Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters do not belong to me and I am making no money from this.
Thanks to Mr VP for the Beta, any remaining mistakes are mine.
AN: Written for the Keyword challenge at Fiction Factory. The words given were: 8 months, window, thunderstorm, luck and play. Thanks JM.
Tony shot up in bed, heart pounding. His eyes frantically sought the reassurance of familiar surroundings even as he gulped in air, trying to calm his breathing. In the eight months since being taken hostage his nightmares had waned a little but it only took a taxing day to bring them back with a vengeance. Outside his window the thunderstorm raged. It had begun before he fell into a fitful sleep and did nothing to calm his mind. Giving up on sleep he got up to watch the storm, his mind drifting back to the events of the past summer. Washington had been in the grip of a heat wave for the past three weeks and by mid August tempers were flaring. Perversely Gibbs seemed less brittle than usual, whether he figured his team had enough to cope with DiNozzo didn't know but he did his part and refrained from teasing Kate and McGee, at least when the temperature was at its peak.
On the Tuesday of the third week in August they caught a case. A Junior Lieutenant had been found dead outside a bar in the centre of town. He had been drinking with three of his buddies but they had left before him, claiming that Lieutenant Roberts had caught up with an old friend and that they had left the pair trading shots. The three had been seen leaving by the bouncer on the door and had checked in on time at the naval supply yard. Ducky and Palmer had taken the body back to the morgue and McGee had returned with the evidence to give to Abby.
Gibbs, Kate and DiNozzo had gone to pay a visit to Roberts' wife who lived in married quarters near the base.
Tony brought his thoughts back to the present with a sigh, reflecting that that had been the point where their luck had changed and not for the better.
"Mrs Roberts?" Gibbs asked. "Special Agents Gibbs, Todd, DiNozzo, NCIS."
Melinda Roberts opened the door slowly, allowing them to precede her into a small but neatly furnished living room. She herself was a nondescript woman with mousey hair cut in a bob and a trim figure. She looked as though she had dressed in a hurry with faded jeans and T shirt. She wore no make-up.
Gibbs and Kate took a seat on an overstuffed sofa while Mrs Roberts perched on the edge of an easy chair. Tony stayed on his feet, wandering unobtrusively around the room while listening attentively.
"We are very sorry for your loss Mrs Roberts," Kate began at a nod from Gibbs. "But we need to ask you a few questions."
"I'm afraid I have no idea how my husband died," Melinda began, "all they told me is that he's dead." Her voice was calm with an undercurrent of unease which was not unexpected.
"We are still waiting for the ME's report," Gibbs said. "He places the time of death between 0200 and 0400. Was your husband in the habit of staying out all night drinking?"
"He called me, said that he had met up with Pete Sturgeon an old friend from college. I didn't mind him being late really." Melinda's voice was firm but she wouldn't meet Gibb's eyes and Tony glanced thoughtfully in her direction before raising an eyebrow at Gibbs, his hand surreptitiously moving towards his gun even as he indicated the hall behind him with a subtle movement of his head.
Gibbs and Kate instantly drew their weapons, Todd moving to cover Mrs Roberts, indicating that she should be silent while Gibbs moved to join DiNozzo at the doorway to the hall. At Gibb's nod Tony ducked low into the hallway sweeping it with his gun; he was swiftly followed by Gibbs. They proceeded down the hall, checking each door in a well practised routine until they reached the last door leading to the kitchen. A sudden clatter had them flattening themselves out on either side of the kitchen doorway.
"Federal agents, put your weapon down." Gibb's yell was met with a flurry of gunfire causing both agents to duck down further behind the wall. As soon as there was a pause both dashed through the door, weapons raised. They were met by the sight of a nervous man in his late twenties, he immediately lowered his weapon and Gibbs nodded to Tony to cuff him while he kept his senior field agent covered.
When he was finished DiNozzo hauled the man back into the living room and down onto the easy chair. Gibbs and Kate holstered their weapons. "Do you know this man?" Kate asked.
Melinda Roberts shook her head but it was too late to hide the flash of recognition they had seen in her eyes as he was brought in.
"Well, well," Gibbs mused. "What do we have here? Boyfriend? Lover? Someone who'd kill for you?"
He was interrupted by a loud knock at the door. DiNozzo, who was nearest went to open it and was faced with a silenced pistol aimed directly at his chest. Its owner wore the uniform of a marine Lieutenant and his face brooked no argument. Neither did that of the Gunnery Sergeant behind him who was also carrying.
Silently Tony stepped back; hoping that his silence would be enough to alert Gibbs.
Clearly it had been as Gibb's hand was reaching for his weapon but it was too late, he'd never really had a chance.
