A/N: I don't own anything pertaining to NCIS. This is a sequel to my previous story, "Just tell me your name." I suggest reading that first or you'll probably be confused at points of this story. That story doesn't affect the case in this one, so if you don't read JTMYN, it'll just be some of the character thoughts that might throw you in this one. I have mentions of child abuse, so if that bothers you, please don't continue! Thanks for reading.
So much blood.
It was pouring from his mouth and nose, and he could barely breathe. He coughed, gagged, spit the vile substance on the dirty ground.
He instinctively knew that the blood wasn't just from the damage to his mouth or the broken nose. Something was wrong—really wrong, if he was honest with himself—internally. He thought back over the beating, remembering his arms being held back while the man pounded fists into his belly.
Crap, he thought, trying to get up, but the waves of pain and blackness threatened to take him under again. I am not going to die here… Not in this filthy goddamn alley.
He steeled himself against the searing agony in his midsection and, through sheer force of will, got to his knees. He fought the dizziness and shadows that danced at the edges of his vision. He put a hand on the brick wall that swam crazily in front of him—or at least he tried to. He fell forward, having misjudged the distance. He realized his lack of depth perception was caused by his inability to open his left eye.
Lying on his battered face was painful so he curled on his side, left arm cradling what had to be broken ribs. He spat more blood, closing his eyes and trying to think. They had taken his cell with them when they left. He thought about screaming to try to attract attention, but he couldn't draw a deep enough breath to get out more than a whisper.
Crap, crap, crap. He briefly thought about letting the blackness take him, but something in him wouldn't let him quit. He'd crawl out of the alley if he had to. I'm not dying here, he thought again and got to his hands and knees. He managed to half-crawl, half-drag himself about halfway to the dark, deserted street before he stopped, closing his eyes, not wanting to see the bright red blood he was currently puking up.
I'm so screwed, he thought, but he managed to crawl a few feet farther before collapsing again. He knew he was dead if he didn't get help soon, and that thought spurred him back to his knees. He crawled, not caring that he was cutting his hands on broken glass. The blood from those injuries mixed with what he was trying not to choke on.
He finally made it to the street, only to find it utterly devoid of life. He collapsed again, fighting the blackness until he could fight no longer.
Three days earlier
"Probie!" Tony yelled and threw a wadded up piece of paper at the other agent.
McGee ducked the paper, rolling his eyes. "What?"
"I'm bored. Entertain me."
McGee couldn't help himself. He laughed. "You could go through that stack of cold case files like Gibbs told us to." He added, "Before he kills you."
Tony shook his head. "I did. I've got something hovering right there, but I can't quite grasp it. I need a distraction."
Tony flinched when Gibbs' hand thwacked against the back of his head. Gibbs said, "You need a distraction like you need a hole in the head, DiNozzo."
"I need a pizza," DiNozzo said, undeterred.
"It's after six," Gibbs said, gathering his things. "Go home."
McGee shut down his computer and stood, glad to be going home after a boring day. "You coming, Tony?"
Tony scoffed, watching Gibbs and McGee walk toward the elevator. "I told you, I've got something."
McGee shook his head, reminded again that while his partner joked and goofed off a lot, the man really was a dedicated and gifted investigator. Feeling guilty, McGee said, "You want me to stay?"
"Nah. Go home, McGoo," Tony said, picking up the case file and turning it upside-down, cocking his head at it.
Gibbs bit back a smile and said, "Not too late, DiNozzo. You'd better not be late in the morning."
"Sure, dad," Tony said, waving distractedly as something in the still-upside-down report caught his eye. "I know my bedtime."
The elevator dinged and Tony was alone with the old case. He spent hours going over everything in the file again, knowing he wouldn't be able to sleep until he could figure out what was bothering him.
The case was rather straight forward: A Marine had been found, shot through the head from close range, in an alley in a seedy part of town. No witnesses, no ballistics matches, nothing. Interviews revealed a Marine with no family, no friends. Just the Corps. And no one Cpl. Matthew Langworthy had been stationed with in Iraq could think of a reason anyone would want him dead. The investigating agent's notes, meticulously written out on dozens of post-it notes, led Tony to believe the agent was about to give up, considering the lack of leads.
