Gibbs stood just inside the treeline, close to where Tony had been standing when he was shot, scanning the area for any signs of the shooter.
He had carefully made his way back to the stream, circling Tony’s hiding place several times in a widening arc in an effort to pick up the trail of any pursuers. He hadn’t found any sign that anybody other than he and Tony had been through there recently, but that did little to reassure him.
He highly doubted that whoever shot Tony didn’t know where Gibbs had taken him; he or she at least had to have a rough idea of where Tony was. Gibbs hated to leave his injured SFA, but he knew that they were sitting ducks if they stayed put. Gibbs would rather track the perp down himself and deal with him or her without having to worry about Tony becoming collateral damage.
As he had circled their hiding place, Gibbs had worked hard on eliminating trail that seemed rather obvious to his highly-trained eyes. Carrying an injured, unconscious man through the woods didn’t leave a lot of spare energy to worry about stealth. Gibbs had managed to avoid breaking branches and doing major damage that would be nearly impossible to hide, but he had stirred up the leaf bed and ground fauna more than he would have liked. On his way back he had smoothed out the disturbed ground and wiped out any footprints in the bare patches with quick, Marine-efficient movements.
It wasn’t perfect, but their passing was a great deal more hidden than it had been before Gibbs had come back to fix it. To offset the remaining damage, Gibbs had then worked on creating several false trails at various points along the route. That was quite a bit easier to manage; the real trick was not making them too obvious. By the time he was done, the early afternoon sunlight had shifted closer to evening. Gibbs knew he needed to pick up the pace if he was going to be back before dark.
He spent about ten minutes just standing near the stream, still behind the cover of the trees, listening and watching. He didn’t hear or see anything unusual, so he shifted his focus to calculating the trajectory of the shot that had hit Tony. He thought about it for a moment, mentally picturing the scene from an outside perspective.
Tony had been facing him with several feet of space between them as they stood with their shoulders perpendicular to the stream. The bullet had struck Tony from behind, the round barely missing Gibbs after it passed through. The banks of the run curved away from them downstream; Tony had been facing upstream when he was shot. Based on the slight angle of the bullet, Gibbs would estimate that the shooter had been on their side of the stream, probably in the trees that pressed close to the streambank where it curved away from them.
If Gibbs had looked past Tony for even a moment, there was a good chance that he would have spotted the shooter. The shooter had been east of them, and the late morning sun would have swung far enough south to reflect off a scope pointed at them. Gibbs was sure that it was a rifle shot that had hit Tony; a handgun was far too inaccurate at that distance.
In fact, based on the angle of the shot and the path of the bullet when it left Tony’s body…
With a few quick, determined strides, Gibbs made his way over to where Tony had been standing when he was hit and turned back to face the same way. He walked west, eyes on the ground, and smiled grimly when he saw the telltale furrow in the earth several yards away. He carefully dug the slightly damaged bullet out of the earth, careful not to touch it directly, and placed it in a forensic collection jar that he pulled out of his pocket, then sealed it and marked it to maintain the chain of evidence.
Full metal jacket, .223 caliber, probably shot from a civilian model rifle. Good thing it wasn’t a hollow-point or Tony’d be dead*. Doubt the shooter wanted him dead unless he’s a complete amateur who didn’t know what he was doing. If he didn’t want Tony dead, then what did he want?
Gibbs’ head snapped up as his hand went to his Sig at that thought. He suddenly felt very vulnerable standing in the open. He quickly faded back into the treeline and moved toward where he thought the shooter might have set up. Shooter had to find a perch close enough to the treeline to avoid interference but far enough back to avoid detection. Gotta have a clear shot but good coverage and the right angle.
There was one place where a tree had broken almost at the base and fallen over, creating a perfect spot to set up shop. A shooter could set the rifle over the fallen log while still keeping the bulk of his or her body behind it but with a great field of view to the stream. There was a nice hole in the maze of leaves, branches, and bushes at just the right level to let the shooter hit his target without clipping any foliage.
Gibbs examined the area closely and could just make out a bootprint in the loam where the trunk touched the ground. This is the spot. He looked for a shell casing, but found none. Definitely not an amateur. This is a great sniper’s nest, and he policed his brass. Means he wanted Tony injured. Why?