"Don't," the voice of the Marine behind him was cold. "Put the guns on the table, all of you, or I'll shoot him."
Tony stood still after handing over his gun and watched as Gibbs and Kate complied, gauging his chances of disarming the lieutenant while Gibbs could still reach his gun. He was looking at Gibbs when he felt a thump in his side followed by a searing pain. Gibbs leapt forward, heedless of the gun now pointed in his direction.
"Oh dear, I slipped," the voice continued without feeling. "Now perhaps you realise my intent is sincere."
"Bastard," Gibbs growled, easing Tony to the ground as his knees gave out. DiNozzo was breathing rapidly, his face breaking out in sweat as he fought the waves of pain that buffeted his body. His eyes revealed his shock at the rapid change of events. Gibbs didn't blame him. Quickly he checked DiNozzo for an exit wound, cursing under his breath at not finding one, before pressing his hands over the entry wound in Tony's side. His senior agent grunted in pain but made no protest. "Stay with me Tony," Gibbs whispered. Then aloud, "I need some towels here and a doctor."
Cold laughter greeted his request. "No doctor but Melinda will get you some towels."
Belatedly Gibbs realised that their earlier assailant had now been freed from his restraints and Kate was sat on the sofa under guard. The curtains had been drawn and the Gunny was checking the locks on all the doors. His mind quickly ran through hostage procedures. Clearly getting a negotiator in had already been achieved. He grimaced, cursing himself for all kinds of fool. They had been played, he wondered just how far ahead in the game they were. Had the 'boyfriend' jumped the gun causing the Lieutenant to make a pre-emptive strike? He had undoubtedly been nearby, must have heard the gunfire, or had he sent the man in to put them off their guard? Either way the next play was his. Gibbs had little doubt but that the marine was the master mind behind this, whatever this was. The man radiated power.
"For now," Gibbs muttered to himself. "For now." Right now his priority was Tony. The younger man was still conscious but the blood pooling though Gibb's fingers hadn't slowed any and he gratefully snatched the clean towels as soon as they appeared lifting Tony's shirt and pressing them directly onto the wound. DiNozzo's face paled even more as he watched him intently. Gibbs could read the trust in his eyes and hoped fervently that it wasn't misplaced.
"Not a chance Boss," the whispered words drew a slight smile from him as he was reminded, yet again, how adept the younger man had become at reading him.
The cold voice interrupted his thought. "Both of you, over here," he indicated the sofa and Kate. "Where I can keep and eye on you." He raised his gun, clearly indicating his lack of patience and with a sigh Gibbs reached a hand behind DiNozzo's neck, easing him into a sitting position. Tony got a hand onto the floor and drew his legs up painfully before allowing Gibbs to help him to his feet. The younger man leaned heavily against him and Gibbs had to all but drag him over to the sofa, easing him down between himself and Kate. He would have preferred to lie him down but one look at the marine's gun aimed at Kate changed his mind. Instead he had to settle for placing DiNozzo's hand over his wound to give some pressure at least. When his hand slipped away as his head fell back against the sofa Kate leant over and pressed down herself, glaring defiantly at the marine, who merely looked on dispassionately, recognising that she couldn't move quickly from that position. He looked at his watch before leaning casually back against the door frame, his eyes never leaving his prisoners.
"Now what?" Gibbs asked.
"Now we wait."
"Wait for what? My man needs a doctor."
"All in good time," the voice was detached.
"At least let him have some water, you don't want to add killing a federal agent to the list."
The marine looked thoughtful for a moment before chuckling slightly and nodding to Melinda who got up and fetched a glass of water.
Gibbs took it from her and tapped Tony lightly on the cheek. "Come on DiNozzo," he said gently, "you need to drink this."
Tony sighed and stirred slightly, keeping his eyes shut he opened his mouth obediently and took a few sips. Gibbs handed the glass to Kate and carefully lifted the towel, noting as he did so that the younger man was wearing his belt with the hidden knife. He smiled to himself in satisfaction. Tending to Tony's wound meant that he may be able to extract the knife without being seen. His own was easily accessible but would be harder to get out unseen.
"We need more towels," he said gruffly without looking over his shoulder, "this one is soaked." He needed to get DiNozzo out of here, he mused, but it was a delicate balance between making keeping him here enough of a nuisance that sending him to hospital seemed like a good idea, or so much trouble that it seemed easier to just shoot him again. He certainly couldn't risk the latter.
At the moment though it seemed that their captor felt that he had the upper hand and he agreed readily enough, even allowing Melinda to bring a bowl of cold water with the towels.
