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Out of the Shadows

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Gibbs pulled his car into the parking lot of the small market near his house late Thursday night. He really didn’t want to stop but he needed food. His team had just finished working one of the most difficult cases of his career. It had been so difficult that he’d given everybody Friday off. Under normal circumstances the group would’ve found that incredibly strange and been trying to figure out what was wrong with their boss but not after the week they’d just had.

A four year old had drowned in the family pool. Mom had to be admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital for monitoring and Gibbs had had to do it forcefully. It was rare that he had to drag people against their will and admit them himself but being an officer of the law gave him that right and he feared the young mother wouldn’t survive the night alone.

The child’s father was currently on his way back from the Middle East. He’d been given leave to be with his wife and try to pick up the pieces. Grandma was on her way home from Idaho. After investigating, Gibbs and his team had determined that the tragic accident was just that—a tragic accident. They’d worked the case for four and a half days and all of them were physically, mentally and emotionally drained.

The market was nearly empty at 10:00 at night. Gibbs grabbed a hand basket and strolled through the fresh fruits and vegetables grabbing a couple oranges, a few apples and a small bunch of bananas. They were quick and easy snacks and he didn’t feel guilty about indulging. They helped keep his mind and body in shape.

He grabbed a small bag of potatoes then, on his way to the meat counter, he spotted a sale on peaches and cream corn, his favorite and the season had just started. His mouth was watering already. He realized he should’ve grabbed a shopping cart instead of the basket as he bagged up a few ears of the corn. When he was done in the produce section he headed for the meat counter. The crowds of the day had vanished leaving only him and no line. A couple chicken breasts, couple steaks and a few pounds of burger later and he was off to the refrigerated section.

Opposite the wall of refrigerators was the snack aisle. There was a young girl standing in front of the snacks with her back to him. He guessed she was in her mid-teens. The girl peeked back at Gibbs to see if she was being watched then turned back to what she was doing. Gibbs didn’t need his gut to tell him something was off. Her disheveled appearance combined with the smell told the agent it had been days since she’d seen a shower, probably longer. She was dressed in several layers and although it was definitely jacket weather there was no need to bundle up quite so warm yet. Gibbs suspected the girl was living on the street. He guessed those were all the clothes she owned.

The girl picked up a Slim Jim then looked around to see if she was being watched. Before she could stuff it in her pocket a ten dollar bill appeared in front of her face.

“Make sure you pay for that,” Gibbs said. He wouldn’t have her stealing but he wouldn’t have her starving either.

The teenager looked from the money up to Gibbs, wondering how he’d known she was planning on stealing the snack. She took the money and scurried off, pausing to turn back towards him before she got too far away. “Thank you.” Her voice was so quiet he barely heard her words. He smiled and nodded before grabbing a half a gallon of milk and heading for the cash register.

After he paid for his items, Gibbs headed out to the tiny parking lot. It was pouring down rain just as it had been all day but Gibbs didn’t mind. The weather matched his mood. As he was loading his purchases in his trunk, he noticed the young girl coming out of the store carrying a shopping bag with a few goodies. Despite his exhaustion and the poor weather he decided to follow her. He was curious where she was headed and wondered if there was anything he could do to help. The girl was too young to be living on the streets, not that he wished that life on anybody.

He followed the teen around the side of the building keeping enough distance between them that he wouldn’t be noticed. He followed her to the backside of the market and if there was any part of his heart that hadn’t been broken over his previous case, it was certainly broken at that point. Huddled up behind one of the dumpsters with the girl were four young children. The lid of the dumpster was flipped back, providing a little shelter from the storm but there was a steady stream of water washing over the group. Gibbs watched as the teen spread peanut butter on a piece of bread and covered it with another piece. She handed it to one of the little boys huddled in front of her.

“I want jelly, Jaycee,” the little boy whined.

“I’m sorry, Milo,” the girl said. “Jelly has to be refrigerated. We’d just end up having to throw it away. It would be a waste of money. Now, do you want an orange or an apple to go with your sandwich?”

