To say that the team was frayed at the edges now and they were once again; floundering their way through each and every day; was an understatement of gigantic proportions. Thankfully, Jenny had seen that they remained off balance; and needed more time to regroup. Having mourned Agent McGee's death along with the rest of the Agency; she kept to the decision she'd already made. In an unusual move; she didn't rush progress.

She had pulled them off the active case roster when Tim had disappeared; assigning them to cold cases; until further notice. Jenny knew that to force them to move on before they were ready; was to spark mutiny and she wasn't prepared for that. She'd been there and done that before; she wasn't about to do it again. And while she didn't feel what they were going thru; she did feel for them going thru it. The hole Tim McGee's death had left in this team; was huge; raw and painfully obvious for all to see.

Karen Wilkerson and her partner in crime; Tim's killer, Wilson; having fled the states for Canada; went down fighting. This didn't help the team feel any better. In fact; it only feuled thier grief. Now, they'd be denied justice or answers and they badly needed both.

The team was tired of working cold cases; but unwilling to go be forced to focus on fresh cases; unable to find the cohesiveness they had shared before Tim had been taken from them. No one had stopped grieving for him. Each seemed lost in the depth of the black whole they felt as they learned to do what he'd done for them in his sleep; as they changed the way they talked to each other; remembering how he would have said it . Regret and grief were daily thorns in their sides. Every time they happened to look over at his nearly enshrined desk or his computer; that thorn twisted inside. The fact that it was edging closer to Christmas; a Christmas without Tim; left everyone feeling blue.

It had been 8 weeks since Tim McGee had been snatched from the bosom and protection of NCIS. Fifty-six days had passed since NCIS had begun receiving the emailed footage of his horrific ordeal; spanning the course of ten days; culminating with his painfully tragic death. 46 days ago; Special Agent Timothy McGee had died at the hands of his sadistic kidnappers.

It seemed like heavy burdens weighed down each of his team mates equally; all of them realizing too late; what a treasure they'd had in their midst's. Not a day went by that someone among them didn't have to wipe away a tear; or pull their eyes away from his tragically empty desk; or his painfully silent computer keyboard. The days of chatter or conversation; were as long gone as the sound of him typing away at warp speed; digging up the answers they needed. They were as long gone as the sight of their beloved Computer Geek himself; sitting behind that desk; was. There hadn't been a smile; a laugh or even a joke in the squad room in a very long time Not one of them were in a good mood when Gibbs' cell phone rang around 9 that morning.

"Yeah. Gibbs." Gibbs voice didn't hold any life.

"Hello, Probie."

"Mike. Gibbs voice never raised above quiet. "How are you?" Gibbs voice broke and he stopped . Hearing that name; for so long attached to Tim; hurt like a fresh stab wound. Drawing in a deep breath; he slowly let it out; forcing himself to calm down.

"We need to talk, Probie."

"About, what, Mike?" Gibbs asked with more manners than he had the heart to worry about. It had only been a couple of weeks since the man had gone home; but it felt like a lifetime; to him.


"Mike, just spit it out; will ya?" Gibbs got up from his desk; taking his conversation to the privacy of the elevator; stopping it between floors; something he hadn't done since Tim had been taken from them.

"You need to take a couple of days off and come down here; lose yourself in the peace and quiet."

"Mike. I'll think about it. Thanks. I'll call you later when I decide.

"Don't think about it, Jethro; just do it!" the call was terminated.

Gibbs put the conversation out of his mind and went back to work.

A short thirty minutes later; Jen called him up to her office.


"Jethro, I understand you've been invited to take a couple days off!"

"Damn, Mike called you?"

"Yes, Jethro, he's concerned about you. I agree with him. With one major difference.

"And what's that, Jen?" Gibbs tone was too tired to be angry.

"Take your team with you. All of you need to get away from here. You've certainly all earned it. Abby, Ducky and Palmer, too. I'll get substitute help in here for a week. The chartered plane leaves in 3 hours." Jen's tone booked no argument; and apparently the deal was done.

