AN: Not really a chapter for Ziva fans… mind, I think they all stopped reading my stuff long ago.
A couple of friends asked about Emily Clark…
All the Other Acronyms
Tony paused in his narrative, looking at his knees, embarrassed at admitting his weakness. Nobody moved or spoke; he wasn't sure if anyone was breathing, and he didn't feel any kind of condemnation. They really did care. For a moment, he felt overwhelmed. Abby's hand, softly rubbing up and down his left upper arm kept him grounded. From somewhere, deep down he knew not where, he raised a smile, and looked up again.
"My watch survived," he said, brightly. "I was glad I slept through the night, because it was really cold when I woke up. I'd never have got to sleep otherwise," he added cheerfully, glossing over that he'd just told them his method of getting to sleep. "I hate going to bed cold… It was almost 6am, and the pain was much less. I thought I'd best get moving, so I stood up and took a look round."
His teeth were rattling, and his abused body was stiff, and it took maybe five or six minutes of grunting and fighting off dizzy spells before he stood upright. There was a road up there somewhere that he had to get to… He tried to recall exactly where he'd seen the car headlights last night, they'd seemed quite a long way above – and then the heart that had been lifted by a working watch and reduced pain, sank again. He recalled the moment when the ground gave way and he fell what he thought was a few feet; the escarpment was a good twelve feet high – he was glad he hadn't known that before – and it ran as far as he could see in both directions.
"The glass is half full," he said out loud. "It's going to be so much easier to go down than it would have been to go up." He sniggered, knowing what the others would think of him talking to himself, and took a very tentative step onto his left foot. Whoa… could be better. "Could be worse. Come on."
"I kind of liked the really steep bits, I could sit, and go down on my ass. Or sometimes, when I missed my footing, I just rolled…"
"But if you were already on your ass, Tony, how could you miss your footing?" Ziva asked sweetly.
"Oh… I just did sometimes."
Gibbs sighed inwardly. Think before you speak, Ziver… No way would DiNozzo ever admit to repeatedly passing out. "We traced your phone," he said neutrally. "One of the Rangers was nearer than we were… went in on horseback and found it." He remembered the bleak disappointment in the pit of his stomach when the woman had called in: no-one there. "Did you know you'd dropped it?"
Tony smiled a little. "Oh, yeah, Boss. That was the spot where it changed from two bars to one, and I thought that if it went to none, McGee wouldn't be able to track it at all, so I left it there. At least you'd have some idea of where I'd been." He paused, then gave Tim a slow sideways glance from under his lashes. "I'm only going to say this once, McBoyscout, but it's in front of witnesses. I wish I'd listened a bit more to your words of wisdom on the great outdoors…"
Tim was silent for a moment, then smiled. "You'd think I could be tempted to a little moment of smugness," he said, "but it's just not happening for me right now. Maybe later?"
"Let me know. I remembered you should look for a stream, and follow it down… I went down maybe four hills only to find nothing at the bottom. I either had to go round them or climb them again." Nobody commented on the effort that must have taken, but they all thought it. "In the end I found one – stream, I mean, not hill… by falling in it."
At least he wasn't cold any more… the sun was rising higher, and anyway, his exertions over the last – he peered at his watch, wondering why it was so difficult to focus on it – two hours, had brought his temperature back up again. No… three hours… where had the time gone? He was sitting down, and he couldn't remember when he'd done that. He'd been walking. Well, hobbling…
Ahead of him, down and to the west was a stand of trees; he didn't know how high up you had to be to get above the tree line, but clearly he was coming to it.( Or would be if he moved.) That had to be good. He pushed himself to his feet, aware of a stab of pain in his right arm, took a few lurching steps, and then one into nowhere. His foot kept on going down, and the next thing he knew he was on his hands and knees in water.
