Epilogue

None of the MCR Team Agents are completely surprised when they arrive at the huge Hamilton Hall that runs the length of the Church on its north side, either at its staggering degree of decoration, the festive Christmas music filtering in from the many speakers lining the walls, the picturesque stage erected at the far end or the presence of Ducky and Director Shepherd in the growing crowd. Jimmy Palmer, clad in his best suit escorts his elegantly attired wife Michelle. Ducky and Shepherd have arrived together and Abby rode with Gibbs.

As they stand together near the stage in the midst of the growing crowd, the air filled with convivial conversation and festive vocal and instrumental music of the season, they can't help but take note of the back of the program picked up from a table near the door. "Some very familiar names in the Grand Patron list," Tony points out, causing each to peruse his or her own copy. "Tell me, what sort of donations did you contribute?"

"Well, she said she was short on the expenses and was paying out of pocket - I couldn't let her do that." Jimmy protests.

"How much?"

"A thousand dollars."

"Ditto," Abby agrees.

Ducky's expression is a bit more suspicious, "The dear lady told me she was in debt fifteen hundred."

"No, it was …" Jennifer starts to protest, then realizes the extent of the situation; "twenty five hundred."

"Wheeew," DiNozzo whistles, impressed. "Thirteen five; not a bad haul - I mean donation."

x

"Excuse me," a young black woman steps up to them, "are you ladies and gentlemen from NCIS?"

"That's right," Jennifer answers for them.

"I recognize some of you. I'm Melanie Velez," she reminds those of them that met her earlier, "I'm one of the Ministers here. We met at the beginning of the summer." The Field Agents recall the incident; it was during one of their initial visits during the Morley case. "We have front row seating reserved for our Grand Patrons, and I would like to thank you for your generous donations. Most of that is going toward our Food Drive for the shut-ins of the Parish."

"Oh, you're very welcome, I'm sure," Jennifer says, "but the reserved sea–"

"AGENTGIBBS!" The ear-shattering shriek is only possible from the mouth of a five year old child and he barely has time to turn and brace himself for the careening juggernaut that slams into his legs, two arms clinging tightly to him. "!"

Into this stunning spectacle come, at a far more reasonable pace, Petty Officer Carolyn and Mr. Henry Selamanca accompanied by Reverend Siobhan O'Mallory.

"I'm so sorry, Agent Gibbs, she got away from me." Carolyn is embarrassed by her daughter's spectacle and the way she tightly clings to the man's legs.

"That's quite all right," He's quite surprised to see any of them here.

"Nollaig shona duit, a gra mo chroi," Siobhan whispers briefly to Tim as she passes him, wishing him a 'happy Christmas' along with a more personal greeting before addressing the others. "I invited the Selamancas as our guests," she explains, saving Gibbs the trouble of having to ask. Saint Mary's is a considerable distance from their home and they're the last people any of the Agents had expected to see this evening, "I felt, with everything that happened, that Natalie deserved a nice evening at least."

"Of course."

"Now come on, honey, let go of Agent Gibbs." Carolyn tries to coax the clinging child.

"NO!"

"Natalie…"

"NOHESAVEDMEHESAVEDME!"

Gibbs can see how embarrassed the man and woman are by this display. "Don't worry about it." With difficulty he gets down on one knee; difficult because Natalie clings to him as though he's a life ring. When he's down at her level she still has her arms tightly about him. "Natalie," he waits until he has her attention, "would you like a front row seat for the show?"

She pulls back just far enough to see his face and admits in a small voice, "I didn't get you a Christmas present."

x

In that moment Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the hardest and most unrelenting man in all of NCIS, is stricken, barely able to speak for the huge lump that appears in his throat. "Natalie," he finally manages, "I have known all sorts of Christmases in my life; but you being safe - that's the best present of all."

He lifts her up, boosting her up upon his right shoulder and stands. Her face takes on a look of awe as she surveys the hall from a vantage of nearly seven feet.

"Oh!" Melanie exclaims; "before we begin the pageant can we get a picture here by the stage with the Grand Patrons?"

In rapid order the woman arranges them, Gibbs in the center with Natalie perched high upon his shoulder, her parents on either side; Tony, Ziva and Ducky to the right; Jimmy, Tim and Jennifer to the left; Siobhan standing before Tim, Michelle beside her in front of Jimmy and Abby in front of Tony; the decorated stage the background.

Melanie takes a position behind the front row of chairs so she can get everyone in the frame. "Now you all know what to say!" She raises the camera.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS!"