"Ziva, McGee, around back. DiNozzo, with me." The orders were snapped quickly. They didn't have a lot of time.

The petty officer had been missing for almost a week, and according to the evidence, the killer's next victim—petty officer David Malone—was still alive. For approximately six minutes. They had to get in there now.

Gibbs jerked his head. He watched DiNozzo kick in the door. He could hear an echo of the noise coming from the back—Ziva and McGee were in.

Guns drawn, the men entered the house, scanning with their eyes for movement. The house split off; two doorways led into opposite directions. Gibbs jerked his head again. DiNozzo nodded.

Tony took the left, eyes still scanning. Movement caught his eye, and he jerked his head to the right. It was Ziva. He spared her a second glance, and frowned as she pulled her gun up, barrel facing him. What the--? Oh shit. Tony turned back, but not in time.

The pistol hit him hard, directly in the temple. Ziva watched, horrified, as Tony collapsed to the floor. "Drop the weapon!" she yelled, aiming at the suspect's heart. She didn't even have a moment for Tony, not now. "Put it down!"

She watched as almost playfully, the man pointed the gun back at her. "You want a 'whipping too, sweetheart?" he asked. "I'm sure your boy here is out of commission for awhile." He smirked at her.

Pure rage filled Ziva's chest. "I said, drop the weapon," she enunciated crisply. A small piece of her mind wondered where Gibbs and McGee were. Tony needed to be helped, right away. Blood glinted off the gun. Tony's? Or the petty officer's?

The suspect let the weapon slide off his finger and fall to the floor. It hadn't been fired recently, Ziva thought as she rushed the man. It would have likely gone off.

He grinned, ready for her. "Come on, pretty girl," he said. His leg came up sloppily for a kick.

Ziva blocked it, and sent her fist crashing into his nose. He staggered backwards, hands cupped around the gushing blood. "You bish!" he cried.

It only took her a matter of seconds to send him crashing to the floor and put him in cuffs. She shoved him aside.

Gibbs was right there, moving quickly towards Tony's unconscious form. "What happened?" he barked, dropping to one knee, checking Tony's pulse. "DiNozzo?"

"His back was turned, and the assailant struck him in the temple with the Glock," Ziva reported quickly. "He fell immediately."

"Call an ambulance," Gibbs ordered. "And get the scum in the car."

"And the petty officer?" Ziva asked, calling in the ambulance.

"An ambulance is coming for him. He's alive." Gibbs shook his head, looking at Tony's bleeding temple. A pistol-whipping could kill. His agent's breathing was shallow. "Don't you die on me, DiNozzo," he ordered.


The team stood in the waiting area. Gibbs held a cup of coffee, but he didn't drink.

A doctor stepped out of DiNozzo's room, marking something on his chart. Gibbs stepped forward.

"How is he doing?" he asked brusquely. The doctor looked up.

"And you are?" He asked. Gibbs took a quick look at the man's name tag. Dr. Michael McDermon. He scowled.

"Special Agent Gibbs," he said, flashing his badge. "That's one of my agents you have in there. How. Is. He?"

Dr. McDermon's eye widened. "He's in serious condition right now," he said. "I'm afraid I can't tell you anything more than that unless you're a relative of Mr. DiNozzo's."

A hand touched Gibb's shoulder. "Will you check for us?" Ducky's mild voice asked. "We're quite concerned about our dear Anthony."

The doctor's gaze moved to Ducky, and then back to Gibb's scowling visage. "I'll have someone check right away," he said, moving off quickly.

Gibbs spun to face Ducky. "Can he do that, Duck?" he asked.

"HIPPA, my friend. With any luck, Anthony will have put one of our names down as a contact, and they will be able to inform us of his condition." Ducky patted his back. "We must have patience."

Behind them, there was a ding from the elevator, and the heavy clomp of platform shoes moving across the floor. "Gibbs, is he all right?" Abby cried. He turned just in time to be enveloped in a hug. "What happened to him? Ziva only said that I should get to Bethesda ASAP! Well, she didn't say ASAP, because Ziva doesn't say things like that, but as quickly as I could. Why would she say that if Tony was okay? There'd be no reason. Is he all right?" The words burst forth like water through a broken dam.

"We don't know yet, Ab's," Gibbs said, wishing he had more to tell her. "Something about hippos--"

"What?" Abby pulled back, looking confused. "He was injured by a hippo? Ziva said he was hit in the head."

"The doctor can't tell us anything because of HIPPA, Abigail," Ducky said gently. "Apparently, someone is checking Anthony's records to see if any of us are listed as contacts in case of emergency."

A nurse came towards them. "Are any of you an L.J. Gibbs?" she asked.

Gibbs nudged Abby aside, and stepped forward. "That's me," he said.

"You're listed as Anthony DiNozzo's next of kin," she said.

Gibbs was surprised. DiNozzo had listed him as next of kin? Well, he knew the man's father wouldn't be on that list, so...maybe not so surprised. "Tell me what you know," he said.


