a/n - In case you hadn't noticed, has had some major issues today :) but finally I'm getting the final chapter posted. Now, let's see if it shows up.


~Epilogue~

Dr. Wilkes smiled as he felt someone breathing down his neck. He'd take that over a failing bond any day. "Your Guide will be fine, Sentinel Gibbs. A few more stitches and then you'll be able to take him home and fuss all you want."

"He lost a lot of blood. Are you sure he doesn't need a transfusion?"

Under Wilkes' steady hands Tim rolled his eyes, but the doctor kept an impassive expression. "His blood counts are still in the safe zone. It would be better to just support his body's natural ability to produce more blood than to put him through the stress of a transfusion." After years of dealing with Sentinels, Wilkes knew that the threat of stressing the Guide would work.

"All right, what do we do?"

"Make sure he gets plenty of rest, drinks plenty of fluids and eats lots of iron rich foods." Dr. Wilkes almost laughed at the determined look on Gibbs' face. McGee was going to be experiencing his Sentinel in full nesting mode until he was healed up.

Once the last stitch was in place, Wilkes made his escape before he burst out laughing. He was hiding in the break room, still chuckling over his coffee when Senior Sentinel Ellison called in for a report.

How is he?

"Total of eighty-seven stitches and a Sentinel in a full nest. I'll be sending them home as soon as their ride arrives and then I don't expect them to move for a few days. Certainly not until the skin's healed up enough that Gibbs can't sense any blood and he's convinced nothing is going to pop open."

That bad?

"Damn near poked him with the needle while I was stitching, he was that close." Wilkes could hear both Ellison and Sandburg laughing. "After the rough start they had, I'm not complaining."

Amen to that. All right, I'll make sure they're given some privacy for the next few days. After the way Gibbs was growling at anyone that came near Tim, that shouldn't be too hard.

Laughing, Wilkes shook his head. He'd heard about that from the medics aboard the chopper. "Appreciate it. I'll be doing a wound check in two days, that should be long enough." Still smiling, Wilkes ended the call and headed back to his patient, happy to send him and his Sentinel on their way.

-NCIS-

"Are you sure you can walk? I can carry you."

Ducky answered from the front seat before Tim could even take a breath. "We don't want to put any strain on those stitches on his back, Jethro. It's not that far and I'm sure Timothy would be more comfortable walking under his own power with your support."

Gibbs knew he was right, but he still wanted to minimize the strain on his Guide. "Pull up on the lawn so he doesn't have so far to walk, okay?"

Exchanging a pointed look with Abby first, Ducky looked over his shoulder, his foot on the brake. "You want me to drive through the flower bed?" The look he received from the back seat had him trying to aim the agency sedan between the largest of the rosebushes, wincing at the scraping sound.

Once the car was parked on the grass and only a few feet from the porch steps Gibbs climbed out of the back seat and tenderly helped Tim to stand, letting him rest his forehead against Gibbs until he was ready to move.

When Tim was ready to move, Gibbs stayed right at his side, one hand supporting his nearest arm, his other hand gently bracing against Tim's back, below the lowest of the cuts. Abby hurried ahead to open the door while Ducky followed behind with Tim's prescriptions and supplies.

Inside the house, Gibbs paused. "Bed or do you want to rest down here for a little while first?"

"Actually, I want a shower."

"Oh, I don't know." Wanting the smell of spilled blood to be gone, but worried about the risk, Gibbs looked over to Ducky for help.

"Timothy, a shower might not be the best plan tonight, but perhaps a sponge bath might do the trick?" Ducky looked around, not wanting to bring more blood than was necessary up into their bedroom. "Jethro can get a warm fire going in the fireplace and help you clean up and then after a light supper, you can retire upstairs."

Plan set, Abby went up to gather towels and washcloths while Gibbs started the fire before joining Ducky in the kitchen.

"I almost lost him, Duck."

Ducky watched Gibbs stare at Tim, sitting on the sofa. "He's going to be fine, Jethro. There were a lot of stitches, but..."

