A/N: OMG! This is finished. It has been such a fun story to write. Thank you for coming all with me on this journey. Please tell me your thoughts before you say good-bye. Sheila
Shout out to TwistedRocketPower. Her story, Buried, is excellent.
Shout out to Gunner's Dream. I try to say thank you to those who have consistently supported my writing. I can't find an email for you. And I appreciated your reviews very much.
Shout out to Alix33 who took time yesterday to review and edit all 15 chapters. That was quite a project, and I really appreciated it.
Precious Pup, I hope you are starting to feel better.
It amazed him that at a moment like this he was so aware of the things he usually took for granted. It was a sunny day, and he felt the warmth on his head and on his arms. It was so nice out he'd even taken his shoes off in the sand with Ella. Now his bare feet were planted firmly in the grass, and it was soft between his toes. His t-shirt was a tattered John Hopkins and his jeans were his favorite pair with holes at the knees. He had been completely relaxed until he turned around at the park and saw Sebastian standing there with enough C4 around his middle to create a blast radius of at least 75 yards.
Sebastian quietly told him he had one minute to clear the radius. McGee had turned around and started to bark orders to parents and their children. Abby picked up Ella, but hesitated. He looked in her eyes, "Do it, Abby! Don't be afraid to do the right thing!"
Abby's lip quivered, but she nodded and ran with the others.
He was now sitting alone in a playground with his worst nightmare. He searched himself for the panic he knew he must be feeling, but it wasn't there. Instead, he felt calm with a heightened awareness of everything around him. He wondered if this was similar to what Boss experienced in the field; so seasoned, so experienced that his emotions stayed even through any crisis.
"Tim! Tim!" McGee closed his eyes for a moment. She didn't sound like she was nearly as far away as she should be.
"You should answer her." The voice in front of him was quiet.
McGee didn't dare turn his head. "Abby! You stay back!"
"I'm not going to leave you!"
McGee took a deep breath. "Do what I say, Abby! You take care of Ella! You promised me!"
There was no response, and McGee swallowed. "Gibbs needs you! Tony and Ziva need you! Ella needs you! Do this for me, Abby!"
"I love you, Tim McGee! I love you so much!"
McGee's face colored with emotion, but he didn't break. His response came out hoarse and broken. "I love you too, Abs."
"She's doing what you told her, Timmy. She's stepping back more. You carry such authority these days. You've really grown up since we first met."
McGee returned his focus to the man in front of him. He wore a vest of explosives, his thumb tight on the detonator. He'd already told McGee that everything was over once he let go of the detonator. There was no way that McGee could determine the integrity of the bomb from where he stood, but it looked that a design found on several websites. It didn't take a rocket scientist to make an effective suicide bomb these days, especially once you've acquired the right materials. God knows where the psychopath found C4.
"Is your life flashing before your eyes, Timmy?"
The constant baiting he understood, but now he had everything he wanted. Why wasn't he letting go of the switch? An answer dawned on him as he watched Sebastian sweating in front of him.
"Why are you smiling, Timmy?"
McGee's mind went back a few weeks.
The evidence had come in wrapped with a bow. They pounced on it like kids on Christmas morning. McGee disappeared into the sub-basement with Sebastian's laptop and went to work. Abby had her own work to process, but she was wearing a new ring and she made sure it was noticed. Ziva studied it with tears in her eyes. Tony assumed that he was the best man and began to make a series of mysterious phone calls. Gibbs even picked her up and twirled her around her lab.
It had taken Tim about ten minutes to realize that the laptop they'd found was a decoy. There wasn't anything on it someone wouldn't find on the average home computer. For a while, McGee convinced himself that Sebastian had hidden something deep in the codes, and he'd even endeavored to take it apart, but, in the end, everything he looked at was standard and clean.
He put two long days of hard work into finding something. Then he agitated Fornell with the notion that the search and seizure team hadn't been thorough. Tony and Ziva were right there with him especially since the evidence that Abby processed pointed to nothing as well. Finally, Gibbs got involved and everyone ended the day with hurt feelings and veiled accusations hanging over their heads. The second search and seizure team found nothing new.
Sebastian's lawyer started calling for his release based on insufficient evidence. A week after they picked him up, the judge released him on his own recognizance. Fornell put a surveillance team on him, but no one was happy. McGee kept a gun in a shoulder holster day and night.
