A/N: Written for Sergeant Conley. Four parts.
- PART I -
Somewhere high above him, the rope breaks with a jolt of snapping fibres.
He falls. There is a second of blank, vacant fear when the rope goes limp in his hand. In the dark there is no concept of falling but the cry whipped away from his mouth.
Then he hits water; his chest drives inward. White boils over his head, the rope slices through the water to smack into his shoulders. The shock of cold forces his mouth wide, but he cannot breathe.
No other thought. It is cold, and he cannot breathe.
He thrashes, fights the blackness. His fists hit stone and he claws at the rock, dragging himself above water. He chokes on half air and half rancid water, stares up and up to the small jagged circle of light above him.
They say you can see stars from the bottom of a well. From here, it looks like the sun – above him, the sky is just yellowing from the dawn.
Then a shadow passes; the crescent thins, the sun shrinks away to darkness. No afterglow.
There's just nothing.
There's no light at all.
The walls are stone, covered in slime. His hands slide away as he clings to the grooves in the rock. He gasps for breath, scrabbling madly at the walls. Water soaks upward through his clothes, slaps against his head in his thrashing. He feels the weight of it dragging him down; water nips at his ears. The rope is coiled around his ankle, growing heavier with ever second. It is only as his head is dragged beneath the water that he is able to shake his foot free.
It's dark, but sound bounces across the walls. He hears his sobbing breath reflected over and over, and it startles him into silence.
Just the slaps of water against rock, and his heart thudding in his chest as he treads water.
Not as cold as it was, but it takes his breath away. His arms are shivering, his chest aches. But he is not hurt, he is not dead. He tells himself to wait, finding fingerholds in the rock. Maybe soon his eyes will adjust; then he can climb free. His mind starts to return; slinks in, scared and low.
He saw nothing. Just woke at three AM when a gun was rammed against his throat; never saw the man holding it because the bag was over his head that fast. Dragged downstairs to be thrown into the trunk of his own car, to fight duct tape for what was surely hours - seeing as how light the sky was when they pulled him out, and the bleakness of the place. Though he looked around during the slow march up the hill, he could see nothing. Not even a road. Just him, them, and the pit in the earth.
Not once was he given a sign of why. The only words spoken were the choice they gave him at the top of the pit.
Be lowered down, or thrown.
He can see nothing; it's been a while now. Guess his eyes can't adjust to no light at all. There's nothing to see, anyway. Just a white faced man that'll still be wearing his star trek T-shirt when they find him dead. And he doesn't understand. Wants the why of those three silent men who dropped him down here.
What did I do to you?
"Either you say something now or forever hold your peace, because the phone is going down my garbage disposal at the end of this call."
"That'd be a bad idea."
"…And why would that be?"
"Why do you keep calling me?"
"What time is it?"
"You got a point you're working towards?"
"It's very important that you look at the time, Agent Gibbs."
"Because you've only got twenty two hours left."
"…twenty two hours until what?"
"Probably a bad idea to get rid of the phone."
There it is again.
The feeling of earth crumbling under his feet, though it was so solid just a minute ago. Surely he's learnt by now that these things are not set in stone, that the earth can shift and buck suddenly beneath him. He should know this things are coming.
He never knows.
He's out the door in under two minutes.
"He's not in yet. Is—"
"What about Abby?"
"I have not seen her—"
"Can you find out who the last person to call my cell was?"
"I am not as fast as McGee, but…"
"What's happened, Boss?"
"I don't know yet."
"If I knew, ya think I would have said?"
"I cannot find anything."
"According to your records, you have received no calls since yesterday afternoon. The last logged was Agent Farnsworth."
"Someone has called me four times since 3 AM. I talked to them."
"What did they say?"
"Twenty two hours."
"…Until what?… Boss! Where the hell is he going?"
"Abby. But Tony…"
"This is bad, this is very bad. Did you see his face? It's like Nightmare on Elmstreet, when you hear Freddy sharpening his nails down the phone."
"Actually, knowing Gibbs, this is probably going to be more like Alex in Fatal Attraction-"
"…Where is McGee?"
She drives with her foot crushing the accelerator to the floor. Tony digs his fingers into the upholstery, but doesn't say a word.
It had only taken four words for Gibbs to send them out, he and Abby bent over the computer. That, and seeing Abby's eyes widen.
McGee is never late.
There's a prickling across his cheeks, like burning. The old fear is tugging at his ribs, but he's not quite ready to get scared.
While they drives he rationalises, because there's nothing else to do and Ziva's jaw is clenched too tight for conversation. For all he knows they will arrive and get a call from McGee, already at the office and now very annoyed that they just kicked his door down. Maybe his alarm didn't go off and he'll have a heart attack when they storm into his bedroom with guns.
