It had seemed like such a good idea at the time.

His team, with Gibbs leading the pack, had backed him into a corner, and had really and truly left him no other options. A showdown between his boss and himself in the bullpen had led to Tony fleeing to the director's office, his head spinning like Linda Blair's in 'The Exorcist', where Sheppard had kindly put him out of his misery by sending him on a supposedly simple undercover op.

As he lay in the ditch he'd been tossed into by the moving car, he was almost wishing he'd picked up that report Gibbs had thrown at him and ordered him to rewrite. Almost. But not quite. Even the exquisite pain radiating through his right arm and lower back couldn't make him regret not bending over and taking another one in the ass from his boss in front of his team.

He wondered if they even knew he was missing, and if they did, if they would care to look for him. It was getting dark, and he was losing hope, too injured and weak to crawl up to the road to flag down help. Yet another car went by, and this one managed to swerve over enough to hit the puddle of cold, muddy rain water to arch up and spray over him, but not closely enough to see him lying there in the tall grass.

At least Ducky would care enough to check on his whereabouts and give him a once-over in autopsy before sending him home to a hot shower and bed. As for the rest of them…well, he was pretty sure he was merely giving them the opportunity to replace him with an agent they could live with, someone they actually liked. Stan Burley's name sprang to mind immediately, and he felt a recurring pain in his chest that had nothing to do with his present injuries.

All those years, those nearly five years of working so hard to prove himself and be something in the eyes of someone he truly respected, had been shot to hell when that bomb exploded and wiped out over a decade of his mentor's life. Now the man Tony had come to view as a father (though he would never admit it to anyone, not even Abby) not only barely remembered him, but seemed to hate what he did remember of him.

And the team that he had been a part of, had even led for four months, remembered him all too well, and had lined up behind their leader to throw stones at the man for daring to attempt to pick up the pieces when Gibbs had quit and run to Mexico.

He had been gone from the bullpen for almost three weeks, and no one had tried to contact him. Maybe the Director had forbid it.

Or maybe she had said nothing, and none of them gave a rat's ass where he was. The fact that the latter was even a possibility hurt more than anything.

Tony sighed and decided sadly that the latter was more likely. He guessed he had his answer to what Gibbs and the others were wanting from him. If he got found before he croaked, and didn't croak soon after from the injuries, he would put himself back on the market and see what was out there.

Life didn't begin and end at Naval Criminal Investigative Services. Unless of course, you had been tossed out of a moving car into the ditch on the coldest, rainiest day in months. Yesterday had been warm and sunny, nearly 70 degrees. Why couldn't his cover have been blown yesterday?

Another car passed, and another, and then he heard what sounded like one slowing down. He heard voices, and doors slamming, and more cars slowing down, and then someone yelling. He knew the voice, somewhere in his frozen pain-filled fog he knew it, and it was sweet. Dear God in heaven, someone did care enough about him to come looking for him. Then again, maybe the guy was just really pissed for blowing a joint operation with the FBI. He heard the voice getting closer, heard it yell to bring the EMTs, and braced himself for an ass-kicking. The man belonging to the voice leaned over him and peered into his face, tapping his cheek gently.

"Hey, DiNutso. You must really enjoy getting tossed out along the beltway on your ass. Lucky we found you, or you might've ended up in a body bag and actually needing it this time."

Tony tried a smile, but couldn't even manage a smirk. He thought his face might have been frozen, he'd been lying there for so long.

Fornell squeezed his upper arm and moved to make way for the medics.

"You take it easy, kiddo, got some of D.C.'s finest EMTs here to take you to Bethesda and get you warmed up a little. They can give you a quick check, turn you over to me, and you come to my place for pizza and something hot to drink."

"N-not m-mad at-t-t-t me?" Tony stuttered through chattering teeth.

"Hell no, Tony, not your fault they had too many people involved in this, something was bound to go pear-shaped in the end. If I'd known what the hell was going on myself, I never would've let your director stick you in there. C'mon, let the guys do their thing, sooner they get you loaded up, the sooner we can get you home. You want me to tell Gibbs or should I let Ducky tell him?"

