If...such a small word and yet one that could have your stomach doing somersaults. It was a word he suddenly hated and yet he couldn’t stop repeating it over and over in his mind.
If they hadn’t been so busy, with case after case landing on their desks, keeping them hard at work all day and sometimes well into the long nights. So many hours interviewing witnesses and suspects, documenting crime scenes, searching phone records, financial records, writing reports; reports he was convinced no one but Gibbs ever read. They’d been so tired, but after each case they snatched a few hours sleep and started over, they should have known, they were all experienced enough to understand the detrimental effects such long hours would have on their ability to do the job to the very best of their ability. They ignored the warning signs, each case taking priority over the need for time to relax and refresh.
If the cases had been easy, with plenty of DNA evidence, lots of stupid criminals who left fingerprints everywhere, who confessed at the first glare from Gibbs, they’d have cleared up quicker and been able to eat and sleep like normal people. Normal was a word they couldn’t comprehend, they ate when they could, drank way too much coffee, slept way too little, it was a state of affairs that couldn’t be allowed to continue, maybe it was time they filled the vacancy on the team, the three of them couldn’t go on with this workload, it was too much.
If they’d insisted on getting some down-time instead of carrying on day after day; working, snatching all too brief hours of sleep, sometimes still sitting at their desks. It wasn’t healthy, but they weren’t alone, the agency was snowed under, stretched to its limits and any half-way fit agent was expected to work, and work they did. At one stage they had worked so many hours without a break they lost count; almost out on their feet Director Vance had ordered them home.
If they’d been able to get eight hours sleep that night maybe things would have turned out different. It wasn’t to be; Homeland Security had issued a High Level Security Advisory and every agent was back on duty. All thoughts of significant time off went out of the window.
If...if, so many opportunities to change things and he didn’t take one.
If he hadn’t ignored the feeling that he was being watched, brushing it off because he was overtired, telling himself he was imagining things. He was barely able to concentrate on driving to work, having to talk himself through the simplest of manoeuvres just to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid. It wasn’t likely he was in any fit state to be fully aware of everyone in his eye line, let alone in his peripheral vision. He forgot about it for hours and then, just out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw someone watching him, fast as the image came, it was gone.
If he’d listened to his gut, trusted his feelings, but he didn’t. He’d carried on like they all were, putting what passed for his personal life in the background so he could concentrate on getting the job done.
If he’d recognised the face of the man watching, had the fleeting image come into sharp focus just one time, and he’d seen him clearly he could have done something, taken precautions, but he didn’t; there was so much to deal with at work, there wasn’t room in his overcrowded brain for anything that wasn’t directly related to current cases.
If he hadn’t been so tired at the end of their latest case, eventually given in to Tony’s questions and told him what was bothering him, if he’d kept the feeling of being watched it to himself, Tony wouldn’t have insisted on sharing a cab so he could check the apartment was secure.
If they’d been on top of their game, if their reaction times hadn’t been eroded over the last energy sapping days; by tiny increments it was true, but half a second was all it took for someone to get the drop on you.
If they’d had their weapons ready instead of moving wearily from room to room, not really expecting to find anything untoward, just Tony wanting to be sure.
If he hadn’t frozen for just one single heartbeat when he recognised the man standing in his bedroom.
If he’d drawn his weapon faster, then he could have shot the bastard before he had time to open fire.
If he’d been able to react fast enough Tony wouldn’t have had to shove him to the floor; he heard the gunshot, then his mind took too long to catch up with what was happening. After what seemed like hours he tried to get up, to give chase.
If his ears weren’t ringing from the gunshot, if he was able to stand without feeling like he was going to fall, he’d have been faster; it took too long before he’d seen the blood, when he saw where it was coming from he felt sick to his stomach and dropped to his knees.
If he’d realised sooner, he’d have been able to stop the bleeding faster, if he hadn’t been stunned by his fall, if only he wasn’t so damned slow. If his hand wasn’t shaking so much he could barely use his phone to call for help. Too many if’s, he hated that word, really, really hated it, and now he’d come to the most dreadful if of all.
If the ambulance didn’t get here soon Tony wasn’t going to make it, because however hard he pressed on the wound it wouldn’t stop bleeding. They had to be here soon; in the distance he heard the shrill wail of a siren, this had to be them, it had to be, because if they were too late, if they couldn’t save him, if...
THE END...or is it?