A/N: It's always a bittersweetness to reach the end of a story like this. I had so much fun spending time with the characters, and just as much fun reading the comments from all of you. Thanks to my beta, my friends, and all of you for coming on this journey with me. And who knows, maybe I'll have to revisit Mallory again…
Mallory was sleeping in her bassinet when Tony appeared a few minutes before visiting hours began the next morning, a CD player in one hand and a pair of coffee cups precariously balanced in the other. Ducky started to protest when Tony handed one of the cups to Abby, but Tony cut him off.
"It's not coffee, it's chai tea. I asked Jeanne and she said it was okay." The other paper cup he handed to Ducky. "Earl Grey for you. I added the cream already but I wasn't sure about sweetener. There's a handful of sugar and honey packets in my pocket if you want any."
"This is just perfect. Thank you, Tony, it was very thoughtful of you." The tea was welcome, just what he needed after his awkward night's sleep in the hospital chair. Tony had grown up so much in the last year, Ducky mused.
Over the next hour the rest of the team arrived, and none of them were empty handed. McGee came with a stack of books, one of nursery rhymes and half a dozen Doctor Seuss stories. In true McGee style he presented them while explaining about a study he had read about reading to children as infants. Somehow he had also managed to remember which Seuss books Abby already had and filled in some of the gaps.
Jimmy and Michelle arrived together, to Abby's amusement. Michelle presented her with a teal silk baby's blanket decorated with shimmering silver dragonflies. For luck, she explained softly. Abby was touched, and delighted in rubbing the smooth fabric against her skin. She was even more pleased to see that Jimmy carried a hippo under each arm.
"You left in such a hurry yesterday, and I figured that it would be a while before you returned to the lab, and I thought that... I mean I... here." Jimmy thrust the larger hippo at her, his face turning pink.
"You are a sweet man, Jimmy Palmer." Abby accepted Bert and gave him a squeeze. No one remarked on the farting noise. Jimmy set the smaller hippo down at the edge of the bed and took a step back.
Ziva was the last member of the team- the active team- to arrive. The whole room erupted in laughter when she entered in a cloud of mylar balloons.
"I have seen enough American movies and sitcoms. This is a common tradition when making a hospital visit," Ziva said, shoving the balloons into the corner of the room. The ribbon of one somehow twisted around her wrist and when she stepped away from them the balloons followed her.
"They are just what we need for the appropriate festive atmosphere," Ducky reassured her with a smile.
"That and a little music. Tony?" Abby hinted.
"As you wish." He found an outlet- the lamp didn't really need to be plugged in- and inserted a CD. Surprisingly not even the addition of Android Lust to all the other voices was enough to wake up Mallory, proving that she was indeed Abby's daughter. Tony ramified the fact with a few gentle pokes when no one was watching, and soon he was lording it over McGee that he was the first person to hold the new baby.
"Not quite, Tony. I might have been on some rather pleasant drugs but I do remember holding her," Abby teased as she watched him carefully.
"You're the mom, Abbs. You don't count."
"What about Ducky? He held her quite a few times yesterday. He even changed her diaper."
"First of all that's not something I envy; in fact I declare right now that I am not ever pulling diaper duty. Also when I said team I meant agents. I'm the first field agent to hold Mallory."
Not that either, Abby almost said, but she stopped herself. Gibbs wasn't really an agent anymore, though she'd always consider him one.
"Now how do expect to play to part of doting uncle if you won't even change a diaper?" she asked instead.
"Simple. I'll be the one that spoils her with junk food and toys and when she's dirty or crying I'll pass her on to someone else."
"Typical, Tony. Passing on the responsibility when ever possible, that's just like you." Ziva rolled her eyes.
"Good to see some things don't change." Gibbs stood in the doorway, clean-shaven but dressed almost as he had been the day before.
In an instant the music from the CD player was the only noise in the room. As so often happens in life the song ended at the same time Michelle poked Jimmy and whispered "Who is that?" Jimmy was surreptitiously looking from Ducky to Abby, in order to gauge their reactions, and didn't answer.
"I'm Gibbs. Who are you?" Gibbs took a step into the room and crossed his arms, looking every bit the team leader they were used to despite the flowered shirt and frayed jeans.
"Gibbs be nice," Abby cautioned softly. Tony handed the baby to Ziva, who was standing next to him, and positioned himself between his former boss and newest employee.
"This is Special Agent Michelle Lee, my probie." Tony placed the slightest emphasis on the word i my /i . Gibbs' gaze flickered to meet the man's eyes before he held out his right hand in greeting.
"Nice to meet you, Agent Lee."
"Nice to meet you too Agent... I mean Mr... um, sir."
"Don't call him sir," Tony and McGee said at the same time.
"Just Gibbs will be fine."
"Yes si... Gibbs."
"Hey Gibbs now that you're here do you want to hold your... um, Mallory? Because I'm sure that Ziva would be more then willing to hand her over." Tony was surprised, however, when he turned and found that Ziva didn't look quite so willing. The baby was cradled tenderly in has arms and she was swaying gently from the hips. She was also crooning something in a foreign language.
"Thanks, Tony, but she looks comfortable where she is."
