Disclaimer:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
A/N - Heartfelt thanks to all who reviewed and alerted this story and for the wonderful support, L
When The Snow Lay Round About
The sun rose in half-hearted glory over the horizon, casting its rays over the snow covered vista and giving it an ethereal glow. Commander Bradley and his aircrew were aboard the Knighthawk and already en route to the Geary property; they were scheduled to arrive within fifteen minutes. The Allegany County snow rescue team had arrived moments ago, with two of the four Ski-Doos towing stretcher sleds and supplies.
In two scalding gulps, McGee swallowed the last of his coffee, grabbed a thermos flask and strode out into the open field next to the house. He introduced himself to the rescue team coordinator, Travis Seaton, and received a brief instruction on how to ride a Ski-Doo. Having ridden a jetski on several occasions, McGee was confident he would manage without problem.
"The shed you mentioned last night is not marked on the map," Seaton said. "Any idea where it is?"
"Approximately two miles from the house but I'm not sure of the exact location," the agent replied.
"Your boss must be crazy to go out alone in a snowstorm," Seaton stated. "How do you know he made it to the shed?"
"If you knew Gibbs, you wouldn't have to ask," McGee replied.
Seaton frowned at the odd reply and huffed out a sigh that misted in the cold air.
"It'll just take me a few minutes to divide the area into search grids and then we'll get started," Seaton told him.
"That won't be necessary," McGee said.
"You just said that you don't know the exact location."
"I don't…but we have someone who does."
Turning back toward the house, McGee saw Donna and Sam standing on the front porch.
"Sam!" he called, gesturing him over with a wave of his arm.
Sam struggled against Donna's fussing as she adjusted his cap and scarf, zipped up his parka and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. She watched anxiously as her son, barely containing his excitement and pride, ran to join the other men. Being involved in something as important as the search for Tony and Gibbs meant the world to the young man and he was determined not to let anyone down. Stumbling in the deep snow, Sam stopped suddenly and turned back toward the house; his arms windmilling furiously as he fought to keep his balance.
"Momma! Don't forget our surprise!" he called.
His brown eyes grew impossibly wide and he clasped both gloved hands over his mouth. Turning slowly, he looked to see whether McGee was listening and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the agent still speaking with Seaton. He flashed a cheeky smile at his Mom.
"Sam?" McGee repeated.
"I have to go, Mom," he called to her. "Tim needs my help."
Watching through a curtain of tears, Donna waved cheerily back and whispered the words she so desperately wanted to call to him.
"Be careful, Sam."
"You're kidding me," Seaton muttered under his breath as he saw Sam approaching. "Look, no offence, Agent McGee but your friends may not have time for…this."
"For what, exactly?" McGee said defensively.
"For him. You really want to put their lives in his hands. What if he sends us in the wrong direction?"
"Sam won't be sending us anywhere...he's coming with us."
"No way," Seaton protested. "I'm not taking responsibility for him."
"You don't have to," McGee told him. "He's riding with me."
"No you look...Sam knows this area better than anyone. He knows the exact location of the shed and he's coming with us - end of story."
Sam arrived and, sensing the tension, he looked anxiously between the two men.
"Tony's hurt real bad, Tim. We have to help him," he said breathlessly. "We have to go now."
McGee placed a calming hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"You'll be riding with me, okay Sam? The others will follow us. I need you to lead us to the shed."
Sam's jaw hung open.
"You want me to lead?" he asked.
"Absolutely! You're the only one who knows where the shed is, Sam. We need your help."
"I won't let you down, Tim, I promise," Sam said earnestly.
McGee ignored the scoff he heard from Seaton and clapped a hand on Sam's back.
"I know, man…come on, let's go."
Night had slowly crawled into the grey hours of early morning. Gibbs scrubbed his hands over his bristly jaw and yawned widely - he hadn't slept a wink. Instead, he'd watched helplessly as Tony slipped in and out of restless sleep as if caught in the twilight between a conscious and unconscious state.
A few hours ago, the younger man began to shiver violently. Although it was a welcome sign that his body was trying to generate heat, the continuous jerking movements caused unspeakable pain to his shattered leg. Gibbs looked at his watch and muttered a curse. It was too soon for another injection - too little morphine would subject his agent to unnecessary pain; too much could depress his respiratory system and cause him to stop breathing. Without a word being spoken, Tony read the situation in his boss' eyes.
