behind such a vehement command, which was but only a small mercy, the both of them understood perfectly well that they were screaming screamed at by a strange man and reacted with accordingly. Which meant, of course, that Tony burst into frightened tears all while Katie puffed off indignantly and launched her retrieved ice-pop at Tim’s person, missing by several inches but somehow still quite satisfied with the act if the smirk on her face was anything to go by.

            “Alright,” Gibbs frowned, pointing a calloused finger toward the living room, “Go find a corner to put your nose in.”

            At first looking more than just a little mutinous in response to such an unappealing demand, Tim glowered fiercely into his face for several long seconds before soundly startling Gibbs by bursting into frustrated tears and rushing off into the living room.

            “It’s alright.” Gibbs comforted Tony, kissing his damp curls. “Tim just has a case of the grumpies, is all.”      

            And, if said wailing baby was not made completely satisfied by that particular bit of comfort, he most certainly was when Katie followed suit and kissed him on the cheek.

            “There, all better.” Gibbs crooned, carefully removing the both of them from the sink.

            And then, before either one of them could get it into the heads to streak naked throughout his house, Gibbs hastily placed their unused diapers back unto their bottom and plucked them up again before carting them into the living room.

            “Go play in your boxes.” Gibbs encouraged, slipping both children into their well-used playpen.

            Immediately scrambling to do just that, and very nearly tripping over their own feet in their frantic haste to make yet another visit to their beloved boxes, both twins effectively allowed him the relative privacy to deal with the clearly agitated Tim who was still sniffling softly in the corner he had selected for his punishment.

            “Alright, Tim.” Gibbs hummed, tapping the man on the shoulder to indicate that he could turn around now. “Do you want to tell me why you’re feeling so grumpy today?”         

            Far too embarrassed to look him in the eye, yet remorseful enough not to cop any further attitude with him, Tim sniffled loudly and stared tearfully down at his feet.

            “I’m tired.” Tim complained, rubbing at his bloodshot eyes.

            “I know, I know you are.” Gibbs commiserated, taking it upon himself to lay a comforting hand on his shoulder. “But that doesn’t mean you get to yell at the babies. You really scared Tony.”  

            Expressive face flooding with guilt as he was reminded of his earlier transgression, Tim’s bottom lip wobbled dangerously even as his hazel eyes filled with tears. And by that point entirely unable to withstand any more of such a heartbreaking scene, as the poor man really did look the picture of genuine grief, Gibbs pulled him into an unsolicited hug and squeezed him tightly.

            “Is there anything else bothering you?” Gibbs coaxed. “Something I can make better?”

             Finally allowing himself to sink into the embrace once he realized that he wasn’t going to be released until completely calmed, Tim burrowed his head into Gibb’s neck and allowed his rigid posture to relax.

            “My head really hurts.” Tim mumbled.

            “Anything else?” Gibbs pressed, not wanting a repeat of the previous tantrum.

            Shaking his head against Gibbs’s chest, Tim rubbed blearily at his eyes once more before reluctantly breaking away from the bracing hug.

            “I’ll go get you some ibuprofen, alright?” Gibbs offered. “Why don’t you go and lie down on the couch?”

            Despite nodding in response to his simple suggestion/command, Tim made no real move to approach the couch and instead simply frowned extraordinarily heavily.

            “I’m really sorry, Gibbs. I shouldn’t have yelled at Tony.”  

            “I know you are.” Gibbs reassured, ruffling his hair. “It’s just been a hard morning, hasn’t it?”  

            Once more looking dangerously near tears, Tim clamped down hard on his bottom lip for a lengthy spell before finally finding the strength to speak again without crying.

            “Can I call my mommy – mom?” Tim pleaded, looking desperate.

            “Of course.” Gibbs soothed, pulling his phone from his pocket. “Go lie down on the couch and I’ll call her for you.”  

            Immediately moving to do as bid, as evidently the promise of a conversation with his mother was one hell of an incentive, Tim all but flung himself on top of the couch cushions and used the arm of such furnishing as a pillow.

            “Here you go.” Gibbs rewarded, surrendering the phone into Tim’s hand.

            Smiling his very real appreciation at Gibbs for allowing him the opportunity to speak with his beloved mother, Tim further pressed himself into the couch cushions and all but shook with nervous energy as he waited for his favorite parent to answer his call.  

             “I’ll be in the kitchen.” Gibbs informed the excited young man.