How had he not heard it? It had to have been right there under his nose as he rested. Or spaced out. Or whatever… He squeaked and gasped and spluttered at the coldness of it, although he had to admit it cleared his mind. He knelt in the water with his shoulders and arms on the bank, and rested his head on the grass for a while, before telling himself he'd been there for long enough. The cold was numbing his foot, which was nice, but it was numbing the rest of him too.
He walked downstream until he found a place where the bank fell away, and climbed out. Now he was cold again, and he hoped for another of those small mercies. If he could stay in the sunshine he'd probably be fine… if he went into the shadow of the trees, he'd never get dry. He cupped his hands and drank some water from the stream, then stood up and lurched on his way. His stomach growled, but hell, there wasn't a thing he could do about that.
After a short while, he had to stop yet again; the empty holster where his Glock had been was rubbing at his leg now that the leather was wet; so he bent, carefully, to remove it. No more sitting down, DiNozzo… although he was beginning to long for another good steep hill. His foot hurt. His arm ached. His back was beginning to throb more than he could ignore. His chest and ribs felt a bit bruised, and he tried not to extrapolate on that. He made to drop the holster, and then changed his mind. It might come in useful, although he couldn't think how. He wished again he'd taken a bit more notice of McFrontiersman.
"I'm not even thinking 'told you so'," Tim said. "But I know it did come in useful."
Both Tony and Gibbs said "What?" at the same time.
"I found your crutch," Tim said, "outside the Ranger Station." Everyone looked at him for clarification. "I don't know when you had the idea, but it made it all the way down the mountain with you. Tony found a branch, Boss – right size to reach his armpit, with another piece at right-angles. He put the holster over it as padding. Ingenious."
"Necessity was definitely the mother of that idea," the SFA said reflectively. "Hey… it worked. Don't think I'd have got down the mountain without it. I don't suppose…"
"Yep, I brought it back."
"No kidding? McGee, really?"
"Yep… I've got it under my desk. I thought you might like to keep it." The two of them laughed uproariously while everyone else looked at them as if they were barking mad.
"I thought it might make a good defence if I met a bear," Tony finally managed to say. "Actually, it was no help at all with that…"
Tim stopped laughing abruptly. "You met a bear…" he said heavily.
"Oh yeah… but that was the next day…"
"Well… I walked all day, I guess… except when I rested, which was lots. I couldn't move fast cuz of my foot, then when I found that branch, and stuck my holster on it, I sat on a rock and laughed until I had to headslap myself. The sun was starting to sink, any darker and I might have missed it, but I did move a bit faster after I made the crutch." He unleashed another DiNozzo grin. He was stuck with telling this tale, and no way was he going to whine. "OK, it took the pain from my foot a bit – a lot – started it off again in my back, but hey, those are the breaks…"
"Tony…" This time it was Gibbs who chided him quietly. He got the unspoken message. 'You don't have to pretend.' Mmm… not the easiest time to stop doing what he'd done all his life.
"Well… when it got dark and I started bumping into trees, it was time to stop. If I'd seen the bear tooty before I went to sleep, I'd have climbed a tree even if it killed me… but hey, it didn't matter if it was cold, nothing was going to keep me awake. I found a patch of dry undergrowth, burrowed in, tried not to think of the creepie-crawlies…"
"I never imagined you being afraid of insects, Tony."
Ziva again. She really didn't know when to give a guy a break.
Tony frowned, trying to find the words. "I didn't want… I couldn't wrap –"
"He didn't want them getting into his wounds, Ziva." Gibbs was matter-of-fact; although there was a hint of reproof in his tone, because someone with her background must have known that. "He had no way of keeping them out."
"Ew…" Abby said softly. She patted his shoulder. "Did you get to sleep?"
