Gibbs pressed his finger against the ear piece, shouting loudly "Say again, McGee?"
Back in the van, McGee looked at the bank of screens in front of him and gripped the mike again. "Boss, Go forward three meters and take the left fork!" He half-yelled, trying to be heard above the static. Gibbs, DiNozzo and Ziva were heading two teams of agents and two paramedics deep into a mine to try to locate a missing Navel Lieutenant and his little girl, both having been kidnapped from their homes by a trio of terrorists bent on securing the codes to a hoard of nuclear warheads they'd hijacked.
While the warheads had been retrieved, the missing lieutenant, his child and their captors had not. The one man they had managed to capture had told them that both hostages had been left to die inside the abandoned mine, while the rest of his comrades were fleeing the country. The only source they had to navigate the warren of tunnels was the screen in front of McGee, and he was anxiously tracking their progress, well aware of the severe time limitations they had for this rescue. It had rained overnight, and half the tunnels were either under water, or were fast becoming submerged. No one knew if the tunnel the lieutenant and his daughter were in would flood or not.
Gibbs nodded as he finally made out the faint command and led the way forwards, his torch only making a minute dent in the gloom, barely enough illumination to stop him from tripping over a rock.
"Probie had better be leading us in the right direction." Tony grumbled softly to Ziva. The dark haired Mossad officer glanced anxiously at the darkness above her and nodded.
"If he isn't, Tony, I will make confetti out of him." She muttered back, keeping one hand firmly on the reassuring bulk of the gun strapped to her waist. Ahead of them, Gibbs rolled his eyes and kept walking, shining the torch to the left and right as he came to the fork in the tunnel. The one on the right looked infinitely more stable than the one on the left, the wooden posts that kept the rock from tumbling onto their heads were bowing alarmingly.
"McGee, why can't we take the right fork?" He shouted into the mike. Back in the heavily equipped van, McGee rolled his eyes and suddenly wished he had someone with him to roll his eyes at.
"Boss, the right fork dips straight down into an underground stream. It's impassable. Take the left fork!" Blowing out a long breath, he rubbed his face and peered at the screen again, trying to make sense of the criss-crossing lines that indicated tunnels, symbols that showed collapsed areas, places where the rock was unstable and the odd geological specimen. The only benefit to being in the van was that he wasn't being subjected to the cold and damp like the others. For once, he'd return to headquarters clean and dry. Grinning to himself, he shouted into the mike for them to continue on until they reached a large open space. "Boss, it's an airshaft. There should be either six or seven tunnel entrances once you get there. You'll have to count them – two of the platforms seem to overlap on the map and I can't make out which is which until I know how many tunnels there are, do you copy?"
Gibbs bit back a snarl and nodded. "Yeah, McGee, I copy. Remind me to get you into a map reading course when I get out."
While Tony and the other agents snickered, Tim pursed his lips. That wasn't fair, he was doing the best he could. Even Tony hadn't been able to make sense of the scribbles they were staring at when they'd been given the map. That was the only reason he was up here and they were down there. He'd been the only person with eyesight sharp enough to make out the small writing.
Letting go of the transmit button, he adjusted the large headphones on his ears and carefully measured the distance again. The static from the radio was loud in his ears, and he didn't notice the door to the van opening behind him to admit a swarthy man, dressed in black. The first warning he got was when the man's boot collided with a discarded file on the floor, sending it spinning against McGee's foot.
McGee moved backwards as he turned to see who was coming in, and was lucky that he moved. The first two shots went wide, burying themselves in the bank of computer and radio equipment that lined one side of the surveillance van. As McGee lunged for his gun, another man entered, raising a pistol and firing blindly into the darkness of the van. Diving for the ground, Tim fired off a volley of shots, squinting as the muzzleflash illuminated the gloom.
It felt like an age before there was complete silence in the van once more, and Tim slowly crawled to the rear doors, gun held tightly in his hand. Easing the door open a quarter of an inch, he looked at the surroundings. The bare rock, gravel and dirt couldn't hide anyone, and he breathed a sigh of relief as he looked up at the monitors that showed the view from the front seat of the van, along with the footage from the wing mirrors. It was all clear, and with great effort, he sat back against the door, looking down at the bloody hand that was pressed to his ribs. Gibbs was going to kill him…
A sudden intake of breath and he was struggling to his feet, lurching towards the mike and the only unscathed computer that was miraculously the one that he needed to look at the map and talk to his team mates. His foot clipped the head of one of his attackers, and he paid it no heed as he slid into the chair, grabbing the cord that led from the machine into the headphones, using it as a rope to pull them back up from the floor where they had fallen.