            And, with that, Gibbs made his way into the kitchen and into his fridge, searching for the apple-juice Tim loved so much before eventually finding it hiding behind a cantaloupe and a gallon of milk. But, rather than place the liquid in a plastic cup, and thus run the risk of his living room floor being coated in the sticky substance, Gibbs likewise hunted down a plastic water bottle and poured the juice into that.

            “Ah, Jethro.” Ducky smiled, walking in through the kitchen door. “How goes it?”

            Charitably ignoring the existence of several very large and angry hickeys on his friend’s neck, the likes of which he had taken absolutely no steps to conceal, Gibbs nodded in greeting at his friend and gave a blunt, yet accurate, answer.

            “Abby is still conked out, but we’re already one tantrum in.”  

             “Timothy had a tantrum?” Ducky questioned, looking thoroughly surprised.

            Perfectly understanding of the very real shock in his friend’s voice, as in the many years they had both known Tim said man had never even raised his voice more than an octave or two, Gibbs grimaced but nonetheless confirmed the face with a nod.

            “Just a little one, though.” Gibbs defended. “His head hurts.”

            “In that case, I dare say you had better get him some ibuprofen.” Ducky advised, failing to notice said medicine already in his friend’s hand. “And while the hydration is a very good idea, at the moment, I dare say you had better have him eat something before taking those.”  

            “He doesn’t want to eat. That was what the tantrum was about.” Gibbs grumbled.

            Not for the first time giving Gibbs a look that perfectly conveyed the exasperation he felt towards parents who allowed tantrums to dictate their actions, Ducky tutted beneath his breath but, as always, held his ground.

            “He really ought to eat something, Jethro.”

            “I don’t know what you expect me to do.” Gibbs frowned. “It’s not like I can force food down his throat.”             

            Receiving only a very Marge Simpson-like tut in response to such a an admittedly feeble excuse, Gibbs sighed and shook his head.

            “Maybe he’ll be more compliant after a talk with his mother.” Gibbs suggested, leading the way into his living room.  

             Thankfully finding the young man right where he had left him, safely on the couch, Gibbs smiled gently at his newly reaged agent and seated himself on the arm of the couch currently not being used as a pillow.

            “How’d your phone call go?” Gibbs inquired, passing over both beverage and medicine.

             Scowling as irritably as Abby did whenever she went any significant time without a caffeinated beverage, Tim angrily pushed the offending phone away from his person and looked petulantly down at the floorboards.

            “Mom yelled at me.” He pouted. “Said I was being a brat.”

            Despite being in full agreement with Elizabeth McGee on just such a topic, as only a brat would snap at a baby, Gibbs kept the peace but keeping mum on such a subject and instead remained silent long enough for Tim to take the hint and down the medicine he’d been offered.

            “Do you feel like you could eat something now that you’re not so thirsty?” Gibbs coaxed, mildly alarmed at the way in which Tim had downed the juice in seconds.  

            At first looking dangerously mutinous at the very unreasonable suggestion he put something into his stomach, Tim’s hazel eyes flashed dangerously even as his lips turned down into a petulant frown. But, thankfully, for his sake as well as all those around him, the moody agent seemed to come to his senses at the last moment and become far more reasonable than he had previously been.

            “Can I have popcorn?” He asked, referencing his favorite food in the whole wide world.  

            “I don’t know if salt is the best idea right now. You seem a tad bit dehydrated at the moment.” Ducky advised, speaking before Gibbs could give his consent.  

             “Not dehydrated.” Tim argued, glaring sharply at the unphased Medical Examiner.

            “The rate of your beverage consumption would say otherwise.” Ducky quipped.

             Wisely sensing that he wasn’t going to be receiving any amount of leniency from Ducky anytime soon, Tim immediately changed tactics and looked to Gibbs for some sort of relief. And while Gibbs would have ordinarily acquiesced to such an innocent request before another adult had spoken up and suggested it was not a good idea, the fact still remained that he didn’t wish for Tim to start thinking he could disrespect one authority and not the other.

            “How about a Poptart, Kiddo?” Gibbs compromised.

            “NO.” Tim refused, entirely unreasonable.

            “Help me out here,” Gibbs pleaded, “What do you want to eat?”      

            Evidently unwilling to eat anything that wasn’t popcorn, no matter how much he might ordinarily enjoy any number of other foods, Tim scowled harshly and crossed his arms over his chest.

            “Don’t want nothing.”

            Taking more umbrage with the attitude than Gibbs himself, Ducky shook his head reprovingly before snatching up one of Tim’s hands to rap the knuckles of such – his actions more symbolic than legitimately punishing yet still profound enough to bring a flood of tears to Tim’s eyes.

