Lay me down.
Let the only sound be overflow.
Pocket full of stones.
-Florence+The Machine, "What the Water Gave Me."
Ziva stepped heel-first, making sure her boot soles didn't slide on the cinders underfoot. Airman First Class Adam Jantzen had killed Marine Private John-Tyler Zeimetz in a bar fight two days prior, and now NCIS had tracked him to the southernmost edge of Bolling Air Force Base, where Overlook Avenue did just that—it overlooked the Potomac River and Oxon Creek. Gun drawn, she sidled around the southwest corner of Jantzen's neighbor's townhouse.
Gibbs' voice rumbled low in her earwig. "DiNozzo, you got eyeball?"
"Copy that," Tony whispered. "We're three houses in from the corner. Suspect headed north-northwest. David, you on?"
"I have no visual," she murmured smoothly.
"He's veering left, into the park," Tony replied.
She took off at a run, gun down.
"Lost visual," he said in her ear again.
There was a loud noise—a fantastic noise, she thought dumbly—and hot water ran over the back of her skull, down her neck, and into her boots. Her arms went limp and her piece tumbled to the grass, uncocked thank God. She followed it, slumping sideways first, shoulders curled into the sloping hillside. She rolled once and came to rest in the low scrub at the edge of a stand of trees. She fought back hard against the dark, but the pain was electrifying and the world slipped away from her like newspaper on an eastern wind.
Jantzen swept around the stand of trees and ran straight into DiNozzo and McGee, both with guns drawn. He surrendered immediately, dropped to his knees and laced his fingers behind his head. Tim cuffed him.
"Ziva?" Tony called into his radio. "What's your twenty?"
Silence and the crackling of satellite frequency was his only reply. "Gibbs?" He tried again. "What's the location on David?"
"No visual now. Saw her in Jantzen's footsteps before he hit that tree stand. Two minutes out."
Tony backtracked where Jantzen's standard-issue boots had flattened the tall grass. Movement sixty paces ahead made him draw his gun again.
"David, do you copy?"
More static. The person ahead was broad-shouldered and over six feet tall-definitely not Ziva. It moved at a steady pace away from him, unaware he was following. He closed the gap between them. Fifty paces. Thirty. When he could recognize the athletic logo on the back of the man's jacket, he drew his weapon.
"Federal agent," he bellowed. "Freeze."
The man stopped. A cedar branch snapped under Tony's Italian leather shoe.
"Hands in the air."
The man put both hands up, raising a length of galvanized steel pipe in his right hand.
"Drop the weapon," Tony bellowed.
The pipe tumbled to the ground. Tony kept his gun at the ready and swung a wide berth around the man. The guy was beefy; his arms were thick with muscle under a layer of sealish fat. His Baltimore Ravens anorak wouldn't button over his ample belly. He thought back to the Brando's dockwallopers.
"You're under arrest for fleeing from federal agents. Hands behind your back."
Tony cuffed him quickly and escorted him back to the Charger. Bolling police were on scene and took over for him.
Tim was taking notes on a tablet computer. Or trying to. The sun was high overhead but a frigid wind blew in off the water and his fingers were red and stiff with cold. He looked up when he heard Tony's shoes scuff on the cement.
His brow furrowed. "Where's Ziva?"
Tony could only stare back. "Thought she was with you?"
They gaped at each other for a brief, hot second. If Gibbs got wind of a left-behind team member they'd be dead. In unison they wheeled and retraced their steps down into the park between the residential street and the riverbank. They were hustling; sweat formed on their brows and napes even though the October afternoon hadn't broken forty degrees. A flash of white lettering—NC—caught Tony's eye. His heart sped up, hands itching.
She was crumpled at the base of a tree. Her flesh was grey and waxen; Tony had to steel himself to take her pulse. Weak and fast, it thrummed like a dying bird beneath her jaw. Her nose and right ear were trickling blood onto the grass below. She was unconscious, but her eyes were slightly open and hooded as if the sunlight was summery and intense.
"Call a bus!" He yelled, voice an octave higher than normal. "Agent down!"
He could hear Gibbs tumbling down the path towards them, all sniper instincts gone. Through the underbrush he watched McGee raise his radio to his mouth and call for an ambulance.
Ziva moaned once and gurgled a weak, wet sound. Convinced she was going to swallow her tongue, DiNozzo put a hand under her neck and prepared to roll her. Gibbs knocked his arm away.
"Don't move her," he said sharply. "We don't know what happened."
Sirens began to filter down through the shedding trees. There was a clatter and Tony jumped. Two EMTs carried a backboard down the path.
