a/n - Well, here it is - the final chapter. My thanks to all of you for sticking through this with me. I'll return to posting chapters of Buried in the Past shortly, and have some more in the words. My muse is on overdrive, so let's see if my fingers can keep up. Will there be a sequel? I've certainly got something to work with, but it's not on my radar at the moment. Thanks for your wonderful comments, they mean the world.
Not even when his platoon invaded the day before deployment, did Gibbs find his house so full. Somewhere along the way, a television had arrived, demoting his old one to the basement, and sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses littered his den, as the team moved in for the duration. Tim had been released from the hospital and immediately settled onto the sofa, while Gibbs had gladly turned his own bedroom over to the Harper's. It would be the last night of chaos, as McGee's apartment was finally cleaned and would be returned to him in the morning. All in all, it had been a long week since Harris' escape and Gibbs gladly retreated to the quiet of his basement workshop.
Light footsteps heralded a visitor before he even had the sandpaper folded. It wasn't the sound of Abby and the clunky boots she still favored, but softer and more tentative. Gibbs waited and soon Sarah McGee-Harper was perched on a stool, drawing patterns in the sawdust. He waited, knowing that she was like Tim and sometimes couldn't be rushed.
"I passed my last final yesterday, I have my degree." Gibbs was a little surprised as it was only half way through the term, but he waited. "My parents need to go back to Haiti soon, their team's been shorthanded since they left. They want me to go with them." She looked up and smiled at him. "One of the schools is being rebuilt and I'm going to help teach the children."
"Good for you." He had a pretty good idea what she was concerned about, but he waited.
"I guess... I guess I'm worried about Tim. We'll be back for Grandfather's trial, but until then he's going to be alone and I don't know what decision he's made about work and..." She paused, chewing her bottom lip.
"Sarah, he's going to be fine."
"You'll make sure?"
"I'll make sure. You have my word. Now, what about you? Are you excited about starting a new life with your real parents?"
"I am, I'm really excited."
Gibbs gave her a knowing look. "And scared?"
"Terrified." She laughed as she wiped away a tear. "Stupid, huh?"
"Not at all." Gibbs set down the sandpaper and turned to face her. "You've had a rough couple of months and now you're leaving with parents you've just met. It's okay to be scared." He reached out and tucked her hair behind her ear. "Do you remember when you had the flat tire?"
She took a shaky breath. "You came to my rescue, but this time I'm going to be so far away."
"Doesn't matter." With his thumb he wiped away another tear as it spilled onto her cheek. "You need me, you find a Marine unit and you tell them that you're Gunny Gibbs' little girl and that you need me. I'll be there, no matter what. Okay?"
"Okay." Sarah hugged him before retreating back upstairs.
It was cold but clear the day the three Harper's left for Haiti. Tim drove them back to Norfolk to catch the military shuttle that was still delivering supplies to the earthquake ravaged country. Hugs and a few kisses were freely given as the family prepared to start their new life together. Tim stood on the tarmac as the three of them walked to the cargo plane, arm in arm, Sarah tucked between her parents. She looked at him over her shoulder and smiled one last time before boarding the plane.
Tim pulled his coat tighter as he watched the crew latch the doors and perform the final pre-flight check. The plane taxied out onto the runway and he could feel his chest tighten. "I'm alone, I'm really all alone."
Gibbs thanked his ride as he arrived at the Norfolk Airfield. He watched the goodbyes and then caught Sarah's eye as she turned to wave one last time. Her smile widened when she saw him standing behind Tim. He had planned on waiting until McGee turned around, but then he heard the heartbreaking words and couldn't wait. "No, you're not." He reached out and grasped Tim's shoulders, giving them a slight squeeze as he pulled him close enough to whisper in his ear. "You're not alone, son, never alone."
The two men watched silently as the aircraft lifted off the ground and gently turned south, gaining altitude until was no longer visible. Eventually Gibbs clapped him on the back. "Let's get out of here."
Gibbs led him back to the agency sedan Vance had sent the family down in and took the keys from him. "I'll drive, you look at those files."
"Umm, Boss, what files?"
Grinning, Gibbs opened the glove box and pulled out a thumb drive. "Your laptop's in the trunk."
"In the trunk? How did it get... how do you know..." Sure enough, an agency laptop was in the otherwise empty trunk. McGee was sure it wasn't there when he and Richard had unloaded the luggage. Laughing as he booted the computer up, he relegated the question to the back of his mind, right alongside the delivery of the afternoon coffees and how Gibbs got the boat out of the basement.
The encryption of the files was easy, easy enough to make him suspicious, but McGee decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth as it kept his mind off the flight winging its way south. Before he knew it, they were pulling in at an Italian restaurant just south of the Navy Yard.
Once the salad plates were cleared off, Gibbs leaned forward, a serious expression on his face. "I understand that you're to give your decision to Vance in the morning."
Tim nodded, it was true. He'd had an extra few weeks to recover from the attack by Roger Harris, but Vance needed to know which team he wanted and which positions still needed to be filled. Gibbs interrupted him before he could tell him anything.
"I want you to promise me one thing, McGee." Tim nodded, hearing the seriousness in the older man's voice. "I want you to do what is best for you, not what other people expect of you."
He blinked in surprise. "Even if that doesn't mean your team?"
Gibbs gave him a sad nod. "Even if it doesn't mean my team, Tim. This time you do what is right for you. I'm proud of you, Tim. These last few months have shown that you're made of tougher stuff than most people give you credit for. You've more than earned the right to make decisions based on what you need, not what other people need from you."
Tim arrived at Headquarters at 0600 to meet with Director Vance before the Director had to be on the hill for budget hearings. Smiling, Abby joined him at the elevator. "Morning, McGee."
"Good morning, Abby. How are you, did you get the all clear?" Debriefings were standard after an agent was forced to shoot a suspect, but more complicated and time consuming when it was support staff that pulled the trigger.
Abby nodded. "I'm glad I don't have to do that very often. Now I understand why Gibbs gets so grumpy when he has to go."
"Hopefully, you'll never be in that situation again, but I am very grateful that you were with us that day." He reached out and squeezed her hand. "Thank you, again, Abby."
She didn't let go of his hand right away. "McGee, do you remember when you said that someday you and I will start over and be friends again?"
"Yeah, I remember."
Abby shifted her hand in his so that she could shake his hand. "Hi, I'm Abby. It's nice to meet you."
"Hi, Abby, I'm Tim. I'm glad to get to know you."
Tony and Ziva came off the elevator arguing about which James Bond was the best. As they rounded the corner, they saw someone at McGee's old desk, unpacking a box. He straightened and turned.
"McGee!" Tony grabbed him in an excited hug, slapping his back. "Welcome back, man." Tony didn't release him, but he did stop bouncing Tim around long enough for Ziva to lean in and give him a peck on the cheek.
Over their shoulders, Tim looked across the way and shared a nod with Gibbs before Tony playfully started poking at what was left in the box. "Did you bring any cool toys up from cybercrimes?"
Gibbs smiled at their antics as he took a phone call. "Gear up, we've got a dead Petty Officer in Rock Creek Park."
"Some things never change, right Probie?"
Tim laughed and shook his head as Gibbs held out the keys. "McGee, gas the truck."
The one thing that did change was that Gibbs didn't toss the keys, McGee had to walk to him. Smiling broadly, Gibbs pulled him close. "Welcome home, son. Welcome home.