The White Hat Sneakers

Chapter 10: Last Stands

“Fornell!” Gibbs barked again, trying not to worry. “Status!”

“He’s alive,” Redford’s voice answered over the line, his voice tense and weak at the same time. “We’re coming. Hang on.”

Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. Alive? What the hell did that mean?

As if on cue, two agents staggered into view around the end of the porch, from the direction Fornell had gone earlier, clearly leaning on each other. The struggling men only made it a few steps before they stopped.

Redford eased Fornell against the side of the house and sat him down, before leaning back to rest a hand on his own forehead. Even in the dark, Gibbs could see the blood coating it—Redford’s blond hair looked like someone had tipped ink over it.

“What the hell happened?” he demanded.

Redford looked up, and then stood up again, swaying slightly. He headed towards the NCIS agent, keeping low until he was kneeling next to Gibbs. Duncan was focused on Ziva again, peppering the walls inside the house almost spastically—they could hear him laughing. Redford frowned at the raucous noise, before focusing his gaze on Gibbs.

“Reams shot us. He was on the porch roof. He…” Redford touched his blood covered forehead again, wincing a little as he spoke, “creased my forehead, I guess. I only came to a little while ago. He hit Fornell in the chest and shoulder—I’m not sure how.” Gibbs’ eyes must have betrayed his worry because Redford grimaced, giving a slight headshake. “He’s okay. Go talk to him. I can keep Matthews covered.”

The look Gibbs favored him with this time was disbelief, but Redford just smiled. “No, I’m alright, really. No blurred vision or anything. I got lucky.”

“Real lucky,” Gibbs said. Redford inclined his head, and, wiping away some of the blood threatening to pool around his left eye below the cut, he raised his gun.


Gibbs frowned, but nodded, moving out of the way so he could go and speak to Fornell.

Keeping low, as Redford had, to stay out of sight of the windows, Gibbs headed over to his old friend, kneeling down next to him and quickly going over the man’s wounds. Fornell was breathing heavily, blinking drowsily as Gibbs shifted into his line of sight. Redford had slapped a field dressing on his shoulder, but, based on the amount of blood staining Fornell’s shirt, he was bleeding sluggishly, which was a good sign. Gibbs frowned more at the two bullet-sized puncture wounds in the black kevlar—the vest had done its job, but, considering the way Fornell was breathing, they had still caused a lot of pain, possibly even broken some ribs.

In that brief time, Fornell’s eyes had closed.

“Fornell,” he said, grabbing the agent’s unhurt shoulder. “Fornell!”

The FBI agent groaned, and Gibbs sighed in relief. He gripped the man’s good shoulder even more tightly.

Fornell’s blue eyes blinked open. “Gibbs?” he called weakly.

“Hey. What happened?”

Fornell blinked a few times, his brow furrowing. He groaned then, a hand drifting up to his chest. “Got hit,” he managed.

“I can see that. Reams do this?”

Fornell grunted. “Yeah. He was on the roof, and I pulled…” His eyes widened then, and his worried gaze met Gibbs’. “Wait. Reams, he said…he said…Tara was upstairs.” He pointed upwards.

Gibbs shook his head. “She’s not. DiNozzo said she’s down at the barn, with the others.”

Fornell frowned. He must not have heard Sacks’ call. “You sure?” At Gibbs’ nod, he asked softly, “She okay?”

Gibbs’ eyes squinted slightly, not answering. He didn’t need to. Fornell closed his eyes in pain, and then jumped then as more AK-47 fire erupted from the house. The FBI Agent focused blue eyes on Redford, who was ducking away from the door, and then back at his old friend.

“I want these bastards to go down,” he snarled.

Gibbs just held out a hand in response. “Come on, get up.” The look Fornell gave him was initially one of uncertainty, and then, when he actually took the hand he was offered, one of determination.

Once Gibbs had him standing, Fornell seemed to get some energy back. He blinked at Gibbs, and nodded, indicating that he could fight.

“Can you stay here with Redford?” Gibbs asked him. “Help keep Matthews occupied and keep an eye out for Reams?”

Fornell nodded again. “What about you?”

Gibbs frowned, and looked up at the porch roof. “I’m going to take Matthews down.”

Sitting under the porch, Reams smiled, pleased to finally hear confirmation of DiNozzo’s whereabouts. Down at the barn, eh? He might have guessed as much, but it was good to hear.

