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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2015 7:03 pm 
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Joined: Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:27 pm
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Title: I'm a social work professor in Minnesota
Name: sheila, beastmother
Gender: Female
A/N: Kelly gave me the best prompt ever. “Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.” F. Scott Fitzgerald. Plus McNozzo friendship. It doesn’t get any better than that. Life has been more hectic than I have wanted this month so I am behind. I am writing like a maniac when I can. Hoping to get it all done on time. This is for you, Kelly!!!


A Story of Heroes

“She’s mad at me.”

“Of course she is, McDoghouse.” Tony said as he studied his cuticles. “Clearly, you did something wrong.”

McGee made a face. “But I keep asking her what I did, and she says I didn’t do anything, but she says it in a weird way like she’s accusing me of something.”

“Apologize,” Gibbs said, not looking up from his work.

“For what?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just say you’re sorry and you won’t do it again.”

McGee looked pained. “I can’t avoid future mistakes if I don’t know what they are.”

Ellie rolled her eyes but said nothing.

“Something sexy. Buy her a little something silky, lacy. We’ll go to Victoria’s Secret after work. I have something in mind that would look really good on Delilah,” Tony said as a smile spread across his face.

Everyone stopped working and stared at him- even Gibbs. McGee looked down at his desk, mumbled under his breath, and then took a deep breath. “DiNozzo,” he said slowly, “I do not want you to picture my girlfriend in lingerie.”

“Crossed a line, huh?”

Gibbs shook his head. “Sometimes, DiNozzo...”

Ellie closed the file in front of her. “It’s like listening to kindergarteners debate String Theory.”

McGee blinked. “I did my thesis on String Theory.”

“Whatever,” Ellie said. “You want to know why Delilah’s mad?”

“She called you?”

“No, she didn’t.”

“Then how do you know-“

“You just said that when you ask her, she says that you didn’t do anything, right?”

He nodded.

She’s not mad at something you did; she’s mad at something you didn’t do.”

McGee frowned as he considered his week. “I’m on top of all my chores. No dishes left in the sink. I was a day late in picking up dry cleaning, but she said it wasn’t a big deal. We’ve stayed on menu. Low carb. High protein. Toilet seat situation is going well. We both work long hours. In fact, I’m home before she is three nights out of five.”

Ellie nodded. “Did she ask you to do anything that you didn’t feel like doing?”

He narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips. “I pick up my clothes every day. I don’t leave wet towels on the bathroom floor like I used to do.”

“Delilah isn’t going to get bent out of shape about little things,” Tony said. “It’s something bigger than a missed chore.”

“Are you having a date night every week?” Ellie asked.

Gibbs sighed. He could growl at them to get back to work, but he knew them well enough to know that without an active case, McGee’s love life would plague them all day until he had answers.

McGee nodded. “Date night is Saturday…except for last week, but that was her idea. Some of her friends from college were in town and she wanted to go out with them.”

“Right, and she asked you to accompany her, didn’t she?”

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “But I told her that I wasn’t in the mood for new people. I told her she’d have more fun without me there. She seemed fine with it.”

Tony caught Ellie’s eye. “I get it now. Delilah wanted to show him off, didn’t she?”

“Oh yeah. The kind of boyfriend that hangs in there through a debilitating accident and stays committed is the stuff of legends. They were dying to see you in the flesh.”

“Really? Why didn’t she say anything?”

“Because she wanted you to be excited to meet her friends. You screwed up, Tim and you hurt her feelings,” Ellie said, shaking her head.

“You sure you haven’t talked to her?”

“Trust me on this.”

“Lingerie. She’ll like lingerie.”

McGee glared. “Will you shut up about the lingerie already!”

Tony shrugged. “Just trying to be helpful.”

“No gifts,” said Ellie leaning forward. “Just tell her you were thinking today and it occurred to you that it was probably insensitive of you not to go out with her friends. Then she’ll tell you how much it hurt her feelings, and it’ll be fine.”

“Say it one more time so I can get it right.”

“Just say it from the heart, Tim. That’s all she wants.”

Gibbs stared at her. “Where were you three marriages ago?”

Tony smirked. “Nothing personal, boss, but I don’t even think the relationship whisperer over there could’ve helped you.”

Gibbs’ phone rang and he picked it up, his steely eyes never leaving Tony.

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” McGee hissed.

“What can I say? Things just come out of my mouth. It’s an art.”

“More like a disease.”

“Shhh!” Ellie said, pointing at Gibbs.

Gibbs had lost interest in his team and was focused on his call. “Uh-huh…I know, Sparky, but we’re MRCT. We really have to be available for the big cases…Of course, I remember…No, I do not forget the debts I owe…Alright, Sparky, but if we get a callout, we’re going to have to take it…Alright, then. Shut up and give me an address already.”

Tony wrinkled his nose at McGee and McGee sighed. “We have a nuisance call.”

“Please don’t send me. Boss always sends me,” Tony whined.

Ellie frowned. “What’s a nuisance call?”

“Usually an unhappy dependent,” McGee said. “There’s probably a Marine overseas who’s having trouble focusing because he or she is fighting with a spouse back here.”

“We don’t do those.”

“When you have as many old buddies running units in Iraq and Afghanistan as Gibbs does, then you get these calls.”

“I can’t imagine Gibbs working out domestic disputes.”

“Oh, he doesn’t,” McGee said, looking over at Tony. “Tony has a way with angry women.”

“Please let it not be me,” Tony said with his eyes squeezed shut. “Send the relationship whisperer. Please send the probie. It’s a probie job.”

“DiNozzo!”

Tony groaned. “No!!! Come on, Boss! Bishop just proved her worth as an expert on women.”

Gibbs shook his head. “This requires your special touch. They always seem to remember how much they love their soldier overseas after a talk with you. It’s a gift.”

McGee couldn’t hide his grin.

“Take the Elflord. He needs a primer on communicating with angry females.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“She has five kids, Tony. Boss said her oldest is 11 and the youngest is 18 months. She’s probably just overwhelmed.”

“It’s his 3rd tour. She knows the drill. Not taking his calls is her way of punishing him. Keeps him worried. It’s not cool.”

All you need to do is turn on the charm, get her to call her soldier, and we can get back to work.”

A smile started on Tony’s face. “If I work my magic really fast, we would have time for lunch or…to stop at a store or something before we go back.”

Tony let that statement sit, taking note that McGee’s lack of response was promising. Finally, his partner let out a sigh. “I’ve never…purchased lingerie before.”

Tony kept his eyes on the road. “Worried you’re going to buy the wrong thing?”

“What if she doesn’t like it, Tony? What if I buy something she thinks isn’t pretty? How do you know what to buy?”

“Look, McGee, you really can’t get this wrong. Start out with something simple like a teddy. She’ll be happy that you find her desirable.”

“What color?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just tell her that you chose that color because it brings out her beautiful eyes.”

“That works?”

“Yup.” Tony struggled to hide his smile.

“We passed a Victoria’s Secret in the mall about a mile back.”

“After we’re done, we’ll stop. You’ll pick out something nice and get it gift wrapped. You’ll apologize for the thing and then you’ll pull out the bag.”

McGee worked his mouth a bit. “You sure about this?”

“I guarantee you’re coming to work tomorrow with a great, big smile on your face.”

“Okay, but you’re not going in with me.”

“Of course, I’m going in with you. I have my own girlfriend, you know,” Tony said as he glanced at the GPS. “I think it’s this split level up ahead.”

McGee looked at the houses- all drab but serviceable- products of a housing boom in the 1970’s. Tony pointed. “Is that smoke coming out of the second story window of our dependent’s house?”

McGee peered over the dash. “Black smoke. Lots of it.”

“911!” Tony yelled as he put the car in park and tumbled out. McGee jumped out after him, barking into his cell phone. Tony got to the front door and started pounding. Nothing happened. Then he tried the door handle, and it opened. The two of them burst into the living room. It was dark and hazy like dust that floats in the air after an explosion. The room had an odd stillness to it, and they tried to make sense of shapes. Tony pointed to a form on a couch, and they went over. McGee could feel his throat constrict from air that felt thick with everything except oxygen. He dropped to his knees and felt the slender bare arm of a woman and he jerked her upward. Dark curly hair spilled over her face, but eyes blinked open. “Are you okay?” he shouted.

She shook her head as if trying to clear it.

“Where are your children?” He yelled. The air was so thick it was as if it had swallowed up all sound.

She glanced at the stairs but shook her head.

“Are they upstairs?” Tony yelled.

She said nothing. Tony looked at Tim. “I’m heading up! Get her out of here!”

“Not alone you’re not!”

Tony pushed McGee roughly toward the woman and headed for the stairs. McGee fell on top of her and scrambled to his feet. He pulled her up and dragged her to the door. When they hit the fresh air he sucked it in, and then started coughing. She stumbled away from him and fell to the grass.

“Are they all up there?”

She didn’t respond, coughing into the ground. He dropped down next to her. “Tell me! Are they all up there?”

She turned her head, and through the soot on her face, he could tell that she was a very pretty woman. She blinked light blue eyes. “It’s too late to save them. They’re gone now.”

“First responders are coming! It’s going to be okay!”

She shook her head and resumed coughing. He got to his feet, feeling unsteady, and hit a number on his cell. “Boss! House fire at Marine’s house! The wife is outside! Children trapped inside- 2nd floor! All five of them! Tony went after them! First responders on their way! I’m going in!”

Gibbs was shouting in his ear, but he stuffed the phone in his pocket and headed for the car. Boss wasn’t in a position to quarterback this situation from the office, and there was no time to argue. He popped the trunk, and pulled out the go bags, flinging them onto the road. Behind them was a fire extinguisher wedged in behind the spare tire. He had to yank it a couple of times to get it loose. The last pull freed it abruptly and it propelled him onto his back in the street. He looked at the front yard, but it was empty, and he cursed to himself that the wife probably ran back inside. When he got to his feet, there was suddenly someone in the yard, but she was stocky- unlike the slender woman he pulled out of the house.

“The kids!” Screamed the woman.

“Call 911! Tell them five children and two adults on second floor of house!” McGee didn’t wait for a response as he headed back into the house. The first floor was thicker with dust than before, and fear filled his gut at the thought of struggling for oxygen. He looked around for the mother. “Ma’am! Ma’am!”

There was no movement so he turned his attention to the stairs. As he was climbing the stairs, he felt a flash of light behind him, but when he turned to look, he couldn’t make out anything. He turned to the top of the stairs and saw black smoke billowing down at him. He pointed the extinguisher and sprayed. The white foam coated the walls, but only for moments before flame emerged again. Still, he kept going, spraying the walls as he went.

There were no more stairs, and he knew he was in a hallway. There was a roar now, and smoke was so thick, he couldn’t see anything. Lessons from FLETC hit him and he dropped to the floor, instantly finding air. He sucked it in and screamed, “Tony! Tony! Tony!”

