Chapter 56: You All Came Home
Tim can't stop shivering.
He watched them run Tony to a gurney, packing him in heated blankets. An EMT started a line of heated saline and the ambulance roared off. But they weren't breathing for him, and they weren't pumping his chest, so he's alive.
And right now that's all that matters.
He's so cold, and the shivering just won't stop.
And the heated blankets, the coffee, and Abby wrapped around him hasn't stopped the shivering.
Ducky checked them for frostbite, and amazingly enough, he doesn't have any. Gibbs does. His feet are white. So are the tips of his fingers. But he and Ziva don't, probably because they were at the door shooting for the first half hour.
As soon as Ducky says she doesn't have frostbite, Ziva wants to go to the hospital after Tony, but she's not warmed up enough to fight Palmer, who is holding onto her. "Ziva, we're going home. And as soon as you're warmed up, I will take you to Tony. But right now you've got to get warmed up."
Ducky then spends about ten minutes explaining to Abby what they are supposed to be doing. He says they could go to the hospital, but really there's no need for it. Tim can warm up just as easily at home as he can at the hospital. Though Ducky does give her a long list of issues to look out for and explains that if any of them do happen, to call him immediately.
Tim's floating through it, not really aware of much of anything besides his body shaking and the glorious, scalding, hot of the air and blanket.
Palmer goes with Ziva, Ducky goes with Gibbs, and Abby guides him to her car.
He's expecting her to take him home. She doesn't. She drives into town, and pulls up at the Adam's House.
"Abby..." He's having a hard time talking, relaxing his jaw enough to speak just means his teeth chatter uncontrollably.
"Jacuzzi hot tub."
He nods. That sounds really good right about now.
They have a tub at their place, but it's like four feet long. He can lay back, and have most of his legs sticking out. Or sit down, and have his upper half out. Either way that's not full immersion in lukewarm water, which Ducky recommended.
She parks and leaves him in the car, heater on, seat heaters turned on high, and he just sits there and dozes as well as he can with his whole body shaking.
Eventually she's back, arm around his waist, his arm over her shoulders, pressing in close and leading him to a room. And if people wondered about the man wrapped in a blanket, shivering, in the middle of the worst of August heat, he didn't notice.
She'd already gotten the bath started. It was a good six inches full by the time he was standing next to the tub. He doesn't even try to get himself out of his clothing. He's shaking too hard to work a zipper, let alone the buttons on his shirt.
Tim stands there while she undresses him.
He can see himself in the mirror. It's been at least an hour since they got out, but his lips, fingernails, nipples, and toenails are all still blue. His skin is tinged with it.
He sits, slowly, on the edge of the bath, slides his feet in, and screams, jerking them out of the water, falling backward, unable to coordinate well enough to catch himself before he topples over.
She got him before he hit the floor. Broke his fall, and lowered him, gently, the last few inches.
He doesn't have frostbite. He's just cold, very, very cold. And Ducky had said something about keeping the water lukewarm at first. He didn't mention that if you put a very cold part of your body into warm water, it'll burn you.
Abby got him sitting up, wrapped him back up in the blanket, and cranked the cold water. Obviously what had felt lukewarm to her was still way too hot.
A minute later she dripped some water on his foot. "Better?"
"Okay, let's try this again." And once again, he got in the bath, and this time it didn't burn, it was just pleasantly warm, so he just laid there and dozed, letting the heat slowly soak back into his body.
He half-heard her voice saying, "I don't care if it's August, I want two pitchers of hot chocolate up here, now!"
He smiles a little at that. Back in... March maybe, it was a freakishly late storm for DC, they went out to play in the snow, and after, they came in, shivering, and he made them hot chocolate, telling her about how much he loved it on cold days.
She's leaning against the side of the tub, petting his hair. He turns and leans into her hand, though his eyes don't open.
"You really here, now?" she asks.
"Enough. You mind adding some more hot to this?"
She turns on the hot tap for about ten seconds, and then swirls the water around him. "That's good. How warm is it?"
"Seventy-eight? Eighty-two? Cold swimming pool temp."
"Yeah, you're cold."
