Disclaimer: As usual...don't own the characters, just inspired by them.
Author's note: Thanks for the positive comments. Sorry it's been re uploaded...having serious difficulties adding chapters. Apologies but all help would be appreciated
Thanks to: Michael Weatherly for providing so much scope to work with!
There was a gentle ping as the elevator doors opened. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo bounded out and strode playfully towards the bull pen, beaming a smile as he noticed the leggy female agent who passed him. That was nothing unusual, Tony always noticed the female agents. He arrived at his desk and swung his rucksack around to place it on the floor to the left of his chair. He loved Fridays.
"You're looking cheerful today, Tony," announced Officer Ziva David,, who was seated opposite him. She was on liaison from Mossad and had been with NCIS for almost two years now. "Let me guess...you got her number, yes?"
Tony looked a little unnerved. How could she possibly...? He decided to play it cool.
"And who's number would that be, Zi-va?" he asked.
Ziva got up and moved round to the front of her desk "Oh, the woman...no...girl.. at the coffee shop. The one who squeals all girly at your pathetic jokes." She wrinkled up her face and wiggled her fingers as she mimicked the girl's actions.
Tony stared at her. His face displayed a mixture of expressions; first there was the 'how did you know?' look, which was quickly replaced by the 'stop mocking her' look, to the 'how can you call my jokes pathetic?' look. Finally he just glared at her with a challenge in his eyes – it was an expression that oozed vengeance.
Just lately, Ziva had been getting on his nerves with all of her insinuations about the calibre of the women he dated. Okay, so maybe they weren't all post-graduates, in fact some of them were only just post-pubescent, but Tony didn't care. He was having fun...most of the time. Besides his personal life was personal - well, it was when it suited him. Just because he liked to share every detail with his co-workers didn't mean he wanted them to comment on his relationships. He opened his mouth and bit at the air in an attempt to warn Ziva to back off. She raised her eyebrows, cocked her head and moved back around to her seat. It was a duel she would look forward to.
"You two finished locking horns?" Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs marched past them both and placed his paper coffee cup on the edge of his desk before rounding it to get to his seat. He had only just sat down, with the sound of both agents' "Yes, Boss," ringing in his ears, when his phone rang. He picked up the handset. A look of thunderous annoyance flashed through his eyes as he listened to the caller.
"Now?" he yelled into the receiver. "The whole weekend? Is this some kind of joke?"
Tony looked at Ziva as Ziva looked at Tony who then pulled a face whilst mouthing the words, 'Wonder what's eating the Boss?' Ziva gave a slight shake of her head – she didn't know either.
They were soon to find out. Gibbs slammed the receiver down and flew out of his chair. He marched back past them again.
"With me," he growled.
Tony almost ran around the side of his desk as he and Ziva followed their leader up the stairs which led to the Multiple Threat Assessment Center, the Director's office and a room used for training seminars. At the top of the stairs Gibbs motioned for them to stop and he stormed towards the Director's office.
Several minutes later a door slammed and Gibbs returned. With a sharp nod of his head he gestured for Tony and Ziva to go into the seminar room. He looked really pissed. Whatever conversation he had had with Director Shepard obviously hadn't gone his way.
As they entered the room, they were met with several familiar faces: Special Agent Timothy McGee, Forensic expert Abby Sciuto, Dr Donald 'Ducky' Mallard – the ME, and his assistant, Jimmy Palmer. Tony and Ziva looked confused. At the front of the room stood another female agent. She was a brusque-looking woman, someone you wouldn't want to argue with. She cleared her throat loudly. "I take it we're all here now. So, if you'll take your seats, I'll begin.'
Tony looked at Gibbs, "Begin what, Boss?"
Gibbs raised his eyebrows and gave a resigned nod in the woman's direction. Tony took a seat.
"As you are all aware, here at NCIS we like to ensure that we are able to work effectively together as a team..."
Tony stifled a yawn. How come he hadn't known about another one of these pointless and, quite frankly, tedious training seminars? If he had, he'd have found some way to get out of it. The woman continued.
"That's why all of our Investigative teams are to take part in a Morale, Welfare and Recreation Wilderness Challenge. This involves activity weekends that will boost your team morale ensuring that everyone plays their part and you work and get along well together. Yours will be taking place this weekend...in fact in the next few hours you will..." She was cut off by Tony whose ears had pricked up at the mention of 'this weekend.'
"What do you mean, 'this weekend'? This weekend as in tomorrow and the day after? I got plans...Boss?" His head spun around to find Gibbs so that he could make his excuses and get out of this.
"I know you do, DiNozzo..." Gibbs looked understandingly at Tony.
Tony sighed with relief, but then narrowed his eyes. That was easy...too easy. Open-mouthed, he looked back at Gibbs, who finished his sentence.
"...And they involve running around the wilderness with the rest of the team!"
Mumbles and mutterings filled the room. Gibbs stood up and raised his voice. "Hey! I know! But we have been given an order and you've got to accept it. Deal with it!" He stormed out of the room, leaving the brusque agent at the front to finish giving the details to the team. They would be leaving just after lunch; a bus would be taking them to Shenandoah National Park where they would be given supplies, maps and compasses before being left to make their own way to the cabin that would be their home for the following two nights. There they would find further instructions for the activities they would have to complete.
On their way back down the staircase Tony spoke quietly, "Hey, did anybody else notice that Gibbs said we had to accept the order, but didn't include himself in that little statement? So much for being a team player." Ziva elbowed him in the ribs and raised her eyebrows before stepping ahead of him. Tony winced, letting out a little squeak and turned to McGee, who looked as if the world had ended.
"Cheer up, McGrumpy!" He slapped Tim on the back. "We're going camping!" Tony was now acting like an excited kid. He'd got over the loss of his plans very quickly. He probably wouldn't even remember her name by Monday anyway. He was now looking forward to a weekend of torturing McGee.
A whining voice came from behind them. "Is it really necessary for us to go, Dr Mallard?" Palmer wasn't sure why their presence was needed. He got on well with the ME and he felt that they worked well enough together as a team as it was.
"It would appear so, Jimmy. It is an order, after all." Ducky wasn't relishing the idea of yomping across rough terrain any more than his much younger assistant was. He was just too old for this sort of thing, but ...the Director had spoken.
Abby was really excited. She loved the idea of them all going away together for the weekend. It would be great fun. She beamed all the way down the staircase, rubbing her hands together with glee, before she, Ducky and Palmer took the elevator down to their respective floors, leaving the agents to ponder on what the weekend held in store for them.
"You have one hour to get a bag packed and back here." Gibbs sent them on their ways. They headed towards the elevator with Tony still winding McGee up about poison ivy and Ziva tutting and rolling her eyes. 'This weekend is going to be hell,' she thought.
The bus turned out to be a cramped minibus. It barely fitted the rucksacks and gear bags, let alone seven people along with a driver. There was a lot of huffing and puffing as Tony tried to get his long legs into a position that didn't involve his knees being under his chin; McGee grimaced and huffed as he was kicked several times; Ziva stared out of the window willing the weekend to speed by; Palmer looked around very nervously; Ducky sighed loudly several times; Gibbs showed no emotion at all and Abby just grinned at the fact that the gang were all in one place – in her head she likened it to the Mystery Machine in Scooby Doo.
"You guys? This is going to be sooo cool," she said out loud. Bert, her stuffed hippo, was sticking out of the top of her rucksack. She squeezed him gently. A loud fart resounded around the bus. Tony's eyes widened, "Why is everyone looking at me?!" He immediately looked at Gibbs. "It wasn't me, Boss!" He felt he was being persecuted, he'd only done that the one time and it was to wind Ziva up. His expression conveyed feigned hurt. He continued muttering to himself. Gibbs sighed heavily and rolled his eyes before closing them – he felt like the teacher on a school trip from hell.
After what seemed like an interminably long journey – in fact it was a little over two hours – they arrived at Shenandoah National Park. They had taken Skyline Drive towards the northern end of the park. There were a couple of camps within a few miles of where they were dropped off but their destination lay to the west, into the wilderness.
They stood surrounded by bags and each holding a waterproof map, watching the minibus drive off. Gibbs picked up his rucksack and placed it on his back, Ziva did the same. Abby struggled to lift hers up until McGee helped her. He realised his bag was probably lighter than hers, so being the gentleman that he was, he offered to swap. Abby thanked him with a huge smile. Eventually they were all geared up and turned to Gibbs to lead the way. He stood looking at them.
"What?" he asked, puzzled.
"Aren't you gonna tell us which way to go?" asked Tony.
"Why me?" asked Gibbs.
Tony looked at the others for back up. "Er...because you're the boss,..Boss?"
Gibbs exhaled loudly and looked at his map, then at his compass. He pointed to the area behind the group. "We need to go that way for about 2 miles, then head north for another 2 miles which will bring us to a ridge."
