If any one saw him here, sitting in the living room, alone, in the wee small hours of the morning, they would have thought that Tim hated his job. Which, he had to admit, was only partially true. All in all, he'd certainly had worse undercover assignments.
The area was nice - if Tony had been there, he would have been muttering something about Wisteria Lane and then tied himself into knots trying to explain that particular reference to Gibbs - and the house was spectacular, just the kind that Tim could see himself buying if he ever managed to find someone to settle down with. Busy during the day with a mixture of retirees and young families, at this hour of the night, or morning, the street and the house were in silence, the only sound in the room being the ticking of the pocket watch in Tim's hands.
He was so intent on the watch that he hadn't heard Ellie coming down the stairs and he jumped a little, closed the pocket watch up and turned to face her. "Hey," he said, trying to make his voice sound normal. He'd been trying to do that a lot today; then, as now, he didn't think that he succeeded. "I couldn't sleep," he said, which at least was the truth. "I didn't want to wake you up..."
His voice trailed off as Ellie crossed her arms over her chest, cocked her hip and frowned. If he'd had any doubts that he was pulling off the whole "everything is fine" routine he was going for, one look at her would have clued him into the fact that he definitely hadn't. Suddenly, Tim was reminded an awful lot of how things had been near the end with Delilah and he blinked, this fake undercover marriage suddenly feeling an awful lot like the real thing. "Are you going to tell me what's the matter with you? Because we have a job to do here and if you can't look at me then...." Ellie clamped her lips together tightly, looked away from him. Her jaw was tight, tension running through her shoulders like a wire, pulling her whole body taut. Tim had the feeling that she could snap at any moment, with just the wrong word from him.
He knew the feeling.
"This isn't the first time we've gone undercover together, Tim," she finally said, her voice noticeably more gentle. Slowly she crossed the room, sat down beside him, her hands flexing against her knees. "It's not the first time we've had to share a bed. And, ok, I know it's the first time since you and Delilah..." She faltered on the name and he looked away from her, waited for the familiar stab of pain that usually accompanied thoughts of her. None came and strangely, that hurt him even more.
"That has nothing to do with-" he began but she didn't let him finish.
"Then what, Tim? Because last time, I was married, and you were involved and it wasn't anything like this..."
"Because last time my grandmother wasn't dying."
The words flew out before he could think about them, flew out before he could stop them and they hung in the air between them, heavy, suffocating. Ellie's jaw dropped, even as her brows drew down in a frown and she stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language and she didn't know the words. He could see when the understanding hit her, watched the blood drain slowly from her face, watched her eyes grow wide with horror and sympathy.
It was the sympathy, he would think later, that did him in. That, coupled with the fact that he hadn't said those words out loud before, not to anyone. Saying them made it all real somehow, and the reality rose up in his throat, burned his eyes and he had to look down, had to look away because he couldn't look at her, it was just too much.
The couch shifted and creaked as she rose to her feet and he heard her pad away from him. He shook his head in utter frustration, knowing that he'd managed to make a bad situation worse, that he was going to have to apologise to her, that he was going to have to explain himself to her, and somehow he was going to have to do it all in the morning without blowing their cover. To say it wasn't a task that he relished was putting it mildly and he was so engrossed in his own thoughts that he didn't notice she was on her way back until the couch dipped under her weight once more.
This time, she was sitting closer to him, close enough that he could feel the heat of her body through her flannel pyjama pants. The material was soft against his leg and the unexpected feeling made him turn his head towards her. She wasn't looking at him, instead all her concentration was on the two glasses that she was placing side by side on the coffee table in front of them, glasses that she'd obviously carried from the mini bar in between her two fingers. In her other hand, she held a bottle of bourbon and as he watched, she opened it, pouring a generous - more than generous, he amended - helping into each glass. Wordlessly, she handed one to him, or at least, she held it out in his general direction. She didn't look at him and that gave him a chance to swipe at his eyes, to take a long sip of the bourbon, to let it trace a fiery path down his throat and allow him to blame any further tears on the resulting coughing and spluttering.
