Vala had finally persuaded the guys that a refreshments run was required, and general consensus was that Cameron and Daniel should escort her, to protect Washington DC.

So when Abby poked her head around the conference room door, it was only Sam, Gibbs and O'Neill sitting around the table, with Gibbs having just finished updating them on the case.

Gibbs after glancing at both his girls stood to leave but a hand on his arm stayed him. A wordless conversation ensued, finishing with a nod on his part. Rather than sitting down again though, he moved to stand behind Sam's chair.

A quiet, "You're welcome to stay, Sir, as long as Abby is okay with it.", along with a nod from Abby, released Jack from his own indecision and he sank back down into his chair. Not entirely comfortable with the possible emotional outburst to come, but unwilling to leave Sam to an unknown situation. Sure she had her Gibbs' protector, but...

Abby simply waited while they sorted themselves out. She had no problem with Gibbs staying, now that she had calmed down, and the General, well he had been there for all the rest, so what the hell.

"Sam." Her voice broke just a little; she swallowed hard and started again. "Sam, I am sorry. I was too confused and angry and all over the place, to listen before, but I would like to hear more."

"You've done the math?"


"So you know I was young, much too young to look after you properly. Never mind the fact that my father would have killed me if he had found out."

"Dad never knew?" Shock wrung the question from Jack, but he quickly sat back and waved vaguely as if to say 'Carry on, I'm not here.', but not before Abby regarded him rather oddly.

Sam just shrugged and otherwise ignored the outburst. Quietly, reflectively, she started telling her story, splitting her focus between Abby and a spot on the floor.

"My mother died when I was thirteen, nearly fourteen. She was in a taxi that was hit by a drunk driver. At first, for a couple of months really, I was just numb. It didn't feel real. I wandered through each day, going through the motions. Then I got angry. My father was supposed to pick her up but he was working late, as usual, and couldn't make it. If he had only gone to get her she wouldn't have been in that taxi and she wouldn't have been dead.

I started sneaking out, going to parties, anything to get back at my father. Anyway, he was working even more than before, which meant that for a while he didn't even notice. Finally, he did and the blowout was even bigger than I expected. He grounded me of course, and gave me this long lecture about appropriate behaviour and what did I think I was doing, and how dare I drag his name through the mud. He was hoping to make General soon and my behaviour was a stain on his reputation, etc, etc, etc.

Needless to say that didn't stop me, it just made me angrier. Anyway, there was this guy, another Forces brat, and we bonded over shared experiences and a bad attitude. He was so cool, so beautiful and so angry at the world. We discussed life, death and how to fix the world, we drank and we did what teenagers do. Of course, looking back, I can see he wasn't exactly stable, but then I'm not sure I was at the time, and I guess I've always been drawn towards the lunatic fringe.

His father was transferred suddenly and overnight he was gone. I mourned his loss, and I sulked. Fortunately for all of us, he had held more attraction for me than the party life.

Six months later, my Dad had been deployed away from home. Mark was deemed old enough for us to be left alone, and a neighbour kept an eye out.

I hadn't been feeling too well, so after school one day I went to the doctor in town, I hated the base doctor and his nurse was so nosy. The doc told me that I was seven months pregnant. I hadn't even considered the option, my periods had only just started when my Mom died, and since then, with the stress and everything, they had been decidedly erratic ever since.

I found myself in the park a little later, trying to make sense of everything and decide what to do.

This lady with a newborn in a pram came and sat on the bench next to me. When the baby started fussing she lifted her out and rocked her, humming softly. She asked if I would mind holding the baby while she got her food ready. I was shocked and uneasy, but she placed the baby in my arms and made sure I was supporting her head, and suddenly it felt less uncomfortable.

I was mesmerised. She was so tiny, wrapped in her little pink blanket, tufts of reddish blonde hair peeking out from under her cap. Her blue eyes were so serious as she inspected this stranger who was holding her. Deciding somehow that she was safe, and I was acceptable, she waved a tiny fist the solemnly began sucking on it. Such a tiny, fragile life and she was trusting me.

Her mother handed me the bottle, showed me how to hold it and allowed me to cuddle her baby while she watched over both of us. I don't know what she saw in me, but she gave me a great gift that day.

Suddenly I found myself telling her everything, eyes glued on the baby's face as she sucked with great concentration, turning the bottle gently. Everything came out in a jumble of words – my mother's death, my depression, my anger, the boy, the baby, the decisions I was suddenly faced with.

She made appropriate noises and let me ramble. When I finally ground to a halt, she lifted the baby against my shoulder, showing me how to rub her back and burp her. Then she suggested that as it was clouding over, I should join her for cake at the local coffee shop.

'I make it a rule never to make major decisions without a good night's sleep, talking to a friend' she grinned mischievously, 'or chocolate.'"