The second night after he was released, Fornell's people caught DiNozzo and David parked in the same neighborhood as Sebastian. Gibbs chewed them out like they were new recruits, but no one really listened. There were too many layers to peel back with Sebastian. It was never going to be the system that would eventually take him down. He'd lived too many different lives and been too many different people. He was too much of a paradox. Juries would be tied up in knots for weeks over the truth of it.
Nobody gave up. It was now a search for his hiding spot; the place he went to when he wanted to work. Rental and purchase agreements were dug up in the land offices of three different counties. Teams of agents worked off of grids and began searching anything purchased within the last ten years. It would take months, but they would find it.
McGee blew up after the first week, upset with his impotence on this case. "He's smarter, Boss! He's just much smarter than we are! We're never going to catch him."
Gibbs looked up at the outburst. "He's smart, McGee, but I've never met a man with less character to him. Did you ever think about that?"
"What's wrong, Sebastian? All you gotta' do is let that thumb go." Taunting the psychopath was certainly dangerous, but he needed to test him. Character is important, and McGee wondered if Sebastian had ever really pulled a trigger himself during his crimes. He'd always been the man behind the curtain letting others do the heavy lifting.
"I'm just waiting until everyone is here. Gibbs should see this with his own eyes. I want to add to the endless well of grief within him."
McGee swallowed. The sirens had started about five minutes ago, and out of the corner of his eye, he'd seen emergency vehicles pull up. He knew that they would make sure that Abby and Ella were well outside of the blast radius. He calmed himself with that thought. Abby was already a terrific mother to Ella. She was so attentive and creative with the child. They were forever on the floor together building something or playacting. He loved watching them. McGee remembered how surprised the social worker was with Ella's progress only two weeks ago.
McGee arrived on time with Ella to see the social worker. He knew Abby was just a few minutes behind. It was her big debut with social services. She wanted to wear the vintage lavender prom dress again, but McGee urged her to just be herself. When she finally arrived, she was wearing one of her favorite knit black sweaters, but instead of the skull he was used to seeing on the front, she had sewed on a gigantic Elmo appliqué. With it, she wore orange polka-dotted stretch pants and sneakers. In her hair, she wore a series of Dora the Explorer barrettes. McGee shook his head slightly when he saw her.
The social worker was an old pro, and she looked Abby up and down. "You are aware that I have seen photos of you. Tim has shared quite a lot about you."
Abby bit her lip. "But I am not that unhappy goth person anymore."
"You've always been happy," McGee said.
"This is me evolving."
The social worker looked at her over the top of her glasses. "Evolving? You've gone from goth to the clothes from Ella's closet. It looks like regression to me."
Abby squeezed her eyes shut and McGee readied himself for tears, but they didn't come. Instead, she looked at the social worker with full sincerity. "I guess I'm trying too hard. I just wanted to show you how happy I am, and what a good mother I can be."
"Who you were was okay, Abby. Tim said that you would refrain from wearing spikes or other sharp objects on your body. The skulls are okay as long as you're ready to explain them to a curious child when she starts to notice. It ends up being a little too metaphysical for your average 3-4 year old, in my opinion, but it's your choice."
McGee took Abby's hand. "I've been talking about what a remarkable person you are for weeks now. The clothes don't matter to me and they don't matter to Social Services either."
The social worker smiled. "What matters is that Ella looks good and she seems happy. She is showing more appropriate boundaries, she smiles more, and the fact that you've toilet trained her in such a short time is nothing short of a miracle. We did a learning assessment this week, and she's testing three months better than her last assessment, and you've only had her for a month. Plus, she's bonding to both of you very well."
Abby blinked. "We have a chance with her?"
"You have more than a chance. Two months ago, I wouldn't have taken a five dollar bet that this was going to last, but today I would be willing to stake a year's salary on it. Both of you are so willing to make the sacrifices and changes necessary to be good parents. You really love her."
"We can have the permanent foster care license?"
"Of course, you can, but I stay involved and we continue our weekly meetings. Then we can start an adoption process within 6 months if you're still interested."
Abby squeezed McGee's hand tightly. "Wow!"
"We know we need more space and we've started to look for a house to buy, and we're getting married in two weeks," McGee offered.
