Thursday, April 11, 2013

Shards To A Whole: Chapter 54

McGee centric character study/romance. Want to start at the beginning? Click here.

Chapter 54: Today It Was

It had been a really good morning. Abby had gotten home after he'd fallen asleep, but he'd woken up spooned around her, her body soft and warm against his. She slipped her leg over his, and that was all the invitation he needed. And while there was nothing particularly energetic or acrobatic about the sex that morning, they both were in an awfully good mood by breakfast.

Breakfast had come out just right. Bagels perfectly golden-brown and crispy. Bananas the exact right stage of ripe.

The new place didn't have nearly the hot water heater capacity as Abby's old one, but there was still enough hot water for both of them to get a somewhat snuggly and longer than normal shower.

Traffic co-operated and the ride to work only took twenty minutes.

All in all, it was the perfect morning. Which should have been a red flag that something was about to go very wrong.

Tim's heart is beating a million times a minute and he can barely catch his breath, but he sees something, and knows that's the best they're going to get.

"Follow me!" he yells firing fast at the men running after them.

In a second, all four of them are with him in walk in freezer.

"This is your plan? McGee, we're in a freezer full of Sarin!" Tony is not pleased with this at all.

For the moment, the men chasing them seem to have fallen back. At least, Tim can't see them anymore.

"That's the point, DiNozzo," Gibbs says. He got why Tim headed them this way. "They won't shoot at us in here, and as long as we can make sure the door stays open we're-"

"Fucked more slowly than we would have been otherwise!" Tony finishes Gibb's sentence. "No one knows we're here!"

"Forty minutes. We've just got to hold out forty minutes," Tim says, back against the door, eyes scanning every possible approach someone could be using to sneak up on them.

"McGee?" Ziva asks, taking up a position at the side of the door, so she can keep the warehouse in view.

"Abby knows. Before my phone blew, it sent her a text with where we are."

"What?" Gibbs asks.

"After Palmer and Ducky went missing, I got a new phone and rewired it so that if it ever lost power, or like you saw, someone messed with it so it blew up, that it would send her a message, letting her know where we are and that we're in trouble. Tony and Ziva, I programmed your phones to do the same thing, but it sends the message to Vance. Boss, yours is too damn old for it. The cavalry is coming; we just got to live long enough for it to get here. So, forty minutes."

Gibbs nods, planning. "Bullet count?"

"Five," Tim said

"Six." From DiNozzo

"Two," said Ziva.

"I've got three. McGee, on the left, covering right. Ziva right, cover left. Head shots. They're wearing vests, and we can't afford to wound them. There's six of them for every one of us, so we are going to make getting close to us so goddamn expensive they won't try it. Ziva, I've got a Baretta, DiNozzo's got a SIG, whose gun do you want?"


"McGee." Gibbs hands Tim his gun.

"Boss?" He can't believe Gibbs is giving him his gun.

"If it was a rifle and they were half a mile away, I'd keep a hold of it. But you're better with a handgun than I am, and Ziva's better than Tony. You've got eight bullets each; I want to see one of them dead on the floor for each bullet."

And so they settle in to wait. Gibbs and Tony in the freezer. Ziva and Tim in the doorway. All four of them watching for anyone coming toward them.

The walk in freezer stands along the back wall of a packed warehouse. It faces into a maze built of crates piled almost to the ceiling. Lines of sight are poor because of those crates. The crates are packed with shells, and the freezer they're standing in is packed with what would make those shells so terrifying. There is, and Tim is thinking this is conservative estimate, enough Sarin behind them to take out the entire eastern seaboard. And enough ordinance in front of them to take out at least a few square blocks. Put the two together, and things could get very, very bad, very fast.

The good thing about the freezer is that they can't be flanked. It's steel, so they can't shoot through it. It's filled with poison, so unless one of the terrorists is a sniper, and a damn good one, they aren't going to be willing to fire into them for risk of hitting the gas canisters. And to make it even harder for them, Gibbs is piling boxes of the canisters up in front of them for cover. Someone shoots at them and misses, and everyone dies.

The bad thing is it's twenty by twenty, and all one those bastards has to do is shut the door, and they'll be locked in a zero degree room with finite air.

So that's the job, kill anyone that goes for that door, and pray to God that more than sixteen of them aren't willing to die for this.

"Ziva, eleven thirty," Tony says, pointing up slightly. The man he spotted is trying to come over a stack of crates.

Her eyes narrow slightly. Her finger curls into the trigger. And the man she shot was dead before he hit the floor.

Ziva's already shot three times, which means they've gotten the idea that coming up on the left is a really bad plan. The first one of them comes into Tim's line of view.

He's staring at the man, willing him to get a little closer, because he can't miss this shot.

One of us is going home today. He pulls the trigger, feels the kick of the gun, sees the man's head snap back and a spray of blood and brains spatter the crate behind him. It's not you.

"Boss, when I'm out, get Tony's gun from Ziva and give her yours."


"I'm left-handed, and Tony's clip will fit in my gun. The rest of you are righties and I don't want to mess around with a different gun, not for this."

