Title: Remember The Songbird
Author: Jasmine (aka Jasmine2009)
Date of story: December 24, 2011
Universe: NCIS, mid-Season 9
Rated: PG
Warnings: None
Credit: The inspiration for this story came from the short story, "And Of Clay We Are Created" by Isabel Allende, although that's pretty much where the similarities end.
Summary: The team tries to keep Tony's hopes alive and his mind occupied after an accident occurs.

Chapter 1

It had taken three straight hours of driving, but they had finally arrived. Gibbs stretched, satisfied with the time he'd made, yet now regretting not listening to DiNozzo and stopping for coffee. Looking around, he noticed a small crowd of gawkers that had already gathered, no doubt in the hopes of seeing something, but in the remote town of Teays Valley, West Virginia, there wasn't anything to see other than picturesque views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Regardless of the Ansel Adams' landscapes, he'd made the drive all the way out here against his better judgment. According to the official reports, several trail riders had witnessed a murder, but the details were vague and inconclusive and if it hadn't been for the Director's insistence, he would have left it up to the local law enforcement officials to investigate.

But he couldn't, so he adjusted his cap and looked around. The military base was part of a 60,000 acre training facility owned and operated by Uncle Sam for the sole purpose of training soldiers. Just about everything was done there, from heavy demolition to meetings involving the Heads of State, but the part of the base that they were currently standing could hardly be recognized as a top secret military base. This part was open to the public, and in a joint effort to improve public opinion, the government had turned it into a park-like setting, allowing hiking, splunking, camping, trail riding, orienteering and just about any other outdoor activity that could take place in the hills of West Virginia. But because the property was officially part of the US Navy's Ft. Hoakiny Marine base, NCIS was called in to investigate the alleged crime.

Gibbs walked towards a group of men donning regulation army fatigues and asked, "Who's in charge?"

"I am. Are you Special Agent Gibbs?"

"Yeah."

"Gunnery Sergeant Watkins. Looks like you made good time."

"What'd ya got, Gunny?"

"We're not sure. We got a report of a murder being committed, but can't find a body. The accounts of the incident seem to differ, too. If you want to talk to the people who called it in, they're over there."

Gibbs looked across the way to a group of middle aged women, all talking amongst themselves while their horses grazed on the fresh green grasses next to them. "DiNozzo, get their statements. Ziva, shoot the area."

Tony approached several of the ladies while cautiously keeping an eye on the thousand pound herbivores grazing a lead rope away. "Excuse me," he said. "I understand you saw a murder?"

"Well, we didn't actually see it happen, but we saw the events leading up to it," one of the ladies said.

Tony eyed her, attractive in a rugged sense, and she chose her words carefully enough, but more importantly, the other ladies seemed to defer to her. "What exactly did you see?"

"There were two men, arguing. At first, we couldn't really hear anything but you could tell they were disagreeing about something. Then, they started yelling at each other."

"Could you make out what they were saying?"

"Something about not deserving something. Then, one of the men hit the other, like you see in the movies… across the jaw. When he began to walk away, the guy on the ground jumped up and started chasing him. They ran that way, towards Miners' Mountain."

Tony studied the woman, hiding his annoyance behind a friendly smile. "What makes you think one of them was murdered?"

"We heard a loud noise, like a gunshot, and then we saw a man run towards a car, get in, and drive away, fast."

"Are you sure it was the same man?"

"Positive, he was wearing a yellow and black winter cap on his head."

Tony felt something warm against his arm. Not thinking too much about it, he turned and came face to face with a long warm nose, exhaling loudly on his sleeve. He jumped away and caught the smiling face of its owner. "Thanks, ladies… if I have any more questions, I'll let you know."

"What's wrong, Tony?" Ziva asked, still snapping pictures of the countryside. "Too much animal for you?"

"I've never been particularly fond of horses, ever since my sixth birthday and my mother hired Pandora's Ponies to entertain all my friends. Did you know that ponies can be mean?"

"Yes, I do know that. But those animals don't look like ponies."

He looked back at the large creatures and had to agree; they definitely were not ponies.

"DiNozzo!"

"Yeah, Boss."

"What'd ya fine out?"

"That two men were arguing, went off towards the mountain and only one came back after they heard what sounded like gunfire."

McGee joined the group and added, "The park police and MP's have been looking for the man after the women called it in, but they haven't found anyone. There are surveillance cameras for the area, but it'll take a couple of hours before we have access to the video."

Gibbs took off his cap and rubbed a hand through his hair. The morning chill was burning off and it was turning into a bright sunny autumn day. "Spread out and canvas the area. Ducky, check with the MPs and make sure they keep everyone away from here, at least until we get back?"

"Not a problem, Jethro."

Tony and Ziva headed off to the right, uphill, towards the small mountain where the terrain was hilly and void of trees and shrubs. McGee and Gibbs headed off to the left, downhill, where the terrain was more valley than mountain with more trees and denser vegetation.

"What do you think happened?" Ziva asked.

"That's easy. One guy shot the other guy and the animals dragged off his body."

"That would explain why nothing was found, but it is too easy. There's got to be more to it than that."

