Chapter One: The Big Bang
"Abby, I cannot keep this dog," McGee said, backing away a step.
Abby frowned, pouting. "Come on, Timmy. I know you two would get to be friends if you—"
"Abby!" McGee snapped, more harshly than he had intended. "You just don't get it, do you? He tried to KILL me!"
"He was just defending his home," Abby protested.
"I don't CARE! Abby, I'm serious. I'm not taking this dog." McGee knew he shouldn't be yelling at Abby, but he had been under a lot of strain. He could usually count on her to soothe him; he did, in fact, turn to Abby in times of stress. But this time she had turned on him, and he was angry. More than that, he was also hurt.
"And that's another thing, Abby!" he snapped, on a roll. "You can't just rename a fully adult dog! How old are you?!"
"How old?" Abby sputtered. "You know you can't ask a girl her age!"
"Abby, dammit—" McGee raised his voice and his arm to make a point. With a growl, the dog lunged. With a cry, McGee jerked his body backwards.
"Jethro!" Abby yelled, grabbing his collar. "McGee, you're scaring him!" she said, glaring.
McGee, still backing away from the animal, gave her a hurt, incredulous look, and hurried out the door.
He hadn't talked to her in three days. He hadn't been to her lab. For once, his teammates had been considerate enough not to bug him about it, although he could tell they wanted to from the looks they kept shooting him. McGee knew this issue had to be resolved, that his argument with Abby might actually be affecting his work, but he wasn't going to forget this. If she didn't apologize for choosing the dog that tried to kill him—twice—over him, he didn't want to be her friend anymore.
"Probie!" Tony snapped, pulling McGee back to the real world.
He blinked. "Sorry. What?" he asked, remembering to keep his voice low.
"Shh!" Tony pointed. Down the hall in front of them was a rubber glove, lying in the floor. "Most bank tellers don't wear those," Tony whispered, easing forward. "Rubber glove in the floor, Boss," he added for the edification of the people listening. He gestured for McGee to follow, and crept down the hall.
They were investigating reports of suspicious activities at this bank over the last few weeks. It seemed a young Marine, Luther Sutter, had been seen hanging around a lot, chatting with tellers, especially one teller, who was convinced he was stalking her. NCIS was called in because it was a Marine, and because it was unclear whether it was a stalking or casing the bank for a robbery.
This evening, just before closing time, Sutter was caught on camera entering the bank. No one noticed until after close, but the young man had never left. And he was carrying a hard-sided case of some kind. Gibbs' money—no pun intended—had been on robbery, so here they were. Gibbs covered the front exit, Ziva the back, and McGee and Tony had the unenviable task of finding the guy and stopping the robbery.
They rounded the corner and stopped dead. Ten feet in front of them was the suspect, fiddling with something on the wall. He sensed them and whirled, wide-eyed. "NCIS! Freeze!" Tony shouted as the man bolted.
They ran after him, deeper into the bank. Neither thought to check the object on the wall as they passed it. Sutter ran, dodging and weaving, ignoring the "stop" and then "stop or we shoot." Contrary to what TV would have one believe, it was really, really hard to shoot someone when both parties were running, and neither Tony nor McGee stopped to take a shot. For one thing, they didn't really want to kill him without finding out what he was doing, and for another thing they were gaining. He dashed through the fire door and down a flight of stairs, NCIS agents close on his heels. They almost caught him when his shirt caught on the door as he left the stairwell and ran headlong down the dim passageway below the bank.
Tony tackled him just as they passed through the door to the vault, which was standing open. They rolled around, McGee trying to figure out a way to help without hurting his partner. "Robbing banks is a big no-no for a Marine," Tony panted, clearly trying to distract Sutter, who was trying to get an arm free to punch him.
Sutter's only reply was to attempt a kick. Tony dodged and the boot connected with the vault door, slamming it closed. McGee momentarily forgot about the fight and the Marine in a sudden panic that the door had locked and they were stuck. He was sharply reminded of the combatants when Sutter managed to get and arm free and raked his hand across McGee's shin. He swore and stepped back, unholstering his weapon. "Freeze, or I shoot!" he warned.
"About time, Probie," Tony muttered. The nature of the battle suddenly shifted as Tony tried to break away. Sutter grabbed at him and actually managed to free Tony's weapon just before he got free. Sutter stood up and started to raise the weapon. McGee fired, hitting him in the chest. With a yell, he pitched backwards, dropping the weapon. Tony hurried to pick it up.
That was when all hell broke loose.
o o o
Not again was what Gibbs thought when the explosion's force blasted him backwards. He was thrown at least ten feet, landing on the grass in front of the bank with a grunt. He scrambled desperately to his feet as explosions continued to roar through the bank. He turned and ran as the whole thing started to come down, demolition-style.
