"Ziva!" Gibbs called up the stairs. "You're going to be late!" He was just drying the mug he had used for his first cup of coffee. He hadn't seen Ziva all morning, but that wasn't unusual.
Ziva had a habit of going through her morning without making sure she said good morning to him. He didn't mind, and it worked out well for both of them. Ziva would wake up early, obscenely early in his opinion, to run for about an hour or so. During that hour, Gibbs himself would finally wake up and shower, after which he would go to the bedroom to dress. Ziva would return from her run while he was dressing, and go directly to the bathroom for her own shower. While she showered quickly, he would make a pot of coffee.
After her shower, she would dress swiftly and join him in the kitchen, kissing him good morning while acquiring her cup of coffee. But this morning, she had yet to come down after her shower, and they were cutting it close if they wanted to get to the Navy yard on time.
"Why are you yelling?" Her voice came from the living room behind him. He turned to see her fully dressed, keys in hand. "I was waiting for you," she said with a grin. She entered the kitchen and planted a kiss on his lips. "Good morning, my silver-haired fox." He arched an eyebrow at her.
"Morning." His voice was clearly curious about his new pet name. She shrugged.
"I heard Abby use it the other day, and I thought it fit you. In more ways than one."
"Uh huh," he replied. He snatched his keys from the counter. "Ready to go?" he asked. She grinned.
"Last one to the Navy Yard has to make dinner," she said. He grinned in acceptance, and her eyes lit up at the challenge. They were civil on the way out to the driveway, but he could tell that she was itching to get behind the wheel.
"Accidents and tickets are automatic disqualifiers," he said, attempting to preemptively guard against mishaps on the road. She rolled her eyes at him, and he grinned in acknowledgment. He did know, after all, that while her driving was as erratic as his, she was one of the best drivers on the road. Not many could drive as she did and get in so few accidents. He escorted her to her car before going to his own, not worried about her getting a head start; he had to move his car before she would be able to leave the driveway.
He took his time getting to his car, knowing it would drive Ziva nuts. He opened the door and got in, calmly hooking his seatbelt and checking his mirrors dutifully before casually pulling out on to the street. He reached the stop sign at the end of the cul-de-sac before she came peeling out of after him, barely slowing before slipping smoothly into traffic. Smiling to himself, he also merged onto the road, swiftly gaining speed until he matched her pace, swerving in and out of lanes as he avoided other cars. He sighed contentedly.
Just another ordinary day.
Ziva pulled into her customary spot just moments before he did, but her wide grin as she exited the car told him she was fully aware of her victory. She gave him a long look and a wink before heading into the building. He waited five minutes before following her. When he got into the squad room, she was already seated at her desk, hard at work.
"Good morning, Gibbs," she said as he passed. He nodded with his customary curtness, quickly falling back into the role of supervisor.
"Morning, Boss," Tony said, moving out from behind his desk. "We got a call yet?" Gibbs sent him a hard look.
"How would I know, Dinozzo?" he asked. "I just got here."
"Right. Sorry, Boss." Gibbs went to his desk and sat down, listening to Ziva strike up a banter session about why Tony was so eager to be out of the office. The senior field agent avoided her questions, which only gave Ziva, and soon McGee, a chance to pose some of their own conclusions.
The scene was typical for the day, as no call came in. They finished up the paperwork from their last case, and those who finished early looked over the evidence from some of their cold case files. The day wore on, and finally crawled to a close. The sun was halfway set when Gibbs' phone rang. The team looked up in disbelief as he answered, not willing to believe they had suffered through the boredom of the day only to be called to a scene minutes before shift ended.
"Gear up," Gibbs ordered, shutting his phone with a snap. They hesitated, as if expecting their boss to grin and say 'just kidding'. He didn't, instead giving them all an expectant look. "Do I have to tell you twice?"
The three of them sprang into action, pulling on their backpacks and scuttling toward the elevator. When the lift opened, they piled in, and then held the doors open until Gibbs joined them. Gibbs sidled in and came to a stop next to Ziva. They weren't quite touching, but they were close enough so that he could feel her mild irritation at the last-minute callout.
Dinozzo began complaining nearly immediately, much to the others' chagrin. He morosely recounted his interaction with a lady friend the night before, and now he had to cancel on her. Gibbs caught Ziva rolling her eyes, the movement nearly making him laugh. They maintained their proximity until the doors opened up onto the parking deck. He got off to go use his personal car, but she remained behind to go with the others to ride to the scene in the NCIS truck. Just as the doors slid shut, Gibbs heard her call dibs on driving.
Gibbs pulled into the scene right behind the NCIS truck. He didn't waste any time joining his team as they gathered their things from the back of the van. He noticed that Dinozzo had already disappeared to get a sit-rep from the local LEOs. He himself took a moment to survey the layout of the scene. There were two warehouses. The nearest one looked much older, made primarily of wood. It had three stories, but they seemed to lean to one side, displaying the instability of the supports. He took a sip of his coffee as he gazed at the building; it looked more like a deathtrap than a warehouse.
