Title: Precious Things
Author: Jo. R
Content Warnings: Mild sexual situations, mention of child abuse.
Spoilers: Very mild for 'Bloodbath', 'Frame-Up'
Summary: When a case brings a baby into their lives, Abby finds herself surprised when she realises she wants something 'normal'; how far will she go to get it and how far will Gibbs go to help her?
Authors Notes: Kid!fic of sorts. Just saying so you can avoid it if that's a major turn off of yours. (Amy, you probably won't wanna read this even though it's *not* pregnancy fic).
Dedication: For Cassy, who wanted Gibbs/Abby fic featuring a kid.
Another photograph to put on the wall, another friend settling down and growing up. Abigail Sciuto stared at the beaming couple, at the chubby baby cradled between them chewing on a drool-coated fist.
She'd never wanted the kind of life on display in the picture, hadn't thought her friends did, either, but staring at the smile on Rachel Manner's face, she couldn't deny that the former club-mad woman looked happier than she'd ever seen her before nor could she deny the pang in her chest when she looked at the baby again, a perfect combination of his two doting parents.
Her own childhood had been one of mixed blessings. She'd had two parents who'd undoubtedly loved her and had bestowed her with affection in their own way but they'd never been able to understand her. Being a hearing child born to two deaf parents was unusual and, as a result, Abby had taken on more responsibility than she should have done; instead of relying heavily on her parents for most of her younger years, she'd encouraged them to rely on her because she found breaching the gap between their world and the one outside their home to be easier. When her brother had been born, another hearing child, it was Abby who'd taken over the majority of parenting responsibilities, teaching him to talk using both his hands and his mouth, defending him from the same playground bullies she'd had to endure, supporting him with his school work, acting as a liaison between his teachers and their parents.
Abby looked at the photograph on her computer screen once more, ignoring the text of the email to focus on the happy baby so she could ignore the unwanted moisture stinging her eyes. She remembered the sleepless nights taking care of her brother, the endless crying and squealing and all of the diaper changes and midnight feeds and trying to keep him cool when he was teething. She remembered crying herself at the lowest points, shouting at him to shut up so she could get some sleep the night before an important exam at school... She recalled being frustrated with him and with her seeming inability to look after him properly, how tired and exhausted and emotional she'd been but even remembering the worst of it didn't stop the ache in her chest and the absolute certainty she had that she'd do it again as long as she got the experience the highs along with the lows.
Her brother's first step, his first word – an attempt to say her name, though she'd lied and told her parents he'd been calling for his Mama. She remembered stepping aside so her parents could share those moments with him, cooing over their little boy's achievements, bonding with their son in ways Abby never could.
She'd stopped herself from sharing those moments with the baby she'd helped raise and realised she'd willingly put herself through it all again as long as she didn't have to stand back and let someone else have the fun and unconditional love only a child could give.
"You got something for me, Abs?"
It wasn't the sound of his voice that caused her to jump, more the fact that it was so close to her ear. She only had to turn her head a few inches to see him, wait a few seconds before he moved close enough that she could feel his warmth pressed up against her back. "Nothing yet. It'll be another hour before Major Mass Spec has something."
She expected him to leave, to say something about her calling him when she had something or even a comment about hurrying it up before striding out of the lab. He didn't; instead he leaned closer, his cheek almost touching hers as he peered over her shoulder at the image on the screen.
"Cute family. Friends of yours?"
Stiffening her spine against a shiver at his close proximity, which wasn't unusual or unwelcome, Abby's finger hovered over the button that would make the picture and attached email disappear. "My friend Rachel and her family. You met her once, a few years back. You probably don't remember..."
Special Agent Jethro Gibbs studied the woman in the picture with narrowed eyes, his brow furrowed as he searched his memory. In his mind's eye, he saw the beaming woman's light brown hair change to a bleached blond, her eyes ringed with eyeliner, her lips painted a rich red colour. "Wasn't she the one whose boyfriend left you both stranded? You called me to pick you up and she cried all the way back to your place and said she'd castrate him with her bare hands if she ever saw him again?" Remembering how those hands had been attached to some vicious-looking nail extensions at the time, Gibbs almost had to fight back a sympathetic flinch for the bastard who'd left the two women alone in an unsafe part of town. "That's not the same guy, is it?"
Abby gave a low chuckle and shook her head, one jet-black pigtail brushing his shoulder as she moved. "Different guy. Stuart's not the clubbing type. Neither is she, not anymore." The latter was said with a sigh, and she clicked the button on the mouse, bringing up her desktop as the email was closed. "She moved out of the city two years ago and now she's married with a son. Jason. He's three months old."
"He's cute." Gibbs watched her as she watched the screen, waiting for her to do something. It wasn't like Abby to sit still for long; even when waiting for results, she found something to occupy her time whether it was working on a cold case or standing on her head or doing cartwheels around her lab. A quiet, still Abby meant an unhappy Abby, and Gibbs had long ago made it his personal mission in life to make sure she didn't stay that way for long. "Something on your mind, Abby?"
She shrugged but didn't speak for a long moment, eyes still fixed on the place the photograph had been. "I'm just having a down day," she said eventually, choosing to be honest with him as was her way. If she'd been talking to anyone but Gibbs, she would've forced a smile and made up some phoney excuse but with him, for some reason, she never felt like she had to be someone she wasn't. "I'll be okay."
He put his hand on her shoulder, fingers tightening for a moment. "What's causing it?"
Abby leaned back instinctively, knowing he was there to keep her from toppling over, off her stool and onto the floor. She let her head rest against him and lifted her hand to rest atop of his. "It's stupid," she admitted softly, knowing he'd stay silent and give her time to formulate an answer. "I never wanted a normal life, you know that. I was happy with the life I've got and I was happy being me and being able to do what I want and go to clubs and concerts and partying with friends... But I'm not, anymore. Happy, I mean. Well, I am, I love my life and my job and my friends but I'm not..." She sighed, the frustration she felt audible. "Rachel's the third friend to get married and have a baby this year and she's happy, completely head-over-heels happy in a way I've never seen her before, in a way I've never been myself."
Gibbs waited, his expression carefully neutral. His moved his hand to cover hers when the silence lasted a little too long, linking their fingers in a silent gesture of support.
"I'd make a lousy wife," Abby continued, her voice low and full of self-depreciation. "I'd never be anyone's ideal daughter-in-law, wouldn't be the type of woman a guy could take home to meet mom and dad or introduce to his boss or colleagues without raising more than a few eyebrows. I leave my clothes on the floor until I run out of stuff to wear and need to do a laundry run and I live off takeaways and microwavable meals because it's been so long since I've had the time or inclination to cook a meal for myself from scratch... I'd be a nightmare mom." Her voice grew softer, sadder. "I'd never fit in with the other mom's, I'd always been the different one, I'd be an embarrassment to any kid I have because of the way I look and dress and because of my tats and I think I'm too selfish to change that now so I'd probably be a lousy mom on top of being an embarrassment so I know it's a really bad idea but... I keep seeing how happy they are and think about how it'd be to have a baby that's mine and I want it. For the first time in my life, I actually want something normal."
"So why can't you have it?" Gibbs took a step to the side when she straightened, reaching for the extra stool and pulling it over so he could sit beside her, doing it one-handed so he wouldn't have to relinquish contact with her completely. "You're a wonderful woman, Abby, with the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met."
Her eyes shimmered when she looked at him until she blinked and took a deep breath, composing herself. "Where do I start? To get married and have a kid, you've got to be involved with someone and I don't know if you've noticed but my love life has been lacking as of late. You can't just go out and grab some random stranger off the street and say 'hey, you look like you've got good genes. What's say you and me get hitched and have get knocked up?'"
A small smile curved up his lips, a feat Abby seemed to always achieve with relative ease. "That's not what I was suggesting, Abs, though I'm sure you'd find someone out there who'd take you up on the offer. You'd probably have to fight 'em off."
She rolled her eyes, scepticism on her face. "Yeah, right. The kind of guys who go for girls like me would run a mile and I'd be glad of it, too. The guys I attract aren't husband material, even for me."
"Girls like you." Gibbs repeated what she'd said, his expression strangely serious. "You never fail to amaze me, Abby. For all of your apparent confidence, you just can't let yourself believe what a good, beautiful woman you are."
For a moment, she just stared at him, brow furrowed as if she was trying to figure out if he meant it or not. Shaking herself mentally, Abby looked away. "It's stupid, like I said. Probably just a phase I'm going through because of the baby-overload in my life at the moment."
"Phases pass," he pointed out, not sure if he was agreeing with her or not.
"Exactly." She glanced at him, a determined look on her face. "It'll pass and we can forget this conversation ever happened. Thanks, Gibbs." She leaned over to hug him briefly, burying her face in the crook of his neck for the briefest of moments before jumping up from her stool when one of her precious machines beeped. "Hey, results are in. Guess you know my babies better than I do."
The conversation was put to the side but wouldn't be forgotten. Gibbs followed her across to the other side of the lab, watching her carefully as she explained the results, her usual animation slowly seeping back into her gestures and mannerisms. He left her with a kiss on the cheek and a smile on her face but made a mental note to keep a close eye on her and to prepare himself for revisiting the subject if it should crop up again.
A week passed, then another, and the subject wasn't broached. Assuming it to be just a phase as Abby had predicted, Gibbs didn't bring it up again but did wonder when he was home alone, working on his boat.
He found himself wondering what kind of mother Abby would be, picturing how her taste in clothes would be modified to accommodate a growing stomach, easily imaging a mini version of his favourite lab tech with wild black hair and laughing green eyes running around the lab, bugging his agents, bugging him...
Then he tried to picture the little girl's father and felt his stomach turn, his jaw clenching at the thought of the faceless man having Abby and her child to go home to every night, no doubt putting a stop to her late-night visits at his house where she'd work alongside him on the boat, the conversations about nothing in particular they had over the phone when one or both of them couldn't sleep...
Telling himself he was glad she'd stopped thinking about it, that it was okay that he felt relieved the idea had been dropped, Gibbs still couldn't stop himself from wondering.
The usually silent morgue was disrupted by the discontent wail of a distressed baby. Doctor Donald 'Ducky' Mallard rocked the shushed the infant in his arms, throwing a helpless look at his wincing assistant, Jimmy Palmer.
The baby, a little boy called Steven, had been found next to the body currently occupying the slab in the morgue. The body belonged to his murdered mother, a lieutenant in the Navy who'd been found by a neighbour wanting to complain about the noise her son was making. Needing his team to secure the scene and with no relatives or friends of the dead lieutenant willing or able to take in the child, Gibbs had sent the little boy back with Ducky and Palmer, instructing them to make sure he was okay, check him for evidence and keep him at NCIS until he got back.
The doors to the morgue opened to admit Abby, the short black dress she wore looking out of place amongst the cold steel and sterile white of the room. Her hair was neatly piled atop of her head and Ducky raised both eyebrows at her appearance.
"Oh, dear." Ducky continued to rock the crying child. "I'm terribly sorry, Abby. Did we interrupt you?"
"Nothing important, Ducky." Abby waved off his concern with a smile, eyes focused on the baby. "A boring date I was looking for a reason to get out of," she continued, taking a step forward on high heel shoes she was unaccustomed to wearing for any reason other than court. "I take it this is the little guy?"
"Steven Winters, son of our poor lieutenant. Jethro wants us to gather any evidence we can from him though I'm not sure what he's expecting to find." Ducky looked down at the red face, runny nose and big, round eyes. "You're a lovely lad but not much of a witness."
Abby took another step forward and held her arms out, cradling the squirming mass as the baby protested at being moved from one stranger's arms to another. "There could be fingerprints on his clothes," she pointed out, jiggling the little boy in her arms. "Or a trace of DNA of anyone else who'd been at the scene." She gave the baby a smile when he looked at her uncertainly, making soft cooing noises and reaching up to take hold of the tiny fist curled up against the skin revealed by the low-cut neckline of the dress. "You're a cute little guy when you're not crying," she murmured, bouncing him in her arms when his crying began to subside and lapsed into the occasional whimper. "Bet you're tired and hungry, hmm?" She lifted him slightly and wrinkled her nose. "And you need changing, too."
Jimmy Palmer looked at her in disbelief as the ringing in his ears slowly began to fade. "How'd you do that?" He asked, jaw agape. "He's been crying since we found him..."
"He just wanted a hug," Abby murmured, eyes focused on the little boy in her arms. "Skin on skin contact," she expanded, glancing at Palmer and Ducky in time to catch them exchanging a glance. "Babies feel more settled when there isn't something between their skin and the person holding them. It's got something to do with the warmth and smell of bare skin and the fact they're more sensitive at this age." She smiled when the baby let his head rest against her chest and looked up at them. "He does need changing, though. You guys didn't happen to bring anything with you, did you?"
"Agent Gibbs picked up a bag." Palmer walked around the gurney holding the thankfully-covered body and picked up a large canvas shoulder-bag with printed zoo animals on it. "He looked inside and said we'd find everything we needed and that they'd bring some more stuff with them when the scene was cleared."
"Great." Carefully holding the baby against her with one arm, Abby reached out for the bag and swung it over her shoulder with the other one. She glanced uneasily at the covered body of the baby's mother and motioned to the door with her head. "If it's okay with you boys, I'll take little Stevie here with me to the lab and do what I need to from there."
"Be our guest, my dear. It'll give us a chance to get acquainted with his unfortunate mother." Ducky gave her a warm, albeit relieved smile as she turned and carried the now-quiet baby out of the morgue. He turned to the body bag on the table and the smile faded from his face. "Let's see what your story is, my dear. Mr. Palmer, if you will?"
Palmer unzipped the bag and prepared the body as Ducky prepared himself for the autopsy, forcing himself to forget about the child just one level away and his connection to his newest guest.
Changing a dirty diaper was just as unpleasant as she remembered but Abby did it with a smile, fingertips gently tickling the bare stomach of the baby lying on the folded blanket she'd spread out on the floor of her lab. She carefully set his clothes to one side next to the heeled shoes she'd discarded, knowing she'd have to process them for trace evidence later, and focused on cleaning him up and putting on a new diaper before giving in to the impulse to lean in and blow raspberries against his stomach.
Stevie squealed in delight and clapped his chubby hands together, legs flailing. He made a grab for the hair that escaped from the clip holding it back and tried wrapping it around his fist. Abby laughed and made a soft tutting sound, keeping him still with one hand on his stomach as she untangled her hair from his fingers and pushed it back behind her ears. "That's not a toy," she told him quietly, tickling his sides again when he began to pout. "No more crying, little guy. You'll make yourself sick."
