Title: Catalyst

Author: Jo. R (driftingatdusk)

Rating: FR-13

Pairing: Abby/Gibbs

Category: Post-ep/Missing Scene, Friendship, Romance

Spoilers: 'Outlaws and In-Laws', 'Hiatus', 'See No Evil', 'Lost and Found'

Summary: NFA Haiti fic for Nat aka Blackswan. A glimpse into how a relationship can change.

****

There was something to be said for friends that rallied around, Abby Sciuto thought with aching arms and a satisfied smile. She moved her head from side to side, hoping to ease the ache in her neck she could already feel and surveyed the handiwork of herself and the team of NCIS agents who'd volunteered to help.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs' house looked almost exactly as it had done before the damage inflicted on it by the men sent by Colonel Merton Bell to kidnap Leyla Shakarji and her daughter, Amira, at the request of Leyla's mother. While the man himself was busy at NCIS Headquarters, Abby had enlisted the agents on his team to help her and Leyla get the house back in a liveable condition, something she was relieved to see happen before Gibbs himself could return home.

Tony DiNozzo, Ziva David and Timothy McGee accepted her enthusiastic hugs with tired smiles before making their exit from the house, all pleased they'd been able to help in some way but all wanting to take their leave before Gibbs got home. Although they'd done their boss a good turn, they weren't sure how he'd appreciate their presence when he got home after what had been an undeniably long day.

Abby herself decided to stay at the request of Leyla, who, along with her young daughter, didn't want to be left in the house on her own.

"Mama, play with me," Amira insisted, climbing up on Leyla's lap where she sat next to Abby on the couch. She reached up to touch Leyla's face when her mother continued speaking to the black haired woman sitting beside her instead. "Please, Mama."

"Amira," Leyla's tone was one of exasperated affection. She took hold of her daughter's hand and placed a kiss on the small fingers that wrapped around her own. "I'm tired, my darling. Can Mama just sit here for a while and talk to Abby?"

Amira pouted, her bottom lip wobbling as she stared imploringly at her mother, her big brown eyes wide and pleading. Despite the excitement of the past few days, the little girl was showing no signs of the weariness that was affecting the adults around her. "But Mama..."

"Why don't you play with me, Amira?" Abby suggested with a quick look at Leyla. Both mother and child turned to her and Abby gave them a bright smile that used more energy that she thought she had. "We can let your Mom have a nice, hot bath and relax a little while I play with you."

A look of appreciation flashed over Leyla's features briefly. "I couldn't ask you to do that, Abby. You've worked far harder than I have today..."

"I'm fine," Abby murmured, her smile softening when Amira clamoured over the couch from her mother's lap to Abby's own. "I've had six or seven Caf-Pows today. I think I could stay awake for at least another four hours easily."

"If you are sure..." Leyla's own dark eyes brightened at the prospect of some time to relax on her own.

"I'm positive." Abby tickled Amira lightly, the little girl's giggles reminding her of her niece, making her smile despite the slight pang of sadness when she thought of how long it had been since she'd seen her own family. "We'll have lots of fun, won't we, Amira?"

Amira's answer was another round of giggles. With a final smile at her daughter and Abby, Leyla pushed herself to her feet, wincing a little at the ache in her back, and went upstairs to put the big bath she'd been eyeing up for the last few days to good use.

"Well, Amira, it's just the two of us now," Abby murmured to the curly haired child on her lap. "What should we do with ourselves, hmm?"

****

Leyla descended the stairs from the bathroom just over an hour later, just in time to see the front door open to admit the house's owner alongside her father-in-law. She greeted both men with a warm smile and led the way into the living room, her smile growing wider as the sound of her daughter's giggles floated through the air towards them.

"Someone tidied up," Gibbs murmured, an eyebrow arching at Leyla when she glanced at him over her shoulder.

"It was not me," Leyla told him with a smile. "I helped, as did the others, but it was Abby who got everyone here and told them what to do."

"Abby?"

"Is she still here?" Mike Franks shrugged out of the long overcoat he wore over his suit jacket, his eyes straying past his daughter-in-law to the other room. "I believe I owe her an apology."

"She is with Amira," Leyla answered, turning fully to face the two men. She crossed her arms over her chest and looked at her father-in-law in askance. "What did you do that would warrant an apology to Abby?"

Mike exchanged a look with Gibbs as if hoping his one-time protégé would save him from answering but Gibbs said nothing and simply stared back. "Abby had to take the 'Kelly' apart," he informed Leyla quietly. "She wouldn't speak to me when I saw her earlier."

