b Disclaimer/b I'd give up my first born child to own this show, or any of the characters, but as I have no children I have nothing to offer.
b Spoilers/b Takes place beginning about an hour after Hiatus part 2. Spoilers for that, and little canon mentions for season 4.
b A/N/b This fic originally started as my way of explaining why Ducky was so angry at Gibbs in the start of season 4. It ended up being more about how the team reformed after Gibbs left, and in particular how Abby coped. Don't fear, Gibbs will return. Not for a while, though. This fic is complete, but is too long for one entry. I'll post once a day for the next 6 days.
I owe a massive thanks to Lonelywalker who beta'd this not once but twice. I also want to thank NYC-Iby and Cattylizzie for the read-throughs, and Dragonessasmith who poked me more than once to finish this.
Gibbs was out of the car the moment it came to a stop in front of the house- not running up the sidewalk, but moving quickly. He fumbled for keys and opened the front door of the two-story green house, closing it a moment later. Later, when thinking about it, Ducky would wonder if he had only been anxious to get home and sleep in his own bed or if he had already decided that he was leaving and didn't want to answer any questions. Ducky sat in the car for fifteen minutes, not following his friend but not ready to leave him either. He watched until a light shone from Gibbs' bedroom window before driving away.
It was late and he should have gone home. There was something nagging him though, a small voice in the back of his head that prodded him to return to the navy yard. The security guard didn't blink when he flashed his ID; though he usually tried to leave at a normal hour to spend his evenings with Mother, it was not unheard of for him to return to the office at night once she had gone to bed. He rode the elevator up to the bullpen first, but found it empty. Gibbs' badge was sitting in the middle of Tony's desk, his gun tucked away out of sight.
His own workspace was in order, the dead put to rest and the living gone. One last place to check and he would allow himself to go home and catch a few hours of sleep before returning in the morning.
Abby's lab was still; the only light came from blinking equipment and clear-fronted coolers. The outer lab was empty and he thought the inner sanctum was too, until he stopped long enough to listen. There was the faintest sound coming from the vicinity of Abby's work area. Moving the chair out of the way, he crouched down and found a huddled figure curled up in the space under her desk.
"Abby?" he said softly, touching a single finger to her forearm. Her only response was to pull tighter into herself and press her forehead to the far side of the desk. He stayed just as he was until his calves started to cramp, then sat down with his legs crossed and continued to wait.
"He's not coming back, is he Ducky?" Her throaty whisper was so quietly spoken that he almost didn't hear it.
"I don't know," he answered honestly.
"He's not coming back." This time it was a statement, and loud enough that the noise startled him. She turned to face him, her eyes red and her cheeks stained with black streams of non-waterproof makeup mixed with tears. He reached a hand out to her, and she fell towards him. Her face buried in his shoulder and her hand grabbed at the labels of his jacket as if seeking a lifeline.
"Oh, Abigail." He wrapped his arms around her and tried not to curse the man who had made the strongest woman he knew this weak. After a time she let out a restrained cry and pulled away from him.
"I need to... I should..."
"Should get some rest," he supplied. She looked at him as if she couldn't understand his words, but finally nodded. Ducky stood up and stepped backwards to give her the room to do the same. Abby looked from the keys resting on her desk to the cabinet across the room where her futon was stored. Ducky didn't like the thought of either option.
"Come on, my dear." With an arm around her waist he led her to the elevator, upstairs and out of the building. She didn't say a thing as he held open the passenger door of his Morgan, but mechanically climbed in and stared blankly out the window. Ducky reached around her and clicked the seat belt into place. When they reached his home he repeated the pattern in reverse, unbuckling the safety restraint and leading her inside. His mother popped her head out of her bedroom door and scowled, making a comment about sleep overs being inappropriate on school nights. Ducky nodded to appease her before helping Abby up the stairs, and opening the door of the guest room.
"Sleep, Abby." He waited for half an hour before checking on her. She was lying on top of the bed, clothes and shoes still on. He removed the latter and covered her with a pair of quilts, making sure to close the door firmly behind him when he left. The last thing Abby needed was one of his mother's dogs to nose its way into her room.
