"What's wrong, McGee?" the dark-haired man's voice filtered through McGee's consciousness.
The man in front of him looked so worried, it would be easy to believe he actually cared, but McGee knew better: he knew he was just being played. He fleetingly wondered why he hadn't put this all together sooner before realizing he had never had reason to doubt this man's identity. This stranger had been fooling them all for a long time, pretending to be someone he was not, pretending to be someone who could be trusted, pretending to be someone who invested in how you were feeling, but no, the whole time he had been acting with an ulterior motive. Right now, what that motive was, or who the man really was, was not important; Bricker, Ranier, Hawke, DiNozzo, they were all the same person.
His main concern was getting out of reach of the knife he knew the man was carrying.
Tim felt a rough hand on his shoulder and pulled violently out away from the touch.
"Stay away from me, you…you…whoever you are," McGee snarled, backing up until his back was flat against the far wall.
"What do you mean 'whoever I am'?" Tony asked in surprise. "I'm Tony DiNozzo—we work together at NCIS."
"That's what you told me…but I've seen…seen different…Gus Bricker…Jean Paul Reiner…Stringfellow Hawke…" McGee abruptly stopped speaking and doubled in half as he was struck by another wave of pain.
The words rendered Tony momentarily speechless. His partner thought he was a coldblooded killer, akin to the scum that they arrested on a daily basis…that was so not good.
Tony instinctively stepped forward as his partner crumpled in pain.
McGee, however, saw the motion out of the corner of his eye and countered Tony's movement by shifting in the opposite direction.
"Stay…" McGee stumbled backwards and leaned against the wall with one hand to stay upright, one palm pressed tightly against his eye. "…stay away from me."
Tony was hurt by McGee's statement, but decided it would be best not to argue. He took a step back, faltering slightly as his legs suddenly turned adopted the consistency of Jello, and raised his hands. "Okay, McGee, have it your way."
Tim breathed a small sign of relief. The dark-haired man was being reasonable: that was good because the younger man wasn't really sure he was prepared for a hand-to-hand battle. He remained huddled against the wall, even though the shooting pains were lessening by the minute, trying to make himself as unassuming as possible until he managed to think a coherent thought.
The knife! How had he forgotten about the weapon so quickly? He quickly dismissed that notion in favor of a more productive one: the why's weren't important at the moment; what McGee needed now was a plan, one that involved getting the knife away from…well, he insisted his name was Tony, so for the time being, Tony it was…before Tony filleted him like a fish.
Without a second thought, McGee calculated the distance quickly between the two of them and knew he'd be able to reach the other end of the small room in a single bound. His ability to run those numbers so quickly surprised him and, at the same time, gave credence to the man's story. So one thing he said had been true, he reminded himself, doesn't make up for the lifetime of lies he had been telling.
In order to ensure his survival, he needed to get the knife away from Tony as soon as possible. McGee stayed hunched over, wanting to seem innocuous until he was able to attack.
He let out a slightly exaggerated groan and buried his head into his elbow.
He heard Tony clear his throat and cautiously ask, "You okay McGee?"
Just peachy. I love to spend my evenings locked in small rooms with armed killers, McGee thought but remained silent, keeping up the injured charade.
He heard a small scraping noise and knew Tony had taken a step toward him, despite his earlier wishes.
"McGee?" he asked, slightly louder. Still the computer genius did not answer, waiting for the moment of maximum opportunity.
Another moan tore through him, this one completely legitimate, as another memory lanced into his brain.
He was standing outside a glass room staring in at its two occupants: one was this Tony-character who was close to disappearing into the variety of equipment that beeped nonsensically around him and the tubes sprouting from every possible inch of visible skin; the second was a brown-haired woman, conservatively dressed with a small cross hanging around her neck, keeping vigil beside his bed, her hands clasped around one of his, holding it tightly against her forehead. The man's nose and fingertips were tinged an unusual shade of blue and McGee could hear his labored, gasping breathes through the thick glass.
He felt…scared…powerless…uncertain…but these were not the cold, calculated feelings he displayed when dealing with a suspect, these were genuine emotions usually directed toward someone you cared deeply about…
He was playing you! his subconscious mind reminded him. And you fell for it: hook, line and sinker.
