DISCLAIMER: NCIS not mine, nothing made by borrowing its characters. Given the end of S9, they can't say they're surprised we'd need them to fix what they left hanging.

A/N: Tag to 9x24 "til Death Do Us Part." I'm hoping that this one's a bit different than most posted so far. Explanatory A/N at end.

...and the Rockets' Red Glare...

July, 2012


Her voice was quiet. Uncertain. Abby was quieter, more tentative these days than she'd been before. All of them were, each in their own way.

Dearing's bomb had ripped away far more than the front of their building, a mere couple months earlier. It had ripped away their foundations, their easy confidence, their health and strength. It had ripped away friends, family ... a team. To be sure, the healing that had begun after the dust had settled was still underway, would be for a long time ahead. But nothing would ever be the same again.

"Yeah, Abs?"

"Are you...?" She stopped, started again. "Do you have any plans for the Fourth of July?"

His eyebrows raised, not expecting her question, but he answered smoothly. "No." He wondered if he should ask. "You?"

"No..." She drew out her answer, as if it wasn't that simple. "Not yet." She remained silent for long enough that Gibbs started to turn away when she tried, "I think we should."

He turned back to her, with a half shrug. "Should ...?"

"Have plans. All of us. All of us, Gibbs ... it's been awful, Gibbs, and we need to have a day. Like family would. We're family, and we need to just ... have a day. Together. All of us, in one place, at the same time. We haven't had that yet, not since... everything happened. We need to be together. Like a family reunion, maybe."

Gibbs eyes softened sadly as he considered her, her spirit still broken no matter how she tried to be strong. "Abby ..."

"A ... a cookout, maybe," she insisted. "Something a family would do on the Fourth of July." She seemed to rally to the thought and fix on it, as if once voiced, the idea of a family gathering had taken hold with her. And with it, even rattled and subdued by events more cataclysmic and devastating than anyone should have to face, Abby was still, at her core, unbending once a goal was fixed in her heart.

He didn't want to be the one to break it all over again. Still, what she was asking... "Abs ..." he tried. "That may not be possible. It's..." Gibbs hesitated when the large green eyes looked back to his, the hope that had arisen there now on the verge of crashing away again. He backpedaled. "It may not be possible to ... to do everything in time to have everyone there." He saw understanding in the eyes that didn't leave his, and added, "wouldn't it be harder to have one and know that not everyone could come?"

"No." She suddenly shut her eyes tight and shook her head forcefully. "It's possible. There's time. We could do this, Gibbs; we can manage it."

His first attempt to discourage her hadn't worked. "You don't know about anyone else's plans," he tried another tack.

"It's family, Gibbs," she breathed, clearly unmovable on the subject now, clearly needing this herself to move forward. "They'll be here. Especially if they know you'll be there too, they'll come. Please."

He shrugged, unable to think of anything at the moment to turn her away from her mission and hoping that her intensity might lessen if he just went along for now. "Okay, Abby, if it's what you want."

He saw a smile of hope and cheer from her that he hadn't seen in weeks, and his heart sank at the thought of losing it again if this didn't work out as she planned. Ready to leave her with her plans, he turned his attention back to his work when she spoke again.

"We need ..." She stopped again and when his eyes rose to meet hers, she smiled, disarmingly, then started again. "We need a place to have it, Gibbs. If it's a cookout, or a picnic, we need a place, somewhere outdoors but indoors nearby too."

He tried not to let her see the frown that rose unwittingly as he considered even the most immediate of logistics needed now for their broken 'family' to attend. She was waiting, clearly expecting him to make helpful suggestions. He shrugged again. "A park? Some place with a shelter and grill facilities?"

"This is family, Gibbs – just our small family. A park is too ... unfamily." At his raised eyebrows, she elaborated, "you know! It's ... generic. It's everyone's. It's not personal. It's not home."

Abby clearly had something in mind and Gibbs found himself wishing she'd just be direct about it. Over a subtly nagging headache, he tried to temper his sigh. "You have something specific in mind?"

She nodded. "A big, family back yard. That would be perfect. It's cozy, and homey, and personal, and safe."

Safe. His heart ached again, just a little. 'Safe' was such a luxury these days, and so needed by them all...

"...but a yard needs a house, Gibbs," she was saying, the speed of her words picking up so that it almost seemed like it was old Abby in front of him, pitching her idea to him. "And only one of us has a house..."


"...and where I come from, the person who has the house, well ... it's almost an obligation."

He looked back into her eyes and saw her waiting anxiously for his response.

She wanted to have her 'family' cookout, the one that was probably impossible and would break her heart all over again, at his house. In his 'big, family back yard.'

The thought made him immediately balk. It was one thing to leave his door open all these years, open to his team and to anyone who wanted to end his life, or to have the team assemble in his basement as a substitute squad room when ordered off a case, or to cook steaks for DiNozzo in his fireplace after his SFA had another rough time. When it was work ... or when it was just one of them at a time, as if unplanned, as if they just appeared ... that was okay. He could handle that much intrusion on Shannon and Kelly and the ghosts who still lived with him there. And it was enough, wasn't it? More than most bosses would do?

But ... all of them, organized, coming over as if they really were a family? A cookout, for God's sake? A party? One that would likely do more harm than good and simply remind them all how much they'd lost?


"Please, Gibbs?" she urged. "It's either there or the convent, and although Sister Rosita is all for it and even volunteered to help cook, we couldn't have it there and not invite the sisters, and while most of the time I would say excellent because they're lots of fun really, and are sweet and would enjoy it too, this is family, Gibbs. Our family. And it's important and we need to just be us..."

As Abby's intensity grew to have this happen, Gibbs' worry that it would all just hurt her more in the end made his gut churn even more at her request. "Abs, what if it doesn't all work out – did you think about that?"

"It will..."

"Abby –" His tone was harsher than he'd used with her in many long weeks. She flinched at the sound and looked back in his eyes, the need and the trust there again touching him. For her own good, he reminded himself. "You can't undo everything that's happened with a cookout," he said softly.

She never broke her gaze, but to Gibbs' surprise, above the ever so slightly quivering lip he saw glints of the steel he knew she'd had in her, once upon a time, rise back in her eyes. With a swallow, and a nod, she answered in a tone more like the old Abby than he'd heard since the blast. "Maybe not," she agreed. "But I can try..."

She didn't back down, didn't drop her gaze or her request of him. Softening his gaze, and hoping like hell she could pull it off, Gibbs finally nodded. "Okay," he relented. "Just tell me what you want me to do."

A/N: this was a response to a 2 part challenge in my own little head: 1) after reading many of the post-finale fic, all of which pick up in the moments after the explosion, I wanted to try something a bit further down the road. One more chapter is planned. 2) canon has shown us times when one character or another drops in on Gibbs at his home, but lots of fanfic have him literally throwing parties. I was in the mood to bridge the gap from no-party canon to party-central fic, and this appeared. "]

I'd like this to be an interactive fic by leaving enough unspoken that the reader can fill in the details in keeping with their own theories and hopes for the characters and how they fare during & after the explosion. Am hoping that it doesn't end in just a vague mash of "what the hell...?" We'll see! Hope to update this weekend or next... :}