AN: I've been guilty, as usual, of the most thorough, expert procrastination. Until, that was, Gail Gregg sent me, out of the blue just like the last little gem she sent, a one-shot as a gift. I was touched, and grateful, and determined not to let it go to waste, so it forms the basis for the whole story, and provides the first 800 words.

Thanks, Gail, my conscience and frequent inspiration!

I've glossed over the puppy farm details in a rather cowardly manner... but I'd as soon write about animal abuse as child abuse – that is, not at all.

Bit schmaltzy in places. (Blushes.)

Kibble

by scousemuz1k

Flashback:

"What ya doing here Tobias?" Gibbs asks, not averting his eyes from the piece of wood he is working on as his friend sits on the basement steps to watch.

"How d'you do that?"

"This?" Gibbs tilts his head at the various wood working items spread out across the table in the middle of the room. "Been doing it for years."

"I meant how did you know it was me?"

"Your aftershave. Smells worse than some of the bodies we deal with. You too cheap to buy some decent stuff?"

"Emily bought this for me for Father's Day. Said I liked it the first time so now every year..."

"Oh." He grins. "Bet it was Diane's choice."

Fornell grins. "You may be right."

"So why are you here?"

"Came to say welcome home to you and Hap."

Hearing his name the dog lifts his head and gives a little bark before settling back down in his basket in the corner of the room. (Both men wait warily to see if he has any other form of greeting for them, but now he's eating healthily and not living rough, even Hap's digestion seems to have good manners.)

"How was the trip?" Fornell sounds a bit relieved.

"A bit crazy. Guy with one working arm and guy with one working leg's not the ideal for a good crew."

"And DiNutso?" Fornell's tone becomes more serious.

"Well." Gibbs walks over to the bench and begins to rummage around to make sure Toby cannot see his expression. "I didn't push him overboard."

"Or he you." The snapped response hangs in the air between them until Gibbs turns and meets his friends eyes. He nods once then returns to the piece he was working on.

"Yeah... maybe that would have been justified. He had my six even when I pushed him away. I do know that. I just...forgot for awhile."

"Well, you had been blown up."

"No excuse. I... think we're okay now."

"Good. You have another problem though and it's really why I came round."

"What?"

"I want to know what you're going to do with that...ah...thing." He points at the dog basket where Hap is snoozing happily.

"It's not a thing, Tobias. It's a dog. It's a good dog. A Labradoodle. It will be going to a good home just as soon as Abby finds one or... or maybe stay here. Kinda got used to having him around."

"You and a dog Jethro? You can hardly take care of yourself. It'll need feeding,walking, clearing up after, vet visits etc. and you're so rarely home. What about when you get called out of town on cases? Who'll look after it then? Don't think I'll volunteer. And what about the dog hair everywhere? And kibble on the kitchen floor?"

"Labradoodles don't shed." (This one did, but he wasn't telling Tobias that.) "And he cleans up his own kibble."

"Oh. My other points are still valid."

"Actually – they're not. With this new job Jenny's created I'll be home a lot more. At least that's the current plan."

"New job?"

"Flying Assistant Director or somesuch nonsense title. We're talking it over this afternoon. What were you saying?"

"Well I thought you would have had enough of whiny bitches after living with Diane. The dog I mean, not Jenny," he added hastily as Gibbs' eyebrows went up.

"Your point, Tobias?"

"Emily's been pestering me to get her a dog for ages. I think she's about ready for the responsibility and Hap seems to have a good temperament and some training. I'd been thinking you might like to give Hap to her –" something about Gibbs' expression made him again continue hastily – "butif you really want to keep him then maybe she could look after Hap when you're away? Get an idea what's involved. As a bonus it's bound to annoy Diane."

"Sure." Gibbs puts down the piece of wood and walks over to shake his friends hand. "Agreed. You're lucky – I had to turn down the first offer I had. Princess Jasmine was very keen to take Hap home."

"Princess Jasmine?"

"DiNozzo's phrase. Domingues' daughter."

"Oh, right. We met at the pier."

"Special Agent Domingues is a good mom and a good agent. The way DiNozzo raves about her she'll end up Director one day. But Jaz is a little young and small for a dog that's half horse." He paused and thought. "Abby gave me all the dog stuff when she dumped him on me so Em can borrow that when she needs to. There's just one more thing you need to know."