He crawled and sprayed along the carpeted hallway until he saw movement. It was a thin leg, and he grabbed it. There was a shrill scream as he pulled a child to the ground. It was a boy around 10-11 years old, and his eyes were wide with fear. “Your siblings!” He yelled through the soot and smoke.

The boy pointed at a doorway, and McGee saw two small children and a toddler huddled under a window. He turned back to the boy. “One missing!”

Then Tony was there on his hands and knees, coughing spasmodically. The boy grabbed him. “Maggie!”

Tony pushed him off and dragged him toward the room. “Get in there!”

“Maggie!” The boy’s shrill screams could barely be heard above the roar of the fire.

“Sit Rep!” McGee screamed.

Tony pointed behind him. “Last door on right! Can’t find her!”

McGee looked into bedroom. “Window sits over first floor roof! Not too steep!

Tony nodded between coughing spasms.

“Get them out there, Tony!”

Tony pointed behind him. McGee nodded. “I have extinguisher! I can find her!”

“Stay together!”

“No! You get them on the roof!” This time McGee pushed Tony toward the bedroom door. Tony’s back landed against the doorframe, and McGee crawled past him, spraying for cover.

Tony rolled toward the four frightened kids, and stumbled up to a crouch. His hands felt for objects, and immediately landed on the back of the chair. Instincts kicked in, and then the chair was in the air, and he was running at the window. Glass fell like rain as the chair got tangled in the frame. He wrestled with it roughly, clearing as much glass from the edges as possible. Then he pulled the chair out and flung it behind him. He was so dizzy from oxygen loss that he could barely stay upright, but there was a welcome whine in the distance that he recognized as help, and so he kept moving. He grabbed the oldest boy without a word, and swung him onto the roof. The boy crouched among the shards of glass, and Tony could see in his eyes that he didn’t need words to understand his role. Tony grabbed another child and handed her to the boy, and a small boy, and then a toddler barely conscious. Each time, the oldest boy took the offered child and flattened them against the roof. Smoke crowded him for space, billowing out of the window, but Tony found much needed oxygen at the edges. There was screaming on the ground, and he saw a woman looking up at him, but she wasn’t the same woman as they found on the couch. Then he spotted a tall young man pointing a phone at him.

The sirens were louder now, and Tony knew he should drop back to the floor, and crawl after McGee, but there was the boy on the roof struggling to keep his three siblings from sliding off, and he knew that he couldn’t leave them. He knelt on the windowpane, and a shard of glass bit deeply into his knee, causing him to stumble and roll out onto the roof. For a moment, he thought he was headed for hard ground, but his left hand gripped the ledge stubbornly, and he was able to twist his body so he was facing the children. The boy silently handed him the semi-conscious toddler, and he curled his right arm around her, pulling her into his chest.

The boy crouched over his two younger siblings, protecting them with his body, but he kept his dark eyes on Tony. Tony stared back at him, marveling at the boy’s raw survival instincts.

The first truck blared onto the street, but Tony didn’t turn his head. He and the boy stayed focused on each other in the midst of screeching brakes, shouts, sirens, and screams.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Gibbs didn’t try his phone anymore. He’d thrown it at Ellie, and focused on the road. She stuffed it in her back pocket, but said nothing. There wasn’t anything for her to know. When McGee called the squadroom, he had barked into the phone so loud that she’d been able to hear every syllable of the call. Gibbs had the address on a sticky from his phone call with Sparky. He grabbed it and ran. Ellie chased after him.

She sat in the seat next to him and coached herself on remembering to take breaths. The GPS told her they were only a few minutes away, and she was praying they would get there before she actively began to hyperventilate.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The extinguisher stream was weak by the time he reached the door at the end of the hallway. The foam killed flame for only moments before it sprang up again. McGee could only feel his way at this point. The smoke stole all the light. It was hard to imagine where he was exactly, and he wasted precious seconds pushing on a door that needed to be pulled. His hand on the metal knob scalded from the heat, but he hung on and swung himself inside. The room was dark, and he was grateful for the darkness only because it meant that was no flame. Still, the air was as thick as mud, and he gobbled air in an effort to find oxygen. His hands were his eyes, and he felt every surface. He ran into a bed, and started to move around it when he remembered how safe he’d felt as a child hiding under his. He dropped all the way to the floor and swung his long arm underneath. It took a few sweeps before his hand caught on something warm and soft. He grabbed on to what felt like a chubby leg and pulled, and then he heard a deep wail.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tony’s hand on the ledge had become numb, and when firefighters told him to let go, his hand wouldn’t respond. A firefighter had to step above his head and pry his fingers off. Tony barely noticed. He was too busy hissing smoke damaged words at them. “My partner at the end of the hall! Room on the right! Child named Maggie!” He growled it at them when hissing didn’t work, but they didn’t pile through the window into the house like he hoped. They were too busy with barely conscious children. Three firefighters dragged him down a ladder, the rungs catching at his glass impaled knee. His words tumbled out of him in coarse whispers, but that was all. The ten minutes it had taken to act out this gruesome play had stolen from him six months of accumulated energy. It took effort for him to even lift his head when they pried the toddler out of his hands.

He felt grass pillowing his head, and he looked up at black smoke trying but failing to blot out the blue sky of a beautiful day. His words carried no sounds any more, but his mouth kept moving between coughs. He rolled over on the bad knee, and the pain shot through his body, but he welcomed it because it kept him from slipping away. He grabbed at the leg of a passing firefighter, and pointed at the window. The firefighter firmly dislodged his leg, and kept moving. A water cannon was pointed at the open window, and a hard rush of water hit the house like a tsunami. Tony pictured McGee being thrown against a bedroom wall by the sheer force of it.

He tried pulling himself up, and found himself looking into the face of a beautiful woman- her hair soft and curly, and her eyes the same blue as the sky. She stared down at him, and he realized that she was the woman McGee had dragged out of the house. Her face was shiny liked a freshly scrubbed child, and she didn’t carry the same energy as everyone around them. She stared at him as if a curiosity, and he realized she must be in shock.

“I’m sorry,” his lips shaped. Her children lay under piles of emergency personnel, and he could do nothing more to help her. He imagined that she was thinking of the one still upstairs, and his eyes grew wet. He wanted to tell her that his friend was up there too, but he wasn’t sure if it was to comfort her or to tell her that her pain was his as well. Nothing was in his power any longer, and his throat, thick with emotion, gave way to more coughing. Someone took her by the shoulders and moved her away.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

McGee clutched the child under his arm and felt for the extinguisher. He knew there had to be a window, but it was impossible to see. Maggie struggled against him, and then, in a flash, she had slipped out of his grip. He dropped back down and caught a foot as she scrambled away. He pulled her back in. “Maggie! Maggie! I’m here to help!”

The child didn’t seem to understand and she fought his efforts to hold onto her. The lack of oxygen was stealing the last of his energy, and he had no reserves for her struggling. One hand landed on the fire extinguisher, and he knew he had to get to his feet, and find a window. Yet a blackness was starting to settle over him that had nothing to do with the smoke. He leaned against the bed and used it to get to his feet, the extinguisher in one hand and a squirming child in the other. He leaned over bed, wanting nothing more than to just close his eyes.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“Tony!”

His eyes fluttered open and he was staring into Gibbs’ face. He was too numb from exhaustion to muster a response.

Gibbs turned to Bishop. “Get people on him! Tell them that his lungs are comprised! They are scarred from the plague!”

Gibbs was back in his face. “Tim?”

Tony closed his eyes as he tried to order events. Things had become foggy. Then fear awoke in his gut, and he turned his head to the still burning house. His breath quickened and he pointed a finger. “Help him.” It was nothing more a harsh whisper, but it was enough because the last thing he saw was Gibbs running toward firefighters.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

McGee felt himself drifting away. The child beside him on the bed had grown quiet, and he felt like he was floating. He blinked his eyes in the heavy smoke one more time, but this time there was a glow. A sense of light he hadn’t found earlier. His hand felt for the extinguisher, and he pointed the hose at the glow, but there wasn’t any foam left. Something about the glow kept his oxygen deprived brain intrigued though, and he forced himself into a sitting position, dragging the extinguisher into his lap. With all the effort he could muster, he heaved the fire extinguisher onto his chest and tumbled toward the glow.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

TBC

Personal Note: I was a volunteer firefighter for a year, and went into four burning houses/buildings. It’s weird. You can’t see. You can’t hear. You spend most of your time cutting into walls looking for fire. Steals your energy really fast. Very eerie. :-/

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PostPosted: Thu Jun 25, 2015 11:48 pm 
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Intel Analyst
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Joined: Sun Feb 20, 2011 10:27 pm
Posts: 3660
Title: I'm a social work professor in Minnesota
Name: sheila, beastmother
Gender: Female
Chapter 2

When Tony woke up again, he found a familiar set of blue eyes watching him. Relief flooded through him. Gibbs would give him answers. Then panic seized him as he realized that Gibbs being in his room could mean the answers weren’t good. His breath quickened and he struggled against his restraints. “McGee!” he grunted through the oxygen mask.

Gibbs leaned forward. “He’s in intensive care but he’s alive.”

Tony studied him for a moment and Gibbs smiled. “Really? You think I’d lie to you about that. He’s very sick but he’s alive.”

“How sick?” Tony grunted.

“Maybe…brain damaged sick.”

Tony closed his eyes and turned away. They let the silence stand for a while.

Then Gibbs said. “They have you all tied up here. How about I undo these restraints on the condition that you keep that oxygen mask on?”

Tony nodded and Gibbs freed his hands. “Feeling better now?”

He grunted.

“I need a sit rep on what happened. I can’t make sense of it. Nobody wants to talk to mother yet. She’s overwhelmed.”

Tony nodded. He could only speak in a harsh whisper, but Gibbs was patient, asking questions softly, and together they pulled together an accounting of the morning’s events.

Finally, Gibbs sat back. “So, McGee crawled off to the back of the house and that’s the last you saw him.”

Tony nodded. “Is the little girl okay?”

Gibbs flinched. He hadn’t realized Tony was missing that part of the story. “She died, Tony. They pulled McGee and the little girl out, but…she was gone.”

Tony closed his eyes and his breathing grew ragged.

“You both did the best you could, Tony.”

Tony looked at him with soft eyes. “Tim will take it hard.”

“I know but we’ll be there for him.”

There was a soft knock on the door, and then Vance peeked his head in. “Can I come in?”

Gibbs nodded and Vance came in. “Just checked on McGee. Delilah, Abby, and Agent Bishop are taking turns. He’s pretty popular with the girls today. How are you doing?”

“Fine,” Tony croaked.

Vance put his hands in pockets. “I was just at the scene. Still quite a crowd there. Talked to the Fire Chief. It’ll be a day before it cools down enough for them to go in and investigate. Have you reported, DiNozzo?”

