What Would Magnum Do?
Gibbs’ heart sank as he watched the sun go down. He shivered, not so much from the chill in the air but from the realization that their chances for survival faded as the night settled in.
Tony’s voice was breathy, barely a whisper. As much as Gibbs would like to think that it was just the younger agent being quiet so their pursuers wouldn’t find them, he also knew that Tony’s wound was taking its toll. Blood loss and shock were Tony’s enemies as much as the scumbags hunting them.
“Is everything all right?” Tony asked, when Gibbs didn’t answer.
Gibbs grimaced. They were out in the woods with no cell phone service, Tony was wounded, and the only people who knew their situation were the bad guys. Things were far from all right.
“We’re losing daylight,” Gibbs whispered as he turned back to the other man. “That should make us more difficult to find.”
He could just make out Tony’s smile in the fading light. “They don’t stand a chance, Boss. Not against the Silver Fox.”
Gibbs’ swallowed at Tony’s obvious faith in him. He wanted to hit something, but it wouldn’t accomplish anything. He’d never let Tony down before, either as a supervisor or a lover. He would not, could not, let this be the first time. Not with Tony’s life on the line.
“We’ll have to here until morning,” Gibbs instructed. “They’re fully equipped Marines, with night vision goggles. We’d be too easy for them to spot.”
“A romantic evening under the stars with you,” Tony joked. “If we had a sleeping bag and a six pack, this’d be perfect.”
Wounded or not, Gibbs was tempted to head-whack the younger man for not taking the situation seriously. “We’re not under the stars, DiNozzo.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Close enough.”
They’d hidden under the branches of a live oak tree. Not only did its sweeping, low branches offer some protection, but like all the trees in the area, it was draped in Spanish moss. That added extra concealment, although it would be a problem later since Gibbs and Tony weren’t the only things it sheltered. Chiggers and all sorts of nasty critters were contained in the stuff. Gibbs only hoped they lived long enough for that to become an issue.
“Come here,” Gibbs ordered as he reached for Tony. He could already tell that the younger man was shivering. “We need to share body heat.”
“Gibbs, you dog,” Tony quipped, even as he moved to obey. “I thought you were the one that said no hanky panky at work.”
Jethro finally recognized Tony’s banter for what it was; an attempt to cover up his fear. With that realization, any desire to whack the younger man faded. With a tenderness that everyone else at NCIS would marvel at, he gathered Tony into his arms, careful not to jostle the younger man any more than necessary.
“It’s not hanky panky,” Gibbs stated quietly. “It’s an age-old survival technique.”
Tony snuggled up as close as he could. “I thought they called it ‘Don’t ask; Don’t Tell’ nowadays.”
Gibbs smiled at his partner’s undiminished spirit. “Just save your energy, Tony. It’s going to be a long night.”
Jethro didn’t have the heart to beg Tony to stay awake. Tony was badly hurt, despite his attempts to hide it, and the night would be long, as well as cold. While there was some danger for Tony in sleeping, it would also be a way for him to escape his pain.
Sure enough, it wasn’t long before Tony’s breathing became more even, although the gunshot wound to his side kept him from taking deep breaths. Gibbs remained awake, as he intended to for the rest of the night. Someone needed to keep watch and clearly Tony was in no shape to take a turn. With nothing to do but hold his injured lover and hope he’d managed to hide them well enough to avoid discovery through the night, Gibbs was left with a lot of time to think.
If any of his agents had been so stupid, he would have kicked their ass so hard that his footprint was permanently embedded in their backside.
Leroy Jethro Gibbs did not trust easily. His loyalty, once earned, was pretty unshakeable. He liked to think he was a good judge of character, but if the afternoon had taught him anything, it was that he was far from infallible.
Stan Burley was a dead man, when Gibbs got his hands on him. Former protégé or not, Stan had signed his own death warrant the moment he’d betrayed them and Tony's blood had been spilled as a result.
The ironic thing was that Gibbs had been pleased when Stan Burley had transferred back to the office. The years as a field agent had seasoned Stan into a fine NCIS agent, one that Gibbs was pleased to work with as a peer. Stan had been given his own team and they slid back into an easy working relationship. It had been a little awkward when Stan had wanted to resume their personal relationship as well, but Gibbs had been firm when he’d informed Stan that becoming lovers again was no longer an option – and why.
Stan had seemed to take the news well. He’d even congratulated Gibbs on his relationship with Tony, saying that DiNozzo was a good man. Gibbs had bought Stan’s act completely. Their teams didn’t work together often, but when they did, their operations together were seamless.