The memory gave McGee pause before he shoved it away and forced a deep look of pain onto his face, which wasn't difficult considering how hard his head was pounding.
He heard Tony take another step forward and knew this was as close to a perfect situation as he was ever going to get.
He waited one second longer to ensure Tony had not backed away and pounced.
"McGee," Tony asked again, raising his voice slightly, in an attempt to be heard over the demons that were assaulting his partner.
He was definitely not expecting his partner to come shooting toward him like a bat out of hell. He tried to move to one side, but was not fast enough to counter McGee's surprise attack.
The younger man crashed into him with all the force of a professional linebacker, sending them both flying into the far wall. They slid to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, McGee flailing so wildly that Tony was unable to push the Probie away.
"What the hell, McGee?" he managed before the geek's hand tightened around Tony's throat, stealing his breath away. DiNozzo saw momentary surprise pass over his partner's face at his unexplained fighting abilities before anger and self-determination contorted his normally kind expression.
"I will not be your next victim!" the younger man snarled, increasing the pressure on Tony's throat. He arranged himself so his knees were driving into Tony's quads, keeping the older man from kicking him, before he began blindly groping for the knife on Tony's ankle.
Spots clouded the edges of his vision and Tony knew he had to get McGee off of him without causing any serious damage to the already seriously injured man.
His partner's face was wrought with concentration as he reached for Tony's ankle. Fortunately, there was no way McGee could reach the knife in his current position and he was forced to shift slightly to bring his ankle within reach.
Tony felt the pressure decrease and smacked the sides of his partner's head, directly over the ears, with his open hands. The blow stung like hell but he knew from his many boxing or fighting sessions with Gibbs and Ziva respectively that it would cause little permanent damage.
McGee howled in pain, releasing Tony's throat to cover his ringing ears. DiNozzo slammed his fist into McGee's ribcage, sending the computer geek tumbling off of him. As he hit the floor, he reflexively curled into a ball to protect his bruised side from further assault.
Tony rolled in the other direction, coughing and gagging. He pulled himself to his hands and knees, sputtering for breath, watching his partner out of the corner of his eye. Tim remained inert up for a few seconds longer before unsteadily drawing himself to his knees as well.
"You don't…want to do this," Tony rasped. "I'm not who you think."
"That's the problem," McGee returned, straightening up to his full height. "I don't know what to think."
He flung his open fist in Tony's direction. The Senior Field Agent saw the dirt heading towards him and barely had time to turn his head away. While his move kept a majority of the grime out of his eyes, he had taken his eyes off McGee and, in the process, had left himself completely unprotected.
McGee was on his feet in an instant, closing the distance between the two of them in a fraction of that time. He buried his boot deep into Tony's ribcage, sending the man sprawling to the floor.
He reared back for another kick, but DiNozzo's hand snaked out and grabbed the ankle his partner was using for support and yanked with all his might.
McGee crashed to the ground directly beside Tony whose long fingers quickly reached for the pressure points on McGee's neck. Before his fingers could gain purchase on his partner's neck, the younger man recovered faster than Tony had thought possible and viciously knocked his hand away.
Both men scrambled to their feet and assumed fighting stances.
"I don't want to hurt you McGee," Tony began, stepping to the right as McGee made a quick jab to the left. He knew he was the stronger fighter and would win any hand-to-hand combat, but that wasn't the objective: he had to beat McGee without causing further harm to either of them.
McGee snorted. "Yeah right."
"C'mon Probie," Tony pleaded, a note of desperation in his voice. "You have to remember our movie nights: our James Bond marathon—and I do mean marathon. We watched all twenty-one films in the course of four days, then went and saw the Quantum of Solace on opening night? You painted yourself with gold paint like Goldfinger and I was Blofeld with the monocle and the Nehru jacket? I even borrowed my landlady's white cat for the first few minutes until it decided to use your pant leg as a scratching post?
"And how could you forget our pizza nights? Or the time Vance threatened to fire me until I learned how to use the new interface and you stayed all night until I could at least manage to send an interoffice memo? You did that for me, Tim. This, this isn't you."
McGee shook his head wildly as if fighting off any more memories.
