"Gibbs…" Ziva spoke softly. "They are all together in the sitting room. That is the one at the front of the house with the drapes closed. Except for one, who was left upstairs to find out what the police are doing. Nickless was wondering why they had not attempted to make contact."
"You heard that?"
"I was on the roof at the time, outside the window." She went on quickly; she had seen enough not to wish to waste time with interruptions, and Gibbs understood. "The kitchen window is open, although the door has been locked. They are not thorough enough with their security. Tony and McGee are both injured; the women are unhurt. I believe time is short."
She waited patiently while Gibbs thought. "Diversion," he said tersely, after a moment. He spoke briefly out of the corner of his mouth to a cop who was resting his nightscoped rifle on the roof of his car.
"Yeah, he's there… middle window," the cop confirmed without moving his head or his gun. Aldo, thinking himself invisible, would never know he'd been made – until it was too late.
"You go back up there, take out the one upstairs. He's in the middle room." Gibbs paused a moment as Paula muttered something urgently. "Cassidy'll come in through the kitchen window while their attention's elsewhere…." He outlined his plan , and disconnected.
Paula thought, 'well, that was painless', having expected Gibbs to disagree with anything she said, and waited for the signal to move. Rule 12 be stuffed… Tony was hurt, her friend Izzy was in danger, she'd do what the situation required.
Gibbs spoke briefly again, this time to the senior cop, and a moment later a young officer in riot gear stepped forward, carrying a Gillespie pneumatic ram. "Officer Dan Robinson, sir," he said politely. "I know Izzy, and the house. I'll get you in, sir."
Gibbs nodded approval, and the senior cop lifted a bull horn. "This is Metro PD," he called. "Like to talk to Dale Nickless."
Starling stood dumbstruck for a moment, as Nickless began to laugh. Before long, he was guffawing loudly, amused by the irony of it all. "Carefully taken… a teaspoon at a time… for how many years, Kenny? All that work…in a dumpster…" The obscene, derisive laughter went on and on…
All eyes were on the drug lord's outburst, except for Tony, that was. He was watching Starling, because his gut told him that was where he should be looking. Starling was looking at Izzy, who still had that slight smile. That, coupled with the mocking laughter, sent the would-be millionaire over the edge. Mouthing insults he threw himself at his former wife, reaching for her throat. Tony stuck out a foot, since it was about all he could do, and brought him down before he could reach her.
That, of course, transferred his attention to the NCIS agent, the man who, he'd not forgotten, had lured him into a trap and tricked him into giving away what he'd done. Still mouthing incoherently, he simply transferred his attack to DiNozzo, pummelling his chest, his bandaged shoulder, his ribs, his face, and finally grabbing him by the shoulders and banging his head on the floor. It was Parker who impassively stepped in and hauled him off, throwing him back into the chair he'd just jumped up from.
The federal agent grunted and slumped back, awash with the worst pain he could remember since… no, he didn't want to remember… and tried to stay conscious, as Izzy and McGee tried to help him. "No… McGee…" he couldn't make himself clear.
Inez understood. "Sit back, Tim," she said softly. "Let Mom help him, you'll just make yourself worse."
Tim muttered an agreement; his head hurt so much he couldn't move it, and although he didn't want to frighten the women by saying so, by now he could hardly see. The blurred, swimming vision had the same feeling as seasickness, and he fought off nausea. He suppressed a groan, drew his knees up, and rested his head on them. Through the nausea and pain, he heard Tony whisper.
He thought about that. Slowly. The Glock strapped to his left ankle was within reach for the first time all evening, and Inez, kneeling beside him, was masking his movements from the bad guys. But that was the first problem; he wasn't going to use her as a shield, under any circumstances. The second, of course, was that he couldn't see to aim it. What was it that Tony wanted him to do?
Nickless finally stopped laughing, and looked at his second in command in surprise. Parker shrugged awkwardly. "Man's a sleazebag, Boss," he said rather embarrassedly.
"You're right," his boss said, suddenly totally calm. He went on, conversationally, "You know, this time yesterday," and he glanced at Earl, "I'd never even heard of the two million. It's not the not having it myself that bothers me – there's plenty more. It's the fact that a thieving, conniving jerk like you did. And now you don't." He lifted his gun, aiming at Starling, then Tim, then Tony. "Time to get out of here. Get up, Miz Starling, and Miss Starling, you're coming with us."