The last one comes as Ziva brakes in front of his building, the jerk sending the seatbelt cutting into his chest.
Maybe he's been dead since yesterday, and they never felt anything at all.
He fumbles for the spare key they dug out of his desk, nearly drops it as they move through the quiet halls. His eyes are on the ground, because by instinct he checks for blood drops and footprints. Nothing but dust and mud streaks. Somehow, that makes his heart beat faster.
His gut is not like Gibbs. He can't sense these things coming. This fear is growing with iron bands around his chest and his lungs are starting to wheeze. All he can do is wait for that final stab right through the heart, which comes as there is no doubt something has gone drastically wrong.
They pause outside his door, listen. Ziva reaches to twist the door handle, and it turns completely. Unlocked.
There. Spike shooting through his chest. He grips his gun tighter.
She throws open the door, and they are through with guns up.
The words they had, whatever they were, die as they stare.
"I'm sorry, Gibbs. Ziva was right. There's nothing on the official records."
"Look, Abbs. I've got it in my call history."
"I know, that's what makes this weird. I mean, they'd have had to go in and delete these calls from the server. That means direct connections with the host. I mean, I don't even think the CIA could do that... not in three hours, anyway."
"Can you work out who did?"
"No. Not in anything like the time you need. Or without breaking the phone. But…"
"McGee... might have been able to."
"He's okay, isn't he?"
All of it was gone.
No bookcase. No desk. No couch, no table, no curtains. No typewriter. Bare walls, bare floor. A room of nothing.
She takes a step forward, gun still up and not quite believing. The room seems suddenly much bigger with nothing in it, filled with its vacancy and silence.
Tony moves into the kitchen, where the fridge sits silent. That calms her slightly; for it means it is not magic, not a trick of her mind. It is a human fault to not be able to carry a fridge. It is empty when he opens it, as are the cupboard. She looks in the bedroom, and although there are slight dents in the carpet where the bed and bedside table used to rest, it is empty.
She thinks vaguely she should have somehow guessed, given Gibbs's look when he sent them here. He had that look her father sometimes wore, right before people began dying. Though Gibbs at least had the decency to try and hide it.
Tony leaves abruptly, heading downstairs to check for a car. She stands in the silence, uncomprehending.
They have erased him. There is nothing left, not even a fingerprint in the bathroom. Even the smell has been stolen; she always fancied his home smelt faintly of peanut butter toast. The only smell now is of something piney, like a cleaner.
The thought jerks her into focus; she follows it, comes to near the wall beside the window. There used to be a poster here, she remembers; some old space movie she'd never heard of. There is a faint gleam on the wood. She touches it, feels the stickiness of where the tape was removed.
He was here. They did not imagine him. But someone else was here too; Someone had come and removed him, to prove a point.
But what is the point?
Where had the flesh and blood McGee gone?
She heard the door click behind her, turned around to tell Tony of the mark. Then she froze.
"Twenty one hours now, Agent Gibbs."
"Where is he?"
"Agent McGee. What did you do to him."
"Oh, him? He's dead."
"Ask your agents. They're at his house now."
"He is not dead."
"Hmm. Feel it in your gut, Gibbs?"
"If he were dead, the deadline is irrelevant."
"You've misunderstood the nature of the deadline, Gibbs. That's how long until the last phonecall. That'll be when I tell you the last of your agents are dead."
"…Who are you?"
"You have to be more careful with your questions. You only get one. That better not be it."
"Twenty hours and thirty minutes. You have fun now."
Not even a grease spot.
He climbs slowly up the stairs, hesitating to return to that room. Then the thing that bothers him most causes him to pause on the second flight of stairs.
It's never him
It's never McGee. He who somehow avoids being the one who gets hurt, probably because the universe knows that of all of them, he deserves it least.
But yet, somehow, it is always Gibbs; he is the target, always. They are convenient dogs to kill to prove a point. He saw her die in front of his eyes, and now its happening all over again.
Maybe he was an easy target… no. Not an easy target. Not anymore. But he must have been important, they must have needed him out of the way.
He's just coming out the door to McGee's floor when he hears the gunshot.
There is a sudden flash of heat on his face; then he's running, gun already out (why did you leave her?) as he throws open the door.
They're on the floor. Ziva and some strange man. He has a sudden moment of reflection that this must have been how it looked when she found him with Michael Rivkin. Judging by the man and the hole she blew in his chest, he's equally doomed.
Ziva struggles to her feet, clutching her bleeding side. The man still grips the knife, edge glowing red.
"I am fine. You, talk."
"You heard her."
"You s… shouldn't have p-pissed him off like that."
"Where is he?"
"We killed him, Anthony DiNozzo. Agent McGee is dead."