“I want a banana,” Milo said obviously upset over not having jelly to go with his peanut butter.

“We only have one left and it’s getting really brown,” Jaycee said holding up the piece of fruit. “It’ll probably be really mushy.”

“That’s okay,” Milo said taking his sandwich and the banana.

“Hey kiddos,” Gibbs said as he approached.

Jaycee was immediately in front of her siblings with her arms stretched out protectively in front of them. “I didn’t steal anything,” she said defensively, immediately recognizing Gibbs as the man who’d given her the money. “I swear it. I bought the peanut butter and the bread with the money you gave me and we got the fruit out of the garbage. They always throw old fruit away in the mornings. Do you want your change back? I have it right here, just, please don’t hurt us.”

“Calm down,” Gibbs said holding his hand up to stop her from panicking. “Just relax, I don’t want the change and I’m not gonna hurt you. I just want to talk. What’s your name?”

When Jaycee didn’t answer Milo stepped in. He stood behind his sister so he could see Gibbs. “Jaycee says we’re not supposed to talk to strangers.”

“Jaycee’s right,” Gibbs said as he reached into the inner pocket of his jacket. “Everybody calls me Gibbs. I work for NCIS. Do you guys know what that is?”

Another little boy popped up from behind his sister. The two were clearly identical twins. “Nu-uh,” they said in unison. Both were curious about this stranger who was talking to them.

“It pretty much means I’m a Navy cop,” Gibbs summarized as he showed them his badge.

“You’re a cop?” Jaycee asked in disbelief. She decided she had the worst luck ever. She was glad she hadn’t been caught stealing. “Please don’t take them,” she pleaded. “I’ll do anything, just please. We’ll leave. We’ll—I’ll…I’ll um.” She stuttered and stumbled over her words, trying to figure out how to convince the man to just leave them be.

“Shh, relax,” Gibbs said holding his hand up again. She was definitely jumpy. “I told you, I just want to talk.”

“I don’t believe you,” Jaycee said. Her voice held the terror her body felt.

“What could I do that would make you believe me?” Gibbs asked taking a seat on the wet ground. He was already drenched from the rain and his knees were starting to ache from squatting.

“I don’t trust any cops,” Jaycee said.

As soon as Gibbs was on the ground one of the twins saw an available lap and he knew laps were much more comfortable than the asphalt. He cautiously made his way over to the agent and smiled around the fingers that were in his mouth.

“Lucas, come back over here please,” Jaycee pleaded.

The little boy turned back towards his sister and shook his head defiantly. “No!”

Jaycee’s head fell to her hands as the three year old plopped down in Gibbs’ lap.

“He’s okay,” Gibbs said. He watched as Jaycee started making sandwiches again. “So, why don’t you trust cops?”

Jaycee was quiet for a moment, making sandwiches as she watched Gibbs and her brother carefully. “’Cause they always split us up,” she said quietly.

“Are you guys siblings?” Gibbs asked. Jaycee nodded hesitantly. Gibbs smiled slightly. They were getting somewhere. “Where’s your mom and dad?”

Jaycee handed a sandwich to the little boy in Gibbs’ lap before looking up to meet Gibbs’ eyes. “My dad split when I was two. I don’t even know who their dads are. Could be any number of guys somewhere between here and Colorado. Mom, well, she’s in jail. At least I think she’s still in there. Don’t really care.” The girl was obviously angry over her situation and she had every right to be.

The toddler in Gibbs’ lap squealed happily at his sandwich. He had peanut butter all over his hands and face and he’d only taken one bite.

“If you don’t want to be covered in peanut butter you might want to sit Lucas somewhere else. He’s kinda messy.”

“He’s fine,” Gibbs said watching the three year old enjoy his meal.

Jaycee handed sandwiches to the two little girls then started making one for herself. Gibbs watched as her eyes welled up with tears that were soon spilling onto her cheeks. “What are you going to do to us?” she asked trying to stop the tears from flowing. She was terrified and she wished the man would just go away.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help you,” Gibbs answered.