"That's Miz Moreno," Izzy hissed, and refused to get up until the gun was aimed at her daughter. Inez rose very slowly, the gun began to swing back towards Tony… and at that exact moment a whole rank of searchlights lit up the curtains, and a loud voice, warped by the unmistakable tinny twang of a bull horn, shouted from the road outside.
"This is Metro PD. Like to talk to Dale Nickless."
Nickless whirled towards the sound. "How the hell… they don't know me… how'd they know my name…?" He glared at his two henchmen, who both looked blank; no, Parker looked blank, Earl looked about to have another accident with his trousers.
"Pulled your name on Tuesday," McGee said thickly, and Tony winced. He didn't doubt the action had started, but Probie was going to get himself killed before Gibbs could do anything. Brave, Probie, but bad idea…
"Not just us… FBI, DEA, ICE," he butted in. "They all know you…"
Nickless hesitated only a moment. "Never mind," he went on, grabbing Inez. "They don't know what I look like."
Tony rolled his head to face him. "Sure they do, … they've all seen you looking after that nice little aircraft over at Calderstones."
Izzy looked thunderstruck. "I knew I'd seen you before… you're the one who thought you'd step on my plane! The nerve –"
"Ssh,Izzy," Tony admonished, and gasped at the effort it took. He looked back at Nickless. "I told you… your only chance of staying alive –" there was a loud thud from the room above as he spoke – "is to let the women go unharmed."
The drug boss pushed Inez away from him; she stumbled and dropped to her knees beside Tim again. "Go and see what that was," Nickless hissed at Earl. The kid looked petrified, but didn't argue. As he went out into the hall, the door exploded inwards, and before he could even get his dithering brain to signal his hand to aim the gun, he was on the floor with a marine knee in his back.
Nickless aimed again at the two injured agents, but then he heard the back door crash against the wall. He and Parker ran to the kitchen, guns raised, to find a two pronged attack, from a cool blonde woman and a tall, angry man. Parker swung his gun up automatically, before it actually registered that he was facing a woman. She shot him in the chest without hesitation, and he fell without a sound. 'There you go,' he thought, as his life ebbed away, 'who'd have thought it? Still wouldn't hurt one… no way to live…"
Finding himself ignored, Ken Starling looked round, and began to get to his feet. Out through the French doors in the dining room, and no telling how far a man could get in the confusion.
"No." A calm voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned to face his daughter, levelling Tim's Glock at him. The young agent had managed to retrieve it with fumbling fingers, and passed it to her in the confusion. "This time, Dad, you stick around and face your responsibilities."
Tony, his head in Izzy's lap, and incapable of doing another thing, heard the Probie drawl in a mid-western accent that was pretty good considering, "Shoulda stayed in Kansas, Mr. Power." The SFA was still chuckling as he lost consciousness.
Paula kept her gun levelled and went to the sitting room door, as Kent Fuller ordered Nickless to drop his weapon. "You're the one who beat my agent to a vegetable," he said. "I'd really like you to resist arrest." The drug boss hesitated, then opted for life and a good lawyer, and began to raise his hands.
It would all would have been over, but for the long forgotten butternut squash. A splash of it that Izzy hadn't noticed during her nerve-wracked clean-up lurked in wait, and as Kent stepped forward to relieve the other man of his gun, he felt his foot begin to slide. He overbalanced and landed on his back, with a grunt of pain as it hurt his still tender shoulder, and found himself looking down the barrel of Nickless's gun before the healing arm could take aim again.
"Oh, he was yours, then. I really despise spineless –" Kent heard a growl of recognition; a vicious, angry growl such as he'd never have believed Blossom to be capable of, and Nickless screeched in pain as needle-sharp teeth sank into the back of his calf and clamped on. The furious dog kept pulling backwards, until Nickless in turn lost his balance, and fell sideways. His temple connected hard with the corner of the breakfast bar, and he went down and didn't get up again.
Kent Fuller climbed wearily to his knees and pulled Blossom away, petting her comfortingly; her hair was standing on end and she was shaking from head to foot. "Easy, li'l girl… you did a good job." She looked up at him for reassurance, and he stroked her head. "You remembered, didn't you?"
