AN: As I sat down to begin writing this final chapter I almost began to cry. I feel as though we've been through a journey together and I'm so sad to see it end. But I can't begin to thank those of you who have reviewed along the way and offered encouragement. *I'm hugging you all in my mind right now* Thank you for joining me on this ride of twists and turns. I hope you have enjoyed it just as much as I have enjoyed bringing it to you. So without first adieu, here is the final chapter. Enjoy.
Gibbs felt like his feet were buried in blocks of cement as he looked across at the familiar voice. He watched as Tony and Ziva berated Tim with hugs and kisses. Even Tony placed a big kiss on McGee's cheek.
"I promised I'd never kiss a man again Probie…but you're a sight for sore eyes."
Ziva agreed. "He is right McGee…I missed your chubby little cheeks." She squeezed them playfully before it was all eyes on Gibbs.
Tim sent him a trying smile before watching Gibbs reach for the file on his desk.
"I take it you're the replacement for yourself?"
He nodded. "I know I'm not supposed to be here till Monday morning but I do like being early."
Gibbs managed a smile and didn't even bother with formalities. He pulled the young agent into a solemn embrace that concluded with a strong pat on the back. "You look good McGee."
"I feel good boss."
Their stare spoke volumes and both were glad to have a second chance.
Tony couldn't help but smile at the exchange. "Uh guys, I hate to interrupt a father son reunion…but torpedo at 2:00." He pointed to the back of the bull pen as Abby pounded her platforms towards them.
"McGeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!" She threw her arms around him before he had a chance to steady himself and took him straight to the ground. She was lying on top of him for almost a full minute and Tony was able to take a quick picture on his phone. "Oh I missed you so much…"
"Missed…you…too…Abby…" He managed, taking short gasps of breaths between each word. He tried to look up at the others for a rescue and watched Tony and Ziva simply grin in return. Until…
"Alright Abs…let the man breathe…" Gibbs reached for her arm and put out his hand to help McGee back onto his feet.
But as soon as he was back on his feet she embraced him a second time; followed by three swift kisses on the cheek. "I missed you, I missed you, I missed you."
How could someone not smile after a greeting like that? And McGee was no exception. "So…" He cleared his throat. "Anything exciting happen while I was gone?"
The next hour consisted of Tony sharing all the jokes he was forced to subdue; Ziva expressing her frustration with computer issues and Abby randomly hugging McGee without a moments notice.
"Drinks on me tonight guys." Tim offered in a vain attempt to make up for his absence.
The team whole heartedly agreed and quickly started to pack up their things. It was then; Gibbs sent a stare over to McGee which he soon picked up on. "Meet you down in the parking garage…" Tim hollered towards them.
Tony picked up on it as well and slowly nudged Abby and Ziva towards the elevator. "Will you two come on…time for Probie to get reinitiated."
"Reinitiated?" Ziva questioned and felt Tony playfully push her into the open elevator in response.
"Just come on…"
Tim approached Gibbs desk and patiently waited what was to come. He watched as his boss quietly examined him and McGee couldn't help but smile. He missed that more than he thought he would.
"You sure you're ready to be back?"
Tim nodded assuredly. "I am."
"You sound awful sure of yourself…"
McGee shifted his weight and let the smile remain on his face. "I took the time I needed boss. And the other night I realized that part of my healing needs to take place here. With the team. With you." He nodded towards Gibbs with his final statement and watched him stand up.
"I can't change the past Tim."
He agreed. "I know boss. And I know that leaving was more about me than anything. But coming back isn't about me at all. It's about us. We suffered as a team…all of us were lied to. And if we suffered together, I figured we should heal together."
Gibbs took in a breath. "I see you've given this a lot of thought…"
"Well it's been a long two months…sure as hell glad to have you back." He patted him a bit hard on the shoulder and couldn't help but smile as Tim winced.
"Thanks boss…guess I need to get back into the gym huh?"
Gibbs agreed. "So take it easy on the drinks tonight…you start a regimen after work on Monday…"
"And let me guess…with you as my personal trainer?"
Gibbs motioned towards the elevator. "Hey, it's either me or Ziva…"
"Yes sir." He responded pitifully and waited patiently for the doors to open.
"You do remember how to investigate?"
Tim scratched his head. "Sure. Just one thing I can't remember…"
He turned to him just as the elevator doors opened. "What's your name again?" And with a quick slap to the back of the head Tim felt right at home.
McGee spent the weekend settling back into his dusty apartment and making up for lost time. The final chapter of his book was almost completed and he hoped Gibbs work out regimen wouldn't leave him so sore he couldn't finish it. Tony had invited him over for a movie night Saturday and though they hadn't planned on it; Ziva and Abby ended up stopping by. The last movie was interrupted by a food fight and he couldn't have felt more at home than he did in that moment.
Monday morning came with its share of difficulties but by the end of the week things had started to return to a relative state of normalcy. Gibbs had eased up a bit on his check in protocol and each of them were very grateful; Tony in particular. Abby was still hugging McGee at random moments but no one seemed to mind. Even if Tony insisted Gibbs was a bit jealous.
Friday night Tim arrived down in Abby's lab bearing gifts. She turned to see him holding a bouquet of black roses in one hand and a wrapped box in the other.
"It's not my birthday…is it?" She looked a bit confused and watched him shake his head.
"Cant a friend just get another friend a gift?"
She nodded and took them both from his hands. "They sure can." She started to unwrap the box and couldn't help but smile as she lifted up the stapler. "Aw Timmy…that's so sweet. But I gave it to you…"
"I don't need it anymore."
"Then how are you gonna staple stuff at your desk?"
He managed a smile. "I requisitioned a new one."