"Four miles?!" The words flew out of Tony's mouth in exasperation before he had time to stop them. He laughed to try and cover up his shock. "I mean...four miles? Is that all, Boss? I just thought they would make it harder, that's all."
"Four miles to the ridge, DiNozzo. Then it's a mile over rocky terrain followed by around about 6 or 8 miles to the cabin." He looked at Tony. "That easy enough for you?"
Tony looked at the ground, "Yeah, boss." When Gibbs wasn't looking he pulled a 'yikes!' expression on his face. Whilst Gibbs was talking distances, Ducky was wincing inwardly. 'I hope these old bones are up for the challenge,' he thought to himself.
They began to move off; Gibbs at the helm with Ziva, followed by Ducky, then Palmer, then Abby; McGee and Tony brought up the rear. They had only been walking for a few minutes when Tony doubled up with laughter. McGee turned to find out what the reason was. He soon realised that Tony was actually laughing at him. Each time he moved, a loud farting noise came out of the rucksack he was carrying. "Dammit, Abby," he muttered before placing the bag on the ground and moving a few things around in it. He placed it back on his back and did a few practice steps – no noise. He sighed and had to run to catch up with the rest of the team.
Fortunately, the first few miles had been quite flat considering they were in the middle of nowhere. Gibbs checked and rechecked his co-ordinates against his map. They were still heading in the right direction despite all of DiNozzo's little detours whenever he spotted something interesting. They were now heading out of the clearing and into a wooded area. Gibbs had warned Tony that if he wandered off again, the group would not come looking for him. Tony got the message, especially after the heavy headslap he'd received from the boss – Gibbs hadn't removed the compass from his hand when he did it. Tony winced again at the memory of the contact.
"You okay, Duck?" Gibbs was concerned about the older man, though he needn't have worried at this point as it was the younger agents who were lagging behind.
"Yes, Jethro. I'm actually finding this rather invigorating. Not sure how long the old hip joints will keep going but I'm actually enjoying myself." He grinned, "There's life in the old dog yet!" The ME seemed quite surprised with himself. Gibbs smiled and shook his head gently. His deep respect for his older friend never stopped growing.
Ziva had been keeping herself to herself. Actually she was lost in her own thoughts. She had been irritated by Tony all day. In fact, if she was honest with herself, she had been irritated by him for the last few days. She was sick of hearing all of the intimate details of the constantly revolving door of his sex-life. Couldn't the man ever shut up and be a gentleman? And now, out here, in the middle of nowhere, he was still irritating her by delaying everyone from getting to the cabin. He was so juvenile. She wanted to slap him silly like Gibbs did. A wry conniving smile formed at the corners of her mouth. Being out here, in the middle of nowhere might just provide her with the right opportunity to get back at him. She continued on keeping her thoughts to herself but began formulating a plan.
Having seemingly irritated the whole group simultaneously, Tony decided that, for now, he should keep out of trouble. He overtook McGee and caught up with Abby who was having an internal debate out loud about the effects of climate change. She kept pointing out evidence to herself that the environment was changing, then arguing that it wasn't caused by humans, that it would have happened anyway due to the evolution of the ever-changing planet. The debate continued as Tony approached. He slowed to walk alongside her.
"Hey Abs! Whatcha doin?" He asked because he had seen her gesticulating wildly at the surroundings.
"I'm having an internal debate with myself about climate change." She continued talking to herself.
"Who's winning?" asked Tony.
"Huh?" Abby was deep in her thoughts.
"Never mind." Tony moved forwards. He would try his luck with Palmer instead.
"Hey Palmer!" he nudged the young assistant and smiled at him. "How's it goin?"
"Oh hey, Agent DiNozzo. I thought you were at the back." Jimmy turned slightly to see who was bringing up the rear.
"I was, Palmer, I was...but I got bored with that." Tony patted the young man's shoulder. " Thought I'd hang up here with the cool kids." He winked at Jimmy, who hadn't picked up on the irony in Tony's voice.
"Oh, well gee, thanks Agent DiNozzo. I'll take that as a compliment." Palmer smiled proudly. Tony shook his head – how could anyone be that naïve?
They had been walking for about two hours before they came to the ridge. They probably would have got there sooner if it hadn't been for Tony's constant delays. The ridge rose up in front of them and they could see that it was going to be more of a challenge to complete the next leg of the journey.
"Ten minute rest," announced Gibbs. "The next stage is going to take us a lot longer and we only have a few hours of sunlight left."
Palmer stepped forward. "Er...Agent Gibbs?"
Gibbs looked up, correcting him, "Special Agent Gibbs,...Palmer?"
Jimmy apologised profusely, "I'm sorry, Special Agent Gibbs? I have a question."
Gibbs smiled to himself - it was so easy to wind this kid up. "Spit it out, Palmer."
"What do we do if we don't get there in time? I mean, before the sun goes down?" He was being extremely genuine.
Gibbs squinted his eyes. "Well, Palmer..." He paused to think of a good enough answer. "We send one of the team, probably DiNozzo, out with a map back to DC to let them know we need the minibus back, whilst the rest of the team sits down and waits for them to return."
"Oh, okay," Jimmy seemed relieved at the answer until he saw the incredulous look on Ducky's face. He looked back at Gibbs whose face displayed a similar expression.
"Are you joshing with me, Agent...sorry, Special Agent Gibbs?" There was an earnest look on the young man's face.
Gibbs exhaled a laugh, "Yes, Palmer, I am joshing with you." Gibbs emphasized the word 'joshing' with a degree of amusement in his voice.
Palmer snorted a laugh."Good one!" He looked around at everyone, his eyes glinting, as if they were all sharing a joke. Tony shook his head, raised his eyebrows and placed his hands over his stomach. 'Ooooh, it's too easy!' he thought, laughing to himself.
The rocky terrain of the ridge was difficult going, especially for Ducky. His hips were beginning to protest at the constant effort of scrambling and climbing. Gibbs kept a close eye on the doctor. The last thing he needed was for anyone to slip and injure themselves at this point in the journey. The game ME persevered and didn't complain once...unlike Tony.
"What's with this anyway? I mean, who..willingly...decides to hike over this place?" he whined.
"Us," replied McGee.
"I said 'willingly', Probie. Glad to see you've got rid of your wind problem. You know, it was getting a little embarrassing back there," Tony grinned mischievously.
"For the last time, Tony, that was the hippo!" Tim was getting exasperated at his tormentor.
"Whatever you say, Pro-bie!" Tony was enjoying winding his partner up. Maybe this weekend wasn't going to be so bad after all.
Abby was finding it hard to navigate over the rocks. Her hiking boots had been modified to fit in with her Goth image and the thick soles were making it difficult to get a good foothold. She had almost broken her ankle on several occasions. McGee looked back to where she was trying to grab a hold of one of the rocks jutting out in front of her. He let Tony pass him and waited for her to reach him.
"Okay, Abs?" he asked, with genuine concern in his voice.
"Yeah, McGee. Just finding it harder than I thought in these boots. Guess hiking boots shouldn't be part of a Goth's wardrobe, huh?" She beamed a smile in his direction. "Still, they are pretty cool though."
A shrill whistle caught their attention. It was Gibbs. "Hey? Are you two coming?"
The rest of the team had reached an area on the edge of the ridge, overlooking a rather large drop. Abby and McGee made their way carefully up to them.
"Wow, what a beautiful view!" said Tim as his eyes adjusted in the glare of the sun which was beginning it's early evening descent. He reached into his rucksack, which was on Abby's back, to retrieve his cell phone. He wanted to capture this moment on film.
"Are you done, Spielberg?" shouted Gibbs, impatient to move on. The sun's descent was a reminder that they still had another 6 or 8 miles to go and it would soon be getting dark.
Tim quickly checked his image and put the phone away. "Er...yeah, Boss." They moved over to the summit of the ridge and Tony found himself up at the front next to Ziva. He turned to look back over his shoulder. "You know, this kinda reminds me of that scene in Lord of the Rings, where the fellowship make their way over the mountains?" he began. Ziva sighed loudly to register how fed up she was with his stupid movie references, but she went along with it all the same.
"Another movie?" she asked.
"Only the best adventure movie, ever," explained Tony, glad that he had her attention. "You've got Gibbs, right? He'd be Aragorn – the strong leader; then there's Ducky – definitely Gandalf, the wise old wizard; then Palmer and McGee, let's see...they'd have to be Merry and Pippin; Abby? Mmmm tough one...no wait, she could be Legolas...'cos she usually is at parties...get it? Legolas/ legless?...as in drunk," he nudged her in the ribs to get some kind of acknowledgement.
"I get it, Tony!" Ziva was getting irritated with this whole conversation. "And that would leave you and me, right? Who would we be?"
Tony stared at her in amazement. He couldn't believe that she didn't know who was left. "Well, that would be Frodo and Sam."
"Isn't Sam the simple-minded one who runs around following orders and instructions from the other one?" asked Ziva, mischief in her eyes.