Tony sighed gratefully as Kate gently wiped his face with a cool, wet cloth. He leant his head slightly into the comfort of her hand and she seemed to understand for she removed the cloth and placed her palm briefly on his forehead, carefully brushing loose strands of hair away from his eyes. He smiled faintly at her then shuddered as Gibbs pressed again on his wound with a clean towel.
"You still with me DiNozzo?" the ex marine asked softly.
"Yeah Boss," he answered with an effort, forcing his eyes open.
"I'm going to use your belt to hold this in place, think you can lift up a bit?"
Tony looked at Gibbs and read the intent in his eyes, nodding slightly he bit down on his lip and pushed up as best he could once the belt had been undone at his waist. Kate helped him to sit forwards as Gibbs freed the belt, easing him back to rest a bit before Gibbs settled it around his back and fastened it over the towels. If Tony hadn't been looking he would have missed seeing his Boss palm the knife up his sleeve.
Kate offered him another drink of water and he sipped gratefully before letting his head fall back once more. His body was consumed by pain and he felt shaky from the effort of fighting it, cold too but that was probably shock he reasoned, trying to keep his mind off the pain. He opened his eyes again as something warm was placed over his chest. Gibb's jacket, "Thanks Boss," he whispered, surprised to hear his teeth chattering and to read concern in the older man's eyes. It wasn't often Gibbs allowed his feelings to show so openly. In fact it was kinda nice he decided.
"Very touching," the cold voice of the marine lieutenant broke into his thoughts. Tony opened his eyes again, something about the marine bothered him, but it was hard to focus. He tried looking around the room, Miranda and her 'boyfriend' were moving freely, clearly a part of whatever was going on. The gunny was out of sight but he could hear movement behind him. The lieutenant continued to lean nonchalantly on the door frame, only his eyes moving and they roamed the room continuously. He was listening too Tony thought. In fact he reminded him of a panther, stalking its prey. And that, he realised, was what was familiar about him.
He found his mind wondering again, only realising he had nodded off when something jerked him awake. Startled he looked frantically about, groaning at the sudden movement. Gibbs and Kate were looking at him eyebrows raised and he felt a palm on his forehead again. Gibbs this time.
"Not pretty enough for a nurse Boss," he joked feebly earning himself a very gentle head slap.
He frowned, the lieutenant was saying something and Tony had the feeling that he had woken in the middle of a conversation. He looked around again, there were lights on. When had it gotten dark? The lieutenant had moved too and was pacing slightly, feral again, a cold blooded killer. He'd seen him before, suddenly he was sure of it, couldn't remember the name and he wasn't a marine. It was years ago, before NCIS, Baltimore maybe. Tony frowned, trying to hold on to his drifting thoughts. He knew it was important but he couldn't think.
Minutes passed, or hours, he couldn't be sure, the pain was overwhelming, blocking out coherent thought. His head slipped sideways knocking into Gibbs. Gibbs, he was leaning on Gibb's shoulder, any other time that might have been funny. Gibbs, he should tell him what he knew. He focused on the pain to try and help him to concentrate, he had to stop drifting.
Gradually he became more alert and tried to sit up, he had to get the older man's attention without alerting the lieutenant. He tried a moan, that came easily enough under the circumstances. Gibb's face came into focus, watching him intently.
"You ok Tony?" he asked quietly, once again feeling his forehead.
DiNozzo met his eyes, raising his eyebrows slightly to indicate their captor. Gibbs nodded his understanding, making a show of moving his jacket to check the towels covering DiNozzo's wound. As he leant forwards Tony whispered. "He's not marine, seen him before, a killer."
Gibbs continued with what he was doing but his eyes registered his understanding. He tucked the jacket back around the younger man and reached behind him for the bowl of water, wringing out the towel. He bathed Tony's face again, leaning forward he mouthed. "Baltimore?"
Tony's eyes reflected his confusion, his frustration; his mind was a fog he couldn't seem to break through. Gibb's rested his hand on his shoulder briefly before turning back to face the lieutenant.
"How much longer are we waiting here?" he asked. "Agent DiNozzo is becoming feverish and needs to get to hospital."
Before the man could answer Gibb's cell phone rang on the table in front of them and Tony was surprised to see his Boss reach forward to pick it up. Belatedly he realised that this couldn't have been the first time, if Gibb's hadn't checked in with McGee by now Probie would certainly have called him.
With his eyes on the lieutenant Gibbs answered in his usual brusque manner. "Gibbs, what is it Probie?"
And if that didn't tip McGee off it should have reasoned DiNozzo, listening as Gibbs continued. "We'll be finished here soon, stick with Abby and we'll call when we're headed back to the office."
Gibbs put the cell back on the table as the gunny came into the room and held a whispered conversation with the lieutenant.
