Two weeks ago a case came in from the NSA, they had gathered intel that connected to a case of theirs from a few months ago that they had to put on the shelf as other cases were piling up.
It had been great, except they had to work with someone from the NSA. Jake Malloy. He was the one who found the intel when searching through information for one of his own.
A tense air had settled over the bullpen from the moment his name was uttered. Ellie was given a choice if she wanted to work the case or not, but Nick knew she wasn't going to back down from the second the words were spoken. She had taken to ignoring Jake unless needed, and he followed her example. Gibbs made Jake too nervous (Nick heard they were somewhat friends before everything went to hell), and McGee was snappy enough at Jake that he also made Jake highly nervous despite his less intimidating stance. Which meant it was Nick who was forced to play nice and deal with the man who was once married to the woman he may or may not love.
Nick wasn't friendly, but thanks to playing nice with criminals over his years undercover, it actually wasn't as hard as he thought. It helped that Jake wasn't a bad person, he just made a stupid choice and continued making said choice back then. He let Jake voice his opinions and thoughts on the case, and voiced his own to combat with his. Which was more than Gibbs and McGee had done.
Jake would always be the asshole who cheated on the best person he knows, but he wasn't completely terrible. Nick knew he made Jake nervous like the others (he caught him eyeing his arms plenty of times as if waiting for Nick to choke him out) but he gave the guy a chance to talk, which lessened the nerves.
And now here they were two weeks later looking through a victims house. Nick had cleared it before letting Jake inside, he may be Nick's somewhat partner at the moment, but the guy didn't know how to shoot a gun let alone have one.
They had been searching for a half hour when Jake spoke. "Can I ask you a question?"
Nick squinted at him, eyeing his fidgeting with suspicion. "Shoot."
"Is..is Ellie happy?" Jake asked carefully.
"Yes." Nick was definitely eyeing him now. He could just ask Ellie himself, she wasn't ignoring him completely and- okay he understood why. "She seems to be."
"That's- that's good." Jake nodded to himself, clearing his throat. "And..and are you two?-"
"What?" Nick choked out, looking bewildered. "What makes you ask that?!"
"A feeling, these looks I see, if I'm wrong I'm sorry-"
"We're..we're just friends man."
Jake didn't look like he bought it, but he knew he didn't have the right to push.
Silence settled upon them again.
Nick turned his back to check out something that caught his eye.
Neither of them heard a thing.
But it was Jake who saw the guy who was one of their suspects, saw him turn the corner with a gun pointed, and it was Jake who reacted. Using all his strength and the quick sudden hit of adrenaline, threw himself at Nick to shove him to the ground right as the gun went off, right where Nick had been standing.
Seconds was all it took for Nick to react, shooting the guy once right to the heart. Seconds for him to carefully get out from under Jake, Jake who was bleeding.
"Fuck." Nick mumbled, ripping off his jacket to put pressure on the gunshot wound, and taking his phone out with the other hand. His first call was to 911, his second to Gibbs that lasted seconds.
"Hang on man, just hang on." Nick told him, now using both hands to put pressure. His jacket already halfway soaked in blood.
Jake groaned in pain. "Agent..Torres.."
"It's Nick." He told him, clenching his jaw. "You don't always gotta be so professional dude, like there was no need to call me 'Agent Torres' when asking me what kind of sub I wanted for our lunch."
Jake choked out a chuckle, eyes squeezing shut at the pain. "Tell her."
"What? Tell who what?" Nick felt sick when Jake struggled to keep his eyes open. "Hey, hey! Come on man, you have to stay awake."
"Ellie..tell her...your feelings."
"Yeah?" Nick swallowed, knowing he had to keep the conversation going, give Jake something to focus on. "You do realize you're telling me to ask out your ex-wife, right?"
Jake's breathing slowed, his eyes fluttering. Nick felt his panic rise. "Jake! Come on man stay with me!"
Where the fuck was that ambulance?!
"Thanks..for being..nice..tell Ellie..I'm sorry.."
Nick heard the sirens right as Jake's eyes shut.
