Disclaimer: If I owned NCIS, that Jardin girl would not have gotten her own episode last Tuesday.

Dedicated to Katja09, who has been patiently waiting for me to upload another Gibbs/Abby story for the last five months. Katja, I hope this makes up for all the not-even-remotely-NCIS-related alerts I've been sending you.

"Well, what's everyone waiting for? Let's get in position." –Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

Abby Sciuto, carrying a large Styrofoam coffee cup in both hands, scampered down the stairs to the NCIS bullpen and came bounding up to her surrogate father's desk with all the exuberance at her disposal.

"Hi, Gibbs!" she said, sliding the coffee cup towards him. "Happy first day of spring! I mean, I know technically spring started like two weeks ago, but I can never think of March as a spring month. There's just something so slimy and gooky about it – not in Louisiana, so much, but definitely in Maryland. Not," she added hastily, "that Maryland is slimy or gooky, especially; it's just, you know, more so than Louisiana is. Except in the bayous, of course…"

She trailed off, not because she had no more to say – she could easily have kept this thought going for another five minutes – but because it suddenly came over her that Gibbs wasn't really listening. He was looking at her, yes, and he was presumably hearing her words, but on his face was an expression that she was quite familiar with on other people's faces, but had never expected to see on his – not just, "Abbs, can you cut to the chase here?", but, "Oh, great, there goes the little Goth girl dribbling at the mouth again."

"Thanks, Abby," he said, and took the cup.

Abby failed to respond for a few seconds, slightly disoriented by the Terror of Baltimore's unwonted coolness to his favorite subordinate. "Yeah, so, anyway," she murmured, and turned on her heel with an air of great purposefulness, as thought expecting to see something enormously important to her immediate right. It was something of a letdown when all she saw was McGee – and even more of a letdown when he didn't even look up from his computer screen.

"So, Tony," he said, "what are you doing this evening?"

"Oh, you know, the usual," said Tony with a nonchalant air. "Dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, then a screening of the latest Malcolm McDowell film, all in the company of several of the District's most beautiful women…"

"Really?" said McGee. "That an annual tradition for them?"

Tony glanced up with a frown. "And what's that supposed to mean, McGabby?"

McGee smiled and said nothing.

It is worth noting that, if Abby had had a few extra seconds to figure out what he meant, the next few hours would likely have been much easier for her. She was not, however, given those few seconds, for at that moment the elevator opened and Ziva David entered the bullpen.

"Sorry I am late," she announced, dropping her tote bag behind her desk. "There are a great many maniacs on the road today." (Tony let out an audible snort.)

"Hey, no problem, Ziv," said Gibbs. "Long as you're here now." He reached over and ruffled Ziva's hair, and the Israeli assassin giggled softly.

And, at this sight, Abby felt her jaw drop a good three inches. Hang on, she thought. This cannot possibly be happening. Gibbs doesn't call Ziva "Ziv"; he doesn't ruffle people's hair; Ziva doesn't let people ruffle her hair; and she doesn't giggle except when Tony accidentally erases his hard drive. There is something very wrong here.She glanced around to see if anyone else had noticed, but McGee and Tony seemed to have accepted the situation as perfectly normal. This, of course, only heightened her puzzlement, and she was just about to make some comment when a sudden sound – if pressed, she would have described it as "gulky" – caught her attention. It seemed that Gibbs had taken a sip of the coffee she had given him, and he was now leaning over his wastebasket, wearing the closest thing to an expression of agony that he was capable of without at least three bullets in him, and spewing the pale-brown liquid onto the program of last week's security conference.

"Abby!" he barked. "Did you mix Caf-Pow with this?"

Abby blinked. "Um… maybe." (Actually, she was quite sure that she had, and that she had had a very good reason for doing so – something involving the first day of spring – but for the life of her she couldn't remember what it was.)

With an unreadable expression on his face, Gibbs rose from his chair, came over to where Abby was standing, gave her a light smack on the back of the head, and headed out of the bullpen towards the cafeteria, dropping the coffee cup into the non-recyclable trash as he passed.

For a moment, Abby physically couldn't move; then, slowly, she raised her hand and rubbed the back of her head.

Gibbs had head-slapped her. Gibbs never head-slapped her. Head-slapping was something he did with Tony, or McGee – the ones who didn't have the same relationship with him that she did – the ones who weren't the closest thing he had to a living daughter.

She glanced at the others out of the corner of her eye. Surely, even if they hadn't noticed the Ziva thing, they were bound to see that something hinky was going on now – but no, neither Tony, nor McGee, nor Ziva seemed to have batted an eyelash.

"Um…" she began; then her words caught in her throat, and she had to swallow before she tried again. "Um… did anybody notice anything weird just now?"

McGee considered. "Well, you messed with Gibbs's coffee and you're still alive," he said. "That's kind of unusual."

"Yeah, tell me about it," said Tony. "That's the one Gibbs Rule I never expected to see him suspend – unless it was Ziva doing the monkey business, of course."

Abby blinked. "Ziva?" she said, feeling a sudden chill go down her back. "Why Ziva?"

