So tell me again, why we're leaving Ziva out of all this?" Tony asked to no one in particular as he came back inside the house, some twenty minutes after having been left to think, while Gibbs and Ducky had silently come back in and taken themselves to the kitchen.

Almost as if on standby with hot drinks, the older two men returned to the room with a dinner tray full of them, although strangely refraining from answering Tony's question.

Already sitting on the couch and looking through the photo album with Abby, Tim now looked up over at his teammate and answered him. "We're not leaving her out completely. You know we wouldn't do that to her. Gibbs obviously thought she didn't need to be here to witness our initial reactions – while we took the time to process it all - what with how Thomas having written how he felt about her brother and all. I agree. I'm glad she isn't here yet. This isn't something Ziva needs to be burdened with. Not after everything she's been through."

"Quite right." Ducky agreed calmly. "This part of Caitlyn's life that we knew nothing about, as well as the freshly re-opened wounds from her death, and the way in which she was taken from us, would undoubtedly be most unkind to Ziva in fact, unnecessarily hurtful.

"Day's wastin'! " Gibbs reminded them. "Got lots to do and the rest of today to do it in. Just called Vance – cleared it with him. Ziva's workin' til the normal end of the day. She'll be here for dinner at 6."

"So, we'll tell her then, right?" Tony pushed. "Cause, ya know, I hate for her to be pissed that we're keepin' this from her."

"Don't worry, Tony." Tim answered. "I'll tell her before the night's over."

"Good. Good."

"What's your next step?" Gibbs asked Tim, knowing it would get his mind back in gear where it needed to be.

"I thought I'd browse the sites online for a list of bigger apartments closer to work. Get a list started of everything I need to do before I go get Kathleen. I've no idea how to get it all done in one day." Tim began to get flustered just thinking about it.

Gibbs smirked as he pulled out the file they'd been handed at the lawyer's office, flipped through it and pulled out what he needed. Handing it to Tim, he remarked. "Think you're forgetting something, McGee."

Tim looked at the paper in his hand:

Itemized List of Kathleen's Inherited Belongings. Items are available immediately, regardless of the Date Set for Execution of the Will.

At the top of the list was the house in which Kathleen had spent her first four years The one Kate and Thomas had bought the year everything changed for them. With a small huff of relieved laughter, Tim reached down beside the couch and pulled his laptop back out of the bag, booting it back up. In less than a minute he had the location of the house pulled up on Mapquest and the distance to work figured out. Remarkably, it would mean a shorter drive to work every morning since the house was fifteen minutes closer to the Navy Yard than where he currently lived. Things were beginning to look like they might work out.

"As her custodial guardian, Timothy, you have the legal right to reside in the family residence that now belongs to her. You will be responsible for maintaining the residence on her behalf until she is of age." Ducky reminded him as he pointed to the file still in Gibbs' hands. "Thomas already disclosed that much in his written request in regards to the immediate needs for his daughter."

Holding the file out to Tim with a touch of a smirk on his face, Gibbs laid out another firm suggestion. "Better go through this, McGee, more thoroughly than you do than you do a cold case file. "

"Boss, you have a problem with the way I…" Tim stuttered to a silence as his brain caught up with the boss's meaning. "Ah, I get it. Okay. Oh, boy." Turning to his friend and teammate, he did what he'd never done before, he asked him for help.

"Tony, would you be willing to help me make heads or tails of all this?"

Tony took a deep breath and slowly let it out. Mentally reaching down past the hurt that still stung at the way Kate had handled all of this, he found the realization that Tim had done nothing but try to put the rest of them first as they all came to grips with this, despite how, as Gibbs pointed out, it might be affecting him. And now the younger man was genuinely asking him for help, something he'd never done before, at least not of his own volition. There was no way Tony could say no. In fact, he was a little surprised that Tim was even asking because they all knew Tony's degree had nothing whatsoever to do with business and…

"Tony?" Tim worried about the older man's silence.

Blinking, Tony stopped listening to his thoughts. "Yeah, Tim. I'll be glad to help if I can."

