a/n - An angst holiday story for all of you. I wasn't going to start posting for another week or so, but my mother wants this story now so thank her.

A Last Family Christmas

Set early in Season Two, just a few weeks after McGee joins the team.

Timothy McGee wasn't sure, but he suspected it was self-preservation that made Tony and Kate suggest he go with Gibbs to Syracuse to interview a witness instead of either of them. Either way, it had been a long trip there and back as the fall colors flew by in a blur.

The speeds may not have been as bad, but this trip was making Timothy McGee just as nervous as when he had first ridden with his boss, only a few weeks ago. Despite the churning of his stomach, he had to ask. "Boss, it's a long drive back to the Yard, are we going to stop for a dinner break?"

Gibbs grinned to himself. They wouldn't be getting back until at least 2300. He was wondering when the kid's hunger would overcome his fear. "Yeah, sure, you got someplace in mind?"

"Scranton?" He looked so eager, Gibbs couldn't hide the grin any longer.

"Then Scranton it is. That's a big town, is there a pretty waitress someplace you want to check out?" The grin kept growing as McGee fidgeted. Eventually, he grew impatient. "Just spit it out, McGee. Contrary to popular belief, I was young and carefree myself once, too."

"I was hoping… I thought…" Just when Gibbs was getting ready to headslap the answer out of him, he blurted out his request. "While you're having dinner, I thought I could go to the hospital and visit my mom."

To say Gibbs was stunned would have been an understatement. "Aww, hell McGee, why didn't you say something sooner? Sure we can stop. Just let me know what exit, alright?" As they drew closer to Scranton Gibbs covertly watched the other man. He'd had no idea McGee's mother was hospitalized, let alone not in their hometown.

Once he'd dropped McGee of at the hospital, Gibbs pulled into the first available restaurant. One greasy spoon was pretty much like the next and he ordered with only the barest glance at the menu. He dragged the meal out as best he could before ordering a club sandwich and potato chips to go for McGee. Back in the hospital parking lot, Gibbs found he was still a few minutes early, so he made the choice to go in rather than just call McGee.

"Ma'am, one of my men is here visiting his mother. Could you head me in the right direction? The last name is McGee." After a quick glance at his badge she pulled up the information on her computer screen.

"I can't tell you anything about a patient, of course, but you can probably find your man on the seventh floor oncology wing."

Once in the elevator, Gibbs leaned against the metal wall and closed his eyes. He would have never dreamed that McGee's mother was being treated for cancer. He knew the boy was shy, painfully so at times, but this was something pretty big to keep hidden away.

A helpful volunteer pointed out the waiting room for oncology when Gibbs arrived at the seventh floor. An older version of his young agent was slumped in one of the chairs. "Mr. McGee?"

"Agent Gibbs." He needn't read Tim's background to know his father was retired Navy, he knew it the second the man stood. "Thank you for letting Tim stop and see his mom, it was a wonderful surprise for her."

"I'm glad we were able to arrange it. How is your wife?" As soon as the words left his mouth, Gibbs wanted to kick himself. He never knew how to handle these sorts of things, that's part of why he was happy to have Kate on the team to do it for him.

The senior McGee wasn't offended by his question. "Maggie has more bad days than good I'm afraid, and please call me Dennis. Today's chemo was particularly rough, but when Tim walked through the door it gave her such a lift."

"Then we'll see if we can get him home a bit more often." He'd never driven through the town McGee's family called home, but he remembered that it was somewhere to the north of Scranton, probably another two hour drive.

Dennis gave a weary smile as he shook Gibbs' hand. "Thank you, between his two jobs we don't get to see him as much as we'd like to."

"Dad." The tone was slightly disapproving and very strained as McGee stepped out of the room across from the waiting area. "It's not his fault that we've got a heave case load right now." He turned to the other man. "Hey, Boss, let me hit the restroom real quick and we can get back on the road."

"No rush, McGee." Despite his reassurances, the kid made a bee-line to the public restroom at the end of the corridor, but Gibbs was pretty sure the kid needed the privacy more than the relief.

"Agent Gibbs?" The words were so faint Gibbs wasn't sure he'd heard them, but before he could be sure he was being escorted into Maggie McGee's hospital room. "Agent Gibbs, is that you?"

"Hello ma'am." Gibbs took the trembling hand that was being held up. It was ice cold and he noticed that her nail beds were slightly blue, despite the oxygen she was receiving. A scarf on her head made a feeble attempt to hide her hair loss, but it was the IV port under her collarbone that showed how ill she truly was.

"Tim's so excited to be part of your team, I'm so glad to meet you before... well, before." Exhausted from that short of a speech, she had to stop and catch her breath, but Gibbs understood. He'd seen very few cancer patients in his life, but he'd seen enough to know that Maggie McGee was nearing the end of a long battle.

"You've raised a fine young man and I'm proud to have him on my team." He waited for the question he could see in her eyes.

