Elbowing the stunned director out of his way, Gibbs reached out and grabbed McGee when he swayed and pushed him into the chair that DiNozzo shoved in their direction. He squatted in front of the seated man to get his attention and hopefully some answers. "McGee? Talk to me, Tim. Tell me about Andrew; start at the beginning."
"The beginning?" McGee gave a bitter laugh. "You have no idea."
At that moment, Gibbs was pretty sure that McGee was right – he had no idea, but he was about to learn. "Tell me." After a long and telling silence, McGee began to talk.
"You know I started at MIT when I was only sixteen, right? I was so over my head, but I couldn't let my parents down. Clear across the country and I was still on crutches from my car wreck when I got there. I could barely get to my classes, let alone get around campus. I spent my lunch breaks sitting in the quad because there wasn't time between classes to hobble back to the dorm for lunch, and one day there was this girl there. She was toe to toe with one of the groundskeepers about what they were spraying on the flowers. I think I fell in love the moment I saw her yelling at him in Spanish and backing him across the quad." He broke off and smiled at Gibbs. "You'd have liked her, Boss; she was a red-head." Gibbs had to smile back at him over that tidbit as he continued. "She was so passionate about everything she did. She dragged me to political debates one day and to the symphony the next. Before we knew what happened…"
"…She was pregnant." Gibbs finished for him, remembering how Shannon had swept him off his feet when he had been just a few years older.
"We were careful, Boss, we did everything we were supposed to do. Everything was fine until the police arrested the owner of the pharmacy by the school."
"Arrested him for what, Probie?" DiNozzo remembered hearing about a case his rookie year but the details were a blank.
"He was selling expired birth control pills as if they were brand new. He'd redo the expiration dates on them and nobody caught on for months." McGee paused, staring off into space as he recalled the events. "When she was late, the nurse at the school clinic told us it was probably stress and to wait a week. Half the girls from the school were panicking by that point. By the end of the next week, we knew it wasn't stress. We didn't know what to do, but I knew that I was going to do right by them. I loved Nicole and we wanted to keep the baby.
"The night we knew for sure, I called my parent." By the broken look on McGee's face and what little he knew about his strict parents, Gibbs was convinced it had not been a pleasant phone call. "My mom started crying and my dad, well all my dad said was that he was disappointed, that I had thrown my life away."
Behind them, Ziva David watched silently. Over the years she had decided that her American teammates had no real idea what it was like to have a difficult family, despite the vague references DiNozzo had made to his own childhood. However, even her own father, the man who sired a child just to raise him as a double agent, would not have turned his back at a time like that.
Gibbs cringed at the younger man's statement. He had been so worried about how the girl's father would react; he never considered McGee's own family. "Damn, McGee, that was rough. How did her parents take the news?"
"It was just her dad. Her mom died when she was a kid." Tim's voice faded off and he stared at his hands before looking back up his boss. "I think he knew the second we walked into his house, practically the first words out of his mouth were 'what are your intentions' and I told him…"
When the silence dragged on, and Vance's impatience got the better of him he prompted the other man. "You told him…?"
***ten years ago***
"Mr. Allen, it's... its good to see you again, sir."
The face was so earnest, even in its nervousness. At least the young man had managed to get in the door without tripping over his feet this time. After almost eight months it still amazed Josh Allen that his vivacious Nicole had fallen in love with such a shy, awkward man-child almost two years her junior. The first time she had brought the boy home he had barely noticed the attraction, convinced he was just a lost puppy she had taken under her wing. The second time the boy had joined them at their weekly Sunday dinners; he had seen the infatuation in the green eyes. It had taken a little bit longer to realize he was seeing the same in his daughter's blue ones.
"Daddy, we need to talk to you about something." The moment she said those words, he knew. Chalk it up to father's intuition or the nightly news reports about the pharmacy, but he knew these two young people had come to him because they had a very grown up decision to make.
"You're pregnant, aren't you?"
Much to his surprise it was Timothy who took the lead. "Yes, we are." He reached out and took Nicole's left hand, allowing her father to see the narrow gold band with the tiny diamond set into it. Hardly bigger than a chip, it sparkled in the light as he squeezed her fingers. "I'm going to do the right thing, Mr. Allen. I love Nicole and we're going to love our baby."
"What are your intentions? Have you really thought this through?"
"Had you thought it through?" Vance's question brought McGee's attention back to him momentarily.