He opens his eyes to look at his fingers and toes. The color is slowly starting to come back. "Can't believe I didn't get frostbite."
She kisses his forehead, resting with her lips against him, not moving.
A minute later, there's a knock on the door, and she goes to answer it. He reaches up with his foot, nudges the hot water tap. More of it starts to dribble into the tub.
She comes in, holding a mug full of hot chocolate in one hand, and a coffee carafe full of it in the other.
She hands him the mug. "Drink."
He does, and it's absolutely delicious, and way too hot. It burns on the way down, and the mug burns his fingers, but he doesn't care. Just because it feels hot to him doesn't mean it really is. While he drinks, she puts the carafe on the shelf with the scrubby and soap, and then takes off her own clothing.
"Scoot forward a bit."
He does, and she slides in behind him. A minute after that he's resting in warm (ish) water, his back against her chest, his head on her shoulder, as she held, arms and legs wrapped around, onto him.
Eventually the shivers stop. Eventually the water's steaming hot.
Eventually he can talk. She doesn't ask questions, doesn't nudge him for this, she just holds him and lets him warm up, safe and wrapped in her body.
Abby knows that he'll talk when he can. That's how he is. Press him too soon, and it's useless, he'll just shut down, walk away. But if she gives him the space he needs for this, he won't hold onto it, either. All she has to do is stay there, holding him, and eventually, he'll tell her what happened.
"We'd gotten the intel on that warehouse, but when we got there Ziva noticed a van in front, and the van was being loaded. Tony ID'd the driver and one of the guys loading as Jamison and Hacker, so we decided that instead of running in and grabbing them to follow and see where they were going with the shells." At that point in the op they knew about the shells. That's how they got this case, Homeland Security had a case where someone was stealing shells off of battleships. And who better than NCIS to get into that?
The Sarin was the surprise twist.
"We followed them. Which is how we got to the second warehouse, where you guys found us. We'd followed them, but apparently they'd followed us as well." It was supposed to be a small group. Four, maybe six guys, tops. And all six of them were in view, so they didn't pay too close of attention to who might have been behind them. Homeland Security had files on Jamison and Hacker, knew they were working together, thought they were selling the shells to different radical groups.
"When we got out of the car to see what was inside that warehouse, they grabbed us. Took our guns and cells, and herded us into the warehouse." Which was where they found out four-six guys was closer to thirty. And the theft/sale ring was some sort of terrorist organization that, judging by the body armor and the way they were all together, was about to go and attack something.
"I watched him kill each phone, and I know what can happen if he messes with mine. So I start babbling about I want to live, how I've got three kids at home, and how I've got some really important info on my phone and I'll trade him the password for getting out of there. Hoping the lies about who's at home let Gibbs and Tony and Ziva know that we're about to get the only distraction we'll get, so in a second we need to bolt for the guns and run.
"And he's being a dick about the phone, taunting me about what I could possibly have on it that he'd want. And Tony's on the same page I am less than a second later, yelling at me about not letting that info go, complaining to Gibbs about how computer geeks are useless on a field team. Gibbs is staring at me like he's never been more disgusted in his life. Ziva actually got free and hit me to make me 'shut up,' and when they grabbed her again she was three steps closer to the guns. I kept babbling about how we knew about them and if he wanted to see all the intel on them he'd open that file. And then I fed him the wrong password, and it blew his hand off, and we grabbed our guns and ran like hell. Twenty guys between us and the doors, so into the warehouse we went.
"I saw the freezer, saw what was in it, and I led us to it. And as long as no one closed the door, we could use it for cover and hold out until you guys came."
Tim closes his eyes and goes quiet. He can still feel his heart pounding, the claustrophobic feeling of being closed in between too high crates filled with shells, and glint of stainless steel on the far wall. She gives him a gentle squeeze and strokes his face, bringing him back to a hot bath in a perfectly safe hotel room.
He swallows, starts to talk again. "I killed seven men today. Maybe more. I fired ten times while we were running. Not sure if I hit anyone then. I maimed one. My phone took his hand clean off. Might have killed him, too. I don't know if they got the artery clamped in time. But when we were in the freezer, I had seven bullets. I couldn't miss, so I didn't."