Abby, McGee, and Ziva sat in a row against the wall. Nervously, McGee tapped his foot. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap--

"Stop that," Ziva ordered. "You are driving me up the creek!"

"Up the wall," McGee corrected, but he stopped. "How bad could it possibly be? He only got hit in the head. Gibbs hits him in the head all the time." He didn't sound like he believed his own words.

Abby shook her head. "He didn't just get slapped, Tim. Being pistol-whipped can be deadly. And you said he got hit in the temple," she said to Ziva. "That can cause a myriad of injuries. It's a very fragile area of the head. He could be in bad shape." The Goth sniffed and pulled her knees up to her chin, resting her arms around her shins.

Ziva didn't say anything. She thought of how Tony had suddenly turned boneless, his body hitting the floor with a loud thump. She had feared he was dead at that moment, until she had seen his chest rise and fall.

They sat silently. After a few minutes, McGee started to tap his foot again.

Ziva ignored it.


Gibbs followed Ducky into the room where Tony lay, his mind boiling with all the words that made up his prognosis. Prolonged unconsciousness is not desirable...swelling; a possible contusion...some degree of brain damage is likely....unbelievable. He'd always jokingly said that his senior agent had brain damage, but DiNozzo was actually a very smart man.

"Brain damage, Duck?" he queried softly.

His older friend nodded sadly. "It is entirely possible that being struck so forcefully in the head, especially with an object like a gun, could cause brain damage," he said. "We won't know how extensive the damage is until our young Anthony wakes up."

Gibbs looked down at his senior agent, lying perfectly still under tubes, bandages, and white, industrial sheets. All that said he was alive were the monitors suspended above him, where DiNozzo's blood pressure and heart rate were indicated. He watched the spiking beat of the man's heart for a long moment.

"Would it be permanent?" Gibbs asked.

"Another thing we cannot possibly know until he awakens." Ducky placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. "We must have patience."


Ziva and McGee emerged from his room. Ziva's face was closed and unreadable; McGee was a delicate shade of green.

"Abby will not leave, Gibbs," Ziva said. She sounded worried. "She is becoming hysterical. I did not wish to slap her." Her dark eyes met Gibb's own. "You must do something."

Ah, Abs, Gibbs thought. Quickly, he threaded his way past Ziva and McGee, and made his way into Tony's room. DiNozzo hadn't moved, but Abby was crouched on the floor, her arms wrapped around herself, shaking like a leaf. It hit him right in the heart.

"Abby," he said quietly. "Come on. Get up." He didn't wait for her to stand, instead nearly lifting her to her feet. She turned and threw herself into his chest.

"Please tell me he's gonna be alright, Gibbs! Please!" she whimpered.

He sighed, wrapping his arms around her. "I don't know, Abs. I wish I could," he muttered to the top of her head. "We'll do everything we can."

"It's not fair!" Abby cried. "He has to be okay. He has to!"

"Shh," he said. "Just have to have patience."

"He's gotta wake up!"

"I know," He murmured. "I know."


Everywhere he looked, all he saw was dark.

Dark. He was afraid of the dark. You never knew what could be hiding...an animal...a person...a monster. He shuddered. What was out there?

He reached his hand out, but it was so dark, he couldn't see it. And moving was so difficult. Like fighting his way through cooked marshmallows.

Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, pain hit him. It was shocking, agonizing pain. He reached his hands up to his head...or he meant to. His hands didn't move. And his head. Oh, God, his head hurt so bad.

He moaned. He was in agony.

Above him somewhere, he heard a voice. Female, bright, yet sharp. He couldn't make out her words.

Another voice answered hers, a male voice. Commanding, rough around the edges.

"Help," he begged, but all he heard come from his lips was another moan.

And then, there were...hands. On him, touching him. He felt a burning sensation move through his arm. He moaned again.

And then the pain was floating away, along with the voices, and he was alone again, in the marshmallow-y dark.

He let himself just float.


"He made a noise, Gibbs!" Abby cried. She was clutching onto his neck rather desperately, reminding him sharply of his little girl. He put his hand on her back.

"I heard, Abs," he said, standing to the side of DiNozzo's room as doctors and nurses crowded around his agent's bed, injecting morphine into his I.V. and checking...things.

"Does that mean he's alright?" she begged. "Because he's not in a coma anymore. So that's good, right?"

He couldn't bear her bright, hopeful eyes. He tucked her face into the crook of his shoulder and didn't say anything, watching the medical personnel working on Tony.

He saw Tony's eyelids flicker, and then still. He caught the eyes of one of the nurses, who gave him what was supposed to be an encouraging smile. He felt his lips tighten.


"He is no longer unconscious, which is a positive sign; however, the results of the MRI and CAT scan both indicate bleeding in the brain, as well as some other anomalies—"

"What exactly does that mean in English?" Gibbs snapped. Ducky placed a hand on his friend's shoulder, making an unsuccessful attempt to be a calming influence.

