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Slowly Fading Away

Chapter Text

He had to do something. The smell of a roaring fire in the air in the old motel was starting to get to him. Snow was crippling the roadways, thus there were not many customers. It had been weeks since he'd felt the urges. Partially because no one had walked through the doors that excited his senses.

Outside he heard the approach of a vehicle. Nervously strumming his fingers against the counter he watched as a tall, good-looking man in his early forties got out. The man brushed some snow from his black trench coat and proceeded to come inside. Above the door a bell jingled.

"Wow it's a cold one out there," the man said, casually with an easy smile.

He could see that his eyes were green, dark brown hair and carried himself with confidence. Oh, those urges really screamed now. "You must be the only one out on the road today, sir."

The man shrugged broad shoulders. "Work. Listen… roads are getting really bad out there. Any rooms available for the night?"

Underneath the desk he clutched his hands. "Yes," he managed to say. "We have a room. King bed, fireplace."

"Perfect… just too bad that my wife isn't here to join me," the handsome visitor replied, flashing a charming smile. "And speaking of my wife… do you mind if I use your phone? I can't get a signal out here on my cell and I should let her know that I won't be making it back to D.C tonight."

He nodded his head and handed the old, rotary phone over the counter to the visitor. While the man made his phone call he went and retrieved a key for the room. His hands were shaking. It had been so long… weeks… but tonight… oh tonight he could give into the voices, the urges. Calming his hands, willing them to stop, he made his way back to his guest. "Here you go sir. I just need you to fill out the paper work. Was your wife upset?"

The man shook his head. "Not really," he said, glancing at him while he wrote. For a brief second he noticed that the kid's hands were shaking. "You alright?" he asked as he slid the form towards him.

"F-fine sir," he said, looking at the name on the form. "Let me show you to your room."

"Great… just let me get my bag out of my car."

He followed the man outside to the blue car, watched as he grabbed a backpack that on the back read NCIS. He wasn't sure what that stood for, at this point he didn't really care. His excitement was heightened to take much stock in it. Slowly he led the man down the long outside corridor of the motel towards the room. He put the key in, turned the lock, and opened the door. He let the guest inside the room first.

The man flipped the light on and looked around for a second before putting his bag down onto the floor. He slipped out of his heavy winter coat and hung it up on the rack by the window.

"Is everything to your likening, sir?"

"Yes. Thank you."

"Good," he said gripping the broomstick he'd snagged from the maid's cart. With one sure swing he made contact with the man's skull, just as he turned, relishing in the sound of the crack of bone, the flash of horror in his eyes, the grunt from his victim as he pitched forward and fell. "I hope you enjoy your stay, Mr. DiNozzo."


Chapter Text

Leroy Jethro Gibbs stomped the snow from his boots before entering NCIS that bone chilling morning. It had snowed through the night, which had made traveling around the city difficult. The morning commute hadn't been much better… but he'd made it and now it was time to focus on the job.

Slipping his card through security he greeted the guard with a smile. "Agent Gibbs," the guard said, stopping him. "You have a visitor."

Gibbs looked at his watch. "At eight in the morning? The city is barely awake after the storm. Let me guess… JAG? I sent Tony to West Virginia yesterday to pick up their witness. He was staying over night out there. Should be back today."

"No. Wasn't JAG. It was Mrs. DiNozzo and little Jack," the guard said, anxiously. "She looked… worried, Agent Gibbs."

Ah hell, DiNozzo. Did you forget to call your wife last night? Gibbs thanked the guard and proceeded towards the elevator. Tony might have been married for a year and half now but he still had a lot to learn about being married. Taking a large sip of his coffee as he stepped off the elevator he found Leah standing in the bullpen wearing a cream colored wool pea coat and a crimson knit cap. Jack was bundled up in navy snowsuit, proudly displaying a Red Sox logo, and a Patriots ski cap. "I'll make sure I smack him hard this time—he should have called you to let you know he was bunking in West Virginia."

Leah bit down on her lower lip. "He did call me last night, Gibbs. Just before I put Jack down for the night."

Gibbs was confused and his gut was starting to tingle. "Leah… why are you here?"

"Tony said he was going to call me as soon as he was on the road," Leah replied, clinging tightly to her baby. "He said he was leaving by six to pick up the witness and then head back to Washington."

"Maybe he's running late," Gibbs replied not really believing that himself. "Did you try to call him?"

Leah nodded. "Yes. Straight to voicemail."

Gibbs tightened the hold he had on his coffee cup. "Leah… did he leave any contact information for the hotel?"

"He did. He said that he was having trouble getting a signal out there."

"Did you call them?"

Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes, confirming his worst nightmare. "I did. They told me that Tony had never registered there. Something is wrong! Something is terribly wrong, Gibbs! He wouldn't do this to me, he would know that I'd worry about him if he didn't call!"

He watched as a few of those tears escaped. Leah had an incredibly intuition about Tony, Gibbs had seen it in action. They be completely separated in a room but somehow, when one began talking about the other they manage to find each other with their eyes. If she thought something was wrong with Tony… then something had to be wrong… even if he was trying to find a logical explanation as to why the motel had no record of his senior field agent checking in.

Gently he reached out and guided her towards Tony's chair. He instructed her to sit down. Slowly he crouched in front of her, saw the absolute fear in her eyes and little Jack let out a small whimper. Gibbs put a hand on the baby's head and rubbed the back of it, softly. "I promise, Leah. I'm going to find him and bring him home."

"What if… what if you're too late?" Leah cried. "What if he's already dead?"

"Do you think he's dead?"


"In your heart… do you think he's dead?"

Leah swallowed her tears and shook her head fiercely. "No," she whispered, hugging Jack closer to her, "No. He's alive. He… he wouldn't leave us… not without… fighting."

Gibbs smiled at her, sadly and kissed her forehead. "That's right… Tony's a survivor, Leah." He just has to stay alive long enough for us to find him. He pulled out his cell phone and quickly dialed. Grabbing a hold of Leah's hand while he waited for the recipient to pick up. Finally, after what seemed like hours, a gruff voice answered. "Yeah, cut the crap, Tobias. I have a problem. DiNozzo is missing—I need your help."

Every muscle in Timothy McGee's body ached but he pushed himself forward. He had been home with a terrible bout of bronchitis and to recover—as well as keep Tony from catching it—he'd been home for the last three days.

But now, Tony was in trouble. If I had just sucked it up and been here… Tim thought as he entered NCIS, blew through security and headed for the elevator. Tim was supposed to go out to West Virginia to pick up that witness with Tony and he couldn't help but think if they had been together Tony would have been fine. It was why he needed to force his way through work now… because Tony needed him and he knew that Tony would do the same for him.

Coughing, he stumbled his way into the bullpen. "B-boss… I'm here."

"Aw hell, McGee… you look like crap," Gibbs snapped with a slight roll of his eyes. "What are you doing here?"

"T-tony… needs…my help," Tim choked out as he struggled to stop coughing. Damn antibiotics hadn't kicked in yet.

Gibbs threw a thumb over his shoulder. "That's why I called Tobias. You should go home. Rest. Bishop will call with an update."

Tim shook his head, which made him dizzy. He gripped the edge of his desk. "Tony wouldn't… he'd do anything to find me." And he already had… two years ago when Daryl Crowley had abducted him, tortured him, and was going to kill him all to get revenge on Gibbs. If Crowley wasn't dead… Tim could almost believe that the man was the one behind Tony's disappearance. "Please, boss," he whispered, "I have to… I have to do this. I can… I can still work from my desk."

With a sigh, Gibbs relented. Tim was right… Tony would do whatever it took to find his partner… and quite frankly, he needed Tim to do all the computer stuff that he did so well. "See if you can trace the last time Tony used his cell."

"On it boss."

"Gibbs!" Ellie shouted, running into the bullpen. "I pulled Tony and Leah's phone records. She received a call around seven last night from The Mountain State Inn."

"Which lines up with what Leah told me," Gibbs replied. "Tony called her last night from the hotel to let her know he'd arrived in West Virginia and would be staying over."

"Did you manage to get in touch with them?" Tobias asked. He was starting to get more nervous for DiNutso by the minute.

Ellie nodded. "I spoke to one of the innkeepers, Mrs. Wilkerson. She said that she had no record of Tony checking in last night. She was going to speak to her husband and call me back."

Gibbs pointed towards Ellie's laptop. "Run a background check on those damn owners. McGee… do you have anything for me yet?"

"Last time Tony used his cell was when he got on the West Virginia Turnpike around five thirty yesterday afternoon. He called you, boss."

"Yeah… to let me know roads were bad and he'd bring the witness back tomorrow."

"As long as the battery is in the phone… I can trace it, boss."

"Do it."

Tim calmed his shaking hands enough to type in a trace. "It should only take…" His computer beeped and blared and he felt his stomach flip-flop. Oh no.

Gibbs was standing in front of him immediately, his blue eyes filled with a hundred different emotions. "Tim… what is it?" he asked, seeing the pale look pass over the younger man's face. And when Tim didn't respond Gibbs felt the weight of the world crashing down on his shoulders. "Tim!"

Ellie glanced up from her work and noticed the look of horror as Tim finally managed to look at Gibbs. She hadn't been at this job very long but she knew that it meant what he'd found wasn't good. Her eyes fluttered towards Tony's empty desk, with Jack's snowsuit and Leah's jacket draped over it, and it made her heart ache. She swallowed back her tears and got to her feet, moving to stand next to her boss.

"It… the battery's been taken out, boss," Tim said in a near whisper, "I can't… I can't trace it."

"Ellie… keep working on those background checks!" Gibbs snarled at her. He grabbed his gear and threw on his coat. "Make sure Ducky sits with Leah and Jack… keep her calm, got it? Tobias… up for a road trip?"

Tobias grinned. "I thought you'd never ask!"

Gibbs chuckled briefly as they left. But only briefly because Tony was in trouble and it was his job to bring his boy home.

His hands were cold and it was making it difficult to pull out his wallet and find what he was looking for. Tony struggled with his numb digits in the dank room but finally managed to slip out the photograph.

Leah and Jack smiled back at him. He clutched it between his fingers for dear life. Just as he had clutched that cell phone when he had the plague. It gave him a sense of purpose, a reason to keep fighting.

Tony wasn't quite sure how he'd come to be here. He remembered being taken to his room and then nothing. He'd woken up cold and alone, blood on his shirt from a head wound. His weapon was gone, his badge, and his credentials. And he didn't have his cell phone. Not that it would matter anyways… he hadn't been able to get a signal out here last night. But… it meant that Tim wouldn't be able to trace him. If they even know you're gone, he thought, morbidly.

A creaking, old door opened in front of him and he had to shield his eyes from the bright light. When they adjusted Tony could see a tall, lanky figure standing before him and he realize with a twist in his gut that it was the kid from the inn. "What do you want with me?" he asked in a rasp.

"Do you know mice squeal just before you bash their heads in?" the kid asked, monotone, distant. "I like to hear them squeal before the end."

"Is this some kind of cat and mouse game?" Tony inquired, his hand tightening around the photograph.

"No. I am not chasing you."

"So… I'm the mouse? The one you like to bash their heads in?

The kid's lips quirked in a slight grin, sending a shiver down Tony's spine and he said, "I haven't hurt a mouse for years. It got boring after a while. They were all the same kind of kill. No excitement."

Tony swallowed, eyes darting about for some kind of escape. "Is that when you graduated to humans? Now that the excitement of the mice had worn off you found that humans were much more interesting to hear scream before they die? Let me tell you something, kid… I won't give you that satisfaction."

His eyes grew dark as he stepped up to Tony, the pistol held at his side reminding the field agent that he could kill him with a single shot. "We'll see about that."

"Will we now," Tony snapped, hand tightening around the photograph of his family. "What are you going to do to me?" he challenged.

"I liked to cut the tails of the mice off," the kid responded. Tony watched as he opened a knife. "But you don't have a tail."

"Keen observation. So… you didn't answer me… what are you going to do?"

In a flash the knife flew through the air. Pain shot through his left knee and Tony did everything he could to stop himself from screaming, even biting down so hard on his lower lip that it almost bled. The kid, holding onto the bloody knife snarled, "You will scream before it's over. They all do." He fired a round at the agent. Tony managed to duck, and the kid stood there glaring when Tony still didn't acknowledge what he wanted.

