17

A/N: This is a weird story for me. I tend toward epics. I challenged myself to write a whole story in a one shot with all the emotion but not all the pages of dialogue. I am curious to know what you think. Sheila

The House on the Hill

McGee lay in the grass face up in a ditch, breathing in short bursts. The right side of his face was wet with blood. Shock had stolen movement from him, and he seemed frozen in place. He was certain he was dying, and it panicked him a lot less than he'd anticipated. In fact, his attention was less focused on his own demise and more on the situation up on the road.

The team had stopped at the abandoned farm on a wet spring afternoon. They were in the midst of a furious search for homegrown terrorists. Evidence of a weapons cache had surfaced, and the team was searching properties owned by a White supremacy group oddly named Patriots of Peace.

It was supposed to be a simple check. The farmyard was deserted and quiet. All of them had gotten out of the sedan and spread out; Tony and Ziva went through the farmhouse while McGee followed the boss into the barn.

It was damp and moldy inside, and McGee felt a tightening in his chest. He assumed it was the vestiges of his childhood asthma and ignored. The bales of hay were old, and McGee winced when rats scurried along the back wall. The only light they found came from the breaks in the wall, letting in sunlight, and McGee only brought one flashlight into the barn. After a minute of squinting, Gibbs grabbed the flashlight from him and gestured at him to get another.

McGee trotted out of the barn, and saw Ziva and Tony on the porch. Tony gave him a thumbs up. The search of the small house was complete. McGee nodded and headed for the trunk of the sedan. He was rummaging around through equipment when he heard the first shot. He jumped back, pulling his gun out of his coat. He trained it across the farmyard looking for the shooter. Before he could complete his survey, there was an explosion in his head.

Gibbs had reached the door of the barn when he saw a bullet hit McGee in the head and sent him hurtling into the ditch. Every sense within him lit up, and he had to restrain himself from running to check on the boy. He found Tony on the ground training his gun into the woods behind the farmhouse, and Ziva was perched behind the porch steps, but her attention was on McGee's disappearance into the ditch. She was poised to run.

"Ziva! Don't move!" He barked from his vantage point.

She ignored him, and started running, crouched, toward the sedan. She only made it three steps when another shot rang out, hitting her in the side. She fell to the ground.

"Tony!" Gibbs barked.

DiNozzo was like a predator. His eyes were in the right place when the shot came, and he fired four shots into the trees. Then there was a thud in the grass, and he stepped out from behind the porch, gun still trained at the trees.

Gibbs started to run toward Ziva when a voice rang out.

"Stop and drop your weapons or she dies!" The ground around Ziva's body was ripped apart by gunfire. Gibbs and DiNozzo looked around wildly, trying to locate the weapons. Then Gibbs raised one hand while putting his weapon on the ground. Tony saw this and did the same.

Then men appeared, five of them from the trees. They were rough men wearing camouflage and combat boots, but they weren't military. They carried big guns, high-powered rifles and 44 Magnums. Gibbs cursed as they emerged. It was an ambush. He'd led the best law enforcement team in the Navy into an ambush, and now two of his people were down. If there was a way he could die for all of them, he would gladly take it, but the situation didn't lend itself to heroics. It was all about Ziva laying in her own blood and his youngest agent lying in a ditch with a bullet in his head.

Hands pushed him and DiNozzo against the side of the farmhouse while they were searched. Gibbs didn't try to conceal anything, and they easily located his back up weapon and knife. Tony was red in the face, and Gibbs knew he was spoiling for a showdown. The two people he cared most for in this world were on the ground and he was helpless. Gibbs caught his eye and gave him a hard look. He wanted Tony to know that he was still the leader, and there was to be no improvising.

The head of the terrorist cell was a man named Baker, a former Marine, who had recently made the FBI's ten most wanted list. He was the one Gibbs was hunting. He was the one that NCIS wanted. Vance had figured it would take a Marine to find a Marine, and that's how Gibbs' team caught this case.

"Baker, what's the plan for this little filly?"

Gibbs turned his head to see one of Baker's filthy men with his boot on Ziva's hip. She grit her teeth in pain.