She reached into the bag with the hand not tickling his stomach, rummaging around blindly for anything that felt like a toy. Her fingers brushed something soft and fur-like and she gave him a smile of success, withdrawing a fluffy blue rabbit stuffed animal. Stevie clapped his hands again when he saw it, immediately reaching out for it, pushing a much-worn ear into his mouth when she handed it over.
"Well, he's no Bert but he'll do." Abby shook her head, trying to imagine his reaction if she gave him the farting hippo she was so proud of to play with. He'd either be terrified of the noise or find it the funniest thing in the world. "Now what to do with you while I work." She rocked back on her heels and glanced around her lab. She couldn't leave him in the middle of the floor; she suspected her lab would get a lot of traffic when Gibbs and his team returned and she didn't want to risk any little fingers being trodden on before she could call out a warning. "Office it is," she murmured, scooping him up and holding him against her as one hand held onto the rabbit and the other grasped the material of her dress's neckline, tiny fingers resting against her chest.
Improvising was something she was good at but it still took a while for her to create something she was satisfied would do the job of giving him space but keeping him out of harm's way. The blankets she kept for all-nighters were put to good use as padding on the floor, the pillows she used and the futon strategically placed to create walls to keep him from wandering too far. A few plastic boxes used to store the equipment she couldn't have out on display all the time went behind the pillows to keep him from pushing them aside. When she was convinced he would be okay, Abby left to fetch the bag from the main room of the lab, setting it on the desk so she could survey its contents while keeping a close eye on him.
Diapers, packets of formula, plastic bottles, a pacifier, baby wipes... She emptied them out on her desk, making a neat pile of practical supplies on one side while toys, unused teething rings and little books were put on the other side. She emptied the pockets of the bag, not giving anything a second thought until she withdrew a small, clear plastic bag, sealed but full of a suspicious white powder.
"I'm guessing this isn't baby powder." She sighed and glanced at the baby lying on the blankets, noting his eyes were closed, stuffed toy tucked securely under one arm as he pushed the corner of the blanket into one ear. His chest moved slowly with his steady breathing and she set the plastic bag down long enough to fold some of the spare blanket he wasn't lying on over his bare stomach.
She couldn't use any of the items from the bag now, not until she'd tested them for contamination. Abby glanced at the obviously beloved soft toy, and slowly, reluctantly, eased it out from under his arm, holding her breath when he whimpered, relaxing only when his whimper turned to a sigh and he settled in his sleep once more.
Carrying as much as she could manage, plastic bag and bunny resting atop of the pile, Abby strode into her lab to test them, hopeful she could give the toy the all clear and get it back to him before he noticed it was gone.
The morgue was the first place Gibbs went on returning to the Navy yard. He expected to find he had to wait for the results of the autopsy, any annoyance he might have felt at the delay offset by the amusement he got when he thought of Ducky and Palmer minding the baby boy he'd sent back with them. To his surprise, there was no sign of Steven Winters and both Ducky and his assistant were busy at work getting him the results he needed.
"Ah, Jethro. Good timing." Ducky glanced up momentarily, his greeting slightly muffled by the mask covering his mouth. "Mr. Palmer and I were discussing Lieutenant Winter's extracurricular activities. It may help you determine a motive for killing her."
"Where's the kid?" Tony DiNozzo moved forward in step with his boss, a wary expression on his face.
"With Abby," Palmer answered, catching Tony's eye with a grin. "She was on a date."
"On a date? Really? What's she wearing?" Catching the look on Gibbs' face, Tony cleared his throat. "Not that it's any of our business..."
Ignoring the looks exchanged between them, Gibbs looked to Ducky questioningly. "What've you got, Ducky?"
"Evidence that our dearly departed lieutenant has had plastic surgery to repair her nasal septum. If you look closely, you can see the scars left by the surgery." Ducky moved back slightly to allow Gibbs a closer look at the dead woman's face.
Seeing the slight scars that would have been easily overlooked had a less experienced medical examiner performed the autopsy, Gibbs frowned. "She was a cocaine user."
"An addict, at one time, given the extent of damage she would have needed to have in order for the surgery to be necessary."
"We found no evidence of drugs at the apartment." Ending his hushed conversation with Palmer, Tony looked up and caught Gibbs' eye. "I'll get a sniffer dog over there now."
Gibbs nodded. "Take McGee with you and question the neighbours again. See if they ever had reason to suspect she was using."
"On it, Boss." Turning on his heel, Tony left without protest.
Ducky removed his face mask and motioned to Palmer to cover the body. "Cause of death was undoubtedly due to blood loss from the wounds to her throat and arms. There is sufficient bruising to suggest that she may have tried fighting her assailant and I've taken scrapings from under her nails to give to Abby."
"I'll take them." Gibbs held out his hand for the Doctor's pen and signed his name on the evidence log of the plastic bag Ducky handed him containing the samples.
"I'm not sure how much work she'll have managed to do, Jethro," Ducky called after him as he went to leave the morgue. "I believe she'll have had her hands full with our young charge."
Gibbs acknowledged him with a small hand gesture, getting into the elevator as soon as it arrived. He hit the button for Abby's floor and bounced slightly on the heels of his shoes as he waited for it to stop.
Abby was good with kids; he'd seen her with them before and knew enough about her history to know she'd spent a considerable portion of her childhood helping her parents with her little brother. Still, he couldn't help but be a little bit apprehensive of what he'd find when he got to her lab.
A squeal had him reaching for his gun as the doors to the elevator opened, even as his mind processed it was a happy sound and not one of pain or terror. Easing his hand away, Gibbs walked into the lab, eyebrows rising towards his hairline as he took in the sight before him.
Standing in front of the Mass Spec, Abby had the squealing baby secured to her chest with one arm and danced a plush faded blue toy in front of him with the other, drawing it back just as his chubby hands reached out for it, eliciting another squeal of delight at the game.
Satisfied all was well, Gibbs allowed himself a few moments to watch her, to take in the short black dress and low back, the nearly sheer stockings covering her legs and shoe-less feet. Tendrils of black hair ran amuck around her flushed face having escaped the constraints of the bronze-coloured hairclip keeping it in place and her make-up was strangely understated – for Abby, anyway. Black eyeliner as usual but only the slightest glimmer of lip gloss over her full lips. He thought about what Palmer had said about her being on a date before Ducky had called her in and felt his hands clench reflexively before remembering the evidence bag he held.
The sound of the plastic crumpling in his hand gave him away; Abby spun gracefully on her feet, both arms wrapping around the baby boy to keep him safely against her. Her barely-painted lips curved up in a welcoming smile when she saw him and she let the baby take the toy in her hands before balancing him carefully on her hip.
"Hey, Gibbs!" Her eyes fell on the bag in his hand. "You brought me more presents."
"From Ducky," he replied, watching the deft way she kept the baby's hands from grabbing handfuls of hair in admiration. "You're handling him well."
Her smile widened, brighter than any he'd seen from her in too long. She pressed her lips against the baby's head as he settled against her, one hand clutching the rabbit and the other clutching the material at her neckline. "Stevie makes it easy. He's such a great kid." She motioned him over with the wave of her hand. "It hasn't been all play and no work, though. I found something in the baby bag you sent over." She picked up a piece of paper from the counter next to her machine and held it out to him. "Methylbenzoylecgonine, known more commonly as crack cocaine. There was close to 100 grams in the bag. I've tested everything else that was packed with it and there was no sign of contamination."
"Fits with what Ducky found." Gibbs squinted at the text on the paper, standing close enough that his arm brushed hers. "Ducky said Lieutenant Winters had surgery to repair her nasal septum. I thought she was an ex-user but it looks like it's ongoing."
"Ongoing would explain why she chose not to breastfeed." Abby ran a hand down the baby's back in an unconscious gesture. "I tested Stevie's blood but there was no trace and there's nothing but formula in the bag so I'm guessing she at least cared about him enough not to risk him suffering any side effects."
"Other than the side effect of losing his mother," Gibbs agreed with a sigh. He set the paper down and turned to look at her, leaning against the workbench. "I'm going to have to call social services, Abby. We can't keep him here indefinitely."
Her smile disappeared and she cuddled the baby closer. "He'll get stuck in the system for weeks. Can't you wait till we track down some family? Ducky said the neighbours didn't know of anyone in the area but he's got to have relatives somewhere in the country..."
"He doesn't." It was Ziva David who answered, her dark eyes sympathetic as she gazed at the child in Abby's arms. "There is no father listed on the child's birth certificate and Lieutenant Winter's was an only child born to parents who are now deceased. She had no living relatives."
"Well, maybe there's a friend of the family who'll take him, or she might've left a will stating who gets to look after him if she died." Abby struggled to keep her distress from showing but, as if sensing it, Stevie began to fuss against her. "It's too soon. We still don't know who killed her or why and he might have a father somewhere who's been trying to get access to him..."
"Abby..." Ziva glanced at Gibbs, her expression helpless. "It is in the child's best interests..."
"Stevie," Abby corrected with a curtness that surprised even her. "He has a name and it's Stevie."
Gibbs straightened, his arms loose by his sides. "Steven," he reminded her softly. "His name is Steven."
The boy in question began to cry, big tears sliding down his cheeks as a loud, piercing wail escaped him. The soft toy was dropped, forgotten as he clung to Abby, burying his face against her as it grew redder and warmer as sobs wracked his tiny frame.
"Shhh..." Turning away from them, Abby held him close as she jiggled him in her arms, pressing her lips to the soft tuft of hair on his head, one hand supporting his weight while the other pressed lightly against his back. "It's okay. Don't cry, honey. Everything's gonna be okay."
She paced the lab with him in her arms, missing Gibbs motioning Ziva over to him and the whispered conversation the two had before the Mossad liaison left. A tear escaped from her own eye as the baby clung to her desperately, his wails growing louder as the tension in her increased.
"Give him here, Abs." Gibbs kept his voice soft but she still looked at him with a suspicion that hurt. "He's upset because you're upset," he pointed out, hating knowing that she was distressed because of him. He held his arms out for the baby, fighting back a sigh at the look on her face as she reluctantly, hesitantly, handed him over.
She whirled away from him as soon as Stevie was out of her arms, wiping her cheeks with her hands before crossing her arms over her chest. Every cry he gave cut through her, every change in the pitch of his wails hurting her anew. She heard Gibbs shushing the baby quietly, murmuring nonsensical words and reassurances that eventually began to work.
"Got any diapers left, Abby? He needs changing."
Abby moved silently about her lap, a dejected slump to her shoulders as she walked away from him into her office. When she didn't immediately return, Gibbs followed, carrying the still-sniffling baby with the care of a man who'd done it before. He wasn't at all surprised to find her laying out the things he'd need on a blanket-come-changing-mat on the floor of her office but was surprised when she stood to take the baby from him instead of standing back and letting him complete the unpleasant task.
He watched her, noticing the slight tremble in her hands as she set Stevie on the floor and held the wriggling baby in place with one hand as she undid the tabs holding his diaper in place with the other. Her movements were precise and well-practised and he found himself wondering just how much experience she'd had in the past.
So focused on Abby, he was able to see when she faltered, the line appearing between her eyes as she frowned. "Abby?"
"Get me some gloves," she instructed, momentarily forgetting who she was talking to. "And get the bunny from the floor. He'll start crying again as soon as he remembers it's gone."
Gibbs didn't question her orders, or the fact he followed them without protest. He'd seen the look on her face and knew she wasn't playing games with him, knew there was a reason for the worried expression he'd seen flitter across her pale features. He crouched down beside her on his return, leaning over her to distract Stevie with the toy as the baby began to fuss. "What've you got?"
"I'm not sure." She eased the soiled diaper from under the baby. "Can you finish changing him?"
"Sure." They switched places with minimal disruption and Gibbs found himself alone in her office with the baby while she took the dirty diaper into her lab. Getting the boy sorted in a matter of minutes, a pang hitting him at how foreign yet familiar it felt to be changing a diaper once again, Gibbs left the boy in the makeshift playpen Abby had improvised and traced her footsteps. "What's going on, Abby?"
"You can't hand him over to the social services." She didn't sound happy about it, which was the only reason he didn't immediately argue. He walked up behind her and stared at the screen as she hit the keys that would transfer the image of what she'd been looking at under the microscope onto her computer. "My guess is we've found the reason Lieutenant Winters didn't want him needing treatment for drug addiction. She didn't want to get caught using him for something else."
Staring at the magnified image of the small diamond she'd found and cleaned, Gibbs swallowed the anger that rose inside him at the realisation of what the dead woman had done to her son. "I'll get Ducky."
At Ducky's insistence, Stevie was taken to see a paediatrician at the local hospital. Abby slipped on her shoes and took possession of the baby before anyone could protest and wouldn't relinquish hold of him no matter how many times Gibbs told her she'd be more use staying at her lab processing evidence.
She paced the waiting room like an anxious parent when Stevie was taken away for an x-ray and ultrasound, stopping only when Gibbs stood in front of her, two cups of lukewarm coffee from the cafeteria in hand.
"He'll be okay, Abs." He passed her a cup but didn't sit down, moving instead to stand behind her and press a hand to the small of her back through the jacket she'd shrugged on over her dress. "Ducky said the diamond you found was too small to have done any major damage."
"What if there are more of them?" Abby asked fretfully, wrapping her hands around the cup as she stood a little closer, forgetting their earlier argument in favour of seeking comfort from his proximity. "What if they've already done some damage and the doctors can't fix it because he's so young? He's so small, Gibbs. He's so small and so helpless."
Moving his hand from her back to rest on her hip, Gibbs drew her against him gently. "He's small but he hasn't shown any sign that he's in pain. He'll be fine. We've just got to wait for the doctor's to finish their tests, then we'll know what we're up against."
"He's so small," Abby repeated with a sigh. "How could anyone do that to their own child? She used him like a drug mule, a human safety deposit box, regardless of what it might have done to him."
Gibbs kept silent, not wanting to add his anger to her own. He took a sip of his coffee and wrinkled his nose, throwing the still-full cup into the trash can beside the seating area before grabbing hers off her and doing the same thing. "I'll stop somewhere on the way back," he promised on seeing the look on her face.
With her hands free and her arms feeling strangely bereft, Abby shuffled into his personal space, resting her head on his shoulder as his arms encircled her. "I'm too attached already," she admitted quietly, wrapping her own arms around his waist. "I know you and Ziva are right and we should hand him over to the people who can help him but it's going to hurt so much to let him go and I've only had him for a few hours..."
