I glance at my watch and wince as I take note of the time.
"How late is 'fashionably late'?"
No. That isn't right. How about…
I can't help but grin faintly as I make another amendment. We are talking fashion, so most likely Tony would say:
Well, McGucci, I'd say we're well past fashionable.
And he'd probably add:
Though it's debatable that you could ever qualify as 'fashionable'.
I can't believe it, but I actually wish that Tony was making that little dig at me. Unfortunately he's well past being able to say anything, let alone make digs. I don't even want to think about whether he's still breathing or not. It's best to just assume that he is and keep moving.
You know what happens when you assume--
"You make an ass out of u and me," I reply.
Night Shift. Michael Keaton's first starring movie role.
I pause long enough to try to shift Tony's limp body into a better position before continuing the seemingly impossible trek.
I'm a lost cause, Probie. Just put me down and get the hell out of here.
"That's never going to happen," I snap furiously at him. We've had this argument before. Tony didn't even want me getting him out of the barn.
"I'll only slow you down, Tim," Tony warned, his use of my first name a sign of his completely serious intentions. "You need to get out of here."
"You're not going to be able to hold them off if they come back," I protested as I hurriedly cut the ropes binding Tony to the wooden beam.
Tony's smile was faint and it didn't reach his eyes. "So you'll just have to hurry," He finally answered after a long hesitation. I could practically hear the 'it won't matter' that he didn't say.
"I'm not leaving you here!" I insisted. And when Tony tried to object, I promised, "If you stay, I stay." I felt a lump form in my throat as I saw a brief flash of utter despair in Tony's eyes. If he'd said anything, I hate to admit that I might've given in. Fortunately my ploy worked. The desolation in his eyes was quickly replaced with a fierce determination as Tony nodded.
Unfortunately true to his word, Tony slowed me down considerably.
First, we had to take the time to bind his wounds. His sweatshirt was already mostly in shreds, so I had to sacrifice my own to the effort. I tried to offer my coat as well, but Tony insisted--and I have to admit he was right--that I would need it myself when we got out into the elements again.
Once we managed to staunch Tony's bleeding, there came the matter of getting him out of the barn where his captors had left him to die. It hadn't been all that hard for me to get in--I'd scaled the bale chute slide up into the loft and shimmied down the pole to where Tony was tied. Getting Tony out the same way, however, wasn't nearly as simple.
Tony took far longer than we could safely afford to take as he struggled to climb the pole to get into the hayloft. I watched helplessly as he valiantly fought for each and every inch, his limbs shaking with strain, his brow dampened with sweat. I wished I could get the lower barn door open, or that I could somehow carry Tony up on my back or something, but there was just no way.
As soon as he was within reach, though, I reached down and hauled him up the final distance, ignoring his involuntary yelp as the effort put further strain on his flayed back. We were both relieved that the bale chute was in place so that he could just slide easily to the ground.
Once we were clear of the barn, Tony tried to convince me to leave him behind again.
"Tim, listen to me…" he panted in short puffs, unable to catch his breath. I winced at the way his hand trembled as he placed it on my shoulder. "You have to be realistic here. You need to go--" When I opened my mouth to protest, Tony hastily added, "--bring back help."
I considered it…for about half a second. Tony wouldn't last long in the bitter cold, especially not the way he was dressed. Nor would he last long if he didn't get medical attention. "You wouldn't leave me," I replied firmly.
"I did leave you!" he reminded me sharply and I felt myself pale a little bit at that.
"That was different. You were--"
"Don't," he cut me off. I gulped as I saw that dreaded look of despair back on his face. "I did what I had to do to." He left out the words, 'to save you', but I heard them anyway. "And now it's your turn."
"Exactly," I informed him as I carefully took hold of his arm and wrapped it around my shoulder. "Lean on me."
"Agent McGee--" I recognized his tone as the one he'd used to give me the direct order to stay behind last time.
Last time. When he surrendered to the terrorist cell and claimed that he had tracked them to their compound alone. They hadn't believed him, but hadn't been able to find me. I was under his direct order as the higher ranking agent to stay still and silent, so I'd watched, helplessly as they'd tried to beat my location out of him. They stopped only when he'd lost consciousness. It was torture watching as they dragged his lifeless body into the barn. Even worse torment was waiting the twenty odd minutes until they left. And waiting the minutes longer before I was certain that they were truly gone.
The fact that they bothered to bolt and lock the barn door was a relief. To me, that meant Tony was still alive. The fact, though, that they hadn't left anyone to guard the door did not bode well for his condition.
"Just shut up, Tony," I snapped, knowing he'd respond to my anger far faster than he would to my pleading. "As the second highest ranking officer present, I am declaring you unfit for duty and am relieving you of command." For a moment I saw the hurt in his expression and I almost took it back, but I knew that I couldn't. His life depended on me. "Which makes me in charge," I continued. "Now, Mister DiNozzo--" It honestly hurt to call him that, but I knew it would be my best chance at getting him to recognize my authority. "--you will lean against me, and you are coming with me."
He licked his overly chapped lips and took a deep breath before nodding in defeat.
As we walked, Tony grew weaker and weaker. More than once he collapsed to the ground, claiming to be unable to go any further. And more than once I had to threaten to stay with him if he didn't get off his butt (or, more accurately his hands and knees) and keep with me. Each time it got harder to make myself do it, because I knew he was at the end of his rope and that he was doing his best. I knew that it killed him each and every time he had to admit he was failing. I also knew I could move a lot faster without him. But I couldn't leave him. Not even when he finally lost his battle and collapsed for the last time.