"Stop playing your mind games!" he shouted, feinting to the right again, sending the two of them into motion like planets in orbit.
"I know that information's somewhere in that superbrain of yours, McGeek!" Tony insisted, watching as McGee's reaction slowed slightly. He was fading fast, not surprising considering the extent of his injuries—it was actually pretty amazing the Probie had lasted as long as he did.
"I said…shut up!" the younger man hollered, faking one final blow to the right, but he extended slightly farther than his scrambled brain would allow. He was sent stumbling forward, his arm waving wildly as he tried to catch his balance.
Tony grabbed the flailing wrist and spun around, loosely twisting McGee's arm behind his back.
"Please stop, McGee. I don't want to hurt you," Tony begged, wrenching the arm slightly higher. He knew he sounded childish, but at this point, he'd get down on bended knee and swear that Robert Pattison was worthy of an Oscar for his role in Twilight if that was what it took to stop his partner's onslaught.
McGee didn't verbally respond. Instead, he took another step forward to regain his balance, simultaneously driving his left elbow into DiNozzo with all the strength he could muster.
White hot pain erupted in Tony's side as McGee's bony elbow connected with his healing bullet wound. A rather impressive color wheel danced in front of his vision and for a long moment he knew nothing but agony.
He felt McGee shift slightly under his grip and knew he had to end this now before one of them physically and permanently hurt the other.
Time lost all meaning as he tightened his grip on McGee's wrist with one hand and hooked his elbow around McGee's throat; all sound was blocked by the thudding in his ears and all pain was dulled by the hot poker burning in his side.
He tightened his hold slightly, releasing McGee's arm so he had a better grip on his shaking arm that was pressing on McGee's trachea. Putting someone in a headlock was always a tricky business since maintaining the hold for longer than ten seconds ensured the person entered unconsciousness and never woke up.
1… Too much pressure would permanently damage the windpipe and inhibit his partner's speech and breathing for the rest of his life. He'd learned that in one of Ducky's many monologues about the cruelty of human beings...
2… It was always his last resort since he never wanted to do more damage than absolutely necessary, especially when his assailants always managed to conjure up a Gloria Allred impersonator in such cases of "police brutality".
3… Today though, with his arms shaking madly, his thoughts being muddled by an unknown drug and his partner's life on the line, was the last day he ever wanted to implement such a dangerous maneuver.
4… McGee bucked suddenly, slamming them both into the nearest wall.
His already battered body screamed in protest and his natural response would be to release his partner, but Tony fought through the pain, not listening to McGee's grunts of protest. He had spent too much time as an athlete to know never to give up, especially when a situation seemed unwinnable: with McGee's thinking more scrambled that the electrical cords connecting his plasma TV to his surround sound system, it was up to him to protect his partner, whether the man wanted his help or not.
Damn, how much time had passed? He'd lost count after being thrown into the wall…. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
"Stop fighting!" he shouted to McGee, who refused to listen to reason and continued to thrash around wildly.
"N'…w'y," McGee gargled, his fingers clawing at Tony's face and arms.
"Sorry, Probie," Tony whispered, knowing what he had to do and regretting it all the same.
Still pressed against the wall, Tony leveraged himself with his upper back and stomped on the back of McGee's knee, though not hard enough to do any serious damage.
The Probie's knees buckled, and he momentarily stopped struggling against Tony's hold as he fought to keep himself upright.
"That's it," Tony coached, tightening his grip slightly as he felt McGee relax. It couldn't be much longer now…it had to be around ten seconds…but it wasn't like he could release his partner and pull out a pocket watch to check…
Oh shit, he was going to have to stop soon, rather than risk permanent damage to his partner. C'mon McGee, just give in, he pleaded silently.
That was it—too much time had passed—he had to let go… he unclasped his support arm, ready to completely release his partner. Blessedly though, at that very second, McGee's hands fell limply away and his head lolled to one side.
Tony pulled his forearm away from his partner's throat with lightning speed, managing to catch the unconscious man as he fell. He gently laid his partner on the floor, his hands immediately going for McGee's carotid artery.