Ellie slowly sipped her drink and he followed suit, letting the liquid slowly warm him from the inside out, letting the heat of her leg warm him from the outside in. Only when the glasses were half empty did she speak. "Why didn't you say something?"
Tim shrugged with one arm, the one closest to her. The motion brought his upper arm into closer contact with hers and she shivered. Must be the bourbon, he thought absently. "We've been prepping this op for weeks," he told her. "And what, I'm supposed to say the day before we go in that I can't go?"
"If that's what it takes." Ellie's voice was soft, and if Tim didn't know better, he'd say amazed. "Tim, you know what family means to Gibbs... you can't think that he'd make you go through with this, not when you're needed there..."
"You don't understand." Another sip of his drink did nothing to wash away the bitter taste in Tim's mouth. "It's not Gibbs... I mean, I know, he would have let me out of this. Of course he would. It was Penelope."
Ellie frowned. "Penelope?"
Tim closed his eyes, remembering that when his grandmother had met the NCIS team, Bishop still been working at the NSA. "Penelope is my grandmother," he told her. "She was never one for traditional titles. Or traditional anything, come to that. Other kids had grandmas that made them cookies, knit them sweaters. Penelope taught me how to crack codes and bought me my first computer kit." He held his glass in front of him, let the light from the lamp in the corner catch the amber liquid. "And she can drink me under the table."
Ellie's laugh sounded more surprised than anything else. "She sounds amazing."
"She is." Tim swallowed. "She spent a lot of time with us when I was a kid. My dad, he was gone a lot so she would help out... and my sister Sarah, she's a lot younger, and she was barely a toddler when my dad left so she took up a lot of my mom's time..." A band aid baby, Penelope had once snorted to a friend of hers when she thought Tim was out of earshot, though she'd doted on Sarah in her own way just the same. "Penelope was always there for me." He drained the last of the glass, leaned forward to place it on the table. She did likewise, though her glass was still half full and when she leaned back, any distance between them had vanished completely.
"When they told us it was cancer, I was sure it had picked the wrong person... I mean, it was like, it's Penelope. She's going to kick its ass." His lips twisted in a grimace as he recalled the hospital, the silent grey room, Penelope's silent grey form the last time he'd seen her. She'd been asleep for most of his visit but he'd stayed until she'd woken, eager to be able to talk to her before he started this mission. "But..." His throat closed up and he couldn't speak any more.
Ellie's hand reached out, closed over his knee, gentle and warm. "Tim, if she doesn't have much time left..."
"I told her... I saw her the day before I left. What the mission was, what I was doing. Told her that I knew Gibbs would let me scrub it if I had to. She ordered me to, and I quote, 'Man the hell up' and do my duty that I'd worked so hard to earn." The fire in her eyes had been the Penelope of old and the memory made him smile. "And then she gave me this." He held up the pocket watch that was lying beside him, let it dangle in the air between them.
Ellie's hand left his knee, reaching up to catch the watch mid-spin and he felt curiously bereft at the loss of her touch. It was a feeling he pushed away as soon as he categorised it, because being undercover as husband and wife was a difficult enough assignment without his emotionally compromised state telling him he was feeling things he knew he'd never feel in different circumstances. "It's beautiful," she said, eyes narrowed as she examined it closely.
"It was my grandfather's," he told her. "Penelope gave it to Jim on their wedding day. They never had sons... She always told me that one day she'd pass it on to me." His throat closed again and tears stung his eyes. He looked away but not so quickly that he didn't see the look of anguish on Ellie's face, the way that her teeth caught her bottom lip.
"I think she was saying goodbye."
Closing his eyes against the tears, he was surprised when the couch shifted again and Ellie's arms went around him, one across his shoulders, one cradling the back of his head. She pulled him down against her and although he could have resisted her easily, he found himself falling, letting his head rest against her shoulder. Her fingers moved through the hair at the nape of his neck and he was so tired of pretending he wasn't scared he'd never see Penelope again, pretending to be something, someone, he wasn't and he couldn't do it anymore.
