Once the initial shock disappeared, Gibbs realized that the woman standing in front of them was not Caitlin Todd: her cheekbones were more prominent, her brown eyes slightly further apart and her mouth smaller than those belonging to the Secret Service agent he had chosen eight years ago for his team. It was easy to see though how Tony could mistake her for the real thing in his current state, especially considering she was dressed in a style that was very similar to Kate's own and was wearing a small crucifix around her neck.
The one difference between the Kate he had hired and the woman standing in front of them was the imposter was holding a gun in a very relaxed grip, indicative of one who had had practice firing a weapon, one that was currently trained on Gibbs' heart.
DiNozzo felt Gibbs suddenly stop and glanced up from his feet to see the vaguely feminine-shaped blur in front of him.
"Go away Kate," Tony snapped before he squeezed his eyes shut, silently repeating his mantra She's not real, she's not real under his breath.
"I can't do that, DiNozzo," the look-alike said. The timbre of her voice slightly higher than Kate's had been, Gibbs noticed, not that these small differences made any real difference to an incredibly-drugged DiNozzo.
"Tony," Gibbs began cautiously, shifting slightly so he was between the woman and DiNozzo, "that's not Kate."
The agent stared in shock at Gibbs, uncertainty flashing through his green orbs before he roughly shoved himself away from the Lead Agent. He slammed into the closest wall, pressing himself into the brick, as if sheer willpower could make him disappear into it.
"You're…one of them," he breathed. He had seen Kate die, so she was clearly a figment of his imagination, but if Gibbs could see her as well, that logically meant that he had imagined Gibbs as well. He knew even his boss couldn't drive that fast to get to…wherever they were...so quickly. "You see her too."
"Of course he sees me," Kate interjected. "I'm exist Tony. When are you going to believe that?"
"Never," Tony declared adamantly, his gaze flickering rapidly between the two delusions.
Kate scoffed at the younger man before averting her gaze towards Gibbs. "He doesn't believe we're real."
"Cos you aren't," Tony interrupted. "I saw…you die…and Gibbs doesn't see dead people."
"Tony," the man in question began cautiously, his heart panging as he saw the Italian recoil at the sound of his voice.
Ever so slowly, Gibbs carefully slid his hand behind his back until it came to rest it on the butt of his SIG. At the same time, he took a small step to his right, trying to put as much distance between him and Tony as possible. "You're being drugged, DiNozzo. This isn't what is seems."
Tony let out a dry, humorless laugh. "D'ya think? And what gave that away?"
"Don't listen to him, Tony," Kate interjected. "I'm real."
"Tony," Gibbs drew his agent's attention back to himself. "That's not Kate."
"I know," Tony confirmed, fighting to keep his emotions from running rampant across his face. "She's dead. And you're not Gibbs."
"Yes, DiNozzo I am." Another small step right.
"No, you see her. She'd dead. And you're being nice, calling me by my first name," Tony offered by way of explanation. His gaze flickered wildly between his two delusions which were standing on either side of him, keeping him from moving down the hallway toward McGee.
"I'm really here, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, never taking his eyes off the weapon aimed at his chest.
In his peripheral vision, he saw Tony's eyes slip closed and he slid lifelessly down the wall, his body jerking each time it came into contact with a brick outcropping.
Any hope that DiNozzo was in the same condition that Gibbs had left him evaporated the second he saw his agent collapse. It took every ounce of strength to stop himself from running over to where his agent lay and head-slapping the truth out of him. Unfortunately, however, that plan had no long-term benefits, so Gibbs held his ground, waiting for Kate to provide him with an opportunity to shoot that would not involve getting Tony shot a second time.
He carefully began pulling down the safety of his weapon as quickly and as quietly as possible so as not to alert the imposter.
"No, you're not," a quiet voice managed. Gibbs breathed a small sigh of relief as the green eyes flitted briefly opened. He never ceased to be amazed by Tony's impressive endurance, especially when someone he cared about was in jeopardy. DiNozzo would go to hell and back for his partners—in fact, he had done it a time or two in the past—but now even he appeared to be reaching his limit. Gibbs knew both of his agents needed medial attention, so, with increased haste, he slid the safety down a bit more, sensing his weapon was almost ready to be fired and shuffling over a few additional inches.
"You've got that right, DiNozzo," the woman pretending to be Kate said.
Her eyes widened as she noticed for the first time the distance between the two agents.
"Stop moving," she ordered the grey-haired man, nonchalantly aiming the weapon at semi-conscious DiNozzo and wrapping her finger around the trigger. Gibbs stopped dead in his tracks, glaring intently into the faux Kate's brown eyes.
"You see," Kate continued as if the older man's presence was just a sad inconvenience, all the while remaining nonplussed by Gibbs' stare, "he does not believe you. That is the perfect ending for this disastrous job."
