Gibbs all but flung the crates out of the way. Someone could come by later to clean up the mess, to haul the crates out and see what else Beck was willing to sell to a wannabe gun runner. At the moment, Gibbs didn't care and neither did the smaller woman beside him who was matching him crate for crate.
No talking. Breath was reserved for inhaling of oxygen, the better for strength to fling the crates aside. Last one, hauled to the left, exposing a blank gray stone wall, a smooth surface. Nothing there.
"Gibbs…" Ziva panted.
"Here." Gibbs didn't trust his sight. This was stealth technology. Vision had been confounded.
Not touch. His sense of feeling was intact, and still useful against the stealth technology. He slid his fingers along the surface, touching the cold stone of the cave, searching for something that didn't feel like rock. There it was, tucked into a crevice, the fabric covering a small pocket of cave, the pocket just large enough to stuff in a limp body. McGee had cut the back off of the prototype suit and used it to cover this hole and protect his partner from their three assailants. Gibbs ripped the tattered gray cloth from its precarious perch, thrusting it at Ziva—it was National Security, after all—and reaching in. Praying.
"Gibbs?" Ready to scream.
Welcome hands reached down to help haul DiNozzo's unconscious form to the surface, up and out of the cave where just a mere two hours ago three criminals had been removed from their lair and sent to a Federal holding tank. Gibbs himself crawled out, reaching down a hand to help Ziva out before wiping some of the dirt and grime from his face.
It had been a long trek out of the cave. DiNozzo wouldn't remember it, wouldn't remember being slung between two sets of agents and dragged along the rocky floor of the cavern. That would be a blessing; some of the sounds that came out of DiNozzo's throat would be added to Gibbs' nightmares, along with McGee's blood. No doubt about it; Gibbs wouldn't be sleeping particularly well for the next few weeks. Neither would DiNozzo or McGee.
Good deal. He'd take insomnia any day in exchange for the sight of his two agents, back at work, awaiting the moment that Gibbs would amble up behind and 'whack 'em upside the head' for whatever they shouldn't be doing. Gibbs flopped onto the ground, all in, watching the MPs wrestle DiNozzo's limp body onto a stretcher. No one could get a vehicle this far into the brush; they'd be toting the wounded man out on foot. Straps went over him, to make sure that he wouldn't fall off the stretcher and add a broken arm to the mess.
Gibbs roused himself, needed to make sure that this wasn't all for nothing. The throat—that was the most reliable pulse. Hot skin, rapid heartbeat—but still beating.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs didn't know whether to be grateful that the man was awake—or horrified.
Another cough. Wince. "McGee?"
"He's okay, Tony." A softer voice than usual. "He's okay."
A softer voice than usual, with a prayer.
"Ooooh, Tony! McGee!" Abby wailed, not knowing which one to turn to first. She all but dumped the two tin cans of flowers onto the hospital table beside each of them. "You're all right? Tell me you're okay!" She grabbed Tony in a robust hug, squeezing a grunt out of him.
"Just…fine…" Tony gasped, trying to catch his breath.
"McGee?" Not to be outdone, Abby went for the other man.
"No, Abby! My shoulder! Abby!"
"Oooh, McGee! I'm sorry! I forgot! Are you all right?"
"They will be, Abby." Gibbs followed her in, trailed by Ziva and Ducky. "Give 'em a chance." He set a basket of fruit onto DiNozzo's table. "From all of us."
The hospital room was bright with sunshine pouring in without regard for temperature control. The walls were an off-shade of yellow, or perhaps beige, but something that dirt wouldn't show up on unless the paint was flecked away—which it was. A portrait of a vase of flowers on one wall did little to enliven the area. Both white linen-clad beds were occupied, both with multiple plastic tubings dripping down from hooks on the ceiling. Antiseptic odors stained the air.
DiNozzo beamed, and cast a smirking eye at McGee. "Thanks, boss. Guys."
McGee frowned, eyeing the fruit. "I don't get anything?"
"Not yet, Timothy," Ducky put in. "I don't expect that you'll be eating anything more inviting than ice chips for the next few days."
"Wonderful," McGee grumbled, and turned to a better topic. Deep lines of pain and fatigue still creased his face. "You got 'em all, right? All three of them? That wasn't just a dream that I had?"
"Yes, McGee," Ziva told him. "All three of them, and all of the stealth technology recovered. Including the piece that you used to hide Tony," she added mischievously. "There was a great deal of discussion about that."
