Spoilers: Let's say through "Minimum Security", just to be safe. I don't think there are any major spoilers, though.
Disclaimer: Gibbs, Kate, and Tony belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. Gibbs' family belongs to me. Well, except for sis, but we've never gotten a name for her. (We don't even know if she is his sister.) "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" belongs to Dr. Seuss. "A Visit From St. Nick" belongs to Clement Clark Moore. "The Muppet Christmas Carol" belongs to Jim Henson Productions.
Author's Notes: Apologies to Aaron Sorkin for blatantly ripping off a line from "The American President". I just loved it so much I had to use it. This fic is dedicated to geeky_goddess79, who so generously has sent me a tape of "Marine Down". This originally started as a ficlet, and grew way out of control. Happy holidays, everyone!
"Nice hat," Jethro Gibbs said dryly.
Anthony Dinozzo grinned. "Thanks, boss! Oh, watch this." He reached up and pressed a button. The felt reindeer antlers attached to his baseball cap began to blink. A tinny version of "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" played. Gibbs raised an eyebrow, and Caitlin Todd rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"Really mature, Tony," Kate said.
"Aw, come on, you two; lighten up! It's Christmas." Tony shook his head in mock disappointment.
"It's Christmas?" Gibbs said, turning to Kate.
"Yeah; you didn't get the memo?" Kate deadpanned. Tony threw up his hands as the two agents smirked.
"You guys have no Christmas spirit. I'm going down to the party. Why don't you think about joining the fun?" Tony sauntered off, whistling "Jingle Bells".
Kate and Gibbs worked quietly, the click of the keyboard or the hum of the printer occasionally breaking the silence.
Eventually, Gibbs sat back and stretched. "I'm gonna go grab some cookies before they're all gone. You want some?" Kate shook her head wordlessly, focusing on the report in front of her. "Okay," Gibbs said, shrugging.
Kate sighed as Gibbs headed for the elevator. She reached up and rubbed her shoulders in a vain attempt to ease the tension there. A dull pain throbbed behind her eyes. God, she hated Christmas. The music, the lights, the happy, joyful people... they all grated on her nerves.
There had been a time that she had adored Christmas, looking forward to that special morning the way only a child could. Her favorite part of the season--well, besides the presents, of course--had been Midnight Mass. It seemed so much greater than regular Sunday Mass. It had been almost... magical. However, that time was long gone. Kate popped a couple of aspirin into her mouth and took a sip of cold coffee. She grimaced, swallowing, then got back to work, burying memories with files and charts.
She was still there when people began wandering in to gather their belongings and leave for the holidays. When lights began to shut off, she did not notice, the glow of her monitor giving off enough light to work by.
Suddenly, the elevator bell dinged. Kate looked up, startled. She was surprised to see that the bullpen was empty--she was the only one left. She smiled grimly. Wasn't that always the way?
"What are you still doing here, Agent Todd?" The familiar voice sounded bemused, but concerned.
"Working," she answered shortly. She picked up her pen and lowered her head.
Gibbs walked around the desk. She could feel him watching her. "Why don't you take off? Like Tony said, it's Christmas Eve. I'm sure you have somewhere you need to be."
Without looking up, Kate shook her head, blushing in embarrassment. She didn't have anywhere to go for the holiday. Her mother was on a cruise with husband number four, and her father was somewhere in Europe on another business trip.
There was silence for a moment, and Kate hoped that Gibbs would just leave. He quickly quashed her hopes, saying, "Why don't you come over to my sister's place for Christmas?"
Surprised, Kate looked at Gibbs. He was serious. "I don't think so--but thanks for the invitation." She tried to smile.
"No, really. The more, the merrier."
"Gibbs, I wouldn't want to intrude on your time with your family. It's Christmas. You shouldn't have reminders of work around. You need to relax, too."
Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "Kate, if you don't come, and my sister finds out I let you spend the day alone, she'll--well, I don't know what she would do, but it wouldn't be pleasant. Come on. Save me from her wrath."
Kate sighed. "You're not going to let up on this, are you?"
He smiled. "Nope. I'll pick you up at eight." He put on his coat and headed for the elevator.
"Hey, I never said I was going!" she exclaimed, jumping up and following him. He just waved as the elevator doors closed.
Kate shook her head and slumped against the wall. What in the world had just happened?
Kate yawned, blinking fuzzily. The buzzer rang again. "Okay, okay, I'm coming," she grumbled, rolling off the couch. She hit the button to allow her visitor inside.
