Disclaimer:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
A/N:- I had intended to have this short Christmas story completely written and posted by Christmas but the best laid plans… This is a crazy busy time for most of us but I will try to get it done as soon as I possibly can, L.
When The Snow Lay Round About
Gibbs leaned heavily against the wall of the elevator and carded his fingers through his hair. It had been a tough couple of months with back-to-back investigations and the added strain of working the last two weeks as a three-man team, so he was thankful that the director had placed his team on stand-down over the imminent Christmas break.
As lead agent of the MCRT, he'd been involved in many long and arduous cases where evidence was scarce; witnesses proved unreliable and perpetrators were unrepentant and hard to crack. But once in a while they caught a break…
Their current case was all but closed. A young Marine had been charged with involuntary manslaughter after a drunken brawl in a Georgetown nightclub resulted in the death of a barman. The damaging evidence and multiple witnesses were enough to obtain an arrest warrant but the young man's subsequent confession had sealed his own fate.
Now, two days out from Christmas, a small mountain of paperwork was all that stood between his team and a well-earned break. Ducky had organised for the extended team to share a meal at his home on Christmas Eve, before returning to MTAC for the now customary viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life" on the large screen. On Christmas day the team would separate for their family holiday commitments. Everything was going according to plan, with one exception…DiNozzo.
As the elevator doors slid open Tony blocked the former Marine's path, almost vibrating with pent up energy.
"Not gonna happen," Gibbs said, pre-empting the agent's words and stepping around him
"That's a little harsh, Boss," Tony replied as he fell into step behind his team leader. "I mean, you don't even know what I was gonna say."
"Gotta pretty good idea."
"Still not gonna happen."
"Come on, Gibbs, give me one good reason why I shouldn't go," the younger man protested, then stepped back quickly when his boss suddenly turned to face him.
"The man left you for dead," Gibbs stated.
Tony winced at the memory but recovered quickly.
"O-kay…give me another reason."
"Don't need another," Gibbs told him. "Neither should you."
"Look, I know how you feel, but if Eddie hadn't vouched for me in the first place, I'd have never gotten near Carmine Rosetti and he wouldn't be looking at twenty to life for the death of Petty Officer Rickard."
"Eddie Muldoon sold you out!"
"I explained that, Boss. Rosetti was on to me, Eddie knew he'd be next on his hit-list."
"So he hops the first bus to Deep Creek Lake until Rosetti's behind bars and now he wants you to go get him. I don't like it."
"The boss is right, Tony," McGee added. "We've got solid evidence against Rosetti and we have your testimony. We don't need Muldoon to get a conviction."
"Eddie took a huge risk getting me in with Rosetti," Tony persisted. "We owe him!"
"Read my lips, DiNozzo. He left you for dead," Gibbs ground out.
"Come on, Boss, I was wearing a wire and you guys were kicking the door in before any real damage was done."
"You call two cracked ribs and a fractured cheekbone, no real damage?"
"Rosetti never gave us the names of his contacts at the Navy bases, right?" Tony said. "Eddie said he'd name names in exchange for witness protection."
Gibbs worked his jaw as he considered his options. The fact that Carmine Rosetti had held firm and not revealed his Navy contacts had gnawed at Gibbs since they'd arrested him. A promising young petty officer had been murdered because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and the demand for justice still burned brightly in the former Marine's gut. He released a long sigh and replied reluctantly.
The IT specialist was already on his feet when Tony waved him off.
"Eddie's one twitch away from a nervous breakdown. If he sees someone he doesn't know he's gonna have a meltdown and we'll get nothing."
"You're still on light duties," Gibbs growled.
"I've been riding a desk for a week, Boss! I'm gonna go postal if I don't get outta here soon."
Sitting at her desk, Ziva huffed a sarcastic laugh and the three men turned in her direction.
"Something on your mind, Ziva?" Gibbs asked.
"As a matter of fact, I think Tony is right," she said. "I think he should go."
"You do?" Tony asked suspiciously, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"If Tony stays at his desk for one more day it is quite possible that we will all go postal. All week he has been like a hyperactive child with his spit-balls and paper planes and his movie quotations..." She took a deep calming breath and continued, choosing her words carefully. "But…when he is not being a complete goofball, Tony is a…a capable agent."
Completely unrepentant, Tony flashed his signature shit-eating grin.
"Careful there, Zee-vah," he replied. "If you'd choked any harder on that rousing endorsement, I'd have been forced to use the Heimlich manoeuvre."
His smile faded as he turned back to Gibbs and glanced at his watch.
"Three hours there, three hours back and an hour to prise Eddie's fingernails from the ceiling. I can be back by…eighteen hundred."
A heavy silence formed between the two senior agents until Gibbs blew out an exasperated breath with considerable force.
"You call in every two hours," Gibbs told him.
"Oh, come on, Boss!"
"Every two hours, DiNozzo! Are we clear?"
"Crystal," Tony replied, his indignation waning when he heard the concern behind the sharp words.
"I'll be with the director," Gibbs said.