"Does HE know you've set this up; that he's about to be host to the entire team?"

"Yes, Jethro; he's okay with it; provided they don't mind sleeping out on the beach. The weather's nice down there right now; it shouldn't be a problem."

Although Gibbs hated to be manipulated like this; time off did sound like a good idea at the moment. Especially, since it was only for a week.

Returning to the squad room, Gibbs called Ducky and Abby; told them all to pack up for the day; including Palmer; and get up to the squad room, STAT. And since Gibbs never used that word; they hustled and did as he ordered. In a mere 10 minutes; he had everyone's undivided attention.

"We've been given the next week off; together; for a short trip; to Mexico; at Mike Franks' invitation. Maybe it's his Christmas present to us all. You'll be sleeping on the beach; in tents. Plane leaves in 2.5 hours. Be back here; packed and ready to go in 2 hours." Gibbs quietly informed them all.

While they were all happy for the time off and the chance to go to Mexico; the fact that Tim's empty desk was staring them all in the face; kept them grounded to the reason they all needed to get away in the first place. Quietly, they all packed up for the day and headed out to go pack for their trip; leaving Gibbs alone in the squad room.

Usually, this didn't bother him; but right now; it sent fresh waves of pain and anger over the loss of such a treasured soul; washing through him all over again. Tim; I'm so sorry, son! Gibbs silently cried; hoping the young man was listening up above and accepting it. As he fought to keep the tears away; looking at Tim's desk; Jenny softly put an understanding hand on his arm; silently sharing in his grief. Nodding his head in silent thanks for her understanding; he picked up his coffee cup and went in search of a refill; and the space to breathe.

A short two hours later had the squad room once again filled with Agents and team members; all of them still somberly quiet. Checking his watch; as they all turned to head out; Gibbs walked over to Tim's desk and unlocked the drawer he had secured his missing agent's recovered identification and wallet in.

Looking at Tim's weapon; taking a silent reflective moment to look into the eyes of his agent; wiping his finger across the photo; Gibbs sent up yet another heartfelt apology to his lost agent; whose absence was continuing to eat a hole through all of their hearts. The team watched with tears in their eyes; as Gibbs respectfully locked Tim's badge and service weapon in his own desk for him; pocketing his id. for safekeeping. The significance of what they had just seen caught everyone in their heart. They had known Gibbs had been deeply affected by what had happened to McGee.

When Tim died; Gibbs had been so angry and bereft; he'd gone silent. He hadn't come to work for two days. The only way they knew he was okay was because Mike Franks and Tobias Fornell had also kept the team apprised of their leader's status. They knew he was their glue; and that even though the glue was going through hell at the moment; he was still vital and being worried about.

Gibbs and company hustled to the plane they were being flown in; surprisingly enough; a jet stream; and this time, everyone was able to relax and breathe. They buckled in for the ride; and sat back; loosing themselves in their own thoughts; the peace they hoped they'd find; the never ending sorrow they hoped they could find a way to lessen its' hold on them; things they needed to be able to get past; no one speaking a word.

The team landed without fanfare and immediately attempted to flag down a couple of cabs; but were hailed by a limo driver; shockingly enough. As they allowed the pleasantness of the impending ride soak into their brains; they threw their gear in the trunk and hopped in quietly; letting Gibbs give the directions; as they sat back and waited; on pins and needles,

Their arrival at Mike Frank's house on the secluded stretch of beautiful beachfront took their breaths away. The man had made plenty of preparations for them. The humongous tent; cabin type; was tied down well and there was equipment galore for their use and enjoyment. Everything from cookware to fishing gear; snorkel gear to sleeping supplies. Mike had gone all out. It brought smiles to their faces and wiped away their concerns about sleeping on the beach.

As they finished emptying their bags from the limo; Mike came out of his house and greeted them all. "Hey. How was the trip?"

"Good" came umpteen voices in unison.

"Good! I know you all have been through hell lately; so when I say this; I mean it in a good way; all right?" Mike stated earnestly.

"I'm glad you're here. This is gonna be a memorable Christmas for all of you, I promise you."