"Awww, they're so cute! So which one is which," Palmer asked as he gently tapped on the side of the 20-gallon aquarium that had been converted into a cedar chip playground. He watched with rapt fascination as to two furry inhabitants frolicked in their new home. Cedar chips flew up as the larger of the two gave chase to the slightly smaller one. A small ceramic dish filled with pellets was nearly toppled in the melee.
"Well, you see the bigger one chasing the smaller one? That's Jet, short for Jethro, so the smaller one is, well, Tony," Abby replied with an overabundance of pride and a girlish giggle.
"I've never seen anything like them. What are they, gophers? Muskrats?"
"Actually, Mr. Palmer, their Latin name is Cynomys ludovicianus," Ducky announced with authority as he entered the lab and strode over to his assistant, "or as they are more commonly known, the black-tailed prairie dog. They are most often found in the vast grasslands of the Great Plains, or on the prairie if you will, but sadly their numbers are dwindling. These two look rather pleased with their new home, and by their size appear to be fully grown. As you can see, they are very social creatures."
Palmer stood and beamed at his dear friend and mentor. "Wow, Dr. Mallard. How do you know so much about prairie dogs?"
Favoring Palmer with a sly wink Ducky replied proudly, "I know a great deal about a great many things, Mr. Palmer." Turning to Abby, who was fawning and cooing over her adorable guests, Ducky asked, "May I ask how these two ended up in your care, my dear? They are not commonly found in the eastern United States."
Abby frowned in response. "Ricky brought them to me. He found them holed up in a tiny cage during a raid at some stupid jerk Petty Officer's crack house. Ricky said the guy was going to test his drugs on them. Can you imagine doing something so cruel to these two, to poor Jet and Tony?"
Knowing Abby had a soft spot for all creatures great and small; Ducky patted her on the back in a grandfatherly show of support. "There, there Abigail, you need not worry. Agent Balboa did well by bringing them to you. Under your watchful eye, I am quite sure they will thrive."
Ducky bent down to get a closer look at the pair now cuddled up together in the corner. The larger of the two was lying flat on its back, with the smaller one was snuggled up and half draped across it in a marvelous mimic of a lover's embrace.
Chuckling at the implied imagery, Ducky queried, "Jet and Tony, eh? Well, I must say, from the looks of them they appear to be enjoying their new home, and dare I say, each other."
Abby snickered conspiratorially. "Guess we should give them some privacy," she said stepping in to drape a spare lab coat over the enclosure. "There, that's better."
"Well then we shall leave them in your capable hands. Mr. Palmer, Commander Lyman is waiting patiently for us," Ducky announced as he steered Palmer toward the door.
Two hours later, Gibbs, Tony, and McGee stepped off of the elevator and approached the lab, but stopped in their tracks at being greeted by the sound of soft classical music playing in lieu of the customary ear-splitting noise. The trio exchanged questioning glances. Classical music meant one thing and one thing only: All was not well within Abby's domain.
The trio cautiously entered the lab relieved to find Abby moving gracefully between Major Mass Spec and the rest of her "babies" while jotting down notes on a clipboard. Tony and McGee placed bins of bagged evidence on the long gleaming stainless steel table leaving Gibbs, armed with a large Caf-Pow!, to approach her.
Abby beamed as she snatched the fruity offering from him. "Hey Gibbs!"
"Abs," Gibbs replied as he hazarded a quick glance around the lab for any sign that something was amiss. "Everything okay?"
Abby furrowed her brow. "Fine, Gibbs. Oh hey Tony, hey Timmy!"
"Hey Abby," Tony and McGee greeted in unison as she stepped over to investigate what they had brought for her.
"Oooh, prezzies for me?" she chirped.
Abby immediately dove in and began pulling out evidence bags to begin the mundane task of indexing them and piling them into categories; biologic for DNA testing in one pile, shell casings in another, and "random crap" in yet another.
"Abby, what's with the music," McGee inquired after several moments of silence.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, well there's a good reason," she replied, confident she was providing a sufficient answer. As if on cue, a loud rustling followed by an unfamiliar barking sound erupted from Abby's inner office.
"Yay, they're awake! Come and meet 'em."
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin and his hand instinctively went to grab the Sig normally holstered at his hip. However, per agency regulations, his trusted weapon was tucked safely away in his desk drawer upstairs. He hung back and cautiously followed as Abby skipped across the lab leading Gibbs and McGee into her inner office.
