A/N: Last December I posted a story, Comfort and Joy, written for sapphyre_blu in NFA's Secret Santa fic exchange – but it was the second try at her prompts. This was the first. It kept growing and getting unwieldy and, I suspect, even less of what she wanted than what she got. Still, this one was fun to write, so I decided to finish it. There are three parts to this story, almost all completed. Depending on final edit, Parts 2 & 3 will either be posted as one installment or two.
sapphyre_blu's complete set of prompts for this exchange were "Tony serenades Ziva OR exhausted Tony gets comfort." Figures I wouldn't be happy unless I tried to include both. All comments and reactions welcome and appreciated.
Belated Happy Holidays, everyone!
Ziva David was angry. She was angry she wasn't driving, she was angry at the blizzard-like conditions which had made so many matters in this fiasco ten times worse than they had to be, but more than anything, she was angry at her foolhardy, pigheaded, brave and big-hearted partner, whose latest antics were the source of all the rest of her anger.
Deep down, she knew her nearly irrational anger was simply her relief from the nearly as irrational fear and worry she'd felt when she got a call from Gibbs, already in Pennsylvania for the holidays, that Tony had been swept up in the FBI's call for an inter-agency manhunt, and in only twenty nine hours had managed to, in this order, find the alleged dirtbag in a child-abduction scheme; get wet, get colder, and drown his phone in apprehending the man and securing him to a tree after extracting from him where he'd taken his victims; locate the small camp shelter where, this time, five young girls were held captive, all of them cold and dehydrated and bolted to the floor in potentially life-threatening, decaying weather; get wetter and colder as he went back to flag their whereabouts with torn pieces of his shirt for the other search teams to find as he returned to try building a quick fire in old stone fireplace to warm them; and, finally, set back out the way he came to catch the attention of another FBI team in the area. Ziva didn't want to think about adding in the thirty-six hours he'd had prior to that, before being released to four whole days off over Christmas, when team Gibbs had no more than a very few bat-naps at their desks as they closed in on their own fugitive, or about Tony being on his own during a manhunt, or his losing his phone or his pneumonia-scarred lungs. She most definitely didn't want to think about how angry Gibbs would be that Tony took this assignment when he was too tired even to drive home safely, let alone brave the weather or a serial kidnapper, or why he hadn't been partnered up, even it if was the FBI. Above all, she didn't want to think about the conflicting messages they'd gotten about his condition once he'd been found, which seemed to waiver at many, varying points between 'fine' and 'needs to get to an emergency room now.'
She gritted her teeth as she and the pair of FBI evidence techs, from whom she had managed to hitch a ride to the scene, bounced around in a late model, four wheel drive vehicle that NCIS ought to have too, driven by someone clearly more adept at negotiating the piling snow than she. Events made her want to shoot something or hit someone, but mostly made her rethink the past seventy-two hours and feel her most scathing anger at herself for not somehow sensing that Tony was in trouble.
This was so DiNozzo, she fumed, so perfectly defined why she alternately loved him for him and raged at him for his recklessness. When she'd arrived at FBI headquarters – much later than she should have been notified, for which she knew both she and Gibbs would have Fornell's hide (or try for the Director's) in coming days – initial reports were coming in that searchers had found what had to be DiNozzo's trail, one he'd marked for them to find, followed by sporadic reports first that they'd found their dirtbag, bound and slightly bleeding, then found his young victims and the NCIS agent who'd located them.
"How much longer?" Ziva snapped.
"Ten, fifteen minutes, maybe, maybe more the way the snow is piling up. You work with this DiNozzo guy, you said?"
Ziva rolled her eyes, knowing that by virtue of their all being in the same vehicle for the past thirty minutes, during which time she had said as much, the driver knew full well she did, and he just thought this was a genteel way to reopen the conversation. From his drawl she assumed he considered himself a Southern gentleman, but at the moment she didn't have any interest in niceties. Still, he was the one who talked the others into letting her come along without having to wait for the brass' okay, so she owed him something. "Yes." She gave him that much.
"Some hot dog, huh?"
Ziva frowned. "Hot dog?"
She still didn't get it, really, but took what they meant from context implied. "He would like to be James Bond, sometimes." She begrudged them. They'd given her a ride, after all. "Or Magnum."
That got appreciative grunts from the evidence techs, each of whom looked a bit awed by the field agents they supported. Their shining eyes definitely had a 'geek' look about them, and she felt her mood sour even more to realize that they actually admired Tony's foolhardy rescue.
She frowned at herself to focus, aware that until she could see Tony herself – and vent her relief-fueled anger at him – she would be on edge. With a long, controlled exhale, breathing out her building thoughts and flexing her hands with the frustration of not being behind the wheel herself, she distractedly answered the techs' questions and focused more on the scenery as they left the main road. The wooded, rolling land was crossed by a river and ravines that fell a good number of feet, usually not enough for a fatal drop but with the worsening conditions, still a danger.