The case was one of Pacci's—in fact, it was his only active case when he died. Re-reading the dead agent's notes, Tony realized what had been bugging him all day. A note revealed that Pacci had been waiting on lab results, but the request did not appear in the actual case file. When Pacci was killed, another agent was assigned the case, which went cold because of a lack of physical evidence or other leads. Tony wondered how the disconnect between the notes and official case file had occurred. Tony shuffled through the post-its, cursing as he pulled apart two notes that had gotten stuck together.
For such a meticulous guy, this is certainly a sloppy way to keep notes, Tony thought, then chastised himself for thinking ill of the dead. He shook a vision of Pacci's bloody body in the elevator from his tired eyes.
"That's it," he said out loud to no one. The office was deserted, lit only by the solitary glow of his desk lamp.
The single post-it reminding Pacci to check with the lab on a single hair he had found must have gotten lost amid the sea of identical notes. The agent who had inherited the case, which seemed hopeless when it landed on his desk, had probably missed the note. Agent Mason, whose name barely registered with Tony, was going to be in for an ass-chewing.
Tony fell asleep at his desk wondering how someone in the lab had forgotten about the pending test.
Gibbs stepped off the elevator at 0700 the next morning and was torn between amusement and annoyance at finding Tony sleeping, head resting on crossed arms on his desk. He knew Tony did some of his best work alone at night and he appreciated the dedication, but he still worried, even though he'd never say anything.
Gibbs settled behind his own desk and saw Tony twitch in his sleep. In an instant, the younger agent was on his feet with a sharp intake of breath. His breath hitched a couple of times before he saw Gibbs and plastered a smile on his face.
"Morning, Boss," he said cheerily even though he was still shaking inside from the nightmarish image of Pacci, disemboweled in the elevator.
Gibbs watched the transformation with something like awe as DiNozzo went from totally unguarded and obvious shaken by whatever nightmare he'd awoken from to cheerful, awake and unfazed in a half-second.
"I thought I said not too late?" Gibbs said, knowing it was better if he didn't voice his concern over the nightmare.
"Who said I was up late?" DiNozzo asked, grinning. "I could have been passed out on my desk before Letterman for all you know."
Gibbs snorted, letting Tony know he didn't believe it for a second.
"Figure out what was bugging you?" Gibbs asked.
"Yeah," Tony said, gathering his things to go to the locker room and change. "But can we talk about it when I get back?"
Gibbs nodded, watching his agent walk stiffly to the elevator. He knew what sleeping behind a desk did to his knee and wondered how DiNozzo's was feeling. He wondered where his agent would be if he hadn't blown out that knee in college. Probably living it up, wearing fancy clothes, walking around with a pretty girl on each arm, Gibbs thought.
"Morning, Boss," McGee said, breaking into Gibbs' thoughts.
Gibbs nodded his greeting, his thoughts turning elsewhere. He really wanted to know what Tony had found in the cold case. Dead Marines deserved justice and every single unsolved case, his team's or not, weighed heavily on him.
Ten minutes later, the elevator dinged and Tony walked out, Abby on one arm and Ziva, reluctantly, on the other. Gibbs took in DiNozzo's designer shirt and tie and had to fight the smile that threatened to creep across his face. Life sure was funny sometimes.
Ziva disentangled herself from Tony and tossed a glare in his direction. He could be so juvenile sometimes. But she had to admit sometimes it was nice. She shook her head and smiled as she settled behind her desk.
"Abby," Gibbs said, wondering why the scientist was in front of him instead of in her lab.
"Morning, Gibbs!" she gave him a little salute. "I'm here for actual work-related stuff."
He smiled, wondering how she could always read him when others couldn't… wouldn't?
DiNozzo went to his desk and poked at a sticky note, adhering it to his finger. He brandished it dramatically. "This is what was bothering me yesterday."
Gibbs narrowed his eyes while McGee rolled his. Gibbs said, "I hope it's something other than it being a bad way to keep notes. I always told Pacci that. He said he liked it because he could rearrange them and look at things differently."