            “That’s quite enough of that cheek, young man.” Ducky rebuked. “I believe you were asked a question.”  

            Bottom lip wobbling dangerously as he tried his hardest not to cry, Tim sniffled loudly and looked, once more, to Gibbs for assistance.

            “How about some toast, hmm?” Gibbs offered. “I’ll put some of that blueberry jam my dad made on it.”

             “Only one?” Tim pleaded, quite clearly not very hungry at all if he was requesting such a meagre breakfast.

            “I’ll make two, but if you can only manage to eat one, that’s fine.” Gibbs allowed.

             “Thank you.” Tim sniffled. “Can I have more juice, please?”

            Pleased as ever with Tim’s extraordinarily good manners, Gibbs climbed to his feet and smiled obliging before heading toward the kitchen.  

            “Of course, I’ll be right back.”

             

Chapter Text

            If Gibbs had thought Tim’s tantrum was the most difficult thing he would have to deal with that stressful morning, he soon found, much to his dismay and that of everyone around him, that such an assumption just simply wasn’t the case. For Abby, God bless her, upon awakening sometime around half-past ten, had screeched more than loudly enough to awaken the both the babies and Tim, and likewise cause Ducky to drop his scalding tea unto the floor and splash Gibbs’s uncovered toes with the boiling liquid. And then, not at all content with that particular bit of dramatics, the raging woman had then stomped obnoxiously down the stairs, in nothing but her underwear and a thankfully oversized shirt, and subsequently snapped at both Gibbs and Ducky to stop talking so loudly because she was trying to sleep.

            “Abby,” A newly-awakened Tim groaned, rubbing blearily at his eyes, “Stop yelling. The babies are sleeping.”

            Far too exhausted to realize that the twins were not, in fact, sleeping peacefully with their foreheads pressed up against each other as they had been only moments earlier, but rather wide awake now and crying profusely from their toy-ridden playpen, Tim then held a finger to his mouth to shush the tantruming woman before promptly falling soundly asleep again against the pillow Gibbs had brought down for him.

            “Shut up!” Abby barked at the sleeping Tim before rounding on Gibbs. “I want to go home! Now!”  

            Considering the fact that he had soon discovered that the perpetually-mature Tim was not even ready to return to be allowed to remain alone for any significant amount of time, his tantrum upon awakening having assured him of thus, there was simply no way in hell that Gibbs was going to even entertain the idea of allowing the chronically-immature Abby to return to her apartment without any supervision. Because as harsh and unwelcomed as such an unpleasant thought was, Gibbs equated leaving a disoriented Abby alone to letting a half-feral dog freely roam the streets. And Gibbs just didn’t possess the sort of selfishness and wanton disregard for life that would allow him to do such a thing.

            “Abbs, you can’t just leave.” Gibbs tied to reason, already knowing that the attempt was a futile one. “You’ve just been – “

            “I WANT TO GO HOME!” Abby thundered, stomping her foot as hard as she could on the floorboards. “NOW!”

            Immensely thankful that a snoring Tim was somehow able to remain sleeping through such a racket, as he didn’t think he could contend with a cranky grown-man atop of two crying babies and an actively tantruming Abby, Gibbs took several deep breaths to keep himself calm and stood his ground, having already resolved, days ago, that wasn’t going to allow such abhorrent behavior to continue.

            “Abby, you’ve been four the past few days.” Gibbs reminded the angry tyrant. “I’m not taking you home until I’m absolutely certain that you’re – “

            “I’M NOT FOUR ANYMORE!” Abby bellowed, blue eyes flashing dangerously.

             Understandably very upset about being woken up from their first peaceful nap since they had developed those nasty headcolds two days prior, both of the twins whined loudly and covered their ears in perfect synchronization.

            “Abby.” Gibbs rebuked. “You’re upsetting the babies.”

              “I don’t care about the babies!” Abby shouted. “I hate them! You like them more than me!”

            Almost immediately flood with righteous indignation when he heard the tantruming woman speak so harshly about his children, as it showed an egregious lack of respect and compassion where regarded her person, Gibbs felt the heat rush to his face and struggled to make his response without the usual yelling he was so very used to.

            “You know what, Abby, right now I really do like the babies more than you”  

            Jaw dropping comically in response to such a blunt response, as she had almost certainly never been spoken to in such a manner by any of the authority figures in her life, Abby stood stunned for several long minutes before recovering her senses with a sharp intake of breath.

            “I hate you.” Abby retorted, her sweet voice uncharacteristically venomous.

