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A Family And Forever

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Nick had refused to believe it. He couldn’t bear to think his best friend and partner was gone. Up and left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye, not after all she’d just shared with McGee.

But when he walked in the next day to Ellie’s empty desk that stayed empty throughout the day, the uneasy feeling in his stomach he’d ignored started to grow. The night she laid it all out on the table to Tim, Nick felt broken. His chest literally felt ripped open at seeing and hearing the despair in Ellie. When she’d mentioned hooking up with Boyd again he tried to ignore the jealousy and anger that burst through him. She had been with him again. The disgust at the mental image was palpable.

He hadn’t gone home that night. No- he texted Elena and told him something came up and he’d be working late. A bullshit excuse that he knew was a load of crap, but honestly, could care less if Elena knew it was a lie. Instead, he drove aimlessly through the streets of downtown DC, taking it in without truly seeing the nightlife. After the jealousy and anger left him, the sadness filled him at the thought of her being gone. Sadness was an old friend, one he wished would stay away. And so Nick landed on denial, denial that Ellie would actually up and leave her dream city with her dream team-turned-family.

Bringing him to now, rubbing his sleep-deprived eyes as if it would fix the image in front of him: Ellie’s empty desk. Ellie’s empty desk that Tim was at packing up her momentos.

Rage filled Nick before he could stop it. He flew out from behind his own desk and grabbed McGee by both shoulders, flinging him away from Ellie’s spot.

A rightfully confused and pissed looking McGee awaited him as Nick turned around, seething.

“What the hell, Torres!” McGee practically shouted.

Nick struggled to come up with words to defend his actions. He was panting from the whirlwind of emotions swirling in him.

“Ellie left Nick. Let her go.” McGee stated firmly, with a slight challenging glint to his eye. Nick didn’t want to acknowledge it.

Gibbs strolled in at that exact moment, man always did have impeccable timing. “Gear up, we’ve got a body.” And that was it, no mention of Ellie leaving, no reprimanding for Nick’s actions. Just a classic, ‘grab your gear.’

“The fuck, Gibbs? You’re okay with this? Bishop can just leave?!” Nick demanded of the team lead, voice rising as he went. 

Gibbs whirled around, eyes dead set on Torres, “It’s Bishop’s life, not mine. She made the decision that’s best for her and frankly, I understand why.” At the end Gibbs purposefully looked at Nick up and down, punctuating his unspoken thoughts clearly. “Now, get your ass in gear or we’ll have another problem.”

Nick’s mind reeled the entire drive. He could barely focus on the case, let alone Elena’s five thousand text messages he’d received. She was worried about him, was he okay, did he need her to come for lunch, and it went on. It was suffocating.

At a brief pause for a coffee refill, Nick shot off a text back canceling their plans for that night. He couldn’t fathom proposing to her right now, not when his insides were a jumbled mess and there was no solution in sight. He needed to figure out what he was feeling and why he was feeling it before ever considering proposing. Was this all over just a best friend? Even Nick had a hard time answering yes to that question.

To his text, he received another hundred showing concern for him. Nick threw his phone into the trash can with more force than necessary as he stalked back into the bullpen. McGee raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing.

Nick felt lost—out to sea without a boat, let alone a paddle. He knew Gibbs and McGee could tell, but he didn’t care. Finally when he’d stared at the exact same credit card statement seeing nothing for an hour, he called it. He gave them both a lame excuse about not feeling well and left, dragging his feet with his head hung the entire way.

Once again, he didn’t go home. He knew Elena would be waiting. He had to face her eventually, she deserved that. He liked her, he really did. It was something he least expected when he tried to get over Ellie—finding a woman that he actually enjoyed spending time with. And yet- his mind started to wander...would he be this upset, this unhinged if the women in his life were reversed? If he’d been with Ellie like he wanted to many months ago, and found a friend in Elena, but she left—would he care just this much?

A voice whispered in the far recesses of his mind, no.”

He couldn’t go there- he couldn’t think about that. Besides, it didn’t matter any way—Ellie was gone, and Elena...well, Elena was still here. Why did that thought cause dread to settle in the pit of his stomach instead of joy?

He found himself pulling up in front of Ellie’s place, unaware he’d driven there. Her truck was gone and the lights inside were off. She had said she’d be leaving last night, but Nick didn’t think she actually would. Parking his car and walking up to her front stoop, he gave a quick knock to the door- Nothing. Pulling out the spare key she gave him ages ago, he unlocked the deadbolt and cracked open the door, giving a quick shout to see if she was home- Nothing. Nick swing the door completely open and that small piece of him that held out hope she was still home, crumbled.

