Chapter One

Light snow was falling in Washington DC on Monday morning. It was the first day back to work after the Thanksgiving holiday. Gibbs' team had just returned from spending the weekend in Stillwater with his father and it was clear they were all still in vacation mode. Tim was sitting at Ziva's desk drinking a holiday cappuccino and uploading her vacation pictures onto her computer while Ziva and Jimmy stood over him watching. Tony was sitting at his desk looking through a stack of magazines with Abby leaning on his back, looking over his shoulder. The yearly Secret Santa was coming up and both were sure if they put their heads together they could figure out a way to rig it so they could choose whose names they drew.

Gibbs was getting ready to put everybody to work when Jenny called and asked him to come up to her office. He grabbed his coffee from his desk and decided after a long weekend of eating too much that he'd take the stairs. He hurried up the stairs two at a time then headed for the director's office, smiling at Cynthia on his way by. When he entered he could immediately tell something was wrong. The troubled look on Jenny's face wasn't one he saw often.

"Hey," he said propping himself on the edge of her desk right in front of her. "What's going on?"

"Do you remember my friend who opened Bright Beginnings Preschool and Daycare Center several years ago?" Jenny asked as she stared blankly at her computer screen.

"Vaguely," Gibbs said after taking a minute to think about it. "Why? What's up?"

"She just called and asked me for a favor," Jenny said turning in her chair to face Gibbs. "She has a set of twins she suspects are being abused. Apparently it got physical over the long holiday weekend. She's very concerned for the children's safety and asked me if I could send someone over."

Gibbs looked at Jenny hesitantly. "Does NCIS even have jurisdiction over this case Jen?" he asked calmly. "If not, there won't be much I can do."

"Their father is a Staff Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps," Jenny said. "His name is Aaron Kinsley. He is the single parent of three year old twins." She paused and looked up at Gibbs who was still propped up on her desk. "I know how fiercely protective you are Jethro. It sounds like these children need someone like that."

"Alright," Gibbs said with a comforting smile, "I'll go check it out." He could see Jenny was already troubled by this case and he had to admit he wasn't looking forward to it either. The cases involving children were always the hardest. "You going to be ok?" he asked.

Jenny nodded her head, trying to manage a smile for Gibbs. "We haven't had a child abuse case in awhile. I'm just trying to prepare myself," she explained. Gibbs smiled and squeezed Jenny's shoulder. "Thank you Jethro," she said resting her head on Gibbs' hand.

"I'll let you know what I find out," he said as he stood and headed for the door. He took the stairs back down to the bullpen where his agents were at least pretending like they were working now.

"DiNozzo, McGee, I want everything we have on Staff Sergeant Aaron Kinsley, USMC by the time I get back," Gibbs said as he strolled through the bullpen. He tossed his empty coffee cup in the trash and grabbed his coat. "Ziver, you're with me."

Without any questions his three agents immediately went to work on the tasks they'd been given.

"I want to thank you for inviting me to your father's house for Thanksgiving," Ziva said as Gibbs drove. "I have never quite experienced a Thanksgiving celebration like that before."

"Well, I'm glad you could make it Ziva," Gibbs said.

"So, where are we going?" Ziva asked.

"A daycare," Gibbs answered, "possible abuse case."

Ziva's mood instantly changed from bright and cheerful to disheartened. She turned and watched the snow falling outside the window in silence while Gibbs drove the rest of the way to the daycare.

Gibbs and Ziva were met at the door of Bright Beginnings Preschool and Daycare by a slightly overweight, middle aged woman with short dark hair. She extended her arm to shake their hands as she introduced herself. "Hi, I'm—"

"Faith Howell," Gibbs interrupted shaking her hand. "I remember."

"Special Agent Gibbs," the woman said smiling. "I remember you too."

"Call me Jethro," Gibbs said. "So what've we got?"