"How did you have seven bullets?" His gun holds fifteen bullets, hence the question.
He opens his eyes. "Five from mine, two from Tony's."
"Tony let you use his gun?"
"No. Ziva picked his gun. Gibbs gave me his. But I couldn't miss, so I didn't want to switch guns, so I got Tony's magazine when I ran out, and Ziva got Gibbs' gun. Ziva and I guarded the door, picking them off as they kept coming, trying to shut us in, while Tony and Gibbs stayed behind us, in the freezer, spotting the next target for us." And while that's a little vague, and she's not entirely following him, she's not about to ask for more clarification, not right now. It makes sense to him, and that's enough.
"Targets." He closes his eyes, feeling the hit of his gun snapping into his palm as it fired. "They weren't people." He starts to shiver again. "That's never been true before. Before it's always been a person. But today they were just...the things trying to keep me from going home to you. If I was going to keep breathing, they had to stop, and I stopped them. I didn't miss. Seven bullets, seven head shots, seven dead men."
He's not crying. He's shivering, and his voice is rough, but he's not crying. Abby squeezes him a little tighter, kisses his temple, trying to comfort him with her touch.
He inhales deep and ragged, still shaking. "Tony's a person. He's my best friend, and I talked Ziva into letting him freeze. She was in the middle, and that's just the way it was. Nothing else was going to happen. We didn't even have to talk about it. As soon as the door shut, we snuggled in around her." Abby's gently rubbing his chest, her lips pressed against the side of his head. She can feel his control slipping away from him, feel him slipping away from her, back into the frozen dark in his mind.
"But Tony was already cold at that point. He was losing heat faster than the rest of us. He should have been in the middle, he needed the heat more, but we just couldn't do it. If anyone was going to be in the middle, it was Ziva. We put Kate and Jenny in the ground, and we couldn't do it for her. So Ziva was in the middle."
And now he is crying, clutching the hand that was stroking his chest. "He stopped talking. He stopped shivering. And she wanted to change places, and I talked her out of it. And if I couldn't have talked her out of it, Gibbs and I would have held her in place. Gibbs was wearing his jacket, and he tried to take it off, give it to Tony, and I talked him out of that, too. It couldn't have saved Tony, and it would have killed Gibbs that much faster."
She's petting him as he takes a deep breath, trying to get the crying under control, because he needs to get these words out.
"Tony understands, Tim."
"I know. He approved even; he and Gibbs would have done the exact same thing for me if you were in the middle. And Gibbs was right with me on it. But that doesn't make it better, doesn't change it. I talked them out of it. I told the lies that made Ziva stay still."
"You all came home."
He nods. Still crying, and shifts so he's on his side, holding onto her, head against her chest. She kisses his forehead. "He fell over, and we caught him, made sure he stayed standing... He told Ziva he loved her... and then he just stopped... Ziva was shaking him... and he didn't move... I was holding him... and I couldn't feel him breathe." He's inhaling fast between each phrase, gulping air, and shaking from head to toes with his tears. "And by that point I was swaying on my feet, too, just about ready to drop... and he's not breathing... Ziva was crying... and she's trying to slap Tony, but she can't because we're too pressed in against her... And Gibbs is holding on to us, like our lives depend on it... and they do... and I could feel it... my knees were going... and Tony's dead... and if I take them down, Gibbs and Ziva are next, and I started to collapse, and he can't hold both of us up, so I let go... and then the door opened and they carried us out and we were in scalding light and hot air... but..." And he can't form words, for a moment he's just shaking and crying.
Abby holds him, rocking him gently. "You all came home."
"He wasn't breathing!" He's sobbing, curled into a ball on his side, head on her chest, clinging to her. "I put him in that room, and he wasn't breathing when he came out."
"He is now." She holds him tight, arms cradled around his head and shoulders while he sobs on her. And it doesn't matter that today is the second worst day of her life, because this is the worst day of his. She finds her calm center, pushes her own panic away, the absolute white hot arc of fear at hearing he had let go, and holds him, making gentle, almost shushing sounds, because right now he needs the comfort more than she does.