"Kid… I've been shot at before… I've been shot before," Tony gritted out, "Never screamed then… not going to do it now."

"Yes you will! They all do!" the kid shouted holding the gun up, aiming it at Tony's chest.

"Wayne?" a voice called out. "Wayne? I thought I told you not to shoot that gun of yours off around this house!"

Tony watched as an annoyed look came over the kid's face, as he lowered the SIG, shoved it back into his jean pocket and left, slamming the door behind him. Tony heard a padlock clicking into place and then the crunch of boots underneath snow as the kid walked away, shouting as he went, "Sorry Aunt Estelle… it was those wretched squirrels in the wood pile again!"

Letting out a soft cry of pain now that Wayne was gone, Tony desperately looked about for something to stop the bleeding. Every survival instinct began to kick in and he was going to need all of them to keep himself alive long enough to be rescued.


Chapter Text

It had started to snow again.

Gibbs pushed the Charger for all it was worth and as safely as he possibly could on such poor road conditions. He couldn't help Tony if he was in the hospital recovering from injuries or worse yet dead.

But still… he needed to get to his agent.

Things were looking rather grim. Tony's company car had been found abandoned on the side of the road. There was blood in the front seat, but as they had learned seven years ago—that meant nothing. Tony could still be alive. He had to be alive because Gibbs wasn't sure how he was going to handle loosing him. And Leah, Jack… what about them?

"Jethro… I'd like to live to see my next birthday," Fornell stated, flatly as they nearly missed a snowplow in the opposite direction.

"I'm doing the best I can, Tobias," Gibbs said through gritted teeth. I wish this thing could go fast in the snow. I wish I was there by now!

"We aren't going to do Tony any good if we're dead."

Gibbs eased up on the gas slightly… but just a little. I sent Tony out, alone, on an assignment. I never should have done that! Why didn't I go with him? Why didn't I send Bishop? Or asked if Balboa was available? "I should have gone with him, Tobias. Why did I send him out to West Virginia alone?"

Fornell frowned. "He was picking up a witness and transporting her back to D.C. Doubt that is a typical assignment that requires back-up. Only DiNutso would find away to get in trouble doing that."

It was probably true, Gibbs realized as they pulled off the highway. Tony had a knack for trouble. Getting lost chained to a serial killer. Vanishing in a sewer system. Almost getting himself blown up … the list could go on and on. Eventually, at some point, Tony's luck had to run out, didn't it? As the Charger dug it's way through the snowy back roads, Gibbs had to hold onto the faith that it just wasn't time for his second's luck to run out.

But with the terrible road conditions it took nearly an hour to get to the motel once they pulled off the highway, and as Gibbs pulled the car down the driveway, his heart racing, he knew that time was slipping away from him. Time that Tony did not have. He parked the car and shut it down, staring at the last place Tony had been seen.

The Mountain State Inn was a cute, quaint little ski resort tucked in picturesque landscape. It had various buildings spread out, two level rows of equally quaint rooms and cabins for those seeking a more romantic, private setting.

Warm, roaring fires greeted the federal agents as they stepped into the lobby. There was a plate of fresh cookies and an area to get coffee and tea. Comfy chairs and sofas surrounding the stone fireplace where patrons could warm their cold digits after skiing the slopes—Gibbs found himself wishing that they'd find Tony seated there, cup of hot cocoa in his hand, sheepishly admitted he'd hit the slopes for a few and forgot to call Leah.

But there was no Tony. And there was no record of Tony ever being at that inn.

"I've doubled checked all our records, Agent Gibbs," Estelle Wilkerson told him when they arrived. Tall and athletic, Gibbs could see Estelle burning up the slopes as a young woman, now she was middle aged inn keeper, entertaining and treating the city folk to good old country living. "Are you sure this is where your agent stopped last night?"

"He gave the name and number to his wife," Gibbs said, feeling how on edge he was in the tone of his voice.

Estelle frowned. "Is it possible that he gave the name as a cover? You know… I'm not naïve, Agent Gibbs. I've seen people come here to carry on affairs."

Gibbs wanted to strangle this woman but reminded himself that she didn't know Tony. She didn't know that he'd only been married for a year and a half, didn't know that he was completely in love with his wife and that he would never cheat on her. "He called her from this desk. We have the phone records to prove it."

Fornell held up a photograph of Tony… his NCIS personnel photo and asked, "Ma'am, please take a look. Have you seen Agent DiNozzo?"

"No. I'd remember a handsome face like that," Estelle said with a shrug. "And if he called her last night, from this desk, I wasn't here."

"Who was in charge of the desk last night?" Fornell inquired.

"My nephew," she responded with a touch of disdain. "Weird one that kid. I only gave him the job because I felt bad for my sister."

Gibbs clenched his fists. "Can we speak to your nephew?"

Estelle shook her head. "He isn't here today. Only works at night because he creeps all my employees out… I don't need him scaring away my patrons as well."

"Why's that?"

"Always mumbling. Thinks he hears voices. Gives them funny looks."

"Funny looks?" Fornell questioned.

Estelle shrugged. "Yes. One maintenance man feels like every time my nephew looks at him, he thinks he's gonna kill him. Listen, I know my sister's kid isn't normal… but… he's never been violent… I doubt he hurt your agent… if your agent was even here."

Fornell glanced at Gibbs quickly. "We're still going to need to question your nephew, ma'am. Know where we can find him this time of day?"

"Likes to go hunting. Probably at the local diner getting something to eat if his hunt was successful."

"And if it wasn't?"

"Don't know where he goes if it wasn't. But he's usually a very good shot."

Gibbs felt every hair on the back of his neck stand up. If this had been the young man that had welcomed Tony into the inn last night, Gibbs could only imagine what had gone down. He had to find Tony before it was too late. "Do you have any security cameras? Any footage that we can watch to prove that Tony was here?"

Estelle frowned. "Sorry, Agent Gibbs. Small town. I don't use cameras. And most of my customers are snow bunnies not criminals."

Fornell saw the desperate look in Gibbs' eyes. If they couldn't prove that Tony was here then they couldn't get a search warrant. He handed Estelle his car. "You'll give us a call if your nephew happens to show up here?" She agreed and the two agents left. He made some promises to Gibbs that he was going to get the FBI involved, have them look into the inn and the owners, the nephew. But he knew those promises were falling on deaf ears. Gibbs, and his team, were hurting and Fornell knew they were going to hurt even more if this trail lead them to Tony's body.

Tim stood rigid as his partner's car was towed into the evidence garage. It had been abandoned on the side of the road. Blood soaked the front seat and there was absolutely no sign of Tony.

It was looking like Tony had been brutally attacked or murdered in that front seat… but Abby was determined to prove them wrong. As soon as the car was secured and the tow truck was gone she was taking samples, muttering that Tony was not dead.

It wasn't looking so good, was what Tim wanted to say but held back. His partner had beat the odds before so there was no reason to doubt he could do it again.

"Where any finger prints found?" Ellie asked, looking into the Charger with a grim face.

"Just Tony's," Tim replied, softly. His throat ached, his body was screaming in absolute protest that he should be resting, and yet here he was. "State troopers said besides the blood there was no other sign of fool play. Or an accident."

Ellie pulled herself out of the car. "Obviously something happened, Tim… Tony wouldn't… he wouldn't lie to Leah about where he is."

Tim snapped some photographs of the blood, his stomach churning. "He would if he had a good reason."

"Do you think… do you think he willing went with whoever took him?"

"If they threatened Leah and Jack… yes. He'd do anything to protect them."

Ellie felt sick to her stomach. Tony was her teacher, her friend, her partner. She hated to think of what was happening to him at that very moment… if he was even alive at all. They just had no proof either way what had happened. Her background checks on the owners of the inn had yielded no results. They had no history of crime or violence, were model citizens in their small, West Virginia town. What were they going to tell Leah?

Tim silently went back to work, not wanting to think about the possibility that Tony had sacrificed his life to protect his family. But it was something that Tony would do. He loved Leah and Jack… would do anything for them. If they found out that he'd given himself up to keep them safe… none of them would doubt it.

"McGee. I just don't see how Tony could have survived this," Why would there be more blood in the passenger seat than the driver's seat?" Ellie broke the silence, a tone of anguish in her voice. "There's just so much blood."

"He's a fighter and he's beat the odds before," Tim replied, trying to cling to the little hope that he had left. "He beat the plague… at a time where there wasn't as much at stake. Now… he wouldn't leave Leah and Jack… not without putting up a fight."

Ellie sighed and bit her lower lip. "Unless he was given no choice."

Tim thought back to what he'd said moments before, about Tony doing whatever it took to protect his family. "Yeah," he whispered, coughing, "yeah… unless he had no choice." With a heavy sigh he opened the front door and reached for the lever to pop the trunk, almost fearful of what he was going to find. He took slow, tortured steps to go investigate. "Oh…"

"What? What is it?" Ellie asked, dashing towards him. She looked into the trunk to see what he had found and felt her heart stop for a second. "It's Tony's backpack."

"There's blood on it," Tim pointed out. "Guess Abby is going to have another sample to run."

Ellie reached into the car and pulled the bag out, carefully unzipping it. She found Tony's extra clothes, his badge, and his credentials… all neatly tucked into the bag. "His weapon is gone. Maybe… maybe he still has it."

Tim shook his head. "Remember when Crowley took me? He used my gun. The perpetrator has Tony's SIG and I bet his knife too." And he's probably using both on Tony right now as we speak. "Gibbs better find Tony soon… because I… I don't know how much longer he has to live."

"Don't know where Wayne is, sorry," the friendly woman behind the counter told them. "Haven't seen him since yesterday. Which is odd."

"Have you seen this man, Betty?" Fornell asked holding up Tony's photo and reading the waitress' name tag.

Betty smiled. "Oh yeah. Came in around six last night, sat right here at the counter. Real friendly, liked to chat. Especially about his son. I hope nothing happened to him. He seemed like a good enough guy."

Gibbs' heart beat rapidly against his ribs. "He's a United States federal agent. And he's missing."

"Oh my… what does Wayne have to do with it?" she asked, wiping the coffee mugs clean. "He was working last night while your agent was in here."

"He might have been the last person to see Special Agent DiNozzo before he disappeared. He called his wife from the inn," Fornell replied.

"I sent him there. He was looking for a place to stay the night," Betty replied a sad look coming into her eyes.

Gibbs needed some air. He turned to go, wanting to get out of the diner, when he heard Betty answer another one of Fornell's questions. "Wayne was always a weird boy. Do you know his mother found him bashing the heads of poor field mice? What kind of child does that?"

Fornell noticed as Gibbs shoulders stiffened as he turned back, eyes wide with horror. He cleared his throat. "Ma'am… this is extremely difficult to ask… but I have to. Generally children that show a… pattern of killing animals… graduate to killing people. Is there any chance… any chance at all that Wayne could have taken those urges out on Agent DiNozzo?"

Betty looked appalled. "Wouldn't your agent have had a weapon?"

"He's issued a gun, yes," Fornell replied, "but he might not have been able to get to it in time."

"You think Wayne did it? You think he killed him?"

"We're looking into it."

She shook her head sadly. "That poor woman and her baby."

Gibbs definitely needed the air now. He stormed out of the diner and stepped out into the snow. Letting the flakes fall on his face as he stood there trying to reign in his emotions, all he could think about was Leah and Jack as well. "Tony… come on… give me a sign…" he whispered. "I don't want to make that phone call."

Fornell came out of the diner, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I gave Betty my card incase she hears about where Wayne is. Just got off the phone with Sacks—Wayne has at least three registered weapons. Estelle Wilkerson wasn't kidding when she said he liked to hunt."

"He tried to use hunting to stop the urges. When that didn't work he moved on to bigger things," Gibbs surmised. "Tony stumbled inadvertently in his path."

"You had no way of knowing that the storm was going to slow him down that much. Or that he'd find the one inn with a serial killer behind the counter."

"It's Tony… I should have known trouble was going to follow him."

"I can't really argue with you on that."