            Wounded more than he cared to admit after such a vicious verbal assault, as it stung him to the core to hear such hateful words come out of the mouth of a girl he had always considered a favorite niece, Gibbs actually flinched and took a step back.  

             “Abby…” Gibbs scolded, struggling for words.

            “I hate you.” She repeated, perfectly calm.

            Intuitively sensing that his closest friend had just been overcome by such a vicious and brutal verbal assault, and likewise thoroughly disgusted with the behavior of the Forensic Specialist, Ducky thankfully stood up and took over control of the situation at hand.

            “That’s quite enough of that, young lady.” Ducky reprimanded, waggling his finger in her face. “And if you cannot behave yourself, you can just march right back up to your room.”

            “You can’t tell me what to do!” Abby snapped. “I’m not four anymore!”

            Having proven himself to be the only one aside from Jimmy effective at dealing with that veritable hurricane that was Victoria, Ducky pursed up his lips and impressively stood his ground even as Abby puffed up several sized and looked ready to strike him in the face.

            “You could have certainly fooled me.” Ducky quipped. “Now march your little behind up those stairs and get into your room.”  

            “NO!” Abby refused, spittle flying from her lips.

            “Abigail Rae,” Ducky began, using the firmest voice in his repertoire, “I do believe you were told to – “

            “I’m not going!” Abby growled. “And you can’t make me! You’re too old and feeble to do anything, anyways!”  

             By that point having witnessed all he cared to of Abby’s abhorrent behavior, Gibbs felt his trademark anger flare up as he quickly approached the tantruming woman with the full attentions of upholding his promise to get her into line.

            “Duck, keep an eye on things down here, would you?” Gibbs requested, grabbing hold of one of Abby’s arms.  

            “Certainly.” Ducky happily acquiesced, promptly making his way over the crying babies.  

            Waiting just a moment to watch as the aging Medical Examiner stooped down and plucked up the profusely twins to carry them off into the kitchen, no doubt for a nice and distracting ice-pop or two, Gibbs waved and smiled at his babies before turning back to Abby and changing tact by tossing her over his shoulder in one effortless move.

            “Gibbs, what are you doing?!” Abby squawked, immediately clawing at his back. “Put me down!”

            Not so much as flinching at such an uncalled-for assault, as he didn’t wish to give the young lady any of the satisfaction that such an action would bring, Gibbs trudged onward and silently carried the struggling woman up his stairs, keeping a very firm grip on the back of her legs to keep her from flinging herself down the stairs and breaking her neck in turn. It was only when she actually demeaned herself enough to actually bite his goddamn shoulder, and only then, that Gibbs lost his resolve to his keep his cool composure and slapped her hand on the back of her bared thighs in a silent warning not to do that again.

             “Gibbs, put me down!” Abby whinged, no longer clawing open his flesh but still wriggling madly.

            Simply remaining silent as he carted her down the hallway and into his bedroom, Gibbs kept a firm grip on the back of her kicking legs and ignored her repeated demands to be put down until he was, at last, in front of the bed and capable of sitting without falling flat on his ass.

            “Gibbs, you’re being mean!” Abby whined, grunting loudly as she was unceremoniously placed on her feet between his legs.

            “You haven’t seen anything yet.” Gibbs forewarned.  

            And with that, Gibbs gave one of her arms a strong tug and pulled her over his lap in one smooth motion, vacating the air from her lungs as she grunted loudly from the impact of her soft stomach hitting his bony knees.

            “Gibbs, stop!” Abby cried, instinctively bringing her hands back to cover her bottom.

            Forcing himself to continue even though he felt like he might cry in response to having to be so harsh on one of his favorite women in the world, Gibbs forcefully extracted the hands concealing her bottom and pulled the hem of her t-shirt up far enough to reveal the boxer-brief underwear underneath.

            “Ibbs!” Abby pleaded, looking back at him one last time with puppy-dog eyes.

             Shaking head to show that, no, there would be no reprieve from what was about to go down, Gibbs frowned and heavily and forced himself to continue even though he felt as if his heart might break at any moment.

            “Abby,” He began, the name heavy on his tongue, “I…I can’t even begin to tell you how disappointed I am in you. You’ve…You’ve been a real tyrannical brat lately, especially today, and I just can’t deal with it anymore.”

            “Gibbs – “

            “So, you have a choice to make today, Abbs.” Gibbs pressed onward. “Either you…Either you…Either you allow me to punish you like I would if you were one of my own, which I do consider you to be, or…or you walk away from this and we go to being just employer and employee for the rest of our lives. Just know that whatever choice you make, there’s no going back.”