"I was going to leave school, give up my scholarships, but Nicole's dad … Well, he told me that I could support a family better as a computer programmer than I could waiting tables for minimum wage. He offered to help as long as we both stayed in school."
"Sounds like a good man." Out of the corner of his eye, Gibbs glared at the director, daring him to disagree.
"He was. He helped us get an apartment close to campus and helped me get a better part-time job. The only thing he really put his foot down about was that he didn't want us to get married before the baby came."
That stipulation surprised the rest, but not Vance. "Under twenty-three, single and in college, she was still covered under her father's medical insurance."
"Yeah." McGee leaned back in the chair, lost in his thoughts. Gibbs took the opportunity to grab a chair and pull it in front of Tim, taking the pressure off his knees.
McGee pinched the bridge of his nose as he explained. "The insurance available to married students was pretty crappy. She'd have given birth at the worst hospital in the area. Her dad's insurance would cover her and the baby at the nicest private hospital in Boston. Everyone said it was the best place for her to deliver, that it was the safest." Tim paused, his heartbreak obvious as he stared at Gibbs. "It was supposed to be safe for them there, Boss."
"What happened?" Even as Gibbs asked the question, he could hear the same words being whispered by their other teammates.
"Her due date was two weeks after the end of the school year, but her water broke during her last final. When we got to the hospital she made the nurses swear that they wouldn't let me miss my 8:00 final the next morning because my scholarship was riding on my final grades."
He laughed at the memory and shook his head. "The nurses turned it into a running joke – timing the contractions, timing how long until my exam started. She was in labor all afternoon and night. Andrew was born at 6:58 in the morning." Tim had a wistful smile on his face. "God, he was so beautiful, looked just like her. We had just enough time to take some pictures and call her dad at the convention he was stuck at before the nurses were dragging me out the door to get to school." His voice caught as he continued. "They told me I had a lifetime to be a father, but just two hours to become an upperclassman. They told me they'd be fine. Nicole was laughing and asking me to bring her back chocolate."
For the first time since he had admitted about his son, McGee looked up at his friends with a smile, albeit sad, on his face. "You know how I usually stress out about tests?" DiNozzo and Ziva both smiled back at the memory of their friend facing a lie detector test a few years earlier.
"Yeah, kid, I remember." Abby's practice tests on his partner had given DiNozzo many a laugh.
"That was the one test in my life I didn't panic over. I was so focused on getting done and back to the hospital that nothing else registered. I was done in fifty-five minutes and on my way back to my family. It wasn't until I was in the lobby that I remembered about the chocolate, so I went into the gift shop and bought a box of chocolates and a teddy bear. The teddy bear was blue and it had this little tiny baseball mitt on its paw. I remember thinking about teaching Andrew how to catch and how miraculous it was that we had created this amazing little human being…" His voice faded off again as the memories again overwhelmed him.
In the momentary pause, DiNozzo moved to the nearest computer. He may not be as savvy as McGee, but he was capable of running a search engine. Something about the pharmacy and a maternity wing of a hospital in Boston was running around in his head, but he couldn't nail it down. As the search ran, he turned his attention back to his partner as McGee began to speak again.
"There were a lot of people waiting for the elevator so I took the stairs. I kept hearing these popping noises, but I didn't know what they were." Off to the side, DiNozzo's search had yielded results. He tugged on Ziva's arm, not surprised when she covered her mouth after reading what was on the screen. Horrified, they continued to listen to McGee's monotone voice while they both stared, transfixed at the computer image.
"I was in a hurry when I got to the right floor. I took about five or six steps into the corridor before I slipped on a wet spot. I looked down, and there was a trail of blood on the floor. I… I followed the blood around the corner and Nicole's doctor was there on the ground, her whole back was covered in blood. Just past her was one of the nurses sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall. There was a red smear on the wall behind her. He, this guy, was standing next to her; still had… he had a gun in his hand…"
Gibbs reached out and wrapped his hands around McGee's upper arms. Of all the things he wanted to share with his men, not this. Never, never this kind of pain would he wish on any one, but it was too late. While he never took his focus off McGee, his peripheral vision took in the rest of the squad room as realization swept through. Vance dropped a toothpick out of apparently nerveless fingers while to his other side DiNozzo and David were a frozen tableau staring at a computer screen that he could not see. It was like a train wreck that you could see coming, but nothing you could do would stop it. McGee was trembling now his eyes unfocused, as his breath began coming quicker and shallower, his words softer and more pain-filled than Gibbs could have ever imagined.
