Thank you everyone who has been following from the beginning and also thank you to those who just started reading. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate seeing the traffic bars on my stories rise higher and higher. I'm sorry this one took much longer, but as you can see, it's almost triple the size of my normal chapters. Thank you for your patience. Please tell me what you think! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS or any of the NCIS characters.
Tony tore through the trees, Ziva and McGee hot on his heels. They burst through the forest and stopped short at the edge of a round clearing. Spotting the tattered cabin, Tony took off instantly, pushing his legs harder and harder against the frozen ground. Closer to the shack, he slowed and crouched beside the door, catching his breath. While pulling out his weapon, Tony analyzed the situation and quickly determined the best way to proceed.
"McGee, take a loop around the perimeter. Ziva and I are going inside."
He watched McGee unholster his gun and disappear around the corner. Locking eyes with Ziva, he nodded. After a mental count to three, both agents twisted into the doorway: one aiming high, the other aiming low. Ziva proceeded to search through the second room while Tony checked every crevice in the living area.
"Clear," Ziva called.
The senior field agent was still searching when the beam of his flashlight fell upon a disgusting rug, sloppily tossed aside to reveal a trapdoor.
"Ziva, check this out," he said, motioning to the cut out floorboards with his gun. Inching closer, Tony aimed his flashlight into the darkness to expose several moldy stairs. Making sure Ziva was covering him, he began his descent with careful footing. As he was about to lower himself to the third step, a moan sounded from below.
"Tony!" Ziva warned in a harsh whisper behind him.
Shifting his weight, Tony continued downward into the dark, his nose filling with must. At last, both of his feet touched the basement floor and Ziva followed a second later. Taking a breath, Tony turned his flashlight and laid eyes upon one of the most haunting scenes of his life.
Oh. My. God.
Moonlight filtered through a large window well onto Kelly's slight frame, creating an ghostly glow around her hanging head and shoulders. He could see the plastic zip ties running down her arms and legs, the bruises blooming on her ribs, the trio of gashes running from her left shoulder to the middle of her chest. He had never seen her look so defeated, so violated, so broken.
Her head shot up at the sound of his voice and she started yelling muffled calls against the duct tape. It sent chills through his spine, but also relief through his heart. Realizing she really was conscious, Tony rushed to her and knealt in front of her legs, watching her struggle to breathe. As he looked into her eyes, he realized that he'd never seen them filled with so much worry, pain, and terror as they were now. Quickly assessing her position, he pinched one edge of the duct tape between his fingers. Tony hated that he was about to cause her more agony.
"This is going to hurt," he contritely warned.
Kelly's eyes pleaded with him to get it over with. She nodded slightly and Tony waited for her to shut both eyes tight. With one sharp tug, he pulled off the tape and watched as a red rectangle blistered over her lips and cheeks. Tears spilled from her eyes and she sucked in a deep, gasping breath.
"Kelly," he said, switching into big brother mode, "everything's going to be –"
She cut him off early. "No. It's not." Her voice came out harsh and gravely. "Start thinking funny thoughts. Ziva's going to need a distraction." He was severely confused by her rushed words. She would be free in just a few minutes.
"There are five blocks of C4 strapped to the bottom of this chair and I have no idea what the timer's at," she explained, visibly trying to hold herself together.
Tony's heart stopped. Next to him, Ziva squatted and glanced underneath the chair. He snuck a peek. Sure enough, five army-green bricks were taped to the underside of the chair, all of them connected by several braids of multi-colored wire. A digital timer was secured in the middle.
"It is alright, Kelly. Two minutes and forty-seven seconds," Ziva said. That would be more than enough time for her to disengage the bomb. Again, Tony was confused when Kelly shook her head.
"Cole's got a remote detonator. It's a dead-man switch."
He glanced to Ziva and caught her eye, sharing the same muted thought.
Now he understood why Kelly hadn't made more of an effort to struggle against her restraints. Ziva opened her switchblade with a flick and crawled under the chair. Surely she could disengage a bomb being controlled by a man with a sick obsession for torture directly linked to his trigger-happy thumb.
"Ziva, what's your best record for bomb-disengaging?" Tony asked in a simply curious tone. Anything to lessen the pressure.
