So this is the end of my first attempt at writing something other than a one-shot or a collection of one-shots for NCIS. Thank you for putting up with my sporadic updates, hope you enjoy.
The Neads' house was located in an upper middle class neighborhood of Philadelphia, the kind seen on Desperate Housewives. As they made their way silently up the walkway and past the well-manicured front lawn McGee could just make out a tree house hidden by the leaves of the ancient oak tree, it must have been built for Michelle when she was younger.
"Do they know?" asked McGee once they were standing on the front porch.
"The Chief told them that there were new developments in their daughter's case and that someone would be over today to tell them."
"Do they suspect?"
"It's been ten years, McGee, what do you think?" Tony replied before knocking on the front door.
The door was answered a man who looked to be sixty but McGee knew that Richard Nead was only fifty-two.
"Mr. Nead?" asked McGee stepping forward after seeing how hesitant Tony was.
"Yes, do I know you?"
"Special Agent Tim McGee, NCIS," he said showing his ID.
"Never heard of it," Richard Nead replied and stepped back to close the door.
"Naval criminal investigative service," Tony said finally stepping into Richard's line of vision.
"Officer DiNozzo," Richard said as recognition dawned on him, it had been ten years since he had seen the man and in that time the man he remembered as Officer DiNozzo had matured into the man standing before him today.
"It's actually Special Agent DiNozzo now," Tony replied. "Can we come in? There's something we have to tell you."
"Yes, of course, come in," he replied stepping back and allowing the two agents entrance and leading them down a short hallway to the living room. "Let me go get Tracy, make yourselves comfortable," he replied before disappearing and leaving the men to their own devices.
McGee took the opportunity to surreptitiously glance at the various pictures displayed prominently in the living room. Not surprisingly the majority of the pictures were of Michelle, there was one of her as an infant, toddler Michelle in baby ballet class, an older Michelle at a violin recital, a picture of Michelle before what had to be her first high school dance and, of course, the numerous school portraits. Michelle may have been gone for ten years but she still featured prominently in her parents' lives and McGee's heart sank at the realization that he and Tony were going to confirm the Neads' worst nightmare.
For his part Tony was too busy steeling himself for the conversation that they were just about to have to notice McGee's covert attempts to study all the pictures of Michelle that were displayed. He had seen them all before and had no care to see them again; it was just a cruel reminder of his failure. He hated notifications with a passion.
When Tracy Nead appeared, McGee was struck by the uncanny resemblance she shared with her deceased daughter. True, the picture of a twenty-five-year-old Michelle Nead had been an age progressed composite image but as Sandra, one of the main resident sketch artists back at NCIS, often reminded him, while creating age progressed photos was definitely an art there was also a fair amount of science and math involved. A good sketch artist was able to draw portraits that closely matched what subjects actually looked like years down the line.
"Agent DiNozzo, Agent McGee," Tracy addressed the two men sitting on her couch, "my husband told me that you had something to discuss with us."
"We do," Tony replied solemnly. "It's about Michelle."
"It's been ten years, Agent DiNozzo," Tracy, pointed out.
"I'm well aware of that, Mrs. Nead," Tony replied calmly and professionally, giving the impression that being reminded of that fact did not bother him at all but McGee saw the slight twitch of his hand that indicated that Tony was just barely keeping it together.
"What possible news could NCIS have about Michelle?" asked Richard Nead, "our family has no immediate connections with the navy."
"She's dead, isn't she? Our baby's dead, isn't she, Agent DiNozzo," Tracy Nead said in a low monotone voice from her seat across from the two agents.
"Yes, I'm sorry," Tony replied quietly before dropping his gaze, he did not want to see how the faces of Richard and Tracy Nead crumbled as he confirmed their worst fear, he'd seen it numerous times before, there was no need to see it again.
"How?" asked the couple obviously distraught over the news. The possibility that Michelle was already dead had always been with them and friends, family, and the Philadelphia Police Department had told them that they had to be prepared for that outcome, especially as time had dragged on but it was one thing to prepare yourself to hear the worst it was another thing completely to actually have the worst possible outcome come true.
"Strangled by Louie Dominguez, a drifter originally from a remote area of Virginia; Michelle was one of eleven victims," the senior field agent replied in the same quiet voice.
"Did she suffer?" asked Tracy as she fought to keep from completely breaking down.
