"Grace! What's going on, girl?" Abby greeted cheerfully.
"Hey, Abby," Grace responded. "Not much."
"Not too bad. You know how it is."
"Yeah," Abby nodded, frowning sympathetically. "So, what brings you in this morning?"
"Teacher work day or something," Grace explained with a dismissive hand-wave. "Mrs. Klein's granddaughter had a "Grandparents' Day" at her school, so Aunt Kate said I could hang out here if I promised to stay out of the way."
"Cool! Wanna come with me to take these results to Ducky?"
"Sure. It's been a while," Grace mused.
"Too long, Grace-ster! Come on, let's go."
"Grace, my dear! How are you?" Ducky welcomed her warmly. Impulsively, Grace reached out and hugged him. After his initial surprise, his warm arms encircled her and she inhaled his dog-laced cologne scent. She had rarely felt so safe.
"Pretty good, thanks," she replied, breaking away and grinning.
"How is school going for you?"
"Oh, you know. Little up, little down."
"Mmm. And how are you getting on with Kate?" His eyes twinkled kindly and Grace remembered their last session fondly. If it weren't for school, she would have continued the appointments gladly – if only to spend more time with Ducky.
"Better. We still have our moments, but things are mostly good." Thanks to you, Grace added silently.
"I'm delighted to hear it," Ducky smiled before turning to Abby. "Ah, are those the results?"
"Yep. I think you'll like what you see," Abby replied cheerfully.
"Indeed, just as I suspected. Thank you, Abby."
"Hey, Ducky!" a new voice joined the trio. "Gibbs wants your conclusions ASAP – oh, hey, Grace."
"Hi, Tony," Grace waved a little shyly. Kate's coworker or not, he was pretty hot.
"How are you? How's school going?" he asked conversantly as he strode toward Ducky.
"Pretty good," she answered, resisting the urge to roll her eyes as yet another person asked her about school.
"Great," he replied, sincerely if a bit distractedly. "So, Ducky, Gibbs is wondering what your thoughts are…"
"Tell him I'll be right along, won't you? I just have to finish up a few things."
"Will do. Hey, Grace," he directed his attention at the teen, "you wanna come with? Gibbs has been asking about you."
"Asking about me? Why?" Grace asked warily, not a little disturbed by the thought of stern, crabby Gibbs asking about her. Their last encounter had not exactly been in the best of circumstances. Nevertheless, she found herself moving toward the door with Tony, waving goodbye to Abby and Ducky as they stepped onto the elevator.
"Well, you'll just have to wait and see," Tony muttered ominously, wiggling his eyebrows in what was apparently supposed to be a mysterious manner.
Grace smiled despite herself, realizing what Aunt Kate meant by Tony's juvenile behavior. He really was a goofball.
"Boss, Ducky says he'll be right up to talk about the case," Tony called as they approached his desk.
"Hello, Grace," Gibbs intoned without even looking up. "DiNozzo, don't you have somewhere to be?"
"Yeah, boss," Tony agreed immediately, spinning on his heels and heading back to the elevator.
"So, Miss Todd," Gibbs began, typing something quickly before turning to face her. "School's going well."
"Um, yes," she replied, slightly confused by the use of statement rather than question.
"How's it going with your mother?" he asked casually. Grace raised her eyebrow at that; he was the first one to refer to Kate as her mother. Again she was surprised by how little it bothered her.
"Oh, pretty good," she answered offhandedly. He squinted at her and she shrank under his gaze. "We have our ups and downs," she admitted, "but it's feeling more…normal." She startled herself with that one; she hadn't told anyone else how comfortable she was growing with Kate.
"That's great," Gibbs nodded. It would've sounded insincere from anyone else but Gibbs managed to make it genuine. Of course, the small-but-dazzling smile he treated her to didn't hurt either. "So," he scowled, turning back to his computer, "the boys bothering you yet?"
Grace cocked her head confusedly at the odd question. "No…?"
Gibbs nodded, a glare firmly on his face. "Good. You're too young to date. When they do come knocking, though – and they will – have 'em come see me."
His tone made it unclear whether or not he was joking but Grace smiled anyway, stifling a snort of laughter at Gibbs' obvious paternalism. How could she ever have been afraid of this man?
"DiNozzo!" he barked suddenly as Tony reentered the room. "What are you doing back so soon?" Grace rapidly remembered the basis for her fear.
"The…the guy broke, boss," Tony explained nervously. "He confessed."
"I'll be right down," Gibbs groused, typing a quick command into his computer before rising. "Take care of yourself, Grace."
"Grace!" Kate called, scrambling for her purse. "Grace, let's go!"
"Coming!" the girl replied, dragging a medium-sized suitcase from her room. Kate grabbed one side and together they maneuvered it down the stairs and into Kate's car. Kate started the car and sped out of the parking lot, narrowly missing a lamppost.
"Are you trying to kill us?" Grace asked sarcastically, clutching her door handle.
"I don't want you to miss your flight, okay?" Kate replied tightly, checking her mirrors and changing lanes with a jerk.
"Well, I really think Uncle Jack would rather not meet a large pine box at the baggage carousel," Grace fired back.
"Oh, be quiet," Kate rolled her eyes.
"Silent as the grave," Grace quipped. Kate just shook her head.
When they arrived at the airport, Kate heaved Grace's suitcase from the trunk and all but ran into the terminal. Grace followed at a slower pace, shaking her head at Kate's nervousness. She arrived just in time to see Kate grab the boarding pass from the counter, thanking the agent cursorily, and dash toward Grace with a frantic look on her face.
"Come on, Grace, your flight boards in fifteen minutes!"
"Plenty of time," Grace reassured her, digging for her ID and gently taking her boarding pass from Kate.
"The ticket agent said I could take you to the gate, since you're a minor," Kate explained as they approached security.
"Great," Grace replied neutrally.
They made it through security easily enough. Kate began walking briskly for the gate, Grace trailing behind with a raised eyebrow. Her mother looked like she was at the track instead of at the airport. If she weren't otherwise occupied, she would have been mortified.
"Oh, Grace, there's your gate," Kate called, pointing it out. "Phew, we made it!"
"Told you," Grace said, smoothly settling into a free seat.
"You're sure you've got everything you need?"
"Yes," Grace sighed. "Besides, it'd be a little too late if I didn't."
"And you're okay flying by yourself?"
"Got enough snacks? They probably won't have a meal on this flight."
"Yes! Enough already," Grace cried exasperatedly. "Everything's set."
Kate opened her mouth to say something more but before she could, (to Grace's great relief) the boarding call began. Grace stood, eager to escape Kate's annoyingly maternal questions.
"Grace," Kate called, her voice breaking slightly. "Have a good time, all right? Call me if you need anything."
"Thanks, I will."
Kate reached out her arms and Grace obliged with a hug. "I love you, Grace."
"I love you, too," Grace replied, "Mom."