Tim knew she was gone because he was cold, bone-shaking cold and his head hurt. He couldn't stay where he was, it would be dark soon and he wasn't sure he could survive a night out here. He had to move...if he started walking maybe he'd find the road; it seemed to take an awful long time to get up off the ground, and every small step he took cost him more pain, but he was determined and so long as he used the trees for support he should be able to keep going...
"Tim! Oh man, you're a sight for sore eyes...Boss! Over here!"
Tim felt strong arms supporting him as he stumbled on the uneven ground. "T...Tony...you're alive...it's true...she said..."
Gibbs and Ziva rushed through the trees and Gibbs took hold of Tim's other arm. "We've got you Tim, hold on and we'll get you back to the car. Can you walk?"
"You can do it Tim, just hold on to me." Tony draped Tim's arm round his shoulder and helped support his weight, and with Gibbs' help they set out on the slow walk back to the car.
Tim shifted restlessly on the back seat. "I want to live...please let me..."
Tony draped another blanket round Tim's shoulders; he'd been so cold when they finally got him in the car that he'd been scared they were going to lose him. Getting him out of his wet clothes and into the car had worked wonders, and he was already getting a little colour back in his face. "You'd better live Tim; I'm not trekking through Rock Creek Park in the snow just so you can give up on us now. We'll have you at the hospital any minute."
"Why...why was I in...Rock Creek Park?"
Tony grinned. "Come on Tim, where else would you go? It's like a homing instinct for NCIS agents, we always end up there."
"I was hoping you would be elsewhere McGee, you know how he gets when he is right."
"I can't help it if my superior investigative skills have triumphed again."
Ziva…she was here too, Kate had kept her promise…Tim wanted to join in the conversation if only to thank them for coming for him, but he was warm, and he was tired…
Tim was woken by bright lights and noise, there seemed to be a lot of noise…hospital, he would know that smell anywhere, ever since his road accident he'd hated hospitals. He was subjected to a battery of tests, prodded, poked, asked any number of times what his name was; eventually he was taken to a side ward and as he lay back against the pillows he closed his eyes and let sleep come.
Tim opened his eyes, slow and easy...it felt like he was lying in a bed, but he'd felt that way before and he'd been on the ground, but there was no snow, and he was warm; he could feel there was someone close by.
"Goodness me, no Timothy; it's Ducky."
"I forgot...she's gone..."
Ducky looked deep into Tim's eyes fearing that his injuries were worse than they thought, he smiled down at him. "Sadly we lost Caitlyn long ago Timothy, but you are back with us, and for that we are all very grateful. You gave us quite a fright today."
Tim tried to sit up, to get a better look at his surroundings. "I'm in the hospital?"
"You are; do you remember your car going off the road?"
Tim concentrated hard; he knew something had happened to the car because he'd been in the woods. "I...I was trying to get away...everything was too...it was too much...only my head was hurting and I lost control...story of my life...least I thought it was."
Ducky poured some water into a glass and handed it to Tim. "Drink a little Timothy; you've had quite a day. You have a mild concussion, and slight hypothermia; we don't want you to become dehydrated too. They'll keep you in here tonight for observation, and then tomorrow you will come and stay at my home for a day or so."
"Can't do that Ducky, I should go home."
"And you will, but from what I hear you will have a slight detour to San Diego before that happens."
"You got that wrong Ducky, my dad; he made it clear I wasn't welcome."
Ducky reached into his jacket and took out his phone. "Call them Timothy; they've been trying to reach you, and they were worried sick when you were missing. I am going to search for something that vaguely resembles a cup of tea and I'll leave my phone here."
He handed the phone to Tim with a smile. "Make the call."
"Oh Tim! Oh my, it's so wonderful to hear your voice, we've been...doesn't matter now, Ducky called to tell us about the accident...are you really okay?"
"I think so…head aches a little, but I'm fine. How's Sarah doing? I wanted so much to be at the party."
"She knows that Tim, she also knows that the life of a little girl was at stake; she explained that to your father In great detail."
Tim laughed aloud. "I'd like to have seen that."
His mother was laughing too. "I think he's only just getting over it. He's right here Tim, and he wants to talk."
Tim waited what seemed like an eternity for his dad to speak, maybe he'd changed his mind, and didn't want to talk after all; then he heard a quiet cough as his dad cleared his throat.
"Son, you still there?"
"Yeah, look Dad, about the other day…"
"Tim, forget it, don't worry about the party; it's not important, I was a jackass. My comfortable routine had been disrupted for a few days and I was on edge, took it out on you. What I said…I can't take it back, but I can tell you I didn't mean it. I was totally out of line, and oh Tim…I don't always remember to engage my brain before I open my mouth."
"It's been a tough week all round I guess; I so wanted to be there Dad, we haven't been together, the whole family…seems like forever."
"Should be fixing that any day Tim, Special Agent Gibbs, he says you can use your vacation days as soon as you're well enough to travel. If you still want to come out here after what I said…"
Tim was smiling, he'd been so worried that his dad would still be angry with him. "Wild horses wouldn't keep me away."