The only warning Gibbs had was the subtle shifting of earth behind him. He spun to meet his attacker, but he was too slow. A sudden, intense pain blossomed in his head, and he fell, unconscious before his body even hit the ground.
Gibbs came to all of a sudden, completely awake. His head felt like some beatnik had decided to express himself with Gibbs’ as his bongo drum, and Gibbs could feel blood running down the side of his head. His hands were tied behind his back, but his feet were free and he wasn’t tied to anything.
He was leaning against the log he had been investigating, legs stretched out in front of him, chin tucked into his chest. He listened carefully for any signs of another presence and could hear someone breathing close to him. He opened his eyes into slits and looked up through his lashes in an effort to suss out who was in front of him, but he couldn’t make anything out. Before he could decide if it would be better to continue feigning unconsciousness or not, the other person spoke.
“Ah, Agent Gibbs, I see you’re awake. Welcome back. I hope that little bump on the head hasn’t inconvenienced you too much.”
Gibbs raised his head to take his first good look at his captor. His eyes widened in shock, but he quickly hid it behind as strong of a glare as he could muster in his current state.
The man before him wasn’t overly tall, but he had clearly bulked up quite a bit since the last time Gibbs had seen him. His hair was longer, face clean-shaven, and he carried himself with a confidence that hadn’t been present the last time they’d met.
“Heard you were dead,” Gibbs drawled, feigning unconcern.
The man smirked at him as he replied, “Seems you heard wrong, Agent Gibbs. What was it they said? Oh, right, died in an explosion in prison via a homemade bomb; they had to confirm identity with DNA. Good thing the lab tech who ran the test is an old friend of mine. He fudged the results, I escaped in the confusion, and here we are. The actual prisoner who died is assumed to have escaped; too bad for them that they’re looking for the wrong person.”
Gibbs cursed silently to himself. The man before him hadn’t even pinged his radar when he tried to think who could have wanted both him and Tony dead. Granted, that was a long list, but at least it would help narrow down who they could be looking for. Whatever plan he had concocted to get himself out of prison had clearly worked. He’d had almost six months of freedom to follow them around, gather intel, and set this whole mess up, and neither he nor Tony had been any the wiser.
“Oh, you’d know all about messing up lab results, wouldn’t you, Chip?” Gibbs popped the p at the end of his last word, all the better to annoy his foe.
Chip Sterling glared back at him, anger flaring in his brown eyes. He pulled a knife from a sheath at his belt and spun it with a casual grace in his hand, the blade flashing in the late afternoon sunlight.
“My name is Charles, Agent Gibbs,” he said with deliberate menace.
Gibbs merely raised an eyebrow at him while his hands worked hard behind his back in an effort to slip free of the rope that bound his wrists tight. He wasn’t making much headway, but he’d rather die than give up. Could wind up being dead anyway, so might as well go for it.
His expression must not have been very pleasing to Chip because the younger man stepped closer and crouched down until he was at eye level, a sneer on his face. His hand moved almost faster than Gibbs’ eyes could follow, and he had to stifle a cry of pain as the knife scored a hit, slashing a deep groove down his left bicep.
Gibbs really, really didn’t like the way Chip’s eyes darkened in pleasure and his breathing picked up at the sight of Gibbs’ blood and discomfort. It was a dangerous sign and downright creepy to boot. Gibbs glared harder at him, putting the full weight of his formidable personality and rage behind it as he gritted his teeth.
He saw the other man falter a bit, and his dark grin at the sight was like the growl of a predator.
Gibbs leaned forward, putting himself into Chip’s personal space, and whispered quiet words into his ear that brimmed with menace and blood.
“I’m going to kill you, Chip. That’s a promise.”
Chip reared back at the absolute venom and fury in Gibbs’ voice. When he realized his reaction, Chip snarled and slashed again with the knife, this time leaving a long, bloody line across Gibbs’ chest before standing up and kicking Gibbs several times. Before Gibbs could fully recover, Chip had pulled him up and shoved him so he flipped backwards over the log, landing in an awkward sprawl on the other side. Chip was on him in an instant, punching and kicking at him again.