He went to cuff Nickless, and observed, curiously, that the drug chief's face was slack, and his hands curled into tense claws. The wound on his temple was deep, the skull clearly fractured, and he thought "No… ridiculous…" He stood up, and headed for the sitting room, with Blossom at his heels.
The room seemed to be overflowing with people, milling and mingling in a weird parody of a society cocktail party. Ziva was handing over a bewildered, relieved to be alive Aldo Gigli to the cops; Paula was describing to Gibbs how she'd shot one man dead in self-defence. He walked over to the kitchen, looking at his agents as he went by. He wanted to attend to them, but he was in charge of a crime scene here. Fuller was with them. He looked into the room, and took in one dead, one unconscious. Two paramedics, instructed by the police, came to take the injured man, and as Gibbs went back into the sitting room Fuller called him furiously.
"Triage be damned, Gibbs! These are agents that need a medic, and they go to that dirtbag?" The team leader crossed to them in three quick strides. "DiNozzo's still got a bullet in him," he went on angrily. "He's not doing so good, and McGee can't see properly. And he's in pain." At his side, Blossom whimpered anxiously, and nudged Tony hopefully with her nose.
Gibbs looked at his SFA, whose head was still in Izzy's lap, and who wore nothing on his top half but red, darkening bruises and improvised bandages. He ran a thumb over Tony's forehead, and the SFA muttered something that could have been 'boss'. He didn't try to lift Tim's lolling head, as he slumped against Fuller, but peered at his battered face closely, and squeezed his shoulder. Tim's "Boss..." was stronger.
From the other side of the room came the most welcome sound that evening. "Ah, Jethro…"
Outside the hospital lobby, a slim, dark haired woman in her early forties and a boy of about fifteen stood waiting. Kent hugged them, and handed Blossom over. Sue Fuller touched her husband's face gently, and he put his hand over hers and squeezed.
"Fuss her plenty, hmm? She's a little hero." He grimaced. "She had her revenge, Sue."
His wife looked sad. "Larry. Well, you'll tell me… go on, go see how Tony is."
He kissed her, but couldn't speak, and as he went off towards the ER entrance, the Spaniel, horror forgotten, scampered away with his family.
Time crept by, Abby arrived, Gibbs calmed her down – it wasn't as if they'd never done this before. Ducky vainly tried to persuade Gibbs to sit, and was about to get very sharp, when a doctor hurried towards them. He was short of stature, and Gibbs went for intimidating straight away; he didn't really know how else to play it– he'd done this before, too.
The doctor simply looked up and said, "You're anxious. That's why I hurried. If you'll just stop looming over me, I can tell you about Agent McGee." Gibbs took what was for him, a slightly disconcerted step back, and the doctor continued.
"Agent McGee, as you know, received a severe concussion due to a blow to the top of his head… this was exacerbated by several more blows to the face later. The soft tissue round his eyes is bruised, add to that the severe and prolonged pain caused by the concussion, which was left untreated for several hours; that was enough to cause vision problems; but there's no permanent damage. He needs complete rest, and pain medication, and he'll make a complete recovery if he's not allowed to rush things. We plan to keep him in for two days, but if all's well after that, he can go home as long as he's not alone."
He looked at the tall, earnestly nodding young woman who stood at Gibbs' shoulder. "I can see that won't be a problem. He's sleeping, but you can go and see him. I'm afraid I can't tell you anything about the other injured man, someone from the trauma team will bring news as soon as there's any to give." He waited to see if there were any questions, then asked them to follow him. Gibbs hesitated. He couldn't be in two places at once.
Fuller said, "Go see McGee. I'll stay here and wait for word on Tony, and come and tell you."
Ducky said he would go, but would return as soon as he'd seen how Timothy was. Apart from his own concern for both young men, he knew he was sometimes needed as a translator of medical jargon for the others, especially Jethro. Paula said nothing, but it was clear what she'd do. Gibbs, Ducky, Ziva and Abby all trooped away after the doctor.
Kent got two cups of tea from the vending machine, and sat down beside Paula. As he handed her a cup, he said thoughtfully, "So, rule twelve? Something about dating a co-worker by the sound of it."