“Why can’t you just leave us alone?” Jaycee pleaded. “We’re doing fine on our own.”

“Sweetheart, I can’t leave you out here on the street by yourself,” Gibbs said, “especially not with four young kids. How old are they? How old are you?”

“Milo and Lucas are three, Gracie’s four, Kylee’s five and I’m twenty one,” Jaycee said. Gibbs narrowed his eyes at the girl. He knew there was no way she was twenty one. “Fine,” Jaycee said, “I’m only nineteen.” Gibbs gave her a look that told her he still didn’t believe her. “Eighteen?” She paused to see if he’d buy that answer. “I just turned seventeen,” she confessed quietly.

“Three, four, five and seventeen,” Gibbs said.

“When I turn eighteen I’m gonna adopt them,” Jaycee insisted. “I already take care of them. I’ve taken care of them their whole lives because our mom is always too drugged out or focused on her scumbag boyfriends. Please, just leave us alone. We’ll be fine.”

“Do you go to school?” Gibbs asked.

“Well,” Jaycee hung her head in shame, “I kinda had to drop out ‘cause there was no one to watch Milo and Lucas and Gracie but I’m of legal age to drop out. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I know you didn’t,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs glanced at his watch. It was nearing 11:00. He knew if he called Child Services the kids would be put into emergency shelters and would all be split up. It was nearly impossible to get two kids placed together, let alone five. “I’m gonna take you guys to my house tonight. You can stay with me until we get some things figured out.”

“I can’t pay you,” Jaycee said both ashamed and embarrassed. She was no fool, she knew nothing was free.

“I don’t want you to pay me,” Gibbs said.

“What do you expect in return?” the teenager asked nervously.

Gibbs smiled at the girl. “A promise,” he said. Jaycee cocked her head in confusion. She was sure she’d have to offer her body, not a promise. “I want you to promise me that you’ll trust me to help you. I want a promise that you’re not going to get scared and try to run off. In return, I’ll promise you that I’ll do everything I can to help you guys and to keep you together.”

Jaycee looked back and forth between Gibbs and her siblings several times. Could she trust him? Was he just trying to trick her? Being inside a warm, dry house did sound nice. The nights were really starting to get cold, especially when it rained. Maybe she’d even be allowed to take a quick shower. She hadn’t been clean in a very long time. It was better than being sent to a shelter. She’d been to plenty of those and had no intention of going back. “You have to promise me that you won’t hurt the little ones,” she said.

“Jaycee, I’m not going to hurt any of you,” Gibbs said.

“Deal,” she said holding out her pinky to Gibbs. In her mind a pinky promise was more powerful than a handshake. It was the most sacred way to seal a deal.

Gibbs smiled at the pinky promise. This girl would definitely fit in with Abby. He hooked his pinky with hers and they shook.


Gibbs got the kids into his car and drove the short distance to his house. As he looked down at their little faces he realized he was going to need some backup. He knew of one other person who rarely slept and he hoped she wouldn’t mind being called in for reinforcements but first he needed to get the kids settled. They were all soaking wet from the rain and shivering from the cold.

“Alright, first order of business,” Gibbs said as the group stood in the entryway, “you guys need baths. Let’s head upstairs.”

“Boys don’t take baffs!” Milo announced as Gibbs led them upstairs.

“Well, this little boy’s going to take one tonight,” Gibbs said as he ruffled the three year old’s hair.

“Aw man,” Milo whined.

Gibbs smiled as he corralled the kids into his room. “How do you usually do bath time?” he asked Jaycee.

“I usually put everybody in the tub together,” Jaycee answered quietly almost as if she knew she was in trouble. “I know the girls should probably go by themselves now but I never had any help so it was just easier to do it that way. Did I do it wrong?”

“You did fine, Kiddo,” Gibbs said pulling a stack of t-shirts out of his drawer. “The fact that you’re seventeen and raising four little ones by yourself is impressive. Let me help you now.”

