Ducky refused to budge. "Really, Jethro, the argument does not exist except in your imagination. Either you allow me to accompany you home, where I will administer a strong painkiller, and you agree to taking tomorrow off from the agency, or I will refuse to sign off on your medical form and your only option will be admission to Bethesda. Complain about invasions of privacy and your medical background all you want, but it will not change the outcome."

Pacing with obvious annoyance from one vacant autopsy table to another, Special Agent Jethro Gibbs scowled and opened his mouth to respond.

Dr. Mallard held up a hand. "I refuse to listen. Now, I have things to do. Make up your mind, Jethro. Others await my attention."

Dr. Mallard spread his arms to take in the expanse of the autopsy area.

Gibbs stopped so abruptly that he ran into the corner of the x ray machine, eliciting a strangled curse with the groan.

He snatched his right arm protectively against him and recalled the origin of the injury. A couple of hours earlier when he and Dinozzo chased a commander accused of theft from the military, the man had yanked out a knife when he realized they had him cornered. Striking out with rage, he managed to slash Gibbs almost the entire length of his forearm before Tony tackled him.

This, then, comprised the basis of Dr. Donald Mallard's argument. Having enlisted the NCIS agency's Director as an ally, he offered Jethro two options, devoid of any possible wiggle room.

Sensing triumph, Ducky snapped his fingers. "Get with it, Man! We do not have all day."

Gibbs replied with ill grace. "All right, I'll head home, but give me half an hour here to give instructions to my Team."

Victorious, Ducky agreed, his voice softening. "You will find me sitting in your living room when you arrive."

Rolling his eyes, Jethro Gibbs stalked out of Autopsy and banged the button to summon the elevator.

It was an hour later, though, before Ducky let himself into his friend's house. Gibbs had changed into well worn jeans and a tee shirt, knowing that Ducky would examine the wound again. The good doctor did, tutting at the danger implicit in Jethro's life.

After rebandaging he produced a vial of painkillers and pointed out the directions. Having quite a history with the special agent he assured him that he would know if the dosage had been skipped, and as a consequence, Ducky would add to the days of medical rest.

Gibbs shook his head in frustration.

"Pay attention," Ducky continued, moderating his tone. "I am going to give you an injection now, but show me where you plan to rest, Jethro, because it will get you very sleepy."

Gibbs pointed to the worn sofa, the furniture focus and staple of the living room.

"Fine," Ducky began sterilizing the skin on Jethro's upper arm. "and you have nothing to worry about. Go sit down right now."

"Yeah, Duck, that is easy for you to say," Gibbs grumbled as he settled himself on the couch. Moving a blanket and pillow from the end of the sofa to his side he added, "I have left my team, however."

Ducky eyed the marks on the syringe as he extracted the pain killer from the vial. "Calm, Jethro. For all intents and purposes, they could be your own children. You've invested enough of yourself in them, after all."

"I doubt that, Duck." Gibbs punched the pillow into a mound, then slid it behind his back.

Ducky did not comment further until he finished administering the injection. Standing up he bent down to whisper conspiratorially, "I see your chromosomes running through all four of them."

Gibbs could not resist a grin at that observation. "Hmmm…. I would have liked to get my hands on them years earlier, then they would not act like juvenile delinquents when they enter the NCIS bullpen."

Ducky laughed. "Indeed, I am sure you would have run a tight ship. Anyway, I will come check you in the morning before I go to the Agency."

Jethro leaned back against the pillow, pulled the blanket over him, and closed his eyes. A sudden sensation of wooziness washed over him. "I appreciate your blackmail tactics there, Duck."

Dr. Mallard, however, had already shut the door and walked down the front walk to his vintage Morgan, parked against the curb in front of Jethro's house.

Gunny Gibbs knew he had been pinned down, and scrambled to get his mind analyzing his options while forcing his body to remain motionless. His survival depended upon taking the enemy by surprise, when they thought they had bested him. He did not want to give away the fact that he was conscious.

A pain began and quickly increased in his shoulder to the point that he almost gasped, however. He had to get out from under them before they immobilized him, but needed to get an idea of how many he faced.

Small peripheral noises began to register.

"Check under his eye and see if he escaped some way," came a whispered suggestion.

Something slamming against his knees accompanied the advice.

Involuntarily, he sucked in his breath.

"Talk in his ear, then," came the next order, a bit louder.