A minute later, there was a knock on her door. She peered through the spyhole. "Gibbs, what do you want?" she asked irritably, standing aside to let him in.
"I said I'd be here at eight--and it's eight o'clock now." Kate looked at the clock on the wall, and sure enough, it said 8:01.
"I didn't think you were serious," Kate said, rubbing her eyes. She turned around and headed for her bedroom.
"Of course I was." She pulled a pair of jeans from a drawer. "This is a pretty nice apartment, Kate."
"You better not be snooping through my things!" she called, choosing a dark green sweater from the closet.
"Who, me?" Gibbs replied innocently. "Pretty interesting video collection you have here, Kate."
Kate's heart stopped for a moment. "What do you mean?"
"Not one movie where stuff blows up. That's kinda disappointing. 'The American President', 'My Best Friend's Wedding', 'Pretty Woman'..." Kate breathed again.
"Yeah, well, I get enough of stuff blowing up in real life. I don't need to see it in a movie." Kate came out of the bedroom, putting her hair up in a ponytail. She sat on the couch and pulled her sneakers on.
"That sweater's new," Gibbs said.
Kate raised an eyebrow. Since when did he notice her clothing? "Yeah--my mother sent it to me last week. Why?"
"Oh, nothing," Gibbs said. "You may want to bring a change of clothes, though."
"Okay," Kate said slowly. She got up and threw another pair of jeans and a sweatshirt in a duffel bag. She grabbed her coat from the closet. "Okay. I'm ready."
"Good; then let's hit the road." He took her duffel from her, and they made their way down to the car.
"I can carry my own bag, you know," Kate said, slightly annoyed.
"I know," he replied. "But this way, you have to tell Meg that I was a gentleman all day." He grinned.
"Meg?" Kate asked, curious.
"My sister." He placed the duffel in the trunk, then walked around and opened the door for Kate. She hid a smile. She could get used to this.
Gibbs climbed in and turned the key in the ignition. Kate snapped her seatbelt on and leaned her head back against the headrest.
A few minutes into their trip, Gibbs asked, "Did you get any sleep last night?"
"What do you mean?" Kate asked warily.
"You look exhausted. Bad dreams?" She turned toward the window and did not respond. He had no idea.
They rode in silence for about half an hour. Gibbs turned off an exit. As they pulled onto a smaller, less frequented road, he began to speak. "Before we get to my sister's place, there are a few things you should probably know." Kate turned to him, and he continued. "Meg--short for Margaret, by the way--has four sons and a daughter. Mike, the oldest, is sixteen. He loves to play practical jokes, so watch out." Kate watched as a fleeting smile flitted over Gibbs' face. "Peter and Ted are twins--they're ten. They're still in that stage where girls have the plague, so don't feel insulted if they try to avoid you. Patrick, the youngest, is three. He's a bit shy." He paused.
"You said she had a daughter?" Kate prompted.
"Jennifer. She's six, and a little princess." He smiled fondly, and Kate had the feeling that the girl had her uncle wrapped around her little finger.
"Any other family members I should know about?" she asked.
"Just Dan--Meg's husband. He's a surgeon at GW. I think he's on-call until the afternoon, but you should get to meet him then." He pulled the car into the driveway of a fairly large two-story house. Christmas decorations were hung in every window. "Oh, and one more thing--whatever you do, don't panic."
Kate raised an eyebrow. "What makes you think I would panic?"
Gibbs grinned and got out of the car. "You'll see." He opened the door for Kate, and they made their way up the walkway.
"Careful--it's icy," he warned, taking her arm.
Gibbs reached out and pushed the doorbell. Kate's eyes widened as footsteps pounded toward the door.
"Here come the wild buffalo," Gibbs said under his breath. The door opened. Two identical brown-haired heads peeked around
the doorframe. "Mom!" the first shouted. "Uncle Jethro's here!" The second yelled, "And he's got a girl with him!" The boys giggled and ran away.
"What?" a female voice shouted from the kitchen. Kate wasn't sure if it was a cry of disbelief, or if she just couldn't hear over the Christmas music pouring from the stereo, the video playing on the television, and children running through the house.
A redheaded woman walked out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. "Peter, Theodore, you two get down here and clean up this mess this minute! I thought I told you to have your toys up in your room before your uncle got here!" The boys sighed and said, "Oh, Mom..."
"Now," she ordered, pointing to the living room. The twins obediently began cleaning up their brand-new toys. "See what I mean?" Gibbs muttered. Kate suppressed a grin. She had never thought she would see the day Gibbs was cowed by a woman a foot shorter than he was.