"What's that?"

"Hap is not a whiny bitch. He has balls." On hearing his namefrom the alpha dog in the room Hap rushes over and nuzzles Gibbs' hand receiving an absent minded pat in return.

Fornell smiles as he reaches over to pat the chocolate pup. "Then he'll fit right in. Diane does too."

They chuckle.

"So, what's this about a new job, Jethro?"

NCISNCISNCIS

Assistant Director Leroy Jethro Gibbs shook himself out of his reverie with a grin. Jenny had tried to pin 'Flying' on the beginning of his title; when he'd said 'no way' she'd tried 'Special'. He'd said there were Special Agents, but hell, no, an Assistant Director was all he needed. More than he needed. People would find out soon enough what he did.

But Jenny had had more forethought than he'd realised; being an Assistant Director gave him his own office, not so big, but comfortable, a refuge for a man who maybe hadn't completed his chilling down process, even though it was going well; with a corner for his canine companion who went to work with him more often than not. If there was any 'no dogs' rule Jethro never bothered to find out – he'd no intention of obeying it if there were, and there was enough of the old, irascible Gibbs still there to see that he was never challenged on it.

He chuckled, and looked down at Hap, trotting on the leash alongside him; the people in the pet store were always happy to see him, and he currently carried proudly a hide chew the manageress had given him, but he was insatiably nosy, (stop comparing him to Tony – we've already been there plenty...) and in public Gibbs kept him close.

The Doodle heard his laugh, and looked back up at him curiously. "Ya know I never really intended to get rid of you, don't you? But hey, it was that night, hearin' Tobias just assumin' I would that really made up my mind I wouldn't."

Hap only recognised one sound, and that was 'Tobias', but he got the amused tone of the Boss Dog's voice and capered happily. He nudged Gibbs' hand, suggesting that he should carry the big sack of dog food himself, and Gibbs laughed again. He set the burden down, and said "Go on, then." He watched as Hap tried to figure how to get the handle in his mouth without dropping his chewy treat – smart dog figured it, but then his golden eyes crossed with the effort of lifting the sack. Gibbs let him carry it for a few yards, then rubbed his head affectionately, and picked the bag of kibble up again himself. "Nice try, boy. C'mon, home." He'd picked up the steak earlier; he was expecting a visitor tonight. He glanced at his watch. Tony and the team would be touching down at Reagan about now, after a bad case down in Georgia, and Gibbs knew without anything having been said that the young man would turn up before the night was over. He looked forward to seeing him, even if it was to talk him down after dealing with one little boy's father being dead and his mother going to prison for a very long time.

He didn't think he'd be seeing anything of the other two team members; he still marveled at Tony's confident rejection of Rule 12, but he didn't interfere. Not his place, and he either trusted Tony or he didn't. "And I do," he told Hap firmly, pulling hard on the parking brake to underline his words.

He changed out of the slightly more upmarket suit he wore these days – again, it was Tony's idea, he'd nagged him and finally dragged him out to buy it. The salesman had told him his son was giving him good advice... He set the steaks to marinade – there was enough for four, so he guessed he'd freeze the rest until the next de-fusing DiNozzo session. "Who'da thought, Hap? Never realised just what a job he did on me... now the boot's on the other foot... an' ya know what else? Not only am I mellow enough to do it... but it's a pleasure. A privilege, only don'tcha tell him I said that." He sat down on the third-from-bottom stair for a moment to wrestle with his hairy pal, who kissed him sloppily but then looked pointedly towards the kitchen.

"OK, OK... " Gibbs got up slowly, his knee still twanging, and went back into the kitchen with Hap trotting eagerly behind him; he picked up the fresh bag of kibble and tried to open it. It was one of those sacks with the top sewn with two interlinked threads; the devil to figure out which end to pull even if you could see them properly; Hap waited with growing bewilderment as Gibbs, without his glasses, made a right pig's ear of the job. "Ack... I could get a knife," he told the dog, "but it wrecks the sack, and then it doesn't stay fresh." Hap put his head on one side. "You're right. They're in the basement." He went down the steps to find his glasses. Hap followed, but had to say he was a bit puzzled by what happened next.

