He'd figured it out too late. That's all Tony could concentrate on. The case had been FUBAR from the call. It had seemed normal at first but it hadn't been. The perp was always just one step ahead of them; like he was staying just a little ahead of them so he could enjoy their frustration.
The bombing had been the latest step in the perp's spree. A bar, full of marines, along the dock blew sky high. A ship just down by the dock. The weather was frigid. And all available NCIS teams were working by the ship near the dock, which was half full of severely wounded survivors and evidence getting contaminated. The evidence that had to be ignored as the workers attempted to save all they could. Ambulances from local hospitals, LEOs, NCIS, FBI and the rest of the alphabet cast working near the ship by the dock. Sirens blaring on and on and on... Tony's head pounding worse and worse. And the ship by the dock.
Tony could remember the second that his brain really processed that ship. It was parked just far enough from the bar to escape damage, and there was a satellite on top of it. Not normal for that ship. All the pieces had suddenly fallen into place. Tony remembered taking off running and screaming at everyone to get back. Pushing them in the other direction. Fornell. Grabbing him and trying to stop him.
Tony struggled to think. Yes, he had made Fornell understand. He saw the dawning horror. A friend from the police department. Tony had made him understand. The LEO had gotten on the radio and the sirens were dying, a bull horn and words. Running, desperate to get to his team... McGee. Palmer. Gibbs. Too late. Tony screamed in anger. In frustration. In loss. Explosion. Fire. Shrapnel. The concussion of the bomb.
"Easy, Tony. Just lie still."
"It's me. Just relax. Take shallow breaths."
"How bad is it?"
"Everything's a mess right now, DiNozzo. Big holes in the dock. Some people went through them and are trapped in the water. The buildings on other side were also wired. They went when the boat did. Covered the remaining deck with walls and such."
"I should have figured it out sooner."
"So should I," Balboa argued. "I may not be as good an agent as you are, but I never sensed anything."
"You're a good agent." Tony protested.
"Yeah. I'm not you though. Heck, a third of my team's closure is due to you." Balboa looked at him closely. "You know I never really thanked you for all the help."
"You bought me pizza." Tony shrugged.
"You know, that first night you appeared around the partition and asked if you could join in? I thought you were there to lord it over all of us that you were one of "the" MCRT. When you guided us to the answer, I waited for the bragging. You just picked up your jacket and headed for the door. Remember I called after you and asked what I owed you. You just said you liked double pepperoni on your pizza."
Tony laughed. "Probie was so jealous the next day when you dropped the pizza on my desk."
Balboa laughed, too. "You just picked up and brought it around to share with me and my team. You know, I hated you sometimes."
"Why?" Tony looked puzzled.
"All my little probies wanted to be just like you. I was never the one they looked up to. After a while, I realized that was just you. You are sincere. You help because you are a good person. They are so rare in this day and time. You are like Captain America. Hate to admit, you were my hero, too."
"It's okay. See I understand it all now. You are where you are meant to be. You are an agent here," Balboa touched Tony's chest, "and here." Balboa touched Tony's forehead and the pain seemed to ease a bit. "People can train to be an agent. They can learn the rules, the techniques and even how to profile. For you, it comes naturally. NCIS and the other agencies are going to need you a lot. We've got a lot of rebuilding and a lot of probies will be needed. You, my man, are going to have to step up and let others see the true Tony DiNozzo. You need to help lead now."
"Not much of a leader, I missed it." Tony ranted ignoring his pounding head.
"No, you didn't."
"McGee. Thank god, you're okay. What's the situ?"
"It's a mess. You didn't miss it, Tony." Tim patted his chest. "If you hadn't put it together, we'd have been sitting ducks. As it is, you gave us a chance and some of us got out. You've always been good at that. You see what others miss. You've taught me so much. Ok, yeah, you've also been a pain. You're more than my partner. You're the older brother I never wanted but the one I needed. Jethro's Uncle Tony. He needs you, now."
"Don't get all sentimental on me, probie." Tony tried to laugh. "You'll make Balboa think you're a softie. Where'd he go?"
Tim started. "Tony, listen to me. This is important. You are one hell of an agent. Vance has it all wrong. Sure, agents like me have a place. You've taught me so much about people. That's what agents like me lack. We can run the data, analyze it, but without agents like you? You get in the perps' heads, you see the darkness and you figure things out. NCIS needs more agents like you. You need to remember that. You need to make Vance see that. You be the agent, I know you to be. You hear me?"