Something about that instruction and voice penetrated Jethro's guard and his eyes flew open.

Regarding him solemnly in the darkened room he discovered all four of his children, Tony, Kate, Tim, and Abby.

Tony's eyebrows shot up when his green eyes met his father's wide awake blue ones, while little Abby jumped back against the extra pillow and marvelled, "It moved!"

Resigned, he slowly extricated himself from under Kate, who lay across his chest and had her hand poised to check under his eyelids once again.

Sliding her to his side, he supported himself against the headboard and licked his lips before asking quietly, "What time is it?"

"Zero three hundred, Daddy," Tim answered at once, turning loose of his father's knee. Dressed in Teddy Ruxpin pajamas, he nodded conspiratorially at his dad, his blond hair sticking up in the back..

Gibbs pinched the bridge of his nose and willed himself to show restraint with his four children, aged eight, seven, six, and five.

At the time, it had seemed a good idea to just have the progeny spaced like stair steps.

Now, however, it appeared to have been a mistake.

He sighed dramatically and struggled to sit up against his headboard. "Why are all of you out of bed?"

In her little pink nightgown Abby, his five year old, scooted so that she could put one tiny foot inches from his face. "Look, Daddy," she instructed, frowning, "I hurt the little piggy toe."

Automatically he leaned down and kissed it, then pulled her partways onto his lap. She snuggled happily against him as she held her foot back up for a self inspection, popping her thumb into her mouth as she did.

"Let me try this another time," he spoke, focusing upon his oldest, Tony, and seven year old, Kate. "I put everyone to bed some time ago, and that is where you should still be- asleep. Did anybody have a bad dream?"

With that query the entire family turned to look at Tim, the six year old.

"Tim?" he prodded, wiping his mouth.

Tim scratched his knee. "Daddy, no, I did not get scared tonight."

"He didn't pee on the bed either," Tony added helpfully, narrowing his eyes at his brother and rolling onto his back.

"Why are we here then?" Gibbs continued.

"Can we get a dog?" Kate, taking it upon herself to be the spokesperson, asked. She crawled on top of him, moving carefully, and sat settled against his left side.

Abby had commandeered his right side, though she had her head by his knee and her legs on his chest. She had stopped scrutinizing her toe, but watched him steadily as she continued to suck her thumb.

Jethro assessed his situation, looking over his children critically. Tony grinned back, gaps still in place where baby teeth had been lost. Stunningly good looking and the daredevil of them all, he took his role of big brother and oldest child seriously.

Kate, his Katie, sat straight, her posture perfect in her yellow nightie. She possessed poise and confidence, and often surpassed her older brother with her maturity.

Tim began to squirm and looked decidedly uncomfortable. His father ordered softly, "Hey, go use the bathroom right now, Big Boy."

The little fellow obeyed at once, and Gibbs watched him go. He told people Tim was the easiest child to raise, and he meant it. Tim had a good nature, and rarely ever got into trouble. He had the science and math leaning that his older brother and sister lacked, and Gibbs thought he might grow up and choose engineering.

Though all of his children had been born blond, the other three had hair which had darkened as they grew. Tim's hair remained the lightest, and it looked as if the shade might settle as a dark blond or light brown.

Last he turned to regard Abby, his baby girl. She oozed charm and personality, and like Timmy, gave him little real trouble. She was a girlie girl, more so than Kate. She grinned at him, her smile framing her thumb.

Gibbs leaned over Kate to view the bedside clock. She took the opportunity to wrap her arms around him and give him a kiss.

As Tim had assured him, it was indeed after three.

The little boy noticed his father regarding the time as he returned from the bathroom. "You don't usually get up at oh three hundred, Daddy," he noted in sympathy.

"I know," Gibbs muttered.

Tim climbed back into the bed and yawned widely before carefully making a place to snuggle beside Abby. Kate slid down and Gibbs realized that it would be easier to let all of them go back to sleep in his bed than to corral them all and put them individually back in their own beds.

Sighing, he slid down himself, holding the covers up so that Abby could change positions and snuggle like Tim.

When he finally got himself settled into a semblance of comfort, Tony crawled on top of him, effectively pinning him to the mattress. Tony got himself comfortable as well by lying right on top of his father. He nuzzled into Jethro's shoulder.

Though all boy, Tony had inherited an affectionate, cuddly streak.

"All of you close your eyes," he ordered softly, and though he could not see that closely in the dark, he knew that they obeyed him.