Leyla's brow furrowed, confusion on her face. "Abby had to take the boat apart? The boat you gave to Amira?" She looked to Gibbs for confirmation, regret flitting across her features when the Special Agent gave her a small nod in response. "I am sorry, Jethro. Mike told me how much that boat meant to you."

How it was the only boat he'd made that had survived his need to destroy it, how it had been named after his own daughter whom he'd so tragically lost.

"If Abby is upset, then it should be with me," Leyla murmured, glancing over her shoulder where another giggle sounded, accompanied by a chuckle she knew to belong to the other woman. "It is my fault it needed to be taken apart."

"It was my responsibility to take care of it," Mike interrupted, laying a hand on his daughter-in-law's shoulder in comfort. "I'll talk to her, Leyla, don't you worry about it."

She smiled but didn't look convinced as Mike brushed by her, heading for the dining room when Abby and Amira were. She glanced up at Gibbs, biting down on her bottom lip at the shadows she saw in his eyes. "I don't understand why it is Abby he must apologise to and not you."

"Abby's sensitive," Gibbs answered softly, an emotion she recognised but was surprised to see momentarily flaring in his blue eyes. "She'll blame herself for taking it apart unless someone else takes responsibility for it."

"The boat meant that much to her?" Leyla watched him carefully, her eyes narrowing when a fleeting expression gave her the answer she needed. "Not the boat," she corrected herself thoughtfully. "But the man who built it."

She turned on her heel before Gibbs could comment, leaving him standing alone in his living room to contemplate her words and the undeniable truth in them.

****

After taking a moment, Gibbs followed Leyla and Mike through to the dining room, a slight grin curving his lips when he laid eyes on Abby and Amira. Mike was sitting at the table next to them, Leyla standing in the opposite doorway, a knowing smile on her face when Gibbs looked up and caught her watching him watching Abby.

The woman in question was oblivious to his gaze, her attention fully focused on the little girl sitting on her knee and the picture they were painting together. Gibbs thought maybe they'd matched to get more paint on themselves than on the various pieces of paper scattered over his dining room table but when Abby eventually glanced up and caught his eye, he thought he'd never seen his forensic scientist look quite as beautiful.

Her cheeks were flushed, her green eyes sparkling, her smile bright and genuine. There was a smudge of yellow paint on her nose, a blob of red on one cheek and a smeared line of green across her forehead. The little girl in her arms fared no better but it was Abby he found his gaze drawn to.

"Trying out a new look, Abs?" He asked her, forcing his voice to sound casual as he leaned in the doorway.

Her cheeks darkened and she shrugged, an arm kept around the little girl to secure her on her lap. "Just something we thought we'd play with, right, Amira?"

Amira grinned and nodded enthusiastically. "It's pretty!" The little girl announced gleefully.

"Pretty it may be but you will need to wash it off before you get ready for bed," Leyla told her daughter fondly. She crossed the room to the table, reaching for her little girl. "Why don't we get you cleaned up then we can fix something for supper, yes?" Once her daughter was in her arms, balanced expertly on her hip, Leyla looked down at Abby with an openly affectionate smile. "You will stay for supper, won't you, Abby?"

"Oh, I don't..." Abby stood and wiped at her cheek, smearing another trail of paint across it. "I don't want to get in the way and it's getting late so I should probably just..."

"Stay," Leyla finished firmly. "You won't be getting in the way, will she, Jethro?"

Torn between glaring and rolling his eyes at the meaningful look Leyla threw him, Gibbs glanced at Abby. "You should eat, Abs. I know you skipped lunch."

Leyla continued before Abby could object. "Then it is settled. You will stay."

She left without giving anyone time to object, a knowing smirk on Mike's face as he watched her go. "I wouldn't argue with her," he advised Abby with a grin. "She knows how to get her own way."

"I got that impression." Though Abby returned his grin with a small smile of her own, both Mike and Gibbs could see that it wasn't as bright as it could've been. "I should really get myself tidied up, too..." With another quick smile, Abby excused herself and went into the kitchen to use the second sink.

Gibbs and Mike remained standing in the dining room for a few moments more. Gibbs arched an eyebrow at his former mentor, shooting a meaningful glance in the direction Abby had gone.

"You realise, Probie, why she's so upset about this," Mike murmured, arching an eyebrow of his own as he returned Gibbs' stare with one of his own. When Gibbs inclined his head slightly, Mike couldn't stop a small smirk from quirking up the corners of his mouth. "You're a lucky son of a bitch," he muttered, following Abby through to the kitchen.

