Chapter 2 - Escape
Vance did his best to catch his fallen agent as his body slammed into him, gentling his fall, trying to protect his head from smashing into the hard concrete floor. The shooter was coming closer, the twisted smile on his face deepening.
McGee's weapon was still lying loosely in his limp hand. Not wasting any more precious time, he reached for it, cursing himself for not having geared up himself. Then again, who could blame him for not factoring that he'd need to be armed while he was attending a law enforcement convention with tight security and two agents as protection detail. Two agents who had perhaps already given their lives to keep him safe. He hadn't had time yet to check McGees pulse and DiNozzo had yet to follow them. It was their job, but that didn't mean it hurt Vance any less. He loved his job, but he resented the idea of his agents sacrificing themselves for him.
In vain. A heavy boot slammed down onto his hand, making him cry out as his fingers were smashed. Then the gun was kicked away, out of reach. Biting down the pain in his hand, Vance looked up into the cold, gleeful eyes of his soon-to-be killer and knew he would die within the next few moments.
"Leon Vance. You can't imagine how glad I am you managed to escape my friends upstairs," the man told him, almost eagerly as he pressed the barrel of his gun against Vance's forehead. "I've been looking forward to this for a very long time."
With a start Vance realized that this was no random hit, that he was indeed the target of this insane attack. But why? He had a damn good memory and knew without a doubt that he had never seen this man who was going to kill him before in his life. "Who are you?"
The man grinned. "Vengeance." And pulled the trigger.
But before he could pull it back far enough to trigger the discharge, another shot rang out, echoed by a second and third. As Vance watched he saw a hole appear in the man's forehead, and two more in his chest, even as he felt the warm blood splatter his face. The man's body fell with a hard thud to the ground in front of him, the soft sound bringing the Director out of his momentary shock. Making him realize that he was still alive, however surreal this felt like at the moment. He blinked, turned his head.
There his savior stood, his legs spread wide, his weapon still up and pointed, already sweeping around in search of more threats, more targets.
Softly, he breathed out. So DiNozzo had made it after all. And just in time. In that moment, every doubt Vance ever had about the man's abilities on protection details vanished. Gibbs had been right after all. No matter the many FUBAR protection details in his file, it had to have been out of DiNozzo's hands because no way the man slowly approaching them, still on high alert, would have let anything happen to his charges if he could help it.
As he reached them, Vance could see that his agent was pale and sweaty, lines of pain etched into his face. There was blood on his clothing, his knuckles were red and there were several cuts visible on his face and arms, though they didn't look too deep. It looked as if DiNozzo had been in a hell of a fight. But none of it showed in his eyes as he finally looked down at Vance. "You okay?"
The question brought back awareness of the momentarily forgotten pain in his hand with a vengeance. He grimaced, fighting down the agony. This wasn't his first walk in the park, not by far. He could deal with it. "Got a few broken fingers, but I'm fine otherwise." He wouldn't even have admitted that much, but DiNozzo needed to know his abilities to fight for himself were quite limited with his right hand out of commission.
DiNozzo gave a short nod before his eyes moved to the still figure beside Vance. "McGee?"
Right. Cursing himself for having lost so much time before doing this, Vance reached out with his good hand to check his agent's pulse. "Took a round to the chest." The beat against his fingers was strong and steady. He breathed out again. So no self-sacrificing agents on his conscience after all. Not yet anyway. He moved his hand to McGee's chest. "Vest caught it. Just knocked him out cold."
"Yeah, that would do it," DiNozzo said softly, but the relief in his voice was evident. He looked back over his shoulder. "They're after you, Sir. It won't be long until they catch up with us. Can you move?"
Right. With a nod, Vance moved his feet under him. While still crouching, he pulled one of McGee's hands over his shoulder before heaving them both up into a standing position. He staggered a bit but then he managed to steady the two of them. He was extremely grateful though that the car was only a few feet away, aware that he couldn't support the dead weight of his agent for very long on his own. But DiNozzo had to watch their backs, so he just had to grit his teeth and deal with it himself for now. He took a couple of steps towards their car.