Items were haphazardly piled everywhere. Some leftover empty boxes littered the floor. Her walls were now bare, her favorite paintings must have gone with her. Nick slowly made his way to her bedroom, and his heart sunk. The bed was stripped, picture of the team on her nightstand gone, dresser drawers yanked open with the contents taken. Ellie left. She really, truly left.

His vision blurred as tears collected and he hastily turned from the bedroom. He couldn’t bear to see her apartment like this- empty. It was too reminiscent of how he felt inside. Tears began to escape their confines as he hung his head and went to leave. He was so caught up in his emotions, he almost missed the single, small piece of folded paper on the hall table. The edges were worn down, practically soft, when he went to pick it up—as if the note had been read and reread, folded and refolded, treasured and retreasured. Why didn’t she take it with her? Nick wondered, but soon had his answer as he flipped it over to see the front.

His own loopy handwriting like a neon sign blaring across his field of view. To Ellie, it read. His note. She never did tell him what he wrote in it, and he’d almost forgotten. Well, more like he made himself forget. After that day, he knew he was getting in too deep with Ellie, and the thought had scared him. And in entered Elena, a pretty distraction that he grew to like, but clearly not love, his thoughts reminded him.

Nick went to open it and couldn’t. He desperately wanted to know what he said that Ellie treasured so dearly, but he couldn’t bring himself to intrude on her feelings. Even if it was technically his words to her, if he looked at it, he was betraying her trust. She’d purposefully not told him what was in the note- why? He wasn’t sure, but in this moment it felt wrong to open it and find out. So instead, he pocketed it. Tucked it in his inner jacket pocket and patted the spot. It was as if he had a little piece of her close to him again—a tiny bandaid on the gaping wound in his chest.

Nick took a last look around her apartment and sighed. He wasn’t sure what to do—that empty feeling still heavy on his soul—but he knew he couldn’t stay here. The memories of a lost love were too strong to bear.

Close to midnight he pulled up to his own apartment, taking note of Elena’s car a few spots away. He was dreading this conversation, but it had to happen, and for her sake it should happen soon. He’d stopped by the jewelry store and returned the ring after leaving Ellie’s place, knowing full well he could not continue on with this marriage when deep down he knew it was a farce. That wasn’t fair to her or to him.

The conversation with Elena was brutal and yet painless at the same time. Nick could read the hurt etched across her face when he told her they were over. But he also got the sense that she knew why, that she knew he had never truly loved her, that his heart had always been with someone else. And as if she was reading his mind, when Elena walked out, she laid a delicate hand on his shoulder and whispered softly near his ear, “I hope you get her, Nick. I really do, you deserve happiness with Ellie.” And before he could respond, she was gone. Nick was speechless, he’d never told Elena about his feelings for Ellie. She must’ve just recognized the buried feelings a long time ago and chosen to ignore them hoping Nick would forget about Ellie. He sighed to an empty apartment. He had forgotten momentarily, but now that he remembered, it was too damn late. She’d left.

———

Normally, Nick never moped. It wasn’t attractive, but today- the day after the most shitty Valentine’s Day he’d ever had, he allowed himself a pass. The team had asked excitedly about how his proposal went and as he told them he broke up with Elena instead, the awkward hushed apologies and fallen faces were enough to keep him mopey for the remainder of the month. So that pass extended into the next several weeks, but who was keeping track?

The hard gleam in his eye must have kept everyone from saying anything because he saw the concerned looks they all shot his way. It wasn’t until a month later when they’d apparently had enough. He’d always bet it would be Gibbs that would call him out, maybe even Jack, but turns out- he was wrong. The last person he imagined to set him straight given their very clear pro-Ellie stance on the matter was the one person who finally had the guts to call Nick on his shit mood.

He’d just finished giving the world’s lamest update for the case, tossing the clicker over to his desk when he heard a tone he’d never heard before.

“Torres! Grow the fuck up!” McGee’s voice carried across the floor. Nick wasn’t sure he’d ever heard Tim curse before, and holy shit it was unnerving. “Ellie left, we get it. None of us are thrilled about it either, but you don’t see us throwing a goddamn month-long pity party!”

Nick’s nostrils flared and his stance widened. Fists clenched at his sides, Nick looked poised and ready to fight. “I am not- throwing- a pity party.” He said in a dangerously low voice.

McGee didn’t back down. “Then man up, Torres.” His voice taking on it’s own deadly tone, setting Nick’s nerve endings on edge.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean, Timothy?” Nick threw at him, trying to deflect.

“You know damn well what I mean, Nicholas,” McGee used his full first name right back at him. “Man up, she deserves it.”

