Disclaimer : All characters and anything recognizable remain property of CBS and their creators. I made absolutely no money from this work of fiction.
Title : Fathers and Other Strangers
Warnings : Rated T for violence and language.
Author's Note : I thought it would be a while before I'd be back but this one just wouldn't leave me alone. The story takes place the summer after Hiatus (so during the break between season 3 and 4). It's likely going to end up focusing on the father-son bond between Tony and Gibbs as well as the one between Gibbs and Tim. No worries though, their actual dads will crop up over the course of the story.
Updates will be slow-going, so please bear with me.
We start-up mid-action. Enjoy.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006 - 3:58pm – Former Storage Site for Baker Chemicals - 150 O St., Southwest, Washington, DC –
With his pulse pounding, Tim McGee presses his back deeper against the wooden crate. His Sig weighs heavy in his hands, the grip growing slippery as the sweat blossoms on his palms. He holds his breath, straining for any indication that his pursuers grow closer.
But the only thing he hears is his partner's labored panting.
Tony DiNozzo clutches his own weapon in a white knuckled grip. His eyes are dark, his expression more serious than Tim has ever seen. He inhales raggedly, making his shoulders hitch as he shifts towards the edge of the crate. Just as Tony peers from their hiding spot, a hail of gunfire sends him scrambling back.
Without bothering to look, Tim squeezes off a few shots for cover.
"Watch the ammo, Probster," Tony warns. "You're going to be out soon."
Tim reaches into his pocket for his back-up clip, but comes up empty. Somehow, he forgot that he's already half-way through it. His first clip was spent almost as soon as he and Tony arrived. An anonymous tip for their murder investigation brought them to the edge of Washington's civilization, deep into the crumbling industrial district. They had just set foot into the abandoned warehouse when a shoot-out sent them clambering for protection. Tim now realizes that what was supposed to be the straightforward arrest is turning out to be anything but.
Another barrage of bullets slams into the crate, sending splinters raining down on them.
"We can't stay here," Tim yelps, his voice strident.
"Tell me something that I don't know, McGee." Tony pulls out his cell phone, scowling at the device. "I still don't have a signal. Do you?"
When Tim checks his own, his frown deepens. "Me neither. Son of a – "
"Well, it'll be more fun with just us anyways." The cheeky grin Tony shoots Tim doesn't reassure him.
Instead, he whispers: "What do we do now?"
Tony inhales deliberately, then pushes the breath through his teeth. Shifting his weight, his eyes dart around the back of the warehouse. Tim follows his partner's gaze, trying to figure out what their plan will be. The room is dark, illuminated by a few fluorescent lights high overhead and the summer sunlight that sneaks through the filmy windows on the far wall. Huddled in the corner, a group of shipping crates partially obscures a door.
"There! Right there!" Tony gestures at it with his gun. "Once we reach the door, we get the hell out of here. How's that for a plan?"
With nearly fifty feet of unprotected ground and four armed pursuers, it sounds a lot like suicide. Despite the terror looming in his gut, Tim manages a brave smile.
"Easy enough," he lies.
Tony returns the grin. "Good, you go first. They won't be expecting us to run."
"But Tony – "
"No buts, McGee. That was an order. Run like hell and I'll cover you. When you get to those crates, you lay down cover-fire for me." His head jerks in the direction of the door. "If I don't make it, you get the hell out of here. You got that?"
Tim opens his mouth to protest, but his lips snap closed at the look in Tony's eyes. Instead, he drops his gaze to his knees and worries a loose thread on the cuff of his shirt.
Tony taps his shoulder. "McGee, was I clear?"
Nodding, Tony slides back to the edge of the crate. Pulling himself into a crouch, he leans his body against it and holds his Sig to his chest. He hazards a glance out of their hiding spot and Tim is surprised when no one shoots at him. The silence is deafening.
They must be planning something.
"I can see two of them hiding behind a crate right where we came in. That means there's two more in here somewhere. Keep your eyes peeled, McGee." He wipes the sweat from his brow. "Are you ready?"
Pushing into a runner's stance, Tim swallows hard. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"On the count of three." Tony throws him an over-the-shoulder grin for luck. "One, two…"
Right before three, Tony darts out with his gun blazing. He rushes in the opposite direction of the door, drawing their pursuers' fire. Just as a third gunman pops up from behind a different container to shoot at Tony, Tim sprints towards the exit. With his sight set on their route to safety, the crack of gunshots spur him forward, making him move faster than he ever has in his life.
He dives behind a crate, his body slamming into the filthy concrete at the same time someone opens fire on him. Curling into himself to make a smaller target, Tim waits for the gunman to lose interest before he checks on his partner.
Halfway across the warehouse, Tony is pinned down behind a metal shipping container. Whenever he peeks out from the spot, the two gunmen by the entrance fire at him while the third drifts closer.
