"Yes Boss," Tony DiNozzo answered just as he shut his cell phone closed and slipped it into his pocket. He grabbed his gear and flashed out the door in a mere few seconds. Ziva followed him closely behind, having done the same. They rushed down the stairs; there was no time to wait for the elevator. A Marine's life was in danger and he was depending on them. As they ran out of NCIS headquarters, Ziva pulled her long barn curls into a ponytail. The icy air slapped them as they made their way to the car. "You drive," Tony threw the keys to Ziva and she looked at him with a confused expression on her face but jogged to the driver's side of the Dodge Charger. There was no time for debate. No, not today.
"Gibbs is gonna meet us there," Tony said as Ziva jerked around a corner, even though they both knew this. Five years as partners had taught them this.
"We do not have much time," Ziva said as she rushed a red light. The air felt thin. Time seemed to slow despite their high speed. It was moments like these that mattered the most. These were the moments that defined a family's future, the team's success, and the future of the life that was now in their hands. Ziva's heart beat grew faster as she drove down the street. The Marine might only have ten minutes, if that. In the back of their minds, both Tony and Ziva knew what was happening to him now. He was being tortured, just as four other Marines had been before being killed at noon. Director Vance had first believed this to be the work of a serial killer and had pushed for the help of local leos. Gibbs' gut knew better though. And he was sure he knew who did it.
Tony ran his hand through his hair and looked around nervously as they approached the warehouse. "Not too close," He warned her. What is he talking about? Ziva wondered. She dared not ask. They had only a few moments left to stop the killer. She looked around quickly as she pulled to a vicious stop. A few yard away was a small pier and beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean. Tony and Ziva pulled their guns and rushed to the doors of the warehouse. They could hear nothing.
"Stop," Tony whispered. "Go check out the pier," Ziva glanced at him. This wasn't protocol. This wasn't normal. Trust him, Ziva told herself. They had been partners for five years and she had learned to trust his instincts. He had taken after Gibbs, following his gut. She looked at him one last time. "Please," He sounded like he was begging her. His deep blue eyes gazed at her, pleading. What is going on? Ziva's mind raced. In a split second, she made up her mind and ran to the pier, gun drawn. Silence had previously studded the warehouse district, but now she could hear the creaking of rusty metal. She whipped around, aiming her gun toward the warehouse. Tony was no longer in sight. Had he gone to the other side?
"Tony?" She called out, trying to keep her voice low enough so as not to tip off the suspect. The clock was ticking. The Marine has less than a minute to live. Ziva's phone vibrated from the pocket of her cargo pants. Hoping it would be Tony, she pulled out her phone, gun still drawn. It wasn't a call. It was a text.
"I'm sorry," was all it said.
"Sorry for—" Before she could finish her sentence, a loud explosion sounded off. Fire and a large cloud of black smoke were billowing from the warehouse. "TONY!" The man who held her heart was nowhere in sight. For a moment, Ziva thought she saw a car, perhaps an SUV drive away in the opposite direction. But Ziva knew she was probably just imagining it through the thickening black smoke.
Gibbs pulled up. He was too late.
He was gone.
"And then I heard the explosion. I thought I saw an SUV driving off, but I could not tell. The smoke was too thick. Perhaps I was just imagining it. Tony, he…" Ziva's voice trailed off. She was sitting on the back of an ambulance. An EMT was checking her pulse. The firefighters and bomb experts were inspecting the warehouse, searching for any more signs of a bomb, and more importantly, for signs of a body. "I was supposed to back him up. I was his partner,"
"Are," Gibbs said. "You are his partner,"
"But Tony, I think he went into the warehouse. I was responsible for him. I was supposed to protect him and I didn't. I Failed, Gibbs,"
"Ziva," He lifted her chin up, but her eyes stared at the ground. "Look at me," Gibbs wasn't surprised to find in her eyes what he had seen in his own when Shannon and Kelly died; when Kate died; when Jenny died. He saw nothing. Emptiness had filled her eyes. Her voice was soft and full of regret. "This is not my fault. Do you hear me?" Ziva didn't answer. Her eyes drifted away to the pier. That stupid pier.
McGee walked up to them. "Boss," was all he said. He had been at the scene for over an hour, but it had left him speechless though more efficient than ever. In all that time he had taken the statements of everyone at the warehouse district, collected every bit of evidence he could find outside of the warehouse, and led a search around the perimeter of the district, looking for any sign of the third member of their team. "What can I do?" Gibbs stared him in the eye. This time he found not emptiness as he had in Ziva, but concern and confusion. From day one, McGee had followed every rule of protocol. Protocol, of course, that didn't include hacking. McGee was good; he had integrity.
"Nothing. Go home," Gibbs answered after a minute.
"No," McGee replied defiantly. He needed to do something. He couldn't wait around for the news that he dreaded so much to hear. Any other day, this would have been offending to Gibbs. But not today. Today, Gibbs understood.
"Fine. Stay here. Finish up and then get started on the paperwork," McGee nodded, satisfied, and walked away.
"Ah, you poor girl," Ducky said softly as he approached the pair, Palmer accompanying him.
"Duck," Gibbs began.
"It was my fault," Ziva interrupted. "Had I gone in with him, I would have been able to disarm the bomb. And now Tony has to pay the price," He voice cracked at the familiar name. Never had she felt so helpless, so regretful.
"Actually, you weren't the only stupid one. If Tony hadn't told you to…" He let his voice trail off as Gibbs glared at him.
"Agent Gibbs?" A young man with a bomb squad logo on his jacket had joined them with a somber looking McGee. "We found a body," At those words, Ziva's eyes filled with tears. This can't be real. She followed the team back into the warehouse. It was still smoldering and smelled terrible. Water dripped from what was left of the ceiling. Ziva looked around at all of the black surrounding her. She felt a physical pain just thinking of her partner's last moments. Gibbs stopped just then and turned to her. He slapped the back of her head.
"Stop that," It was almost as if he could read her thoughts. She nodded gently, trying to gather her composure. Tony needed her now more than ever. She had to be at her best. This had to be her best work.
"It might not even be him, Ziva," Abby tried to assure the Mossad officer. This was odd. For once, Abby was the one in control and Ziva was the one losing it. "This isn't the first time he's died," Ziva thought back to the ordeal with Jeanne and La Grenouille. His car had been bombed, but he hadn't been the one inside. They didn't find out for several hours later.
"I was foolish, Abby. You cannot try to rationalize that," There was no useable DNA found on the charred body. It had been found only feet away from the remains of the bomb, so the autopsy was unlikely to reveal anything useful either. It all seemed too far gone.
"What do you got, Duck?" Gibbs walked into Autopsy. A solemn Ducky was sitting at his desk, head propped up in one hand.
"It's not good, Jethro," He said gravely. "Do you remember when our dear Anthony was nearly blown up the first time, perhaps two years ago?"
"Yeah," was the only reply.
"The body we recovered then was also severely damaged. The body we recovered today is in no better condition. The body had Anthony's blood type. However, I determined it was not our Anthony by examining his lungs,"
"Tony had the pneumonic plague and our dead guy didn't," Gibbs said, remembering that terrifying time. He felt like he was having de ja vu as he stood in the autopsy room just as he had then.
"That's right. I'm afraid to say that this body we have here had both the plague and Anthony's blood type,"