“He just did, Leon. I’ll get it written up.”

“It’ll be important.”

Gibbs caught the tone in his voice. “What’s going on?”

Vance shrugged. “There was a neighbor lady trying to tell the media that McGee left the little girl behind.”

“No!” Tony tried to rise, but Gibbs caught him.

“Don’t worry. It’s not a thing. Fire Crew told the Chief that they found McGee on the floor with the girl in his arms. He must’ve broken the window, and then gone back for her. Chief says the smoke inhalation was too much for him.”

“It’s wrong,” Tony hissed through the mask. “You don’t know what it’s like.”

“A child dies and people need to point fingers. The Chief isn’t impressed. Actually, we have a bigger problem.”

Gibbs sighed. “I don’t want to know.”

“Lucky you. It seems that some kid filmed DiNozzo here handing kid after kid out the window, and then holding them on the roof until the crew got to them. Kid put it on YouTube. News outlets picked it up. DiNozzo here is about to be a big star.”

Tony shook his head and looked away.

“Please Leon,” Gibbs said. “Handle it.”

“I wish it were up to me, but SecNav says we need some good publicity.”

“No circus. The last thing we need is a circus.”

“I’ll do the best I can, Gibbs.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The machines scared him when he opened his eyes, but then everything else did as well. His bedroom looked wrong, and Ducky was certainly not the person he was used to waking up to in the morning. He found the mask and pulled hard. Pain shot up through his throat, and then Ducky was wrestling with him. “You’re intubated, Timothy. Stop it!!”

None of that made sense, and so he continued to struggle. Strange women came into his bedroom and pounced on him. Everything was wrong, and he couldn’t find any reason to this.

“Sedate him!”

“No! The doctor wants him conscious. It’s time.”

“Restraints!”

“I have the left!”

“Grab that rogue arm! I don’t want to have to intubate again! His throat is probably too swollen to tolerate it!”

“Got him?”

“Yup!”

“Dr. Mallard, he needs a friendly voice. I’m sure he’s confused.”

Hands grabbed his face and he found himself looking at Ducky. “Timothy, look at me. You’re okay. We’re here. Everyone you love. We’re here.”

McGee’s breathing slowed. He tried to talk but the intubation made it impossible.

“Shhh! Don’t talk. I’ll do the talking. You’re in a hospital. You were in a house fire. Do you remember it?”

McGee searched the old man’s eyes and then shook his head.

“Do you remember me?”

Tim nodded.

Ducky relaxed. “At least we have that.”

McGee made a grunting noise.

Ducky smiled. “I know you want answers, but we’ll take it a bit at a time. Would you like to see friendly faces? Delilah? Abby? Gibbs? I mean Jethro isn’t the friendliest face, but he represents security.”

He nodded.

Ducky turned to a nurse. “Let’s start with Delilah. Just a minute or two. Then he can rest before we give him another visitor. How does that sound?”

She nodded and left.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Tony sat on the edge of the bed in street clothes. Gibbs shook his head. “You still have another day here. Respiratory therapy is important. Getting impatient is not an option. You’re going to look like an idiot in that bed in your jeans.”

“I’m not walking around in a gown with my ass sticking out,” he rasped. His throat was raw in a way that he’d never experienced before.

“You shouldn’t be walking around at all.”

“I want to see him.”

Gibbs sighed. “He’s tired and confused. He’s still intubated and he can’t talk. There’s plenty of time for this. I sat with him and not much happened, you know.”

“So, it’s my turn,” Tony said as he launched himself unsteadily from the bed.

“Stubborn ass,” Gibbs mumbled as he steered him into the hallway. The ICU waiting room had become an NCIS campground, and Abby and Ellie were sprawled over chairs sleeping, and Jimmy sat in a chair with Victoria in his lap.

Tony smiled at the baby. His affection for the child was unfettered, and he was constantly buying toys and clothes for her. He put out his arms to pick her up, but Gibbs shook his head. “You’re as unsteady as a newborn colt. Not putting a baby in your arms.”

Tony bent over and kissed her head, drinking in the sweetness of a fresh baby. Something emotional rose up in him, and he remembered the baby in his arms on the roof. He swayed and Gibbs put a steadying hand around his waist. He looked at Jimmy. “Thanks for bringing her.”

Jimmy winced. “I’ll bet your throat feels like ground hamburger.”

Tony nodded. Gibbs pulled him gently toward the ICU. The doors slid open, and Gibbs nodded at a nurse. “We’re going to start with the good.”

He steered Tony away from McGee’s room and stopped him at the entrance to Sadie Martin’s room. “There’s your co-star. She’s doing well. Her young lungs need a little more time to recover.”

Tony watched the 18 month old child curled up in a crib sleeping. She was still on oxygen. He felt tears well up in his eyes, and he wiped at them impatiently. “I’m not a hero.”

“Your YouTub movie has 15 million hits. ZNN wants an interview. You don’t have a choice in the matter.”

“It’s YouTube, Boss,” he rasped wearily.

“Whatever. Let’s go see Tim. Don’t ask much. It just confuses him.”

Delilah looked up when they came in and smiled. “He’s in and out. If you need to speak to him, he can respond with one finger for yes and two fingers for no. Remind him of it though. His short term memory is not very good.”

Tony reached for her and they hugged tightly. They held on for a while, and then Tony pulled away and rubbed at his face. Teary eyed, she said nothing as she backed up her chair and wheeled out.

Gibbs pulled a chair over for him and Tony sat down. McGee seemed like he was sleeping peacefully, and for a moment, Tony didn’t disturb him, but then he gently took his hand and held it. McGee’s eyes popped open.

“Hey buddy,” Tony said softly.

McGee’s breath quickened.

“Do you remember the system for yes or no?”

McGee frowned. Tony sighed. “One finger for yes. Two fingers for no.”

He nodded as if hearing it for the first time. Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. “Be patient. It may just be temporary.”

Tony focused on Tim. “Do you remember what happened yesterday morning?”

With his free hand, Tim tentatively raised two fingers.

“We had a nuisance call. Wife not answering the phone for Marine husband in Afghanistan. Remember those?”

McGee nodded and raised one finger. Tony felt a flood of relief.

“We got there in time for a house fire. Five kids and a mother inside. Do you remember that?”

Two fingers went up.

“Well then, you’re luckier than I am. It was a rough morning.”

McGee stared at him for a moment and then grunted. Tony knew he wanted details. “Everyone got out.”

He’d neglected to say that Maggie made it out but not alive. McGee searched his friend’s eyes and grunted again. Gibbs leaned over. “He knows you too well. Tell him the truth.”

Tony’s chin trembled. “A child died. The rest are recovering.”

McGee’s eyes watered and he looked away.

Tony squeezed his hand. “It’s okay. We did the best we could. I promise you. I’ll remember that for both of us.”

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2015 11:00 am 
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Title: I'm a social work professor in Minnesota
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Chapter 3

Tony sat on the edge of his hospital bed, and worked his tie. Bishop had brought him a suit, shirt, and tie, and he’d murmured a thanks, but it was not the right tie with his Armani jacket. It was wrong but then everything was wrong. The video of him getting those kids on the roof had gone viral in a serious way, and the story of the Marine’s family getting rescued had become front page news. A press conference in the hospital auditorium was happening in minutes, and SecNav decided that he had to be the hero of the hour. Usually, DiNozzo didn’t mind the attention, but he was still feeling pretty shaky. More than that, his partner was being moved out of Intensive Care today. There shouldn’t be a press conference until McGee could sit beside him, and share what that boy’s cell phone didn’t capture.

Ellie came back in and put her hands on her hips. “You look a little scruffy. You want me to find a razor?”

“A little scruff becomes me.”

“It kind of does,” she said, cocking her head.

“Tim is getting that tube removed this morning. I should be there.”

She nodded. “Gibbs is with him, but you know McGee. He’s not going to want an audience for that.”

Vance came in. “You ready?”

DiNozzo sighed and tightened the knot in his tie.

Vance looked him over. “You could use a shave.”

“It’s not happening.”

“Surly. The reluctant hero. I get it but you have a job to do.”

“McGee should be up there as well.”

Vance nodded. “He will be. The timing says we do this now, but you’ll talk about him up there. I know you. That tie is wrong with that jacket.”

“Yeah,” he said gesturing to Ellie. “My stylist was off her game.”

Gibbs opened the door. “Let’s get this thing done.”

“How’s Tim?” asked DiNozzo as he eased off the bed.

“The tube is out, and his throat is pretty raw. They’re going to hydrate him and then I’ll take a statement from him this afternoon.”

“I wish this could wait,” Tony mumbled.

Gibbs turned to Vance. “They still haven’t gotten a statement from the mother?”

“Nope. She says she’s too traumatized. The husband, Sergeant Martin, got in last night. He’s hovering around her like a bear with her cub.”

“There are questions that need answers.”

“I know.”

“I’ve seen her when her youngest was in the ICU. There is something about her that seems off.”

“Not our case, Gibbs.”

“Not yet,” he said.

Vance took a deep breath. “Okay people, it’s time to put on a public face. The last thing the public needs to see is us looking sideways at a grieving mother- especially without proof. If the case was ours, we could do what we do, but we’d do it in the confines of the interrogation room.”

“Thanks for the PR lesson, Leon,” Gibbs said with a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “Let’s get this over with.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The hospital auditorium was usually used for students and case conferences. Today, it was filled with print and news reporters. Cameras on tripods jockeyed for position in front of the stage. Tables were lined up as if ready for an academic panel. Tony wished for an opportunity to go home, crawl into bed, and wait for Zoe to get home from the raid ATF was conducting in Texas. He’d downplayed the whole incident for her, but he felt relief that she was due back today. He’d been wondering about that feeling. Did it mean his feelings for her were growing?

Vance was guiding him onto the stage. The fire marshal was already as was an arson investigator. Across the stage was the woman with the cornflower blue eyes. She was wearing a sleeveless flower dress, and her soft, curly hair lay on bare shoulders. She looked young for a mother of five children. Her husband was a large man standing beside her in uniform, and he kept a protective arm around her shoulders. She hadn’t moved onto the stage as if waiting for something, and then she spotted him. She waited until Tony was almost seated and then she trotted across the stage, and hugged him tightly around the middle. He took a step backward against the onslaught, and Vance steadied him. Not one camera in the room missed the moment.

“Thank you for saving my children,” she said loud enough for people to hear. Her startled husband was there, prying her off DiNozzo and steering her to a seat. She resisted efforts to seat her in front of her placard, and instead, seated herself next to Tony, smiling at him while she wiped at tears. Vance sat on the other side of Tony, and he was grateful for the director’s presence.

A hospital official quickly replaced the placard for Paige Martin for the one intended for Leon Vance. A Metro spokesman began the press conference with comments about the tragedy of the house fire, and how the community mourns the loss of 3 year-old Maggie Martin. She talked about how the investigation was in progress and that neither the marshal nor the investigator could say much at this time.