The latter smiled faintly before speaking. "It seems that your men are on the ball Agent Gibbs, it is time for us to move. Melinda, my dear, you know what to do."
Melinda nodded once and without a word left with the younger man. Moments later a car could be heard starting up outside.
"Agent Gibbs, Agent Todd if you would be so kind as to come this way?" As Gibbs and Kate stood he continued. "Agent DiNozzo, I'm sorry you won't be coming with us." With that he raised his gun to shoot Tony again but Gibbs was ready for him, the knife in his hand as he lunged forwards, throwing the lieutenant off balance and sending his shot wide.
A shout from the gunny alerted them to the wail of sirens in the distance. Quickly the gunny urged Kate outside at the point of his gun, leaving Gibbs and the lieutenant wrestling in the confined space on the floor. Within seconds though he was back, having secured Kate in the trunk of the car, and his added weight soon brought an end to Gibb's struggles and he was dragged outside in short order.
During the fight DiNozzo had dragged himself from the sofa and onto the floor behind it, his foggy brain reasoning that there was little he could do in a fight save get himself and perhaps Gibbs killed. Yet, if he could keep himself alive he could perhaps rescue his friends using the information he had gained.
He lay, barely conscious, trying to catch his breath as a second car drove off at speed, the sirens in the distance sounding ever louder. Gradually they faded into the distance too and he drifted for a while before a small insistent part of his mind forced him awake. Slowly he fought to move, drawing on reserves of strength from somewhere. Fighting down the waves of pain he used the sofa to pull himself to his knees. Deciding that that was far enough he crawled, painfully slowly, to the coffee table and said a silent prayer of thanks to see Gibb's cell where he'd left it. Hitting the speed dial for McGee he waited for the slightly breathless answer."
"It's DiNozzo Probie," Tony began, his voice much weaker than he would have liked.
"Tony?" McGee's shout almost caused him to drop the phone. "What's going on? You're not in the car we're following."
"No, I'm," Tony caught his breath on another wave of pain. "I'm still at the Roberts' house, send Ducky but you keep following, they've got Gibbs and Kate." He fell back against the sofa, exhausted, vaguely aware of McGee's frantic yelling from the cell. "Follow them McGee," he repeated at length.
Tony roused himself with a start and called Ducky.
"Mallard," the pleasant voice sounded harried. "Anthony is that you? Tim said that you needed me at the Roberts' house, I'm just getting my things together."
"Ducky," Tony spoke into a pause. "There's no body but I need you to bring your medical bag and a laptop to link with Abby."
"Are you alright my boy?" Mallard was all business now.
"I'll be fine Ducky," DiNozzo tried to put as much energy into his voice as he could muster, he needed the doc onside. "They have Gibbs and Kate but I know one of them from somewhere, have Abs pull records of my cases in Baltimore for me, murders with any connection with white Caucasians."
"Oh dear," Mallard muttered but Tony could hear him moving around as he talked.
"She might try a trace on my cell or Kate's too, not sure what happened to them."
"Will do my boy," Mallard replied. "Now you try and get some rest and we'll be there as soon as we can be."
Tony smiled ruefully, there was no getting anything past the doc. "Oh Doc," he blurted, "we need another team out here too." He barely registered Ducky's reply as he leant back against the arm of the sofa and closed his eyes.
McGee grasped the wheel firmly as he followed the squad car. He was driving much faster than he cared to but he hadn't missed the warning in either of Gibb's messages and, as for Tony, he had never heard the man sound like that before, there was definitely something that he wasn't saying. He had asked for Ducky, was he hurt? Yes, that must be it; it would be just like DiNozzo to neglect to mention that if someone else was in trouble. He sighed. They were gaining on the car, a dark blue SUV, he could see it on the rise about two hundred metres ahead. As he watched it veered off onto a side road and McGee watched in horror as he spotted a helicopter in the field, obviously waiting. He swore under his breath, urging the squad car to move more quickly. The SUV had stopped now and he could see figures rushing across the grass. Damn, that was Gibbs and that must be Kate being pulled out of the trunk. He watched as she tried to resist but the man pointed a gun at her and urged her forward.
The squad car had reached the field by now and McGee watched in horror as someone in the helicopter aimed a rapid burst from a semi automatic rifle in their direction. The car veered off the road and came to a shuddering halt against a tree just as the helicopter lifted off the ground.
Tony woke to the insistent ringing of Gibb's cell. Damn, he'd fallen asleep again, needed to get a handle on that before Ducky arrived. Groping around on the floor he located the phone and brought it to his ear.
"McGee," he growled. "Give me some good news."
"Sorry Tony, they had a helo waiting, ran the squad car off the road with semi automatic fire. Everyone's ok," he added quickly. "But they took Gibbs and Kate with them."