Gibbs was glad Fornell wasn't even going to try. He pulled his phone out and stared at it. He needed to hear from McGee or Bishop giving him something. He needed some sign that all wasn't lost yet, that Tony wasn't dead. It was nearing seventeen hours that Tony had been missing and they were nowhere closer to finding him than they had been that morning. It was looking rather bleak and if he lost Tony it was going to be like going through loosing Shannon and Kelly all over again.

Chapter Text

Something startled Tony awake. He had dozed off after being stabbed. He had managed to use the sleeve of his suit coat to tie a tourniquet. But he had still lost a substantial amount of blood, which was causing him to struggle with consciousness. If he lost any more he would probably go into shock which would lead to eventual death. Dying was not an option. He had his family to think about... to fight for... and he was not going to go down not swinging.

He just had to figure out a way to either get out of this damn shed or stay alive long enough for his team to find him, rescue him, and bring him home.

Outside someone was playing the with the padlock, peaking his interest... getting his hopes up that maybe...somehow... Gibbs had found him and was going to get him out of this hell. Tony blinked rapidly, letting his eyes adjust to the dim lit in the room, and trying to ignore the pain. But as the door creaked open again and he peered at Wayne—there was no salvation coming to him. His fingers, still holding onto the picture of his family, tightened.

"Are you hungry?" Wayne asked, tossing something in Tony's lap.

"You want to kill me… yet you're going to feed me?" Tony questioned, eyeing the sandwich. "How do I know it's not poison?"

"Because… I don't want you to quietly slip away. There's no fun in that," Wayne said. "Eat."

Tony thought about his options here. He could refuse and probably get himself stabbed again… or worse yet... shot... and he was running out of material to use as bandages… or he could cooperate and buy the team more time to find him. Slowly he peeled back the wax paper and began to eat. Wayne silently watched him, holding the SIG casually at his side. Tony swallowed and felt a sharp pain in his chest from the bruises he'd sustained in his fall after having his head bashed. He grimaced.

Wayne didn't flinch. "Are you in pain?" When the federal agent didn't answer him, he stepped into the room and shut the door. "Things would go so much quicker if you just did as you were told."

"Give you the satisfaction of hearing my screams?" Tony snapped, "No thanks. I'll eat the sandwich because it keeps me alive but I'm not stooping that low."

"I'd bet you'd be more cooperative if your wife was here," Wayne stated, flatly. "Pity she isn't. I've never had the pleasure of a loved one watching."

Tony wished he had the strength to stand on his injured leg and sucker punch the kid right in the face. What kind of sick, twisted man was standing before him? "Well… lucky for me… and her... she isn't."

Wayne pondered for a moment. His finger pressed lightly against the trigger of the SIG. Tony had posed a challenge for him. Most of the time his victims didn't last very long and they would scream once the first act of violence was committed against them. After that he'd make the kill—just like the mice before he smashed their heads with rocks. But Tony was different. He was embracing the challenge of not screaming, of swallowing his pain. Perhaps he was going to have to take a different approach… but that was going to have to wait as the sun was setting and he'd have to man the front desk soon.

Making no eye contact with his prisoner Wayne left.

Tony slumped against the wall, exhausted and tried to think of something happy, safe. He saw Jack with his little blue eyes and brown hair, grinning at him. His little mini-me as Abby liked to call him. His heart ached for Jack… for Leah. How frightened was she right now? She had to know he was in trouble. It had been nearly a day since he'd last talked to her.

Closing his eyes to rest, Tony sighed. Leah… I'm fighting, I'm fighting as hard as can for you.

News of a missing federal agent was all over the town. By the time Deputy Sheriff Howard Marks made his way out to meet up with FBI Agent Tobias Fornell and NCIS Agent Jethro Gibbs… he stopped to grab a cold case file. Something told him this was related.

Marks arrived at an out of town coffee shop, next town over to keep the locals from talking. Fornell and Gibbs had already arrived and were seated at a table. Marks noticed that both liked to dark strong coffee and both looked like men he did not want to mess with. "Gentlemen, thanks for meeting with me. I know there's a lot going on right now and you want to find your missing agent, but I think I can help."

"Any help is appreciated right now," Fornell said, holding up his creds to identify himself. "What have you got for us?"

"Three weeks ago winter hikers found a body out on one of our trails. It was apparent he had been tortured before being killed. And he just kind of appeared out of nowhere," Marks replied, showing the agents his case file.

"Did anyone file a missing persons report?"

"Not with us. I don't have the resources to run checks anywhere else. Was going to hand it over to the FBI but then your agent went missing and you showed up."

"All this torture," Fornell mused. He glanced at his colleague. "Probably to get the guy to beg for his life."

"We both know Tony isn't going to do that," Gibbs said, softly. "What did he die from, Sheriff?"

"Shot in the chest, bleed out."

Gibbs closed his eyes tightly. After this man had endured torture and pain, his life had ended in a blink of an eye. If Tony was going through the same thing, he was probably already dead. There was no way that Tony would let this killer win and please him with groveling. If they were lucky they'd retrieve Tony with serious injuries... perhaps even preventing him from returning to the field...ever. "What else can you tell us? Do you think you have an idea who did this?"

Marks shrugged his shoulders. "Few guesses but I could never make them stick. There was no forensic evidence left behind. No finger prints, no body fluid or fibers… nothing… it truly is a cold case, Agent Gibbs."

Fornell frowned. "Who comes to mind, Sheriff?

"Wayne, Estelle Wilkerson's nephew. Boy as always creeped me out. Could see him doing something like this."


"Yeah, Jethro," Fornell said pulling out his cellphone, "I'm going to call the judge now and BS a search warrant."

"It's not Tony's blood," Abby reported, relief written in her features. "It's animal blood. White tail deer to be precise."

"Deer?" Tim questioned, looking at the computer screen. His head was throbbing from lack of food but they didn't have time to stop to eat. They had to gather all their evidence and find Tony. "So… the blood was put there to throw us off the trail, apparently."

Abby nodded her head. "It looks that way. I didn't find any other prints on the car. Just Tony's. The guy probably used gloves."

Tim swallowed and looked at the backpack in an evidence bag. "What about the blood we found on Tony's backpack?"

Her eyes glazed over and she bit down on her lip to stop herself from crying. "It's a positive match for Tony." She paused and watched, as Tim's face grew dark as the news set in. "Tim you don't think… you don't think Tony's dead do you?"

"I don't want to believe it, Abs, but… it's not looking good."

"I know."

Tim sighed and rubbed the back of his head. They still didn't have a body and until they did he could tell himself that Tony was alive. He looked at the framed photograph on the desk… little Jack smiling in his Ohio State sweatshirt... one of Abby's favorite photos of the little DiNozzo. "I had Balboa bring Leah home. Her sister was flying in to stay with her."

Abby nodded. "That's good. It's better for Jack to be at home than waiting around here for news. How… how is she?"

"Scared, Abby. If… if Tony's dead… it's all on her to raise Jack… not to mention how his death will kill her… metaphorically speaking of course."

"It's so unfair! They're a happy, little family! Why is the world so unjust, Timmy?"

Tim shook his head. He didn't have an answer for that. Tony had finally found an inner peace and happiness with Leah and Jack. And he was supposed to be Tim's best man at his wedding that spring. It hurt beyond belief at the simple thought that his friend wasn't going to be there, standing next to him as he pledged his love to Delilah. He wiped the tears that threatened to fall and mumbled he had to get back to work.

Before he left the lab, Abby pulled him into a tight hug. "He can't be dead, Tim! He just can't!"

"I wish I could say he wasn't, Abby," Tim mumbled before pulling away. She gave him one tearful look before declaring she had other evidence to process and Tim left.

Once he was in the elevator he pulled out his phone. Delilah answered after one ring. "Did you find him? Is he alright?"

Tim swallowed his sobs. "No," he choked out. "No we didn't find him. All we have is his backpack with his blood on it, and his car covered in deer blood."

"It doesn't mean he's dead, Tim," Delilah stated, firmly, "It still means he's missing and needs rescuing. You'll find him. Just like he found you."

"Why don't I feel that confidant, Delilah?" Tim questioned. "Crowley played with Gibbs and Tony, left them crumbs. There are no crumbs to follow this time."

"Because, Tim, I just… I don't want to think of what it means if Tony is dead. Not for you, or the team, or for Leah and Jack."

"Delilah, can you… can you go see her? Sit with her? I think… I think she'd like that."

"Are you sure you don't want me to come to the Navy Yard?" Delilah asked. "Maybe I can help."

Tim shook his head as the elevator dropped him off on the main floor. "No," he stated, gently, "Leah needs you more than I do right now. I'll call when I have more."

Ellie peeked her head up and around the cubicle when she heard Tim approach. He hung up his phone seeing the look in her eyes. "I was doing some background work on the Wilkersons' nephew. He has a license to hunt... and it seems that his favorite animal to kill are deer... Tim… I think he has Tony."

Leah gently laid a sleepy baby boy in his crib and wound up the mobile. Jack's blue eyes fixated on the jungle animals moving in a circle above his head as the mobile chimed out Rock-a-bye Baby. She stood there for the longest time, watching the baby as he drifted off to sleep.

He looked so much like Tony, the way he smiled, the way he laughed… sometimes she thought the only thing she had given her son had been her eyes. Leah felt her chest tighten with agony. Twenty-four hours and there still had been no word on where Tony was and she knew very little of what was going on. She suspected that was Gibbs' doing, that he was trying to protect her from the pain.

But it was too late for that. The moment she realized that Tony was in trouble was the moment she started to hurt.

Gently, Leah reached into the crib and stroked Jack's soft cheek. He sighed and dreamed, unaware that his mother's world was falling apart around her. She wasn't sure if she was going to be able to do this on her own. Tony was such an important part of both their lives and even if Jack didn't feel his father's absence now, surely years from now when he realized that other boys and girls had a daddy that lived at home…

She pushed back from the crib letting her tears fall and she turned away, heading out into the apartment. Lauren was sitting on the sofa watching Jeopardy! But when she saw her sister, she drew her attention to Leah. "Oh, Lee, come here," she said, patting the sofa.

Leah collapsed into a heap on the couch besides Lauren, a couch she had snuggled up to Tony countless nights, and cried. "What if he's gone, Lauren? What am I going to tell my son when he's old enough to realize that his father isn't around?"

"You tell him how much Tony loved you both," Lauren said, wiping at her little sister's tears. "You tell him all the good things, Leah. You don't focus on the bad."

"All I can focus on is the bad," Leah whimpered.

"Then let me help," Delilah's voice said, cheerfully from the kitchen. She wheeled herself into the living room. "How about some chocolate ice cream?"

Leah smiled, sadly. "Thanks… but I'm not… I'm not hungry."

Lauren rubbed her shoulders. "You have to eat, Leah. Or I'm going to call mom and have her join us down here."

Mentioning her mother got the desired effect and Leah grabbed the bowl from Delilah. She eagerly ate the chocolate ice cream and a small part of her would admit that it tasted good and eased her ever so slightly. When she was done she got up and went to put the bowl in the dishwasher, retreating to her bedroom to put on her pajamas. On the bed she found Tony's Ohio State hoodie, discarded there the morning before he'd left for West Virginia. She picked it up and held it to her nose, breathing in his scent and just wanting it to somehow materialize into him standing there.

Slowly she discarded her clothes, found a pair of leggings and then pulled the much too large hoodie on, drowning in it. Leah fell onto their bed, curled up on Tony's side and silently cried herself to sleep.


Chapter Text

Tony was running out of time. After hours of studying his small cell he'd finally found his way out. And he had to act fast.

His tiny, shack like hell was getting colder by the second. He didn't have much to keep himself warm and the little space heater at the far end of the room wasn't doing much now that the sun had gone down. Tony had found some old painting tarp and wrapped it around his body to try and trap his body heat… but it wasn't very effective.

Leah had insisted that he wear layers the morning he had left Washington. He wasn't sure why that was necessary but now he was thankful. His wool sweater over an Oxford shirt was going to go a long way to keep him warm more than his normal shirt and tie. But there was only so much a sweater was going to do.

