The ascent back to consciousness was always an interesting journey
The ascent back to consciousness was always an interesting journey. Sometimes the sight came back first. Other times, it was sound that brought him back to the land of the living.
This time, it was the sensation of lying on something hard. Hard and cold, but not the ground. More like metal. Metal? Why would I be lying on metal? He was face down, the metal touching his cheek and palms.
Then he noticed the cold. Man, he was cold. Could enough that all he wanted to do was go back to sleep. That probably wasn't a good idea, but he was so cold, he almost didn't care.
The pain kept him awake, though.. It wasn't intense; more like a dull ache over his whole body. Like he had been banged up…somehow. What had happened? He forced himself to think back. He remembered being in a car…with Ziva. And McGee. And rain. Lots and lots of rain.
Water! He pushed himself up now, fully awake, and immediately wished he hadn't. His head throbbed, and the world seemed to shift dizzily to the right. There was also a dull ache in his left arm that he hadn't noticed before, probably because of the numbing cold. He lowered himself back down and focused instead on scanning his memories.
He remembered getting out of the car, in the rain. Climbing…he was climbing on the car…reaching out to McGee….
"McGee!" he shouted, suddenly more awake than he had ever been in his life. "Ziva!"
The water had taken him. Pulled him away from the submerged car and tossed him around like a rag doll. He remembered branches slapping him in the face. A large piece of driftwood, catching him painfully in the ribs. Water, choking him. Trying to swim, but so disoriented… couldn't see, couldn't think, couldn't breathe…couldn't last much longer. Anthony DiNozzo, drowned in a backwater flood…
He had caught a glimpse of something large and dark looming ahead. It was much larger than a tree. He barely had time to brace for the impact before he slammed into…whatever it was, with such force that his vision turned black. He fought to stay conscious, grasping at this large, solid object that seemed to be unaffected by the raging water. The water, still pulling at him, not ready to give up its prey yet. He clawed and pulled and kicked with all his might, almost willing himself out of the water…still pulling, fighting, coughing…then the blackness came again and he could not fight it.
"McGee!" he called again, panic rising inside him. Had his teammates suffered the same fate? It was too dark to see beyond the edge of this…place. He examined the surface as best he could in the darkness. It looked like a gently sloped metal roof, like the kind that would be on a barn or shed. He slid as close to the edge as he dared. The water was calmer now, but still lapping less than a foot from where he now was.
So cold. Have to stay warm. He could do nothing for Ziva or McGee at the moment. It was too dark, and he was too weak to try and swim.
With shaking hands, he pulled off his wet jacket, socks, shoes, and shirt, one piece at a time. The outer layers had begun to dry in the cool night air, but his shirt and socks were still soaked. The pain in his arm intensified as he wrung the water from his clothes and redressed. He moved higher up, away from the water, and lied down, curled into a tight ball. There was nothing more he could do, except wait. Wait and hope that someone would find him, and that his teammates were OK.
"I hate waiting," he thought gloomily.
"Yep. Like looking for a needle in a haystack," Lt. Marks said for at least the third time. Gibbs glared at the back of the pilot's head, imagining how satisfying a good head-slap would be right at the moment.
They were flying low over the Shenandoah River Valley, supposedly looking for the missing NCIS agents. They had already stopped once to pick up a family who had taken refuge on the roof of their house and move them to higher ground. Gibbs felt frustrated by the delay, even though he knew it was the right thing to do.
"They're saying it's the worst flood in twenty years," Lt. Brenner, the co-pilot commented. "The Shenandoah is out, and all the little rivers and creeks are overflowing. More rain on the way tomorrow."
Gibbs sighed and turned back to his post at the window, scanning for, well, anything. It did seem like a futile effort. They had only seen the stranded family because the father had the good sense to bring a flashlight up with him. Gibbs didn't know if his team had any of their supplies with them. If they had to abandon the car, it was unlikely. If they were still in the car…
…the car is probably under ten feet of water by now.
"It's just too dark, Agent Gibbs," Brenner explained. "And we're running low on fuel. If we don't see anything in the next forty minutes or so, we'll have to head back and wait until daylight."
Gibbs rubbed his face with his hands. "Take another pass," he said, the usual strength in his voice now diminished. "Focus on the area between the town and the highway. That's where they would have been traveling, and it's the most flooded right now."
Marks nodded. He was pretty sure it was a waste of time, but he knew he would do the same if it were his men stranded out there.
As they passed over the darkened countryside, Gibbs noticed a flash of white from far below him. It wasn't very big, and could be anything, really.
"Go back! Turn around!" Gibbs called to the pilot. "I thought I saw something off the starboard side!"
Marks glanced at Brenner, who just shrugged. Obediently, he made a turn and came back around, trying to fly as close to where he had been during the last pass as possible. Gibbs stared, his eyes scanning the horizon as his gut told him he was on the right track.
"There! I saw it again. Go back about fifty yards and hover!"
When they were in place, Gibbs opened the door and leaned out as far as he could. The beam of his high-powered flashlight sliced through the darkness, illuminating trees, and water, and more trees.
Please, he prayed silently.
Trees, water, the edge of a building, and then, there it was! The flash of white.