"But a kidnapped child might."
Tim felt his smile slip. "Dad…it's what I do, I know it's not what you wanted for me, but I love my job."
"So you should Tim, you do important work. You put a family back together for Christmas, can't think of anything I'd rather have my son do…I don't tell you often enough, heck I don't know if I've ever told you. I'm proud of what you do Tim, and I'm proud of you."
Tim was smiling again, but this time he could feel a few tears trickling down his cheeks. He'd heard those words from his mom more than once, but never from his dad.
"I'm here…Thanks Dad; it's been a rough week, hearing that from you…it sounds so good."
"It's the truth; I just never said it before. I heard something about your week. Richard York called, hadn't spoken to him in years. He'd been trying to reach you, I told him he wasn't the only one…you can be mighty elusive when you put your mind to it."
"Been kinda busy...Rich tell you he lost my money?"
"That's just it Tim, he hasn't, that's why he was trying to reach you. He said I was to tell you; your money's safe. Let me get this right, I wrote it down…here it is; after the Hollander Corporation deal fell through, he spent the next day calling everyone he knew to find a alternate buyer, he did too, they signed the papers last night. He says I was to tell you he couldn't have done it without you, and that you're the best friend he could wish for."
Tim let out the breath he'd been holding the whole time his dad was talking, he'd been sure his money was gone for ever, and that Rich's hard earned business would fail, this news, it was more than Tim could ever have hoped for.
"Did you hear Tim? Your money, Richard didn't lose it, in fact he said you'll likely get a healthy return on your investment."
"I'm not bothered about that Dad; I'm just relieved Rich won't lose his business, he has family, it would have hit him hard."
"You too Tim, but it's not going to happen, so let's not dwell on it. We'll talk again tomorrow and when you get here your mom's planning a good old McGee family feast."
"Sounds great Dad, will Sarah still be there?"
"Oh yes, and she's already told me my dessert is going to be great big slices of humble pie!"
"Hey Tim, how are you doing?"
"B…Boss…sorry, not my boss now."
"Why wouldn't I be your boss?" Gibbs had no idea why Tim would be asking that question, this last week had been tough on Tim, how tough Gibbs was only just finding out, but he didn't think he'd screwed up badly enough for Tim to want out of NCIS.
Tim squinted against the light, and focussed on Gibbs. "Director Vance, he said…I disobeyed his orders…when he came looking for me…"
"You thought he was going to fire you?" Now Gibbs understood Tim's confusion. "Truth is Leon wanted to tell you that you'd done the right thing. Without the information you got through hacking we'd still have been waiting for the Schneiders to be together, if they ever were."
"But he told me…"
"And he was wrong, he got to see why you do what you do, and he knows you'll only cut corners when absolutely necessary, like it was with Esther. Tim…the day he called you out over the hacking, I told him then, if he ever fired you because you helped the team solve a case that way; he could have my badge too."
"You never said…I thought you agreed with him."
"I know Tim, and that's down to me, I wanted to talk to Leon privately, tell him what I would do, and I was going to tell you, so you'd know I had your six; but we caught the Grenville case and you know how that was…then Esther was taken, didn't have a minute to think straight, but I should have made time to tell you, not leave you thinking I'd hung you out to dry."
"Guess I wasn't thinking straight Boss, things have been…difficult…"
"So we've been hearing. Why didn't you tell us about Sarah's party? We didn't know, thought you were going home for the holiday."
"I was, Sarah's party was arranged later…Boss I never thanked you, all of you for coming to find me…I ruined everyone's Christmas."
Gibbs cuffed him lightly on the shoulder. "Our Christmas was pretty messed up already Tim, the only way you could have ruined it is if we'd lost you. Tim, promise me, when you're in trouble, don't keep it to yourself, we're a team, let us help, talk to us."
"Like you do Boss?"
"Never said I was a good example Tim. Now go back to sleep, don't want the docs keeping you in an extra night."
Tim yawned, and felt his eyes closing again. "On it…"
"Merry Christmas Tim! So, are you ready to break out of here?"
Tony had breezed in humming Jingle Bells and carrying a back pack. Tim grinned and looked down at the hospital gown he was wearing. "A Merry Christmas to you too Tony, but I'm not exactly dressed for the great outdoors."
"No problema, I went to your apartment and got you some clothes, you know sweaters, socks…"
Tim's smile vanished, and he gave a deep sigh. "You found the box…"
"I wasn't looking Tim, I wanted to see if you had some novelty Christmas socks, like these." Tony lifted up the leg of his pants to display a garish red sock with Ho Ho Ho in silver all over. "I thought every guy had a pair, it's what people get you for Christmas when they don't know what to get."
"Tony, it's okay."
"I am sorry Tim; I had no idea things were that serious between you and Maxine."
Tim shrugged. "Looks like it was all on my side…When she walked away, I thought it would break me Tony…almost did, but I guess I'm stronger than I thought, and I had help too…this time yesterday I thought my life was over, that you'd all be better off if I wasn't around, but I know I can make a difference…looks like you're stuck with me Tony."