She squeezed it tight to her chest and held it out to examine it. "I'm going to miss you Mr. Stapler…"
McGee shot her a confused look. "What do you mean?"
"Well," she began. "I needed him before…you know, when the team was all broken apart…but now we're back together. I don't need him anymore." She started towards the trash can and gave it a soft kiss before lowering it down. Only before she could McGee stopped her.
"What do you say we keep him?"
"Like a keep sake?" She questioned.
"Yeah, as a reminder of where we've been…"
"And how far we've come." She finished before placing it on the shelf between her computers next to Bert. "Every time I staple a packet I'll remember what we've been through."
He smiled as the two stared at it fondly for a few moments; then glanced at his watch. "Ah, I gotta go. I don't want to keep the boss waiting…"
"He's still kicking your butt in the gym huh?"
He nodded. "Yeah…I'm using muscles I didn't even know I had. But it's been good. I think it's helping both of us rebuild what we lost."
She smiled. "Think Gibbs knows that's why you agreed to it?"
"Even if he did…"
"He'd never admit it." She finished for him then pointed to the hallway. "You better go…" She watched him nod and give her a wave before disappearing. She turned back to the stapler and petted it gently. "Thanks for taking care of him while he was gone…"
"Ah Jethro, to what do I owe the pleasure?" The ME looked a bit surprised as he slipped on his coat.
"Cant I just come down to say Hi Duck?"
Ducky examined him. "Considering in the fifteen years we've worked together, you've done that a total of two times; I'd be amiss if I didn't find it suspicious."
Gibbs threw his hands up. "Alright…I'm worried about ya."
The ME stifled a laugh. "Non sense. I'm perfectly fine."
"Is that why the only time I've seen your face for the last month and a half is with a dead body present."
"If you're worried I'm seeing other investigators behind your back; you needn't worry. I only have eyes for you." He pointed at him and laughed a bit. "Now I must be going, Mother will start to worry."
"She's not the only one…" Gibbs stepped in his way. "Now McGee's been back for a week and you didn't come out for drinks with us…hell you barely acknowledged his return."
Ducky's gaze shifted to the ground and he slowly removed his hat. "Perhaps it is because I was the reason for his departure."
Gibbs scoffed. "I think I had a little bit to do with it myself."
"Yes, but had I told the truth this whole fiasco could have been avoided."
Gibbs took in a breath. "In the past Duck. Leave it there."
Leaving things in the past was never something he did well. "I am still a bit stricken by the events Jethro…seeing Timothy has brought up some old feelings. I am dealing with it all in my own way."
"By avoiding it?"
Ducky managed a smile. "Do not presume to lecture me Jethro. You are not one to talk about the weather much less your feelings."
"I deserve that."
He shook his head and started to pace a bit. "This whole ordeal has been trying on all of us. You deal with it by staring aimlessly into nothingness. Tony tells bad jokes. Ziva pretends to laugh at them. Abby talks to inanimate objects. I am simply coping in my own way."
Gibbs read the look in his eyes. "That kid you thought was your son; that's the part you can't let go."
"Very perceptive Jethro…"
"That's what they pay me for." He sent him a reassuring look. "While you're coping in your own way…don't forget about the family you do have Duck." And with a nod of his head good night he left his friend to ponder his last words.
It was nearing Christmas time at NCIS and it had been a full five months since that night on the bridge. A night McGee was sure would change everything. And though the scars were starting to fade each of them had come out stronger. All but one.
Gibbs entered the bull pen with his usual silence and motioned for his team to pay attention. "Jenny passed away last night. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon." He examined the faces of his agents before continuing. "You're presence isn't required."
McGee found his voice first. "Will you be going boss?"
The immediate reply caused them to put aside their mixed feelings. Tony spoke up next. "Then I'll be there too boss."
"As will I." Ziva added and it was as if all eyes were on Tim.
He swallowed hard before nodding. "So will I."
The afternoon sun hid behind the clouds as the patrons filed onto the grave site. Distinguished individuals from every Agency had come to pay their final respects. Even Fornell had forced himself to make an appearance. The team had circled together near the casket and listened quietly as the service came to a close.
Neither of them could decide whether they were there for Jenny or Gibbs; but it didn't matter. What mattered now was trying to pay respects to someone whose respect they had lost. And that wasn't easy. They each watched Gibbs with a careful eye and waited for his first move. Only it didn't come until almost everyone had left and the casket began to lower into the ground.
Gibbs bent down and picked up a lone red rose; his mind taking him back.
"What are you think about Jethro?"
He could see his team following his lead out of the corner of his eyes and stood over the grave for a moment. He dropped the rose and watched it disappear below before stepping aside. Tony dropped his rose with no words and watched as Ziva shed a few silent tears. Abby was hesitant but soon dropped hers below as well and retreated to Gibbs side. Ducky followed and was the first to offer words.
"I realize this may seem trivial now…but I forgive you Jennifer." He swallowed hard and closed his eyes for a moment before joining his family.
Tim approached and found himself placing a hand over his heart. "It's over." He dropped the rose and looked up to see the team waiting for him. He managed a smile as the six of them walked away; leaving behind a chapter of their lives.
Tim pulled up to his type writer after a Christmas party at Ducky's he would never forget. His mind was telling him to go to sleep; but his muse was forcing him to stay awake. He moved his fingers across the keys and began to type…
Someone once said that, 'Other things may change us, but we start and end with family.' And McGregor had come to realize that truth over time. He had tried to endure on his own; but his heart ultimately brought him home. Not to a perfect world by any means but one that would help heal the scars of a past better left forgotten. Where guilt, grief and blame are just as real as friendship, perseverance and faith. But one where the latter will always prevail.