Nodding in proud acceptance of the arrangement between his two boys that he knew would also give them time to resolve things, Gibbs turned his eyes to his favorite. "Abbs, what about you?"

"Timmy's gonna need to move out of his apartment, right? So I'll go get some boxes and tape. Can't get moved without boxes and tape."

Gibbs grinned.

"What's so funny?" Abby asked hotly. She was not at all happy to be the subject of her mentor's mirth. Looking at the other men, she realized they all wore the same expression on their faces. "What?"

"In your roadster?" Tony asked doubtfully. "Seriously, Abby?"

"Hey, I'll have you know there's plenty of room in there!"

"Abby. Let's just take my truck." Gibbs laughed as he waited for her to agree.

Tim smiled as he shook his head. Then a troubling thought hit him and he voiced it before he even realized it. "Jethro!"

Abby beamed at him. "I'm so happy you kept that name for him!"

"You should be happy he kept the beast at all." Tony muttered half under his breath, his eyes narrowing in residual anger.

"Tony!" Abby shrieked.

"Guys! Stop!" Tim exclaimed angrily as he glanced at them. Turning his eyes back to the solid rock of support and seemingly endless supply of the right answers through this minefield, he spoke again, this time in a much quieter, yet still anxious tone. "A four year old and a dog with his size, temperament and training?"

"I would suggest putting a muzzle on him for their introductory meeting, Timothy. "Allow Kathleen to control the meeting, using her body language to tell you what you need to know, if you know what I mean." Ducky offered.

"Sounds like a good idea to me." Gibbs seconded. "C'mon, Abbs. Let's go get those boxes."

Even as she turned and followed the Team Leader out of the room and toward the front door, her loud objections could be clearly heard. "Gibbs! A muzzle? No, no way, Gibbs! That's so not fair to Jethro! He wouldn't hurt a flea! You can't mea..."

The closing of the front door brought out a pent up sigh of relief mixed with frustration from Tim as he frowned. Were they really going to have to go through this again? The year and eight months since that fateful first meeting of man and dog had been a rocky and trying co-existence and one of which Tim rarely spoke. Yet he tenaciously continued to work to make the relationship better, certainly not for Abby's sake, but for the dog's. With his past history, training and size, it would be hard to find him a good home and Tim didn't have the heart to set him up for failure by trying.

Tony was right. Abby should have been, and still should be, grateful Tim had taken the dog to begin with. In the time he had had Jethro, he'd never questioned whether or not the Lab Rat's attitude about him versus the dog had changed. He'd simply taken it for granted that she'd come back to caring about his safety, as much as she did the rest of the team. Apparently, he'd been wrong.

"McGee! C'mon, man. Don't sweat it, alright? Gibbs'll set her straight."

Tony's reassurance brought Tim's attention back to the current task. With a small, rueful smile fused together with gratitude, Tim silently sent his eyes back to the file, completely oblivious to the concerned look Ducky shared with Tony.


The ride to the first store to get boxes and tape was actually a silent one; neither Gibbs nor Abby spoke once the Lab Rat's tirade had wound down. Following her into the store, the Team Leader couldn't help but feel the anger radiating off of her in waves. Amazingly, he could only watch the somewhat surreal transformation of her personality as they approached the store manager. All he could do was silently follow in her wake, carrying what he could of the folded boxes they were given.

Back out at the truck, he stowed the boxes away under the tarp he tied down over the back of his truck bed before silently getting in and starting it up, still not breaking the silence between them. He didn't care if she stayed upset. That was her problem. His problem was that what she was upset about didn't need to be once again taken out on his agent. As Team Leader, he needed to make sure one thing was clear to all of them before they could consider the subject closed. The trouble was Abby seemed to be the only one of his people who needed to be reminded that they were supposed to have each other's backs at all times. He didn't appreciate having to remind her again; that was one of the first things she had learned from him. He also failed to understand why she was so angry with Tim. The dog had been with McGee for over a year, why was this subject so seemingly raw between his team members, and not just McGee, but with DiNozzo as well? He made a mental note to talk to Ducky about the dog situation; he felt he was missing something. With a frustrated sigh, he said his what he hoped would be his final words to his favorite person on the subject.