"No. Our friend here may have tempered with it, or put a tracker on it, just in case. We need to take another car," DiNozzo stopped him, moving already to a SUV standing two places away from them. Before Vance could say anything he had smashed the driver's window in with the butt of his gun, ignoring the alarm going off as he reached in to open the door. Well, so much for how DiNozzo planned to get into another car. Slowly, Vance made his way over to the black SUV. By the time he reached it, DiNozzo had opened the door and swept away the worst of the shards. With another look back he helped Vance to put McGee into the back seat, strapping his slumped body in. Then he got into the driver's seat and reached for the wires under the steering wheel while Vance rounded the car to get into the passenger seat. "Maybe it's best we wait on the police here," he said even as he put his seat belt on.
Predictably, DiNozzo shook his head, still concentrating on starting the car. "No. Too much of a risk. They walked into a room full of cops and feds, armed with automatic weapons and grenades. Damn, I hate those new security systems," he cursed as he still fumbled with the wires.
Before Vance could ask about that, the sound of the elevator opening had them both glancing up. Cursing again, DiNozzo put even more urgency into his fumbling. He was just about to suggest they try it with their car after all when the motor stirred to life. Sitting up, DiNozzo didn't lose any time. As two armed men approached them, he put the SUV in gear and with the tires screeching, backed out and continued to drive backwards towards the close by exit ramp at a speed that even in forward motion would have worried Vance. Dimly he remembered DiNozzo being stubborn when they had arrived, insisting on parking close to the exit instead of the elevator. Back then, McGee had complained, and Vance had taken his part, but now he was extremely grateful for his agent's paranoia.
The armed men ran after them, leaving no doubt about their identity when they opened fire on them. But by that time, DiNozzo had already yanked the car into the ramp, still going backwards, before he switched gears and the car shot forward, climbing the ramp as fast as he could risk it towards the exit. Reaching it, he didn't hesitate before simply crashing through the barrier, shooting out into the street.
As soon as they were out to the road, Tony slowed down, despite the adrenalin running through his body urging him to press down on the gas. But if you wanted to stay inconspicuous, racing through the streets was not the way to do it. They had surprised their attackers, first with making them before their strike and then by escaping. That would give them a head start. Unfortunately, he doubted it would shake them off their tail for long. It helped that they could change the car but they'd seen their new wheels so that was bad.
Fuck, how had things gone sour so fast? Who were these guys? They were professionals, that much was clear, and determined. To get to Vance. He wasn't sure yet why. To kill him? The perp in the garage sure had seemed to be intent on putting a bullet into Vance's head before he killed him. But those up in the penthouse? Not so sure there. Either way, they were after his charge and he couldn't let that happen.
He'd already lost one director on his watch, he wasn't going to lose another one. This time, no one was getting by him. First, they had to go through him.
Now he'd just have to figure out how they could all survive. His eyes checked McGee in the rear mirror. So close. If he hadn't insisted on him wearing the vest this morning ... He probably wouldn't have if McGee hadn't been so obnoxious lately, questioning his orders left and right. But there was no time to dwell on that. He'd insisted on the vest, McGee had listened in the end and was still alive. Unconscious still, and that worried him. Taking one in the chest hurt like a bitch, no doubt. It knocked the breath out of you, robbing you of all your senses, which was only natural when a sledgehammer with the force of a truck at full speed slammed into you. But it usually didn't knock you out like that. Unless, when the force flew you backwards and you hit the ground, you hit it with your head first. That was another story altogether, one that had his gut in a chilly clench.
The best thing would probably be to head straight to the next hospital. And he would if he wasn't sure that's where they were going to look for them first. Good, they'd have the advantage of being in a crowd and with security around them. Too bad that they'd just fled from the big and at least partially armed crowd of a law enforcement convention. So no, the thought of going to a hospital where they'd be found within no time wasn't very comforting.