It didn’t take a genius to figure out who she was. McGee might have been a supportive brother figure when Ellie broke down and left, but he clearly hadn’t given up on his earlier sentiments—they, Ellie and himself, might be happy together. Nick had noticed his fellow colleague and friend’s hesitation when he told Ellie he’d drop it. He also saw now the pain behind McGee’s eyes, he’d seen enough love lost out on over the years here. McGee was fighting for Nick and Ellie even when they weren’t. And that- that was the kick in the pants Nick needed.

Without another word, Nick’s postured loosened and he jumped around to grab his bag. He tossed out a stuttered, “Gibbs, I- I uh, I gotta go!” as he ran to the elevator. He didn’t even see the small smile and shake of Gibbs’ head as he bounded past. But they all saw the first hint of a smile on Nick’s face as the elevator doors slid shut—he would fight for his woman.

———

He booked a flight before he reached his car in the parking lot. He had a little over an hour till it took off and then about three and a half on the direct flight there to think about what the heck he was going to say to Ellie. She still didn’t know he heard every word in that interrogation room, knew her truest feelings and deepest insecurities. His mind raced in time with the car as he sped to the airport. He had to win her back, failure wasn’t an option. He loved this stubborn woman more than he ever knew possible.

He was parked, boarded, and in his seat in the blink of an eye. His restless mind not once slowing down. Absentmindedly Nick brought his hand up to his heart, trying to calm the pulsing beat. Feeling the weight of the note he placed there earlier, it clicked. He knew exactly what to say to Ellie—the truth. He spoke from the heart once before and it touched her, he’d just have to do it again.

———

Nick snagged the last of the rental cars and started on the trek to small town Oklahoma. The drive was scenic, but it did nothing to calm his frayed nerves. No- only holding Ellie in his arms would do that. He rolled up to a diner on the outskirts of her hometown and decided he needed some liquid courage. Not alcohol, but his sleepless nights were wearing on him and he needed a good caffeine kick before seeing Ellie again. The old diner bell tinkled when he walked in and he immediately headed for the bar. Sitting a few stools down from who he presumed was the local sheriff—the bulky uniform and hat sat low on his head, blocking any view of his appearance in Nick’s peripheral vision. Nick motioned to the waitress for her attention and on shakier vocal chords than he expected, politely asked for a coffee and slice of pie—he figured he might as well channel the woman he loved if he was going to win her back.

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the sheriff moving his head just slightly in Nick’s direction before whipping back to face the kitchen behind the bar. The sheriff might be his best shot at finding Ellie, since- he realized- he had no clue where her family lived. Nick had flown all the way out to Oklahoma, drove to Hinton, and just now it hit him—he didn’t actually know her address. But...small town sheriffs knew that kind of stuff, right?

Nick turned to all the guy where the Bishop family resided, but he was gone. All that remained were a few bills to cover the guy’s half-eaten lunch, were those bacon brown sugar chips? Was that a Hinton thing?

Hurriedly he yanked out more than enough cash to cover his coffee and pie and jumped off his stool out the front door. Nick’s head darted from side to side but found nothing. The sheriff really had vanished into thin air. Trying to keep his hopes up, Nick hauled his ass back to the rental and froze when he saw a pink slip on his dash.

The fu— a ticket, seriously? Nick felt defeated. He was stuck in a tiny freaking town, no idea where to find Ellie, and now on top of that he had to pay a parking ticket.

Moments before he pulled his door open to get in, three large pick up trucks surrounded his vehicle. Almost in unison, three men from each truck jumped out and slammed their doors shut. They rounded their respective hoods and didn’t stop until they were a foot away from Nick with their chests puffed out and arms crossed. Only then did Nick sigh in relief—he wouldn’t need to find the Bishop family if they came to him.

“George, Robbie, John.” Nick addressed each with a nod of his head, “what can I do for you?”

George, the usual ringleader, spoke first and minced no words, “Why are you here Agent Torres?”

“I think you know damn well why I’m here, George.” Nick didn’t feel like wasting time, now that he had one- well three- Bishop’s in his sights, he wanted the most important one.

“Humor us,” came from Robbie, unable to hide the sneer from his tone.

“I fucked up, I’m sure you all know that. I’d like to apologize.”

“Apology accepted,” deadpanned John.

Nick’s glare turned murderous, but before he could punch one of them, George piped in, “And?”

“And what?” Nick turned his gaze to George, slightly dumbfounded. Honestly, Nick was surprised punches hadn’t been thrown by any parties involved quite yet.

“And after you apologize?” George probed.

Nick puffed out his own chest as he answered, “I’m going to hope like hell Ellie forgives me so I get the chance to fight for her.”