When she opened the floor for questions, the last focus of reporters was on the investigation. Questions were all for Tony. His years at NCIS. What he was thinking when he rushed into a burning building. How this fire was different from the one when he was a college student and rescued a child. He winced when he realized they’d dug up that story. He tried to bring McGee’s name into the conversation, but was cut off each time with more interest in his history of heroism.

Finally a reporter focused on Paige Martin. “Mrs. Martin, how are your other children?”

She leaned toward the mic, and her voice came softly, “Three of my children have been released. My youngest, Sadie, should be coming home in another day. Maggie…” She bit her lip for a moment. “Lives in our hearts forever.”

“Mrs. Martin, there were reports that the second NCIS agent hesitated before going in. In fact, your neighbor, Shelly Edwards, says that you had to beg him to enter your house.”

Tony locked eyes with Gibbs leaning against the back wall and leaned toward the mic. “I feel I need to-“

Paige Martin’s soft voice rose above his. “I don’t blame Agent McGee. Not everyone can have the courage necessary to enter a burning house. It took a few minutes, but he eventually did the right thing. In fact, he has suffered the worst injuries of all- outside of Maggie. He has to heal physically as well as psychologically. He has to come to terms with what he could’ve done for Maggie.”

Tony leaned forward. “I have worked with Agent McGee for many years. He’s never hesitated- not once- in the face of danger especially at the expense of civilian lives. I don’t beli-“

Vance kicked him under the table and whispered, “No”.

Tony searched for Gibbs at the back of the room and saw his boss shake his head slowly.

Paige Martin reached for the mic once more, her hand shaking. “I don’t mean to disparage Agent McGee. Agent DiNozzo is loyal to his partner. I respect that. All I know is that I wish there had been two Agent DiNozzos at my house three days ago. My Maggie might still be here.” She closed her eyes and more tears came. “She had the sweetest smile. You have no idea.”

Tony reached for the mic again, but Vance put his hand on his arm gently and pulled him back. Beside him, Paige Martin started to weep and collapsed into her husband’s arms. The hospital press officer walked in front of the panel and put an end to further questions.

Vance took DiNozzo by the arm and got him out a side door. “I got a car for you. Get in it and go home.”

“Did you hear her?”

“I have ears, DiNozzo, but telling a grieving mother that she’s a liar at a press conference isn’t going to help anyone.”

“I want them to know the truth.”

“Not today, Tony. It’s not going to happen today.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Gibbs stood in the same spot against the wall and watched her as people leaned over offering comfort. Some reporters stayed and continued to take pictures. He could tell she was aware of them, and yet she didn’t seek privacy. She lifted her head a couple of times, and he could tell she was looking for someone. The third time she lifted her head, he could sense impatience on her face. Someone should be here that wasn’t. Gibbs scanned the room, and took note of who was in the room.

“Gibbs?”

He turned to find the arson investigator standing there. The man was older, probably counting the days until retirement. He’d long ago stopped fighting the battle of the bulge.

“That was quite a little press conference, don’t you think?”

Gibbs nodded. “And you are?”

“Lieutenant Louis Hanson.”

“What can I do for you?”

“How about you and I take a ride?”

……………………………………………………………………............................................................................

The inside of the house was a disaster. What the fire hadn’t destroyed, the crew had with axes designed to get at fire inside the walls. It had a dark, charred haziness, and the smell was a mixture of heat, mold, and chemicals. Both Gibbs and Hanson wore paper masks as they stepped gingerly through the rubble.

Hanson gestured at Gibbs and pointed out a line that was darker than the rest. It ran up and down along the 2nd floor hallways like mustard from a squirt bottle. Gibbs looked at Hanson, “Lighter fluid?”

Hanson nodded.

“You found the bottle? Matches?”

Hanson pulled down the mask as if years of fires had left him immune to the carcinogens. “The bottle and an electric lighter were found in the garbage next door.”

“You sure it was the right bottle?”

Hanson smiled tobacco stained teeth. “Completely free of prints. Explain to me how lighter fluid gets out of the can without squeezing it.”

“It’s a homicide.”

“Oh yeah. Up and down these walls with the lighter fluid, and then she goes to the stairs and lights it.”

Gibbs’ gut stirred. “You sure?”

“Three days ago, it was 78 degrees outside. Second day of summer vacation and yet all of these kids are upstairs in their bedrooms in the middle of the morning. Why?”

“Okay.” Gibbs shrugged his shoulders. “So, maybe you’re right. It’s still not much in the way of evidence.”

“You saw how she played your agent in that press conference.”

“I was there.”

“The other one give you a statement yet?”

“He just got off the ventilator this morning. I’m going to interview him this afternoon, but I’m not expecting much. There’s some memory loss.”

“Let me walk you through it. DiNozzo’s statement is enough.”

“Show me.”

Hanson points down to the living room. “They find Paige Martin on the couch. She seems drowsy. DiNozzo tells McGee to get her out. Then DiNozzo heads for the stairs.”

“It would’ve been smoke and flame up here.”

“Mostly smoke. The fire gets into the wall and starts moving. DiNozzo rushed upstairs blind to all of that. McGee’s call to 911 happened at 10:56 a.m. What time did he call you?”

“10:58.”

“You stated that he had the fire extinguisher and was going back into the house. There was no hesitation. He got her out, got into the trunk of the car, grabbed the extinguisher, called you, and ran back in.”

Gibbs nodded.

“DiNozzo is on his hands and knees at this point. He’s found three of the children in the front bedroom. Charlie, 11, is still trying to find Maggie who got away from him. DiNozzo corrals Charlie at the time McGee shows up with the fire extinguisher. The decision is made for DiNozzo to get the kids out on the roof and McGee continues toward the back of the house looking for Maggie. The fire extinguisher probably didn’t offer much protection.”

“There are burns on his left hand.”

Hanson nodded as he walked to the back of the house. “He probably burned it on the handle of the door. He went in here and started calling for her. She wouldn’t have responded.”

“Too much noise?”

“No,” Hanson said. “She was autistic. Non-communicative.”

Gibbs stared at him. “I didn’t know.”

“A neighbor told me. She said Maggie had a sort of sign language she used with Charlie and the Sergeant. Neighbor said that Mom was not very patient with her.”

“She would’ve hidden.”

“Probably. Under the bed. She wouldn’t have understood what was going on. Panicked, I’m sure.”

“McGee found her. A crewmember told me she was in his arms.”

“Yeah but I’m sure she didn’t make it easy.”

“He threw the fire extinguisher through the window.”

Hanson chuckled. “That was really a miracle. The smoke inhalation would’ve been severe by this time.”

“McGee did the best he could.”

“Hell, he did more than most. Pardon the pun, but Mrs. Martin is using him as a smoke screen.”

“What does Metro think?”

Hanson sighed. “That’s why you’re here, Gibbs. They don’t have time for this case. Murders are up in the District. This one is going to be circumstantial at best. They’re giving me no energy. The perp looks like mom of the year and the press loves her. Ask for the case.”

“I’m trying to imagine a mother wanting all five of her children dead.”

“That’s going to be the hard part, but you saw her in that press conference. That woman is bad news.”

Gibbs stared through the window broken by the fire extinguisher. “I’ll make the call.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

TBC

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 28, 2015 8:40 pm 
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Title: I'm a social work professor in Minnesota
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Chapter 4- A Story of Heroes


“His short term memory is shaky. The smoke inhalation was severe. Are you sure you’re a friend? You’re not on the list.”

The big man nodded. “I just got back from Afghanistan last night. Heard about it this morning. I just want to sit with him for a few minutes.”

The nurse frowned. “It’s his first day off the ventilator. We have to keep him calm.”

“It’ll be fine.” The man settled into a chair. She looked at him once more before retreating.

He waited until the door closed and then he turned to the sleeping man. “Agent McGee. Agent McGee.”

McGee blinked eyes open and stared at the man.

“They say you don’t remember things.”

McGee frowned and looked around the room. He croaked out the words, “Hospital. Two fingers for no.”

“Pretty convenient to not remember anything, don’t you think?”

McGee looked at him. “I don’t know you.”

The man shrugged. “How can you be sure? I thought you didn’t remember things.”

He concentrated. “Not a nurse. A doctor?”

“A father, McGee. I’m Maggie’s father.”

McGee shook his head. “Who is Maggie?”

His eyes reddened. “My child.”

McGee’s breathing quickened. “What happened?”

“She’s gone.” The words seemed strangled and the man swallowed hard. He pulled out a photo. “This is her.”

McGee took the photo. He studied her solemn little face- the dark eyes and curly hair.

“She looks like me- not her mother. She was…different. She didn’t talk. She… communicated with her hands. I was the best…with her…and then I left.” The man rubbed his mouth as he struggled with composure.

McGee watched him and whispered hoarsely. “It’s okay. I’m a federal agent. NCIS. I have connections. I can help.”

The man shook his head. “Is this a game? Do you even care?”

“What’s your name?” McGee said softly.

“Kevin Martin. Marine Sergeant Kevin Martin. Does that mean anything to you?”

McGee nodded. “That helps. You’re a Marine. We can get involved.”

Martin dropped his head in his hands and tried to stifle the sounds erupting from his gut.

McGee tried to sit up. “Can I keep this photo? I just need my laptop. I’m going to scan it in, and then I can get to work.”

Martin didn’t respond.

“I don’t remember everything. Am I getting this wrong?”

The door to his room opened and McGee saw Gibbs. He relaxed back into his pillow. “My boss is here. It’s okay. He has all the memories we need. Boss, this is…I can’t remember…Oh God…this man’s name is…Maggie’s dad.”

Gibbs walked in and took in the scene. McGee handed him the photo. “Maggie is gone. We need to help this man.”

“I got this, Tim.” Gibbs put his hand on Martin’s shoulder. “Hey Gunny, I’m Special Agent Gibbs. Let’s talk outside.”

The man nodded and looked up, his face wet. “I thought…something else was true.”

“I know.”

McGee tried to rise and rasped. “Let me concentrate. I need my laptop.”

“You rest. I have work for you, Tim. I promise. Just close your eyes for a few moments. I’ll be back.” Gibbs was as soft as he ever got and Tim seemed grateful for a chance to comply.

Gibbs steered Martin out into the hall. The man rubbed his eyes. “He really can’t remember, can he?”

“It’s getting better, but he was oxygen deprived for quite some time.”

“Did he hesitate?”

“What if he did? You’ve been in combat. You ever hesitate?”

“My wife is fixated on this. She’s sure that he could’ve done more.”

“Should we go back in there and look at him again? He look like a guy who walked away from your little girl?”

Martin shook his head.

“By the way, he never hesitated. He grabbed a fire extinguisher and called me. He was back in that house two minutes later. He had a partner in there with a six to watch. He doesn’t take that lightly.”