            Pausing for several long moments to allow the seriousness of such a bargain to sink into the mind of his perpetually headstrong Forensic Expert, Gibbs closed his eyes and remained silent, wanting the young woman over his lap to come to an answer without any undue pressure or influence guiding her final choice.

            “Well?” Gibbs asked, after several long minutes had elapsed without nary an answer.

            “I don’t want a spanking.” Abby whined, allowing fat crocodile tears to fall down her cheeks.

            “It wouldn’t be much of a punishment if you did.” Gibbs reasoned.

            Entirely all to unwilling to restrain herself from trying to secure some sort of leniency where regarded the safety and well-being of her bottom, despite having been informed there was no more clemency to be given, Abby bristled visibly atop of his lap before finally settling on an argument that was as equally childish as her earlier tantrum.

            “You wouldn’t spank Tony.” She incorrectly accused.

            “Believe me, Abbs, that boy has been over my lap at least a half-dozen times in the past year alone.” Gibbs assured. “Now enough excuses, answer my question.”

            Beginning to increase the speed at which the crocodile tears rolled down her cheeks, in a manner that was equally as annoying as it was obvious, Abby tried once more to free herself from his grasp before finally, and thankfully, realizing that freedom wasn’t going to be happening on her terms.

            “Can’t you just take away my music for the day?”

             Unable to keep from thinking that if that was what she considered an appropriate punishment after disrespecting several authority-figures and screeching at two harmless babies that her parents clearly hadn’t done any actual real disciplining in her life, Gibbs frowned and set about putting the stalling questions to rest.

             “I’ve already set the terms, Abbs.” Gibbs stated. “Make your choice.

            Taking so long to consider the options laid out before her that Gibbs’s legs soon began to grow weary beneath her weight, no matter how slight her frame might be, Abby whined childishly in the back of her throat and stuck out her bottom lip before finally turning around to look him in the face.

            “Will it hurt?” She inquired, more concerned about the physical than the emotional.

            “It’ll sting, yes.” Gibbs answered truthfully. “But you’ll live.”

             “And then you’ll still be my Gibbs?” Abby fussed.

            “Of course.”   

            Because even if he was more than just a little disappointed in her at the moment, Gibbs had simply put in too much heart and time to so swiftly abandon their relationship without a fight.

            “You’re only going to spank me as hard as you would a four-year-old, right?” Abby asked, absurdly hopeful that such a request would be granted.  

              “I wouldn’t spank a four-year-old like this, at all.” Gibbs swiftly assured.

            For even though Ducky was one of the firmest believers in the supposed need for physical punishment, no matter the age of the penitent, Gibbs simply couldn’t get behind the idea of chastising a child the same way he would a middle-schooler. There were simply some punishments only meant for big kids.

            “But…But I was only naughty when I was four.” Abby defended, her argument as weak as her attempt to soften him up with crocodile tears.

            “Were you four twenty minutes ago?” Gibbs rebuttled.

            “No…But…I really don’t want a spanking, Gibbs.” Abby whined, self-preservation overpowering her need for dignity.

            “Make your choice, Abbs.” Gibbs sighed, slowly losing patience with the stalling.

            Almost immediately dissolving into a mess of self-pitying tears, the likes of which had come far quickly to be genuine, Abby slumped gracelessly over his lap and spent the next three minutes crying heavily before finally coming to the reluctant conclusion that there would be no mercy.

            “Do I have to take down my underwear?” She sniffled.

            Thinking it would more than cross the line for him to even consider the notion of doing such a thing to one of his female subordinates, Gibbs promptly shot that idea down with a grimace.

            “No, of course not.”

            “And you’re only going to use your hand?”  

            “Yes.” Gibbs promised.

            Seeming to relax a tiny fraction once she had been promised nothing like a brush or ruler would come into contact with her bottom, as Ducky had so often promised to do to her, Abby snatched up a nearby pillow and buried her face in it before reluctantly giving her consent to the idea by nodding.  

            “Good choice.” Gibbs murmured, rubbing her back a bit. “But try not to tense up so much, alright? That will only make it worse.”  

            Understandably far too worked up too surrender the self-defense of tensing up when preparing for a blow, even though it was well-founded advice, Abby simply shook her head no and burred her face even further into the pillow she had selected to conceal her shame.

            “Here we go.” Gibbs forewarned.

