Nick had been with the team for three months and in that time, he had somewhat adjusted to life outside undercover work. He still struggled with trusting people in general but he knew that he could trust his team. None of these people had a bad bone in them. He was also working through his guilt related to his sister’s accident and the death of his brother in law, taking care of and spending time with his niece helped with that and now his sister Lucia was out of the hospital and back at home, which led him to his current problem. He was so lost in thought that he didn’t hear the rest of the team come in or Ellie’s cheerful “Good morning Nick,” which had her more than a little bit concerned. She dropped her bag by her desk and crossed the pen to stand behind him. Just as she was about to speak, their boss, the ever-stoic Leroy Jethro Gibbs, walked in and announced “Dead petty officer in a nightclub downtown.” Oh well, there went their easy day.
One thing led to another and before they knew it, they were chasing leads all the way down the drug-filled rabbit hole. Turned out that one of the petty officer’s friends had gotten hooked on drugs and when he found out about it, he tried to confront his friends dealer, which resulted in his murder. They were only able to catch the guy once Nick had gone undercover to sniff out the dealer and get the evidence they needed. While he was happy that they’d caught a killer, got a drug dealer and a large quantity of drugs off the street all with one arrest, it didn’t help him with his current predicament.
Which is where he now found himself. He had promised his sister that he would help her with some remodeling at the house to make her recovery safer and easier but he was standing on the lawn of her place, on the day that he promised he’d do the work and he had nothing planned, arranged or purchased. He was angry with himself that, yet again, he was letting his sister down when she needed him the most. With one last deep breath, he made his way up the (broken) front path towards her door, steeling himself for the look of disappointment that he just knew she’d try to hide when he heard vehicles approaching, horns blasting. As he turned to see what was happening, he heard the front door open and Lucia and Amanda exit the house. Just as he was about to tell them to go back inside, the convoy of vehicles parked and Ellie jumped out of one of them. And he was even more confused as more of the team appeared, as well as four people he didn’t know. Nick glanced back at his sister to see a massive grin on her face.
This was a foreign feeling for Nick. Something was happening and he didn’t like not knowing. Thankfully Ellie quickly approached him at the same time that Lucia spoke up “Ellie came to see me the night you went undercover to explain where you were and to check on us. She mentioned that you had been looking at walk in showers so I told her what was going on. She spent the next two hours going through everything with me, cooked Amanda and I dinner and as she left, she told me not to worry about anything. I don’t know what she did after she left here but she came back a couple of days ago and said that Agent Quinn would be taking Amanda and I for a girls day out along with another agent’s fiancee and that everything would be taken care of while we were out.” Nick was stunned. He turned to face Ellie, hoping that she would fill in the gaps. “I knew what you were planning when I saw you looking at walk-in showers.” A sad look crossed her eyes and one of the guys he didn’t know came up beside her and put his arm around her shoulders, pulling her in for a hug “I came to see Lucia, got the plans then went to see Gibbs. Once I told him what you had been planning to do, he helped me with the rest. My mom and brothers had said they wanted to come and see me so I called them for help and it snowballed from there and here we all are.” She turned slightly to the woman that had come up beside her and to the guys around them. “Nick, Lucia and Amanda, this is my mom Barbara and my brothers George, John and Rob. they’re all skilled in various areas of home renovation and along with our NCIS family, we’re going to get this home fit for Lucia to recover safely in.”
Everyone got to work and in short order, the house, front and back yards were a carefully controlled chaos. Glancing around at everyone working hard but having fun, Nick was reminded of a time in his life when things were easier and a lot less stressful. He paused at the back door as he took in the sights and sounds around him; Gibbs was widening all the doorways and getting them ready for the new doors to be fitted, Rob was doing all the tiling in the bathroom, Jimmy and George were putting the new (and lower) bed together, Tim was installing the electronic components including the voice activated lights, Abby was in the kitchen lowering the height of the benchtops and adding a few of her own touches, Ducky and Barbara were in the front yard planting the new gardens while talking about anything and everything while John was laying the new front path and Ellie, sweet, generous and gorgeous Ellie was directing traffic, both people and vehicles. He was still amazed that she would do so much for him and his family. She looked up and saw him, sending a smile his way, which he couldn’t help but reciprocate. He gave the backyard one last look around before heading inside to find his next job.