The case Gibbs and his people were on was a big one; a group of Marines were suspected of using equipment shipments to smuggle drugs. When Stan had wanted in on the case, Gibbs hadn’t thought much of it. His colleague had investigated something similar, only from the opposite end, from a base in Athens, Greece. Jethro figured that Stan’s experience would be helpful and that had been the case. Stan had accompanied Gibbs and Tony on a routine run to question some soldiers at a base about an hour’s drive outside of Norfolk. When they got a hot tip about an outgoing shipment, Stan offered to coordinate with the home office while Gibbs and Tony drove out to the site. Gibbs even let Stan phone it in when he offered to, being anxious to get on the road before their suspects could destroy evidence.
Gibbs first sensed trouble as they approached the location. It was just a little too isolated and extravagantly devoid of people. At that point, Gibbs had Tony phone in to determine the status of the back-up and that’s when they realized that they were out of cell phone range. He’d almost called the whole thing off then, but the tip was far too good to pass up. Only two of the bad guys were supposed to be present and, if NCIS caught them in the act, it would stop the drug ring in its tracks and keep hundreds of pounds of the stuff off the street.
As a cautionary measure, Gibbs pulled the car off the road well short of their objective, wanting to surprise the men they’d come to question. It hadn’t done any good. The ambush had been sprung from the moment both men got out of the car. To Gibbs’ horror, the shots came primarily from Tony’s side of the vehicle and DiNozzo had gone down quickly.
Gibbs felt his heart stop when Tony fell, but when the younger man was able to return the enemy’s fire, he knew that Tony was still alive. Between the two of them, they were able to keep the soldiers at bay long enough to get Tony around to the ‘safe’ side of the car. That refuge was short-lived, however. When Gibbs smelled gas, he knew the vehicle’s tank had been hit. He threw an arm under Tony’s shoulder and was able to pull him down a ravine far enough to be sheltered from the explosion that came a few moments later.
Had the soldiers been more experienced, it still would have been the end of them then and there. Luckily, the NCIS agents had managed to wound two out of the three, one seriously. As a result, the soldiers were reluctant to come closer and Gibbs was able to get him and Tony a good head start on their pursuers. What followed was an elaborate game of fox and hounds, with Gibbs and Tony the prey. Unfortunately, their spare ammunition had been in the car. Outgunned to start with, they only had a few bullets between the two of them.
At one point, Gibbs had found a good enough hiding spot to take a few moments to attend to Tony’s gunshot wound. The bullet had passed completely through DiNozzo’s torso, but far enough to the side that vital organs had been missed. At least, Gibbs had to trust that was the case, otherwise Tony would have been dead by that point. Gibbs stripped off his sport coat to get at the t-shirt underneath, using it as a makeshift bandage. It was the first time he’d had a chance to think about what had happened and how it could have happened. The conclusion he was came to made him growl low in the throat.
“Maybe it wasn’t Stan,” Tony had gasped. He was pale, but remained alert, as he always was, to Jethro’s moods. “We don’t know that he ratted us out.”
“Maybe,” Gibbs commented shortly. “But maybe not.”
It was the only chance they’d had to talk about it, but soon it was a moot point. Jethro had taken them across a stand of rocks, knowing they’d leave no footprints on the uneven terrain. It overlooked the road and he had a clear view of Stan driving up. With his doubts, Gibbs had kept both of them undercover and was soon glad he had. The bad guys walked brazenly up to Stan and Burley immediately started to berate them.
“I told you he was sneaky,” Stan yelled loud enough for Gibbs and Tony to hear. “I all but handed Leroy Jethro Gibbs to you on a platter and you still messed it up.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony whispered softly as he squeezed Gibbs’ arm.
“Not as sorry as he’s gonna be,” Gibbs vowed.
Not long after that Gibbs found their hiding spot and it was just in time. The ambush had happened in the late afternoon and far too soon, the sun started setting. Gibbs continued to keep watch after Tony fell asleep in his arms, running scenario after scenario in his mind. All of them ended badly.
When dawn came, Jethro was still deep in thought. His fingers stroked through Tony’s hair, but he wasn’t sure who derived more comfort from it. Tony had roused periodically through the night, pain worming its way through his exhaustion to prod him awake. Each time, Gibbs had petted and coaxed his lover back into sleep. Tony would become just aware enough to realize who he was with, but his trust of Gibbs was so deep that he immediately allowed himself to be lulled back into sleep.
“Come on, babe,” Gibbs cajoled softly as he brushed Tony’s cheek with his thumb. Tony didn’t wake willingly under the best of circumstances. “We gotta get goin’.”