"Jethro! You made it!" the woman cried, hugging her brother fiercely.
"I said I would be here, didn't I?" Gibbs said.
"You said you would be here if work didn't get in the way," she corrected. "And who is this?" she asked, smiling broadly.
"Meg, this is Caitlin Todd; she works with me. Kate, this is Margaret O'Hara, my sister."
"It's nice to meet you, ma'am," Kate said, extending her arm for a handshake. She was startled when the woman embraced her excitedly.
"It's so nice to meet you, Kate! Call me Meg. Finally, another woman to help keep all these men in line!" She winked, and Kate laughed.
"Mommy, Velcro's gone up the tree again!" a little voice said plaintively. "Uncle Jethro!" the girl squealed.
"Jenny! Hi, pumpkin!" Gibbs said, scooping the child into his arms. Kate marveled at the way his face lit up on seeing his niece.
"I have a new dress. Isn't it pretty?" she asked.
"It sure is--but not as pretty as you are," he replied, smiling. The little girl beamed happily. "Now, what is this you're saying about Velcro in a tree?"
"Mommy got me a kitty for Christmas. I wanted to name him Tigger, but Mike said his name is Velcro." Her nose wrinkled in annoyance. "He keeps climbing on things, and I can't get him down."
Gibbs looked at her seriously. "Well, let's see if we can get him out of the tree." She nodded, and they headed for the living room, where the large pine tree was situated in a corner. Kate watched as Gibbs easily maneuvered around the twins, who were still scrounging for small pieces of toys.
"Oh! I forgot the pie! I'll be right back," Meg said to Kate. "Make yourself at home!" She hurried back to the kitchen, and Kate stood in the middle of the front hall, wondering where to go. She eased into the living room and sat down on the large, dark blue couch. Kate surveyed the living room. It was a spacious area, obviously well-used. A dark carpet covered the floor--probably to mask any spills or dirt tracked in by rambunctious youngsters. The toys on the floor were quickly disappearing as their owners claimed them and brought them upstairs.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kate saw a little face peep from behind the armrest. She turned her head slowly, and met eyes the same shade of blue as Gibbs'. "Hello," she said quietly.
"Hi," the little boy replied, waving shyly.
"What's your name?" she asked, smiling.
"Patwick." He smiled back and edged around the front of the couch.
"That's a nice name. My name's Kate. It's nice to meet you, Patrick." She suppressed a laugh as the child held out a hand. She shook it formally. "What do you have there?" She gestured toward the picture book he gripped in his left hand. He held it out to her. She took it, and he climbed up on the couch. "'How the Grinch Stole Christmas.' I used to read this all the time when I was a little girl."
Bright blue eyes gazed up at her. "Wead."
"You want me to read to you?" Kate asked.
"Uh-huh," Patrick nodded. Before she could prompt him, he added, "Pwease."
"Well, since you asked so nicely..." Kate opened the book. She was surprised when the little boy climbed into her lap, but relaxed, putting her arms around him. She began to read. "'Every Who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot; but the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did not!'"
Gibbs put Jennifer down. "There you go, Jenny. Velcro's safe and sound."
"Thank you, Uncle Jethro!" Jenny said, kissing him on the cheek. She scampered off, hugging the squirming kitten tight to her chest.
Gibbs walked through the front hall and through the dining room. He entered the kitchen. Watching his sister closely, he silently grabbed a sugar cookie from the cooling rack sitting on the counter.
"Don't you dare, Leroy Jethro," Meg said without looking up from her pie dough. "Those cookies are for later. Save room for dinner."
"Oh, come on, Maggie..." Gibbs said.
Meg laughed. "You sound like my children. No cookies until after dinner."
"But I'm hungry," he complained. "I haven't eaten anything yet today."
"Well, that was stupid," she said bluntly.
Gibbs grabbed his chest. "Meg! You wound me!" he joked.
"No--but I will if you don't get out of my kitchen," she said, brandishing her rolling pin. "Why don't you go check on Kate; make sure the boys aren't ganging up on her?"
"Fine," Gibbs sighed. He grabbed a cookie and hurried out of the room, laughing. He dodged the towel Meg hurled at him.
Wondering why it was suddenly so quiet, Gibbs stepped into the living room. He shook his head and smiled slightly at the scene on the couch. Patrick was curled up in Kate's lap, fast asleep. Jenny sat next to her, staring up at her in adoration. The kitten was crouched on the back of the couch, stalking a strand of Kate's hair. Kate's voice carried over the music playing in the background. "'"Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas... perhaps... means a little bit more!"'" Gibbs sat in a nearby recliner and listened to Kate read the end of the story.