It was another two hours before Nick had another chance to stop and take a breath. Heading towards the backyard to check on progress, as he walked through the kitchen where Ellie’s mom was making lunch, he made sure to stop and thank her before grabbing an armload of water bottles to take outside. Stepping out the doorway, he stopped suddenly. Everything had changed. There were ramps, plenty of concrete paths and a beautiful new barbeque and dining areas all designed to accommodate Lucia’s wheelchair. This was way more than Nick had planned on doing. With everyone working together, they had achieved everything in just a few hours. Good thing too, as Alex had called to let them know they were on their way back. It was time to surprise his sister.
It was like a scene from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Lucia and Amanda were blown away by everything that had been done for them in just a few hours. Nick was pretty amazed too and he was sure that he would be spending the rest of his life trying to pay these people back for their generosity. Once the tour had been completed, everyone gathered outside for a barbeque lunch where everyone was talking and laughing. Nick sat back, taking it all in and he was soon joined by Gibbs. They were silent for the longest time and Nick’s eyes hardly left Ellie. He knew he was attracted to her and he had been since he’d turned from that alley and seen her gun pointed at the guy Gibbs had just shot, ready to defend him. Gibbs seemed to notice this and, without blinking, he told Nick exactly what was what “Ellie’s been through alot in her life and she’ll tell you when she’s ready. But if you hurt her, there will be a long line of people ready to hurt you.” Nick smiled to himself, he had been warned that Gibbs had a way of knowing things, “I have no intention of hurting her. Even if rule 12 wasn’t in play, I’ve got 16 undercover identities to unravel myself from. I’m barely capable of friendship let alone a relationship.” Gibbs smiled, he had hoped that that would be Nick’s answer “When you’re ready for more, come and see me. But only you can decide when that would be.” Nick was completely confused but couldn’t answer as Gibbs was already walking away, but coming to him was Ellie’s mom and Nick was talking before she had even sat down “I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to repay you and your family for what you’ve done for my sister.” Barbara Bishop smiled. She had liked this man as soon as she met him but could see that he was carrying a lot on his shoulders. “Look out for my daughter and we’re even.” She paused and Nick could feel her watching him “Can I give you a piece of advice son?” If Nick had been standing, his knees would’ve buckled. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had called him ‘son’. Unable to speak, he simply nodded “My daughter knows what it’s like, to unravel yourself from a past life and deal with the guilt that comes with it. Talk to her, if nothing else, you’ll have a friend who will know what you’re going through and can be there on your bad days. Because you will have bad days, you’ll have days when you can’t find the strength to get out of bed. Those will be the days that you will need someone who knows everything. Plus, it’ll ease the weight on your shoulders.” Nick shook his head “Ellie’s too good. She shouldn’t know the things I’ve done.” Barbara put her hand on his knee, “Shouldn’t Eleanor be the one to decide that?” Leaving Nick to his thoughts, she got up, passing her sons as she walked away. The three of them sat down and looked long and hard at Nick before George spoke “You soft on our little sister there young Nick?” Nick sighed to himself, It was going to be one of those conversations. “Yes I am interested in your sister but I have no intention of doing anything about it. At least not yet.” The three brothers frowned and John was the next to speak “Not sure if she’s good enough for you?” Nick snorted loudly at that, “More like I’m definitely not good enough for her. Look guys, I appreciate you have to do the big brother routine but in this case, you’re way too premature with it. I have a lot to work through, both personally and professionally before I’m the right headspace for a relationship.” He could see that Rob was about to interrupt him so he kept on going “With anyone.” The boys nodded. They respected Nick for not jumping in and hurting their sister “In saying that. I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done for my sister. She’s been through a lot recently and I know this has helped her in a lot of ways.” The Bishop men looked at each other before turning back to Nick, George clapped him on the shoulder, “We know a bit about what your family is going through. Ellie will tell you in her own time but she understands all of this better than you’d guess. She is the perfect person to help you with this project, let her help you with your sister’s recovery too. It might help Ellie too.” Nick looked at each of them and saw the same sadness in their eyes as had been in Ellie’s that morning. The boys jumped up, “Now, let's go mingle and give mom some more grey hairs” The four of them re-joined the group and spent considerable time telling all sorts of stories.