"So you have seen it?" replied Tony.
"That would be you then. You are Sam, Tony." She laughed playfully. "Or maybe the idiotic dwarf that runs into things with his head? Gimli, yes?" Tony shot her a look of irritation at the suggestion.
He gestured behind them with his thumb, "I'm gonna check on Palmer. Make sure the autopsy gremlin is keeping up." He allowed her to move ahead of him.
"Ok..." Ziva let him go. After a beat and with a glint in her eye she added, "Sam." Tony glared then turned towards the others heading his way. He allowed Ducky and Gibbs to pass him before falling into stride alongside Palmer, who eyed him up nervously. Tony just smiled, winked and slapped the assistant on the back.
"You ever see Lord of the Rings, Jimmy..." he began.
Progress was slow. It was dark now and it was difficult to see where to put one foot in front of the other. They had been issued with flash lights but the blackness of nature was intense. Gibbs paused and double-checked his map. They had to go through another wooded area just ahead of them for about another 2 miles, the cabin shouldn't be much further than that. He plodded onward. Although he didn't show it, he was actually enjoying himself. It reminded him of the days when, as a Marine scout sniper, he'd had to trek across rugged terrain to get into position. He revelled in the freedom the wilderness was offering him. He turned slightly to see if the others were keeping up. They looked tired...even DiNozzo had quietened down some and looked a little subdued. Gibbs didn't think that was possible. He looked at Ziva...he was a little concerned about the Mossad agent, she had barely spoken to anyone all day. She seemed deep in thought. He hoped she wasn't mulling over any Mossad assignments that he didn't know about. His only other concern was Abby. Despite her enthusiasm, she wasn't really the hiking type. Once he was sure that McGee was keeping a watchful eye on her, Gibbs turned back around. They were coming to the edge of the woodland – or at least the tree cover was beginning to thin out. At the tree line, Gibbs came to a halt. The others caught up with him as he shone his flash light into the distance, ahead of them.
"Ahhhh! There is a God!" Upon seeing the outline of the cabin, Tony began to jog past the others. He turned to face them but continued jogging backwards.
"Last one there gets to...whoa!.." He didn't get to finish because he stumbled and fell backwards, completing a backward commando-style roll, the momentum causing him to stand back up again – unsteadily at first, but then he caught his balance and recovered quickly. All the others heard was a series of grunts and squeaks as he hit the ground.
"It's okay.." he said dramatically, holding up his arms and waving, "I'm okay, Boss!" Nobody had been showing any concern – they were far too tired. Tony turned back around and walked the rest of the way to the cabin. There were a few steps leading up to a verandah. As he began to climb the steps, the rest of the team caught up.
Tony reached for the door. He pushed it open to be met by a stuffed life-size grizzly bear standing on it's hind legs.
"Whoah!...Jeez!" he screamed and jumped backwards, crashing into Gibbs, who had to take a step back to regain his balance. In doing so, he bumped into Ziva who in turn bashed into Abby. One by one, like a stack of dominoes, they crashed into one another until Palmer, who was at the back, ended up on his butt – the weight of his rucksack pulling him to the ground.
"Sorry!" shouted Tony, wearing a 'yikes' grimace on his face. "Sorry, Boss!" he muttered as Gibbs pushed past him into the cabin. There were several tuts as the rest of them did the same. Tony eyed the bear suspiciously. Tentatively, he reached out his long fingers to prod it – just to be sure. A brief laugh escaped his lips, his eyes conveying a look that said he knew all along it wasn't a real grizzly bear, and he bounded in to join the others.
Once inside, Gibbs assigned rooms. There were seven of them and only four bedrooms – they were going to have to share; a sure-fire way of depleting any team spirit that remained.
"Ohhhh but I wanted to share with McGee!" whined Abby. There were raised eyebrows on a few of the others' faces whilst Tim had a huge beaming smile on his. Abby quickly added, "Can't Tony share with Ziva? No offence, Ziva." Ziva shook her head and gestured than none had been taken but she wasn't happy at the prospect of sharing with DiNozzo.
"Forget it! I'm not sharing with Tony again...he snores!"
"Isnore? At least I don't activate any earthquake warning sensors!"
They continued to snarl at each other.
"Hey! Are you two done? No arguments – Tony with McGee, Ziva with Abby...Ducky, you're with Palmer." Gibbs had made a decision. Abby pulled a sulky face, but she knew it was pointless arguing.
Tony held up his index finger and his mouth seemed to form the words for a long time before any came out. " Boss? How come you...?" Gibbs' glare cut him off. Tony eyes slunk downwards as he grabbed at his rucksack which was at his feet, "With McGee. Got it, boss." He sloped off towards one of the rooms.
Having quickly dumped their bags in their respective rooms, the team regrouped in the main living area of the cabin. The main feature of the room was the large,open, log-burning fireplace, above which hung a trophy head of a deer – its antlers jutting out in defiance. There was a sizeable rug in front of the hearth and on either side of it were placed two gargantuan matching sofas, which Tony was eyeing up. A medium size coffee table, made from lumber, rested on top of the rug. The cabin had quite a homely feel to it. They would be quite comfortable here for the next two nights.
Gibbs checked his watch – it was late – 10 pm. He decided that before turning in for the night they needed to do two things; get the fire going, and eat. None of them had had a decent meal that evening. They had been provided with energy bars, which were a bit like chewing cardboard. The cupboards in the kitchen should be stocked up with plenty of supplies, at least that was what they had been told. All Gibbs had to do now was divide up assignments. Both Abby and Ducky looked absolutely shattered so he chose to let them rest up a little. Palmer and Ziva were dispatched forthwith to the kitchen to rustle up a meal – Ziva was an excellent cook and Palmer was good at slicing and dicing. Gibbs looked at the fireplace.
"We need to get this thing burning. Tony? Take McGee and go and get some firewood from the area at the back of the cabin. There's a clearing there so you should find some decent logs."
Tony was about to protest but figured he'd probably pissed Gibbs off enough for one day. McGee had no such fear.
"But boss...we just got here and now you're sending us back out into..." he gestured towards the window, "...into ..." He never got to finish because Gibbs, who had knelt down in front of the hearth to begin clearing out the ashes, stood up to face him. Gibbs twisted his head slightly, his eyes narrowed.
"You got a problem with that, Agent McGee?"
McGee was momentarily unsure how to respond. He wanted to stand up to this man – the man whom he respected deeply, but who always made him feel like the naughty school kid outside the Principal's office. He opened and closed his lips several times as if to speak but eventually the only words that would come out were, "No, boss...No problem." Tony beamed, the probie had caved. Something else to use against him. He grabbed his coat and headed for the door.
"DiNozzo?" shouted Gibbs.
"Take your weapon with you."
Tony's puzzled expression indicated that Gibbs had to elaborate. "Bears," was all he said.
Tony gulped slightly, "Got ya, boss."
Outside once more in the cold and the dark, McGee found the confidence he had been missing in the cabin. "I don't see why we're out here. Gibbs is the expert at this. I would have thought he would have been the perfect candidate to go mooching around the woods in the dark looking for firewood, with all of his Marine training."
"Well, you should have told him that, Probie, then maybe we wouldn't be out here." Tony moved past him, his hand hovering by his holstered gun. They brushed through some branches and headed into the trees.
McGee stopped by a grouping of what looked like large mushrooms growing out of the ground. His voice had a whiny quality to it. "I thought Gibbs said there was a clearing here."
"Well I don't see any sign of these trees ending."
"Quit bitching, McGee! Besides I thought you'd feel right at home amongst these toadstools...Elf Lord!"
Tim shot him a look of extreme annoyance. He scouted around the floor with his foot, there had to be some decent pieces of wood somewhere. Tony shouted him from a few feet ahead.
"I found the clearing. And that's not all..."
McGee caught up with his fellow agent. "What...?" Tony held up his right hand, all of his fingers outstretched, his index finger pointing upwards. It was a signal for silence. In front of them was a circle made out of stones, in the centre of which there was evidence of a camp fire... and it was still smouldering.
Having rifled through all of the cupboards, Ziva was satisfied that she had all the ingredients to whip up a pasta dish that would satisfy the empty stomachs but which wouldn't be too heavy a meal. She gave Palmer the task of dicing a few vegetables and set about making a sauce to go with them. She remained introspective. Palmer looked up at her from his task. Several times he opened his mouth to speak but stopped himself each time. Eventually he plucked up the courage to verbalise his thoughts.
"Are you okay, Ms David?" he asked with genuine concern in his voice.
Ziva seemed surprised. She turned to look at Jimmy. "I'm fine, Palmer. Why do you ask? Do I not seem okay?" Her gaze was intense, almost interrogative.
Palmer's eyes conveyed his nervousness. He was beginning to regret asking the question. "Uhhh...you just seem..."