"Don't touch her!" DiNozzo erupted before another man stuck a huge handgun in his temple. Tony started breathing like a bull.

"Easy Tony," Gibbs drawled. "This is my game."

DiNozzo nodded and stayed still with the gun nestled in his temple.

Gibbs turned to Baker. "I'm Special Agent Leroy Jethro with Naval Criminal Investigative Services."

Baker nodded. "I been waiting to meet you for some time."

"We're Federal agents, and I'm sure you can imagine what will happen if you let this thing spiral out of control."

Baker shrugged. "We kill all of you and no one's the wiser."

"You know better than that. FBI has you on the big list now, and they know what we're hunting. You make a wrong move here and your group is going to be hunted by every law enforcement agency in the country and the armed forces. Your group will have a shelf life shorter than Bonnie and Clyde."

"Let's execute them!" Came a stray call.

Gibbs kept his face impassive. He knew that Baker had built his militia out of idiots and sadists. There would be little of the discipline one might expect in a well-organized terrorist cell.

He watched Baker consider his options for a moment. Then the man yelled, "Get your damn boot off that woman, you animal! Load her in the truck! I want these two trussed up good and thrown in with her!"

"What about the first one we got?"

Baker squinted. "We got enough to handle with one wounded prisoner. Finish him if he's not dead."

"No!" yelled Tony. "You need him! He's a geek! Computer expert! He's a frickin' genius! He can do things for you!"

Baker shook his head. "I don't need your genius."

Gibbs shook his head. "He's an admiral's son, Baker. Do you hear me? They'll pay to bring him home."

Baker looked from Tony to Gibbs. "Thank you. You've both offered compelling arguments. Keeping him alive makes sense."

Gibbs started to relax when Baker whirled around and shouted at one of his men. "Go over to the ditch! If he's still breathing, pump four more into his face. I want there to be nothing left on his neck but a bloody stump!"

Tony shouted in protest and someone kicked him hard in the stomach.

"Baker, that's a bad move! Listen to me, Baker. If you need to send a message, you send it with me, Baker! I'm your target!" Gibbs struggled against the men pushing him into the truck.

Baker walked over and grabbed Gibbs' face. "He dies because you dictate nothing to me. You don't manipulate me. You don't influence me. I don't like the sound of your voice and I'll kill another one. You hear me!"

Gibbs wrenched his face away and choked on a reply. He couldn't risk another response. He had two others to protect.

…..

McGee regained use of his limbs at about the time Gibbs was begging for his life. His only option was to play dead, but he was certain that Baker's man was going to take the time to check that he wasn't still breathing. His left hand splashed in the drainage water at the bottom of the ditch. He rolled toward it. It was at least two feet deep. There was only one way to make this work and he wasn't good at holding his breath. With no other option, McGee slipped into the water face first and let the top half of his body float limp.

He had to let his mind slip off to a simpler time to stave off panic, remembering days at the beach when he was a boy. Running into the surf or building forts in the sand with little Sarah, her long brown hair wet and streaked across her face. She was just a toddler then, wearing a yellow suit with ruffles. He thought of his fair skinned mother wearing hats and reading books of poetry while he played in the surf. He remembered the sense of responsibility he felt even as a 9 year old to watch over his mother and sister while his father was away.

At that moment, there was an explosion to McGee's left and then another right above his ear and then a couple more. Fear filled his gut, but he held on, imagining the water as an adventure the way he did when he was small, urging his mother to finish making sandwiches and packing sodas in a cooler so they could get in the car and go to the beach. He remembered running around securing all of the toys that Sarah demanded be taken, wriggling under the couch to grab the neon pink jelly sandals she wanted for her plump little feet.

He saw himself drifting away. His memories were starting to fade to black, and then he realized that he had to make a choice about this world and he lifted his head, gasping for air.

…..

Gibbs' head jerked with every gunshot fired into that ditch. Then he closed his eyes and turned his face into the hard metal of the pickup. Ziva lay next to him, sobbing softly while Tony lay in the opposite corner shedding angry tears and cursing into the duct tape across his mouth.

…..

