*Warning* This fic contains a graphic description of a crime scene that may be bothersome. Don't read if you can't handle the squick.
*Warning* SLASH- Don't like, don't read.
This is a case fic but really the case is secondary and, let's face it, a lame excuse for me to get Tony and Gibbs alone together and a little bit of whump.
Un beta'd so all mistakes are my own.
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS
"Grab your gear."
The words rang out through the bullpen as Gibbs stormed by in a rush.
Tony's head flew up and he leapt from his chair, his body responding automatically to the words that still sent a tiny thrill of adrenaline through him even after 10 years.
"Where we headed this time?" he asked, surprised when Gibbs headed for the stairs rather than the elevator.
"Conference room." Gibbs voice was tight and Tony wondered just what they were in for.
"You heard me, DiNozzo."
He gazed at Tim and Ziva who both wore concerned looks he was sure mirrored his own. They shrugged at him but followed obediently up the stairs to the conference room.
As they entered, Vance glanced nervously at his watch and began speaking before they were all fully seated.
Tony watched as the large display on the wall flashed to life with, what looked like, a terrain map.
"No time for chit chat, people, we're in a bit of a time crunch," Vance began. "We've got two dead Marines in Shenandoah National Park. ID's on the bodies indicate that our victims are Corporal Jared Gilmore and Sergeant Chris Fuller. Rangers found them this morning, here." A large 'x' appeared on the map that looked to be nothing but rugged terrain. "The location is incredibly isolated, nearly 5 miles from any kind of trailhead. So far we know that our victims checked in at the Swift Run Gap Ranger station three days ago and planned to hike to a cabin on Jones Mountain, here." Another mark appeared not far from the indicated location of the victims.
"So we need our hiking boots for this one? Better bring your cub scout compass McGee," Tony quipped. His chuckle was quickly stifled by a harsh look from Gibbs.
"This one's not a joke DiNozzo. There's evidence at the scene that indicates this may be hate crime related." His lip curled in distaste.
Tony couldn't help but notice the anger that bloomed in Gibbs' eyes at those words or the hard set of his jaw that told him the older man was a whisper away from crushing the cup of coffee in his hands. It wasn't like Gibbs to betray his emotions like this and Tony wondered what Vance wasn't telling them.
The director continued his run-down and Tony turned his attention back to the screen. "Fuller was scheduled to receive a commendation for his service in Afghanistan and there's been a lot of local publicity. This isn't something the corps wants reaching the ears of the public so I can't stress how important your silence is on this case." He looked around the room and took a moment to meet the eyes of each agent.
"The terrain is going to make removal of the bodies incredibly difficult. The area is heavily wooded and it would take hours to carry even one victim out." Vance glanced at Gibbs.
"Compounding the problem is the weather. There's a strong front moving in that is going to bring high winds and possibly heavy snows up at those elevations within the next several hours so we have to move fast to avoid losing our crime scene. Hiking in and out is totally out of the question so we have choppers ready to fly your team up to a bald that is about a mile from the scene. It's the best we can do." He glanced over at Palmer.
"I've discussed the situation with Dr. Mallard and we've both agreed that with the difficulty of the hike, you're the best person to process the bodies at the scene, Mr. Palmer."
Tony couldn't help but be warmed by the way Palmer's eyes lit up at the idea of working the scene on his own. He really hoped the kid wasn't going to cry.
"Once you've made it to the scene you'll need to gather any evidence as quickly as possible and start your hike back to the drop off point. The chopper will drop a basket to bring up the bodies and then transport them here while another will meet you back at the rendezvous. You'll have a Ranger guiding you to the scene and we're issuing each one of you survival gear just in case. Any questions?" He glanced around the room at the agents who all shook their heads.
"Good, let's get going then. There isn't a minute to lose."
They filed out quickly, following Gibbs as they headed to lockers to retrieve cold weather gear and hiking boots and then to supply to add survival gear to their packs. Each kit included MRE's, first aid supplies, iodine for water purification and a headlamp in addition to some other miscellaneous items. Ziva met his eyes as she zipped up her pack and he could see worry etched plainly across her features.