"Why are you doing this?" Gibbs asked watching both the movement of the weapon and Tony struggling to remain conscious. He saw his agent's gaze landed on the barrel of Kate's weapon, his eyes widening slightly before he schooled his expression into one of fierce defiance.
"Why not? They said I looked like some girl they once knew, paid me handsomely for sneaking into his room one night and pretending to be this Kate person—she sounds like real prune by the way, not a fun person."
Gibbs bristled at the woman's harsh judgment of the former Secret Service agent but managed to keep his tongue in check before the woman added a bullet hole to Tony's previous injuries.
"Then I got the call to come here and pretend to be that Kate again, but your man didn't fall for it as well the second time. He managed to escape that room without getting killed by McGee—" Gibbs did not let the surprise he was feeling show on his face though he was determined to discover just what had happened in that room when this was all over. "—and get himself all the way out here where he will watch you die."
"They pay you for killing too?" Gibbs asked loudly, masking the soft click of the safety as it slid completely off.
"That's my bonus." Kate raised her arms in front of her and squinted one eye closed. "Goodbye Agent Gibbs."
As her finger tightened on the trigger, Gibbs yanked the gun out of his waistband in perfect sync with her actions, slamming his left hand underneath his right as he brought the weapon in front of him. Before Gibbs could get off a shot, though, the woman's eyes flew wide open, the gun falling from her limp hands. Shock adorned her nearly perfect features and she collapsed to the ground, where she remained motionless.
Gibbs' expression mirrored Kate's own until he spotted the small knife sticking out of her back.
DiNozzo, who looked as if he would be knocked over by a small wind, had found the strength to throw a knife just over ten feet with deadly precision, effectively saving his life.
Gibbs kicked the gun out of Kate's grasp, not needed to take her pulse to know that she was dead: the brown eyes staring vacantly at DiNozzo told the entire story.
Tony was staring wide-eyed at the dead woman, breathing hard as his body struggled to cope with his quick throw. He knew he should be lucky he had hit her at all, but it wasn't as if he had really had a choice in the matter: he had heard what she had said to Gibbs, about how she had played him, about how she was going to shoot his boss, then there was what Gibbs had said about her not really being Kate. Anger flooded through his veins at how easily he had been deceived: he should have known better. That conversation he had had in his bedroom should have given him the answer, but no, he had continued to fall for her act and had almost gotten his boss killed in the process. The gravity of the situation struck him without warning, driving the confidence from his expression. What if he would have missed? He had no doubt that Gibbs could have handled himself, but he shouldn't always leave his boss to pick up his slack. He should have known earlier that someone had been impersonating Kate and that he was not, in fact, crazy.
He glanced again at the body, feeling cold shivers run up his spine as the remarkable resemblance between his former partner and the woman lying dead on the ground unnerved him more than he would have liked to admit.
Gibbs carefully squatted in front of his agent, strategically placing himself between his agent and the dead body.
"DiNozzo?" he asked softly, but Tony continued to stare through Gibbs as if the Lead Agent was made of air. He snapped his fingers in front of the Senior Field Agent's face, again receiving no reaction.
"Tony," he said a little more forcefully, gently reaching out and shaking DiNozzo's shoulder.
The touch had a stronger reaction that Gibbs had been expecting. Tony's eyes locked onto his, his empty look replaced by one of abject horror. His breathing increased and panic flashed across his features as he began to fight against his boss' grip.
"Hey, DiNozzo," Gibbs slapped the back of Tony's head, hoping this second touch would bring his agent out of his tailspin.
After a moment, the struggling diminished and the breathing regulated, though the terror did not disappear from Tony's posture.
"Gibbs?" DiNozzo asked uncertainly.
"Who else, DiNozzo?"
"'s it r'lly—"
The smack to the back of the head was all the proof he needed that he was, at least temporarily, back in reality.
"Let's have a look at that side." Gibbs reached for the bottom of Tony's shirt.
No!Tony panicked, then he'll be too busy worrying about me instead of going to help McGee. He shot out his free hand and latched onto Gibbs' own, keeping it from grasping his T-shirt. Though the pale hand was shaking, there was no mistaking the strength and message written in the gesture.
"Help McGee first…" Tony panted, "you can mother hen me…t'death...later."
"Boss, I j's popped a stitch…I'll be fine. McGee has s'rious head injury."
"Gibbs," Tony's eyes locked onto Gibbs and his boss saw his mind was made up. There would be no arguing with DiNozzo until his partner was cared for.
The pride swelled through Gibbs' chest while he kept his face deceptively blank, was quickly replaced by frustration at his agent's uncaring attitude toward his injury. Sighing in resignation, he wrapped one arm under Tony's shoulder, and helped the man to his feet. The small gasp of pain that Tony emitted was quietly noted by Gibbs but not mentioned aloud.