"Ziva?" Gibbs asks.



He fired the last time.


"How long was that?" Gibbs asks.

Tony checks the time. "Thirty-five minutes."

Gibbs looks around, sees there are two guys, one coming from each side, and even Ziva isn't a good enough shot to hit two guys on opposite sides of her with one bullet. He hands her his knife. She is good enough to take the shot and kill the other with a thrown knife. "Ziva, cover Tony. Tony close the door. We won't freeze that fast. And if they've got any brains they'll just leave us in here, let the cold do the job for them."

They're standing in the freezer, huddled together, Ziva in the middle. She would have preferred a place on the outside, or taking turns in the middle, but the three guys shot that down. And even if Tim hadn't been able to give a quick lecture on thermodynamics to back up the one of them in the middle staying in the middle, none of the guys would have let her be on the outside.

Burying two of their girls was two girls too many. It's not gonna happen again. If any of them are getting out of here, it's Ziva.

"How much air do you think we have?" Tony asks.

"Enough so we'll freeze first," Tim answers.

"That's cheery."

Tim shrugs. This really isn't the place for cheery.

They heard the sound of gunfire. "They're here," Ziva says, and Tim feels the relief wash through all of them.

"How long was that?" Gibbs asks.

Tim checks Gibbs's watch. His arm is around Tim's waist, and within easy view. "Thirty-nine minutes."

"Think they'll blow the place rather than surrender?" Tony asks.

"Speaking of cheery thoughts," Tim says.

Time moves very, very slowly when you're standing in a freezer, unable to know what is going on around you, straining to catch bits of noise that might, hopefully give you a clue.

"How long before they figure out we're in here?" Ziva asks.

"Can't imagine it'll be too long after the shooting stops," Tony says.

"I haven't heard a shot in close to three minutes," Gibbs adds.

"So they sweep the place, and in what, ten minutes we get warm again?" Tony asks.

"I really hope so," Tim finishes.

"What the hell did we run into?" Tim asks them a few minutes later.

"One thing is certain, this is not just a weapons theft ring."

"Ya think, Ziva?"

"Homeland Security was beyond asleep at the switch on this one. I mean look at this, this is more Sarin than you need to kill everyone on the East Coast!" Tim adds.

"How did the intel miss this?" Tony asks.

"I don't know. But I will as soon as we're out of here," Gibbs says, eyes hard. Anyone they catch alive is going to have a very bad day, and Homeland Security, who foisted a case about someone stealing shells off battleships to them, is about to have a very big problem.

"Did your phone really blow up?" Tony asks an agonizingly long minute later.

"Yeah," Tim answers.


"I wired an explosive into it."

Tony's giving him the, you're completely insane look, but Gibbs is interested, and Ziva looks intrigued.

"You carry a phone," Tony says, "packed with enough explosives to take a man's hand off, in your front left pocket." "Two inches from your dick" is left unspoken, but none of them missed the implication.

"Okay, put that way it sounds a little crazy. 'Course, I carry my gun on my left hip, too."

"And why did you feel the need to wire your phone to explode?" Tony asks.

"I've got stuff on there I don't want anyone seeing."

Tony snorts. "You'll blow a guy's hand off to keep those pictures of Abby a secret?"

"Among other things," Tim says dryly. "Look, it's not gonna blow if you drop it. And you've got to be as good with a computer as I am to even find the file that'll trigger the explosive without the right password. That's why I had to talk that idiot into opening it on my phone. The only other way to make it go off is to try and open the case."

"So, what is it you did to our phones?" Tony asks, helping them all stay distracted as they wait.

They're all shivering, but Tim's starting to get worried about Tony because Tony feels cool pressed into his side. Gibbs on his left is warm. Ziva in front of him is warm. Tony on his right is cool.

He and Ziva had been the warmest while shooting, because they were right in the doorway. Tony was behind them, in the freezer, spotting for Ziva, and Tony's dressed for summer. They all are. But for him and Gibbs that's not dressed all that different from how they dress in the winter. Tim skipped his usual jacket, but Gibbs has on his. Tony's in a light, short-sleeved button down and linen pants. Ziva's in cargo pants and a light t-shirt, but she's in the middle. So he's not too worried about her.

But Tony's getting cold.

He realizes he's got a question to answer, and anything that distracts them from the cold is good.

"Modified the power relays a little. It'll hold a charge for a second after you disable it. Just long enough to send a help message along with GPS coordinates."

"And you did not mention this?" Ziva asks.

"I only got it done on your phone yesterday."


"Yeah, Boss?"

"Tomorrow, you're taking me shopping for a new phone."

"Certainly, Boss."

"And when you're done with it, it better take a man's hand off if he messes with it."

"On it, Boss."

Tony laughs. "This is all Kevin's master plan. We'll get out of here, find out this was all staged to make sure Gibbs got a phone that isn't from the Bush administration!"

Even Gibbs laughed at that.

They hear yelling, Vance, and other familiar voices looking for them. They scream back, loud as they can, voices echoing viciously through the freezer.