He still might be able to win this.

Crawling on his hands and knees, he made his way to the other side of the house, opposite where he’d come down.

It was where the entrance to the basement was.

Holding tightly to McGee’s arm around his shoulders, Tony half carried his teammate into the room with the vats, where Sacks, Royce and the other two were already waiting. It was much warmer in here—the cells had been freezing.

Sacks had barred the outside door, and was watching the trees out the broken window. Zelnitz was bandaging Royce’s shoulder while Royce kept a gun on the goon, the three of them sitting on chairs near the security monitors. Cheevers was lying on one of the cots, his swollen leg raised and an arm thrown across his eyes.
Tony sat McGee on the other cot and pulled off his NCIS jacket, handing it to Tim. McGee didn’t seem to see it, not until Tony actually put it on his lap. Then Tim looked down, blinked at the jacket for a moment, and finally turned a questioning gaze to Tony.

“What’s this for?”

“You’re freezing. Take it.”

McGee frowned more, but he accepted the jacket and, with shaking hands, pulled it on. Once he had it zipped up, he gave Tony a nod.

“Sure thing,” he said, patting McGee’s shoulder. He was trying very hard not to react to how subdued Tim seemed. That brief moment where he’d shown fear for Tony (and what the hell was that all about?) was the most significant emotion Tim had shown. Otherwise, he seemed barely conscious. It’d be freaking Tony out more, but he knew the effect Ecstasy could have on a dehydrated and hurting body, especially one not used to the drug. He’d seen enough of that when he worked for the Baltimore PD. Combined with what he guessed was probably borderline hypothermia…

He bent over, so that he’d be eye level with Tim. Tim didn’t meet the other man’s gaze until Tony deliberately shifted into his line of sight. McGee frowned slightly when he finally focused on him.

“What?” McGee asked, sounding a little annoyed.

“Nothing, just...” Tony ducked his head a little. “You okay?”

McGee frowned more, looking down.

“McGee, come on. Talk to me. I need to know if—”

“Wait.” McGee straightened suddenly, looking again at Tony with a worried gaze. “Did I tell you the seven names? There are seven names.”

Tony tried not to frown, resulting in a sort of grimace. “Yes, you did. You did good.”

McGee shook his head. “No. I know more. I need to tell you more. I’m having trouble…” His eyes narrowed slightly. “Trouble thinking. I can’t—”

“It’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” Tim stressed suddenly, with a flare of anger. “Don’t tell me it’s okay. I know more! I just…” He shut his eyes, frowning. “Reams, he…. There’s more. I can’t…why can’t I…?” He let out a harsh breath, and rubbed a hand over his face. When he lowered it, his eyes opened, focusing on his hand. His expression grew troubled. “What happened to my wrist?” He brought his other hand forward then, and blinked at the damaged mess of that one as well.

Tony didn’t know how to answer, and when McGee looked at him, eyes scared now, all he could do was shake his head.

Tim frowned, and looked away again, letting his hands fall to his lap.

Tony sighed. He’d wanted more emotion for Tim, and, for a moment, he saw his friend in there, in that flash of determined anger, that need to get the answers he knew out, but, as quickly as it had come, it had gone again. There was no easy way to fix this, was there?

He stood up and patted McGee’s shoulder through the jacket. “I’m going to talk to Sacks a minute. You going to be okay?”

Tim didn’t answer, staring off to the side now. He’d slipped back to wherever his mind had been before.
Burying his frustration at how little he could do for his friend, Tony forced himself to focus on what he could do and walked over to Sacks. The FBI Agent glanced back at him, glanced at McGee, and then returned his attention to the outside.

“He okay?” Sacks asked.