She felt her heartbeat pick up when she saw clustering emergency vehicles, one ambulance pulling away slowly through the snow and another being loaded. With only a brief thanks to her driver, she hopped out before the vehicle stopped and went immediately to the FBI agent who seemed to be directing the others.
"Special Agent DiNozzo?" she demanded. "You found him?" As the man opened his mouth to reply, all he'd managed was the first part of a nod before she interrupted, "where is he?"
The man pointed down along a gully by the river. "He found the girls in small shelter on past that bend. They were all chained, and he couldn't get them loose with what he had, so he marked the area to alert another team before going back to them."
'Another team,' she noted for later. Why was he not allowed a team? And did this man not know everything else Tony had managed, to solve their case? "He is alright?" she clipped.
The man broke eye contact to watch the second ambulance start off. He shrugged, "he insisted the girls go first; there were five of them so both ambulances were full."
"Is he alright?" she demanded again, feeling a rising fear. This time the man nodded, though he still didn't make eye contact. His nod was jerky, awkward; again, a shrug.
"Yeah, he was talking ... joking ... we have another ambulance en route."
Ziva worked to contain her anger – and her worry. Glancing up at the sky and the snow that seemed to be picking up, she pressed, "How long?"
"Twenty minutes on a clear day. Today ... not so sure. They're coming from the next county over."
Finally relenting enough to offer a terse nod, Ziva turned to head down the slope toward the river. The man grabbed her arm. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! His going off alone is what put him in this situation," the agent growled. "I won't have you doing the same thing..."
"I am not," she hissed through clenched teeth as she yanked her arm away. "I am going to assist my partner."
She hadn't seen it from the road, but as she found the narrow trail that bordered the stream that wound back through the woods, Ziva caught the fine scent of wood smoke, and after several minutes on the trail could see the small shack below, a thin stream of smoke arising from its chimney. Signs of life. Better understanding now why Tony would have stopped to build a fire, especially if he himself might be growing too cold or weary to be sure he could make it back to the others, she half ran, half slid down the snow-covered slope to the shack and burst in, surprising only one of its inhabitants.
Tony was sitting on a bench near the rough stone fireplace, looking more grey than pale – his lips were becoming a shade of purple and he was listing a bit as the FBI agent with him – looking green from more than just with her inexperience – was trying to put a pressure bandage on his thigh, his pant leg already stiff with blood, enough that it likely had a part in his problems staying upright. Ziva's unexpected entry brought the agent's head up in surprise, and she was still struggling to unholster her weapon when Tony chuckled. "Snow-covered winter ninja? Nice one. I guess I am hallucinating," he said to the younger agent with him, as if she had accused him of precisely that same thing before Ziva arrived. "Very Special Agent Ziva David ... Equally Special Agent Melinda Capper. FBI," he added, with a nod and a wink, for Ziva.
Ziva pursed her lips to keep from exploding – from anger, relief or disbelief at the circumstances – as the FBI agent finally managed to free her gun. She had already caught the "NCIS" on Ziva's parka, even before Tony's introduction, and left her gun in its holster. Still, she kept her hand still at the ready, and her eyes on Ziva, as the "winter ninja" moved close to the injured agent, a worried hand falling across his brow and cheek, and fingers tracking the pulse along his neck.
"You're his partner?" the agent asked, sounding skeptical. "He said..."
Ziva nodded quickly, interrupting, and only later regretting that she had not waited the additional thirty seconds it would have cost her to learn just what Tony had said. "I will stay with him. I want you to find the first deputy sheriff with a car – no, with one of those ... those vehicles with the large tires, yes? That are made for this weather. You bring him here and you tell him I need his help to get Agent DiNozzo to the hospital. If you do not find one – ask your technicians, Sam and ... and David, to let us use theirs..."
"Wait, you can't just..." the FBI agent began.
But Tony had straightened and beamed in woozy delight. "Sam and Dave? Really?"
Ziva rolled her eyes, but when Agent Capper still stared at her, unmoving, Ziva said, "I got a ride from them in their crime-lab-all weather vehicle. It could make much better time to a hospital than a car would."
"Ziva!" Tony insisted, fighting heavy eyes and chattering teeth. When she swung around to look at him with one of those 'what now?' looks, he laughed, "c'mon – Sam and Dave? You rode here all the way from the District with blues icons and you didn't even know it?" When all he saw in return were two pair of eyes, blinking at him and clearly lost, he snorted, "oh, come on, you two, Sam and Dave – Double Dynamite? The Sultans of Sweat?"
Ziva turned to glare at the FBI agent, urging her to act. The younger woman balked, "If they're here to process the scene, I don't think we could..."