He saw her grin a little. "Twelve seconds," she said, as if they were discussing the weather.
"Ah. Comforting," he said sarcastically. "Dinner's on me if you can set a new one." Glancing back at Kelly, he noticed she had her head bent down again and her eyes were shut tight. Tony realized she needed more distraction than Ziva so he grasped her right hand and squeezed it in beats, trying to take her mind off one of the potential outcomes.
"That depends. Are you willing to pay for the Malt House?"
It was Tony's turn to scrunch up his face.
"She had to pick the most expensive restaurant in D.C." he said to the air. Kelly lips curled ever so slightly.
Ziva pulled herself out from under the chair, holding the timer frozen at 2:38. "I take that as a yes?" she asked, smiling.
Tony watched Kelly's eyes fly open and relief flood her face. He immediately moved to her side and took out the knife tucked safely in his boot. Carefully weaseling its tip through the small gap made between Kelly's arm and the chair, he pulled back, severing a zip tie.
Without warning, Kelly's head flung backwards. Tony promptly lifted both his hands away from her arm, watching her face contort in pain. Ziva did the same. Kelly was biting hard on her lower lip to stifle the scream, but both agents heard it rumble in her throat.
Thinking he had accidentally cut her, Tony examined her arm and saw that all five fingers on her left hand were swollen, bruised, and bent in odd directions. "Sorry!" he tried, knowing it was no use. She was still focused on the ceiling, her chest rapidly rising and falling with each shuddering breath. Kelly looked to her hand with an intense mix of loathing and anxiousness. Three more ties taunted her freedom. Tony observed the way she braced herself, once again rolling her head back and forming her other hand into a tight fist.
"Kelly..." he began, not exactly sure what to tell her.
Veins stood out in her neck as she clenched her jaw.
"Just do it," she forced through her teeth.
The faster the better.Tony slipped his knife into the next gap and sawed through. It took everything in his power to ignore her winces and grunts and move on to the next one. Two more. One more. When he finished with her arm, he quickly glanced at Ziva and they immediately started working on the ties by her legs. Broken bits of plastic fell to the floor, making cracking noises when they hit the cement. Tony knew he'd never be able to look at a zip tie the same way again.
After he cut the final tie, Kelly rushed to stand, but fell back almost instantly. The agents lifted her under the arms and helped her regain her balance, one step at a time. Although Kelly made it across the basement by herself one wobbling step at a time, Tony wasn't about to watch her tackle the stairs. He swung her good arm over his shoulders and hoisted her up each step, carefully monitoring her face for any sign of pain. Half-way up the staircase, Tony heard McGee's voice above them.
"Over here, Probie," Tony called back, poking his head through the cut-out in the floor. He heard McGee's hard steps coming closer as they finally emerged from the basement.
"Kelly! Oh my God!"
Seeing McGee's face after he laid eyes on Kelly made Tony wonder if his expression had been similar, if not more surprised, when they first found her.
"I'm okay, McGee," she said, proving her point by removing her arm from Tony's shoulder and stretching out her legs. He hovered at her side, still not comfortable with her physical state. He also wasn't pleased with McGee's worried expression as the agent peered around the trio to get a better view of the basement. Apparently, neither did Kelly because he felt her stiffen next to him.
"Where's Gibbs?" McGee questioned.
"You didn't see him outside?" Kelly asked, her voice full of dread.
As soon as McGee shook his head, Kelly bolted for the front door.
"Kelly! No!" Tony shouted after her, but she was already hurling herself through the door.
He faintly heard McGee and Ziva follow him out of the house. How Kelly was able to sprint barefoot through the snow, Tony didn't know. A couple minutes ago, she was gasping for air and could barely support herself. Even after spending half of a day, sitting, strapped to a chair, and almost completely naked in the dead of winter, Kelly was still faster than all of them.
"Kelly! Stop!" he tried again. It was no use.
He could barely see the tracks she was following around the side of the house into another thick line of trees. Tony shot after her, thinking she would slow down as they hit the woods, but the branches and roots had no effect on her speed. While Tony stumbled over the slick forest ground, Kelly seemed to lope over the fallen trunks and branches, never missing a beat.