“Least he’s alive,” the FBI Agent said darkly. Tony tried not to react angrily to that, knowing Sacks didn’t mean it the way it sounded—like he thought it should have been McGee, not Tara they’d lost. Instead, he changed the subject.
“What’s the ETA on the backup?” Tony asked.
“Five minutes.” Sacks winced then as more automatic gunfire peppered the air from up by the house. “Damn it. Why can’t they get that guy?”
Tony shook his head. “Any sign of Reams?”
“No. I’ve been watching both the trees and the monitors from the security feeds. I haven’t seen anything.”
Tony frowned. “Think he’s gone?”
“I would be.”
Tony gave a nod. “Except that this isn’t personal for you.”
“I know, but Reams isn’t stupid—he must know your boss will have called the world down on this place with four agencies affected. He should lick his wounds and go into hiding—come back to attack Gibbs another day. He waited this long…” He trailed off, licking his lips slightly.
“Yeah, but when his grand plan to trigger that virus tomorrow doesn’t work, he’ll have more than good guys looking for him—the people who hired him will be wanting to punish him for his failure.” Tony shook his head. “Reams might come back for his revenge sooner rather than later, because he may think he has nothing left to lose.”
Sacks grunted. “Maybe. Still,” his eyes narrowed as he spoke, “if we don’t see him before the back-up gets here, you have to assume he isn’t coming. At least not tonight. That’d be too many people to get through.”
Tony nodded. He couldn’t fault that logic.
He winced again as more gunfire cut through the night.
“Come on, Boss,” he whispered. “Finish it already.”

“Tony?” McGee called then, his voice worried. Tony turned, eyebrows raised.


McGee’s expression was worried again. “Did I tell you about the uranium?”

After climbing up onto the porch roof, Gibbs had found an unlocked window on the second floor of the house, which he’d climbed through without any trouble. Only problem he encountered was needing to suppress a sneeze at all the dust he kicked up—no one had really lived up here in months.
Grimacing, he crept forward, his eyes on the floorboards, keeping his weight even and on the sides of his feet—walking silently was an art in a house like this one.
Of course, every time Duncan Matthews let loose with that AK-47, Gibbs moved a little faster—no one was going to hear him up here with all that noise.
It didn’t take him long to reach the top of the stairs, and he settled down on his stomach on the landing. Pulling himself forward, he leaned over the edge, lowering his head to see under the ceiling of the room below.
He smiled—from up here, he could see the whole room, including most of Duncan. The boy was kneeling behind the couch, and was currently firing towards the front door. Gibbs could see Redford cringing from the impact on the wall as the bearded agent attempted to reload his gun. Gibbs couldn’t see Ziva, as the kitchen was to the left and under the stairs, but he knew she was still there—he could hear her muttering curses in Hebrew.
Gibbs withdrew his head, and settled on the landing, checking his gun to make sure it was locked and loaded.
The angle he had on the kid wasn’t great, but it would do. He drew in a deep breath, then tapped the radio in his ear.
“Ziva.” He kept his voice to a whisper.
A short pause, then: “Yes?”
“Yell to him. Tell him he has one last chance to give up. If he doesn’t, he’ll be dead before he can fire again.”
“Matthews!” Ziva shouted. “This is your last chance! Give up now, or we’ll take you down!”
Matthews just laughed. “Then take me down, woman! Because I ain’t giving up! I’d rather die!” More firing, this time at Ziva’s position. The staircase shivered at the impact on the wall it shared with the kitchen.
Gibbs sighed. Okay then, so be it. He tapped his earpiece again.
“Get his attention, Redford,” he whispered.
“Hey, punk!” Redford shouted, and the report of a glock punctuated the air for a few seconds, until the AK-47’s attention was shifted away from the kitchen and back to Redford.
Gibbs counted to three, then leaned out into the stairwell, gun pointed at the kid’s head.
Duncan saw him at the last second, and he tried to switch the aim of the rifle. Too late.
Gibbs shot three rounds. Each one hit their mark. Duncan kept his finger on the trigger of the rifle even as he fell back, and Gibbs pulled himself up as bullets sprayed the stairwell and ceiling…until they stopped.
Releasing a pent up breath, Gibbs risked ducking his head below the ceiling again.
The banister was mostly gone, as were any pictures that had been on the wall of the stairwell. Gibbs grimaced, returning his attention to the rest of the room.
Duncan was sprawled on his side next to the rifle, collapsed on the couch. Blood pooled around his head and shoulders, soaking the pale brown leather. Unseeing blue eyes stared upwards, and his mouth was gaping open, as if from shock.
“He’s down,” Gibbs said, sliding around so he could walk down the stairs. “Ziva, check him.”
She was out of the kitchen like a shot, keeping low just in case, while Redford stood up and covered her from the doorway. Quickly, she was around the edge of the couch and verifying the kill. She nodded once, and met Gibbs’ gaze as he came down.
“He’s dead.”
Gibbs nodded, navigating around bits of shattered wood and chunks of banister. “That just leaves one.”

