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Friday, October 2, 2009…

Even through the closed windows, the sounds of the Naval Academy band could be heard, drifting up from the park across the street. It was a glorious early autumn afternoon; warm without being hot, and bearing an aura of cheerfulness. Visitors to the Navy Yard for this, the 210th birthday celebration of the Yard's founding, were pleased that the weather was so cooperative. There were speakers and color guards and the Marine Silent Drill Team. Various agencies housed in the Yard gave away trinkets or sold refreshments at tables set up in the parking lot.

And inside NCIS, at 4 o'clock, the long-delayed 2009 NCIS Awards Ceremony was to be held.

In the largest conference room, Tim, Ziva and Tony took seats together, and waved to Abby, Ducky and Jimmy to join them. Gibbs disdained these things and would be out doing something useful: answering the tip line, perhaps, while Vance and everyone else enjoyed the ceremony.

"Did you know," said Ziva, as Abby sat down beside her, "that the silent-alarm program in the Personnel files that caught Charlie Ott was one of the last programs to be developed by Randall Klemp?"

"Wow. Wish I'd gotten to meet him," Abby sighed.

"Me, too," said Tim.

"That's the mousetrap that caught you, too, eh, Probie?" said Tony, giving Tim a poke.

Tim snorted, amused. They could laugh about it now. Ott was in jail, bail denied as a flight risk, and awaiting trial. Life had returned to normal.

And, thankfully, the team had not been called out on a case this afternoon.

Vance took to the podium, and the audience chatter died off. "Thank you all for coming today to the annual awards ceremony. I am so proud to be able to give out so many awards to so many truly deserving people." There was a pause for applause.

"First, I'd like to give out length-of-service awards. I'll read out the names and the pins and certificates will be handed out afterwards. For 10 years with the agency…"

When it came to it, however, he did call up to the stage the recipients of the 30- and 40-year length-of-service awards, since there were so few of them.

Then came the categories that everyone had been waiting for. Strains of The Stars and Stripes Forever drifted in from outside, and over it, children could be heard shouting.

"For outstanding job performance, the nominees are…" The nominees, and then the winner, were announced to great applause.

"For personal enrichment, continuing one's education on one's own time to do a better job…the award goes to…Dr. Donald 'Ducky' Mallard." The team's row cheered wildly as Ducky got up with a flourish to accept his honors.

Many more awards followed. The audience never knew when to expect what. But then nearly all of the awards, seemingly, had been given out.

"A special award this year was to be given out for Excellence in Applied Technology. The nominees were: Lori Averand, Randall Klemp, and Timothy McGee. Tragically, both Lori Averand and Randall Klemp died before the award could be given out. The Nominations committee had considered shelving the award, but then decided to give it out, nonetheless. And the decision—made before their tragic deaths—was a deadlocked vote. So, posthumously, the award goes to both Lori Averand and Randall Klemp."

Everyone applauded with feeling, and Tim felt Tony pat him on the shoulder. He hadn't ever really, really thought he would win, but now at least there was closure to the matter. It was over. Done with. He felt relieved, now, even though he hadn't been sure the EAP award would be given out at all. Relaxing, he smiled. Like most of the attendees, he looked forward to the end of the work day, and getting outside to enjoy the concerts, the barbecues, and the fireworks.

"The next award is for Special Agent of the Year…and the award goes to…Leroy Jethro Gibbs."

As usual, Gibbs was nowhere in sight. After confirming this, Tony got up to accept the award for his recognition-shy boss. The medal would go in the drawer with the others he had in safekeeping for Gibbs.

People stirred in their seats. It was surely time to leave, once Vance signaled the end. The band was now playing 76 Trombones.

"And we have one final award; one drawn up after the close of the regular process. Normally we would wait until the following year to present it, but the committee's unanimous vote was to give it out now.

"So, for our second special award of 2009, it is my great pleasure to present the seldom-appearing award for Meritorious Service. Last presented in 1998, this award goes to an individual whose diligent work to rise above severe constraints in an effort to safeguard the agency, despite risks to one's own well-being or good name, and whose courage in doing so exemplifies the highest principles of NCIS service. It is with deepest gratitude and satisfaction that I now present this award to…Special Agent Timothy McGee."

Tim could barely make out the cheers and shrieks of his friends and coworkers. He was stunned. Tony and Ziva had to pull him to his feet, and give him a shove toward the podium. Outside, an early firecracker went off.

All around him, his coworkers were giving him a standing ovation. News of the truth behind Tim's weeks-long struggle with Ott had, of course, long since circulated in NCIS. Ducky had told him, earlier, that he had become a minor folk hero, but he hadn't believed it…until now. Grinning like a goof, Tim made his way forward.

But nothing pleased him more than to see, standing at a door, and smiling and applauding with the rest…Gibbs.

It wasn't the award he had thought of, months ago.

It was better.