It was getting cold. Real cold. Tony was doing his best to keep his body temperature up because he knew that he was at risk for hypothermia. His hands were shoved into the pockets of his pants, fingers still clutching tightly to the picture of Leah and Jack. They really were his lifeline. He kept thinking about how much he wanted to teach Jack about sports and have more children with Leah. If he quit fighting now all the struggles he had gone through to find them would mean nothing.

Which was why he had to run and spent the last few hours limping around the shed looking for another way out besides a locked door.

In the back of the room he'd found a broken window that would explain why the damn space heater wasn't keeping him warm.

He looked at the scraps of food Wayne had left him. He estimated that his tormentor had been gone for about two or three hours.

Tony had started to formulate a plan for escape the moment Wayne had shut the door the last time he "visited". He knew it was probably a stupid idea to make a run for it, especially on a knee that was injured… but he had a better shot at surviving and getting home to Leah and his son if he ran for it. And really what choice did he have?

Wincing he pulled himself up onto his injured leg. He pulled on a pair of work gloves he'd found, and a heavy hunting jacket that reminded him of something that Gibbs would wear, his work boots that he'd worn might hold up okay but he wasn't sure how long he could run around in the snow in them. He'd also found a warm hat that hunter's liked to use and pulled it on. Pocketing an ice pick for a weapon, Tony limped towards the door.

He left the tattered remains of his suit coat behind to leave a trail for Gibbs and disappeared into the snow.

"Has there been any word on Anthony?"

"Still waiting on a search warrant for the inn. Did you get a chance to look over that file, Ducky?"

Sighing, Ducky nodded his head. "Yes. I did. Wayne has always been a troubling boy I would suspect. Teachers were concerned about his dark tendencies but he had a loving home life. They did not see any need to get anyone involved."

Tim rubbed the back of his head. "Would it have mattered if he had gotten that help?"

Ducky shook his head. "Wayne is just the product of poor biology. Mental illness sometimes has no rhyme or reason. Certainly there was nothing in his life that triggered these thoughts and feelings. As much as we do not want to admit it some people are just born evil."

"That will be really comforting to Leah."

"I never said my profile would be comforting, Timothy."

"Sorry. I'm exhausted. And it's been an incredibly long day."

Ducky nodded. "It's understandable. This is a personal case with a lot of emotional investment. It has not helped that you are recovering from bronchitis."

Tim felt like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Ducky was right this was personal. Tony was his friend and mentor. It had been Tony's odd way of training that had made him the agent he was today. "So many of our cases end up without a happy ending. I'm afraid that it's going to happen to Tony. And Leah... having to raise Jack by herself... that just doesn't seem fair."

"Jethro will find him."

"In how many pieces?"

Ducky felt the cold dread in Tim's words. They all were feeling it. And they were no strangers to such desperation, dread, and pain. It came with the nature of their work. He glanced at the clock, debating on going home or staying a bit longer in case there was news.

Tim had fallen eerily silent. His chest ached from his bronchitis, his stomach was protesting its mistreatment for the last several hours and he had promised to call Delilah with any news in an hour.

He had none. And it was killing him. This was his fault wasn't it? If he hadn't gotten sick he would have been with Tony. Leah was going to hate him for the rest of her life if Tony didn't come home. Maybe he deserved that despite the small voice of reason that this had been out of his control.

And there was the heart of the problem. They had no control over this situation and preventing it and they all hated loosing control.

"Tim!" Ellie's shouts startled him. "We found a judge willing to listen to our case! FBI was sending an attorney now. We should have the warrant within the hour."

Ducky smiled. "See. A bit of good news."

He had to agree. It might have been the best news that Tim had heard all day.

Gibbs was beginning to lose whatever little patience he had.

He had never been a man that liked to wait and especially when his people were in trouble. Sometimes protocol had to be thrown aside. It was true they had only been waiting for a couple of hours while the FBI found a judge to sign off on the warrant. But they were hours that Tony did not have.

In the meantime they were parked on the property of the Mountain State Inn waiting, watching—hoping for something to happen so they had probable cause to storm the place. Well maybe not storm it… but it's what Gibbs wanted to do once they got the warrant.

He had felt desperate for hours now. Knowing that his second in command was in the hands of a serial killer was torture in itself. Gibbs had no way of knowing it was going to come to this but he still felt a sense of failure at not protecting his team. He also felt guilty. And no matter how much he told himself this had been out of his control he knew he was not going to shake those feelings.

Tony was missing, in trouble because he had failed to keep him safe.

At least they knew where Wayne was… in the main lobby of the inn, manning the front desk like he did six nights a week. Like he had been doing last night when Tony walked in looking for shelter from the storm. There was some comfort in the knowledge, however, that as long as Wayne was there he was not out hurting Tony. If he even is still alive.

Gibbs shook his head to clear his thoughts. Tony had to be alive because he didn't want to think about what life was going to be like without Tony. Not for him or the team and certainly not for Leah and Jack.

"Hey. He's on the move," Fornell said, gesturing towards the front of the inn. "Should we follow him?"

"No, Tobias, I think I want to just sit here and wait for something to happen," Gibbs snapped, sarcastically. He threw open his door. "Yes! I want to follow him!"

Fornell grumbled as he followed. Gibbs was usually surly and hard to work with but with Tony in trouble… well that just made things even worse. It was only going to get worse as time went by that they hadn't found Tony. Shoving his hands into his pockets he jogged to catch up with the former marine and together they followed Wayne down a dark path towards a shed. Fornell's brow furrowed. Had the kid been keeping Tony in that shed the whole time?

Of course, logic would state that the kid was just going out there to put something away or get something… not check up on a hostage. But Fornell, or Gibbs for that matter, didn't always operate with logic. They operated with their guts and right now both the federal agents' guts were telling them that's where Tony was. Gibbs stopped and hid behind a large pine, watching as Wayne unlocked the padlock and entered the shed. Fornell looked confused. "You don't want to follow him?" he whispered.

"No," Gibbs replied. "I want to get Tony back alive."

"Jethro… we have the guy cornered…"

"Yeah… ever seen what a wild animal does when it's cornered, Tobias?"

Fornell had to admit that Gibbs was right and they really didn't know what kind of wild animal they were dealing with when it came to Wayne. He eased back and found a place to hide himself and watch. He wasn't sure what they were waiting for exactly. But he was admittedly just as alarmed as Gibbs when the kid came storming out of the shed, with a SIG in hand, looking ready to kill.

Had Tony given him the slip?

Gibbs felt ill looking at the hate filled look on Wayne's face as he turned and began to track something through the snow. "Come on," he told Fornell, making his way towards the shed and inside. There were signs that someone had been held there—a plate, a cup, a tattered and torn suitcoat—and blood. Immediately Gibbs recognized the suit coat as the one Tony had been wearing before heading out to West Virginia. "Tony," he whispered, looking about the small room, "Where the hell are you?"

"We should call a forensic team… have them test the blood."

"I'm going after Tony."

"Gibbs… we don't even know if he was here!"

"I do!" Gibbs shouted, holding up the suit coat. "This belongs to Tony! He left it here so I could find it."

Fornell sighed and looked around the room. "Ok… well… obviously he's injured. We don't know how much of a head start he's got on us. Oh and there's the problem of a crazy, psychotic serial killer after him! Lets not go out there guns blazing, gunning for Wayne. That could get your second killed. Is that what you want? Right now that deranged serial killer is worried about finding his prey. Who knows what he'll do to us if we stand in his way."

Gibbs snarled under his breath, checked to make sure he had enough rounds in his gun and then stalked out. "If I was the serial killer… I'd be more worried about me catching up to him."


Chapter Text

"Gibbs thinks that Tony's on the move," Tim softly and tiredly told Leah. "They found his suit coat in a shed on the inn's property. They're following him and have called in to local forces to be on the lookout for Tony."

"But he can't be certain," Leah responded, trying to hold it together. "It might not have been Tony at all."

Tim sighed and looked over at Delilah. It was close to midnight. He had come over to Tony and Leah's apartment as soon as he had gotten off the phone with the boss. He had been expecting Leah to be a mess... but he was still shocked at her appearance. She was normally so well put together and confident, but now there was a broken woman sitting with him on the sofa and he wasn't sure how to proceed. "It's Gibbs... he sounded pretty certain on the phone."

Leah scoffed and wiped at her eyes. She knew that she beggars couldn't be choosers but this was not the news she wanted to be woken up for to hear. She waned to be told that they had found Tony, that he was safe and coming home, putting this hell she was living in to an end.

Gently a hand reached out and began to rub her back. "At least he's still alive, Leah," Lauren's voice soothed her. "Okay. If he's alive that means there's a chance he's going to be rescued."

He's fighting for you and Jack, a tiny voice of reason said in the back of her brain. Leah took a deep, shuddering breath and numbly nodded her head. Even though she had managed to get some sleep it had been restless. She was trying to remain as optimistic as she possibly could, but the odds... they felt like they were against her, and maybe they were. "Did Gibbs say why his suit coat was found in that shed?"

Tim looked nervously at Delilah. "I don't think you really need to know all the details, Leah."

"Why? What are you trying to keep from me, Tim?"

"Leah... you have enough to worry about..."

"Please, just tell me!"

He lowered his head and nodded. "We suspect that when Tony walked into the inn he was taken by surprise. He was held captive in that shed by a nineteen year old who... let's just say isn't completely right in the head."

She felt the color leaving her face, if she even had any color left at this point besides ashen. "Are you trying to tell me that Tony... was taken by a serial killer?"

"At this point it's just alleged, Leah."

"Alleged? No one normal does something like this!"

Tim could see his news was sending her over the edge that she had been dangerously teetering near since Tony had gone missing. He wasn't sure how to comfort her in this insistence because he wasn't sure how to comfort himself. He wanted to make her feel better, wanted to end this awful nightmare that the entire team and Leah had been thrown into... but he couldn't. "I promise, Leah, we're going to find him. Gibbs isn't going to rest until he does."

Delilah reached out and pat Leah on the knee. "Chin up. You know how stubborn Gibbs is. He's going to get his man. And he's going to bring Tony home, okay?"

Leah, shaking from head to toe, rose up off the sofa and mumbled something about going to check on Jack. The baby was sound asleep having been fed and changed by his aunt earlier, and his mother felt a fresh onslaught of tears as she stood there watching him.

Reaching into the crib she lifted Jack out, settling him into her arms and wrapping a blanket around his legs. Jack's blue eyes opened, lazily and glanced at his mother, he offered her a small smile and she silently sobbed as she found the rocking chair that Gibbs' had made. Falling into it she hugged her son tightly to her and began to rock. Jack sensed a change in his mothers' demeanor and frowned at her. He reached one of his little hands out to her and she gave him one of her fingers. He clutched it in his small hand and smiled.

She wanted to take comfort in that smile, Tony's smile, but if offered her very little. Tony might never see that smile again and Jack might never get to see where he got his smile from ever again. It tore her heart into so many pieces. "We're... we're going to be okay, Jack," she whimpered, rocking back and forth. "We have to be okay. Daddy... he has to come home... it just... it can't end any other way."

"Leah?" Lauren questioned before entering the nursery. "You need to sleep."

"No. I can't," Leah cried, holding onto her baby. "Not until... not until Tony's home."

"Jack needs his mother, Leah. You can't be there for him if you're exhausted."

Leah glanced at Jack, his eyes slipping shut as he drifted back to sleep. Numbly she nodded her head and allowed Lauren to take the baby from her and put him back in his crib. Gently her older sister helped her up from the rocking chair and guided her back to the bedroom, where she pulled the covers back and helped her sister get into bed.

Exhaustion was evidently going to win out as she felt herself drifting away as Lauren pulled the covers around her. Leah burrowed deep into them, trying to draw warmth from the heavy blankets. It wasn't the same as having a warm body to snuggle up too, it wasn't the same as having Tony's arms around her, making her feel safe and secure. She had once told him that she depended on him to make her feel safe. Right now with him gone she felt vulnerable, exposed, and very much alone.

Fighting her tears as she went to sleep she prayed that when she woke up this nightmare was going to be over. That Tony would be home with her and Jack and this would be nothing but a bad memory.

Howard Marks was sitting in his squad car, watching the snow fall and keeping an eye out for any erratic drivers when his radio gave a cackle and dispatch, reporting that a man had been spotted walking the main road matching the description of the missing federal agent.