Alone once more, Gibbs felt a grin tug the corners of his mouth upwards; Mike was definitely right about that.

****

"Hey, little lady," Mike approached Abby with the caution of someone approaching a feral animal. He watched warily as she rinsed her face in the kitchen sink before rubbing her hands beneath the steady stream of water to clean off the stubborn remains of paint that remained.

"Told you not to call me that, Mike." Abby glanced at him over her shoulder, her cheeks pink from her efforts at ridding them of paint stains. Still, she gave him an attempted smile. "You must be pleased to be heading home."

Mike shrugged. "It'll be nice to see the old homestead, that's for sure. Good for Amira and Leyla, too."

Her smile grew marginally, her eyes lighting up. "I'm glad I got to meet them, despite the circumstances. Amira's so very sweet."

"She's a darling, alright." The fondness with which he spoke about his granddaughter showed on his face. His smile dropped a little as he continued to look at Abby. "About the boat, Abby... I'm sorry you had to... do what you had to do."

Her own smile slipped and she shook her head, busying herself with drying her hands. "It's not your fault," she told him quietly. "You, and Leyla, were protecting Amira. I can't fault you for that, Mike. No one can."

Under different circumstances, the confusion on his face might have amused her. "I figured you blamed me," Mike muttered. "You wouldn't talk to me back at the Yard."

Abby's eyes widened before she shook her head, a small smile on her face. "I was distracted, Mike. Frustrated," she corrected, a glimmer of sadness in her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "I cut into the boat, not you, and I'm the one who can't figure out how to put it back together. For Amira."

"And for Jethro." Mike continued to stare at her when she made no attempt at denying his claim but merely lowered her gaze instead, her cheeks flushing. "He's a lucky man."

She looked up, an eyebrow arched. "He's not interested, Mike, so don't get any ideas about match-making."

He tilted his head to the side, considering her. "Why'd you say that?"

"Because it's the truth," Abby answered with a shrug. "Because I've spent long enough around him to know better than to hope for something that's never going to happen." She threw the hand towel she'd been using down onto the bench and moved to walk past him, pausing to lift herself up on her toes and brush her lips against his cheek. "Your intentions are good but I'm afraid they're misplaced."

Mike thought otherwise but held his tongue and followed her from the room.

****

Dinner was a casual but fun affair. Mike and Gibbs regaled the women with stories of their past cases, retaliating with one another as the stories got more and more embarrassing for the other person. Amira joined in with her mother and Abby's laughter even though she couldn't possibly – hopefully, in some cases – understand what was being said, which only amused them all further.

Part way through the meal – takeaway, since there was little in Gibbs' fridge or cupboards to cook with – Amira climbed down from her seat and tugged on her Godfather's arm until he picked her up and settled her in his lap. From that moment on, Abby struggled to keep track of the conversation, too distracted by thoughts of the former Marine and little girl.

She could see that he would have been a great father to Kelly, that it was a role he seemed to fall into naturally. He doted on Amira, showering her with attention but somehow able to maintain a conversation with the other adults at the same time.

She felt her heart both ache at the sight of the smile that curved up his lips when he gazed down at the little girl in his arms; the ache because of the pain she knew he still and would always feel whenever he thought of the daughter he'd lost.

He would've been a wonderful father, she decided, and found herself wondering if it was something he would ever consider doing again.

The thought, and the mental image that accompanied it, jolted her back into present. Abby was used to daydreaming about the man sitting opposite her but the strength of the longing she felt at the image in her mind surprised even her.

"Are you okay, Abby?" Leyla asked in concern, her voice quiet as Gibbs and Mike continued their conversation. "You look a little flushed."

Forcing a smile, Abby lifted her glass to her lips and sipped the water she'd insisted on having since she planned to drive home after dinner. "I'm fine. A little warm." She fought to keep her gaze on Leyla instead of straying back across the table to Gibbs and Amira. "I should probably get going soon. It's getting late…"

"You have to stay for a cup of coffee," Leyla insisted, raising her voice a little to purposely attract the attention of their companions. "I need someone to keep me and Amira company while Jethro and Mike do the dishes."

It was said so matter-of-factly that Abby had to smile, more so at the expressions on the faces of the men in particular. She caught Gibbs' gaze for a brief moment, breaking eye contact almost as soon as it was made. Heat flooded her cheeks and she looked away, missing the knowing glance exchanged between Leyla and Mike and the momentary confusion that flashed in Gibbs' eyes.

