Disclaimer: I do not own or profit from NCIS.

Author's Note: I came up with this story because I wanted Vance to develop some respect for Tony. So I tried to create a scenario that would force the Director to re-evaluate his opinion of our hero. Along with that we still have Papa Gibbs (a few chapters in), a nice Palmer moment, a whisper of Tiva, and a lot of hurt (but brave and competent) Tony, and the rest of the team along for the ride. There's a twist in Ch. 6 that I hope is a surprise and not totally crazy, but it happened when I wasn't sure where this story was going to end up and decided it needed a little more "ooomph."

And for any Ohio State fans, I've thrown in some Buckeye references. I live in Ohio, so when I found out Tony went to OSU, I was completely blown away!

As always, this story is complete and a new chapter will be posted every day or two. If you enjoy it, please review and story alert. Knowing people like the story is incentive to continue writing more! Plus, I love to hear from you (I got a couple of ideas from reviewers on my last story that I added in, and it was much better). Love to all you Tony hurt/comfort fans (you know who you are) :) !

TLH

NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo stepped between the small girl who was struggling valiantly to hold back her tears and the deranged assassin who was aiming a semi-automatic weapon at her head. "Let's all calm down," he said softly, trying to diffuse the tense situation. The man with the weapon, who Tony knew was named Ahmed, continued to stare at the girl with blank, dead eyes.

"Shut her up," the terrorist demanded. "If you do not, I will do so, permanently."

At these words the girl whimpered, but her sobs started to diminish.

"I'll take care of it, Ahmed, just don't hurt anyone," the NCIS agent insisted. Tony sat down next to the girl on the couch. "It's ok, Kayla, everything's going to be alright. You just have to be brave and stay as quiet as possible. Can you do that?"

The little girl looked up at Tony with large, tear-filled eyes, "I'm so scared," she whispered.

"I know sweetie," Tony responded. "I'm a little scared, too. But I promise I won't let anyone hurt you or Jared. Do you believe me? I am your Very Own Special Agent Tony, remember?" He gave her a reassuring smile.

Kayla returned her own small smile when reminded of the nickname she had made up several days ago after Tony had been assigned to protect her and her older brother. "I remember," she said, and calmed down a bit. Her brother sat stoically at her side, stubbornly refusing to give the assassins the satisfaction of knowing just how frightened he was at the moment. He just glared at the men, hoping they could feel the immensity of his hatred.

Tony rubbed the back of Jared's head. "Listen, buddy, when this is all over we're going to an Ohio State football game together, ok? I'll pull some strings, and we'll have seats on the fifty yard line. Me, You, and Brutus the Buckeye. What do you think?" Tony asked, giving the boy something distracting to think about.

"That sounds great, Tony," Jared replied, recalling how the federal agent had played football with him yesterday, showing him lots of cool moves from Tony's time with the Buckeyes. Once Jared had found out Tony played for the National Championship Team, he had considered the NCIS agent nothing short of a celebrity. Jared knew he wasn't very good at football himself, but he wanted to be and Tony had been patient enough to work with him until late in the evening. Staring at the gunmen nervously pacing the room, Jared hoped Tony would be able to keep his promise.

NCISNCISNCIS

"SitRep," Vance yelled at McGee and Ziva. "What the hell is going on here? You were supposed to be protecting my family! How did those people get in there?" Veins were throbbing in the Director's forehead and he looked as if he might erupt at any moment.

McGee swallowed hard before replying, "We aren't exactly sure, Director. I was monitoring your home from the van when communications and all monitors went off-line. I immediately contacted Tony, but the terrorists were already breaking through the door. I heard some shots, and, uh, screams before the walkie-talkie went out." McGee paused before continuing, "However, heat imagery shows that Tony and both children are fine. There appear to be two men holding them hostage. Ziva was escorting your wife on a shopping trip when this went down, so Mrs. Vance was not involved."

The Director took the toothpick out of his mouth and pointed it at the agents, "Based on our intel we knew that someone was threatening my family. So the fact these people were able to do this right under our noses is, frankly, unbelievable to me. If I find out that either of you screwed up and allowed this to happen, I swear you will be lucky to ever see an assignment outside of Antarctica." The Director stared hard at them both, then stalked off to talk to his wife and confer with the SWAT team.

"I really wish Gibbs was here," McGee said quietly.

"Me too," Ziva agreed.