Tony watched as his boss made his way to the mezzanine level and looked back over his shoulder. The two exchanged a meaningful glance; communicating volumes, as they so often did, through looks rather than words. Walking to his desk he shut down his computer and grabbed his gear.
"I'm with the boss on this one, Tony," McGee said. "He's definitely not happy about you going to see Muldoon alone."
"He's Gibbs. He's never happy," Tony replied glibly. "Look, I've known Eddie since I was a cop at Baltimore. He was afraid Rosetti would kill him and he ran; most people would."
McGee nodded reluctantly.
"You should take the SUV rather than the sedan," he suggested. "They're forecasting heavy snow in that area later tonight."
"And you know this…how?"
"I checked with the National Weather Service this morning when you first mentioned driving to Deep Creek Lake."
"Of course you did, Probie," Tony replied. "Thanks, man."
He tossed his backpack over his shoulder, feeling a small twinge from his still healing ribs.
"I'll see you both for dinner at Ducky's tomorrow night."
He was almost at the elevator when Ziva's voice rang out.
"Drive carefully," she said by way of apology.
"I'll be sure to keep both feet on the wheel at all times," he grinned as the elevator doors closed.
Tony shifted from foot to foot and shrugged further into his coat as the biting wind tore at his exposed skin.
"I don't know what to tell you, Boss," he shivered as he spoke into his cell. "I've been here an hour and there's no sign of Eddie."
Gibbs felt a stirring in his gut.
"Get back here," he said.
"Maybe I should wait. I mean, cabin's paid for two more days and Eddie's things are still here. He can't be far away."
"He had his chance," the former Marine told him. "Muldoon calls you again, you tell him we're through playing games. He meets you here or nowhere."
Tony sighed audibly and looked to the sky in the west as the gusty wind increased in intensity, transforming the snow flurries into gusty squalls. The temperature had dropped dramatically and although the coming snowstorm was still quite a way out, he had no plans to get caught in it.
"I gotcha, Boss," he replied dutifully. "Looks like there's a storm coming. I better get moving if I'm gonna stay ahead of it."
"DiNozzo," Gibbs voice sounded through the phone.
"Watch your six."
Making his way quickly back to the SUV his cold fingers fumbled with the battery charger as he connected his cell and placed it on the passenger seat. Adjusting the heat, he guided the vehicle back toward the 68, softly singing the annoying Christmas carol that had been stuck in his head for three days.
"When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even."
"You sure that's him?" Gianni Rosetti asked, squinting into the binoculars as the dark SUV rounded a far bend.
"That's the car that was at Muldoon's cabin," the man in the passenger seat replied. "We'll get a better look at the driver when he rounds the next bend."
"Gianni, you sure you wanna do this?" the skinny man in the backseat asked. "I mean, killing a fed, man…we could get the death penalty for that."
"Only if we get caught," Rosetti said. "I didn't come all this way to let DiNozzo to testify against my brother. Wait until we know it's him, then move in behind."
Tony felt the rear wheels of the SUV momentarily lose traction and he quickly corrected the steering. Outside, the snowfall had eased but the sudden drop in temperature had caused dangerous patches of black ice to form on the road surface. With an irritated thump, he switched off the radio that was emitting more static than music as the road snaked its way deeper into the mountain range.
He uttered a soft curse as the windshield began to mist and he opened the window an inch to clear it. The sudden blast of bitter cold sent a shiver down his back but the fresh mountain air was bracing and he inhaled deeply. To his left, the road hugged a steep cliff-face that rose sharply to the top of the mountain; while on the right, beyond the guardrail, the ground dropped to the valley below and the Green Ridge State Forest. Pristine snow blanketed the heavy undergrowth while the branches of the majestic oak and hickory trees strained beneath their wintry burden. Not for the first time, he wondered what it was about snow that made the world seem calm and at peace.
His attention was quickly drawn to the rear view mirror and the fast moving vehicle approaching from behind. Without conscious thought his hand slid inside his coat and his fingers wrapped around his Sig Sauer. He watched as the gap between the two vehicles quickly narrowed and braced himself as the SUV was shunted roughly from behind.
"What the…sonofabitch!" he cursed while fighting the wheel for control.
Twin muzzle flashes from the vehicle behind was the only warning before two rounds whistled passed Tony's head and perforated the windshield. The SUV fishtailed wildly on the wet road sending his cell tumbling to the floor as he fought the wheel for control. As the other vehicle closed in again, Tony was vaguely aware of his cell ringing from under the seat. He held his weapon in an awkward left-handed grip and squeezed off a couple of rounds, then stamped down hard on the gas pedal, desperate to put some distance between the two vehicles.
Another volley of bullets strafed the SUV, shattering the side and rear windows into a million tiny prisms but the instant the back-end started to slide, Tony knew he was in trouble. Another patch of black ice propelled the vehicle toward the safety fence at a dangerously high speed. Immediately lifting his foot from the gas pedal he took a sharp breath as the SUV exploded through the low metal railing. Careening twenty yards down the snow covered mountain side, the SUV threatened to roll several times before impacting the trunk of a large oak tree with sickening force.