"What it means is that until he wakes up, we won't know exactly how extensive--"

"The damage will be, yeah, you've told us that before. Got anything new to tell us?"

"I'm sorry, Agent Gibbs. That's all I can tell you for right now. As soon as we know something more, we'll let you know." The doctor quickly shook his and Ducky's hands, and made a hasty exit.

Gibbs sighed, and turned to Ducky. "So, Duck? What do we do?"

"Are you going to stay with Anthony tonight?" Ducky replied.

Gibbs nodded, and Ducky nodded his head, as if to say he'd thought as much. "You have my telephone number, Jethro. Do feel free to ring me up if his status changes."

"Will do," Gibbs said. He turned, and Ducky accompanied him to where the rest of the team sat, in various states of exhaustion.\

"Go home, everyone. He'll still be here tomorrow." He made eye contact with both of his agents, and lastly Abby. "That's an order."

Ziva and Tim rose to their feet, but Abby stubbornly shook her head. "I'm staying here, Gibbs."

He stared her down, but her gaze was unwavering. Finally, he gave a sharp nod. "Okay," he said. "You two, go home. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Here, boss, or at work?" Tim asked cautiously.

"That depends," Gibbs answered. "Now, go."

He watched them leave with Ducky, then turned to face Abby. "Go sit with him," he suggested. "I'm going to get a coffee."

"Caff-Pow?" she asked, already walking towards Tony's room.

Gibbs sighed. "Caff-Pow," he said. She flashed him half a smile as she disappeared into the glass cubicle that held his senior agent.


He was floating now. It didn't hurt anymore.

What had happened? He couldn't remember anything. Had he done something bad? Maybe Father had punished him. But nothing hurt. He felt...well, he felt nothing actually. If Father had punished him, he certainly would have felt something.

But it had hurt.

It didn't matter. He was comfortable, softly contained in a cloud. He didn't need to worry.

Not right now.


Gibbs sat in the chair they'd provided him and studied his senior agent. The man looked impossibly young as he silently slept. At least it was only a drugged sleep now, and not a coma, Gibbs thought.

Abby's head was nestled into his shoulder, and he could feel her ribs expanding and contracting as she slept. He'd put his arm around her some hours ago; his arm had long since fallen asleep, but he didn't want to move it and wake her.

He took a sip of his cold coffee, and thought about Tony.

The man was going to be alright. He would. Because Gibbs was not going to lose his senior agent, the man who always had his six, who, whether he would admit it or not, lived for Gibbs' approval. Not that Gibbs wanted that, but he did understand, at least partially, where it came from.

He didn't know a lot about DiNozzo's past, but the younger man had let a few tidbits slip here and there over the years they'd worked together. He knew DiNozzo had been disowned as a child, and that his father was a real piece of work. From bits and pieces he'd heard, the man had been extremely rough on his son. Occasionally, usually when DiNozzo was drunk, anecdotes that made Gibbs' stomach twist would come out.

Next to him, Abby stirred. "He any better, Gibbs?" she mumbled sleepily.

"No change, Abs," Gibbs replied. He felt her slide out from under his arm and watched her stand on unsteady feet.

"I need more Caff-Pow," Abby said. "And a bathroom. Not necessarily in that order."

Gibbs nodded. He watched her wobble her way out of Tony's room.

With a sigh, he rubbed his arm, and continued his silent vigil over Tony's sleeping frame. Light from the rising sun crept around the curtains and into the tiny room.


The pain was returning. His head was starting to throb.

Desperately he tried to remember what had happened. Father must have beaten him, must have really injured him, if he couldn't remember. I'm sorry, he tried to say, but he couldn't hear himself.

Maybe he was still beating him. Maybe that was why everything hurt. Maybe he'd passed out for a minute or two, but now he was coming to.

He couldn't remember what he'd done to merit this beating. It didn't even matter. He would apologize with all his might, and hope for mercy.

Father, I'm sorry, he whimpered. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

"Father, I'm sorry!" he cried.


The strangled cry from Tony's lips sent Gibbs rocketing to his feet.

"M'sorry!" It was barely intelligible, but Gibbs heard it. Instantly, he was at Tony's side.

"DiNozzo? DiNozzo, can you hear me?" Gibbs asked, putting his hand on Tony's shoulder. The younger man flinched.

"Please, Father. I'm so sorry," Tony whimpered. "Ow!"

Gibbs hit the call button and released Tony's shoulder, afraid he was hurting him. "DiNozzo, it's me. Can you hear me?"

Suddenly, Tony's eyes popped open. He was breathing hard. His heart rate had jumped considerably on the monitor. "DiNozzo?" Gibbs said.

Tony's eyes were focused on Gibbs own, and Gibbs felt relief he wouldn't have admitted. He watched as Tony opened his mouth.

"Who...are you?"