Tony muttered and pressed his face into Gibbs’ hand.
Jethro smiled sadly and gently put his fingers over Tony’s lips, to keep his lover quiet as he came fully awake. As Tony’s lashes fluttered open, Gibbs watched closely. Those expressive eyes went from sleepy to confused before finally becoming fully aware. Only when he was confident that Tony remembered the desperation of their situation, did Gibbs take his hand away.
“How you feeling?” Gibbs asked, keeping his voice hushed in case the bad guys were in the vicinity.
“Like crap,” Tony admitted, speaking equally quietly. He rested his head on Jethro’s shoulder. “I’m gonna have to call and complain to the concierge about our room’s temperature.” He looked up at Gibbs and smiled. “The mattress was comfy, though.”
Gibbs smiled back, even though Tony’s expression worried him. With a quip like that, Tony should have been grinning cheekily, not using the wan smile that currently graced his face. Gibbs cupped Tony’s cheek, flinching when he realized it was warm. Fever had set in during the night. Not commenting on something he was sure Tony was well aware of, he brought the younger man’s head close enough so he could kiss him tenderly.
While their lips were still pressed together, they heard voices close by. Far too close. They stayed locked in the kiss, not out of desire, but fear that the movement of disengaging would cause them to be found.
“Where’d that SOB go?” One voice demanded, sounding strident in the early morning air.
“He went to ground,” came Stan Burley’s answer. He didn’t sound nearly as nervous as the first man. “You said DiNozzo was hit, so Gibbs couldn’t have gotten far. He babies his boy toy far too much to make him do a forced march while wounded.”
“This is all wrong,” a third voice, also male, added. “I didn’t sign up on this thing to be killing people. I thought all I had to do was turn my head about some shipments.”
“Buck up,” Stan sounded impatient. “You’re a soldier, aren’t you? The potential to kill is always there.”
“Not like this,” came an immediate protest from a fourth male voice. “How are we going to explain killing two NCIS agents? And that’s even if we can find them.”
“You leave the explaining to me,” Stan reassured his colleagues. “That’s what I’m good at. Your job is to concentrate on finding Gibbs.”
“Martell went to get the dogs,” the first voice commented. “Shouldn’t be long now.”
“And when we run him to ground, I can take care of the killing part if you don’t have the stomach for it.” They couldn’t see him, but Stan’s disgust with his cohort was obvious from his tone.
Gibbs and Tony stayed in a lip lock until the sound of the hunters’ movements had faded well away. Even when they parted, though, Gibbs kept his face close to Tony’s, so he could whisper directly into the younger man’s ear.
“We can’t stay here,” Gibbs commented. “I can maybe stay ahead of these yahoos, but dogs are another story.”
Tony nodded. “What’s the plan? Do we go up or down?”
Gibbs considered carefully. Up meant the possibility of getting a better shot of the cell phones working, but down was the logical place for the bad guys’ transportation to be.
“Down,” Gibbs finally answered. If they could steal a car, their chances of escape were much greater.
He helped Tony to his feet and pretended not to notice when Tony gasped in pain. Gesturing for the younger man to stay put, Gibbs ventured out from underneath the tree. He checked the surrounding area and, finding it clear, returned to his partner.
Tony nodded. “Just a little walk in the woods, right?”
“Right.” Gibbs slid an arm around Tony’s waist. “You ready?”
“Hey, I was born ready,” Tony responded gamely, but he lacked his normal verve and there was a gray tinge to his face that Gibbs didn’t like at all.
The next hour was pure torture for Jethro. The soldier in him knew that they had to move slowly and carefully to avoid detection, but the lover in him wanted to hustle Tony down the rugged slopes and rush him to help. Slow and steady was the only way for them to proceed, but it wasn’t doing much good.
“Ah, hell,” Gibbs muttered. They’d spent the last quarter hour circling around to the west, only to find that two of Burley’s cohorts had cut them off. With the two soldiers patrolling, there would be no going down.
“What’s the matter?” Tony asked. He’d been concentrating on putting one foot after the other and didn’t have the energy to look any further ahead than that.
“We’re going to have to go up anyway,” Gibbs explained tersely. He got a steadier grip around Tony’s waist and pointed them in the other direction.
“That’s okay,” Tony patted Gibbs awkwardly on the shoulder. “Walking up’s a lot easier than walking down.”
Gibbs would have been a lot more reassured by his lover’s comments if Tony hadn’t been so out of breath. Calling attention to his lover’s condition would do neither of them any good, though, so he stayed silent and just kept them both going forward.