“I don’t understand why she said what she said.”

“Really? This is first time your wife has had a different story than the people around her?”

Martin stepped back. “You trying to say something to me? Seriously? I bury my child in two days and you want to say something about my wife.”

“You have four children to protect, Sergeant. Keep your eyes on them at all times. NCIS is taking this case. And trust me, Sergeant, this is a criminal case.”

Something changed in Martin’s face. He backed away from Gibbs and headed for the elevator at a jog.

Gibbs pushed open McGee’s door quietly. His agent was sleeping again. Maggie’s picture was on the table beside the bed. His first impulse was to take it away, but he didn’t. Remembering the child was integral to McGee’s healing. There was no way to protect him from it.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Tony rolled over in bed and reached for Zoe. She’d returned from her raid last night, but it hadn’t been a sweet homecoming. His viral video was everywhere, and she’d seen it in a hotel room in Houston, Texas. There was a look of betrayal on her face- a feeling that his attempts to protect her had only left her exposed to the shock of discovery. He spooned behind her and rested his face in her hair. “I’m sorry, Zoe.”

She opened her eyes and sighed into the pillow. “Just be real with me. I’m not interested in little boys anymore.”

“Yeah. Being Peter Pan has lost its magic. I don’t know what the end of our story is, but I know that I want to be a serious person in your life.”

“I could’ve been here. The raid didn’t depend on me.”

“Noted.”

She turned to face him and smiled. “How did you sleep?”

“My knee aches like a son of a you know what.”

She slipped out of his arms and onto her feet. “Let me get you some ice for it. Let’s elevate it. It looked pretty nasty last night. You’re going to need to nebulize every two hours. We should start now.”

“Zoe,” he groaned. “I’m not a little boy, remember?”

“The jury is still out on that,” she said returning with an ice pack. “And you’re going to nebulize. You have scarred lungs. You want COPD by the time you’re 50? Don’t push your luck, Tony.”

“You’re sexy when you’re bossy,” he said. Then she pushed a pillow under his swollen knee and he yelped. “Maybe not.”

There was a sharp knock on the door. Zoe jerked her head. “It’s 7 a.m. Who is going to show up at this time of the morning?”

“Gibbs,” Tony said and then he shouted. “Be there in a minute, Boss! Zoe’s naked!”

Zoe cursed at him as she pulled sweatpants on and jogged to the door simultaneously. She pulled it open. “Sorry Gibbs. He’s a child.”

“We established that on the phone when he didn’t let you know what happened. Believe me, if I didn’t accept the fact I was part daycare provider, I would’ve bounced him years ago.”

Tony lifted his head. “How’s McGee?”

“Delilah said he had a rough night. Nightmares. It’s actually a good sign. Probably memories trying to resurface.”

“Poor guy. I should be there.”

“No, you shouldn’t. You should be in bed using that air machine. Why aren’t you dong that?”

“Well, I woke up two minutes ago, Boss.”

Gibbs turned to Zoe. “Every two hours. Let me know if you need backup.”

“I’m ATF, Gibbs. I got this. I’ve cleared the week so I am on DiNozzo duty full time.”

Gibbs sat on the bed. “What do you remember about the mother?”

Tony sat up. “Is it a case? Is it ours?”

“Nothing is ours until you start breathing on that machine.”

“Please shut up about the nebulizer, and talk to me.”

Gibbs shook his head. “What do you remember? Go through it with me again.”

Tony closed his eyes. “Black smoke. McGee with 911. The front door was unlocked. Mom was lying on the couch- like she was sleeping. We rousted her. I told McGee to get her out and headed for the stairs.”

“Any other memories of her in the house?”

He shook his head. “The next time I saw her I was on the ground looking up at the sky.”

“Firefighters pulled you out. You were in and out of consciousness.”

Tony narrowed his eyes. “It was weird. Her face was clean. Everywhere there was soot, but her face was clean- scrubbed.”

Zoe winced. “My five kids are in a house fire, and I find a sink to wash up? I don’t think so.”

“No,” Tony said. “Her face was scrubbed.”

“Good,” Gibbs said. “That didn’t happen at her house. She had to go to a neighbor’s. We’ll look at that. Anything else?”

“Low affect. I thought she was in shock…And she came to my hospital room.”

Gibbs frowned. “I didn’t know this.”

“I was out of it. She stood there, looking fresh. Again, I remember how clean she looked. When I think of her, I think clean and fresh.”

“Grieving parents are disheveled, unorganized. What did she say to you?”

Tony squeezed his eyes closed. “It made no sense. She said that she couldn’t stop the kid and that I was the hero.”

“What?”

“I know. I thought it was a dream.”

“You’re sure it wasn’t.”

“She was in my room and she was…frustrated because I was…going to be the hero.” Tony put up a finger. “At the press conference…remember how she waited until I was front and center and then she came at me with the hug. Weirdest thing.”

“Staged. Everything about this has been staged. She likes control. Somehow, the rest of us failed to cooperate. You ended up the hero. Was she supposed to be?”

“No.” Tony’s eyes suddenly watered. “No. I was there. No one does that to their kids. I was up there with them. They were terrified. No one does that. Who does that?”

Gibbs put a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Tony. You know monsters exist. How long have you been doing this?”

“We don’t do the kids, Boss. We never have to do the kids.” Tony rubbed at his eyes.

Zoe leaned in and touched his wet face. “I got him, Gibbs. We’re going to have some coffee and eggs, and then we’re going to breath on the machine every two hours. You go work this. We need to know that this is being worked. Okay?”

Gibbs squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll call you in a few hours, Tony. We’re on this. I promise you.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Delilah bent over her phone texting furiously. McGee was gently snoring in the bed, and she was grateful for the respite. Awake, he was agitated, struggling to remember things. Disjointed pieces had been emerging, but they didn’t mean much without connections. Instead, they were traumatic bits of time without context. This morning he’d woken from a nightmare with memories of the smoke and confusion. It was a good sign, but it hurt Delilah to see him so distressed.

The door to the hospital room opened gently and Abby peeked her head in. Delilah turned her head and smiled. “Come in sister from another mister.”

Abby noted his sleeping face and walked in quietly, putting a tote on one chair and sitting in another.

McGee moaned and stirred. “Abbs.”

She leaned forward. “How did you know?”

“Patchouli body wash. You’ve been wearing it since the day I met you.” His voice had progressed from a whisper to a squeak.

Abby looked at Delilah who shook her head. “Long term memory. We don’t get excited about those. Only the short term memories.”

McGee sat up. “Where’s her picture? Her picture was on the table. Who took her picture?”

Delilah nodded. “Now that’s a good sign. Tim, who’s picture are you looking for?”

“Ma…Ma…Maggots?”

“Small victories,” she sighed. “What was on the picture, Tim?”

He closed his eyes. “A little girl…with brown, serious eyes.”

“Good. Now, would anyone name a little girl Maggots?”

“No,” he said. “Let me concentrate. Mag…Margaret? No…um, Mag…Maggie. Maggie? Is it Maggie?”

“Is it?”

“Delilah, please!” He squeaked in frustration.

“Sorry Honey, you need to do the work in order to get better.” She pulled the picture of Maggie out of the drawer. “Look at her.”

He sighed deeply as he considered the picture. “It is…Maggie.”

“Good. What else?”

He bit his lip. “Her father was here. Maggie’s dad…and there…was smoke…it was hard to breathe.”

She shook her head. “Smoke in a hospital? Tim, you’re conflating your memories.”

He closed his eyes. “There was a house…and children…Kids huddled under a window.”

“Good job, Honey! That’s a new one. You can see those kids?”

He concentrated, his breath quickening. “I told Tony…to get them out.”

She squeezed his hand. “Good! That’s enough, Tim. Little bits. These are hard memories. Abby is here. She’s got your favorite game. The one the two of you play almost every night online.”

“Hacker?”

“Yeah,” she said smiling at Abby. “Dumbest game, but the two of you like it.”

“We built it,” Abby said. “I brought two laptops.”

Delilah kissed the back of his hand. “I have to go out and make some calls.”

“Leonard?” McGee asked.

She nodded. “Brilliant analyst but a commitment-phobe when it comes to releasing his work. I have to have a little pep talk with him.”

She wheeled to the door and looked back at Abby. “Can I talk to you outside for a bit?”

Abby nodded as she handed McGee a laptop. She followed Delilah out and closed the door behind them. “He’s doing good, don’t you think?”

“Yeah. Docs think he could recover everything, but there is a lot of trauma in there. It’s going to be hard for him to come to terms with her death. You know how deeply he cares about helping people.”

“We’ll keep it light. I promise.”

“One other thing: Gibbs asked us to call him if anyone from the Martin family tries to contact Tim…especially Paige Martin.”

Abby narrowed her eyes. “He doesn’t think…”

She nodded. “He does.”

Abby shivered. “Unbelievable.”

“I know. It’s gross.”

Abby closed her eyes. “I saw an interaction between her and a Marine officer. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I was so worried about McGee, but I think Gibbs needs to know. Let me make a quick call before I go back in.”

TBC

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PostPosted: Tue Jun 30, 2015 12:04 am 
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Title: I'm a social work professor in Minnesota
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Kelly, I am writing as fast as I can. Tomorrow by midnight, it should all be done. :kisscheek:

Chapter 5

Ellie had only seen Gibbs briefly that morning but the look on his face was as serious as she’d ever seen. A quick sit rep had filled her with a rage she hadn’t felt since Benham Parsa.

She sat in her car for a moment and looked at the burned out house, now abandoned. There was still an odor that drifted off the house, and she wrinkled her nose as she got out of the car. The purpose of her visit was the woman next door who was crouched in the front yard trimming a rose bush.

Ellie left her NCIS cap in the car and approached with her with a smile. The stocky woman sat back on her haunches and observed her. “You another reporter? My son says you have to go through his press agent.”

“NCIS,” she said extending a hand. “And you are Peggy Stevens. I saw you the day of the fire.”

The woman frowned, brushed her hand on her shorts, and shook it reluctantly. “I don’t remember you. What do you want? It was a horrible, terrible accident and it should be left at that.”

“How long have you been neighbors with the Martins?” Ellie crossed her legs and settled into the grass next to her.

“They moved in 7-8 years ago when Paige was pregnant with her second. Charlie was the cutest little guy, always running around and helping his mom.”

“You’re good friends with Paige, Mrs. Stevens.”

“She’s a wonderful person.”

“She doesn’t have a lot of other friends in the neighborhood.”

“Jealousy. Pure and simple. Paige’s house is always immaculate. Her kids are clean, well-fed, well-behaved. And have you got a look at her? Impossible to imagine her as a mother of five. I know for a fact that she gets up at 5 every morning to exercise before she wakes the kids. I guess some people don’t think its fair that she looks so good and goes through life so effortlessly…until now.”

“Who are others who appreciate her?”