"He… he turned around and pointed the gun at me and I knew. Right then I knew that he and I were the only ones left alive in there. He smiled at me and his finger tightened around the trigger, it seemed to take so long… Then he was looking behind me… before I knew what he was doing, he put the gun up to his own head and pulled the trigger. The blood… the blood spray seemed to go on forever… The police had come in through the back stairs, I hadn't heard them… They told me to leave, they had to secure the scene, but I couldn't… her room was right there, right there."
"Oh, Tim." Gibbs knew at that moment what the younger man had done; what he had, himself, wished to do – wished to see. How grateful he was now that he had never seen his own wife and child in those moments after. After the violence, after the horror, the photos had been bad enough, but to see it in person… to have all your senses register in with clarifying details… God, he wouldn't wish that on his worst enemy, certainly not this sweet young kid.
"The room was so quiet, so still." McGee locked eyes with Gibbs. "Andrew was still in her arms. I couldn't understand why her blanket was red; it had been green when I left. My head knew, but I… I…" He thumped his chest with his fist. "My heart wasn't ready to know. She had been nursing him… she was still smiling and she looked so peaceful there with our baby in her arms. Before I could touch them the room was full of people and I was pushed back out into the hallway. It was only one shot, through his head and her heart, but it was enough." He sobbed once and as he swayed forward, Gibbs leaned towards him and cradled his head in his hand, pulling him closer, allowing the younger man's forehead to rest against his own as he continued to speak.
"I was in the waiting room until they realized that there was another body in there too so they moved me to an empty delivery room. A… a woman came in and handed me papers to sign, then a doctor came in and told her she was too soon, that he hadn't made the official notification yet. I didn't understand at first, hell, I didn't understand anything that was going on, but the papers in her hand were transplant authorization forms."
"My God, couldn't they have waited?" DiNozzo's broken voice startled the two men and McGee pulled back, straightening as he answered, allowing the scientist in him to come to the front momentarily.
"There is a very short window after… after death that organs are viable for transplant. Nicole's mom died waiting for a transplant, so we had talked about it. Nicole and I were already registered donors, but…"
"Andrew wasn't." Even as DiNozzo said the words, the implications raced through Gibbs' mind. Could he have been that noble at that moment? In that moment that still gave him nightmares if the words 'your wife and daughter were killed' had been followed by a plea for their organs, how would he have reacted? He almost missed the quiet words as McGee started speaking again.
"I didn't say anything to them, I just took the papers and I… I signed them. They led me out of there and towards the elevator. The door to Nicole's room was open, but it was already empty.
"He was still laying there in the hallway and I remember being so angry at the cops. If they had been just a little slower…" A murmur of surprise echoed behind them, but Gibbs knew. He knew because he had been there, still remembered the awful ache in his chest he thought would never end, still remembered the taste of the gun in his mouth, still remembered the longing to join his family on the other side. He'd had his burning desire for justice, for revenge to keep him alive when he first returned stateside, but Tim didn't even have that blessing. No one else there understood right then, but as McGee continued to speak, they slowly, individually began to understand.
"We would have been together. If the police had been slower, he wouldn't have shot himself first; we would have been together." As he spoke, his body sagged, only the senior agent's hands on his arms keeping him at all upright. Gibbs knew the end of the rope had been reached, but solid ground had not. Hating himself, he pressed on.
"The woman outside, who is she?"
McGee's head bowed under the weight of the question but he answered. "Her name is Molly Patton. Her son was born a few weeks before Andrew, in Colorado. He had a heart defect that was too severe to be repaired. He…"
"He has Andrew's heart." Gibbs finished the sentence as the pain the younger man must have felt hit him. Tim nodded.
"I didn't want to know. They give you a choice, if you want to know about the patients who receive the transplant. Both sides have to want it before contact can be made. I never got the choice of anonymity because of the press, but I didn't want to know about them."
Finally able to move away from the screen that had captivated her, Ziva knelt down next to Tim. "If you believed in the organ donor program, then why didn't you want to know? I would think it would give you great comfort to know that some good came out of something so horrid."
Tim looked over her head, shaking his as he tried to explain. "I never even got to hold Andrew. He was so healthy, so perfect and two hours later he was gone. Murdered by a psycho before he ever got to live." McGee ran his fingers along the arm of the chair as he closed his eyes, remembering. "His heart went to Denver, his liver to a transplant center in Los Angeles. One of his kidneys went to Miami and the other went to Pittsburg." Making eye contact, he stared at Ziva long enough to make her nervous. "I'm glad those families got a second chance, but I never even got a first chance. Thirty minutes is all I ever had with him. The police never let me have the camera back so I don't even have pictures of my son. Those families have everything and I…" When Tim turned away from her, Ziva didn't bother wiping the tears from her face.