After another hour’s scramble, the two NCIS agents did end up on higher ground, but to add insult to injury, they still weren’t getting a cell phone signal.
“Son of a bitch,” Gibbs growled as he snapped his cell phone shut. “These scumbags are getting all the breaks.”
Tony was leaning against a rock next to him, panting, and tried to smile. “Don’t worry, we got looks and brains on our side.”
Gibbs tried to smile, but it came out as a grimace. “I don’t see where that’s doing us a whole lot of good right now, DiNozzo.”
“We’re too pretty to die,” Tony quipped. “At least, I am. Besides, it could be worse.”
They were pinned down by bad guys, no one knew where they were and Tony was wounded. Personally, Gibbs couldn’t see how it could get any worse. “How?”
Just then, a bullet ricocheted off the rock next to them. Gibbs ducked and pulled Tony down with him. He felt the shudder go through the younger man as the quick movement aggravated the gunshot wound.
“You just had to ask,” Tony whined.
Between the two of them, they only had a few bullets and, by mutual agreement, all of those had been transferred to Gibbs’ gun. Tony was just not in any condition to fire a weapon. Bullets continued to ping all around them, pinning them, but thankfully not finding a mark yet. Their trajectory did, however, give Gibbs an idea of where their assailants were.
With every bullet precious, he took his time making a shot. Even so, the first one missed. He didn’t spare the breath to curse. Instead, Gibbs kept his eye on where he thought the other gunman was. When the soldier showed just a flash of movement, Gibbs fired again. This time, he hit his target. It was with great satisfaction that Gibbs heard the bad guy cry out as he fell in pain. From the way the man remained still and in the line of fire, Gibbs figured he’d been wounded pretty seriously, maybe even fatally.
“One down, one to go,” Tony complimented him.
“One down, three to go,” Jethro corrected him. He knew the gunfire would draw the rest of their opponents.
There were no incoming bullets for a few moments, but then the deluge started again. At least this time it was only coming down on them from one direction, so Gibbs was pretty confident that he’d eliminated one of the men after them. After motioning for Tony to stay still, Gibbs dropped to his stomach and inched his way forward. From that perspective, he saw that the other gunman had changed positions and was now in the line of fire. Gibbs pulled the trigger twice, emptying his gun. He heard the muffled grunt of pain and knew he’d hit the other man, hopefully just as badly as the first one.
“Come on,” Gibbs grabbed Tony under the arm and lifted him to his feet. He had a feeling he’d managed to take the second guy out too, but even if he was right, they couldn’t stay there. The shots would have attracted Stan and the third soldier; he and Tony couldn’t afford for them to catch up.
Gibbs got Tony moving as fast as he was able up the rough embankment. Once they were at the top, he looked down. Sure enough, a soldier and Stan Burley were following them. The soldier had a couple of extra weapons tucked into his belt and Gibbs suspected that the man had stripped them from his fallen comrades. From the look on his face, he was looking forward to using them on his prey.
And Gibbs was out of bullets.
“Persistent bugger, isn’t he?” Tony commented conversationally as he nodded towards Stan.
“Oh yeah, Stan’s a paragon of virtue,” Gibbs retorted. His eyes darted back and forth as he tried to think of a way out of their situation.
“You know if this were a Road Runner cartoon and Stan was Wile E. Coyote,” Tony panted. “That Road Runner would find a way to cause a landslide and bury him in rocks.”
Gibbs snorted, but then reconsidered. They had the high ground and there was plenty of loose rock. Maybe they wouldn’t bury Stan and his minion, but maybe they could injure one or both of them enough to slow down pursuit.
“Wait here,” Gibbs instructed in a hoarse whisper. Tony gaped at him, but knew better than to protest. Their foes already had a good enough fix on their location, speaking too loudly would give them away.
Moving carefully, Jethro crept to the nearest large boulder. He hadn’t started too many rockslides during his Marine days, but it seemed to be in the mostly likely position to start a cascade effect. The hardest part was waiting as Stan and the soldier approached. If Gibbs started it too far away, then they’d have time to move out of the boulder’s path. If he waited until they were too close, then he and Tony might not be able to stay ahead of the bad guys if the desperate plan didn’t work.
For a tense few minutes, Gibbs did nothing but watch the other men stalk closer. He did take time to look over his shoulder were Tony waited. DiNozzo smiled tensely and gave a thumbs-up signal. Gibbs noticed, though, how the younger man’s hands shook and it reinforced his urgency. Tony needed medical attention and needed it quickly.
