The sight in front of him is not an uncommon one. Abby is there on her futon, entire body curled slightly around that damned hippo. She has untied her characteristic ponytails, and, while her hair does not fall into or around her face, it does lend a bit of softness to her features that isn't always there. Briefly, he considers sinking to his knees in front of her, but his aches quickly force that thought away. Instead, he traces the delicate curve of her outer ear. The skin there is soft, and apparently ticklish—she bats his hand away with an incoherent mumble and rolls over onto her stomach. In the process, she squeezes the noisemaker in her stuffed animal, and the extended flatulence rouses her from her sleep. She jerks slightly, then looks around her blearily, as though to determine the source of whatever woke her up. Presently, he feels her eyes fix on him in the darkness.

Before she can speak, he has already had time to formulate a plan and become determined to see it through. As she draws in a breath to begin speaking, he takes the hippo from her and gently tugs her to her feet. "How long have you been here?" His tone is no-nonsense, primarily because he already knows the answer. This case has hit her hard, and she's been in her lab for days, fueled only by Caf-Pows and the occasional catnap.

"I only wanted to sleep for half an hour," came her reply. His eyes had by now adjusted somewhat to the dimness, and he could just make out the motions of her rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her voice had a slight whine to it: for a moment, he imagined that she sounded as his Kelly might have, in several years. He pushed that aside, for now. "My babies were still processing data, Gibbs, so I didn't think anyone would mind..."

At this, he has only one choice: he rolls his eyes. "I mean, how long have you been here in this lab? Three days? Four? You need sleep, Abby. I need you working at full power for this one." She has taken off towards her workstation: he follows quickly behind her, and pulls her hands away from the keyboard. "Did you hear me?"

She nods, frustrated, but doesn't look at him. "I heard you, Gibbs, but I want to catch this scumbag as soon as I can. Seeing what he did to those people...." Her voice breaks, and he is sure that it is not from sleep. He places a hand on the small of her back, hoping to come across as comforting. "I just need a Caf-Pow, that's all. I wonder if they come in mega-sized...."

"No." Gibb's words are firm now, but not as harsh as he uses with his other agents. "All that caffeine is bad for your heart, Abby. I'm going to take you home so you can sleep, okay?" It is not a request: it is an order, thinly-veiled beneath his late-night-raspy, concerned voice. She knows this, and knows that she's been defeated. All she does is nod.

It's a good thing he still remembers where she lives, Gibbs muses to himself while stopped at a red light. Because, at this point, she would be of supremely little use to him. The second that Abby had strapped herself into the passenger seat, she had allowed her head to flop back against the seat, and, several minutes later, had passed once again into sleep. Her head is lolling onto her shoulder at the moment, and he marvels at the fact that she can sleep so soundly in such an awkward position. The light turns green.

They are the only cars on the road right now, and maybe it's his own exhaustion setting in, but Gibbs begins to feel incredibly protective of the unconscious spitfire in the seat next to him. When she's awake, she's all energy and happiness, and always always excited to see him—to see any of the team, for that matter. It's incredible, how much energy she always seems to have despite the fact that she experiences her emotions so deeply. This side of her, therefore, comes as a bit of a shock to him—not necessarily a bad shock, however. Surely he's seen her at less-than-peak moments for her—she's been groggy, confused for a moment, but almost always snaps back into herself. Tonight she's crashing: crashing hard, and, if it were even possible, Gibbs might believe that his affection for her was growing. Another red light.

A soft sound comes from the passenger seat: a sigh. There were no tears, no moans, but still Gibbs knows exactly what she is dreaming. She feels her emotions completely—every one. There has been too much death lately, even for a girl who comes across the way she does. To an uneducated observer, she might seem to be some sort of gothic girl, preoccupied with death and blood. Only those closest to her, however, know the depth to which she abhors the very topic, how hard it hits her every time. She has seen too much grief for someone her age, Gibbs realizes with a pang. He wouldn't have wanted Kelly to see even a tiny fraction of this, but he never really gave a thought to the things that his Abby has faced. He reaches over and traces his fingertips lightly along her jawline. The light turns green, and he lets his hand return to the wheel.

When he pulls up in front of Abby's place, he nudges her lightly. Truth be told, he is loath to wake her a second time, but there is really nothing he can do about it. She could hardly sleep in his car all night, could she? "Abbs," he whispers, his voice sounding out of place and too intrusive in the cozy atmosphere of the car. "Come on, you're home. Time to go to bed."

She cracks her eyes open for a moment, then lets them slide shut, and tries again. "Got it," she replies, and it is obvious that she is trying to rally herself, trying to shake herself awake without making it too obvious. "Thank you, for the ride, Gibbs," she manages. Her voice is froggy with sleep, and he has to smile.

"You're welcome Abby," he replies, and this time cannot help himself. He cups a sleep-warmed cheek in the palm of his hand, and feels the shadow of his smile dropping from the corners of his lips. "Now sleep. I don't want to see you tomorrow until at least one in the afternoon, do you hear me?" She appears to pout for a moment, but, with her puffy eyes and paler-than-normal skin, is not all that inclined to argue. So she just nods, defeated, and meets his eyes again. The air feels full, as though she is going to say something to him, but then the moment passes. Instead, she leans forward to press a kiss to his cheek, and exits the car.

He remains where he sits for several very long moments, to ensure that she makes it safely into her home, and then drives home to collapse between his icy sheets.

AN: Please, please excuse any out-of-characterness, and any strange things happening with the tenses or spelling or sentence structure: mostly I wrote this to sort of lull myself to sleep. When you can't actually go for a drive, the next best thing is to write about one, right? Now I will sleep, and possibly edit things tomorrow. :)