"'And what happened then...? Well... in Who-ville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day! And the minute his heart didn't feel quite so tight, he whizzed with his load through the bright morning light and he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast! And he... he himself... the Grinch carved the roast beast!'" Kate closed the book gently. "Now, isn't that a wonderful story?"
"Yeah!" Jenny nodded her head vigorously. "Can you read another one?"
"I think that Kate's had enough reading for the moment," Gibbs interrupted. "Why don't you go get your brothers? There's enough snow outside to build a really nice snowman."
"Okay!" Jenny said excitedly. She ran up the stairs, yelling for her brothers. Kate smiled at him. "What?"
"Nothing," she said, shaking her head. Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "It's just that... these kids... they adore you. You're like a completely different man when you're around them." She blushed.
"No, Kate," he said. "I'm still me." He stood and headed for the stairs. "Let's go, gentlemen! Outside time!"
Peter and Ted ran down the stairs. The first boy was still tugging his gloves on; the other was trying to zip his jacket up with mittens on. Mike, the teenager, walked slowly behind them. "Do we have to go outside? It's freezing out there."
"Out. Now. Your mom's trying to work, and since none of you seem to want to help, you get to join me and your sister outside." He held the door open, and the children walked out. "You wanna join us, Kate?" Gibbs asked.
"Sure. Hold on," she said, turning slightly to lay Patrick down on the couch. He clung to her shirt. "Come on, baby. Let go," she said softly. She placed a small pillow in his hands, and he settled down. Kate grabbed her jacket and followed Gibbs out the front door.
"So, how'd you meet Uncle J?" Mike asked Kate. They were outside, standing on the porch, watching the others make a snowman. Well, that was the idea, anyway--an impromptu snowball fight had broken out. Gibbs had sent Jenny back inside when she complained that her dress was getting wet, that she was cold, and that she wanted something to drink.
"Uncle J?" Kate asked, amused.
Mike grinned. "Yeah. He'd kill me if he knew I called him that."
"Your secret's safe with me," Kate laughed. "But to answer your question, I met him at work."
"Actually, I met him on Air Force One," Kate said.
Mike stared at her. "Whoa! You rode on Air Force One?" he asked. "That is so cool! So how did you meet him?"
"He was investigating a case, and we had a little argument over whose jurisdiction it was." Kate smiled, remembering the case that had brought her to NCIS.
"So what were you before you joined NCIS? FBI?" Mike sounded really interested.
"Actually, I was Secret Service."
"No way!" Mike exclaimed. "Uncle J never said he knew a Secret Service agent!"
"I have the feeling, Mike, that your uncle knows a lot of people that you don't know about."
Mike snorted. "I'll say." He paused. "Did you ever have to fire a gun?"
Kate smiled at the teen's questions. "While on presidential duty? No. I've actually fired my gun more after joining your uncle's team than I did in my entire Secret Service career."
"You ever fire it at him?" Mike grinned.
Kate laughed. "No--but I've threatened to once or twice." Mike laughed with her. He leaned over and whispered in her ear.
She drew back and nodded, eyes sparkling. They disappeared into the house.
Gibbs narrowed his eyes as he watched his eldest nephew and Kate chat. He knew the look on Mike's face. The boy was plotting something--and he was pulling Kate into it.
When he was hit from both sides with snowballs, Gibbs turned his attention back to the snowball fight.
Mike and Kate snuck back down the stairs. They were both armed with Nerf guns that shot soft foam balls. They had soaked their 'ammunition' in warm water, then loaded their 'weapons'. They hid the toys and snuck out the door.
Gibbs was still distracted with the snowball fight. His back was to them. Mike winked at the twins, who grinned and darted behind a tree. "Now!" Mike hissed. They both opened fire.
Gibbs dropped to the ground as the first ball hit him--right on the butt. The second missed, but another hit his shoulder.
"What the--" he yelled, forcibly censoring himself. He heard laughter behind him.
"Nice one, Kate!" Mike exclaimed, high-fiving her. Kate just grinned.
Gibbs got up slowly. "Whose idea was this?" he scowled.
"It was all her, Uncle Jethro," Mike grinned and pointed at Kate.
"What?!" Kate yelled. "Why, you little sneak!" She pointed her gun and spent the rest of her ammo on the teenager, who was doubled over laughing.
