Tony woke up and rubbed at his eyes. They felt grainy and dry like he’d just taken the first antihistamine of the season. He blinked and waited, hoping to hear a voice he recognized, or at least one that sounded like a nurse. Instead, he counted to fifty, and no voice spoke. Alright, he mused, that means I’m not in a hospital. No beeping, no blue lights… He opened his eyes to look around, and realized he was laying on something extremely hard. He felt around, and his hand grasped leaves. He was laying on the ground. Where am I? Where are the team? What was I doing?
Slowly, memories began to return. There had been a dirtbag. Marcos Hernandez. He’d thought that the guy couldn’t be that much of a problem because his name was so common. Heck, Hernandez was as common a name in some communities as ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ He’d assumed…. Well, there’s your problem right there, Junior. He could hear Senior’s voice in his head, gently berating him for his mistake. Isn’t that against one of your Boss’ rules?
“Yeah, Dad, it is.” He caught himself speaking aloud, but couldn’t bring himself to care. He began a slow, thorough check of his body, starting with the important things like breathing and heartbeat. Those seemed okay to his semi-trained mind. PE training didn’t give you a lot of medical knowledge about the important stuff. That was always passed off to the professionals. He did know about limbs, muscles, joints, and bones… anything the coaches needed to keep their men and women on the field, Tony knew about. He snorted. Well, Dad, that’s one thing that they do well at OSU. Maybe their business program wasn’t as good as an Ivy League school, but their PE program was damn good. He waited a moment, as though expecting his father to answer, and then continued taking stock of his situation. He hadn’t moved yet, but now he began to, wiggling his feet, rotating his ankles -- ouch, there’s something sprained, strained or worse on that one -- and slowly working the rest of the joints and muscles he could easily move.
Okay. So, only a sprained ankle. I’ve got an Ace in my bag. Where’s my bag? He opened his eyes again, and looked around for the first time. He lay on the ground in a park of some kind. It was fairly obvious he’d fallen, since his ankle was hurt and he was bruised in a couple other places. Luckily, he knocked on the tree that he laid next to, he had to have only fallen a short distance. Otherwise, it would have been a lot worse.
Slowly, taking note of all the sore spots, Tony sat up. He sighed in relief when everything moved almost the way it should. Stupid ankle, he cussed a couple more times in his mind, and then looked around for his bag. If it’s here somewhere, maybe I can call and find out where everybody is…
Of course, he realized, ten minutes later, he’d left his bag at the top of the draw, near where they’d found the clue. It’d been such a small thing: a small piece of yellow paper from one of the legal pads that Marcos always seemed to have with him. However, it had the dirtbag’s handwriting on it. He’d bent over to pick it up, gloved hand and all, and something… He couldn’t remember what happened next. Something had happened, though. He frowned. So, contacting Gibbs was out for the time being. Putting an Ace bandage on his ankle was also out.
He groaned. His voice was gravelly and he realized his throat was dry. Okay, McFly, he lectured himself sternly, get moving. Splint your damn leg and find out where you are, and where the nearest source of fresh water is. He glanced around and reached out, his hand grabbing a few small sticks. He chewed on his lip for a moment, considering how to make a splint with just the sticks in his hand, and then realized he'd have to cut up his jacket to do so. Or your shirt, dumbass. Save your jacket. His internal voice sounded a lot like his boss.
So, he responded to it. “You're right, boss, as usual. If it gets cold, I'll want the jacket.” Now, he heard his father's voice again. Well, and the jacket is more expensive, Junior. Especially that Zegna stuff you wear. Why you couldn't just wear a nice D&G … “I like the cut better, Dad,” he grumbled. He shook his head. “Well, never boring with you around, Tonio.” He was going crazy. Wasn't talking to himself one of the clear signs? He shed his jacket, laying it over his leg and unbuttoned his shirt. He took the knife out of his belt – “Thanks again for Rule Nine, Boss. It's gonna save my life again, maybe” – and set to cutting the sleeves of his shirt into strips. “Aw, man, I liked this one. But Dad's right. You can buy the shirts much more cheaply than the jackets. And I have an undershirt on.”
It took him a few moments to position the small sticks to make a good splint, and a little longer to get the soft material of his dress shirt to wrap well. He tested the splint by trying to roll his ankle. When he was sure it wouldn't move, he slid his jacket back on and slowly levered himself to his feet. “Okay. Step one accomplished. My foot is wrapped and we're ready to go. Step two: Find water. What was it the Boss always said?” He fell silent, trying to listen for the sound of a river or spring.
Water always runs downhill, DiNozzo. “Right. Downhill. That means... this way.” He turned to where the draw sloped down and started walking that direction. “Man. I need to study up on this stuff a little more. Even McBoyScout would be better out here than me.” He thought about saying more, expressing his worry that he'd die alone without help, but another internal voice stopped him. Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Tony. Even I would be good out here? Tony grinned at Tim's dry sarcasm. I was a boy scout, as you know, and I was good at picking spots. I got pretty good at finding water, too. “Okay, fair point. So, where would you go, Tim? Which direction?” The voice replied. I'd head south. That's where the river is. Don't you remember the map?
Tony looked up and out, trying to remember the map that the team had looked at of the area, and realized that the sun was hurting his eyes. Great. I have a concussion, too. He patted his jacket pocket, hoping his sunglasses were still inside. Luckily, they were. At least one thing's going right. He slid the glasses on his face and paused, trying to remember which direction was which. “Tale as old as time... tune as old as song... blah blah blah... certain as the sun … rises in the east...” He grinned, glad his team was unable to hear him singing a Disney song to remember the directions. “So, rises in the east, sets in the west. And if I got lost in late afternoon, that means … that's south.” He turned the correct direction and began walking a little more surely.
