AN: To Jay, who wasn't signed in, thanks for two kind reviews.
Well, it seemed Gibbs had put his cell in a pickle jar again, and screwed the lid down; Abby called McGee to go to his place and alert him. To his credit, Tim, who'd just stepped out of the shower and was really looking forward to a couple of hours challenging all comers in a Battle of Light and Dark, didn't argue, or waste time on questions.
"On my way... keep us in touch," he told her as he banged his shin on the edge of the loo while he tried to dress himself one-handed. It was only after he'd disconnected that he allowed himself to think of what Gibbs was going to say about Abby going on a case. He winced. "Sooner you than me, Tony," he thought. But hey, he added to himself, this was Ducky...
It was only after she'd disconnected that Abby grumbled about the Boss. "Just because he flouts rule three all the time, doesn't mean he won't kill us if we don't tell him what we're up to," she yelled over the roar of the Mustang's engine.
"Got a bigger problem," Tony yelled back. "How do we explain why we're up to it?"
"Wo – whoa – working on it!" The powerful soft-top didn't have OMG handles, so Abby hung on to the side of her seat with one hand, and rescued her laptop with the other.
"Are they at Metro yet?"
"No." She held the screen up near her face and attempted to focus on it. "Stationary about half a mile away. We're less than a mile from them. I've got a theory on that, Tony… but I'm really having trouble with the connection at this speed, though… and reading it..."
"Sorry... Ducky's car… the Morgan. If they went in that – Ducky will have made sure they did… after the Ari thing, you fitted it with an immobiliser… you're tracking it, right?"
"I knew there was some reason why you're a detective, Mr. DiNozzo! It's underneath the seat; you can switch it over without anyone noticing. Cuts the petrol feed… sputter sputter, stop, ooh, breakdown! Ducky's stalling. He's so clever!"
Tony grimaced and took another corner far too fast. "I'd rather he'd just walked into Metro and been refused access to their locker… even if Collingwood's threatening him in some way, he'd be better off in a building full of cops! You did get through to them, didn't you?" he finished anxiously.
Abby shook her head reluctantly. "The call kept dropping out – by now they'll think I'm just some nuisance..." She bit her lip. "I know... you don't have to tell me, Tony... if I'd stayed in the lab I'd have got through. I should have asked Tim... I'm sure his cell phone's more up-to-date than their whole system! I'll try him again."
"It's OK Abs – we can get to them faster than they can get to Metro. Don't worry." He hoped he was right.
He was silent for a moment, and then said more quietly, so Abby had to concentrate to hear him, "If I got that right, young Rex just went up in my estimation. I got a feeling of revenge not being so wonderful after all, and danger, and apology even... and then I thought of Ducky being a good person. I think he's telling me that saving Ducky's the most important thing here!"
The stately British touring car was about fifty yards away. Ducky had managed, conveniently, to 'break down' right under a street lamp, and it looked like a still from a gangster movie, Tony thought. He'd cut the Mustang's engine and lights, drifted round the corner and come to a halt in a patch of shadow. He pulled a dark NCIS jacket from behind his seat, and as he shrugged into it, he said softly, "Abs…"
Meekly, "Yes, Tony?"
"Dammit, Abs, don't give me that innocent look. I'm in enough trouble with Gibbs already, so I want you to leave the wilful wild-child under the seat, and put on your best earnest Abigail face, and listen to me."
She put a finger on his lips.
"I promised, Tony. I will stay here. I understand that you can do without having to look out for me as well as Ducky. I'll wait for Gibbs. Phone on silent, laptop likewise."
He touched her shoulder, with an approving smile. "That's my girl." He eased out of the car in a crouch, and hunched down beside it. "However… move over into the driver's seat. If I need a distraction, I'll just look directly at you. Do what you like – lights, horn – except for coming any nearer. How's that?"
He leaned into the car, kissed her cheek, and turned, only to swing back at once. "If anything happens... if he starts to come towards you, drive away."
His tone brooked no dissent. "Drive away, Abby." He disappeared into the night.
It was darker on the other side of the street, and not even the watcher in the shadows, who knew he was there, saw him cross over in the wake of a passing car's bright lights.
Tony slipped from one dark pool to the next, and as he came level with the long-nosed classic car, he observed that Ducky had his window open. He smiled to himself; the Doctor was a force to be reckoned with, elderly or not. If he couldn't save himself by physical means, he was easily experienced enough, and very much smart enough to give the rescuers he had no idea were there, but had faith nevertheless, their best chance. (Mmm… Tony thought, a mouthful worthy of Ducky himself.)
The ME had not only given him light to work with, but he was listening for any sound that might give him information, and making sure that the conversation going on inside the car could be heard outside. He couldn't have thought of any way that his friends might possibly have discovered his plight, but if Tony knew Ducky, his optimism would remain undiminished.