Finally, Gibbs deemed his opponents close enough. He grunted as he threw his weight into the boulder. It didn’t budge, but Gibbs didn’t let that deter him. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it was all they had. The boulder simply had to move, so Gibbs made it happen. He dug his feet into the dirt and pushed for all he was worth.
His desperation must have given him strength, because with a groan of protest, the boulder slowly slid out of position and started rolling downwards. Gibbs fell to his stomach, watching as the slow roll became a tumble. The energy of the boulder’s movement displaced other rocks and within moments a small cascade of them were headed pell-mell down the slope.
A lot of dust was being kicked up by the rockslide, so taking advantage of the cover it provided, Gibbs scrambled back up the hill and rejoined Tony. They watched together as Stan and his partner cried out in surprise just before rocks reached them.
“Do you think it worked?” Tony asked. The dust was causing him to cough and he pressed a hand to his side as the spasms caused more pain.
“I don’t know,” Gibbs admitted. He wanted to go down and check things out, especially hoping for a chance to grab a weapon or a radio. He was too wary, though, to try it. Not without a better visual on the status of their enemies. They instead waited a few minutes for the dust to settle. As it did, they could see that both men were down, but as they watched, Stan Burley stirred and slowly sat up.
“Son of a bitch,” Gibbs muttered, not all appeased to see Stan lurching a bit as he made it to his feet.
“Stan makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker,” Tony added. Gibbs frowned at the comment; Tony’s voice was getting weaker.
Gibbs’ gambit had improved their situation somewhat. Stan was still mobile and armed, but they saw no evidence that his three soldier goons were up and about. Even better, the dogs never showed up. Gibbs wasn’t sure what had happened with that, but wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. He couldn’t, however, expect it to continue. If the dogs arrived and their handler was any good at all, then he and Tony were toast. Not only that, but it was afternoon and they’d been without food for going on twenty hours. Water had also been sparse, but at least they’d come across a couple of streams that had allowed them to slake their thirst a little.
“Come on,” Gibbs helped Tony to his feet again. “There’s only one now; I think we can slip by.”
There was no doubt that Leroy Jethro Gibbs was a skilled soldier; he was a Marine, for all that he was retired, and a damn good one at that. All the skill in the world, though, didn’t make up for being outgunned by a desperate criminal who had the advantage of superior ground. Stan Burley was not a stupid man. He apparently wasted little time mourning the wreckage of his plans or the loss of his cohorts. By the time Gibbs and DiNozzo had circled around to the lower ground, Burley was there ahead of them.
“Damn it,” Gibbs muttered, even as he pulled Tony behind the shelter of a nearby tree.
Tony closed his eyes and leaned heavily against the other man. “Can we go the other way around?”
“There is no other way,” Gibbs answered as calmly as he could. It wasn’t Tony’s fault that they were screwed and he didn’t want to take his disappointment out on the younger man.
The original ambush had been set well. Positioned in a valley, there were really only two directions for Gibbs and Tony to go. Up or down. Up had proven fruitless; no cell phone signal had been obtained. If Tony had been healthy, they could have climbed and hiked over the steep hills, but it had been all the wounded man could do to make it up part of the way. That left down, but Stan Burley was blocking the way. Unfortunately for Gibbs and DiNozzo, it was narrow enough that one armed man could hold it from two men without weapons. All Burley had to do was block the way out long enough for reinforcements to arrive.
“You could leave me,” Tony offered. “Hide me under another tree and go over the side of the valley. Get help that way.”
Gibbs shook his head. He’d considered the idea earlier, but it would take too long and there was no guarantee that Burley wouldn’t find Tony while he was gone. It was beyond Gibbs to leave his wounded lover behind. He was too much of a Marine for that, even if he hadn’t loved Tony.
“Wouldn’t work,” Gibbs explained. “We don’t know how far away that dog team is.”
“Maybe they won’t show up,” Tony suggested. “It’s been hours now, obviously Stan’s fellow rats are jumping ship.”
“We can’t count on that,” Gibbs pointed out. “We’ll just keep watch, see if something shakes loose.”
They were behind a small stand of trees. Gibbs helped Tony settle on the ground, hoping that the wounded man could get some rest. Gibbs remained squatting where he could observe Stan Burley off in the distance. Unfortunately, as the afternoon wore on, it was obvious that Burley wasn’t going anywhere.
“You ever watch Magnum?” Tony eventually asked.
Gibbs was tempted to shush the younger man, but Tony had spoken quietly. Gibbs figured that his lover needed to take his mind of the situation they were in. Gibbs could keep watching Stan while he talked, so he indulged Tony.