"Abby..." His arms tightened around her and he let his lips brush against the top of her head. "It looks like he might have to stay with us for a little bit longer. Maybe it'd be best if you took a step back now and tried to keep your distance."
She nodded against him but he could feel her reluctance. "Some people don't deserve children," she mumbled. "They just don't." A few moments passed and she drew back to look up at him, her green eyes both apologetic and sad. "I'm sorry, Gibbs, I didn't think... I'm so sorry."
Knowing what she was referring to without needing clarification, he met her gaze head-on. "It's okay, Abs. I'm okay."
She bit her lip and looked unconvinced. Fortunately, the sound of heels against the floor accompanied by a familiar wail distracted her and she moved out of his arms to take the crying baby the pretty blond paediatrician held out to her. "Hey, little guy. How you doing?" She hugged him close, smiling when his cries immediately began to cease and looked to the doctor expectantly. "How is he...?"
The blond doctor barely acknowledged her, choosing instead to focus on Gibbs, her interest in the Special Agent clear. "He should be fine, Agent Gibbs. We counted a further five masses on the scan that we suspect are gemstones but they're all small enough to pass through his system and leave him unharmed."
"So we can take him?" Her interest wasn't lost on him but Gibbs' focus was firmly fixed on the dark haired woman beside him and the baby she held so close. "He doesn't need to stay."
"He doesn't need to but I would advise you keep him under close supervision at all times." The doctor appeared faintly put out by the lack of returned interest and held out her hand. "I've put my contact numbers on here. If there's anything you're unsure of or if you're concerned about how he's behaving, feel free to contact me anytime, night or day. I'd be more than happy to help."
"Thanks, but we've got a doctor on hand." Gibbs ignored the hand holding out the card and turned to Abby, touching her arm gently. "You ready to get going, Abs?"
She smiled, a glint in her eye he couldn't decipher, and took a half-step closer. "Ready when you are, boss-man. Don't forget you promised me coffee on the way back."
It was with a great deal of reluctance that Abby relinquished care of Stevie to Gibbs and the rest of his team when Gibbs insisted she go back to her apartment to get some sleep. She left the baby with Ziva, instructions with McGee and a promise to them all that if anything happened to the little one, she knew various ways of making them suffer and had plenty of means at her disposal. Plus, she reminded Tony with a smile, Gibbs had a gun and she wouldn't hesitate in asking him to use it.
She didn't get much sleep and found the bath she'd run only gave her time to think about Stevie instead of putting him to the back of her mind so she was more than a bit relieved when her phone rang and Ziva all but demanded she return to NCIS, her desperation only just audible over the crying baby in the background.
With a bounce in her step despite having only had a few hours sleep – and an extra large Caf-Pow she'd bought on her way home – Abby dressed quickly in low, hip-hugging black pants and an equally curve-hugging black t-shirt that proclaimed 'Geeks' were 'chic' and set off for the Navy Yard.
While she wanted to put distance between herself and Stevie, she couldn't stand the thought of him being at NCIS and not seeing him – as soon as the case was over and the diamonds were out of his system, he'd be handed over the social services and be out of her life. Abby told herself it was only right that she take advantage of what little time she had with him and help keep him safe and happy while she could.
The scene that greeted her in the bullpen was chaotic at best and she stood back to survey the normally calm and collected team in amusement for as long as her conscience would allow. Tony sat at his desk, slumped over it. His forehead was pressed against it as his hands covered his ears to shield them from the wails coming from the baby. Tim McGee and Ziva stood in front of the baby carrier placed on Ziva's desk, waving an assortment of toys and making strange and silly faces at Stevie in their attempts at getting him to calm down.
Gibbs, she noted, was nowhere to be seen.
Striding across the room towards them, Tony noticed her first.
"Oh, thank god. Abby!" He shot to his feet, running one hand through his dishevelled hair while motioning at the baby with the other. "Make it stop. Please, I beg of you. Make it stop."
Ziva and McGee parted to make way for her and it was all Abby could do not to laugh at the expressions on their faces. Stevie, too, seemed to quieten when she approached, his little face scrunched up as though he was trying to remember her.
"Hey, little guy." Making short work of unfastening the straps that kept him in place, Abby lifted the baby from the carrier and held him close. "You keep making so much noise and they'll never want to babysit."
Stevie gurgled at her, chubby hands grabbing fistfuls of her t-shirt.
With a quick glance, Abby took in the array of toys scattered over every available surface – all new, she guessed, and all discarded. "Where's the bunny?"
"What bunny?" McGee frowned at her while Ziva immediately began searching the area around her desk.
"The blue one," Abby answered matter-of-factly. "The one that was in the bag you guys sent over from his place."
"I can't find it," Ziva muttered, a trace of desperate creeping into her voice as the baby began to whimper once more. "I know we had it here earlier. Gibbs had it."
Abby bounced the baby in her arms. "Where's Gibbs now? Maybe he's still got it."
"He's with the Director," Tony informed her. He walked around his desk, throwing Stevie a wary glance. "Doubt he'll have taken it with him."
"Then it has to be here somewhere." McGee joined Ziva in searching her desk and the floor around it, the pair of them making more of a mess than helping clear it up in their frantic attempts to find the missing toy.
Abby studied the items scattered on the floor, seeing bag upon bag of baby clothes, baby toys, diapers and other miscellaneous items. She almost laughed out loud at some of the items but didn't so not as to hurt anyone's feelings; some of the toys they'd acquired would be following Stevie to whatever home he found himself in and wouldn't be able to be played with for at least a year, perhaps two in some cases.
She jiggled the child in her arms, making faces and silly noises to distract him from the fact he was missing his favourite toy, aware of the looks she was getting from the others but deciding not to care anyway.
"Got it!" The cry of triumph came from Tony, followed quickly by a dull thud and muffled curse as he tried to stand too soon and hit his head off the underside of Gibbs' desk. "The kid better appreciate it."
"He will." Abby walked around the desk and sat down in Gibbs' chair, turning Stevie so he could face the agent rubbing his head with one hand and clutching the much-loved bunny with the other. "Look what Uncle Tony found, Stevie."
The baby frowned for a moment then made a happy-sounding gurgle and reached out for the bunny with both hands. He grabbed hold of it when Tony held it out, catching hold of Tony's hand at the same time and pulled both towards him, the bunny's ear going in his mouth instantly with Tony's fingers narrowly escaping the same fate. Happy at last, Stevie gave Tony a wide, toothless smile.
"Aww." Tony moved back, leaning against Gibbs' desk. "He's cute when he's not screaming."
McGee and Ziva joined him in admiring the baby whose face was slowly returning to its normal, healthy colour. "He is very handsome," Ziva commented, reaching out to take the little hand that was outstretched towards her. She tickled his palm and smiled when he giggled in response. "I think he will be competition for you, Tony."
"Maybe when he's older."
"Has there been any change with the diamond situation?" Abby asked after allowing them a moment to fawn over the new side of the baby.
McGee was the one to answer, his expression suggesting that he'd had the pleasure of being in charge of diaper-changing and checking. "None of the other diamonds are out yet. We've been keeping an eye on him, though," he added at the concern on her face, "and Ducky checks he's okay every hour."
Stevie turned on her lap, sitting sideways so he could cuddle into her while still keeping droopy eyes fixed on the others. He chewed on the bunny's ear and let his head loll against Abby's chest.
"He is adorable," Ziva murmured, tilting her head to the side to study the little boy, whose eyes slowly drifted shut. "I believe you have another admirer, Abby."
"Ha!" Abby covered the joy she felt with an eye roll. "He'd be anyone's if they gave him plenty of cuddles and kept his bunny safe." Still, she pressed a kiss to his downy head, inhaling the unique baby scent with a deep sigh. "At least Stevie's not gonna start stalking me, or try to kill me in my lab or..."
"You never know," Tony grinned at her. "He might grow into it."
"More than you'll do if you don't get off my desk, DiNozzo." The three agents straightened instantly at the sound of his voice. Gibbs moved into the space they created when they left his desk to go and sit at their own, an eyebrow rising when he saw the woman and child in his chair. "Thought I told you not to come in till later, Abby."
"Stevie had other ideas," Abby answered brightly, but not loudly enough to wake the baby now sleeping contentedly against her. "I don't think our plan for me to keep my distance is going to work, Gibbs. Neither me nor Stevie seem to want to stick to it."
Gibbs bit back a sigh of his own and sat on the edge of his desk, blocking the others view of them. "I thought as much." He studied her carefully, eyes drifting occasionally to the baby but always returning to Abby after a moment or two. "I cleared it with the Director for Steven to stay with us till we can figure out if Lieutenant Winters was alone in knowing about the diamonds. There's more room at my place for all of this stuff..."
"Is there room for me, too?" She tilted her head to the side. "No offence, Gibbs, I know you're great with kids and all but..."
"You'll take the spare room. Both of you," he added gruffly, looking none-too-happy with the arrangements. "He'll have to go eventually, Abs. It'd be best if you try to remember that."
Abby broke eye contact, lowering her gaze as she let her cheek rest against Stevie's head. "I'm not likely to forget." She stood, cradling the small body against hers carefully. "I'll take him down to my lab and get out of your way. Could you get someone to bring this stuff down later? I'll go through it and see what we can use now."
"There's a playpen in your office," Gibbs told her softly, the sound of his voice stopping her from walking away. "You won't have to worry about checking on him so much."
She smiled her thanks then left, carefully keeping the baby close and sheltered from as much noise as possible. Gibbs glanced at the mess around his desk and Ziva's, the line marring his brow deepening as he realised every single item his team had bought and were to claim back on their expenses was currently decorating his floor and desk.
"DiNozzo, get this mess cleaned up. Ziva, help him take it to the lab." Gibbs opened his top drawer and took out his badge and gun. "McGee, with me. We're going to talk to Lieutenant Winter's colleagues. See if they know who Steven's father is."
His team followed his orders without comment, even Tony who usually had a smart quip to make. They all shared their boss's concern that Abby was getting attached to the baby but couldn't bring themselves to say or do anything that would hurt their precious forensic scientist.
Stevie turned out to be an easy baby to look after. Abby was able to concentrate almost fully on her workload, though she found herself making more and more frequent visits to her office to check on the little boy who spent his time either sleeping or playing with the assortment of toys Gibbs and his team had purchased.
She liked to watch him unnoticed from the doorway, his happy smiles contagious as he chewed on his bunny's ear and played with his toes. He didn't seem to miss his mother, or realise that she hadn't been to see him in a while. Abby found herself wondering what kind of mother Lieutenant Winters had been to her son and whether or not Stevie would remember much about her as he grew older.
"Abby?" She started at the sound of someone else's voice and turned away from Stevie before he could notice her, heading through to the main lab.
"Hey." Abby greeted Tony and Ziva with a smile. "Have you heard from Gibbs and McGee yet?"
Tony set the bag over his shoulder down on the floor, shrugging his shoulders once they were free of the weight. "They're trying to track down a guy the neighbours saw visit the house a lot. Could be Winters supplier or the little guy's father..."
"Or both," Ziva added with an arched look. "Is the baby well, Abby?"
"Stevie's fine." Her smile growing wider, Abby motioned to her office with a tilt of her head. "He's currently checking he has five toes on each foot." She tilted her head to one side and studied the two Special Agents in front of her. "Did any of the neighbours suspect she was taking drugs?"
"A few said they had seen her in an agitated state but they assumed it was due to her raising her son alone." Ziva leaned against one of the work benches with a sigh. "She was not well liked in the community."
Tony nodded his agreement with her assessment. "She got into a couple of arguments with her immediate neighbours for making too much noise. Seems Lieutenant Winters was a bit of a party girl, even after the kid was born."
"I wonder how she managed to stay clean during her pregnancy." Abby cast a glance over her shoulder at the doorway to her office where the sliding door had been programmed to stay open. "There's no evidence he was ever exposed to them. Stevie's a perfectly happy, healthy little boy. Diamonds in his digestive system aside, of course."
"Any, ah, progress with that?" Tony watched her warily, as if expecting her to produce a dirty diaper from somewhere and insist he be the one to search it for the elusive gems.
"Nothing. I was thinking of maybe getting Ducky to do another x-ray later to see if they've moved at all." Abby shared an amused look with Ziva. "If you're volunteering to double-check, I'm sure the diapers are still in the trash..."
"No! No, thank you. I'll leave that to you. I've got leads to chase and... stuff." He gave her a charming smile, all the while backing away towards the door leading out into the hallway. "So I'll leave you to it and come back later."
They managed to hold in their laughter until they heard the bell of the elevator. Abby shook her head and picked up the bag Tony had left, carrying it into her office, certain Ziva would follow her.
"Stevie looks happy," Ziva commented from the doorway, gazing at the little boy with a fond smile. "I can see why you are so attached to him."
"He's pretty special." Abby pushed the bag under her desk alongside the other items she'd acquired over the course of the morning. "I hope he goes to a good home. He deserves to be with someone who's going to love him wholeheartedly."
"Someone like you." Ziva studied her from across the room, watching the open affection on Abby's face fade into something more wary.
Abby lowered her gaze and clasped her hands in front of her. "It's not going to happen."
Ziva let one curved eyebrow raise and moved to sit beside Abby, both perched on the edge of her desk so they could watch the baby in question. "If he is put up for adoption, you could petition to be considered, could you not? I admit I am unsure of how the system works here but as you've bonded with the baby, I see no reason why he should be allowed to stay with you if you wish it. Which you do. Wish it, I mean."
"I do, but I'm hardly suitable parent material." Abby rolled her eyes and tried to smile but her attempt at light-heartedness fell flat. "Look at me, Ziva. Would you give me a kid to take care of?"
"Of course." Ziva didn't hesitate, her brow furrowed. "You are one of the kindest people I have ever met, you have a secure job and your spare room could easily be converted into that of a nursery or bedroom for the child."
Abby smiled slightly. "You can say that because you know me – and thank you, by the way. But whichever caseworker is assigned him will take one look at me and see my tattoos and my clothes and my collars and will instantly decide I'm not fit to look after myself, let alone a child. First impressions count a lot with these people and as much as I'd love the chance to take Stevie home with me, I can't change who I am to make it happen. Sure, I could put on an act for whoever was interviewing me but I couldn't stick with it and it'd be a lot worse to have Stevie taken off me if I got caught in a lie." She looked at Stevie, who let his foot and stuffed bunny drop from his hands, lifting both arms to her when he realised she was looking at him. A smile passed over her face as she moved to scoop him up and into her arms, drawing him close while Ziva reached passed her to grab the bunny and hold it out to him before he could protest its absence. "If I thought for one minute they'd consider letting me keep him..."