"Yes, sir, Probie."
"That's all I would ever be compared to you." McGee laughed. "I'm okay with that though. You are one hell of a man and one hell of an agent."
Tony blinked his eyes. Where had McGee gone? "McGee."
"Whoa, tiger. Stop right there. They're getting through the rubble. Don't want them to bring it all down on you."
"Fornell. Are Gibbs and Palmer with you?"
"Wow, no DiNutso?"
"Doesn't quite seem the time for that."
"How bad is it? Neither Balboa or McGee is telling me much."
"Not going to lie. It's bad, DiNozzo. We lost a lot of people."
"I saw Sacks go down."
"Fornell, I'm sorry."
"Every agency's got losses, DiNozzo. Those who make it. Well, there's going to be a lot who will never be able to be an agent again. Too much physical damage."
Tony tried to process what Fornell was telling him but his brain felt like cotton.
"A lot of people lost limbs, DiNozzo. Some of them are going to need extensive surgeries and rehabilitation. Some of them will move into administration and some will slot into training. But others... There's also going to be a lot of emotional issues. People standing next to... Well, let's not go there right now."
"I should have..."
"No, DiNozzo. You need to listen to McGee, Balboa and I. You are in no way to blame." Fornell shook his head. "Do you know how many agencies were in on this case? How many "meetings" of analysts went on? Do you know how many agents, officers and all were on that dock? Not one of them noticed a thing. YOU saw the ship. YOU figured it out. YOU gave people a chance. YOU caught him."
"Pedersen. The LEO you told. He got it out on the radio. You told him the man was here. The perp was on the roof of a parking garage with a remote to blow the bombs. Because of you, the word got out. He blew the bomb and tried to make a run for it and when the LEOs confronted him, he tried to shoot his way out. They took him out."
"William Devlin Harrington VI. Old case. Way before your team. Almost before my time. His dad had a compound training neos. Joint effort among the agencies. Blew it up, rather than us raid it. The sixth was a kid at the time and suffered severe burns. One of a handful of survivors. Wasn't on anyone's radar."
"I gotta find Gibbs."
"He'll be here in a little bit. There's more I have to say. You listening to me? Hey, Tony," Fornell snapped his fingers.
"Tony? Am I dying?"
"Not today, kid. You know, I haven't been the easiest on you."
"Can the sarcasm. I was jealous. Gibbs got you and I got Sacks." Fornell laughed. "You are a hell of an agent, DiNozzo. A throwback. You would have fit back in the good old days. You, Gibbs and I could have cleaned this town up back then. Those times I joked about stealing you? Wasn't a joke to rile Gibbs up. I would have taken you in a heartbeat. If you had ever been willing to leave Gibbs. You know, DiNozzo. Gibbs is a hard man."
"Second B," Tony said dryly.
"He cares about you. Not DiNozzo the agent. He cares about Tony. Got drunk one night after you got the plague; talked about almost losing his son. I tried to make him open up to you but it would have taken a sledgehammer. Of course, this whole SNAFU may be enough... You are a good person. Thought you were a frat boy/playboy when Gibbs dragged you here. Over the years, I realized you were a good man. The kind of man I hope Emily finds. The father in me wants to tell you to stay away from my daughter, right now. I don't need to cause you know you're too old for her and you won't cross the line; which almost makes me want you to date my baby girl. I'll settle for asking you to keep an eye on her."
Tony shook his head. "You don't even need to ask."
"And again, I have that urge..." Fornell laughed. "Gibbs is going to need you now. The whole law enforcement community is going to be crippled for a while. You don't let him run you off, you hear? You make him let you in. Play the pity card if you have too. It isn't going to make you any less of a man. Let him know that you see him, not that idiot Senior as your dad. You and Gibbs will get through this as a team. You two bust some balls and you re-make the community into something to be proud about. They are getting close, DiNozzo. You do know Gibbs is a bit pissed with you."
"Me? My head..."
"I think he may let you off without a head slap. Not sure though. You did throw him off the dock."
"I threw him?" Tony tried to concentrate. "Fornell..." He looked but Fornell had disappeared.
Tony tried to put the pieces together. Running. Gibbs. He had run into Gibbs. On his dash along the dock. Gibbs had come from out of nowhere. Tried to stop him. Tony had... Tony had pushed him off the dock into the water. Tried to save his father. He had taken off running again. Palmer with a patient. Palmer shouting he couldn't move him and then laying his body over the marine. McGee. Balboa. They were helping carry people to the cover of the building. The building exploding... collapsing over McGee and Balboa. Tony diving for Palmer. His own body landing on Palmer and the marine as the rubble hit his back, his head...