"There is no need to rush things."
Abby looked at McGee. "It's no rush. We've been working on this for eight years, haven't we, Tim?"
Sebastian was trembling more, sweat dripping off his face, and McGee worried that his thumb would slip off the detonator. "I won, Timmy. Don't tell me otherwise."
McGee nodded. "You won, Sebastian. You're going to take me with you."
"Think of all you'll lose."
"I'm trying, but my brain keeps taking me to how much I've gained since meeting you. I have you to thank for my upcoming nuptials as well as impending fatherhood. I've become much more confident as well. Surviving your reign of terror has really filled me with a strong sense of accomplishment."
Sebastian stomped his foot and McGee stiffened. "When you provoke me like that, I feel ready to let go of that detonator!"
"I can see that, and while I realize that there is no getting out of this situation, I want you to know that I can die today with a sense of peace. I've become who I'd always hoped I would be."
"Don't shine me on. I know you're terrified."
McGee nodded slowly. "Sure. I'm terrified but I can die feeling the happiest I've ever been. You can't take that away from me."
DiNozzo showed up for work with another gift and McGee rolled his eyes. "Where is she, McParent? Where is my princess Ella?"
"In the daycare, Tony, where she belongs during the workday."
"Aw come on. Let's spring her for a little while. We don't have anything on the docket. Besides, I have a little surprise for her."
"Spoiling her is a bad idea, you know."
"Only you suffer. It works for me because I see only the excitement and happiness, and I get to be amazing Uncle Tony. You're the one that has to pick up the pieces."
"You can go see her during lunch, Tony. She needs routine and structure right now." Tim was going back to his work when he saw Tony jump up and run toward the elevators. McGee looked up and saw Ziva coming with Ella in her arms. Tony remembered his gift and ran back to his desk.
Tim stood up. "I told them downstairs that only Abby or I could remove her. They're supposed to have security measures."
Ziva flashed a badge. "I forged Abby's name and created a new badge. Lots of new teachers down there."
He put his hands on his hips. "This isn't funny, Guys."
Tony was helping her unwrap yet another of the latest hot toys. He'd found a website for the latest hot finds in toys, and was ordering something constantly.
McGee's phone rang. "Hi Abs…No, she hasn't been actually kidnapped…Well, she was, but technically it was done by people who call themselves our friends…Tony bought her another toy…Love you too."
He looked at his teammates. "Believe me, you're going to get an earful once Abby gets up here."
Gibbs came trotting down the stairs from MTAC and stopped short when he saw two of his agents on the floor trying to assemble a toy while a small child stood over them, barking orders. "McGee! I thought we talked about having her in the bullpen during work hours."
McGee closed his eyes. "Yes Boss. Don't know what I was thinking."
Having said that, Gibbs didn't hesitate to reach down and swing Ella up into his arms. "How's my girl?"
She kissed him on the cheek, and Gibbs flashed one of his all too infrequent smiles. Abby came rushing in, and McGee hoped she'd have a little smackdown for Tony and Ziva, but she immediately spied the new toy and dropped to the ground. "We've been wanting this one, Tony. It's going to be great for the kingdom Princess Ella and I are building."
Ziva sat up. "Abby, I forged your I.D. to get Ella out of daycare today."
"Cool! Let me see it."
McGee sighed and walked up to Gibbs. "I should really return her now."
Ella slid easily into his arms. She hugged him tightly around the neck, and started whispering loudly into his ear about which books they needed to read when they got home.
McGee shrugged at Gibbs. "I never know why she always whispers about her books."
Gibbs nodded. "It's not for everyone else, Tim. She wants you to know that it's only for you and her."
McGee flushed. There would always be something special between the two of them, he would make sure of it. He kissed her softly on her head. "Let's go downstairs and get you back in daycare, Ella."
That little mouth was at his ear again. "Today, she's going to read Olivia. Did you ever know about her? She's a mouse and a ballerina and I want to be her friend so bad. Did you want to meet her?"
McGee smiled. "I'll ask the teacher when reading time is. If I'm around when she's reading Olivia, I would love to come and learn all about her."
McGee froze. He couldn't figure how she knew to make this connection so soon. He had never mentioned the word in her presence. He caught Gibbs' eyes. "How did she know? I haven't even used that word."