            And, with that, he delivered quite a firm slap to the back of her thighs, not wishing for her to get any wrong ideas about how firm the smacks she was about to receive would be. Because like it or not, there was no way in hell Gibbs was going to go easy on her after the way she had spoken to Ducky of all people.     

            “Abby, you’ve been manipulating me and those around you for the longest time.” He lectured, landing a blow on either cheek with each inflection. “And while I’ve been ignorant of that for far too long, it stops now. The team isn’t just a bunch of chess pieces you can do with what you will. They’re people, with feelings, and treating them so poorly is a good way to make sure that they don’t want anything to do with you.”   

            All the more worked up as Abby only whined angrily in response to the minor assault taking place on her backside, Gibbs sighed softly beneath his breath and picked up the tempo.

            “I’m afraid I haven’t been doing you any favors by treating you so differently than the rest of the team. And that stops now. No more spoiling and no more special treatment. I’m serious. If anyone else would get into trouble for something, you will too. I’m not babying you anymore.”      

            Somewhat relieved when Abby’s cried began to sound more genuine than affected, Gibbs steeled himself and prepared to finish off strong.

            “I’m very disappointed in you, Abby. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it hurts to know that you’ve been playing me for a fool and acting the brat with your teammates. I love you, Abbs, and I think of you like a niece, and to know that you thought so little of me to behave in this manner, behind my back, well, it’s just not acceptable. And I had best not see it happening again.”

            Taking comfort in the fact that Abby finally seemed to realize that she had very much been acting like a brat, and likewise took great shame in that fact, Gibbs sat up a little straighter and prepared to deliver the finishing touches, even though it broke his heart to do so.

            “From now on, you’ll be held to the same standards as everyone else. I’ll have no more your coming in late and shirking your report-writing. And you WILL be apologizing to Ducky and Tim.”

            Earning for himself a frantic nod in response to his lecture, Gibbs paused in his spanking long enough to give her a comforting shoulder rub or two.

            “I love you, kiddo, and if that means being hard on you when I need to be, then that’s what’s going to happen.” He avowed, landing six final blows on her red bottom. “Now come here and give me a hug.”

             

Chapter Text

            Having thankfully been able to pawn off his two newly-reaged agents on the steadfast and charitable Godsend that was known as Ducky Mallard, just shortly after a peaceful lunch had elapsed with no major tantrums of arguments occurring, Gibbs soon discovered, much to his absolute delight, just how peaceful and lovely it was to be left alone with his two babies without anyone there to interrupt or steal his attentions away. Because not only was he now able to give the twins all the attention children their age deserved, which was all of it, so too was he finally able to cuddle and hold them as much as his heart desired. Something the aptly-named twins seemed to enjoy just as much, for even now, reclined in the crook of his elbow to enjoy their customary naptime bottles, neither one of them made so much as a sign or hint that they wished to be placed in their crib to fall asleep on their own.

            ‘I’m going to miss this.’ Gibbs thought sadly to himself, squeezing the babies even closer to himself. ‘So much.’

            Because even though he knew, with every fiber of his being, that he would still have the full love and adoration of Tony once this was all over with, and hopefully that of Kate’s, there just simply wasn’t any experience in the world better than getting to care for two small babies while they were at that stage in life where everything around them seemed like a miracle or an adventure to be had.  

            ‘It was fun while it lasted, though.’ He shamelessly admitted to himself, affectionately staring down into their cherubim faces so that he might remember their every detail when they were big again.  

            Adorable. That was truly the only word accurate enough to describe the both of them. For with their long and dark lashes resting peacefully against their plump and rosy cheeks, and their delightfully pudgy baby tummies poking out of their matching shirts, they looked the very picture of perfection.

“You’d put the baby Jesus to shame.” Gibbs blasphemously whispered, smiling softly down into their faces.

Almost as if they wished to confirm just such a fact within the mind of their dutiful caregiver, not that any such effort was, in fact, needed, both of the twins, in perfect synchronization, stretched out a sleepy hand and grabbed hold of the foot of the other.

“Let’s hope you two get along this well when you’re big again.” Gibbs breathed, speaking softly so as not to excite them away from their impending naps. “I don’t know if I could stand that anymore.”

Because, as matters now currently stood, it was going to be hard as hell to play favorites with Tony now that Kate had likewise wriggled her way into his heart while small. And while Gibbs didn’t labor under any delusions that it would very likely take a little while for an adult Kate to respond to his parental affections and decide what she might like to do with them, he was almost certain that she would come to appreciate his fatherly attentions just as much as Tony did. After all, it was not as if Kate already had a decent father she would rather prefer to him.