Gibbs curled up as best he could to protect his head and core from the beating, hoping that Chip would wear himself out before he killed him. Fortunately for Gibbs, Chip’s rage made his swings wild and mostly inaccurate, though the ones that managed to connect had quite a bit of power behind them. As quickly as the beating started, it was over.
Chip stood over Gibbs, panting, his fists clenched angrily as he gulped in heaving breaths. Gibbs laid where he was, hurting but far too stubborn to show it. Chip turned and walked around the log, returning before Gibbs could gather himself up enough to do anything. He had a backpack on and a rifle in his hands. Gibbs examined it from his prone position and smirked a bit as his suspicions were confirmed. Savage Model 110, .223 caliber, civilian issue.
“Get up, Agent Gibbs, we’re going for a walk. I think it’s time we paid Tony a little visit.”
Gibbs trudged wearily through the woods, hands still tied behind his back, and thought hard on how to get out of his current predicament.
Chip obviously wants revenge. Choosing not to kill Tony when he had the chance is part of that. He’s not afraid to make us bleed, wants to see us suffer. Probably plans on torturing us before he kills us.
Gibbs frowned grimly at the thought. He’d been tortured before, knew how it worked, and, though he felt the slight undercurrent of fear that was pushing adrenaline through him, he knew he could take it. People often thought that Gibbs wasn’t afraid of anything, but that was just plain ridiculous. Fear was a natural reaction, meant to keep a person safe, and it was as uncontrollable in its timing as any other emotion. Gibbs just knew how to overcome his fear, how to use it to his advantage and hide it from others.
Though Gibbs wasn’t exactly looking forward to whatever it was Chip had planned for him, his main concern was for Tony. The younger man was already injured, had already lost quite a bit of blood. He wouldn’t last long if Chip starting using that knife of his on him. Gibbs didn’t think he could stand watching Tony die in front of him. There has to be a way out of this.
They were approaching Tony’s hiding spot, and Gibbs still hadn’t found a solution. For now, focus on staying alive and keeping Tony breathing. Bide your time, Marine.
They stepped into Tony’s line of sight, Chip at Gibbs’ back with his Sig to Gibbs’ head, having slung the rifle over his shoulder to free up his hands. Gibbs saw Tony’s eyes widen in surprise as he stiffened, his own Sig pointing at them. Gibbs saw the tremor in Tony’s hand and knew the exhaustion and blood loss had gotten to him. There was no way Tony could afford to take a shot; he might hit Gibbs.
“Hello, Agent DiNozzo. Throw down your weapon, or I’ll drop Gibbs where he stands.”
Tony’s eyes snapped to Gibbs, and the two held each other’s gaze for several long, intense moments. Gibbs had always enjoyed the way he could communicate with his SFA without saying a word; they knew each other well enough that each tiny facial movement, each shift in body position, every glance or glare spoke volumes.
Tony nodded once and slid the safety back on his Sig before tossing it aside. Chip kicked the back of Gibbs’ knee and sent him down to the ground before sidestepping him and grabbing Tony’s discarded gun. He gestured with it, motioning for Gibbs to go toward Tony.
“And the knife, Tony. Don’t think I don’t know about your belt knife. Toss it over.”
Tony did as he was told, pulling the knife out of his belt buckle and throwing it aside. Chip smiled at them both and sighed happily. Gibbs had to suppress a shudder at the dark glee in his eyes.
“Now, Agents, I think it’s time we had a little talk.”
*Hollow-point bullets fracture or mushroom on impact, causing massive internal damage, but they don't have a lot of target penetration. Full metal jacket bullets hold together much longer and are better for penetrating a target, but they do a lot less damage. They are much likely to have a "through-and-through" effect.
A .223 caliber is pretty small for use on a human. It's used a lot for varmint hunting (pest animals such as squirrels, groundhogs, prairie dogs, foxes, coyotes, etc.). Law enforcement and military personnel typically shoot a 9mm cartridge (specifically a 9×19mm Parabellum) or thereabouts (a pretty close equivalent would be a .357); for comparison, a .223 is pretty close to a 5.56mm. There's a good chance Gibbs would have thought the .223 was a 5.56×45mm NATO since the latter is derived from the former and is more common in military circles, but I figured more readers would be familiar with a .223 (at least in the US, where I'm from).