"Most of Gibbs' rules that I've heard of make sense. That one's stupid. Thanks for the tea."
"We're not. We're both players. We just hook up from time to time. Tony's fun, is all." She shut up again, and he didn't push it. They sat in silence, sipping the hot liquid, until Ducky came back.
"Timothy is doing fine," he said in answer to their silent enquiry. "He has suffered a great deal of pain, which is very debilitating of course, but that's under control now. He seemed to have some anxiety that he was going to be blamed for what he did today, but Jethro was remarkably tolerant about that… I have no idea what was going through his mind… no news of young Anthony, I take it?"
Kent shook his head, and then looked more closely at the ME, whose wise and kindly face was somewhat clouded. "What is it, Dr. Mallard? What are you thinking?"
"Ah… that sometimes it's very difficult to think what you ought to think, and not what you want to." He took a deep breath. "Anthony told me about poor Laurence Pearson. Now, I'm a Medical Examiner, and I know the sort of wanton violence that must take place in order to cause injury such as his. So am I wrong in thinking there's a certain justice in… well, I enquired about Nickless on my way down here; it's impossible to assess how much at the moment, but apparently his temple was completely stove in, and there will be permanent, and possibly severe brain damage… dear boy, I'm so sorry, I should have put it a bit more gently…"
There were tears running down Fuller's cheeks, and he passed his hand over his eyes. "Poetic justice… I told my wife that Blossom got her revenge…" his blue eyes flashed, still glittering with tears. "Dr. Mallard, don't feel guilty about your thoughts…I'm not sure I wouldn't rather he'd rotted in hell."
He was saved from what he imagined would be the disgust of the old ME's reaction, by the entry of a doctor, still in her scrubs.
"Dr. Mallard… we always meet under these circumstances… Agent DiNozzo lost a lot of blood; his shoulder blade was cracked when he was kicked, and the bullet was driven up under his collar bone, which would have caused great pain. We went in from the front to remove it –" she handed it to him in an evidence jar – "We felt it was better to do that than dig through all the bruised tissue on his back. He must keep the arm immobilised until we say he can move it, and then he'll need some physiotherapy, but we expect him to recover full use of his arm." At that point she did a double-take. "Agent Fuller! I didn't recognise you with your clothes on, as they say. How is your shoulder?"
"Oh, fine since you fixed it, Dr. Brand. Can we see him?"
"I'll send someone to fetch you as soon as he's settled. You know the drill, Dr. Mallard." She smiled and went back to her work.
He didn't look too bad, all things considered, Paula thought, as her gut finally began to stop the churning it had been doing ever since Officer David had reported that he was hurt. She'd been to see him in the aftermath of the plague, and thought 'only you, DiNozzo', but her gut hadn't churned like it did now.
She took his hand – the one that wasn't strapped to his body under the hospital gown, then she put it down again. She caught the surprise in Fuller's blue gaze, but didn't hold his glance. She sat silently for a while, watching DiNozzo's still face, the eyelashes flat and unmoving on his cheeks, and finally said, in a low, hard voice, "I said we were players."
"He is. I am. But… he wanted to change that. He wanted more. I… I was afraid. I've always been afraid… of this… I – I can't do this. I can't love him." She stood up. "Tell him… tell him, I hope he feels better soon… tell him not to call me…"
Fuller watched her as she struggled, thought of how his wife had handled this, realised just how much he was loved, and finally said softly, "If you did love him, you'd do this. As many times as it took."
"Yeah… I guess." She turned and left the room quickly, nearly knocking Gibbs over as she went. "Rule twelve," she snapped at him. "You were right." She walked away with her chin held high.
Tony's eyes were open. "Boss…. Probie OK?"
"He's fine, DiNozzo. Or he will be…"
"He did good, Boss. He's got guts. Hey… Kent… you OK?"
"I'm doin' fine, Tony. What about you?"
The injured man looked at the open door and shrugged his one good shoulder. He pulled his goofball personality round him like a cloak and smiled wryly.
"Guess I could do with a beer."
AN: I don't know anything about brain injuries, or the damage that causes them. And it may be a little contrived, but if you've read my GCC you'll know I like karma.