"What?... What do I seem,...Jimmy?" her eyes were questioning, but she had sensed his anxiousness and she realised how easy it was to unnerve the young assistant. She now understood why Tony enjoyed winding him up and she was irritated with herself for feeling a small degree of enjoyment herself.
"Uhhhhh...quiet?" Jimmy answered.
Ziva responded with a "Hmm."
"I just mean...you seem to be deep in thought, that's all. Is something troubling you? Has Agent DiNozzo irritated you?" asked Jimmy, feeling a little bit more confident and using his 'you can tell me' tone of voice.
"Why do ask about Agent DiNozzo?" was the swift reply. 'Damn! I picked up on that too quickly' Ziva thought to herself, mentally chastising herself for allowing the mere mention of Tony's name to draw a reaction from her.
Palmer realised that maybe he had hit a touchy subject. "No reason." He tried to back out of the conversation. "I just...it's just that he seems to have irritated Agent Gibbs and I thought..."
"Ohhh, you thought, did you, Palmer? Did you think before you began interrogating me?" Ziva gave him one of her intimidating looks. She was trying to deflect the conversation away from Tony and she knew Palmer would easily give in.
She was right. Jimmy sensed he should stop now whilst he still had full use of all of his limbs. Ziva was holding a kitchen utensil in a manner which made him feel threatened.
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean anything by it...sorry." He turned back to his vegetables and resumed slicing, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on the mushrooms on the chopping board.
Ziva turned back to the pan and continued stirring. There was a wry smile on her face – it was a successful deflection. She stared deep into the sauce but allowed her thoughts to drift back to Tony. Her smile widened a little and she shook her head slightly – 'Damn! That man really knows how to get under the skin' she thought.
Back in the clearing, Tony and McGee were investigating the camp fire.
"Ever see The Blair Witch Project, McGee?" asked Tony.
"No," came the reply. Tim was moving the remnants of the fire around with his foot whilst his eyes were carefully searching the tree line for any signs of movement. He found nothing.
Tony, meanwhile had come to the conclusion that they must have come across some lost hiker's rest spot and so wasn't too concerned.
"It's about this group of college kids who go into the woods after hearing a tale about witches and strange things happening..." began Tony.
"Tony...I don't want to hear it." McGee was getting really fed up.
Tony continued obliviously, "They enter the woods, much like this one, and they camp out in a tent. In the middle of the night they hear noises. One of 'em goes out to investigate..." he scratched his chin as he went on, " ..which always gets to me, I mean, it's like you hear a crazed zombie killing people and you still go out to see it...I never understood that philosophy..."
"Tony!" Tim was more than fed up, he was irritated.
"Anyway...the guy goes out and mysteriously vanishes into the night." By this time, Tony had placed his flash light under his chin and was just starting a crazed, evil laugh when Tim finally snapped.
"Shut up, Tony!"
"Why? You scared, Probie?"
"No...just sick of the movie references..." Tony feigned a hurt expression and pointed towards an area behind some trees – gesturing that he would continue looking there whilst McGee continued his moaning.
"...I'm tired and I'm cold and my back is killing me. I don't know what Abby had in that rucksack but she certainly doesn't travel light...Let's just get the firewood and go back to the cabin...Tony?...Tony?..." McGee waited a few seconds before taking a step in the direction Tony had gone. "This isn't funny, DiNozzo!...Quit messing around and get back here."
There was no response. Tim drew his weapon and headed towards Tony's last known whereabouts.
Gibbs was getting impatient. "What the hell is taking them so long?" he growled. He had finished clearing the remnants of the last fire that burned in the cabin fireplace and was annoyed that he couldn't start a new one – the cabin was damn cold. Abby and Ducky had retired to the kitchen in search of some warmth from the stove. They were still in there when a breathless McGee barged back into the cabin, his weapon still drawn.
"McGee!...What the hell took you two...?" Gibbs looked at the younger agent's demeanour, and at the gun in his hand. "Where's Tony?" There was concern in his voice. The others came out of the kitchen to see what all the noise was about.
"He's gone...Boss!" Tim tried to keep the edge of panic from his voice. Gibbs' eyes were demanding an explanation. "One minute he was going on about some stupid movie...and the next...gone. I tried looking for him but there's no sign of him. He just vanished without a trace."
"No body vanishes without a trace, McGee." Gibbs grabbed his coat, his flash light and his gun.
"That's not all, Boss." There was a slight pause as McGee looked from Gibbs to the others and back to Gibbs. "There was evidence that someone had been camping out...a smouldering camp fire." Gibbs glared at Tim – it was a warning look mixed in with an ominous feeling.
"Ziva!..." shouted Gibbs. She already had on her coat and her flash light was in her hand. Gibbs continued, "...stay here with Ducky, Palmer and Abby." Ziva was none too happy.
"But Gibbs...." She had a knot in her stomach. If Tony was missing she wanted to help find him.
"No arguments! I need you here in case whoever is out there decides to pay a visit." His stare told her there was no point in arguing. He had a valid point, someone needed to protect the non-agents. But still, Ziva desperately wanted to go. She gave a frustrated growl of her own before removing her coat again.
Abby flung her arms around Gibbs. "Bring him back, Gibbs!"
"I will, Abs."
"Be careful, Jethro," warned Ducky. Though he knew his friend had years of military experience behind him, it didn't stop him from feeling concern. Gibbs looked at his old friend and nodded his head.
"McGee! With me." They turned and headed back out through the cabin door.
The sound of voices in the distance had spooked Lance Corporal James Smithson. He had quickly extinguished his camp fire and made his way back into the tree line. Through night-vision goggles, he watched as two men explored the area he had recently vacated. He couldn't make out their words but he got the feeling that one of them was pissed off with the other one. They seemed to be looking for something.
As one of the men, the taller of the two, approached in his direction, Smithson retreated and hid behind a large Sherman Oak tree. He began putting his SEREs training into practice. So far he had survived and escaped. He guessed he was about to use the resist and evade part of the training. He looked for something to use against his potential assailant, picked up a short, but sturdy, section of a fallen tree branch and waited silently.
He didn't have to wait long. The figure got closer, then stopped and turned to face the direction from which he had just come. The other one was calling him.
McGee barely had time to register Gibbs' shout before his world was enveloped in darkness. Something heavy and hard had struck him on the back of the head. He fell to the ground.
Smithson retreated into the darkness, but not before retrieving Tim's gun from his limp hand.
Gibbs shouted again, "McGee!?" When there was no response, the senior agent made his way towards the direction that his subordinate had taken. In his hand he carried his sig sauer and in his other, his flash light. Hooked in his belt were Tony's weapon and flash light which Gibbs had just found – the reason for him calling out McGee's name.
Stealthily and carefully, he stepped towards the tree line. He inhaled sharply as he saw the outline of a prostrate McGee. Whilst his eyes continued to scour the area, he moved in until he was close enough to reach down and check for a pulse. McGee stirred. Quickly, Gibbs helped the younger agent to his feet. Still pointing his gun out into the darkness, he guided McGee back towards the cabin.
Abby fussed over the injured agent. She place an ice sack on his head.
"Ow! Careful Abs," winced McGee. Ducky had checked him out and had found no signs of concussion – just an abrasion, a large bump and some bruising.
"You didn't see anything?" asked Gibbs.
"Not at thing, Boss. Don't know what hit me," replied Tim, before adding, "Sorry."
"Well, evidently it was part of a tree that hit you – judging by the bark pattern embedded into your head," announced Ducky.
"Awwhh, poor Timmy." Abby hugged McGee for the fifth time since he had returned.
Ziva was staring at the weapon and flash light that Gibbs had placed on the lumber coffee table. They belonged to Tony. And there was still no other sign of him.
Gibbs stood staring out of the window into the tree line. He ran both his hands across his head in an attempt to think of his next move. McGee was injured so he couldn't take him back out there...not yet anyway. Despite him not having any symptoms of concussion yet, Gibbs was aware that there could sometimes be a delay in the onset of them. He couldn't risk that. Ziva was desperate to get out there but it was too risky for just the two of them. He eyed up the autopsy gremlin. A brief internal debate registered across Gibbs' face before he came to a conclusion.
"Ziva! Palmer!...With me!" he growled.
"Me?" questioned the young assistant, the shock and surprise at hearing his name clearly evident on his face. It was tinged with absolute horror.
"That's what I said, Palmer. I need young blood, fresh eyes." He glanced at the ME, "No offence, Duck."
"None taken, Jethro. I think it a wise decision. I'd be of no use to you out there." He pointed in the direction of the woods. "No, I'd be of much better service here, tending to McGee."
"I think Abby's got that covered, Duck." A wry grin formed on both their faces.
"Yes...yes. You might be right there, Jethro...still, you may need me yet...when you bring Tony back." He hesitated as he said it, not wanting to verbalise the fact that Tony was likely to be injured.