At last, the trees thinned and Kelly slowed at the border of another small clearing. Thirty feet behind, Tony pushed to catch up with her, thinking she might faint. As he neared the edge of the woods, Tony could just make out the scene that had made her stop. Cole was aiming a gun at Gibbs's head in the middle of the clearing, speaking words Tony couldn't hear – probably some long, premeditated, dramatic monologue about how Gibbs ruined his life. Tony was gaining on Kelly fast, but he could not have been prepared for what happened next.
With one swift motion, Cole had shifted his aim from Gibbs's forehead to Kelly's heart. Tony forced his body through space foot by foot, using all the energy he could muster.
A bang pierced the brisk night air. Simultaneously, Tony yelled "NO!" and launched himself onto Kelly, knocking them both to the ground. Suddenly, stinging pain in his upper arm told him that the blood staining the immaculately white layer of snow wasn't all Kelly's.
She struggled to escape his body weight. Tony knew if she had the chance, she would sprint to her father's side, ready to attack Cole with everything left in her system. While he couldn't let Kelly put herself in more danger, he also couldn't let her freeze against in the snow. Making sure he had an arm around her torso, Tony pulled her from the ground and strengthened his hold. Gibbs and Cole were wrestling fifty yards from where they stood. In the next few seconds, he felt the full force of her combat training in his feet, stomach, and arms.
"ZIVA!" Tony called desperately.
A black blur zipped past him. "I do not have a clear shot," she yelled.
Kelly's blows were still coming on strong, but he refused to budge.
A shot rip through the air for the second time that night. Kelly froze in his arms, hypnotized by the scene. Tony didn't dare remove his restraining hold from her shoulders.
Beginning at his temple, blood streamed down the side of Cole's face. He then collapsed into the snow a couple feet away from Gibbs. Tony looked back to Kelly. She wasn't fighting him anymore; there was no need. Somewhat dreamily, her eyes stared at the spot where Cole had been standing. Alarms blared in Tony's head and a touch of dread idled in his gut.
"Kelly?" he whispered anxiously.
She swayed on the spot. No, no, no.
"GIBBS!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, leaning forward to catch her upper body before she fell, almost gracefully, to the ground. Thinking fast, Tony unzipped his coat and peeled it off.
"McGee, Ziva, give me your jackets," he ordered.
They cocooned her in the three coats. Tony placed his fingers at her neck, feeling for a pulse.
"What happened?" Gibbs shouted, sprinting to where they hovered around her.
"She collapsed. Her pulse is faint," reported Tony.
"Kell! C'mon Kell," Gibbs urged, kneeling down and rubbing her cheek. He checked her pulse for himself. It was then that he noticed the large stains of blood on the snow, but Tony was quick to reassure him.
"Don't worry. It's not all hers."
"Let's get her back to the house. McGee, call 911."
"Already on it, Boss," he said, pointing to the phone at his ear.
After waiting for Gibbs's count, Tony and Ziva helped him pick Kelly up and started jogging back the way they came. What seemed like a hundred feet between the cabin and the clearing had now become half a mile because of her dead weight. He could hear McGee behind them, shouting directions into his cell phone at the operator.
Tony's heart lifted slightly when the tattered shack came into view. Team Gibbs carefully carried Kelly inside and laid her down on the eroded couch. When the ambulance finally found its way through the park, several paramedics jumped from the front seat and had Kelly strapped to a gurney in the back of the vehicle within five minutes. Gibbs joined them and when Tony said he'd drive to the ER, his boss left no room for argument. Tony climbed into the front seat and waited out the silent ride as they rushed towards the hospital.
As soon as the ambulance parked itself in front of the hospital doors, two paramedics hurried from the front seat and expertly unhitched the gurney, wheeling Kelly through the emergency room doors with Gibbs holding onto her limp hand the entire way. Once inside, they called out her status and vitals to a new team of doctors and nurses who immediately crowded around the gurney. Gibbs barely understood the medical jargon being thrown all around him except for the occasional reference to blood loss, hypothermia, and lacerations – none of which he wanted to hear. He looked to Kelly's face; it wasn't peaceful, but it didn't express too much pain. Her skin was still ice cold: so foreign the usual warm, animated mood she radiated every day.