****

Once Amira had done the rounds and kissed everyone goodnight and Leyla had returned from putting her to bed in Gibbs' master room, Mike and Gibbs disappeared into the kitchen to complete their designated chores, leaving the two women alone once more.

Her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee, it took Abby a few minutes longer than it should to realise Leyla was staring at her knowingly. "What? Do I still have paint on my face?"

"Not paint, no." Leyla smiled softly. "Something just as clear to see, however." She shuffled closer on the couch, tilting her head conspiratorially towards the black haired woman. "How long have you been in love with Jethro?"

Abby blinked, surprised, and felt her cheeks heat up once again. "I'm not…" Her green gaze strayed to the doorway through to the kitchen, her attempt at denying Leyla's claim fading after assuring herself there was no one listening. "Is it that obvious?" Her teeth toyed with her bottom lip worriedly. "I thought I was better than that at hiding it but…"

"You are a woman in love," Leyla interrupted quietly. "It is not something to be hidden as though you were ashamed. Besides," she added with a reassuring look arranging her features. "It is easy for one who has been in love to recognise another."

Seeing a chance to shift the focus of the conversation from herself to her companion, Abby jumped on it. "You were in love with Liam."

"Very much so." Leyla's smile was quick and genuine, her eyes growing soft at the thought of her late husband. "He was everything I had ever wanted and everything I thought I would never have."

"It wasn't easy for the two of you to be together," Abby murmured, drawing on what little she knew about the Iranian's relationship with Mike Franks' son.

"It wasn't easy, but the best things in life never are." Leyla's eyes locked with Abby's. "It was difficult, both being together and losing him. But I would not have changed a moment of our time together. I am only gland that we were not too afraid to act on our feelings given how little time we had."

Her expression sympathetic, Abby couldn't keep herself from reaching out to take hold of Leyla's hand. "I can't imagine what it must've been like for you to lose him, Leyla. I'm so sorry that you did."

"It was hard," Leyla agreed quietly, "but the memories of our time together have helped me through it. Amira has helped me through it. I look at her and I see so much of her father."

"She's a beautiful child," Abby murmured. "Not to mention a very happy little girl."

Leyla laughed softly. "She is very happy, yes. She is my life, and I would be lost without her." Her expression turned thoughtful. "I both dread and look forward to the day when she asks to know about more about her father. I look forward to telling her what a great man he was and how much he loved us but worry if it will upset her all the more knowing she has been deprived of such a wonderful man for most of her life." She lifted a shoulder in a shrug as Abby squeezed her hand, meeting Abby's gaze and holding it solemnly. "Allowing myself to love Liam was the best thing I have ever done, Abby, and the scariest."

Sensing the conversation shift again, Abby let her gaze drop to their hands. "I know what you're trying to say, Leyla, but there's one very big difference between your story and mine."

"And that would be...?" Leyla looked up at the doorway, an eyebrow quirked as she noticed the man leaning against the doorframe, listening intently to the conversation.

Oblivious to their audience, Abby let her gaze drift back to Leyla's face as she answered, her smile sad. "Liam loved you back."

****

She made her excuses and drove home not long after her conversation with Leyla. Abby poured herself a glass of wine and changed into her pyjamas, her heart aching and her mind whirling with thoughts and feelings she tried to fight.

She'd always considered herself to be a good actress as far as her feelings for Gibbs were concerned and wondered how both Mike and Leyla had seen through her act so effortlessly. Even the team of special agents she worked with – led by a certain special agent himself – didn't seem to know how she truly felt about their leader, though she found herself wondering if that was just an act on their part, too.

The thought was embarrassing, and uncomfortable.

She didn't want anything to change between herself and Gibbs. His friendship meant the world to her, more than she thought she could put into words. He was the one she could always rely on, one of the few men in her life who had never let her down. Barring, of course, his extended stay in Mexico but Abby had decided long ago to forgive and forget those long three months without him given the circumstances he'd been in at the time.

It'd almost like he'd lost Shannon and Kelly all over again and her heart had broken for him.

She took another sip from her glass of wine and curled up beneath the black velvet throw she kept neatly folded on the back of her couch, trying to put the image of Gibbs and Amira out of her mind.

The image of Gibbs and a nameless child her imagination conjured.

