Summary: What if there were no terrorist in the warehouse to ruin Ari's perfect shot of McGee? (Spoilers for Twilight) Very mild Highlander Crossover. Canon character death ONLY.
Disclaimer: Not mine, and no money made here.
With thanks to Precious Pup—who rocks!—for the beta ;-)
His eyes scan the horizon from the second Kate's body hits the roof. There's not a flash of movement, not a hint of sunlight hitting a scope, not even a sound beyond the distant traffic, the faint cry of seagulls, and Tony's harsh breathing behind him.
Gibbs swallows hard, but he knows Ari's already gone, already gotten what he came for. But as long as he keeps his eyes on the naked buildings around him, Gibbs can't turn around to look at Kate's body splayed out in blood between him and DiNozzo.
"McGee," a breath of a sound escaping Gibbs' lips. "McGee," he hollers into his earpiece this time, fear creeping up on him like a vise grip in his chest.
He looks above Kate's body, past it to DiNozzo. "No," Tony just shakes his head, and Gibbs can see the panic rising in his senior agent in that frantic jerking.
DiNozzo takes off, runs through the building and down the stairs. Gibbs trails him, keeps his pace. When he gets to the ground floor, Tony throws the door open, slams it against the side of the building. From behind him, Gibbs can see McGee's legs, sticking out, unmoving, from the far side of the car.
McGee's leg jolts in the distance. "He's alive," DiNozzo yells in triumph. Tony rounds their vehicle first. "Oh God, he's alive," a scream this time.
And when Gibbs comes around the car, the sight steals his breath from his lungs—McGee laid out beside the car, eyes blinking, limbs twitching, grey matter slowly leaking out of the hole that sideswiped his head just shy of the mercy necessary to kill him quickly.
Tony rounds McGee's side, grabs Tim's hand in his. His other palm hovers around McGee's neck for a moment, indecisive, until Tony finally rests it on Tim's shoulder. "Probie," Tony whispers, barely breathing himself.
Gibbs drops to his knees at McGee's feet, glad for the sting of the rocks and glass cutting through his pants to his skin. He needs that pain. He deserves so much more for his egotistical miscalculation. He grips McGee's ankle, the scent of iron and death filling his nostrils as McGee's blood soaks the asphalt beneath him.
He feels the twitch in McGee's leg as the younger man fights to live. But the wound is too much for anyone's body to overcome. McGee's already dead. His body's just catching up to the fact.
"We're here, Tim," Gibbs locks his jaw, tries to lock away the scream in his throat, the pain bleeding into every part of him. McGee needs him calm and certain. He deserves some measure of peace in his last moments. "You're not alone," Gibbs offers the only sort of reassurance you can really give to a dying man.
McGee raises his eyes to look at Gibbs, brow furrowed, uncomprehending. Gibbs gnashes his teeth together and fights hard not to look away.
"Tony," McGee says, his gaze moving to the other man, "My head," and his fingers twitch as if he's trying to point.
"I know," Tony chokes, almost hyperventilating as the splatters of Kate's drying blood yield to tear tracks running down his cheeks.
McGee shuts his eyes, his features relaxing, and Gibbs tightens his grip and holds his breath. "No," the boy forces the word with a heave of his chest. "Help," he gasps and opens his eyes. "Put it back…together," his words are just this side of unintelligible, and this time, body shaking with effort, McGee does twitch his fingers far enough to point towards his head.
Tony nods frantically, "Right," his says, a strangled sound, and follows the direction as if it's a realistic, obvious request that Tony should have thought of already. Hands trembling, Tony reaches for the pieces of McGee's skull and the bits of brain matter he can scavenge from the ground.
McGee's breath comes heavily. He's fighting so hard, and it's terrible and incredible, and Gibbs should have known the kid had it in him to hold on for so long, but now underestimating McGee is just another regret Gibbs'll have from now on.
"Push," McGee insists when Tony just tries to hold Tim's broken pieces beside his head.
Gibbs breathes hard out of his nose. It's not worth it to cause McGee more pain than he has to have, but it's what McGee's asking for, and it's something Tony can do for him.
And so Gibbs keeps his mouth shut, and Tony obeys like he can't imagine doing anything else. McGee's leg seizes up under Gibbs' hand, his gaze becoming less clouded for just a moment as he breathes through the increased intensity of the pain.
"Harder," McGee orders, his voice stronger, gaining that momentum that some men get just before they die.
"Probie," Tony gasps—the only sob Gibbs has ever heard from him—but Tony pushes harder in unwilling compliance.
McGee's breaths come more slowly now, a softening and slowing wheeze with every slight rise and fall of his chest. Gibbs tightens his grip on McGee even more, hoping the boy can feel him there with him, hoping he finds comfort in it, maybe even hoping to tether McGee there to himself.
The harsh gulping breaths cease about another thirty seconds later. And then there's silence. And the silence left over is like another death by itself.