"Agent Capper," Ziva tried her best Gibbs' voice. "You are an FBI agent, and FBI is in charge of this scene – and that includes above everything else the safety of those involved. The very first all-weather vehicle you see, FBI or sheriff, you order them here – show them your badge if you need to but you order them here. This agent has a serious medical history that will compromise his tolerance for this weather and his injuries and if you don't get moving now I will call Tobias Fornell and have him tell you exactly the same thing!" Ziva heard the rising fear in her own voice, and bit down on her emotions to will the young woman to move. "Go!"
Suddenly aware that Tony was leaning against her, Ziva watched the agent rush out of the small cabin, as an increasingly woozy DiNozzo murmured, "nice. You have such a way with scared baby agents. We'll have to get you a Probie of your own one of these days..."
Ziva huffed out her frustration as she took one last look out the window to watch Capper hurry back up the rise, fighting the snow and the mud under it, to head back to the road and the wealth of vehicles waiting there. Finally turning back to Tony, she felt another wave of worry for him as he leaned heavily against her. He was stilling; his shivering was actually slowing down, and instinctively she knew that wasn't good – not when he was still wet and cold. "Tony?" She got no response. "Tony!" His murmur wasn't lucid.
With a low growl of frustration, Ziva shifted slightly so she still could support him but reach the zipper of her parka. Yanking the zipper down and shimmying out of the down parka, she worked it around Tony like a blanket, blinking a little at just how cold it was around her, even sheltered from the wind. "You would lose yourself in a blizzard," she chided him, her fear for her partner driving her babbling as she willed him to just hang on a little longer. "Because in Mossad they dropped us off in the dessert, and out at sea, and in the forest and in caves, and willed us to survive long enough to make it back. When we get back I will call my father and tell him they need to add arctic training to any officer who will be sent out of the region." She paused the moment to see if he reacted, and when he did not, another little bubble of fear for him rose in her chest as she thought she heard the beginnings of a dangerous rattle in his. "Oh, Tony, stay with me," she urged, low, drawing her arms around him and holding him close, hoping that some of her own warmth could permeate his chilled form where she pulled him against her chest. She even found herself rocking a little and humming an old, forgotten tune, helpless to do more and finding herself on autopilot as she waited for the deputy, hoping he would have the good sense to figure out how they could get Tony up the hillside to the waiting vehicle...
"...you ... mean it?"
At the reedy, whispered words, Ziva pulled him tighter and felt a grin cross her lips as he fought to hang in with her. "Yes, Tony, I mean it. They will call it the 'Very Special Agent Blizzard Survival Training,' and you will get to go to Tel Aviv every summer to teach the new recruits." When he didn't reply, she shook him a little, and tried calling his name – more than once – but he was unresponsive. Her victory short-lived, Ziva now jostled him and rocked him and even sang to him again, to rouse him and keep him with her, but it was as if once help had arrived for the girls he'd rescued, Tony knew he could let go, and slipped into the oblivion of unconsciousness. She was afraid to let him sleep; she didn't know if exposure was like a head injury, when sleep could be harmful, but he had been exhausted hours ago and was definitely shocky now, and his breathing had become raspy. He needed real medical attention soon, and all she could do was to shiver herself with the cold, hold him close and offer the same lullabies her mother had sung to her, so many years ago, when she was sick or sad or afraid. She wasn't sure if she did it more for him or for herself.
The minutes seemed to stretch on interminably, but finally, Ziva was able to hear purposeful movement amid the strengthening wind, and she watched as Agent Capper and a huge bear of a deputy finally came back around the bend and down the hill. The deputy, to Ziva's relief, was pulling behind him a sort of pallet, a slightly curved metal piece the size of a door, with a nylon rope loop fixed to it – the sort of rescue sled she'd seen in first aid stations at skiing resorts, just the thing to let them pull even an unconscious Tony out of there. Ziva half-sang, half-murmured in Tony's ear that he would be warm again soon and getting medical attention, and as they loaded him onto the pallet she did all she could to help around her own shivering.
The rest was a blur as the big deputy, clearly a country boy used to pulling tractors out of bogs and lost calves out of snowbanks, made his way up a long and zigzagging path, frustrating Ziva with his plodding, indirect route until she saw it was the most expedient for pulling motionless, solid mass like Tony up a slippery hill. The man wasn't much more communicative than Gibbs, but as he pointed her to the back of his four by four, already running and at least forty degrees warmer inside with the heater cranked up full blast, he told her there was a blanket in the back, nodding for her to crawl in so he could manhandle an all but unconscious DiNozzo into the back seat with her. That accomplished, he shut the door on the pair of them in the back, climbed into the driver's seat and caught her eye in the rear view mirror. "Hang on, ma'am," he said with a slow, easy smile. "I'm gonna get your boy there to the hospital before you know it."
And as she cradled Tony's head on her lap, and as the deputy pulled out onto the rural road and began eating up distance just as if he were Mossad-trained, Ziva finally started to relax and trust that her foolhardy, pigheaded, brave and big-hearted partner might just come out of this latest adventure in one piece.