Having completed the last of their reports, Gibbs had dismissed his team to complete their Christmas shopping or take advantage of the rare early finish. Ziva had quickly cleared her desk and joined Abby to partake in some retail therapy while McGee stayed behind to back-up some files. He looked up from his computer to find Gibbs standing over his desk.
"Need you to trace Tony's cell," the lead agent said.
"Something wrong, Boss?" he asked already typing commands on his keyboard. "Tony's not due to check-in again for over an hour."
"He's not picking up," Gibbs told him. "I need his location."
"It may not mean he's in trouble, Boss, it could be just an intermittent signal in the mountains."
He fleetingly wondered what had prompted Gibbs to try to call Tony rather than waiting for the senior field agent's scheduled check-in. But the famous Gibbs gut worked in mysterious ways – particularly when it came to Tony DiNozzo. Several long minutes later, McGee pointed a remote at the large plasma screen and a map of the I-68 appeared.
"Signals coming from here but it's not moving," he said. "Could be engine trouble."
"It's not," Gibbs replied feeling his gut coiling tightly.
"You think he's had an accident?"
"Call the MSP. Tell them we have a federal agent in trouble and need the troopers out there now," Gibbs said walking briskly from the bullpen.
"Where will you be?"
"With the director," he said taking the stairs two at a time. "Gonna need a chopper."
The silence that filled the car was broken only by the intermittent sound of snow and ice clumps raining down from the branches of the large tree. Tony groaned softly as the abused muscles in his neck and shoulders protested. He did a quick inventory of his body checking for other injuries. His legs had been battered against the underside of the console and steering column. He flexed them cautiously, relieved when they seemed fine. He almost gagged at the coppery taste of blood on his lips; the result of a bloody nose from the deployed airbag.
With the windows gone the cold temperature quickly engulfed him and he fumbled with the buttons of his coat. Gingerly he released his seat belt and started to look for his cell when he heard voices from the ridge above.
"Damn," he cursed softly realising he had to get moving.
He pushed open his door and extricated himself from the twisted remains of the SUV; his legs trembled with a mixture of cold and dissipating adrenalin. The voices behind him grew louder but the men were still blocked from his view. Knowing they would check the car; he started across the downward slope, intending to take cover in a large group of trees twenty yards from his position.
A shout was followed by several shots that kicked up the snow at his feet. Throwing himself to his right, Tony tucked a shoulder and rolled upright again, instantly adopting his firing stance. Raising his weapon in a two-handed grip he fired a salvo in the direction of the voices and resumed his dash for the cover of the trees. A second volley of shots sounded and a sharp cry burst from the agent's lips as his body jerked violently and dropped face first into the snow. The three men emerged from the ridge and slowly made their way toward the agent, their feet slipping and sliding in the virgin snow. They were within ten yards of their quarry when Tony's body twisted and he aimed his Sig Sauer with deadly intent.
"Federal agent, drop your weapons," Tony yelled from his prone position.
Taken completely by surprise the men stilled for an instant before one chanced his hand and brought his gun to bear. Tony moved faster, double-tapping the man's chest as his accomplices scrambled for cover. By the time the men returned fire, Tony had slipped and stumbled into the cover of the trees.
Crouching low behind the fallen trunk of a large oak tree, his chest heaved and his breath steamed from his mouth with each exhalation. Ejecting the clip from his weapon, Tony checked his ammunition. Four bullets left – not nearly enough to take the offensive against two armed assailants but enough to defend himself. Right now, evasion was his best hope of staying alive until the cavalry arrived. Glancing at his watch a feeling of dread washed over him as realised there was another hour until his next scheduled check-in. But there was no doubt in Tony's mind that Gibbs would come for him and the thought gave him the strength to push any dark thoughts from his mind.
He blanched at the sight of his own deep footprints, knowing that his pursuers would have no trouble tracking him in this pristine snow. The sound of running water caught his attention and through the dense forest undergrowth, he glimpsed a stream at the bottom of the steep slope. The descent wouldn't be easy but if he could make it to the stream without being seen, he could leave a false trail for the gunmen and head back to the road for help. He knew it was a long shot but, at the moment, he had little option.
Slipping and sliding, he waded awkwardly through snow that varied in depth. The smooth soles of his street boots were totally unsuitable for this kind of terrain and made the descent more hazardous. He'd already lost his footing and tumbled several times; he was shivering uncontrollably now, the bitter cold seeping through his clothes. He was losing precious body heat and had to force himself to keep moving.
Somewhere behind him, the burden of snow became too great for a small branch that snapped loudly and fell to the ground. Startled, Tony spun quickly, brandishing his Sig in that direction. The snow beneath his feet gave way and his arms and legs flailed wildly as he tumbled, head over heels, down the slope. Snow and sky alternated in his field of vision and he felt an odd sensation of weightlessness, followed abruptly by the bone-jarring crunch of violent impact. His whole body slammed into something with incredible force and a loud snapping noise filled his ears. Pinpricks of light burst across his vision and he heard himself scream…then everything went dark.
A/N Thanks for reading. Special Christmas wishes for you and your family. With every good wish, L