Ziva placed the bunny into Stevie's reaching hands and leaned back to watch the little boy cuddle into Abby. "He has also become attached," she observed quietly. "I do not think either of you will find it easy to be parted from one another."
"Tell me about it." Abby sighed and hugged the warm body against her a little tighter. Stevie didn't seem to mind, nestling his head against her once the bunny ears were back in his mouth. "Don't tell Gibbs, okay? He's already worried about me getting too attached as it is. If he found out I'd considered adopting Stevie..." She shrugged one shoulder helplessly. "It'd make him worry even more."
Her mouth open to respond, Ziva was saved from having to make a promise she didn't want to keep by the man himself arriving, grim-faced. He gave Ziva a look that had her bidding Abby a quick goodbye, the Mossad liaison throwing a glance over her shoulder as Gibbs stepped purposely into the office and took the place she'd previously occupied. Deciding not to risk being caught eavesdropping, Ziva instead headed to the bullpen, hoping McGee could tell her what was going on.
Abby, meanwhile, couldn't help but feel the flutter of anxiety in her stomach at the look on his face. She let her cheek rest against the top of Stevie's head, watching Gibbs warily.
"Abby." Gibbs met her gaze but his blue eyes gave nothing away. "There's a guy claiming to be Steven's father in interrogation. I need you to do a DNA test to see if he's telling the truth." He seemed to hesitate, a flicker of something on his face that disappeared too fast for her to read. "There's another guy who's claiming he and Lieutenant Winters were dating. His lawyer has already started proceedings regarding custody."
She lifted her cheek from Stevie's head, lips brushing his hair for a brief moment. "Do you think either of them knows about the diamonds or drugs?"
"That's what I'm trying to find out. The guy claiming to be the father has a record, the other one's clean as far as we can see but McGee and DiNozzo are looking into go." He looked at the baby dozing in her arms. "I won't let him go to either of them until I'm sure they've genuine, Abs. I promise you that."
"I know." Abby managed a small smile, any hope that might have appeared during her conversation with Ziva well and truly dashed. "I'll set Stevie down then start DNA testing. Do you have a sample already or need me to come up to interrogation...?"
"There's a swab on your desk." Gibbs waited until she'd set Stevie down in the play pen and covered him with a blanket before approaching her, standing behind her as they gazed down at the sleeping boy. "It's not a phase, is it, Abby?"
She shook her head and crossed her arms over her chest. "I thought it'd pass but it hasn't. Even before Stevie came along, I couldn't stop thinking about it."
"What about the guy you went out with?" His breath tickled the back of her neck but she'd long ago learned to hide reaction to it. "He not husband material?"
"He was boring and dull and would probably make a boringly dull husband for a brainless Barbie who'll happily stay at home doing nothing all day." Abby snorted indelicately and leaned back a little when she felt a hand on her waist drawing her backwards. "Half-way through the date I'd decided to forego the husband side of things. It's doesn't happen for girls like me and I'm not sure I even want it to. A white wedding isn't something I ever dreamt about as a kid and marriage is just a piece of paper, it doesn't really mean anything anymore. 'Course, it'll make the whole baby-thing harder but there are ways and means, I guess. Just gonna have to look at my options and make a decision one way or the other."
His lips brushed her temple as he drew her closer, arm around her waist in a companionable gesture. "You won't be alone, Abs. You know we'll all support you whatever you decide."
For a few moments, they stood together in silence, both watching the sleeping child and wondering what might have been unbeknownst to the other. After a while, Abby sighed and Gibbs took a step back, effectively ending the moment, the embrace and the conversation all at once. It was time to get back to work, and reality.
The man claiming to be Stevie's father, Joe Clark, drummed his fingers against the table in the interrogation room anxiously, his foot jigging up and down as his agitation grew. He stared at his reflection in the one-sided mirror, wondering who was on the other side and what they were doing, whether they were talking about him and, if they were, what they were saying.
He ran a hand through his dark hair before returning it to the table to continue the beat only he could follow, jumping when the door to the room opened and the older agent he'd spoke to earlier walked in with a woman he didn't recognise. The woman remained standing by the closed door while the man – Agent Gibbs, he recalled, took the seat opposite him.
"I wanna see my son." His fingers continued tapping against the table, a bead of sweat dripping down the side of his face at the impassive expression on Agent Gibbs' face. "You've got my son and I wanna see him now!"
Gibbs waited a whole minute, watching Clark get more and more agitated. "We have to prove he is your son, Mr. Clark, before we can grant you access to him. Another man has come forward requesting custody of Steven."
His grey eyes narrowed, Joe Clark thumped a fist on the table, a little disappointed when the Agent opposite him failed to react. "He's my fuckin' son! I wanna see him now!"
"You can see him as soon as the paternity test proves he's yours," Gibbs answered mildly. "Until then, I'd like to ask you a few questions about Lieutenant Winters."
"What d'you wanna know?" Clark sniffed and wiped his nose with the back of his hand. "Becca was a great lay, lousy girlfriend. Never around when I needed her, didn't tell me I had a kid till she needed some cash last month and decided to screw me over. Said I owed her 'cause I'd done nothin' for the kid but how'm I supposed to know I've got responsibilities if she don't tell me, right? Bitch is crazy. Was crazy." He shook his head and gazed off into space. "Hell of a lay, though. Girl had a wild side in the bedroom. Wasn't afraid of nothin' if you know what I mean."
The leer on his face disappeared when Gibbs' expression didn't change. "Are you aware Lieutenant Winters was a user of cocaine?"
A glimmer of guilt passed over Clark's face, disappearing after a second. "She was crazy, man. She did all sorts of crazy stuff."
"Do you?" Gibbs spoke calmly, almost as if they were discussing the weather outside.
"Me? No. No, no, no." Clark held both of his hands up while, at the door, a snort of disbelief was covered by a cough. "No, man, I never touch that stuff. Bad news, bad. It screws with your mind. Me, I don't do that. Don't like it."
"Can't afford it, either, if you were paying her to take care of your son." Gibbs leaned forward, arms crossed over the folder on the table in front of him. "Was she a good mother to Steven?"
"Damned if I know!" Clark snorted. "Wouldn't let me see him, would she? Kept tellin' me to mind my own business, she'd take care of 'im and make sure he was fed and everything. Bitch was crazy like that, didn't want me in the house, didn't want me talkin' to that bastard she hooked up with."
A slight crease in his brow was Gibbs' only reaction. "She discussed her relationship with Peter Austin with you?"
Clark shrugged, trying to focus on Gibbs' face but unable to stop looking at his own reflection, wondering who was hidden behind it. "Said he was uptight, not like me. Had the means to take care of her and the kid but wasn't interested enough yet. Her plan was to get knocked up again, make him stick with her, maybe marry her. He has money, don't know where he gets it 'cause she wouldn't say. Rich bastard. He the one who wants my son? 'Cause he can't have him. Kid's mine." Clark leaned forward slightly and met Gibbs' gaze. "Kid'll mean I get more money off the state," he whispered conspiratorially "Not to mention chicks dig single fathers."
Gibbs leaned back and clasped his hands together, knuckles turning white. "Is that the sole reason you're interested in Steven Winters, Mr. Clark? If it is, I think I should inform you that chances of your being granted custody solely on outcome of a paternity test is slim to none."
The threat went over his head; Clark showed no sign of even being aware that the NCIS agent had spoken. "Bastard was her meal ticket. Said she loved him but she didn't. She was just using him like she uses everyone. Like she used me."
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Clark, and for voluntarily submitting your DNA. It's going to take a few hours for our lab to process it and get the results. You're welcome to stay here or you can leave a number where we can contact you." Gibbs pushed his chair back before Clark could answer.
"Hours?" His brow damp, Clark looked from the mirrored-glass to Gibbs. "I'll leave a number," he said eventually after muttering under his breath.
Gibbs gave him a nod and a pen and piece of paper. He waited until the phone number was scrawled down hastily before standing, nodding to Ziva that it was okay for her to escort the man out of the building. Pocketing the number, Gibbs left interrogation.
Ducky peered at the little boy, who gave him a gummy smile and made a grab for the doctor's glasses. The ME grinned and pulled his head back just in time to avoid it. "He seems in perfect health to me, Abby. No need to worry so, my dear. You're doing an admirable job."
Abby stood with her arms folded over her chest, glaring at the two tiny diamonds she'd found in the diaper she'd just changed. "He wouldn't stop crying."
"I imagine passing such gems is painful for anyone, regardless of their size," Ducky commented, gladly stepping aside when she approached to take over care of the child.
"I should have known something was wrong," she muttered, grabbing a new diaper and lifting Stevie's legs to lay it on the changing mat beneath the small body. "I should have realised..."
Ducky put a hand on her arm when she paused in her task, a kind smile on his face. "You are doing an excellent job, Abby. Please don't be so hard on yourself."
She managed a small smile but quickly returned her attention to the baby, cooing at him quietly as she made short work of dressing him in a new, clean diaper. "There you go," she murmured, lifting him into her arms without dressing him, kissing his forehead as he clung to her. "That's much better, isn't it?"
Stevie gurgled a reply and hit his head against her shoulder, giggling as he drew back and did it again.
"He is as taken with you as you are with him," Ducky observed. "Spending time with you is good for him."
"Good for me, too." Abby giggled herself when Stevie repeated his actions, apparently amused by his newfound hobby of head-butting her shoulder. "I'll miss him when he goes."
"He's not going anywhere yet." Gibbs strode into the room, glancing at Ducky quizzically. "Everything okay, Duck?"
"Absolutely." Ducky smiled at him. "Abby called me to take a look at the wee lad when he wouldn't stop crying. Turned out he was trying to pass more of our Lieutenant's secret stash."
Gibbs glanced at Abby as she held the baby to her in a protective manner. "More diamonds?"
"Two of them." Abby kissed the top of Stevie's head when he settled against her.
"Is he okay?" Gibbs was across the room in an instant, standing beside Abby as his hand moved to rub the contented baby's back.
Ducky smile was almost a smirk as he watched them. "He's fine. More than fine, in fact. I'd say he's happily getting more attention now than he has done in the whole of his short life."
Gibbs gazed at the baby, a smile tugging at his own lips at the cheeky grin aimed in his direction by the little boy happily chewing on Abby's t-shirt. "Two down, three to go. Good job he's gonna be staying with us for a bit longer."
Abby glanced at him, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. "I don't have the DNA results yet... Has the guy in interrogation gone?"
"He's gone. I told him we'd get in touch with the results but I've got no intention of letting him take Stevie, don't worry." Gibbs' attention drifted from the baby to the woman holding him. "I wouldn't be surprised if he was the one who got Lieutenant Winters hooked in the first place or at least shared her habit."
"Do you think he knows about the diamonds?" Ducky looked to where the two new diamonds had joined the third in an evidence container on Abby's workbench.
Gibbs hesitated, then shook his head. "No. He wants Stevie so he can get support from the state for raising him, probably to pay for his habit, but my gut's telling me he doesn't know about the diamonds. He'd be more desperate if he did."
"That doesn't mean he didn't kill Lieutenant Winters, though." Ducky commented quietly. "He could have killed her whilst under the influence..."
"Or during a fight over the stash she had hidden in the baby bag, I know, Ducky." Gibbs sighed heavily. "I haven't ruled him out as a suspect. There's a lot of anger there, a lot of resentment. She was tapping him for money, said he owed her for taking care of his son." He looked to Abby again. "Can you use the DNA sample we have for the paternity test and compare it to the DNA Ducky took from under the Lieutenant's nails?"
"Not a problem." Abby tried to smile but it fell flat, her attention focused on the child in her arms. "What if someone else does know about the diamonds?" She asked quietly. "Will they come after Stevie?"
Gibbs moved his hand to rest on her back, turning his body slightly so he was facing her fully. "I don't know," he answered honestly. "That's why you and Stevie are staying at my place till this is over. I won't let anything happen to him, Abs."
A brief smile curved up her lips and she gave a small nod, looking at him for a moment. "I know."
"And you can call me whenever," Ducky chimed in after letting the moment last for a few seconds longer than necessary. "I'm not sure how much help I'll be, my dear, but you can call me if you need to."
"Thank you, Ducky." She smiled at him over the top of Stevie's head.
"Anytime, my dear. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a young lady waiting to meet my acquaintance in autopsy." Ducky smiled at them both before leaving, casting them a speculative look over his shoulder as he left his two friends alone with the baby.
Abby sighed deeply and rocked Stevie in her arms. "I still don't get how anyone would risk hurting him, especially his own mom."
"Maybe she didn't realise the dangers of what she was doing." Gibbs didn't particularly believe his defence of the dead woman but felt he had to try in order to ease Abby's distress. "She might not have known she was putting him at risk..."
"Maybe." Unconvinced but willing to consider it, Abby kissed Stevie's head once more. "I better get him dressed before he catches a cold. What time are you going home tonight?"
Glancing at his watch, an eyebrow rose seeing the time. "I'll meet you in the bullpen in two hours," he replied. "We should get him settled fairly early. There's no saying how long he'll actually sleep tonight."
"Good thing we're both caffeine addicts," she returned cheerfully. "A lack of sleep won't bother us."
He kept himself from pointing out she might change her mind during a late-night feed, recalling his own baby-induced insomnia with a pang of bittersweet fondness. "Call me as soon as you get the DNA results, Abs."
"Always do, my silver haired fox." She gave him a cheeky smile and carried the baby through to her office after he'd gone, talking quietly to the little one in her arms.
One was positive, one was negative. Gibbs couldn't stop thinking about the results as he drove Abby and Stevie home, the latter who slept soundly in his car seat while the former stared out of the window at the passing scenery, evidently lost in her own thoughts.
Joe Clark was 99.8% guaranteed to be Stevie's father.
He wasn't Lieutenant Winters murderer.
The chances of him knowing about the diamonds was slim given that they were the motive Gibbs liked for her murder but that didn't make him feel any better given that it meant there was still someone out there who might know and might want to hurt the baby they'd all become attached to.
He knew Abby was struggling to come to terms with the thought that anyone – let alone the child's own mother – could want to hurt a eight-month old baby. He couldn't understand it himself but he'd seen enough cruelty in the world to be worried that there was someone else out there who'd do a lot worse to Stevie if they got the chance.