All three of them donned a smile as George replied, “Good. She’ll be home at five, don’t be late.” Robbie handed him a slip of paper with an address on it before they all dispersed, truck engines blaring to life as they rolled back down the country roads.

———

Nick made one stop prior to driving up to the Bishop’s humble farm house. One stop was all he needed before seeing Ellie and professing his love. Hopefully- hopefully it was enough.

Pulling around to the side of the house he saw it—the sheriff’s car parked right next to Ellie’s truck. That little...she gave him a ticket?? Nick laughed out loud, but was cut short by the screen door smacking shut.

Cutting his eyes to the beautiful blonde woman on the front porch, his heart sighed. Even in a bulky sheriff’s uniform, she was downright gorgeous. She’d never believe him, but he knew it- she was.

Nick started to approach her when Ellie held up a delicate hand. He stopped in his tracks and waited for her to speak. When she didn’t, Nick decided to go first. “Ellie, I don’t even know where to start. Sorry won’t cut it, and I know that. I was an idiot,” he heard her snort from her spot at the top of the front steps, “I tried to bury my real feelings with superficial ones. And in the process, I hurt you. I’ll never be able to tell you sorry enough, but I am, truly.” He paused and she opened her mouth to speak, but this time he held up a hand to stop her. “Ellie, even if you never forgive me I need you to know something.”

She nodded her head when he waited for her permission to continue.

“You are not, I repeat, you are not a loser scarecrow that can never win.” Her eyes widening when she realized the implications of his sentence, that he’d heard everything in that interrogation room. He soldiered on, “No- you are a drop dead, gorgeous, hilarious, brilliant woman who succeeds at anything she puts her mind to. Any man would be lucky if you called him yours.”

A weak voice floated down to him, “Nick, I—“

“Ellie you don’t need to say anything. I’ll go. I just wanted to return something to you, I think you forgot it when you left.” He reaches into his breast pocket of his jacket and pulled out his original note. He took a few slow steps over to the foot of the stairs and paused once again. Looking into her eyes at this closer point and he saw the mix of emotions swirling—pain, grief, fear, but also maybe a little bit of hope brimmed near the surface. “I don’t know what I said before, I never opened it. But I know what I’m saying now. I love you, Ellie. I should’ve manned up and told you sooner, but I love you. If I’m too late, I’ll get it. But I just- I needed you to know. You’re the  only woman I’ll ever want, El. A family and forever with. You.”

Nick set down the bundle from his pocket and turned to go. He stopped with his hand on the door handle and looked back. He could see the tears streaming down her face even at this distance. With a sniffle Nick lumbered into his rental and started the engine. He couldn’t watch her any longer, pulling his eyes from Ellie he focused on backing out of the winding driveway.

He missed Ellie cautiously making her way down the steps to pick up what Nick left for her. The note was heavier than she remembered and something cold touched the pads of her fingers as she held it in her hands. Flipping over the small piece of paper, Ellie’s heart stopped. Attached to the back was a ring. Something much different than the one she picked out for Elena, no this one was perfect.

A single solitaire oval cut diamond on a simple band encrusted with smaller pavé diamonds.

Nick’s loopy handwriting adorned the back with a simple note:

When you’re ready for a family and forever,

I hope you’ll choose me.

Love, Nick

 

Ellie took off at a dead sprint. She didn’t need to take time, she was ready. She’d lost out on enough time with Nick, it was time for forever to start right now.

She caught him only a few short blocks away, hitting the bumper with her palms hard to get Nick to stop the car. She bent over, chest heaving to catch her breath as Nick flows out of the driver’s seat with a concerned look on his face. When he saw it was her, his expression noticeably softened.

He started, “Ellie, what—“

“YES,” she practically shouted. “I’m ready, Nick. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about you, I love you.” Saying no more she flung herself at him, thankful for his quick reflexes to catch her in his arms.

She crashed her lips to his and the months and months of pent up desire came flowing out. Nick’s hands dug into her ass, gripping what was finally his. Her fingers tugged at his short hair before dragging her fingernails down his neck. Minutes later, they broke apart to catch their breath, touching foreheads together as they planted.

With a grin she could hear rather than see, Nick clarified, “So I take it you like the ring?”

She chuckled with him. “I love the ring, it’s perfect for me. Just like you, Nick. Separately we’re imperfect, but together- together well, we make one hell of a team.”

“Couldn’t have said it better myself, El. I love you—here’s to forever on the winning team.” And he sealed that with a tender kiss full of promise and hope and love.

———

Ellie glanced over to atop the mantle as she followed young Ella’s eyes from her lap. They landed on a simple, elegant frame. In it, Nick’s note unfolded to reveal the front and back, a perfect reminder to never lose out on love. And so she dove in to the story, it was her favorite to tell, after all.