Tony waited silently as the phone rang once…twice…
What was he going to do if Gibbs didn't pick up? It's not like he could get McGee out of here by himself…well, he could but it was not a plan that was conducive to the betterment of McGee's current health.
Lucky, he didn't have to consider those thoughts for much longer since, before the third ring, he heard a soft click.
"Gibbs" barked a gruff voice.
He could safely say, with one hundred percent certainty, that he had never been so happy to hear his boss' voice.
He opened his mouth to speak, but his throat was so dry, no words came out. He frowned at the handset, cleared his throat and began again.
"Hey boss," he croaked.
"DiNozzo." Was that worry he heard in his boss' tone followed by a deep sigh of… relief?...or were the drugs Sheldon had forced him to drink starting to take effect?
Apparently it was the former, for the statement was followed by a crisp "Where are you?"
"I dunno…some concrete room…probably underground." He paused, completely focused on drawing in breaths, as the simple act of speaking was becoming increasingly difficult.
He heard the sharp snapping of fingers and knew Gibbs was signaling someone to start tracing the phone call.
"Are you hurt?"
Tony snorted. He supposed it was a matter of perspective, really, whether he was hurt or not. Considering he had just had a death match with his partner of five years who thought he was a homegrown hit man, really, he wasn't hurt that badly, but McGee was—which was why they needed Gibbs here. Now.
"No worse than the…last time you saw me..." he lied.
Gibbs had been working with DiNozzo for ten years and knew not to put stock into DiNozzo's account of an injury. Their many cases together had proven time and time again that Tony could have a hole in his chest the size of a pizza and would still be insisting he wasn't badly wounded. While the question seemed pointless, it was worth asking just in case Tony decided to answer it truthfully.
"McGee with you?" Gibbs asked.
"Yeah," Tony looked at the still figure lying across the room, not speaking again until McGee's chest had risen and fallen again. "You gotta hurry boss. He's hurt bad, doesn't know who he is."
"Just…line…'Ony." DiNozzo yanked the phone away from his ear as high-pitched static filled the line.
"I'm losin' you boss," he yelled into the receiver. Amidst the white noise, he heard a faint beeping. He glanced at the phone's display, cursing quietly as he saw the words "Low Battery" flashed across the screen.
"Stay. On. The. Line," Gibbs repeated loudly and more slowly, to be heard through the bad connection.
"Can't. Low battery," he informed his boss, watching as the screen flickered on and off.
"Don't hang up, DiNozzo—"
"Have to…keep the phone on…to save batt'ry. I'll see what I can do…" Tony gasped as the room tilted like a demented carnival ride. He almost dropped the phone as nausea flooded his system and he was forced to grab the wall with both hands to remain upright.
"You gotta hurry Gibbs…" he panted, biting his lip between words to keep the nausea at bay. "We need you."
He snapped the phone closed and focused on keeping the contents of his stomach inside his person. Gradually the nausea eased, leaving him staring at the two bodies that continued to undulate in his vision.
What was he going to do? There was no way in hell he was just going to sit here, twiddling his thumbs until Gibbs arrived. He had the utmost trust in his boss, but even Leroy Jethro Gibbs did not have superhero abilities to teleport him here in less than a minute. Plus, he wasn't even sure how long McGee could hang on without medical attention. The only way he could get McGee help faster would be to run some sort of interference for his boss, getting the layout of the facility and maybe channeling John McClane on a few bad guys who happened to be alone and preferably unarmed. While he wasn't particularly fond of leaving McGee here, he knew he would only be causing his partner more damage in trying to move him.
First things first: he had to do something about Jason first to ensure the guard wouldn't wake up and put a round through McGee's heart.
He shuffled over to Jason, noticing for the first time that the guard was almost in reach of the shackle. He rested one hand on the wall for support and grabbed Jason's pant leg, clumsily dragging the guard toward the manacle.
When he was within reach, DiNozzo fell to his knees, sliding the knife carefully back into his sock and laying the gun on the ground beside him so he could work quickly and with both hands. At the moment, it was taking all of his concentration to keep from collapsing so attempting to secure a shackle with one hand was probably not the best idea. Even with both hands working to bring the cold metal halves together, it took multiple tries before he managed to close the cuff around the guard's ankle.
For additional security, he removed Jason's cheap belt buckle with great difficulty and, after awkwardly pinioning the guard's arms behind his back, he wrapped it tightly around his wrists. Slightly pleased with his small accomplishment, he gave the leather a strong tug, satisfied that the guard would not be able to escape.