"Tony... Answer me..." The voice pleaded.
Tony tried to move his fingers poking what he lay on. Palmer moaned.
"Tony..." The voice was desperate.
"I'm coming, Tony. You got to keep talking to me." Relief in the voice. "You okay?"
"I know. Just keep talking."
"Where? Where are Palmer and the marine, Tony?"
"Under where, Tony?"
Outside the small cavity, it was a mass evacuation scene. It could have been from one of those epic movies Tony watched. Gibbs paused for a moment to catch his breath and to let the man helping him insert steel to help support the debris and let them move further in. Excavation equipment was streaming in. Construction workers were pouring into the site guiding those helping, removing debris and searching for survivors. In the street a growing number of white sheets covered those who hadn't made it.
"Agent Gibbs, I need you to let me in first." The sailor interrupted Gibbs before he could speak. "I know he's important to you. I was a rescue volunteer and helped on 9-11. I know what I'm doing. I'm trained in rescue and I'm a medic. I'm his best chance if he's injured badly. Let me save him for you."
Gibbs felt his eyes grow warm. He steeled his jaw. After a deep breath, Gibbs gave a curt nod and yielded his place to the sailor. An arm steadied him.
"Easy, agent. Here," A cup of coffee was pushed into his hand.
"Pedersen. I'm a friend of Tony's."
"You caught the perp."
"No, sir. Tony caught him. I just got the info onto the radio. He's a heck of an agent."
"Hey, there. So, you must be Tony."
Tony looked at the man who appeared beside him. A sailor. Uniform torn and dirty. "Hey, Sailor. Going my way?"
The sailor grinned. "More like you're going mine. You got a bit of a hit there." The sailor carefully probed the injury on Tony's head.
"Friend." Tony plucked at the coat under him and Palmer moaned.
"Must be a close one the way you're crushing him." The sailor joked. "How about we haul you off him and then I check him over?" Without waiting for a reply, the sailor wiggled further into the airspace and assessed the other before beginning to check Tony over as thoroughly as he could.
"Hey... dinner first..."
"No dancing? You're a cheap date. Okay, Tony, need you to focus. I can't see your other side. Do you feel like you're pinned?"
"Okay, need you to dance for me. Wiggle your left arm. Start with your fingers and then move it up your arm. You wiggling it?"
"Any sharp pain, does it feel tight or is it moving?"
"Sleeve or your arm?"
"Need some scissors or a knife." The sailor called out.
"Knife back of belt."
"That the silver-haired man pacing outside? Dripping wet?"
Tony grinned. "Yeah. Pushed him in the water."
"Refused to run the other direction."
"He told me to run the other direction. He'd get the team."
"Team being the Palmer under you."
Tony's face became sad. "And McGee. He didn't make it."
The sailor took the knife and carefully cut the jacket into two pieces straight up the back. "Shirt, too?"
"Don't think so."
"OK, let's dance a little more. How about that left leg? Toes and work your way up. Pinned?"
"Not pinned. Rubble."
"Rubble on it, but nothing pinning. Got it. Need you to hold on a minute. Hey, I got him. He's not pinned but I need the stretcher to send him out. I've two more people in here. I'm going to have to stay in. Need more stretchers for them and another medic for him." The sailor called out.
"You'll have them." Pedersen called. He jogged off and Gibbs could see him strong arm a man in a matching police uniform who was working crowd control. He was physically dragging him along.
"Peds, the cap's gonna chew me. He told me to hold that line. There's other medics."
"The man you're bringing out is a hero. He's the one who pointed out the perp and the bombs." Pedersen stated firmly. "He's in there because he sheltered a buddy with his body. His buddy and an injured marine. He needs a medic. I don't know them. I do know you. I trust you, Jennings."
"Aw, hell." Dropping to the ground, Jennings inched into the hole.
"The other medic wanted this." Pedersen handed him a collapsible stretcher.
"How are we doing this?"
Gibbs and Pedersen watched as Jennings wiggled further in and then they waited. "You know, he's not going to see it that way."
"Tony won't see himself as a hero. He'll blame himself for not stopping it. And for them." Gibbs stared at the white sheets.
"Then we keep telling him until he sees it."
