Chapter 12

As they climbed out of their car both Gibbs and Ziva David took a moment to gaze around at the bleaksurroundings, which consisted mainly of abandoned weed-lined streets and dilapidated brick buildings.

While parts of Ivy City had recently been transformed by property developers spreading out from the more fashionable and expensive districts in search of cheap city land, this section of the neighborhood had so far been largely ignored, most likely because of its close proximity to the Amtrak yard.

Initiating a search on his computer, McGee had quickly located four DiNozzo Enterprise owned properties. Gibbs hadn't been surprised at all by the discovery; with one of the company's subsidiaries being a national and international freight haulage business, it stood to reason that they might have warehouses or storage facilities in areas just like this one - dominated as it was by the railway - in major cities right across the country.

The first two sites had panned out. One had been nothing but an empty lot; cleared for impending construction. The second had been a large warehouse skirting the rail track, surrounded by a high chain-link fence, locked up tight and guarded better than Fort Knox. Even their federal badges did little to impress the huge, hard-faced security guard on the front gate, who growled something about them not getting in without a warrant. Not wanting to aggravate the goliath any more than they had to, and agreeing that their hit man would require Houdini-like skills to hide out at that particular location, Gibbs and Ziva moved swiftly on.

The third site was a sprawling storage depot, which consisted of one large but empty-looking two story building and a cluster of smaller ones, situated across an expanse of open ground in what had apparently become the local dump site for car wrecks and other assorted commercial debris, including some large steel barrels with bio-hazard signs still evident on their rusting surfaces.

Apart from the graffiti that adorned the outer walls and a shattered windowpane here and there, up close the main building was fairly solid looking and in relatively good repair, despite the decay of its surroundings.

Drawing his weapon Gibbs headed off to the left, and with no need of a prompt Ziva went in the opposite direction to check out the east side of the building and to look for a way in on that level. Minutes later, when Gibbs had just finished picking the lock on a door that he assumed led to what had once been the administration offices of the depot, Ziva's voice came urgently over his earpiece.

"Gibbs, I'm inside the main cargo bay and there is definite sign that someone has been in here, and recently," she reported a little breathlessly.

"Understood, Agent David," he responded, as he stepped into the building himself and into a space that was largely thrown into shadow. "Proceed with extreme caution and keep me updated on your status."

"Affirmative."

With his gun at the ready, Gibbs made his way through the partitioned interconnecting rooms. All that now remained within was the odd battered wooden desk or filing cabinet, drawers long since emptied of their contents. This section of the facility had that distinct feel of neglect and emptiness; if anyone had bothered to come in here recently then they hadn't stayed around for long.

Gibbs had just about finished his sweep, when Ziva's voice crackled once again in his earpiece but her words were mostly lost in a hail of static.

"Gibbs…someone's …here…need to…" The transmission ended abruptly.

"Officer David!" Gibbs tapped his earpiece irritably. Nothing. "Ziva," he tried again as he sprinted out through a door and into a hallway that led through to the main storage and loading bay; a vast space with entire sections now cast into dense shadow. He stood for a moment trying to adjust his vision to penetrate the gloom and to listen. After a couple more unsuccessful attempts to reach Ziva it was time to move, and so with his back to the wall Gibbs started to make his way around the outer edge of the bay. In addition to the sparse lighting, his route was hindered by stacked packing crates of varying sizes along with bits of debris - mostly paper and sacking - strewn across the floor. DiNozzo Enterprises may have abandoned this depot, but it was obviously still being used by others for storage.

As he passed by a small recess he noted the sleeping bags and various bits of camping equipment strewn around, definite proof that someone had been using the place as a sort of home away from home.

About a third of the way in Gibbs stopped dead in his tracks as he came to the end of one long row of crates, which led to an expanse of open ground that stretched all the way over to the big rolling doors. There, somewhere towards the middle of the floor and just barely visible, was a dark unmoving bundle.

"Dammit!" he cursed under his breath as he raised his gun to scan the area.

There was no discernible movement or sound, but Gibbs knew for sure that someone was lurking in the shadows waiting for him to show himself, and that when he did he would be a moving target, but under the circumstances he had no choice; one of his agents was down and needed his help.