"What do we got?" The smaller one asked no one in particular.
Gibbs went robotic and Tony stepped back. "Twenty-nine-year-old female found unresponsive, no visible trauma. Pulse fast and week. She was coughing a moment ago but stopped. Check her airway."
The bigger one fastened a cervical collar around Ziva's neck. The smaller one took her blood pressure and started an IV. They worked quickly, responding to each other's body language. Tony felt his vision go fuzzy. Was he at the opera? Where was the fat lady?
Tim was on the phone, his voice a steady drone in the background.
Gibbs' low bark rattled Tony's teeth. "Where are you taking her?"
They EMTs already had Ziva on the backboard and were several steps towards the bus.
"She's NCIS, right?" The big one yelled. "Bethesda."
Gibbs cuffed his shoulder and waited to make eye contact. "Let's go," he said softly, and lead Tony back to the Charger.
. . . .
The emergency room was quieter in real life than it was on TV; there was no hum of activity behind striped curtains, no squeak of rubber-soled clogs on the sanitized floor. Tony was glad for that, because if he had to see Ziva smeared with betadine and bleeding onto the floor he might pass out. Or die. Or shoot someone. They'd followed the ambulance into the bay and were systematically waved off by the nurses. You can't come back here. Wait out there. So Tony, Gibbs, and McGee sat in a row of chairs against the north wall and waited for the doctor to tell them something. Leon Vance strode through the doors with a tray of coffees.
Gibbs shook his head. "She wasn't visibly hurt. It might take them a while to figure this one out."
Vance looked surprised. "I was told by Base PD that it was a GSW."
Tony scowled. "They told you wrong," he snapped. Gibbs shot him a look. Tim shifted in his seat.
"I also heard you lost contact with her for nearly five minutes. Care to explain?"
Gibbs turned hard blue eyes on his younger teammates.
Tim cleared his throat. "Boss, I heard movement in the trees and thought Ziva was on Jantzen's trail. She knows how to handle herself out there. I wasn't worried."
Tony could do little besides sigh and berate himself internally. Stupid, selfish bastard. Can't take five seconds to check your teammate. Gibbs sensed his turmoil and elbowed him not too gently in the ribs. That's enough it meant.
Vance pulled an envelope out of his inside pocket and handed it to Gibbs. "You'll need to sign these forms. It validates this was an on-duty injury. The insurance company and workman's comp will need copies of it."
Gibbs figured that he'd be worried about protocol and signatures. He snatched it out of his hand and stuffed it in his own pocket.
"We'll take care of it," he growled.
The doctor appeared then—too young, too harried—and called family of Ziva David, and mispronounced her last name. Tony bit down hard on his tongue.
"That's us," Gibbs said, and rose from his uncomfortable seat.
The doctor beckoned them down a short hallway to another waiting room. This one was smaller and empty except for a TV tuned to ZNN and a few slightly more comfortable chairs. There was a white box nailed to one wall. The doctor flipped a switch and it came alight. Taking out an envelope none of them noticed before, he slid a few images up for viewing.
"I'm Dr. Druckman. I was the attending physician on call when Ms. David was brought in."
Tony, Tim, and Gibbs were still standing and made their introductions quickly. Druckman motioned for them to sit. They sat.
"Dav-eed," Tony corrected. "She's Israeli."
Dr. Druckman nodded and took a breath. "Ms. David has sustained serious trauma to her head, neck, and back. It appears that she has suffered a contusion to her spinal cord."
Tony tilted sideways, his vision narrowed to pinpricks.
Gibbs jabbed him hard in the ribs and cuffed him gently under the chin. "Up, DiNozzo," he ordered. "You can do this now."nnTony sat up straight and shook his head.
Dr. Druckman continued. "Ms. David's spinal cord has swelled considerably between her third cervical and second thoracic vertebrae. Two of them—C7 and T1—are broken, but not badly. She also has a moderate concussion. These are all indicated on these images."
He pointed to the scans of Ziva's head and neck. Tim was the only one who could make sense of them. He squinted at them, cocking his head to the side, and looked hard at Gibbs. This is bad his eyes said.
"She's paralyzed," Gibbs said. It wasn't a question.
The doctor shrugged. "We don't know. She was unconscious when she arrived and she hasn't yet come around. She's not responsive to stimuli at this point so we're taking a wait-and-see approach to all but one treatment."
"What's that?" Tony asked. He'd regained his composure when uncertainty crept into Druckman's voice.