Gibbs grinned. "Kate?" he said.
Kate's eyes widened. "What?" she asked, starting to back away.
"Run." He lunged at her. She darted away, squealing. The boys laughed as their uncle chased his friend around the yard.
"It wasn't my idea, Gibbs! Honest!" she cried.
"So?" He grabbed her around the waist, and they tumbled to the ground. "You're the first one I caught."
"Hey, I'm only an accomplice. He was the mastermind behind all this," Kate panted as they mock-struggled. Gibbs pinned her arms above her head.
"But you should've known better, Agent Todd," he said, leaning in until their noses were almost touching.
"I told you I was destined to shoot you, didn't I?" she laughed breathlessly.
"That you did," he agreed. Their eyes locked. Kate swallowed at the look in Gibbs' eyes. She couldn't tell what it was... but it didn't look like it was bad.
Gibbs blinked. It was suddenly very quiet outside. He looked around. The boys had retreated indoors. He moved off of Kate, pulling her up to a sitting position. "I guess it was a good idea to bring that change of clothes, after all," Kate said, brushing herself off. "I'm soaked."
"Yeah, well, so am I, thanks to you and my nephew." Gibbs helped Kate stand, and they walked over to the car. They pulled out their duffel bags and went into the house.
"Who wants to watch a movie?" Meg asked, setting a plate of snacks on the coffee table.
"Ooh, me! Me!" Jenny said, bouncing and waving her arm.
"What do you think we should watch, Jenny?" Gibbs asked, sitting on the couch next to his niece.
She turned to him eagerly. "Muppets!"
"Oh, not the Muppets," Peter groaned.
"Yeah. Can't we watch something cool for a change? Not a kid's movie," Ted agreed.
"Hey, there's nothing wrong with the Muppets," Mike interjected.
"You're not telling us you actually want to watch that, are you?" one of the twins said incredulously.
Mike grinned at his little sister. "Sure; why not?" Jenny squealed and launched herself at him.
"You're the bestest brother ever!" she said.
Kate watched the scene, smiling sadly. She sighed quietly.
"Hey, Kate; you okay?" Gibbs asked.
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm fine." She smiled at him.
"If you say so." He got up and went into the kitchen. Mike and Jenny settled down on the couch where Gibbs had been sitting and watched 'The Muppet Christmas Carol'. Patrick, who seemed to have taken a liking to Kate, climbed into her lap and stuck his thumb in his mouth. Even the twins, who had been so vehement against it, lay on the floor in front of the television and watched.
Halfway through the movie, the front door opened, letting in a sharp blast of frigid air. "Brrr, it's cold outside!" a booming voice called. Five heads picked up.
"Daddy!" Patrick squirmed out of Kate's lap and ran for the front door. A burly man scooped the three-year-old up and tossed him into the air. The boy giggled.
"How's my Patch doing today?" the man said.
Meg came out of the kitchen. "Daniel! I thought you were still on call," she exclaimed, kissing her husband. Kate was amazed. This man was a surgeon? He looked like he would be more at home at a truck stop than in surgery!
"I was, but I convinced Helen to switch with me. I'm working her shift for New Year's now, though," the big man said apologetically.
"That's all right, Dan--as long as you're home with us for Christmas." Meg beamed. She was obviously happy to see her husband home.
Gibbs, who had followed his sister from the kitchen, said, "Merry Christmas, Dan." The two men shook hands and slapped each other on the back.
"Hey, Jethro! How's everything going with you?" Dan asked jovially.
"Just great, Dan," Gibbs smiled.
Dan turned and greeted all of his children. Kate felt a pang of longing. She couldn't remember the last time her father had been so happy to see her.
Dan's gaze fell on Kate. She blushed as he grinned. "And who's this lovely lady?" he asked.
"Don't you start, Daniel O'Hara!" Meg scolded. "He's a shameless flirt," she said to Kate. "It's the Irish in him."
"You know you're the only one for me, hon," he said, kissing his wife's cheek.
She smiled. "I better be! Jethro, introduce Kate."
Gibbs smiled wryly. "If you would give me the chance, then maybe I could! Dan, this is Caitlin Todd. Kate, this is Daniel O'Hara."
"It's a pleasure to meet you, sir," Kate said.
"Please, call me Daniel--or Dan. Just don't call me late to dinner," Dan joked. The kids groaned. Obviously, they had heard the joke before.
"Come on, Dad! You really gotta come up with some new material," Mike complained good-naturedly.