With a quick intake of breath, Gibbs launched himself from his cover and bolted towards the inert figure, crouching low and moving fast. As he neared, his worst fears were confirmed; it was definitely an unconscious Ziva - or at least he hoped she was just unconscious. He nearly made it all the way across to her when stocky figure came almost from nowhere, barreling into his body with a breathtaking force and taking him down in a hard tackle.

"Fuck!" Gibbs just about had time to hiss as his body and then his head hit the concrete floor.

Sprawled on the ground and reeling from the sudden blow to his skull, Gibbs was still lucid enough to see the heavy boot heading towards his ribs, and in the last second managed to roll over onto his side so that he took the brunt of the bruising blow to his back; it still hurt like a bitch but at least it wasn't incapacitating, and he was able to use the momentum of the roll to take him out of his attackers reach for those few vital seconds to raise his sig. But the big brute had obviously anticipated this tactic and moved fast, and before Gibbs' arm was even raised part way the heavy boot stomped down again with an agonizing force onto his wrist and the weapon dropped from his fingers.

Then the big man was on top of him and he had all the advantage, using his heavy body mass to keep the leaner form in place as his meaty fists pummeled him again and again. At first, all Gibbs could do was try to defend himself against the onslaught, delivering a few ineffectual strikes of his own here and there. But his chance finally came when he managed to get both hands up to grab the broad shoulders. With as much force as possible he pulled the brute slightly off balance and then head butted him - hard, and was rewarded with the satisfying crunch of bone and cartilage. Gibbs then followed through with a savage knee to the groin that had the man letting out a shrill scream of pain as he fell sidewards, gasping for breath and spitting up blood and bile at the same time.

As much as he wanted desperately to check on Ziva, Gibbs knew he needed to be armed, so as soon as he made it to his feet he staggered across to his sig, which was lying just a few feet away. He was reaching down to retrieve the weapon when he heard a loud click and turned to find himself staring down the barrel of an automatic pistol.

"First time I've seen anyone get the better of Nico," Joe Porello announced with something bordering on genuine respect.

"Well that's what he gets for fighting like a girl," Gibbs gritted out through bloodied lips, not even bothering to glance back at the stricken behemoth who was still moaning woefully and clutching his injured body parts.

"He's gonna be pissed that we can't hang around long enough for some good old-fashioned payback, Special Agent Gibbs. It is Gibbs, isn't it?"

Gibbs inclined his head slightly, which Porello took as a sign of acknowledgement. "Thought I recognized you and your lady friend here from Laura's surveillance photos. You're Anthony's boss, right?"

This time he didn't seem to want confirmation. "As you're here, I'm assuming Laura didn't finish the job? Nah, bet the stupid little bitch screwed it up like everything else." Porello glanced again at Nico who was now on all fours trying to get to his feet.

"We were just packing up to leave when you two turned up," Porello said almost conversationally. "Bad timing, huh?"

"Well, don't let me stop you," Gibbs responded glibly.

"Oh, believe me, I won't."

Though Joe suspected that these two Feds were on their own with no back up, he had no way to test his theory until they were outside - which is why he had every intention of taking the woman along as security. With everything to lose if he was re-arrested, he'd do whatever it took to maintain his freedom.

He was close enough so that Gibbs could see the tiny beads of perspiration all over the bald head and face, and he knew the instant Porello made the decision to take him out even before the automatic was leveled at his head for a point blank kill shot. But the blast that reverberated around the huge space a fraction of a second later didn't come from Porello's gun. They both spun almost in perfect synchronicity as Nico let out a tortured gargling sound and staggered backwards, clutching frantically at his throat. Blood and lots of it pumped from between his fingers as his life literally drained away before their eyes until he collapsed in an ungainly boneless heap.

To his credit the shock of seeing his henchman die so violently just feet away seemed to motivate Porello into action, and he raised his gun once again and pointed it in Gibbs' direction, but his finger froze on the trigger as a composed, commanding, but very familiar voice came from somewhere behind him.

"I wouldn't do that, Joe."

He turned to stare this time in wide-eyed disbelief as the tall figure sauntered slowly from the shadows. In a matter of seconds, Porello's expression changed from a sneer to something akin to shock and more than a little fear as the man approached.

From his position, Gibbs couldn't see if Vincent DiNozzo actually had a weapon in his hand but he didn't think so. And what surprised him even more was the fact that Porello lowered his gun almost without thinking about it; though didn't drop it.

"Vin!" Porello stuttered out. His gaze shifted unsubtly towards the exit, as if he were calculating the odds of making a break for it.