The guest room was empty the next morning when he woke up. He found Abby sitting at the dining room table, playing with a plate of eggs and bacon.
"Donald, have you met our breakfast guest? She is the most fascinating young lady. She has a spider on her neck." His mother pointed dramatically to the tattoo that he was so used to that he didn't even notice anymore.
"Yes, Mother. Abby is a friend of mine from work. You've met her before, remember?" He poured himself a cup of tea from the pot on the sideboard and sat down at the table, eyeing his overnight guest carefully.
"I don't think so, Donald. I would have remembered the spider." Ducky only slightly shook his head and turned his attention to Abby.
"How are you this morning?" he asked.
"Right as rain." Abby looked up from her plate and smiled at him. The action was insincere and warred with the haunted look in her eyes.
"I'm leaving for work in a few minutes. Do you want me to drop you at home first?"
"I have extra clothes in the lab," she answered, though that was not at all what Ducky was asking. He left it alone, though. There was only so much he could do.
Work was strange, as everyone went through the motions of a normal day, on a day that was anything but. Dispatch didn't call them with a case - most likely the result of the Director's orders. They all did paperwork, everyone trying to avoid looking at the empty desk. Abby never even came up to the bullpen. Ducky did, more often then usual, and though Tony rolled his eyes at the weak excuses for visits,Ducky suspected that he was secretly grateful.
Everyone left at a normal hour, which was decidedly not normal for them. Ducky went up to the lab to check in on Abby only to discover that she was already gone.
"I'll take this up to Abby. You start stitching Private Moore back together, Mr. Palmer." Ducky held the evidence bags in his hand.
"Really Dr. Mallard?" Jimmy asked, not able to keep the excitement out of his voice. It wasn't often that he was left unsupervised during any stage of an autopsy, not even for such a simple one.
"I think you can handle the responsibility." He walked out into the antechamber and pressed the up button for the elevator. It had been two weeks since Gibbs' abrupt departure, and things were finally settling down. The rhythm was different, but it was a rhythm nonetheless. Tony was learning how to lead, and the others were learning not to expect him to be Gibbs. Even Abby was returning to her usual self, though the music in the lab was never quite as loud nor the smile quite as bright as they had been. He made sure to check on her more then he used to, but refused to bring her any of the disturbingly caffeinated drinks with which Gibbs had used to bribe her. It was a moot point anyway; Tony had brought her a Caf-Pow! a week after Gibbs had left, and she had turned it down. She had claimed that she had lost her taste for the beverage.
"Abby, I have fingerprints and blood samples for you," he announced as the glass doors parted to let him into the lab.
"Thank Ducky. Can you put them on the..." Without warning her face paled and she ran from the room. He placed the evidence on the table, but waited for her to return. She was back in a few minutes, scrawling her initials on the chain of evidence forms.
"Sorry about that," she said as she pulled a bottle of water off the shelf in the cooler reserved for non-evidence. She downed half the container in a single gulp.
"I hope you're not coming down with anything." She worked hard and he knew she didn't sleep much. It's always surprised him that she has never called in sick, and he wondered if it was finally catching up with her.
"Not sick," she answered. She looked him straight in the eye. "I'm pregnant."
"What?" It took him more than a minute to get the single syllable past his tongue, and he could only stare at her in shock. Finally he blinked twice and focused. "How did this happen?"
"The usual way, Ducky. I hope I don't have to explain the facts of life to you, because by this point there are some things that you should just know." She finished the rest of the water and threw it into a trash-can that already contained half a dozen empty bottles.
"That's not what I mean, Abigail, as you are perfectly aware. I mean who is the young man and why haven't I heard about him? We agreed after the fiasco with Mikel that you would tell me if you needed help."
"This was nothing like Mikel, though you are a sweetheart for worrying. The man-the father- is a good person."