However, his head hurt. The Native Americans used to use willow bark for pain relief, Tony. Bishop's voice this time. Of course, I have no clue what a willow looks like in the wild, but if you can find one, then you can take the bark and grind it up and drink it in water. It's where they get aspirin, I think. He chuckled. “Like that's really gonna help me, Ellie-Belle.” He decided to keep the nickname to himself. There was no telling how their new team member would take his teasing. “Unless it's the weeping kind. Then, I might be able to tell.” He shrugged, looking around once to see if any of the trees looked 'weepish,' and then gave it up. Hopefully, he'd be out of here soon and back in his soft, warm bed.
However, on his look around, he thought he recognized a clump of trees. Well, a clumpy thing. Whatever they called it. It's called a 'copse of trees,' Anthony, a Ducky-voice told him. Interestingly enough, 'copse' comes from the French. We managed to elide two syllables, as we English speakers are wont to do, from the French word 'copeiz', which means 'a forest which has literally been blown over by cutters.' It further traces back to Latin for 'blow' which reminds me of your poor noggin. I recall... “Thanks, Duck. I'll always remember that a clumpy thing of trees is called a copse, and that it reminds you of my concussions.” He rolled his eyes. But he moved toward the copse of trees at a slightly quicker pace.
Before he could get there, though, he noticed movement on the ground. “Oh, hell.” He looked down, and nearly head-slapped himself. “How does that rhyme go? I can't remember.” He felt a phantom slug to his arm. Tony!! You have to remember. Abby's voice answered him this time. Red on black, friend of Jack. Red on yellow, kill a fellow. So, that means that this one is a … Tony could almost hear the clicking of keys as if Abby looked it up. Coral snake. Tony! Her voice squealed like it did when she was worried or excited. That's the poisonous one. So, you'd better steer clear, Mister. I want you home in one piece. He obeyed, moving away from the snake. He picked up the pace just a little more and kept heading toward the trees. As he neared, he noticed the parking lot.
“Hallelujah, I'm saved,” he crowed. “But, I'm not out of the woods yet.” Another voice, low and familiar, spoke up. I do not understand that phrase, Tony. Why is it a good thing to be 'out of the woods' and thus away from cover? “Not everyone thinks like an assassin, my little missing-nin.” He snorted at his own humor. “I think it comes from the fact that most of our fairy tales have the boogie man coming directly out of the forest. You know, the unknown. But you'd have to ask Ducky to be sure.”
He winced as his sore foot hit the hard pavement, and he slowed his gait. Scanning the parking lot for something to help, he spotted an emergency phone. If he remembered correctly, this phone connected directly to the Ranger Station. They could get Gibbs down here to pick him up. And, conveniently, right beside the phone was a nice bench in the shade. Before he got there, though, he sketched a small bow and smiled. “Thank you, team, for all your help this fine day.” Of course, there were no answers.
He picked up the phone and identified himself by name and as a federal agent. The man on the other end of the line sounded surprised and pleased to hear from him.
“Would you be Agent DiNozzo of the CISN? No, that's not right. NCIS?” Tony rolled his eyes at the usual annoyance of working for a less well-known federal agency. Of course, he blessed the day he chased down Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He'd found … a home of sorts with the motley crew at NCIS.
“Yes, that's me. Anthony Dominic DiNozzo of the Criminal Investigative Services of the Navy. Hey, that works! No, yeah. I'm from NCIS. Could you get someone to come pick me up?”
“We can do that. We've already alerted your people. Do you need medical help?” The Ranger sounded both worried and embarrassed that he hadn't asked earlier.
“No, I think I'm okay. I have a concussion and I sprained and strained my left ankle. Otherwise, I think I'm peachy.”
“Oh, well, that's good.” Relief flooded the other man's voice. “Your ride should be there any time now.”
“Thank you. I appreciate your help.” They exchanged farewells and Tony hung up, sitting down on the bench to wait for his ride. He propped his leg up and leaned back, letting his eyes close in silence. He was about to doze off when he heard the tell-tale squeal of brakes. He kept his eyes closed, but became fully alert. Soon, three doors opened, and he could hear his team coming closer.
“You'd better not be sleepin', DiNozzo. Not with a concussion.” Gibbs growled at him, and Tony opened his eyes.
“No, Boss, not sleeping. I do know better. Thanks for coming to get me.” He shifted, pulling his leg down from the bench.
“Hey, that's a pretty good splint, Tony.” Tim complimented him. “What'd you make it out of?”
“My shirt.” He grumbled again at the thought.
“Huh. Who knew you could be resourceful?” He rolled his eyes, and started to rise. Before he got too far up, though, Gibbs had his arm around his waist, helping to support his weight.
“C'mon. Let's get DiNozzo back to Ducky to get checked out.” Gibbs' glare dared him to challenge his order. However, Tony thought that was a great idea.
“Good thinking Boss. Hey, Boss, how's the case?” He was curious.
“Stalled. Couldn't find the damn note.” For a moment, Tony was confused, then he pulled away from Gibbs, shifted a little, and patted his pants pocket. “You mean... this note?” He held up the yellow steno pad note in a small evidence bag.
“Yeah, DiNozzo, that note. C'mon, get in the car. Bishop, take the note and put it in the box. We'll get Abs to look it over when we get there.”
“Yes, Boss,” they all chorused.
“So, uh, I have to say thank you...” Tony spoke up.
“For what? You rescued yourself.” Gibbs looked over at him, appraising him, and Tony thought he saw a hint of worry.
“For keeping me company while I was alone.” With a smug smile, he laid back in the seat, made himself comfortable, and listened to everyone banter in confusion in response to his words.