I’m going to kill him.
The thought roared through Gibbs’ mind as he watched Tony rush past him and into the woods. He felt the anger bloom in his stomach, causing his fists to clench at his sides. The stentorian yell that came out of his mouth would’ve made hardened marines tremble had it been directed at them.
“Damn it, DiNozzo! Get back here, now!”
No reaction. Tony didn’t even slow down. Gibbs worked hard to reign in the rage that demanded he pursue his quarry. He took a deep breath to steady himself and exhaled slowly. He deliberately unclenched his fists, letting the tension slide out of his shoulders in an effort to calm down.
He had seen the moment of panic and fear in his SFA’s eyes before he ran. It was the only thing keeping him from wringing his neck.
Gibbs didn’t know what exactly had caused that look on Tony’s face, but his gut was twisting uncomfortably in reaction. For something to kick Tony’s fight-or-flight response into high gear like that in Gibbs’ presence, Gibbs knew that it had to be something pretty bad. Tony hated to let Gibbs see him as anything less than the highly-capable agent he was or the overgrown frat boy he pretended to be. Seeing him like that was… Gibbs didn’t even have words for it yet.
Gibbs suddenly wasn’t sure he really wanted to know the truth.
The thought only lasted for a moment before his investigative side kicked in and demanded answers. Gibbs turned towards his tent to grab a flashlight; no sense in both of them running headlong into the dark. He knew he could track his wayward agent in the dark with little difficulty. Even if Tony had been trying to be stealthy, Gibbs knew the man would leave at least some sign of his passing. True, Tony had a lot more fieldcraft in him than he’d ever suspected, but even trained and specialized soldiers sometimes left minute traces of their presence. A panicked agent rabbiting into the woods would leave a trail that a blind man could follow.
Gibbs certainly wasn’t blind, even if he was a bit hyperopic now. He may struggle to read things up close, but his long-distance vision was as sharp as ever. He definitely could still track a man through the woods. He would find Tony, calm the man down, make sure he was safe… then he would get his answers even if he had to put Tony in a headlock and choke it out of him.
Gibbs moved carefully through the forest, mindful of his footing as he followed the clear upward-bound path that Tony had created in his rush to get away from him. Gibbs was worried; running through the woods at night, especially when one didn’t know the terrain, was foolhardy at best. There was a full moon just touching the horizon in a clear sky, but the pale light barely penetrated the treetops enough to give vague definition to shapes, let alone clearly mark obstacles.
Gibbs sedulously scanned the area around him with the flashlight, looking for any signs that Tony had doubled back or set a false trail, but it appeared as if Tony had simply run blindly, too spooked to worry about subterfuge. Gibbs knew the man had a decent head start and was moving faster than he, but Gibbs was hopeful that he had either come to his senses and stopped or been slowed by the terrain. He really didn’t want to chase his SFA halfway across the park in the dark.
Gibbs made decent time, all things considered, and the change in angle of the rising moon was slight when he finally caught up to Tony. He could hear him long before he saw him, the sound of great, gasping breaths and muttered curses like music to his ears. Gibbs debated sneaking up on his agent, but he figured that surprising the clearly unsettled man who happened to be carrying a weapon or three might not be the best idea. Besides, he was pretty sure that Tony had seen the beam of his flashlight sweeping the forest and already knew he was there.
In the end, Gibbs approached Tony with a deliberate calm that he did not feel. The last thing he wanted was to send Tony running again only to track him down and start all over. The more Tony ran through the woods, the greater his chances of injuring himself.
It’s a bit late for that, Gibbs thought grimly as he finally laid eyes on his SFA.
Tony was seated with his back leaning against the trunk of an old oak, still trying to catch his breath. His right hand was pressed firmly against his left bicep, and Gibbs could see blood soaking into Tony’s shirt under his fingers. His face showed scrapes and abrasions where tree branches had clearly smacked him in the face during his flight through the forest. The knees of his pants were dirty, probably from a fall. All in all, he looked like hell, but he’d live.
Gibbs sighed deeply and sat down next to Tony, grimacing as his bad knee popped in protest. Half of him wanted to choke the man, but the other half was just glad that he hadn’t fallen and broken his fool neck. He decided to compromise.
The headslap wasn’t overly hard, but it cracked in the relative stillness of the forest like a breaking branch. Gibbs felt Tony tense beside him for a moment before relaxing, their shoulders brushing slightly at the movement. Gibbs met Tony’s gaze with a hard glare of his own, but Tony must’ve seen something in him that reassured him because he smiled faintly instead of bolting again.
“Hey, Boss. Nice night, isn’t it?”
Gibbs didn’t bother dignifying that inane statement with a response. He just glared harder.
“Yeah, so you’re probably wondering why I just ran into the woods in the dark with no flashlight like some perp trying to avoid getting caught. Not really sure what to tell ya, Boss.” Tony said.
“You could try the truth, DiNozzo.” Gibbs replied with just a hint of a growl in his voice.