So he cried and she held him until his eyes were dry and he could lift his head again.
Looking at her, her own eyes were curiously damp but he didn't comment on it, just gave her a sheepish smile. "Sorry-" he began but he stopped straight away when she slapped his knee, giving him a ferocious look as she did so.
"You have nothing to be sorry for." She reached out for her glass, used it to nudge the bottle closer to his. "Recently divorced, remember? Although I usually dive into a pint of ice cream, but there was none in the freezer." She tilted her head. "We're going grocery shopping in the morning."
"Agreed." He eschewed pouring another drink, instead reached out and took her hand in his. He squeezed it tightly and tried not to notice how her cheeks went pink when she took another gulp of her drink. "Thank you."
She nodded, her smile bright, then stood. "Come on, let's go back to bed. We've a long day of coupledom tomorrow."
She led him up the stairs and into the room and it wasn't long before they were both asleep.
Much to his surprise, as the days went by on their assignment, it got easier to be there, to play the role of the at home day trader, doing well enough to support his glamorous wife. It gave him the perfect opportunity to keep tabs on all the neighbours, internet search them to his heart's content and, if he managed to snag five minutes here and there to pound out a sentence or two on the latest LJ Tibbs novel, well only Ellie knew about that and she wouldn't tell on him. Especially not when she'd sneak up on him and read the sentences over his shoulder, taking great delight in reading of the exploits of the newest member of the team, one Helen King, a blonde haired, hazel eyed ex-NSA analyst with a philandering husband who was more of a jerk than anyone could reasonably put up with. He was prepared to dial back on that a little, but not much, and his descriptions made Ellie laugh rather than tear up so he didn't worry about it too much. The reading over his shoulder drove him nuts though so they ended up reaching a compromise where he would read some of what he'd written aloud to her at the end of the day and she would listen to him and smile and for a while, all the world would be right.
He didn't realise how accustomed he'd become to her presence, to having her around, until they were at a neighbourhood barbecue, and he was sitting at the table with some of the neighbours, a beer in his hand and a grin on his face as he looked at Ellie, chatting with some of the other wives. "Newlyweds," the man sitting beside him chuckled and Tim made himself grin, which actually wasn't too hard. Joe Graham was something of the neighbourhood patriarch, a grey haired and bearded retiree who made it his business to make everyone welcome and if they didn't suspect him of being one of the organisers of the arms sale that they were investigating, Tim would really like the guy.
"Hardly," Tim objected, raising his beer to his lips. "Coming up on three years now."
"Like I said," the older man drawled, "Newlyweds." He narrowed his eyes, dropped his gaze to Tim's hand wrapped around the beer bottle. "Thought that was why you weren't wearing your ring."
Tim cursed himself inwardly and looked down, at a momentary loss for words. The truth was, he'd once again forgotten to put on the damn ring and how he was going to explain that, he had no idea. Ellie, ever the perfect partner, took that moment to come to his rescue. "Oh, don't look so guilty, honey," she said, coming up behind him and ghosting her hand along the back of his shoulders. Then to Joe, "He hates the feeling of the ring on his finger... always has. Picture him, standing at the top table at our wedding breakfast, in the middle of his speech extolling my many virtues..." She sounded like she was enjoying herself immensely and Tim found himself smiling up at her. "Meanwhile, the ring that I so lovingly put on his finger only hours earlier is caught up in his napkin, all ready to almost be scooped up by the waiter."
Joe laughed and Tim didn't have to work for the blush on his cheeks. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you?" he asked Ellie and she wrinkled her nose, looked up thoughtfully.
"Nope," she decided, patting his shoulder. "He tries to remember, because he knows I like him to wear it," she finished, looking back to Joe, "but I've given up hope of him ever managing it." Joe nodded and Tim could tell that he was buying it, glanced up and over his shoulder at Ellie, intending to shoot her a thankful look, one that would serve a dual purpose in his role as her loving husband and his role as her forgetful partner. It turned out, however, that as he was looking up, she was leaning down to kiss his cheek and the sudden change in positions meant that instead of her lips brushing over his cheek, instead they landed on his lips.