Ziva was already at the door. She didn't need telling twice, not when Tony's life was in danger. Gibbs' impatience was rubbing off on her. She waited, her foot tapping furiously as Gibbs ushered an extremely nervous Palmer, who was looking around for someone to come up with a better idea, towards the door. He pressed McGee's raid jacket against Jimmy's chest, spun him round and pushed him in Ziva's direction.
"C'mon, we don't have any time to waste."
A blurry image came into view for a few seconds as Tony attempted to focus. He couldn't make out where he was. All he knew was that he was lying on cold, hard ground. Slowly, he tried to shift position. A red hot piercing pain shot through the lower half of his left leg, causing him to yelp. The pain was so intense it made him catch his breath, and the blurry image he'd been trying to focus on faded once more into darkness, as he lost consciousness for the second time that night.
Slowly, the three of them picked their way to the area already visited by Gibbs and McGee. Palmer stuck closely to Gibbs as he had been ordered to. During the short trek through the trees he had gained a little bit more confidence, as he felt reassured by the former Marine's determination and skill at moving stealthily through woodland. As they wandered past the tree line where McGee had been hit, Palmer spoke.
"Special Agent Gibbs?"
"What is it, Palmer?" Gibbs wasn't in the mood for a conversation. He was beginning to regret bringing this whinging excuse for a ...
"Er...I have a question." Gibbs turned and glared at him – his eyes urged him to spit it out.
Palmer gulped. " Well...if I'm to be out here 'in the field' – or should I say 'in the woods'..." He snorted at his own wordplay.
"Palmer!" Gibbs' sense of humour was off somewhere with Tony.
Jimmy gulped again. "Um..well...I was thinking...shouldn't I have a gun?"
There was a resounding, "No!" as both Gibbs and Ziva answered at the same time.
"Just a thought," mused Jimmy.
"Don't think, Palmer. Just shut up and follow orders. Got it?" snapped Gibbs.
"Yes, sir." Jimmy wouldn't make the same mistake twice.
Smithson checked his watch – it was a little before 3am. He wished that whoever was out here would go back to where they'd come from. He'd figured no one would be this far out into Shenandoah. That was the whole reason behind his setting camp up here. He thought he could lay low for a couple of weeks, just to get his head around things – the Marines didn't take too kindly to its men going UA. He'd also thought that they wouldn't come looking in a National Park for him, figuring that he would be miles away by now. He hated the idea that he was now a fugitive at large. He had had a perfect military record – a real stand up guy. That was before the guys in his unit had set him up. 'Semper Fi?' They didn't know the meaning of the words. Not one of them had shown him any loyalty.
The snap of a twig heightened his rush of adrenalin. He remained statuesque, McGee's gun in his hand. Once more he heard voices but there were three of them this time. Stealthily he made his way further into the trees – there was no way he was going to let anyone take him back. As he passed one of the many oak trees, he became aware of a gun pointing directly at his head. He halted.
"Going somewhere, Marine?" Gibbs' voice had challenge in it. Smithson's forefinger moved a fraction closer to the trigger of the gun in his own hand.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Ziva's voice came from behind him. He heard the gentle click as she disengaged her safety catch. She continued, "He never misses. Nor do I."
Smithson looked at Gibbs who cocked his head and gave the renegade Marine a 'wanna find out?' look. The Lance Corporal knew he was out numbered. He let the weapon slip from his grip and on to the ground. Ziva retrieved it quickly, whilst Gibbs moved around the tree trunk to stand in front of Smithson, still training his gun at the spot between his captive's eyes.
Jimmy didn't like the idea of being left by himself anywhere in these woods, but Special Agent Gibbs had been adamant that he sit still on this fallen tree and not move a muscle. Palmer had watched as both the older agent and the Mossad Officer had disappeared into the thicket. He couldn't hear either one of them moving. A look of respect formed on his face. He now realised why he had been left behind – he wasn't the stealthiest of people, in fact he was quite the opposite. A memory of himself clumsily running, half slipping past McGee and Tony at a crime scene popped into his head. He winced at the painful memory of the badly sprained ankle he'd received as a result of tumbling head first down the steep slope. 'No...no...it's best that I stay here and wait,' he thought to himself. So that's what he did. They'd been gone for just over an hour when he heard a noise. His head spun around to pinpoint it. His heart leapt into his mouth.
"Agent Gibbs?" He half-called, half-whispered the words. There was no reply. Jimmy's palms began to sweat, his rib-cage was being pounded from within. He began to hyperventilate. The noise moved position. It was a skittering sound. Suddenly Jimmy spotted movement to his left. A small squirrel ran out from beneath some leaves and scurried up a tree trunk into its heavy branches. Palmer shut his eyes and took in a deep breath, exhaling it with a slight laugh. The relief he felt was incredible, yet he remained extremely nervous and alert. He hoped Ziva and Gibbs would return soon.
Back at the cabin, McGee was dozing fitfully on one of the huge couches. Abby had covered him over with a couple of the blankets she had retrieved from one of the bedrooms. She and Ducky also had one each.
"I need to think," said Ducky. "I'm just going to take in the night air, Abby. Would you mind watching over Timothy for me?"
Abby gave him a closed lip smile, "Not at all, Ducky...but I don't think he needs much watching. Do you really think it's a good idea to go outside?" She was worried because Ducky seemed worried. She knew he was concerned by the length of time that had passed since Gibbs and the others had left to look for Tony. She was concerned too, Tony was a good friend. She fervently hoped he was okay.
"Oh I'll be perfectly fine, Abby. I'm only going to be by the door. I promise I won't be venturing any further than that." Ducky sensed the Forensic expert's concern and gave her a reassuring smile. He then headed for the door and stepped outside.
Abby went over to McGee, kissed him gently on the forehead and pulled the blankets up to his chin. Then she went to join Ducky outside. They stood silently staring at the tree line that surrounded them, both of them trying to picture how the search was going. Ducky stared up at the stars in the sky.
"You know, I'm reminded of the time I was lost in the Cairngorms...Yes... I was much younger then, of course. I had ventured into a particularly remote part of the mountain range and had somehow managed to lose my companions..."
Abby smiled at the older man's reminisces. Ducky always had a tale to tell. She wandered a few steps away from him and then interrupted his thoughts, her smile widening by the second.
"Yes my dear," replied the ME, still a little lost in his memory.
"Look what I found." Abby stood at the far end of the cabin, beaming and clicking her heels together. Ducky stepped towards her to see what she was looking at.
"Oh well done, Abby...well done." At the side of her, hidden from view of the doorway was an area that was sectioned off. It adjoined the cabin and was obviously a work area. In the middle of it was a short tree stump, into which had been plunged an axe. To the right of that, stacked up against the outside wall of the cabin, was a pile of pre-cut firewood. They each collected an armful and went back inside to McGee.
Tim woke with a start at the sound of the door shutting. He sat upright, the blankets dropping to his waist. "Tony?" he asked, temporarily confused.
"No, McGee. It's just us," answered Abby, "And look what we found!" Tim saw the firewood and a smile appeared on his face. He placed both feet on the ground and began to stand up. Ducky laid his bundle by the hearth, Abby did the same. McGee knelt down beside the older man. They began assembling the logs into the fireplace. Abby went into the kitchen to get some matches. It didn't take them very long to get a fire burning. They sat basking in the much welcomed warmth and glow of the flames, Ducky on one couch and McGee and Abby on the other.
Tony was awake and was anything but warm. He lay moaning like a wounded animal. Even the slightest movement sent intense waves of nausea-inducing pain rocketing through his leg. He lay still and clenched his teeth, trying to breathe normally. His eyes took in his surroundings. Muddy walls enclosed him, standing about 15 feet tall. He groaned. The blurry image that he had tried to focus on earlier was just to his left. He could see it clearly now and it had startled him at first. Two maggot ridden eye sockets stared back at him. It was the carcass of a rather large grizzly bear. Tony realised what must have happened. He had fallen into a bear trap, knocking himself unconscious. He also realised that a lot of time had passed and no one had yet found him – this troubled him somewhat. McGee couldn't have been that far away because the last thing Tony remembered was the probie complaining. Why hadn't he found him?
He looked up to see if there was any way of getting himself out of this hole. He couldn't make out if the darkness he could see was the night sky, devoid of stars, or whether there was some kind of roof covering the pit. He felt around for his flash light – no sign. Nor was his weapon in its holster. He must have dropped them topside. Holding his breath, he pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked down at his leg. The pain was unbearable. He groaned through clenched teeth whilst surveying what damage he had done to his leg. It lay outstretched on top of a broken log. His long, lean limb was most definitely broken – the bone had punctured the skin of his shin. He grimaced at the sight. He had seen worse sights in Ducky's autopsy lab but this was his own leg. Nausea started to rise in his stomach. He lay back down and sucked in several deep breaths, trying to fight off the urge to lapse into unconsciousness again.