Holding his breath, Tim takes a shot at the one in the open. The pair by the entrance responds with a hail of bullets that sends him back to the floor. But at least, it gives Tony a chance to escape. While he flies towards the exit, Tim empties his clip to lay down cover fire. He mutters a curse, tossing the now useless weapon aside. Tony lands in the same spot that Tim did, rolling onto his knees to return fire.
A stray bullet nicks the edge of the crate, sending a sliver of wood into Tony's right arm. Collapsing behind the crate, he slams his back against it as he yells in pain. His hand wraps around the projectile and he wrenches it free, allowing blood to pour from the wound.
"Tony? Are you okay?" Tim gasps.
"G-damn it!" Tony jerks his chin at the blood that flows through his fingers. "Do I look okay, McGee?"
Not bothering with a reply, Tim yanks off his jacket. While he presses it against Tony's arm, Tim works to process the situation. With his partner injured and only one weapon, an already bad situation has turned dire. He peers out, watching the gunmen sweep closer. He reaches to take the gun from the ground, but Tony's hand smacks his away. Their eyes meet, Tim's fearful and Tony's determined.
"Let me cover you so you can get out of here," Tim implores.
"That isn't part of the plan, Probie, but nice try." Tony pushes the jacket to the ground as he picks up the gun. "You head out that door and don't look back, got it?"
After sliding over to the door, Tim stops to reconsider. "If I leave without you, Gibbs'll come out of retirement to kill me..."
"And if you wait for me, I think those guys might beat him to the punch." Tony stares intently into Tim's eyes for a beat, then releases an exasperated sigh. "Don't worry, Tim, I'll be right behind you."
Tim watches his partner shift his weight. "Are you sure?"
"Just run, McGee! Now!"
Rollin to his side, Tony lets out a grunt as he fires his remaining bullets into the warehouse. With the staccato of return fire assaulting his ears, Tim fumbles with the door. He slams his entire weight against it, feeling it give way with a pop and a screech to release him into a deserted alleyway. The air, thick with humidity and the stench of trash, threatens to suffocate him as his head whips around, searching for the right direction to run. To his left, past the dumpsters and bags of garbage, there is a city street that promises civilization and safety.
He only manages a few steps before a figure holding an assault rifle leaps out from behind one of the dumpsters. The moment he finds himself staring down the barrel, Tim freezes and raises his hands. It takes him several seconds to notice the gunman's young features, blonde hair and camos.
The jerk of the gunman's head points him back towards the warehouse. As soon as he turns around, something slams full-force into him, nearly knocking him over. Only a pair of supportive hands gripping his shirt keeps him upright.
"Come on, McGee, I told you not to wait for me," Tony says, his features tight with annoyance.
Without bothering to reply, Tim points over his shoulder to the gunman. Tony's mouth gapes, his lips struggling to form a coherent thought until it snaps closed. Clenching his teeth, he glares at the gunman as they double-back into the warehouse. Just inside the doorway, Tony's gun lies useless, the clip spent.
Tim and Tony are herded back into the center of the room, smack in the middle of the boxes. When the rifle dips to the floor, Tim sinks down onto his knees as the bile rises in his throat. He inhales deeply, fighting the urge to sneeze as the dust tickles his nose. Even though the air inside feels as though it's freezing, his skin starts to boil as the other gunmen emerge from their hiding places.
When they draw closer, Tim is shocked that they're all outfitted in matching camos. They move in a tight formation, the three sweeping the room as they slide towards their comrade.
They almost look like they're Army…
Still standing defiantly, Tony puffs his chest out at them. A short, square-jawed man with red hair steps forward to land a right hook to Tony's face that drops him to the ground. Tim hopes that figuring out the leader was worth the punch to the face.
The leader nods at the blonde holding the gun on them. "Good idea to stake out the alleyway, Hobgoblin. I figured they would've run out of ammo before they got there, but nice work all the same."
Hobgoblin grins broadly as he cocks an eyebrow. "Never leave an opportunity for escape. That's what you always tell us, right, Dozer?"
"Dozer?" Tony interjects, grinning wickedly at Tim. "I'd love to hear the story behind that call sign. Does he fall asleep on the job?"
"Nope, actually, he's a bulldozer," Hobgoblin starts, "ready to bury whatever – "
"That's not something we're here to discuss," Dozer warns, his tone dangerous as he waves over a dark skinned gunman. "Okay, Stanford, remind me which one we're here for."
As soon as he realizes their lead (and possibly their case) was actually a planned abduction, Tim's stomach roils. He coughs, struggling to swallow the acid on his tongue. While Stanford removes a sheet of paper from his pocket, Tim hazards a glance at his partner. With his good hand clamped over his bleeding arm, Tony's easy grin has morphed into anger as he narrows his eyes at the group.
