Chapter 4: Lucky?
Gibbs reluctantly stood and moved away from Tony, the quicker they got this done, the quicker they could get Tony help, and that involved taking out the bastards outside in short order.
He moved over to Ziva by the door. "I can see two," she stated, indicating their general directions with the end of her weapon. "They haven't cleared the edge of the woods yet." She looked back at Gibbs. "How is he?" her eyes were drawn towards Tony's position on the floor even though she knew that she did not have the angle to see him. The backwards glance was enough to betray the depth of her concern. She turned to meet Gibbs gaze.
"Bullet to the right side, heavy blood loss, probable hypothermia," he stated bluntly, because blunt was the only way he could be. Blunt was the way he had been trained. In combat it was the only way that didn't cost more lives, because there wasn't time for emotion. No time for emotion, Gibbs struggled to remind himself.
"So he doesn't have lot of time?"
"No," Gibbs confirmed, still somehow managing to keep his tone neutral. "He doesn't." He turned back to McGee, the younger agent looked dead on his feet. He was barely holding it together himself, clearly the cold and the physical exertion of helping Tony had taken it out of him, but still he hovered protectively. "Stay with Tony, cover him," Gibbs ordered, not sure if he could have ordered him away. He turned back to Ziva. "You cover the back in case one of them finds your entry point." He clicked his headset radio to on. "Horrowitz?" he addressed the Commander of the assault squad.
"In position Gibbs and ready on your go."
"Then let's do this,"
Gibbs moved slightly closer to the door opening. "Hey, you out there. We are armed federal agents. Throw down your weapons and come out into the open with your hands on your head." He ducked back and down as the answering bullets slammed into the wooden doorframe, splintering wood through the gap. "Guess not," he said, more to himself than to anyone, although his mike was still open. "Ok, people move in."
The world exploded into a cacophony of weapons fire. Gibbs drew aim through the doorway on one of the positions Ziva had pointed out. He vaguely registered fire coming from behind him, which meant at least one of them had attacked the rear, but it was only a vague acknowledgement, he trusted Ziva to handle it.
As in most gun battles involving automatic weapons the firefight was short and bloody. Gibbs' team had the advantage of surprise, all of the mercenaries attack was centred on the barn, by the time they realized their mistake it was too late. The last bullet thudded harmlessly into the ground as the final attacker went down and a deafening silence followed.
It was Gibbs who broke it. "Report," he instructed, acknowledging one by one as the assault team first and then Ziva confirmed that the perps were down, one, two, three, Gibbs waited for the fourth confirmation but it didn't come. "That's only three," he stated, unnecessarily into the headset. Everyone had been listening.
The expletive was loud in his head and he barely refrained from yelling it into the mike. They couldn't bring in the EMTs until the area was secure and that meant that Tony. . . . He kept a tight grip on the emotion, even as he turned. "Does anyone have any idea where our fourth guy went?"
"OK, try and identify which one's still out there."
He looked across at McGee, who was still kneeling by Tony's side, his features drawn and weary. McGee seemed to feel the scrutiny, he looked up, met Gibbs gaze, his eyes betraying the now near hopelessness of his concern. Gibbs turned away, because he couldn't maintain his emotionless control and look in those eyes at the same time. They were running out of time.
"Gibbs?" It was agent Horrowitz. "Looks like it's Paul Griffin who evaded us."
Gibbs hit the speed dial on his cell "Abby? You said you had Griffin's cell on GPS. I need the coordinates."
Abby obediently read them off.
"Horowittz you got that?" Gibbs asked.
"Yeah we're just checking." There was a short tension filled pause. "Damn! Sorry Gibbs, Looks like Dryer had the cell on him."
Gibbs tried hard to keep the resignation out of his tone; they didn't have time for this. "Ok, spread out, cover the perimeter again," he ordered, his mind working rapidly.
"Get the chopper over here but tell it not to land yet, and get Doyle in here."
Agent James Doyle was six four and two hundred and twenty pounds of solid muscle. He trotted over easily to Gibbs, who acknowledged him with a nod.