Standing next to the tank, Abby fidgeted and bit her bottom lip in anticipation of an expected scolding. She gingerly removed the lab coat covering the top of the tank and waived Gibbs over. "Please don't get mad, Gibbs," she pled hopefully. "Ricky didn't know what else to do, so he brought these little guys to me."
Gibbs pinched the bridge of his nose and fixed a disapproving glare at Abby. She only asked him not to be mad because she already knew damn well that he probably would be! He knew that she would only risk angering him if it was something she considered to be of the utmost importance. Lord, but that could be anything.
Tony and McGee hesitantly wandered over and peeked around Gibbs to discover the reason for the glare. Knowing Abby, there was the distinct possibility that she was harboring a lizard or a gigantic snake, or God forbid a tarantula in the tank, which Tony really hoped was not the case. Steeling himself for any possibility, his eyes went wide in surprise and he burst out laughing while McGee dropped his head and sighed.
In the nine months they had been living together, McGee had lost count of the stray dogs, cats and other critters that had taken up temporary and, in the case of Jethro the German Shepherd, permanent residence in their house. Countless sick and injured squirrels, bunnies, and birds were rescued and lovingly rehabilitated. Abby converted a spare room, which McGee had planned to use as his writing room, into a makeshift rehab center. Cages, tanks, kennels, and crates lined the walls, ready to house any critter in need of a safe haven. Everyone in the neighborhood knew who to call when any animal in trouble was found. Abby did not discriminate, so it was not uncommon for the occasional injured turtle, lizard, frog, toad, or snake to also find refuge with her, though McGee put his foot down and relegated snakes to the heated garage.
"Gophers, Abby?" he asked incredulously. "We are NOT taking in a pair of homeless gophers!"
Abby pouted knowing it would work its magic. "They are NOT gophers, McGee," she scolded defensively, "They're prairie dogs, and they need my help."
McGee rolled his eyes when he looked up and noticed both Gibbs and Tony grinning at him. He knew full well that he had lost the argument before it even started. By day's end, he would have two new roommates.
"Awww, look how cute! They're kissing!" Abby squealed in delight.
Three additional pairs of eyes glanced down to see that the pair were, in fact, standing on their hind legs and definitely appeared to be kissing. McGee and Gibbs both sighed while Tony giggled at the sight.
He sobered quickly enough, however, when Abby cheerfully announced, "I think Jet and Tony are in love!"
"Oh God," McGee groaned. The idea and related mental images of Gibbs and Tony, in human or prairie dog form, kissing was not something he wanted bouncing around in his head. It was one thing knowing that his human boss and best friend were romantically involved. He was happy for them, but he was happy to remain blissfully ignorant of the more personal aspects of their relationship. Thankfully, neither of them was into public displays of affection so he didn't give it much thought. McGee, like the rest of "Team Gibbs" was fully supportive of Gibbs and Tony's 2-year long relationship.
Ducky arrived a moment later to find Tony and Gibbs gaping at a beaming Abby while McGee appeared to be in great distress as he gently rubbed circles on his temples.
"Ah, Jethro! I see you and Anthony have been introduced to your namesakes," he announced with a polite chuckle.
Gibbs ran a hand down his face and exhaled loudly. "Please tell me you have something for me, Duck."
"Why of course, Jethro! I was about to call you, but I thought I would check on our new friends first."
"McGee, help Abby process this stuff. DiNozzo, get upstairs and start pulling records together. Duck, I'm going for coffee then I'll be down," Gibbs barked. Turning to Abby, Gibbs kissed her cheek and said sternly, "I don't want them here tomorrow, Abs."
Abby responded by plastering on her sweetest most innocent grin and shooting off a sloppy salute. It was to no avail as Gibbs responded gruffly, "I mean it." Giving one last warning glare, Gibbs turned and left the lab muttering, "God I need coffee."
For the next several weeks it was business as usual within the walls of NCIS. Murders, kidnappings and a slew of other crimes were committed and the bad guys and dirt bags nabbed. Tony managed to get shot in the leg during a 2-day joint NCIS/FBI op, which led to Gibbs tearing Fornell a new one during a debriefing at the Hoover Building. Thankfully it was only a minor flesh wound. In reality it was a Bactine and a Band-Aid type of injury, though in typical DiNozzo fashion Tony played it up like his leg had been nearly blown off.