Stanford points at Tony with his paper. "Anthony DiNozzo…Junior."
Tony sets his jaw, his features screwing in disgust. "What's my father done this time?"
"One of your dad's business associates is having a hard time reaching him. So our employer thought he would be more inclined to – " Dozer searches for the right word as he holsters his weapon " - return the call with you there."
Tony lets out a strangled laugh. "It must be important if he sent a bunch of Delta Force rejects to play chauffer. How much does he owe? And who's your employer?"
Obviously ignoring the question, Dozer steps forward to zip tie Tony's hands together. One hard yank pulls the agent to his feet, but he holds his ground, keeping a watchful eye on Tim. Squaring his shoulders, Tony surveys the group's uniforms and weapons in mock admiration.
"I have to admit that I'm surprised someone would throw a party like this for me. My father must've made quite the impression." Tony eyes the assault rifle hanging from Stanford's back. "You guys look pretty expensive though. I really hope you got paid up front. Commission isn't the best way to work when you're shaking someone down…especially someone like my father."
Three pairs of anxious eyes dart to Dozer, but he simply shrugs. "Don't worry guys. Payment's already been taken care of. Half up front and half on delivery. Now, it's time to get out of here."
Hobgoblin taps Tim in the back with his weapon. "What about this one?"
"Shoot 'im." Dozer shrugs. "He isn't worth anything to us."
When the barrel of the gun presses against his neck, Tim's muscles tense. He closes his eyes and pulls in a deep breath, hoping – praying – for a miracle. Bracing himself, he waits for an impact that doesn't come. All he hears over his pounding pulse is the scuffing of shoes and a struggle. Someone grunts and the pressure lifts from Tim's neck.
He cracks his eyelids to find three new sets of weapons pointed at him. Directly in their way, Tony stands with his bound hands held out. Hobgoblin scrambles to his feet and moves to rejoin his group with his gun raised.
"Get out of the way," Dozer orders. "Or we'll shoot you both."
"Are you crazy? You're trying to make some cash, right? If you shoot me, there goes your payday and you'll have to pay back the guy that hired you. But that doesn't matter anyway because your employer will never get the other half from my father." Tony shakes his head, gesturing over his shoulder at Tim. "But McGee's dad? Well, that's a whole different story."
Waving for his men to lower their weapons, Dozer stares intently at Tony. "Alright, Agent DiNozzo, I'm listening. Tell me why it's worth my time to keep your friend alive."
"McGee's dad is an admiral. Lots of power, well-connected, high-profile, not to mention loaded. Don't you think a guy like that would pay top dollar to get his kid back alive?" Tony lets the quartet consider his suggestion for a moment, then adds: "Come on, guys, my father is nothing more than a grifter. McGee's dad is Navy royalty. Which one of us do you think is the guaranteed payday?"
The three men glance to Dozer, obviously waiting for orders, as Tony sinks to the ground. Leaning forward, Tim gets as close as he can without raising suspicion.
"Tony, what the hell are you doing?" he hisses.
"I'm buying us time."
"By revealing my confidential personnel information?" Tim blinks, shaking his head at the realization. "You just told these guys to kidnap me..."
"Yeah, Probie, I know." Tony gestures at the way Dozer whispers animatedly with his men."I think it just saved your life. But I'll get us out of this, promise. I need to figure out their play."
Right before Tim knows how to respond, Dozer nods and his men start forward. Reaching Tim first, Hobgoblin zip-ties the agent's hands behind his back, then pulls him to his feet. A quick search through his pockets relieves Tim of his cell phone, tiny knife, wallet, badge and gun holster. Everything but the wallet and badge ends up on the floor in a pile next to Tony's possessions.
A gun in his back propels Tim through the warehouse. He and Hobgoblin weave their way around the crates, leading the group back to the entrance. Dozer gives a quiet whistle that stops them so he can slip outside for a quick perimeter check. He returns seconds later with a broad grin and a thumbs up.
Hobgoblin's hand on his shoulder sends Tim through the door, out into the soupy air. Squinting against the bright sun, he takes in the deserted street and decaying sidewalk. The only signs of life on this decrepit block are a long-paneled van, the NCIS Charger and a stray cat passing by Dozer's feet.
When they reach the van, Hobgoblin yanks the back door open and pushes Tim inside. He lands on his stomach with a grunt, rolling over just in time to see Tony come out of the warehouse. Kicking and flailing, Tony fights against the two men who grip his arms. When he wrenches himself free from Stanford, Tony drops his bad shoulder into the other man's gut.
"McGee! Run!" Tony yells.
Tim doesn't even make it to the edge of the van before s|Stanford retaliates with his first in Tony's face. He instantly slumps towards the ground, but the gunmen catch him and drag him to the back of the van. They drop him next to Tim and he lets out a moan, then he stops moving.
