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PostPosted: Sun Jun 21, 2015 10:43 am 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Title: The First Bullet
Rating: FR15
Genre: Angst
Pairings: Tony/Zoe
Author's Note: This is my 2015 NFA White Elephant Exchange contribution, written for Sherry. Prompt to come at the end so as not to spoil anything.
Summary: When a case goes horribly wrong, can anything ever be right again?
Warning: Minor character death

Disclaimer: All recognizable elements of the story are property of their creators. I’m just borrowing them for a bit to give Sherry a good story.


Chapter 1


Water cascaded over his hands, then splashed pink against the industrial white basin of the sink. Tim went back for more soap, but the dispenser was empty. It had been full before, hadn't it? He used the next one over, lathering up and scrubbing around his nails, but the water was pink still when he rinsed.

By the time he finished, his fingers were numb. He reached for a paper towel and rubbed until he could feel again. When he walked back outside, nothing had changed. Gibbs was still sitting there, elbows propped on his knees, leaning forward, hands wrapped around a paper cup.

Tim wanted to ask, but he couldn't seem to get the words out.

"He's out of surgery," Gibbs said. "Not out of the woods." The team leader looked down at the floor.

"Boss, when-?"

"McGee," Gibbs interrupted. "Go to his place, pack a bag."

"But-"

"Go," Gibbs said. "You'll be back before he wakes up."

As McGee made his way to Tony's apartment on autopilot, he reminded himself that Gibbs wouldn't have let him leave if there had been a question of if Tony would wake up.

The doorman knew Tim by sight, but it didn't matter much, since Tim had a key. After Ziva stayed in Israel, he'd made sure to get a copy. Tony had scared him then with what McGee recognized as the beginnings of depression, so the younger agent had insisted. When Tim had stopped worrying about Tony, he'd offered to give it back, but Tony had waved him off.

"Always good in case of an emergency, McBuddy. If Gibbs has the only copy and we both get taken out on a case, somebody needs it." Except Gibbs was fine. He hadn't been anywhere nearby today when the bullet ripped through Tony's chest. He hadn't been there three weeks ago when the first bullet was fired. The bullet that was killing Tony one drink and one sleepless night at a time.

Inside, dust covered the surfaces of the apartment, and a decanter and glass on the coffee table, right where Tony could see the piano, told their own story. Only the small table by Tony's lockbox was spotless, with no dust marring the surface that held a bowl where three fish swam.

Tim walked over and sprinkled some food. "He'll be home soon," he said to Tony's girls. They didn't answer, but he didn't expect them to. Perhaps that was why Tony liked having them around. He put the food back and headed for the bedroom.

The space was a mess, with ties draped over the end of the bed and crumpled shirts in a pile by the closet door. Tim decided to just get clothes from the dresser and head back. Once he'd seen Tony for himself, he could come back and clean up the place. He pulled open the narrow drawer at the top to find socks. Between the rolled pairs of black wool and cotton was a small patch of velvet. Tim pulled out a small box. He didn't need to open it to know, but he did anyway. The ring's setting was older, not the style available now. Not that he'd been looking. It was probably Tony’s mother's. Tony must just keep it here so it would be safe. But when he set it back down, he found paper underneath the socks and pulled it out. Two tickets for Jamaica for next week.

Now Tim understood. Tony hadn't stepped into the arms dealer's line of fire to save Tim. He'd done it because Tim hadn't been able to stop the first bullet, the one that killed Zoe before she hit the floor.

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PostPosted: Mon Jun 22, 2015 7:54 pm 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Chapter 2

Three weeks earlier

Tim checked the stripes on the uniform he'd gotten from the undercover storage room and made sure they matched the pins on his collar and cover. Across the room, Tony was fiddling with his tie.

"Why are you even in here?" Tim asked. "All these suits look like your suits."

"A jazz musician nobody’s heard of doesn't own a real DeVore unless he's found it at a secondhand store." Tony held his arms out to check the sleeve length before putting the jacket back and trying another one. "I need the illusion of Rat Pack, not the real thing."

"Are you sure about this?" Tim rushed on before Tony could play dumb. "You know how it went the last time you and Zoe worked together on a case."

"I know that if we send Bishop in as a cigar girl bent on seducing military brass and politicians into being blackmail bait this op is over before it starts," Tony replied. "She's the girl next door, and we need a temptress."

He couldn't very well argue with that point. "She's going to have to go undercover sometime," he replied. "I did."

"As she pointed out a while back, she's married," Tony said. "She could barely handle the curveballs from that couples intimacy workshop we stumbled into, and our cigar girl needs to be convincing or she won't get in. We can break her in on a different case where seduction isn't one of the tools we need."