"It's the Kinsley twins," Faith said as she led the agents to two couches in the foyer. Gibbs sat down next to Ziva and took his pen and notepad out while Faith sat down on the couch across from them. "They started coming here shortly after their mother died in a car accident, I think it's been about six months now. I know I should have called sooner. I just— I guess there's no excuse."

"We're here now," Gibbs said patiently. "Just try to calm down and tell us what's going on."

"At first I thought their father was neglecting them," Faith said. "They wear the same old, filthy clothes here every day and the kids are always dirty. He never packs them a lunch and I've talked to him about it several times. Regardless, I always make sure they get a good meal while they're here. He doesn't pay his bill but I let them keep coming for the kid's sake."

Gibbs nodded his head as he took notes in his notepad. Ziva sat quietly next to him, listening intently.

"When I came in this morning and saw what he'd done to his son over the long weekend I knew I had to call someone." Faith looked up at Gibbs with pleading eyes. "I really hope you can help them Jethro."

Gibbs nodded and gave her a reassuring smile. He wasn't one to use a lot of words but he had the uncanny ability to communicate volumes with a simple look, smile or nod. They all stood and Faith led Gibbs and Ziva down a long hallway towards the sound of children laughing and playing. She stopped in front of a closed door and opened it for Gibbs and Ziva. The smell coming from inside the room made Gibbs' eyes water and Ziva turn her head back to the hall to get a breath of fresh air before entering.

When everyone was in Faith pulled the door closed behind them. "This is Karen," she said indicating the older woman sitting at the table, "she's our nurse. This little guy is Bailey and this is his sister, Josie. Guys, this is Special Agent Gibbs and Ziva. They're here to help."

The site of the two children was nothing like Ziva had ever seen before. She'd seen many children affected by war and famine but never two who had been treated so poorly by someone who was supposed to love them. She hung back by Faith and took out her notepad while Gibbs knelt in front of the children.

"Hi guys," Gibbs said. The little boy's shoulders immediately tensed up and he looked down at the floor, trying to avoid eye contact with Gibbs. His dark blonde hair was messy and extended just past his ears. His brown eyes were sad and defeated instead of bright and hopeful like most children his age. His t-shirt was too thin for the cold weather and coming apart at the seams. His jeans were clearly too small for him and filled with holes and his small toes poked out of the holes in his dirty socks.

Josie was more curious than her brother. She watched Gibbs carefully, waiting to see what he was going to do next. Her shoulder length, light brown hair had subtle blonde highlights and was knotted and matted. Her blue eyes were just a shade darker than Gibbs' and her clothes were much the same as her brother's—too small, dirty and filled with holes. Both children were incredibly thin and both looked and smelled like they hadn't been bathed in quite some time.

"When I was helping Bailey wash his hands this morning I noticed this," Faith said showing Gibbs the little boy's very swollen right forearm.

"He'll need an x-ray to be sure but I'm fairly certain it's broken," Karen said.

"How'd your arm get hurt Buddy?" Gibbs asked. The boy shrugged his shoulders and continued staring at the floor.

"He won't talk to us about it either," Faith said.

"That's ok," Gibbs said giving Bailey an encouraging smile. "Do they have any more injuries?" he asked looking up at the nurse.

"After Faith showed me Bailey's arm I inspected both kids carefully," Karen said. She lifted Bailey's shirt revealing cuts, bruises and abrasions covering the front and back of his torso. "His sister is more of the same and she has a large bump on the back of her head." Ziva hurried out of the small room to the bathroom. The combination of the smell and the sight of the beaten and bruised children was too much for her stomach.

Gibbs gently glided his hand over Josie's dirty, tangled hair and located the bump the nurse was talking about. As soon as he touched it the little girl's breath caught and she reached up to pull Gibbs' hand away. "What happened to your head Sweetie?" Gibbs asked while Josie played with his fingers.

Josie looked like she was deep in thought before meeting Gibbs' eyes. "I don't remember what I'm supposed to say," she said. Gibbs smiled at her and her eyes lit up as she smiled back.