Next plausible destination was the nearest police station. Actually, his old squad wasn't very far away. He almost took the turn that would get them there by the fastest way. But he didn't. It was one thing that he didn't really have any friends there left, not after Lee's death and their boss moving on to Chicago. Not after him more or less killing a kid. No matter that it was pure self-defense and something that could have happened to any other cop, it tainted your reputation and no one wanted to be seen with a baby-killer. Or perhaps it was just because it could happen to anyone, his mere presence becoming a reminder of what could await them in that dark alley around the corner. No, mainly, as with his reasons not to go to the nearest hospital, they barely escaped alive from a freaking LEO's convention that had been infiltrated and certainly not without help. The waitress didn't worry him much, it was easy enough to slip in as service personnel. But the speaker? That was another pair of shoes and the one that made him drive right past the turn. PPD had hosted this thing and organized most speakers. The sad truth was he just couldn't trust the police here and boy, to have to admit that, even after his rather unfortunate stint at the PPD, hurt.
He wasn't going to risk his Director's and partner's lives because of nostalgic reasons. But if hospitals and police were out of the question, what then? His grip on the wheel tightened, the strain of it making his knuckles stand out white.
In the backseat McGee groaned and he felt some of the ice in his gut melting. "About time you joined us. How you feeling?"
McGee took a long moment to answer, blinking, rubbing at his chest and back of the head. "Owww."
Well yeah. Letting him gather his wits, Tony went back to trying to figure out what to do next. Best would be to leave the city as fast as possible. "You have your ID and ticket on you?"
Beside him, Vance's hand went up to his breast pocket as he nodded. No response from the backseat. "McGee?"
"Uh, ID ... No. Don't know ... Thought I put it in my pocket but it's not there." He looked at him, confused.
The guy just woke up after being shot, he deserved some slack, Tony reminded himself and forced himself to stay calm. "In the pocket of your jacket or your pants?"
"Jacket," McGee answered slowly, rubbing at his head with a grimace on his face. "Oh. Took it off. Was too hot with the vest on," he finally remembered with a frown. "Ticket? Right. No. It's in my briefcase with my PDA," he finally answered slowly.
Which was back at the hotel. His grip tightened some more but Tony kept his lips pressed together. The guy probably had a concussion and some bruised ribs. Besides, he wouldn't ream him out for being so careless in front of the Director.
Okay. Okay, they could still work with that. McGee couldn't fly but Vance still could. Once he was past the security checkpoints he should be safe until he landed back in Washington where Gibbs could take over the security detail. Protocol would demand that he leave with him, but he couldn't leave McGee behind alone, not in the vulnerable state he was in. Besides, once he'd gotten Vance to the security zone, their pursuers should lose interest in them. While the director flew back to Washington, he could get Tim to the hospital, check him out.
Maybe make himself a short trip by the emergency room, he thought, suppressing a wince, doing his best to ignore the fiery pain spreading out from his left side.
Yeah, the airport was their best option. Swerving harshly into the left line, he took the next exit towards the airport.
God, it hurt. He felt as if a sledgehammer had worked him over, breaking his chest and cracking in his head. Mostly though, the shock of almost dying had him in an icy grip that had him shaking and catching his breath every other time. Since becoming an agent he had often come close to dying, but never so close he could still feel Death's breath on the back of his neck.
If Tony hadn't insisted on him wearing the vest ...
His eyes slid to what he could see of Tony. To think he'd been such an ass to him about having to wear the vest. It had seemed so ridiculous. And now ... He was still alive. Thanks to Tony. Again.
Alive - and in a car, driving. To a hospital? Was Vance hurt? Shit! Vance! He was supposed to protect him but he had no idea what had happened after he'd blacked out. Great job he'd done. If he'd been the one in charge they'd most likely all be dead by now. Dead or taken hostage. How Tony had been able to make the shooters was beyond him. He had had absolutely no clue, never suspecting anything, let alone expecting anything to happen. And then down in the parking lot - he shouldn't have let his guard down. Never assume! But he had so desperately wanted the man waiting on them to be Tony ... It had almost killed him. And maybe the Director too.
"You okay?" he asked finally, though it felt as if it was way too little too late.
"Yes, we're okay," Vance answered.