It was late that night and Nick still couldn’t sleep. He was replaying the day in his mind but he kept getting stuck on one thing. Why? Why had Ellie done that for him, for his family? He sighed and got back up. There was no point in being in bed if he wasn’t going to sleep. Figuring a run would help, he threw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt and his running shoes, grabbed his ID, badge, gun and keys and headed out the door. It was a cool night, perfect for a jog. Not paying attention to where he was going to any of his surroundings, Nick let himself get lost in the pounding of his feet on the pavement. He had been running for about 10 minutes when he started to slow down, and that was when he finally realised where he was. Without intending to, he had run to Ellie’s place. The house was dark so he figured she was asleep.
The plan was to sit on her front step, catch his breath then head home but, as it usually happened when Ellie was involved, his plan changed. He had only been sitting there for a couple of minutes when the outside light came on and the front door opened and Ellie’s voice rang out, ”Nick? What’s going on? Are you ok?” He smiled softly to himself. No matter the time of day, Ellie always had kindness and compassion for him. Something he still wasn’t sure he deserved. “I’m ok Ellie. I’ll just be another minute. You should get some sleep.” Nick heard her sigh before her hand appeared in his line of sight, “Come on. Since we’re both up you might as well come in” He watched her for a second to make sure this was what she really wanted before he took her hand, paying close attention to how well they fit together.
They made it inside and ended up on her couch, him with a coffee and her with a hot chocolate, her at one end and him at the other with her legs on his in the middle. It looked like they’d been in that position many times when actually, it was the first. Nick just sat there, looking at her. He had seen her first thing in the morning, late at night after she had been woken up and called to a crime scene as well as dressed up for a date but he’d never seen her like this, pyjama pants and a t-shirt, no make up and her hair thrown up in a messy bun. It was his favourite look on her and he was sure he’d never seen her, or anyone, look more beautiful. Ellie noticed his staring and blushed “What are you doing?” Nick smiled, now he knew she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen ”Just trying to work out how I got lucky enough to meet someone like you.” Ellie frowned “Like me?” Nick reached down and caressed her foot, hoping to make her relax again but instead, she moaned softly in relief. Hearing this, he put his cup on the coffee table and pulled her feet into his lap, massaging them gently. “Someone who is as beautiful as they are generous. Loyal, loving, caring and kind in equal measures. Someone who seems to know what I need without even being in the same building as me. You look at me like I matter, and you have a way of making me want to be better.” Nick looked up from her feet to see her with tears in her eyes and it was his turn to frown. Ellie took a deep breath and a mouthful of her chocolate. “It’s because I know a bit about a lot of what you’re going through. When I was ten, I was playing outside on my bike when I wasn’t supposed to be. I didn’t know that Dad was on his way home and he didn’t see me until it was almost too late. I closed my eyes, expecting for him to hit me but he swerved and hit a tree in our neighbours front yard. He was pretty banged up and didn’t walk for two years while I was left with more guilt than I knew how to deal with. And then, years later when I joined NCIS, my marriage started going downhill and I was left to deal with the guilt of that plus the thought that maybe I’d driven my husband to have an affair.” Nick’s hand on her leg stopped her from speaking further. Looking at him, she could see in his eyes what he wanted to say but couldn’t, because that would make him a hypocrite. She knew it wasn’t her fault but he hadn’t gotten to that point yet. But, in time, he will.
Ellie fell asleep soon after that but Nick sat there a little bit longer. He knew he had a long road ahead of him but he was lucky in that he had a large family to help him on his journey. He wanted to be a better man, for himself, for his sister and niece, for his teammates and friends. But he also wanted to be a better man for Ellie. She deserves someone who would do anything for her, would be there no matter what and who would love her for eternity. And while he knew he could be that man one day, that day wasn’t today. Although he was looking forward to the day he went to have that conversation with Gibbs.