“No,” he answered. “Never been much for watching TV.”
Tony sighed. “Magnum was my favorite. I always wanted to grow a mustache just like his.”
“You do and I’ll kick your ass,” Gibbs retorted. He didn’t want any fuzzy swath of hair cover Tony’s face; Jethro liked it just the way it was.
“There was this one episode,” Tony ignored Gibbs’ threat, knowing that it was an empty one. “Magnum was on this island, protecting some actress chick. He wasn’t armed, don’t remember why, and the chick was wounded.”
“Sounds familiar,” Gibbs commented dryly.
“She wasn’t as good-looking as I am,” Tony waved his hand vaguely. “Anyways, Magnum kept flashing back to Viet Nam and when one of his buddies, Rick got hurt. You remember Rick?”
Gibbs wrinkled his forehead in thought. He wasn’t really interested, but if the conversation helped lift Tony’s spirits, then he’d do his best. “He fly a helicopter?”
“No, that was TC,” Tony corrected him. “Rick was the little guy, sort of looked like a mobster with a tan.”
Tony’s voice trailed off and Gibbs took his eyes away from Stan long enough to check on him. Tony looked starkly pale and there was a glistening of sweat along his upper lip. His eyes were closed, as though he didn’t have the energy left to keep them open. “Tony?”
“Yeah, just resting a minute,” Tony resumed talking at Gibbs’ concerned question. “I was telling you about Magnum. What Magnum had done back in ‘Nam was use Rick as bait. Left him out in the open to lure the bad guys in and when they did, he pounced. He did the same thing with the actress chick and it worked then too.”
Gibbs had been Tony’s lover long enough that he knew exactly where the other man’s mind was going. “I’m not using you as bait.”
Tony opened his eyes and pinned Gibbs with a look that stated clearly that, wounded or not, Tony knew exactly how deep the shit they were in was. “And what’s the alternative? We both know that I’m not going to survive another night in the open.”
The sad thing was, Tony was right. He’d already gone far longer without medical treatment than he should have. That DiNozzo was still coherent was unbelievable; that he’d managed to keep up with Gibbs and ahead of their pursuers was nothing short of a miracle. It couldn’t last.
“You got a better idea?” Tony asked when Gibbs didn’t say anything.
Gibbs looked from Tony over to where he could see Stan Burley pacing in the distance. No, damn it, he didn’t have a better idea.
“You know I don’t,” Gibbs conceded. “But we do it my way.”
“Your way?” Tony snorted. “Is there any other?”
“Smart ass,” Gibbs retorted, but his tone was laden with fondness.
Once he’d made up his mind, Gibbs worked quickly. He left Tony briefly to do some scouting and, once he’d found a suitable spot for an ambush of his own, came back for his lover. He helped Tony over to an open area dozens of yards away and then emphasized the spot where he needed Tony to lure Stan to.
“I got it, Boss, I got it,” Tony impatiently shook off Gibbs’ hands.
Gibbs looked at him in concern. Tony seemed noticeably weaker. “You sure you can handle this?”
“Piece of cake,” Tony reassured him. “I was a thespian, you know.”
“Really?” Gibbs raised one eyebrow.
“THespian,” Tony emphasized. “Not lesbian. You can only do a lesbian if there are two of them, which is hot, but I don’t see any around here right now.” He giggled. “Maybe we should ask Kate.”
“Okay, that’s it, this plan is officially over,” Gibbs reached out to place a hand on Tony’s head. The younger man was burning up. Gibbs had been convinced to try the plan of a delirious man.
“It’s not over!” Tony shook off Gibbs and started yelling at him. “I may not be a Marine, but once in a while I know what I’m doing!”
There wasn’t time to shush Tony; a quick check showed that Stan had already heard Tony’s loud voice and was trotting their way. Gibbs turned back to DiNozzo, but Tony had already ambled over to the spot that Gibbs had indicated was the best place to ambush Burley.
Exactly the right spot.
Flashing Tony a tight grin, Gibbs bolted up the tree he’d chosen. Stan wasn’t a soldier; had never been a Marine. He was a canny one and would be keeping an eye out for enemies, but probably wasn’t experienced enough to think to look up.
“So, I’m a civilian, so what!” Tony continued to yell. “Lots of people are. You hear me, Gibbs? By the time you get your sorry butt back here, I’ll have saved us both, you tight-assed military snob!”
Burley slowed down as he neared Tony’s position and Gibbs held his breath. The failing point of Tony’s plan was if Stan decided to shoot him before Gibbs was close enough to jump. Thankfully, though, the diatribe that Tony was spewing seemed to amuse Stan.