McGee watched as Tony tensed knowing that the older man was currently wrestling with what to tell them. Tony had not been there to personally hear Dominguez go into great and extremely graphic detail about just what he did to each of his victims, McGee, unfortunately, had been there to bear witness and it had taken three nights of very stiff drinks as well as an impromptu visit with Annie Lester, a psychiatrist employed by NCIS, before McGee could go to sleep and not hear the screams or see their faces. Still, McGee knew that Tony had watched the tape of the interview later on because he remembered Alan Combs', one of the sound techs who worked in the observation room and was a friend of Tony's, panicked phone call to Gibbs, he had agreed to stay with Tony while the agent watched the recording of Dominguez's interrogation and the technician had become alarmed as Tony had gotten agitated to the point of violence as he watched the recording. So despite not being there to hear Dominguez admit it in person Tony knew that Dominguez had repeatedly raped and tortured Michelle over the period of two days before he killed her and unfortunately, her death had not been quick, if the testimony of one Louie Dominguez was anything to go by. McGee was willing to bet all his book royalties that Tony wanted to tell the Neads that their daughter had not suffered and that her death was quick but that knew that he couldn't because the truth would come out in the trial so telling them lies in the hope of protecting them now would just cause so much pain later on.
"When can we bury our daughter, Agent DiNozzo?" asked Richard gruffly, the lack of answer to his wife's question told Richard that his daughter's death and ordeal were neither quick nor without suffering.
"As soon as our ME releases her body," McGee jumped in quickly seeing as Tony was still wrestling with his own knowledge of what befell Michelle after she was abducted.
Which will be when?" asked Richard wearily.
"Soon, I promise you that," replied Tony firmly.
Just three short weeks later McGee once again found himself accompanying Tony to Philadelphia, this time the other man didn't even act remotely surprised to find McGee waiting on his doorstep.
This time instead of visits to the police station and Michelle Nead's childhood home, they were situated in the hall adjacent to the St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the church she had been baptized in, for a memorial service. He didn't recognize most of the people apart from the few officers he met during their brief stop over at the Philadelphia Police Station but that wasn't surprising, he had only been on the case for around two months, and Tony had been on the case for ten years.
Tony glanced around as people filed into the hall, recognized many of the young twenty somethings as Michelle's former classmates and couldn't help but feel just a but old as he saw that the fourteen, fifteen and sixteen-year-olds that he had interviewed all those years ago had become twenty-four-twenty-five, and twenty-six respectively, all when he wasn't looking. Five minutes before the start of the ceremony the entrance of one particular young man caught his attention, it was Zachery Durhan, all grown-up. Gone was the gangly and awkward, quiet teenager and in his place was a confident young man full of promise. Just before the start of the ceremony Zachery and his companion, a redhead, found two seats and Tony caught a glimpse of something gold and sparkly when his companion snaked her left arm across this shoulders. He couldn't help the pang of sadness that overcame him as he took in her now grown up classmates and her former boyfriend who was now engaged because Michelle should be there, she should be grown up and have the chance to get married but that would never be. Shaking himself out of his thoughts Tony turned to the screen to focus his attention on the montage of pictures of Michelle as she grew up with her favorite song playing in the background.
Tony stared at the official document he held in his hand, after almost two long and grueling months since Dominguez's arrest it was finally over, the jury had returned with their verdict, guilty on all counts, the judge had given out the sentence, life sentences for each victim to be serve consecutively. All he had to do was place that document into Michelle's case file and write closed on the status line and her case would be officially closed. Before he put the certificate in the front of her file his eyes fell on a picture tucked away and partly hidden by papers, it was taken the night she disappeared.
"Mom, dad, please!" begged a fifteen-year-old blond Michelle.
"Just one more picture, Michelle, please," Tracy begged.
For her part Michelle huffed and looked completely put upon but complied with her mother's wish. "Fine."
"With the both of you, stand right next to her, Zach…there, that's it!"
"Say cheese you two!"
The two teenagers smiled and after two separate flashes, each parent got a picture.
"Have fun, don't stay out too late," instructed Richard.
"Thanks, dad, love you," replied Michelle as she went over to give her father a peck on the cheek.
"Love you too, sweetie."
"Bye mom, love you."
"Good bye, honey, I love you."
"I am so sorry," he whispered before he closed the lid and replaced her box on the shelf in the completed cases closet.