"She's not the only one. Ziva?"
"You don't need to look so shocked, Tony. I have held a baby before. I know what to do." As if wanting to prove Ziva wrong, Mallory choose that exact moment to start crying. When she didn't stop immediately Ziva crossed the room and handed the crying infant to Abby. "I think she wants you."
"Hey peanut, did you want your mom?" When Mallory nuzzled against her breast Abby laughed. "So it's not wanting mom so much as it is wanting to be feed. I should have known." Disregarding the fact that the room was full of people, Abby lifted up her pajama top and guided a nipple to the hungry mouth.
"Abby!" McGee exclaimed. Jimmy turned bright red.
"Oh please, Timmy. It's not like anyone in the room hasn't seen a breast before."
"Yeah, but... I mean..." McGee stuttered. Abby rolled her eyes.
"Gibbs, can you hand me the blanket on the chair next to you?"
Gibbs picked up the silk baby's blanket but didn't give it to her. He hesitated a moment, taking in the scene of mother and daughter bonding together, and then gently covered them both with the blanket.
Conversation in the room continued until Abby yawned and Tony noted that it was well past lunch time and maybe they should go find some lunch and leave Abby to rest. They all said their goodbyes to Abby and the newest Scutio before filing out of the room. Only Ducky and Gibbs remained.
"I'm afraid I must leave for a while too, my dear. Ms. Kendle agreed to stay with Mother for as long as we need her, but I do feel the need to go check in on them."
"Of course you have to go, Ducky. Give your mother my love and tell her I'll challenge her to a game of Hearts when I get back. And maybe you should take a nap; that chair couldn't have been at all comfortable last night."
"It's no more uncomfortable than the chair in autopsy, and heaven knows I've fallen asleep there plenty of times."
"That might be true, but I've slept in chairs and I've slept in your bed, and of the two your bed wins the comfort contest by a mile. Besides, this might be one of your last chances to sleep without having to worry about a crying baby down the hall waking you up."
"I'm going to stick around for a while if that helps, Duck," Gibbs offered, biting his tongue to keep from asking how, exactly, she knew what Ducky's bed was like, knowing that he didn't have that right. "If it's okay with Abbs."
"That's perfect. You can go check on your mom, Ducky, get a nap and come back in time to tell Mallory a bedtime story, and while your gone I can pester Gibbs for details of his Mexican vacation."
"Well clearly I'm outnumbered. I had better make a gracious exit before Miss Mallory adds her vote. I'll be back in time for dinner, my dear. Is there anything I need to bring you from the house?"
"I don't think..." Abby squinted her eyes and wrinkled her nose. "Wait, there is. The overnight bag next to Mallory's crib. It has the dress for her to wear home tomorrow and an outfit for me, because as comfy as it is, this nightgown just isn't fashionable enough for the wheelchair ride out of her."
"I believe I can remember that. Now don't overtax yourself. If you need a nap take one, and don't forget that the nurses are only a call away." Ducky smoothed the blankets on the bed and kissed Abby on the forehead, ignoring her teasing comment about his being a mother hen.
When Ducky left the room fell silent. Despite her earlier comment Abby didn't ask for any stories of Gibbs' months away, and he didn't readily supply any. When Gibbs finally did speak Abby was shocked that the first words out of his mouth were about Kelly.
"She'd be twenty-two now, but I remember the day she was born like it was yesterday. I didn't think I was ready, it all happened so quickly. I got a phone call from Shan and a couple of hours later I was holding my daughter."
"I bet you are an awesome dad for her, Gibbs. I've seen you with Sandy and Zach and Emily; I think I always knew there had to be a Kelly in your past. You're too natural with kids not to have any experience. You'll be good with Mallory too."
"After all I've put you through, and you still.." Gibbs shook his head, awed by the loyalty of the woman sitting on the bed.
"I'm not asking you to be her dad if that's not what you want. To be completely honest I'm not sure what I want, or how I feel now that your back. I know that Ducky's been with me one hundred percent through this pregnancy and I don't want that to change. I also know that Mallory's life can only be for the better if you choose to be in it." As if to second her mother's vote Mallory blinked her eyes and let out a squeak.
"I'm not sure about very much of this either, Abbs. I do know that I'm not going anywhere, though. The rest of it we'll have to figure out. We have time, right?"
"Yeah, we have time."
The next morning Abby sat impatiently on the edge of the bed. "If they don't show up soon I'm going to take my kid and leave. They can figure out the paperwork themselves."
"I believe, since a birth certificate is a legal document necessary for all manner of things, they might frown on you leaving without filling one out." Ducky sat next to her on the bed, rocking slightly back and forth as he patted the baby on her back.
"Yeah, well, then they should show up when they say they will." She had been in the same room for a day and a half now, traveling no farther from the bed than to the bathroom. It was a too vivid reminder of her confinement at the beginning of her pregnancy. Heaving a sigh she smoothed out a wrinkle on her shirt and glared at the doorway that remained annoyingly empty.
It was another half hour before anyone appeared. The form was longer then she expected but not difficult. For place of residence she gave Ducky's address, for surname she listed Sciuto. The only qualm she had was the line that listed paternity; if she had hadher way she would have listed two men in the space. She didn't think the hospital would be amused, so she only listed Gibbs.