McGee was wet but alive. Dust billowed down into the ditch as two trucks sped away. He crawled back up onto the grass, but had energy for nothing else. It took minutes for him to think about taking inventory of what he had on him. He found his gun and cell phone, both of which were waterlogged. He still had his knife and he found the flashlight he'd grabbed from the trunk. In his coat pocket, he miraculously found the keys to the sedan. It was seldom that he was ever allowed to drive, but today had been one of those days.

Slowly, he inched his way up to the road. The sedan was still there, the trunk popped open. The terrorists knew better than to run around the countryside with a car from a Federal agency. It took several tries for him to get to his feet, and he did only by clinging to a door handle and then leaning against the door. He tumbled into the front seat. He lay across the front seat for a while as his body protested his movements. He spied Ziva's scarf on the floor and grabbed it. It was a pretty cotton one she'd gotten from Tel Aviv the last time she was there and he knew how much she liked it, but Ziva David was the most practical of women, and she would understand his need for it. He used to carefully wipe the side of his face. Once he got to the wound, he was able to ascertain that it was only a graze. The most he'd have to worry about was a headache and possible concussion. Carefully, he tied the beautiful scarf around his head to contain the bleeding.

When he pulled himself upright, he could see how ridiculous he looked with a flowered scarf on his head, but none of that mattered. He turned the key in the ignition, and slowly backed out of the driveway.

…..

Gibbs estimated that they drove no more than 45 minutes before they stopped. When they got out, he found that they were in a heavily wooded area with a couple of one-story buildings. He and DiNozzo were pushed past these buildings and down a trail on the side of a hill. Brush was pulled aside revealing an old mining entrance. Inside, Baker and his people had converted the old mine into a bunker of sorts. There was cheap wood paneling on the walls and a generator providing power. They passed a series of rooms, and were deposited in the last one. Gibbs looked around frantically for Ziva and was about to protest when a heavyset man came in with her slung over his shoulder. He dropped her to the ground none too gently and she howled in discomfort.

They had tied them with cheap rope, and Gibbs was already working through the knots impervious to the pain of rope sawing through flesh.

McGee drove in fits and starts. He could concentrate for a few minutes, but then his vision would start to blur, and he would weave around the road. His speedometer showed that he was driving no more than 20 miles, but the goal was to get somewhere in one piece. It was getting dark when he pulled into a truck stop on the state line to West Virginia. He tumbled out of the sedan, clinging to the car door and yelled for help.

Gibbs' wrists were raw and bleeding by the time he finished untying himself and DiNozzo. He ignored the pain while he and Tony knelt next to Ziva in the small, cold room and attempted to assess her injuries with a single, naked light bulb as their guide.

Tony took off his jacket and wrapped it around her gently. Gibbs could see that there was both an entrance and an exit wound, and he thanked God that there wasn't a bullet still rattling around inside her gut. He pulled off his cotton t-shirt and tore it into strips. Together, he and Tony carefully wrapped her wounds. She bore it with clenched teeth.

"Tony, sit against the wall. I'm going to put her in your lap. This floor is too cold for her. She'll get hypothermic."

Tony wrapped his arms around her gently and she rested her head in his chest. Then she began to sob into his shirt. "Is it the pain, Ziva?" he whispered into her hair.

"They took him away from us, Tony," she sobbed. "I never knew it would hurt so much. I've seen so much in my life, but even losing Ari doesn't compare to what it feels like to lose him."

"I know, baby. I know."

Gibbs leaned against the cell wall and squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't afford to show any weakness. He had to be an impenetrable force if they were going to survive this ordeal.

…..

There was a tiny diner at the truck stop, and McGee had been maneuvered into one of its booths. At first, he was fussing with short order cook and a mechanic. Then it was a local sheriff and a state police officer. Soon, he got word that the FBI and Fornell were on their way.

People had stopped talking to him because he was now merely a gunshot victim waiting for an ambulance. He found the handcuffs from his belt, and secured his wrist to a radiator pipe. They were going to have a hard time getting rid of this victim.

Gibbs crouched next to the door and waited. There was only one endgame. When that door opened, he was going to give it everything he had. He didn't know if that was happening in five minutes or five hours, but when it did, he was going through it like a tornado. The key to a good offensive was confidence. Most people hesitated, losing their advantage, but Gibbs wasn't going to have that problem. He was no longer worried about his own survival.