Starting his car up, Marks headed in that direction. He'd pick the agent up and take him to the local hospital to get medical attention and then phone Agent Gibbs. Even though it was late… he was sure the NCIS agent wasn't sleeping. He'd had a look of fury in his eyes when Marks had spoken to them earlier and the Deputy Sheriff surmised that Gibbs wouldn't sleep until his agent was safe.

Driving through the intense snow, Marks arrived near the last sighting of the missing agent. His headlights didn't see much in front of him but snowflakes but then a strong, solid form danced into his vision. He pulled the squad car over and jumped out, calling into the storm, "Special Agent DiNozzo?"

The man turned, shivering violently, arms hugging himself and his face lit up with relief. Marks grabbed his radio and called into dispatch. "This is Marks. I got the missing agent. Going to take him to the hospital now, copy that?"

"Copy that Marks. We'll radio a head to the ER."

Marks tossed the radio back into the front seat and approached the federal agent. "Got the whole town out looking for you, Special Agent DiNozzo. Good thing I found you before this storm gets any worse. Do you require medical attention?"

DiNozzo nodded. "My knee… stab wound. Feels like I have a torn ligament."

"I'm gonna get you to the ER, Agent DiNozzo. Then I'll call Agent Gibbs. Is there anyone else I can call for you?"

"My… my wife. She… she has to be going… crazy right now."

Marks promised he would call his wife and gently reached out to help him to the car. It was slow going due to DiNozzo's injured knee. Halfway to the car he felt something hit his chest, heard the echo of a gun and realized he'd been shot. DiNozzo tried to ease him to the ground but got tripped up in his feet. Both went crashing to the snow covered asphalt. In a flash the entire mood had changed and his last thought was he didn't even have a chance to make those phone calls.

Tony felt torn. The officer that had stopped to help him now needed help himself. He was bleeding out from a chest wound. But going out to help him meant that he would blow his cover behind the open door of the parked cruiser. Tony clutched the pistol in his hand, the one he'd manged to grab before Wayne could line up another shot in the snow. He knew the nearly white out conditions were going to work to his advantage.

Calmly the NCIS agent weighed his options. He could easily take off in the car but there was no way he was going to leave the officer behind so that idea was out. He reached for the radio and identified himself,praying that dispatch was quick and got him help... and that the officer was not the only one this small town had.

He heard the approach of heavy boots in the snow. The officer's gun felt foreign in his hand, it didn't give him the comfort his trusty SIG did. But it was better than nothing.

"Wayne," Tony called out. "Come on, kid, you don't want to do this. It's going to end badly for you. Trust me."

"Looks like things are going fine for me," Wayne said. "By the time help gets here in this snow both you and Sheriff Marks will be dead."

Tony winced and moved towards the back of the car." Really? Well, if so then I'd hate to be you... two dead cops on your rap sheet... people will be gunning for you. In fact you'll probably end up with a needle in your arm."

Wayne didn't respond at first but then, "Do you think your wife will come? To see me die?"

"I think she'll ask to put the needle in herself," Tony hissed.

"Too bad she'll never know my name."

"Wouldn't count on it. My boss is one stubborn, grumpy old marine. He'll find you."

Tony pulled himself to the passenger side of the squad car, finger hooking the trigger. He felt a sharp pain in his rib cage as he did so. Peering under the vehicle he could see Wayne's boots. Come on! Where's that help I need!

The kid stopped and waited, sending a shiver down the federal agent's spine. "Is your boss looking for your now? Or is he back in Washington unaware you're missing?"

"He knows."

"But how can you be sure?"

"Because he knows everything."

Wayne shifted, his legs inching their way through the snow towards Tony. He rounded the car and found his victim, struggling to get to his feet and out of harm's way. In the distance sirens could be heard and he smiled, sadistically as he raised the SIG in his hand.

Tony countered showing the kid that he now had a weapon too. He knew it wasn't going to detract Wayne from firing at him but he had to let him know that they were on an equal playing field. Some how it felt like Wayne was rather enjoying that.

"Looks like your time is up. Pity. You were fun to play with. A challenge. I like those."

Swallowing he applied pressure on the trigger. "Don't make me shoot you kid."

His opponent laughed. Tony saw that he was going to have no choice. He pulled back all the way and let the round fly.

Wayne startled as it hit him square in the chest, like he was surprised Tony had done it. There wasn't a drop of blood that came from him. Tony concluded that Wayne was either a demon that couldn't be killed by a bullet or he was wearing a vest. But then he laughed again, aimed the SIG right at Tony and fired, the round echoed by the one that sailed from Tony's gun. He didn't have time to see where the bullet ended up, he was too busy trying to dodge the one that had been fired from his very own SIG. He was slow moving with his knee not as nimble and his act of bravery or stupidity, whatever one was going to call it, came at a cost.

Tony felt the air leave his lungs as the bullet pierced him, knocking him to the ground. He heard the sirens getting louder and bleakly thought, you're too late. I'm sorry, Leah.

Chapter Text

Everything happened all at once.

Gibbs had felt them closing in on Tony when the first shot shattered the still and silence of the forest. His heart rate went through the roof, praying that the shot had not found Tony. Or perhaps, miraculously it had been Tony that had fired.

Fornell pointed in the direction that shot had come from and the two agents took off through the snow, running as fast as they could.

It had been a long and cold ninety minutes searching for Tony. Gibbs had informed the team that they believed Tony had made a run for it and he'd also called Sheriff Marks to let him know that Tony was out there. His hope had been high at the start of their search—now it was weaning. Especially as sirens could be heard getting louder in the distance… followed by multiple gunshots.

The pair of federal agents came crashing onto the scene just moments before the arrival of the first squad car.

A surreal sight greeted them. Marks lay in the middle of the road, eyes frozen open in death and blood was forming a frozen red pool beneath him. Gibbs holstered his weapon, knowing full well that whoever had done this had taken off. His heart grew cold, furious, but then completely stopped when he saw his senior field agent in the snow, his own frozen pool of blood forming underneath him. "TONY!"

In a flash Gibbs was by his second in command's side, pressing down as hard as he could to stop the blood flow. "Tony? I'm here, son, I've got your six. You're going to be ok."

"Officer says the ambulance is on the way," Fornell responded. "Good lord," he whispered taking in the scene of Gibbs' senior agent.

"Here that, Tony? Help is on the way," Gibbs told the younger man. He saw the senior field agent's eyes open lazily. "You're going to be fine."

"B-boss," his voice was so faint, weak, it didn't sound like Tony at all.

Gibbs nodded his head and grasped Tony's chin between his fingers. "Yes, Tony, I'm here. Help is coming. Hang in there."

Tony struggled to stay awake. "T-tired, boss."

"Don't go to sleep on me! Come on, Tony! Fight!"

"C-can't, boss, tired."

Tony struggled to breathe, to keep his eyes open. He began to drift out of consciousness again, loosing the battle he was trying to fight.

Gibbs shook his chin and forced the young man to look at him. "Come on, Tony, keep fighting! Help is coming I can hear it! Do you hear it? It's so close now! But you have to keep fighting!"

"C-can't… boss… just... t-too... tired," Tony whispered.

"Yes! Yes you can!" Gibbs gasped, desperately. "Leah! Picture her! Hold onto to her!"

Tony swallowed, trying to comply with his wishes but he was just too tired. He slipped away with Leah's face dancing in his vision.

Gibbs felt absolute desperation taking hold of him. "Tony! Tony, stay with me!"

But Tony didn't react, didn't move. Gibbs continued to press down on the wound. He was not letting Tony die after getting free and trying to save himself. There was too much at stake and truthfully he could not go through losing another agent like he had lost Kate.

And what about Leah? Jack? He did not want to get on that phone and have inform her that her husband was gone, that her five month old son was never going to know his father.

"Sir? I need you to step back. We'll take care of him now," a voice coaxed him away.

"He's bleeding pretty bad. I've tried to stop it," Gibbs said realizing how small he sounded.

The EMT smiled at him as he took over. "You did good, sir."

Gibbs numbly nodded his head and stood but he refused to walk away. Tony wouldn't leave him if the situation was reversed. The least he could do was return the favor.

"Do you know who his next of kin is, sir?" the EMT asked.

"His wife... she's in D.C," Gibbs replied. "I have their permission to be Tony's medical proxy if she isn't available. Why?"

"The bullet has fractured a rib. It's possible that it could have punctured the lung or collapsed it. He's having trouble getting air."

"He has a history of lung issues."

"Good to know. We might need to get your permission to operate."

He felt cold and not because of the weather. Gibbs clutched his fists at his sides. "You have my permission to do whatever you have to do to save him."

The EMT nodded and instructed his partner that he was ready to move Tony. Soon the pair was lifting the gurney into the bus.

Gibbs shouldered his way into the ambulance. He was not about to let Tony be driven away to the ER without him. The paramedics didn't stop him or they didn't know how to stop him, either way, the door was slamming shut and they were on their way, rushing through the back roads.

Tony was strapped to the gurney, his skin ghastly in the bright light. He had yet to wake up again and the only thing telling the former marine that his agent was still alive was the heart monitor that the EMT's had hooked Tony up too. They were concerned about his low temperature and the rapid blood loss, but some how Tony was still fighting.

"Agent Gibbs," one of the EMT's caught his attention, "you said that he was married? What's his wife's name?"

"Yes," the lead agent replied, gripping onto Tony's cold hand. "Her name… her name is Leah."

The EMT grinned and leaned down close to Tony's ear. "I hear your wife, Leah, is beautiful, Tony. I'd hate for you to leave her now. Besides you've come this far it would be rather ridiculous if you didn't make it now."

Gibbs watched for any sign or form of reaction from Tony, but there was nothing. Come on, Tony. Don't leave her. Don't leave Jack. Fight! Fight for them! "Tony… Leah isn't giving up on you… she's spent the last twenty-four hours believing in you, Tony. You don't have her permission to die!"

"We're losing him," the EMT snapped as the heart monitor began to flatline. "Agent Gibbs I need you to stand clear!"

He slid back helplessly, letting go of Tony's hand while the EMT pulled Tony's shirt off and charged the paddles. Gibbs could only sit there and watch helplessly as Tony's body jumped with the jolt but the monitor stayed flat.

The EMT charged the paddles again, yelling at Tony, "Don't do this to me man!" Again the senior field agent's body jolted with the charge and nothing changed on the monitor. Gibbs was beginning to feel his hope weaning when the EMT charged the paddles again, this time higher, and shocked Tony's heart one more time. Suddenly the monitor began to beep, signaling they had gotten Tony's heart beating again. "Okay man, don't do that again," the EMT admonished Tony.

Gibbs sighed in relief and was allowed to go back to holding Tony's hand. He watched as the EMT intubated his agent, hooking him up to an oxygen bag to allow Tony to breathe easier. He wished that it helped him breathe easier, but the truth was until he heard the words he's going to be fine Gibbs wasn't going to be breathing easy.

Leah awoke to the sound of someone knocking at her door.

It was well past two o'clock in the morning. She could still see the snow flying outside and Tony's glaring absence was felt even more.

Terrible thoughts of her Tony out in that weather, possibly fighting for his life, sent a strong fear surging through her. She threw the blankets off as the person knocked again, rubbing the sleep from her eyes Leah carefully proceeded through the apartment to answer.

"Tim? It's after two," Leah said, noticing that Tim looked almost sick to his stomach.

"Gibbs found Tony," Tim whispered.

For a second a rush of relief went through her but then she caught on to the look in his eyes. "Tim... what's going on? Has something... has something happened to Tony?"

Tim took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm sorry, Leah... he's been shot... and it's... it's pretty bad."

Leah felt as if the world had stopped. She willed herself not to cry but was finding it difficult to hold herself together. "How bad is it?"

" Possible punctured lung, severe blood loss...," Tim reported, monotone, disconnected to everything around him. "Gibbs said they were working on him but he isn't breathing on his own... he's on a vent... its precautionary... because of his previous health issues of course. He needs an operation to repair the lung and to prevent it from collapsing."

"Tim... I need you to drive me to the," Leah demanded.

His eyes widened. "What? It's after two."

She set her jaw. "If you didn't want to drive me to West Virginia tonight you shouldn't have come over here, woken me up, and told me that my husband has been seriously injured."