Shooting one last glance at McGee, watching one more time as his partner's chest rose and fell, Tony picked up the gun and ejected the magazine to see anyone was stupid enough to trust this kid with a loaded weapon. Apparently there was someone, for Tony was able to count three, maybe four bullets neatly aligned in the clip. That was more of an estimate though—it was difficult to see the exact number while they were mashed into one large silver blur.
He hauled himself to his feet and stumbled toward the door, which had remained cracked open. He poked his gun out of the door, waiting to see if anyone fired. Hearing no gunshots, he carefully slipped out into the hallway, weapon raised. Short-lived relief rushed his system upon discovering he was the hallway's sole occupant since he wasn't entirely certain he could have hit one of Sheldon's men even if he wanted to.
He quietly pulled the door closed, wincing as it made a small creaking sound. He froze and listened for approaching footsteps, doors clanging closed, anything at all that would indicate someone was interested in the disturbance.
But no one came.
After a long moment of silence, he let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding and stared blankly at the dead bolt. The thought of locking his partner in the room with one of Sheldon's guards repulsed him but, since McGee was having difficulties recalling his identity, it would not be beneficial for his partner to wandering around the enemy compound, assuming he ever woke up.
Don't even think that, DiNozzo, he mentally chided himself. When McGee wakes up. Not if but when.
Well then, when McGee woke up, if he managed run across Sheldon, Tony knew the crime lord would shoot without a second thought, while McGee not remembering who he was or what training he had, might not. It was a catch-22—a lose-lose situation—but, for the second time in the last ten minutes, DiNozzo found himself without another option.
He knew he had to lock the door but hated himself for doing it. Sighing resignedly, he slipped the deadbolt closed, cringing as the sound reverberated through the empty hallway.
Tony pushed away from the door and staggered down the hallway, stumbling from wall to wall like a human pinball. He was listening for footsteps or other signs that someone might be approaching but the sound of his own breathing was drowning out all other noises.
Eventually, he came to an intersection. As he paused to catch his breath, he awkwardly withdrew the knife from his ankle and managed to scratch a shaky "X" into the brick. He had never been much of an outdoors man, but he knew enough from films like 127 Hours that it was it was important to leave a trail. Especially if he wasn't able to find Gibbs, he would at least be able to give directions to someone about McGee's whereabouts.
"You left your partner behind!" a deep voice boomed, the words echoing throughout the empty chamber. Tony spun around, looking for the cause of the voice, but found he was the only one in the hallway. A split second later, DiNozzo realized the voice sounded faintly like Gibbs', if his boss' voice had been run through one of the fancy programs on McGee's computer and had become deeper and more drawn-out.
"Haven't I spent the last ten years telling you about Rule One? And look at you now. The first sign of trouble and you head out, leaving your partner to die while you cower in the intersection like a scared child."
"That's not true, I'm going for help," Tony corrected the voice, slapping at the air around his head to ward off any additional suggestions.
"Sure you are," the voice mocked, not dissuaded by DiNozzo's gestures. "That's why you are just standing here?"
"I'm standing here," Tony parroted, glaring intently at the three-way stop, "because all the hallways look alike in this place. It's like they purposely designed it to be a maze."
If the voice had a response, it wasn't heard, having been overshadowed by the intense level of concentration Tony was evoking to choose a way out.
He looked right, unable to see much past about an arm's length in front of him. He tried hard to focus on the passageway, but discovered was unable to see anything besides the far end of the hallway. It danced animatedly—condescendingly even—in his field of vision, prefaced by a long dark tunnel. Other than the far wall, he could only see black, though there should have been enough light in the building to allow him to see where he was going.
He shook his head to clear his vision, which is quickly discovered was a bad idea as the nausea swelled again within him. He clung to the wall like a drowning victim clutching a life preserver until the nausea diminished for a second time.
"Make up your mind, DiNozzo," he commanded his self-conscience in a low whisper. "Left or right, it's not that difficult."
He glanced down the left wing, which looked no more promising. Right was as good a direction as any, he decided, tucking the knife back into its impromptu holster. He staggered down the hallway, barrel of the S&W directed at the floor as per the standard operating procedure of every law enforcement agency. His one arm remained wrapped tightly around his smarting torso as if the meek support was the only thing keeping him upright.
He stumbled along, unable to judge how far he had travelled. The additional intersection seemed infinitely far away and he didn't appear to be getting any closer to it, no matter how long he thought he had walked.