"Apart from your broken fingers, you mean," Tony corrected, his voice dark. "Not to mention that we're on the run from a strike team that wants to kill and or kidnap you. Any idea why that would be?"
Vance shook his head, grim. "I'm afraid not. I've never seen the man you killed in the parking lot. And I didn't get a good look at those hitting us in the penthouse."
Tim rubbed at his chest. Tony had killed the guy that had shot him? He wasn't sure why he was still surprised by that. Tony had the annoying but undoubtedly also very practical knack of showing up just in the right moment to steal the show or save the day. Some days, that annoyed the hell out of Tim - other days, he couldn't be more grateful. Today was one of the latter occasions.
"The speaker who presented the new developments in signals intelligence seemed to be the one calling the shots. He gave the signal for the attack," Tony reported. "Aided by a waitress, five-six, long brown hair, around 30, who slipped the grenades in, and one of the guests. He'd been hanging around in the background mostly but was at every presentation you attended as well. African American, six-two, bald, in his forties I think, with a scar on the back of his right hand. Ring any bells?"
Tim racked his brain but for the life of him, he couldn't remember the waitress or the other man. And he hadn't seen the speaker before this convention. He'd been good though, Tim had found his presentation very interesting. Either he was a great impostor or the real deal. He just needed his PDA so he could look him up. A man with his reputation for sure should have some published work out there.
But of course though, his PDA was back at the hotel, useless to him. Along with his ID and his ticket. Tony may not have said anything but he hadn't needed to. His disapproval had been clear anyway and Tim knew himself that it had been stupid of him to not have his ID on him. He simply forgot to transfer it, too annoyed and pissed about having to wear the vest in the first place to remember it when he took off the jacket.
Besides - who'd have expected something like this happening?
"What kind of scar?"
The director's question had him focus back on the conversation. Just in time to see Tony wince after the shrug he gave. "About five inches long, jagged, a few years old. Maybe from a knife. Had to be a rough blade though."
It still said nothing to Tim so he used the time to take a closer look at his partner. And frowned. The many little cuts Tony had looked as if they had to hurt for sure, but weren't deep enough to cause worry. But he was way too pale for Tim's liking and the sheen of sweat on his face didn't help his impression that Tony might be hurt more seriously, though not that he could see any other injuries. Not that he could see much of Tony from the backseat.
"It wasn't a knife," Vance said, with a growl. "It was a shuriken. This is not good."
"A ninja star?" Tony echoed Tim's own disbelieving thoughts. "And how would you know that?"
"Peter Oldman. Has to be him." Vance cradled his broken hand closer. "We did a few ops together. Among them the one where he got that scar." He frowned. "I didn't see him. He must have avoided me, knowing I would recognize him."
Tim frowned. "But if he worked for us, then why ..." His voice trailed off, realizing that this was probably a stupid question. Obviously, he must have turned.
"What I'd rather like to know is just why he's out for your blood? Who is he working for? He wasn't the one calling the shots, that was the speaker, at least on scene," Tony asked promptly.
"Last I heard, a Chinese triad group, dealing with weapons, intel and hacking." Vance shook his head. "We weren't on that good terms, but I have no idea why he'd want me dead now, after all these years. He's a good hunter, we'll have to watch our backs."
"Oh, don't worry, by now he should be on hell's doorstep. Chinese triad, huh?" Tony sighed. "Let's hope he parted ways with them. I really don't want a triad coming after us."
Tim seconded that emotion. Whoever they were, they'd already gotten way too close, he thought, rubbing at his chest again. He didn't even want to see his torso, he could practically feel the angry bruises forming on his chest. His hand went up to the back of his head. It felt sticky and when his hand came back, the tip of his fingers were a little crimson. Yeah, no wonder his head was throbbing in what felt like a contest with a whole jungle full of drums. In the rear mirror, he saw Tony's worried eyes on him. "'m fine," he assured him quietly.
"We'll see about that. First, we'll drop you, off at the airport, Director. Once you're through security, you should be safe until you land back in Washington. Gibbs can take over there." Tony met Tim's eyes again. "With Vance gone, we should be in the clear and can get you to the hospital."