Gibbs helped his agent away from the crime scene, all the while keeping Tony from staring at the woman he had just killed.
"Just…'round the corner…" Tony said, motioning with one quivering finger, his eyes landing on Kate's body for the last time despite Gibbs' best efforts.
That was not Kate, he reminded himself one more time before turning his gaze forward, more determined than ever to find McGee.
As the two of them stumbled clumsily down the final hallway, Gibbs felt a cold shudder rack Tony's person. He examined his agent carefully, noting the pink tinge to Tony's cheeks that sharply contrasted his pallid expression.
"You warm, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked nonchalantly as they turned the final corner.
Momentary fear flashed through Tony's eyes before he shoved his blank mask back into place. "No, b'ss."
Before Gibbs had time to respond, Tony reached out, pointing at a wooden door complete with a heavy dead bolt. The Lead Agent shot Tony a look that clearly stated they weren't through with this conversation before gently leaning his agent against the wall and drawing his gun.
"Stay," he told DiNozzo, creaking the deadbolt out of the wall and throwing the door open. He stepped into the room, gun panning the room. He saw McGee lying on his back, a thin jacket haphazardly crumpled a few inches away. There was also an unconscious guard on the other side of the room, shackled to the far wall.
Having determined there was no one else in the room, Gibbs clicked the safety back on his weapon.
"Clear DiNozzo," he called as he knelt down next to his youngest agent and reached for a pulse: it was faint, but present.
"You need to hurry with that ambulance, Ziva," he barked into the earwig, looking at the bluish tinge to McGee's nose. He slipped off his jacket and rolled it under the younger man's head in an attempt to open his airway. He sighed in relief as McGee's breaths deepened slightly and the horrible gasping desisted. He snatched the second jacket and shook the dirt off of it, waiting until he examined DiNozzo to determine who needed it more.
He turned around and watched his senior agent lethargically shuffle into the room, stopping just out of reach and leaning heavily on the wall, his face taught with pain.
"DiNozzo, I need to look at your side," Gibbs ordered.
Tony shook his head viciously. "Help…McGee…f'rst."
"McGee's gonna be fine," Gibbs reassured a troubled DiNozzo.
Behind Gibbs, Tony thought he saw McGee raise his arm and drop it back down on his chest. Either he was imagining it, or the Probie was waking up.
But instead of opening his eyes, McGee's hands began flying left and right without any conceivable pattern. Less than a second later, his entire body jerked once, his arms and legs flying into the air. Or…was he just imagining it? Well, it seemed pretty real, and the crazed choking noises that were escaping McGee's mouth sounded real.
"Gibbs!" Tony cried, pointing over his boss' shoulder as McGee slipped out from the jacket and broke into full-body convulsions.
Tony watched as Gibbs spun around, having begun turning before Tony had actually spoken, to find McGee seizing. Without a word, the Lead Agent rolled the junior agent onto his side, glancing at his watch to note what time the seizure had started. He was shouting into the earwig, but the words were lost in a blur of noise that thudded through Tony's ears.
DiNozzo stumbled backwards until he felt the rough brick in his back. With shaky fingers, he managed to lift the bottom of his shirt, wincing as he took in the ugly red wound which had just begun to bleed again. He had most definitely popped a stitch—McGee's bony elbow had made sure of that during their fight and his two meetings with the floor had certainly not helped the situation. Especially after he had torqued with everything he had in order to ensure the knife had landed in the imposter and not in the ground, he had been fairly certain he had felt yet another of the small sutures tear.
He thrust his hand against the gash, watching the blood drip between his fingers. Apparently, he had popped more than two stitches judging by the amount of blood that had soaked into his black T-shirt. He gave into his vertigo and slid down the wall, darkness encroaching on his field of vision.
Still looking at his partner who was continuing to spasm uncontrollably, Tony felt more helpless than he had ever felt in his entire life. He wanted nothing more than to offer his assistance, but his body was insisting on shutting itself down as quickly as possible.
"Gotta…save…McGee," he managed before his eyes rolled back into his head and he lost consciousness.
Still tightly gripping McGee's shoulder, watching as the younger man continued to jerk crazily on his side, the Lead Agent turned back to see Tony slip into unconsciousness, his shirt finally lifting to reveal a scarlet-smeared skin and a bleeding side wound.
"Dammit DiNozzo," Gibbs swore as he slid slightly, grabbing the spare jacket with his one free hand and holding it against the wound while continuing to keep McGee on his side. He felt Tony's blood trickling through his fingers, showing no signs of slowing, while McGee continued to convulse wildly underneath his other.
Gibbs was not normally a praying man—he had experienced too much tragedy in his life to believe in any ethereal being who was in control of the fate of the world—but at that very moment, he prayed: prayed to every god, deity, or saint out there that his boys would be okay.