As he hit the ground floor, kicking some extra pieces of wall out of his way, flashing lights drew his attention to the doorway. In the distance, he saw the two Doherty squad vehicles pulling into the lot next to the barn, along with a state trooper vehicle, the ambulance and the local coroner van. In addition, a sleek, black SUV pulled in with them—likely carrying more agents.
He raised his radio to his lips again. “DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, Boss.” Tony’s response was strained. Gibbs didn’t want to know why right now.

“Matthews is taken care of. The EMTs are down at the other end of your barn, along with the rest of our local backup. Any sign of Reams?”

“No. Can we take our people out to them? They could really use those paramedics.”
“Should be more than enough cover—just tell Riley and Abrahams to circle the wagons and watch the woods. There’s also another agency vehicle down there; whoever it is will need to be briefed. Can you handle all that?”
“Sure. What you are you going to do?”

“We’re going after Reams.” Gibbs looked across the room at Ziva. She nodded, already heading towards the back door to where she’d last seen him. Redford leaned heavily against what remained of the front door area, as Tobias walked fully inside. The FBI Agent was much more alert than he was before, his eyes sharper. He looked at Duncan, then at Gibbs.

“I’m coming with you.”

“No,” Gibbs replied. “You and Redford are staying here with the body. I’ll send the EMTs up here with backup as soon as I can.”

Fornell just smiled. Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. When he turned to follow Ziva, he wasn’t surprised to hear Fornell stomping unevenly across the floorboards after him.

It’s what he would do.

The sky was a bright peach color as two paramedics wheeled Cheevers outside on the stretcher, followed by Angela, who was now wrapped so tightly inside three blankets that all you could really see was the red hair sticking out the top. She followed Cheevers all the way into the ambulance, settling herself on a bench inside next to him. Royce let others take over, settling herself in the back of the Coroner’s Van next to the ambulance, to allow the local coroner to check her shoulder.

Not long after, one of the paramedics jogged back to the barn to help Tony with McGee.

Tony thanked the woman as she got under McGee’s other arm—the kid was really dragging now. With the ambulance full, the paramedic steered them towards one of the local LEO vehicles parked opposite Reams’ black moving truck—a Jeep with its back open. She told McGee to sit on the back, and then started checking him over as Tony watched. He heard her hiss when she pulled up his shirt to see his bruised stomach. After an uncomfortable minute of worrying too much about things he couldn’t control, he turned his attention to the woods surrounding them.

If Reams was going to attack, he’d have to cover a lot of distance in the open. He’d be spotted long before he got here. From within the semi-circular formation made by the cars around the end of the barn, the local LEOs were watching the perimeter in all directions, just like guards watching from a circle of wagons in the old west. They were about as safe as they were going to be.

A muttered slew of incompressible swears drew Tony’s attention back to the barn, where Sacks was muscling the still living goon out the door and towards the black SUV, where five other agents were waiting. Turned out they were all FBI, and one of them was a computer expert here to quiz McGee and the others about what they’d hacked.

Sacks had already filled them in on the information McGee had just supplied using a different radio frequency, so there wasn’t much to brief them on. As they congealed together in a mass of black to confer with Sacks, one of them, a woman, disengaged from the others and headed over to the Jeep. Tony watched her approach, frowning a little at the sharp way she was moving—she had the air of someone with a score to settle.

“You’re Agent DiNozzo?” she asked, pulling out a notebook from inside her coat.

“I am,” he replied. “And you are?”

“Agent Sparks. I work in the Computer Security Division. Do you think I could talk to Agent McGee?”

Tony smiled softly—impressed that she had the courtesy to ask him first. He stepped back to show her that Tim was back to being looked over by the paramedic.

“When the medic’s done and says he’s okay.”

The paramedic looked up at him, her expression chagrined. She shook her head.

“There’s not much I can do for him here, Agent. Like the others, he really needs to get to a hospital.” The paramedic switched her gaze to the FBI Agent. “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t let you talk to him while he’s like this.”

Sparks’ eyes narrowed. “I understand, ma’am,” she said. “But this is a matter of national security. If he can talk to me now…?”

Tony frowned. “You know what, he’s already told me everything he knows. Why don’t I just—“

“Are you a computer hacker, Agent DiNozzo?” Sparks asked snippily.

“No, but—“

“Then you can’t help me. Agent McGee can. He can also explain to me what happened to Agent Stokes. So if you don’t—“

At Tara’s name, Tony had the woman’s arm and was dragging her away from McGee. Tim watched them go, but there wasn’t much comprehension on his face—he had lost all focus after telling them about the Department of Energy being the main target.