"I saw it too!" the Brenner exclaimed. "What do you think it is?"
Gibbs couldn't stop his lips from curling into a smile. "It's the white lettering on a NCIS jacket. It's one of my agents."
As the co-pilot made his daring ascent down the rescue cable towards the barn roof, Gibbs' smile was faded. What if it was just a jacket? What if the person inside the jacket was dead? And why was there only one jacket below them? Where was the rest of the team?
He waited anxiously for what seemed like hours as the basket was raised. Finally it got close enough that he could make out two forms, both of which appeared to be alive. The rescued victim was male, with short hair…
Tony. Gibbs grabbed his agents arms and pulled as Brenner pushed from behind. Together, they managed to haul him from the basket into the helicopter.
Gibbs frowned. Tony was just lying there. Not talking, not laughing, just shivering violently. Brenner swiftly began removing the agent's wet clothing.
"He's either close to or already has hypothermia," Brenner explained. "We need to get him warmed up."
Quickly, they removed his clothing and wrapped him in warm blankets. Tony whimpered when they jostled his left arm. Gibbs could see that he was conscious, but there didn't seem to be much recognition of where he was or what was happening. He leaned over the younger man.
"Fine time to go for a swim, DiNozzo."
Tony blinked a couple of times, and finally focused on Gibbs' face. "B-Boss?"
"Take it easy, Tony. We're taking you to a hospital right now."
Tony looked confused for a moment. He crinkled his brow, as if trying to remember. It came to him quickly. He made a grab for Gibbs' arm with his left hand, winced, then pulled it back towards his body.
Brenner intervened and gently examined Tony's left arm. "I think it's broken, or at least sprained. I'm going to splint it for now. We'll have you to the emergency room in no time, Agent DiNozzo."
"No," Tony said again, more forcefully.
"What do you mean, no?" Gibbs asked.
Tony looked him in the eye. "Probie….Ziva. F-f-find them."
"Where are they? Tell us what happened."
Tony concentrated again. It was as if his brain had frozen along with the rest of him. "The c-c-car…water. W-water on the road."
"There was water over the road?"
Tony nodded and closed his eyes.
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs gave the lightest of head slaps, but it was enough. Tony's eyes opened again.
"We t-t-tried to get to the t-trees…I f-f-fell in."
"So Ziva and McGee are in the trees?"
"Where, Tony? What road were you on?"
Tony was silent for so long, Gibbs thought he had fallen asleep. He was about to employ the head slap again when Tony opened his eyes.
"Mill. Old Mill Road. Heading east, t-towards the h-h-highway."
Gibbs looked at Brenner, who nodded his understanding. "Marks! Head for Old Mill Road! They're along it somewhere, probably in the trees!"
"Do you hear that?"
Ziva opened her eyes and tried to listen, but it was hard to focus on anything besides going back to sleep, where it was warm. "No…"
"I th-think it's a ch-ch-chopper."
We have to get their attention. He didn't bother to voice it, instead saving his energy to be put to use signaling the chopper. But with what? His brain felt muddled and slow. Their black clothes wouldn't be of much help. They didn't have a flashlight, and both their cell phones were dead. We need light…
With shaking hands, McGee fumbled with his watch. Finally his clumsy fingers found the right button. The face glowed bright green, temporarily blinding him. It was such a small light; would it be enough? He held it up above his head, turning the face towards the sky. Ziva removed her hat and waved it, hoping against hope that the motion would be noticed.
The chopper flew over them in a roar of noise and chilling wind. It went past, continuing on to the north.
"No…" he whispered, his throat hoarse.
But the sound of the blades did not die away completely. To his amazement, he helicopter banked to the left and flew back, stopping directly above them.
"NCIS agents! Standby for emergency evacuation!"
"Your boss is up there!" the lieutenant shouted over the noise of the blades as he helped McGee into the basket. Ziva had gone up first. McGee felt more dread than relief at this news. How am I going to tell Gibbs that I lost Tony?
When they had finally made the slow ascent to the inside of the chopper, McGee scanned the inside. It seemed crowded. Gibbs was there, tending to Ziva. And there was someone else, sitting up wrapped in blankets, with a splint on his arm.
McGee's eyes widened in shock. "Tony?" he gasped.
Tony flashed that unmistakable DiNozzo grin. "You didn't really think you could get rid of me that easily, did you, McGee?"
McGee just stared, too stunned to respond.
I know you want to be Senior Field Agent, Probie, but you're going to have to earn it."
Lt. Brenner ushered him to the only empty space left in the chopper, which was next to Tony. McGee looked down as Brenner started removing his wet clothes.
"I'm s-s-sorry, Tony."
Tony rolled his eyes. "Quit blaming yourself again, McGee. There was nothing you could have done."
"B-but, I let go…"
"No, I slipped. Besides, if I hadn't, we both would have ended up in the water."
McGee searched Tony's eyes. There was no malice there. DiNozzo was a real pain sometimes, but he was loyal and forgiving when it mattered.
"If you two are done making eyes at each other," Gibbs interjected, "maybe one of you could tell me where my evidence is."
It was all he could do to hide a smile at the stricken looks on both their faces.