Finally everything was taken care of and she was discharged. She held Mallory in her arms while a nurse pushed the wheelchair and Ducky walked alongside them. The moment they crossed the hospital threshhold Abby signaled for the nurse to halt and gingerly raised herself from the chair.
"We'll walk from here, thanks," she told the nurse, who seemed to decide that there was no point in protesting.
"It's rather fortuitous that I managed to find a parking space close to the building. You could have been in for a bit of a walk," Ducky commented pointedly.
"Don't worry about me, Duck. It feels good to stretch my legs." Abby scanned the row of cars, trying to find the familiar silver Morgan. "I thought you said you parked close?"
"I did." Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, Ducky removed a key ring and pressed a button on the tiny remote control. Directly in front of them the lights of a champagne colored Lincoln MKX flashed. "Your chariot awaits, my dear."
"Ducky, that's not your Morgan." Abby looked from the shiny new car to her companion and back to the car.
"There wasn't any room in the Morgan for a car-seat. After doing some rather extensive research I picked this car. Conveniently it was delivered to the house the same day you gave birth to Mallory, and was waiting in the driveway when I went home to check on Mother." As he spook he opened the back door, releasing the subtle smell of a new car. An infant car-seat was already secured in its place. Abby gently lowered the baby into the seat, covering her with a blanket before working out how to fasten the complicated seat-belt.
"Every time I think you couldn't possibly be more perfect, you turn around and do something like this." As she gave Ducky a hug her eyes misted with tears. Quickly she blinked them away, blaming residual hormones for causing them.
"I'm far from perfect, Abigail. In fact this is pure indulgence on my part; I couldn't very well spirit your daughter away whenever I wanted to if I didn't have appropriate transportation, now could I?"
"I stand by my original remark. You are perfect." Trying to smother a yawn Abby allowed Ducky to open the passenger door for her. Before fastening her own seat-belt she craned her head around to check on Mallory. She was delighted to find that Ducky had hung a mirror from the read headrest, allowing her to see the baby without resorting to yoga like contortions. With the car's sun visor at just the right angle she could see the baby mirror, and was able to keep an eye on her daughter the entire drive home.
"It's about time." Followed by a pack of Corgis, Victoria Mallard met them in the entryway with her hands on her hips.
"Sorry, Mother, but I told you I wouldn't be home until this afternoon." Ducky lowered the duffle bag onto the floor but kept a supportive hand resting at Abby's lower back.
"Thirty years is far too long to ask me to wait, Donald."
"Thirty years? I wasn't even gone for three days." Despite his best intentions a small sigh escaped. He was not in the mood to puzzle out his mother's odd comments.
"I'm not talking about how long you were away. I'm referring to the fact that it's taken you more then thirty years to give me a grandchild. I understand about young men needing time to sow their wild oats and all that, but I believe I started asking for a grandchild sometime in the mid seventies." Victoria walked straight for Abby, not asking for permission before pulling the blanket away from Mallory's face.
"Mallory is not your granddaughter. She's Abby's baby, remember?"
"Of course she's Abby's baby. I certainly didn't expect you to give birth to the child. Maybe if I had made that clearer you would have given me grandchildren sooner?"
"Good things are worth waiting for, aren't they?" Knowing that there was no point arguing or using logic, Abby stepped into the conversation.
"That they are, my dear. I'm very glad you made him understand." Victoria's hand shook slightly as she stroked the downy blond hair of the infant. "Donald's hair was almost that same color in his youth. Later I shall show you pictures."
"I'd like that." Though it was unlikely that Victoria would remember her promise, Abby made a mental note to ask Ducky about pictures at a later date. It would be fun to see what he looked like as a child.
Victoria nodded contentedly and crossed the entryway towards her bedroom. Standing in the threshold she turned briefly. "Children should have brothers and sisters," she remarked, closing the door while Ducky stared at her flabbergasted.
"I'm sorry about that," Ducky apologized.
"Don't be silly. If your mother didn't greet us with outrageous comments, I'd think we had walked into the wrong house. Besides, she might have a crazy way of showing it but she cares about you and worries like a mother should."
"Yes, well that may be true but it's still going to be interesting. Just wait until Mallory is old enough to ask questions." Abby tried to stifle a yawn, but Ducky noticed and quickly forgot about his Mother's deluded beliefs. "Come upstairs, my dear. I believe it's time for a nap."
"No arguments here." Walking up the stairs Abby stopped short of her own bedroom, instead standing in front of Ducky's door. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all." Preceding her into the room, Ducky drew back the covers of the bed. When Abby held out the baby to him Ducky accepted, placing Mallory in the middle of the bed while Abby leaned down to remove her shoes. He waited until she was lying down before tucking the blankets around the mother and daughter. Walking around to the other side of the bed he toed off his own shoes before getting into the bed.
Abby placed her hand on Mallory's back, needing to feel the gentle rise and fall as she took each breath. She was almost asleep when she felt the warm touch of a hand covering her own. Content, Abby let herself drift into sleep.