Disclaimer: I own nothing NCIS related, and I make no profit from writing about it.

A/N: Okay, friends, I know, I know......the next chap to His Sister's Keeper will be coming soon. I just had to take a break from it for a few hours, as sometimes happens, to get my perspective back. In the meantime, here's something to hold you over. I hope you like it.

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It happened so quick.

He'd always thought he'd see it coming when it happened- because he knew it would happen sooner or later- but he didn't. He didn't see or feel a thing.

One second he was trading shots with the baddie through the rolled down window of the open car door, and the next.......

It took him a few minutes to understand. His world went out of focus for just a second, then he was standing in the middle of the parking lot instead of hunkered down behind the car door as he should've been.

But things were different.

No one was behind the makeshift barricade as they should have been, and there were no more bullets flying.

He spied McGee coming from the house the shots had come from, propelling one of the handcuffed perps ahead of him. The mild-mannered agent looked agitated, upset, just.....not quite right.

Ziva had her perp on the ground, cuffing him roughly, and she was pure anger. Something wasn't right. Not at all. And even as he wondered what it could be, he realized he was missing someone, and for the first time, his confusion turned to fear, to the knowledge that something bad had happened.

He looked left, looked right, then, still not spotting the one he was looking for, he spun around frantically.

And there he found him.

DiNozzo was on the ground behind the open car door, on his knees, his hands covered in blood, his face crumpled and frantic, voicing pleas that went unheard. Tony held a shirt in his hands, a nice shirt that he'd bragged about just that morning......now the shirt was wadded into a ball, Tony only in his blood-stained under shirt, and the wadded shirt-ball was being forcefully applied to the wounds that had obviously allowed too much blood to escape.

The body- because he could see now that it was just a body lying at DiNozzo's knees- lay in the pool of blood that the expensive shirt couldn't contain.

And he finally understood.

"I'd tell you this is the hardest part, but it's not."

He spun at the soft voice behind him, somehow knowing without knowing who had spoken.

He stared at her, wondering if it was a dream, or a nightmare, or something in between.

She smiled softly, a smile almost like her old self, but with a quality of something undefinable that he'd never seen on her face back then. She seemed.....peaceful. "Hi, Gibbs."

"Kate."

"Seems you're following the tradition. Two down, three to go."

"That's not funny," Gibbs snapped, a sudden spike of fear at the thought of losing another of his agents.

"You're right. It's not," Kate agreed. "You know, I've been rehearsing what I'd say to which ever one of you followed me first, and it still didn't come out right. I was hoping I'd have a longer wait, you know. I was hoping for natural causes or something, figuring I'd see Ducky first. Don't tell him I said that, though." Her laugh was as soft as her voice.

Gibbs glanced back at his body, now surrounded by all three agents. Ziva was on the phone, more frantic than Gibbs had ever seen her, Tim was helping Tony in the useless effort of trying to stop the bleeding. But Gibbs could see it was too late, and his agents would too, but for their grief. He turned back to Kate.

"No," he said, a catch in his throat. "I don't think I'll be telling Ducky anything."

"This is going to hurt them," Kate said. "It's going to hurt them bad. They need you."

Gibbs shook his head a little, trying to quell the grief that was beginning to swell in his throat. It was more for them than him, though, and he wondered at that. "Death is a part of life, Kate, we all know that. They'll get on okay after a while."

Kate tilted her head at him. "I used to be one of them, Gibbs. Have you forgotten? On of your agents on a team that's more like family. If it had happened to you before me.....well, let's just say I'm glad it didn't. You're their cornerstone, Gibbs. Trust me on this."

"Are you an angel, Kate?" Gibbs felt much less ridiculous asking that question than he'd thought he would. "Are you here to take me to.....well.....wherever?"

Kate smiled at that. "Still not sure if you're a believer, huh? No, Gibbs. I'm not here to take you anywhere. I just....never left."

Gibbs gaped at her, stunned at the prospect. "You mean you've been hanging around all this time? Why?"

"Do you really have to ask? I have to, Gibbs. I can't help myself. I feel the need to protect and guide you all. As much as I can anyway. But I'm not always with one of you guys. I spend time with my family, too. Guess it's a good thing it's you here and not DiNozzo, huh? He'd read waay more into that than necessary. He'd probably accuse me of eternal undying love, or something as ridiculous as that."

Gibbs shook his head in wonderment. Even in the hereafter, Kate was hazing DiNozzo. "Kate," Gibbs said then, serious again. This was a chance he thought he'd never get, and he had to take it. "I'm so sorry, Kate."

"Don't," Kate said. "Don't be. I've seen the guilt you've been living with because of that day, but you have to understand; it wasn't your fault."

"I failed you."

"No you didn't. And I don't hold you responsible. Neither does anyone else. You shouldn't either. Things happen. You said it yourself- death is a part of life, and we all know it."

"You're the first agent I've ever lost."

"And I might not be the last. Like I said; they need you." Kate nodded her head behind him, and Gibbs moved forward to stand next to her and turned, so they were both watching the scene before them. An ambulance had arrived and so had Ducky and Jimmy. Jimmy stood with the three agents, but Ducky was helping the paramedics, tears in his eyes. They were not in a hurry as they lifted Gibbs' body to a gurney. The only one missing was Abby, and Gibbs didn't envy the one that had to tell her. That responsibility would likely fall on Tony, Gibbs realized, and he looked over at his senior agent. Be Strong, Tony, Gibbs urged mentally.