"Kids know when they find their Daddy. It's instinct. Being called Dad is something you don't ever want to lose, McGee."
He saw Gibbs, Tony, Ziva, and Fornell running through the park until they were behind Sebastian, their guns drawn. He closed his eyes. He should feel relief, but he knew that any misstep could cause Sebastian's thumb to slip. He took a deep breath. "Boss! You all need to stop where you are!"
Sebastian swung his head around, but turned back to him before McGee could make a move. "They are finally here to watch, Timmy." There was a strange hitch in his voice.
"Listen to me! He's wired with C4. I estimate a 75-yard radius; 100 yards would be a safer estimate! He reverse-wired the detonator so it goes off when he lets go of the trigger!"
Gibbs crept too close, and McGee cursed under his breath as Gibbs tried to lure him away. "Sebastian, turn around and look at me! You can have me! Let McGee go!"
Sebastian shook his head. "Talk to him, Timmy."
"Boss! He doesn't want you! He wants to finish what he started…with me! You need to move back at least 20 yards!"
McGee swallowed hard and said. "If Abby loses someone today, she only loses one of us! She's going to need you, Boss! More than anyone else, she's going to need you!"
Gibbs backed off only a few steps. "She needs you, McGee!"
"Come on, Probie! Hold on! We're going to figure this out!" Tony moved closer.
McGee now started to feel some of that panic he had been lacking earlier. "Boss, remember how you told me that it's a question of character! We talked about it two weeks ago! Please tell Tony to move back!"
Gibbs barked at Tony and he reluctantly moved back a few yards.
Sebastian narrowed his eyes at McGee. "What did Gibbs tell you about character?"
McGee stared back at him. "It makes a man, Sebastian. Genius alone isn't enough."
He nodded. "You're right. It isn't. I thought it was. I thought that it was enough to just be smarter than all of you, but you're going to win by sheer force of numbers. It's unfair. Eventually, you'll find my hideout."
McGee nodded. "An uncommon mind is only part of what a remarkable man needs, Sebastian."
"Are you ready to die, Timmy?"
McGee closed his eyes.
Gibbs had called him only yesterday. It was a Saturday, and McGee was sure it was a case. Instead, he was told to pack up Abby and Ella and meet him at an address. It was only two blocks from Gibbs' house. When they got there, they found a For Sale sign in front of a rather battered bungalow. The yard was weedy, and the front porch needed to be re-painted.
Abby smiled brightly. "This is perfect!"
McGee shook his head. "I don't know how to fix all of this."
They walked inside, and found Gibbs and Fornell there, arguing about the right shade to stain the built-in buffet. There were beautiful wood arches and wood floors, but they had been neglected for years. Everything looked worn, scratched, and old. Abby ran up the stairs and Ella followed.
"It, uh, looks…nice, Boss, but I wouldn't know how to rehab all of this. It would be at least $30,000 worth of work."
"$50,000 actually," Fornell said. "The electrical system needs to be re-wired."
"I don't know," McGee mumbled.
Abby appeared on the stairs. "Four bedrooms, Tim! It's perfect. We can turn two of the bedrooms into offices. Wouldn't that be great?"
McGee winced. "It's a lot of work, Abs. I don't know where we'd find the time."
"Varnish, paint, sanding equipment, wood, electrical wholesale: I'm thinking this whole thing would cost about $10,000 without the labor."
"I think you're right, Jethro."
McGee took a deep breath. "I don't know how to do all of this. I mean, we certainly can't pay $50,000 to get it done. If I gave up sleep, I could take this on, but I need to sleep…unlike the rest of you."
Abby and Ella walked down the stairs holding hands. "We'll help."
"Well, I'm completely relieved now." McGee said drily.
Gibbs chuckled. "If you idiots would pay attention, you would see that your contractors are right in front of you."
McGee raised an eyebrow. "I, I, uh…really appreciate that, Boss, but we couldn't impose like that."
"You aren't, Elf Lord. We're offering." Fornell took a sip from his coffee. "I trained as an electrician's assistant before college."
"Hey!" Gibbs said. "I'm getting just giddy thinking about all I could do with this woodwork. It's going to look like a museum in here when I'm done."
"How could we ever repay you?"