Jaycee tried to smile as she nodded her head. “I’m just kind of scared you’re tricking me or something.”

“It’s okay to be scared. It takes time to build trust,” Gibbs said, “but I have no intention of tricking you. Any decisions that need to be made, we’ll discuss together.”

“But you’ll always get your way,” Jaycee said.

“Maybe sometimes,” Gibbs said, “but I only want what’s best for you guys.”

“I just don’t want to lose them again,” Jaycee said. That was her biggest fear and she hoped Gibbs realized how important it was to her to keep them all together.

“Again?” Gibbs asked.

“Yeah, again,” Jaycee answered. When she saw Gibbs looking at her as if he were waiting for her to explain she turned her head away. “I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Gibbs decided to let it go for the time being. He needed to get the kids warmed up, cleaned up and he knew they were probably still hungry. Their sandwiches had turned to soggy messes in the rain. “Try to relax and let me do the worrying,” he said.

“I’ll try,” Jaycee agreed.

“Jaycee, you can use my bathroom,” he said pointing towards the door. “Here’s a t-shirt and some pajama pants you can borrow. Just toss out your dirty clothes and I’ll get a load of laundry going.”

“Underwear too?” Jaycee asked.

“Underwear too,” Gibbs confirmed with a nod. “Guess what, I used to have a little girl and a few wives so I’ve washed my share of girly underwear.”

Jaycee gave a shy smile before disappearing into the bathroom. Gibbs led Milo, Lucas, Gracie and Kylee down the hall, carrying a stack of t-shirts. He didn’t have anything anywhere near small enough to fit the kids but they were little enough his t-shirts would cover them and young enough he doubted they’d mind.

Gibbs guessed Kylee would’ve been fine taking a bath by herself but not knowing her very well and just having worked a case where a child drowned, he wasn’t willing to take that risk. It would be easier to bathe the little ones together that night. They were small enough he was sure he could fit them all in the tub.

“Clothes off, guys,” he said as he started the water in the tub.

Gracie and Kylee immediately started stripping down, excited about bath time even though they wouldn’t admit it in front of their less than thrilled brothers. Lucas reluctantly started undressing, a bit intimidated about what the cop was going to do to him if he didn’t obey. He didn’t want to go to jail. Milo stood defiantly and watched. There was no way he was going to take a bath.

“You too, Little One,” Gibbs said patting Milo’s shoulder. “It’s bath time.”

“I won’t do it,” Milo said firmly as he crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Boys don’t take baffs.”

“I’m a boy and I take baths,” Gibbs challenged as he got Lucas situated in the bathtub with the girls.

“Well, only ‘cause you’re—you’re… uh…” Milo was too tired and hungry to come up with a way to finish his thought.

“Everybody takes baths,” Gibbs said, “because everybody gets stinky.”

“I’m not stinky,” Milo said matter-of-factly.

Gibbs smiled and lifted the little boy’s arm up. “Smell your armpit,” he ordered playfully.

Milo tucked his nose under his arm and inhaled. “Whoa,” he said jerking his head back.

“Whoa is right,” Gibbs teased. “I told ya you were stinky.”

“Fine,” Milo said crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I will take a baff but I won’t be happy ‘bout it,” he declared.

Gibbs laughed as he ruffled the little boy’s hair. He loved this kid already. “You don’t have to be happy about it,” he responded, “you just have to be clean. I’ll make ya happy later.”

With the four little ones settled in the tub, Gibbs stepped right out into the hall so he could make a phone call while still keeping an eye on the kids. Kylee was working hard on getting herself cleaned up while Gracie was just thrilled to be in a tub full of warm water. Milo was trying to prove how unhappy he was about the whole bath idea and Lucas was happily splashing around. Gibbs pulled his phone off his belt, hit one of his speed dial numbers and waited.

“Were you sleeping?” he asked as soon as he was connected.

“You should know me well enough by now to know I rarely do that,” the voice on the other line spoke with a chuckle. “What happened? You were supposed to call earlier. I was getting worried.”