“Let me go,” Sparks snarled, trying to get her arm free from Tony’s grip.

When they were far enough out of earshot, Tony did so, roughly. She straightened her jacket and put her hands on her hips.

“What the hell—?" she demanded.

“Agent Sparks,” Tony snarled, “You understand that I’m lead agent until Gibbs returns, correct?”

Her eyes narrowed again. “I've been told that, yes?”

“Then,” he said, lowering her voice so she’d have to strain to hear him, “you know that means you do exactly what I tell you to do. I’m going to let you interview Agent McGee about the agencies he hacked, but you will not, I repeat, will not talk to him about what happened to Agent Stokes. Do you understand?”

“Why?” she demanded, her hands still on his hips.

“Because he’s not up to it, right now.”

“Not up to it?” she challenged. She looked back to where McGee was sitting. “He looks fine to me. A couple of bandages on his arms and sore wrists, what’s the big deal?” She looked up at Tony again. “It’s not like he’s dead.” She dropped the last word like a bomb.

Tony’s eyes narrowed. He thought so. He could see it in her face.

“Back off, Agent. I won’t tell you again.”

Sparks lips twitched, as if she were holding back her temper. She stepped closer to Tony. “Tara was a friend of mine,” she hissed.

“I don’t care,” Tony replied harshly. “Right now, your job is to make sure our systems are protected. Isn't that why you're here?"

She looked away, then back again, her jaw muscled flexing. With obvious reluctance, she nodded quickly. “Technically. But—“

“No buts, Agent. You do your job, and that’s it. Do not do mine, understand?”

Her jaw muscles worked again, but, eventually, she bowed her head. “Fine.” She looked up. “Sir.” She managed to twist the “sir” into a sneer, but not enough that he felt it necessary to call her on it.

“Okay,” Tony said. “Go on then. I’m going to go talk to Sacks and the rest of your buddies over there for a minute. But I’ll be watching—I see you form the word ‘Stokes’ on your lips, and you’re out of here.”

She grimaced, but nodded once more. “Fine.” Whipping around, she strode back over to the paramedic and McGee. Tim looked up as she approached, the puzzlement on his face evident even from here. Tony felt like a heel leaving him alone even for a moment. Pursing his lips, he noticed Chief Riley talking quietly to one of his men, and he headed over to join them. Riley looked up, nodding at Tony.

“Agent DiNozzo. I understand you’re running this while Gibbs it out?”

Tony nodded. “So they tell me. Look.” He frowned slightly. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure thing. What do you need?”

“Can you send a man to stand guard over Agent McGee, over there? He’s the one with the paramedic in the back of the SUV. Just until I get back over there. And if that FBI Agent with them mentions Tara Stokes, if he could signal me…?” He smiled thinly, “That’d be good.”

Riley arched a bushy eyebrow, but nodded. “No problem. Meyers here will do it.” The officer standing with Riley, a young man, gave a nod and headed over to McGee’s Jeep.

Tony watched until the officer was standing just to the left of the group, leaning on the side of the Jeep, his eyes on the trees. The Chihuahua of an FBI Agent wasn’t fooled; she turned and shot Tony a dark look. He just smiled and waved in return, waggling his fingers.

“So, you boys nearly done here, do you think?” Riley asked Tony then, drawing his attention back. Tony pursed his lips, but gave a nod.

“Hope so.” He nodded at Riley. “Thank you again for all your help.”

“Whatever we can do,” Riley replied.

Nodding, Tony thanked him again with a smile before heading over to talk to Sacks. Being done “here” was only half the battle—they still needed to figure out who hired Reams and Matthews. He also needed to send some agents up the hill to help Redford.

He had to admit—he got a bit of a kick out of ordering around the FBI.

Ziva was studying the muddy ground, looking for any evidence that Reams had run away. Tobias was still on the porch, watching her, while Gibbs knelt down, shining a flashlight under it.

“See anything?” Gibbs called.

“No,” Ziva replied, trying not to feel frustrated at the lack of definitive signs. “I do not think he ran away.”

“Well, if he had,” Gibbs replied, “I have a feeling you would have seen him.” He released a sigh. “Or Officer Stein would have.”

