So this is the final chapter. Thank you all for sticking with me, despite my occasional long disappearances. I hope you've all enjoyed this story, and I hope the ending is at least a bit of what you're looking for.
Once he finally worked up the courage to face Sam, which turned out to be more difficult than working up the courage to face Director Shepard, G found his partner leaning against his car outside.
"You shouldn't have done that."
"You know, for a minute in there I thought you were gonna outright confess."
"Thought about it," G admitted as he stopped in front of Sam. His partner studied him silently for a moment or two before opening the door for him. Sam waited until he climbed in before closing the door and going around to the driver's side. "Did you want me to?"
Sam's hand faltered on the gearshift. "The hell?"
G stared through the windshield. He wanted to look his partner in the eyes but he couldn't deal, yet, with what he knew he'd see there. No doubt about it, Sam had bailed him out on this, big time. But all that meant was what G had been afraid of—Sam's loyalty to his team trumped all else, even when it shouldn't. It didn't mean he understood, and it didn't mean their partnership would be the same ever again.
"You haven't said a dozen words to me since Corlis called you. For a second there, in the apartment, I thought you were prepared to shoot me. I thought you expected me to kill him."
"I was." Sam's Adam's apple bobbed. "I did."
Those words carried almost as much force as the shot Corlis had fired. G swallowed, his jaw tight, as Sam put the car into gear and pulled out of the lot. They made the drive to Sam's in silence, and G made it out of the car before Sam could open the door for him—though he had to wait for his partner to let them in the house. He hung in the entry for a second while Sam headed to the kitchen, returning with a glass of water and a beer. G made a half-hearted grab for the beer but Sam kept it out of his reach.
"Meds say no booze."
"How would you know?"
"Because anything they can come up with to give you, I've had it. That, and Nate gave them to me and threatened me with a mandatory psych eval of my own if I didn't make sure you took them."
"I won't tell if you don't." G accepted the water without further complaint. He really was thirsty and, if he was honest with himself, the last thing he needed was alcohol to add to the fuzziness around his brain. He dropped onto the couch, jarring his arm in the process, and bit back a curse.
"Just tired." It pained him to admit it but he'd never found the sort of drugged-up sleep one got in a hospital bed restful.
"You should get some rest. Doc's orders."
"Nate doesn't count," G replied, letting his eyes close as Sam took the half-full glass from his left hand before he could drop it. "Got a pillow?"
"In the bedroom."
Eyes still closed, G didn't react to Sam's words immediately, mostly because he wasn't sure he'd heard them right. And when he did finally respond, he did so hoping he was deliberately misunderstanding Sam. "I'm not kicking you out of your own bed just 'cause I got myself shot."
"G, when have I ever let you kick me out of my own bed? Even when you tried?"
He forced his eyes open then. "Never?"
G watched his partner a long time, checking for any sign he wasn't serious, wasn't sure, was playing some totally un-Sam-like joke, but there was nothing. "You mean that?"
"Don't say things I don't mean."
G was intimately, painfully familiar with that truth, and Sam's words from the car came back to him in a rush.
"I thought you expected me to kill him."
Sam exhaled, hard. "G, all I want to do is sleep. We'll talk as long as you want to talk—though if it lasts more than ten minutes I'm calling Nate and telling him you really do need your head examined—but can we do it sometime when you're not drugged up and I'm running on more than two hours sleep I managed to get at my desk before Hetty whacked me with a rolled-up newspaper?"
G let Sam pull him to his feet and propel him into the bedroom. "What'd you put in that water, anyway?"
"Just water, G. Adrenaline crash; you know the drill."
Sam helped him with his shoes and his blankets, and when G felt the mattress dip as Sam stretched out next to him, it only felt natural to gravitate toward the warmth and comfort of another person in bed next to him.
G woke to a silent, pitch-black room. There was no irritating, repetitive beep or glow of monitors keeping tabs on his vitals. There was also no one else in the bed with him.