Tim knew that she had a point. He nodded. "Ok, I'll take you to the hospital."

Leah grabbed her coat and pulled on a pair of UGGs . Pausing she turned towards the nursery. "Wait... I can't leave Jack."

"I've got Jack," Delilah said from the living room. "You go! And call once you get there."

"Are you sure?"

"Leah... you need to go. Lauren and I have Jack."

She nodded and followed Tim out of the apartment. Hang on Tony. I'm coming.


Chapter Text

Leah looked more like a college kid in Tony's Ohio State hoodie and leggings than she did a wife and mother. With her hair down she looked younger than she was… but one look in her eyes… their sadness aged her beyond her years. "How is he?" she asked when she spotted Gibbs. "Tim would only tell me so much and I have a feeling that isn't the whole story."

Gibbs paused for a brief second. "You should have waited until morning to come, Leah. The roads aren't the safest."

"I have an SUV and the baby is with my sister, and Tim drove me," Leah snapped. "Tony is my husband, Gibbs. He needs me here and I need to be here. So stop avoiding my question."

He took her by the hand and led her to a chair and sat down with her. "Tony was shot, once in the chest. He also has a stab wound to his left knee that is infected but the doctor was hopeful that antibiotics would fight it. He's going to need physical therapy in his knee, eventually."

She nodded, thankful that Gibbs was choosing to be affirmative about Tony needing treatment beyond the hospital. It meant that Gibbs believed Tony was going to live. "And what about the gun shot wound to the chest? Tim said it... it punctured his lung."

"It punctured the right lung. Tony was struggling to breathe. Doctor's rushed him to the operating table to repair it before it could collapse."

"Who… who did it? Who shot Tony?"

"His name is Wayne… he's a nineteen year old kid that works at the motel Tony stopped at that night. He tracked Tony, shot a deputy sheriff before shooting Tony."

Leah felt a fury like none she had ever felt before. This had been a pointless, ruthless attack. Tony had done nothing to provoke it. He hadn't been chasing a suspect… he had stopped for the night to be safe because the roads were bad. "Is he in custody?"

Gibbs shook his head. "Not yet. FBI is heading up the case. I promise, Leah, they're going to find him and arrest him. He's going to go to jail for this."

She shook her head. "If he dies, Gibbs… I don't want jail time for that kid… I want him dead… and I know that's awful of me to say… but I can't help feeling that way."

He reached out and put his arm around her, drawing her closer to him. Gibbs knew the anguish she was feeling, the absolute dread and horror… the anger. He'd felt all that before when Shannon and Kelly had died… but he did not want Tony's wife to go down that same, dark, ugly path of revenge. "Let the FBI and the courts handle it, Leah… you just worry about Jack and Tony right now."

"Agent Gibbs?" a doctor spoke, tired and worn. "Can I speak with you, sir?"

"You can speak to both of us," Gibbs instructed the doctor, "This is Agent DiNozzo's wife."

"Very well," the doctor sighed, "Mrs. DiNozzo… I'm not going to sugarcoat anything for you—your husband's condition is very serious. We've repaired the damage to his lung and stopped the bleeding but he is going to need another operation to repair torn ligaments in his knee. I kept him under as long as I possibly could. We've lowered his temperature with antibiotics and he's responding well to them. He's able to breathe on his own with the help of a vent. I'd like to get him stable enough to airlift him to D.C where doctors can continue treatment."

Leah balled her hands up into fists and held them in her lap. "How bad is his knee?" she managed to ask, softly.

The doctor nodded, solemnly. "The wound itself was a clean stab, not too much surrounding tissue damage or muscle damage, the knife, however, did tear some ligaments. Now with proper treatment he should regain full use of that knee."

Gibbs glanced at Leah for a second, as she tried to understand the long road to recovery that her husband had. "Will he be able to work in the field again?"

"Agent DiNozzo is going to need extensive physical therapy to strengthen his knee again. It could take months. But… yes… eventually he should be able to get back into the field," the doctor replied.

"Can I see him?" Leah whispered, her eyes glassy with tears.

"Yes, of course," the doctor replied, gesturing for her to walk with him. "I'll take you to him myself."

She followed quietly behind him and was led into a private room. The doctor excused himself, giving her some privacy. Leah stood in the door for a while, heart thundering wildly in her chest.

Tony was asleep. Hooked up to heart monitors and IV lines. His chest was rising and falling softly and he was getting oxygen through a tube down his throat. It wasn't the appearance of all those machines that tore her heart—it was how lifeless he looked. His skin was ashen, his leg was in a large, black splint to keep it from moving and underneath the hospital gown she could see where the doctor's had shaved his chest and cut him open thanks to the white bandages protecting his stitches peeking out.

Leah steadied herself and ventured into the room. She found his hand and clung to it. With her free one she reached out and pushed his hair back. "Tony. I'm here," she gently told him. She fell into the chair besides his bed.

He remained silent, still. Not that she expected him to answer her. Leah grasped his hand tightly. "Jack… he rolled over today. You should have seen the big grin on his face. I swear he looked just like you," she told him with a sad laugh, trying to stop her tears. She ran her thumb over his knuckles. "Tony… you have to… you have to come home to us. I don't know what we'll do without you."

She took a shuddering breath and brought his hand to her lips, brushing his knuckles with a gentle kiss. "I love you... we love you."

"He loves you too," Gibbs said softly running his fingers through her hair. " He's fighting for you and Jack."

"Where's Tim?" Leah asked watching as Gibbs sat down on the other side of the bed.

"Waiting room. Rest of the team will be here soon."

Leah knew that they needed to come, for themselves, but she appreciated the support. And she knew that Tony would as well.

It had been several hours since Tony had come out of his operation. Leah hadn't left his side since then, falling asleep at an awkward angle. The team had taken turns sitting with her. Around six that morning Gibbs offered to go grab them all breakfast. It was still snowing out meaning that Tony wasn't going to be transferred back to Washington soon. For now he was stable and that was all the team could ask for until he saw Dr. Pitt in D.C.

Leah woke up to gray skies and only Tony in the room, still hooked up to every machine imaginable. She reached for his hand and wrapped her fingers around his. She told herself that his color looked better that morning, that he was on the mend. " I probably should go call and check on Jack… but we both know as long as he gets fed he'll be fine."

"Speaking of eating—breakfast is here," Gibbs said coming into the room with a bag and a tray of coffees. "And I already called Delilah—Jack is fine."

Leah smiled, gently. "I figured you would be out looking for the guy that did this… not bringing us all coffee and breakfast pastries."

Gibbs shrugged and sat down on the other side of Tony's bed. " FBI says that they'll give me a crack at him when they catch him. And with this storm, I doubt he's going to get too far."

"Did he kill the deputy sheriff?"



"He was in the way of Wayne getting what he wanted—Tony."

Leah took a deep breath to calm her nerves. She sipped her coffee and let her eyes fall on Tony. He wasn't out of the woods just yet… but she felt better that he had survived the operation because Tony was a survivor—he had been since he was a child. She ran her thumb over his knuckles. "I should go call his father."

Gibbs gazed at Tony for a moment. "Let's wait until he's back in Washington. The ones that really matter to Tony are here, already."

"Jack isn't."

"He wouldn't want Jack here. He'd want Jack to be safe at home."

"True. He doesn't like me driving in the snow now."

Gibbs chuckled while his cell phone gave a shrill ring. He excused himself and left Leah alone with Tony.

Leah continued to rub Tony's knuckles with her thumb, hoping that the touch would alert him to her presence. It was unnerving that he might not be aware that she was sitting with him. He was always aware of her presence, even when they weren't anywhere near each other in the room.

She missed him. Plain and simple.

Tony was more than just her husband—he was her soul mate, her best friend and her lover. It was painful when they were apart for any small amount of time… this was killing her. Because he was there, physically, but he wasn't there in any other capacity that she needed.

Leah closed her eyes and pushed back her tears. She needed to be strong for him… for Jack… it was going to do no one any good if she fell apart now. Opening her eyes with a deep breath, she gave Tony's hand a squeeze. She would do it periodically to see if she would get a response back. Eventually, she told herself, Tony was going to respond. Eventually his eyes were going to open and he was going to get off the vent. Eventually he would be discharged from the hospital and be going home where Leah could take care of him and Jack—and get their lives back to normal.

"That was Fornell," Gibbs whispered coming back into the room. "They found Wayne. He's been arrested. It's over, Leah."

"I want to see him," she said, angrily. "Ask him why."

"No. The man is a sociopath. Tony would never go for this."

"Handcuff, chain him to a chair..."

Gibbs sighed and raised his hands in defeat. "Okay. I'll get Abby and Tim to come sit with Tony. And I'll take you to the station... but I don't like this."

Leah pulled her boots back on and stood. "I didn't ask you to like it... but I need to do it. So I can move on. It's either this or I might kill the guy."

He smirked, slightly and shook his head. "Yeah... when you put it that way, meeting him is the lesser of two evils."

Chapter Text

It was like looking into the eyes of the Devil.

Leah was glad that Gibbs and Fornell were giving her this opportunity to confront Tony's attacker but she would also be glad when it was over with. She felt as though this monster was eating her alive with his dark look alone. If her husband knew she was here he would probably have a conniption but this was something she felt compelled to do. This sociopath had turned their lives upside down and someone had to stand up for her family. Tony wasn't available to do that and she was willing to take his place.

Wayne sat casually in his holding cell, handcuffed, staring emotionless at her. Leah half expected to see horns coming out of his head, a pitchfork in his hand. "Did you come to see if I would disappear into flames?"

"No. I came to ask you why," Leah responded.

"And your personal body guards—are they going to stay back there?" Wayne inquired, eyes drifting behind her.

Leah looked over her shoulder briefly at Gibbs and Fornell, giving her the space she needed but their obvious body language suggested that they would pounce if the kid tried to hurt her. "What I have to say doesn't concern them. So, yes, they are going to stay back there provided that you behave."

Wayne chuckled, low in his throat, and ran a finger along the cold brick wall of his cell. "Wouldn't want to give them anymore reasons to kill me. They're pretty twitched up about Marks. It was the Sheriff's own fault. He should have let me hunt and left my prey alone."

She swallowed the bitter taste in her mouth. "People are not like the animals you hunt. They have lives and families… and you hurt them. It's not a game."

"Oh but it is a game," Wayne said, grinning at her. "Hunting is all apart of the thrill. Haven't you ever wanted to play God?"

"No," Leah stated. "It's not my place to say who lives or dies."

He threw his head back and laughed sending a shiver down her spine. When he looked at her again there was that same evil, dark look and he smirked, "But… you want me dead, don't you? Ironic isn't it?"

She glared at him. "You murdered a police officer and you wounded a federal agent that is fighting for his life right now… and who knows how many other men you killed before that."

"Does it really matter?"

"It matters to me."

"Started killing when I was a kid… I liked how they screamed… the power that they gave me," Wayne answered, remorselessly. "No jury can take that away from me."

"But they can take your life," Leah said, her hands shaking a little.

Wayne shrugged and smirked once more. "If they think I'm sane enough to stand trial. I fooled teachers all those years, I can fool a lawyer and a jury into thinking that I had any control over my actions."

Leah didn't flinch or back down. She set her jaw. "Then I'll testify to this conversation. I'll tell them that you knew right from wrong, that you know how to play the system and confessed to going to do it. No grand jury is going to buy it. So you'll go on trial and be convicted because my husband is going to survive and he's going to be there to see it through, to be sure it happens, and then we'll both be there to watch them put the needle in your arm."

Wayne snarled and curled his lip at her. "Shut up, bitch," he hissed. "You don't know anything about me. I'm a poor, misunderstood kid. They will not execute me."

Leah could see the fury just bumbling underneath the surface. "Misunderstood? Is that how you see yourself?"

"What do you see?"

"I see a monster that hurt my husband. A demonic soul that tried to take my baby's father from him because you needed to hear someone scream—to play God, a coward that is going straight to Hell."

Fittingly a demonic growl emanated from Wayne as he launched off the cot, handcuffs clanging against the bars as his hands reached out through them and grabbed a hold of Leah. She gasped and fought against his hold. "Bitch!" Wayne shouted, "I'll kill you!"