It was a gentle contact, barely any at all really, but Tim nonetheless felt it down to his toe and he acted purely on instinct, bringing his hand up to cup her cheek, moving his lips against hers and deepening the kiss. Not for long - he had a feeling that Laura and Thomas Carter, their aliases, wouldn't be much for PDA - but long enough that Ellie's cheeks were pink when they parted and if the heat in his own was anything to go by, his weren't far behind.
"Yep," chuckled Joe. "Newlyweds."
Crisis averted, he didn't think any more of it until later in the night when the sun was setting and the fairy lights strung all around the backyard were twinkling merrily in the evening breeze. Music was playing quietly through the speakers and some of the neighbourhood couples were dancing on the decking. Tim and Ellie were sitting side by side, hands joined loosely, dangling in between their chairs when Joe jerked his chin towards the makeshift dance floor. "You two newlyweds gonna show us how it's done?"
Ellie lifted an eyebrow and giggled. It was a sound Tim rarely heard from her and he found himself thinking how nice it sounded. "Tom's not much of a dancer-" she began and Tim surprised himself - and her, going by her wide eyes - by rising to his feet, pulling her with him.
"I think," he said, "I might make an exception tonight."
The music was something slow and jazzy, not the kind of music Tim usually favoured but compared to some of the bands Abby had dragged him to, not bad at all. He held her left hand in his, slid his right around her waist, low enough to be believable but high enough not to scandalise the neighbours - or get him Gibbs-slapped later, which was more important. Ellie looped her right arm around his waist, pressing her body against his and smiling up at him like he'd hung the moon. He tightened his grip on her, like a good husband would, but then began to second guess himself. "Is this ok?" he asked, not just talking about the dancing, and she grinned.
"PDA in front of the new neighbours?" She kept her voice light, stayed in her role. "I don't have a problem with it."
"Yeah?" OK, the semi-leer might have been a step too far but she just laughed.
"Yeah." Then her smile faltered a little, just enough that only he would see it. "Doesn't hurt to remind them we're happy together... one of the husbands doesn't seem to be the faithful type."
Tim frowned and the rush of anger than darkened his face was definitely not acting. "Who?"
Ellie shook her head. "Nothing I can't handle," she told him, patting his shoulder. "Besides, you're a lover, not a fighter."
"I can be both." She laughed again but not in an unkind way, resting her head against his shoulder. He pulled her tighter, the better to show off their happy marriage to anyone who might be watching, made a show of dipping his head so that it looked like he was whispering sweet nothings in her ear. "Say the word," he murmured, "and we're out of here."
Her arm tightened around his waist, her palm sliding up to rest on the middle of his back. "A couple more dances like this." She kept her voice just as low. "Then no-one will question why we're leaving early."
It took the penny a moment to drop and when it did, Tim fought very hard not to let his jaw drop along with it. Instead, he made himself smile, forced himself to concentrate on the melody and the rhythm and not step on Ellie's toes.
True to her word, when they left a couple of songs later, there were fond if knowing smiles exchanged between all the neighbours and he and Ellie grinned as they waved over their shoulders and walked hand in hand back to their house.
But when they walked through the front door, she dropped his hand and began listing what she'd found out from the other wives.
Tim, meanwhile, listened with half an ear as he tried to figure out why he suddenly felt so bereft.
The pocket watch ticked loudly in his hands, perfectly interspersed with the beeps and whirrs of the machines surrounding Penelope. Her chest rose and fell in shallow breaths and Tim counted every one, watching in fearful dread of the moment that they stopped altogether. He shifted on the uncomfortable plastic chair, wincing as the muscles in his back popped and he glanced at the watch, wondering how long he'd been here.
When he looked up, he recoiled in shock, because Penelope was sitting up in bed, staring at him with an expression of pure anger on her face. No, more than anger; hatred, and no wonder it took him a few seconds to recognise it because he'd never seen that look on her face before.