"These are just a precaution, Ziva," he tried to keep his voice light.
"Gibbs is worried."
"Gibbs is always worried when Marines are involved." He knew it wasn't a convincing argument.
"This is different, Tony. Do not try to tell me I am wrong," she said defiantly.
He finished closing his own bag. "You're not wrong." He squeezed her shoulder gently as he passed. "Let's get this over with."
Tony watched the ground fly by beneath him through the small window in the chopper. The roads and buildings of DC quickly gave way to fields and suburbs and then the weathered rocky peaks of the Shenandoah. They flew low over the tree line and he could see stony outcrops and miles and miles of forest spreading out in every direction. He shuddered at the thought of just how isolated they would be after they were dropped off.
He'd hiked some of the trails out here before but mostly just on quick day trips from easily accessible trailheads. A former lover had once talked him into a weekend hike on the AT near the south end of the park and it had ended with Tony having blisters the size of baseballs on his feet and the two of them never speaking again. In general he found it better to keep his feet planted firmly on the concrete.
He turned his attention to Gibbs who sat directly across from him. The older man had his eyes closed and appeared relaxed but the tiny quiver of the muscles in his jaw told Tony that there was something on his mind he wasn't ready to share. As if he felt the weight of his gaze, Gibbs opened his eyes and regarded Tony across the small space. He may have been mistaken but the younger agent thought he saw that steely blue soften just a little. Part of him wished it was just the two of them and that he had a way to tell the man who meant the world to him that he would gladly share whatever burden currently had his shoulders bent.
As if he could read Tony's thoughts, Gibbs gave him a silent nod and then closed his eyes again.
It wasn't difficult to spot the bald they were aiming for as it was literally the only clearing in sight. As they descended, a Park Ranger dressed in greens and browns stepped out of the cover of the trees on one side of the rocky space.
Tony held his breath as the helicopter touched down lightly on the earth and waited for the sound of the engines to die. Gibbs was out of his harness and at the door before he even had time to react and he flinched at the grim look on his boss's face.
One by one they exited the chopper, grabbing their gear, hand held radios and the two Satellite phones that would be their only means of communication with the outside world. Cell phone signals in this part of the mountains weren't just spotty, they were entirely non-existent.
The temperature difference up on the mountain was unbelievable. It had been nearly 60 degrees back in DC but already his ears and nose felt positively raw. Tony turned up his collar against the cold and drew a deep breath into his lungs. "Smell that, Timmy? Crisp, clean, virgin air." When he exhaled his breath hung in the air as a thin mist.
"I don't smell anything but the exhaust from the chopper," McGee argued.
"I do."Gibbs had his face turned up to the sky and was studying the low hanging clouds with a stony face. "Smells like snow."
At Gibbs' signal they all gathered around the Ranger who had approached the landing site but maintained a watchful distance. He didn't look much older than a kid just out of college. A shock of blond hair fell over his forehead from beneath his wide brimmed hat and his eyes were clear blue and sharp. Tony was instantly reminded of a young Robert Redford and under different circumstances he might have enjoyed a little hike through the forest with this hot Ranger as his competent nature guide. As it was, the young man looked very ill at ease and more than a little dazed. Tony suspected he wasn't used to finding dead Marines in his park.
Gibbs introduced himself with a tight nod.
"I'm Matt Smith. I'm the one who found the…the bodies this morning."
"HA! Ranger Smith! Did you bring a pic-i-nic basket?" Tony snorted. He caught Gibbs glare as well as the questioning looks from his colleagues. "You know," he attempted to explain, "because of the Yogi Bear and the…never mind. Sorry boss," he said sheepishly.
"Yeah, I get that a lot," the young Park Ranger flashed a grin at Tony and raked his eyes over him speculatively.
There was no ignoring the open appreciation in that gaze and Tony shifted uncomfortably hoping no one else noticed.
"What can you tell us?"Gibbs interrupted the moment.