Tim slides closer to his partner as Hobgoblin and Stanford scramble into the back. The doors slam closed, plunging the interior into near darkness. Only seconds later, the van sputters to life and bounces its way down the road, hitting every pothole on the block.
Swallowing hard, Tim struggles to keep his panic in check. His eyes dart from Stanford's nondescript face to Hobgoblin's uneasy one to Tony's unconscious form.
If we don't figure out what the hell is going on, Tony and I are as good as dead.
7:32pm – Somewhere on a Beach – Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas, Mexico –
The days are longer here, always filled with the light of the sun and the crash of ocean waves. Even though the heat is oppressive, the air that rides off the water cools his sunburned skin. For all the time he has spent in retirement so far, Jethro Gibbs still doesn't bother with sunscreen.
Instead, he reaches down into the sand for the cure: a beer bottle. Throwing his head back, he downs the last drops of the warm liquid that remain inside.
Mexican beer is nothing like bourbon, but it almost does the trick.
He tosses the empty container down the beach and it joins the others with a definitive smash. His head swims as he turns his attention back to his task, the boat that he started building when he arrived here. He turns the sandpaper over in his hands before running it with the grain of the wood.
His days here are the same: waking late, working on his boat until the last light disappears beneath the palms, and nursing his heat stroke with beer after beer. But even though he has gone through the same motions, today feels different. For the first time since he arrived, he awoke in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. His stomach is tight with knots that he hasn't felt since he left Washington.
I told Mike those fish were bad.
He pauses to blow the sawdust away, the plume billowing away like smoke. The sun sneaks deeper below the palm trees, stretching the hues of orange and pink across the pristine white sand. Even the water is painted with the brilliant colors of yet another picturesque, Mexican sunset.
But Gibbs doesn't bother to enjoy it.
He wipes his hands on his shorts, the action making his gut clench.
Maybe I just need another beer.
Chucking the sandpaper into his toolbox, he heads across the beach to the hut that he built with his friend, Mike Franks. He ducks into the dwelling, assaulted by the stench of stale alcohol and smoked fish. As he moves towards the refrigerator, he hears a quiet tune echoing from the opposite side of the room. It takes him a full minute to realize that it's the cell phone that he keeps beside his bed for emergencies. By the time that he reaches it, the caller has disconnected.
When he checks it, the display screen flashes forty-two missed calls with accompanying voicemails. He's just about to check them when the screen lights up with an incoming call from Abby Scuito. Figuring that she's calling to pick his brain about a case again, he grimaces as he flips it open.
"Gibbs, is that you? I've been trying to reach you all afternoon," Abby yells, breathless.
He laughs. "I'm retired, Abs. Not used to answering the phone anymore." The hitch in her breath twists his gut. "What's goin' on?"
"You haven't heard yet? Well, I don't know why you would have heard since you're on a beach somewhere in the Gulf. But I would have thought someone would have called you. Other than me, of course, because I called you a lot and you never answered. I just can't believe that no one let you know about – "
"Abs! What the hell happened?"
She inhales loudly, pausing to let the thud of her music echo over the phone. "It's Tony and McGee. They went to run down a lead on their case and they didn't come back. So Ziva went to check it out and she wouldn't even tell me what she found, but now they're missing. What should I – "
"Don't worry, Abs, I'm on my way," he interrupts, grabbing a dufflebag from the corner.
There's a quiet sniff, followed by a fart from her stuffed hippo. "But Gibbs, what if they don't come home? I don't know what I'll do without them. I've already lost you and Kate."
He pulls a bunch of clothes from his dresser, shoving them into the bag. "Just wait until I get there. Who's the investigating agent?"
"Steve Barrows. Ziva's working with his team right now to clear the scene, but I thought I should let you know. Especially since you know how – "
"Just breathe, Abs. I'm packing right now. I'll call you the second I land," he promises
He flips his phone closed, then does a quick search for his boots before locating them underneath his bed. After a quick dusting, he slips them into his bag and zips it shut. He grabs his wallet and passport out of the dresser on his way to the door. He's on the porch when he runs into Mike Franks. Smoke curls out of the cigarette that rests on his lips.
"Whoa-ho, Probie, where's the fire?" Mike asks, flicking an ash away.
"Washington," Gibbs replies, stalking past him.
Mike snorts. "Already heading back? I told you that you wouldn't last in retirement."
"Half of my team is missing."
His mouth gapes, sending the cigarette to the ground. "And you think you'll get a flight outta here right now?"
"I don't trust anybody else to run the investigation." He sighs quietly. "Plus I promised Abby that I'd bring those boys home."
Reaching into his pocket, Mike lifts another cigarette to his lips. The lighter blazes in the waning sunlight, then he takes a deep drag. Just as Gibbs turns to head up the beach, Mike gestures for the cell phone.
"Let me call in a few favors, Probie. I bet I can get you out of here within the hour."