The woman shrugged. “I’m pretty much her best friend. Because her husband is deployed, I know she goes to a support group for wives. I always watch the kids that night. Actually, sometimes it’s two nights a week when they have group activities and such. It’s very sweet. Her husband’s commander, Captain Miller, picks her up. If that isn’t support, I don’t know that is.”

“That’s very nice,” said Ellie. “Is your son, Elliot, here?”

“Oh, he can’t talk without his press agent. His viral video is a sensation.”

“Mrs. Stevens, he doesn’t have a choice. I’m not the press. I’m law enforcement.”

She frowned and put her gardening shears down. “That fire inspector found an empty can of lighter fluid in our garbage. Someone is going to try to blame me or Elliot for that fire.”

“I’m just here to get the facts. What we know so far is that Paige got out of the house and ran to yours to tell you about it and to use your rest room. That must have been when you came outside.”

“Someone is going to try and make something of the bathroom thing. She was full of smoke. She just needed to throw water on her face.”

“Understandable. Have there ever been any other incidents of fire in the neighborhood?”

She pushed herself to her feet. “I know where this is going. You know about the time Elliot accidentally set fire to our garage. You are trying to pin this on him. I knew it!”

“An accident is an accident, Mrs. Stevens. Arson closed the case without an indictment.”

“He’s being framed.”

The door to the house opened, and a lanky teen-ager came out. His hair hung over his eyes hiding acne. Ellie smiled. “Are you Elliot?”

“Don’t say anything, Ell. She’s trying to frame you.”

He cocked his head. “You don’t look like police.”

“NCIS. You going somewhere?”

“Work. I work at McDonald’s.”

“Need a ride?” She gave him her best smile.

He smiled. “Yeah. Getting dropped off by you is going to do a lot for my image.”

“No!” Mrs. Stevens whined. “I’m going to call your dad.”

“Go ahead Mom!” He said as he followed her to her sedan.

He got in the front, noting the law enforcement equipment. “Cool car!”

“You’re 18, right?”

“Yup.”

“Then I don’t need your mom’s permission to talk to you.”

“Am I a suspect?”

She shrugged. “Everyone is.”

“Is it because of the lighter fluid and the burnt garage? I can tell you right now I didn’t do it. I liked those kids.”

“What do you remember about the fire at the Martin’s?”

“I was in my room playing online games, and I heard my mom start to scream. I ran outside.”

“Was Paige Martin outside?”

“No, she was in my house brushing her hair and washing her face.”

“Brushing her hair? Are you sure?”

“I ran past the bathroom when my mom was screeching her lungs out. Paige had the door open. She’s always worried about her hair.”

“You know her pretty well, huh?”

He smiled. “You have no idea.”

“What does that mean?”

He shrugged. She glanced at him and turned the car into a restaurant parking lot and parked.

“Hey, I’m going to be late.”

“Look at me,” she said her eyes blazing.

He struggled with eye contact. “What do you want?”

“A child died. You think we’re going to let that go. Somebody is going to get prosecuted for that. You hear me! I mean it! It’s a big deal!”

“I didn’t do it!”

“Then who did?” She waited to see what he did.

“She’s not going to frame me. I made sure that she couldn’t.”

Ellie took a breath and pretended to follow. “We figured that was her next step. How did you stop her?”

He shook his head. “It would be super embarrassing for her if it got out.”

“You’re a lot smarter than we figured. I’m glad you were ready for her. We’re going to have to know the evidence though.”

“Sex tapes,” he said casually. “I made sure she knew that I had copies in numerous locations.”

Ellie felt excitement rise in her gut. “Amazing, Elliot! I’m going to need to see one of those copies. In the meantime, just tell me who’s on it.”

“Me and her.”

Ellie swallowed. “Just say her name, Elliot. I have to hear it.”

He shrugged. “Paige.”

“Why would she have sex with you? Nothing personal, but you’re kind of young.”

“’Cause I caught her doing it with her husband’s CO in the driveway late one night. She’s not really flush with money so I found another way to get reimbursed.”

Ellie struggled to contain her excitement. “Elliot, that’s blackmail, and that’s a crime.”

“Come on!” He said. “She’s the one that set fire to the house and killed Maggie.”

She leaned forward. “How do you know that?”

“I saw her the day of the fire. My bedroom is in the basement, and the garbage cans are next to my window. A few minutes before my mom started screaming, she dropped something in the garbage can. It was weird for her to come over and use our cans so I went out after she left and there was an empty bottle of lighter fluid on top. I didn’t make the connection until my mom started screaming, and I came out and saw the fire.”

“Does she know you saw her?”

“Not yet.”

“Elliot, why didn’t you come forward?”

He shrugged. “I wanted to see what she was willing to do once I told her what I saw. “I mean she was really good in the sack, you know.”

Ellie shook her head. “Elliot, call your boss. You’re not going to work today. I’m taking you down to give a statement.”

“What about my plan?”

“Sorry, Elliot, but you belong to me now.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Gibbs waited until he had Captain Brian Miller in interrogation before he dropped the façade of a simple informational interview. He leaned forward. “You know how the Marines frown on fraternization. It’s even worse when it’s the commander with one of his sergeant’s wives while he is serving in a combat zone. Hurts morale.”

Miller started to rise. “You got a reputation, Gibbs, but I’m not one of your perps. Get it straight, Gunny!”

“Sit down, Captain. I am not under your command.”

Miller sat. “I’m not admitting to anything.”

“Do you think we are sitting here because you’re breaking regulations? A child died, and I believe that four other children are still at risk.”

“I don’t understand, Gibbs.”

“It was arson.”

The Captain shook his head. “You can’t possibly think I…no way. I have kids. I would do anything for my kids, and I have no reason to hurt hers.”

“Exactly, Captain. You would do anything for them, but then you got involved with an enlisted man’s wife. She’s pretty, Miller. I can see that. Everyone can see that. I’m thinking she wanted to trade up. She was five kids in, and Martin wasn’t looking like he was going to get her the big house she deserved.”

“Don’t even say that, Gibbs. I need to contact JAG.”

Gibbs slammed the table. “Look at me, Captain! I was there when they pulled that child’s body out. I watched my agent flat line twice before he got to the hospital. This is not a game. I am as serious as a heart attack. If you have a career after today, it will be because you didn’t start our relationship today with lies. They’re going to ask me how well you cooperated. Remember that!”

“Paige Martin was a woman with five kids. My job was to offer support while her husband was away.”

“We’re going to get all the dates that she was supposedly at this supposed support group. What do you think we’re going to find? We have a witness that saw you picking her up and bringing her home every week. We also have a witness who saw you and the Martin in your car in her driveway at midnight knocking boots. How does that sound, Captain?”

The Captain closed his eyes.

Gibbs watched him for a moment and then moved in. “What did you say when she told you to leave your wife?”

The man moved his lips back and forth for a bit and then he spoke. “I told her it wasn’t possible.”

Gibbs sat back. “Miller, women generally want to hear more specific reasoning than that, and I have a feeling that Paige Martin doesn’t give up easily.”

He sighed. “No, she doesn’t. She threatened to tell my wife. I couldn’t have that so I just kept telling whatever she needed to hear. I told her my wife was sick with mental illness and when that didn’t work, I told her that it would destroy my career. That worked for a while, but she needed contact with me. I still met with her every week. I had to appease her. She said she would wait until I divorced my wife, she would divorce her husband, and we would be free agents.”

“What happened to that plan?”

“She wanted to be with me, but I didn’t want her. Gibbs, she’s a great lay, but that’s all. She is a control freak. She’d call me in the middle of the day 5-6 times a week. My staff was definitely suspicious. The stress of the whole thing was too much. I put in for a transfer and heard that it would take six months so three weeks ago I took her away for a weekend. Thought I would have it out with her. Told her I didn’t want what she was selling. She went nuts. I had a crazy female on my hands. She couldn’t imagine that I didn’t want her. Kept yelling that there had to be something else. Finally, I told her that I couldn’t take care of 5 extra kids. Told her that I wouldn’t do it.”

Gibbs took a breath. “How did she handle that?”

“She said that she would give her husband full custody, and I told her I didn’t care. I said there wasn’t a scenario where I didn’t end up responsible for another man’s children financially or otherwise. And then she got quiet.”

“What did that mean?”

He shrugged. “At the time, I thought that she realized it was over. I figured she would never give up her kids. I mean, who would?”

“How did she act after the fire?”

He looked down. “She was calling me within an hour of the fire. Begged me to come to her. I showed up at the hospital.”

“Yeah, I got a witness to that as well.”

“I’m hearing from her 3-4 times a day now.”

“What is she saying?”

Miller rubbed his mouth. “She says that Maggie was a difficult child. She says life will be easier now, and she knows Kevin will take all of them. She says she’ll expose the affair if I don’t ask my wife for a divorce.”

“Get it out, Captain. I suspect I am the only one who can peel her off of you.”

“It was an accident, Gibbs. Please tell me that fire was an accident.”

“It wasn’t an accident.”

Miller stared at him for a long moment, and then his gut heaved. Gibbs pushed a garbage can toward him.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Tony came out of the elevator in his formal suit- the same one he’d worn to Admiral McGee’s funeral. He had the nebulizer in a bag slung over his shoulder. Gibbs was so high pitched about it, and he had no interest in a confrontation on this particular day.

Ellie was at her desk in a navy suit with her hair pulled back in a bun. She looked up at him and grimaced. “I hate funerals.”

“That doesn’t exactly make you unique.”

“Where’s Zoe?”

“She’s at the hospital. McGee checks out today, and she’s going to help Delilah get him home.”

“You feeling okay?” She looked at the bag on his shoulder.

“Feeling fine. I don’t have the nebulizer nearby and my girlfriend and boss are going to have kittens over it. What’s the latest?”

“We have a strong circumstantial case, but Gibbs can’t get her to walk in the door. She’s not responding to his phone calls.”

“She can use the funeral as an excuse.”

“Only for so long,” Gibbs said as he came in wearing a suit. He looked at DiNozzo. “I don’t need to see you carrying the damn thing. Just promise me you’ll keep using it. You up to going to this thing?”

“I can do it.”

“I want our presence there so she knows we’re not going anywhere.”

“I want to see the boy, Charlie. I’ve been thinking about him.”

Gibbs nodded. “Be nice if we could get a statement out of him.”

Tony nodded. “I doubt she’ll let us get close.”

“Press is going to be there. She’s not going to put off the man who saved her children. You’re the hero. I figure you have full access to that family at the funeral, Tony.”

Tony shivered. “You sure don’t ask a lot, do ya’.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Tim sat on the bed in jeans and a t-shirt. Delilah was busy working with the nurses on his discharge. Zoe popped her head in. “You doing okay?”

He nodded. “Can I get my wallet? I…need to see if my badge is in there.”

“I can check.”

“I want to see for myself.”