Gibbs hesitated while he tried to figure out how to best answer that question. “I got a little sidetracked at the store,” he said.


“Can you come over?” he asked. “I could use some help.”

Silence ruled the line for a moment. “Are you going to tell me what with?” Just then the girls squealed as Lucas splashed them with water and Gibbs was sure it could be heard over the phone. “What was that?”

“You’ll see when you get here,” Gibbs said. “I’m afraid if I tell you, you won’t come.”

“I’m on my way.”

“Thanks Sam,” Gibbs said his smile evident in his voice, “I’ll see you soon.”

“Should I call the fire department? You didn’t burn your house down cooking in your fireplace, did you?” Sam teased. Gibbs laughed as he snapped his phone closed.

Gracie was the first one Gibbs focused his attention on. He washed the little girl’s curly, strawberry blonde hair twice while she slapped at the surface of the water and kicked her feet as much as she could while being crammed in a tub with her brothers and sister. She hardly ever got to take baths and it had been awhile since her last one.

Kylee was still working hard to get herself cleaned up and Lucas was still splashing around, just as happy as Gracie to be taking a bath. Milo was still protesting, sitting in the tub with his little arms crossed angrily in front of his chest and a scowl on his face. His stone faced expression gave way to a slight smirk whenever Gibbs splashed him with a little water. He fought against it but in the end couldn’t hide it.

Samantha Ryan appeared in the doorway to the bathroom just as Gibbs was drying Gracie off. One child down, three to go and a little more room in the tub. “Where did you find four children in the middle of the night?” she asked in complete and utter shock.

“Five,” Gibbs corrected. “There’s one in the shower in my room.”

Sam looked towards Gibbs’ bedroom then back at the man who’d somehow become her boyfriend over the past weeks. It had happened somewhere between a murder investigation and a very early morning pancake breakfast at his favorite diner. She wasn’t sure how or why but she chose not to question it. She remained silent, watching as Gibbs pulled one of his t-shirts over the toddler’s head, waiting for an answer.

“They’re homeless,” Gibbs said pausing before he started bathing the other three. “I found them at the market when I stopped for groceries. We’ll talk more later?” It was more of a question than a statement. He didn’t want to say too much in front of the kids.

Sam nodded as she picked Gracie up and smiled brightly at her. “I bet you guys are hungry. Who’s up for pancakes?”

“Pancakes at nighttime?” Gracie asked.

“Don’t tell me you’ve never had pancakes at night,” Sam exclaimed pretending to be shocked. “That’s the best time to eat them!” She took a couple sniffs of the bathroom and realized that’s where the stink was coming from. “Pass me that laundry hamper and I’ll throw a load of clothes in.”

“Jaycee was supposed to throw her laundry out before she got in the shower,” Gibbs said. “Can you grab that too?”

“Definitely,” Sam grinned. “So, who do we have?”

“Jaycee’s down the hall, she’s seventeen. You’re holding Gracie,” Gibbs said, “she’s four. Kylee’s five,” he said hesitantly. “Right, Sweetheart?” The little girl nodded shyly at Gibbs. “Okay, Lucas and grumpy Gus are three.”

“I’m not Gus!” the little boy protested. “I’m Milo!”

Gibbs smiled up Sam. “Milo doesn’t like to take baths,” he explained.

“I see,” Sam said. “I don’t know many little boys who do but when he does decide to get cleaned up there will be some pancakes waiting for him downstairs. There might even be a surprise in them!”

“A surprise?” Milo asked perking right up. “What kind of a surprise?”

“If I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise,” Sam said with a smile. “You’re just going to have to get yourself cleaned up and come downstairs and see.”

“Aw man,” Milo said. “You’re trickin’ me!”

“You bet I am!” Sam said with a grin. She winked at Gibbs before turning and heading down the hall with Gracie. “Have fun,” she called back.