Tony's tears stall, as if even they wish to respect the stillness of the dead. None of this should be happening—Kate dead on the roof just as the elation and relief of that close call had really hit them, McGee dead on the street where he should have been relatively sheltered from the gunfire. It's too fucking much.
He doesn't know how long he and Tony sit there in the alley without speaking. They need to get up, secure the scene, call Ducky, call Director Morrow, make sure the local LEOs can find the scene through the maze of warehouses. But Tony doesn't move, and Gibbs doesn't say a word.
"Why?" Tony sniffs loudly, breaking the near reverence for their dead in the quiet between the men. "I can't…Not both of them, Boss." Tony brushes his fingers against McGee's brow—lightly, with exaggerated and completely heartfelt care—giving comfort that will never be received.
And Kate's prone form transposes over McGee's in Gibb's mind, and Gibbs closes his eyes against the image only to see each of his dead agents dying anew beneath his lids. "They didn't die alone," is all there is to say.
Later, he'll have to tell Kate's parents and McGee's parents how they died with honor in service to their country, how they saved lives, but those words don't exist between Gibbs and Tony, because they know firsthand, despite the honor, despite the worthiness of their sacrifice, they both deserved better.
McGee's eyes are still open, and Tony doesn't shut them and won't look away from them either. Tony won't even move his hand from where it still reaches around to the back of McGee's head, as if he could hold in that incredible brain of McGee's if he presses hard enough. As if McGee could still be saved.
Gibbs lays a hand on Tony's shoulder, offering him whatever peace he can and hoping to find a little bit of strength from the contact himself. There's nothing they can do for McGee now, nothing they can do for either of their fallen agents. Gibbs retrieves his cell phone from his pocket, clearing his throat and trying to work up to what he has to say to the emergency responders. He shuts his eyes against the thought.
"Haaah!" a sucking breath below them makes Gibbs drop his phone.
Gibbs opens his eyes to see McGee blinking and reaching out to grab Tony's shirt.
"Oh my God!" Tony shakes where he's sitting, hands visibly trembling where he's still holding on to McGee. Gibbs grabs McGee's leg again, grip fierce, his heartbeat as fast as a train as he checks for a pulse in McGee's ankle.
"McGee!" he shakes his agent's leg when he finds McGee's blood pumping under his skin after the second try. "McGee!" Gibbs hollers in disbelief, and McGee looks right at him.
"Boss?" McGee blinks, his chest moving cleanly, unlabored.
"Probie?" Tony immediately smiles at the strength in McGee's tone. Tony turns his head and twists his shoulder to swipe at his nose with the bit of sleeve covering his shoulder. "You're alive! Boss!" Tony tilts his head towards him without glancing away from McGee. "Call an ambulance. He's gonna make it! You're gonna make it," he whispers fiercely to McGee like he won't take no for an answer. DiNozzo keeps his hand pressed to the back of McGee's head, his shoulders rising with renewed hope.
Gibbs barely picks up his phone when McGee lifts his own hand to Tony's where it grips the side of his head, fingers prying away to loosen the older man's grip.
"Don't call," McGee says softly, hesitantly. "I'm okay."
Gibbs shakes his head, McGee was shot through his skull. He must be delirious to think he's alright, except his eyes are clear, and he's moving smoothly, without pain. As if to prove his words, McGee tries to sit up. Both Tony and Gibbs each lay a firm hand on the probie.
"No, no, Tim. Be still," Gibbs orders, and pulls his other hand up to dial the phone, except…with his eyes on McGee now, Gibbs hesitates, doesn't move a finger towards the buttons because less than a minute ago, McGee wasn't breathing, and now, aside from the blood all over his head and his shirt, he doesn't look hurt at all.
"Boss," Tony looks back at him when he doesn't hear Gibbs make the phone call. "What the hell are you doing? Give me the damn phone!" he orders, but doesn't make a grab for it, doesn't dare jostle his grip on McGee's head.
"Look at him, Tony," Gibbs jerks his head towards McGee. "He was dead a minute ago!" Tony locks his jaw at Gibbs' words. "You don't come back from that. No one does."
The two older agents stare at one another, twin deadlocked glares not backing down. When this newest silence is broken, it's by McGee.
"I do, Boss," McGee confesses, eyes wide and unclouded and sincere. "I come back from that," McGee purses his lips together. "I don't know why, but I do."
McGee tries to sit up again, but Tony won't give an inch, so Tim shuffles his feet instead, and Gibbs obligingly lets go of his ankle. McGee raises his knees, feet flat on the asphalt.
"I swear, I'm okay," he promises. "Feel my head," he offers, trying to get Tony to budge his fingers, "the wound's already healed."
Tony shakes his own noggin back and forth, "No," he refuses to ease his palm away, as if his grip really is the only thing keeping McGee alive.
"Tony, you have to let me up before anyone else gets here," McGee begs, jaw locked. "What do you think they'll do to me if they find out my body can do this?"