And three hours later, when Tony was up on stage at the club playing piano and Zoe circled the room in her satin bustier and box of illegal Cuban cigars, Tim admitted that Tony was right — Bishop couldn't have pulled this off.

As Zoe approached him, McGee made sure to fiddle with the silver band on his left ring finger.

"Good evening, Captain," Zoe said, her voice as sultry as the sounds Tony coaxed from the piano on stage. "Can I interest you in any of my wares?"

"That depends," Tim said. "What are you offering?" He ignored the snicker in his ear that undoubtedly was Abby listening in from the lab.

Zoe enticed, Tim let himself be baited and by the time Zoe had her "break," an hour later, nobody looked twice when he followed her into the back of the club and out into the alley behind.

Mindful of the cameras he'd scouted in the alley before they started, Tim angled her to where they would catch his face and mouth on tape. "Are you sure we can't continue this somewhere else?" he asked. "Someplace... nicer?" He arched an eyebrow at her even as he heard Bishop's voice in his ear: The owner's watching the cameras, McGee. He's dialing the-

Zoe's cell phone buzzed and Tim reminded himself Capt. Richard Walker wouldn't look away while the stunning cigar girl was dipping a hand into her chest to retrieve it. He could apologize to Tony later for anything he saw.

"Yes?" Zoe said. She listened, then hung up. "This is your lucky day," she said. "The club's quieting down and my boss doesn't want to pay me for the rest of the night, so I'm all yours."

Tim knew his smirk would look like one thing to the club owner and quite another to Zoe. "Well then, What are we waiting for?" He offered his arm and they left the alley toward the hotel room Zoe had reserved for the purpose.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~


Abby watched the feeds in MTAC, teeth worrying her lower lip. When Tony swung into the familiar strains of "Bitter and Blue," she headed for the control panel and worked her magic.

"Tony, I've switched you to a separate loop so the music and club noise don't interfere with McGee and Zoe," she said. Then she returned to the main frequency in time to hear Gibbs' question.

"Abbs, we lost DiNozzo."

"No, you didn't Bossman," she said. "I put him on a separate circuit, and Leon and I will monitor it from here. He doesn't need to hear McGee and Zoe pretending to do everything they need to pretend to do for this to work."

Gibbs didn't respond, so she took that as permission and went back to Tony's feed. "Anything hinky?" she asked, then winced as the feed went swimmy. "Don't shake your head, Tony, or you're going to make us all seasick."

As she watched and listened to the club feed, she kept one eye on the video from McGee's glasses. "Aww, Timmy, that's sweet to give Zoe your coat."

"She isn't exactly dressed for being outside, Abbs," Tony muttered.

"I've walked around DC wearing less than that on a Friday night," Abby retorted. At Vance's raised eyebrow, she blushed a little. "Too much information?"

"Focus on the case, Miss Scuito," the director replied.

Sudden movement on the other feed caught her eye, and she looked up to the screen in time to see somebody in a ski mask point a gun at McGee and Zoe and fire. Abby clapped a hand over her mouth so Tony wouldn't hear her scream.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tony kept an eye on the crowd in the club and his mind off Zoe and what was happening. And McGee. Pretty soon he should get the signal that the dirtbag had taken the bait and then he could be done with this and back at NCIS.

Undercover had always been his favorite, but this was different. He should be out there, not in here. Sure, McGee couldn't play the piano, but he made a great waiter. But better view from the stage and more freedom to move about the building and Rule 12 and I'm a more convincing mark swarmed in his head. Gibbs in his head was one thing, but when had McGee started showing up in there?

He wrapped the last set and took one of the waiters up on his offer of a cigarette out back. If they had to come back again tomorrow, they could use all the intel they could get on the club and its employees. The wail of sirens broke through the city bustle — hardly unusual in Washington on a Friday night. But now that the club noise was gone, why hadn't Abby switched him back to the main channel?

His gut wasn't in Gibbs' category, but there was something hinky. He excused himself and muttered "What's going on, Abbs?"

"Agent DiNozzo, leave now," came the director's voice. "Walk two blocks east and we'll pick you up there."

"Did we catch this scum?" Tony asked.

"Now," Vance said.

Tony followed the alley out to the street, turned and walked just as he'd been told to. The familiar shape of an NCIS car pulled up and Tony got in. "What's going on, Dorney?"

"I'm just supposed to take you back to NCIS," he said. "That's all they told me."

He was lying, but it was Dorney, which meant he'd been told to lie. That was never good.

