A/N: This is the next in my little borrowed NCIS universe, and it follows "Just tell me your name" and "Not here, not now." I own nothing. Warnings for language and a plot focused around rapes and murders. There will be drug use later on, so beware that, as well. Enjoy!
"Grab your gear," Gibbs barked. "We've got another one."
The curse, the tone, the uncharacteristic outburst from the normally calm Mossad officer reflected the frustration evident in the entire team. This was the third body in as many days.
The first had shown up on Halloween.
"Let me guess," DiNozzo said, no sarcasm in his voice, only weariness. "Female Marine, beaten, raped and strangled?"
Gibbs nodded even though they all knew what was coming when that phone rang. The first had been Sgt. Camilla Sanders, the second Cpl. Andrea McCormick, a day later. Both women had been badly beaten, raped and manually strangled. They had no leads. There were no fingerprints, nothing under the victims' nails, no hairs, a single black fiber—likely from a generic ski mask, and as DiNozzo had said, "Only about a million people buy ski masks in the weeks leading up to Halloween." Phone records revealed no common contacts; financials revealed no common bars, restaurants or shops. The only links were the women's gender and that they were Marines stationed at Quantico. Neither victim was married, but both had family in the area. Interviews revealed nothing but normal Marines: loyal, dedicated, determined.
As the agents drove toward the crime scene—off base, again—DiNozzo broke the silence. "What's the costume this time?"
"Fairy," was Gibbs' terse response.
The first victim had been dressed as a princess. The second was an angel.
"There has to be something there," Ziva said. "Someone had to notice a grown man buying women's costumes."
"We've been over this, Ziva," DiNozzo said, but his voice was gentle. She was taking this case hard, and Tony knew that the rapes and beatings of otherwise strong women were getting to her. "The costumes aren't store-bought. If he buys the pieces individually, no one would put it all together into the final product."
"But he's making them into little girls," Ziva said, staring out the window, unable to hide her frustration and shamed by that fact. "Why?"
"Power, control," Tony said absently. "These are still rape cases, no matter how much he tries to distract us with the costumes."
They were silent as Gibbs parked the car at the edge of the back road in the middle of nowhere. "Who the hell found the body way out here?" DiNozzo asked.
"Jogger with his dog," Gibbs replied, nodding in the distraught man's direction. Gibbs dismissed the local police while McGee interviewed the man.
Tony walked up behind Ziva, who was staring down at the body of the woman dressed as a fairy. He put gentle hands on her shaking shoulders. "Hey."
Ziva shocked him by turning and burying her face in his shoulder. He could feel her hot tears on his skin, and for once, he was at a loss for what to say. Ziva did not just fall apart. He held her for a moment, knowing Gibbs and McGee were probably staring at them. He could feel their eyes on his back so he held Ziva at arm's length. As quickly as they had appeared, the tears were gone. All he saw in her eyes was a fiery determination. He almost felt bad for the scum they were pursuing—almost.
"I am sorry," she said, wiping at the wet spot on his jacket.
"Don't be," he said, looking into her pretty brown eyes. "It's okay to be human."
She smiled faintly at that and then turned to finish shooting photos of the dead woman. DiNozzo heard Ducky's van pull up as he squatted beside the body. The flashes from Ziva's camera flicked across a pretty face with dark hair. Even the livid bruises littering the smooth young skin couldn't hide the beauty of the woman. DiNozzo reached down and brushed a strand of nearly black hair off the victim's face.
He suddenly stood and shouted, "Ducky! Get over here, now!"
"She's not going anywhere, my dear boy," the doctor said sadly.
"I wouldn't let her hear you say that," DiNozzo yelled, drawing looks from the group. "She's alive!"
Tony leaned down and started to reach out to the injured woman. She came fully awake at his gentle touch with an ear-splitting shriek. Her right hand swept out with a strength that surprised him. Without thinking, he reacted and caught her wrist before her fist connected with his face. She shrieked again and scrambled up on all fours, the hate in her eyes making Tony wince. He immediately dropped her hand. He'd let her hit him if it took an ounce of pain out of her pretty, bruised features.
"Easy," he said, watching her breathe hard and knowing that it was hurting her. "I'm a federal agent. I'm not going to hurt you."
Tony stood slowly, backing away with hands raised in surrender. He tossed a glance over his shoulder and saw Ducky approaching slowly, as he would a skittish colt. The fear in the woman's eyes was tearing him in half and Tony was immensely grateful for Ducky's gentle, calming presence. Tony saw that McGee had been slowly approaching from behind the woman, and he was about to tell the Probie to keep his distance when the woman turned and collapsed into the younger agent's arms.
Tony watched McGee hold the woman, whispering softly and stroking her hair, and suddenly pictured Tim comforting Sarah like this. The flash of jealousy and sadness wasn't surprising, but it was unwelcome. Tony pushed it aside and watched McGee convince the woman to let Ducky look her over.
"Can you tell me your name, dear?" Ducky asked, eyeing the woman's bruised neck but not touching.
"Morgan," she whispered, still wrapped in the warm safety of McGee's embrace. "Morgan Kessler. My ID is in my boot. He said he needed me to leave it there so when they found—" Her weak voice broke and she sniffled, but went on with a steely determination. "When they found my body, they'd call the right authorities."
Ducky sighed. "Oh, my poor girl. Let's get you off this cold, wet ground and to a hospital, all right?"