The second warehouse was about 300 yards to the east, and appeared exceedingly more stable. It was cinderblock, not wood, and it rested squarely on its foundations. The newer warehouse seemed to be the one with their victim, seeing as it was swarming with personnel. Gibbs was still looking at the scene when a local LEO came up and began giving him an update.
"Body was found in the east warehouse," he said, confirming Gibbs' suspicion. "Blood trail was followed back to this one." Upon looking at Gibbs' skeptical brow, the deputy continued. "It's old, but if you watch your step you and your team will be safe. Just don't do anything stupid while you're in there."
"Gibbs does not do anything stupid," came Ziva's voice from behind them.
"Yeah, that's usually your job, Deputy," Dinozzo joined in, re-converging with the team. Gibbs kept his face still, but he was inwardly pleased at his agents' answers; it was moments like these that he fully appreciated how well he had trained them.
"Dinozzo, take McGee and take the primary scene. Photographs, sketches, the works. Officer David, you will be taking the secondary scene." Gibbs' orders were followed immediately, without complaint or suggestion. A sharp glare in the deputy's direction had the uniformed man clearing his throat and finding somewhere else to be. Dinozzo and McGee quickly made their way over to the more modern warehouse, while Ziva quickly found the blood trail and quickly started snapping pictures as she slowly followed it inside the death trap in front of them.
Gibbs took a last swig of his coffee before ditching the cup in a nearby trash barrel and moving to join the Mossad officer in the warehouse. He followed the yellow plastic photo identifiers into the main room of the first floor and immediately over to the set of stairs upon which Ziva was currently standing. She finished snapping her last picture before she looked up at him.
"I thought you would be more interested in the body, Gibbs," she said.
"I do," he conceded. "But there is no way I am letting anyone in this deathtrap without a spotter." He moved to climb the stair to meet her, but she held up her hand to stop him.
"Let us not tempt fate, hm?" she asked. "I would not advise more than one person on this thing. And stick to the outside of the steps; I suspect the centers of the boards are rotted." He nodded in acknowledgement to the heads up, and waited for her to complete her photographs of the stairs before climbing up to meet her on the second level.
"Blood trail leads over to the center of the room," she reported. "Large pool of blood," she continued while snapping a picture, "indicates foul play. Perhaps this is in fact the primary scene, and the other warehouse is merely a dump site?"
"Fits for now," he responded. "But why drag a dead body from one warehouse to another, leaving a blood trail clear as day behind?"
"Perhaps he was interrupted," she speculated. "Or, depending on the other scene, perhaps it served a specific purpose, like sending a message of some kind." She paused, and then gave wry smile. "Or perhaps our perpetrator was just an idiot."
"All possible scenarios." They were in the middle of the room now, on opposite sides of the large pool of congealed blood. "We will re-evaluate as soon as—" his words were cut off as the world around them exploded into chaos.
A bright flash of flame from the direction of the primary scene as an explosion rocked the structure around them. A thunderous boom reached their ears, and he barely had time to wonder if the other two agents had been caught in the explosion before the boards beneath their feet gave out and they plummeted to the ground floor below. He was unconscious before he had a chance to register that the third floor and roof had come down on top of them.
Tony and McGee were walking to the door of the second warehouse, which happened to be on the far side of the building. Tony insisted on walking along the fence that bordered the perimeter, certain that it would cut down on their walking distance.
"I'm telling you, Tony," McGee said as they walked along, "this route is only making us walk farther."
"And you would know, Elf Lord, sitting behind your computer all day and night."
"You know, Tony," McGee said as they walked towards the warehouse, "RPGs have practical applications beyond pure entertainment." Dinozzo stopped in his tracks, turning around with a wide grin on his face.
"Oh really, Probie?" he asked with a chuckle. "It helps you brush up on your spell-casting skills? Those are important, those spells. They've helped solve many a case, right?" He laughed. "No, no! They help prepare you in case you ever run into an orc! Hah ha! Tell me Mc-Elf lord, which is more effective against Glork the Terrible? Poison? Fire?"
McGee looked around in exasperation, finally losing patience when he noticed that the first warehouse had completely disappeared from his view.
"You know what Tony?" he said, his irritation tangible. "Take your time. I'll meet you inside." He left Tony behind, making a beeline for the warehouse. Before he got halfway, the building exploded, knocking the young agent off his feet. He landed on his back, barely managing to keep his head from impacting the pavement. His breath rushed from his lungs, making him gasp and wheeze.
The initial wave of searing heat from the explosion faded until it was a glowing ambience as fire gripped the structure with greedy tendrils.