Gibbs helped Kylee wash her face, hair and back. Other than that the five year old had done an excellent job herself. She decided to stay in the tub until Milo and Lucas were done. Gibbs got Lucas washed up fairly quickly while the little boy continued splashing around and giggling. He wasn’t bothered in the least by Gibbs interrupting him long enough to get him cleaned up. Milo on the other hand wanted no part in washing himself but willingly let Gibbs do it only so he could see what kind of surprise was going to be in his pancakes.


Sam got Gracie busy playing with the Tupperware in Gibbs’ cabinet. While the four year old happily stacked and knocked over the different sized and shaped containers, Sam got to work on the pancakes. She found chocolate chips in Gibbs’ cupboard and some fresh blueberries in his refrigerator. She got out the whipped cream and the pure maple syrup. Ever since their first date all the fixings for good pancakes had appeared in Gibbs’ kitchen. She knew he’d done it for her. He knew how much she loved pancakes. They deserved their own place on the food pyramid. In her mind they were their own food group.

The first batch of pancakes was cooking on the griddle when she heard a stampede on the stairs. Seconds later she was nearly knocked to the ground as the little ones ran into her to stop themselves. She looked down then did a double take. Yes, she had seen what she thought she’d seen; two butt naked little boys vying for her attention. She laughed. Life was an adventure and this was quite possibly the most fun she’d had in a long time.

“I want my surprise!” Milo said.

“It’s not quite done yet,” Sam said.

“What is the surprise?” Lucas asked.

“The surprise is the fun things I put inside your pancakes,” Sam said.

“When will they be done?” Milo asked.

“Hmm,” Sam said looking down at the naked little boys, “as soon as you two go get dressed, they’ll be done.”

“Boys don’t wear clothes!” Lucas insisted.

“All the boys I know do,” Sam challenged.

“Aw man!” Milo whined. “Are you trickin’ us again?”

Sam laughed. These kids were real characters and she was having a blast. “You bet I am!” She looked up to see Gibbs entering the kitchen carrying Kylee followed by a young, brown eyed girl with wavy brown hair whom she assumed was Jaycee. “I see you had a couple of escapees,” Sam teased.

“They were gone before their feet even hit the bathroom floor,” Gibbs said pulling a t-shirt over Milo’s head while the three year old wiggled and squirmed and tried to get away.

Sam grinned as she pulled off the first batch and split them between two plates. Lucas and Milo would each get one blueberry pancake with maple syrup and one chocolate chip pancake with whipped cream. They could have more if they wanted but it was a start.

Gibbs got a t-shirt on Lucas then took the kids’ plates followed by two anxious little ones into the dining room and sat them down. While they ate he poured them each a glass of milk. He doubted they’d had much calcium and it was an essential for active, growing children.

Jaycee waited patiently while Sam started another batch of pancakes on the griddle. Gracie was still playing happily with the Tupperware, oblivious to everything else that was happening around her. She had toys. Kylee sat down and joined her.

“Are you a cop?” Jaycee asked suspiciously. “Child services? Are you going to take us away?”

“Where would I take five children in the middle of the night?” Sam asked with mock seriousness. Jaycee shrugged as she watched the woman curiously. “I’m Gibbs’ girlfriend,” Sam said in a loud whisper.

Jaycee smiled and looked into the dining room at Gibbs then back at Sam. “Really?” she asked.

“Really,” Sam confirmed. “Old people fall in love too, you know.”

Jaycee let herself relax. She wasn’t sure what it was but she kind of liked Sam. There was something about her. She was spunky and fun, playful in a way that most adults weren’t.

Sam doctored up three more plates just like the first ones. She handed one to Jaycee and sent her off with a pat on the back then turned her attention to Kylee and Gracie. “Alright girlies, are you ready for some food?” she asked, grabbing the other two plates.

Both girls jumped up and followed Sam into the dining room. She got them situated at the dining room table, made sure they each had a glass of milk then, before returning to the griddle, she leaned down and kissed Gibbs’ cheek and winked at Jaycee. There was nothing to fear. She really was Gibbs’ girlfriend.