"Why? It's always worked for me," Dan grinned. He plopped himself in a recliner. "So, what are we watchin'?"
"Muppets!" Jenny said.
"Really? I love the Muppets!" Dan said. They settled in again to finish the movie. Kate stood. She needed to move around a bit.
She wandered into the kitchen. "Mind if I hang out here for a bit?" she asked Meg.
"Not at all!" Meg said. "In fact, I'm glad for the company. Here--mash these," she instructed, handing Kate a pot of potatoes and a masher. Kate was glad she wasn't being waited on. "Getting a little tired of the testosterone?" Meg asked.
"Not much testosterone in the Muppets," Kate said, and Meg laughed.
"No, but you can be sure they'll put in a movie with stuff blowing up next, now that Jenny's gotten her way. They treat her like a princess. I try to discourage it, but she has them all convinced she's an angel."
Kate smiled. "I was the same way with my brother. We both knew that I was a manipulative little devil, but he still spoiled me rotten."
"Was your brother much older than you?" Meg asked, turning to stir the vegetables.
"Eight years," Kate replied.
Meg nodded. "I think it's the age difference. Jethro and I were the same way. They never grow out of it, do they?" she whispered conspiratorially.
Kate tried to smile. "Apparently not." She looked at the potatoes. "Where's the milk?"
Meg pointed to the refrigerator. "Butter's in there, too." Kate took out the milk and butter and returned to the potatoes.
"So... how do you and Jethro get along?" Meg asked.
"Pretty well. I've threatened to shoot him once or twice, but that's really about it."
Meg grinned. "I'll bet he's never told you about the time that I did shoot him."
Kate nearly dropped the butter. "What?"
Meg giggled. "He was teaching me how to shoot a BB gun. He turned around for a moment. I turned to ask him a question, and somehow, I managed to shoot him. Right in the butt."
Kate doubled over in hysterics. "Oh, my God. That has to be the funniest visual I've ever had of Gibbs."
Meg smirked. "I have one better. You know how in those old silent films, the heroine would be all trussed up and lying on the train tracks, waiting to be rescued? Well, I loved playing those games, but I never wanted to be the damsel-in-distress."
Kate's eyes widened. "No..." she breathed.
Meg nodded. "Oh, yeah. One time, I tied him up and left him in the woods overnight. He refused to play that game anymore after that."
"You must have some great blackmail material," Kate said.
Meg snickered. "Want to see the bathtub pictures?" Kate grinned.
Gibbs popped his head into the kitchen. "When's dinner going to be ready?" The two women looked at each other and burst out into gales of laughter. "Ooookay," Gibbs said, backing away slowly. He shook his head. "Women." They only laughed harder.
Kate caught her breath. "You have the baby bathtub pictures?" she gasped out.
Meg grinned wickedly. "Who said they were baby pictures?"
Kate giggled in undisguised glee. "Oh, God--I'll never look at him the same way again," she said.
"Stand back," Meg warned Kate. She stuck her head through the doorway. "Dinner is served." A stampede of starving males followed the announcement.
"Jeez, it's not like it's all going to disappear anytime soon," Kate said in amazement.
Meg smiled. "They're men," she said, as if that explained it all. The two women sat down at the table after making sure everyone else was seated.
"Food," one of the twins moaned, grabbing a dinner roll. The other nodded, shoving a forkful of stuffing into his mouth.
"Boys! Mind your manners," their mother chastised. "Elbows off the table, Mike. You too, Jethro," Meg said.
Gibbs grinned. "Yes, Mom," he quipped. They all laughed as she stuck her tongue out at him.
Kate marveled at the banter that flew back and forth across the dinner table. Most of her Christmases were spent eating leftovers and watching TV specials.
"Hey, Mom--after dinner, do we get to open our presents?" Ted asked.
"Of course. Don't we every year?" Meg replied.
"That doesn't mean shovel your food, boys," Dan warned. "They'll still be there, don't worry."
Kate wondered what was going on. "Christmas mornings are for Santa's presents. The evening is for personal gift exchange," Gibbs whispered in her ear. She nodded in comprehension.
Kate only took a small plate--she had picked at the food in the kitchen. "One of the perks of being the cook," Meg had quipped, popping a fresh cookie into her mouth.
"Present time!" Jenny exclaimed, hopping down from her chair when she was finished.
"Jennifer Marie, what do you say?" Dan said.
"May I please be excused?" the little girl said in a singsong voice.
"Yes, you may. Wait for the rest of us before you go tearing into the presents," Dan called after her as she ran into the living room. Kate smiled. She remembered being a little girl like that once.