NCISNCISNCIS

The terrorists were whispering quietly in Arabic, gesturing out the window at the surrounding police vehicles. Tony wished Ziva were with him so she could interpret what they were saying. Earlier, one of them had placed a brief cell phone call during which the only words Tony recognized were "shot", "DiNozzo", and "Vance." However, he didn't need to speak their native tongue to recognize the body language that indicated the two men were highly agitated and trying to determine how to resolve the situation.

"You know," Tony offered, "you could just surrender. I'm sure you have information that could be traded for reduced sentences, and this would all be over with no one getting hurt." Tony knew his words were probably futile, but he had to try something.

Ahmed looked at him and scoffed, "And end up in Gitmo? I don't think so Agent DiNozzo." The terrorist stepped close to Tony, who scooted away from the two children to the other end of the couch so they wouldn't be in such close proximity to the frightening man. "Your Director Vance should have considered the possibilities when he decided to order the operation that killed my wife and child. They were innocent, Agent DiNozzo, just as these children are innocent. And I swore that with my dying breath I would have vengeance," his dark eyes blazed with hatred. "It is not my desire to shed innocent blood, but the Director must be made to understand his actions, and he can only do that by sharing in my pain."

The assassin leaned in next to Tony's ear, "And when Leon Vance holds the broken bodies of his dead children in his arms, then he will understand. Only at that moment will the burning in my heart be satisfied."

"Vance was responsible for your family dying? Are you sure?" inquired Tony, wondering why the Director hadn't told them this information when he ordered the protection detail. He had only said that an anonymous threat had targeted his family.

Ahmed pulled Tony from the couch to stare him in the eye. "Of course I know it was Vance! He fought against my father in Afghanistan and the attack was a continuation of his hatred. My family will not allow his actions to go unpunished!" he screamed in rage, inches from Tony's face.

Tony backed up a step to remove himself from the man's intense anger. He was himself outraged at the dawning realization that Vance had endangered his own family and the lives of his agents in order to keep these secrets. DiNozzo recalled an eerily similar experience of being used by those higher up in the chain-of-command. It was not a pleasant feeling.

Ahmed read Tony's unveiled facial expression and laughed abruptly. "He never told you! You had no idea why we are here!" He laughed again. "Your Director Vance is an outstanding manipulator and liar—this is but another example of his deception."

Watching the swarthy man pace back to the window and peer out, DiNozzo had a revelation.

"You don't plan on leaving here alive, do you?" Tony asked, already knowing the answer.

"No, Agent DiNozzo, none of us will be leaving here today alive. I am ready to accept that. Are you?" Ahmed straightened and walked back to the other side of the room.

Hearing the exchange, Jared and Kayla looked at Tony with horror clearly written on their stricken countenances. He gave them what he hoped was another comforting grin, "It's ok," he mouthed. Neither child appeared to believe him.

"Damn you, Vance," Tony thought, wishing the Director had divulged all the details of the protection duty. They could have been more prepared if they had been told. At least the team would have known to be waiting for a couple of terrorists hell-bent on revenge and not a couple of street thugs trying to cause trouble. Looking at the two children huddled at the end of the couch, Tony wondered how Vance could have done something so stupid when it involved his own family. Sitting back down and gathering the children close, he silently tried to figure out how to get them safely out of this mess.

"Damn you, Vance," he said to himself once more, as Kayla began whimpering again despite the fierceness of his hug.

NCISNCISNCIS

The SWAT commander explained the rescue plan to Director Vance and Special Agents McGee and David. "Since there are only two assailants, we believe it is possible to advance into the home when they both take up position next to the front door, farthest away from where they have been holding the children. As we enter from the front, we will also send agents into the back of the house to secure the children while the terrorists are engaged at the entrance," he stated matter-of-factly.

Vance rubbed his chin. "Do you think this is our best chance of getting the hostages out alive?" he questioned. "These hostages are my children," Vance corrected silently.

"Yes, sir. We will station a team here and wait until the terrorists move into this area of the home. It is our best chance, sir, to resolve the situation with little or no harm to the children," the commander provided.

"Do it," Vance directed as he walked away to explain what was about to happen to Jackie.

Ziva stopped the SWAT commander before he turned to leave. "You do know there is also a federal agent in there, correct?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am," he replied. "We will do our very best to protect him."

"Thank you," she said, hoping it would be enough.

NCISNCISNCIS

"Agent DiNozzo, could you step into the foyer, please," Ahmed requested.