"How long?" he asked through chattering teeth.
"Two hours," Gibbs replied as Tony closed his eyes and nodded gamely.
Gibbs successfully coaxed his partner into accepting more warm liquids and changed the blood soaked dressings on younger man's leg. As a former Marine, Gibbs thought he'd heard every cuss word imaginable but his agent surprised him when he expressed himself with several colourful and imaginative expletives. The storm had blown over but the temperature in the shed was still below zero as they settled back under the blankets to keep warm and to try to get some more rest. Tony leaned heavily against him - approaching sleep but not quite there; he shuddered and Gibbs squeezed his shoulder lightly in silent inquiry.
The younger man's voice caught and dwindled to a raw whisper.
"Couldn't do it, Boss," he rasped. "Tried…just couldn't."
"Cut my leg off," Tony said, his voice flat and without emotion. "Had my knife…knew I had to cut it off or die but…I couldn't do it."
He pulled back slightly in the shadowy half-light and turned desperate eyes to Gibbs.
"Don't let 'em take my leg, Boss."
Gibbs' throat closed up and the knot in his chest clenched so tightly that he could barely breathe. The mask had slipped. The nearly impervious wall had buckled and the younger man's humour and bravado were nowhere to be seen as he gave a rare glimpse of the vulnerability that resided deep within. Tony kept that part of himself fiercely protected and the former Marine instinctively knew that, since the death of Tony's mother, only he had been allowed to see it.
Unable to find his voice, the lead agent gave a short, affirmative nod as Tony's eyes closed on a sigh.
Another hour passed and the younger man grew more agitated – muttering and squirming as the pain increased. Gibbs reached for the last syringe and injected the morphine into his agent's thigh, hoping like hell he wasn't over-medicating him. Within seconds, Tony's muttering calmed. A few moments later, the drug took effect as the tension eased from his body and he faded into a drug-induced sleep.
Gibbs continued his vigil, observing the rise and falls of his agent's chest and listening to his raspy breathing. For all his designer clothes, hair products and fancy cars, Tony was as resilient as any Marine he'd ever met. Hell, he'd beaten the damned plague and lived to talk about it. Whatever the circumstance, he knew his agent would never surrender his life without a hell of a fight.
Tony brought out both ends of the former gunny's emotional range; he could irritate him to the ends of his patience and he could painfully twist his heart into a pretzel and bring his strong parental feelings to the fore. A smile teased the corner of the lead agent's mouth.
"You're killing me, DiNozzo. You know that?"
Had the circumstances not been so dire, McGee would be having the time of his life. Only Sam's arms wrapped tightly around his waist from the pillion position stopped the IT Specialist from opening up the throttle and putting the Ski-Doo through its paces. Leaving plumes of powdered snow in their wake, the rescue team made their way down a steep escarpment that led to the forest below. Sam leaned forward to speak to McGee who slowed the Ski-Doo to a stop and signalled to the others to do likewise.
"What's wrong?" Seaton asked, noting the anxious expression on Sam's face.
The young man frantically looked in all directions, mumbling softly to himself.
"Sam's just getting his bearings, that's all," McGee replied.
"You mean he's lost," Seaton snapped. "I told you this would happen. This is exactly the kind of delay that could cost those men their lives."
McGee felt Sam flinch at the harsh tone and shot a disapproving look in Seaton's direction before turning to his passenger. Sam anxiously chewed his lower lip and wrung his gloved hands before turning desperate eyes to the agent.
"Sam, just take a deep breath, okay?" McGee told him. "Close your eyes and think about the path you usually take to the shed. Think about the things you see on the way…a group of trees, a large boulder. Do you see them, Sam?"
The younger man screwed his eyes tightly closed and was still for a long moment. Suddenly, his eyes popped open and he pointed to the right.
"That way, Tim!" he said. "The shed is that way!"
Clapping a hand on Sam's shoulder, Tim returned the younger man's bright smile.
"Hold on tight," he said, before gunning the engine and leaving the rest of the rescue party in their wake.
They weaved their way through the trees and had only covered a short distance when Sam's excited voice called out over the loud roar of the engine.
"There, Tim! Behind those trees! We're here, stop!"
