a/n - I usually don't post multiple stories at the same time (used to, until I accidently switched chapters once), but I want to get both of them up before the repair shop gets my computer.
"Morning, Ziva." Tony sailed into the squad room balancing a drink carrier and a bag of pastries. "Man, am I glad the surveillance on Hopper is done. We got off the mountain just in time."
Ziva accepted her tea and a slice of banana bread. "Yes, the weather changed very quickly. I was surprised to see so much snow this morning, even down here." She tore off a chunk of the bread. "Thank you, Tony, but what is the occasion? Are we celebrating the ending of the joint operation?"
Tony had finished setting hot coffees and donuts on Gibbs' and McGee's empty desks just as Fornell came off the elevator. "Nah, as great as it will be to have the FBI out of our hair, I figured I owed it to Probie for making him wait and ride back on the equipment truck instead of in the chopper."
"What?" Fornell stared at him in horror. "You left McGee with the equipment yesterday?"
Tony had his back to the other agent and didn't see the expression on his face. "Well, he was still transmitting data back here and we didn't want some woodland critter to chew through any of the FBI's computers." He turned to finally look at Fornell. "Oh, come on, the truck was already on the way, an extra hour or two wasn't going to kill him." Gibbs arrived from MTAC just in time to hear Fornell's answer.
"The equipment truck broke an axle, they never made it up the mountain."
Gibbs ignored DiNozzo's outburst and concentrated on Fornell, not stopping until he was in his face. "You're saying you didn't send another truck up there?"
"Hey, we can't just call out the military like you guys. That's the only truck we've got to handle that kind of terrain, and the gear we were using is getting decommissioned at the first of the year. That's just a few weeks away, so it was no big deal. Your people were supposed to leave on the chopper."
Ziva was already trying McGee's phone. "He is not answering, Gibbs."
"Try the satellite phone." Gibbs knew that there was no cell service that far from civilization, which was why they'd been using a satellite phone between the surveillance site and the outside world.
"Umm, Boss, I brought the sat phone back with me." When Gibbs glared at him, Tony rushed to explain. "I didn't mean to, but it was in my jacket pocket."
Shaking his head, Gibbs dialed down to Abby's lab. "Abby, have you heard from McGee?"
~I'm not talking to McGee any more, Gibbs. He was telling terrible lies about you guys last night. He said you left him behind.~
"Abby, when did you talk to him and exactly what did he say?" There was a silence as she thought back.
~About 17.00, he emailed me that the truck hadn't shown up and the generators were almost out of gas. Why would he think you'd leave him behind?~
"Because apparently we did." Gibbs was already on the move back to MTAC as he closed his phone, the rest of them on his heels.
Abby stared at the phone as the dial tone echoed through it. "You left him? You left him? How could you leave him, Gibbs?" She rushed to the computer and tried to reestablish the link. "Come on, McGee, where are you?"
Vance looked up as the group arrived in MTAC. Gibbs ignored him and went straight to one of the technicians. "Get me connected with the ranger station again, NOW." It took a few minutes and he could feel Vance staring at him. The test pattern on the screen cleared to show Martin Taylor, their contact with the Forest Service.
"Agent Gibbs, your people got out just in time. We've got quite a blizzard going on up here."
"Then we've got a heck of a problem because the FBI truck didn't make it up there." The thin man on the screen just shook his head.
"If you've got gear left up there, it'll be there until Spring. Hope it was nothing expensive."
"We've got a man still up there." The shout silenced people on both sides of the transmission. Eventually the ranger gave them an update of the weather conditions up on the mountain.
"Over a foot of snow came down overnight, winds are sustained at thirty-five and gusts up to forty-five. Visibility is down to a matter of feet and everything is grounded. Forecast is that it could last at least a week."
Gibbs rubbed his face. "There has to be a way to get up there. I don't leave my people behind."
A ranger behind Taylor leaned closer to the camera. "Sorry, pops, but you already have."
Taylor glared at him before turning his attention back to the group watching from NCIS. "We'll have a rescue team standing by in case there's a break in the weather, but..."
"I understand, keep us posted." Gibbs' harsh breathing could be heard in the silence that followed. Vance stood and headed for the door.
"Gibbs, with me."
Tony spoke up before Gibbs could move. "This is my fault, Director. I'm the one that told McGee to stay there and wait for the truck."
"No, Tony, I'm team leader. The responsibility is mine." Gibbs looked like he'd aged twenty years as he followed Vance. Behind him Fornell was going through his contacts trying to find someone to help while Tony and Ziva stared at the storm images now up on one of the smaller screens.
Once the door was closed, Vance poured two cups of coffee and guided them to the sitting area of his office. Gibbs took the offered cup and stared down into the dark liquid. "All the years in the Corps, I've never left a man behind, Leon, and now..."
"This isn't the time to wallow, Gibbs. Now, what supplies were still out there? Let's figure out what he would do."
Gibbs gave his report automatically. "We were set up out there for over seventy-two hours, there wasn't much left. Maybe one or two cold ration packets. The computers had satellite up-link, but he told Abby he was almost out of fuel for the generators even before the storm hit. A couple of folding chairs, a table, and the lean-to were still left there, maybe a folding shovel, everything else went back in the chopper. Damn it, Leon, McGee twisted his ankle and he and DiNozzo were getting on each others nerves, I should have sent him back early, but I needed him on the computers."
This was sounding worse and worse. "How bad was his ankle?"
Gibbs thought back. "I'm not sure. McGee isn't one to really complain, so it's hard to gauge. I don't think it was too serious, but it slowed him down."
"Does he have any survival training?" None was listed in the young agent's file, but he knew that Gibbs was constantly pushing his team to improve.
"McGee? My computer geek?"
Vance was grasping at straws. "Isn't he a scout leader?"
Gibbs smiled at the memory of McGee in his uniform years ago. "He's an assistant leader, gave his troop a tour of NCIS a few years back and he mentioned once about helping them with their space exploration and inventing badges. Doesn't make him Grizzly Adams."
"Maybe not, but I'm not ready to give up on him yet. Put together a plan and I'll authorize it." Vance waited until Gibbs was almost to the door. "We've got a small window of time for a viable rescue, Gibbs, don't waste any of it drowning in guilt."
Gibbs nodded without turning around and closed the door behind him.
As soon as the video feed from NCIS went dark, Martin Taylor confronted his man. "What the heck was that all about, Peter? They've got an agent lost out on the mountain in the middle of a blizzard. Gibbs didn't need that kind of a crack from you."
Peter King certainly looked apologetic. "Sorry, sir, it just slipped out." He waited for a moment before shrugging his shoulders and leaving the room, not smiling until the door was closed behind him. He'd only been paid to make sure the computers weren't recovered. The agent left behind was just icing on the cake.