Gibbs edged carefully towards the still unconscious Ziva, crouching down at her side to watch the bizarre confrontation as it played out right in front of them. An armed, desperate man, seemingly cowed into submission by the mere presence of another.

"How did you get yourself into this mess, Joey?" DiNozzo asked with a sad shake of his head. Not once had his gaze left his cousin, even to acknowledge Gibbs's presence.

Being so close, Gibbs picked up on the nervous tension emanating from Porello, and the man was definitely sweating more heavily now too!

"Jesus, Vin! I'm so sorry…for everything."

DiNozzo took another step closer. "Why the hell didn't you come to me?"

Porello ran a trembling hand over his face and seemed to squirm in place, almost like a 5-year-old being chastised by an adult. "I was just so damned confused, Vin. The Feds had me by the balls, and the only way out was to get on that witness stand or make a deal with Lucas."

He paused to take in a long breath before continuing.

"I, uh, I wouldn't have gone through with killing your boy, even though Lucas wanted it that way," Porello offered feebly. "Sure we roughed him up a little, took some photos for proof, but that's as far as I was ever gonna go. He's a tough kid, so I knew he could take it. I just needed Lucas to think I'd done it, gain me enough breathing space to get outta the country."

Porello spoke with as much sincerity as he could muster under the circumstances, and maybe on some level he even believed it. He certainly seemed oblivious to the irony of his words or of the subtle change in Vincent DiNozzo's entire demeanor at the mention of his son, or of the dark intent in his eyes, but Gibbs caught it.

He also witnessed the mask that fell in place deceptively fast as DiNozzo nodded, and gave his cousin the ghost of a smile that chilled Gibbs to the core. "As if I would doubt that, Joey," he stated evenly. "And cousin Lucas will pay for it… eventually. But first things first - let's get you out of here."

"What?" Porello gaped in shock, at the same time as Gibbs' vehement snarled, "Like hell!"

"Agent Gibbs! Stay out of this." Without even looking directly at Gibbs, DiNozzo spoke to him for the first time and there was no misinterpreting the warning tone. "It's family business."

Turning back to his cousin, DiNozzo tossed him a set of keys. "There's a dark blue sedan parked outside. Take it and go."

"But Vin…"

"Now!" DiNozzo urged. "Before Agent Gibbs' federal friends come looking for him."

"But what about…?"

"Trust me, Joey," he responded firmly. "I'll sort everything."

Joe Porello gave his cousin one lingering uncertain look, before he turned and ran for the same door at the back of the bay where Ziva had entered earlier. Gibbs in the meantime had managed to clamber unsteadily to his feet and looked like he was preparing to give chase.

"And you'd be advised to do as I tell you, Agent Gibbs," came the terse command. Gibbs couldn't fail to notice the gun which Vincent DiNozzo now had aimed squarely at his chest. "So grab the lovely Officer David and make your way as quickly as possible over there," he gestured to the other side of the warehouse and to a stack of large crates. "I have a feeling that Anthony would be more than a little pissed if I let anything happen to either of you."

Gibbs had no option but to do as he was told, but he gave the man a death glare as he picked Ziva up and carried her across to where DiNozzo Snr indicated.

"So you're just gonna let that sonofabitch walk away from this?" he snarled, as he lay Ziva down as gently as possible.

"What gave you that idea?" Vincent asked through that eerily familiar grin, even as he took his gaze from Gibbs to check his wristwatch. He then just had time to shove Gibbs to the floor next to Ziva and dive down beside them, before the building was buffeted by a violent explosion from somewhere outside.

Even as small bits of masonry cascaded down from the rafters, Vincent DiNozzo was back on his feet and dusting himself off.

"Ain't payback a bitch, Joe," he offered sardonically, as he turned and headed for a different exit from the one his late cousin had taken just moments earlier.

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't hand your ass over to the FBI for that?" Gibbs shouted at the departing man's back.

"It wouldn't do you any good, Agent Gibbs," Vincent DiNozzo stated over his shoulder, with a smile that was pure dark innocence. "I've got a dozen or more reputable witnesses who would stand up in a court of law and swear that I was attending a fundraiser in New York," he glanced at his wristwatch again, "right about now."

"It'd still be my word against yours," Gibbs threatened half-heartedly, as pain from his recent pummeling kicked in with a vengeance and kept him on the ground.