DiNozzo closed his eyes again briefly. Damn. "Better than the alternative Probie," he reassured the younger man. "Look, Ducky'll be here soon to pick me up, you head back to the office, help Abs with the PD files. We'll meet you there."
McGee frowned, not liking the tone he heard in the senior agent's voice. "Are you ok Tony? He asked hesitantly.
"I'm fine." The reply was brief. "Ducky's just arrived. Get your ass back to the office ASAP."
Tony took a deep breath and, trying to sound as bright as possible, called out. "In here Ducky."
The ME appeared almost at once, took one look at DiNozzo sprawled against the sofa on the floor and dropped to his knees beside him.
Tony held up a hand to forestall his protests. "Before you say anything Ducky, you can do what you like with me as long as I stay conscious and it doesn't involve hospitals."
Ducky was already peeling back the bloodstained towels and tutting in horror at the wound beneath. "Be serious Anthony," he began reasonably. "You've been shot, the bullet is still in there and you are exhausted from the pain."
Tony tried to reply as evenly as possible but his worry for his friends made him terse. "Ducky, I'm the only one who's seen them. They shot me without a second thought just to make a point. Gibbs and Kate don't have time for me to go to hospital."
Mallard looked at him for a long moment, seeing the sincerity in his pain filled eyes. "I'll do what I can short of putting your life at risk," he said finally.
"Thanks Ducky," Tony said softly, "and you're right, it hurts like hell."
"I'm sure it does my boy," the elderly physician replied kindly, rolling the younger man's sleeve up. "This will take the edge off but any more will make you drowsy. I'll arrange to have some blood plasma sent to the office which should give you a little more energy."
"That'll be fine," DiNozzo replied gratefully, closing his eyes again until he felt the analgesic begin to take effect. The second team arrived at that moment and he quickly filled them in, detailing the evidence he wanted returned to Abby. By the time he had finished Mallard had completed his initial treatment and Palmer had arrived with the gurney. Tony was too tired to protest and lay back thankfully, trying to pretend to himself that he had at least helped in the process.
Once in the van he persuaded Ducky to raise the head of the gurney so that he could talk to Abby. She had brought up the computerised files from Baltimore and was waiting on fingerprints from the Roberts' house. She was cross checking prints from the murder scene and Lieutenant Roberts' body. Tony doubted she'd find anything, these guys struck him as too professional but they had to catch a break somewhere. "Start feeding the mug shots through Abs," he said. "I'll make a start. Make sure it's not just convictions though, I have a feeling this guy never got to court."
Gibbs craned his neck to look out of the window of the chopper. His head hurt where the gunny had subdued him earlier but it was worth it. Tony should have had time to move away. He was sure he hadn't heard another shot as he was dragged away anyway. He hoped not and not only because he cared about the younger man, though he'd never admit that out loud, but because they needed him on the outside. DiNozzo was smart; he'd seen them and would figure out what was going on. Hopefully before it was too late for Kate and himself. He looked at his agent handcuffed beside him. She was bearing up well. Her face bore signs of strain but seeing a friend shot at point blank range and being kidnapped would do that to you.
Gibbs tried to estimate how long they had been in the air, they were flying over water, he could see the reflections from the lights, which meant that they were also flying low, under the radar, so perhaps they had a ship waiting? That would make this whole operation much bigger than he had imagined. He had thought there must have been a tie in with the naval supplies yard where Lieutenant Roberts had worked but now he wondered if it wasn't something more lucrative, drugs perhaps.
Their captor had clearly been waiting for something before they left, obviously the helicopter. He mentally counted points off on his fingers. Therefore it wasn't too much of a stretch to think they had a least prepared to hold them should they try to interview Mrs Roberts. So he didn't want them digging too deeply into the Lieutenant's death. If Lieutenant Roberts hadn't died they probably wouldn't have had any reason to look, so his death was almost certainly not intended. Had he double crossed them or did he find something out? With a cold feeling in his stomach Gibbs saw the lights of a ship below. It looked as though their usefulness might be coming to an end.
Unknown to Gibbs, DiNozzo had arrived at much the same conclusions and had just finished updating the rest of the team. McGee had arrived back shortly before the others but Ducky had insisted that any meetings took place in autopsy; he wanted to keep a close eye on Tony. DiNozzo, for his part, wasn't going to do anything to rock the boat. Plus, if he was honest, he knew that Ducky's intervention was the only thing keeping him going. Abby and McGee had been horrified at the extent of his injury but he had given them the same reasoning as Ducky and they had returned grimly to work. Though not before Abby had lightly hugged Tony and kissed his forehead.