Gibbs shrugged. "I'm all out of boats in the basement. Kind of left without anything to do when I'm not working. Plus, it would give me a chance to see more of the lovely Ella."
Fornell smiled out of one corner of his mouth. "Keep the liquor cabinet stocked. That would be a good start for me."
"I could work on the yard!" Abby said, jumping up and down.
"I already called Duck. He wants in on the landscaping. I suspect he'll rope in Palmer as well. Ziva and Tony are going to help with the painting although they don't know it yet."
McGee looked down. "I don't know what to say."
Abby wrapped her arms around him. "That is because you are used to giving, not receiving, Tim. They want to do this because they can, and they love us and we love them. If any of them needed you, you'd be there in a hot minute. I've seen you do it a thousand times. It's who you are. Let them give back a little."
McGee nodded at the floor and then he looked up with soft eyes. "It would be amazing to have your help. And I would like to learn all of this stuff. A homeowner needs to learn how to take care of his space."
Abby grinned at them. "Do you see how old-fashioned he is? He keeps forgetting that he's not responsible for everything, that he and I are a team and he doesn't have to carry it all alone. I mean, eventually, it'll get annoying and I'll have to hurt him, but right now, I just think it's adorable how he wants to take care of everything. I mean, everything he does these days is adorable to me. Like this morning when he farted-"
McGee covered her mouth with his hand. "I guess we'd better talk to the realtor."
"She's already on her way. Should be here in about twenty minutes," Gibbs reported.
McGee opened his eyes again. Sebastian was still trembling but holding tightly to the detonator. Fear showed in his eyes. McGee sighed. "You can't do this, can you?"
"Shut up, Timmy! I want your last moments to be terror-filled."
"And I've been unwilling to give that to you."
"I won't die alone here. You're coming with me."
McGee looked past him to Gibbs. "It is all about character. Thanks for teaching me that. You've been the best teacher I've ever had."
Gibbs nodded. "You're in charge now, Tim. I'll follow your lead."
Sebastian stomped the ground again. "Stop it! I want you to beg! I want you to kneel down before me and tell me how sorry you are!"
McGee closed his eyes. He waited a moment and then he yelled, "Ready, Boss?"
Gibbs gave him a nod and then McGee turned around and began walking.
"Get back here! I'll follow you! I blow up others!"
McGee didn't look back. He just kept walking. The walking was to further show Sebastian that he controlled nothing. He was counting his steps. Another five steps, and he would be at approximately 50 yards. Ahead of him, the fire and police departments had established a perimeter that was a good 200 yards away. There was still close to 40-50 yards he could walk before he was endangering anyone in the crowd.
"Get back here!"
After the first 50 yards had been breached, he raised a hand. Nothing happened for a moment. Then he heard Tony yelling at him to run and he did. He heard the shot, and then it was as the world sucked him into a vacuum and he was thrown into the air. The last thing he remembered was the deafening roar.
When he awoke, it was like the ocean was running through his head. It was deafening. Faces peered down at him, and he couldn't quite identify them. Their mouths were moving, but the sounds rushing through his ears was too much.
There was something of a scuffle, and Abby pushed her way through. She dropped down beside him. "You're alive, McGee!"
He could hear only mumbles, but he had no question as to what she was saying. An EMT was trying to elbow her out of the way, but she hung in there. He tried to smile at her, but his face hurt.
"Am I okay?" he asked.
People mumbled distantly at him, and the only clue he might make it was the broad smile Abby kept on her face. Then Gibbs appeared behind her and hugged her around the middle.
McGee caught his eye. "Sebastian?"
"Dead" was the only word he could make out from Gibbs' lips.
"I can't hear anything, Boss," he complained.
"He's dead and you're going to be okay," Gibbs mouthed slowly.
Then he noticed that someone very important was missing. "Ella?"
"Ziva has her." Abby annunciated carefully.
It suddenly dawned on him that if he was okay, then he should be able to get up and walk away from all of these faces. He tried to jerk himself upright, but hands everywhere pushed him back down. Boss shook his head, "Don't move."
Tim frowned and lifted his head carefully. It struck him that he wasn't sure about the presence of his limbs. "Legs? Arms?"
Tony appeared on his left and yelled into his face. "Nothing's missing, Probie!"
McGee could make out his voice and smiled. Gibbs reached over and headslapped DiNozzo. Tony winced and then grinned at McGee. "I'm not supposed to yell apparently."