"Not gonna put the dog's comfort in front of anyone's safety, Abby. Not again."

Abby was shocked out of her silent siege of anger. "Gibbs!"

"She's a little girl, Abby!"

Tears slid down the woman's face as she turned her head away to look out her window, but she stubbornly refused to say anything.

"Understood?" Gibbs pushed harshly, suddenly beyond frustrated with her attitude.

Wiping at her eyes, she blew out a breath of air, the sound harsh and difficult. "I know she's just a little girl, Gibbs!"

"What happened to 'get over ourselves and think about what that little girl is going though'?"

Silence greeted his question and Gibbs knew he'd made his point. Without another word, he turned his attention to his driving, leaving Abby to work through her attitude on her own.


Frustrated, Tim dropped the paper he'd just read through for the second time, back down onto the stack he and Tony had already gone through. "So basically, we've all jumped the gun and spent the day wasting our time." He groused.

"Nonsense, Timothy." Ducky gently admonished him. "Simply because the final guardianship decision lies within the court's jurisdiction does not mean all this is for naught."

Doubt registered in Tim's expression as he voiced his own rationale. "Ducky, everything is contingent on Child Services' Recommendation to the Court. What about this would they recommend?"

"Well, at this moment, not a thing. However, once you've begun to change the things we all know need to be changed to make room in your life for this little girl; that will change dramatically. Most especially if the McAllister's lawyer stands up for you in court, verifying that this is what they wanted for their child. The courts traditionally do their best to fulfill the parents' choice for legal guardianship of their children unless that situation presents a clear and present danger to the child."

"He's right. Here, drink this, it'll calm those nerves, McNervous." Tony chimed in as he handed his teammate a cup of strong fresh coffee.

"Thanks, Tony." Tim huffed out as he accepted the cup and silently began drinking it down, suddenly wanting the distraction as much as the caffeine.

For just a brief moment or two, an uncomfortable silence filled the empty air around them, as they all took a breather from it all.

"Okay." Tim stood up to stretch his limbs. "Let's say we do this; pack up my apartment, change my career options to a strictly nine to five position and then the court denies this whole arrangement. Then what?"

"Then you fix what they don't like about it and try again, McGee." Gibbs tossed back at him almost carelessly as he walked into the room, silently having returned from his mission.

"Hey, Boss. Where's Abby?" Tony asked.

"Out in the truck, DiNozzo. Are we doin' this or not, McGee?"

Looking at his boss, Tim realized the man never doubted that he'd step up and do this. For the life of him he couldn't think of one reason that was more important than Kate's daughter. "Yeah, Boss. We're doing this."

"Okay, then. Let's get movin'!"


By five in the afternoon, the frenzied pace of packing and loading truckload after truckload of Tim's things and carting them off to a local the storage facility, where he'd managed to rent a space, had left little left to be done. The larger furniture pieces still needed to be moved and Tim still had the bare necessities he would need to get by until the final moving day was at hand, having deliberately set them aside so they wouldn't get packed away.

"We can get all this tomorrow, before we meet with the lawyer again or once you've been awarded the court's okay with the arrangement, McGee." Gibbs offered.

"Thanks, Boss. Thank you, all of you."

"There a problem?" Gibbs asked as he noted the worried tone in his agent's response.

"Just worried about where I'm gonna live if the court refuses Kate's request and I've already given up this place."

"You can bunk at my place til you get it done."


"Yeah, Tim.. Whatever it is they want fixed before they agree to it."

"Oh, right." Tim swallowed hard. Obviously the boss believed it would eventually work out the way Kate and Thomas wanted. It felt nice hearing the man's offer to let him stay with him. Uncomfortable, yet nice. "Thanks."

Gibbs nodded silently, their attention soon returning to finishing up for the day and heading back to Gibbs' house for dinner. After all, they had a ninja coming for dinner, one that was most likely going to become angry or at least upset before the night was over.