A/N: Deliverance – though in cannon, aired 2/10/2009 - For the sake of this story - those events already occurred three years before that.

Short Chapter - by design - needed to stand alone.


"Gibbs!" Ziva called her team leader from across the now cordoned off area as she discovered something worth reporting to him. "The letters start here." She pointed to the 'G' drawn raggedly in the dirt, in what could only be blood.

"Caller said NCIS was written in the dirt." Gibbs told her. "Didn't say anything about a G."

"I will keep looking." She promised as she turned and headed off in the direction of the freshly disturbed earth, her head down as she watched the ground as she walked. "Here is a '0'." She called out and kept walking. Fifty feet further on, she called out again. "'I have a '2'!"

"Just write 'em all down, Ziva. Let me know when you've got 'em all." Gibbs told her with aggravation. Turning to his other available agent, he asked. "Whattaya got, DiNozzo?"

"Boss, the trail just stops. It's like whatever was being dragged – presumably our victim – was suddenly picked up from right here and vanished!" Tony pointed to just ten feet from the marked spot for the 'G'. "There's no tire track of any kind and no more drag marks."

"Alright. Shoot and sketch; go 50 feet out on both sides, all the way up to where Ziva finds the last thing that was written in the dirt." Gibbs ordered.

"Where, Boss?" Tony asked seriously.

"Well, gee, DiNozzo, I don't know. I'll know when she finds it." Gibbs remarked with a touch of sarcasm.

"Right. Okay, shooting and sketching, Boss." The younger man said as he turned to his assigned task, leaving the boss to a moment of having to stop and think things through for a minute. He was only given a brief moment of silence before his cell phone ringing shattered the quiet. "Yeah, Gibbs."

"Gibbs, I have not located the NCIS written in the dirt. I have, however, located the last written number – a good one hundred feet due north of your present location. It is a one. All total there were eight numbers." Ziva reported in.

"Read 'em off to me. Start with the G. Work up." Gibbs instructed her while he quickly dug out his notepad and pencil, all the while his gut twinged almost painfully.

"G- 0-2-3-7-5-6-7-1." Ziva read off her notebook. "They appear to be random numbers, spread out with at least ten feet between each number. Someone is playing games with us." She offered in anger.

"No. It's no game. Still missing the Agency letters. Should be another number before that, somewhere." He told her, following his gut which was screaming at him that he knew exactly what was going on. "Extend your search further up the trail."

As his thoughts swirled around the possibility of what they were looking at, Gibbs watched his Senior Field Agent work and cast his thoughts to his youngest field agent: Will my people ever catch a break? Who the hell would know to do this? Whoever it was pretty damned determined to get it done.

Again, his phone rang, interrupting his thoughts. "What'd you find?" he asked his agent before she could speak.

"I found the last number and our Agency's letters – at least fifty feet further out than the rest of the trail. I also found what appears to be tire tracks."

"What's the number, Ziva?" Gibbs asked impatiently.

"8"

With a deep sigh, Gibbs forced himself to keep his team going as if this were a normal case; just barely, as his heart was nearly up in his throat now while he issued the orders. "Alright. Bag and tag – then help Tony shoot and sketch. Let's get this done and don't miss anything. And get me plenty of that blood for Abby to test. It might belong to more than one person."

"Yes, Gibbs. I hope it does, as much of it as there is."

"Find me where that blood originated from – check the rocks."

***NCIS***

Three hours later and the team was finally done investigating their crime scene – having taken all the pictures, sketched every necessary piece and bagged and tagged every piece of evidence. The ride back to the agency was completely silent, each of them lost in their thoughts. It was eerily strange to be at a crime scene with Tim being absent for the reason he was. It cast an uneasy pall over them and it felt terrible.

Once they'd deposited all the evidence with the strangely quiet Abby, the three agents returned to the squad room to begin to piece together what they could from their photos and sketches of the crime scene.

"Ziva, get me that 911 call that called us to the scene."

"Yes, Gibbs. Whatever happened out there happened fast, so of course there were no witnesses. We can be thankful it was not raining or we would have no evidence at all from which to work for clues, yes?" She offered as she picked up her desk phone receiver to make the call.

"Jethro." Jenny's troubled voice, came at him from just beyond Tony's Desk.

"What's wrong?" Gibbs asked as he got up to join her.

"None of the McGees were there when their driver arrived to pick them up."

"And you're just now telling me this?" Gibbs asked her angrily.

"Jethro, you were out in the field and I'm not sure it's anything to worry about. The flight manifests show they didn't miss their flight. Maybe they just took some time to do a little window shopping in the airport before meeting up with our driver."