Stopping at a safer distance he stood, not noticing that he was being peppered with small chunks of concrete. He may have yelled names, he didn't know. All he knew was that Tony and McGee had been in there. The building fell straight down into itself with a thundering crash, dust and smoke rising up from it. In moments it was over. Where a ten-story building had once stood was now nothing but a rubble pile. "Tony," Gibbs whispered. It was meant to be a yell, but that was all that came out. Tony.
"Gibbs!" came a desperate shout in his ear, and he realized that Ziva had been yelling names during the whole demolition: Tony, McGee, Gibbs. She sounded nearer panic than he had ever heard her.
"I'm here," he managed, stopping partway through to clear his throat. "I'm here, Ziva," he said again, voice stronger.
"Gibbs!" she said again, but this time the tone was different, more a confirmation that he was alive. "I am coming around to you. Are you injured?"
Gibbs frowned, eyes still glued to the rubble of the bank. Was he injured? He had no idea. He certainly didn't feel any pain. Shock, he told himself, forcing his eyes away from his agents' impromptu grave. He could see blood on the front of his shirt, but not very much. Injuries caused by shrapnel from the building, he supposed. "You ok?" he returned.
"I am fine," she said. He could see her now, running around the building at the outer edge of the parking lot. "I was already running when the charges on my side of the building went off. I believe that there was a premature explosion."
That explained the force that had thrown him clear, then. It must have been set near the front door. Ziva hurried up to him. She was dirty, probably from flinging herself down on the ground, but didn't appear injured. "You are hurt," she said, frowning at him in concern.
Gibbs allowed her to lead him over to a clear patch of curb, and sat down on the grass when she pushed at him. His mind was numb. He hadn't felt this way when Kate died. He had felt responsible, and shocked. Sad, certainly. He had liked Kate. But he hadn't felt this crushing sense of loss, not since Kelly and Sharon had been murdered. He was dimly aware of Ziva gently poking and prodding to assess his injuries. He didn't think he was hurt badly, but he probably wasn't the best judge right now. He would get Ducky to take a look at him; he didn't need a hospital.
Ducky. And Abby. With a start, Gibbs realized he would have to tell them. Abby would be crushed. This thought snapped him out of his own grief sufficiently to let him bat away Ziva's helping hands. He also became aware of sirens: fire trucks, police. "I'm fine," he said gruffly. "I need to call Abby and Ducky…" He looked over at the arriving police cars, torn between the need to tell Abby in person and the duty of reporting what had happened.
"I will stay and talk to the authorities," Ziva said, sensing his dilemma. He looked up at her. She gazed back levelly, eyes as old as time. He knew she cared. He knew she grieved. But none of that was present on her face right now. She was all business. That would be the best way to handle the situation here, he realized.
He stood, allowing Ziva to help him. Now that the shock was wearing off, he was starting to feel the pain. "Thanks," he said.
Ziva ducked in front of him to make eye contact, staring deep into his eyes. "Will you be alright to drive?" she asked.
"I'm fine," he said, waving her off. He walked back to their car, parked across from the bank—the rubble—and miraculously untouched. He fumbled in his pockets for the keys, then saw them in the ignition. He drove back to NCIS headquarters on autopilot.
o o o
Abby sat in the corner under Mister Mass Spec, rocking gently. She was dimly aware that the same song had now looped back around on the CD player several times. Many times. How many? McGee was good with numbers. He could have told her. But he was dead.
McGee was dead. Timmy was dead. And the last thing she had said to him was to blame him for getting attacked by a dog. Stupid dog. Suddenly she felt a rush of hatred for Jeth—for Butch, she reminded herself, fresh tears spilling down her face—so strong that she was glad for the first time that she had found him a home with that nice couple in Stafford, and didn't have to look at him anymore.
"Timothy," she sobbed, covering her face with her hands, smearing anything left of her makeup into an irredeemable mess. He wasn't dead. He wouldn't die before she could apologize. And Tony was just too stubborn to die. They had thought him dead three—four—she had lost track of the times. And he hadn't died. Just like he wasn't dead this time. A weird calm settled over her and she slowly stood up, a small smile playing across her lips. They weren't dead. They had somehow survived.
The smile disappeared as she realized the awful truth: they were buried alive! She had to get them out! She glanced a the clock and was shocked to see that it was two in the morning. It had been…six when Gibbs had told her. That meant they had been buried for more than eight hours already! She ran out the door, barely remembering to turn out the lights, and made a mad dash for her car. "Hold on, guys, I'm coming," she gasped. "Hold on!"