"Sexual abuse?" Gibbs asked turning his attention back to the nurse.

"I don't know," Karen said her voice cracking. "I'm not qualified."

When Josie was done inspecting Gibbs' hand she reached out and touched his cheek. She traced his eye brows then his nose and lips. Gibbs took her hand in his and placed a kiss on it before smiling at her.

"They're both behind developmentally," Faith explained, "and I don't think they get any affection at home. Josie especially thrives on any attention anyone will give her. Despite everything she's been through she's very outgoing and a very happy child."

"And Bailey?" Gibbs asked reaching over and running his hand up and down over the little boy's uninjured arm.

"Bailey is a bit more withdrawn," Faith said. "He's shy, quiet; he doesn't have the same curiosity or interest in the things around him. He's not inquisitive like the other children I have here. It's almost like he's given up in a sense but he's a really great kid Agent Gibbs. They both are."

"He's just trying to protect himself from getting hurt again," Gibbs said. Anguish filled his heart at the troubled lives standing in front of him. He silently vowed to do whatever he had to in order to protect the twins. "Everything's going to be ok now," he told the kids.

Gibbs stood and turned to face Faith. "Can you get me the Staff Sergeant's contact information?" he asked. "And go ahead and pack up their things. We're going to take them with us."

"I'll get you all the paperwork their dad filled out but they don't have any personal belongings," Faith said.

Gibbs narrowed his eyes in disbelief. "It's been snowing all morning, they don't have coats or hats or anything?"

Both women shook their heads. "Time for plan B," Gibbs said. He took off his black NCIS jacket and wrapped it around Bailey being careful not to bump his injured arm. Then he pulled off the black fleece jacket he was wearing under his NCIS jacket and wrapped it around Josie. He knew he would be cold going out into the storm wearing only a short sleeve polo but he was much more concerned about the kids.

Gibbs glanced around the room to see if Ziva had returned and when he didn't see her he excused himself to go find her. He walked back towards the front door of the building and found her sitting on the couch in the foyer with her head between her knees.

"Hey," he said sitting down next to her and resting his hand on her back. "You ok?"

"I am sorry Gibbs," Ziva said doing her best to control her breathing. "I have never seen, or smelled, anything like that before. I did not want to throw up in front of everybody."

"The next one won't be any easier," Gibbs said sympathetically. "You just have to learn how to control your body's reaction." Ziva nodded and sat up, taking long, deep breaths. "Why don't you go on out and warm up the car," Gibbs said handing Ziva the keys. "Call DiNozzo, have him and McGee go pick up Kinsley. Then I want them searching his house."

Ziva took the car keys and headed outside while Gibbs returned to the small room the children were in.

"This is all the paperwork their dad filled out when he enrolled the twins," Faith said handing Gibbs a thin folder. "Do you need a booster seat? We only have one extra but it's better than nothing."

"NCIS keeps a few booster seats for situations like this. I already put two in the car, just in case," Gibbs said giving the women a grateful smile.

"Are you always this prepared?" Faith asked with an amused smile.

"Just like the Boy Scouts," Gibbs said. He knelt in front of the children and pulled the collars on both jackets up to cover their necks. "You guys are going to come with me for a little while, ok?"

"Where?" Josie asked.

"Well, first we're going to go to the hospital and have the doctor look at you, and then—"

"But we're not allowed to see any doctors," Josie interrupted. "Daddy said so."

"Why not?" Gibbs asked.

Josie cocked her head to the side and gave him a confused look. After thinking for a minute she shrugged her shoulders.

"Don't worry," Gibbs said. "It's ok if we go this time. I'm going to take really good care of you guys."

"I'll help you get them in the car," Faith offered.

Gibbs lifted Josie into his arms and the little girl cuddled right into him. Faith picked Bailey up and followed Gibbs out to the sedan. After they buckled the twins into the booster seats Faith thanked Gibbs and Ziva for their help then waved goodbye as they drove off towards the hospital.