In his mind, he was already planning how to make sure both Stevie and Abby were kept safe. As he pulled the car onto the driveway, he made up his mind, mouth set in a grim line as he turned off the engine and turned in his seat.
Abby turned, too, a question on her face. "Gibbs?"
"Slight change of plan." He bit back a sigh and fought the urge to look away. "You and Stevie stay in my room. It's the least accessible of the whole house, easier to guard..."
"You're not planning on getting any sleep, are you?" Her disapproval was clear. "You'll be no good to Stevie if you're exhausted, Gibbs. Stay in the room with us and we'll take turn being on watch." Her mouth curved up momentarily. "I know you won't trust me with a gun but I can yell loud enough to wake you up if something happens."
For a second, his lips twitched. Then the seriousness of the situation sunk in again and he shook his head. "Too dangerous, Abs. We don't know who knows about the diamonds..."
"If anyone knows, and we don't know for sure they were aware Stevie was with us at NCIS or that they followed us back here. Did you notice any strange cars in your mirror because I was watching the whole time and I didn't." She crossed her arms over her chest in a gesture of defiance. "You're not gonna win this one, Gibbs. You need to be at your best, which means you need to get some sleep at some point. For Stevie's sake," she reminded him, looking over her shoulder at the sleeping baby. "He's depending on you, on us."
He got out of the car without either agreeing or disagreeing, walking straight to the trunk to take out the bags they'd brought with them from the Navy Yard. Abby rolled her eyes at the non-response and also got out of the car, opening the door next to Stevie and unfastening the straps of his car seat quickly.
The baby's eyes opened at the feel of her hands and he blinked sleepily at her.
"It's okay, Stevie. It's just me." She smiled at him and tickled his sides through his clothes. He yawned and reached out for her hands, wrapping small fingers around two of hers. "Time to get you inside, little guy."
He cuddled into her arms the moment she had him out of the car and although she suspected it was because of the cold night breeze, she preferred to think it was due to the fact he recognised her and got comfort from her proximity.
"Now, I know this place is gonna be a bit different to what you're used to. The only TV he has is an ancient thing that doesn't get half the channels it should. There's a DVD player somewhere- I know, because I got it for him for his last birthday – but I think it's still in its box shoved in the closet under the stairs. We'll see if we can find it later if we get really bored." She paused to kiss the top of his head, ignoring the look Gibbs threw her as he opened the door to the house for them. "There's a boat in the basement you're a little bit young to appreciate but if the smell of sawdust is as comforting to you as it is to me, we might take a trip down there later if you can't sleep. You'll be with us all night, honey, so you've got nothing to worry about. We'll take care of you."
"You do realise he can't understand a word you're saying." Gibbs shoot the door behind them, locking it with a decisive click.
"Of course he can." She nuzzled the soft hair on Stevie's head and gave a proud smile. "Our kid's got smarts."
He rolled his eyes but didn't correct her, dumping the bags he carried on the floor in the hallway before leading her through to the living room. "Stay here till I've checked it's secure."
Unable to argue as he'd already left the room, Abby made her way over to the sofa and curled up in the corner, her arm underneath Stevie's head to support him as she gazed down at him. "Told you it was strange," she told him quietly. "We'll work on it, though," she added with a wink. "Maybe we can get him to spruce the place up a bit while we're here. What do you say, Stevie? You up to the challenge?"
The baby grabbed her fingers and pushed one of them into his mouth as a response, making her chuckle softly.
"I'll take that as a yes." She glanced away from him to study the living room. It was as familiar to her as her own, though she had to admit to spending far more time in Gibbs' basement than any other room in his house. "This place really needs some colour. And some new furniture. You'd think for a guy who loves working with his hands he'd have made some seats or a table or something that matches instead of all of this…"
"Junk?" Gibbs supplied from the doorway, a note of amusement rather than annoyance in his tone. "It's all I got left with in my last divorce."
"I can see why." Abby smiled at him when he joined her on the sofa. "We've really got to do something about this place, Gibbs. It's such a great space and it's totally not living up to its potential."
He shrugged noncommittally. "Doesn't bother me. I'm usually down in the basement."
"Yeah, because sticking around up here is too depressing – even for you." She shook her head and gazed at Stevie. "We'll get him sorted," she told the baby drooling over her fingers. "Maybe get some paint on the walls… I'm thinking dark green on one, with a warm cream colour for the rest… Unless he'd be willing to go completely black but that might be taking it a little too far."
Gibbs arched an eyebrow and hoped she was joking – the green he'd be okay with but black walls in his living room? That was never going to happen. "I don't think you'll be here long enough to decorate," he said instead, meeting her gaze despite the flash of hurt in her eyes.
Abby eased Stevie up in her arms and uncurled her legs from beneath her, standing stiffly. "Time for supper," she murmured, more to the child in her arms than to her adult companion. "Let's go get you a bottle sorted and then we'll see about getting you to sleep in your new cot."
"Abs…" His voice trailed off as he watched her leave without a backwards glance. Gibbs heaved a sigh and pushed himself to his feet, following her through to his kitchen. He leaned against the doorway and watched her, surprised at how at home she seemed and at how she seemed to know the layout as well as he did himself. He watched her juggle the baby and the task of fixing a bottle of formula with a seemingly effortless grace.
She'd make a good mother someday, he thought, a jolt of awareness in his chest. Watching her, seeing the baby give her a toothless, drool-covered grin made him remember the early days of his daughter's life with a melancholy pang, the way her tiny hand would clutch his t-shirt as he rocked her to sleep, the happy squeals when he tickled her small stomach and blew raspberries against her soft skin.
The thought of going through it again, of having a child to love and protect, no longer seemed to fill him with sadness and fear – and that, in itself, was a scary prospect.
"I'm going to take him upstairs." Abby glanced at him but looked away the moment his eyes rose to meet hers. "Is the cot ready?"
"I'll follow you up. It won't take too long to get it set up." Gibbs hoped not, anyway. She barely acknowledged him, leading the way upstairs after pausing to pick up the baby bag next to the stairs, talking quietly to Stevie but never to him. Gibbs grabbed the bag containing the cot, hoping it would be as easy to assemble as he imagined.
Abby sat on his bed, appearing awkward for only a few moments until Stevie began suckling the teat of the bottle she held to his mouth hungrily. She gazed down at him, enraptured, and it took Gibbs a few moments longer than it should to tear his gaze away and get to work. After several minutes of tense silence and muttered curses, Abby decided to break her vow of silence.
"You should try following the instructions," she suggested helpfully. "It might mean you get it done before Stevie graduates." The glare he gave her only made her giggle. She held out one hand, keeping Stevie balanced on her knee with the other. "Gimme."
He muttered something under her breath but held out the instructions, giving her another glare when she took them. "Damn thing must be missing a part..."
"Patience, Jethro." She smirked and stared down at the diagrams on the page. "And watch your language around Stevie. He's an impressionable young boy."
"He can't understand a word we're saying," Gibbs muttered grumpily.
Between the two of them, with Abby reading out instructions in between giggles and Gibbs following them in between grumbles, the cot was assembled within the hour. Abby paced backwards and forwards trying to settle Stevie in preparation for laying him down in his new bed, rubbing his back soothingly as Gibbs made the final preparations and fetched the baby monitors from downstairs.
"There now," Abby murmured, gently setting Stevie down on the small mattress. "If you need anything, just yell or cry out, okay? I'll hear you through the monitor and I promise I'll be back before you know it." She fussed over him for a little while longer, tucking the thin blanket around him, making sure the blue bunny was within reach.
"He'll be fine, Abby. Stop fussing and let him go to sleep." Gibbs appeared behind her, his prior annoyance fading at the fretful expression on her face. "The room is secure and if he needs us, I'm sure he'll let us know."
"He looks so defenceless," Abby mumbled, hands gripping the sides of the cot as she gazed down at him. "What if he wakes up and panics because he doesn't recognise the room?"
His hand moved to her back, gently guiding her away from the dozing child. "If he panics, I'm sure you'll hear him through the monitor. C'mon. He's not the only one who needs supper before bed."
"I'm not hungry." She crossed her arms over her chest and let him lead her out of the room reluctantly, hands wrapped around the baby monitor as though it were her only lifeline. "Do you think there's a chance his father will get custody of him? Joe Clark?"
"Not if I've got anything to do with it." He shrugged and preceded her down the stairs. "We got him on tape explaining why he wants custody so if all else fails, I'll accidentally let a copy leak to Stevie's social worker."
Abby smiled at his back, her grip on the monitor loosening a little. "You keep calling him that."
"What?" Gibbs turned to face her at the bottom of the stairs, having to look up at her since she was still a step above him.
"Stevie." Her smile grew wider. "You went from insisting he be called Steven to calling him Stevie."
"Suits him." He didn't move, looking up at her for a few moments in silence. "There's a chance he'll be put up for adoption, Abs."
She held his gaze, tilting her head slightly to one side. "I know." She waited for him to say something more, hoping for a few words of encouragement or some sign of what he thought about the idea but Gibbs continued staring at her in silence, waiting. "I won't lie and say I haven't thought about it. But like I told Ziva, I don't think it'll be possible. I know social services caseworkers aren't supposed to make judgements based on appearance but when you take that into account I've had a stalker ex-boyfriend and have a job that requires me to work all hours… I'm not going to fool myself into believing it could happen. It'll only hurt more when it doesn't."
"There's no reason why it can't happen, Abby. No one's gonna hold the Mawher thing again you and there's always a way around the long hours you put in at work. You could get an assistant – one chosen by you." An eyebrow rose at the scepticism on her face. "What else is stopping you? It can't be that you don't think you'd make a good mom for him – you've already proven you would."
Abby shrugged her shoulders and stepped down, forcing him to take a step back to avoid bumping into her. "Do you know how many single women get accepted by social services as suitable adoptive parents? And out of how many of those planned to support themselves and the child by working full-time?" She made to move passed him but was stopped when his arm shot out in front of her. "I'm surprised you're even suggesting it, Gibbs. You're the one who told me not to get too attached."
"I think it's too late for that." He turned her to face him, head tilted slightly to one side. "He's as attached to you as you are to him and he needs some kind of stability in his life." His hand tightened around her arm. "I've seen the way you are with him, Abby. He needs someone like you to take care of him now and I'll say as much to everyone who needs to know."
"You'd be a reference." She didn't know why she was surprised but she was; touched but at the same time wary. "Why?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
A dozen thoughts ran through her head, reasons why he would and wouldn't be willing to go to bat for her. One of the made her heart skip a beat in a hopeful manner, another made it sink in her chest like a stone weighted down with dread.
"If I got custody, would I be able to keep my job at NCIS?" Abby chewed her bottom lip, eyes anxiously searching his face. "If you're trying to get rid of me, Gibbs..."
He laughed until he realised her fear was genuine, all traces of humour wiped from his face in an instant as he moved so both hands had a grip on her – one on her arm, one resting lightly on her hip. "I don't want you to leave NCIS. You know that. You should know that. Why would I?"
"I don't know. Maybe you think I've not been pulling my weight or you've found another forensic scientist or you think I've been too distracted with this whole baby thing and me adopting Stevie would be a convenient way for us both to get what we want... I should never have told you about wanting a kid. I should've known you'd freak out and start worrying about me going off to have a kid and leaving you guys in the lurch..." Her words got faster as her breathing got shallower. "You know I'd never do that, Gibbs, even if I did get knocked up. I'd work till the kid was ready to come out then make a nursery or something in my office or join the other Mom's at NCIS in harassing the Director to get a day care service at the Navy Yard – Agent Marcus said he almost agreed last month but there was some discrepancy in the budgets for the quarter but it's a possibility he's still considering..."
"Abby." His finger against her lips stopped her from taking her ramblings any further. "Remember to breathe." He removed his finger only when she nodded, lips pressed tightly together. "Firstly, I don't 'freak out'. Secondly, you are the best forensic scientist there is and, as far as I'm concerned, the only one I'm gonna be working with. Thirdly, I know about the day care service Vance is planning because I asked him about it when we realised Stevie would be sticking around for a while. You can tell Agent Marcus and the other parents that it'll be available as of next month. There's a space already reserved for Stevie if he still needs it then." He raised an eyebrow when she opened her mouth to speak. "I'm not done, Abs. If I didn't think you were exactly the kind of mom Stevie needs and deserves, I wouldn't have mentioned it. I'm not suggesting this to keep you from having a baby of your own because I'm scared you'll decide to leave. If you ever want to leave, that's up to you and I hope I'll be able to support you but at the same time, I'm hoping that never happens."
"The 'me leaving' part. Not the 'me getting knocked up' part. Right?" She couldn't resist teasing him, a slight smile on her face. When he made no attempt at keeping her from talking, Abby continued. "There's really a place for Stevie in day care? You already thought about that and made plans with the Director...?"
Gibbs shrugged. "It came up in conversation." He let his hands drop to his sides, relinquishing contact between them. "It's up to you what you decide to do. I just want you to know I'll support you no matter what you decide. If you decide to let someone else adopt Stevie because you're not ready, we'll make sure whoever gets him is right. If you decide you want to take him yourself, I'll do whatever I can to make it happen."
He walked away before she could question him any further, leaving her with no choice but to follow him into the kitchen or stay in the hallway by herself.
"I was thinking Chinese for dinner." He opened the drawer next to the oven she knew kept the take-out menus of all of the local restaurants – usually used whenever she, Ducky or both of them stopped by for dinner. "Sound okay?"
The subject was temporarily closed and avoided as the evening drew on, the conversation focusing on a variety of safe topics. After they'd eaten, Gibbs settled himself in his basement after checking the house was secure and Abby treated herself to a long soak in the bathroom adjoined to the master suite at his suggestion. By the time Gibbs had finished with his boat and had stopped by the second bathroom to change into a clean t-shirt and shorts, Abby was curled up on one side of the bed, her hand between the bars of the cot resting against Stevie's.
"He didn't wake up when you moved him?" He kept his voice as quiet as he could, closing the bedroom door behind him. His gun was in his hand and Abby watched as he placed it almost reverently on the bedside table on the opposite side of the bed.
