A loud ringing was a welcome interruption from the paperwork for Carson's protection detail. Gibbs rubbed the bridge of his nose with two fingers before snapping open the phone.
"Gibbs," he demanded brusquesly.
"Gibbs! Gibbs! Gibbs!" a bright voice intoned over the line, not pausing even for a second. "Where are Tony and McGee? I had a dream about both of them—no, not one of those weird ones…that I haven't mentioned to you until now," she realized, but kept on with her monologue. "But it's really important! They're in trouble—"
Gibbs was already pulling his gun from his desk drawer. "Did they call you, Abs?"
"No," she hesitated. "but I consulted the Ouija board this morning—yes, Gibbs, I know someone in the group pushes the little pointer around so it's, like, totally a hoax, but this time it was just me and I sure wasn't moving the pointer at all. It told me Tony and McGee were in trouble! You need to find out where they are and get over there ASAP. Something big is going down and they need you!"
"No, Gibbs, listen. I'm dead serious. You need to find them. They are in trouble. Big, big trouble."
Her voice changed from excited to more serious, borderline pleading. "Please, Gibbs. I have this feeling, like the one I had before Kate…" she trailed off, unable to finish her thought.
Gibbs sighed. "I'll go check it out, Abs."
"I'll owe you for forever," Abby promised before hanging up.
Gibbs sighed again as he placed the phone in its cradle, and glanced up to see Ziva hovering over his desk.
"Something is hinky, yes?" she asked.
"Abby thinks so," Gibbs replied, pulling his gun from his desk drawer.
"I think I should go with you. For backup." Ziva stood in the middle of the walkway through the squad room so Gibbs could not pass.
"Nope." Gibbs stepped to one side, but was blocked again by Ziva.
"Perhaps I should clarify – I am going with you. They are my partners as well."
"Fine." Gibbs tossed Ziva the keys to the sedan. "You're driving."
He had to tell McGee. Had to save Carson.
Tony struggled to pull himself to his feet, but his legs unable to support his weight and he fell to his knees, catching himself with his hands before he sprawled on the carpet. He remained on his hands and knees, sucking in air to try to focus his vision.
A mantra floated through his consciousness: DiNozzo's do not give up! Finally, his dad had taught him something useful, he thought grimly as he gathered his strength to call out to his Probie.
"McG—" The rest of his partner's name was ripped from his mouth as a sharp boot collided with his ribcage, forcing the remaining air out of his lungs. He collapsed to the floor, unable to breathe.
Not yet ready to accept his fate, Tony clumsily reached for his phone, but the same boot came down hard on his hand, keeping it from moving further. Resisting the urge to cry out, he could only watch as McGee came around the corner, gun drawn.
McGee had heard the gunshot and pulled out his phone, immediately dialing Gibbs' number while deciding whether to follow his gut and help his partner or stay and protect Susanna according to protocol. He had waited in tense silence while Susanna cowered next to the porcelain tub. When he heard Tony call half of his name, that was all McGee could stand. Protocol be damned! He was not going to stand here idly while Tony shot off his mouth in the front room and got himself killed trying to protect himself and Carson.
"Stay here!" McGee ordered Carson, his voice deadly low and as Gibbs-like as he could manage. "Any one comes around the corner, not me or Agent DiNozzo, hit him with this," he instructed, handing Susanna the lid from the toilet bowl. Susanna only nodded, grasping the ceramic block and pressing herself deeper into the crack between the toilet and the bathtub.
McGee took another look at his iPhone. The number wasn't going through. Someone was jamming the signal! He was going to have to help Tony out himself.
He took a deep breath and, really wishing Gibbs or Ziva were here with him, rounded the corner, gun pointed at unknown assailants.
Through his rapidly blurring vision, Tony saw Sheffield jump out from his hiding place, and grab McGee's gun with both hands. Tony winced as Sheffield thrust his elbow backwards into McGee's face and the sickening sound of a breaking bone resonated through the room. As McGee's eyes teared up for the second time today, Sheffield wrestled the gun away from the younger agent, following his first blow with another elbow to the stomach. When McGee reflexively doubled over, unable to make out even the men in front of him, Sheffield swung the gun directly into McGee's temple. The younger man dropped to the ground unconscious. Sheffield proceeded to stomp on the phone, shattering it into millions of small pieces not even Abby could reassemble.
"Tim!" Tony managed as he yanked his hand from underneath the man's boot.
Adrenaline flooded through his veins, giving him the necessary strength to make a final move. It was okay—well, not really, but that's what he was telling himself—if this was his last hurrah, but these faux Marshals would not take the witness with them. She was too important to their case. Iniguez had to be brought down. He forced himself back to his hands and knees, he tried again for his phone.
He bit back a yelp as someone grabbed him by the hair and the back of the suit jacket and pulled him to his feet, roughly ripping the phone out of his grasp. This person, presumably Davies, though it was getting hard to tell which Marshal was which, threw him against the wall.