Just before he was seriously considering turning around and trying the left passageway, one foot caught around his opposing ankle, depositing him rudely on the floor, and knocking the wind out of him.
Still lying flat on his stomach, he looked back at his feet, seeing a small raised root of some sort. Temporarily unable to speak, he mentally directed a few choice words at the small plant which was apparently capable of literally bringing him to his knees. As his breath returned, he took a quick inventory, determining his fingers were still tightly wrapped around the gun, and other than mortally embarrassing himself, he appeared to have done no further damage.
The cell phone! It had been sitting in his hip pocket, meaning he had probably landed directly on it. He hurriedly slipped it out of his pocket, and saw that, though the screen was cracked, it was still blinking. Blinking was good, that meant the device was just mostly dead, which meant that it was still partially working. Assuming someone had managed to get a trace on it, Gibbs should be arriving soon...
"But that depended on where you are," the voice offered helpfully, only now, it sounded feminine and familiar…not Ziva's…not Abby's...
Oh God…not again.
DiNozzo flipped himself onto his back and scooted away from the voice. He saw the brown hair swirling wildly around a lightly tanned complexion, the soft smile, and smelled the unobtrusive lavender scent… he squinted and the face came into view.
"You're not real," he stated to Kate Todd, rolling onto his knees and forcing himself back to his feet, grasping the wall for additional support.
"You in the habit of talking to dead people, then?" Kate asked, reaching out her hand to help her former partner.
Tony ignored the gesture, knowing Kate was a delusion: he had seen her die, seen the bullet slice right through her, felt her warm blood splashing onto his face as he watched her fall, her face permanently contorted in a look of surprise. Her demise had been so quick she never had had time to feel pain.
Be grateful for small miracles, Ducky had said after declaring her time of death.
There was no way that had been an act: Caitlin Todd was dead—he'd visited her in autopsy, watching, hoping that her eyes would open and she would breathe again, he'd attended her funeral, saw her family mourn the loss of their youngest daughter as she was lowered into the ground…
He heard the light footfalls and turned his head to see Kate walking alongside him. "You gonna leave me behind, Tony?"
"You're a figment…of my imagination," Tony repeated, doing his best to block out the image that was travelling beside him as he lumbered along.
"This is not Fight Club…or the Usual Suspects…and you're not Tyler Durden…or Keyser Söze," he muttered as he managed to turn the corner with a repeat visit to the floor.
He half-expected a response from Kate, but there was only silence. He glanced to his left and saw that Kate had disappeared. Good, it was hard enough to think clearly with the drugs muddling his brain, he didn't need additional distractions that would keep him from finding a way out and leading Gibbs back to his injured partner that much faster.
He withdrew the knife and made his mark on the wall again, noticing a blurry, vaguely human-shaped object a few yards away, lying facedown on the ground.
He thumbed the safety off of the weapon and wobbled down the corridor. As he came closer, more and more details came into view: the gray hair…the height…the strange, half-shaved haircut…
Gibbs! Tony broke into an awkward run that consisted of pushing off the wall with each step until he had reached his boss. He collapsed beside the Lead Agent, not caring that the motion drove tendrils of pain into his lower body.
There was no way his boss was here already, he tried to tell himself, trying fervently to rationalize the situation. He hadn't called that long ago…or maybe he had…how long had it been? He had completely lost track of time as he had stumbled down the never-ending corridors, fighting off his drug-induced visitors.
He dropped the gun, fear racing through him as he noticed the blood flowing freely down the side of Gibbs' face. He reached out with shaking fingers and brushed the whitening hair away from his boss' temple, grimacing as he saw the deep gash from where the blood was spouting. Though it was certain a horrible wound, it was not—should not be—lethal.
He gently flipped his boss over, gasping in horror as he saw the blood and bruising on his boss' face and the light blue eyes that stared blankly into Tony's own. He held his breath and reached for the general area of the carotid artery. He pressed harder, willing himself to find a pulse, but currently unable to find any movement beneath his quaking fingers.
"No…" he breathed, jabbing his fingers deeper into Gibbs' neck, but the results were the same. "NO!"
He pressed his ear against his boss' chest, wanting more than anything to hear the pounding of a heart beneath the ribcage.
After a quiet second, he pulled back and interlaced his fingers, beginning chest compressions while he barked out the number of repetitions.
"C'mon boss!" he shouted, pushing on his boss' ribcage with all the strength he could muster. He was no longer tired, no longer worn out. He didn't know where the strength came from to help his mentor—and frankly he didn't care—he just hoped it would last long enough to save the older man.