"Do you think you can carry him?" Gibbs asked, nodding to where McGee knelt by Tony.
"No problem," he stated following Gibbs across the barn. He made to move around the other side of Tony.
"No, not him," Gibbs pointed at McGee, "Him."
Both Doyle and McGee looked at him in surprise. Gibbs stared back and Doyle turned to look McGee up and down once. "Even less problem," Doyle stated.
"Good," Gibbs replied, moving forward to explain the plan.
The timing was crucial, the chopper hovering and moving down as Gibbs, McGee and Doyle broke from the cover of the barn and headed out into the clearing to the right of it. It was a calculated guess on Gibbs' part that Griffin was still there, waiting to ambush them if they tried to move Tony and McGee, that he would wait and risk everything to get revenge for his brother, despite having lost the rest of his squad. Griffin wasn't the type to give up.
So he was playing McGee, and McGee was substituting for Tony, because there was no way Tony was going to survive the rough handling of being carried, and there was no way Gibbs was going to use his unconscious agent as bait.
Gibbs scanned the woods as they moved, his head was dipped slightly and he tried to walk with a weary step, one hand beneath his jacket clutching his weapon. The rest of the agents had pulled back into the woods, feigning a search pattern, before settling into position to cover Gibbs' move. Gibbs wasn't sure what he was going to do if they made it to the chopper without Griffin making his move. At this point it wasn't really an option. This had to work because Tony didn't have the time for them to try anything else.
He needn't have worried. They were ten yards short, the chopper coming in to land in front of them when Gibbs caught the movement. Griffin was about fifteen feet above the ground hiding in one of the trees. Gibbs, pulled his weapon aimed and fired in a single smooth action, Griffin's weapon firing fruitlessly, kicking up blades of frozen grass as he took a headfirst dive onto the frozen ground.
The helicopter had pulled back up at the first sign of gunfire and McGee had been dropped to his feet, he and Doyle turning and aiming their own weapons in a move that looked like it had been practiced, but they weren't needed.
Gibbs had hit his mark. He allowed the slightest smile of satisfaction, as he moved over, kicking Griffin's weapon away and checking that he was dead.
Now they needed to get Tony out of here. "Get that Medivac chopper in here now," Gibbs spoke into the headset, as he turned and ran back to the barn.
Ziva shifted guiltily as Gibbs entered, and he was surprised to realize, that she was almost certainly letting go of Tony's hand. Part of him was surprised that she had stayed with him at all, that she hadn't followed the action. He didn't have her down as the caring, sharing sort, most of the time it was easy to forget that she was a woman, and most of the time that was the way she wanted it, but she couldn't suppress all of her instincts, couldn't hide the fact that men and women were different. Under that brusque, no prisoners approach to the world, buried somewhere deep was a tenderness that she rarely let show, and Gibbs had just seen it, exposed and raw, even though she covered it now. She shifted to her knees as Gibbs approached. "He's barely breathing," she stated.
Gibbs nodded, staring down at Tony, biting back the emotion. He'd been his usual idiot self, his usual competent, save the world self, less than two hours ago, and now. . .Gibbs swore again to himself, cursing the unfairness of the world. "EMTs are on their way in," was all he could bring himself to say.
They were loading Tony into the chopper when McGee made his request. It had taken them a few minutes to stabilize him and now he was covered in blankets and masks and IV tubes. It was difficult to even see him under all of the paraphernalia they were using to help keep him alive, but at least he was alive, and that meant there was still hope.
"I'd like to go in with him?" McGee turned to look at Gibbs, realizing how pathetic that sounded, that Gibbs had every right to get on the chopper with him, that he. . .He struggled to find the words to explain the need he felt. He had been there, holding him up keeping him alive, pressing his hand against Tony's side in an effort to prevent his blood flowing away. He couldn't just leave him now, couldn't bring himself to abandon his care to others, even though he knew it made no logical sense. There was nothing he could do. "I just need. . ." he began.
"It's OK McGee," Gibbs stated, resting his hand on his shoulder, "you are going in with him."