"Penelope-" he began, leaning forward, reaching for her hand, but her eyes narrowed and she actually hissed at him.
"You left me," she told him, her voice low and horrible and so not Penelope that it sent a shiver down his spine. "I needed you... and you went away." Her eyes narrowed. "Just like him."
From the amount of withering scorn she put into her voice, she could only mean one person - he'd heard her use that tone to describe his father when he'd been a little boy who couldn't sleep who found himself eavesdropping on his crying mother and her own mother comforting her. "Penelope, I -"
She didn't let him finish. "Get OUT!"
The shout woke him up.
Heart pounding, chest heaving, he found himself sitting bolt upright in bed, a thin shaft of light from the street lamp outside creeping through a crack in the curtains. Not bright enough to chase his demons away, he reached out without thinking, snapping on the light, reaching for the pocket watch on the bedside cabinet, the watch that was ticking away just like in his dream. The watch told him that it was a little after two in the morning and a quiet, "Tim?" from beside him reminded him that he wasn't alone.
He turned his head, met Ellie's clear gaze. "Sorry," he said, even though she didn't look like someone who he just woken up. How long, he wondered, had he been tossing and turning before he'd woken himself, how much of her sleep had he disturbed? "I didn't think."
"It's ok." Ellie sat up, tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. "Bad dream?" At his nod, she continued, "Want to talk about it?"
He considered it, he really did. "Not really," he finally said.
He half expected her to fight him on it, but she just held his gaze as she nodded again. "OK," she said simply, lying back down on her side, facing him. She didn't break his gaze, just waited for him to reach around, turn back off the light.
When he did so, he lay down on his back, staring at the ceiling, knowing that sleep would be a long time coming.
After a minute, he felt her shift and then a warm hand closed over his cold one. She squeezed gently and it made him smile. Something made him turn his hand in his, lace their fingers together and in the dim light of the room, he fancied that he saw her smile too.
Then again, maybe it was just his imagination.
When the case was finally closed, the perpetrator not Joe Graham, who Tim had actually come to like, but his son, a returned serviceman who'd moved back in with his folks, Tim came through it without a scratch, Ellie mostly so. A sucker punch had knocked her flying into a bookcase, knocked her out momentarily and she had the makings of one hell of a black eye. Tim's hand was on her cheek, assessing the damage as his heart pounded triple time at the memory of her lying still on the ground, and she was telling him for the tenth time that she was fine when they heard Gibbs's voice bellowing like the wrath of God.
Tim dropped his hand instantly and Ellie gave him a tiny smile. "Back to reality," she murmured softly and Tim's heart sped up even more, for a completely unrelated reason.
"McGee, report." Gibbs barked out the order even as he was looking down at Ellie, a frown between his eyebrows that was even more pronounced than usual.
"I can do that," Ellie said at the same time as Tim was saying, "Boss, my cellphone-"
His eyes moved between the two of them and Gibbs didn't even blink. "Right here," he said, holding it up, and it might have been Tim's imagination but his voice seemed softer, more understanding somehow. "Bishop, report."
Tim was barely aware of Ellie's voice behind him but his main attention was on switching the phone on, pressing the speed dial for Sarah's number. It seemed to take an age before she answered but when she did, her "Tim?" was low and tremulous.
"Sarah, it's me." He swallowed hard, afraid of the answer to his next question. "Is she-"
"She's still here." He closed his eyes against the swell of relief in his chest. The bubble burst abruptly with Sarah's sob. "I think she's waiting for you."
"I'll be there as soon as I can," he promised, ending the call and turning to Gibbs. "Boss-"
Ellie was standing beside Gibbs on what looked like wobbly legs and whether she'd filled him in or whether it was just Gibbs being Gibbs, Tim didn't know. But Gibbs just nodded once. "Do what you have to."
Tim nodded his thanks but before he moved, he looked at Ellie. Only when he saw her smile and nod did he move.
