a/n - First of four chapters. Some of you may recognize the story or the writing style. I have developed a second profile for some of my stories. Enjoy and let me know what you think.
I'll be Home for Christmas
For the first time since McGee had joined Gibbs' team, they had Christmas off. Not just Christmas, but two full weeks. They were banned from entering the squadroom until after the first of the year. Apparently a lecture from the staff psychologist about the dangers of burnout combined with a memo from HR about the amount of hours the team had accumulated over the year were enough to force Vance to take such strong measures. Tony had already left for Acapulco for two weeks of working on his tan and Abby had taken Ziva with her to experience a New Orleans style Christmas. Tim's bags were packed and in the car as he snuck into the squadroom to pick up the iPod he had left in his desk the day before.
He came to a halt as he came around the corner and saw Gibbs at his desk, staring at his phone with a lost expression on his face. A voice could be heard still on the phone, so he leaned over to listen in. Once the call ended, Tim took the phone out of Gibbs' hand and hung it up. When the older man didn't react, Tim took charge.
"He's going to be okay, Boss. You heard the Sheriff, it's just a mild concussion and I'll have you there real quick." McGee floundered for a moment trying to find an excuse to be away from Gibbs for a few seconds to make a quick call, then he saw the trash can half full of paper cups. "Boss, why don't you hit the head while I shut down your computer and then we'll get on the road."
It was a testament to how shaken Gibbs was that he didn't argue, just meekly stood and walked towards the restroom. As soon as he was out of earshot, Tim was on the phone to Ducky.
"Ducky, listen, it's McGee. Jackson Gibbs was beaten in a robbery a few hours ago. I'm driving the Boss up there in a few minutes, and I was wondering if..."
My goodness, I'll meet you there, Timothy. Do we know how badly Jackson was injured?
"Just that he has a concussion and some fractured ribs and is at the hospital in Bloomsburg. Thanks, Ducky. I know it's the holidays, but I'm sure the Boss would feel better if you were there to double check that the local doctor didn't miss anything."
Of course. I'll load some supplies in the car just to be safe and then I will be on my way.
As they talked, Tim shut down Gibbs' computer and grabbed the iPod that he'd been after. After a stop in the evidence garage and then at Gibbs' car for the overnight bag he kept there, they were on the road. They were crossing the border into Pennsylvania before Gibbs registered that McGee was driving him home.
"McGee, what are you doing?"
"I'm driving, Boss. I realize that it's not quite as exciting as when Ziva drives, but at least I'll get you there in one piece." As hoped, it got a slight smile from the other man.
"I mean it McGee, you're supposed to be on your way to your Uncle's place in Ohio. Stillwater is a long ways in the wrong direction."
"Don't worry about it. This is more important. Beside, you'll need help with the investigation and running the store until your dad's back on his feet."
Gibbs couldn't believe what he was hearing. "Your family's expecting you."
"My parents will understand. Besides, my sister has a bet going with our cousins about whether or not I'll make it. If I don't show up, she'll get enough to pay for her books next term. You'll be her hero when she finds out."
His smile grew a little wider. "Anything to help your sister, McGee." It was only a few minutes before Gibbs was again lost in thought. "God, I can't believe this is happening again." He hadn't meant to speak out loud and hoped McGee didn't hear him.
"Your dad's store's been robbed before?"
Gibbs couldn't understand why the words kept tumbling out of him. "I was thirteen when my mom was shot in the head because she couldn't get the register open fast enough."
"That must have been rough." McGee thought about it and ventured a guess. "It must have brought back a lot of bad memories when Kate was killed."
He hadn't realized how perceptive McGee had become over the years. Kate had fallen flat onto her back, arms spread, when Ari had shot her. He had found his mother in the same position that horrible day. Gibbs rubbed at his face, as if he could rub the memories away. "God, I wanted him to sell that damn store after she died."
"They ran it together, right? The two of them and your dad's friend."
"Yeah. Jackson and LJ went in together and bought it so they could get out of the mines. It was her dream to have the store."
McGee had heard pieces of the story when they had been in Stillwater the first time. "Walking away from the store after she was killed would have been like walking away from her memory."
Gibbs thought about what he had said. All of his family memories were centered in that small store. His mother standing at the register, his father chopping kindling to sell during camping season, both of them helping an out of work neighbor feed his family until work picked up again. "Yeah, I think you're right." He looked out the side window, watching the telephone poles go by for a minute before turning back to his traveling companion, resting a hand on Tim's arm. "I don't say it very often, but thank you. Giving up your family vacation to help my dad, it means a lot."
They were arriving in the nearby town of Bloomsburg before Ducky's Morgan was visible in the rear view mirror and Gibbs gave McGee a questioning look. Tim shrugged as he confessed.
"I told Ducky what happened. We thought you'd be more comfortable if he kept an eye on your dad while he's recovering." McGee saw the sign for the hospital and carefully changed lanes, his turn signal telling Ducky what lane to be in. "Besides, this is the first holiday since he had to put his mother in the nursing home; I think he's a little lost at home by himself."
Gibbs wasn't sure what he had done to deserve such good friends, nor was he sure exactly when McGee changed from being just an agent on his team to being a good friend, but right now he was just grateful to have him there.
Once at the hospital, Ducky went to track down the doctor in charge of Jackson's case while McGee spotted the Sheriff in the waiting room, allowing Gibbs to visit his father in private.
"Hey, Jack, how are you feeling?" Gibbs studied his father's face, noting not only the bruises but the lines that had not been there the last time he'd seen him.