Frowning, Tim shook his head, regretting it immediately as a firework went off behind his eyes. "I don't need a hospital. And you shouldn't take the risk of letting the Director go on alone. I get that I can't go with you guys but your place is with him. I'll be okay, as you said, once you're gone, the danger should be over. If there is still one. Obviously they failed, why are you so sure they still try to get the director?"
This time, when Tony looked at him via the mirror again, the concern was replaced by annoyance. Well, so be it. Their job was to bodyguard Vance. When Tony suddenly decided to quit on that, he couldn't just sit there and say nothing, couldn't he?
"After all the trouble they went through?" Tony asked sarcastically, before he shrugged. "Whatever, it's my call." He glanced at Vance, as if to make sure there were no protests from him either. Which there weren't, Vance indeed kept his thoughts on Tony's plan to himself. So Tim held his tongue this time. Obviously, right now, he was at the bottom and if he wanted to be honest, he was way out of his element here, feeling like a fish helplessly flapping around on dry land.
He didn't like that feeling at all. It reminded him too much of his days when he first started as a probie on Gibbs' team.
The car stopped and blinking, he realized that they were at the airport already. "Show time," Tony said, turning the engine off.
"Something's wrong, Boss. I think we're facing an attack."
Gibbs wasn't rattled easily, but he sure was now. If you knew what it would take for DiNozzo to admit to something being wrong then you also knew just why someone like him, who had been to war and back, was feeling dread pour into his insides, freezing them, as he heard his second say those words to him.
He was a soldier and an officer of the law though so his moment of panic lasted only a few seconds before he switched gears in his mind and sprang into action. He'd already been on his way to Abby's, now he rushed forward, just as Tony told him he'd try to get Vance out - before the line went dead, causing him to grit his teeth with a furious growl.
When he stormed into the lab, Abby was, like so often, already waiting for him, practically bouncing with excitement. "Gibbs, you were right! I found him, screening online auctions sites for the engagement ring he stole from Ensign Garth' fiancé. He didn't use eBay, I give him that but otherwise what a scumbag deadhead. I'm sending you and Ziva the address - now," she said, pressing a key before turning around, beaming. One good look at him and her smile fell. "Gibbs?"
He pressed his phone in into her hands. "There's a photo on it. Get it out and run a facial search, we need to know who the people on it are. And get into the radio of Philadelphia PD. Something's going on there," he ordered, moving past her to her phone. His first call was to Ziva, his message short. "Get us on the next plane to Philadelphia. Call in favors if necessary." His second and third calls were to Vance and McGee.
If something was wrong they most likely wouldn't pick up but if they did, they could maybe tell him just what the fuck was going on in Philly. If DiNozzo had been wrong in his assumptions, he could tell Vance to fire the idiot for scaring the shit out of him like that.
Both calls weren't picked up, directing him to voice mail after some rings. He hadn't really expected anything else. Tony wasn't one to raise false alarms. Rather the contrary, really. Last time he got a call like that, his Senior Field Agent got himself roofied, kidnapped and incarcerated in a cell in the sewers to rot away along a corpse and a half-dead marine, causing him and his SFA nightmares for years to come.
God, he hoped this time around it would go better than then. Knowing DiNozzo, he wasn't going to bet a dime on it. Which was also why his next call went to Fornell. "Yes?" the FBI agent answered with a question in his voice.
"You got someone you trust in your bureau in Philadelphia?" Gibbs answered, shortly, turning around to see if Abby got something for him already. The picture was up and running but she seemed to be still trying to tab into PPD's database. His eyes narrowed in on the persons on the picture. A waitress handing a guest something. None of them was familiar to him. Or were they? The man triggered something in the far back of his mind, but he couldn't pinpoint it yet.
"Got word from DiNozzo. Call was cut off, but he said the convention he accompanied the Director to in Philly was under attack. I need someone's eyes on scene until I get there." His words were met with silence for a few moments before Fornell spoke again. "I'll make a few calls and get back to you." He hung up.