Chapter Text

A FEW MONTHS LATER

 

            Glancing at the enormous grandfather clock he had reluctantly inherited and subsequently concealed in the darkest corner of his living room, and finding, to his great ire and consternation, that it was very nearly half-past seven, a good fifteen minutes after he had wanted to leave the house, Gibbs rolled his eyes and finally decided to light a fire under the asses of his children rather than try and go about utilizing the gentle-coaxing method he had previously been trying on the recommendation of Hamish.

            “If you two don’t get your asses down here in the next five minutes, I’m leaving without you!” He adequately forewarned, never one to appreciate blatant tardiness.

            Which, in his esteemed opinion, meant failing to arrive at an event of place at least fifteen minutes early, if not more.

            “I’m right here, Dad.” Tony happily chirped, sauntering down the stairs with his refillable popcorn pail in hand. “I just had to pee.”

            “Please tell me you washed your hands.” Gibbs pleaded, not keen at all on sharing a tubful of pee-coated popcorn.

             Because as much as he had been forced to contend with far more disgusting bodily expulsions while the both of his children had been no more than mere infants, and seemingly incapable of keeping their hands out of their diapers, he didn’t much fancy a repeat of any of those episodes – especially not now when it was nowhere near as cute as it had been before.

            “Go ahead and smell.” Tony insisted, shoving his hands beneath Gibbs’s nose before he could so much as protest such a violation of his personal space.

            Only mildly relieved when the smell of luxury soap filled his nostrils rather than urine, Gibbs sighed and gently shoved the offending fingers away from his person.

            “Are you using Kate’s fancy soap again?” Gibbs interrogated, steeling himself for the answer.

            Because as great as Kate and Tony were now getting along with each other, which was astoundingly so, Gibbs swore he still had the occasional PTSD-related flashback when he recalled the all-out-war that had taken place the first, and hopefully last time, Tony had been bold enough to make use the soap his sister ridiculously dropped forty dollars on during a monthly basis.

            “I bought my own.” Tony deflected, suspiciously not looking him in the eyes.

            “But did you use Kate’s.” Gibbs pressed, being much more specific.

            For if that was what had, in fact, happened, Gibbs needed to be given at least a couple of minutes to plan one his famous hostage-negotiation speeches. Because as protective as the two agents were of each other now, which was ridiculously so, Kate was likewise just as defensive over her shamefully-expensive cosmetics and toiletries. Which, given the triple-digit price of some of them, was more than just a little understandable.

            “Mine is still out for delivery.” Tony pouted, as impatient as always.

              Knowing that there was nothing he could do to spare his Tony from Kate’s wrath should she discover the great crime committed against her soap, save perhaps pray that she wouldn’t notice what had been done to her most recent bar, Gibbs sighed but refrained from rebuking his only son – figuring that anything his sister did to him as result would be more than suitable enough a punishment to deter the same behavior from happening thrice in a row.

            “I had best not hear you complaining the next time she borrows your lotion without asking.” Gibbs forewarned. “Now get your shoes on.”

            “But we’re not leaving yet, are we?” Tony asked, clearly concerned that his sister was going to be left behind.

            “I haven’t forgotten about Kate.” Gibbs swiftly assured, somewhat insulted at the very insinuation. “I just know it takes you ten goddamn minutes to pick out a pair of shoes.”

            Despite looking thoroughly insulted as the very idea his father thought that it was patently ridiculous to labor over a choice of shoes for any longer than ten seconds at most, Tony frowned heavily to show his displeasure by nonetheless kept the peace by keeping silent and scurrying off to peruse his options. Leaving Gibbs to his own devices as he tried, for the fifth time, to coax his daughter from her bedroom.

             “CAITLYN ELIZABETH,” Gibbs hollered up the stairs, “WHAT THE HELL IS TAKING YOU SO – “

            Startling him for what had to at least be the thirtieth time since her deaging by suddenly appearing behind him without nary a warning and tapping him on a shoulder, Kate looked innocently up into his face even as Gibbs held a hand to his pounding chest and hopefully held up her favorite yellow brush to him.

            “I need help with my hair.” She explained. “It’s all snarly.”

            Glancing at the dark locks to discover that they were, indeed, both full of snarls and tangles of the most dreadful nature, Gibbs sympathetically frowned and more than happily accepted the quest being laid out before him by accepting the hairbrush.

            “Maybe you shouldn’t have wrestled Tony over who got to sit in the front seat.” Gibbs mildly lectured, taking a seat in his favorite recliner.