Leah pulled back, the sleeve on Tony's sweatshirt tore at the shoulder seam, and she felt herself falling backwards.

"HEY!" Gibbs shouted. "Let go of her!"

Wayne refused. Fornell grabbed onto Leah pulled her away as Gibbs managed to reach through the bars, grab the kid by the collar and slam him into the metal barrier to disarm him. "You can't touch me!" Wayne shouted, spitting and snarling at all three of them. "You'll pay! You'll all pay!"

Gibbs clenched his fists at his side to stop himself from hurting Wayne again. "You don't know who you're messing with, kid. You're lucky I didn't shoot you."

"Why not? Don't have the guts for it?" Wayne snapped at him.

"I have the guts. But killing you would have been the easy way out for you."

"Do you want to see me fry?"

"I'd like to see you rot."

Wayne shifted his gaze back towards Leah and grinned, hatefully. "Bet I'll live longer than your husband… shot in the chest… survival rate is very low. I'm surprised you came here and didn't spend his last few hours alive with him."

Leah let out a stifled cry and stumbled down the hall, trying to regain her composure. Tears burned the backs of her eyes. It was no wonder Tony hardly talked about his job with her, if he was facing evil like this everyday, he would need the escape. She would be haunted by that conversation for the rest of her life. Outside the station the cold air hit her square in the face and started to freeze her tears.

She took a deep breath, the feeling of the fresh, clean air calming her. Out here it was free of the evil and malice that was inside. She could briefly forget what Wayne had said and what he had done to her. And Tony's favorite sweatshirt, how was she ever going to explain that?

Gibbs joined her, reaching out to inspect the tear in the sweatshirt. "We should be able to get that fixed. Simple seam."

"I'd hate for Tony to lose his favorite sweatshirt."

"I think he would hate to lose you more."

Leah wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "I guess you're right. I… I pushed him too far. He's a narcissist and truly believes that he had the right to play God. I used that against him and he… he snapped."

Gibbs chuckled and ran his fingers through her hair. "Took a page out of Tony's book. You sounded like a real agent in there."

She laughed, sadly. "I'm not cut out to be an agent."

"Well… good thing Tony doesn't need you to be an agent."

"What does he need me to be?"

"Don't you know the answer to that?"

Leah smiled, gently. "Yes. But it's always nice to hear someone else tell me."

Gibbs kissed her temple. "He needs you to just be you. So, let's get you back to the hospital."

Tony's condition had not changed since the last time Ducky had sat with him. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. It was good because it meant that Tony was not getting worse but it was bad because it meant that he wasn't getting better either. Ducky had seen his friend beat all kinds of odds and he was just praying that Tony's luck was not running out.

Ducky read his newspaper, silently, while Abby regaled the unconscious field agent with stories about Jack's adventures in rolling over. Much like Leah, Abby believed that if Tony heard people talking to him he would wake up sooner and fight harder. Ducky wasn't sure about that. Studies had shown that people in comas could hear their surroundings so he wasn't going to discourage the girl.

Besides, also like Leah, Abby took comfort in speaking to Tony. Ducky took comfort that Tony was still breathing, albeit the help of a ventilator, but still breathing nevertheless. Hopefully the weather would let up soon and Tony could be airlifted to Washington where he could begin treatment under the watchful and capable eye of Dr. Pitt. One glance out the window in the room told the medical examiner all he needed to know—there would be no flight today and Tony would have to stay here for another night.

"Look, Tony," Abby said breaking his concentration, "Delilah sent me a photo of Jack. Look! Look how happy he is today!"

Ducky looked up from paper and at Abby's phone. On the screen was a picture of a smiling Jack sitting in his high chair covered in baby food. The elderly doctor smiled himself at that sight. "I bet that smile would be bigger, Anthony, if you were to wake up and go home to him."

Abby put the phone away and grabbed Tony's hand, giving it a squeeze. "Leah should be back soon… please wake up, Tony and surprise her. She's been worried sick about you since you went missing. And I doubt she's sleeping that well," she whispered. "Please. Just wake up for a few moments and then you can go back to sleep."

"Tony will wake up when his body is ready, Abby," Ducky told her. "His doctors are very confident that he's going to be fine. He has made it this far and we both know that Tony is a survivor."

"Ducky… should we call her?" Abby asked, her green eyes uncertain.

"Her?" Ducky inquired even though he knew the answer.


Ducky took a deep breath. If circumstances weren't what they were…

Tim's voice answered for him as he arrived back with coffee. "No. We can't call her Abby. Leah… I doubt she'd want her here."

Abby frowned. "But she's his friend, Tim."

"Yeah and we haven't heard from her in almost three years."

"I just think we should call…"

"Call? Call who?"

Ducky, Abby and Tim looked up to see Leah step into the room. She was wearing a tee shirt from the gift shop and had a bag of fast food for their lunch. Ducky stood and offered her his chair. "You, my dear, we were getting worried that you weren't back yet."

Leah glanced at them and it was clear in her eyes that she didn't believe them, but she let it drop.

Tim cleared his throat. "Delilah called. Jack is good but she thinks he's starting to miss you."

"Maybe I'll call him after lunch," Leah said munching on some fries. "I miss him too."

"Hopefully you will be home with young Jack by tomorrow," Ducky said with a sad smile. "Until then, he is in good hands." He pat her shoulder and turned towards Tim and Abby. "Why don't we take our lunch and let Leah have some time alone with Anthony."

Ducky took their bags of food and headed out towards the waiting room. He was not surprised to find Gibbs sitting there but he was surprised to find Ellie sewing up a tear in the sweatshirt that Leah had been wearing around. "Good, Lord, Jethro—what happened on that visit?"

Gibbs gave a little smirk. "Leah got under his skin a little."

Abby glared at him. "How could you let her see him by herself?"

"Tobias and I were nearby. He didn't hurt her. Shook her up. She's fine now."

"What did she say to him?"

"Called him a monster."

Tim gave an angry snort. "Well… that's what he is. Think of all the families he's ruined—he almost ruined ours. He deserves what he gets."

Abby hugged him tightly, knowing that Tim was right, that they had come very close to losing Tony and having their family ripped to pieces—and all before Tim's wedding. A long time ago she had told herself that Kate was watching over them, but after all this… she was beginning to think that Kate still had her partner's back from beyond the grave.

Jack was giggling.

Somewhere in the distance Tony could hear his son laughing. And he tried desperately to get to him, so he could see his face, because if he got to Jack then everything was going to be okay and he could go home. But it was dark here and hard to navigate.

Jack… I'm coming… I'm looking for you. Tony pushed through the dark, inching closer to the delightful sounds of his son laughing and playing, now joined with the sound of Leah talking and singing to their baby. Her voice alone pressed him onwards. Tony had fought to get this far hadn't he? Hadn't he fled that awful shed to give himself a chance to get home to his family?

He was not about to give up. Ever.


Leah. I'm coming. I'm almost there.

Tony. If you can hear me… squeeze my hand… give me a sign.

Now he was confused. Squeeze her hand? Tony couldn't see her let alone feel her. She was no where close to him. I… Leah I can't.

Please, Tony. I'm here. See? That's me squeezing your hand.

Leah! Leah I feel it!

Tony could feel the warmth in her hand in his own and with what little strength he had left in his body he squeezed her hand, to let her know that he was there too and that he was still fighting to get home to her.

Chapter Text

Despite Tony responding to Jack's giggles over FaceTime and squeezing Leah's hand, he still had not woken up by the time he was airlifted to Washington.

His doctors were not concerned. He was still responding to stimuli and they told her that sooner or later he would wake up in response to them. The main concern that Doctor Brad Pitt had was Leah and that she was not going home to sleep or see her son.

So, Leah went home for a few hours while Brad ran some tests on Tony at the naval hospital. It felt good to shower and change her clothes and to spend a few moments with her son. But now she was heading back towards the hospital, a stack of papers in her hands to grade while she sat by Tony's bed. The team had taken up their vigil once everyone returned from West Virginia.

Gibbs had disappeared for a while. Leah assumed to update Director Vance and possibly the Secretary of the Navy. He had been quiet, even for him, since they had returned to Washington. She wasn't sure why. Dr. Pitt had assured them that Tony was going to be making a full recovery. His lung was recovering, the damage starting to heal and once Tony was strong enough they were going to perform the surgery on his knee.

It still had not eased much of the tension and fears in the team. Leah had noticed they were still on edge since coming home. And she had a pretty good idea why. Ziva.

Leah was not stupid. She knew that Abby was talking about calling their friend when she had walked into that hospital room with lunch a few days ago. She also knew that the team had varying opinions on whether or not Abby should call her. Leah had made her peace with Tony's complicated relationship with Ziva a long time ago but it appeared that the team still didn't know how to deal with it. That was a part of Tony's life that was always going to be there, it had shaped him into the man he was today and she definitely hated that the team felt they had to protect her from it.

She was a big girl. She could certainly handle it if Ziva were to come back. She certainly had no reason to worry about Tony leaving her.

Which was why she found herself at NCIS before heading over to the hospital. Abby was surprised to see her too. "Leah? What are you doing here? Is Tony okay?"

"Tony is fine. Dr. Pitt is hoping to take him off the ventilator soon," Leah responded. "I came to talk to you."

"Me? About what?"


Abby looked away, nervously. "Oh... you heard that."

Leah smiled, softly. "My hearing isn't as bad as you think."

"You don't have to worry... I didn't call her. Tim was right, you wouldn't want her here."

"But you were right too. She was his friend."

Abby shrugged and sat down on her stool. "When Tony started to go out with you, I thought about letting her know... but because I was so angry at her for just leaving us... I decided that she didn't deserve the chance to be with Tony. Tim and I didn't even get a goodbye. Tony had to explain her decision to us. Now... I'm not angry at her anymore. But I don't know how much Tony wants her to know."

Leah pursed her lips and sighed. "Are you worried she'd come back if you called?"

"Yes. Aren't you?"

"No. Because I know that Tony would never leave me and Jack."

Abby smiled. "Yeah... your loyal St. Bernard. Guess I was just worried Ziva coming back would cause a lot of... drama Tony doesn't need. He should be focused on recovering and getting home."

Leah nodded and reached for Abby's hand. She grasped it and whispered, "He's going home. There is no way he has made it this far to give up now... I'm not going to let him. So... if you're not busy why don't come with me, help me grade these papers, and sit with him."

"Let me get my coat."


Abby retrieved her things and together they walked to the elevator. "I'm glad we talked about this Leah... But I want you to know that I wouldn't have called her behind your back."

Leah knew this but showed her gratitude. "Listen, Abby, I'm okay with Tony and Ziva's past... because it's just that in the past. You, Tim... Gibbs... you don't have to hide it all from me. Tony was always honest about it and he's always been honest when it comes to his feelings for me. Someday... if she did return... I'd hope that they could keep their friendship like you and Tim have."

"Well... Tim and I... we were different. We actually dated. Tony and Ziva... it's..."



"Abby. Do you think he ever, truly, loved her?" Leah asked, pensively.

"I think Tony was looking for love in all the wrong places," Abby replied. "He knew what he wanted but he didn't know how to get that. I think he figured she would always be here and someday they'd get it right."

Leah thought back to all those times when Tony had told her that his feelings for Ziva had never been anything but lust... he just hadn't realized it until he'd met Leah. "Do you think she's found that peace she was looking for? Maybe she got married and has a baby too. Maybe she's not wallowing away like you're scared is happening."

Abby shrugged again. "I don't know... maybe. I love her and miss her and I want her to be happy... I just never understood why she couldn't let us help her, why she had to move so far away and stop talking to us."

Grief had always been a complicated emotion, Leah knew this, but she was still fascinated how people reacted to it differently. "Tony thinks she didn't want to drag you down with her."

But there was another sore subject because Abby did feel Ziva had dragged them down with her by just disappearing. Especially Tony who took months to recover. "There's no point in bringing it all back up. Like you said the past is the past... let's leave it there."

Tony struggled to open his eyes. He was so very tired and he would much rather sleep but someone was insisting that he wake up. It was time.

Blinking the crust and gunk away, Tony forced his eyes open... only to slam them shut when the bright lights nearly blinded him.