The specs were half under a schematic laid out on the work bench, and they started to slide towards the floor; Gibbs caught them, and Hap knew the next thing would be he'd put the things he wasn't allowed to play with or bury, on his nose. Boss Dog didn't, he stood looking at them thoughtfully.

NCISNCISNCIS

"Nice one, Gibbs!" Tony said with a grin, as the older man saved not only his glasses but the red journal he'd actually shown the younger man earlier that day. The glasses had been caught well, the book more awkwardly; well hell, it was hard to do both. As Tony watched, Gibbs frowned suddenly. The back cover hung open, and the carpenter's fingers, well trained in finding knots in wood, lingered on something.

Tony wondered if he should head back out on deck; he knew very well what Poppa Bear would find. Gibbs didn't try to tear the binding paper away, he simply put his glasses on and peered at the tiny raised square underneath it. "This what I think it is, DiNozzo?"

Uh-oh... it had been Tony this far... well, he didn't regret it. He grinned. "Yeah, Gibbs. You don't think we'd have known where to find you if we'd relied on the Feebies tracking, do you?"

"Ha. Does Abe know?"

"Sure. We put him up to it. That's the royal we – Abby and McGee did it, but sure, I was all for it." He looked serious for a moment. "Turned out to be right, didn't we?" he said peacefully.

"Ha," Gibbs said again. "Conspiracy..." He swung an arm round the younger man's shoulders briefly as he went by on his way out to the deck. "Still having my six..."

"Always. All of us."

And that set off another train of thought, as Gibbs stood unmoving in the centre of his basement, and Hap waited. All he wanted was some of what was in that bag...

"Gibbs?" The Assistant Director's door always stood half open; if it was closed he was talking privately to someone so you waited, otherwise, you walked in. And you didn't call him 'Assistant Director' or 'Sir', 'Gibbs' had always been fine, and it still was. ((Off duty, although he'd taken to calling DiNozzo by his first name, knowing how much the younger man liked it, Tony still called him Gibbs, because 'it kinda sums you up'.)

It wasn't Tony; Tim McGee came in, still a little hesitant for all his new status, responsibility, competence and burgeoning confidence, and Gibbs was still reminded a little of the round-eyed innocent who'd helped to rescue the man who was now his Boss.

"Do for you, McGee?"

"I was thinking, Gibbs... well, Abby was really, she made me come -"

"McGee, sit. What's up?"

"Well, we did this on our own time..."

"Tim! That's between you and your team leader, pretty sure he trusts your judgment. Out with it."

"Well, we're pretty certain we know where Hap came from."

"No kidding?"

"Abby kept seeds and stuff she combed out of his coat when she first found him – you remember that case with the dismembered leg, and the nice old lady doctor, and the plant DNA – and she isolated an area maybe thirty miles away from Norfolk. It looks like Hap traveled that far before finding someone who'd take pity on him."

Gibbs looked at the big dog dozing on his blanket by his feet; he'd been visiting young Emily's beauty parlour once a week, his coat shone with health, and he was a far cry from the bedraggled, untrained mess he'd been when Gibbs first met him. He nodded thoughtfully. "And?" he asked encouragingly; with Abby there was always bound to be more.

Tim smiled slightly; there was no trace now of the round eyes. "Did you know Abby took Hap's DNA?"

"Yeah... I have no idea why."

"The American Kennel Club has a lot of DNA of pedigree dogs on record. Seems Hap's mother was a pedigree chocolate Labrador called Miss Fizz, bred by a reputable guy in Roanoke. She went missing three years ago when the family who bought her were holidaying in the Cumtuck area."

Gibbs frowned. "So someone sees a nice looking bitch and steals her, uses her for unregulated breeding, Hap's a result. Was she microchipped?"

"Oh yes." Tim's smile hardened. "None of NCIS's business, I know. But Abby's in 'get the bastard' mode. I spoke to the local police chief; he says there's a guy who they know puppy farms, they don't have the resources to investigate him. They've made a couple of calls after complaints about smell and continual barking, all they've found are empty cages, can't prove anything and it's not illegal to breed, only to mistreat. They're not against getting him, but it sounds as if they'd like someone else to do the work. I... er, I told Abby I'd ask you if you wanted to do it."

"Mmm... ya think DiNozzo can spare you for the day?"