Tony glanced up at her and frowned. "Well, where have you been for the last four years?" he said. "I thought everyone understood that Ziva was Gibbs's favorite."

Ziva made a noise of protest. "I am not Gibbs's favorite!" she said. "We simply… understand each other."

"Oh, come on, Ziv," said Tony. "We all know he's been head-over-heels for you ever since you stepped off that airplane."

Ziva gave him a speculative look. "Do you know what I did to the last person to accuse me of liaising with my superior?"

Tony hesitated. "No…"

"Good," said Ziva. "You would not sleep well if you did."

"We're not saying you're liaising with Gibbs," said McGee. "If that's even a word. We're just saying he likes you better than everyone else, that's all."

"I do not believe that," said Ziva, but there was a slight smile on her face as she turned to the NCIS forensics expert. "Do you believe that, Abby?"

"Um… I'm not sure," said Abby. "I don't… I mean, I never really noticed it before…"

"Aha!" said Ziva, leaning back in her chair as though her point was definitively proved.

Tony shook his head. "Abby, you've got to get out of the lab more often," he said, then ducked as Ziva threw a Dixie cup at his head.

A strange, impossible picture was slowly forming in Abby's mind: a picture of an NCIS gone down a different path, a path she had not been privy to. Crazy, of course, and not to be believed for a moment… but still, it just might be…

She shook herself. No, she couldn't let herself start thinking that kind of thing just because of a few comments Tony made. She needed to talk to someone else – someone she could trust implicitly – someone who, if anything, was generally too ready to dispense little nuggets of illumination on every subject under the sun.

And with that thought, she turned around and strode in the direction of Autopsy, not noticing the concerned look that McGee wore as his gaze followed her down the hall.

"Operation Guide for the Married Man proceeding smoothly, boss." –Anthony DiNozzo.

Dr. Donald "Ducky" Mallard glanced over his shoulder as he heard the Autopsy door slide open, and beamed genially at the young woman walking through it. "Ah, good morning, Abigail!" he said. "And how does my fragrant myrrh tree find herself this morning?"

"Ducky, I need to ask you a question," said Abby.

"Certainly, my dear."

"Okay." Abby took a deep breath. "Who's Gibbs's favorite member of the team?"

Ducky cocked his head, and his face assumed an expression of sternness that the twinkle in his eye belied. "Oh, come now, Abby," he said. "Surely you're not suggesting that Gibbs has favorites?"

"Ducky, please," said Abby.

Ducky blinked. "Oh, you're serious," he said. "Well, in that case, I suppose I would have to say Ziva."

"Ziva." Abby repeated the name dully, in the tone of one whose worst fears have been confirmed.

"Certainly," said Ducky. "You must remember how it was when she first arrived at NCIS. None of the rest of us were quite ready to accept a new member of the team so soon after Kate's death – if memory serves, you were among the worst offenders in that respect – and Gibbs spent nearly the whole first month defending her against our… ah… let us say our slight ingratitude. Well, that sort of thing naturally forms a bond between two people, and Gibbs's feelings for Ziva have been of a peculiarly tender nature ever since."

He said it so matter-of-factly, and it sounded so plausible, that Abby almost believed it for a moment or two; then she caught herself. No, she thought firmly. I'm Gibbs's favorite. He's told me so, and Gibbs doesn't lie. Even if he and Ziva do have some special patron-type relationship that I never noticed before, that's not the same…

"But that's all it is, right?" she said, with a sudden, desperate hope. "He had to defend her good qualities to us, so he notices them more than the rest of us do?"

Ducky hesitated. "Well, that was certainly how it started," he said, "but I daresay it's gone a bit further than that by now. I sometimes wonder whether Gibbs might not see Ziva as a picture of what he might have raised Kelly to be: formidable, self-reliant, but still very much a young woman at heart." Abby's heart sank, but Ducky, apparently oblivious, chuckled. "If nothing else, her complete inability to admit her feelings for Tony must remind Jethro of himself."

"Yeah," Abby murmured. It was true, when she thought about it: Ziva was a lot like Gibbs – a lot more than she was, that was for sure. Up until today, she had always thought that that the differences between her and Gibbs were what drew them together, but now… now she wondered whether she had ever really known the man she called her mentor. Maybe all the little things he had done for her over the years had just been ordinary politeness, and it was her own over-affectionate nature that had made her mistake them for a special bond between the two of them. Maybe…

"But, Abby, you know all this already," said Ducky with a frown. "Why are you asking me?"

"Oh, I don't know," Abby murmured. "I just, you know… wondered…"

Ducky fixed her with his Master of Forensic Psychology's stare, inspiring her with a sudden, intense interest in the Autopsy floor tiles. "Abigail," he said softly, "is something wrong?"

Abby swallowed. "Wrong?" she said, with an attempt at a smile. "Why should something be wrong?"

"I couldn't say," said Ducky, "but I…"

"I mean, maybe if I'd just lost the most important person in the world to me that I wasn't related to," said Abby, "or if someone I'd always trusted turned out to have been putting me on for the last seven years, then maybe something would be wrong, but that hasn't happened, has it? It can't have happened, because if I'd trusted someone for seven years, you or Tony or McGee would know about it, and since none of you do, I must not have. So everything's fine. Logic requires that it be fine. So it's fine."

