a/n - Here it is, the final chapter. Thank you all for your wonderful comments, they are all cherished. Have a terrific new years.
Gibbs wanted to reach through the audio link and strangle somebody as his yells were ignored. With no options available to him, all he could do was to repeat himself. "What's happened? What in the hell is going on?"
With no answers coming, he glanced around the room. Kate's head was bowed, her lips moving; she was obviously praying. Tony's head was in the opposite direction. Looking up, he appeared to be trying to make a deal for his Probie's survival. Abby would be screaming, but for the hands she had pressed against her mouth. Ducky's arms around her waist were the only thing keeping her upright. Even Faith Coleman wore a stunned expression as she clung to one of the technicians who not only looked stunned, but also terrified at his own personal predicament. In the corner, General Mallory, still wearing the Santa suit, was trying to get through to his men on the scene.
Tom Morrow stepped forward and rested his hand on Gibbs' shoulder. "Have faith, Jethro. I refuse to believe that we've gone this far with him to lose him now."
Director? Agent Gibbs? Sorry about that, it got kind of hairy here for a few minutes. The trailer buckled and took the supports with it.
"Just tell me you got him out in time." Gibbs really didn't care about the technical explanations.
They got him, sir. They took him straight to the Snow-cat, but I could tell that he was conscious.
Gibbs had to shout to be heard over the cheering. "Were there any injuries among the rescuers?"
Nope, everybody made it out all right. His car is definitely toast now, though. The trailer tire that was over his head tore through the floor board. If it had taken another twenty seconds to get him out...
They could hear him swallow as the realization also echoed through MTAC. It was a few moments before Trooper Metzger continued.
That kid of yours must have a whole passel of guardian angels looking out for him tonight.
Smiling, Gibbs looked around the room. From the director who pulled his own strings to reunite the family one last time to the team mates who came together when it mattered most. The doctor who had more contacts than the rest of the agency combined, the general who was touched by the story of a son, willing to help the less fortunate even when he was struggling so hard, and finally even the guys in the garage that stayed to hear if Tim had made it home safe and the technicians who sat at their computers in MTAC throughout the night, working to keep them all connected.
"Yeah, he's got a whole room full of them here. Is there any chance we can talk to him before the Snow-cat leaves?"
My system can't reach that far, but I'll see what I can do. Ah, it looks like someone in the Cat is getting him a cellphone.
"Thank you for everything. Without your help out there..."
I'm glad we could help, sir. It's not everyday you get to be part of a Christmas miracle.
The ringing of Gibbs' phone brought instant silence to the room. It wasn't a number he recognized, but Gibbs didn't hesitate to answer it. "Gibbs."
"Tim." His team might have been shocked at the relief in Gibbs' voice, if they hadn't been sagging in relief themselves. "Hey, buddy, you okay?"
Yeah, I think so. I'm sore, but nothing too bad.
Gibbs fumbled for a moment, but found the button to put his cell phone on speaker. "What about your leg? They said it was bleeding again."
They've got it all bandaged up. It's too cold to hurt, but Dr. Chambers didn't seem too worried about it.
"You listen to the doctor. If he says you need a hospital, then you go to the hospital."
I don't think I could put up much of a fight right now, Boss, but I just feel so bad about the car. You put so much into it for me, the tires and the heater and it's...
"Tim, you were able to drive safely because of those tires, right? Right up until you were hit by a vehicle twice the size of yours."
"And that heater kept you warm for all the hours you were out on the road. Not only did the heat keep you from freezing to death before you were found, but it helped your car show up on the thermal imaging satellite. Nobody on the scene saw your car under the truck. That probably saved your life. I consider it money well spent, we all do." Around Gibbs everyone agreed.
Thanks, Boss, and tell everyone else thank you for me, would you?
"Will do, now you call your dad. He knows about the accident closing the freeway and that your car was damaged. Let him know that you're all right." After McGee promised to make that call and disconnected his end of the connection to do so, Gibbs had a hard time closing his own phone.
Amidst the celebrating, only Morrow noticed him still staring at his open phone. He reached over and closed it for Gibbs, leaning close to whisper in his ear. "Sometimes letting go is the hardest part of all." Giving the other man a moment, Morrow rapped his knuckles on one of the consoles. "It's after midnight, folks, and now officially Christmas Eve. There's a buffet set up in Conference Room One, help yourselves."
With relief came hunger and the group happily left MTAC for the conference room. Mrs. Morrow met them there as she laid out the last of the food. The presence of the Morrows' grown children confirmed what Gibbs had suspected. Director Morrow had asked his wife to pack up their traditional holiday meal and bring it down to headquarters. The two men exchanged knowing looks as the room filled with laughter and an impromptu celebration began.