Frowning in displeasure, he made sure he reminded her of what she should be doing about his missing Agent and family, his voice still filled with anger. "Jen, find them!"

As she heard the conversation, Ziva felt her heart nearly stop. Looking around the squad room, her heart caught in her throat once more at the sight of Tim's empty desk. She hated it that he was currently trying make his way home after having to go into hiding, and possibly not have made it. Turning her eyes to the other two members of her team, it wasn't hard to see the toll this was continuing to take on them as well.

It had always been important, crucial in fact, that this team be able to trust in the knowledge that they would always be there to protect each other. The fact that this time they hadn't been able to keep their youngest member from having to go through something like this continued to affect them deeply. And her gut was telling her that it was about to get worse.

Tony hadn't lost the bereft look that had been on his face ever since that informative conversation with Ziva, when the Senior Field Agent had figured out for himself just how serious Tim's situation was. Gibbs, on the other hand, had consistently looked like he was ready to spit nails at someone. Luckily for those who knew him, it wasn't a very big stretch of the imagination to realize who it was he was pissed at. He'd worn that look ever since that phone call from Tim up in the Director's office when the poor kid had sounded so lost. But at this very moment, the Team Leader actually looked worried as much as he looked angry.

Finally, Ziva couldn't stand the silence any longer and she did what she had to do to get them refocused onto the current case, as they all were trained to do. "Gibbs, I do not understand the reason for the numbers. You know something about them, yes?"

"Put it up." Gibbs ordered, pointing to the plasma TV.

Ziva picked up the remote and brought up the information as ordered. The string of numbers sat there like a puzzle demanding to be answered. G- 0-2-3-7-5-6-7-1 -8.

For a minute, Gibbs looked at what was up there. Even though he'd already figured it out, it hit him like a punch to the gut to see it up on the big screen like this. Carefully taking a measured breath and letting it back out, he carried on after studying it, letting his eyes fall back down to the work on his desk. "It's backwards. Turn 'em around." He told her.

Tony's eyes snapped over to the big screen at the boss' familiarity with what they were looking at. As soon as he saw it with his own eyes, he was hit with a wave of surprise mixed with recognition before sending his eyes back to his desk and immediately tapping away on his keyboard, already on a mission of sorts.

"Tony, get me a current sit rep on…."

"Marine Private First Class Tomas Tamayo" Tony supplied for the older man without hesitation. "Already on it, Boss." The Senior Field Agent was already typing for all he was worth as he worked to find the information they needed.

"Why would you…" Ziva began asking, only to be interrupted by Gibbs' cell phone ringing.

"Yeah, Gibbs." The boss answered his phone.

"I need you down here, now!" Abby said with enough seriousness that there was no doubt she had something to tell him that she didn't like.

"Be right there, Abbs." He answered as he snapped his phone shut and looked expectantly at his Senior Field Agent.

"Private First Class Tomas Tamayo is currently serving in Afghanistan, been there since shortly after we last saw him, Boss. He's been doing good, too, had a note from his C.O in his record for his 'outstanding leadership abilities '." Tony observed with a touch of respect.

"After we hear what Abby has, you get on the horn with his C.O. and verify his whereabouts for the past two weeks. " Gibbs instructed. "Talk to Tamayo. Find out if he told anyone else to use tha…"

"That call for help." Tony interrupted him they all now headed toward the back elevator. "Will do, Boss."

****NCIS****

"Whattaya got for us, Abbs?" Gibbs asked calmly as the team entered her lab a short two minutes later.

"Where's McGee?" she demanded from him, her eyes boring holes right though him.

Something in her tone stopped his thoughts for a minute. She almost sounded as if she already knew the answer and that only served to twist his gut more. Going on hope, he answered her firmly with what truth he had, not yet willing to admit anything different yet. "On his way here."

"No, he's not." Abby declared, her voice wobbling just before it broke, tears filling her eyes. Turning back to her computer keyboard, she tapped a few keys and her monitor now showed a split screen; one side displaying the 'match found' screen they usually saw when she'd been successful in finding a match on a sample and the other half of her screen displaying what was obviously a blood test.

"Abby, whattaya mean he's not? What's McGee's whereabouts got to do with the blood from our fresh crimesc …" Gibbs broke off his question as the last piece of the puzzle slid into place in his mind. NCIS and my service number drawn in blood with the G, the fairly recent time period that this happened in and McGee didn't meet up with the Agency car waiting for him at the airport.

It all added up to one horrible truth – which Abby tearfully provided proof of with the next click of her mouse – bringing up the owner of the blood sample taken from their fresh crime scene.

Tim McGee