Six stitches, a row of steri strips, and gauze was all it took to close and treat the wound and Tony was actually released from the ER in just less than an hour. Thankfully no pain meds stronger than Advil were required.
The team was so busy working case after case that the subject of the furry versions of Jet and Tony never came up. That was, until McGee tiredly strolled into the bullpen one early May morning with a positively giddy Abby clutching his arm. Poor McGee looked like he hadn't slept in days, but Abby was her usual bubbly self. She went from desk to desk, beginning with Ziva, and bestowed rib crushing hugs upon each bullpen occupant.
Tony chuckled at the display, especially at how Abby so expertly manhandled Gibbs by yanking him to his feet before squeezing the breath out of him. After glaring for effect, it was Gibbs turn to chuckle when Tony was nearly knocked off of his feet when Abby launched herself into his arms. Thankfully Tony's desk prevented what would have likely been a very painful open field tackle, complete with severe rug burn. Even more miraculously, he wasn't perforated or punctured by any of the small metal spikes adorning Abby's collar and the fashionable leather gauntlets wrapped around her wrists.
"Go ahead, Timmy," Abby prodded, bouncing in place after finally releasing Tony before he passed out from lack of oxygen.
McGee rolled his eyes but dutifully handed out cigars to his teammates. Before Gibbs could bark out, "What the actual hell?" Ducky and Palmer, who had received an urgent message that their presence was required in the bullpen, arrived.
Expecting some sort of medical emergency, the pair arrived, medical bags in hand, ready to treat whoever may require their services. Out of habit they headed toward Tony's desk, but seeing that neither he nor anyone else appeared to be in distress, Ducky looked at the cigar presented to him and asked, "May I ask why we were so summarily summoned up here, Jethro?"
Obviously having absolutely no idea what was going on, Gibbs shrugged and declared, "Honest to God, Duck, I have no idea."
Now that her entire family was properly assembled, Abby took center stage and announced, "I have the most awesome news! It's a miracle."
Turning her attention to Tony she grabbed him by the shoulders and squealed excitedly, "Congratulations, Tony! You're having a baby!"
Normally outbursts in the bullpen were for the most part ignored by other teams in the wide-open squad room, but this particular announcement got the immediate attention of everyone, including Director Vance, who had just come out of MTAC. He took up a position at the railing and looked out over the squad room like a King about to address his court. Transfixed by the scene unfolding below him, Vance watched from his vantage point as the squad room turned dead silent at the commotion.
"Wha-wha-WHAT?" Tony shouted, unaware that dozens of pairs of eyes were now focused on him. "Abby, what the hell are you talking about?"
Gibbs shot a panoramic glare at the unwelcome gawkers, making it clear that whatever was about to transpire in the next few minutes was none of their damn business. One by one the interlopers returned to their duties until only the team, Ducky, Palmer, and Vance, who appeared to be taking the latest round of craziness involving his MCRT in stride, were paying attention.
"You and Jet are having babies! Well, not you you, of course because you're a man," Abby stated with a nod.
"Thanks for noticing," Tony retorted dryly.
After blowing out a lingering, tired sigh, McGee chimed in. "She means the prairie dogs, Tony. They're downstairs, in the lab."
"Abs," Gibbs growled before being excitedly interrupted.
"I know, I know! You told me to leave them at home. But, Gibbs - I think Tony's in labor," Abby mock whispered just as Vance appeared in the bullpen.
Having known about Gibbs and Tony from the very beginning, Vance snorted and turned to Tony, who looked mere seconds from dying of embarrassment. "I guess congratulations are in order, Agent DiNozzo. I assume Gibbs is the father."
Tony didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Abby bounced in place and clapped her hands gleefully, while Ziva stood next to her smirking. Palmer and Ducky laughed at the exchange while Gibbs and McGee both hung their heads at the ridiculousness of the whole situation.
The lab had been transformed. Harsh overhead florescent lighting had been replaced with the glow of dozens of candles, both scented and unscented, mixed with the natural light coming in through the street-level arched windows. The classical music was back but now at a barely audible level. Jet and Tony's new home, a two-story cage connected by a tube system, sat squarely in the middle of the stainless steel table. The upper level cage contained food dishes filled with various grasses and seeds, an obligatory large rodent water bottle, and a large but rarely used exercise wheel. The lower level cage housed a makeshift den for 'Mom Tony' and her babies.