"Now that would be interesting, wouldn't it?" DiNozzo snorted with real amusement.

Despite the circumstances and his predicament Gibbs found himself responding with a strained but amused shake of his head as the elder DiNozzo called out, "You take good care of that boy of ours," before giving a vague wave as he stepped outside and disappeared from sight.

oOo

Kate was speaking again, so softly that Tony only just caught the words.

"You need to go back ."

"Aw Katie, do I have to?" came the petulant response as he snuggled in a bit closer to her. "It's kinda nice right here."

With the shocking realization that part of him was already embracing this plane of existence, Kate pushed him away from her.

"The longer you stay with me the weaker your life force becomes. Go back while you still can," she urged. "They're here now, and Gibbs will be really, really pissed if you die."

Tony followed her gaze over to where Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Abby Sciuto, Ziva David, Tim McGee and Donald "Ducky" Mallard sat in a silent companionable vigil around his bedside. Gibbs and Ziva were both battered and bruised, with the whole group looking as if they hadn't slept in days.

He turned back to Kate, still not sure if he was ready to let go just yet, but knowing that he had to at least try for her.

"I'm not gonna remember any of this, am I," he stated sadly, knowing instinctively that he was right. Then Kate's hand brushed over his cheek.

"Maybe fragments," she offered with a warm smile. "It'll be just like a dream." She turned away from him for an instant as her attention went elsewhere, as if she was listening to something…or someone.

"There's no time left," Kate said urgently. "You have to go…now!"

"Okay," Tony agreed grudgingly. "But will you hang around for a while…just in case?"

"Sure," she responded, feeling the need to push a strand of hair from his face and brush her lips over his. And then just in case he thought she cared or something, "It's not like I've got anything better to do!"

With another gentle shove from his former partner Tony began the short walk across the room, stopping suddenly to turn back to her with a rakish smile.

"This reminds me of the end of 'Ghost'…."

oOo

Epilogue

A monumentally pissed off Lucas Bonetti was led back to his cell after meeting with his new team of lawyers. As far as he was concerned they were all useless assholes, every last one of them. The FBI's original witness for the prosecution, Joe Porello, was dead - blown to bits in a car explosion - and that should have been the end of it. But the Feds had found someone - or in this case two 'someone's - to take his place on the witness stand in return for a plea bargain; one being his previous lawyer, Leo Chambers, and the other Laura Devese, who was allegedly willing to testify to his part in the attempted murder of Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.

Even though his lawyers were confident they could delay long enough to find some minor loophole or technicality that might at the very least give him a reduced sentence, Bonetti was no fool, which is exactly why he'd set other plans in motion.

In exactly two days he was going with a full escort to hospital to receive treatment for a long standing heart condition. He would never arrive. If everything went exactly to plan, the convoy would be intercepted long before it reached its destination, and he would be free and on his way out of the country before the Feds knew what had hit them.

With this in mind he couldn't conceal the smirk as the prison guard removed his shackles, and ushered him through the heavy security door and into the section that housed his cell. The grin was still in place even as the brawl broke out between a group of men in the communal area. At first it was just a lot of pushing, shoving and name calling, but as he neared all hell broke loose. What moments before had just seemed like a minor squabble suddenly escalated into an all out pack fight. One man was thrown bodily against a wall: two more went reeling past to land a heap on the floor just ahead of him, the taller of the two had his fingers wrapped around the others throat. An alarm blared, and Bonetti stepped to one side in an attempt to avoid the worst of the fracas, but the mob just seemed to close in on him with fists flailing and furniture shattering. The next moment he was caught up in another surge from the crowd and shoved up against the outer wall to one of the cells, where something was shoved into his abdomen and twisted. At first there was no pain, just the cold, shocking realization that he had been stabbed.

"I've got a message for you from Vincent, Signor Bonetti," a rasping voice whispered close to his ear. "Occhio per occhio."

The mob dispersed quickly as the security doors at both ends of the wing burst open and armed guards swarmed in to diffuse the fracas before it could develop into something altogether more dangerous.

But for Lucas Bonetti it was already too late.

oOo

Twixt a smile and a tear

Twixt a song and a sigh

Twixt the day and the dark

When the night draweth nigh

Ah, sunshine may fade

From the heavens above

No twilight have we

To the day of our love

- 'Twilight' by Paul Laurence Dunbar

THE END