"Probie!" Tony called. His voice was filled with uncharacteristic concern. "Are you okay?" he asked. McGee sat up with the senior agent's help and stared incredulously at the burning building. "Probie? Snap out of it."
"Tony," McGee said, his voice shocked. "I think your stubborn stupidity just saved our lives."
Gibbs came to slowly, his awareness floating in and out murkily. He heard muffled sounds filtering down from above, and his surroundings were dark. Unsure of where he was, he attempted to move. He immediately felt resistance, and something above him started to shift, sending bits of rubble and dirt raining down on him. Suddenly he remembered where he was and what had happened. And who he was with.
"Ziva!" His voice was raspy from breathing in the dust still in the air. He cleared his throat, and when he tried again, his voice was stronger. "Ziva!" Silence answered him, and he felt panic encroaching as the situation and his inability to ascertain Ziva's condition struck home. But then—there: movement to his left. "Ziva?" More movement followed, then a groan.
"Ziva." His relief was clearly audible. "Are you okay?" She didn't answer, and he was suddenly afraid that she had fallen unconscious again. If she had, it was possible she had a concussion, and being unconscious was the last thing she should be. "Ziva!"
"I may have broken some ribs," she answered finally. Her voice was strained, but clear. "There is something on top of me. It is too heavy for me to move." She paused. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah," he said. "I can't move either. If I do, the whole thing might come down on us."
"Yes, we would hate for that to happen. Again." The wryness of her voice almost made him smile, despite the seriousness of their predicament. "Was it a bomb?"
"Not in this warehouse. I think it was the main scene that got hit. We got the shockwave, and this place couldn't take it." Silence fell once more, and the concern returned. "Ziva?"
"Do you think Tony—"
"I don't know Ziver," he cut her off, not willing to go down that line of thinking. The use of her nickname relaxed him, and he hoped it helped soothe her concern as well. He wondered briefly if she had experienced something like this when she was in Morocco.
"How long have we been down here?" she asked a few moments later.
"I don't know. I woke up a few minutes before you did."
"I do not hear anyone trying to get us out, Jethro." Her voice seemed strained, but he couldn't tell if it was from the dust in the air or because she was struggling to remain calm.
"They're probably more concerned with the burning building next door. They'll get to us, but they need to deal with the bigger threat first."
"Right." She remained quiet for a few minutes before speaking up again. "I do not think it was an accident, Gibbs."
"You mean the explosion?"
"Yes. It cannot be coincidence that the building a body was moved to was hit. Especially since it happened once law enforcement was on the scene."
"But if it's to destroy evidence, why blow it up after the body was found? Why not detonate where the body fell the first time? Especially this place would go up like a match, with all this wood." Reverting to the role of an investigator took his mind off their predicament marginally, and Gibbs was thankful for it.
"It is a message. It is targeting someone. Low civilian casualty means either they intend to escalate or that the explosion was not their focus."
"What was their focus?"
"How would I know?" Her tone was genuinely curious, and it made him chuckle, which soon turned into a hacking cough. "Jethro?" Her voice was filled with concern.
"I'm okay," he reassured her. "How do your ribs feel?"
"I am fine," she said, her voice brusque.
"Ziva—" he started, not wanting her to mask her injuries. She cut him off.
"Shhhh." Gibbs obeyed her soft command. "Listen," she clarified. He did so, and soon heard the sounds of tentative footsteps making their way towards them.
"Is anybody there?" An unfamiliar voice came. "Special Agent Gibbs?"
"We're here!" he called up.
"Agent Gibbs, how many are with you?"
"One. Officer David. We were the only two in the building when it collapsed."
"Is Officer David responsive?"
"Yes, she is," Ziva interjected.
"Officer David, Agent Gibbs," the voice said in way of introduction, "I am Malik Abdullah and my partner here is Joshua Henson. We are paramedics, and we are going to get you out of there." Malik's voice was calm and collected, indicative of much experience in the field. "Are either of you injured?"
"Officer David may have some broken ribs," Gibbs told him before Ziva could proclaim her good health. "We are both pinned; I tried to move earlier but the rubble above me shifted."
"All right. Here is what we are going to do. Officer David, we are going to work on getting you out first, as you sound closer to the top and have injuries. Once you are safely removed, we will get to work on freeing you, Agent Gibbs. How does that sound?"
"Good," Gibbs said, again before Ziva could object. "Just do it." Malik did so, and only ten minutes later, Gibbs could see a bright influx of shifting light coming from his left as the man used his flashlight to look into the pit they had dug out. The paramedic took survey of the heavy beam that had pinned Ziva, quickly discerning that it was no longer supporting any of the other remnants of the warehouse. He and his partner paramedic, who was both out of sight and had refused to speak throughout the entire operation, worked to lift the weight of the beam and move it enough to the side to free Ziva.