"I miss them," Kate said wistfully. "And for what it's worth, I think Ziva David was the right person to take my place. I like her. She'll take care of you guys."

"She does, at that," Gibbs answered, remembering Ziva's own sacrifices for his sake.

"But she need you as much as the others. She's one of them now."

"Even if it's true, that they need me that badly, it's too late now."

"Perhaps," Kate said cryptically. "Perhaps not."

Gibbs looked at her sharply. "My body is dead, Kate. I'm dead. Are you saying there's a chance I could go back?"

"That's not up to me to decide."

"But?" he asked her, much in the way he had many times when she'd been alive, and her lips turned up a little at that.

"But....I think you might be here prematurely. And I can't tell you how I know that, either."

"How is that fixed?" he asked her quickly. Could it be fixed?

"I don't know for sure how it works, but if it will be allowed- and you won't know until you try- it's up to you to do it. You have to want it bad enough."

"That's it?"

"That's it."

"Then why am I still here? Because I don't want to be."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure."

"So there's not one.....or two.......little things in the back of your mind holding you back?" Kate asked him knowingly.

Gibbs stared at her, wondering if she'd read the dark recesses of his mind or if she just knew him well enough to know.

"You can say it," she urged, and took his hand in hers. Gibbs was surprised to find that it was warm, and even more surprised to realized that it offered him comfort.

"Shannon and Kelly," he whispered, his voice hoarse with emotion.

"Yes," she said softly. "You want to be with them."

"I've waited so long." His tears finally overflowed and spilled, the first time in years. "Are they here, too?"

"No," Kate said. "They've moved on. But they know you're here, and you can be with them if you choose to. You have a decision to make, Gibbs. You can go to be with your wife and daughter. They're waiting for you. Or you can go back to your body, and be with the people that need you right now."

That wasn't a choice at all. How could he turn his back on finally being reunited with his beautiful little girl and his one true love? They'd both been torn from the world much too soon, and he'd waited for this day with more anticipation than he'd ever have admitted to anyone.

"I've been alone so long," he mused quietly.

"Have you?" Kate asked, then nodded her head at the Jimmy, Ducky and the team, who were all preparing to follow the ambulance. The tears were rolling freely, not one of the concerned about appearances. Ducky ran his shirt sleeve across his eyes before climbing into the back of the ambulance with the paramedics.

"I'd better call Abby," Tony said quietly, though no one responded.

"They're your family, Gibbs, and I was one of them. You know how much they care about you. And I know you feel the same about them. They know it, too. You don't hide it as well as you think you do."

"What makes you think they need me?" he asked. He didn't want to think about the possibility of not reuniting with Shannon and Kelly, but...... he had to know that his makeshift family would be okay.

"I just know, Gibbs, and I can't tell you how. But they're not ready. Later, maybe. Another time. But not now; to lose you now would be catastrophic to them as a team and as individuals."

"How do you know this?" Gibbs asked in frustration. "You're asking me to make the biggest decision I ever will, but you can't give me facts?"

"I'm sorry. It's the best I can do."

Gibbs looked at her, torn. Could he do it? Could he choose the team- his family- over Shannon and Kelly?

"They'll always be here, Gibbs. If you choose to go back, Shannon and Kelly will be here next time, waiting for you."

Gibbs nodded, even as his eyes overflowed with tears once again. Of course they would be. But could he wait that long? He'd waited so long already, missing them, mourning them......

"You have to decide, Gibbs." Kate's voice held a new urgency. "Decide soon. It's almost to late. If you don't make a decision one way or the other, you might be stuck in between. Kind of like me."

Gibbs looked at her, startled. "Is that what happened to you, Kate? You're stuck?" The prospect was terrifying.
"No," she assured him, and he was flooded with relief. He didn't want to think of Kate as a homeless spirit, roaming with no place to go. How lonely. "I'm here by choice," Kate told him. "I'm kind of a....special mission.....kind of girl."

Gibbs opened his mouth to speak, but Kate held up a hand, interrupting him. "Hurry, Gibbs. You have to decide. Now."

"How? How can I decide?" He was torn. It was unfair to ask such a thing of him. To choose between joining his wife and daughter or.....

But wait.....was he really choosing between them? Kate had said Shannon and Kelly would be waiting for him. As much as he loved them, as much as he missed them.....they didn't need him. Not yet.

But that didn't make it easy.

Gibbs heart tore in two, even as he came to his final decision. He looked at Kate to speak his choice, but before he could utter a work, she faded away and he was surrounded by blackness.

The he screamed, the sound reverberating in his head as the pain surrounded him, encompassing him inside and out. He jerked violently, almost seizure-like, and awareness bombarded him.

There was noise, lots of noise, shouting, cries of startlement and surprise. Orders barked in an efficient manner. A breeze on his face as the sheet was whipped off.

Gibbs opened his eyes and straight up into Ducky's familiar ones, those eyes that were red with grief now showed bewilderment and an overwhelming joy.

"Impossible," the coroner muttered. That would be the first of many times that word would be spoken by many others in the near future about Gibbs' apparent return to the living.

Gibbs laid back, everything still fuzzy and the pain being partly dulled by the IVs being inserted into his arm.

Just before he sunk into a drugged sleep, Gibbs saw a fuzzy, familiar form at the back of the ambulance, just in front of the doors. He smiled, and she smiled back.

"Bye, Kate," Gibbs said softly, his eyes sliding closed.

Kate's soft voice whispered into his ear. "No, Boss, not goodbye. More like.....I'll see you later. Much later." And she was gone.