It was six days before the doctors discharged Gibbs and gave him the all clear to return home. Shannon and Kelly had practically lived at the hospital since their rescue six days earlier, only returning home to sleep.
"Well, Agent Gibbs, you are free to go," the nurse announced cheerfully.
"Finally," Gibbs muttered. He was sick of the hospital and wanted to get back to his normal life.
The nurse smiled. "You wouldn't believe how often I hear that. I believe that your wife is coming to get you. And that cute daughter of yours."
"Yep," Gibbs replied and as to prove his point, Kelly flew into the room, followed by Shannon and an orderly.
"Daddy, you get to come home!" Kelly announced excitedly as she bounced onto Gibbs' bed. "In time for Christmas!"
It was Christmas Eve.
"That's only if you want me," Gibbs teased as Kelly hugged his neck.
"Of course, silly," Kelly pouted. "It's been forever."
"Six days is not forever, Kel," Shannon laughed, kissing her husband on the cheek.
Now that Kelly was back, there was still a little tension between the two, but things were better than ever and Gibbs and Shannon had vowed to each other that they would make spending time with Kelly their priority.
"Yes it is," Kelly nodded vigorously. "Six days is forever."
"I'm with Kel," Gibbs agreed with a grin. "Six days is forever."
Shannon shook her head and laughed. "Honesty, you two are as bad as each other."
"Two peas in a pod," Kelly and Gibbs said simultaneously and burst into laughter.
"But you're my two peas in a pod and we'd better get going," Shannon finished.
"Your carriage awaits," Kelly giggled and hopped off the bed. "C'mon, dad."
"Coming." Gibbs swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. He winced a little, but when Shannon looked concerned, he shook his head, indicating that he didn't want anything said. Shannon pursed her lips, but said nothing.
"Hurry up, dad," Kelly whined.
"I'm hurrying," Gibbs grumbled and sighed when he saw the wheelchair. "Is that really necessary?"
The nurse nodded. "Sorry, hospital rules."
Gibbs muttered something to himself and grudgingly sat in the wheelchair, but not before giving both the nurse and the orderly a classic Gibbs glare.
Shannon caught and warned, "Jethro . . ."
"Oh, it's quite alright, Mrs. Gibbs," the nurse smiled pleasantly. "It's nothing I haven't seen before."
"Same here," the orderly offered.
Gibbs shot Shannon a look and after years of marriage, Shannon knew exactly what it meant. She turned to the orderly and read his nametag.
"Ted, would it be okay if we accompanied my husband out," Shannon smiled, flicking her red hair. "It would make life a lot easier." She rolled her eyes as though she was sharing a private joke with Ted.
"Uh, well, it's not exactly hospital policy," Ted started.
"Please." Shannon batted her eyelashes and this time Gibbs rolled his eyes.
The nurse looked at Kelly, made a joking gag reflex, causing Kelly to giggle and said, "Don't be such a downer, Ted. Let the lady have her husband."
"Please," Kelly added, giggling.
Ted sighed. "Oh, whatever. Take the chair."
Gibbs grinned. "Excellent. Let's go, then. Shannon?"
"Ooh, ooh, let me!" Kelly jumped up and down. Shannon and Gibbs grinned.
"Sorry, Kel," Shannon apologized. "But I think it's a little out of your reach."
"Aw," Kelly pouted, but didn't complain too much. She rushed to the door. "Let's go."
"Somebody's eager," Shannon noted as she grabbed the handles of the wheelchair.
"So is somebody else," Gibbs amended. "Let's get a move on."
"Alright, alright," Shannon muttered as she started to push the wheelchair, with Kelly prancing ahead.
As Gibbs and his family pulled into the driveway of their house and parked the car, Gibbs got a funny feeling. Shannon and Kelly had been exchanging looks the whole trip home via the rearview mirror, and Gibbs didn't need to be a trained Special Agent to figure out that something was up.
Kelly clambered out of the car as soon as it stopped moving. She rushed over to the passenger door and pulled it open with a flourish. As Gibbs swung his legs out the door, Kelly announced,
"You have to close your eyes, daddy." She hopped up and down on the spot.
"Close your eyes," Kelly huffed, putting her hands on her hips. "It's a surprise!"
"I hate surprise," Gibbs grumbled.
"Just humour her, Jethro," Shannon sighed as she exited the driver's seat and headed in the direction of the car trunk.
"Please, daddy." Kelly did her famous eyes and Gibbs sighed, unable to resist.
"Yay!" Kelly squealed and grabbed Gibbs' hand, effectively pulling him out of the car. "Close your eyes!"