Tony's grin was back "Oh, yes. I started thinking about Emily Clark…"
"Oh, yes," the forensic scientist purred. "Your first experience of being locked in a trunk. Do tell…"
"Abs, we haven't time for this…"
"Sure we have, Boss. Not much to tell… Emily was a sweet little thing, but she wasn't sporty, she was… well, she was brainy and a geek. But she had a crush on me, and Mark Stookey had a crush on her… Well, I saw her coming one morning, and the only place I could think of to hide was in the trunk of this huge GMC that belonged to my pal Donnie. I dived in and pulled it almost down… the next thing I know is, it opens again, and Emily dives in. The trunk slams, and we're stuck. I say, 'Hi, Emily,' and she lets out a scream like a banshee.
"Tony! What are you doing in here?"
"Hiding. What are you doing in here?"
"Hiding. I hate small places. Get me out!"
"Emily, I'm stuck in here too!"
"Well, do something! Anyway, who were you hiding from? Tony? Tony? You were hiding from me, weren't you! You beast…"
"She started punching me and screeching, and when I could find them I grabbed her wrists, and said, 'Yeah, like you were hiding from Mark Stookey.' Easy to figure really. She saw the irony of the situation, and stopped. But she was still scared, and she started to cry, and her breathing was so bad I thought she might be asthmatic. So… like I said, I got us out with a tyre iron. Heroic, resourceful.
"When we got out, we saw Mark hovering nearby; she took one look at his guilty face and realised who'd shut her in. She went straight for him, not a word of thanks to me, and I thought she was going to kill him… but it's 'Oh, Mark… do you love me that much? Oh, that's so sweet…' and off they go in a little cloud of pink petal geek love! Excuse me? Who rescued her?" He pouted, but he was still laughing as he continued his tale without missing a beat.
"Well, I woke up even stiffer, and even colder than the day before, and boy, was I hungry. I thought I must be feeling better, cuz I hardly thought about food all the previous day. I sat up, kinda creakily…" he paused for effect, "and then I saw the bear poo not six feet from where I was."
"Algy met a bear,
The bear met Algy,
The bear grew bulgy,
The bulge was Algy…"
He sang the song over and over as he staggered downwards alongside the stream, and after a while he began to giggle. He stopped and stood still to calm himself down, standing on one leg and leaning on his trusty crutch. His friend, TC… It was another sunny day, and he was getting warm. Too warm? The throbbing in his back was like an aircraft engine, and he was light-headed. He drank some water from the stream and kept going, but he kept stumbling, and if it hadn't been for TC, he'd have fallen repeatedly.
He saw something ahead, and stopped, trying to focus his eyes. A thin line of trampled earth… and a marker post. A marker post! A trail, a real trail, with walkers, and rangers, and… he heard McGee's voice. "Trail posts have directional arrows, and miles, to the nearest Ranger Stations…" He tottered up to the post and collapsed, reaching up to touch the weathered wood as if he feared it would disappear again. He squinted at the numbers. Two miles. He could do that… of course he could… he used the post to climb back to his feet, turned in the direction the arrow indicated, and stopped dead again.
Right in the middle of the trail, a black bear sat scratching itself.
Tony froze. He had absolutely no idea what to do. Running was out. Talk to it? Nice Teddy… He'd heard people say you should play dead, but that seemed as good as saying, 'Here you are, bear, free lunch'. He clung to his faithful TC, and willed himself not to fall down. After what seemed like an eternity, the bear stood up, belched loudly, set off at a lope down the wooded hill at right angles to the trail, and soon disappeared, although Tony could still hear its progress for a while afterwards.
They all heard a slight sound from by the door. Nurse Danielle stood there, eyes wide.
"Oh," Abby exclaimed. We said we'd be gone. But –"
Danielle shook herself. "Bears," she muttered. "It's fine, I've talked to Dr. Blamire. I explained what had happened, and he's coming down, but he said this was as good a treatment as any, and you could rest later." They all looked at her in mute gratitude. Tim stood up from his chair, and invited her to sit. "Thanks. So what happened then?"