Tony opened the back pack and handed it to Tim. "Wouldn't have it any other way, I'm getting too old to break in another Probie, you'll do for me…aside from which, you are going to be so easy to buy for next Christmas…"
They were all relaxing in Ducky's large and comfortable lounge waiting for the main event of the day, Ducky's Christmas dinner. The whole team was there, along with Jackson Gibbs who'd been staying with his son for the holidays. Tim was sitting on the couch with Ziva and Abby beside him; he'd been amazed and humbled that everyone had given up their Christmas Day to spend time with him. It had taken a week of hard knocks, and some harsh lessons from his sweet superhero angel, but he had finally realised that this was where he belonged, and where he deserved to be. He had played a part in their lives, an important one, and they'd been only too happy to show him how much he meant to them. There had been tears, but there had been laughter too, and love…lots of love.
Tim had received more hugs from Abby today than he had in the last year, and Ziva…she'd surprised him by hugging him too. "Timothy McGee, do you remember who I came to when I got my US passport, I was so proud and happy…you are that rare creature who finds joy in other people's triumphs. How could the world be better off without you? If I ever hear such nonsense from you again…"
"You won't Ziva, and you won't have to chain me to your desk Abs, I've learned my lesson. I love life too much to give up without a fight."
"You want me to get that Duck?" The doorbell rang just as Gibbs was heading for the kitchen to see if Ducky needed help, his dad was already in there, but he was worried about too many cooks…
"Would you Jethro, I'll be out directly."
Gibbs opened the door and was surprised to see a face he recognised. "Lieutenant Maybury, it's an honour to meet you."
"Thank you sir."
"No need to sir me." Gibbs held out his hand. "Special Agent Gibbs, are you here to see Tim?"
Paul Maybury grinned and nodded his head. "Then he is here? Man he's a hard guy to find."
"Paul, is that really you?" Tim leapt up from the couch. "I thought you were with your family today?"
"We're having a late dinner, and I wanted to give you your gift today, just never knew it would take so long to find you…glad I did though, you okay Tim? They told me at NCIS you'd been in an accident."
"I'm fine, and much better for seeing you…it's been too long."
"Don't I know it, I was sorry you couldn't be at the White House."
"Me too…oh, where are my manners? These are my good friends Paul, that's Abby and Ziva on the couch, Tony's over there by the TV, my boss you already know, and these two fine gentlemen are our chefs for the day Doctor Donald Mallard, and Jackson Gibbs. Everyone, this is an old friend, Paul Maybury."
"From the picture! I knew I'd seen you…"
"Ha, so much for your superior investigative skills Tony."
"I'm allowed a day off Ziva, it's Christmas."
Ducky hurried forward to shake Paul's hand. "Welcome to my home, would you care for a drink?"
"Thanks, but I really have to run, they're not going to hold dinner for me…and I can see you're pretty busy too. Tim, I have something for you."
He handed a framed picture to Tim. "I know you had a copy of this already, but this one is special. I asked the President to sign it for you, because you couldn't be there."
Tony leaned over Tim's shoulder and read the inscription aloud. "To Tim McGee; you stood tall for one who stood tall for many. Thank you…signed by the President…Wow McGee, friends in high places."
"Why is he thanking me?" Tim turned to his old friend with a puzzled expression.
"I told the President what you did for me."
"Paul, it's...damn it, I can't seem to stop crying."
"Nothing wrong with a few tears Tim. It's time I was on my way…Oh, I almost forgot, a young woman outside asked me to give this to you Tim, she said her name was Erin; I turned round to ask her if there was a message, but she was gone."
He handed a gift-wrapped package to Tim, and turned to the others, his face suddenly serious. "It's good to see you all, put some faces to the names...you all watch out for Tim, he's my hero."
"Don't keep us in suspense Tim open it!" Abby was almost bouncing with suppressed excitement.
Tim was sitting on the couch again, almost afraid to open the package…Erin, could it be? He carefully peeled open the wrapping, his eyes opened wide as he got his first glimpse of the contents. Ducky drew in a sharp breath.
"Timothy, is that what I think it is?"
Tim held the book as if it were made of the most fragile porcelain. "It's a first edition of The Moonstone..."
"Good Heavens, who is it from Tim?"
"I think…maybe it's from heaven." He opened the book and read the inscription on a gold card carefully placed inside the front cover.
'Remember Tim, no man is a failure who has friends. Kate.
PS: thanks for the wings.'
Maybe he had done something good with his life after all, and thanks to Kate, and his friends, his life wasn't over.
"Timmy…what does it mean, Kate? You talked about Kate...when you were in the hospital; we thought it was the concussion…"
Tim smiled and held the book close. "Not concussion…it's a long story."
Ducky settled down in his favourite armchair. "Well Timothy, I don't think the world can ever have too many stories, particularly at Christmas time, and I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I can't wait to hear how Caitlyn came into your life."
Tim looked around at the eager faces of his friends…would they believe him? Only one way to find out. "I guess it all started last Friday…"