The party from the bullpen surrounded the tableau before them and stood in reverent silence. Abby started chanting and praying and calling out blessings for all of those present. No one dared interrupt. This was Abby's show and everyone assembled knew it was best to just let it play out. Unless dispatch called about a dead petty officer or some shenanigans that happened onboard a ship in Norfolk, the MCRT had nowhere else to be. Vance could have returned to his office, or hidden out in MTAC, but there he stood instead. Maybe because it was a beautiful spring day, or maybe he was just going crazy, but Vance couldn't tear himself away from the scene playing out before him.
Prairie Dog Jet looked every bit the nervous father-to-be as he paced in circles and chirped out some sort of announcement while 'Tony' labored in a lower lever corner through the fairly quick process of birthing 3 tiny blind, hairless pups.
Ever the attentive mate, Jet lavished kisses on Tony while she cleaned up the babies. A short time later, with Mom Tony and their new babies safely sequestered in the den, Jet stood proudly before the gathered audience like he was about to take a bow.
Vance cleared his throat and stepped back to lean against Major MassSpec. It was his cue to the others that the show was over and it was now time to get back to work. Ducky and Palmer smiled and quietly took their leave. Gibbs and McGee stood with their arms crossed and watched while Abby and Tony continued to remain transfixed on the miracle they had just witnessed. Donning a pair of latex gloves, Tony quickly removed a large handful of soiled cedar chips and replaced it with fresh, ever mindful of the anxious new father with razor sharp teeth now staring directly at him and barking. Abby pulled a black lace hanky from her sleeve and dabbed at her eyes.
Gibbs shook his head and rolled his eyes at the melodrama. That did not stop him from shooting McGee an apologetic and sympathetic look. After today, until other arrangements could be made for the care of the admittedly adorable little family, they were McGee's problem and not his.
Driving the MCRT truck back to NCIS on rain-slicked streets from a rather gruesome Quantico crime scene, Tony finally summoned the courage to ask McGee the one question that had been on his mind for weeks. Nothing had been discussed publicly or privately about the furry additions to their team and family. Everyone seemed to have gotten over their little miracle in pretty short order, which Tony found oddly upsetting. After all, building a life with Gibbs wasn't exactly conducive to having babies, not that Tony ever pictured either one of them pregnant. Sure, they could adopt but would it be the same?
"So?" Tony asked as he navigated through heavy, slow moving traffic.
"So what, Tony?" McGee retorted.
"The babies. What did Abby do with my, our, I mean, the prairie dog babies?"
McGee snorted. He'd been wondering when Tony would get around to asking about them.
"She called her friend at the zoo. They took them, the whole family."
"So, they're all okay then?" a relieved Tony asked.
"Yes, Tony. Your kids are just fine." McGee shot back, trying not to laugh.
"A vet checked them out. Then after being quarantined for a couple of weeks, just to be on the safe side, she found a permanent home for them at the National Zoo. There are already a bunch of other prairie dogs living there, so they should be fit in just fine."
Tony let out a breath and melted back into the driver's seat and turned his attention back to the road. The windshield wipers thumped out a mesmerizing beat that made him sleepy. Best to keep the conversation going.
"Do you miss them? I mean, I know they weren't, aren't pets or anything, but you and Abby had them for a while. Don't you miss them? I mean, they were, are, awfully cute," Tony mused, beaming at McGee with pride.
McGee blinked at Tony a few times.
"Yes Tony, they were very cute. But no, I don't miss them - at all. Seriously! The damn things barked all the time, day or night, didn't matter. Just freaking barked at the slightest sound or at nothing. Sometimes it was just one of them. Sometimes it was all of them. I didn't sleep for days. And before you ask, no – Abby did not name them. She wanted to, but she couldn't tell for sure if they were boys or girls."
Tony snorted. The weekend was just two days away. "I wonder if Gibbs would be up for a trip to the zoo this weekend. I haven't been in years. Hell, I doubt Gibbs has ever been."
From the passenger seat, McGee sighed and slumped down in his seat. There it was, the image he did not want of his boss and his best friend going to visit "the kids" for the weekend.