"Well… I made my legs take me to where he'd been, and there were smashed up remains of a honeycomb lying by the trail. Seems like I got the best fed bear on the mountain." He paused and grinned at Tim. "I know you'll tell me they don't attack humans very often, McNaturalist, I just didn't want to test the theory. I couldn't have fought off a squirrel just then!
"I'd been so darn happy to find that trail, I told myself I could do two miles no bother, but being elated one minute and scared rigid the next… I mean, the bear didn't even look at me… I wondered if I was suffering from shock, maybe, cuz I felt terrible…"
He didn't look up, or ahead; he didn't want to peer into the distance and see no sign of his target. He didn't look for a one mile marker; he simply looked at the trodden brown earth under his feet, to keep him on the trail. It was only when the path began to climb that he looked despairingly up; and the station was maybe fifty yards away.
He leaned against Abby and sighed blissfully with relief now his tale was told. "I know you found me before Goodman did, Boss; Dr. Blamire told me. What don't I know? Did you get her?"
"You really asking? Goodman came back, took the car to the top of a cliff, put it in drive and let it run itself into the lake. With your Glock on board, and your blood. But… when we'd spoken to the same people you did, we figured what you'd figured… it was just a matter of picking them up. He came to us by going after you. Tip off from the same Deputy… we should have arrested him earlier. Haven't got to the bottom of who killed who yet, but they're both as bad as each other. Apparently she saw a photo of him in a local paper, promoting the stables, realised it was Bernie and saw a better meal ticket than the one she had."
"She told us that stampeding horses wasn't enough to kill Michael, so Bernie and Goodman both beat him with fence posts, beyond recognition. Bernie told her that, so she had Jeremy in her pocket as well. Nice." Tim grimaced as he filed in that bit of detail.
"Goodman denied everything," Gibbs said softly. "Said there was no evidence… but would you believe this… when we arrested him at the Ranger Station, he was wearing your belt, with your knife, and your blood on it."
"It took Gibbs about two seconds to spot it," McGee added. "I thought for a minute he'd kill him."
"Glad you didn't, Boss. I loved that knife… "
"I took it back to the place I bought it," Gibbs said. "Having it reground, and a new belt. Be as good as new."
"You trusted me to remember… you knew I'd want it again."
"Sure I did…"
Danielle stood up. "Tony, you should rest." Everyone agreed, and stood up, except for Abby, who tried. Tony seized her hand.
"Abs, wait…" She didn't argue.
After all the goodbyes had been said, she murmured, "Did you see that?"
"Timmy lingering behind to wait for Nurse Danielle?"
"McGee… and Danni? No kidding…" He was silent for a moment. "Abbs… I'm sorry I hurt you…"
"Sssh. You didn't. Not really. Not when Tim explained. Not when I thought how you must have been feeling." Her voice wobbled a little. "You see…"
She broke off and wriggled out from under him, re-plumped his pillows, and pressed the remote control to lower the bed, then sat on the bedside chair to bring her face to the level of his. "You see… all I could think about was, well, what if you never remembered? What if you were never my big, brothery friend again? What if that happened and we couldn't rebuild as a new family? What if the fact that we always knew what you didn't, and said 'remember when', and you didn't, made you angry? And hurt? So much that you had to go somewhere far away to start again?"
"But Abbs, I didn't…" the green eyes were anxious even though sleep was trying to close them.
"No, but what if you had? I could only think of how I'd feel… What if you were out there somewhere in the world, and maybe not able to find anything as good as you'd had here… because it is good, Tony…"
"You hear me saying any different, Abbs?"
"Nooo… but what if you were out there, never really happy again, and still I couldn't see you, or talk to you, or ever make things better? I couldn't have borne that, Tony!"
He took her hand. "I thought about it," he said truthfully. "Before I remembered… I thought maybe I'd have to go… but d'you know… because I do… that something would always have brought me back… to Gibbs… to the team… to you, my Abby…" He slept.
AN: Done. Some one-shot. Tell me what you thought, she begged needily.