Now will you just leave me? I swore I could hear him, though in actuality he was completely unresponsive to my efforts to rouse him.
"No," I told him as I struggled to heft him over my shoulder and into a fireman's carry. Again, I knew I'd be able to move much faster without him, but I couldn't just leave him. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find him again when I managed to find help. Or even if I could find him, I couldn't be sure that it would be in time to save him.
So long as you don't die out here with me, Probie.
"Can't promise that, Tony," I admit. I'm not even sure I'm going the right way anymore. In fact, I'm pretty certain that I've taken us in a giant circle. The snow drifts over our footprints almost as fast as we make them, so I can't be certain, but…I think I've passed this place before. Here we are, stranded in the middle of nowhere, God only knows how far away from the car, our cell phone signals blocked, Tony unconscious, and to top things off, I get us hopelessly lost.
Look, McMacho-Macho-Man…I'm unconscious. Maybe even dead. It's time to save yourself.
"You are not dead," I growl at him.
I'll never know if you leave me here, Ricky-Ticky-Timbo.
"But I'll know."
And if he's going to die, there is no way I will let him die out here alone.
Better that than to have Gibbs find both our bodies out here.
"What makes you think Gibbs would even be able to find us?" I argue out of pure habit.
I can practically see the incredulous look on Tony's face and let out a small chuckle as I imagine his indignant response.
"Because he's Gibbs," I say it for him. I trust Gibbs, too, but I swear sometimes Tony thinks our Boss is Superman. Then again…I glance at my watch. We are so late. By now Gibbs has to know there's something wrong. Abby will have tried to find our signal and discovered that we're either out of range or our signals are being blocked. Ziva will have pulled up the car's GPS location. And Gibbs will have driven out here at 90 miles (maybe even 100) an hour.
But then what? Much as I trust in Gibbs, there's no way even he can find us out here. Our tracks are completely covered over. I can't call out without risking being found by one of the terrorists. Gibbs will know by the fact that we're not with the car that we stumbled onto something big.
If only we'd known how big, we would have called for backup before trying to do a little reconnaissance. And it was all my fault that--
Quit that, McGuilty. I'm the senior agent here; I'm the one who should have made sure--
"I'm the one who tripped the wire."
And I'm the one who didn't pay attention to what you were doing in time to stop you. I'm also the one who insisted we'd be fine without backup. We're even.
No we're not. And I'm not sure we ever will be.
Jeeze McLouise, stop feeling sorry for yourself and get me out of here!
I hesitate for a few moments as I try to see any sort of clue that we're going in the right direction. But everything just looks the same. Trees and snow. Snow and trees.
Close your eyes, Probie.
Just do it.
I obey, though it takes me a few moments to figure out why.
Trust your other senses, you must!
I'm pretty sure that's not a real Yoda quote, but who am I to argue with Tony?
I hold my breath and try to tune out all the normal sounds of the woods. Beyond those, though…I hear nothing. I have to try harder!
Do or do not, there is no try.
That one is real.
I can do this.
Tune out the wind, the blowing snow, the…The wind. We were walked pretty much against the wind the entire time we trekked through the woods. Which means…unless there's been a major shift, we should be able to walk *with* the wind.
It's worth trying.
Quite honestly if this doesn't work, I'm not sure I have the strength to keep going. It's getting harder and harder to walk; Tony's weight is almost unbearable. I haven't been able to feel my fingers or my toes for quite some time. I'm trying not to worry about it.
I'm also trying not to worry about the fact that confusion and disorientation are signs of hypothermia. And I'm now certain that I've taken us in a giant circle. I know I've seen that tree before. It's so green…and I'm so…tired.
Maybe I should try and rest. For just a couple minutes. Then I can carry him the rest of the way to the car.
Don't do it, McMoron. You stop now, you're not starting again.
"Fine," I snipe at him as I keep walking.
I don't remember falling.
But I can't get back up.
Well now you've gone and done it, Probie.
"I'm sorry," I choke out, pulling Tony against me, hoping to conserve at least some of our body heat.
"Nothing to be sorry for," I hear a voice above me.
I think maybe Gibbs truly is Superman.
I blink in confusion. "How did he find us?"
I don't realize I've spoken aloud until Gibbs softly replies. "I didn't find you. You found me." A moment later he asks, "Can you get up?"
"Can't leave Tony."
Gibbs smiles patiently. "We won't leave him. He's going to be fine."
He reaches down and helps me to my feet. I feel a little bit like I'm flying--is he superman? The look of amusement on his face indicates that perhaps I actually asked that out loud--as he guides me past the single line of trees beyond which is the car. And Gibbs' car. He helps me into his passenger seat.
"We were so close." I'm ashamed at the catch in my voice. "So close…"
"You weren't close; you made it," he assures me gently as embarrassingly he buckles my seat belt.
Gibbs disappears for a few moments then returns with Tony's listless body gathered in his arms. I watch as he carefully loads Tony into the back seat and drapes a blanket over him.
Tony looks impossibly pale. If not for the rise and fall of his chest I would swear he was dead.
"I'm not dead yet!" I quote Monty Python for him. At Gibbs' worried glance, I explain. "He's quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail." For some reason my explanation doesn't seem to ease Gibbs' concern. He looks tense as he climbs into the car.
"I'm sorry we're so late," I apologize as he anxiously alternates his attention between his driving, me, and Tony in the rearview.
"It's okay, Tim," he assures me. "You did good, Son."
And then I ask the question that's been bothering me for a little while. "Hey, Gibbs? How late is fashionably late?"