Author's Note: This story is a companion piece to Kayleighbough's story Dark Eyed Men. You must read at least the first couple of chapters of that story, or this will not make any sense. This fits best between chapters four and five. You can find that story here: .net/s/5547145/1/Dark_Eyed_Men
Story of the Year
A companion story to the "Hostage Series" by Kayleighbough
The sweatshirt smelled like him.
It was obviously much-loved, worn often so that it absorbed the scent of his discount cologne. He had tried to start buying the expensive stuff after his book went bestseller, but she insisted that he switch back.
"You don't smell right."
"How am I supposed to smell?"
Shrug. "Like you."
She sat alone on his couch, knees pulled up to her chest, the over-sized sweatshirt wrapped around her. Trying and failing to stay warm. Ever since she first got the news, she had been cold. Numb. Couldn't seem to warm up.
She had been in the student union, having a snack with friends. It was all so... so normal.
"Sarah?" One of them had said questioningly, looking up at the overhead tv screen. "Isn't that your brother?"
Everything seemed to freeze, for a few moments. It was unreal, yet so terrifyingly real. Everything slowed and magnified, like the sudden ringing in her ears.
Then a flurry of activity; phone calls, emails, condolences from friends. They tried to get her to stay, but she had ended up here. She had to go to the apartment, to see him for herself.
But he wasn't there.
She hadn't left since.
A few minutes turned into a few hours.
Jethro was already gone when she arrived. She found a note on the counter.
I've got Jethro. I'll take good care of him until you get back.
She kept the note nearby. More evidence that he would be back soon.
Normalcy, in this strange new reality.
The media would not stop playing the damn tape. Pale skin, mangled fingers, pain, fear. Shown over and over again. Sick entertainment. A real ratings-grabber.
She alternated between being glued to the tv, hoping for some scrap of good news, and turning it off in disgust until the silence became too much to bear.
It had taken less than a day for the "prisoners" to be identified as NCIS agents. It had taken even less time for the media to connect Timothy McGee to Thom E. Gemcity, best-selling author.
It was the story of the year. An endless barrage of commentators tossed theories and speculations around while they sat, comfortable and safe, in their cushy studios.
"You don't know him," she wanted to scream. "He's just my brother. Stop talking about him like that."
Which was worse; the commentators, or the silence?
A few hours turned into a few days.
She was mopping the floor when someone knocked on the door.
It wasn't in her nature to clean house, but she knew he liked it spotless. It would be ready, just the way he liked it, when he came back. Cleaning kept her busy and helped her ignore the television, at least for a little while.
The knock startled her. Hope surged. Tim? Why would he knock on his own door? He doesn't have his keys.
She ran, threw the door open without even looking through the eye hole.
Gray hair and blue eyes started back at her.
"Agent Gibbs." Did he hear the disappointment in her voice?
Awkward silence. What was he doing here?
"What... I mean, why... what is it? Is it Tim? Did they..." her mouth was suddenly too dry to finish the sentence.
"I don't have any news, at this point."
Fear turned to anger. "Then why are you here? Shouldn't you be out looking for him?"
If she had wounded him, he didn't show it. He did not flinch; his expression did not change.
"I came to check on you. Your roommate said you were here."
She looked again, and saw the concern, hidden behind the steely expression. "Yeah? Well, I'm not the one you should be worried about."
"You should come with me. Get away from here."
"Why? I don't want-"
"Excuse me." Another man was behind Agent Gibbs now. Medium height, handsome, well-dressed.
"Is this Timothy McGee's apartment?"
He was addressing her, but she saw Agent Gibbs stiffen at his words.
"Who wants to know?" she asked.
The man extended his hand. "I'm a reporter with the Washington Post. I'd like to see Mr. McGee's apartment, and ask you a few questions. Are you family? Or Mr. McGee's girlfriend?"
Her mouth dropped open, stunned. Before she could reply, Agent Gibbs had his badge out and was shoving it in the reporter's face.
"Mr. McGee is a federal agent who is currently missing. You get out of here now or I'll arrest you for harassment."
The reporter rolled his eyes. "I think the young lady can speak for herself. Just a few questions, miss?"
Somehow her voice returned, with a venom she didn't recognize. "I have nothing to say to you. Get out. Now."
Agent Gibbs gave him the full force of the gaze that had broken so many suspects in interrogation. "You heard her."
The reporter tried to stare him down, but quickly lost. "I'll be back. You can't suppress a story like this."
Agent Gibbs watched until he was out the main entryway, then turned back to Sarah.
"Thanks," she said softly.
"He won't be the last. The media will be all over this place soon. They found Tim's apartment, and they'll find you. They were already at your dorm when I left. They've been calling your parents, too."
Her eyes widened at the thought. This nightmare had more levels than she ever could have imagined.
"I..." she looked desperately around the apartment. Her lips trembled involuntarily.
"I don't know what to do."
He reached out a hand. "Come with me. I know a place where you'll be safe."
She hesitated, looking around the apartment again.
"I'm sending agents over here, to stand guard. Any who tries to get in will be arrested for trespassing."
A satisfying thought, but still she wavered.
"It will be here, ready for him when he comes home."
Finally she nodded, as the tears spilled over her eyes and down her cheeks.
"Just let me get a few things."
Two hours later, she found herself alone again, in a basement. The hull of an unfinished boat loomed over her.
She pulled her arms inside the sweatshirt and hugged her knees to her chest.
It was cold down here.