Grudgingly, Gibbs closed his eyes and allowed himself to be led by Kelly. Shannon laughed and followed behind them, carrying the stuff that had accumulated over the six-day hospital stay. The front door of the Gibbs house was unlocked so Kelly pushed it open and dragged Gibbs inside.
"No peeking, daddy."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Gibbs muttered sarcastically.
"Jethro," Shannon warned as she trailed in behind her husband and daughter.
Gibbs ignored her as he was pulled through a doorway that Gibbs guessed led to the lounge room. He wasn't used to roaming his house with no sight.
"You can look now, daddy," Kelly squealed.
Gibbs opened his eyes at the same time as many voices shouted, "Surprise!"
Slightly startled, Gibbs looked up to see a large banner that read "Welcome home, daddy" with the writing underneath saying "Merry Christmas". He looked down to see Kelly beaming at him and Shannon looking amused from the doorway.
"It's a surprise party!" Kelly announced gleefully as if Gibbs couldn't work that out for himself. "And a Christmas party 'cos it's Christmas Eve!"
"It was Kelly's idea," Shannon said, stepping in behind her husband and putting a hand on his shoulder.
"No kidding," Gibbs said, for lack of better words.
He looked at the small crowd gathered beneath Kelly's (and Abby's) lovingly made banner. His team, Abby, Ducky, Palmer, Fornell, Maddie and her parents, and a few of their neighbours stood under it, grinning.
"Gibbs!" Abby matched the squeal of the eight year old and launched herself at Gibbs. "You're back! Welcome home! We missed you! NCIS isn't the same without you."
"I've missed you too, Abs," Gibbs said, awkwardly returning Abby's hug with his one good side. She was wearing her customary mini-skirt, but had added a top with a skeleton Santa on it.
"Come on, everyone's dying to see you," Abby announced, taking his hand.
"They saw me yesterday," Gibbs pointed out.
"Yeah, but that was in hospital," Kelly amended. "This is home."
"Yeah, what Kelly said," Abby agreed and dragged Gibbs over to the crowd of people. Kelly followed, skipping.
"Boss!" Tony exclaimed as Abby, Gibbs and Kelly reached the group of people.
Tony stepped forward and stuck out his hand. "Welcome home, boss."
"Glad to be back, Tony." Gibbs shook Tony's hand and looked at him warmly. "You been keeping the team in line?"
"He is worse than you, Gibbs," Ziva offered with a smile. "He is somewhat of a slave-digger."
"It's slave-driver, Zee-vah, and I am not," Tony huffed, looking put out. "I'm a great boss."
"Ziva's right," McGee added and grinned at Gibbs. "Good have you back, boss. It means we get rid of him." He shook Gibbs' hand.
"Hey!" Tony exclaimed causing Abby to giggle.
"I think you're a good boss, Tony," she said sweetly.
"See, at least someone does."
"But no one can beat my bossman," Abby finished with a flourish, earning a glare from Tony and peck on the cheek from Gibbs.
"Gee, thanks, I feel loved," Tony muttered sarcastically.
"Aww, we love you, Tony." Abby let go of Gibbs and hugged Tony, making him, as always, wince.
"The others are correct. It is really good to have you back, Gibbs," Ziva said quietly and kissed Gibbs on the cheek. Then she grinned.
"I am not sure how much longer those two could go without killing each other." She gestured to McGee and Tony.
"Oi, Probie and I love each other very much," Tony called. He put an arm around McGee's shoulder.
McGee shrugged out of Tony's grip. "Speak for yourself."
"Hey, where's the Christmas cheer and the 'love thy family' whatnot, McGrinch," Tony retorted.
"I have plenty of Christmas cheer, Tony," McGee replied.
Tony harrumphed and wrinkled his nose. "I'll getting a drink. You want something, boss?"
"Bourbon," Gibbs answered and caught Shannon's look of a disapproval.
"Jethro . . ."
"Bourbon," Gibbs repeated, ignoring Shannon.
"Uh, yeah, right, boss," Tony replied and looked hesitantly at Shannon, who gave him a resigned look and nodded her head. "One bourbon coming right up."
"What about the rest of us, Tony?" Ziva asked.
Tony shrugged. "You have two hands, get it yourself." Ziva glared at him while Gibbs smirked.
"Are you sure alcohol is a good idea, Jethro?" Ducky asked pleasantly.
"I think I know my body best, Duck," Gibbs replied, a little harsher than he intended.
"I wasn't criticizing, Jethro," Ducky replied calmly. He paused. "It's nice to have you back."
"Thanks." The two men embraced briefly, to which Abby responded with "aww" noises.
"Daddy!" Ducky and Gibbs were interrupted by Kelly. "Look! Mommy and me did the tree!"