"Boss, you there?" He asked carefully, only to have Gibbs's voice break through the static to half-deafen him.
"Where the hell were you McGee? Taking a leak?" He shouted into the microphone, glaring at Tony as if daring him to say one word. Tony gave an awkward cough and looked down at his shoes, which were by now covered in a thick layer of mud and dust. "Never mind that, McGee, there's eight goddamned tunnel entrances. Which one!"
Gasping quietly for breath, and enough oxygen to fight off the darkness that threatened to overwhelm him, Tim looked at the map again, willing it to merge from two wavering images into one. After a few long seconds, his eyesight finally did as it was told, and he could see properly again. "Boss, take the fourth one from your left. There should be marks above each tunnel in roman numerals. Take XVII."
Grumbling quietly to himself, Gibbs raised his torch and nodded. "That's it, McGee. How much further?"
McGee painstakingly led them through the rest of the tunnels, managing to keep the pain out of his voice until he heard Tony shout 'Jackpot!'
"Boss, you got them?"
Gibbs nodded as the rest of the agents hurried forwards and began to untie the half-conscious Naval Officer and his four year old daughter. "We got'em, McGee, good job. Start packing up the van."
Tim gave a half-smile, closing his eyes and letting go of the mike for the first time since the gun battle. He risked looking down at his torso again and winced when he saw the amount of blood staining his shirt. But it was all worth it, if they got them out alive. If they got the little girl out alive.
Taking his phone out of his pocket, he looked down at it again, making a face when it still showed no reception. If he'd had reception, he would have phoned Sarah. Told her how much he loved her. Told her how important she was to him…and Abby. He'd have phoned Abby too. Told her that his love for her had never ended, only changed. He'd have asked her to take care of herself, and to take care of Gibbs and the others. Smiling grimly, he slumped slightly and sighed, wondering if he should keep his hand against the two bullet wounds, or take them away and allow death to claim him more quickly. Nah, Abby would kill him when she finally got a hold of him. And Ducky would take one look at him and know immediately what he'd done. That he hadn't had the courage to do his best to stay alive. For some reason, the thought of Ducky lecturing him on the table made him snort with laughter, and he missed the quiet sound of a foot scuffing against the floor of the van.
There was no warning as the piece of wire snaked around his neck and bit tightly into the soft flesh. His feet drummed loudly against the floor and the chair as he tried to fight against the pain of the wire slicing into his neck, the pressure cutting off his air supply. As spots began to dance in front of his eyes, he fumbled at his belt and closed his hands around the thoughtful birthday present Ziva had given him not a month before.
With fingers slick with blood, he drew the knife out of it's sheath and jabbed upwards with it, feeling the strange sensation that travelled up the blade into the hilt as it met with flesh and sank deep before he drew it out again and repeated the action until suddenly he could breathe again and a quiet thud behind him signalled the defeat of his attacker.
Gasping, he held onto the knife long enough to make sure that the man who seemingly risen from the dead was now finally dead, along with his companion. The knife slid out of his grasp and fell to the ground, and he collapsed down to sit beside it, tears of pain and frustration beginning to course down his cheeks. He truly didn't want to die. He'd always wondered how he'd feel if he was in this kind of situation. If he'd fight, or if he'd just give in to the oncoming darkness and see what came after. Fighting seemed to be the only option, though. Pressing his fingers around his throat to try to seal the horrible gash he knew was seeping blood, he put his hand back over the holes in his rib cage and clenched his jaw. He was not going to give in.
Gibbs watched Lieutenant Cassidy hold his daughter close and glanced at Agent Moon. "Make sure they're ok to walk before you bring them out." He murmured quietly. "We're going topside."
Tony nodded, as the paramedic took off his jacket to place it around the little girls shoulders. "Gonna tear McGee a new one?" He asked with his trademark grin, only to receive the anticipated thwack across the back of his head. "Thanks boss." He muttered as Gibbs put his hand on the rope they had used to mark the way down and disappeared into the darkness. Ziva gave him a small push and followed him down the tunnel, keeping her fingers tightly fastened onto the back of his jacket. She wasn't afraid of the dark…she was afraid of what ideas Tony would get from being in the dark.
Their return to the surface was much quicker than the descent, and Gibbs breathed in the fresh air gratefully, expelling the stuffy dead air from the mines out of his lungs. Turning off his torch, he crunched his way across the gravel to the van, Tony and Ziva hot on his heels. Neither of them wanted to miss McGee getting a Gibbs lecture on taking a whiz in the middle of a rescue.
Rolling his eyes, Gibbs gave a short shake of his head at seeing the van door open. "Damnit, McGee, do you want-" He threw open the door and fell silent as the carnage in front of him was thrown into light.