“So, your soldier boy went off and left you?” Stan asked when he got close enough. He had his gun out and trained on DiNozzo.
Tony blinked and swayed on his feet as he watched the other man approached. “Went to get help, like I was some damsel in distress.”
“Did he now?” Stan pursed his lips. “I wonder what he’d do if he came back with cavalry, only to find you with your guts hanging out?”
“Don’t think he’d like that much,” Tony backed away a few steps. Gibbs was proud of him. Tony wasn’t afraid, although he was making a good show of it. He was drawing Stan more directly under Gibbs’ tree.
“Well, we can’t have that,” Stan stated sarcastically. “Everything has to be done the Jethro Gibbs way. Maybe instead of killing you, I’ll just take you with me. I know some freighter captains who’re always looking for a bed warmer and aren’t too picky about where one comes from. You’re a little worn around the edges at the moment, but I’m sure if someone’s been a sea a while, they wouldn’t mind.”
It was by sheer willpower that Gibbs kept silent as he dropped down onto Stan Burley. He wanted to growl a denial of the other man’s ugly words, but couldn’t risk giving Burley any warning of the pain about to descend on him. He’d have to settle for knocking the bastard’s teeth down his throat.
For a plan devised by a delirious man, it worked well. Gibbs fell on Burley like the wrath of God and hit the bastard every bit as hard. Stan dropped like a rock. So completely had Gibbs surprised him that Stand had barely looked up before Gibbs landed on him, let alone had a chance to fight back. After nearly a day of barely keeping ahead of the bad guys, suddenly it was over.
“I hope you remember this the next time you want control of the remote,” Tony stated. He’d lost his balance when Gibbs had leapt and ended up on the ground.
Gibbs grinned, but lost the expression when he looked down at his former colleague. “Too bad he didn’t break his neck when I landed on him; I don’t know what the hell we’re going to do with him now.”
Tony started to struggle to his feet and Gibbs rushed over to help him. “Well, you know who you’re always saying you hate almost as much as traitors?”
“Who?” Gibbs asked as he steadied Tony on his feet.
DiNozzo grinned at him. “Tree huggers.”
It took a moment for Gibbs to follow Tony’s line of thought, but when he did, he grinned right back at his lover. Tony could be inventive, so much so that Gibbs was glad that he was on their side.
In short order, Stan Burley had been propped up against a tree, his face pressed into the bark. It hadn’t taken long to find one that was big enough that Stan’s arms barely fit around it. His hands were cuffed, completing the circle. There would be no way for him to get out of it when he regained consciousness. The tree was far too sturdy for him to knock over and too tall for Stan to get his arms over without climbing it, which he couldn’t do the way he’d been cuffed. The only way it would have been more perfect was if a stand of poison oak had been growing at its base.
Gibbs wrapped an arm around Tony’s waist and began guiding him down towards the road. “Let’s get you some help.”
Tony sagged against his lover. “That sounds like a good idea.”
“Come on, DiNozzo,” Gibbs encouraged him. “Just one foot in front of the other. Soon, you’ll be in a nice hospital bed, watching all the TV you want.”
“And you won’t complain if I want to watch something other than the game?” Tony asked.
“Not a damn bit,” Gibbs vowed.
His days of complaining about Tony’s television watching habits were long over.
* * *
“What the hell are you doing out of bed?”
Gibbs’ words came out harsher than he’d intended, but damn it, Tony had startled him. He’d been about to fix a tray of food to take into the bedroom for DiNozzo, only to find Tony wobbling into the living room.
“I’m tired of being in bed,” Tony whined. “It’s lonely in there.”
Tony wasn’t the world’s best patient, but Gibbs didn’t begrudge him. Tony’d been in the hospital for a week after their ordeal. The gunshot wound hadn’t been that serious, but going for so long without treatment had been. Tony had been ill for days and Gibbs had spent too much time sitting by his lover’s bedside, watching the normally vibrant man languish. Tony deserved a little extra attention now that he was finally home.
“And the television in here is much bigger,” Gibbs pointed out dryly as he reached out to steady his lover. If he didn’t give Tony just a little bit of shit, then DiNozzo would think Gibbs was angry at him.
“That too,” Tony admitted with a grin.
Shamelessly, Tony let Gibbs help him to the couch and then lay happily with his head in Gibbs’ lap. Jethro handed him the remote and didn’t utter a word as Tony started flipping through channels at a dizzying speed.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” Tony said, the comment coming out of nowhere.