"No," she rasped. "I don't need a hospital. I need to do whatever they need me to to find this sick, twisted son of a bitch."
"We'll need to take a statement," McGee said, surprised at how un-awkward he felt with a beautiful, broken woman in his arms. "But I can go with you to the hospital and take it there."
Gibbs nodded from where he was watching a few feet away. "Take your time, McGee. What's your rank, Ms. Kessler?"
"Lance corporal," Kessler answered as McGee helped her to her feet. She leaned her smallish frame heavily against him and was glad for the solidity she felt in his embrace.
DiNozzo and Gibbs exchanged a look as Ducky followed McGee and Kessler to the van. Ziva was confused by the look until Tony said, "Sergeant, Corporal, Lance Corporal. Does that mean there're two victims left?" He saw Ziva's confusion and added, "He's descending in rank so that leaves a PFC and a private."
"We'll know in two more days, DiNozzo," Gibbs growled, headed back to the truck, "unless we find him first."
McGee paced the hospital hallway, intellectually knowing what Morgan was going through in the examination room but understanding that he would probably never really know what the woman was going through.
McGee turned to the nurse who had called his name.
"You can see her now."
McGee fought a sigh and wondered what he was doing here. Gibbs should be the one interviewing this poor, broken, wounded woman. Or Ziva—she was, after all, also a woman. Hell, even Tony would probably be better at this, if for no other reason than that he was a cop for long enough to have done this a thousand times. But then McGee remembered the way Morgan had clung to him. He couldn't say why, but he felt like he owed her something. Maybe it was just the fact that he was ashamed to be male at this moment. At any rate, he was here, no one else.
He stopped cold at the sight of her, bruised and broken in such a vital way, and yet somehow, smiling a tiny little smile at him. I'm going to kill this son of a bitch when I find him.
"Is it okay if I call you Morgan?"
She nodded, and he realized how painful it must be for her to speak because of the near strangulation. He pulled out a digital recorder. "I need to tape this interview. Is that all right with you?"
She nodded again.
"I'm sorry," he said, meaning it. "But you'll have to answer that out loud. Can you do that?"
"Yes," she whispered. "And yes, you can record it."
He smiled and sat on the bed beside her, getting close with the recorder so she wouldn't have to strain too much. He noted with a flash of some emotion he couldn't place that she didn't flinch away from his closeness as she had with Tony.
"Normally, I would ask you to start at the beginning, but because of your throat, can you tell me anything about your attacker?"
She frowned at him and he wondered how he had managed to screw up already. I really wish Gibbs were here.
"Agent McGee," she rasped out against the damage.
"It's Tim, please," McGee said, not caring that he was interrupting. It hurt him to hear her talk; he couldn't imagine what it was like for her.
"Tim," she said, whispering again and he held the recorder closer to her. She surprised him by reaching up and taking the recorder from him. Her voice was low but strong when she spoke. "I don't need special treatment. I'll start from the beginning."
He smiled a little at her courage and nodded.
"I owe it to Sgt. Sanders and Andrea. And all the women on base. We're Marines, Tim, and someone is targeting us. I won't let them down because it hurts to talk."
"Did you know Andrea McCormick?"
She nodded, then remembered the recorder in her bruised hands. "Yes. Not well. Just to say 'hi' to when I saw her around. I didn't know Sgt. Sanders at all."
McGee nodded, encouraging her to go on.
"I went for a run last night. Stupid, I know, to go at night when some sicko is targeting Marine women and everyone is talking about it on base. But I was on base and they found the others off base so I thought I was safe."
McGee's eyes widened a bit. The other two victims were found off base so they had assumed they were attacked off base. "That narrows our suspect pool by a lot, Morgan. Thank you."
She gave him that brave little smile again, and he noticed again how beautiful and young she was.
"So anyway, I was running, and then all of sudden I wasn't. He must have been hiding behind a tree along the trail because he came out of nowhere just like that. His hand was over my mouth and his arms around me in an instant. He dragged me back into the woods and—"
She stopped, wiping tears from her bruised face. She took a deep breath, winced, and continued. "He raped me," she said simply. She sighed. "Wow. Three little words. And I could write a book about everything I felt and everything that went through my head. But that's not going to help you find him. He was wearing gloves and a mask. He used a condom. His eyes are brown and he's got a medium build. No tattoos… that I could see. Once I realized he was wearing a mask, I just shut my eyes."
McGee marveled at her matter-of-fact tone and wondered if he would have been calm enough under pressure to recall what she had.
"He started choking me and I thought I was dead so I played dead," she said, frowning. Then she lifted a shoulder in a slight shrug. "I guess he bought it because here I am. Next thing I know, I'm waking up at my own murder scene. I can't tell you anything about the car he must have moved me in. I don't remember leaving the base."
McGee frowned, hearing and not liking the detached quality in her voice. But he just said, "Odd that the guards or the dogs didn't notice a car leaving with a body in the trunk."
"Not really," she said, flinching at being called a "body." "They pay attention to people coming in, not out."
McGee nodded. "Is there anything else? Anyone you could think of that would want to hurt you?"
She paused, then sighed. "I'm not special, Tim. I'm just the latest victim of this psycho."
The hollowness in her voice tore at him and he wanted to hug her. "Victim? Believe me, Morgan, I've interviewed a lot of victims. You're not one."
Tears slipped down her face at his gentle, kind words, and she scooted closer to him. He opened his arms and held her, the motion as natural as anything he'd ever felt.