Finally, everyone was stuffed. "Clear the table," she instructed the men. "Kate and I are going into the living room, and we are going to rest." The males groaned. "Hey, we set the table! You ate--you help." She grabbed Kate's arm before she could offer to help the men.
They plopped down on the couch, startling the sleeping kitten. "Oops--sorry, Velcro," Meg laughed as the cat glared at them. He dropped back off into sleep as Kate reached over to pet him.
"So, what do you think?" Meg asked.
Kate looked at her blankly. "About what?"
"I don't know. About... life, the universe, everything?"
Kate raised an eyebrow. "Douglas Adams fan?"
"Great author," Meg replied. "But really. What do you think about Jethro?"
Kate had the uneasy feeling she was being vetted for something. "I haven't really known Gibbs long enough to have a definitive opinion about him. From what I can see through work, he's a very... loyal, dedicated man. He can be a bit of a self-proclaimed bastard at times--very gruff and demanding. He's... intensely private, yet giving toward others. And he loves you and your family like nothing I've ever seen before." Kate smiled softly. "He's not perfect... who is? ...but he's a fine man, your brother."
Meg beamed. "I knew I liked you." She gave Kate a swift hug. "Welcome to the family. You're an honorary O'Hara now--or Gibbs, if you want."
Kate laughed. "Wow. I don't know what to say!"
"Say you'll come by with Jethro again. Patrick loves you, and I'm sure that Jenny wouldn't mind another female around the house." Meg leaned in and said, "Neither would I." They laughed as the men straggled into the living room.
"Careful, Jethro--the women are laughing. I think they're plotting something," Dan said.
"Hey, I've already gotten my fair share today," Gibbs said, raising his hands. "It must be something you did." The two women laughed again as the men took cover behind chairs.
"Stop goofing around, you two," Meg said mock-severely. "It's time for--"
"Presents!" the two young ones exclaimed.
"That's right!" Meg said. "Mike, you're the closest. You want to hand them out?"
"Sure, Mom," the teenager said. He grabbed the first one. "Okay, Jenny, this one's for you!" The package was passed around the room until it stopped at the little girl. She fidgeted, eager to open her gift. Mike continued passing gifts around.
"Uncle Jethro... Mom... Me... Pete... Kate..." Kate looked at him, confused. There was a gift for her?
She looked down at the package as it reached her. Indeed, her name was written on it in familiar handwriting. She looked at Gibbs curiously. Had he planned this all along, or had he braved the shops on Christmas Eve to buy her a present?
"Okay, everyone... go!" Everyone began to tear into their presents. Wrapping paper flew everywhere.
"Oh, Dan, this is gorgeous!" Meg said, holding up a beautiful gold locket.
"Look, Mommy--earrings!" Jenny said excitedly.
"Awesome!" the twins exclaimed, holding identical rocket sets.
Kate opened her gift in trepidation. What would Gibbs have given her? She pulled away the wrapping paper and stared in shock. She took a swift breath as memories came flooding back. 'A Visit From St. Nick.' Kate covered her mouth to suppress a sob. She blinked back tears. "E-excuse me," she said, standing and rushing out the door.
She stood at the porch railing, looking up at the night sky, trying to force back her tears. He didn't know. He couldn't have known. She had never told anyone about that...
"Kate?" a quite voice said behind her.
She jumped. Quickly wiping away her tears, she said, "Hey, Gibbs."
"What's wrong, Kate?" She opened her mouth to answer, and he interrupted, "And don't say 'Nothing'. No one bursts into tears over nothing."
Kate sighed. "It's a long story, Gibbs," she whispered. "A long, very personal story--one that I've never told anyone before."
She felt a warm weight settle across her shoulders. She reached up to wrap her jacket around her. "You don't have to talk about it if you don't want, Katie," Gibbs said.
She smiled bitterly. "I need to let it out sometime." She took a deep breath and began.