"Damn polite terrorists," Tony thought, as he removed himself from Kayla's hug and reluctantly followed Ahmed across the room. Khalid, weapon cradled in his lap, sneered at Tony as the agent passed in front of him. The second terrorist was nursing a freely bleeding shoulder wound that Tony had managed to inflict when the two men invaded Vance's home. Tony almost managed to subdue both men, but Ahmed had grabbed Jared, using him as a shield, and Tony had no choice but to surrender his weapon. That had been several hours ago, and they were no closer to settling the stalemate. The surrounding NCIS agents, FBI, SWAT team, and local authorities were all waiting to see the terrorist's next move. Tony had been waiting, too.

Ahmed grinned at Tony, even though his cold, black eyes revealed no mirth. "As I said earlier, my brother and I never planned on getting out of this situation alive. It is here we will make our stand and give our final tribute to Allah," he explained. "Soon, your law enforcement officials will storm this house and attempt to rescue you and the little ones, but when they do they will find a nice surprise."

Tony's eyes widened at the sight of a bomb placed underneath the table in the entryway. "What is it with crazy terrorists and bombs? Someone really needs to figure that out," Tony thought distractedly.

Ahmed continued, laying the detonator atop the table, "Even though we will die ourselves, it will be our great pleasure to take as many of your agents with us as possible. Ultimately, we look forward to their attack on our position."

Tony's eyes narrowed, "Why are you showing me this? Do you just want to gloat?"

Ahmed chuckled, "No, my friend, however I did want you to know the fate awaiting your teammates. Since, you see, you will not be alive when this happens."

Focused on the bomb, Tony had not heard as Khalid quietly walked up behind him. Without warning, a thin leather cord was wrapped around Tony's neck and the assassin was mercilessly choking the life from the federal agent. Ruthlessly Khalid jerked backward, embedding the cord into Tony's flesh.

"You see," Ahmed continued without concern, "Khalid hates being shot. It makes him very upset. So he wanted to ensure that your death, was, shall we say, a little more personal?"

Tony instinctively grasped at the cord that was slowly tightening, cutting off any oxygen that might slip through to his abruptly starving lungs.

Khalid laughed sadistically; Ahmed smiled benevolently. "The garrote is Khalid's favorite method of killing. It is only fair that he practice it one more time before we ourselves meet our end," he explained to Tony, whose face was turning from red to purple and the vessels in his eyes were beginning to rupture. Darkness pressed in on Tony as he fought against the excruciating pain in his neck and throat. Desperately he sought for a way to remove the cord, but Ahmed still held him at gunpoint and Khalid showed no signs of relenting. Every muscle in his neck strained and his throat felt as if it were collapsing on itself.

Suddenly, the SWAT team swarmed through the front doors. Khalid and Ahmed barely had time to react as the heavily armed officers surged into the house.

Khalid lost his grip on the garrote and fell backwards, trying to aim his weapon as bullets pierced his flesh. Tony tumbled to the floor, struggling to force oxygen through his damaged airway. Barely on the edge of consciousness, he looked up to see Ahmed grasping the detonator for the bomb.

"NO!" Tony tried to scream, but his abused vocal chords produced no sound. Shots tore through Ahmed, yet he had somehow managed to hold on to the detonator, determined that his last act would be killing as many of his enemies as possible. "Jared, Kayla," Tony thought. Ignoring the agony in his neck and throat, he forced himself to his feet and stumbled toward the living room, grabbing the shocked and frightened children and pushing them into a corner. He threw his own body over them, trying to use as much of his size and bulk to shield them as possible. Huddled beneath him, he could feel them shaking as…..

The bomb exploded. The concussion tore through the lower part of the house sending out a wave of heat and devastation. Tony crouched lower, pulling the children beneath him as tightly as possible. Windows shattered, furniture ripped apart, and holes were blown through, wood, concrete and masonry. The world became a fireball of flames and obliteration. Tony could feel shrapnel hitting his back and arms; he thought he could hear the children screaming but then there was no sound, only an encompassing roar that settled over everything. Something heavy struck his back and pushed him forward onto Kayla and Jared; he could no longer hold himself off of them. Agony sped through his body, a level of pain that he never knew existed, twisting through every tendon, muscle, and joint that connected him. "Please let them live through this," he prayed, "please…"

As the pain he believed could never get worse intensified to another unknown level, Tony's ravaged body gave up, unable to process any more. He sagged limply against his young charges and entered into a dark, black void, free of pain, thoughts, or feelings and leaving behind him a maelstrom of chaos and annihilation.