"She thinks we're connected now." At first Gibbs didn't know who McGee was talking about before he remembered asking about the woman following the team, the woman whose presence had started this shocking revelation from the youngest member of his team. "Her husband was murdered about six months ago. She saw it happen, had a breakdown afterwards. According to the family, she is convinced that we belong together because my son's heart is in her son's body. She thinks I should see my future in him." Tim choked back a sob as he continued to explain. "Maybe I'm an awful person, but all I see when I look at that little boy…"
McGee looked at his mentor, grateful for the understanding he saw on the older man's face. "All I see when I look at him is what I've lost. That's all I'll ever see." Breathing heavily, he shoved the chair back and stood up. "I need to check on some files, Boss." Gibbs knew there were no files needed, but he let the younger agent slip away. Even the strongest man could only take so much public pain. He turned to DiNozzo, a silent conversation born of years of working together.
'Is he all right?'
'Hell, no. Keep watch over him.'
After DiNozzo's quiet exit, Gibbs turned to Vance. He could tell the man was gearing up to apologize. Too little, too late, anything the man was to say right now would fall on deaf ears. The one that needed to hear was no longer there, the rest hurt too much for their friend to accept the atonement. Instead, he gripped the director's arm, hissing in his ear.
"The next time you come after a member of my team, you better have something solid and not just your own guilt over your own screw-ups. You got me, Leon?" He gave an angry laugh at the shock on his superior's face. "Yeah, I know about it. Don't look so surprised." The two men stared at one another, neither alpha willing to back down until movement caught their attention. Timothy McGee quietly returned to the squad room, a file tucked under his arm. Gibbs couldn't help but blink in surprise before turning to the man shadowing him.
'He really checked some files?'
'Yeah, Boss. Go figure.'
The silent communication behind him caught McGee's attention and he explained his find to the rest of the team. "I think I found a financial link between our suspect and the victim." Wordlessly, he continued. 'Please, let me do my job.'
Gibbs gave him a careful look before acquiescing. "All right, McGee, let's see what you found."
McGee stood in the director's outer office staring tiredly at Vance's assistant. This summons upstairs was the third since the incident in the squad room Monday morning. On both Tuesday and Wednesday he had been subjected to long, drawn out apologies, each time capped off with a compliment on some aspect of the younger man's work. Thursday had been a bit more bearable only because Director Vance had been out of the office all day. Now it was Friday and here he was again, being ushered into the inner office.
"Director Vance." After an uncomfortable pause, he continued. "Is there something I can help you with, sir?" In answer, Vance picked up a bulging envelope and indicated the sofa in the office.
Bracing himself, McGee followed wishing this had been the one time he had taken Gibbs up on his offer to run interference with the director. Waiting for the other man to ask his question, McGee almost missed it when it finally came.
"How are Ms Patton and her son?"
"Her parents took them back to Colorado. She's back on her medication and doing very well, they tell me. Her sister is taking care of the boy until Molly is better."
Vance studied the man sitting next to him. He seemed tired, drawn out. Vance's trip Thursday had been fruitful, but he almost wished that this was the one time Gibbs had bullied his way into this meeting with McGee. He stalled, working his way up to what was in the envelope, brought back with him the day before. "That's good, that's very good. You're the one that contacted her family, that arranged for them to get her back home to the help she needed, right?"
"Just because I didn't want them as part of my life doesn't mean that I was going to throw them to the wolves." He shifted uncomfortably, wishing for this meeting to be over as Vance continued to watch him.
"Your compassion is one of your greatest strengths, McGee. Don't let anyone, even me, take that away from you."
Tim was stunned and speechless. Before he could come up with a response the director continued. "The Boston police still won't release any of the evidence from the shooting at the hospital, but I did manage to get a set of prints for you." He placed the envelope in McGee's hands. "My assistant and I are leaving for the day; feel free to use my office as long as you like, Agent McGee."
McGee was only peripherally aware of the other man picking up his coat an briefcase while he opened the envelope with shaking hands, spreading the photos out on the low table in front of him. The top of the pictures were light, overdeveloped from damage when the camera was knocked to the floor that terrible day.