            “Still worth it.” Kate calmly assured, lowering herself unto the floorboards to sit at his feet.

            Thinking on all the bruising the both of his children were now sporting in result of such an impromptu battle for the coveted front seat, the likes of which made them both look like battered children, Gibbs rolled his eyes but gently began to go about brushing out the snarls in his daughter’s hair with careful stokes and gentle maneuvers.   

            “You know he gets it on the way back.” Gibbs reminded. “Now, what do you want done with all this pretty hair?”

            Because as much as most men might be emasculated at the very idea of even considering doing their daughter’s hair, Gibbs thoroughly enjoyed the artistry of the craft and reveled in the way in which such an act seemed to be one of the primary bonding opportunities between himself Kate.  

            “Can you French Braid it?” Kate asked hopefully.

            “Is that the one that starts at the top of the head?” Gibbs inquired, still having a lot to learn.

            “Yeah.” Kate assured, leaning heavily against his knees.

            Grateful for the way in which she carefully abstained from putting the bulk of such weight against his bad knee, as sometimes both children forget about its existence when they were overly-excited, Gibbs sighed softly and gingerly began to collect some of the dark strands near the crown of Kate’s head in his fingers.

            “It might be a little crooked.” He warned.

            “You always say that, and it never is.” Kate calmly debated.
            Understanding that any attempts to further disparage his hairdressing skills would only fall on stubbornly deaf ears, Gibbs simply rolled his eyes and gingerly finished up tying the braid as gently as possible, not wishing to cause any undue pain to his little Koala-Bear.

            “What color ponytail do you want?” Gibbs asked, nearing the end of the braid.

            “Purple.” Kate swiftly answered, without any hesitation.

            Not at all surprised by such an answer, as purple seemed to be the favorite color of both his children, Gibbs grabbed up the small Tupperware container he used to hold all of the rouge bobby-pins and ponytails he collected after Kate spent the night and promptly riffled through its contents, his consternation at not quickly finding the desired color turning to irritation the longer he searched and came up empty.

            “Is yellow, okay?” Gibbs asked. “I think the purple ones are out.”

            “Is there any pink?” Kate asked hopefully.”  

            Glancing down into the container to find that there was, indeed, an obnoxious surplus of just such a color, in varying shades and hues, Gibbs smiled and happily plucked up the least offensive of the bunch.

            “We have pink.” He confirmed, making to tie off the end of her braid.

            “I want green then.” Kate spontaneously decided, utterly oblivious to the pink band already in her hair.  

            Knowing that it wouldn’t be worth the battle to try and convince Kate that a pink ponytail was just as effective as a green one, as said woman could be surprisingly stubborn when it came to selecting colors, Gibbs gently extracted the offending color and swapped it out for the proper choice.

            “There we are.” He hummed, planting a kiss on her temple.

            Instinctively reaching behind her to feel for the tightness of the braid, as there were few things she hated more in life than loose braids and ponytails, Kate grinned widely as soon as properly assured that her dark strands were secured and immediately sprang up unto her feet to give him a bone-crushing hug.

            “Thanks.” She beamed.           

            “You’re welcome.” Gibbs assured, gingerly extracting himself from the embrace. “Now go and wipe off that lipstick so we can go.”

            Made-up face falling as the news that her cherry-red lips wouldn’t be allowed to leave the house, as no doubt she had spent a fortune on just such a color, Kate slumped her shoulders and resorted to the one tactic Gibbs hated most – whining.

            “But – “

            “No red lips.” Gibbs calmly insisted. “You can wear whatever makeup you like, but no red lips.”

            Because as absurd as such a caveat seemed to be, Gibbs would much rather contend with having his daughter wear a pound-full of face makeup than have her leave the house wearing what he felt was ‘whore-lips.’

            “It’s more a berry, Dad.” Tony swiftly defended his sister, coming back into the living room with a pair of expensive sneakers on his feet.

            “It’s going to be the reason we stay home and miss the movie.” Gibbs warned, raising a brow at both his children.     

             Wisely taking the warning the nonverbal warning to quit their whining to heart, Kate hastily accepted the purple handkerchief Tony pressed into her fingers and hastily removed the offensive color from her natural petal-pink lips.

             “Now get in the car.” Gibbs smacking them both on the thighs to light a fire under their asses. “Now.”

            It was as he watched them scurry off, giggling and laughing as they tried to trip each other up, despite their father’s warning to hurry their asses, that Gibbs thought it really was nice to have kids in the house again – even if said kids were his fully-grown agents.