"No, before then. I was willing to reject our bond. I almost killed him." Gibbs gave him a sad smile before turning back to watch Tim talking to Abby. "Sometimes it hits me and it just takes my breath away."

"Focus on the future, my friend." Ducky squeezed his arm. ""You can't change the past." After adding a few drops of vanilla to the bowl of warm water he handed it to Gibbs. "So, go pamper your Guide."

-NCIS-

Gibbs sat on the edge of the coffee table, only vaguely aware of Abby leaving the room. Tim hadn't moved since he'd sat down and Gibbs first job was to unbutton and remove the shirt Ducky had brought for Tim to wear. "I was planning on tearing that other shirt off of you tonight."

Tim smiled at the memory. "Got another shirt she bought."

"Yeah? Well, after you're all healed up and the stitches are out, I'm gonna take care of that." The bond heated up with the images of Jethro ripping the shirt right off of Tim and claiming him. Smiling at the plan, Gibbs soaked one of the cloths before wringing it out and tenderly washing Tim's face. Tim was practically purring by the time he was done and Jethro carefully washed all the dry blood off his ears, using his sight to examine each stitch along the back of Tim's left ear.

Next, he started on Tim's head, nodding in thanks as Abby quietly replaced the bowl of bloody water with a fresh one. The bowl was replaced three times before Gibbs was satisfied that he'd gotten all the dry blood out of Tim's hair.

Pulling Tim close, Gibbs reveled in the feel of Tim's breath against his throat as Gibbs wiped away the blood and Betadine off his back. Although the deepest and most serious, that cut had bled the least but had taken the most time to clean out and properly close. There were another half dozen smaller cuts that had been glued together and Gibbs cautiously dabbed at them, not wanting to loosen the glue.

Finally the smell of blood and medicine didn't overpower the natural smell of his Guide, bolstered by the faint smell of vanilla. Exhausted and surrounded by the feel of his Sentinel, Tim had fallen asleep against him and Gibbs happily settled in to wait.

-NCIS-

Abby had lost track of how many times she'd swapped out the bowls of water, but finally Ducky nodded in satisfaction. "Ducky?"

Instead of answering, he tilted his head toward the scene in the living room and she smiled at the sight. McGee was still, apparently asleep, his face nuzzled against the crook of Gibbs' neck and his Sentinel had his arms tenderly wrapped around him. Gibbs was perched on the edge of the table and the position looked awkward and uncomfortable but she knew by the contented expression on his face that he'd sit there all night if that's what his Guide needed.

Ducky stepped up beside her. "That, my dear, is what a true bond looks like."

"They're going to be okay now, aren't they?"

"Yes, I believe they are. Now, I believe I'll get the car off the lawn and fetch some groceries for them for the next few days. Do you wish to go with me?"

Abby hadn't taken her eyes off the scene in the living room. "No, I'll stay here in case they need anything."

"All right. I'd suggest giving them some space. Jethro may have tolerated having us underfoot while he needed help in tending to Timothy, but now he will want his – space – as you young people say, to protect his Guide while he's vulnerable."

For a moment Abby looked like she was going to argue, but then she nodded, sagging as she did. "You're right, Duckman, it's just going to take some getting used to. I'll stay in the kitchen and clean things up. We don't want the smell of the blood to stick around, do we?"

"No, we do not. Now remember to use the Sentinel safe products. I believe they're under the sink."

Once she'd found what she needed, Ducky slipped out the door just as another agency sedan pulled in the driveway. Tony jumped out and stared at the car sitting on Gibbs' once pristine lawn. "Whoa, who did that? The Boss is not going to be happy when he sees that."

"Actually, Tony, it was his idea. Jethro did not want Timothy to have to walk any further than he absolutely had to."

Tony glanced over at Ziva then back at Ducky. "I thought McGee was all right? I mean, they wouldn't have let him leave the hospital if he wasn't."

"He will be fine, but he is an injured Guide and now that he is properly bonded to his Sentinel..." Ducky could tell that Tony still didn't fully understand. "How was Jethro behaving at the crime scene after Tim was injured?"

