Thank you to everyone who's reviewed, alerted, or favorited SAD/DOD! You guys make me smile!

Special thanks to Kikilia14, who sent in a few suggestions that helped get this chapter going!

Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS. If I did, some things definitely would be different! A certain redheaded director who was killed before her time comes to mind…

000

Scrape…scrape…scrape…

After listening to it long enough, the sound had an almost hypnotic quality to it.

Scrape…scrape…scrape…

A steady rhythm, never faltering. One could almost pace their heartbeat against the sound.

Scrape…scrape…scrape…

It wasn't the most beautiful sound by far, but there was something soothing about it.

Scrape…scrape…scrape…

Like waves at the beach, it seemed to go on endlessly, keeping a steady beat.

Scrape…scrape…

It stopped.

Autumn opened her eyes. She was sitting at the top of the old wooden staircase, and looking down she could see where Gibbs stood, studying his current project with a critical eye, sandpaper in hand.

It was a chair. Nothing big or fancy, just a reliable wooden chair. The kind of chair that sits in the corner of a room, almost forgotten, until enough people come over so that it must be utilized, or someone will have to stand. The kind of chair used more frequently as a coat rack or book shelf than an actual place to sit.

It was, Autumn thought, very Gibbs. Sturdy, reliable, there when you need it, and even when you don't, doing its job with a quiet intenseness until it is called upon to do something extraordinary.

Without her consent, or even a fleeting thought, really, Autumn's feet stood up, and her legs walked slowly down the stairs, her eyes tracing each crack and knot in the wood. She began to talk, about how life was living with first her mom, then her dad and Sarah. She talked about school, friends, trying out for a girl's basketball team and failing miserably, and how her dad had cheered her up afterward, teaching her how to play one of the less violent online games, his excitement matching her own as she advanced through the levels, and his encouragement when she had to start again. She told him about the school projects for both science and language arts that had invoked heated debates between her dad and Sarah, often branching so far off into technicalities that she had no idea what half the words meant, and looking up some of them later in online dictionaries.

Autumn talked for what felt like hours, Gibbs listening silently the entire time, nodding here and there and smiling when she laughed. She couldn't help herself, something about Gibbs's basement always had made her feel so…so safe. It didn't escape her notice, though, that both times she had stayed there, it was because a parent was in the hospital.

McGee had suffered, as Ziva had said, four blows from the penknife. A shallow cut on his shoulder, a scratch across his cheek, and two deeper wounds in his thigh. He had lost a good bit of blood, but after a few days had been sent home with orders to take it easy and rest. Abby had initially volunteered for 'Autumn duty', as Sarah had been staying late at the hospital every night, but Gibbs had vetoed her request, saying that she needed to concentrate on the evidence. Ziva had offered a room next, but Gibbs said he needed her to check with some contacts and focus on the case. Even Vance had mentioned an extended sleepover at his place for Autumn and his own daughter, Kayla, but Gibbs had come up with some other reason that wouldn't work. Tony hadn't bothered trying to take Autumn in for a few days, as it was obvious she was going to end up at Gibbs's place anyways.

Now, sandpaper in hand, rubbing with the grain as he had taught her during her last stay, Autumn couldn't help but chatter away about inane things to the man she viewed as something of a cross between a protective grandfather and a helpful uncle. All of the team had easily slipped into something resembling a family to the girl during the months after Madison had left. There was McGee, her father, of course, and Sarah, her aunt and somewhat of a maternal figure. Tony was like the fun uncle, while Ziva was the wise, but also fun, aunt. Abby was some crazy mixture between sister, cousin, and the stepmom who acts more like a friend than a mom. Ducky had quickly secured the role of the well-traveled great uncle or grandfather, continually telling stories about the places he had been and the people he had met. Jimmy was that cousin who you like well enough, but don't eagerly look forward to talking to.

It was, Autumn knew, a crazy mess of a surrogate family, but she didn't care. They were all the family she had. The team themselves rarely viewed her anymore as just McGee's long-lost daughter. She was a granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, a friend. She had unknowingly, and somewhat unwillingly, stepped into the N.C.I.S. family, and they had accepted her with open arms.

000

Again, thanks to Kikilia14 for ideas and thanks to everyone for reviewing! Don't forget to review this chapter, too! The story will pick up from here, I promise, and as soon as this is finished, I might even go back and rewrite 'Special Agent Daddy', as my writing back then, I realize, was pretty childish and not very descriptive.

Review, please, oh please, oh please, please, Review!