"He opened his eyes long enough to glare at me then went back to sleep." She turned her attention to the baby, feeling strangely shy when the bed dipped beneath his added weight. He was Gibbs, and nothing was going to happen even if she said she wanted it to, but she still felt nervous, the butterflies in her stomach tripling when he rolled onto his side to face her. "If the guy Lieutenant Winters was seeing doesn't turn out to be a suitable parent, I'm going to apply to adopt him." She eased her hand out from between the bars and turned to face him, swallowing reflexively when she realised how close they actually were – and in such an intimate way. Her eyes searched his. "You'll be there, right? I mean, not just to help me get him but if I do... You'll help me look after him? Don't leave me to screw it up, Gibbs, he deserves better than that..."
"You're not going to screw it up." Gibbs propped himself up with an elbow and gazed at her solemnly. "You're not going to be on your own, Abby. You'll have me, Ducky, Ziva... Even McGee and DiNozzo will be fighting each other for the role for favourite uncle."
A small smile toyed with her lips at the thought of Tony and Tim trying to outdo each other to win Stevie's affections. She could picture them taking it to extremes, with each trying to impress the little boy in their own way with bigger, grander gestures that she'd eventually have to put a stop to. Then she tried to picture Ziva in the role of aunt and knew that despite the boys best efforts, aunt Ziva would be the coolest of all of Stevie's adopted aunts and uncles. Ducky, she could imagine, would slip into the role of doting grandfather all too easily, telling story and story to the enraptured little boy, antic after antic keeping Stevie entertained year after year. As for Gibbs... He'd no doubt teach Stevie the finer points and intricacies of carpentry and make sure the kid grew up with a preference for hand tools over power tools, helping build boats and tree houses...
"I'll need to move out of my apartment," she said after a long pause, a frown on her face. "My neighbourhood isn't really kid-friendly and I don't have a back yard for him to play in."
Gibbs smirked, amusement lighting his eyes. "Eight years I've been trying to get you to think about moving out of that place and Stevie gets you to consider it in a few days?"
"He's very persuasive," Abby teased. "Maybe he could give you some hints."
"Maybe he could."
For a long moment, they just stared at one another. The moment became charged somehow and Abby found herself biting her bottom lip, wanting to tear her eyes away from his but unable to for some reason. The attraction she'd always felt for him seemed to double in that moment and for a second, for a split second, she let herself believe there was a possibility it was mutual, her mind supplying her with a dizzying assortment of images, both of the kind that made her heart melt (Gibbs teaching Stevie to play baseball with her watching, the three of them working on a boat, eventually sailing on it, being together, being a family...) and the kind that made her blush (Gibbs and her alone, in his room without their young chaperone, limbs entwined, pale skin against dark, calloused hands caressing her body...)
A tiny whimper from beside her caused her to turn her head. She thought she saw him move out of the corner of her eye, as if he was going to kiss her then stopped himself when she moved away. Wishful thinking, she told herself ruefully, sitting up and staring at Stevie intently.
The baby stretched his small arms out, a noise of discontentment escaping him until his fingers brushed the fluff of the plush bunny. After a few more seconds, he settled, a sigh escaping him as sleep consumed him once more.
"Get some sleep." Gibbs spoke gruffly; when she glanced over at him, he'd moved to lie on his back, gaze fixed on the ceiling.
"Are you going to?" Abby fussed with her pillows before lying down again.
He shrugged as best as he could lying down but still didn't look at her. "In a while."
"Okay." Hesitating briefly, willing him to look at her but unsurprised when he didn't, she turned on her side, her back to him as she faced the cot. "Night, Gibbs."
"Good night." His gaze shifted to her back for a moment and he swallowed back a sigh before reaching out to turn off the lamp on the bedside cabinet beside him. He let the pillows and mattress support his weight but couldn't relax into them, aware of the potential danger they were in, too aware of the woman lying just a few feet away.
She was woken up twice in the night, once by the baby beside her demanding to be fed, once by the man sharing the bed when he turned over in his sleep and wrapped an arm around her waist, drawing her body back against his.
Abby stifled a sigh and forced herself to relax when Gibbs' fingers curved over her stomach, his face buried in the crook of her neck. She gazed at the sleeping baby, trying to keep her mind on him and off the man behind her but failed when a soft sigh escaped her sleeping companion, sending a shiver down her spine.
She closed her eyes and decided to enjoy the moment while it lasted. She knew the chances of it happening again were slim to none. Abby told herself it was because it'd been a long time since she'd shared her own bed with anyone, felt the comforting warmth of another body curled around hers but she felt safe, almost cherished as she inhaled the familiar scent of coffee mingled with sawdust and Gibbs.
It was only a matter of minutes before she fell asleep again, her hand finding his in her relaxed state.
For the first time in a long time, Gibbs didn't want to wake up. He usually woke sprawled on his stomach, arms spread out across the empty bed, hand open as if reaching for something. He usually felt cold, the blankets having slipped over the side of the bed as he tossed and turned, struggling to find peace even in slumber.
Not this morning.
This morning, he felt warm and comfortable. Content, even. With his eyes still shut tightly against the light coming through the crack in the curtains, he tried to remember the last time he'd woken up feeling this way.
Before Shannon had died, he realised with a sigh. Before everything good in his life had been ripped from his grasp.
It wasn't Shannon he was curled around, though, and he knew that before he opened his eyes. It wasn't Shannon who'd he been dreaming about – hadn't been for a few years, though he'd been reluctant to admit that to himself, let alone anyone else. Gunpowder mingled with the smell of rose-scented shampoo telling him exactly who was in his arms even if he hadn't had an inkling of a suspicion.
She'd been laughing at him in his dreams, sitting on the steps at the back of his house, watching him chase Stevie around the back yard after having the hose turned on him by the little boy he guessed was about six or seven. Her laughter had turned to squeals when he and Stevie had turned the tables on her and he vividly remembered tackling her to the grass, an arm beneath her to keep the fall from hurting her, her clothes soaked, squirming body trapped between his and the ground as their breathless laughter faded and he captured her lips with his own, losing himself in the kiss until the giggling child had turned the hose on them once more.
He remembered it so clearly it felt more like a memory than a dream. Waking up to her in his arms only made it feel more real, the what should have been unfamiliar action feeling anything but strange.
His stomach was pressed up against her back, his nose against her neck. One hand lay against her stomach beneath the material of her cotton t-shirt, kept there by one of her own. He shifted his hips back slightly, an embarrassed flush warming his cheeks at his body's reaction, and held his breath when he felt her move in the circle of his arms.
She turned in her sleep, facing him. Her eyes were still closed, her lips parted slightly as she cuddled up against him, both arms winding around his waist as one of her legs slipped between his own. Gibbs found himself reciprocating against his better judgement, arms wrapping around her to pull her closer, his cheek resting on her head as she pressed her cold nose against his warm skin.
She'd probably hit him when she woke up, Gibbs thought. Either that or she'd move her knee just so high and he'd be walking funny for the rest of the day. He knew he should ease back, unwrap his arms from around her and try and put some distance between them but his body wouldn't listen to the commands his reluctant brain sent.
"You think too loud." The sleepy voice was muffled against him, the arms that tightened around him for a split second startling him just as much. She shuffled against him, tilting her head back just enough to peer at him from under heavy eyelashes. "Seriously, Gibbs. Can't you ever stop?"
"Stop what?" His voice was huskier than normal and once again he felt his cheeks flood with heat.
Abby gave him a sleepy but amused smile. "Thinking," she clarified softly. "I think you think too much. And way too loudly."
He rolled his eyes at her but said nothing to contradict her claim. He watched her lips part again and found himself raising a hand to push the hair back from her face, fingertips grazing the soft skin of her cheek. His heart began to pound in his chest as he watched her eyes darken and her face tilt upwards just he began to lower his.
Their lips brushed, once, twice, hesitant and soft. Gibbs moved his hand to the back of her head, threading his fingers in her hair to keep her still while he held his mouth more firmly against hers. Abby responded eagerly, hands gripping his shoulders as she pushed herself against him. She found herself rolled beneath him, her slender frame pressed into the soft mattress by his firm body.
A soft cry broke the moment and had them both crashing back to reality with a painful thud. Gibbs pushed himself up and stared down at her, panting slightly. An array of emotions passed over his face before he rolled off her, lying on his back as he tried to get his breathing and his body's responses back under control.
As stunned as he was, it took Abby a moment longer to move, sitting up and swinging her unsteady legs over the side of the bed so she could reach for the crying baby.
"Hey, short stuff." She cleared her throat and picked him up, holding him against her, convinced he could feel her racing heart through her crumpled t-shirt. Stevie continued to cry, big tears rolling down his cheeks as he clutched at her, his face growing redder and redder. "What's up, little guy? You hungry?"
"I'll go make a bottle."
She turned her head to see Gibbs' back as he strode out of the room and bit her bottom lip as she sat down on the edge of the bed. She rubbed Stevie's back with slow, soothing circles, brow furrowed as his crying didn't abate in the slightest.
"C'mon, baby." She lifted him so she could drop a kiss against his forehead and stood, pacing the length of the room, rocking him in her arms. When that didn't work and Gibbs showed no sign of reappearing, she knelt on the floor beside the baby bag and set up the changing mat, setting Stevie down on the floor as he continued to cry. "Let's see if you're just uncomfortable, hmm? Maybe a new diaper will help make you feel better."
Gibbs returned as she was half-way through changing the diaper. He was there to see her face blanch, her green eyes narrow as she eased the soiled diaper from beneath the baby. "Abby?"
"Two more diamonds," she murmured, hands trembling as she folded the diaper and set it to the side. Her eyes rose to meet his, glimmering with anxious tears. "There's blood, Gibbs. He's bleeding."
He grabbed his cell phone from the dresser and dropped to his knees beside her in an instant, all awkwardness after the morning's unexpected events fading under the weight of their concern. "Ducky said it might happen, Abs. He said not to worry." The voice of the ME sounded in his ear before he could say anything else. "Duck. We've found two more diamonds. Abs can't get him to calm down and there's blood in his diaper... Yeah, yeah, ok. Yeah." He closed the phone with one hand, put the other on Abby's shoulder. "He said to take him to the hospital just to get checked out but not to worry."
"Too late for that." Abby struggled with the tabs of the clean diaper, hands trembling too much to fasten them. She moved aside when Gibbs nudged her gently.
"Go get dressed, Abby." Gibbs focused his attention on the crying baby, running a hand over his hot forehead gently. "Sooner we get him there, sooner we'll know he's okay."
On one hand, Abby was relieved that the paediatrician Stevie saw wasn't the blond doctor from earlier. On the other hand, the one who was available was an attractive redhead who, although good with Stevie, was just as interested in the Special Agent as her blond counterpart had been.
The woman tickled Stevie's stomach while smiling at Gibbs and Abby. "He's a healthy little boy, all things considered. I don't blame you for being anxious, Ms. Sciuto, but there's very little bleeding and no sign of internal damage. To be honest, I'd have been more surprised if there was no bleeding in a case like this."
Stevie squirmed and reached his arms out for Abby. The paediatrician, Doctor Julie Samson, stepped aside to allow Abby access, a delicate eyebrow arching when Stevie calmed down as soon as Abby scooped him up into her arms, murmuring soothingly.
"He's a cute kid," Doctor Samson murmured, glancing at Gibbs as she spoke. "I assume since he's in NCIS's custody, something has happened to his parents."
"In a manner of speaking." Gibbs let one shoulder rise in a casual shrug. "You're sure there's no internal injuries to worry about? The last two stones were larger than we expected."
"Stones," Doctor Samson repeated, her eyebrow arched again. "Gem stones but you won't tell me anything other than that. Intriguing." She waited a beat. "All scans were clear. I wouldn't have been surprised if there'd been a slight tearing in the lining of his small intestine but everything appears to be fine. I imagine he'll be just as relieved as you when the final stone is out of his system."
Abby rocked him Stevie gently. "The last stone looks larger on the scans than the others. Do you think it'll cause him some problems?"
"Other than a bit of discomfort and possibly a little more bleeding as it passes his system entirely, I don't foresee there being anything to worry about." Turning her attention to Abby, Doctor Samson smiled at the worried young woman. "You obviously care a great deal for him. He'll be fine, Ms. Sciuto. Just keep taking care of him and give him plenty of attention..."
"Don't think that's going to be a problem." Gibbs gazed at Abby and the baby, an indescribable expression on his face. "He's gonna be okay, Abs. Stop looking so worried."
Abby's response was to hug Stevie closer, her eyes suspiciously bright when she glanced at Gibbs. "I can't help it. I've just got this really bad feeling something's going to happen to him."
As Gibbs moved closer, Doctor Samson gave her a sympathetic smile. "I don't know about your case, Ms. Sciuto, but I can assure you, medically speaking, Steven is fine."
"Thank you, Doctor Samson." Gibbs gave the attractive redhead a nod and took the hand she offered him. "Your help is appreciated."
"Anytime, Agent Gibbs." Doctor Samson smiled.
With his hand against the small of her back, Gibbs once again found himself leading Abby and Stevie down the hallway of the hospital towards the parking lot. He studied Abby out of the corner of his eye, concerned at her silence. He waited until she'd secured Stevie in his car seat and settled herself in the passenger seat beside him, turning to her instead of starting the engine.
"I'm fine, Gibbs." She kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, hands folded over her stomach. "Really."
"You don't look it." He stared at her intently. "You look worse now than you did this morning."
Abby sighed and glanced at him. "My gut's telling me there's something wrong. I know I'm not a field agent and I don't have the experience you do but there's something inside of me screaming that Stevie's in danger and there's not a damn thing I can do about it. Someone knows about the diamonds, I know they do. And if they realise Stevie's not hiding them anymore, they're gonna be angry and I'm scared they're going to take their anger out on him."
"No one's going to get the chance to do that, Abs. Stevie isn't going anywhere where we can't protect him." He gripped the steering wheel to keep from reaching out for her. "He'll be okay, Abby. I promise."
It was the first promise he'd made her that Abby wasn't sure he could keep. She didn't question him on it and stayed silent as he turned the key in the ignition. She glanced over her shoulder at the baby settled contentedly in his car seat and swallowed the wave of nausea that threatened to overcome her.
She'd keep him safe, Abby vowed. No matter what the cost.
Richard Simms was a powerful man. He had no shortage of money at his disposal, no shortage of people willing to run around and do his bidding for him. He'd met Rebecca Winters at a bar near the base she was stationed on when she was five months pregnant, downing her sorrows with shots of tequila. He'd kept her from drinking from that night onwards, showered her with gifts and trinkets to keep her mind off the alcohol she desperately craved.