He was almost to the light switch and, just beyond that, the door when he banged his left elbow on Sam's tall dresser and couldn't quite muffle a curse at the pain that lanced up through his shoulder. He heard footsteps heading his way and light from the living room cut a path from the bed to the door when Sam opened it. "You all right?"
"Fine if I could manage not to walk into things." G blinked against the light and stifled a yawn. "What time is it?"
"Midnight. Figured you'd sleep straight through." Sam backed out of the room and G followed, arm cradled protectively against his chest. "Pizza if you want it. Frozen."
"Only the best."
Sam waved him toward the couch before disappearing into the kitchen. G parked himself on one end of the sofa and listened to the whir and ding of the microwave while trying to figure out what movie Sam had paused, until his partner reemerged juggling a plate, a glass of water and his prescription bottle. G shook his head adamantly. "No more drugs."
"You're taking them before we go back to bed if I have to force feed them to you."
"Not yet though." They needed to have this conversation, and he needed to be able think when they had it.
Sam rolled his eyes and shoved the plate and glass toward him. "Eat."
G let him get away with turning the movie—which turned out to be Red Dawn—back on until he finished his makeshift dinner, and then stopped the DVD entirely. "I didn't intend to kill Corlis. And I didn't mean for you or Kensi to, either. I wanted to be there and gone before you showed up. I just needed to know if he was involved."
G blinked. "What?"
Sam shot him a quizzical look. "I said, I know."
"You said you thought I was going to kill him. You said you were prepared to shoot me." The first stung more than the second, and he pushed that thought out of his mind entirely.
Sam rested his feet, bare except for athletic socks that had seen better days, on his coffee table. "I thought so then, G. When you told us you were being blackmailed, I tried to figure out what it could be—what could be so bad someone could think you'd trade intelligence information to cover it up. I had no clue, G, 'cause it never occurred to me you could murder somebody."
He really, really wished people would stop using that word. He knew it was necessary, given their line of work—all of them had killed people in situations when it was warranted, but this was different and there were only so many ways to make that distinction. But it was still a blow every time he had to hear it said.
"And when Corlis called me and told me that, he left out that the son of a bitch deserved anything he got. He told me you murdered a man and with the way you were acting—you said yourself it was bad; Nate said it was bad—I knew he was telling the truth. I knew there had to be more to it than that but I knew it was true. And it was more than I could handle."
Sam finally shifted on the couch to look at him. "You're a good actor, G. You pull off desperate real well and I hadn't exactly had time to process what happened or why. I get a call from Nate that you tried to kill him. I get a call from DiNozzo that you deliberately went around us to get to Corlis before we could. I didn't know what the hell was going on. And you never put a gun to somebody's head unless you plan to use it."
G cringed, and not just inwardly either. That was true. "First time for everything." He shook his head, but the movement did nothing to clear it. "Did Nate really think I'd tried to kill him?"
Sam shrugged. "I told him if you'd actually tried, he'd be dead. Not really sure if he believed me or not but he seems over it. At least, he was over it enough to tell me off for not having anything to do with you." Sam looked at him sideways. "Did you tell him we…"
"That we slept together and eight hours later you walked out of here looking like you never wanted to speak to me again?" G shook his head. "No. He figured it out on his own. My bag was still in your bedroom and it was pretty obvious no one had slept on the couch." He smiled, feeling a little like a teenage girl. Again. "It probably helped that he'd already figured out I…" He trailed off. That what? He liked Sam? Wanted him? Was in love with him? Any or all of those fit but he couldn't force the words out. This was Sam, his partner. And even though they'd had one night together—which he really, really wanted to repeat—it didn't feel right talking about it like this.
Sam, of course, looked at him curiously. "That you what?"
"You really gonna make me say it?"
Sam smiled. "Yeah, I think I might."
"As tempting as it is to go down this road, the last time we did, it ended kind of badly."
"That wasn't about… us."