"We're coming to—"

The explosion cut off all sound. They felt it, and heard it, and probably for a second wondered if they had, in fact, died.

But they weren't dead.

After an extremely long minute, Vance yells back that they had booby trapped the place. "We're coming for you, just hang on."

The power cut out. Leaving them shivering in the dark.

"We cut the power." Vance's voice again. "It'll stay cold, but it won't get any colder. How long have you been in there?"

"What time is it?" Gibbs yells back.


"Fourteen minutes."

Cold hurts.

Tim's been cold before. Who hasn't? But there's digging your car out of the snow and then there's feeling like you've been dropped in a vat of liquid nitrogen and it's slowly flaying your skin off.

This is full body pain. Everything that can hurt does. His eyelashes hurt. They're huddled as close in to each other as they can get. Ziva's temple is against his lips. Tony's cheek is pressed to his. He doesn't know where Gibbs' face is, pitch black means he can't see, but he can feel the faint warmth, smell the coffee Gibbs had been drinking as they drove here, each time he exhales.

Tim wonders idly which one of them is going to drop first. It'll be him or Tony, he knows that. He's bigger than Tony, so more surface area to lose heat from. Tony's too underdressed, so the air can steal his heat easier.

If they could get outside, it's August, hot, sticky, humid, god awful, he's never ever going to complain about the heat again, August.

He's calculating how fast they'll lose body heat, but since he doesn't know how cold it is in here, it's useless, so he gives up.

Two things are scaring Tim. Tony's stopped talking, and Gibbs has started. Gibbs is talking about Afghanistan. Hot, hot, hot Afghanistan. Clothing drenched in sweat, gulping down salt tablets with water that goes hot as soon as you take it out of the cooler, Afghanistan. Asking Tony about it, slowly dragging answers out of him. But Tony is losing focus, not answering fast enough, and some of the answers he's coming up with are not even remotely related to what Gibbs is talking about.

"Let me out of the middle and let Tony in," Ziva says, fear adding a dangerous edge to her voice.

Tony's not shivering anymore. And he's barely talking, even when Tim or Gibbs shakes him to get the answers out.

He feels Gibbs squeeze him and knows what he's telling him. And he doesn't need Gibbs to do it, he'd do it anyway, but he's glad Gibbs is on the same page.

"Can't do it, Ziva. We all freeze faster if you two switch places. Put you on the outside, and two of us lose your heat. You lose the heat from your back. And we all lose more heat from our fronts because it'll go into warming Tony up. And it won't make any difference because he can't get any warmer than any of us are right now." He never thought studying thermodynamics would mean he'd get condemn one of his friends in the hope of giving the other two enough heat to get them out alive.

He can feel Gibbs move, and knows he's getting ready to take off his jacket and give it to Tony.

"Don't do it, Boss. It won't help him, and it will hurt you. All your jacket can do is slightly slow down the rate he's losing heat; it can't warm him up, which is what he needs. Taking it off will speed up the rate you're losing heat, and moving so you can get it off means all of us lose more heat when you disturb the little bubble of warmer air around us.

"Plenty of people freeze, and get warmed back up again, and come out of it just fine." It's not that he's lying, it's just that the sort of thing he's talking about is on par with falling out of a fifty story window and surviving. Sure, it happens. Just not often. "Sometimes, if you get hurt certain ways, they'll put your body on ice to slow everything down, so they can get the time to fix you." This is true, too, just awfully rare.

He realizes he's speaking very slowly, and feeling extremely sleepy. That's the first step of freezing to death. You fall asleep.

"Don't let him fall!" Gibbs voice pulls him out of the half-dream of snuggling under a heated blanket with Abby.

Tony was starting to collapse backwards. He and Gibbs got him, leaned him further into Ziva, and if possible pushed even closer into each other to support him.

"Wouldn't we be better on the floor?" Gibb's asks.

"Floor's solid." His words are slurring, not a good sign. "It'll suck the heat out of us faster than the air is."

He realizes he's not cold anymore. That's a worse sign.

"Ziva." Tony's voice is barely over a whisper, and it slips out of him slow and rough.


"I love you."

She kissed him quickly and said, "Oh no, we are not dying today. You tell me that over a nice dinner, a nice, warm dinner, a nice warm dinner in the bath, with hot water, lots and lots of hot water, and bubbles, and candles, when Gibbs and McGee are not with us. You do not tell me that now."

"Yes, Ma'am."


She's shaking him, and he's not answering.

Tony's not breathing.

Tim's knees are going. He can feel it happening in slow motion. His hold on standing is slipping away as his knees unlock and he starts to collapse. Gibbs is holding him tight, trying to keep him up, but he can't hold both of them, and Tim knows that if he falls he'll take the other three with him.

And if they fall, they're dead. They won't be able to get back up any more than he will, and the floor will kill them. It'll suck the heat out and that will be it.

He can't see Gibbs, but he knows he'll get it. He takes his hand off of Gibbs' back first, giving him a second to take more of Tony's weight, and lets go.

And then there was nothing but scalding light.


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