McGee brought the Ski-Doo to a sliding stop just yards from the battered old shed and in a tangle of arms and legs he and Sam all but fell from the vehicle in their haste to get to Tony and Gibbs. They stumbled through the knee-deep snow and burst through the door together, looking on in horror at the sight that lay before them.
Gibbs was seated with his back against the wall, his legs outstretched in front of him. His eyes were closed and his head hung so that his chin touched his chest. Tony's still form was sprawled against the lead agent's chest; his head was drooped to one side and his bluish lips contrasted starkly against his chalky-white face.
Sam gasped loudly and covered his face with his hands.
"No, no, no, no, no!" he muttered, stepping backward until his back was pressing against the door.
Bracing himself against his worst fears, McGee stepped forward. Taking a knee, he gingerly pressed three fingers to the lead agent's throat, searching for a pulse.
"You bring coffee?" Gibbs said quietly, slowly raising his head.
Overcome with relief, McGee huffed a laugh.
"Packed the thermos myself," he grinned.
Placing his palm against Tony's cold cheek, the IT Specialist was immediately alarmed.
"S'okay...he's alive," Gibbs said, "Give me a hand...let's get him home."
Mercifully, Tony remained unconscious for the entire Ski-Doo ride back to the Geary home, where Commander Bradley and the Knighthawk crew were waiting to transfer them to Bethesda. Gibbs watched keenly as the corpsman stabilised his agent and secured the stretcher inside the chopper. Only then did the lead agent notice Sam and Donna standing off to the side.
The IT Specialist quickly appeared at his side.
"You need something, Boss?"
"Give me a hand," he said, pointing to the Geary's with his chin.
Sam arms were crossed tightly in the now familiar self-hug and his head hung despondently.
"Hey," Gibbs said quietly.
The young man looked up warily as the agents approached; McGee taking most of his boss' weight.
"Tony didn't wake up, Agent Gibbs," Sam said, chewing his lower lip. "Just like my Dad…I never got to say goodbye."
"You saved his life, Sam," Gibbs said, with a small smile teasing the corner of his mouth. "Twice."
He waited until the young man met his gaze before offering his hand in thanks. Sam made no move to accept the handshake and stared open-mouthed at the agent before engulfing him in a hug that nearly knocked him off his feet. Gibbs flashed a rare wide smile and spoke quietly into Sam's ear.
"Good job, Sam, good job."
When the commander called his name, Gibbs turned toward the chopper.
"Agent Gibbs, we need you on board, Sir. We're good to go."
"Wait!" Sam said, removing something from his pocket.
He held out his hand and Gibbs' chest tightened when he recognised Tony's badge.
"Tell you what...why don't you hold on to that?" the agent said. "We'll come get it when Tony's back on his feet."
Sam ran his fingers over the badge reverently.
"I'll take really good care of it, Agent Gibbs," Sam promised earnestly.
When they'd said their goodbyes, Donna handed McGee a small parcel before shepherding her son a safe distance from the chopper. They waved the agents off until the Knighthawk was no longer visible against the overcast sky.
At Gibbs' insistence, Professor Julian Warner, a leading orthopaedic specialist based at John Hopkins Hospital, had been urgently summoned to Bethesda to consult with the surgical team about Tony's leg.
The former Marine had delayed his own knee surgery until the specialist arrived. He carded his fingers through his hair anxiously; his promise to his agent in the forefront of his mind. A cavalcade of doctors examined Tony's injury, scrutinised the x-rays and scans and discussed various surgical options as Gibbs grew increasingly impatient. Finally, Ducky broke free from the doctors and walked to the lead agent's side.
"It's good news, Jethro," he said. "Anthony was very lucky."
"He stuck his foot in a damn bear trap, Duck," Gibbs replied dryly. "You call that lucky?"
"Ah, yes, I concede your point," Ducky chuckled. "Nevertheless, Professor Warner is confident that with the insertion of an assortment of titanium plates and pins, Anthony should regain full function."
"He'll keep his leg?"
"Anthony will keep his leg," Ducky assured. "They'll be taking you both to surgery in a moment."
Releasing a long breath through his teeth, Gibbs turned his head away, not wishing to show the strong emotions playing on his face. As the orderlies arrived to take both men to surgery, Gibbs asked for a moment alone with his agent and then, balancing on one leg, he leaned forward over the bed rail and placed his hand on the crown of Tony's head.