Her head disappeared and he pulled the picture of Maggie out of his pocket. He touched her face. “I’m sorry, Maggie. I remember holding you. I don’t remember how I ended up there with you, but I remember you. I’m so sorry I failed you. I am so, so sorry.”

Zoe came back in and handed him the wallet. “Here it is.”

“Are we almost out of here?”

“Just waiting for the doc. I guess you do a lot of waiting in hospitals, huh?”

He nodded.

“McGee, you’ve only known me 6 months. Do you have…memories of me?”

“I remember you tackling me in the park when we first met. I remember that Tony is happier than he has been in a long time. And I…remember Victoria Secret.”

She made a face. “You and I have never been to Victoria Secret.”

He frowned. “Sorry. I can’t pull it all together. Somehow…I can’t quite grasp what that memory is.”

She sat next to him and bumped his shoulder with hers. “It’s okay. Delilah says you’re doing terrific. She says the doctors are pretty amazed. You’re going to be fine.”

“Doctor says I need to do some walking. It helps to strengthen my lungs again. Do you mind if I take a quick lap around the unit while we’re waiting?”

“Go ahead. I’ll see if Delilah needs anything.”

McGee put Maggie’s picture in his wallet, and checked his cash. As usual, his emergency $100 was there. He walked out of his room and slowly walked through the unit. When he got to the stairs, he looked around, saw that no one was watching, and he slipped through the door.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

TBC

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 01, 2015 12:49 am 
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Just under the wire, Kelly! Happy WEE!

Chapter 6

The funeral was over-attended by people who didn’t know the Martin family. The viral video of Tony’s escapades on the roof of the house was getting more than its fifteen minutes. Tony stayed near the back of the church, and when too many people turned their heads to look at him, he retreated to the car.

The groupies didn’t last the ride out to the cemetery. Tony was relieved. For all of his attention seeking behaviors, it was uncomfortable being admired by people who knew so little about him. He stood in the grass with Gibbs and Ellie and waited while the Martins sat in the limo.

Ellie frowned. “I haven’t been to many funerals but I thought they were supposed to go and sit by the gravesite.”

“Seems like they don’t want to face people,” Gibbs said, his eyes glued to the shaded windows of the vehicle.

Then the door opened, and the kids tumbled out. Charlie was the last one. He looked back at his parents, and only reluctantly followed his siblings. The door closed again.

“Mom and Dad are having a fight,” Ellie murmured.

It was going to be a few minutes before the pastor was going to go to the car and press the issue so Gibbs nudged Tony.

“I know,” he said as he trotted off after Charlie.

The kid was standing off to the side while he kept an eye on his brothers and sister. Tony came up. “Hey partner. Remember me?”

Charlie looked down. “My mom says you want to put her in jail.”

Tony grabbed a folding chair and sat down. “Look at me, Charlie.”

The boy looked at him with the same immensely serious, dark eyes Tony had seen on the rooftop and emotion swelled in Tony’s gut. “All I care about is that you’re safe and that nobody puts you in harm’s way.”

“You don’t even know me.”

Tony chuckled. “Charlie, I know a lot about you. I watched you at a moment when all a person can see as truth. You take care of these kids. I saw it then. I see it now. You keep them safe.”

Charlie sighed. “That’s why I was the one that should have gone after Maggie. I know…knew her. Your partner was only going to scare her. I bet she kicked and screamed when he grabbed her. She doesn’t like people to touch her except me and Dad. I told Mom not to blame your partner ‘cause there was no way she was going to go easy.”

Tony put his hands on Charlie’s shoulders. “I’m going to tell him that, but I want you to know it too. It just wasn’t possible to get her out. The fire was too much. You and I know what it was like trying to breathe in there. You and I understand. You couldn’t save Maggie and he couldn’t either.”

“What about you? Could you have saved her?”

Tony shook his head. “We couldn’t see anything, Charlie. My partner, Tim, was lucky to have found her at all. We were all too late.”

“Is my mom going to jail?”

Tony looked into his deep, serious eyes. He knew that you never compromised a case by revealing too much, but lying to the boy was impossible. “Honestly, Charlie, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I’m scared.”

He pulled him in for a hug. “I’m sorry, Charlie. You’re an amazing kid. You shouldn’t have to worry so much.”

“What are you doing!?”

Tony pulled away and turned his head. Paige Martin was striding toward him in a little black dress and high heels, her husband trotting along behind. “Stay away from him! Interrogating him at a funeral! What’s wrong with you?!”

Charlie stiffened. “Mom! It’s okay. He was just being nice.”

She grabbed him by the arm roughly. “It was a trick! He doesn’t care. None of them care! They won’t stop until I’m behind bars. Women are always to blame when children die. Never mind how hard I had to work to keep all five of you clean and healthy. I am working from five in the morning until ten at night.”

Tony stood, unable to form a response. The Sergeant couldn’t contain his wife, and then Gibbs was there standing in front of her, and that meant Paige Martin was facing a pair of blue eyes every bit as powerful as hers. “Mrs. Martin, nothing is happening at this funeral other than paying respects to the life of your child.”

“What is he doing?” She said pointing at Tony.

“Charlie and I were up there together, Ma’am. It was rough, and I was checking on him. He’s a remarkable kid.”

“I know,” said Kevin Martin. “He’s the best.”

Paige closed her pretty eyes. “The pressure of all of this has been too much. No one understands what its like for me.”

Tony and Gibbs exchanged glances. Then Ellie was there saying in a low voice. “At your 2 o’clock, Gibbs.”

Gibbs looked and saw McGee coming toward them slowly in a white t-shirt and jeans. Tony sucked in breath. “His McTiming is way off.”

Paige Martin swung her head and saw him. She cursed under her breath and started toward him. “What are you doing here?!”

McGee pulled out Maggie’s photo. “You were all gone from the church. I remember Maggie. I wanted to be here.”

“Is this a joke?” She threw her arms up. Members of the funeral party started to gather.

“I remember her. It was dark and impossible to breathe, but I remember her now. I held her in my arms.”

Paige put a hand to her forehead. “Oh my God! Why are you here? Do you remember me? Do you remember what you said?”

McGee concentrated on her. “You’re Maggie’s mom. I am so sorry I didn’t get her out. I want you to know that.”

Her jaw tensed and she jabbed a finger at him. “You shouldn’t be here. You should go!”

Gibbs didn’t intervene. Something was happening for McGee and he didn’t want to stop it. Tony started forward, but Gibbs put a hand on his arm. “Wait.”

“I’m very sorry, Ma’am.”

She became aware of your audience. “Do you remember how I had to beg you to go in? Do you remember that?”

McGee shook his head. “I don’t. Did I do that? It doesn’t seem like me.”

“You didn’t hesitate, Tim,” Gibbs said firmly.

“I don’t remember that.” He focused on Paige. “I remember you said that it was too late for your kids. It was too late to save them. How did you know that?”

“I never said that!”

McGee blinked at the ground. “I remember the trunk and yelling at Gibbs. I remember the flashlight in the trunk…or was it a tank…a tank of foam…there was a screamer…but she wasn’t the mother…” He looked up. “You disappeared…do you remember?”

“What is wrong with you? What are you doing here? It’s my daughter’s funeral, and you’re turning it into your own personal therapy session. You selfish pig! Of course, you can’t remember being afraid to go in and help my kids. Who wants to remember being a coward!?”

McGee was stunned, and Gibbs knew he’d allowed it to go too far. He went over to McGee and turned him away from her. “It’s okay, Tim. Don’t listen to her.”

The crowd stayed frozen until Sergeant Martin took his wife by the arm and pulled her away from the scene and toward the gravesite.

Tony waited until she was gone and joined Gibbs and Bishop with McGee. Tim was struggling to settle his breathing. “Are my memories bad? Is she right? What happened? What’s real?”

“It’s okay, Tim.” Gibbs was rubbing his back. “I believe your memories. I do.”

“Then what’s a foam tank? What is that?”

“You’re thinking fire extinguisher,” Ellie said.

He shook his head. “I’m so confused. I still get only bits and pieces.”

“Hey Tim, you’re really doing well. The doctors are excited. Zoe told me.”

McGee grabbed his head as he took note of his attire. “What was I thinking? I’m wearing jeans. Who goes to a funeral in jeans?”

“It’s okay, Tim. You just wanted to honor Maggie,” Gibbs said softly.

“She’s wrong about me, Tony. I always have your six. Always.”

Tony could see the distress building in his partner and took his face in his hands. “I know, Tim. I know. She’s wrong. You were right behind me.”

“But I was too late for Maggie.” His eyes filled with tears and Tony pulled him in.

“We were both too late, McGee. Both of us.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Ellie was waiting for Tony when he got off the elevator. “Gibbs hated to call you in. He knows you’re not ready to be back.”

“Where is she? Just tell me where she is.”

She put a hand on him. “Stop. Take a breath.”

“Ellie.” He was as mad as she ever seen him.

“This has to be played a certain way. You know that.”

He took a deep breath. “Sit rep.”

She relaxed. “She showed up with Charlie an hour ago. Said the boy was ready to make a confession. Kid had tears rolling down his face. Gibbs was like stone with her. Ushered the two of them into interrogation and has left them there. He knows the kid wants to blurt it out. If it’s on record, and we indict her, her lawyer can always use it as reasonable doubt. He thinks the boy won’t want to lie to you.”

“That woman is evil.”

“Yeah.” She stepped back. “Help him. He is so confused right now. Just help him.”

Tony caught the elevator and headed for interrogation. Gibbs was leaning against the door to the room. Tony chuckled, “Afraid to be in with a suspect.”

“Yup. I got rules about women, but she makes me want to forget them.”

“I have to talk to Charlie alone. It’s not going to work if America’s most toxic housewife is in the room.”

Gibbs nodded. “The she-beast and I will be behind the glass.”

“Where’s the Sergeant?”

“I had Ellie call him, and I put in a call to JAG. Do not let him confess to something he didn’t do.”

Tony nodded and ducked in the door. Paige Martin looked up, and he wanted to roll his eyes at her crisp, clean blouse and pretty face. “I’ll need to speak to the suspect alone. Mrs. Martin, you can wait behind the glass.”

“No, I stay here. My son is 11 years old. I’m going to make sure he’s protected.”

“Behind the glass.” Tony pointed, unable to contain his contempt. “Now.”

“You can’t treat me like this. I didn’t do anything.”

Tony stared at a spot above her head. “Special Agent Gibbs is waiting for you behind the glass.”

For a moment, the power struggle was a stalemate. Finally, she leaned toward Charlie. “Do the right thing, Baby. Mommy loves you more than anyone in the world.”

Tony kept his eyes on the wall until the door closed behind him.

Charlie started to cry. “I’m sorry, Tony. I didn’t mean to do it.”

“Shhh! Stop talking. You don’t talk until I tell you.” Tony rounded the table and sat across from him. He grabbed his small hands. “Look at me.”