For a moment McGee was slightly confused, suspicious. Gibbs was being far too nice and then he realized that Gibbs wasn't alone, that there were two other people there behind him, he turned back so that he could see, realized that they had been there for a little while now, that one of them had a blood pressure cuff around his bicep. The pressure on his shoulder increased a little, and he found himself being pushed down onto another stretcher.
"Hypothermia, frostbite, exhaustion," Gibbs explained as McGee became aware of an oxygen mask being placed over his face and an IV going into his arm. "Yes, you're definitely going in with him."
Abby was bouncing her pigtails waving in a slightly circular pattern as Gibbs entered her lab and deposited the giant Caf-Pow on the desk in front of her.
"I just got through talking to the hospital and they've downgraded Tony's condition from critical to serious. They say it looks like he's going to pull through just fine. Isn't that great news?" She asked, bouncing again and grinning from ear to ear.
Gibbs gave a genuine smile. He had already known, having spoken to the doctor himself but it was impossible not to respond to a happy Abby. "Yes," he agreed, dipping his head to one side. "It is good news, but since you only just hung up the phone that's not why you wanted me down here."
Abby ignored the lead in, staring at him instead. "You know you have a really great smile," she stated, moving forward to pick up, and take a sip from the Caf-Pow. "You really should smile more often."
Gibbs shook his head. "Wouldn't fit the image."
Abby considered it for a moment. "Hmm, I guess smiling and gruff don't really go together."
"Abby, why am I here?"
"Oh, OK I figured out how Griffin and his pals sabotaged the car." She moved across to a circuit board that was attached to her computer, tapping on some keys to bring up a schematic. "They simply hacked into the CPU and adjusted the engine management system so that it told the engine to shut down, flashing all kinds of warning lights at once, which wouldn't really be possible with a real fault." She paused for a moment and her brow furrowed in puzzlement. "McGee should really-a picked up on that, but I guess he doesn't know enough about cars, and Tony, he knows enough about cars but not enough about computers I guess and. . ."
"Anyway it was pretty sophisticated stuff, remotely operated, took out the security locks too. Griffin must have paid big bucks for it."
"So how did they get it into the car?"
"Only one way," Abby stated, "last scheduled maintenance was just a week ago by a mechanic called Sid Abrahams who retired the following day." She pulled up Abrahams' details on the plasma "I've had all the other cars he worked on in the past few weeks pulled out of service to be checked."
Gibbs flicked open his cell. "Good work Abby," he stated, before it connected.
"Ah Gibbs," Ducky greeted as the autopsy doors slid open. "Good news about our young friend Tony, I've just finished talking with Dr Reeves at the hospital."
Gibbs gave a wry smile, "I'm surprised she has time to treat any patients."
Ducky looked with puzzlement at the comment. "What?"
Gibbs shook his head dismissively.
"Oh, yes, well, it seems young Anthony was very lucky."
Gibbs eyes narrowed slightly. "Can't say I'd define being chased through the woods by ex-marine mercenaries while nearly bleeding to death as lucky, Duck."
Ducky paused to consider for a moment. "Not when you put it like that no, I suppose not, but," he gestured at the fully occupied set of tables in the room, "certainly more fortunate than the gentlemen who were chasing him, and that is why I say he was lucky, lucky not to be here with them." He gestured for Gibbs to follow him over to the light boxes at the end of the room. Switching one on, he used the X-ray that was there in his explanation. "The bullet entered here, hitting the seventh rib and breaking it. Now, there were many paths it could take from that point, plenty of soft tissue to penetrate and much damage that it could have caused, but it seems that it hit at such an angle that it was deflected up through the intercostal tissue, and came to rest here lodged against the sixth rib, causing a painful but not immediately fatal wound. In fact a wound that allowed him to keep moving so that he and McGee could make their escape. Although I'm not sure how he managed to run with that level of pain." Ducky's mind drifted for a moment into empathy, before he shook himself out of it. "Of course the other thing that saved him was the extreme cold."
Gibbs nodded that part he understood. "Slowed his metabolism, reduced blood flow to the skin, and therefore slowed blood loss."