He sat now on the gurney with the laptop on an autopsy table beside him scrolling through mug shots whilst Mallard attached an IV line for a blood transfusion to his arm. He still felt like hell but at least the dizziness was easing and the pain had been reduced to a manageable level, providing he didn't think about it.
Tense minutes passed in silence until finally a picture he recognised popped up on the screen. "Gotcha, you bastard," he whispered before calling Abby in the lab. "Abs, I found him," Tony said shortly. "Richard Jenkins, nearly five years ago. He was suspected of murdering an industrialist, can't remember his name. It was a professional hit, we couldn't make it stick but he's a hired killer.
"So what's going on now then?" McGee wondered.
"I think we're back to drugs," Tony surmised. "It has to be something big, he didn't come cheap even then. Get a hold of anyone working with Roberts at the supply yard, take Jenkins' picture with you. And McGee, draft Wilkins in too, I have a feeling Roberts was killed for what he found out and I don't want anyone else getting hurt."
"Will do Tony." McGee departed quickly and DiNozzo closed his eyes briefly, feeling the fatigue wash over him.
"Here you are my boy, drink this," he opened his eyes to see Ducky smiling gently down at him, concern in his eyes. "It's only water," he added at Tony's look. "I need you to lie back for a moment when you've had that, I want to take some x rays."
Tony nodded slightly, sipping the cool liquid gratefully. "Let me just talk to Abby again," he said looking back at the screen. "Abby I need you to contact the ATP, see if they have wind of anything going down. I'll speak to Morrow."
Sighing, he allowed Ducky to lay the gurney back to take his x rays. It was taking too long; he wasn't sure how much longer they had. As soon as Ducky had finished he picked up Gibb's cell and asked to be put through to the director, apologising for being unable to join him in MTAC he quickly summarised the situation and asked Morrow to contact the FBI for any information. "They're not always forthcoming with us Sir," he began. "It's entirely possible they have an operation going on we know nothing about."
"Not for much longer," Morrow replied grimly. "Once Fornell knows the score he'll open up for sure. I'll get back to you."
"Thank you Sir," Tony closed the cell with a sigh, trying not to think of the consequences of failure.
"Time to think of yourself for a little," a quiet voice interrupted his thoughts. He smiled up at Ducky.
"What if we're too late Ducky?" he asked quietly.
"If we're too late Anthony it won't be because of something you didn't do." The doctor's quiet confidence was very welcome though less so his next words. "Do I take it you are now waiting for things to happen?"
DiNozzo grimaced. "Unfortunately, I hate this; I need to be doing something."
"I'm afraid that is my job at the moment."
Tony looked up warily. "Doc?" he queried.
"I want to remove the bullet," Mallard spoke softly without his usual penchant for elaboration. "At the moment it is easily removed, I can do it here without a problem but if we leave it, if you were to move around, I'm concerned that the bullet could move towards your spine and cause serious complications."
DiNozzo's already pale face took on an ashen look but when he spoke his voice was even. He did have confidence in the elderly ME, it's just that this wasn't his usual line of work.
"You sure this can't wait Ducky?"
"I'm afraid not my boy, not without putting your health at risk but, if you are sure, I could use an epidural so that you would remain conscious."
Tony closed his eyes, this day was going from bad to worse. "When you're ready Doc," he said after a minute. "As long as I'm not out of it."
Mallard nodded in turn. "I'll alert the others and set things up."
Gibbs and Kate were hustled quickly down a companionway and into a small storage locker. They had landed on a converted yacht, just large enough to support a helipad from the little he had seen before being escorted below. She was built for speed, adding fuel to his drugs theory. He had revised his ideas of their captor though. He may have been in charge of the land operation but here he was clearly deferring to another. He and Kate had been roughly dismissed and their captor had rushed off, obviously, in Gibb's mind, to report.
He looked around the locker, the little he could see of it in the dim lighting coming through the small porthole. It was barely big enough for the two of them to stand upright and bore signs of having been emptied in a hurry. A broom stood in the corner, not much use against a gun but better than nothing if it came down to the wire. Kate was examining the porthole, taking his arm along with hers where they were cuffed together. "There's no opening that I can see," she said quietly but Gibbs could hear the undercurrent of fear in her voice.
"Nervous Kate?" he asked, looking her in the eyes. "Me too," he added when she didn't answer. "It's always harder having to rely on others."
"No-one knows where we are Gibbs, they ran the squad car off the road."
"Tony recognised our captor," Gibbs said quietly. "He'll track us down."
"Tony couldn't even stand, he was barely conscious."