"You should have heard the guy they sent out to replace old Beck-aroonies," Abby said gleefully. She put on a deep voice. "'I can't believe that an NCIS agent would be so foolish as to tear apart a top secret, highly valuable piece of technology into shreds! I'll see him brought up on charges for this!'" She grinned. "I wish I'd been there to see it. Ziva said that Gibbs ripped into them like a cloud of Africanized honey bees."
"Sent them home with their tails between their legs," Ziva confirmed, beaming with good humor. Gibbs scowled at them all.
Tony stared at her, already on another topic. "You're awfully chipper, Ziva. I thought you missed your concert."
"She did," Abby chirped, "but she's got a date."
"A date?" Tony looked at Abby, then back at Ziva. "A date? As in, going out with a member of the opposite sex? A member of my gender?"
"What's wrong with that, Tony? I'll have you know that I have had many dates while here in America. You simply don't know about them, nor do you need to know about them."
"With one of the sergeants," Abby confirmed. "Tonight. I think it was the cute one."
"Which one was the cute one?" McGee wanted to know.
"Wouldn't you like to know? Actually, it's not a date," Ziva clarified. "The sergeant has offered to give me another demonstration of the stealth technology, and I have accepted his invitation. Although we also expect to dine later," she added, watching both men from the corner of her eye.
"What does it matter, McGee?" Abby jumped in. "I mean, you're stuck in here. It's not as though you could ask her out, not for a while at least. I mean, if anybody here ought to be taking Ziva out, it's Tony."
"Yes, you, DiNozzo. She saved your life. She pulled you out of the cave, and got all dirty and sweaty doing it."
"Heaven forbid that I should become dirty or sweaty," Ziva murmured.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter, 'cause you both are stuck here for another couple of days. Right, Ducky?"
"Actually, my dear—"
"Tony, Ducky says that you'll be getting out like maybe tomorrow. So I figure that I can take you to my place, 'cause there isn't anybody at your place to take care of you, and then when McGee comes home a couple of days after that, I can put him on the sofa, and you in the coffin, or maybe him on the bed and you on the sofa and me in the coffin—"
"I'm not really into dark places for a little while, and your place is, well, a little less lit than others…"
"Are you saying that I live in a cave, McGee?"
"No, it's just that I'm kinda—"
"Coffins give me the willies, Abbs," Tony put in firmly. "Small tight places, things like that. Maybe next time."
"Et tu, Tony? Doesn't anybody want to come stay with me?"
McGee carefully turned the discussion onto a safer topic. "What about the technology, boss? What's going to happen to the project now that Dr. Dovely is dead?"
Gibbs shrugged. "It'll keep going, McGee. Turns out that Dovely's assistant has a pretty good handle on the research. Higher up's think that she'll be able to take over, and the Pentagon's put in an order for another eight suits. Sergeants Franks, Medford, and Rubrovitch will each be heading up their own team for covert surveillance techniques." Another shrug. "Mrs. Rickover is on her way to a good recovery from this affair. With the insurance policy that Aiello and Smirnakov took out on her behalf, Elaine Rickover had enough to buy a business and then some. She chose to buy out Smirnakov's cover bookstore." He smiled. "Somehow, I don't think Marina Smirnakov quite expected it to turn out that way."
"Hear that, elf-lord?" Tony would have liked to lean over to push it into McGee's face, but falling out of bed seemed like a very real option if he tried it. "There's another elf-lady in the making. You could offer her some pointers. She's even into books, like you, even if she does like selling them instead of writing them."
"Nope," Abby told them. "You're too late, McGee. Sergeant Medford really was interested in Elaine Rickover. Wasn't going to do anything while she was married to his commanding officer but…" Abby let her voice trail off suggestively.
"Yes, it seems as though Captain Beck merely took advantage of a situation that might never have occurred had he not conceived of the idea to betray his country for mere money," Ducky mused. "A very tangled web indeed." He glanced at his watch. "And now, ladies and gentlemen, we must depart if we are not to be late."
"Late?" McGee perked up his head. "Late for what?"
"Dinner, McGee," Gibbs said. "You know: the thing that you aren't getting right now. We have an invitation."
"An invitation?" Tony was equally as dismayed.
"Yes, DiNozzo," Gibbs told him. "The elf-lady's new business is having a Grand Opening to celebrate the change of ownership. Since we're the ones who cleared her husband's good name, we're all invited."