She'd never felt the urge to have children, hadn't felt the ticking of her biological clock like so many of her friends. Most of the usual crowd, the women she'd gone to parties and clubs with, had settled down when they hit their early thirties, choosing to start families of their own. It was something Abby herself had never felt.

Until she'd seen Gibbs with Amira, at least.

There'd been other children, of course, that she'd watched him interact with. He'd been so caring with Sandy Watson, the blind little girl who'd been involved in a case several years back, and he'd been so kind to Carson Taylor when the young boy's father had been a suspect in a case.

Watching him with Amira, though, had felt different somehow. Personal. Amira meant something to him and she could see that by the way he held her, talked with her.

Loved her.

It wasn't that she'd suddenly changed her mind and wanted 2.5 children and the house with a white picket fence; she didn't. At least, she didn't think she did. What she wanted was the feeling of being part of a family, part of something more. She was beginning to get tired of going home to an empty apartment night after night but was frustrated and sad because she thought that the only person she wanted to settle down with would never want to settle down with her.

The knock at the front door made her groan. Abby closed her eyes and considered pretending she wasn't home but the knocking grew more insistent and was quickly followed by the turning of a key in the lock.

She got to her feet just as the door opened, an eyebrow quirked. "Usually when someone doesn't open the door, it means they want to be left alone, Gibbs."

****

Gibbs stared at her for a while, his mind deserting him. After she'd left, Leyla and Mike had told him repeatedly he'd be a fool if he let her get away with thinking he didn't care about her. He'd agreed with them silently though waited until Leyla had gone upstairs to join Amira in the master bedroom and Mike had gone down to the basement to get settled on the camp bed he'd been sleeping in before slipping out of the house.

On his way to her apartment, he'd been thinking of what he could tell her, how he could broach the subject.

Everything he'd practised and rehearsed had disappeared the moment he saw her.

"I was just checking you hadn't gone back to the Navy Yard," he said after a long pause.

She shrugged a shoulder, her gaze fixed on the door he'd closed at his back. "I was thinking about it," she admitted. "But I figure I'm likely to do more damage than good if I don't get some sleep."

"You don't have to fix the boat, Abby." He shook his head at the determination on her face. "I told you to take it apart."

"I know. But I want to. I at least want to try." A small, sad smile quirked her lips. "I know how much it means to you, and how much it meant to you to give it to Amira."

"There'll be other boats, Abs."

"None like that one," Abby argued softly, her green eyes meeting his blue gaze fleetingly.

"Maybe not in name, but the sentiment would be the same." He took a step towards her, only just stopping himself from giving in to the urge to reach out to her. "But I'm not here to talk about the boat."

"Then why are you here?" A flash of nervousness passed over her face as he kept up his steady approach but, to her credit, she stayed perfectly still.

Gibbs debated with himself for a moment before eventually deciding to just tell the truth and see where it got him. "I heard your conversation with Leyla. Parts of it, anyway."

She tilted her head slightly as he stopped directly in front of her, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips. "If you're here to give me the 'I love you as a friend' speech, you really don't have to. I know, Gibbs. I know –"

Her lips were soft and supple. He let his hands rest gently on her hips at first, reluctant to wrap his arms around her and draw her close until she let him know she was comfortable with the kiss. When her mouth moved beneath his and she reached a hand up to rest on his shoulder, Gibbs found himself smiling in relief against her lips and moved his arms, pulling her more fully into his embrace.

When they parted some time later, he brushed his lips against her forehead before letting his own rest against it.

"That wasn't the speech I was expecting," she admitted with a sigh.

He grinned slightly. "Wasn't much of a speech at all."

"Oh, I don't know." Her pink lips curled up in a shy smile. "I kind of liked it."

For a few moments, neither of them spoke, enjoying the moment of relief and giddiness without the need for words.

"I wanted you to know you were wrong," Gibbs said eventually, after letting her lead him to the couch and settling on it beside her. His arms were still around her, her body pressed closely to his. It felt right, familiar somehow. Like he'd found the part of himself that had been missing for so long.

"Wrong about what?"

Gibbs shifted to kiss her lips lightly. "About Liam loving Leyla..."

"...And you not loving me?" The slight inclination of his head was enough of an answer; it was much too early for open declarations but knowing how he felt, knowing she wasn't alone in her feelings, meant the world to her. "It's probably the first time in my life I'm happy to be wrong," she commented wryly.

He thought about his own doubts and disbelief that she could return the feelings he'd tried so hard to keep hidden. "Me, too, Abs. Me, too."

****

End.