"Oh, sorry. Well, when we got word of the storm moving in this morning we teamed up to check out some of the more isolated cabins. Generally volunteers make sure they're stocked with wood and canned goods in case hikers get stuck up here in the winter but we knew we had people headed out this way so we made the trip ourselves. Hobbins and I…he's waiting with the bodies…I mean victims…"He swallowed. "We came across them about a mile and a half from the cabin. Never seen anything like it." Smith's eyes grew distant and his face slightly green.
Gibbs laid a hand on his shoulder.
The young ranger lifted his head and continued. "Saw by their tags that they were Marines and called your office."
"And neither of you moved the bodies?" Gibbs pressed.
Smith shook his head. "No. We knew right away it was a crime scene. Just got close enough to read their tags and then Hobbins called it in on the radio." The haunted look had returned to his eyes. "Agent Gibbs, I've seen dead animals, seen a dead hiker that got trapped in a storm, even seen a bear attack once, but I've never seen…"
Tony felt an instant pang of sympathy. Your first gory crime scene wasn't something you got over easily and even with years of experience there were some that haunted him still.
Gibbs shouldered his pack and gestured behind them to where a rocky trail disappeared into the woods. "According to the pilot, we've got about two hours to get in, process the scene and get ourselves back here. I need you to show us the way."
The relatively short hike wasn't an easy one and despite the cold, Tony was covered in a fine sheen of sweat before they'd gone half a mile. The trail ascended sharply up the mountain and was often cut by uneven shards of rock that made footing treacherous. The trees and dense undergrowth cut in very close to the trail and at times it was difficult to tell that they were, in fact, following a set path. Every few feet of so, Tony could see a bright green rectangular blaze painted onto trees close to the trail and he began counting them to distract himself from the burning in his legs and his lungs. At least the trip back would be all downhill.
He would have loved to stop and catch his breath but Gibbs set a mean pace. Ziva and Palmer kept up with ease, scrambling over the uneven ground effortlessly like a couple of squirrels. Tony and Tim lagged behind and he felt slightly better with the younger man breathing heavily at his side. He promised himself to hit the gym more often as soon as they got home.
Just as the muscles in his thighs were beginning to turn to rubber, they rounded a corner and came to a place where the ground leveled off a bit and a sign marked another trail that led to the cabin the Rangers had been heading for this morning.
An older man in the same greens and browns as Smith stepped onto the trail and greeted them.
"Glad you made it. I'm Ken Fischer."
Gibbs shook his hand. "Special Agents Gibbs, DiNozzo, David, and McGee." He gestured around the circle. "This is our M.E. Mr. Palmer. Sorry to cut the small talk but I'd like my agents to get started on the scene right away. Snow's coming."
The older Ranger nodded. "Sure is." He glanced at the assembled group. "Guess you all are probably used to things like this. Smith and I…well, we really didn't know what to make of it. Bodies are up there." He gestured up into a patch of browning ferns. "Can't miss 'em."
"Ziva, McGee, I want you on ground cover. Work fast. Once the snow starts we won't get a second look. DiNozzo, you're on the bodies. I want pictures of every detail, every angle before we have to move them."
Tony took a moment to free his camera and gloves from his pack.
"Palmer, you're on." Gibbs nodded at Jimmy.
As a team they moved into the undergrowth, stepping carefully as they examined the ground beneath them. They had only gone a few feet when Tony stopped dead in his tracks, suddenly realizing exactly what had had both Gibbs and Vance noticeably shaken in the conference room.
A rounded lump of rock rose up above the undergrowth next to a large tree. Atop the rock were the naked bodies of their two Marines.
"Shit," Tony whispered. Palmer had stopped just in front of him and was also staring at the macabre scene.
"Yeah." Gibbs voice was strangely subdued behind him.
Willing himself into action, Tony laid a hand on Palmer's shoulder and gently propelled the younger man forward. "Let's get this over with and get them down," he said quietly.
The two of them scrambled to the top of the boulder while Gibbs carefully patrolled the perimeter. Tony examined the bodies in front of him and felt bitter acid rising in his throat.