Pain exploded through his head as it cracked against the door. As if not being able to distinguish the two marshals wasn't enough, now there were four undefined blobs in his immediate line of sight. Fleetingly, he was hoping that Carson was smart enough to try to figure out an escape plan. Even in her old age, it wasn't hard to hear that something was wrong in the front room struggle that was taking place in the entryway.
"That's quite a show you're putting on," two of the marshals said. "Your bravery and loyalty to your job is commendable."
"Tell that…to our director…Maybe he'll finally…nominate me for…a medal," Tony responded glibly.
Sheffield drove a fist into Tony's stomach, narrowly missing the gunshot wound and knocking the little wind he had managed to regain out of him. Tony doubled over but was caught by Davies and pushed against the wall again.
Tony focused on breathing for a moment, the rest of the world lost to the buzzing in his ears and his shapeless sight.
Suddenly, Sheffield's voice drifted through the fog. "I asked you: What. Is. Your. Name?"
"How 'bout three shillings…and we forget the name?" Tony quipped, a small grin coming to his face, trying to buy Carson enough time to escape.
"Well, if you're sure," Sheffield snarled before rearing back and viciously backhanding Tony across the mouth.
"I just wanted Ms. Carson to know who was responsible for her untimely death, but I guess 'nameless fool' will do nicely." Even through the haze, Tony could see Sheffield stepping away from him and heading for the backroom.
"Wait! Wait!" Tony called desperately, straining against Davies' grip. He could feel the blood flowing freely down his side and knew it wouldn't be long before he passed out from blood loss.
"I'll make you an offer you can't refuse," he slurred in his best Al Pacino impression, trying to by Carson as much time as possible. "He and Brando were absolutely magnificent in The Godfather…"
He was cut-off as Sheffield stormed back toward him, seized his throat and shoved his head against the wall.
"You are an annoying little son-of-a-bitch, you know that?" Sheffield spat.
"M'boss tells me…everyday," Tony replied emotionlessly. Where the hell was Gibbs? The first thing McGee would have done before coming to help would be calling Gibbs. With his boss' driving, it couldn't be long until his boss would get here and save the day.
Sheffield recognized the thoughtful and slightly hopeful look in Tony's eye. "How long do we have?"
Tony didn't respond. Sheffield shook him angrily and repeated the question.
"How. Long. Do. We. Have?"
Tony remained silent, fixing Sheffield with a Gibbs-caliber glare. At least, it was intended to be a Gibbs-caliber glare. Under the present circumstances, it probably passed as an annoying expression.
"It doesn't matter. Susanna will be dead long before they get here." Sheffield pulled his hand back. Tony tried to avoid the punch he knew was coming, but his body wouldn't respond. The punch landed solidly on his jaw, whipping his head to one side.
Davies released him and Tony collapsed to the floor, unable to avoid landing on his injured side. That new knifing pain was all his body could take, and it began to shut down.
Tony's heart sank as he heard the sound of two gunshots in the next room.
Suddenly he was no longer in the safe house. He was on a rooftop, wearing a bulletproof vest, panting for breath. He turned and glanced to his left to see Kate and Gibbs standing next to him. Tony realized where he was and also knew what was going to happen next. He tried to tackle Kate, somehow knocking her out of the way, but he was frozen in place, unable to move as he again watched the bullet from the Lapua pass through Kate's head and felt the warm liquid on his face—Kate's blood; he should have heard the gun being fired, reacted in time to save Kate, but he found himself unable, just a witness to the gruesome scene that unfolded.
Then the scene switched. He was standing in a room that had recently experienced an explosion. He saw Paula Cassidy, still as gorgeous as ever, sprinting off to his left. Tony spun around and saw the man wearing the bomb vest. He took off toward the door, but not fast enough. Cassidy beat him there, tackling Malik back into the room. Then the room shook with an undescribable rumble that would have tossed him to the ground, had he not been pressed directly against the brick wall, pounding on it viciously, praying he could force it open and save Cassidy. He knew what was happening, but again was unable to stop it; if only he'd been faster, been more aware, maybe he could have made a difference.
Again, the scene shifted and Tony was standing in an abandoned diner, staring at an enormous pool of blood, identified by one small piece of paper, folded in half and propped up like a tent that read "Sheppard." He should have listened to Ziva, but was so focused on following directives that he had chosen to ignore his gut. He'd broken Rule #3 and had not double checked what he had been told by the Director. A reasonable decision at the time, but someone with his advance training should have known better, should have acted more professionally, should have been able to change the outcome…
But he had been too late and every time someone else had paid the consequences. He was always too late. Too late to save Carson or any of the others. Too late for Kate, Cassidy, Jenny.
Tony realizing all this for the first time, realizing that he was unable to make changes in the lives of those people he cares about, unable to save the lives of those who truly matter, unable to perform his job at the highest level. He had let down Gibbs, McGee, Carson and a plethora of other people whose faces flashed briefly through his mind as the blackness closed in around him.
These thoughts heavy in his mind, Tony welcomed the impending darkness.