"Gibbs, I heard you've found DiNozzo."
Gibbs barely recognized Dobbs for the dust and smoke. "They're getting ready to bring him out."
The other agent whistled and raised his arm making a circle. "I told the others I'd let them know."
Dobbs pointed at a group of people now making their way towards them. "What can we do?"
Pedersen spoke up. "The medic says he'll need med evac. Tony's in with a Palmer and an injured marine."
"Perkets. Get a line to NCIS. Let Dr. Mallard know they've got Palmer. Injuries unknown, updates pending. Get me a line to Vance. I don't care how." One of the approaching peeled off and turned back.
"Get one of the reporters. The mobile command is stuck and can't get through, but the media truck should have a line." Pedersen recommended. Without being told one of the men arriving on the scene reversed course.
"We're coming out." Jennings yelled. "Peds, get my feet. Slowly."
Peds reach out and so did Dobbs. Sharing a look, each took one foot.
"Whoa and now I know how the Christmas turkey feels. Easy, please. I am not a wishbone." Jennings looked down at Tony. "We're getting out. You ready?"
"Am I ready?" Tony asked.
"I've danced for you and I don't know your name."
"Oh, man..." Tony moaned. "Only me."
"Hey, I like my name." The sailor joked.
"So does my grandpa."
"Three, two, one... Now." Jennings called.
Gibbs held his breath as the police medic's body came clear and then the arms holding the stretcher and finally... There was Tony. His face and hair caked with dirt and blood.
"Easy." Jennings said. "Real slow."
Without instruction, agents stepped up and took hold of the stretcher making sure it stayed steady as it emerged and it didn't jostle their friend. Perkets ran up to them. "Med Evac is coming. We need to go this way."
"We were told all wounded were to go to triage." Pedersen spoke up. "It's set up over there."
"I might have accidently dialed the wrong number and got hold of Pitt. He's bringing a unit."
"Bringing one?" Gibbs spoke up.
"I told him Tony was at ground zero. Pitt pulled rank somehow. Said Tony was a priority due to his lungs."
"Good job, Perkets." Gibbs stepped forward as Tony was finally free. "Tony."
"Hey, boss." Tony's eyes were bright with pain.
"Pitts bringing a unit for you. Taking you to Bethesda." Tony managed to wiggle his hand free and Gibbs took hold of it.
"Alright, let's move it."
"That you, Pedersen." Tony managed to whisper. "You, okay?"
"Yes, thanks to you."
"How did you know, Tony?"
"Fornell." Tony said softly. "He didn't make it, boss. We need to watch over Emily."
Gibbs looked at the other NCIS agents for confirmation. They nodded solemnly. "We will. Now rest. We need to get you out of here."
"Jennings, can he have water?" Pedersen asked.
"Just enough to wet his lips."
A bottle water appeared from the group and made its way to Gibbs. He opened it and then searched for something.
"Here." Pedersen said. "Mom always said carry an extra handkerchief."
Gibbs took the white cloth and soaked it. He wet it and then pressed it against Tony's lips. Tony gave him a grateful look.
"There's the bus." Perkets pointed.
Pitt jogged in their direction carrying something. "Any neck injuries?" He asked the group and Jennings spoke up.
With little fanfare a small respirator was placed on Tony. "Could...said...Hello..."
"We'll say hello in a clean atmosphere." Pitt patted his head. "Notes?"
Jennings moved up to the front of the procession and began a report.
For the moment, Tony relaxed. His dad had his hand. He was out of that small hole. Brad was watching over him. It would be okay. Then a wave of sadness brushed over him.
"I know, Tony."
"I know." Gibbs didn't know how Tony knew about Balboa, McGee and Fornell, but he obviously did.
"Need to ... care ...Jethro."
"I'll have Abby..." Gibbs winced. Someone would have to break the news.
"I'm his dad, now."
"Okay. Rest, Tony."
Uniformed paramedics helped place Tony on a gurney. The agents each touched Tony and whispered to him before heading back to help others. Gibbs heard him ask each of them to watch over Palmer.
"Let's roll." Pitt motioned for them to load Tony.
"You listen, I'll..." Gibbs started.
"Please... dad...come... me..."
Dad. Gibbs felt the heat in his eyes again. He couldn't deny that he thought of Tony as a son. He wouldn't. Not with how close he came to losing him. Without a word, he crawled in. "Tony, how did you know about Tobias, McGee and Balboa?"
"Might say... talked... three wise men."