"Boss, I should be on that door with you." Ziva was sleeping in Tony's arms now.

Gibbs shook his head. "Your job is her. That's all."

"Doesn't seem like much of a plan."

"I'm going to distract them, and then you're getting her out of here. That's the plan."

"Boss—"

"No, Tony, this is the plan. Your only job is to get her out of here safely."

"You feel guilty about McGee." It was a fearless thing for DiNozzo to say.

Gibbs shook his head.

"McGee knew the risks."

"Don't speak for him like that," Gibbs muttered.

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"We waltzed into an ambush, Tony. You don't think that was a wrong move."

"We didn't know!"

"The farmhouse is on a hill. They probably saw us coming ten minutes before we got there. Hid the trucks. Took cover in the trees. We were sitting ducks."

"We don't know if we're going to make it out of here alive and you want to spend the last hours we have second guessing yourself. Do me a favor, Gibbs, and keep it to yourself."

Tony's bitterness startled Gibbs and he looked away.

Tony sighed. "Boss, I'm just saying that we aren't perfect. None of us. We didn't see it. It happens. I don't blame you and I can't…spend these hours listening to you torture yourself. We lost him. It hurts. I thought after Kate…I thought I wouldn't hurt like that again." Tony choked on his emotions.

Gibbs rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "He was so young. Even now, he seems impossibly young to me."

"Oh God…the baby fat and the stuttering…Every time you said something, he about jumped out of his skin."

"Remember how hard you rode him?"

Tony wiped his eyes. "I know. It was great until he started fighting back. He gives as good as he gets now…or he did."

Gibbs swallowed hard but said nothing.

…..

The sheriff was arguing with the short order cook about how to pull the radiator pipe and get McGee into an ambulance when the suits filed in. They crowded into the diner as if they'd expected it to be an ampitheater or something. In the midst of the trenchcoats, McGee caught sight of a short, balding man. He rose up before the handcuff halted his progressed and yelled, "Fornell!"

Heads turned and Fornell pushed his way to McGee. "Hey kid, are you okay?"

"I won't go. Nobody's taking me anywhere. Do you understand me? They are mine. I don't go anywhere until we find them!"

Fornell slid into the booth next to him. "It's okay, Tim."

"It's not okay! They took them and we need to get them back. I'm going to go over everything with you, every detail. Are you ready?"

Fornell turned back at the sea of suits and rolled his eyes. "Everyone out of here except Smith, Moriarty, and Watkins! Get a tape recorder and a note pad over here and a laptop! This here is NCIS Special Agent McGee. Kid's brain can run circles around anyone in this room! And I need a medic!"

Fornell turned to McGee and took note of his handcuffs. "You are a clever boy. Listen up. The medic is going to take your vitals. The minute things start to go south, you're going to the hospital. I don't care where you put those handcuffs."

McGee bit his lip. "They're my family. Please, Fornell, they're family."

"I know, kid. Let's start from the beginning."

"Maybe it's better to have teams rotate members every year so that people don't get attached to one another so much."

Gibbs lifted his ear from the door and shrugged. "Most teams rotate that much naturally. People get opportunities or don't like working with one another."

"We've been together too long, Boss. It's like a dependency. We care too much. It cripples us."

"And it makes us that the best damn team on the Eastern seaboard."

"We survived Kate and I don't know how we did that. Are you going to tell me that we'll survive McGee too?"

"We're not talking about this."

"I didn't think of that. We'll just erase him from our memories."

"Stop it, Tony! We can't talk about him now. We have to focus."

"I can't just turn it off."

"He needs us to focus on this."

Tony chortled. "So, you can speak for him. That's nice."

"That's how we honor him. We survive. We make it through, and we honor his sacrifice. And when we do that, we have plenty of time to mourn his loss. God help me, but we do him justice then." Gibbs' voice was patient and soft, much like he'd been in the early days after Kate died.

"You're right, Boss."

"Check her pulse again. I'm worried about blood loss."

Tony grabbed her wrist firmly and counted. Then he sighed. "It's rapid but she's still with us."