"C'mon Gibbs! Breathe!" He stopped the compressions and pulled away, straining to see if his boss' ribs rose and fell of its' own accord.
Tony was reaching for his boss' chest again, ready to continue compressions when Gibbs eyes flew open. His face began paling visibly like the cheesy special effects in any B flick, his wrinkles evaporating and his skin taking on a marble-like quality. His mouth twisted into a cruel sneer and Tony saw his eyeteeth elongate until they had passed his chin, blood dripping down the canines.
DiNozzo was unable to move, staring transfixed at the changes occurring in his boss' face. Without warning, Gibbs sat up, his eyes landing on the blood leaking from DiNozzo's cheek, and, in that instant, Tony saw the unrestrained craving written within them.
Images of his childhood, his black canopy, his mother and her Louis XV obsession flashed through his mind. He let out a strangled cry and scrambled out of vampire Gibbs' reach. Tony took refuge across the room, holding one hand out to protect himself from any additional attacks from the hungry vampire. He glanced across the room, his eyes landing on the gun he had discarded next to where vampire Gibbs had been lying. Dammit.
A small voice in the back of his head told him it was all a delusion, but the rest of his brain was working so exhaustively to bring to light one of Tony's worst bête noires that the voice of reason remained unheard.
"He's not real, he's not real," Tony whispered under his breath, willing the approaching vampire to disappear. "You're just hallucinating. He's not real, he's not real…"
DiNozzo bent down and pulled the knife from its sheath, holding it at arm's length, wishing he had a stake or a crucifix to use as a better defense.
"You stay away from me. I will use this," he told his delusion, as if it would actually listen to him.
"DiNozzo." That sounded like Gibbs' voice. As if it weren't bad enough that his mind was feeding his vampire phobia, his imagination had also managed to make the vampire sound like Gibbs…
Unbeknownst to DiNozzo, Gibbs was actually present, having heard his Senior Field Agent's voice as soon as he had entered the basement of an abandoned home in southern Maryland. Gun drawn, he had crept from room to room, barely making a sound, a skill born from many years of military training, until he had heard a faint crash from beneath the wood floor.
He followed the sound until he arrived at the hallway from where the voice was resonating. His heart skipped a beat as he turned the corner to see DiNozzo cowering against the far wall, knife grasped in a quaking hand, yelling something about not being real to a vacant room. Abby had been right about the side effects of that drug Tony had been consuming over the last week: his agent was clearly exhibiting irrational behavior.
Rage flowed through his veins as the physical manifestations of Sheldon's twisted plan for paroling his brother became apparent and Gibbs vowed the man would be held responsible for what he had done to his agents.
The Marine took another step forward and lowered his gun, not wanting to further startle the already spooked man. "Gibbs coming in," he announced loudly.
Tony whipped around at the voice. The Lead Agent was momentarily taken aback by the pure, unrestrained terror in his agent's normally reserved green eyes and the confusion wrapped around the prevalent lines of pain in his face.
"Boss?" Tony asked softly, spinning back around to where vampire Gibbs had just been standing, inches from his outstretched knife, but the delusion appeared to have vanished, just as Kate had earlier.
He heard someone kneel next to him and felt rough, calloused fingers beneath his chin, tilting his face towards his own. Tony allowed the motion, following it with his knife arm. He jabbed the blade into the man's stomach, though not with enough force to puncture the skin…yet.
Tony wanted nothing more than to believe that his boss was really here, but given the past few hours, nothing would surprise him. His mind was dredging up people and fears of past, preying on his hope that his boss was coming, so he had to be prepared for the very real possibility that this Gibbs was just an illusion as well.
"Its okay, DiNozzo. I'm really here," Gibbs coaxed, feeling the sharp blade in his belly. Without taking his eyes off his agent, he carefully withdrew his hand from his agent's face.
"I don't believe you," Tony said, his voice sounding small and uncertain, two qualities that were not normally associated with Anthony DiNozzo.
Gibbs took a deep breath, fighting to maintain his trademark stoicism while his parental instinct raged within him. "That's okay," he began, very calmly and very slowly. "What do I have to do to prove it to you?"
"Smile," DiNozzo demanded, almost without hesitation.
"What?" Confusion flitted across Gibbs' face at his agent's strange request.
"Smile." Without removing the knife, Tony pulled up the corners of his mouth, exposing his neatly aligned, perfectly normal teeth as an example.
What the hell, Gibbs thought and repeated the gesture.