When they came in, Nick was giving him CPR.
He didn't hear them telling him they could take over now because they took too long. And he needed Jake to breathe, god dammit, just breathe!
It took a bit before they were able to pull Nick away.
Nick felt in a daze as he crumbled to the floor. He barely registered the looks on the paramedics faces, heads bowed. His heart had been stopped for too long, he was completely gone. He barely registered Gibbs and McGee rushing in, Ellie having been forced behind by Vance.
"Torres." Gibbs crouched down in front of him.
McGee eyed Nick covered in Jake's blood with a nervous glance, avoiding looking at Jake's body as he pulled out his phone to call Jimmy.
"I tried." Nick mumbled, eyes unfocused.
"I know you did." Gibbs told him, hand on his shoulder. "Jake wasn't alone, and that's what matters."
No..no Jake wasn't alone..but that didn't stop the cold feeling he felt inside. Jake had shoved him out of the way, taking the bullet himself. He knew what he was doing.
Jake had saved Nick's life.
A bitter feeling rose in his chest along with the cold. He was supposed to go along hating the guy, hating him for breaking Ellie's heart, hating him for being a worthless cheater, and yet… Nick had spent the past two weeks practically stuck by Jake's side. Unwillingly learning things like how Jake liked his coffee (drowning in cream), that he preferred eating foods with a knife and fork, or that he once accidentally spilled coffee all over the NSA director and the files she was carrying.
Nick stared at his blood stained hands.
Ellie had lost someone else because he couldn't save him.
Gibbs and McGee were talking to him, but he didn't hear a word until they mentioned Ellie and taking him home. Wanting both of them to take some time.
He shook his head. He couldn't see Ellie. Not when it was his fault Jake was dead.
Nick wasn't new to people dying, wasn't new to being there when they did.
But his hands still shook and he still felt sick to his stomach.
Jake's words of telling Ellie repeated like a mantra but how could he now?
In the background sounding muffled he could hear McGee's worried tone as he talked to Gibbs.
Nick knew he shouldn't, but he still glanced at Jake, his body covered by a sheet. He didn't need to see him to remember though. Bile still rose in his throat.
If he had done his damn job..checked every nook and cranny even some apparent hidden room.
"Ellie..I miss my buddy."
"I don't think you know what it's like to look in the mirror and..see a killer."
All his fault.
Panic..fear..all consuming fear.
This was on him.
"Is it possible that in your altered state..there's even the slightest chance that you-"
"That I what? Shot that girl in the neck?"
Nick turned and emptied his stomach.
That's how long it had been. Though to her it felt like a lifetime.
Two weeks ago she had anxiously waited for that phone call from Gibbs. The news not what she expected. When he called, the first words out of her mouth were "Is Nick okay", but it had been Jake. Jake was gone.
Ellie had cried, she cried a lot. Guilt had settled in her stomach for ignoring him, if she had known- she would have at least talked to him.
After her crying fit, she tried calling Nick. When that didn't work she tried his apartment.
For these two weeks, all she wanted was her best friend. But Nick was avoiding her.
Finally, she had enough and found herself walking down Gibbs' basement steps.
"Figured you'd stop by eventually."
Ellie held in her huff because of course he knew.
"Is Nick okay? He's been avoiding me."
"He has his reasons Bishop."
An unsettling weight landed on her chest. "He hasn't been at work either."
"Nope. That's his own choice."
Ellie's mouth opened and closed a few times. Nick was willingly missing work? "What..what really happened Gibbs? I know Jake..died, but no one will talk to me about it-"
"Jake pushed Torres out of the way." Gibbs set down his tools, turning to face her staring at him with wide eyes. "He risked his life, and saved Torres'. Torres tried to keep him from bleeding out, tried to keep him talking, and when Jake's heart stopped Torres gave him CPR. The paramedics had to pull him off."
"Don't hold back Gibbs." She said sternly. "I- I need to know."
He nodded in understanding. "When McGee and I got there he was sitting there covered in Jake's blood out of it, he would say it was his fault, and then he emptied his stomach."