"You need an ambulance," Tony insists, but Gibbs can see the doubt in his posture, the confusion in the way he holds his lip.
McGee looks to Gibbs, "Boss?"
Gibbs narrows his gaze at the boy, watches him plead for trust with his eyes, and then Gibbs does what he always does when faced with an impossible decision: He trusts his gut. "DiNozzo, get the first aid kit from the trunk."
"Boss!" Tony whips his head towards him, eyes wide and betrayed.
Gibbs vaults into DiNozzo's space and twists Tony's head with a sharp jolt to force his senior agent's eyes to McGee, "Look at him, Tony!" he orders once again. "Really look at him!" Tony's breathing becomes harsher when Gibbs shoves him down a little more with a palm to the back of the head. "He's not going to die!" he promises. "But he still needs us to save him."
Tony angles his head back towards Gibbs, confusion muddying his features.
"Go get the kit," Gibbs levels his stare.
Tony takes a harsh breath but eases his grip on McGee's head by increments. When McGee nods and remains intact, Tony slowly lets him go a little more, finally settling McGee's head onto the ground. DiNozzo stands up, eyes never leaving McGee, and fetches the first aid box from the trunk.
McGee sits up the moment Tony reaches into the boot.
"Where's Kate?" McGee asks. When neither of the other men answers, McGee looks at them a little more closely. "Where is she?" more softly this time, voice trembling.
When Gibbs shakes his head, McGee drops his eyes and bites a pinch of his lower lip. He stands abruptly, walks a few feet away before either Gibbs or Tony can react.
Gibbs locks his jaw, amazed despite himself at McGee's mobility. He moves in behind McGee, not sure himself if he means to catch Tim if he falls or to tackle him if he tries to run away. He clasps the younger man's shoulder, the bloody mess of the back of his head showing no visible injuries. Tony must be able to spot it, too, because Gibbs can practically feel his senior agent's disbelief coming off him in waves.
"Get out the alcohol, the gauze, and tape," Gibbs demands of Tony, his gaze locked on the evidence of McGee's unbelievable recovery. "We have to hurry."
They do a rush job of it, throwing the wipes they use to remove the worst of the blood into a plastic bag before they wrap an unearthly amount of gauze around the matted area where the wound magically disappeared. Both Gibbs and Tony take a good look up close and thoroughly but quickly probe the unblemished area on the back of McGee's skull before they cover it up.
Gibbs calls 911 just as Tony piles on another whopping hunk of tape to McGee's bandage. The police cars are literally three warehouses down from them when Gibbs calls the emergency response. Kate had been the one to make the call the first time, a bare twenty minutes ago, when the team had first notified the local LEOs of the impending terrorist attack. The four of them hadn't known then which building Ari had settled the cell into, which building Kate would die atop.
The cops come in two cars. Tony stares at Tim, a dumb look plastered on his features, as Gibbs lays out the situation for the LEOs. The two sets of patrolmen watch his agents with concern while Gibbs explains Kate's dead body on the roof of the building beside them and McGee's bullet wound, a graze, Gibbs forces himself to say, to the head.
"He's in shock," one of the older patrolmen points to Tony.
Gibbs tilts his chin. "Sending them to the hospital as soon as the first ambulance gets here."
"The ambulance is a ways out. The first one they sent ran into an accident on the way over. He needs to go now," the man insists. "They both should," he points a finger towards the thick bandage spanning McGee's head, covering a blanket of scabs but not a single wound.
Gibbs nods reluctantly. "Can you take him?" Gibbs squints when he asks, not wanting the boys out of his sight, but knowing even still that Tony may really need help, and Tim's got to get out of here before Ducky arrives, otherwise the good doctor will insist on examining the nonexistent injury. "Our car's part of the crime scene now."
"Absolutely," the patrolman nods in assurance, seeming to sense Gibbs' hesitance if not the reasoning behind it.
Gibbs nods his thanks and walks to McGee. He pauses in front of him, unable to keep from staring at McGee's face, at the animation behind his eyes. Gibbs shakes his head to get himself back on track. "Tim, I need you to make sure Tony's okay," he instructs, voice low, but not whispering, not wanting to call attention to his words, "and then you need to leave the hospital as soon as you can do it without anyone noticing. Go somewhere to clean up and then call me when you get settled," he orders, hoping his words can give McGee the direction he needs to keep the two of them safe since Gibbs can't do it himself.
"Yes, Boss," McGee nods, brows furrowed and mouth twitching with whatever he wants to say but can't right now.
McGee turns to leave, but Gibbs grabs his arm. He squeezes tight, not wanting to let go. McGee looks right back at Gibbs and lifts his brows, eyes wide and as innocent as McGee's have always been. Gibbs pats the younger man's cheek, fingers spanning underneath his jawline. McGee drops his chin a touch, his eyes warming up to somewhere between pleasure and embarrassment at the display of affection, and he clasps Gibbs' arm in return. Then Gibbs lets him and Tony get into the back of the police car, and he turns back to take care of Kate.