"Good. When do I get to meet him?" He would never consider himself old fashioned, and was well aware that Abby could take care of herself, but that didn't stop him from wanting to meet whoever was playing such an important role in his friend's life.
"You can't, Duck. He's gone." She half turned away from him, picking up the first of the evidence bags.
"Gone? How can you say he is a good person if he would just up and leave a..." Understanding dawned in a flash and he pressed his lips together. "Oh."
"It was the night Mikel made it onto the Navy Yard and Gibbs took me home. I didn't want to be alone and he let me stay in his bed, which was pretty cool of him considering I had just drunk half his scotch and broken his boat. I kissed him, to say thank you and because I had always wanted to. He kissed me back and..." She looked down to her stomach briefly and shrugged. " Neither of us gave a thought to protection. Apparently the stars were lined up just right."
"Does he know?" Ducky asked, taking a step closer to her.
"I didn't know until about a week ago."
"Are you going to..." Abby shook her head before the question was even asked.
"He's in Mexico, building boats or fishing or whatever retired agents do. And even if he were here, it's Shannon and Kelly he wants, not me and baby mistake." The computer chair was right behind her, and she sank into it.
"A baby is never a mistake." He wanted to lecture her about her opinions of Gibbs, but knew better then that. Besides, at that moment he wasn't feeling too inclined to defend his friend. There was one fact he needed to make sure she was clear on, though. "Whatever else you feel this baby is a gift, and the two of you are not alone."
"You are more then a girl deserves," Abby said. She smiled, and this time it reached her eyes.
Even given her thin frame, Abby had a few months before proof of her impending motherhood would be visible. She didn't want any of the others to know until that time, and Ducky promised to keep her secret, but only on his terms. She had already stopped the caffeine habit, but he insisted that she cut back on her hours and wrote her a prescription for prenatal vitamins. He also made out a list of chemicals that were known to cause harm to fetuses. If she came across a test that required one of the chemicals she was to page him and he would be her assistant.
When he gave her the name of an ObGyn that came highly recommended, she asked him to drive her to the first appointment. He was holding her hand when the doctor told her that everything looked good and the baby was developing on schedule. She was due in the beginning of February. Abby hadn't known what to feel at the news; she wasn't at all ready or wanting this change to her life, but the baby was part of Gibbs and might be all that she ever had of him. Ducky was only pleased at the news, and kissed her on the cheek.
The next morning he showed up in the lab with a gift wrapped package:a black onesie with a grinning skull and crossbones on it. Hot Topic had a line of clothing for infants.
"Sorry, Tony, but this isn't your murder weapon." Pressing a few keys on the computer's keyboard, Abby pulled up the magnified view of two bullets, their markings different enough that there was no doubt they didn't match.
"Damn it, I was sure that he did it. When I interviewed him..." Tony lost his words and his grasp on the gun when the pig-tailed woman in front of him doubled over. Long white fingers grasped at the computer stand and eyes widened in fear as she looked at him.
"Go get Ducky," she ground out between teeth clenched together.
"Abbs, what's wrong? What can I..."
"Ducky," she opened her mouth long enough to yell. Punching the button on the video comm that had only been installed a week ago, Tony paged autopsy.
"Get up to the lab now," he ordered the moment the ME's face appeared. Then, with one arm at her neck and the other behind her knees, he lifted the moaning woman onto the evidence table. "It's going to be okay, Abby," he promised, despite the fact that he had not a clue what was going on.
"Tony, what was so important that you couldn't even use a simple 'please?'" Ducky was out of breath when he ran into the lab. He took in the scene before him immediately and headed straight to Abby's side.
"She folded over, Duck. She's hurting. Fix her." Looking and sounding completely like Gibbs, Tony gestured at the table. Ducky, in turn, pointed to the phone.
"Don't just stand there. Call for an ambulance." Ducky cupped a hand to Abby's cheek and rolled her head so that she was facing him. "Tell me where it hurts."