"No fangs," Tony murmured to himself. Before he withdrew the knife, he had to be sure that this was the real Gibbs. Now, what was a question only the real Gibbs would know?
"What are you building in your basement?" he questioned, watching the man's face closely for any signs of deception.
Gibbs locked stared with his agent, refusing to look away as he answered, "A boat."
The man knew Gibbs was building a boat in his basement, though it wasn't exactly the world's best kept secret. Best to ask another one…just to be sure.
"Favorite alcohol beverage?"
Wisps of hope began seeping into Tony's disbelieving attitude. The man had gotten that one right as well: he was two for two.
DiNozzo narrowed his gaze at his boss before asking, "What's Rule Sixty-One?"
"There isn't one. They stop at fifty," Gibbs responded, deciding now would not be a good time to explain his additional rule to his second-in-command. He waited in silence, for either an additional question or to be stabbed with the small belt-knife.
He saw a small crack in his agent's bravado before the green eyes hardened. "What did I say to you when we first met?"
"'Get the hell away from my crime scene, you crazy bastard,'" Gibbs recited verbatim, recalling how that phrase had been followed by a vicious body-check and a six-hour stay in the Baltimore PD Interrogation Room.
After a long few moments, DiNozzo cautiously pulled the knife away. He wanted nothing more to hug his boss, so entirely glad that the Marine wasn't dead that he was willing to express the emotions that he normally kept to himself.
That must be the drugs, he thought, managing to refrain from the gesture and keeping both his composure and dignity in tact.
He pushed off the older man in order to rise to his feet. "We gotta go…McGee's hurt…doesn't remember who he is…doesn't remember who I am."
"Take it easy, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered, seeing Tony practically fall back to the ground, the exertion of standing proving to be almost too much for his body. Just when he thought he was going to have to catch his Senior Field Agent, Tony straightened up and pointed down the hallway.
"C'mon Gibbs…." He urged, following his boss' gaze to his side.
"I'm fine! McGee's worse off than me!" he motioned jerkily down the hallway.
The blood leaking from his protégé's cheekbone; his pale, gaunt face; the way his eyes jerked from side to side as if he were expecting to be attacked at any second; the uneven breathing; and the way his arm never left his side did not escape Gibbs' notice, but the Lead Agent knew better than to argue with a DiNozzo who had his mind made up.
He slipped the gun into the waistband of his jeans and followed the Italian down the long hallway.
Tony's face quirked into a small smile as he saw his boss rise from the ground. Without taking the time to focus on the placement of his feet, he took another step forward and almost face-planted as his knees gave away. Before he had fallen more than a few inches, a strong hand grabbed the back of his shirt and held him off the ground until another looped under his shoulders, pulling him back into a standing position.
"I got ya, Tony," he heard his boss say.
DiNozzo extracted himself from his boss' grip, wanting to prove to his boss that he was capable of walking, but the second he succeeded in standing alone, the ground swayed dangerously and he came with inches of tasting the dirt again. Thankfully, his boss caught him a second time, slinging his right arm over the older man's shoulder.
"Stop fighting, DiNozzo," Gibbs ordered, not wanting his agent to injure himself further by trying to prove that he didn't need help walking. He knew DiNozzo would rather crawl on his hands and knees to where McGee was being kept instead of leaning on him, but right now, he did not have time to crack open that thick skull and inform his agent that accepting help was not in fact a sign of weakness.
"Made…Xs…" Tony pointed to the childish scratch he had gouged into the wall as they came to an intersection.
"That's good work DiNozzo," Gibbs complimented, shifting his grip on Tony's arm so they could turn the corner without incident.
"You hear that Ziva?" he asked loudly. Tony glanced over his shoulder for the Israeli, but he and Gibbs were the only two people in the hallway. He looked more closely at his boss, seeing for the first time the clear wire that wrapped around his ear. Well, if he didn't feel completely helpless as is, he was now completely incapable of discerning that his boss was wired…Just another reason the famous "Team Gibbs" was better off without him…
He heard a tinny female voice speaking, though he was unable to hear the actual words. After a while, the voice stopped and Gibbs responded with a curt closing.
"You still with me, DiNozzo?" the Lead Agent asked when Ziva was finished informing him of her current position.
"Always…boss," Tony confirmed without looking up from the ground where he was completely absorbed in putting one foot in front of the other.
His boss nodded once again and the two continued toward McGee's position in determined silence.
Of all the things Gibbs was expecting to see as he rounded the corner, Caitlin Todd blocking their path, training a SIG SAUER on the two of them, was definitely not one of them.