Jackson blinked in the harsh light until Gibbs turned off the overhead light. The bedside light was more that enough to see by. "Jethro, that you?" His words were slightly slurred and slower than usual. "Didn't want them to bother you, son."
"No bother at all, Dad. You get some sleep, alright? We'll talk after you've rested." Once Jackson stopped fighting it, he was asleep in seconds. Gibbs smoothed out the blankets and watched him sleep for a moment before joining McGee out in the hall.
The Sheriff was nowhere to be seen, but McGee was walking towards him with two cups of coffee. Gibbs gratefully took the cup that was offered. "What did you find out?"
"Our old buddy, Gantry, claims that it was a basic robbery." McGee didn't look at all convinced so Gibbs waited for him to continue. "He also said that the store was a mess. Since when does a robbery include trashing the place?"
"You think it was personal?" The very thought made Gibbs sick to his stomach.
McGee clearly wasn't happy with what he had to say. "I think we shouldn't rule it out. Considering how the townsfolk took to our evidence gathering the last time, I should probably get to your dad's store and see what I can find before they clean it up."
Gibbs was torn between his duty as son and his duty as an investigator. "It's sealed, right?"
"Sealed and a deputy is watching the place." He knew exactly what his boss was thinking. "I'll be fine by myself, you should stay here with your dad."
Relieved and guilty both, Gibbs nodded and watched McGee walk away, noticing once again how his weight loss made his shoulders look broad. Ducky came down the hall from the opposite direction, ending that train of thought.
Knowing this wasn't the time for a story, Ducky came straight to the point. "He's very lucky, Jethro. I would classify the concussion as moderate rather than mild; other than that I agree with his doctor's diagnosis. The cracked ribs will limit his mobility for a while, as will the strained knee. If it weren't for his elevated blood pressure, they'd release him from the hospital today. Both Dr. Graham and I feel that he should be watched closely until his blood pressure is back under control. With any luck, your presence here will help him to stay calm." He reached out and took Gibbs' arm. "Come along, Jethro, I told the doctor that you wished to speak to him.
Spotting the deputy parked across from Jackson's store did not make McGee feel any more comfortable about the situation, but McGee did wake the kid up to let him know that he would be processing the scene. When he saw the badge that stated 'cadet' rather than deputy it did answer a few questions, but raised even more. "So, you're a cadet for the Sheriff's Department?"
"Yes, sir, it's my senior project."
"Senior project? You're still in high school?" Looking around at the people watching him, Tim suddenly wished he'd waited for Gibbs. "All right, you maintain the exterior of the crime scene while I start to process for evidence."
Tim forced down the desire to beat his head against the wall. "Stay out here, don't let anyone in without my permission and don't shoot me when I come back out."
"I don't have a gun, mister."
"How long is this going to take? I gotta be at basketball practice in four hours."
"I'll try to hurry, kid." McGee let out a deep sigh as he stepped through the broken door. Only for Gibbs would he be doing this, he thought, as he stepped over a puddle of maple syrup on the floor.
Gibbs shook Dr. Graham's hand when it was offered, but his mind was back all those years ago, the last time he'd seen this doctor. Jethro may have only been a child to the people that ignored him that day, but he'd never forget the man that told them his mother had died quickly, hadn't suffered as she lay on the floor, to be found by her only child. To have him now tell him that his father would be fine with some rest and monitoring, was only slightly better, at least until he was absolutely sure the man was right.
"Why is his blood pressure so high?"
"Agent Gibbs, your father is not a young man and I'm sure this was a very upsetting experience for him. I'm sure that after he calms down, his numbers should return to the normal range."
Gibbs didn't bother to remind the man that his father was not some doddering old man who was easily frightened. "And if his numbers don't return to the normal range?"
"Let's not borrow trouble, shall we?"
Knowing Gibbs was well as he did, Ducky stepped in to mediate. "If his blood pressure is still elevated by tomorrow, we will start looking at other causes, wouldn't that be a correct assessment, Dr. Graham?"
Dr. Graham gave a wan smile. "Of course, Dr. Mallard, but as I said, let's not borrow trouble. Like I told you, the most likely cause is the stress of this unfortunate incidence."
After Dr. Graham left to return to his duties, Ducky steered Gibbs towards the cafeteria. "Ducky, I'm fine. I don't need anything to eat."
"Perhaps not, but when your father asks you if you've eaten, you'll be able to ease his mind by saying yes." Ducky smiled, knowing he was going to win this round. "Come along, Jethro, I hear they have a delightful pot roast on the menu today and I've always been curious about what exactly is in a shoofly pie."
McGee groaned as he straightened. He'd run out of evidence bags hours ago and was now using bags and tape from the store to hold evidence. He'd managed to lift some pretty good prints from the canned foods that were thrown in the attack and hopefully they would be matched to somebody already in the system.
He had reached Fornell earlier in the day and managed to talk him into allowing them to use a nearby FBI lab to process the evidence. He'd found enough plywood to cover the broken windows and door to keep the store secure for the night. All he had to do now was to load all the evidence into his car and get it back to Bloomsburg, where an agent would meet him. He was glad to be done, the cadet had left already for his practice and it was getting dark and cold out. Tony would tease him if he knew how spooked Tim was getting, but there was something off about the town today. It was a twenty minute drive back to Bloomsburg, and he wouldn't relax until he was there, but he did breathe a sigh of relief as he left Stillwater. Intent on navigating the unlit country roads, he didn't notice the truck that pulled out of a side street several blocks behind him with its headlights off.