"When I was a little girl, I worshiped my big brother, Greg. He was my knight in shining armor. I wanted to be exactly like him when I grew up." She shook her head. "He was so understanding. He let me follow him and his buddies around; taught me how to play basketball--hell, he even supported me when I said I wanted to join the Boy Scouts. Greg was an Eagle Scout, and like I said, I wanted to be just like him." She sighed. "Every year on Christmas Eve, just before Midnight Mass, Greg would read ''Twas the Night Before Christmas' to me. I looked forward to it every year--even when I could read on my own. It was something just for us, you know?" She sniffed. "Greg went off to college when I was ten--Yale. He was planning to become a lawyer. He promised me that he would be home in time to read me my story--and he was." Kate paused. "Greg had changed in the few months he had been away. He was moodier; less able to bear my inane chatter all day. I had thought it was just because of our parents' impending divorce--now I know that he had failed two of his classes and sunk into a depression." She took a shuddering breath. "That Christmas Eve, he read the story to me as usual, then retreated into his bedroom, which was in the attic." She turned away and placed a hand on the railing. "A few minutes before we were supposed to leave for Mass, Mom told me to go get Greg. I went up to his room and knocked a couple of times. Before he left for Yale, he had told me repeatedly not to go into his room, but I thought since he was home, it was okay. We had always been so close, you know? But when I opened the door... I... I... I saw..." She shuddered.
"It's okay, Kate," Gibbs murmured, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"He had hanged himself," she blurted. "He had used a couple of belts and looped them around a rafter. God, I'll never forget the look on his face." The tears she had been suppressing began to stream down her face. Gibbs pulled her into his arms. He didn't say anything, just held her and rocked her as she cried.
Kate took at few deep, shuddering breaths. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually like this," she said.
"Hey. Kate." Gibbs lifted her chin with a finger. "Never apologize, remember?" She smiled weakly. "C'mon; I'm sure the rest of them are wondering where we are."
"Yeah. Just... just give me a minute, okay?"
He nodded. "Sure." He disappeared into the house, leaving Kate on the porch to deal with her demons.
"Hey, Kate; ready to go?" Gibbs asked.
Kate looked up from the board game she was playing with Jenny. "Sure," she yawned. "I'm getting kinda tired."
Jenny looked at Kate and asked, "You're coming back, right?"
Kate smiled. "Sure. We have to finish our game, don't we?"
Jenny's face brightened. "Yay! Mommy, Auntie Kate said she's coming back to finish our game!" Kate's eyebrows went up when she heard what the little girl had said.
"Hey, don't look at me," she said when Gibbs gave her a questioning look. "It wasn't my idea."
"No, it was mine," Meg said, smiling.
"Meg..." Gibbs said warningly.
"What?" Meg replied innocently. "I've adopted Kate as my honorary sister. And don't you dare say otherwise, Leroy Jethro Gibbs," she said, pointing at him.
"Hey, I know better than to argue with that tone," Gibbs said, holding his palms out in a gesture of surrender.
"I have him well-trained, don't I?" Meg winked at Kate, who laughed. Meg hugged Kate. "Now, you better be back soon.
Patrick's going to want another reading session." She leaned in and whispered in Kate's ear, "And I have some more stories to tell."
"Now that's incentive!" Kate quipped. The women laughed.
"Uh-oh. Why do I suddenly have the feeling that this was a bad idea?" Gibbs groaned.
"'Cause now you'll have two women ganging up on you!" Meg exclaimed. "Go on, get out of here before the roads get too crazy."
Gibbs gave his sister a hug. "See you later, sis."
Meg kissed him on the cheek. "'Bye, Jethro. Call me when you get in, so I know you're okay."
"Will do. 'Bye, guys!" Gibbs yelled.
"Bye, Uncle Jethro!" they chorused. Gibbs and Kate went out to the car.
"You have a very interesting family, Gibbs," Kate said.
"That I do, Kate. That I do."
They rode home in silence.
"Kate. Kate, wake up," Gibbs said, shaking Kate gently.
"Hmm... wha?" Kate murmured, still half-asleep.
"We're back at your place. Come on--I don't want to have to carry you up."
Kate opened her eyes. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I didn't even know I had fallen asleep!"
Gibbs smirked. "Playing with kids all day tires you out. Come on, I'll walk you up."
At Kate's door, Kate said, "Thank you, Gibbs. I had a good time today."
"No problem, Kate. You'll be all right?" His tone was light, but his eyes were concerned.
She smiled. "I'll be fine." In a move that surprised them both, she leaned up and brushed his lips with hers. "Good night." She unlocked the door and slipped inside.
Kate walked into the bullpen. "Good morning, Dinozzo!" she said cheerfully. He winced.
"Do you have to be so loud?" he asked pitifully.
"Oh, poor baby. You drink too much last night?" she cooed, tossing a bottle of aspirin on his desk.
"Someone had a good holiday," Tony grumbled, rubbing his temples.
Kate smiled secretively and glanced at Gibbs, who smiled back. "Better than I've had in a long time."