Gibbs ran his fingers through Tony’s hair. “What isn’t my fault?”
“Burley going bad,” DiNozzo explained. “The Marines too. I know you hate it when one of them turns out to be the bad guy.”
“Marines are people first, Tony,” Gibbs explained mildly. He looked down at his lover as a way to keep Tony’s channel surfing from making him ill. “The Corp weeds out a lot of the bad seeds, but a few get through the system.”
“And you take it personally,” Tony pointed out.
Which Gibbs did and he didn’t even try to deny it. “They reflect badly on the good soldiers.”
“And most of them are good soldiers,” Tony commented softly.
Gibbs nodded. “Damn straight.”
It was hard to tell who had corrupted whom. Stan Burley had become part of the drug smuggling operation before he’d returned to the States. In fact, he’d joined the criminal activity when he was supposed to be investigating it, back in Athens. Of the three soldiers who’d been part of the original ambush, one had died from a bullet that was eventually traced to Tony’s gun. The two survivors had been part of the pursuit of Gibbs and DiNozzo, plus one additional Marine. Gibbs had injured all three of those soldiers. None had died, but one would never walk again and a second lost an arm. The dog handler had been tracked down as well. All of them, plus Stan, would be looking at lengthy prison sentences.
“Kate came by while you were napping,” Gibbs told Tony, putting Stan and his cronies out of his mind to concentrate on what was important. Namely, Tony.
Tony grinned. “Did she bring me anything?”
“Some of those cookies you like so much,” Gibbs smiled at Tony’s child-like pleasure. Sometimes his lover could be so easy to please that it broke his heart.
“Guilt, it’s a wonderful thing,” Tony sighed.
Kate had been quite chagrined to find out how dire Gibbs’ and DiNozzo’s circumstances had been. Stan had kept up the deception; no one at NCIS had suspected for a moment that they were in trouble. Kate, Abby and Ducky had met them at the hospital and Kate had been nearly inconsolable about not even knowing that they’d needed her. Tony, once he started feeling better, milked it for all it was worth.
“You want me to get those cookies for you?” Gibbs offered.
The gunshot hadn’t hit Tony’s stomach, but it’d torn through his torso. Between the placement of the wound and being sick, eating hadn’t been on Tony’s priority list and it was starting to show. He had no appetite and Gibbs would take whatever food he could get Tony to eat, even if it was cookies.
“Yeah, that’d be - . . . oooh, Magnum,” Tony finally found something on the screen he could settle on. It only took him a minute to figure out which episode it was. “You’ll like this one, Gibbs. Magnum has to tread water all night.”
Gibbs smiled fondly at Tony’s enthusiasm. “You want me to go get you a cookie?”
He made as though to slide Tony’s head off his lap, but Tony’s hand on his arm stopped him.
“Stay?” Tony pleaded, more with his eyes than with his voice.
“Always,” Gibbs assured him, settling back into the sofa.
For several minutes, the only sound came through the television set. When the show went to commercial, though, Tony sighed in contentment.
“I really should grow a mustache sometime.”
“Like I said, DiNozzo,” Gibbs mock growled. “Do it and I’ll kick your ass.”
Tony’s grin rivaled that of the Cheshire cat. “You’d learn to like the tickle.”
The sad thing was, Tony was right. Where DiNozzo was concerned, Gibbs could learn to like anything. Anything, that was, except for Tony getting hurt.
“You did good, Tony,” Gibbs told his lover. He’d praised Tony’s actions during the crisis before, but Tony’d been sick at the time and Gibbs wanted to make sure that his lover knew how he felt. “I’m proud of you.”
Tony blushed. “Shucks, Jethro. All I did was watch a little TV.”
Gibbs snorted. “Tony, with you there is no such thing as watching ‘a little TV.’”
“Hey, you said I could watch as much as I wanted,” Tony lifted his head as he complained. “After I was shot and had the plan for catching the bad guy and starting the avalanche.” Gibbs gave him the look and Tony subsided. “Yeah, I guess you haven’t turned the television off, have you?”
“Watch your show, Tony,” Gibbs instructed.
Magnum was back from commercial and, as Tony lay back down, Gibbs started stroking his hair again. Sure enough, Tony’s eyelids started to become heavy and by the time the show went to commercial a second time, he was fast asleep. Gibbs didn’t bother to shut the TV off. Tony had grown up with a privileged childhood, but a lonely one. His wealthy parents didn’t have much time for him, so television and movies had been Tony’s biggest companions growing up. Gibbs knew that television was a comfort to him.
Just as holding Tony as he slept was a comfort to Gibbs.
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