Tony could hear the calm, cultured, unthreatening tones clearly."Dr. Collingwood, I don't believe you've thought this through at all clearly. I have already explained that if you wish to go any further it will have to be on foot. These fine old vehicles have their temperamental side; she'll not start again until the carburettor's been cleaned. And however we arrive there, we cannot walk into the evidence garage… or more particularly, you cannot; and even I, who am known there, would not be allowed simply to walk out of there again with evidence. We can go to the front desk, and I can attempt to convince those on duty –"
Collingwood's voice was shrill. "No! You'd find some way of alerting them! I'm not as foolish as you think me, Dr. Mallard!"
"My good fellow, it's hardly wise to be pointing a gun at the Medical Examiner of a federal agency, within half a mile of a police headquarters! Really, the best thing you can do is tell the authorities what happened. If this young fellow ran out in front of you as you say, then the whole sad thing was an accident – "
Tony frowned, and felt something rather similar from Rex; unlike Ducky, he'd seen the video that made it clear how little of an accident it had been.
The shrill, demanding voice went on. "I don't understand why you won't help me! We're men of science! Men of healing! Of substance! We're needed – we're important! We can't be distracted by things like this! I haven't the time to be defending myself over it, my time's precious! Why can't you just do as I ask?"
Ducky paused before answering; under the other man's self-obsessed tirade he'd heard an unmistakeable sound – the click of a Sig being cocked. His eyes had widened, but Collingwood had neither seen nor heard.
The ME sighed silently with relief. He'd been listening to this long litany of self-justification for nearly an hour, and was seriously thinking, despite the close confines of the car, of taking matters into his own hands and shutting the wretched fellow's mouth with a punch, even if it risked a random shot in the gut. But this wasn't the way Donald Mallard wanted to go, at the hands of a grub like Collingwood, and he also wanted the truth to be told for the sake of the dying young man who that grub had left in the road, and hadn't even been bothered to name to him.
He went on carefully, "Because what you are asking is most fundamentally wrong, Doctor. We may be men of science, but I am no longer a man of healing. I am an instrument of justice."
Tony smiled in spite of himself – Ducky's pronouncement was delivered as dramatically as a thunderbolt hurled from heaven in divine retribution.
"I speak for those who can no longer speak for themselves. The fact that you've brought me here by force suggests to me that neither truth nor justice are on your side. Now, if I cannot persuade you to stop this lunacy, then the only thing I can do is to play it through to the bitter end. We will go to the evidence garage, and see what happens. Be warned, it will not be to your liking."
"Then I'll shoot you!"
"And confirm your guilt beyond doubt. Come, let us walk." And give whichever of my friends is out there, a target. And as they stepped from the car, Tony stepped from the shadows.
"Don't move, Dr. Collingwood." So of course, the man tried to bring his gun up. "Don't move!" Something got through this time, and he froze. "Believe me, I can down you long before you can aim at Dr. Mallard. Drop the gun." Collingwood wasn't a brave man, and an fierce elbow to the ribs from Ducky helped him to get the message. The gun clattered onto the tarmac.
Tony was the soul of courtesy. "Thank you. Ducky, would you mind?"
"Not at all, Anthony, not at all." The ME kicked the gun away, then bent in a very sprightly manner to retrieve it. He hadn't doubted for a moment; nevertheless, this was extraordinary.
"You can't have known," Collingwood squeaked furiously as Tony cuffed one wrist. "Nobody knew!"
"What… not even that nice young lady you were with that night? Macy, wasn't it?"
"Talia? She'd never dare –"
"Talia. Thank you again. Can't be more than half a dozen Talias working for what… er, an escort agency? Yes? Here in DC? We'll find her soon enough."
"You can't have known!"
"So you keep saying, Doc... but as you can see, we do."
"Indeed, Anthony, I'm most impressed myself! How did you – "
Tony didn't have an answer, so he did the only thing he could think of. He looked back at his own car in the shadows, and Abby responded at once with enthusiasm. Horn, full beam, and emergency flashers were all used at once, and Ducky turned to look that way.
"It's Abby," Tony told him with a grin.
"Ah, of course it is," the ME beamed, and started to walk towards her.
Collingwood repeated weakly, "You couldn't have known…"
"Yes, I could," Tony said calmly, as he began to reach for the other wrist, and added, simply because he wanted the man to understand that he did know, "Rex told me." He paused, as Collingwood looked even more shocked, if that were possible. "Hmm – I see you know the name of the guy you put in a coma."
The result startled him; no, shocked him rigid. Looking back, he knew he would have kept quiet if he'd had any sort of premonition; however much the man deserved it, it wasn't his judgement to make.