"You hear that, DiNozzo? You're keeping your leg," he said, he said to the unconscious man. "I've done my part…now it's your turn."
Still groggy from surgery, Gibbs grimaced as he shifted position in the uncomfortable hospital bed. The operation to repair his crucial ligament had gone well and his knee was now swathed in bandages and placed in a brace to restrict mobility. He looked at the empty bed across from his and then squinted at the clock on the wall. Six hours and still no DiNozzo. He was about to unhook himself from his IV and go in search of his agent when the sound of footsteps preceded Jimmy Palmer's appearance.
"I am so sorry, Agent Gibbs," he grimaced. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't," Gibbs replied.
An awkward silence passed between the two men before Gibbs spoke.
"Need something, Palmer?"
"Oh, right, um, Tony's surgery went well and he's in recovery, ah…Doctor Mallard is with him," Palmer replied. "McGee, Ziva and Abby are on their way over from the Navy yard and should arrive anytime and…oh, I, ah, bought you some magazines to help pass the time."
Nodding his thanks, Gibbs thumbed through the magazines and raised a pair of quizzical eyebrows to the assistant ME.
"Bee-keeping, bird-watching and coin collecting?"
"They, er, didn't have any boat building magazines so I made a random selection of popular hobbies," he explained.
"These aren't hobbies, Palmer. They're cries for help!"
The pair was spared any further awkwardness as Abby burst through the door with McGee and Ziva following at a more sedate pace.
"Gibbs, Gibbs, we've been so worried about you," Abby said wrapping the lead agent in a hug.
McGee looked from the empty bed to his boss.
"Tony's not out of recovery?" McGee asked. "Is something wrong?"
"They're just being thorough," Jimmy replied. "It was a long operation but it went well. Doctor Mallard is with him."
"It's so not fair that you and Tony have to spend Christmas in hospital," Abby told the lead agent.
"We'll be fine, Abs," Gibbs said as he placed a quick kiss on her cheek and turned to Ziva.
"You got anything?"
"Nothing to connect Carmine Rosetti directly with the attempt on Tony's life," Ziva replied. "However, JAG offered Rosetti a reduced sentence if he gave us the names of his brother's accomplices."
"Frank Coffey and Mickey Kane," Ziva informed him.
"You pick 'em up?"
"A few hours ago, Boss," McGee added. "They've been charged and remanded in custody."
Gibbs gave a satisfied nod.
"Oh and Donna called," McGee told him. "She and Sam wanted to know how you and Tony were doing and… er…Sam wanted to know if you liked your gift."
He took a small, brightly wrapped parcel from his pocket and gave it to his boss.
"The one that I, er, forgot to give you."
"Oooh, I love presents," Abby enthused. "Open it, Gibbs, open it!"
With a shrug, Gibbs tore open the wrapping to find three small tree ornaments and a card. He gestured for his reading glasses and Ziva retrieved them from the nightstand. Reading the card silently, his lips twitched with amusement.
"What is it?" Abby said, growing impatient. "What does it say?"
Gibbs took a closer look at Sam's carved animals, admiring the workmanship and skill. He passed the card to McGee.
"Read it," he said.
"The note's from Donna," McGee said clearing his throat. "Dear Agent Gibbs, as I explained to Tim, my husband instilled in our son, a deep love and respect for nature and animals. Placing these ornaments on our tree each Christmas, symbolizes our love of family and nature. Sam has chosen an ornament for each of you and hopes that you will remember him fondly each Christmas as you place them on your own tree. I have included an explanation of Sam's choices below. Wishing you a speedy recovery and a safe and peaceful Christmas, Donna and Sam Geary."
He nodded at Gibbs who placed the first animal on the rolling table for everyone to see, as McGee continued reading.
"For you, Agent Gibbs, Sam has chosen the alpha wolf - a confident animal, that can intimidate with a look. It is fiercely protective of its pack and, without hesitation, will fight to the death to defend them."
"That is a very good choice for you, Gibbs," Ziva said, exchanging a smile with Abby as Gibbs placed the next animal on the table.
"For Tim, Sam has chosen a beaver – known for its intelligence, the beaver is hardworking and meticulous."