"Gibbs." Ellie grit her teeth. "You're leaving something out."
Gibbs sighed. "I suggested you taking him home, thinking it'd be best if neither of you were alone. He said no."
"And now he's avoiding me." She mostly said to herself with a sigh.
"If you leave now you should catch him leaving Grace's office."
Ellie's eyes snapped up. "What? Nick is willingly talking to someone?"
Gibbs' eyes softened right before he turned away, picking his tools back up. "Everyone has a breaking point eventually Bishop."
Ellie walked out of the house with a knot growing in her stomach and those words repeating in her head.
When she reached Grace's office, she came stumbling through the door right as said woman came out of her office.
"I'm guessing you're here for Agent Torres?"
Ellie frantically nodded. "Did he-"
"He's still here." Grace gestured back towards her closed door. "He's just taking a minute to himself."
She swallowed and nodded, slowly lowering herself into a nearby chair.
"I'm actually surprised to see you here- Jake Malloy was your ex-husband, right?"
"Y-Yeah.. I've been trying to get a hold of Nick but he's been avoiding me-"
Grace chuckled and made a 'ah' noise. "And Gibbs told you to come here." Ellie nodded. "How are you doing with it all?"
"Me? I'm- I'm fine. I mean, I was really upset but..Nick's my best friend, I just need to make sure he's okay."
Grace smiled a little. "Give him time Agent Bishop."
"Gibbs..mentioned something about everyone having a breaking point."
"Like I said...give him some time. Recent events led to deeper things. Agent Torres has just realized he may not be able to shove it away like he used to."
The door behind Grace opened.
Nick's eyes widened when he saw her. Ellie stood quickly, her stomach flipping when she saw his tired eyes like he hadn't been sleeping, and his stance instead of his usual confidence was a little slumped.
"Please stop avoiding me." Ellie said softly, Grace discreetly going into her office.
"I can't- I don't wanna talk Ellie." Nick said weakly.
"We don't have to. I just..need you." She admitted, her voice breaking a little.
He swallowed and nodded
Ellie didn't realize until she started driving with him in the passenger seat that Nick never actually looked her in the eye.
But she kept her promise. They didn't talk at all actually, Ellie had put on a movie and they settled on her couch watching until he fell asleep beside her.
Looking at him, head turned towards her, she could see the bags under his eyes. She had been having trouble sleeping herself but it looked as if he hadn't been sleeping at all.
It was eating away at her. Now that she knew what happened, she could understand it affecting him but what she didn't understand was why it was doing it this much. How did all of it lead to Nick's supposed breaking point? How could he have been through everything he had been, but have this be the thing that leads to his downfall?
A tear escaped that she quickly wiped away.
Nick woke up three hours later, Ellie was on the other end of the couch curled up reading.
"Hey." Ellie smiled a little, putting the book down.
"I'm sorry." Nick said after blinking the sleep out of his eyes.
"Avoiding you..I-" He swallowed. "I didn't know how to see you after..after it was my fault that he-"
"Whoa wait-" Ellie frowned, eyes slightly widened as she shifted closer to him. "How was it your fault? Jake shoved you out of the way, jumping in front of that bullet, all on his own."
"My job was to keep him safe Ellie!" Nick's jaw clenched. "He wasn't an agent, he didn't have a gun! It was my job to clear the house, make sure it was safe for him to go inside!"
"How were you supposed to know about the hidden room?" Ellie said. Had Nick really been blaming himself for the last two weeks for something out of his control?
"I should have checked more!" Nick stood, roughly running a hand through his hair. "If I had, I would have found the guy before Jake even stepped foot in that house and he'd still be here!"
Ellie slowly stood. "Nick..what's really going on?"
He scrubbed his hand over his face with a deep sigh, looking at her with so much pain in his eyes that she wanted to cry. "Because of me..you lost someone else. He wasn't in your life anymore yeah, but you still cared about him. It should have been-"
"Don't." Ellie's voice was sharp. Nick looked at her in surprise. "If you say 'it should have been me' I will smack you so damn hard."