Putting the phone down, Gibbs turned to Abby again. Her eyes were wide and glassy with panic and worry. "The reports are just coming in. Gun fire, screams, and Gibbs, someone mentioned an explosion! Tell me Tony and Tim and Vance are okay, that Tony got them out."
Gibbs said nothing, just drew her in, kissing the top of her head. She snuggled up to him, but only for just a moment before she pushed away, nodding grimly. "Of course he got them out and they're okay. He turns into this scary super-über-strong soldier of the light the moment his people are threatened, just like you do, like a real, Tony-shaped mini-Gibbs. Just think about how many bombs he already survived. This is nothing for him after what happened then."
He hoped she was right. It could be. Tony was a very experienced and resourceful agent, quick-thinking on his feet and with a reliable gut that rivalled his. And if threatened, DiNozzo was usually vastly underestimated, those gunning for him or his friends hardly ever able to withstand the wrath they'd invited upon themselves by provoking Tony.
"I have found us a flight. It leaves in half an hour."
Looking up, he saw Ziva standing in the doorway, looking quizzically at them. The deep frown between her eyes told him though that she'd guessed enough to worry. Half an hour. No way this was a commercial flight. Good. That meant less bureaucracy so they'd get there faster, with their weapons and equipment. He nodded at her and let go of Abby. "Keep screening. You hear something new, call or text me. Same goes if you get a hit," he said, waving at the picture Tony had sent him.
Biting her lip, Abby nodded. He'd joined Ziva at the door when the scientist called his name. She glared at them, expectantly. "You bring them home safe."
Ziva looked from her to him when he grimly grunted his promise. Damn right they'd bring them home. They left, heading for the elevator. "There is trouble in Philadelphia, yes?"
He just looked at her.
"Bad?" Again he only gave her a look. Her lips pressed together into a harsh line as some emotion he couldn't quite identify flared up in her dark eyes. "I tried calling Tony six times, McGee three times and even the Director once. None of the calls was picked up. Checking Tony's log, I saw he called you though. Was there an attempt on Director Vance?"
"Looks like," he growled, hating that he hadn't more of a clue what had happened exactly.
Her back straightened as she readied herself for bad news, he thought. "Was he hurt? Or McGee or Vance?"
It didn't get past him that apparently, her mind was mostly focused on Tony's well being, the others being only an afterthought. But he didn't call her on it. Officially, all he knew was that she and his SFA had a complicated relationship and that was frankly all he needed or wanted to know. As long as it stayed out of the office and field, it was their mess and they were old enough to know what they were doing. Who knew, maybe they could make it work. He and Jenny hadn't been able to, hence Rule Twelve. Then again, Tony and Ziva didn't have the ghost of a dead true love and daughter between them. Just two sets of parents that had messed them both up real good, leading them to a life that held nightmares and many regrets for them both. It kept them apart as far as he knew, at least for now - but he knew as well that it could also knit them together even more than they already were in the end.
Time would tell. And fate, if fate was so merciful to not rob them of any chance they may have.
All he knew was that if he could help it, fate was not going to steal Tony away from either of them.
Author's Note: Wow. I was blown away by all the wonderful reviews for the last chapter but this time, you shot me to the moon! Thank you so much, I am so happy you liked this chapter so far - and I hope I could continue to please with this one. Now, perhaps, before you get too excited or annoyed, depending on towards where you swing: this is NOT a TIVA story. While I'm TIVA at heart through and through, there are enough stories about those two out there, which is okay of course. But just because of that, I like to focus more on the other relationships within the team and as you've seen so far, TIVA has very little place in this one. Then again, to me, a real good story combines several aspects on different layers and that includes a few scenes that addresses at least the possibility of TIVA. This note because some of you wished for more TIVA while others beg to not have TIVA. So sorry to those who hope for more - and sorry to those who hope for less. I hope you can still enjoy the story. Now, before I go back to actually write on the next chapter, an especially thank you once again to my beta for catching a few mistakes in the story line and setting me straight when I, as a Swiss and depending on what I can find online, get some US-things wrong. Okay, now I've babbled enough. More soon!