"Again with the beaver!" Abby exclaimed. "Tony is gonna love that."
"Funny," McGee replied with a wan smile.
As the third animal was placed on the table, McGee read again.
"And for Tony, Sam has chosen a raccoon – bold and curious the raccoon has excellent puzzle solving abilities. It is active by day but does its best foraging at night. Can be a nuisance and get into mischief if left to its own devices."
"Oh that is most definitely Tony," Ziva laughed.
"Looks like Sam has you all pegged," Palmer said, examining one of the ornaments.
"Sam and his Mom sound so sweet," Abby said. "I would so love to meet them one day."
"I, too, would like to meet the young man who saved Tony's life, not just once…but twice, yes?" Ziva smiled.
"Well now, it seems we have a consensus," Ducky said from the doorway as the orderlies guided a gurney into the room with a sleeping DiNozzo aboard. Their view of their teammate was interrupted as the nursing staff pulled the privacy curtain closed and began settling Tony into his bed.
"We may not have had the Christmas Eve celebration we'd planned," the ME told them. "But we have most certainly received our Christmas miracle. The surgeons did a splendid job repairing the damage to Anthony's leg."
"What about his foot?" Gibbs asked. "He have any sensation?"
"Sensation is fine, Jethro," Ducky replied with a wry smile. "The only problem Anthony was having, was trying to decide whether the third little piggy had roast beef or bread and jam."
The others exchanged amused looks.
"Painkillers," they all said simultaneously.
"So...Tony will be fine?" Ziva asked.
"Yes, my dear, but he has a long recovery in front of him and will need extensive physiotherapy."
"How long before he's able to go back to work?" McGee asked.
"He could commence light duties in three to four weeks but I expect he won't be cleared for field duties for several months; longer, if he fails to follow doctor's orders."
"He'll follow 'em," Gibbs growled.
"Were you able to speak with him, Ducky?" Abby asked.
"We spoke briefly while he was in Recovery, my dear," Ducky replied kindly. "The doctors have him on powerful painkillers and he was a little…"
"Demented?" Palmer suggested.
"Actually, Mister Palmer, I was going to say…muddled."
"Right, that's what I meant, muddled," Palmer said, back-pedalling quickly.
"Can we see him?" Abby asked.
"It's very late, my dear. Anthony needs his rest. Why don't we call by in the morning, hmm?"
With a sigh and a reluctant nod of her pigtailed head, Abby wrapped Gibbs in another hug and the team said their goodbyes and made their way to the door.
"McGee?" Gibbs called softly. "You forget something?"
"Oh, sorry, Boss, I have it right here. I'll, er, just set it up for you." McGee inserted a DVD in the player and handed the remote to his boss. "Just press the green button and it will come straight on."
Gibbs nodded distractedly and McGee turned to leave.
"McGee?" Gibbs called. "Good job today."
McGee smiled at the rare acknowledgement.
A few minutes passed before the nurses drew the curtain back from Tony's bed. Still too pale for Gibbs' liking, his agent had a nasal cannula and was hooked up to an assortment of IV supplements, antibiotics and painkillers. But rather than the expected plaster cast, Tony's leg was encased in an external fixator that looked like a cross between a medieval torture device and a Meccano set.
"How's he doing?" the lead agent asked.
"He's heavily sedated. I doubt he'll wake before morning," the nurse said as she made for the door. "We'll be checking on you during the night but press the call button if you need anything."
Gibbs turned his head and checked the clock on the wall - there was just enough time.
"Gotcha something," he told his agent, as he pressed the play button on the remote. The TV came to life showing a large ringing bell followed by the credits for It's A Wonderful Life. "DiNozzo Christmas Eve tradition, right?"
The movie played right through with Gibbs watching absently while his partner slept peacefully on. The steady rise and fall of Tony's chest was comforting and the tension and fear that had been Gibbs' constant companion since Tony's disappearance, finally lifted. Tonight, he knew Tony was safe and warm and protected and that was all the Christmas gift he needed.
"Merry Christmas, Boss," Tony whispered before the sleep swept him away once more.
"It is now, DiNozzo," Gibbs smiled into the darkness. "It is now."
A/N I hope you enjoyed the final chapter. Until next time, with every good wish, L.