"Rex? Rex told you?" Collingwood began to gasp. His face went red, then white, and he grabbed at his throat, the loose cuff flailing. Fighting for breath, he collapsed to the ground, clutching at the centre of his chest, his arms and legs moving feebly. Tony yelled "Ducky!" and the ME came hurrying back. They commenced first aid at once, with Tony giving chest compressions, but as Ducky was about to begin rescue breathing, Collingwood's eyes flew open. A tearing gasp came from his mouth; his eyes were fixed on something only he could see. "Noooo… not you… noooo…" Only a few moments later, his face carried that glazed expression of horror into eternity.
Tony, still on his knees, leaned against the Morgan, and passed his hand across his eyes. Rex had his justice… Thanks, goodbye, relief and no little satisfaction; the visitor left his thoughts for the last time. He felt relieved beyond measure, and completely whacked, and a warm hand slid under his elbow. Abby helped him up, as running footsteps approached out of the darkness. All the rest of the team. Of course.
Gibbs' rumble was quite restrained, for him. "What the hell happened here?"
The Senior Field Agent straightened himself up, preparing to blag as if his life depended on it, but Abby squeezed his arm.
"We needed a pizza, Gibbs, and we met Ducky on the way out. We didn't like the look of Collingwood at all, we thought he was a bad, bad man; so we brought the pizza back to the lab and checked him out."
"Just cuz ya didn't like him?"
"Well, we needed something to do while we ate, Gibbs! We found out he wasn't a nice man, and we called Ducky, to say don't get in a car with him 'cause he drinks, and we couldn't get through to Ducky and he didn't go to the bridge club, and Collingwood didn't either, and we knew something was wrong so we tracked him and you know the rest 'cause I told you when I called. Well, I told Tim 'cause your phone was probably in the pickle jar again with the nails, so I called him. And we rescued Ducky and the bad man had a heart attack when Tony was arresting him. Ducky says he killed someone with his car, Gibbs! And Tony absolutely ordered me not to come anywhere near, and to drive away if there was trouble, and I did what I was told so he didn't put me in any danger, and he didn't want me to come at all but I had to come because we couldn't let Ducky get into trouble and not do anything, could we?"
It was Abby at her sideways best, and Tony grinned at her fondly. "Did you breathe there, Abs?"
Gibbs muttered something about reports in the morning, and trudged away. Tim and Ziva shrugged, checked their friends really were OK, and followed him. N.C.I.S.G.T. waited with Ducky until the coroner's wagon arrived, then went wearily back to the Mustang. A few minutes later the street was as deserted as if nothing ever happened around those parts.
The young man still lay in the hospital bed where he had died; all the paraphernalia of artificial life had been removed, and his parents kept vigil beside him for a while longer, unable to tear themselves away. Abby and Tony looked sorrowfully through the glass but didn't intrude.
"He died at around eight-thirty," the attending nurse said softly. "It was peaceful… Such a shame; so young and full of promise… I'm glad to hear you caught the man who did it; I'll tell his parents as soon as I can pick the right moment," she sighed, "whatever that may be. Thank you so much for coming to tell us."
As they walked back down the quiet, night-time hospital corridor, Tony managed to say what he was thinking. "I wasn't looking at my watch just then… Abs… did –"
"Did Collingwood die at eight-thirty? Mmm, about then. Don't think about it. Are you all right, Tony?
"Yeah... I think so... or I will be. I still don't believe any of it happened," he said defiantly.
Abby gave that remark all the consideration it deserved. "Bulsh," she said rudely, then softened her tone and added, "Is Rex gone?"
"Oh, yeah. I think he said thanks…"
"I don't know why he needed to mess with your head in the first place, Tony... if he could just frighten Collingwood to death, why didn't he just do that?"
"Welll... I think he wanted justice, not revenge... if we hadn't investigated, Colingwood dying of a booze induced coronary and Rex's hit and run might never have been linked. It might have ended up as a Metro cold case, like all the man's other stupidities up and down the country."
"I hope it helps his parents, that that didn't happen."
"Not sure I like Ducky being put in danger, though. Hell... he did say sorry... Rex, I mean."
There wasn't much more to say, although they both thought of Kate again, as they stepped out into the cooling evening air. They walked to the Mustang in the same comfortable silence that always lay between them when they didn't have anything particular to say. They stopped beside the car.
"Time I did too," Tony told her.
"Did what? Say sorry?"
"Say thanks. Like Rex. What on earth would I have done without you?" He pulled her into an enveloping hug, she slid her arms round his waist, and they clung together for a moment, letting the tension ebb away. He spoke into her hair.
"My pleasure, G.T"
AN: I know the cliché of the dying murderer seeing their victim has been done many times before, but I've said before, I love karma. Even when it bites my ass.
Thanks, as always, for coming along.