The food had been wiped out and most of the people had long since left for the holiday, but Gibbs was still wandering through the squad room, unable to settle down. McGee had been checked out at the local hospital and would be arriving at his family's home anytime. Still, he couldn't quite convince himself that it was over. After months of watching out for the struggling young man and the intense mission of getting him home, he was turning Tim over to his own family. Morrow was right, it was hard to let go.
Just as he was starting another circuit around the room, his phone rang, the caller ID showing the McGee family home. "Yeah, Gibbs."
The greeting he heard was certainly familiar, but the exhaustion he heard behind it wasn't. "I bet you're glad to be home. That was quite a trip."
Adventure is more like it. I don't think I've ever driven through something like that.
"Not too many people have, McGee. You should get some rest, kid. You're certainly earned it."
I'm going to, Boss. I just wanted to say thank you. Not just for all the help you gave me with my car, but for my trip home. The whole time I was out there, I knew you were just a phone call away. Even when I was trapped under that trailer, I wasn't scared because I knew you would find me in time.
"Tim..." Gibbs knew his team depended on him, counted on him, but never so poignantly as at that moment. "Always, McGee, always. Now, you've got a chance to really say goodbye to someone you love. Not many of us get that, so use your time wisely, alright? Don't worry about anything else, just be with your family."
I will Boss, have a good Christmas.
"Take care of yourself, McGee." Gibbs closed his phone and stepped to the window. Down in the parking lot the wind was picking up the snow, twirling it around, reminding him of a Christmas years ago.
"Daddy, look at me." Kelly spun around, showing off her new dress, the pale green chiffon dancing around her legs. "I'm so happy that you're home for Christmas. It's not Christmas when you're not here, Daddy. Can we play in the snow after Church?"
"Sure we can, baby. Are you ready for tonight? Do you have your lines memorized?" He caught her in mid-air and spun her around. "You're going to be the prettiest angel in the Christmas program.
Gibbs leaned his forehead against the cold glass. "Not many of us get the chance to say goodbye."
"Morning, Kate, you've been shopping?" Tony looked up as Kate dropped several bags behind her desk.
She unwrapped her scarf as she sat down. "Day after Christmas sales are the best around, Tony. Stores opened early. Who's Gibbs talking to? Is it McGee?"
Tony shrugged. "Don't know. Been talking on the phone since I got here." They watched as Gibbs hung up his desk phone with a strange look on his face.
"Gibbs, was that McGee? How's his mother?" Kate perched on her chair as she watched him.
"Actually, that was Dr. Chambers. He's still with the family." Gibbs didn't look at either of then as he rubbed his mouth. "Before they left, the Marines made sure that they had plenty of wood for the fireplace and they helped carry Maggie's hospital bed downstairs so she could see the Christmas tree."
"So she got her Christmas with her family?" Kate's voice was soft, almost reverent as she asked.
"She woke up lucid that morning and had a quiet Christmas day with her husband and children at her side. They spent the day looking through photo albums and remembering their lives together."
"That sounds nice, Boss."
Gibbs nodded at Tony's words, still not looking at them. "She made it through the day and slipped into a coma just after midnight. She passed about an hour ago."
"Wow." Kate blinked back her tears at the pain she knew their young partner must be feeling. "She truly was just holding on for Christmas."
"How's he getting back, Boss? I mean, his car was totaled." Tony didn't deal well with honest emotions, so he tried to stay practical.
Gibbs understood. "Robert is using some of the money Faith got returned to him to help Tim get a car. Apparently after he arrived home, Robert told their parents the whole story about his ex and how she fleeced him and how Tim covered for him so they wouldn't worry."
The three of them fell silent, each lost in thought when Director Morrow came into the squad room. "Agent Todd?"
"Yes, sir?" Kate sat up straight as he came up to her desk.
"Now that Christmas is over, I'm able to bring in a TAD to cover for you. It's not Christmas, but at least you can spend New Years with your family."
"Thank you, sir." She seemed distracted and not all that excited at the prospect of going home. Director Morrow noticed.
"Is there a problem, Agent Todd?"
Kate shook her head. "No sir, I just thought that I'd go up to Dryden instead. There will be a lot of people coming in for the funeral and I thought I'd go help, if that's all right. I appreciate the chance to go home, but I think that's where I should be. Gibbs looked at her for the first time that day, a look of pride on his face.
"Thanks, Kate, I know that will mean a lot to him."
Kate shrugged, embarrassed by the three men beaming at her. "It's no big deal, and I can always go home next Christmas. Right?"
Tom Morrow nodded at her. "Absolutely, Agent Todd. Next year you'll get to go home for Christmas."