"Hey, come on Tony," a familiar voice said, "Leah and Jack are here to see you."

Jack. He wanted to see his son too. And Leah. She shouldn't have come all this way to just see him lay there. Come on, Anthony, open your eyes! Do it for Leah and Jack! Tony slowly opened his eyes and allowed them to adjust to the light. It was obvious he was in the hospital. He could hear a heart monitor, smell the sterile scent of the halls, and Brad was standing by his bed.

Tony shifted his eyes to find his family. He'd made it this far because of them. Leah suddenly came into his view, she was holding Jack on one hip and reached out with her free hand to push his hair back. Tears filled her eyes as she spoke to him, "Hi sweetheart. We've been waiting for you to wake up."

"You gave us a bit of a scare, Tony," Brad said, smiling. "You were difficult to wake up."

"I told Dr. Pitt that you were the same way on the weekends," Leah replied, smiling.

"What do you say to getting that tube out of your mouth?" Brad asked with a grin.

Tony softly nodded his head and Brad took the tube in his throat out. He coughed but reached for his family instead of the glass of water on the tray.

Brad ignored his silent request for his family and handed him some water. "You need to drink, Tony. You've been hooked up to the ventilator for almost two weeks. There will be plenty of time to spend with Leah and Jack later."

He threw the good doctor a glare and sucked down his water. "Two... weeks?" He repeated looking at Leah. She bit down on her lip and nodded. Tony felt ill to his stomach. How much had he put her through in those two weeks? "I'm sorry... Leah."

"Why are you sorry?" Leah asked. "You were doing the sensible thing stopping for the night in that bad weather. You didn't ask to be shot."

"How... how bad is it?"

"A fractured rib punctured your lung," Brad reported. "Doctors in West Virginia repaired the damage and stopped your internal bleeding. They put you on the ventilator because of your past history with the plague. But you're lucky... if Gibbs hadn't found you when he did, you would have bled to death."

Tony closed his eyes, picturing laying in the snow, blood rapidly leaving his body. He vaguely remembered Gibbs being there, telling him to fight for Leah, for Jack. He opened his eyes and looked at his wife. "He told me... he told me to hold onto you."

Leah grabbed his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "We weren't going to let you go that easily, Tony."

"Yeah," he whispered with an easy smile.

"I've got other patients to check on," Brad said before leaving. "I'll let you visit with your family." He left the room closing the door behind him, leaving Tony alone with his family.

Jack let out fussy whine and rubbed his eyes. Leah bounced the baby gently but his eyes kept looking at his father. She took his hint and placed Jack into Tony's lap. He gave his daddy a grin before snuggling against Tony and promptly falling asleep.

Tony chuckled. "I guess he missed me."

Leah frowned. "Of course he missed you. We both missed you."

"Come here."

She laid down in the space he provided for her, snuggling her cheek into his shoulder. He kissed the top of her head and immediately she felt her muscles relaxing. Leah knew that her husband had a long road to recovery, but now that he was awake, she knew everything was going to be fine.

Tony watched as Jack slept against him and took comfort in Leah by his side. "Hey..."

Leah shifted and looked up at him. "Yeah?"

"I love you."

"I love you, too."

"I mean it. You... you kept me alive."

"I know you wouldn't leave me and Jack without a fight."

Tony smiled at her, feeling exhaustion beginning to take over him. His eyes began to slip shut as he drifted off to get the rest his body needed to continue healing. They jerked open when Leah got up and took Jack with her. "Where are you going?"

Leah gently laid Jack against her shoulder. "My sister is coming to pick the baby up and bring him home for his nap. Which you should be taking as well so you're strong enough for your knee surgery next week."

"She'll bring him back right?"

"Yes. Of course."

"And you're staying?"

"Yes, sweetheart, I'm staying."

Tony felt better knowing he wasn't going to be alone in the hospital. He really did hate them... even if the doctors had saved his life so he could go home to his family.

Leah used her free hand to brush his hair back. "Tony. Go to back to sleep. I'll be here, promise."

Chapter Text

"Mrs. DiNozzo?"

Leah stopped the grocery cart in the middle of the cereal aisle and looked up to see a woman standing in her path, dressed in a sharp business suit. "Yes?" she asked, pulling the cart closer to her protectively. Jack looked up at the newcomer and smiled. So much for stranger danger, Leah thought as she looked at him.

The woman stepped forward and held out her hand. "My name is Beverly Marks. Deputy Sheriff Marks was my brother-in-law. Sorry... sorry to startle you, I just... I recognized your photograph from the local newspaper about Howard's death and your husband on life support... we're in town... we're in town for Wayne's preliminary hearing."

"I... I'm sorry for your family... Tony, he... he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for Sheriff Marks. He used the radio to call for help," Leah said, sadly. "If he could have... he would have tried to save your brother-in-law."

"Oh... I think I gave you the wrong impression, Mrs. DiNozzo," Beverly said. "My family does not blame your husband in any way. Howard... he wanted to help people... always... he was doing his job. You must... you must understand being the wife of a federal agent."

Leah stroked her son's soft head of hair. "Yes," she whispered. "I understand." All too well.

Beverly smiled, sadly. "It was nice to meet you, Mrs. DiNozzo. I'll pass... I'll pass your condolences on to Howard's family. We've all been... we've been praying for Agent DiNozzo."

Jack gurgled as the woman said her good-byes and walked away with her small basket of food to the register. Leah took a deep breath and pushed her tears back. How close had her and Jack come to being the Marks' family? How close had she come to sitting next to them in that preliminary hearing? She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. When she opened them again she smiled at her son, stroking his cheek with her thumb. "People who don't believe in the power of pray, Jack... have never experienced it before... we have, little man. So many people praying for Daddy."

He responded with a twinkle in his eye and a smile that was all his father. Leah kissed his forehead and continued her grocery shopping. It was time to repay the Marks' family for their prayers by praying for them. Because as long as the road was for her and Tony... it was even longer for them.

Tim had never been so happy to hear a DiNozzo movie reference, ever in his life.

Tony was sitting up in his bed, color finally returning to his cheeks. He had just finished watching some obscure movie that Tim had never heard about and joked about the similarities in his situation. But Tim didn't care. That meant Tony was on the mend.

"Glad you're feeling better," Tim said, softly, relieved. "It was... things got terrifying there for a moment, Tony."

"Aw, you can say it, Tim," Tony replied, grinning, "You were afraid I wasn't going to make the wedding."

Tim shook his head, knowing that Tony was drugged up on morphine thanks to Leah having control of the pump earlier that morning. "No, Tony. I was... I was worried that you were dead. I should have... I should have been with you. If I had... none of this would have happened."

Tony frowned and shifted to look at his partner with a serious expression. "Tim. None of this is your fault. You were sick. You couldn't work. And I volunteered to go alone. If anything it's my fault. I didn't see the signs that the kid was whacked. Should have. I've been putting scum like him away for a long time. I was... I was too focused on calling Leah and letting her know I was fine to even notice that the kid was drooling over me like I was a Big Mac."

"Well... Delilah said you can borrow her extra wheelchair for the wedding if you need it," Tim quipped with a shy smile.

"Only if I can bling it out like she's doing to hers," Tony threw back with a casual smile.

"Sure. Why not?"

"And if I'm on crutches still?"

"We can totally glam them up," Tim replied. He then got serious. "I don't care how you walk down that aisle, Tony. I just... I want you there no matter what."

Tony sighed and leaned back in his pillows. "Don't worry. I'll be there, Timmy. Hobbling like Long John Silver... but I'll be there."

Tim snapped his fingers and reached for his backpack. He pulled something out. "Delilah wanted you to see this," he said, pulling out a tiny little tux. "She got it for Jack. We want him to be a part of the ceremony. Her parents have this really nice old pram that he can be pushed down the aisle in with the rings... he's my godson after all and I want him to be involved in some way."

"He'll clean up nicely in that tux," Tony said with a broad grin. His eyes started to get heavy. "Hey, Tim."

"Yeah, Tony?"

"You don't mind if I take a little nap do you?"

Tim shook his head and put the little tux down. "No. Not at all. We need you to get back on your feet, Tony and you're only going to do that if you rest up and get stronger."

Tony mumbled something under his breath that Tim didn't quite understand and drifted off to sleep. The senior field agent slept more these days than he was awake, which giving his condition was probably a good thing. Like Tim had said he needed to rest up to get stronger so he could get out of the hospital, start his physical therapy and eventually return to NCIS. That was the only way it had to be, Tim reasoned. He didn't want to think about Tony not returning to work, what that would do to him.

Guilt engulfed him again. Tim had been fighting with it since Tony went missing. He just should have been there. Wayne never would have attacked two agents, he didn't like witnesses, which was why he'd shot Howard Marks. Fortunately for the Marks family Tony had survived and would be able to testify as a witness in Wayne's trial. But it never should have down to all of this.

Delilah would throttle him if she knew he was still having these guilty thoughts. And she had pointed out on several occasions that it had been Tim and Ellie's work that had led Gibbs to Tony in the first place. They had been the ones to put the pieces together while Gibbs rushed around that small town in West Virginia. Tim had repaid the debt he felt he owed Tony for saving his life two years ago.

It's not the same, a small voice in the back of his head said. Tony single-handedly tracked you. He found you and then he shot Crowley to protect you.

Tim hadn't done any of those things for Tony. Ellie had been the one to find the hunting license, the piece of evidence that had really convinced the judge to get their warrant. All Tim had done was put out the BOLO that eventually got Howard Marks killed.

"Sometimes this job sucks," Tim whispered.

"Sometimes," Gibbs said in response. "Not all the time."

"Boss? When did you get here?"

"Just now. You alright Tim?"

He shook his head. "No. Tony saved my life two years ago... and when he needed me I didn't repay the debt."

Gibbs glared at him. "Like hell you didn't. Tim, you came into work sick to help find Tony. And if you had been healthier, you would have been with me, in West Virginia looking for him. I didn't ask you to stay behind because I thought you weren't capable, Tim. I asked you to stay behind for your health. One agent in the hospital is enough for me."

Tim cocked a shy smile. "Thanks, boss."

"You going to stop beating yourself up now?"

"Yeah... I think... I think so."

"Good. So I don't have to slap you."

"No, boss," Tim said, grinning, "You don't have to slap me."

Abby brought Tony black roses on the morning of his knee surgery.

Leah wasn't sure what to make of them but Tony politely thanked her. By the time they were bringing him up to the OR he had slipped into a state of unconsciousness thanks to the anesthesia. The team sat patiently in the waiting room. As far as Tony's operations had gone in the last three weeks, having his knee operated on had been the least of their concerns. And with Dr. Pitt overseeing the operation they could rest a bit easier.

Gibbs had made sure Vance knew to keep the team off of rotation that day. Delilah had delayed her next trip to Dubai and even Jake had popped over for a bit to check on Tony and sit with Ellie. Tony had told Leah once, back when they had first started dating that Ziva had informed him that he was loved. It never had really rung true for her until that moment... when she saw how many people cared about him.

She had known had that the team had cared for him before this of course, but she had never felt it more than she did that morning.

Halfway through the operation Dr. Pitt came out to update them. "He's doing, fine," he assured them. "Breathing is good, heartbeat strong. Should only be a couple of more hours now."

"When will I be able to see him?" Leah asked, biting down on her lip, nervously.

"As soon as he's settled back in his room I'll come get you," Brad promised her. He nodded his head at the team and went back to the OR.

Ducky gestured for Leah to come sit next to him. He took her hand and gave it a squeeze. "See. Nothing to worry about, my dear," he told her with a smile. "I suspect that Anthony will be plotting his escape from the hospital once he's awake."

Leah laughed. "Yeah. All the way to the Canadian border if he has too if it means not staying here."

"I'll post a guard at his door if he thinks of doing that," Gibbs snapped. "He's staying here until the doctors say he can leave."

"Maybe you should post yourself at the door," Leah responded. "He isn't going to let a guard stop him."

Gibbs scoffed. He knew that all too well. Hell, Tony had returned back to work much too soon after having the plague. But... at least Gibbs would have the option to argue with Tony about taking the proper time to heal this time around... because he had come very close to not having the option. And he much preferred it this way.