He'd never been in trouble, didn't have a record. The majority of his wealth had been inherited and invested in various stocks and shares and he lived a comfortable existence. He'd promised Rebecca the world, vowed to take care of her and her son but after Steven's birth, Rebecca had pulled away from him.
"She started using drugs," Simms told Gibbs, arms resting casual on the table in between them. "I tried to get her to stop but she insisted she needed them. The most I could do was convince her not to breast feed so Steven wouldn't be harmed by her habits."
"You could've got her into rehab." Tony folded his arms across his chest. "You've got the money, the influence..."
"Rebecca wouldn't leave Steven." Simms shook his head sadly. "She was devoted to him. I promised her I would take care of him but she was paranoid his father would try to take him from me. Joe Clark is the man responsible for Becca's addiction. I don't know what he wanted with Steven but he kept calling her, demanding he be allowed to see him."
"Are you aware Mr. Clark was paying Lieutenant Winters child maintenance?" Gibbs' stance was casual. "That the Lieutenant was demanding it?"
Simms shook his head again. "I had no idea. If Becca was short of cash, she never said. She knew I'd give her anything she asked for."
"Including the funds to support her cocaine habit?" Standing by the door, Tony frowned.
"Anything but that," Simms corrected himself. "Perhaps that's why she went to Clark for money. If I'd known, I would have stopped her. Maybe that's why he killed her. Maybe he got tired of paying for her drugs when he could ill-afford his own."
"You believe Mr. Clark killed Lieutenant Winters?"
"Of course." Simms blinked, momentarily surprised by the question. "I've been thinking it over and over ever since I heard she was dead, Agent Gibbs. Becca didn't have many friends but she didn't have many enemies, either. The only person I can think of who would want to hurt her is Joe Clark. He was jealous of our relationship and you've just told me she was tapping him for money... I can't think of anyone else who would want to hurt her."
"What about someone who'd want to hurt you?" Gibbs leaned across the table. "You and Lieutenant Winters were close. Is there anyone who'd hurt her to get to you?"
"Not that I can think of." The answer was immediate. "I don't tend to make many enemies, Agent Gibbs. I buy stocks and shares and sometimes take over companies that are struggling to make money. I save people's jobs, their livelihoods..."
"But you've probably taken over some family run companies, right? Maybe took someone's inheritance however unwittingly?"
Simms laughed. "If I did that, I was probably doing them a favour. Most people would consider a business losing money to be a millstone, not an inheritance worth fighting for." He crossed his hands together on the table. "As my lawyers told you, Agent Gibbs, I am willing to cooperate in any way I can. All I ask for in return is to see Steven and make sure he's alright."
There was a moment of tense silence. "Your lawyers said you had agreed to submitting a DNA sample. As soon as we have that, I'll contact social services and arrange a supervised meeting between yourself and the child."
"Social services?" Simms arched an eyebrow and glanced at the man beside him. "I wasn't aware they were involved."
"It's standard procedure, Mr. Simms." Gibbs smiled smoothly. "If you don't mind Agent DiNozzo taking a sample of your DNA now, I'll see what I can do about arranging a visit with Steven this afternoon."
"If you do not stop laughing, I will shoot you, Tony." Ziva glared at him through the thick rimmed glasses she wore, arms crossed against her chest defiantly. "You, too, McGee."
"Aww, c'mon, Ziva. You've gotta admit, you look kind of cute with the bun and glasses." Tony walked around her, grinning at the disgruntled expression on her face. "You look like one of those hot nanny's my dad always tried to get my mom to hire."
Gibbs ducked his head to hide a smile, rolling his eyes at his agents.
"Are the glasses really necessary?" Ziva complained, dropping her arms to the side as she turned to glare at Gibbs. "It is a stereotype, is it not?"
It was McGee who answered, sitting at the computer in the main part of Abby's lab. "It might be a stereotype, Ziva, but it means we'll be able to see exactly what you do. If this guy tries anything or does something suspicious when he's with you and Stevie, we'll catch it all on film."
"I still don't get why you couldn't arrange the meeting to take place at the Navy Yard." Abby bundled Stevie into the newly bought coat NCIS had paid for, pulling the zipper up to his chin.
"It'd have been too suspicious if we'd insisted on him staying here, Abby." Gibbs looked up and immediately wished he hadn't, hating the look on her face. "If they figure out Stevie's been staying here instead of with social services, they'll know we know something about the diamonds."
"Assuming they know about the diamonds themselves," Abby argued, balancing Stevie on her hip. "The DNA test came back negative, Gibbs. Richard Simms didn't kill Lieutenant Winters."
Gibbs shrugged. "Then there's nothing to worry about, is there?" He stifled a sigh when she just glared at him, ignoring the looks of his team as he crossed the lab to stand beside her. "Is that what you're worried about, Abby? That this guy's the genuine article and he's going to get custody of Stevie?"
Hugging the baby closer, Abby tensed and tried not to notice the other three special agents busying themselves around her lab. "I told you, I just have a bad feeling about this whole thing. My instincts are screaming at me to take Stevie as far away as possible and keep him safe."
"Nothing is going to happen to him, Abby. Ziva's going to be there the whole time and we'll be watching everything. Anything looks hinky and we'll pull him out of there." Gibbs reached for the baby, taking him out of Abby's arms. "You can watch the whole thing from MTAC, Abs."
"I will take care of Stevie," Ziva chimed in, moving over to them at the slightest of signals from Gibbs. She took the little boy into her arms. "Don't worry, Abby. He will be okay."
Abby tried to smile but her attempt fell flat. She crossed her arms over her chest in an almost defensive gesture when Gibbs announced it was time for them to move. She followed Gibbs and McGee to MTAC while Tony and Ziva took Stevie away.
The hour Stevie spent with Richard Simms was the longest of her life. Abby watched every second of their interaction on screen, flinching whenever a cry escaped the baby, ducking her head to keep from having to see Richard Simms take the child into his arms.
While the millionaire might have been pleased to see Stevie, the feeling didn't seem to be mutual. Abby was certain Stevie was as revealed as she was when the meeting was over and spent the twenty minutes it took for Ziva and Tony to get back to the Navy Yard pacing the bullpen anxiously.
Ziva carried the wailing baby into the bullpen, arms outstretched even as Abby raced up to her and grabbed Stevie. In a matter of minutes, the little boy's wails had subsided to the occasional plaintive sob, his face pressed against Abby's shoulder.
"I told you he just missed her," Ziva told Tony matter-of-factly when her partner took his fingers out of his ears.
"Technically, you said he missed his mother," Tony reminded her in a low voice.
Ziva shrugged and met Gibbs' gaze. "And I stand by it." She reached a hand up and undid the tight bun holding her hair in place. "While Richard Simms may not have had committed Lieutenant Winters murder, I do not believe he is an innocent as he would have us believe."
"He said something that made you suspicious?" Gibbs frowned, mentally recalling the exchanges he'd witnessed from MTAC. "When?"
Tony shook his head. "It wasn't what he said, Boss, it was the way he was acting. He claims he's close to the kid but there was no connection there. He was awkward with the baby, not like a guy would be if he'd been around it a lot and considered it to be his own."
"He had two assistants with him, and a bodyguard," Ziva reported. "Not one of them appeared familiar with the child. One of his assistant's kept getting Stevie's name wrong, too."
"Yeah, the blond kept calling him Stefan." Tony shrugged. "It's close but surely you'd make more of an effort to know the name of the kid your boss is hoping to adopt."
"We'll look at him more closely," Gibbs agreed, his gut telling him to trust the instincts of his team. "Did he give any indication he knows about the diamonds?"
Ziva and Tony shared a glance. "He was talking about some of his business interests. He mentioned something about visiting a diamond mine last year."
"A diamond mine? Where?" Gibbs demanded.
"South Africa, I believe he said." Tony glanced at Ziva briefly for confirmation. "He was showing off for Ziva's benefit."
"McGee, find out what you can about that mine. Abby, you think the diamonds you've got in your lab could be matched to a specific location?"
Abby shrugged as best as she could with Stevie in her arms. "It's possible. I could make a few calls and see if there's someone who can help. Geology isn't my area of expertise. Maybe Ducky might know someone; he has so many contacts..."
"DiNozzo, see Ducky and find out if he knows anyone we can call. Ziva, help McGee look for that mine and any connections Simms might have to the diamond industry." Gibbs didn't need to ask twice. He turned to Abby and the baby, his brow creased. "It might be a long night, Abs. You got everything you and Stevie need to stay for a while?"
"I brought a few extra diapers in this morning but I'm not sure I have enough formula or baby food. I took it all home with us last night." She didn't seem to notice she'd referred to his house as home and Gibbs didn't feel the need to point it out to her. "He'll want feeding soon. I've probably got enough to see him through till this evening but nothing for his late feed if we're still here then."
"I'll take care of it." He moved closer, crowding into her personal space, eyes searching hers. "I'll take care of everything, Abby."
She tried to smile but couldn't quite manage to make it last. "Don't," she told him softly. "If Simms is clean, he'll get custody. I have to remember that or it'll break my heart when I lose him."
He wanted to tell her she wasn't going to lose him, that Stevie was going to end up living with her and the little fantasy he'd somehow painted of how it would all work out with a happy ending was going to come true. He couldn't even pinpoint when the fantasy had been born; he just knew it had become as important to him as it was to her that Stevie stay and become part of their lives, part of the NCIS family they were both integral parts of.
He didn't, though. He couldn't lie to her. Little white lies were all he could get away with where Abby was concerned, and the promise that everything would be okay would be more than that. Much, much more.
Abby excused herself, taking the little boy who'd settled against her contentedly down to the safety of her lab. Gibbs watched his team for a moment, a glimmer of pride going through him at the sight of them following orders without question. He left the bullpen himself after a while, heading up to the Directors office to submit his report and ask for Vance to buy them a few more days with the social services.
The rest of the day wasn't a very happy one, nor was the journey home in the car. Neither Abby nor Gibbs mentioned how they'd woken up that morning but they also didn't make any alternate sleeping arrangements. They didn't get home until late as Gibbs had predicted. Abby settled Stevie in his cot and changed into her pyjamas, slipping under the cool sheets of the bed beside him as quickly as she could. She could hear Gibbs coming upstairs and she closed her eyes, wondering if he'd believe she was asleep if she kept still enough.
The answer was no, as she'd suspected it would be. He said nothing as he settled into bed beside her but rolled over and wrapped an arm around her, drawing her stiff body back against his.
"It's not over yet, Abby." His breath was warm against the back of her neck. "There's still a chance Stevie will be put up for adoption."
She sighed heavily and turned her face into the pillow. "Even if he is, there's no guarantee I'll get him. I have to stop daydreaming, Gibbs. I have to start telling myself it's not going to happen."
"Even if it doesn't, the dream doesn't have to end there." He shifted behind her, surprising her when he rolled her over onto her back gently. He propped himself up on an elbow and gazed down at her. "There are other ways, Abs. Other kids that need good homes or you could still have that baby of your own you talked about."
"How?" She hated the way her voice broke, the way her eyes stung.
A small smirk arranged his lips, his eyes darkening as he leaned over her. "If you really have to ask, maybe you're not ready for kids."
"Gibbs... You can't be suggesting what I think you're suggesting..." She swallowed reflexively, watching warily as he moved closer still.
"Abby..." He moved a hand to her face, grazing her skin with his fingertips. "About this morning..."
She closed her eyes for a moment, inhaling shakily. "You don't have to say anything. It was a spur of the moment thing, a mis—"
His lips, warm and gentle against her own, interrupted her mid-sentence. Abby wrapped her arms around his neck, drawing him closer when he would have pulled away uncertainly. She responded to his kiss, parting her lips at his urging, her tongue duelling with his even as she willed Stevie to stay asleep long enough for her to find out what his intentions were.
Gibbs moved his hands from her face and shifted his body to lie on top of hers. He slid one leg between hers, keeping his weight from crushing her by placing most of it on his knees, leaving his hands free to explore her body, slipping deftly beneath the thin cotton of her vest top to stroke the smooth skin of her stomach.
"Tell me to stop," he murmured, his lips leaving hers to kiss his way across her cheek to her ear and neck. "Tell me you don't want this."
"Not a chance." She shifted her legs, one wrapping around his to keep him above her. "Gibbs..." She gasped when he bit her neck gently. "You're sure you want this, too, right? I can't have this be a one night thing, not with you."
He lifted his head then, gazed down at her with dark blue eyes and slightly parted lips. "I've wanted this for a long time, Abby. More since you started talking about kids and all I could do was picture you growing bigger, imagine our kid running around the house and yard... The thought of another guy having that with you, sharing all those things with you and having to watch from the sidelines..."
Her hands moved up to his face and she laced her fingers through his hair. "There'd never be anyone else, Gibbs. There's no one else who could compare." Her lips curved upwards, her face flushed with pleasure. She drew his face back down to hers, teasing his lips and tongue with her own. "Now, where were we?"
"Right about here," he mumbled against her, tearing his mouth again to blaze a trail of hot kisses down her throat to her chest, hands kneading her sensitive flesh while hers slipped beneath his t-shirt and traced endless patterns against his skin. They did their best to be quiet, talking in whispers, swallowing moans and muffling sighs against one another's skin.
A long time later, Abby threw one leg over him possessively, her head nestled against his shoulder as she watched the rise and fall of his chest. One of his hands rested against the small of her back, occasionally running his fingers along her spine in a teasing caress. She fell asleep first, soothed by the sound of his breathing and the gentle snuffling sound the baby in the cot beside her made.
Gibbs stayed awake a while longer, savouring the feel of her in his arms, the feeling of contentment that spread through him. Hoping it would last.
Stevie woke them up just as the sun was beginning to rise. Abby slipped Gibbs' t-shirt over her head and went to fetch him, settling back into bed with the baby lying against her. Gibbs gazed at them for a few moments before a cry from the little one suggested he was hungry, leaving him with no choice but to leave them in his bed while he dressed quickly in sweatpants and went to make a bottle for the little boy.
He didn't come back.
Abby heard a crash and a dull thud, followed by unfamiliar footsteps on the stairs leading up to the bedroom. She clutched Stevie to her and reached for the gun resting on the bedside cabinet, the click of a trigger being pulled stopping her just as her fingers brushed the cold metal.
"Not a wise move, ma'am. Move away from the gun."
She did as she was told, settling back against the pillows, holding Stevie to her protectively as the masked gunman stared at her through the slits in his balaclava. The baby in her arms began to cry, clutching at her desperately as he picked up on the tension in her body.