The drive to the hospital seemed to take forever and when he got there, he didn't bother with the elevator, going straight to the stairs and sprinting up. Still, he wasn't out of breath when he got to Penelope's room, when he hugged his mom first, then Sarah, before crossing to Penelope's bed.
Her eyes were closed, her breathing deep and slow. Tim leaned down and kissed her forehead, took her hand in his.
"I'm here, Penelope."
He pressed the pocket watch into her hand, held it in both of theirs, kept a hold of it as day turned into night and all became still.
The next few days passed in a blur of shock and grief and making arrangements, made all the stranger by the fact that his apartment didn't seem like his any more, by the fact that he couldn't sleep properly because when he lay down to sleep, he was tormented by images of Penelope. He had dreams where she berated him for leaving, for staying away, dreams where he stayed and she berated him for that. Those dreams were disturbing but not nearly as disturbing as the ones where Ellie was lying on a hospital bed, livid black eye only the start of the marks on her body, where she stared at him accusingly and asked how he could let this happen.
He was always grateful when morning came.
He wrote, not the latest LJ Tibbs novel but Penelope's eulogy and he hoped that it would do her justice. It certainly moved his mom and Sarah to yet more tears and when he read it from the altar of the church, still more people reached for their tissues.
And Tim's eyes remained dry through it all. Through the arrangements and the viewing and the service and the eulogy and the rain at the graveside. Even when he looked up and saw his team there, complete with Tony. "You didn't have to come," he heard himself saying as he reached out to shake Tony's hand.
Instead, Tony pulled him into a hug. "This is what you do for family," he said quietly, so that only Tim could hear him, and there was the faintest tug of tears at the back of Tim's throat.
Tony was the first but they all hugged him in turn, with Ellie bringing up the rear. She looked pale and drawn in her black suit, concealer artfully hiding the darkness around her eye. Tim frowned when he saw it, reacted without thinking, reacted, he later realised, just like Tom would have with Laura. He touched her cheek, tilting it gently to the side so he could see better, and he knew he was frowning but didn't care enough to stop. "That looks nasty," he said quietly and Ellie gave him that little smile that had become so familiar so quickly.
"I've had worse," she told him and he must have looked surprised because she added, "Three older brothers, remember?"
Which didn't make Tim feel better in the least but he dropped his hand, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Thanks for coming," he said and there was that same little smile.
"No problem," she said and then, with a squeeze of the hand he'd just dropped, she was gone to join the rest of the team, leaving him to speak to the next mourner queuing up behind her.
And just like the night of the neighbourhood barbecue, he felt curiously bereft.
Unlike the night of the neighbourhood barbecue though, this time he couldn't simply sleep it off. There were hands to shake, people to speak to, food to choke down. He managed to touch base with Tony for a few minutes, promising to catch up properly before Tony went back but most of his time was spent with family or friends of family and while he caught sight of Ellie every now and again, she was gone before he even realised.
And that bereft feeling deepened, intensified.
When he left his mom's house that evening, he fully intended to go straight home, shower and sleep for about a month. Instead, his car seemed to have a mind of its own, ending up outside an apartment building he'd only been to a couple of times when he and Tony and Gibbs had helped Ellie move in after her split with Jake. He sat outside for a long time, wondering what he was doing there, knowing he should turn the key in the ignition and go back home. His fingers even reached out and touched the key, ready to do just that.
Instead, he removed it from the steering column and got out of the car, went into the building and up the stairs until he found himself at Ellie's door.
She couldn't hide her surprise when she opened the door and saw him there and he couldn't hide his when he saw her eye without makeup. He let out a low whistle and winced; Ellie ducked her head and a strand of hair fell down, obscuring the worst of it. "Hey," she said softly.
"Hey," he replied, unsure of what to say and only slightly mollified by the fact that she seemed equally at sea.
Ellie stepped back, opened the door wider. "You coming in?"
Tim nodded. "I would really like that."
He hung up his coat on the coat stand, watched her as she padded barefoot into the kitchen, returned with two beers. "It was a lovely service," she told him as she handed him one. "Your eulogy was beautiful."