A woman in pale green scrubs jostled around Gibbs, trying to get an arm on the gurney. The group of nurses wheeled Kelly into a trauma room where they instantly covered her lower torso and legs with a foil heating blanket and began working on her arm, shoulder, and chest. He simply stood at the foot of the gurney, becoming more and more unnerved when a nurse injected fluids into an iv tube that appeared out of nowhere. Another lady in scrubs cut through the shoulder of Kelly's sports bra to begin cleaning the ragged set of parallel gashes.
Another doctor charged into the procedure, handing out orders left and right. Gibbs immediately recognized him. His name was Robert Hoffman and he had been one of Shannon's close friends from when she worked as an ER nurse at Bethesda. It didn't take long for the doctor to realize who his patient was. He took a brief moment to look at Gibbs, and the agent stared back.
Steady beeping from a corner of the small room intensified. Gibbs didn't miss the sideways glances between the nurses, constantly building with apprehension. They started flinging words with more syllables than Gibbs could count. He felt as though he had swallowed something too large for his throat.
"Hoffman, what's happening?" he asked, on edge.
"She's going into cardiac arrest," he responded between medical orders.
A woman in scrubs put her hand on Gibbs's shoulder, mildly pushing him towards the door. "We need you to go wait outside."
"If you think I'm going anywhere, you're damn wrong."
"Sir, I understand –"
"NO! You don't understand! That is my daughter on your table!"
Silence reigned in the small room except for the beeping monitor.
Dr. Hoffman looked up from where he was working on Kelly's chest. "Jethro, you're going to have to leave. I promise you'll be the first to know her condition, but right now, you need to wait outside. I'm not telling you to do it for us, I'm telling you to do it for her," he said, cautiously testing the boundaries.
Clenching his jaw, Gibbs took one last, pleading look at Kelly and turned to exit the trauma room. He didn't get much farther than a few feet before pivoting and slamming his fist into the wall with an outraged grunt. Bits of plaster and drywall crumbled to the ground. Breathing heavily, he tried to gather himself into a reasonable state. Gibbs knew he wouldn't be able to handle waiting right outside the room so he forced himself to continue down the hall to a bland waiting room, where the only person occupying a chair was Tony. His arm was newly gauzed and he was holding a steaming cup of coffee. The senior field agent stood as Gibbs closed the distance between them. Tony was about to speak when Gibbs clenched his jaw again for the hundredth time that night. Tony understood the situation from Gibbs's troubled stare.
"No," he interrupted quickly, "I'm staying."
Gibbs intensified his gaze.
"Here," he said, holding out the coffee. "You're going to need this."
Ducky jolted awake when an elevator ping pulled him from the nap he'd been taking in McGee's chair. Straightening his glasses which had gone askew, he quickly checked the time on his watch. It was 4:30 in the morning. McGee and Ziva slowly filed out of the elevator and made their way to the dimly lit and deserted bullpen, save Ducky and Abby. The forensic scientist had fallen asleep at Gibbs's desk almost immediately after Ducky draped his coat over her shoulders. One of her hands still loosely clutched the computer mouse.
"Abigail," Ducky called out softly as he stood to greet the two agents. Abby's head shot up and she murmured something about losing evidence. As soon as she realized she was no longer dreaming, Abby jumped up from Gibbs's chair and hustled to Ducky's side.
The word "exhausted" could not do justice to the way McGee and Ziva looked when they walked into the bullpen. Ducky did not need to be a medical examiner to tell they had just fought through a small battle. Although he knew it was a major part of the job description for all field agents, Ducky could not help but feel sorry for them. Briefly pushing aside his emotions, the doctor wondered where the rest of the team was.
"Where are Jethro and Tony? Is everything alright?" he asked.
McGee and Ziva exchanged a loaded glance.
"They're at the hospital. With Kelly."
"Oh my God," Abby said, both relieved and nervous at the same time. "Are they hurt? Is Kelly okay? What happened?"
"Tony's right arm got scraped by a slug from Cole. Kelly..." McGee hesitated. "Kelly is pretty banged up. Ziva'll have to tell you the first part. I wasn't there."
Ducky and Abby looked at her expectantly. Taking a deep breath, Ziva began her story.
