Echoes of Goodbye
After kissing her goodnight, Tobias Fornell quietly closed the door to his daughter's bedroom and walked back out to the living room. A sudden and heavy fall downpour made the air heavy and oppressive as he walked through the house checking the doors and windows. A small car parked in front caught his attention; the driver slumped over the steering wheel. Just as Fornell was about to go out and check, the driver straightened. He watched, hand on his weapon, as the driver exited the car and came up his front walkway. Once the driver was close enough for the porch light to illuminate his face, Fornell threw open the door.
"Agent McGee, what are you doing here?"
The young agent looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. "I'm sorry, Agent Fornell, I didn't know where else to go."
Fornell studied the dripping, shivering man standing in his foyer at nine thirty at night on a Tuesday. He couldn't imagine anything that would drive one of Gibbs' people to his doorstep instead of Gibbs' but he couldn't turn the man away. If nothing else, there was the curiosity factor, not to mention that he knew Gibbs would not turn away one of his people if the situation were reversed. "Looks like you need a hot shower first, and then we'll talk, alright?" An exhausted nod was the only response as McGee followed him through the house, leaving his backpack in the tiled entryway.
The dryer was just finishing and Fornell detoured long enough to pull out a warm towel and a set of sweats. McGee was taller and broader in the shoulders, but they would do in a pinch. While the younger man warmed up in the shower, Fornell started a pot of coffee, suspicious that it would be a rather long night. He debated calling Gibbs, but decided that if McGee had wanted to talk to him, he wouldn't be here right now.
"Thanks, Agent Fornell." McGee walked into the kitchen wearing the sweats, the towel draped around his neck. Seeing him dressed like that and barefoot made Fornell realize how young the other man was.
"No problem, kid. Why don't you toss your clothes in the washer then grab a cup of coffee." Not one for going out of his way when someone dropped by, Fornell unexpectedly found himself cutting two slices out of the pie he had bought the day before. Once the two of them were at the table, he decided to help the other man ease into the conversation.
"You guys caught a rough case last week; Gibbs must have been a bear to be around."
McGee poked at the piecrust with his fork. "Yeah, the case was pretty rough; it always is when there's a kid involved. It made it hard to…"
"Go to him when you needed help?" The kid's wince gave him the answer he was looking for. "I'll help you if I can, McGee." He waited, knowing that something that bothered the man this much couldn't be rushed.
"Last week," he cleared his throat and tried again. "Last week, somebody murdered my father."
"Ah crap, kid." He reached out and grasped McGee's arm as the younger man fought to keep his emotions under control. Of all the problems that would drive one of the NCIS agents to his home, this one had never crossed his mind. "Are the locals handling the investigation?"
McGee's knee was bouncing. "No, they've determined that it was natural causes."
"What makes you think otherwise?" Fornell was careful in his questioning. He did not want to insult a fellow investigator, but at the same time he understood how difficult it was to accept the death of a parent and how easy it was to insist someone was at fault.
"He was sick and in a lot of pain, but years away from the terminal stage. I… I took samples before the funeral home prepared his body and had a lab I trust run the tests for me."
The image in his mind was heartbreaking. This overgrown kid, the rookie among a group of hardcore agents, methodically taking evidence samples from the dead body of his own father, alone and unable to reach out for someone to help him at such a terrible time. "What did they find?"
McGee walked back to the entry and retrieved his backpack, pulling out a stack of papers. He looked at them without unfolding them and then returned to the table and handed them to Fornell. As an FBI agent he had seen many reports like this one and skimmed down the list of drugs found in the samples. At the top of the list was morphine. Fornell didn't know how big of a man the senior McGee had been but it didn't really matter, that level of morphine would be fatal to an elephant.
"A mercy killing?" As much as he hated the term, it fit. This wouldn't be the first time someone took it upon themselves to end a patient's suffering. McGee shook his head.
Fornell flipped through the pages, his confidence in reading them faltering the further he got down the list of results. Some of the drugs on the list only showed up in hair samples, while others in the victim's liver. He pointed out the only one he recognized besides the morphine. "That one is familiar, but I don't know what it's for." McGee didn't seem surprised by his comment.
"It's a masking agent. It took a lot of work to get the other results. That's why I didn't get them until today." He waited for Fornell to connect the dots.
"They tried to cover up what drugs were in your father's body at the time of his death? Why? What are the rest of these drugs for? I've never heard of any of them." He watched as one tear was angrily brushed away.
"That's because they're still in research. They're not available to the medical community yet." A second tear was just as quickly wiped away. "My father was trapped in his own body, unable to move, to speak, to ask for help and they used him for illegal research and when they thought I was going to find out, they killed him. They killed my dad and I don't think he's the only one."