"Right," he turned to face Gibbs. "So you see very lucky." Their eyes met, and in it a silent acknowledgement of what this discussion was really about. They hadn't lost a friend that day, but it had been close, too close, and they both needed to express it. The moment held, the emotions seeped across the gap before being buried again. "Very lucky indeed." Ducky stated.
It had been a long night that had stretched well into the morning before Gibbs had tied up enough of the loose ends, and completed enough of the paperwork that he could allow himself to go home. He knew how their security had been breached and they therefore had a good chance of preventing anything like this happening again, but he still had one more stop that he had to make so that he could rest easy. It was all very well the doctors telling him that Tony was all right, but he had to see for himself. Had to banish the image of the pale deathly shell that he had waved off the previous night, had to do that before he could sleep.
McGee was fully dressed, just standing watching Tony sleep when Gibbs entered. He looked up, not even slightly embarrassed by his vigil. They acknowledged each other with a nod, but neither man spoke; they just watched the gentle rise and fall of Tony's chest.
It was McGee who finally broke the silence. "They discharged me an hour ago, but I can't seem to bring myself to leave." He gave a slight smile. "Condemning myself to a fate worse than death, sharing a hospital room with Tony Dinozzo."
"No," Gibbs corrected, "that only applies if it's an awake Dinozzo."
McGee's smile widened a little. "You have a point," he agreed. He looked back down at Tony, his expression dropping to serious. "They say he's unlikely to wake up until tonight." He idly wondered if he'd still be standing there then.
"You saved his life McGee," Gibbs' tone had shifted. "Has a way of making you feel responsible."
McGee nodded, that was exactly how he felt. Like he was suddenly personally responsible for keeping Tony safe. "How long will it last?" he asked, looking up to meet Gibbs' gaze.
Gibbs stared back at him pointedly. "I'll let you know when it goes away."
McGee stared for a moment, not the answer that he'd been expecting, but he could see the sincerity of it in Gibbs' eyes.
He looked back down at Tony and let out a thoughtful sigh. "Now that I've saved his life do you think he'll stop calling me 'probie?'"
Gibbs head tilted to one side and he gave another half smile. "No."
There was a drawn out pause. "Would you really want him to?" Gibbs asked softly.
McGee looked up, there were so many reasons why he should want Tony to stop using that term, not least that he'd served his probation many times over, but that wasn't what Gibbs was really asking him. He was asking him if he wanted things to change.
"No," he replied, "I guess not."
Tony shifted on the bed and felt the burn of pain dance down his side. He could take more painkillers, but he was happy to let the pain by for the moment. It was a good reminder of how lucky he was to be alive. Even so, he would have to take something before Abby's visit, because that hug was going to be a killer.
He smiled across at his visitor. He'd been trying to convince McGee for the last twenty minutes that the team in general and Gibbs in particular, couldn't function properly without him, and that McGee should smuggle him in a laptop, but McGee wasn't being convinced.
"You need to rest Tony," McGee stated.
"Rest that's all I've been doing." Tony replied. "I don't need any more rest."
"Then why have you yawned three times in the last five minutes?" McGee challenged.
"I haven't," Tony protested, yawning.
McGee stood "Look I'm going to leave you to get some sleep." He took a step towards the door.
McGee turned to look back at him.
Tony swallowed hesitantly. McGee had been visiting him for four days now and there were things that needed to be said he just didn't know quite how to say them. "You've. . Er. . .been very attentive these last few days. . .I. . Er. " It wasn't like Tony to be tongue tied. Dammit why couldn't he get the words out? What was it that he even wanted to say? Damn this wasn't coming out right at all.
"Yeah, well I just. . ." McGee felt equally awkward.
"Thanks," Tony said, and then he reviewed the last minute of conversation and realised that it came out like he was thanking him for visiting him, and it wasn't that, wasn't that at all. "For not giving up on me," he stated.
Did McGee understand?
"Thanks," he repeated.
McGee couldn't help notice that Tony took on his own particular brand of shy when he was being sincere, and he was being sincere now. "You're welcome." McGee replied meeting and holding his gaze.
Oh, yes, he understood. They both did.