Gibbs nodded and put his ear back on the door.

Someone shook him gently and he woke with a start. Fornell was looking into his face. "You okay, Tim? I got a friend for you."

Groaning, he struggled upward. The right side of his face was swollen and that eye only opened to a slit. He ignored the headache assaulting his temples. Then he smelled a whiff of a familiar scent, and a sob escaped his throat, "Ducky!"

Ducky replaced Fornell in the booth, and McGee threw his arms around the man's neck without shame. The old Scots held him tightly while he regained his composure. McGee pulled away and Ducky looked him over. "It goes against everything I believe to not have you in a hospital."

"You have to be my hospital, Ducky. I'm not leaving until we have them."

"Jethro would want you to take care of yourself."

"If he were in my shoes, he would be here." McGee noticed suddenly that his handcuffs were gone.

He looked up at Fornell who held them up in his hand. "You aren't the first stubborn agent I've ever dealt with."

"What do we know, Fornell?"

"His compound is within 60 miles of here. We had an undercover that was there once, but he was blindfolded as a precaution. All we have are some grainy photos the undercover took. It looks to be somewhere in the mountains."

McGee's breath caught. "Kyle Boone!"

"Huh?"

"We tracked the location of Kyle Boone's victims from photos using scale, landmarks, and satellite imagery. I need to see those pictures."

"You got it, Genius!" Fornell started barking at subordinates.

Ducky slid out of the booth and went looking for the short order cook. He needed to get some soup in the boy.

….

Ziva's eyes were open but feverish, her breathing shallow. She brought a hand up to Tony's face. "I love you."

He smiled. "It's not time for all that. You knew that the Mossad agent was going to be the most melodramatic of all."

She just kept stroking his cheek. "I love you and I loved Gibbs. I loved my McGee. I haven't had so much love in my life since my mother and Talia left me. I've been so grateful for the last six years. You've made me into a person again."

Gibbs could hear everything but he said nothing. She'd been denied tenderness for so many years by her Mossad training and an arrogant father; it was important to give her space, even in a time like this.

…..

McGee stared into the monitor, and watched Abby barking at a dozen cyber geeks that had been unearthed in the sub-basement. She had the program they wrote, and Fornell sent her the photos. Occasionally, she broke away to find his face on the monitor and consult about the process.

Her eyes were red and mascara had snaked its way down both cheeks, but she kept going. He was gentle with her but firm. When she wanted to drift into the realm of the sentimental, he pulled her back and reminded her how much weight she was carrying. They knew each other so intimately that a mere look or a word conveyed complex meaning. He didn't need to be in the room to share his heart with her.

Gibbs heard something on the other side of the door and he stiffened. Tony jerked forward waking Ziva again. The knob on the door turned and Gibbs went into a crouch. He grabbed the first man through the door and drove him head first into the wall. Then he barreled into the second man so fast, the man couldn't properly aim his weapon.

Tony disarmed the first man and slung Ziva over his shoulder. There was gunfire as Gibbs shot the second man with his own gun, and then he was on his feet, moving down the hallway, looking for more targets. Tony stayed as close behind him as he could.

When she screamed the coordinates of Baker's hideaway into the monitor, McGee thought he was going to faint. He had to clutch at the table to keep himself from sliding under it. Fornell was barking at a number of people who, in turn, were barking into cell phones.

Abby was crying into the monitor and he mumbled words of support, but his energy was really at an end. Ducky put an arm around his shoulders and gently ended the communication with Abby. Arms were pulling him out of the diner and onto a stretcher. The world around him went dark before he could launch a protest.

…..

There were four bodies strewn about the main room. Gibbs and Tony with Ziva were huddled behind the door to the bathroom. There were three stubborn Patriots in the kitchen off the main room, and it had turned into a waiting game. Time was not on their side. Every minute, they allowed this to continue, Baker was amassing more men to come in and take the bunker. Gibbs had a bullet in his left shoulder, and he was minutes from losing consciousness.

Tony had propped Ziva up against a wall, and Gibbs could tell he was contemplating a suicidal move. Of all of them, Tony was the only one left with the strength to take out the remaining three men in the bunker. However, making it to the outside meant only seconds of freedom before Baker would mow them down.