Having satisfied herself that he was suitably restrained and the cuffs were tight enough, Ziva pushed the young Marine to the ground. "What have you done with him?" she demanded.
Gibbs took a step forward and grabbed the Mossad officer by the elbow. "Hey, Ziva...what do you think you're doing?"
"Trying to find out where Tony is," she replied with a look that suggested Gibbs should have already known that.
Smithson looked from one to the other, confusion etched on his face. "Who are you talking about?" he asked. Both Gibbs and Ziva stared down at him.
"The NCIS agent you abducted," stated Ziva, "Now where is he?" Her gaze intensified.
"Look lady, I don't know what you're talking about...I didn't abduct anybody!" Smithson's denial was adamant.
"You hit McGee over the head and stole his gun..." continued Ziva, getting more and more frustrated.
"I didn't abduct him! If he's gone missing, it's got nothing to do with me!" The Lance Corporal was equally frustrated.
"He hasn't! Tony is missing!" There was exasperation in her voice.
"Who the hell is Tony?" Smithson was more confused than ever.
Gibbs couldn't listen to any more. It was turning into a farce. He held up his hand – a signal that they should both shut up and calm down. He grabbed Ziva's arm and turned her to face him, staring intently into her eyes.
"You wanna tone it down, Ziva?!" It wasn't a request. She sighed angrily before stomping a few steps away. Gibbs turned back to the Marine.
"Are you telling me you don't know anything about Tony's whereabouts?" He watched the young man's reaction closely.
"I didn't know anyone was missing until she just told me. I have no idea what you're talking about." He seemed genuine.
"But you did hit McGee?" queried Gibbs.
"I hit someone...with a tree branch. And yes, I did take his weapon...but it was self-preservation. I don't want to go back. I thought he was coming for me, so I hit him," explained Smithson.
Gibbs eyed his prisoner carefully. This didn't seem like a cold-hearted, scheming killer roaming the woods. In fact, the young Marine didn't look like he would even have any parking tickets, let alone commit a federal offence.
"What are you doing out here, Marine?" Gibbs was curious.
Smithson hesitated. He looked at Gibbs trying to work out if this man was someone he could trust. "Trying to evade capture, sir," was his honest reply.
"Capture from who?" asked the senior agent.
"Er...that would be the Marines...sir"
Now it was Gibbs turn to be confused. "Our Marines?"
"Why have you gone UA, Lance Corporal...?" The older man wanted to get to the bottom of this quickly. Time was being wasted and they still hadn't found Tony.
"Smithson, sir ...and it's complicated," said Smithson.
"So un-complicate it, Marine." Gibbs was in no mood for beating around the bush.
"I've been set up by my unit. Accused of something I did not do and am not prepared to be court marshalled for it, sir. Wanted to clear my name before I go back." Gibbs sighed heavily. He didn't have time for this.
"Ziva! Keep a watch on him."
"Where are you going?" she asked, a little annoyed that she was being asked to babysit the prisoner.
"To find DiNozzo!" was Gibbs exasperated reply.
"What about Palmer?" asked Ziva, remembering that the nervous assistant had been alone now for several hours. The sun was starting to ascend and daylight was beginning to break.
"Dammit!" Gibbs muttered under his breath. He'd forgotten all about the autopsy gremlin. "C'mon! You can collect him on the way back to the cabin." They all set off together.
Tony was drifting in and out. The cold and the pain were having an equal effect on his ability to remain conscious. His stomach rumbled. Despite the waves of nausea, he was hungry enough to eat a dead horse...or even a dead bear. He eyed the grizzly up beside him, before erasing the idea from his head.
"Nah...wouldn't be right...would it, Yogi?" He laughed to himself. 'Haaaaaaah DiNozzo,... you've really done it this time. Stuck out here, all alone...with a broken leg...and now you're even talking to dead animals... I knew this team building thing was a mistake.'
Despite the craziness of the situation, Tony realised that he appreciated why Ducky talked to the dead in his autopsy lab. It was a way of staving off the fear of being alone with a corpse. 'Course, Tony being Tony, he tried to make light of the situation.
"Hey, Yogi? I think I made a Boo boo!" He laughed aloud. It was long and drawn out and, by the end of it, had turned into a howl of pain. Hysteria was beginning to set in. Tony tried to think about formulating a plan but one question kept popping into his head - why hadn't they found him yet?
Now that the cabin was warm, McGee, Abby and Ducky set about another task. If Gibbs did find Tony and he was injured, they would need to find a way to get him back to DC.
"McGee!" shouted Abby as she remembered something. "Your cellphone! It's in my backpack." She ran off and returned moments later with Tim's phone. He powered it up.
"Dammit!" He held it up so they could see. "No service." The glimmer of hope was quickly dashed.
Ducky stood looking pensive. "Surely they would have some form of communication for emergencies such as this. They couldn't possibly expect to leave..." He didn't get chance to finish because Abby, who had had another idea, was rifling through a small cupboard space.
"When I was a kid my Uncle Theodore used have this log cabin. We used to go out there every summer... Anyway it was quite remote and there was this one summer when my cousin Morrie and I got lost out in the woods and my Uncle had to call for help. He didn't have a phone either...but he did have..." she pulled something out from behind the door of the cupboard.
"A radio set!" McGee's eyes glinted with hope and excitement. He hugged the Goth who squealed at the contact.
"Well done, again, Abby," stated Ducky, proudly. Abby beamed and nodded her head from side to side like a child who is very proud of themselves.
"Okay," said McGee, placing the radio set on a table by the far wall. "Let's get this thing powered up and call in the reinforcements." He fiddled with a number of switches and dials. There was nothing. He frowned. "Something's not right. Let me just..." He twisted the dials some more but the outcome was the same. He slammed his hand on the table, "Dammit!"
"Here, let me try." Abby wasn't for giving up. She fiddled some more before coming to a conclusion. "There should be a signal receiver, McGee. It's probably on the roof of the cabin."
McGee didn't need any further instruction. He opened the cabin door. Daylight had broken and it was a crisp, cool morning. He stepped backwards away from the building, focusing his attention on the roof.
"I can see it," he shouted back. "It's a bit like a small satellite dish." He squinted. His attention was drawn to a piece of metal that stood at a ninety degree angle from the dish. "Antenna looks intact...I need to get a closer look." He looked around the outside area for something to use as a ladder. By this time, Ducky had joined him. Together they stacked up some more of the sturdier logs so that Tim could step up from them onto the roof. Grunting, he pulled himself up.
"Be careful, McGee...I don't want to be treating any broken limbs!" shouted Ducky, completely unaware of Tony's current condition.
After a brief inspection of the equipment, Tim made his way back down to terra firma. His expression was glum.
"The dish is shot...all rusted up. Useless!" He kicked out at a log in frustration. Abby placed her hand on his shoulder.
"Don't worry, McGee...We'll find a way...we always do!" She was referring to the numerous times she and the young agent had worked together solving problems that seemed impossible to others. Begrudgingly, McGee smiled at the Goth's optimism and then led them all back inside to formulate plan B.
Jimmy thought they had either forgotten about him, got lost themselves or were playing some kind of cruel trick on him. He knew what these agents were like. DiNozzo was always pulling stuff like this, but he didn't think Special Agent Gibbs would be the kind of person to play pranks. He hoped that Ziva wouldn't either. Having spent several hours in a state of intense panic and paranoia at every sound, Palmer decided they must have got lost, and figured that it would be best if he made his own way back to the cabin to notify the others. The sun had come up so it would be easier to navigate although he wasn't entirely sure which in which direction he should be heading. He decided to use the sun as a guide. He knew it rose in the east and that the cabin had been to the west, so he set off, tentatively at first, but gaining in confidence with each stride. He tried to convince himself that he was just out for a stroll in the park near his apartment. As he headed through thick trees towards a small clearing, he even began to whistle and placed his hands into the pockets of McGee's jacket. He smiled widely as he felt something in his hand. It was a small oblong shape with buttons on the face of one-side of it – his cell phone. He'd forgotten all about the fact that he had quickly shoved it into the coat as Gibbs was dragging him out of the cabin. Quickly, he pulled it out and dialled a number. Nothing happened. He checked the screen. No service. He sighed heavily, but wouldn't give up on the idea totally. He held the handset high above his head and kept an eye on it as he continued walking. Maybe he would hit a patch where he could get a signal. The distance to the small clearing lessened as he moved onwards, stumbling every now and then but managing to maintain his balance.
Tony was trying to occupy his mind by testing himself on the world of movies – Jeopardy style.
"What is The Guns of Navarone," he answered.
"Correct!" he replied. "Ok, Tony this one's for the mystery prize...Are you ready?" he asked himself in a TV gameshow host tone of voice.
"Hit me with your best shot!" he challenged.
"In which movie were an umbrella, some aluminium foil and a spell checker used in the construction of...?" He was cut off by himself.
"I know! I know! What is ET – The Extra-Terrestrial?" Tony shouted triumphantly.