McGee could still make him out perfectly. He turned his head and watched them insert an IV. He frowned. "I'm fine."
Abby navigated around the EMTs and grabbed his face. "Just relax, Tim. We have to check you out. Let them do their work."
McGee nodded and closed his eyes.
When he woke again, he was in a hospital room, alone. He could hear real sounds now and he found that movement came more easily to his body. Groaning some, he was able to sit up and survey the damage. He had a bandage around his right arm. He looked under the covers and found some cuts and bruises on his torso. His legs looked fine. While his body ached, he found that he was able to maneuver his feet unto the floor easily. There was still an IV in his arm, but he carefully tugged it out and slapped a piece of tape over the entry.
In the closet, he found his jeans and t-shirt, but no shoes. He slipped on some hospital slippers and slowly got dressed. He hesitated for a moment, but thought it best to look at his face in the mirror. He had a black eye and the bandages on the bridge of his nose suggested it was broken. He winced. It was bad but nothing more than he'd sustained that time he and Tony got into a bar fight. It would have to do for now.
He walked out into the hallway, and stopped for a moment when a wave of dizziness hit. He took a deep breath and kept moving, sliding against the wall. He found the waiting room and grinned. Abby, Tony, Ziva, and Ella were sitting on the floor in the middle of the room working with a bunch of toys. Swaying slightly, one hand on the wall, he made his way toward them. Then he ran out of wall. His next obstacle was to walk the last twenty feet alone. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to find Gibbs standing there.
"How are you feeling, Tim?"
"I just want to go home, Boss."
"You've got a pretty heavy duty concussion there. Been sleeping since yesterday."
"Feel better now. Ready to go."
Gibbs smiled. "Yeah, I can see that. We might actually need to consult a doctor on that."
A thought invaded his head. "Assure me again that Sebastian is dead."
"I shot him right in the back of the head twice and then he got blown up. It was the only way this case was ever going to end."
"It was risky walking away like that."
Gibbs nodded. "But you were right to do it. Man didn't have enough character to follow through on his threats. He was evil but weak. You called it. He was stuck and he was playing for time because he didn't have a way to back out. It would have been too dangerous to wait it out with him any longer. Man's thumb was bound to slip."
"I worried he would follow me."
"Don't know what all you said to him, but he was pretty devastated when you left. I don't think he even considered following you."
McGee nodded. "My family is safe now."
"You did a damn fine job, Tim McGee."
He blushed. "Thanks Boss."
"Take my arm. I'll get you the last few feet to the waiting room."
They walked slowly. It was enough to catch Tony's attention and he jumped up immediately. He trotted over and took Tim's other arm. He whispered in his ear, "This damn concussion is going to put a kink in our bachelor party plans."
"Those are the breaks, Tony."
"You were dreading it, weren't it?"
McGee smiled. "What can I say? I was worried I was going to spend my wedding day in a jail cell."
It lucky that McGee was being supported on both sides because Abby suddenly appeared, wrapping him in a whole body hug. He groaned. "I love you too, Abs."
She realized her mistake and stepped back. "You have no business being out of bed."
"I was lonely."
We were letting you sleep." Then she wrinkled her nose. "But I can't wait to take you home, McTiger."
Tony grinned like an idiot and McGee reddened. "Let's save some nicknames for just the two of us."
Ziva was there too, kissing him on both cheeks. "We all love you so much, McGee."
Gibbs guided him into a chair and he groaned as his sore muscles stretched again.
Abby frowned at Gibbs. "His IV line was pulled out. It's bleeding."
"It wasn't my idea to pull him out here, Abs. Good news is that the Partridge is on duty. She'll fix him up, no trouble. She always sort of melts around me, you know."
Ella stared at McGee for a moment, a frown quivering on her face. "You're all hurt, Daddy."
He smiled down at her. "Come here."
Tony gave her a boost so that she wasn't crawling up his legs. He sat her gently in McGee's lap. McGee put his arms gently around her and she buried her face in his chest. "The bad guy is gone, Daddy. Uncle Tony said so."
He patted her head with his good hand and smiled at all gathered. "He's right. Everything is going to be okay, Ella. The bruises will go away. And as long as families stay together, everything will be just fine."