"Get him to shut up," the masked man ordered, looking over his shoulder anxiously as though he expected someone else to be there.
"He's scared." Abby swallowed the lump in her throat and ran her fingers over Stevie's back in an attempt at soothing him. "Where's Gibbs?"
The sneer in his voice was audible. "You don't need to worry about Special Agent Gibbs. He won't be joining us." He tilted his head to one side in consideration. "You might be, though. Can you keep the kid quiet?"
"Most of the time." She sounded braver than she felt and wished she had more than just Gibbs' t-shirt and the bed sheets separating her from the man standing in the doorway. "What did you do to Gibbs? Is he okay?"
"He's indisposed." The man waved his gun at her. "Get dressed, get some clothes. You and the kid are coming with us."
She wanted to argue, wanted to stand her ground and demand to know what he'd done with Gibbs but the crying baby in her arms kept her from doing what she wanted. She eased the blankets and sheets away from her body, careful to keep the t-shirt down over her thighs as she stood up. To her surprise, the gunman turned around to give her some semblance privacy and although she was tempted to act out and throw something at him, she caught his gaze in the mirror of the dresser and realised the act was just for show.
Abby dressed quickly, keeping Gibbs t-shirt on and sliding on her underwear and jeans beneath it. She picked up Stevie's bag and put a few clothes of her own into it, glancing at the gunman over her shoulder before slipping her cell phone into one of the pockets.
"Where are you taking us?" She asked, cradling Stevie against her protectively with one arm as she swung the bag over her other shoulder.
"You'll see soon enough." He marched her down the stairs, the gun digging into the space between her shoulder blades whenever she hesitated. He walked her into the living room but took her shoulder in a painful grip before she could run over to the limp form lying on a strange angle on the floor. "You ready?" He called out, and a second masked man appeared from the kitchen.
"We taking her with us?"
She saw the man beside her nod out of the corner of her eye and tightened her hold on Stevie. Her eyes stared intently at Gibbs, willing him to move, to make some noise, to do something that would tell her he was still alive.
"Take her out to the van, then. I'll finish up here." The second man motioned to Gibbs with what appeared to be a knife from the kitchen, the blade glinting ominously.
"No. No, you can't." She tried to struggle against the man holding her shoulder but his grip only tightened. "Please, you can't hurt him anymore than you already have. If you do that, you'll have the whole of NCIS after you and they won't stop till you're found." Abby let a note of desperation creep into her voice. "Let him live and I won't scream or make a fuss. I won't try and get help. Just let him live."
The two men shared a long look, apparently conferring over her head. She bit back a sigh of relief when the second man nodded and reluctantly returned the knife to the kitchen, returning with his gun in hand. They escorted her out into the early morning, one in front and one behind, and thankfully neither of them made any attempt at going back into the house to finish the job inside.
She was pushed roughly to the back of a non-descript white van, making a mental note of the license plate in the moments it took them to open the door and stumbled inside, trying to keep her balance with both Stevie and the bag in her arms.
Both men got into the front of the van once they'd locked the doors and she used the distraction wisely, fumbling for her cell phone hidden in one of the pockets.
She managed to type in a simple message - 'Trouble. Help Gibbs. Find us.' – along with the van's license plate with trembling fingers, selecting Tony's number and pressing send without attracting their attention. The cell phone, still switch on but with only half its battery power left, was hidden once again in the pocket of the bag.
"It's okay, Stevie," she murmured to the little boy squirming restlessly in her arms. "Everything's gonna be okay."
Gibbs came round to a light shining in his eyes and his team wandering around his house. He sat up despite the restraining hand Ducky put on his shoulder and lifted a hand to the back of his head, wincing at the large bump he felt already forming there.
"Abby and Stevie?" His gaze shifted from face to face, taking in their concern and worry with a feeling of dread. "They're gone, aren't they?"
"They are but it's not as bad as it seems." Ziva answered after sharing a look with Tony, nodding at him to continue.
Tony waved his cell phone at Gibbs, ignoring the glare he got for doing so. "Abby's fine, boss. Or she was. She was able to send me a text telling me you needed help. She also sent the license plate of the vehicle they're in and her cell phone is still turned on. Probie has a fix on her, we were just waiting to make sure you were okay then we were gonna start following them."
"Jethro, you need to sit down." Ducky tried to fuss over him as Gibbs pushed himself to his feet, stumbling a little when a wave of dizziness hit him. "You've probably got a mild concussion and I'd like to get you checked out to make sure there's nothing more serious..."
"Just a headache, Duck. I'll be fine." Gibbs waved away his friend's concerned. "Give me five minutes to get dressed and we'll get going." He was ready in half-that, his shirt half-buttoned when he came back downstairs. His gun was already in its holster at his side, his shoulders tense. "You coming, Duck?"
Left with no choice, Ducky followed the trio out of the house into the car where McGee was waiting, laptop on his knee.
"They've still not stopped," McGee reported, never once taking his eyes off the screen in front of him. "They've got about thirty miles on us, Boss."
Gibbs reluctantly handed the car keys to Tony, sitting himself in the passenger's seat. "Drive fast, DiNozzo."
"On it, Boss." Tony managed to grin at Ziva and McGee before turning the key in the ignition and putting his foot door on the acceleration.
Sitting sandwiched between the two agents in the back of the car, Ducky watched them both reach for the handles on their car door and found himself regretting his decision to come along.
The van eventually stopped though Abby found herself wishing it would continue. She murmured soothing platitudes to Stevie as she stepped out at the gesture of one of the two armed men, grabbing the bag with one hand when she realised no one else was going to get it for her.
They stood in front of an impressive office block, though they weren't on a busy street in the centre of the city. She looked around and realised they were on an industrial estate, her heart sinking when she noted none of the other buildings looked as though they were occupied.
"Inside," the first gunman barked at her, waving to the entrance with the gun. "I'll take care of the van. You take her to the boss."
The second gunman nodded and took hold of her elbow, leading her roughly into the eerily quiet building. He said nothing to her as he led her up one flight of stairs to the first floor, pushing her none-too-gently into one of the offices near the stairs.
Joe Clark turned in his chair to face her, his eyes widening at the sight of not only his son but the woman holding him. "What's going on? What's she doing here?"
"My question exactly." The other voice sounded cultured whereas Clark sounded confused. Richard Simms strode into her line of vision, his eyes looking over her once before focusing on the man behind her. "A slight change in the plan?"
"She can keep the kid quiet," the masked man told him with a shrug. "We thought she'd be helpful."
"I don't pay you to think." Simms scowled and threw the glass he'd been holding onto the floor, where it shattered into hundreds of little sparkling splinters. "Where's Neil?"
"Moving the van round the back." The gunman sounded nervous but Abby kept herself from feeling sorry for him when Stevie whimpered in his arms.
Simms waved him away. "Go help him. Tell him I want the car brought to the front in ten minutes, and the plane ready to go when we get to the airstrip."
"Yes, Sir." The gunman left her standing there and she felt strangely bereft without him at her back.
"Don't think about running away," Simms told her conversationally, walking over to his desk and withdrawing a revolver from the top drawer. "I have no interest in who you are and won't think twice about shooting you if you threaten my plans."
"I'm not going anywhere without Steven." Abby straightened her shoulders defiantly. "I don't know what you want with him but I'm not going to let you hurt him."
Clark snorted, his eyes unfocused as he tried to look at her. She wondered if he was seeing double and if it was alcohol or the white powder she could see on his jacket that was responsible for his state. "No one's gonna hurt him, lady. I'm his Daddy. My friend here just said he'd help get him for me."
"For what purpose?" Abby shifted Stevie to her other arm, offering him a finger to chew on in place of the bunny she knew he wanted. "Why would he go to all the trouble of breaking the law to help reunite you with the child he's applied for custody of?"
Clark appeared confused by the question, his eyebrows furrowed in thought. "He don't want custody. He just wants... I dunno. He wants something but he doesn't want my boy." He started turning his chair to face the other man, to ask what it was he wanted, but was dead before his chair made it all the way around.
The sound of the bullet splitting through the night startled Stevie and made him cry. Abby lowered her gaze from the slumped body and tried to keep tears of her own from slipping down her face.
"You know about the diamonds." It was a statement, not a question. Abby lifted her gaze to his, working hard to keep her fear from showing on her face. "Are they all gone? All in NCIS custody?"
"All of them." The lie slipped out easily, her mind not on what he'd do to her or Stevie without them but on buying time for the team to arrive, to try and make it so he'd decided he didn't want Stevie after all. "They're at my lab at the Navy Yard. I could get them for you."
Simms seemed to consider if for a moment. "You would do that? For the child?"
"I'd do anything for him," she answered honestly. "He's no use to you now."
"Not entirely true. I could still use him." He waved the gun at her with a casual air that scared her. "It was Becca's idea, you see. After I talked her into keeping him, she decided she wanted to use him to smuggle drugs across the border but then I prefer my idea personally."
"You could've killed him." Abby glared at him, her sense of self-preservation lost in a cloud of indignant anger. "He could've had internal bleeding or ruptured the lining of his stomach."
Simms shrugged. "There are always more where he came from. Children are cheap. Diamonds are priceless." He smirked at the look on her face. "I think this is where our conversation comes to an end. Hand the baby over and I'll consider letting you leave alive."
"No." She half-turned away from him when he took a step closer, watching the gun warily. "I'm not giving him to you. You're not hurting him anymore."
"That's not your choice." His smirk widened and he took another step closer, holding the gun steady in his hand. "Give the child to me."
"It's not going to happen." She took a step back, forcing herself not to look at Stevie when he started to cry again; she couldn't afford the distraction. "You killed Rebecca Winters, didn't you? Hired someone to do it? Was she going to spoil your plans, go to the authorities? Had she decided her son was more important to her than helping you get rich?"
Simms laughed, an unpleasant sound that sent shivers down her spine. "You'd like to believe that, wouldn't you? You're one of those do-gooders who wants to see the best in everyone. I had nothing to do with Becca's death. Her drug dealer killed her because she couldn't afford to repay her debts. If I'd got there soon enough, I would've taken the child and no one would've known he was gone."
"We would've known." Abby shook her head at the thought. "We'd have figured out he was missing and tried to find him."
"Maybe so but it's irrelevant now. Hand him over and you can live. I'll get one of my men to drive you back to wherever you want to go."
"I'm not buying that. I'm not stupid." A slight movement out of the corner of her eye made her jump and Abby fought a sob, convinced his armed companions had returned. "I'm not going to let you have him."
Simms shook his head, his gun hand rising slightly. "A touching act of bravery, but you won't be able to stop me when you're dead."
Movement from behind her had her closing her eyes. Abby held her breath when she heard a familiar voice, low and menacing, accompanied by a soft hand on her arm, tugging her and Stevie to safety.
"It's okay, Abby," Ducky murmured, his arm around her trembling waist as he ushered her and the baby into the hallway. "Let Gibbs and the others handle it now."
One, two bullets were fired before he finished the end of his sentence. Abby turned at the sound of raised voices, her heart in her throat as Stevie wailed inconsolably. She wouldn't let Ducky lead her down the stairs, holding her ground, leaning heavily against the wall as she waited anxiously for some sign from the office she'd been in.
A curse in Israeli reached her ears just before Richard Simms was led out of the room in handcuffs. A smear of blood ruined the otherwise clean suit jacket he wore and he looked unnaturally pale as he stumbled between Ziva and McGee, glaring at Abby and the baby she held as they passed.
"Ducky, get in here," Gibbs called out, his voice gruff. Both Abby and Ducky followed his command, rushing to the doorway to see him leaning over a pale but otherwise seemingly okay Tony. "Bullet grazed his thigh. I'll need help getting him downstairs."
"Of course." Ducky was at Tony's side instantly even as the younger agent waved him away with an annoyed expression on his face.
Abby lingered in the doorway, rocking Stevie in an attempt at calming him as Ducky and Gibbs eased Tony to his feet. "Are you okay?" She asked, eyes flicking between them, not sure who exactly she was talking to.
"We're all fine, Abby." Tony answered, trying to smile at her in a reassuring manner. "How's the little guy?"
"He'll be okay thanks to you guys." She returned his smile, her eyes stinging despite her best efforts to blink the unwanted moisture away. She followed the trio downstairs, reaching the bottom before the ground started to feel unsteady beneath her feet. Clutching the railing with one hand and Stevie with the other, she eased herself down onto the bottom step, eyes closing as she let her cheek rest against the top of the baby's head.
Ziva joined her after a few moments, her face momentarily illuminated by the flashing red and blue lights from the various cars and vans assembled outside. She sat down beside her, an arm slipping around her shoulders. "It is over, Abby," she spoke softly, a quiet conviction in her voice that Abby found comforting. "I think Stevie wants you to take him home now."
She didn't trust herself to speak so Abby only nodded and let her friend help her to her feet. She kissed the top of Stevie's head as he cuddled into her, face still damp from his tears but his crying having stopped as the excitement around them became nothing more than a hum of activity that didn't involve them directly.
Gibbs approached as soon as they stepped outside, taking his place at her side after telling Ziva softly that Tony was going to the hospital with Simms and he'd like her to go, too. Ducky and McGee would be driving the car back with him, Abby and Stevie and they'd see her there.
With a final squeeze of her arm, Ziva left and went immediately to the ambulance containing the complaining Tony DiNozzo and the thankfully unconscious Richard Simms. His two armed men were loaded into a second ambulance, zipped away in body bags Abby did her best not to acknowledge.
To her surprise, Gibbs got in the back of the car with her once she'd fastened Stevie into his car seat. McGee took the driver's seat without comment and Ducky sat beside him in the passenger's seat though she was conscious of both of them glancing at her in their mirrors, watching every move with concerned curiosity.
"Come here," Gibbs murmured, his voice gruff as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her as close as their seatbelts would allow. He kissed her forehead, her cheek, tasted the salt of her tears before pressing his lips to hers softly regardless of what their chaperones at the front of the car would think.
"I thought you were dead," she confessed shakily, taking hold of his other hand as tightly as she could. "I saw you on the floor and I thought they'd killed you."
"It'd take a lot to kill me now, Abby." He closed his eyes, let his head rest atop of hers. The tension that had been in his body since he'd come around to find her and Stevie missing drained out of him, leaving him tired and weary.
Nestled safety between Gibbs and Stevie, Abby let her own eyes flutter shut, succumbing to her body's demands, finally content that the worst of it was over and the danger had safely passed them by.
End – you can decide yourselves if they keep him or not :)