His partner was still breathing, not very deeply, but enough to keep him alive and his pulse was steady but faint. DiNozzo picked up his jacket, which McGee had thrown off in the scuffle and gently laid it over his partner, trying to make the injured man as comfortable as possible.
What was he going to do? McGee was hardly breathing, his chest was barely moving up and down, oh god, he looked so pale…he needed a plan. Rushing the guard, assuming he could make his way out of the cell, was probably not a good idea. That left him with just one option: having the guard come to him.
"Oh my God, oh my God," he cried loudly for the effect of anyone who may be listening, trying to make himself sound as desperate as possible, which actually wasn't that hard considering his partner who had severe amnesia was lying on the ground after just trying to kill him. "I…C'mon McGee!...Breathe!...Holy shit!...I think…I just killed my partner!"
As he was speaking, he staggered drunkenly over the door and began pounding on it. When he heard footsteps approaching, he pressed himself against the wall, his knife clutched tightly in his trembling hand, ready to ambush anyone who walked through the door.
Seconds passed—freakin' long seconds—which turned into freakin' long minutes. Tony waited patiently by the door waiting for someone to come check on them, all the while staring at McGee, watching his chest for signs of life; without fail, the Probie's chest rose and fell softly, punctuated occasionally by a small cough.
After an eternity, he heard the door creak open.
He saw the man's gun enter the doorway, the loose stance and absolutely amateur grip telling Tony that the guard had had little to no practice with the weapon.
As the man's shoulders breached the door, DiNozzo brought his arm down on the man's gun arm sending the weapon flying from the now motionless fingers.
The young guard's eyes widened in surprise but before he could speak, Tony pulled him out of the doorway, slammed him against the wall, and held the knife against his jugular.
"Speak and you die," he hissed.
With his foot, he gently slid the door almost completely closed, keeping it open a fraction of an inch in case it was designed to lock automatically.
"Jason, everything all right?" he heard someone call.
He turned his attention back to the guard.
"Answer him. Reveal anything," Tony increased the pressure with the knife, drawing a small drop of blood, "and I cut you."
The guard's eyes widened even further than before, his eyebrows almost in his hairline. "'Kay," he managed, trying to keep his Adam's apple from coming into contact with the knife.
Tony pulled the blade away from Jason's neck about an inch, close enough to keep the guard from trying anything but far enough to allow him to speak without inhibition.
"Yeah boss. Everything's good," he stammered, his eyes never leaving the blade.
"Louder," DiNozzo snapped, applying a bit more force to the knife.
Jason repeated himself, this time without his stutter.
"Thank you," Tony quipped.
Before Jason had time to even respond, the agent backhanded the guard with his knife hand. The guard's head smacked against the wall and he dropped like a rock, remaining motionless in a crumpled heap on the dirt floor.
Breathing hard, Tony leaned heavily against the wall as he managed to grab the gun without collapsing himself. He knelt beside the guard, wrapping one hand tightly around his burning side, and searched the criminal quickly but thoroughly with one hand. His fingers landed on a small metal object on the inside jacket pocket.
Oh please, let it be, please let it be…Tony prayed as he pulled the object from a pocket. Oh yes, it was a cell phone.
He frowned at the display as the back-lit numbers swirled meaninglessly in his vision.
He hesitated a thought occurred to him. If he called Gibbs, would his boss even answer? Their last conversation had not ended on—well, let's just say good—terms and Tony had essentially called Gibbs out for avenging his family's murder.
Put in that situation, though, Tony was sure he would have acted the same way. He hadn't meant to say it, he hadn't actually meant it either, but in the heat of the argument it had just slipped out...
He and Gibbs had always had their differences though, and if Gibbs came through for him on this one, Tony would do whatever his boss wanted. If the man could no longer stand to be in the same room as someone who doubted his abilities as a team leader and second guessed his every action, DiNozzo would leave, no questions asked…As long as Gibbs helped him out of this mess he'd found himself in.
It wasn't really as though he had another option: the adrenaline from his fight with McGee…god, the man was lying so still over there…was draining and he just felt completely exhausted, the product of being shot, drugged and abducted. He could not save his partner on his own.
They needed help.
And with that, he punched in the number, waiting impatiently as the phone began to ring and hoping the other man would have the decency to pick up.