"I know what it was about. And I'm not saying I blame you. But can we work on one problem before we complicate it with another?" Not that he considered the change in their relationship a problem… and Sam didn't take his words that way.
Sam leaned back into the corner of the couch. "G… I get why you did it. I don't know if I would've. Can't say I wouldn't but… I don't know what I would've done. Couldn't say without being there. And I'll get over it, but it's gonna take time." Sam raised his eyes. "Can you live with that?"
"Can you?" G countered. Sam's reaction hadn't surprised him in the least. He'd expected his partner to never speak to him again, so at this point he'd take what he could get. Sam just looked at him. "I'm serious, Sam. I…" He gestured between them, still unwilling—or unable, he wasn't sure which—to say the words. "Can you deal with it? If you really want… if that wasn't just about trying to convince me to hang around, can you deal with the fact that I ki—" He paused and, with great effort, corrected himself. "That I murdered someone?"
"I have. For three years."
"You okay with me knowing?"
"I was afraid of how you'd react," G admitted after a moment or two. "And I'm still not sure how you're reacting. But yeah. I can handle you knowing. Kind of… glad you know. Whatever it means. I didn't mean for you guys to cover it up, Sam. I didn't expect it and I didn't ask for it."
"Like I could let you go to prison. You wouldn't last a day."
Sam's tone, along with his light smirk, betrayed the joke in his words but G still flinched. "I know. Don't think I'm not grateful. But…"
"But you figured it was at least gonna be over, one way or another, and it's the same thing all over again instead."
"Pretty much. I didn't ask for Gibbs and DiNozzo to cover it up, Sam. And if you change your mind—"
"No chance. Besides, like Shepard said, no evidence."
"You practically have a signed confession. Hell, I'd sign one if you wanted me to."
"G, let's not do this."
G slid toward Sam. "I mean it. I don't want… a year from now, I don't want you deciding you made a mistake."
"We talking about the case? Or something else?"
"I don't know." Meeting Sam's eyes wasn't the hardest thing G had ever done—meeting DiNozzo's in that warehouse, standing over Derring's body had been harder. But it was close. "You know me, Sam. Maybe not everything about me, but you know me."
"G, sometimes I don't think I know anything about you. But I don't really think you know much about you either."
G narrowed his eyes. "Could you, maybe, let me finish a thought here?"
"If it ever looked like you were going to, maybe." Sam half-smiled again, but it disappeared quickly. "Go ahead. I'll behave."
"You know me. I… get around. But this isn't that. And if there's any chance that you're going to change your mind, I don't want to…"
"G, those of us who've had relationships know there's always a chance it's not gonna work. Most of the time there's more than a chance. Lot of relationships don't work out. So if that's gonna keep you from ever getting started, then you're gonna have a pretty lonely life."
G gritted his teeth. Trust Sam to miss the point entirely. "I can deal with things just not working out. But if this… with Derring, Corlis, is going to be the reason—"
"It won't. And the other night wasn't about just keeping you here. A lot's happened since then but I haven't changed my mind and I don't plan to. But after everything, I need a little time."
"Time." G nodded. "I can do time."
"Can you do sleep?"
He started to nod again but then stopped. "Um… together?"
His partner "No, G. I'm gonna make you and your bum arm crash on the couch."
"Just checking. Never know with you. All moody and all."
Sam growled something unintelligible under his breath as he hauled G, one-handed, to his feet. "You want to talk moody? I still got a black eye from your mood swings. Which reminds me." He stopped halfway to the bedroom. "I still owe you for that."
G freed his left arm from Sam's vise-grip and gestured toward his sling. "Um, you don't think a bullet wound and a concussion kind of make up for it?"
"I didn't inflict those, now did I?"
"Well, no, but…" Sam disappeared into the bedroom before he could finish his protest. G took that as meaning he was off the hook—at least for now. He hung in the doorway for a couple minutes, watching Sam strip down to his shorts. Time, he could handle. As long as he still had his partner… his team… he could deal with the rest.