"Don't!" She swallowed the emotions rising in her throat as her voice cracked.
"Why the hell not! I'm the fucked up one! Jake may have done a terrible thing but comparing him and I, I've done so many more terrible things. I'm the one who deserved it so go ahead tell me Ellie, why..WHY shouldn't it have been me?!"
"BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!"
Nick froze, breathing a little heavily from his getting worked up.
Ellie felt the panic rising in her chest at confessing when she hadn't meant to. But she couldn't back down now. "I..maybe it makes me a bad person but when Gibbs called me..the first thing I asked was if you were okay, Jake didn't even cross my mind. Yes Jake was my best friend at one point and my husband, but I closed that chapter of my life a while ago and yes it still hurts to know he's gone but Nick..you being in his place would have ruined me." Ellie blinked back her tears. "Yes I lost another person, but losing you..it's not even an option. It's not."
"I'm sure you would have been fine-" He quickly tried to say but she shook her head.
"No..no I wouldn't have. You don't even realize how important you are to me Nick."
"I can't be." His voice broke, looking like the world was on his shoulders. "How can you even love me Ellie."
"How? You're Nick. You make me laugh, you do sweet things that I don't even think you notice, you pay attention even when I'm talking about nerdy things that bore you, you care about people more than you show, whenever I'm upset I can always count on you to make me smile-"
"I'm broken Ellie." He interrupted in a small voice. "Grace used the word..haunted, to describe it. I go to sleep and I dream or picture every bad thing I've done undercover, Reeves, the enjoyment I got out of fighting those bastards at that art workshop, Kohl and how alike we were, you almost getting killed, you and that lake, getting drugged, the confusion and panic at there being a hole in my memory, seeing that girl under my bike, you asking if I could have somehow killed her, the hurt that maybe you didn't have faith in me like I had you, the way you played it off as a joke when I was actually scared-" He turned his face away as he blinked back tears, taking a deep breath before looking at her again. "I once told Gibbs that when I look in the mirror, I see a killer...that hasn't changed, if anything it's only gotten worse because now I don't even- I don't even see myself anymore, Ellie I..I don't even feel like myself."
Ellie stepped in front of him slowly, tears sliding down her cheeks that she hadn't even noticed. "What..what do you mean?"
"I feel like I'm a shell of who I used to be..and the only time I feel any shred of who I really am is when I'm with you."
She grabbed his hands, holding them against her chest. "I guess it's a good thing then that I see you, if you let me..I can help you. I can show you exactly who you are, because no matter how much you think you've changed or how much you try and push me away..you're something I could never forget." Ellie bit her lip slightly, pressing her forehead to his in a feather light touch. Nick slowly closed his eyes. "As for you seeing a killer part..if that's really all you were would you have cared for that baby like you did? Brought me food for weeks after Qasim just to make sure I ate? Sat with me while I cried about Reeves? Stayed up late searching for Gibbs and McGee until you couldn't think straight? And so many other things Nick..no killer would have done those things."
He let out a shuddering breath. Slowly his eyes opened. "I still don't-" He stopped, the words not coming out.
"It's okay." She whispered, reaching to place the palm of her hand on his cheek gently, her thumb softly running along his cheek. "And as for Jake..you hated what he did but you actually liked him, didn't you?"
"I didn't like him-"
"It's okay that you did." She sent him a soft smile. "I understand it perfectly, not counting his cheating, he was a great guy. He was becoming a friend and you didn't even notice or were in denial about it."
"Yeah well..kind of over with now isn't it?" Nick said a little bitterly.
Ellie swallowed as she looked in his eyes. They weren't as using the word he said..haunted as they were, at least not at that moment, but he still looked so lost that it made her heart twist painfully.
She shoved down her nerves, the small fear that he would push her away even if she knew he felt something for her, and closed the short distance between them. Nick stiffened when her lips touched his, but before she could even think about it he was kissing her back.
It was as if her kissing him had ignited a fire inside.