The boy hiccupped and nodded.

“We were partners in there, right?”

Charlie nodded.

“Partners don’t lie to each other. We have a code. We always have each other’s backs.”

“Yes.”

“Shhh! I said, no talking, remember?”

He nodded.

“Are there times when lies are a good thing?”

Charlie stared at him and shrugged.

Tony gripped his hands. “If there are, I can tell you that now is not one of them.”

The wet, dark eyes stared back at him.

“Maggie is watching and she knows the truth. Don’t disappoint her, Charlie. Please don’t disappoint her.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

“What is he doing? Charlie wants to give a statement. He’s blocking him. I’ve had enough.” Paige Martin started for the door, but Gibbs slipped in front of her.

“No one interrupts an interrogation.”

“I’m his mother.”

“A mother who bullies her son into a confession.”

“That’s not what happened.”

“Really? I’ve been in this game for a long time, and I never met anyone like you.”

She smiled. “I’ve heard that before.”

“Not if you were the last woman on earth, sister. Now, get back to the window.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“I didn’t mean to do it, Tony.” Tears competed with sobs.

Tony gripped his hands. “Walk me through it. It has to make sense, Charlie.”

“I was…mad. Mom said we had to stay in and clean our rooms again. I wanted to be out playing. I figured I’d show her…that I was mad.”

“What did you do?”

The boy narrowed his eyes. “I ran outside and found the lighter fluid and the lighter on the grill, and then I ran back upstairs.”

“Then what.”

“I sprayed the lighter fluid on the walls and then I lit it.”

“And then?”

“I sat in a bedroom with my brothers and sisters.”

Tony shook his head. “It doesn’t work. Your story is wrong.”

Charlie squeezed his eyes shut. “I’m just mixed up. Let me think it through.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

He sat in the parked car and stared at the house. He remembered that it was the second story window on the left where they saw the most smoke. He remembered Tony yelling 911. He got out of the car and stood. The house was still standing, but it had holes everywhere from flame and axes.

“Hey you! What are you doing here?”

He turned and saw a large woman with her hands on her hips. “You ruined that funeral yesterday.”

He focused on her. She was the screamer. After the mother had disappeared, she had been on the lawn screaming like a banshee. He remembered her clearly. He turned away and walked toward the entrance to the house.

“Get off the Martin property! I called Paige, and she coming down. She’s going to have a fit!”

“Mrs. Stevens, put a sock in it already.”

McGee turned at the new voice. The man was in his sixties, short and stocky. He extended a hand. “I’m Captain Hanson, Arson division.”

“Special Agent McGee.”

“How are the memories coming?”

“Better.”

“Gibbs is on his way down. The boy is trying to confess. We’re going to do a re-enactment. That should put an end to his tall tales.”

“I’ll call the police on both of you!”

Hanson rolled his eyes. “We are the police, Mrs. Stevens!”

“She was the screamer.”

Hanson nodded. “Tell me everything.”

Tim pointed to the window on the left. “Smoke was billowing out there. My partner yelled for me to call 911. I followed him to the front door.”

“Let’s go in, partner.” Hanson followed McGee up the steps. McGee gingerly touched the door, and the damaged door swung open. He stepped in.

“It was hazy. Hard to see. No real noise but hard to hear.”

“Where was the missus?”

Tim walked to a couch in the center of the room. “Here. Lying on her stomach.”

Hanson frowned. “She said she was in the chair across the room.”

McGee stared at the room. “Sometimes, my memory is off.”

“Okay. What next?”

“Tony said he was going for the stairs. He told me to get her out. I pulled her up, and dragged her out the door.”

“Okay. Let’s go back outside.”

McGee went out to the porch. “I dragged her onto the grass and she fell. She looked up at me and said it was too late to help the kids.”

Hanson shook his head. “Gibbs told me that yesterday. I’ve been to a lot of fires. I’ve seen mothers dragged out before. They are always screaming to get back in, no matter how useless the gesture. They don’t give up on their kids. You sure about that memory?”

McGee swallowed. “Yeah. I remember.”

“Okay. Where do we go now?”

McGee walked to the car. “I went for the fire…extinguisher. I called Gibbs. Told him what was happening and hung up. Boss must’ve hated that. He likes to control the hard moments. I just needed him to know what was going down.”

“He’s a good man.” Hanson turned and saw two cars rolling up. “Speaking of the devil…”

Gibbs climbed out of the first car with a very tense Paige Martin in the passenger seat. “What the hell, McGee?”

“I’m having memories.”

“You need rest and you have to breathe on the machine like Tony.”

“I want to remember.”

Tony came up with Charlie. “McGee, you’re like a broken record. Take it slow. You’ll get there.”

He ignored him and turned back to the lawn, pointing at Mrs. Stevens. “She was screaming and Mrs. Martin was gone. I figured she ran back into the house.”

Hanson looked at Paige. “Naw. She just needed to freshen up for the boys. She was over at the Stevens house doing her hair. A damsel in distress has to look the part.”

She turned on them. “I will get a lawyer and you will all lose your jobs.”

Tony put his hands on Charlie’s shoulders. “Look at it. This is your house. Think about those stairs. If you lit the walls, you would have to run out of the house with the empty can and lighter, throw in the neighbor’s trash, and get back up the stairs through the flames- all without your mother noticing. It’s not possible. You didn’t do it, Charlie.”

Charlie looked at his mother for reassurance, but she wouldn’t acknowledge him. “I told him I did it, Mom.”

“Peggy, I’m going to need to stay at your house for a while. It seems my family has turned on me.”

Peggy Stevens nodded.

“Before you go, Mrs. Martin, can you show us one more time where you were in the living room when McGee and DiNozzo came through the door?”

“I’m not going to help you frame me.”

“Please.” Hanson steered her to the door.

Tony turned to Charlie. “You stay outside.”

Paige Martin walked in reluctantly. The inside of the house was ghostly- furniture covered with dust against with blackened walls. She pointed at a chair.

Hanson looked at DiNozzo. “Is that right?”

Tony closed his eyes and thought. “It was so thick in here. The moment we found her, I was focused on the stairs.”

“McGee?”

McGee stared at the chair. “No, that’s not right. She was lying on her stomach on the couch- like she’d been napping.”

“In the middle of the morning?” Gibbs looked at Paige.

“Never. I never nap.”

“I can believe it.”

Hanson went over to the couch. “She was lying on her stomach, huh?”

McGee nodded.

Hanson grabbed a flashlight from his belt and shined it under the couch. He reached under and rooted around. Finally, he pulled out a shirt. Putting it to his nose, he sniffed. Then he smiled. “That lighter fluid is tricky. Doesn’t always squirt straight. Must’ve been annoying for a pretty lady like you to have that shirt smelling like gas. What do you think happened, Gibbs?”

He shrugged. “It was unexpected. I figure she grabbed another top but forgot to leave the soiled one behind when she came downstairs. The fire is lit. She can’t go back upstairs. Then these two clodhoppers start pounding on her door, ruining her opportunity to be the beautiful young mother who lost all of her children and gained a Marine Captain. She wasn’t napping on the couch. She was stuffing the shirt underneath it.”

Paige shook her head. “You’re framing me.”

Gibbs produced a pair of cuffs and tossed them to McGee. “No, sister, we’re arresting you.”

McGee locked the cuffs quickly before she got too squirrelly. Then he pushed her outside. Tony shook his head. “Two days ago, McGee couldn’t remember anything, and now he can position her on the couch?”

Gibbs sighed. “When you remember everything, you work to forget. When you forget, you work to remember. You know McGee. Finding memories was just another problem to solve. He couldn’t let go until they were in place.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

“Why are we going to lunch in a mall?” McGee asked suspiciously.

“Zoe’s idea,” Tony said darkly.

“You bozos need a little workshop on pleasing your girlfriends.” Zoe said as she steered the car deftly in and out of traffic.

McGee looked at Tony sharply. “What did you tell her?”

“I told her about the last conversation we had before the Martin fire.”

McGee closed his eyes. “Delilah was mad and Ellie told me to apologize, right?”

“I had the other idea. You know, the one where you buy something a little silky and sexy.”

McGee sat up straight. “No! We are not!”

“Actually, McGee, you agreed that we were going to.”

He shook his head. “Never in a million years would I have agreed to do that with you. You created a memory that never existed.”

“Seriously! You suggested it! We passed a Victoria Secret and you said we should stop in on our way back.”

“It’s an unkind thing to play with an amnesiac’s condition.”

“You are not an amnesiac.”

“I was…sort of.”

Zoe looked back. “Both of you need to shut up. We are almost there.”

McGee glared at Tony. “Why is your girlfriend coming? I thought you were the master at acquiring lingerie.”

“Maybe, if his girlfriend is a cocktail waitress on an oil rig,” Zoe muttered.

McGee’s eyes widened. “I thought Tony was a smooth operator.”

She sighed. “He tends toward the trashy. The last slingshot he bought lasted all of twenty minutes. A girl wants to look sexy, not feel like she’s a high wire act. This lesson is for both of you.”

McGee glared at Tony. “You are supposed to be good at these things! If I had let you take me that afternoon, I would have gotten some kind of stripper attire, and Delilah probably would’ve sent me packing.”

“Zoe is picky.”

“I am not,” she said pulling into the parking lot. “Rule one. It has to feel good on a woman. If it pulls, stretches, or bunches on the female anatomy, it is not sexy for the wearer.”

“I knew that.”

She threw him a look. “Then explain the red and black corset that dug into my ribs.”

“It looked nice,” he smiled.

“Rule two. Men don’t understand subtle. We are not whores working the corner. Garish colors are not sexy. Refer back to my comments on the black and red corset.”

“That’s not garish,” Tony said trotting along side her.

She gave him a look. “Same color scheme the Gestapo used. Enough said.”

“Wait!” McGee yelled as he fumbled for a pen. “I’m trying to write this all down.”

“Rule three. Edible underwear works in theory only.”

“You said you liked strawberries.”

“That was a strawberry in only the loosest of all definitions. It was like eating candy flavored plastic.”

“What about pasties? Tony once told me that pasties are fun.”

She flipped her hair back. “Glue a tassel to your penis and tell me how it feels.”

McGee stopped cold. “This is going to be impossible, isn’t it?”

“Hey Zoe, look. We scared him.” Tony turned around. “Come on, McSexy. You can do it.”

Zoe hooked arms with McGee and leaned in. “Nobody knows her better than you. Go in there and ask yourself what says, I love you. That’s what she’ll like.”

“Really?”

“I am here for backup…and to put some ideas in my boyfriend’s head.”

Tony grinned. “I like that.”

McGee head slapped Tony. “That’s for not knowing what you were talking about.”

Tony smiled. “Welcome back, Tim.”

McGee leaned in, bumped his shoulder, and the three of them walked into Victoria Secret.

……………………………………………………………………………………………

The End

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