Gibbs could barely see Ziva from where he was laying, especially through the sometimes blinding flash of the paramedic's flashlight. Malik's face was indiscernable, and in the poor light, Gibbs could barely see the color of his skin through the shadow. Out of the corner of his eye, Gibbs saw hands reach out to grasp Ziva's arms.
With a half-groan, Ziva recoiled from his reach, but the hands would not be dissuaded. They grasped her upper arms firmly and gently lifted her out of the pit that had been her prison. She struggled briefly, but he heard her movements cease once she had been lifted clear of the debris. A few more rustles followed as the two paramedics escorted Ziva away from the collapsed structure, and then silence reigned yet again. But this silence automatically set the Marine on edge. His gut was twisting and churning all of a sudden, and he knew that something was wrong.
"Ziva?" he called. "Malik!" No one answered him, and the only thing he heard was the distant wails of the ambulances from the other warehouse. The revelation made him pause. He hadn't heard any sirens before Malik had shown up. A part of him knew that it could simply be because they had walked from the primary scene; but his gut knew the truth. Something was wrong, and now Ziva was no longer answering him. "Ziva!" Nothing.
The silence pounded in his ears, and his heart rate sped up as his breathing became shallower. Something was wrong, he could feel it. He now knew that the paramedics hadn't followed proper procedure, and the fact that there was no further sound from above told him that Ziva had been right; the bomb had not been the focus.
Tony and McGee had quickly worked to secure the scene as much as possible. Sirens wailed as fire trucks and ambulances swarmed onto the scene. The firemen had been at work battling the monstrous flames for about half an hour when Dinozzo finally realized something was wrong.
"McGee," he said finally, looking around the disaster zone. "Where's Gibbs?"
"Probably at his own scene," McGee answered. "Why?"
"Do you really think Gibbs would stay at his scene when ours blew up not 500 yards away?" McGee looked at him.
"You're right. Something's off." They shared a look. "Let's find him." They briskly retraced their steps back to the first warehouse. As soon as the fire was behind them, they took a moment to let their eyes adjust to the sudden darkness. As they did, their eyes grew wide in shock when they saw the structure had been nearly completely leveled.
"ZIVA!" Gibbs' voice reached their ears, and made them spring into action.
"Boss!" Tony called, moving directly into the collapse zone to follow the sound of Gibbs' voice.
"We need some help over here!" McGee called to some nearby firefighters. They heard and came running. "Our boss is under there," the younger agent motioned with his hand. "One of our colleagues was with him, but we haven't heard her say anything yet."
"Boss?" Tony called, moving carefully over the rubble, doing his best to ensure his movement wouldn't cause anymore damage.
"Dinozzo!" Gibbs barked. Tony paused, and then shifted his path after re-estimating Gibbs' location. "Where's Ziva?" Tony was now almost directly over top Gibbs. He shifted some of the rubble, clearing just enough so that he could see Gibbs lying under some scrap wood a couple feet below.
"Boss! You all right?" Tony asked. By now, he had been joined by McGee and the firefighters. A few paramedics had followed as well.
"Where's Ziva?" Gibbs asked again, ignoring Tony's question.
"Wasn't she with you? Is she down there?"
"No! She was, but some paramedics came and got her out." Tony shot a look towards the paramedics that had joined them. They shook their heads; no one had even realized the two agents had been in the building that had collapsed.
"Boss, I have some paramedics here with me, and they haven't seen her. We didn't even realize your building had collapsed until a few minutes ago."
"Dammit Dinozzo! Two paramedics came, Malik Abdullah and Joshua Henson. They got her clear of the collapse site. Where is she?"
"Sir," one of the paramedics told Tony in a hushed voice, so that the man beneath them did not get anymore agitated. "There isn't anyone by that name at the hospital that responded to the call. Either he's hallucinating—"
"Gibbs doesn't hallucinate," Tony said, his voice leaving no room for doubt.
"Or," the paramedic continued, "your colleague was abducted by people posing as paramedics." The man paused before continuing. "I hope it's the first option. Hallucinations are easy enough to fix."
"Yeah," Tony said. "I wish you were right. But my gut tells me that Gibbs is telling the truth. The bomb next door, the moved body, and now my friend missing… There's no such thing as coincidences, which leaves only one other option." He turned away from the paramedic and shifted his attention back to Gibbs.
"Boss!" Tony called down to the trapped man. "I think we have a serious problem." His words filtered down to where Gibbs lay. The Marine closed his eyes as the terrible truth hit home: Ziva had been taken as he watched, unaware and unable to do anything about it. She was injured, and had been subdued too quickly than was characteristic of her, even with her broken ribs. Which meant either she was more grievously inured than she had told him or the imposters had drugged her, or even both.
"Yeah, Dinozzo," he said softly, too softly for anyone but him to hear. "Ya think?"