"He doesn't think he has the right to ask... please, when it's time, promise me...

The realization of what she was asking almost took his breath away. "I'll make sure he gets home in time."

"Thank you." Her words faded off as exhaustion won out. Gibbs gently laid her hand at her side and quietly stepped out of the room. Dennis McGee was just outside the door.

"You heard?"

The elder McGee nodded. "I realize how much she is asking, but it would mean so much if Timmy could be with her at the end. Our youngest is still in high school and our oldest is stationed in the Gulf. Even if he's granted compassionate leave, chances are it won't happen in time."

"No matter what, I'll get Tim home in time." Gibbs pulled a card out of his wallet and handed it to Dennis. Silently he promised to get their older son home in time also. "Keep me updated and let me know if there is anything else I can do."

Glancing toward the still closed restroom door, Tim's father slipped the card in his shirt pocket. "Just knowing he's in good hands is a relief, Agent Gibbs. I worry that he's pushing himself too hard, but honestly we'd lose the house and the private nurse if he weren't helping with the expenses right now."

The comment about the second job made much more sense now. "Like I told your wife, he's a fine young man. I wouldn't have added him to my team if I didn't think so." There were a lot of questions running through his head, but Tim walking out of the restroom ended that for him. Gibbs stepped back to give father and son the illusion of privacy as they said their goodbyes before the two agents boarded the elevator.

The silence was almost overwhelming during the ride to the ground level with McGee lost in his own thoughts and Gibbs unsure of how he would take any show of comfort. They were walking out to the car before Gibbs broke the silence. "There's a sandwich in the car for you. We'll grab some coffee before we get back on the freeway, all right?"

McGee seemed surprised at the gesture. "Umm, thanks, Boss. How much do I owe you?"

"Don't worry about it, McGee. Consider it thanks for being a much better behaved passenger than DiNozzo." That earned him a slight chuckle as McGee tore into his meal.

At the coffee shop, Gibbs insisted on purchasing the coffees while McGee tossed his trash in a nearby garbage can. Once back in the car, Gibbs studied his passenger rather than fire up the engine. McGee was rather unnerved by the scrutiny. "Boss?"

"How much?"

"Sir?"

It was the nervous use of sir that told Gibbs the young man knew what he was asking, but he let the pretended ignorance slide for the moment. Instead, he re-asked the question with more detail. "How much of your paycheck is going to your family every month, or should I say paychecks? What is your second job, by the way? With the hours we keep, I can't imagine it's something with a set schedule."

McGee started with the ending questions first. "No, no set schedule. I build webpages and databases for people. As long as I get them done before they need it, they don't care when I work on it. That's what I'm living on."

"You're sending your entire paycheck home." A statement, not a question, so McGee didn't respond right away but the next question forced an answer out of him. "Why isn't your brother helping?"

"They think he is." Tim fidgeted with the lid on his coffee. "My parents don't know how much child support and alimony he got nailed with when Sharon divorced him."

"Damn it, McGee."

"It's not that bad, Boss. I don't need that much to live on and it's not like it's going to last that much longer." He almost choked on the last words and turned to look out the passenger side window as he regained his composure.

Gibbs gave him a moment to pull himself together before laying down a ground rule. "All right, but if things get too bad, I want you to let me know."

"Sure, Boss."

Those two short words told Leroy Jethro Gibbs something about his newest agent that he hadn't known before. Timothy McGee was a terrible liar. He didn't call the young man on it though, it would be much easier to keep track of the situation if he played it close to the vest as his grandfather would always say.

First things first, "did you drive to the Yard this morning?"

McGee seemed surprised by the question. "No, si..Boss, I ride in on the Metro."

The Metro was something that Gibbs avoided at all costs, but he did know enough about it to know that they probably would not arrive back at the Yard in time for McGee to catch the last train to Silver Spring. "Do you need anything from your desk tonight?"

"I have everything with me." McGee indicated the backpack tucked under his feet on the floorboard.

"There's no point in you riding all the way back to the Yard just to turn around and ride the train back this way. I'll drop you off. That way I don't have to go to the Yard either."

Any objections he might have given were squashed by the tone of Gibbs' voice, which gave no room for argument or discussion. Traffic was light and they made good time, but Gibbs never mentioned that they would have made it to the Yard in time for McGee to catch the last train. Instead, he kept quiet, knowing that McGee was nervous enough around him that he would not instigate a conversation that was not related to the case.

If McGee was surprised that Gibbs knew the way to his tiny apartment, he didn't let on. For his part, Gibbs didn't let on how much it bothered him that a member of the top team at NCIS was living in such a run-down apartment complex.

After dropping the young man off, Gibbs lingered at the corner until he saw lights go on in the top floor apartment. Satisfied he could do no more that night, he turned his car towards home as he thought through various ways he could covertly help his agent and his family.