"Not usually. Most crimes are very simple." He looked off into the distance and felt a sudden chill run down his spine. "I'm going to check out over there," he said, pointing to a rock formation that was embedded into the side of a small hill. He separated from his partner and walked with a purpose, thinking about the story the ladies had told him. There was no reason to doubt them, but there was no reason to believe them either; after all, this is West Virginia. Besides, wondering if one of those ladies secretly wanted to off her husband surely beat sitting in the office today thinking about his date last night. It wasn't a bad date, just not a good one. She was everything, too… smart, funny, beautiful... So it perplexed him that it didn't go better. When he stopped to think about what went wrong, he came up empty. It should have been the perfect evening, yet it wasn't.

As he approached the rock formation, he noticed what appeared to be some disturbed land, like a shallow indentation. He approached slowly, unsure of what the blemish in the otherwise pristine landscape could be. Looking back over his shoulder, he watched Ziva, fifty yards away, meander around the area seemingly without purpose. He saw Gibbs and McGee way off in the distance, looking behind shrubs and beating back bushes. Something was causing his gut to constrict and he stopped, placing a hand on his gun.

"You got something?" Ziva yelled, perplexed by her partner's sudden caution.

Gibbs and McGee perked up and looked across the way.

Tony held up one hand and continued warily towards the black imperfection in the ground. As he got closer, he saw that it was indeed some kind of indent, but not like a ditch, more like a hole. The green grass and dirt was ragged and sloped inwards with clumps of sod dangling down. He leaned over and peered into the darkness, seeing nothing but total blackness and thinking he'd seen one too many movies with bottomless pits in them. He pulled out his flashlight and switched it on.

The ground moved, or at least he thought it did. Maybe his mind was playing tricks on him. Then it creaked, and he was sure he heard that. He looked around, honing his senses to anything out of the ordinary. Now he was certain the ground under his feet swayed with more deliberation. He shifted his weight, suddenly realizing why he couldn't get any traction, but by then, a loud crack resonated inside his ears and his instincts, which were always spot on, told him he had better get the hell out of dodge. He turned to run, but there was nothing on which to push off. Just when he thought he found some traction, the earth under his feet gave way and he felt as if he were being sucked into the bowels of Mother Nature herself.

Ziva watched her partner be swallowed up by the earth.

Gibbs and McGee witnessed him vanish too, although at the time they weren't sure what had just happened.

"Tony!" Ziva yelled, breaking into a run. "Tony!"

"Stop!"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a throng of men on an intercepting course.

"STOP, MA'AM! THAT'S AN ORDER!"

Ziva almost ignored it, but after taking in the full scope of the approaching men, she pulled up. Half a dozen MP's and Rangers were running at her, weapons drawn. "My partner! He's was standing—"

"—We know! We saw what happened!"

"I have to get to him!"

"You can't go over there! It's not safe!"

Gibbs had made rapid progress and was demanding, "Why?! My agent just—"

"—Because, Agent Gibbs," Sergeant Watkins said, catching his breath from the sudden exertion of energy. "You'll end up the same way!"

"What are you talking about?" Ziva yelled, antsy to push past them to her partner.

"This area isn't safe. The locals all know that, but the out-of-towners don't! That's why we have signs posted!"

Breathlessly, McGee asked, "What signs?!"

"Those over—" Watkins pulled up short when the sign he was pointing to didn't exist. "Well, we used to have signs; sometimes the kids come around and pull them up as souvenirs."

Gibbs took two steps before an MP held up his hand and stopped him; however, the team leader's stare was enough to compel the man to take two steps backwards.

"Hold on, Agent Gibbs!" Watkins said after seeing the effect he had on his man. "You may have jurisdiction over me and everyone here, but it ain't gonna do you a bit of good if you're dead."

"Are you saying my agent's dead!"

"No! At least I hope not!"

"We're wasting time!" Ziva yelled, "My partner just vanished!"

Watkins tried to speak as fast as he could, "I've already radioed for help. If your man is still alive—"

"—What the hell do you mean, 'IF he's still alive!'?" Gibbs barked.

"The shaft he fell into could be anywhere from ten to fifty feet deep."

"Shaft?"

"Yeah, this area is full of old mine shafts and tunnels dating back a hundred years. The whole mountain was heavily mined for a quarter of a century before the mines were abandoned. Most of them are sealed off now, but if what happened to your agent is what I think happened, this whole area is very unstable and could collapse at any time."

"What about my man? What are you saying happened to him?"

"He's probably fine, but we can't take the risk of losing anybody else until we check it out. I have someone contacting the Corps of Engineers and they'll be here within thirty minutes. Until then, I can't let you roam this area; it's just too dangerous!"

Gibbs looked across the way to the rock formation where Tony was last seen. "How long before we establish contact with him?"

"We're on the horn now arranging the necessary equipment. Just give us the time we need to make it safe and I promise we'll get your man out of there."

Gibbs shifted uneasily at the request, but he couldn't risk anyone else's life, not even his own, without more facts, and so far, Watkins' argument was compelling.

"C'mon," the soldier encouraged, and motioned the way with is arm, "we're set up over there. We'll be in touch with your agent in no time. Just let us do our job."

Gibbs' looked into the distance where Tony was last seen, then into his agents' expectant faces. Finally, he acquiesced and nodded to Ziva, "Go."

"But Gibbs—"

"Go! C'mon," he coaxed, not exactly sure how he felt about this course of action.

"Thank you, Special Agent Gibbs." To the rest of his MPs and Park rangers, he yelled, "Okay! I want this entire area taped off! And I want those signed replaced! I do NOT want to have to worry about anybody else falling into an old mine shaft!"

TBC. Please feed my muse with any and all comments, especially those comments that offer ideas for improvement or can point out inconsistencies or outright errors.