"When we got to the cabin, she was tied to the chair... you saw from the picture. She was conscious enough to inform us about several explosives underneath strapped to the bottom and to talk to us while we cut her loose. She was shaky, but could walk on her own. Actually, she was able to sprint through the forest when she found out McGee had not seen Gibbs outside." Ziva paused to think for a moment. She looked to McGee. "She must have known they were fighting."
McGee picked up where she left off. "We followed her. She ran to a clearing where Cole had Gibbs at gunpoint and shouted out, which obviously got Cole's attention. Tony pushed her to the ground before he could hit her, but the bullet grazed his arm. Gibbs started fighting again and Ziva managed to hit Cole. Right after that, Kelly passed out in the snow. We called the paramedics and they took her to Bethesda."
After a moment to take it all in, Abby gave both of them a hug.
"Are you two okay?" Ducky asked, looking them up and down.
"We're fine, Ducky."
"Good," he replied, turning to McGee's desk to collect his coat and bag. "Then I suggest you go home and get some rest. By the looks of that photo, I have a very strong feeling it's going to be a long day for everyone. There's no point in starting out exhausted. I'm going to the hospital to see what condition Kelly is in and I will call you in the morning."
Ducky slipped into his coat and headed for the elevator.
Yes, he thought. Today is going to be a very long day.
By 5:30, Gibbs was sure that he would be more comfortable in a straight-jacket crawling with fire ants. A circuit of images kept looping through his head like a broken television. Kelly tied to the chair with her head hung. Kelly looking at him with exponential amounts of terror and pain in her eyes. Kelly at the edge of the clearing. Kelly falling towards the earth. Kelly, limp, on the gurney.
The only interruptions were DiNozzo's occasional fidgeting and the nurses that repeatedly passed the waiting room. Every time one of them came close, Gibbs's chest went hollow and his veins turned to ice. This time, it was Ducky's gym shoes that broke the rhythm in his head.
The doctor made his way past the nurse's station and into the waiting room. "I am so terribly sorry, Jethro. How is she?"
He swallowed. "She had hypothermia when we got here then went into cardiac arrest when they started working on her."
"Have you heard anything from the doctors?" Ducky asked.
"Oh, Jethro..." he trailed off.
Tony spoke up, looking down the hall. "Wait might be over."
Dr. Hoffman walked towards them with a clipboard in his hands. Gibbs stood, leading Tony and Ducky to meet the doctor halfway.
"Dr. Hoffman, this is Dr. Mallard and special agent DiNozzo. They work with me," Gibbs said quickly, getting introductions out of the way. The men shook hands.
"Jethro," he started, "we managed to revive Kelly's heart and increase her body temperature, but it's going slower than we expected. She lost a lot of blood."
Gibbs just waited.
"Seven bones in her left hand and wrist are broken. The lacerations across her chest were deep, but we were able to clean them out and close them with thirty-two stitches, which will cause minimal scarring. She also has two bruised ribs. The rest of the cuts on her face and torso will heal completely with time." Lowering the clipboard, he looked deep into Gibbs's eyes.
"Jethro, what –"
"How is she now?" Gibbs interrupted, avoiding the question he knew would be too painful to answer.
Hoffman sighed and took the hint. "She's resting in room 206 down the hall. It'll be a while before she regains consciousness. Right now we've got her on a ventilator until she can breathe by herself again."
"When can I see her?"
"Whenever you want. Although, I'd keep it to one visitor at a time."
"Thank you, Robert," he said, reaching out a hand.
The doctor shook it. "It's the least I could do, Jethro."
With a parting glance, Gibbs found the feeling in his legs and walked down the hallway, trying to prepare himself for what he was about to see. He could have had all the time in the world and it still would never be enough. Taking another steadying breath, Gibbs grasped the handle of room 206 and turned.
She was surrounded in white. They had dressed her in a hospital gown, but left her shoulder and collarbone uncovered, revealing a thick layer of gauze. Two iv tubes ran from her arm to suspended bags of fluid: one was clear, the other was labeled as blood. A blanket made from tiny pockets of water, which Gibbs assumed was heated, rested on top of the sheet already covering her. Her broken wrist was now set in a cast, and several small, white bandages held together the cuts on her face and neck.