"And that is correct, Mr DiNozzo..You win the mystery prize! A free trip out of this hellho--le..." The last word trailed off into a low moan as Tony gave in to defeat. He was bored, cold, hungry, tired and in pain...and he wanted to go home. 'Home – now there's a word...even ET managed to phone home' He laughed to himself, maybe it was like the in The Wizard of Oz. Maybe he had to keeping repeating it over and over. He tried it. "There's no place like home...there's no place like home...there's no place like home." He would have clicked his heels together if it wouldn't have caused so much pain. Instead he settled for repeating the word 'home' over and over – imitating ET's voice. Eventually he let out an angry roar followed by a childish plea.. "Arrraargh... Is there anybody out there!? I just wanna phone home! "
"Are you sure it was this tree trunk?" asked Ziva. Gibbs glared at her – she should know better than to ask. They had arrived back at the spot where they had left Palmer, to find him gone. Smithson stood observing as the two agents glared at each other.
"Well, he can't have gone far..." stated Ziva.
"For all we know he could be in the Blue Ridge Mountains by now, Ziva! He's had hours to wander off!" Gibbs was getting extremely exasperated and irritated. "Why the hell does everybody around here keep disobeying orders?" He included the Lance Corporal in that statement.
"Come on, Gibbs. Blue Ridge Mountains? This is Palmer we're talking about...the autopsy gremlin? He needs a map to make it to the squad room!" Ziva almost laughed at her boss' exaggeration.
Gibbs shrugged his shoulders, she was right he conceded. Palmer was probably a few metres ahead of them hugging a tree or something. He made a decision.
"Let's just get back to the cabin..." He pointed to the Marine. "...Drop him off, get something to eat and start the search.." He corrected himself, "..searches... afresh...maybe McGee'll be up to it by then."
At the cabin, McGee was still fumbling for an idea on how to get the radio set working. Abby was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the room, her fingers pressed to her temples, her eyes tightly shut. Tim looked over at her.
"Abby, what are you doing?" he asked with a look that said she was up to something crazy again.
"I was trying to tune in to Tony's thoughts to let him know that we're looking for him and that he'll be okay?...but all I keep getting is this image of ET building that communication device and trying to phone home." She looked desperate, her lips were turned down sulkily.
McGee gave her a cynical look, which then turned into a 'wait a minute' look. He moved over to her, placed his hands either side of her head and kissed her.
"Abs, you're a genius!" He wandered off into the kitchen and returned with some aluminium foil and the largest colander he could find. "If we fill the holes with the foil we could try to hook up the antenna and the receiver on the roof to try and boost the signal."
Abby's eyes widened and she pressed her palms together, squealing with excitement.
"Do you really think that'll work, McGee?" she asked hopefully.
McGee jerked his head to one side with a grin on his face. "Well, let's find out." Abby beamed at him and then at Ducky, who raised his eyes to the ceiling and sent up a silent prayer. They then set about the task of assembling the equipment.
Palmer was still having no luck in getting a signal. It didn't seem to matter how many times he waved the handset around or how high he held it, there was still no service. He was in the middle of his final attempt, eyes glued to the small screen when he didn't notice the small, fallen tree trunk ahead of him...and beyond that, a large hole. His foot made contact, or rather his shin did and he fell forwards, a loud cry of "Whoah!" escaping his lips. He released his grip on the handset which sailed up into the air and began its descent...right into the hole. Before he knew what had happened he found himself somersaulted forwards and ending up prostrate looking down from the edge, into a deep, dark pit.
Delirium had begun to set in. Tony was still chanting 'home...home...home' when suddenly, from out of nowhere something struck him in the abdomen. He became alert again, momentarily silent, and raised his head slightly from the ground in an attempt to listen for any sound. His hand reached down towards his stomach and felt around for whatever had hit him. He located it just to the side of his body. His fingers wrapped around the small oblong object and he brought it to his face to get a closer look. An expression of total astonishment formed on his face, quickly followed by a huge grin.
"No wa-ay!" was all he could say. He looked up towards the sky, which he could now see clearly, since the sun had come up. "No way!" he repeated as he looked at the cell phone in his hand. His eyes moved from side to side as he tried to reason what had just happened. He could only come to one conclusion: "Maybe, ET was listening." It started out as a thought in his head but he actually verbalised it.
A noise at the topside edge of the pit brought him out of his delusion. He squinted to see who or what was up there. He could make out the shape of what looked like a head and shoulders. His eyes widened.
"ET?" he asked softly, but loud enough to be heard.
"Agent DiNozzo? Is that you down there?" asked a surprised Jimmy.
"Palmer?" Tony laughed to himself. Now that was even crazier than thinking ET had come to rescue him.
Jimmy's voice came back stronger. "Yes, Agent DiNozzo. It's me...Jimmy. I found you!" The young assistant was amazed with himself. He beamed a smile bright enough to light up the universe. He had found Tony ...and Agent Gibbs hadn't. So what if it was a mixture of sheer coincidence and extreme luck, Palmer had located the missing agent. 'I can't wait to tell Dr Mallard all about this,' he thought. "Don't worry, Agent DiNozzo...we'll get you out of there!" Jimmy looked around for something that could be useful. Slowly, it dawned on him that the pit was very deep and there was only him there...apart from Tony, of course, but he wouldn't be able to help. He looked back down into the hole. "Agent DiNozzo, are you hurt?"
"Broke my leg in the fall...can't move," came the weak reply. Palmer didn't hear him add, "...Great!...Sleeping Beauty gets a prince and I get 'the autopsy gremlin'...just my luck!" Tony continued grumbling under his breath.
Ziva, Gibbs and Smithson were just approaching the tree line at the edge of the clearing when Ziva stopped and held up her hand.
"Wait!" she hissed. "Did you hear that?" Gibbs' eyes confirmed that he, too, had heard what sounded like a shout. They edged closer to the clearing, both of them applying their training to the maximum degree. Ziva's eyesight was better than Gibbs'.
"Over there! Look!" She pointed out movement. Someone appeared to being crouching low and looking at the ground. She strained to look closer. "Is that...Palmer?"
Gibbs followed her gaze. His eyes were narrow at first, but widened as he realised she was right.
"What the hell is he doin'?" he asked.
Ziva shrugged her shoulders, "Hits me," she said, "...but at least we've found him."
Smithson had opened his mouth to say something.
"What?" asked Ziva.
"Er...I think you mean 'beats me',...not 'hits...m..'" His voice trailed off as he caught her look.
Under her breath she muttered, "..stupid, stupid americanisms!"
Gibbs smirked and then led the way into the clearing.
There was a small cheer as the radio set began emitting white noise. McGee and Abby had, somehow, managed to hook up the colander and get it working.
"Way to go, McE T!" Abby punched the air triumphantly and began dancing around with Ducky.
"Yes, yes...I must say, Timothy, you didn't have me convinced at first, but you've done it again...the two of you. Well done!" He smiled warmly as he spun Abby around in a manner befitting a ballroom.
"Couldn't have done it without you, Ducky," McGee said.
"But I didn't do anything." The ME seemed puzzled.
"Yes, you did. Who helped me onto the roof? Who made sure I didn't fall off?" McGee wanted the older man to accept some of the credit.
"Well, I'd hardly call that helping, McGee...I was simply trying to avoid having to fix any broken bones," clarified the doctor.
"Well, it worked, Ducky, you didn't have to!"
"Er...I wouldn't be so sure about that, Dr Mallard."
In all of the excitement, none of them had noticed an out of breath Palmer enter the cabin.
Ducky took in Jimmy's bedraggled and muddy state."Good Lord, Palmer...What happened to you?...Where're Gibbs and Ziva?.."
Palmer tried to get his words out quickly. There was no time to waste. "They're with Agent DiNozzo!" was all he managed to say before Abby pounced.
"Tony?...Where is he?...Is he okay?...Why didn't you bring him back?" The questions flew out of her mouth at a rate of knots. Palmer's head shook unconsciously as if fending them off.
"He's in a hole...and he's broken his leg..." He looked at Ducky, "...quite badly too, Dr Mallard. From what I could see it looked like a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula."
Ducky winced. "I'll get my bag." He knew only too well how painful a compound fracture could be.
McGee grabbed a coat too. "You'll need some help to get him out." Abby grabbed her coat. McGee stopped her. "No, Abs..." She began to protest but he cut her off and pointed at the newly-working radio set. "Someone needs to call in the cavalry." Abby understood and nodded in agreement.
"Bring him back soon, McGee."
"We will, Abs."
Ducky returned with his medical bag and a warm coat, and he, Palmer and McGee set out once more.
Nobody was more surprised than Gibbs when he discovered the reason for Palmer talking to the ground. The relief that flooded through him at the sight of Tony dwarfed any anger he would have directed at the naïve assistant for wandering off. He looked down into the pit. Tony looked weak and in serious pain. He decided to try and lift the younger agent's spirit.