They’d called her on the radio, to confirm that she hadn’t seen anyone run away from the house. She didn’t have the right angle to see the back, but, as far as she could tell from where she was positioned in the woods, no one had left. Of course, she’d missed what happened to Redford and Fornell as well—the cement house had been in her line of sight. She was extremely upset about that. To forestall her apologies, Gibbs has asked her to come and join them.

“So where did he go?” Ziva asked, turning around.

“Under here,” Gibbs replied. “He crawled under the house and…” He shook his head. “It’s too muddy to tell. Looks like Reams wasn’t the only animal crawling under here.” Standing, he clicked off the flashlight and looked to the left, which was the direction of the cement house, and where Redford and Fornell had been hit. Pursing his lips, he then looked to the right. To the one side of the house none of them had been to.

He nodded at Ziva, and, with her gun drawn, she moved quickly around to that side, peeking around the edge of the porch.

She stepped out a little further when she found no one there.

Gibbs and Tobias followed, Tobias still on the porch and Gibbs on the ground with Ziva. The porch was interrupted in the middle, not wrapping around fully, broken up by a set of open, horizontally placed doors leading down into a basement storage. It was difficult to tell how big it was, but it smelled strongly of earth and mildew.

Ziva frowned, looking at Gibbs. He nodded at her, and she turned on her flashlight and pointed it down the steps.

“Officer Stein,” Tobias called, over the radio. “Do you read me?”

“Yes, sir. I’m nearly to the house, sir. Where are you?”

“Round the side. This house have a basement?”

“Uh, well, yes, sir. All the old houses ‘round here do. It’s probably more of a root cellar, though. Just dirt—doubt it’s finished anyway. If you wait a moment, I’ll show you where it is. I’m almost….” She appeared suddenly around the back of the house, a big smile on her face. “I’m here! Let me just….Oh, you’ve already found it.” She smiled crookedly at Ziva and looked up. Her smile fell instantly when she saw Tobias’s bloodied arm for the first time. “Sir, should you be standing?”

Tobias just frowned at her. “Is there another way out of it?” he asked.

She frowned, switching her gaze to where Ziva was. She looked up at Tobias again.

“Uh…I don’t know.” She gave an apologetic grimace. “I’ve never been down there.”

Ziva was part way down the stairs by this time, shining her light into the depths. Gibbs was on her heels, kneeling on the steps and trying to see into the places she wasn’t.

When she reached the bottom, Gibbs still watching her back, she swung her flashlight around, picking out bits and pieces of old farm equipment, most of it rusted into useless scrap metal. Mostly, though, the room was empty and featureless.

Except for the door.

Ziva walked up to it, pressing her hand against the dark, rusted metal. “What is this?” she asked out loud.

“Tobias,” Gibbs called up the stairs. “Ask Stein why there might be another door down here. These things often have multiple rooms?”

Stein answered, kneeling by the entrance so she could see down into the room. “I don’t know, Agent Gibbs. It’s possible. Lots of these old houses have real interesting paths. Some of them were used for stockpiling moonshine during Prohibition, others were converted into fallout shelters for when the bomb was supposed to hit, and then there’s the ones that have storm tunnels, you know, for tornadoes and such? And some even have ties back to the old underground railroad. We’re on the border here with Penn, and a lot of folks round here were sympathetic to the slaves, and—“

“Wait, tunnels?” Gibbs rounded on her, pointing up his flashlight at her face. “Did you say tunnels?”

She blinked at the bright light, holding up a hand to ward it off. “Oh. Well, yes, but…I mean, they’re so old. Most of them are caved in. I mean, there’s no point in even thinking about ‘em these days unless—“

“Someone deliberately excavated one to use as an alternate escape route?”

She paled. “Yeah,” she agreed weakly.

Gibbs’ jaw tensed, and he looked back at Ziva. They positioned themselves on either side of the door, did a silent count to three, and then Ziva threw the door open, going low as Gibbs went high.

Before them, a pitch black tunnel stretched away from them. It was so dark, even the flashlights didn’t penetrate far into the gloom.

“Damn,” Gibbs swore. Ziva stepped inside, adjusting her flashlight to its strongest range. Gibbs did the same, but he didn’t follow her. Instead, he looked back at the entrance.


“Yes, sir?”

“Where might this lead?”

“I don’t know.”

“Make a guess!” he snapped. “You know about these things! Where do they normally lead?”