"We're going to apply corticosteroid injections to the traumatized area. Studies have shown that if delivered within twenty-four hours of injury they can have marked improvement in recovery."
Tony went white. "You're going to stick needles full of drugs into her spinal cord?"
"She'll be sedated for the procedure and under the care of myself, an anesthesiologist, and a radiologist who is specially trained in this procedure. She'll be in no pain and closely monitored during and afterward."
Gibbs nodded. "When can we see her?"
"They're admitting her now. Once she's given a room on the neuro floor I'll come back with the info you need. I don't think it will be more than half an hour."
Tim stared hard at the scans again. "When will Ziva receive the injections?"
Dr. Druckman consulted his PDA. "Later tonight. We're working within a pretty narrow window but we need to bring in the specialist from Fairfax."
Druckman eyed them each once and left. Tony stared at the floor, not ready to meet Gibbs' or Tim's eyes.
"What have I done?" His voice was soft.
McGee wanted to offer some comfort but every phrase died on his lips. They'd turned their back. Not literally, of course, but they'd missed some vital piece of information and now Ziva was paying the price for their carelessness.
Gibbs stood and regarded them both wearily. "You can't make this better," he said flatly. "But I can't punish you as harshly as you'll punish yourselves. Now I'm going for another coffee before the doc gets back. You two had better corroborate your statements before Vance and Base PD come sniffing around."
He paused and looked at Ziva's scans, still posted on the lightboard. It was hard to believe that she—so quick, so tough, so unshakably prepared for any situation—could be reduced to such basic elements. Bone. Blood. Sinew. He carried her close to his heart because she'd sacrificed so much. He drew himself up and tugged his jacket closed over his badge and gun.
"You didn't protect her when you should have," he said quietly. "But you sure as hell had better do it now. Man up. This isn't going to be easy." He turned on his boot heel and left.
Tony's throat burned and his eyes were hot with tears. Tim wiped his face and pulled his notepad from his breast pocket.
"Ok," he said softly. "Let's get our statement together quickly. I think it's the first step in helping Ziva."
Tony swallowed reflexively. "I can't believe this," he muttered. Numbness was creeping up on him. He flexed his hands, rubbed at the back of his neck, and rolled his shoulders to stave it off.
Tim stayed the course. "Well, it happened. And now we need to deal. Do you need some time?"
He shook his head. "No. Let's get this done and go see her."
. . . .
The neurological unit at Bethesda was straight out of Spielberg's ET; billowing white curtains, stricken family members sitting blank-faced next to patients under labyrinths of tubes and wires. There was little sound except for the clicks and beeps of computerized respiration. Gibbs, Tony, and Tim strode quietly down the wide hallway to where Dr. Druckman was posted outside Ziva's door.
"She's here," he said quietly. "But I have to warn you that, as a precaution, we have Ms. David intubated and on a ventilator. We're anticipating that the swelling will increase after tonight's treatment and she'll no longer be able to breathe on her own. Do you have any questions before you go in?"
No one spoke up.
"Ok, then. Don't be afraid to touch her or talk to her. Assume she knows you're there. Just be careful of the IVs."
"What is she on?" Tim asked.
"Dilantin. It's an anti-seizure medication. She had some neurological storms pass through about fifteen minutes ago. Otherwise it's just fluids." He held the door open and all three of them stepped into Ziva's room.
"For God's sake," Tony gasped, and crouched low with his back to the wall.
Gibbs resisted joining him. Instead, he stepped close to the bedside and reached down to take her hand. It was warm and dry and very, very small. He peered down into her face, obscured by the endotracheal tube and medical-grade adhesive tape. Her eyes were twitching beneath paper-thin lids. She was immobilized still in the cervical collar, and two weighted cushions were chocked at chest level on either side of her torso.
"Hey," he whispered. "It's going to be ok. We've got your back." He leaned down and left a soft kiss on her brow.
Tim woke the computer and skimmed through her treatment forms, clicking pictures with his smartphone. To send to Abby, no doubt, Tony thought before it dawned on him that perhaps no one had told Abby.
He stood and took two big steps closer to the bed, right hand still cupped over his mouth. With one clumsy finger he traced the arc of her Ziva's left wrist.
"She's small," he whispered, eyes still locked on the endotracheal tube. "I never realized…"
Gibbs grunted in agreement.
"What are we going to do, Boss? What if…I mean…if she's…?"
Tim pocketed his phone and stood, silent. Gibbs squeezed Ziva's knee over the white cotton blanket.
"You can still swim, can't you? You're going to have to tow her in, DiNozzo. We aren't going to let her just tread water."