"You lying down on the job again, DiNozzo?" he asked loudly.
"Oh hey, Boss!" There was a slight pause as Tony tried to swallow enough saliva to wet the back of his throat. His voice was hoarse. "Yep...thought I'd take a nap with my little bear buddy here...Have you met Yogi?"
Gibbs looked at the carcass that lay beside his agent and grimaced, then he looked back at Tony.
DiNozzo laughed out loud, "Oh yeah...he's a bit stinky an' all...ol' Yogi...and he sleeps a lot...but at least he doesn't snore like some Mossad Officers we know, right Boss?" There was a slight pause as Ziva peered over the edge of the pit. "Oh hey, Ziva...didn't know you were up there," shouted Tony. His mouth grimaced slightly.
"Evidently," answered the Israeli. Her irritated tone belied the fact that she was actually extremely relieved to see he was in one piece – well, nearly in one piece - and making quips.
"Hey? ..Boss?" Tony shouted.
"Any chance I can get out of here soon? Only I got a hot date with ..." he half- whispered the rest, his hand shielding his mouth from the bear at the side of him, "...Mrs Yogi Bear." He laughed again but it was cut short as the vibrations ran down his leg causing intense pain. He half-groaned and half-squeaked as he tried to hold it in.
'Well at least he didn't damage his head' thought Gibbs, 'He was spouting this nonsense before he fell.'
"That's affirmative, Tony. We're just waiting for reinforcements to arrive." As he said it, Palmer returned with Ducky and McGee.
"Jethro?" It was more of a greeting than a question.
Gibbs looked at his old friend and shook his hand. "Good to see ya, Ducky."
"How's he doing?" Ducky gestured with his head towards the hole, which presumably contained Tony.
"Is that Ducky?" came a hoarse shout from below.
The ME leaned over the edge. "Hello, Tony...how's that leg doing?"
"Not too good, Ducky. Kinda hurts... a lot." Tony coughed. The cold and damp of the earth beneath him had penetrated his skin and was working its way through his body tissue. Red hot pain fired through Tony's leg as he shook from the cough. He whimpered loudly.
"We need to get him out of there now, Gibbs!" Ziva was getting impatient. "He's going to catch his death of cold, not to mention the pain he is in..." She looked away quickly as Gibbs tried to catch her eye. She knew he had sensed that this was more than impatience.
"And we will, Ziva. But we can't move him while he's in so much pain." He turned to Ducky. "You got anything you can give him, Duck?"
"Well, yes, Jethro, I have but someone will need to get down in that hole to administer it... and I fear my old bones are not likely to be up for a challenge such as that," the doctor explained.
"I'll do it!" Ziva was quick to volunteer. The look on Gibbs face told her for certain that he knew she wasn't just impatient to get out of there - he had been expecting her eagerness. From one of the backpacks that McGee and Palmer had brought with them, Gibbs pulled out a length of rope. He fastened one end around Ziva's waist and, gently, they lowered her down into the pit.
John Wayne greeted her, "Well, hey there, little lady!" Swiftly followed by Sean Connery, "Do you come here often?" Ziva smiled. She couldn't help it. Despite the fact that he was sometimes infuriatingly irritating, she did actually find Tony funny. She felt a small pang of guilt for calling his jokes pathetic the previous day.
"Hello, Tony," she answered. "Let's see if we can get you a little more comfortable, yes?"
Tony had a mischievous glint in his eye. He grinned boyishly. "What do you have in mind,...Zi-va?" He winked and opened and closed his mouth as if biting at the air. Ziva leaned in to him closely, her mouth millimetres from his. With her left hand she reached down his body. He raised an eyebrow and smiled. Then she stuck the needle into his left thigh.
"Yeowwww!" Tony screamed. Ziva stroked his face and shushed him. He just looked at her like a wounded animal looks at its tormentor. Slowly,... gradually,.. his pupils began to dilate and his eyes misted over. He was drifting into morphine bliss. After a couple of minutes, Ziva looked up at the others.
"Ready!" she shouted.
They threw down a makeshift splint and Ziva tried as best as she could to apply it. Then quickly they lowered more ropes. Ziva tied one around Tony's chest, below his armpits, one around his abdomen and the last one around his thighs, just below his butt. All of the men, topside – including Lance Corporal Smithson – heaved and pulled until, finally, Tony emerged over the rim of the pit. They placed him on the ground and Ducky assessed the damage.
"We need to get him to a hospital...he needs surgery on this leg." The ME was concerned. This wasn't over yet, not by a long chalk.
Between them they had managed to find enough decent pieces of flat wood to create a makeshift stretcher. Gibbs secured Tony to it whilst McGee and Palmer pulled Ziva back up out of the hole. Slowly and gently, they each held part of the stretcher and carried Tony back to the cabin. The rescue had taken a little over three hours.
Abby was nervously pacing up and down the verandah waiting for them. She gasped as she saw Tony's condition and stepped out of the way quickly so they could take him inside.
By the time they had returned to the cabin, evening was approaching fast. There was distinct nip in the air, but inside, the fire was burning fiercely and was surrounded by a lot of exhausted faces. Tony was snoozing his way through a third dose of morphine on one of the couches. Ducky had applied a much better splint than the previous field one and had placed Tony's leg in a more comfortable position. They had all eaten, except Tony. During his time in the cabin, Ducky had thoughtfully placed the pasta dish, which Ziva had made, into tupperware boxes which were then stored in the refrigerator. Abby had reheated them in the microwave and served the pasta up to empty and extremely grateful stomachs.
Once all the commotion of their arrival had died down, Gibbs looked over at the radio set. He looked questioningly at McGee, who nodded his head in Abby's direction. She had informed him that help was on its way in the form of a helicopter, but that it wouldn't be arriving until first thing in the morning – it was too dangerous for a night landing.
"How did you get it working if the receiver was all rusted up?" asked Gibbs.
Abby looked at McGee and smiled. "Let's just say that we had some extra-terrestrial help, Gibbs."
Jethro looked at Abby's beaming face, to the smug look on McGee's, to Ducky...who gave him a 'you don't want to know' look. Gibbs smirked and shook his head slightly. He thought about the events of the last two days. He ran through the conversation he'd had with Jenny before the seminar yesterday. 'Friction in the team...' she'd said...'noticeable for days...in need of some morale boosting interaction.' Then he thought about the events of the last few hours. He didn't know of any better team than he had right here in front of him. He smiled inwardly, before excusing himself for the night. The others followed shortly after...with the exception of Ziva, who had decided to volunteer to keep watch over Tony, despite Ducky's protestations that she needed sleep too.
Once all the lights had gone out, she sidled over to the couch and looked at Tony's slumbering frame. He winced once or twice in his sleep and gently, she stroked his cheek soothingly. She leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips. His eyes flickered briefly and a small smile appeared on his face. "Mmmm, Ziva..." he muttered and then fell back into his dream. Ziva caught her breath and straightened up – did she just hear him call her name? In his sleep? She smiled secretively to herself, moved over to the other couch and settled down.
Tony opened his eyes. He was still extremely groggy from the anaesthetic. He glanced around the room. He must be in a hospital. He was. The helicopter had landed at the nearest one outside of DC. It was in Virginia – just across the Potomac. He looked at the Get Well Soon cards that surrounded him and noticed Bert, Abby's hippo, sitting on the mobile table at the foot of the bed. There was a bunch of black roses in a vase next to the cuddly toy. Finally, his eyes alighted on a small object on the cabinet at the side of him. It was a ceramic grizzly bear wearing a tutu. Next to it was the note Ziva had attached. It read, 'Mrs Yogi Bear still wants that date!' A small laugh escaped his lips.
The noise of his door opening made him turn his head. It must have been time for rounds because a tall, male doctor walked over to the bed.
"And how are we feeling, Agent DiNozzo?" he asked..
"We," Tony looked at the bear, "...are feeling just fine. A bit groggy but..." he was interrupted.
"...But no pain?" queried the doctor.
"No. No pain," replied Tony.
Someone else entered the room but Tony couldn't see them as the doctor blocked his view. The doctor continued, "Good. That's what I like to hear. Makes it easier for the interns. In fact,..." he turned to look at the person who had entered, "Why don't you introduce yourself to your newest patient?" He headed towards the door and left.
Tony winced as he moved himself slightly in the bed. 'What was that I just said about no pain?' he thought to himself. He was just beginning to feel sorry for himself when the most beautiful sight he had ever laid eyes upon, walked over to his bedside. In her hand she held a clipboard. She reached out her other hand to shake his. Her touch was electric.
"Hi..." she paused to look at the name on the chart, "..Tony..." She smiled and Tony's heart nearly exploded. "My name is Dr. Jeanne Benoit, and I'll be taking care of you from now on."
Hope you like it...apologies to all those TIVA fans for the ending! Please, please review. I need the feedback.