One hand tangled tightly in her hair and the other just as tight gripping her waist both making sure she didn't move away, not like she wanted to. He kissed her back so fiercely that her head spun.
Ellie felt happiness bubble up in her chest. This was her Nick.
She backed up the few inches until she hit the couch, lowering herself onto it bringing a willing Nick with her. Her heart raced and she loved the feeling of Nick above her.
As their heated kiss broke and he started kissing down her neck making sure to touch as much skin as he could, she whimpered and lost herself in his touches. It was all she could focus on along with the way he whispered her name against her skin, her name falling from his lips like a lullaby.
When he came back up to kiss her lips, Ellie gave his hair a slight tug. "Nick- please?"
Nick shook his head. "We can't Ellie."
She pouted, literally pouted. "Why not?"
His lips twitched upward at her pout, but then his look turned loving and her heart jumped. "Because..I love you too Ellie, I might not be able to see who I am anymore, but my feelings for you have always been the one thing I do know." He sighed and kissed her softly. "And I don't wanna go any further until I don't feel so messed up anymore, because you deserve it."
"You- you love me?"
His eyes softened, that loving look back. "Yeah, yeah I do."
Ellie sighed happily. Nick smiled, a real genuine one that made her want to cry happy tears. They moved to shift on the couch, Ellie lying along the back of the couch half on top of Nick. He turned his head and buried his face in the crook of her neck.
At that moment there were no more words to be said, instead they laid in silence just soaking in each other and the fact that they loved each other.
Ellie went with him to his next appointment with Grace.
She didn't look surprised to see Ellie walking in holding hands with him. Instead, she smiled.
"It's nice to see you again Agent Bishop."
"Ellie, call me Ellie." She looked at Nick and smiled, squeezing his hand. "I think it's only fair, since you'll be seeing me a lot."
Grace raised an eyebrow with a knowing smile. "I will?"
Nick cleared his throat, thumb tracing along the back of Ellie's hand. "Yeah, if it's alright with you, I want Ellie to be there during our sessions."
"Perfectly fine with me." Grace gestured for them to sit on the couch. "I think it's a great idea, a positive support system always helps."
"He has a lot of that." Ellie said, bumping her shoulder lightly against his. "He just has to get that through his thick skull."
Nick rolled his eyes, and Grace grinned. "Sounds like a certain guy we all know."
Ellie snickered while Nick protested being anything like Gibbs.
Two weeks passed again.
Nick crouched down, placing flowers in front of a headstone next to the flowers Ellie had just placed down.
"I did what you told me to." Nick said softly. "I told Ellie my feelings..it wasn't in the greatest way, but I did it."
He looked behind him to Ellie who stood just enough distance away to give him some privacy, she gave him a supportive smile. Nick looked back at Jake's headstone.
"We all make mistakes, but it's the actions after those mistakes that matter. We can either let those mistakes define us, or we can learn from them and do better in the future."
Both he and Ellie thought the quote Jake's mother chose fitting, apparently it was a quote he had tried to live by after his divorce from Ellie.
"I also told her you were sorry, but she already knew that." Nick continued. "And..thank you, I never- when you were dying I didn't get a chance to say it." He breathed out slowly. "I'm still not..okay, and I still have moments where I believe it should have been me but I really am grateful. Ellie is helping, along with the others in their own way, I think maybe..maybe there's a happy ending for me after all." Nick put his hand on top of the gravestone. "And it's all thanks to you that I get to find out."
Nick stood, giving the gravestone a small pat before he turned away. "See you later buddy."
"You okay?" Ellie asked softly when he reached her, wrapping her arm around his waist.
Nick smiled and put his around her shoulders. "Yeah..you?"
Ellie returned his smile. "Yeah."
"So you're fine coming back sometime?" He asked, knowing she had cried a bit when he gave her some time to talk to Jake.
"Yes, I promise. I- I still have some of my own guilt to work through, I think this will help."
He nodded and they started walking to the car, his arm tightening around her. He knew she still felt terrible for ignoring Jake, for acting like he wasn't even there. They both had some things to work through.
But they had each other.