The scene was gruesome but it wasn't the amount of blood that had his head spinning, it was the way the bodies were posed. Both victims were completely naked and lacking any ornamentation other than their dog tags. The killer or killers had used thin nylon cord to prop the victims into positions so that it appeared from a distance that they were engaged in sex. Another thin rope secured the upright body to the tree. There was a clean bullet hole through the forehead of each victim and a single word had been carved deep into the flesh around it: 'Fag'. Whoever had done this had been a very good shot and one sick, sick puppy.
Tony moved in close and shot rapid fire pictures of the victims, the ropes, and the carving while his stomach turned over and over. He heard Palmer's quiet voice behind him.
"In his mouth, is that..?"
"It's a penis, yes." Tony snapped a shot of the gruesome detail. "Keep it together, Jimmy," he said sympathetically. No man alive could see something like that without losing his shit just a little.
"O-of course." Palmer continued his work on the other body. "Tentative cause of death appears to be a bullet to the frontal lobe in each case. Liver temperature combined with ambient puts TOD at least…12 hours ago. With the cold I'm afraid I can't be more specific. The ah…object in victim A's mouth appears to be the genitalia of victim B. Lack of blood from the genital wound as well as the cuts on their foreheads indicate that both were done post mortem."
At least it was something. Tony looked down at Gibbs who was contemplating them with an expression Tony didn't completely recognize. He looked almost..sad.
"Let's finish up and get these men down. This is no way for a Marine to die." He turned away quickly.
Tony didn't miss the tiny hitch in his boss's voice and he stared at Gibbs' back in astonishment. He'd never seen him affected this way by a crime scene and he wondered what made this one so personal. Yes, they were Marines and yes, the scene was gruesome and unusual but something about the level of malevolence shown by the killer or perhaps the nature of the crime itself seemed to have particular significance.
"I've got boot prints, don't match the Rangers'," Tim shouted from a short distance away.
"I've got blood and clothing," Ziva called from the other side of the clearing.
Gibbs took off immediately to check on their progress.
Tony felt something cold and wet hit the back of his neck. He swiped at the moisture and looked up in time to see other fat clumps of heavy, wet snow begin falling around them.
"Let's move!" Gibbs called. "DiNozzo, Palmer, get those bodies down and radio the chopper for pick up. Cover em'. I don't want to lose DNA. Leave as much of the rope intact as you can. Ziva, McGee, bag everything you can carry and photograph the rest. I want everyone out of here and headed for the rendezvous in 15 minutes. DiNozzo and I will stay behind and process for as long as we can and I'll radio for pick up."
Ziva and McGee raised their heads and began to protest.
"You heard me. I want everyone off this mountain who doesn't absolutely have to be here," Gibbs yelled. "That includes you two," he called to the Rangers. "We can get back on our own."
The two wisely sensed that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs was not a man to be argued with and simply nodded their heads.
The snow began to fall more thickly and the wind stirred the trees above them. He and Palmer managed to separate the bodies and lower them down gently to the ground. Getting them bagged proved a difficult task due to their rigid state but after some struggle, the gruesome feat was accomplished. He could hear the hum of the chopper's engine as it approached and hovered directly over their location, homing in on the GPS beacon.
Once the basket had safely descended through the trees on its thick cable, it took all of them to keep it steady while the bodies were loaded and then hoisted back up. They lost valuable time but raced back to their tasks as soon as it was clear.
"Boss, I've got boot prints on the trail that match the ones up here. Looks like they're heading East." McGee pointed along the path in the opposite direction from which they had come.
Gibbs turned to the Rangers. "Where does that trail go?"
Fischer shrugged. "Loops around and connects with several others. Hits Skyline and the AT about four miles from here. If your guy had 12 hours, he could be anywhere by now."
Gibbs looked like he wanted to howl his frustration up at the steely sky. He scanned the scene with a look of regret. "Okay, everyone but DiNozzo head out. We'll follow as soon as we can."
Thanks for reading and leaving a little note to tell me what you think!