"DiNozzo, get those damned paramedics up here." He ordered quickly, climbing quickly onto the blood stained floor of the van.
Tony frowned and took a look inside, wondering what was going on. What he saw chilled him to the marrow. The two blood soaked bodies on the floor didn't phase him. They were the bad guys. If they were dead, then they deserved it. No, it wasn't them that sucked the breath from his chest.
It was the sight of McGee slumped over in on the floor of the van, one hand half covering an oozing slash to his throat, the other loosely placed across his ribcage, where blood was slowly turning an already blood soaked shirt a deep maroon before dripping onto the floor to form a puddle. He stared for several moments before turning on his heel and haring back to the entrance to the mine, starting to shout out for them to move their asses as he disappeared back into the darkness.
Ziva found herself staring slack jawed at Gibbs as he replaced McGee's hands with his own. "David, go to the ambulance, see what you can get to help." Gibbs shouted, shaking her from her shock.
When she disappeared out of sight, Gibbs bit out a curse, his fingers tightening around McGee's neck as he felt the blood well out from between his fingers. "Don't you dare, McGee." He ordered through gritted teeth. He was surprised when Tim's eyes fluttered open, and he turned the blue orbs up to stare at him. "Don't you dare give in."
"Boss…" The whisper was barely audible, and Gibbs resisted the urge to tell him to save his strength…he was afraid they were already past that point.
"Take it easy, McGee. We have you now. You're gonna be ok. You hear me."
McGee's face creased with the ghost of a smile and he let his head fall back against Gibbs's chest. "Sorry…couldn't…the static was too loud…couldn't hear them…" he apologised softly in between agonizingly laboured breaths. "Tell…tell Sarah I'm sorry…so sorry…love her…and Abby…take care of Jethro…both of you…" the ghost of a smile increased and Gibbs found himself smiling back.
"I will, McGee. But you'll tell them yourself." He tried to assure him, knowing that the words sounded hollow even as he said them.
"Losing…blood…too much…it's been…a pleasure…to work with…all of you…tell Tony…tell Tony…" He seemed to fight for breath and closed his eyes to steady himself. "Tell him…that…when I see him in heaven, I'll superglue his head to the pearly gates…" he gave an odd chuckle and his lips quirked into a sly smile at the thought of it. "Tell Ziva her knife came…in handy…"
"You can tell me yourself. I used the radio in the ambulance to call for a med-evac. The helicopter should be here in ten minutes." Ziva announced, climbing into the van and dropping to her knees in front of them, ignoring the blood that immediately began to soak into the material of her trousers. Carefully, she took the pressure bandage and eased Gibbs's hand away from the chest wound, replacing it with the thick gauze. Gibbs immediately clamped his hand on top of it, hoping that the slow bleeding had stopped. The same procedure was done to his neck wound, and it was only when they knew they had done all they could that they took the time to look around the wrecked van.
"Must have been some party." She quipped, making him smile again as his eyes flickered across the damaged computers.
"Boss, do you think they'll take it out of my pay?" Tim seemed to regain some strength, and finally looked at the bodies. He had avoided looking at them while he was alone, but with Gibbs holding him, he found the strength to look at the men who had tried to kill him.
"I'll talk to the Director." Gibbs assured him, resting his chin on the top of Tim's head as McGee's eyes slowly slid closed.
"Good…Take care, Boss…" there was a soft sigh, and then suddenly, nothing.
"McGee? McGEE!" He gave him a small shake, but Ziva shook her head, reaching for his wrist to feel for a pulse.
"He's still with us." She confirmed softly, her eyes showing a strange mix of emotions. Worry, sorrow and intense anger.
"David?" Gibbs asked softly, wondering what exactly had caused the anger that flashed briefly.
"These men have not just died, Gibbs. When we…when we thought he was relieving himself, he was being shot and garrotted." She snapped out angrily. Nothing more needed to be said. She could see in Gibbs's expression that he felt the same as her, and she sat back on her haunches, watching McGee's chest rise and fall with an intense fixation.
When the paramedics arrived, it was at a run, Tony in the lead. Behind them, the other agents had followed, slightly slower as Lieutenant Cassidy walked stiffly, and had the added burden of his daughter in his arms.
They shouldered Ziva aside, practically forcing her from the van as they opened their bags and immediately began to work on him.
When the helicopter landed, he was quickly loaded into its belly and the three remaining members of the team watched it soar high up into the air, leaving them behind.
Ok ladies and gents, here's your chance to vote – and of course, review. If you want McGee to live or die, use the little button underneath these words and use the power of your fingers to decide our poor, often abused Probie's fate…and tell me if you like it if you like. There will be one more chapter. So Vote!