Back in his bed Jethro leaned against the headboard and smiled. That memory would be a cherished one for him.

Coughing interrupted, coughing coming from Tony's room. Jethro worriedly slid out of bed, switching on the lamp. Of all of his children, Tony was must susceptible to a chest or lung infection, and Gibbs had learned through experience to keep a watchful eye on his oldest child's breathing.

Tony lay sprawled across his bed, covers bunched beneath him. Gibbs leaned over the bed and got one arm underneath the child, then used his free hand to gently smack Tony's back. It did not take long before the fit passed, and Gibbs slipped out and then checked his little girl.

She lay on her back, her favorite doll clutched against her and a hand near her mouth, where she had sucked her thumb as she fell asleep.

Finally he returned to his own bed. He eased under the covers once again and concentrated on thinking about Kate, so independent and confident, yet quiet and shyer than her little sister. At seven, she possessed a regal bearing that made her stand out from other children, yet at the same time, she did have friends.

Jethro smiled thinking back to Christmas. Santa had left Kate some fingernail polish in her stocking- which she had begged to have- in a soft pink shade. She had worked very hard to paint her fingernails perfectly, despite Abby yanking on her arm to share, and Tim asking if he could use the polish as a glue substitute for his model rocket, since Santa had forgotten they were almost out of it.

When she finally got her hands finished, she raced into the kitchen where Jethro sat with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. "Daddy, Daddy, look! I'm a grown up person now!" She held her hands out and he raised his eyebrows and whistled before grabbing her and kissing her over and over.

That was how his regal Katie operated.

He did not often have to discipline her, but when she was naughty, she gave it her all!

At the elementary school all of the children attended teachers sent home a weekly conduct report on Fridays. They were a staple of Friday afternoon consultations, since he checked all four each week to monitor the school behavior of his offspring.

With Tony he had a fifty fifty chance of receiving notice that Tony had misbehaved, and Abby was a close second. Tim and Kate, however, rarely had any bad notices.

In fact, when Tim did earn a negative comment he would hand it to his father and then dissolve into tears. Gibbs rarely had to invoke a punishment on him after that.

Kate, though, had brought down the full weight of his wrath just six weeks earlier. She had shown up empty handed, explaining in great detail that her teacher had been absent and did not leave the conduct sheets for the substitute to send home.

Gibbs believed her, and sent her out to play with Tim. Tony's three marks (not following instructions/ playing in the hall/ and passing notes to his current girlfriend) had earned him restriction from playing outdoors and a night without television. Little Abby had lost her outdoors as well, having been cited for talking and singing during instruction time and running down the hall.

The next Tuesday, though, Kate's teacher called to inform him that his eldest daughter had gotten into trouble yet again. Confused, Gibbs asked for clarification and discovered that despite what he had been told, the teacher had sent his little girl home with a conduct sheet the past Friday filled with marks for talking, refusing to follow instructions, and misbehaving in the lunchroom. Further, Kate had evidently picked up where she left off when she returned to school Monday, which is what prompted the teacher to call on Tuesday.

Recovering from the shock, Gibbs assured her that he would take care of the situation.

He waited until homework had been completed and the kids headed outside to play and then called Kate back. She retraced her steps and asked in confusion, "Why can't I go, too, Daddy?"

Gibbs took her hand and led her to the stairs. "You and I are going up to your room, young lady."

The tone of his voice alerted her to the fact that something was amiss. It just took her a couple of steps up the stairs before she connected his directive to her recent behavior.

As soon as they entered her bedroom, he sat her on the bed and pulled up a chair to face her. Across from her he relayed his unhappiness and disappointment over her school behavior and her lying to him.

She started crying before he finished describing the behavior he found lacking, but he hardened his heart to not relent. The fact that she had been dishonest upset him greatly, and he was determined that he would make it difficult for her to make that choice again.

By the time he had her across his lap she was sobbing and trying vainly to protect her backside. Jethro moved her hands away and then methodically smacked her bare rear end again and again until he was satisfied that she had learned her lesson.

He held her until her sobs slowed, and then he ordered her to straighten her clothes and listen to the rest of the punishment.

She slid off his lap still crying, and she cried through the news that she was restricted from the outdoors and from television the entire week.

Her tears continued as he told her he expected her to tell her teacher the next day that she planned to do as the teacher said when the teacher said to do it.

She did not stop crying, in fact, until Tony came in for a bathroom break and saw her curled up dejectedly on the sofa. He went to her at once, sat down and hugged her, then got her to tell him the story.

She did, and Tony listened thoughtfully. Finally he slipped off the couch and spoke quietly. "Katie, you know you earned the spanking and the punishment, so you'd better quit carrying on to make Daddy feel sorry for you. The only thing that's going to get you is a second spanking if you don't stop. Trust me. His tolerance for sniveling and whining disappears very shortly after he busts our butts."

She stopped then, and Tony headed back outside to join Tim and Abby. They had some playtime left before dark.

Another noise stopped Jethro's reminiscing. He listened attentively for a few seconds until he was satisfied that Tony was not coughing again.

Gibbs settled more comfortably under the covers and continued to focus his thoughts on Kate. That week he and she had spent every afternoon together while the other children enjoyed their outdoor fun, and it had actually given them some unforgettable one- on- one time.

For example, he discovered that his daughter had a talent for drawing unshared by the other children. Even he could see that she had talent, and his artistic know how was pretty rudimentary. The next Monday he checked her out of school a while before lunch. The two of them headed to a local art supply store, where he signed an eager Kate up for drawing classes.

After paying the tuition and visiting a French café (Katie's choice) for lunch, the two spent the remainder of the afternoon touring the Smithsonian Museum of Art. Kate stayed mesmerized as they moved from one exhibit to another, and Jethro realized she possessed a shrewd eye for detail as she chatted about each piece.

Jethro relaxed against the pillow and closed his eyes. He drifted off to sleep thinking of how much he loved his four babies, and how he would always protect them.

The front door slamming jerked him awake, and he hurried to make sense of his surroundings. He was in his house and must have fallen asleep on the sofa.

He sat up slowly, concentrating his focus until he finally remembered.

Ducky had given him a painkiller because he had been injured.

Cautiously he regarded the entry way and focused on the activity.

Tim stood at the front door, holding it open for Kate and Abby, who hurried in with sack after sack of groceries.

Tony jogged up behind him, and Gibbs noticed he carried a box of dvds and a dvd player.

"What's going on here?" he regarded the group in confusion, watching as the girls hurried to the kitchen and Tony and Tim knelt in front of his television.

"Uhm, well, you're sick and we're here to look after you," Abby grinned brightly at him. "Kate and I are making supper."

Kate stopped searching his cabinets for pots and pans long enough to nod in confirmation. "That is correct."

"While they're cooking, Tim and I are getting you set up for some movie entertainment. Right now McEngineer is hooking up the dvd player," Tony smiled at him, and Tim, hooking in cables at the back of the set, peeped around to grin.

Gibbs flopped back against the sofa cushions and closed his eyes.

When he opened them he regarded all of them, the four who were not even looking his way.

Instead, they- Gibbs searched his mind for an appropriate description- they united themselves on this mission.

They did not need his help or his input.

The rationale came to him in a flash, and he could not hide his grin.

They had made themselves at home.