"Thanks." He took a pull from the bottle but it did nothing to wash away the lump in his throat.
"C'mon, sit down." Ellie gestured to the couch that he knew from experience - takeout pizza on moving day - was just as comfortable as it looked. She sank down onto it, curling her legs underneath herself, looked up at him expectantly but Tim shook his head. "Tim?"
"I don't know why I'm here," he heard himself saying. Ellie blinked in obvious surprise and he shook his head, hastily adding. "I didn't mean it like that. I don't actually... I don't know how I meant it. I just... I was supposed to go home and yet, I ended up here." Ellie blinked again but didn't otherwise react. "It's just... I don't know, it sounds stupid... but I miss you."
At that, Ellie sucked in a breath. "Tim..."
"Which is ridiculous, I know. But my life these past few months... it's been anything but what I've been used to. First Tony left, and I never thought I'd say this but I miss having him around. I mean, we worked together for over a decade. We made a pretty good team... though I'll deny it if you tell him that." He pointed his beer bottle at her and at least got a smile. "I'm still getting used to new people on the team... then Deliliah and I split up, then Penelope got sick..." He shook his head. "Everything in my life is completely up in the air and I only realised these past few days at home that the most normal... hell, the most alive I've felt in months was when I was dancing with you at a neighbourhood barbecue, pretending to be something I'm not." He stared at her, tried not to notice how her face was paler than he'd ever seen it, that her eyes were shiny with tears. Feeling like he'd just screwed something up, he asked, "What does that say about me, Ellie?"
Ellie leaned forward and placed her beer down on the coffee table, rose to her feet. "And what does it say about me," she countered, approaching him on legs that looked none too steady, " that the best I've felt in months was when my head was on your shoulder, dancing at that barbecue? That I've hardly been able to get to sleep because I was used to sleeping alone again and now I'm right back where I started when I moved in here, except it's worse, because all we were was pretend?" She was standing right in front of him and Tim blindly placed the beer bottle down on the table beside him, unable to take his eyes away from her. "Or that I miss you too?" Her hands found his chest, fingers touching his tie and he wondered if she could feel his heart ready to pound out of his chest.
"Ellie..." But he didn't say anything more because his hands were on her cheeks suddenly and her eyelids were fluttering shut and she was leaning in to him and he was leaning in to her and then their lips were touching and it was like everything in the world made sense again. Like it was perfectly natural for her arms to wind themselves around his neck, for him to pull her close to him, slide his hands down her back, let one linger at the seam of her sweatshirt, move one back up to tangle in her hair. For his mouth to open against hers and deepen the kiss, sending electricity dancing down his spine and, maybe, if the little gasp that she gave was anything to go by, hers too. For him to lose himself in her, in them, and never want to be found.
Much later - he didn't know how much, didn't look at his watch, either the one on his wrist or the pocket watch still in his pocket - he lay in her bed, with her head on his chest, her sleeping in his arms.
He fell asleep too and, for the first time in days, he slept soundly.
Nine months later, the next LJ Tibbs novel came out and more than one reviewer - and definitely more than one internet fan - noticed that McGregor seemed to be spending an awful lot of time with the new recruit. Several fans seemed to take it one step further with rather interesting fan fiction being published online, which of course Tim couldn't read but knew about because Tony took great delight in sending him links and summaries anyway. He made Ellie swear never to read them either and she told him she wouldn't but there was a glint in her eye every now and again when she looked up from her iPad and he knew better than to ask a question that he really didn't want to know the answer to.
Thirteen months later, the pocket watch was firmly in his pocket as he and Ellie stood in front of a justice of the peace. It was a beautiful, sunny day when the ceremony began but just as they walked out of the building, rain fell down from a cloudless sky. Nothing could persuade Tim that it wasn't Penelope having a little fun with him.
Nineteen months later, it rained again when Penelope Barbara McGee was born. Ellie smiled a tired smile at him as he cradled the baby, jutted her chin towards the window.
"She's here," she told him quietly and he smiled, leaned forward to brush his lips over hers.