Kelly pulled Gibbs around so that he was looking at the tall Christmas tree. It was a real one for a change, unlike their usual fake one. It had rows of neat, coloured lights intersected by silver tinsel. While there were mismatched decorations ranging from fancy baubles to paper cut-outs made by Kelly at school, Gibbs thought the tree absolutely beautiful.
"It's beautiful, Kelly-Belle," Gibbs smiled and Kelly grinned.
"Me and mommy worked on it for hours just for you, dad." Kelly looked proud.
"Well, I love it," Gibbs replied and put his arm around his daughter.
"But it's missing one thing," Kelly said excitedly. She pointed to the top. "It has no star. We waited for you."
It was a tradition carried over from Shannon's family in which the man of the house would always add the last tree trimming, the star or angel.
"Mommy!" Kelly cried and Shannon produced the familiar golden star that sparkled under the lights.
"Put it on, daddy," Kelly encouraged with her hundred-watt smile.
Shannon carried over a small stepladder, which Gibbs used to reach the top of the tree. With a ceremonious flourish, Gibbs placed the star on the very top of the tree.
"It's perfect, daddy," Kelly sighed happily.
If no one knew better, they wouldn't have even been able to tell that Kelly had just been through a horrendous ordeal. Shannon had booked Kelly to see a child psychologist starting after Christmas, but kids were resilient and Kelly managed to take most of it in her stride. Shannon had also booked sessions with a family counsellor so that the family could work through what had happened together. But today, and for the next few days, they were just like every other family celebrating Christmas and not one that had almost been torn apart within the space of a few days.
Life was good.
Gibbs had finally managed to extract himself from a conversation between his neighbours and wandered over to Shannon who was talking with Maddie's mum, Belinda, and Ziva near the doorway.
"I thought they'd never shut up," Gibbs grumbled, cutting into their conversation.
Shannon laughed and put her arm around Gibbs. "Play nice, Jethro."
"I was," Gibbs muttered, causing Shannon to laugh again.
"Surely it was not that bad, Gibbs," Ziva said with a grin.
"You'd be surprised," Gibbs replied bitterly.
They were interrupted by a voice that sounded suspiciously like Tony yelling, "Ziva! We need your expert Mossad ninja skills!"
Ziva rolled her eyes. "The last time I saw those two idiots, they were comparing superheroes," she said, referring to Tony and McGee.
She sighed. "I will go and see what they want." Resigned, Ziva walked off to where Tony had called from.
At the same time, Maddie had rushed up to Belinda and whined, "I want some food, mom. Can you help?"
Belinda shot Gibbs and Shannon an apologetic look. "Sorry. I'd better go and see what Maddie wants."
"No problem," Shannon replied easily. "I know the feeling."
Belinda laughed and was pulled away by Maddie, leaving Shannon and Gibbs by themselves.
"I'm glad you're home, Jethro," Shannon murmured. "It's not the same without you."
Gibbs nodded. "I know." He paused. "And I'm sorry."
"For what?" Shannon asked.
Gibbs shrugged. "Everything. I don't know how you put up with me."
"I wouldn't have it any other way," Shannon replied lovingly, kissing his nose. She looked up, and then grinned at her husband.
"I think someone's playing matchmaker," Shannon whispered to Gibbs.
"Look." She looked to the archway of the door and pointed to the sprig of mistletoe.
Shannon giggled. "So, Mr. Leroy Jethro Gibbs, whatcha gonna do about it?"
"This." Gibbs lent in and captured Shannon's lips in a passionate embrace.
Shannon responded and pulled Gibbs' face closer. They enjoyed the simple action of being close to one another, and almost forgot about the past twelve days of nightmare. As Gibbs put his arm around Shannon's waist and pulled her close, there was a little giggle.
"Ewww," Kelly giggled. Looking down, Gibbs and Shannon saw Kelly standing at their feet.
Shannon looked mock stern. "If I remember correctly, Miss Kelly, it was your idea about the mistletoe."
"But boys have cooties," Kelly announced, sticking out her tongue.
"Not this one. Not when they grow up." Shannon kissed Gibbs' lips briefly, earning another "eww" from Kelly.
Kelly shook her head. "I never want to grow up," she decided.
"Sorry, Kel, don't think you have a choice," Gibbs laughed as Kelly wrapped her little arms around his waist.
"I'm glad you're home, daddy," she said, pressing her face into his stomach.
"Me too," Gibb replied, knowing that things could have turned out a lot worse.
"Me three," Shannon added and Kelly laughed.
"Silly, mommy," she stated as Shannon put her arms around her husband and kissed him again. "I love you, mom."
"Love you too, baby," Shannon murmured, looking at her family. "Both of you." She rested her head on Gibbs' shoulder; Kelly was still wrapped around his waist.