"Sharp pains below my... abdominal muscles, stabbing... and twisting like a screwdriver with... a really sharp edge." Her description was forced out between waves of pain. She summoned her strength to grab at the doctor's hand for a moment. "Please Ducky tell me it's not the baby. I can't lose the baby." Call it instinct or awareness or grim determination, but the moment she had realized that the baby was in trouble she had also known with certainty that she wanted it. The baby was hers and she'd be damned if she was going to let it go.
"I will do everything in my power to keep both of you safe," Ducky promised. Abby closed her eyes in relief, but even then Ducky refused to let any doubt creep into his expression. He hoped that he could keep his promise, but if it came down to a choice he knew that he would pick Abby's life over that of the baby.
"Is the ambulance on its way?" he asked as he turned his attention to Tony.
"Yes it is. Did she say baby?" His face was twisted in an expression that only Tony DiNozzo could pull off. Ducky nodded.
"Yes, Tony. Our girl is almost three months pregnant."
"And the father?" Tony asked.
"That is between him and Abby," Ducky answered shortly. Tony nodded, and went out into the corridor to wait for the paramedics. There wasn't much for Ducky to do until they arrived, other than check on her pulse and hold her hand. He did both, relieved to find a heartbeat that was still strong. Her hand was cold, though, and she barely returned his squeeze. He took off his lab-coat and covered her with it then stood at her side to wait.
"They're here," Tony shouted a moment before the elevator pinged and the doors swished open. Two men, laden with equipment and pushing a gurney, entered the room.
"What seems to be wrong, sir?" One man asked while the other went directly to Abby and pressed two fingers to the side of her neck.
"She's experiencing severe cramping," Ducky explained. "She's approximately eleven weeks pregnant."
After checking her pulse and slipping an oxygen mask over her face, Abby was lifted with care onto the gurney. Ducky blanched when he saw the wet red smear on the metal table. Damn.
"I'm coming with you," he informed the paramedics.
"So am I." Tony insisted from the corner of the room, where he had been standing in an attempt to keep out of the way. Ducky shook his head.
"You're the team leader, Anthony."
"Exactly why I should go with you. Abby's part of my team." He stressed the word 'my.'
"There are other responsibilities to be seen to first. You have to inform McGee and Ziva what is happening, and the Director. Make sure that your case is covered. And if you could let Mr. Palmer know what has happened I'd be grateful. Then, and only then, do I expect to see you at the hospital." As he said the last words the elevator doors closed, leaving Tony alone in the hallway. Tony glanced back into the lab once then headed for the stairs.
"So what did Abby have for us?" Ziva asked as he entered the bullpen.
"Have?" For a second Tony was confused. How could Abby have anything? She wasn't even out of her first trimester; it was too soon to have a baby. Mentally he slapped himself. "Abby was just taken to the hospital. Ducky's afraid she might be having a miscarriage."
"Hospital?" McGee jumped out of his seat, the chair toppling over behind him.
"Miscarriage? I am hoping that the definition I have for that word is not accurate." Ziva also stood, slower and more carefully then McGee.
"It probably is." Tony shook his head. "I'm going up to tell Jenny, then we are on the way to join them." He took the stairs two at a time and didn't stop to talk to Cynthia before opening the door to the inner office. He only stayed in the room long enough to give the Director the stark details, then turned around.
"Abby's pregnant? I mean to be worried about miscarriage then Abby has to be pregnant. Right? How can Abby be pregnant?" McGee was standing in the exact spot that he had been when Tony went upstairs. Ziva was nowhere to be seen, and Tony knew that she was already downstairs getting a car for them. For once he wasn't going to complain about her driving.
"Get over it, McGee," he said as he pushed the man in the direction of the elevators. Remembering Ducky's other request he turned to his probie. "Lee, go down to autopsy and tell Palmer where Ducky is. Then watch the phones until it's time to go home and type up whatever reports you should be working on."
"But Agent DiNozzo..." Lee began to protest but Tony and McGee were already across the room and soon disappeared into the elevator. Michelle Lee glowered, and then headed for the back elevator. Like she wanted to go down to autopsy: the ME's assistant was weird.