"Even you two," Ziva added mischievously. "Too bad you can't come." She grinned. "Even Mrs. Rickover has a date: Sgt. Medford."
"Wonderful," Tony grouched. "I get shot in the line of duty, and all I get is a basket of fruit. You guys get dinner and an evening out."
"What are you complaining about, DiNozzo? McGee doesn't even get that. Oh, look," Gibbs observed. "Here comes blue jello, with McGee's name on it." He turned. "Come along, children. Suppertime."
McGee leaned against the wall of the elevator in his apartment building, grateful not be taking the stairs. Those stairs frequently substituted for his work-out during the week, telling himself that it would make up for any day that he didn't have the time for proper exercise.
Well, he hadn't worked out today and didn't intend to for the next week at least. His arm was still in its comforting sling and there was a matching white bandage wrapped around his belly. He still didn't know which agent had put which bullet where, but he supposed that he could get Abby to tell him eventually. Not that he would ever bring it up in conversation. Try to guilt Gibbs into something? Not a chance. And Ziva? She'd give him one of her patented want to die sooner or later? looks and turn back to whatever she chose to ignore him with.
Not now. Right now, even though Abby had picked him up at the hospital to bring him home, asking her questions was something that was going to have to wait for another, more opportune time. Right now he was regretting being on his feet, regretting that he'd left the hospital, regretting that he was in the elevator with no place to sit down…
Blood roared in his ears, and vision was getting dim. "Abby…"
He felt her take him under his good arm. Damn, but his knees were turning to day old aspic jelly, and Abby, strong as she was, was never going to be able to keep him on his feet, much less get him into his apartment. How embarrassing. Damn…
"Gibbs!" she yelled.
Why was Abby calling for Gibbs? Gibbs wasn't here. This was McGee's apartment building, on the floor where McGee's apartment was, and he desperately wanted to flop onto his sofa in his living room before he ended up collapsed on the dirty linoleum floor in the corridor outside his apartment that building maintenance never seemed capable of keeping clean.
"Gibbs!" she yelled again, more desperately.
Damn. He was going down. Vision was already gone, unable to see as if everything was covered in stealth suit technology. The linoleum floor suddenly seemed cool and inviting—and close.
Then there were strong hands under his good arm, replacing Abby's smaller ones. Someone else grabbed the belt around his waist, hoisting him up on the other side.
Next thing he knew, he was on his own sofa, his head down and his feet sticking up in the air. Vision was coming back. He could see a cluster of faces staring at him, the closest one that of Dr. Ducky Mallard, who was dutifully checking McGee's pulse.
"Just a little too much excitement, Jethro," Ducky diagnosed. "That, and a little too much activity in an upright position."
"I'm guessing that yelling 'surprise' isn't recommended here for the resident elf-lord." Tony DiNozzo looked wryly down at his fellow NCIS agent, leaning heavily on a pair of crutches. "You okay, Probie?"
McGee blinked. "Yeah," he lied. He blinked again. "What are you doing here?" He tried to sit up to look around, stopped it when his head tried to spin again, not to mention Ducky's far from demanding hand keeping him down. "What are you all doing here?"
"Delivering fruit, McGee," Gibbs told him. "Not one of DiNozzo's better ideas." He gestured to the room.
The fruit was not in a plain basket. It wasn't even in two baskets. It was scattered all around the room, waiting for someone to have to go to the trouble of picking it up and depositing it in a central location. Clearly this was a DiNozzo type practical joke.
"Joke's on you, Tony," Gibbs said. "Get started."
"Me, boss? I'm on crutches."
"It wasn't any of us that threw the fruit all around." Gibbs pointed out. "Besides, the rest of us have to go back to work. You and McGee are off for the next few days. Have a good time." He waggled his finger at them. "Abby'll be back to tuck the two of you in later tonight. You're going to be roomies, here in this nice bright apartment, until one or both of you are ready to get back to work where you belong." He led the others out.
Abby stuck her nose back in. "Clean it up, DiNozzo. This was your idea. I don't want to see any mess when I get back here, or I'm shipping my own personal coffin here to Tim's place just for you. Got it?"
Tony sighed. "Got it."
"Good. Now rest. Both of you." Abby stuck out her tongue at them before running off to catch the elevator. "Gibbs! Ziva! Ducky! Wait up!" could be heard dashing down the hall.
Tony looked at McGee. "You up to helping?"
McGee didn't even try to sit up, let alone stand. "No."
"Didn't think so." Tony sighed. And got to work, picking up the fruit.