"You mean when he growled at Fornell for getting too close?" Tony looked amused at the memory for a moment before the worry returned to his expression. "He's still like that? How long does that last?"

"How long will it take Timothy to heal?"

Tony looked over at Ziva again before returning his attention to Ducky. "What happens now? I mean, should we even be here?"

Ducky could tell that Tony's first instinct was to barrel into the house and he was proud of the growth the younger man was showing by asking.

"Jethro has washed the blood off of Timothy, who is now resting downstairs. Abigail is cleaning up so that there is no trace of the blood to bother Jethro's senses and I am on my way for some simple to fix food for them. If you go in, go straight to the kitchen and then speak very softly, asking if there is anything you can do for them. Just don't be offended if he doesn't want anyone underfoot."

The words 'but Abby's there' were on Tony's tongue, but he held them back. One thing Tony did know was that even though they'd accepted him out in the field, he was going to have to earn his place back on a more personal level. "Okay, we can do that."

Determinedly, he led Ziva through the house, watched the pair carefully, but not stopping until they were in the kitchen. Ziva silently started helping Abby scrub out the sink and wash down the counters while Tony found a spot in the doorway where he could see Gibbs and McGee.

The tenderness he saw almost took his breath away and he had to swallow hard. It wasn't the burning jealousy like he'd felt before, but an ache as he watched, knowing that he could never fully walk the path they were now on. He could follow them, support them, and he would, but there would be a part of their lives he would never be a part of or fully understand.

Tony watched for a moment longer before whispering his offer, assuming that he might have to raise his voice if Gibbs didn't respond. "Boss, we're here – whatever you and McGee need."

Gibbs turned his head slightly toward Tony and gave a slight nod before returning his attention to Tim and Tony settled in to wait. Eventually Tim shifted slightly and Gibbs spoke, raising his voice enough for Tony to hear him. "Let's get you upstairs, okay? Tony's here and he's going to help."

With Tony on one side and Gibbs on the other, Tim slowly made it up the stairs. At the door to the bedroom, Gibbs stopped. "I've got it from here, Tony."

"You sure?"

"This is our private space, Tony. Kinda like the bonding suite aboard the Yard."

The rebuke was a gentle reminder of the lecture Tony had gotten from both Ducky and Abby and he nodded as he stepped back. "Yeah, okay. When Ducky brings back food, we'll leave it outside the door."

-NCIS-

The tap was Sentinel soft, the whisper only a touch louder. "Jethro, I've set out two plates of food for you and Timothy. There's a slab of beef for you, seared but still bleeding and a steak salad for Timothy. It's the one from Sebastian's Grill, I believe that is his favorite."

Ducky didn't wait for an answer and Gibbs could hear him creep back down the stairs. Smelling his own steak dinner and the more complex scents of fresh greens and blue cheese mixed with the seasoned steak that made up Tim's dinner, Gibbs' stomach growled. He felt Tim's lips curl up into a smile against his chest.

"Food's here?"

"You can smell it?"

Tim smiled again, kissing the skin under his lips before patting Gibbs' stomach. "Don't need to. Got a built in alarm right here."

Gibbs had been enjoying the feel of his Guide's body draped across his, but now he had to chuckle. "Yeah, that steak salad of yours smells pretty good. Ducky said it was your favorite."

"He went to Sebastian's?"

Tim perked up and Gibbs realized how much he didn't know about his Guide. He stroked his fingers across Tim's back. "Never been there. After you're all healed up we'll go, alright?"

"Really?"

Tim's head was lifted so Gibbs used the opportunity to sneak in a kiss. "I want to learn about all your favorites."

-NCIS-

"Admiral McGee?"

"Yes? Can I help you?" John McGee looked up at the figure that was standing over him, holding two cups.

The now civilian Vincent Hamel sat in the booth across from the Admiral. "Actually, sir, it's how I can help you."

Despite his blank expression, Admiral McGee had recognized his visitor. Accepting the coffee and pushing his own work to the far side of the table, he leaned back. "All right, I'm listening."

The End?