She paused for breath, still not daring to meet Ducky's eyes. "Fine," she repeated one more time; then she turned around and nearly ran out of Autopsy, because, ever since a trip to the emergency room at the age of three, she had had a very firm personal policy against letting doctors see her cry.

"The situation is still stable, but I wouldn't like to say how long it will stay that way. I think you'd best get down there." –Donald Mallard, M.D.

The next half-hour found Abby sprawled out behind her desk, sucking from three large Caf-Pows in alternation and surfing the Internet for information on Parallel Universes and Rifts in the Time-Space Continuum.

"'From Stone to Stone run the lines of "if", between the worlds that might be,'" she read aloud to herself. "Well, that's not very helpful. The last stones I got up close and personal with were those emeralds in the Auld case, and that was…"

She failed to complete the sentence. The mention of the Auld emeralds had summoned a vivid memory of her showing Gibbs how she had determined that three of those emeralds were synthetic, thereby providing the clue he needed to identify Captain Berger as Corporal Auld's murderer, and how he had kissed her on the back of the neck and whispered, "Good job, Abbs." At the time, it had been a fairly routine exchange between the two of them, but now the mere memory was enough to make her sink her face in her arms and flop down onto her keyboard, thereby inadvertently instructing Google to search the Internet for the phrase "hj,.loklm". (It found 18 hits, including one on the NASA website.)

She remained in this position for twenty-eight seconds, at the end of which she raised herself up again, took a deep breath, brushed her pigtails back from her shoulders, and said firmly, "Okay, Abbs, time to get a grip on yourself. You can't go around breaking into tears every time you think about Gibbs; you'll be insane by lunchtime, and Tuesdays are like the worst days to go insane. It is still Tuesday, right?" she added as an afterthought, and moved her cursor down to the bottom right-hand corner of the computer screen.

The small, beige rectangle that appeared informed her that it was, indeed, still Tuesday. It also, however, told her something else, something that she had forgotten in the emotional tumult of the morning – something that now claimed her complete and immediate attention.

"Hang on a second…" she murmured, as her trained scientist's mind put together such disparate data as the Hilaria of ancient Rome, Noam Elkies's disproof of Fermat's last theorem, and the known wankerhood of her fellow NCIS agents.

"Finally figured it out, Abbs?" came a voice from behind her chair.

Abby whirled around, and glared up into the smiling face of the silver-haired ex-Marine behind her. "Never do that to me again, Agent Gibbs!" she exclaimed.

She held the glare for 3.82 seconds (which was, she had once calculated, the maximum amount of time she could stay angry with L. J. Gibbs); then, abruptly, she leaped up from her chair and threw her arms around her mentor.

"Oh, Gibbs," she murmured into his jacket shoulder, "I was so scared for a while there. I almost thought I was going crazy when I was talking to Ducky – he acted so calm and so – so Duckyish…"

Gibbs chuckled. "Well, we all knew Ducky could act when he needed to," he said. "Hasn't he ever told you about the time he played Polonius in that Stratford version of Hamlet?"

Abby shook her head, and giggled in between the relieved tears she could feel leaking out of her eyes. "Honestly, though, Gibbs," she said, "couldn't you guys have found something a little less Twilight Zone to pull on me today?"

She felt Gibbs shrug. "We didn't think you'd take it this hard," he said.

"How else could I take it?" said Abby. "We're family, Gibbs. When you lose your family, it's like… well, you know what it's like."

Gibbs was silent for a moment, and Abby wondered whether she had crossed a line. "Yeah, I do," he said softly, running his hand through her nearer ponytail. "Sorry, Abbs."

And because an apology from Gibbs meant so much more than just an apology, Abby snuggled further into his jacket fabric and sent up a silent prayer of thanks that the world was once again as it should be.

She stayed this way for about a minute, and she probably would have stayed there longer if she hadn't heard her lab door slide open and a familiar voice say, "So… bad time?"

Abby emerged from Gibbs's lapel and smiled at the man in the doorway. "No, Tony, it's a great time," she said. "Do you need something?"

"Um, yeah," said Tony. "See, McGee's kind of gotten into the spirit of things today, and he did something to my When Harry Met Sally sound files that..."

"I'll be right there," said Abby with a grin.


Tony exited the lab, and Gibbs gave Abby a quick peck on the cheek and followed him. Abby turned back to her computer and began to shut it down, but then she changed her mind and pulled up the Control Panel instead. From now on, she wanted to be able to see the date on her screen at all times, whether she had the cursor over the clock or not.

With a few expert clicks of the mouse, she adjusted her settings accordingly. Then, and only then, did she shut down the computer, keeping her eyes till the last minute on the now-extended code in the lower right-hand corner: 10:53 AM, Tuesday, April 1, 2008.

"An excellent custom, April Fools' Day. I cannot think why we do not celebrate it in Israel." –Ziva David.