"McGee? Tim?" Fornell leaned across the table and rested his hand on the bowed head. "Tim, we're going to figure this all out. Now I want you to start at the beginning and tell me everything that's happened, all right?"
Fornell refilled their coffees, this time adding a healthy shot of bourbon to each one, before they moved out to the living room. He steered McGee to the sofa, tossing him a blanket that was draped across the back. "Start back when you first got word about your dad; tell me exactly what happened." Tim wrapped the blanket around himself and nodded, thinking back to that day the previous week in the squad room.
"McGee, have you found the connection yet? DiNozzo, where are the police reports I asked for? David, get down to Ducky and get him moving. There has to be something we've missed." Gibbs was angry and had been yelling at his team for over an hour. He slammed his hands down on the desk surface before storming up the stairs to the director's office to demand more access to the civilian investigation he suspected was tied into their own. DiNozzo was on the phone, trying to get the reports to magically appear while McGee was running three different programs in an attempt to find how the suspect was tracking and kidnapping the young girls. His cell phone rang and he almost missed it, so intent on the screen in front of him.
"Yeah, Agent McGee." It didn't register at first who was on the other end of the phone call as one of his searches came back with a positive result.
"Mom, what it is, what's wrong?"
~Oh sweetheart, it's your dad, he… he's gone.~
He grabbed the edge of his desk to keep from falling. "What do you mean, gone?" In the background he could hear the sounds of the nursing home his father had been confined to for the last two years.
~It was very sudden. The doctor said that his heart just gave out. How soon can you come home?~
He wasn't quite sure how to answer her, so he asked a question of his own. "Have you told Sarah yet?" He heard his mother stifle a sob before she responded.
~No, she's still so young. I didn't want her to hear this over the phone.~
Tim hung his head. He could hear Gibbs coming back down the stairs, still yelling. "I'll take care of it, Mom, and get her on a flight home. I'll be there as soon as I can, but we're literally in the middle of chasing a child rapist. You know Dad would want me to catch this guy, but I'll be there, I promise." He closed his phone just as Gibbs came around the corner.
"Tell me somebody has something we can use."
Taking a deep breath, McGee stood up and reported his findings. It was enough to give them a direction and a timeline for the next attack.
"Good." Gibbs checked the time; the team had been working nineteen hours straight without a break. "Everybody take two hours, grab something to eat, and then meet back here to coordinate surveillance teams with Metro. Now go." Without looking back at his team, Gibbs strode out of the bullpen, not noticing McGee's attempt to get his attention. Unfortunately, Tony did notice.
"What's the matter, Probilicious, not enough of a pat on the back?"
McGee's voice was rough as he fought to keep his emotions under control. "Forget it, Tony."
DiNozzo picked up on the stress in his younger partner's voice, but not the significance. "Come on; tell Uncle Tony all about it." He reached out and slung his arm around McGee's shoulder in an attempt to lighten the mood.
"Not every part of my life is waiting for you to add a punch line, DiNozzo." McGee shoved the arm off his shoulder and stormed off.
Forcing a calmness he didn't feel, Tim drove to the college and broke the news to his sister, managed to get her packed, the dean's office informed, and a flight home arranged. He would have preferred to drive Sarah to the airport himself, but a sympathetic roommate offered her services and allowed him to return to NCIS.
McGee walked back into the squad room exactly two hours and six minutes after the break had been authorized, but that extra six minutes had been enough to earn Gibbs' ire.
"Two hours means two hours, McGee. What part of that did you not get?" The younger man sagged, still reeling from the news and not knowing how to explain in a room now full of the cops from Metro that were part of the new task force.
"I had to go tell Sarah about…"
"No, nothing else matters until we get this bastard in handcuffs. Is that understood?"
McGee sighed and gave a slight nod. "I'm sorry, Boss."
"Don't apologize, just get to work."
Silently, he did. Over the next twenty-four hours he worked the case in near silence, only speaking when the work called for it. When the suspect was captured and the next victim rescued unharmed the rest of the task force went out for drinks and celebrated with a two day vacation. Timothy McGee went home and packed his best suit before taking the red-eye flight back home to do his duty as the eldest son.
Fornell leaned back and rubbed at his face. "You still haven't told Gibbs about your dad's death."
"There's no point." McGee was starting to tilt, a combination of the bourbon in the coffee and the emotions of the evening. "It would just…" he paused, not knowing how to explain.
He didn't have to explain. Fornell had spent enough time with the team at NCIS to know how they thought. "Gibbs would realize he'd been an ass, and you don't want him to feel guilty." When McGee didn't answer, Fornell just shook his head and pushed him further down on the couch. "You're in no condition to drive home tonight, kid. I'll make sure you're up in time to get to work." His house guest was already down for the count, so Fornell just covered him better with the blanket and tossed his clothes in the dryer before retiring to his own bed, but sleep was a long time coming to the older man.