Gibbs snorted softly. "DiNozzo's almost as stubborn as I am, don't let that wise ass act fool you. He'll come through." I hope, he added silently, not wanting to shake the hope that he saw in Kate's eyes.
Above their heads a sudden thumping began, followed by the sounds of something heavy being dragged across the deck. Gibbs peered through the porthole but could only make out rain clouds moving across the moon, blocking the light.
For the first time that he could remember Tony found himself appreciating one of Ducky's stories. Really appreciating it. It helped to take his mind off his totally unreal situation. If anyone had told him when he got up yesterday morning that he would be lying in autopsy, fully conscious, while the ME removed a bullet from his side, waiting for a return call form the Director he would have thought they'd been drinking, at the very least.
Mercifully the pain had gone and all he could feel now was a series of pushes and pulls.
"Ah, there we are," the ME said calmly.
"You got it Doc?" Tony asked, not quite able to grasp this particular reality.
"I have indeed," Ducky's masked face moved into his line of vision. In his hands he held the bloody bullet grasped in a pair of tongs. "We removed it in time Anthony," he reassured the younger man. "I'll just close up now and then remove the epidural."
"You sound as though you've done this before," Tony said, needing to hear the ME's voice.
"You didn't know?" Mallard was incredulous. "I was a surgeon for many years before training as a Medical Examiner."
DiNozzo shook his head. "Just trusted you to know what you were doing Doc."
Ducky, a little taken aback, smiled kindly down at his patient. "Thank you Anthony," he said simply, dropping the bullet finally into a kidney dish.
The awkward moment was broken by the cell in DiNozzo's hand ringing insistently. He flipped it open as quickly as he could. "DiNozzo."
"You were right," Morrow came straight to the point. "DEA and the FBI have been running a joint operation to bust a drugs cartel operating out of Cuba. Seems they have had their eyes on Jenkins but he dropped out of sight. Looks like we found him."
"What now?" DiNozzo was impatient.
"They got wind of a drop either tonight or tomorrow a couple of miles off the coast."
"My bet is tonight," Tony said grimly.
"That's the consensus, offshore patrols are out in force, including one of the Navy's latest mini subs based at Norfolk. That should get round any low fliers."
"We know they have a helo and I'm betting that was a prearranged pick-up as well. They were ahead of us all along."
"Well let's hope we have the last laugh so to speak. We are monitoring the situation in MTAC. If it's alright with Dr Mallard I'll have it sent to your laptop."
"Thank you Sir," DiNozzo replied gratefully. "I'm sure that will be fine with Ducky," he continued, pointing at the laptop and getting a nod from the ME. Tony closed the phone and switched awkwardly to the live feed from MTAC. The screen was split four ways with onsite reports coming in from the Navy, Coastguard, FBI and DEA. They had three possible sightings of a helicopter and up to twenty surface vessels that would fit the brief. It was going to be a long wait.
Gibbs met Kate's eyes in the near darkness. Things were coming to a head, he could feel it in his gut.
"Why haven't they already chucked us over the side?" Kate wondered, unknowingly echoing Gibb's own thoughts.
"Not sure," he admitted. "I imagine the cargo is being off loaded onto the helo now, so there goes our ride. I can only think they're looking at us as bargaining chips until they clear territorial waters."
"How good a swimmer are you?" Kate asked, only half joking.
"Not bad," Gibbs smiled, "usually use both hands though."
On deck unrecognisable shouts could be heard followed by the starting of the helicopter's engine. Suddenly a deeper noise was added to the mix, almost a rumble, but Gibbs recognised it immediately. "Attack helicopter," he said shortly, listening intently.
More shouting on deck was followed by a rapid burst of gunfire, quickly returned from the airborne chopper. A glaring light lit up the sky, followed immediately by an amplified voice. "You are surrounded, lay down your arms and prepare to be boarded."
The ship's company briefly put up resistance and fired again at the chopper but a quick burst from above, coupled with further floodlights as two other vessels joined the group was enough to have them throwing their weapons overboard. Moments later the coastguard ordered the yacht to stand to and lines were thrown on board securing the yacht to a coastguard vessel.
"This isn't over yet," Gibbs whispered to Kate, pulling her beside him in the tiny space and grabbing the broom. "We just became useful again."
He positioned them behind the door and waited. They didn't have to wait long, rapid footsteps signalled someone hurrying down the companionway and the door was cautiously pushed open. Gibbs waited until he could see the barrel of a gun easing into the room before shoving on the door with all of his weight pinning the body between the door and the wall. Praying that there was only one assailant he signalled to Kate to reach for the gun from the nerveless hand before easing up on the door allowing the unconscious body of their captor to fall to the ground.