He felt Tony tense up again at those words and decided that sitting in the dark while one of them was bleeding wasn’t the best time or location for a heart-to-heart conversation. He hauled himself back up and brushed the dirt from the seat of his pants before reaching a hand out to Tony. He met Tony’s surprised glance with his usual gruffness.
“You coming, DiNozzo, or are ya gonna sit here all night until your ass goes numb and you bleed half to death?”
“Well when you put it like that, Boss…”
Tony reached out and grabbed Gibbs’ hand, using the added leverage to hoist himself up. Gibbs noticed that he favored his right ankle a bit, and he had the sudden urge to headslap him again. Tony was more injury-prone than any person Gibbs had ever met, and the worry that rose up every time he was hurt had a tendency to manifest itself as a need to make physical contact - which in Gibbs-speak meant headslaps.
“You gonna be alright on that ankle, DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked.
“I’m fine, Boss. Just lead the way.”
Gibbs glared at his agent with such intensity that Tony unconsciously took a half-step back in an effort to put a bit of distance between them.
“So help me, DiNozzo, if you tell me you’re ‘fine’ one more time, I will throw you off the mountain and let you roll back to camp! I’ll ask you again. How. Is. Your. Ankle?”
Tony let out a sigh and shrugged his shoulders. “It’ll get me back to camp as long as we don’t have to run. I fell over a log and must’ve twisted it on the way down, but it’s not broken and will hold my weight. You don’t have to carry me, Boss.”
Gibbs snorted at that thought and turned around to lead the way back to camp. He listened carefully as Tony followed behind him, alert for any overt sounds of pain or difficulty. Tony might claim to be okay to walk, but hard-earned experience had taught Gibbs that the younger man tended to downplay or underestimate his injuries, even to himself. Gibbs would rather he didn’t fall down and crack his skull - then Gibbs really would have to carry him out.
They made it back to camp without incident, though both men were tired and Tony especially was dirty and hurting. Gibbs made a beeline for his tent and the well-stocked first-aid kit he had wisely packed. He came out of the tent to find Tony standing by the fire, staring at the few embers that were still glowing.
“DiNozzo! Sit down before you fall down!” Gibbs barked out.
Tony started slightly but covered the motion by turning it into an effort to sit. The sudden shift in weight caused his ankle to twinge in protest, and Gibbs heard his sudden hiss of pain.
Gibbs was by his side in a flash, hands already reaching to take off his boot. He slipped it off Tony’s foot as carefully as possible and set it aside. Gibbs reached into his pack and pulled out an electric lantern; he turned it on and set it to the side so he could see.
Tony’s ankle was already slightly swollen and turning a nasty shade of purple-blue. Gibbs gently ran his hands over it, looking for any breaks. He found none. He started pressing on various areas of Tony’s foot and ankle, grunting when Tony flinched at one particular spot.
“Looks like it’s sprained a bit, but nothing’s broken. We’ll wrap and ice it tonight and see how you’re feeling in the morning. I doubt we’ll be going on any long hikes this weekend, but if it’s not too bad you should still be able to go fishing.”
Gibbs moved to put action to his words, and in no time at all he had Tony’s ankle wrapped and elevated, an instant ice pack from the first-aid kit secured to it with a towel.
Gibbs then moved to check on Tony’s left arm. Blood had caked and dried on the sleeve, and Gibbs could see more of it on Tony’s right palm. The bleeding had stopped, but removing the shirt sleeve might restart it. Gibbs used a bit of water from his canteen to help loosen the sleeve from the wound and pulled the shirt over Tony’s head.
Gibbs sucked in a breath at the sight of the ragged gash on Tony’s bicep. The cut wasn’t terribly deep, but it looked messy. Gibbs’ hands seemed to move of their own accord, old memories of treating wounds on various battlefields briefly flashing before him before fading away again. He sterilized the cut, ignoring Tony’s flinch as the antiseptic stung, and carefully wrapped and taped the wound. Fortunately it hadn’t started bleeding again. Gibbs really didn’t want to stitch Tony’s arm shut in the dark, even if his kit did have a shot of a local anesthetic.
Gibbs made quick work of the small cuts on Tony’s face, dabbing them with some antiseptic after cleaning them with some alcohol wipes. They didn’t need bandages.
Tony was strangely silent and compliant through it all, and Gibbs’ gut tightened in warning. Tony was never quiet through something like this; his normal response was to crack jokes and quote movies while trying to whine his way out of any medical treatment, not just sit there silently and let Gibbs manhandle him.
Something was seriously wrong.
Finally finished doctoring Tony up, Gibbs turned to the fire and quickly rebuilt it, using the last of the wood that Tony had scrounged up earlier. He would have to hunt for more before he could cook breakfast in the morning, but they would survive. Once the fire was blazing as high as he could make it, he turned off the lantern and sat so he could see Tony’s face lit by the flames.
Might as well get this over with, Gibbs thought, eyes narrowing dangerously as he looked at his unnaturally docile agent.
“Alright, DiNozzo, you wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”