DiNozzo nodded. "But, the little buggers tend to stick together." He waved his finger in the air, and the note flapped but still stuck tightly.
The agent continued, putting forth his theory to the team.
"Mason is going to have some answering to do," Gibbs said.
Mason's a dead man, McGee thought.
"But that still doesn't explain why you're here, Abbs," Gibbs continued. "Or why the lab tech didn't follow up, even if it was off the record."
Ziva looked from Gibbs to Abby. "Because Abby was the lab tech?"
It took most of her Mossad training to hide the wince when four pairs of eyes turned and glared at her.
"Sorry," she said, wondering why she had spoken. She knew as well as the rest of them that Abby did not forget about things and did not screw up.
"The sticky note said 'lab tech' only," DiNozzo said. "No name. I asked around and no one remembered Pacci asking them to run a hair off the record—"
"Wait," McGee interrupted. "You asked around this morning? Is anyone here? There was no one here when we left last night—"
DiNozzo didn't wait for him to finish. He wanted to get on with it. There was a Marine awaiting justice. "I got all the techs' names from personnel and called them at home. What? It was only a little after midnight. I was up."
Gibbs smirked a little at that. "Thought you said you were out before Letterman?"
"You ever sleep soundly behind a desk?" DiNozzo retorted.
"You called Abby?" Ziva asked before Gibbs could reply. It appeared Tony wasn't the only one who was good at deflecting the boss's ire.
"Girl's got a mind like a steel trap, and nothing goes through that lab without her knowing," DiNozzo said, shooting a grateful look at Ziva. "Abby."
Abby actually blushed at Tony's praise. "I didn't remember at first because, well, it was almost 5 a.m. and that's late even by my standards. Or is that early?" She pondered that a second while Tony actually had the grace to look sheepish at Gibbs' glare. Gibbs lifted an eyebrow. 5 a.m.?
Abby continued. "Whatever. But then Tony promised me a CafPow—and I guess just the thought of that pepped me right up—and I remembered overhearing Agent Pacci talking with Scott Bell about a test he wanted done, off the record. I remember because Pacci said he thought the hair was from his probie, Taryn Watts, and she was just being sloppy. I don't think he thought she was going to be a good agent, but he said he didn't want to embarrass her officially by having her hair as part of the case file. He said it wouldn't be good for her, but I think he was being too nice. I mean, you guys don't screw up. Bad things happen if you guys screw up so someone who isn't up to the job shouldn't be on the job."
"Well," DiNozzo said, "Watts isn't on the job. She quit NCIS and moved to Seattle. Has a husband and a kid now."
"But," Abby said, bouncing as her excitement rose. "Bell isn't on the job either. He just stopped showing up for work one day. No one has heard from him since."
"Let me guess," Gibbs said, "That 'one day' was right after this case."
DiNozzo answered, his eyes sad. "Pacci asked Bell to run the hair the day before he died, end of the day. Bell never came in the next day. Or the day after that. Or…"
"We investigate?" Gibbs asked. It was standard procedure for NCIS to investigate whenever personnel didn't show up for work without notice, even when the employee was a civilian.
DiNozzo nodded. "Yeah, found nothing. Guy fell off the face of the earth. Bank accounts were drained and then nothing."
"Family?" Gibbs asked.
"Brother in Culpeper, Virginia," DiNozzo said. "Parents in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. All said the same thing. Worried sick about him. He would never do anything bad. Like anyone ever sees us coming and says, 'Oh, sure, cousin Jimmy probably did it. Guy's a flippin' psycho.' "
Gibbs rose and walked over to Tony, who flinched in expectation of the headslap. Gibbs just nodded and said, "Tony, McGee, you're going to Lancaster. Ziva, you're with me in Culpeper."
Gibbs strode toward the elevator as Ziva scurried to catch up. Tony called, "Hey, Boss? Was the lack of a headslap a substitute for a 'Good job!' because sometimes if you don't say what you mean, people might misunderstand your true feelings!"
Gibbs just shook his head as the doors closed, Ziva barely making it inside.
Tony turned to McGee with a wicked grin. "You know what this means, Probie."