Two hours later found everyone full, done helping with cleanup and comfortably resting in Ducky's large living room playing one board game or another. Everyone, that is except Tim and Gibbs. Tim had wandered off, in need of some space to think. While it had been the best Christmas Day he'd ever had away from home; the loss of his father and the sudden realization that he was now the head of the McGee family; something he'd never wanted to be; left him feeling overwhelmed and unprepared; out of his league.

Gibbs had seen the change in Tim's mood. He'd watched the young man keep his happy mask in place as long as he could until it began to slip on its' own. When his agent had slipped quietly out of the room, taking advantage of everyone's participation in the board games to do it; the boss had given him a minute and then slipped out after him. It took him a good ten minutes to find him, outside in the biting cold, huddled into his coat while he sat on the front porch swing. Gibbs didn't know what worried him the most, Tim's change in mood or the fact that he had come out here to freeze to do his thinking.


Tim turned to look at his boss in surprise. "Boss?"

"What's goin' on?"

Tim shook his head in his now signature sign that he didn't know how to explain what he was thinking.

"Your father?" Gibbs offered a gentle revelation that he already figured out where the young man's head was at on this most cherished of American holidays. He walked over to the swing and leaned back against the railing closest to it as he waited for Tim's answer.

"I can't believe he's gone." Tim whispered. "Never thought there'd be a Christmas without him." He turned his head away from Gibbs as he wiped at the tears trickling down his face.

"I know it's hard, Tim. But, believe me, it'll get easier; someday." Gibbs dug deep and applied every ounce of pain filled experince as well as sympathy into that offer of hope.

"Thanks." Tim offered softly as he realized exactly where the boss' reassurance had come from.

"So, what's goin' through that head of yours?"

"I've never been the head of the family. Never wanted to be. I don't know what to do; what not to do." Tim answered brokenly, as the emotions still waged through him.

"Tim. Your sister's grown and your mother's gonna be okay. They both are. If this had happened before Sarah had become an adult, you'd have something to worry about. Now? Most you'll have to worry about is who she's dating." Gibbs tried to rein things in for the young man.

"They're starting over in California, Boss. No friends, no family." Tim reminded him worriedly

"It's not your job to lay down your life to take care of theirs, McGee. I'm guessing that's where your head's taking' you with this?"

"Yeah." Tim replied with a small rueful smile as he once again wiped away his tears and this time managed to keep any more from escaping.

"Your job is to live your life the way your father would have been proud of you for; the way that makes you happy. According to his letter you already accomplished that. Stick with what works and what makes you happy."


"He's right, Honey,." Tim's mom said from the now open front door. As she stepped out onto the porch, Gibbs moved out of the way and gave her room to sit down beside her son.

When she sat down, she reached over and pulled her son to her, keeping her arm around his shoulder as she kissed him on the temple. "Stop worrying. You're putting yourself through all of this stress unnecessarily. "Agent Gibbs is right. The only thing you need to do is live your life. Sarah and I will be fine. We'll keep in touch and I promise you, if I need help, I'll let you know. Sarah will do the same. Anytime you need to talk, all you have to do is call."

Tim looked from one of the most treasured people in his life to the other, searching their faces for the truth behind the words. As both of them nodded at him he felt the worry slip away, to be replaced by relief. "Okay."

"Yeah?" Gibbs double checked.

"Yeah, Boss."

"Okay, then can we go back inside now?"

Tim grinned. "Yeah."

As the three of them headed back inside, Tim had one more thing to say. "Thank you. Both of you."

Gibbs nodded at him in silent acceptance of his gratitude and his mother kissed his temple again and gave him a gentle one-armed hug as they reached the door and got in out of the cold.

"There you are!" Abby exclaimed as she ran up to them and wrapped an arm around both of her guys and drew them back into the folds of the team. "It's time to play Twister! C'mon!"

"Abby!" Gibbs growled as he took in the fact that Ducky's living room had been stripped of furniture and not one, but two twister mats had been set up but spaced far enough apart at the ends of the mats that both sets of players would be safe from bumping into the other set.

Grinning, she gave him what she knew he needed, a way to participate without having to do the goofy stuff. "Here, boss man, you can be the spinner! It'll be fun, one spin – two sets of players at the same time!"

Relief flashed across his face so obviously that all of them joined in with Abby's laughter at his reaction. Soon enough, Ducky's living room was full of laughter and the sounds of a family enjoying the love and fun of having each other in their lives. The only spectator, the host of this day of fun and family, couldn't help but smile broadly at the sight before him – relishing every moment of it – wishing this spirit of camaraderie and love was present this obviously more often with this team.

It wasn't long before players began dropping like flies, quite literally. Amazingly enough all three McGee's were among the first to drop. The rest of the players didn't even miss a beat as the game moved along and the laughter and chaos went along with it. Soon, Ziva had dropped out and accepted the spinner from Gibbs, who'd had his quota of craziness for the day.

Gibbs sat back in the easy chair and looked around at his family. While he cherished each and every one of them; it was the sight of the McGee family that tugged at his heart the most at that moment.

As the three of them stood together, arms linked around each other's waists, standing together as one, Gibbs couldn't help but take a moment to let his mind capture that moment for future reference both for himself as well as his agent; thankful that Tim had found his way back from the nightmare he'd experienced so recently.

For the first time, since this whole torrid ordeal came out, Gibbs found himself hopeful for the future and hoped that Tim, would finally be able to move on and cherish the family that was here with him now, despite grieving for the one he'd recently lost.

Tim caught his boss' eye from across the room and offered him a genuine smile of both appreciation and happiness. Gibbs returned the smile warmly and nodded his head in acknowledgement. He couldn't help but think, that things were finally, going to be okay and vowed that no matter what, he would fight to keep this family together at all costs.

After all, wasn't that what family ties were all about?