"Didn't think he'd be so gullible," he muttered. "Must have been in a hurry." Stooping over the body he pulled it into the locker and beckoned Kate through before securing the door from the outside. More footsteps had them crouching behind a large chest, gun at the ready. Gibbs breathed a sigh of relief as he recognised the coastguard descending towards them.
"Special Agents Gibbs and Todd?" the man asked pleasantly. "We were told to expect you."
Trying to ignore the twitching of his legs and the returning pain in his side as the anaesthesia wore off Tony did his best to concentrate on the ongoing reports. So intent was he that he didn't notice McGee until the younger agent stood beside him.
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine," he said shortly, not wanting to waste time. "What've you got Probie?"
McGee having received a nod and a smile from Ducky let DiNozzo's answer ride and continued with his report. "We brought in Roberts' drinking buddies again and, do you recognise this man?" he asked holding up a photo.
"Melinda Roberts' boyfriend." Tony replied grimly.
"Brother actually," McGee said. "Looks like we'll find she was involved from the beginning. I've got a team going through the papers from the house now. It's going to take some time. I've also got pictures of all the personnel working at the depot, together with contractors for you to look at, see if you can recognise the gunny."
"Good work Tim," Tony said, still looking at the live feed from MTAC. Suddenly he froze as the pictures from the attack helicopter wavered as gunfire was sent up from the yacht below. They heard fire being returned and the picture stabilised to show the yacht being approached on either side by coastguard vessels.
"Please let them be there," Tony whispered to himself.
"Amen to that," McGee replied quietly.
They waited in tense silence, watching and listening to the reports. Finally the coastguard reported all secure, including an estimated two million dollars worth of uncut heroin and a total of nineteen people. In addition they had recovered two special agents from NCIS, both unharmed.
Tony sagged back against his pillows feeling suddenly incredibly tired as if he was a bubble that had burst. Looking over at McGee and Ducky who had joined them he smiled and said quietly. "Can you carry on with the paperwork Tim? I think I'll have a little rest before looking at your pictures."
As he spoke his eyes were already closing and Ducky settled the gurney back and gently removed a pillow without waking him.
"I don't know how he kept going for so long," McGee marvelled.
"Fear and adrenaline are powerful stimulants," Ducky replied, "that and plain old stubbornness. In many ways he reminds me of Jethro."
"Um, I'd better get on," McGee broke in quickly, not wanting to get caught up in one of Ducky's stories. "I don't think either of them would be too pleased if I didn't."
Nearly three hours later McGee sat in the bullpen in front of his computer co-ordinating reports from the various teams involved. Things were beginning to gel together nicely. He looked up as the elevator dinged and watched with a grin as Gibbs and Kate exited.
"Where's DiNozzo?" Gibbs began without preamble. "Fornell tells me he's been co-ordinating things from here."
"Um, he's in autopsy Boss, with Ducky." Seeing Gibb's face drain of colour he quickly revised his statement. "Um sorry Boss, he's not, er, he is in autopsy, Ducky had to operate but…"
Before he could get any further Gibbs had spun on his heel, closely followed by Kate and headed down to see for himself.
Tony woke up gradually, his limbs feeling heavy and his mind foggy. There was a dim light off to his left and he turned his head slowly in that direction. Blue eyes looked directly at him, smiling slightly. "Bout time you woke up. How're you feeling?"
"Boss," Tony smiled, "it's good to see you. Where's Kate?"
"Sent her home and you didn't answer my question."
"Don't lie to me DiNozzo," Gibbs said, not unkindly.
Tony snorted before replying. "I don't think I've ever felt so tired in my life."
"How's the pain?"
"It's ok for a bit," DiNozzo replied honestly not seeing the elderly ME. "Let Ducky sleep for a while."
Gibbs nodded. "For a little then, if you're sure. He wants to send you to Bethesda in the morning. No arguments Tony," he said seeing the younger man about to protest. "He would have sent you tonight but you seemed so settled he decided to wait."
"Ducky was great," the younger man acknowledged.
"You did good work yourself Tony," Gibbs smiled at him. "Under very difficult circumstances."
"Thanks Boss," Tony accepted the praise gratefully, too tired to make any smart comment. "Did you get Jenkins? Turns out he was the key to the FBI/DEA operation."
"Yep, he tried to use Kate and I as hostages again when the coastguard turned up. We were better prepared that time." Gibb's voice was dry as he gave DiNozzo the shortened version noticing his eyelids dropping again. "Get some sleep Tony," he said, resting his hand briefly on the other's shoulder. "We can clear up the details tomorrow."
Tony smiled to himself as the storm outside his window moved away leaving him feeling strangely calm and settled inside. He watched the sunrise chase away the clouds and smiled, suddenly alert and ready to face the new day.