A numbing sensation rolled through Gibbs's body. He pulled himself from where he'd been staring in the doorway to an orange plastic chair next to the bed. Coming closer he could see the dirt was gone from her face; it made her look years younger. He felt so completely useless. Helpless. Defenseless. Kelly had been unraveled, broken – again. One part of him wanted to reach out and hold her hand, to feel the reality of her, lying before him. Another part of him knew that if he brushed her skin with the lightest touch, she would crumble to a million pieces. Siding with the latter, Gibbs rested his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands, rubbing away the tears before they could fall.
Dr. Hoffman and Tony stood at the nurse's station, watching Gibbs through the window to Kelly's room. The doctor was the first to break the mild silence.
"I've known Jethro for over twenty years and I have never seen him this way – this tormented. Even when Kelly was here after the accident, he was hurting, no doubt about it, but this time..."
Tony just peered through the glass at Kelly's lifeless form.
"Agent DiNozzo," the doctor began again, "what happened to her?"
He knew that all the words in the world would never be able to describe the hell Kelly went through. Pursing his lips for a moment, Tony tried to think of the most accurate way to convey what he was thinking.
"She was kidnapped by a serial rapist and murderer Gibbs put away ten years ago."
Dr. Hoffman's face warped with shock. "Oh my Lord. How in the world did he get to her?"
"He escaped from prison about two months after he was caught. No one had recognized him until yesterday," Tony answered bitterly.
The doctor shook his head. "I don't know how you do it. All the things the rest of us can avoid by turning off the news or skipping over in the paper."
"Yeah, well, if we didn't do it, who would?"
His question went unanswered. They continued to watch Gibbs through the glass.
"Will she be okay, Doc?" Tony asked, not sure if he really wanted to hear the response.
"Physically, yes," he speculated. "Her bones will heal, the cuts will mend, bruises will go away. With physical therapy, her body will go back to its nearly pristine condition." He paused, considering a thought in his head. "Psychologically, I think that, with Jethro as her father, she will eventually recover. It might not be this month or this year, but eventually she'll be able to overcome it." He looked at the senior field agent.
All of that is good, Tony thought, But it still leaves her heart.
Abby was carefully treading through the parking lot when she heard her name being called. She turned to see McGee jogging through the cars to meet her at the hospital doors.
"Couldn't sleep?" he asked. She shook her head.
"Could you?" Abby countered, receiving another shake in return.
"What's in the bag?" McGee asked, gesturing to the shopping bag swinging from her hand.
"I stopped by the bossman's place and picked up some clothes for him and Kelly. I had the feeling she wouldn't want to leave in what she came in."
"Good thinking," McGee complimented.
They walked through the main lobby and came upon a reception desk. Asking for Kelly's room number, a woman in scrubs typed in her information on the computer and directed them to room 206. Abby was practically speed walking through the hallways to get to Kelly's room, dodging nurses with carts of medical supplies. Upon entering the waiting room, Ducky, DiNozzo, and Ziva all looked up to see the new arrivals. Dropping the bag of clothes, Abby took off at a sprint and swung her arms around Tony's neck.
"Oh my gosh, Tony. I was so worried when you didn't come back. Are you okay?"
"Hey, Abbs," he gasped, struggling to breathe through her tight hold. "I'm fine."
McGee didn't wait for any formalities. "How is she?" he asked, looking to each of them in turn.
It was Ducky who answered. "She went into cardiac arrest after they got her into trauma, but luckily, they managed to get her heart rate back to normal. The doctors are still working to raise her body temperature."
"Gibbs is with her now," Ziva added.
They all looked towards the room. Someone had shut the blinds from the inside.
"So," McGee said, "What happens now?"
"Now, we wait. But while we're waiting, we're going to get the paperwork done so Gibbs doesn't have to," Tony replied, gingerly pushing his arm through his coat sleeve. "Meet you at NCIS in twenty."
Ziva and McGee nodded.
"Ducky, will you..." McGee started.
"Of course, Timothy. I'll let him know you came by."
With that, the three agents turned around the corner, leaving Abby and Ducky in the waiting room. Abby sat down next to Ducky and rested her head on his shoulder. He gently wrapped an arm around her.
"Ducky? She'll be okay, right?"
He let out a deep sigh.
"My dear, only time will tell."