She hesitated, then answered, her voice soft. “Well, if it’s a underground railroad tunnel, it could lead just about anywhere, though, likely somewhere northerly. But,” she sniffed, “if it’s a storm tunnel…it was probably the way for the people down in the barn to get back up to the house to join the rest of the family if a calamity hit.”

Gibbs went cold. Ziva’s eyes had widened, and her worried gaze mirrored his furious one.

“Stein,” he snarled, “where would it come up under the barn?”

“Not under it. Probably on the side of it. Just like this one.”

“Tobias,” Gibbs shouted, “warn DiNozzo. Ziva, go!”

She was already moving swiftly down the passageway, Gibbs following close behind.

Tim was shivering. He couldn’t stop. Even with Tony’s jacket and a blanket around his shoulders, it seemed like he couldn’t get warm. Combined with the hazy fog filling his brain, he wasn’t totally sure he was even awake. Maybe he was still in that room, tied to that cot, shivering, Tara’s dead eyes still staring at him. Everything was seen through a film—was he really outside? Had they really been rescued? Was Tony really here?

There were times when he was sure it was real. And times, like now, when he felt it must still be a dream. That he’d just reported everything he’d knew and learned to figments of his imagination. Maybe he was just talking to Tara’s body still, thinking her dead eyes were the eyes of his friends.

But it was bright. Wasn’t it? The sun was coming up. Right?

He shivered violently again—it had really begun to hurt. He didn’t know shivering could be this painful.

His fingers gripped the nylon jacket. It felt real. But then, Tara talking to him when he knew she was dead had also seemed real.

He looked across at Tony, who was talking to Agent Sacks next to a Black SUV with FBI plates. A little further, he saw Angela sitting with Nick in the back of an ambulance, and someone else sitting up in the back of a black coroner’s van. And other people wandered around in dark green, black and khaki, the colors blending together like camouflage.

Where were Ziva and Gibbs? Did he know? He couldn’t hear gunfire anymore. It had been gunfire, hadn't it?

He blinked again, and looked across at the barn. In the gray light of the false dawn, it looked even more depressing. Like something out of a horror movie.

Something moved in the shadows of the doorway.

He blinked slowly, frowning.

Had he just seen that? The shadow just looked like a shadow now.

He glanced to his left, at the FBI agent who had been interviewing him. She was writing in her notebook, not paying attention. And on his right was an officer. He was looking the wrong way—facing the trees. And he looked at Tony, who was tapping the radio in his ear to listen to something. No one was watching the barn.

He looked again at the structure, focusing on the shadow.

It moved again. Gray light glinted off the metal of a shotgun barrel.

It was pointed directly at Tony.

“Tony!” he shouted, all fog gone from his mind, “Get down!” Trained reflexes had him pulling the berretta out of the holster of the officer on his right and jumping off the back of the Jeep, running towards the barn. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tony had acted in total trust, getting down and pulling down Sacks just as the shots rang out—they bounced harmlessly off the doors of the black SUV Tony had just been standing in front of.

Tim stopped and fired at the doorway as Reams suddenly appeared around the side of the barn, screaming bloody murder, throwing down the now empty shotgun and drawing a gun. He still had it pointed at Tony, but Tim’s first shot got him in the shoulder, jerking him sideways. Reams turned then, staring at Tim with wide, hate-filled eyes, and brought the gun to bear, aiming straight at Tim’s head.

Shots rang out all around the gravel lot, Tim’s included, deafening the young agent. Reams jerked and twisted, the gun flying from his hand, puffs of blood and black cloth and skin enveloping the man like a black mist. The bullets came from everywhere, and Tim vaguely wondered how he wasn’t also being hit.

Reams collapsed to the ground like a puppet when the firing finally stopped, the abrupt lack of gunfire leaving Tim feeling strangely disconnected from the world around him.

He swayed, dropping the weapon he’d borrowed to the ground, and slowly became aware that people were calling his name. Blinking through the mental haze dampening his brain, Tim saw Gibbs and Ziva striding swiftly towards Reams’ body from the direction of the barn, both agents guns still raised. Turning to his left, he saw Tony lowering his gun as he ran over to Tim.

As Gibbs and Ziva reached Reams, both agents obviously checking to make sure the man was dead (how could he not be?), Tony reached Tim, putting his gun away as his other hand reached out.

The moment he touched Tim’s arm, the world—all of its sights, sounds, smells and the horrible, horrible cold—disappeared.

And Tim collapsed.

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