Tim beamed. "He says he can. He can spare Alex too. We'll get taken off rotation if you want us."

Suckered, Gibbs thought.

It had gone like clockwork... Not looking like cops, but couple and grandad had meant they hadn't rung any alarm bells; gaining access was easy, calling up the local cop with the search warrant, and his colleagues from animal welfare was easier still. None of them gave Abby the details afterwards, but the conditions they found were enough to close the place on the spot. The way Hap's hair bristled at the sight of the man, and the growl that rumbled in his usually cheerful throat told them plenty too. The breeder backed off in alarm, and Gibbs had been debating letting him off the leash when Tim called to him urgently.

In one small pen sat a tired looking chocolate Labrador, with one puppy. There was a small bowl of kibble and a dish of water that hadn't been changed in days. She looked up at them hopefully, and as Gibbs bent to pat her head, Hap let out the sort of yip he usually kept for his Boss Dog. His mother scrabbled to her feet and greeted him, as Alex ran the confirming chip reader over her shoulders. It was hard to tell if it was real recognition, or just kindred spirits greeting each other, but the way Alex told Abby that evening, it was a touching family reunion.

"We're taking this one, " Gibbs had said firmly. "We know who she is. We'll take the pup as well." Nobody had argued. The Lane family were incredulous and happy to get their Fizz back a few days later, and two weekends after that, when Hap went to Fornell's for his beauty treatment, and the little guy who seemed to be headed for being his spitting image was old enough to leave his mom, Emily got her hoped for pup.. She called him Loopy, and even Diane was reported to be charmed by him.

"Happy ending, Hap..." Gibbs said, emerging from his memories once more, and reaching out to pat the dog's head. He wasn't there. Gibbs shrugged "Guess you got bored," he said ruefully. He put his glasses in his pocket and started towards the stairs, then stopped as a thump and muffled voices came drifting down through the half closed door. He frowned, and was about to go fetch his back-up gun from its hiding place, when he identified the two voices. Grinning, he began to move silently up the steps; the sight that greeted him in the kitchen left him open mouthed for a moment.

DiNozzo and McGee, on hands and knees, were scooping up handfuls of kibble from every surface and trying to ladle it back into what was left of the sack. Hap sitting on his haunches, watching them with a grin – his stomach just about as distended as Gibbs had ever seen it, bulging over his feet. From the state of the ruined sack, it seemed as if Hap had used first his teeth, then when it became light enough, the snapping movement a hunting dog would use to kill a rat, to get at his supper, and send the pellets flying all over the kitchen. At least, it must have been him; Gibbs couldn't see that Tony and Tim would have done it...

Tony looked up and saw him in the doorway. "Oh, Hi Gibbs," he said airily. "D'you think the steak will stretch to three? Alex needed to spend some quality time with Jaz cuz she hasn't seen her for four days... and since you're in the habit of taking in strays I brought McGee... " Tim threw a handful of kibble at him.

"We were trying to clear up quietly," he added. "We thought if we got it done before you came up it might save Hap from a telling off." Hap showed his gratitude at that moment by letting off a silent but very deadly that had all three men flapping ineffectual hands in front of their faces...

Gibbs retrieved the empty sack that he'd been intending to put out with the garbage, and gradually the mess disappeared. He filled Hap's water bowl and pointed. "Drink!" he ordered sternly, and his two former team mates blinked in astonishment as Hap meekly obeyed. "Not really his fault," Gibbs told them. "I didn't put his supper out, so he decided to get it himself. Looks like he got breakfast as well."

The steak was delicious, and chatting with Gibbs over a few light beers helped the two younger men unwind after the tragic case they'd just closed. The fire flickered and danced, and Hap snored. After a while, Tim found himself nodding, and Tony nudged him. "Don't know about you, McDozy, but I've got school in the morning. Gonna head off now, Gibbs – I'll buy the steak next time." He didn't say thanks, knew he didn't need to. He and Tim were shrugging into their coats and shoes when he yelped in pain. "Ow... what the – " He kicked one shoe off again, picked it up and reached inside.

All three men spoke at once.

"Kibble."

The End

AN: For those who asked to see Gibbs and Hap at home. Much fluff and little plot, I hope you enjoyed it anyway. Thanks again, Gail x