"No t-t-telling him. Just…get me to my place and - l-l-let me d-d-deal with h-him."

"Hmm," Fornell grunted. He knew what Tony meant by 'dealing with him'. It was code for 'not going to tell him anything.'

He knew all too well what had been going on between Tony and Gibbs and the rest of them, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it. Gibbs had refused to even listen to Fornell about it, insisting he didn't need the Fibbie telling him how to deal with his team.

All Fornell could do was offer Tony support any way he could, even if that meant just having a beer or two with him after work some nights. He'd learned a lot about the kid, and knew, even without DiNozzo saying, how devastated he'd been at Gibbs's abrupt departure, and how wounded he been when Gibbs returned out of nowhere to take 'his' team and desk back, with no warning or any thought or care of Tony's feelings.

Gruff as Fornell was, he knew the decent thing would have been to sit Tony down and explain his intentions, making sure to add how proud he was of the younger man for holding things together in a nearly impossible situation.

Instead all Tony got was the shock of coming into the bullpen with his team and finding Gibbs sitting at his desk with a 'Here I am, you lucky bastards' smirk on his face, and the sum total of five plus years of hard work dumped in a haphazard pile on Tony's old work space. Worse still, Gibbs had started right off making sure the young usurper of his throne knew who the king really was, grinding him under his heel every day until he either broke and became a sniveling toadie, or quit altogether.

Gibbs didn't seem to give a damn which one he did, as long as he caved.

Unfortunately for the older agent, he didn't remember most of DiNozzo's strongest, and best, personality traits. His loyalty, his tenacity, his ability to forgive. Those three qualities that Gibbs used to admire and maybe even love in his SFA now served to anger the man. Sadly for Tony, they clashed with Gibbs's new personality, which had become a lethal mix of pride, memory loss, and a determination to pretend nothing awful had happened to him and that he had done nothing awful to anyone around him as a result of it.

And no one had seemed to mind except for his Senior Field Agent, to which he received annoyance tinged with disbelief. How dense and pig-headed did Tony have to be to not be able to go back to the way things were and be happy with it? Who did he think he was acting like Gibbs's team was ever his?

He couldn't have been that decent of a team leader if the reactions to Gibbs' return were anything to go by. Agents David and McGee were bubbling over in their enthusiasm and willingness to get back to the good life with Gibbs as their boss. Abby had talked non-stop of how difficult things had been without him, how much they needed him, how things were going to be right again. And who had Ziva turned to in the face of certain doom at the hands of Mossad? Certainly not the goofball Gibbs had mistakenly left in charge.

Fornell knew Tony had started taking undercover assignments from Sheppard; just short, minor things at first, and had made it his job to keep an eye on the younger man throughout them, because God knew Gibbs wouldn't know or care. Hell, maybe he was the instigator of them now. Fornell had tried to talk the younger man out of this last one, feeling something hinky about it that he couldn't quite put a finger on, but Tony had been adamant, stressing how important it was for the agency. It may have been, but the Fibbie knew it went a lot deeper than that, that maybe DiNozzo wasn't thinking it through well enough in his mad dash to get out from under Jethro Gibbs's foot. And now the worst had happened, and Tony was being loaded into a waiting ambulance and carted off to Bethesda.

Fornell gripped DiNozzo's freezing cold hand before they shut the doors on him, telling him he'd be waiting at the hospital when he got there. The young man's coloring was nearly gray, and Fornell had no idea as to his injuries, other than they must have been serious enough to prevent the very determined Special Agent from getting himself out of that ditch to find help.

Blood smeared Tony's clothing even through the sodden layers, and the Fibbie had to pretty much assume he'd been shot besides being beaten.

And there would be no Gibbs waiting for him bedside to encourage him to just suck it up and get over it. In fact, it was Gibb's fault he was there in the first place. Fornell cursed the man as he slammed his hand down on his car's steering wheel and followed the ambulance to the hospital.