"I'm going to distract them and you take them." Gibbs was struggling to maintain whatever authority he still had over DiNozzo.

"Good plan. They slaughter you and I slaughter them. A few flaws, but nothing we can't fix in the next life."

"No more sarcasm," Gibbs whispered. "We're not all making it out of here. Think smart."

"We die in here or we die at the entrance to this cave. These are our choices, Boss. Nothing else. Watching you get cut to pieces by a semi-automatic is not how I want to spend my last few minutes."

Gibbs couldn't formulate a reply. He just rested his head against the metal door.

"It's the Alamo, Boss. We stay together and we hold our ground and we hope that people will remember who we tried to be in this life."

"You're my son, Tony." Gibbs whispered it so softly that Tony almost didn't catch it.

"I know, and being your son has been the best part of my life."

Gibbs gave him the ghost of a smile.

"I pray that McGee is waiting for us on the other side."

…..

When the gunfire, Tony was the only one left to hear it. He jerked upright, waiting for the invasion, but it never came. Instead, he was treated to an FBI bullhorn calling for all members of Patriots of Peace to put down their arms. He was cradling Ziva under one arm and he started weeping into her hair. Then he reached over and grasped Gibbs' still warm ankle and tried to shake him awake.

…..

The helicopter took them all straight to Bethesda, and Tony closed his eyes and prayed for Ziva and Gibbs the whole way. Ziva's vitals spiked once she got a transfusion, and she wiped the tears from his eyes when she woke during the ride.

He tried to follow Gibbs' stretcher off the helicopter pad, but well-meaning hands held him back. Tired, dirty, and with no memory of his last meal, he paced outside of Ziva's examination room.

Then Ducky came down the hallway, and Tony all but collapsed in his arms. When the Scots extricated himself, he looked at DiNozzo with a twinkle in his eye. "I have a surprise for you."

Tony was too weary to even guess. He blindly followed Ducky down the hall to a room. Inside, there was a man in a bed with his head wrapped. When he got closer to the bruised face, two green eyes blinked open. Tony started crying. Ducky led him over to a chair next to McGee and let the younger man reach over and comfort him.

When he left them, Tony was still crying with his face on the mattress, and McGee was stroking his hair gently and whispering into his ear.

….

When Gibbs opened his eyes, he saw Abby's warm smile. She chatted away while plumping his pillow, and arranging his blankets. Then she pulled the curtain back, and he saw that he was sharing a room with his favorite Israeli. Abby went over to Ziva and whispered something and her dark eyes popped open. She saw Gibbs awake and a smile spread on her face. He gave her one in return.

"Hey Boss!" Gibbs looked up and saw Tony at the door with Ducky.

There were so many smiles, but the scene was incomplete, and he felt the loss of it keenly in his gut. He had to close his eyes for a moment while he composed himself.

Then Tony was there. "Something really special happened. We've been waiting a whole day for you to wake up so we could tell you about it."

Gibbs frowned at him. "Baker's still in custody, right?"

"Oh, yeah. We got a needle waiting with his name on it."

"McGee deserves at least that much," Gibbs said huskily.

"Ya' think?" Tony said with an inexplicable smile on his face.

"Tony, don't tease him like that," Ducky said.

"I don't understand." Gibbs felt anger building in him. It was as if they'd all forgotten what happened.

"Come on in," Tony called.

The door opened and Gibbs lifted his head. It was same tall, lanky build, but this McGee had a bruised up face and a bandage around his temple. Gibbs put a hand over his face and choked back emotion.

The kid sat beside him and took his hand. "I got lucky, Boss. I floated in the drainage water so they thought I drowned. It was clear to them I was dead, and so nobody was very careful where they shot."

Gibbs felt for McGee's face, unashamed at the emotion in his eyes. "I'm so sorry, Tim. I'm so sorry I let it happen to you."

McGee patted his face gently. "It's okay. None of us is approaching a house on a hill like that again."

Gibbs pulled him down and hugged him tightly. "I'm so grateful to have my family with me again. I am so grateful."

"Me too, Boss. Me too."

The End