Not until he was standing in autopsy half an hour later, looking down at Zoe's still face, did he accept that not good was the shittiest understatement in the history of time. She stared up at the ceiling and he stared down at her and Gibbs was probably staring at him, but Tony couldn't bring himself to care.

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PostPosted: Wed Jun 24, 2015 9:09 am 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Chapter 3


Present day

Gibbs looked up as McGee walked in, Tony's backup go-bag in hand. He shook his head to answer the question his agent hadn't asked, but McGee didn't even acknowledge it. He just sat next to Gibbs and stared into space. Gibbs waited for a question, or a comment from the man who was his quietest agent, but still a chatterbox compared to Gibbs. When one didn't come, he surreptitiously studied McGee.

His shoulders were tight, rising up toward his ears. One heel bounced on the floor, but the rest of his body was rigid. His left hand was a fist, one that held something small.

"What's that?"

McGee didn't answer, didn't even seem to have heard him.

"McGee." Drill instructor voice didn't need volume — it was the tone.

He started. "Boss?"

"In your hand."

McGee was silent, but it was different, the silence that meant his brain was calculating the options and angles and figuring out what to say. Gibbs waited.

"I found this in Tony's sock drawer," he said, turning his hand over and opening it to reveal a box the same size as one Gibbs could remember buying more than thirty-five years ago. "It was with two plane tickets for Jamaica. For next week."

Gibbs remembered the vacation request that had crossed his desk a few months ago. His senior field agent normally talked all about his vacation plans, but he'd not mentioned this one at any point beyond the necessary paperwork, and Gibbs hadn't figured out why.

Now he knew.

"Requested the time off a while back," Gibbs said. "Not long after Senior was in town."

"What have the doctors said?" McGee asked. "How bad is it?"

Gibbs didn't answer. Couldn't, not with all the gobbledy-gook they'd said floating around in his head around Ducky's uncharacteristically concise "All he has to do is wake up."

"Boss?"

Gibbs shrugged one shoulder.

"I don't know if smacking him on the head and ordering him not to die will work this time," McGee said. "I don't-" He started over. "He isn't-" Another false start. "Are you-" McGee fell silent.

Gibbs turned to look at him, waited until McGee returned his gaze. "Just say it, Tim."

"What if Tony decides he doesn't want to wake up?"


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Once the unthinkable was out of his mouth, Tim slumped back in the hard waiting-room chair.

"He will."

"How do you know? Your gut?"

"I did."

At the reminder of Shannon and Kelly, Tim realized he was treading on shaky ground. "Boss, Tony's not you."

"No, he's not. I didn't have anybody. Joann blamed me. Jack showed up at the funeral with a date, and I shut him out. My friends were all still overseas."

McGee's eyebrows went up at this weird talking Gibbs. That, more than anything else, told him how bad the situation was. "You're saying we can get Tony to wake up?"

"After Pin-Pin, Mike wouldn't let me give up again. Tony, Jenny, Abby — none of you let me give up."

Tim thought about it, then nodded. "Boss, Tony's apartment's a mess. I'm going to go clean it up so it's ready when he's able to go home, then I'll come back and you can go home and sleep."

"Abby-"

"Is processing all the evidence from the scene so the shooter can't escape on a technicality," Tim said. "You know how she gets, and a man who tried to shoot me and did shoot Tony is getting full Abby forensic wrath right now."

"Bishop-"

"Is with Vance interrogating the shooter." Tim forced a smile. "I think she's mostly making sure he doesn't stab him with a toothpick."

"Fine, go."

It wasn't until he was sitting in the kitchen bleary-eyed at three in the morning, scrubbing the grout on the backsplash for the third time, that Tim realized Tony might not be the only one obsessing over Zoe's death.

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 27, 2015 1:49 pm 
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Director's Secretary

Joined: Fri Jul 30, 2010 5:47 pm
Posts: 2382
Location: Southern Tier
Name: Jennie (please NOT Jen)
Gender: Female
link: Blog
link: First Novel
Final chapter! Sherry, please don't kill me for the ending. Also, thanks to everybody who commented and to Kesterpan and Kyrie for letting me bounce ideas off them throughout.

Chapter 4


When Tony blinked open his eyes, a hand lay on his, but it felt wrong. Too big, too bony. "McGee?"

The agent's head shot up. "You're awake!" His little-kid grin disappeared as soon as it came. "Let me get the doctors."

"Not yet." Tony made a face at the fuzzy sweater feel of his mouth. "How long have I been out?"

"Three days." McGee made a couple of faces. "I should call Gibbs."

"First call-" He stopped as the memory washed over him. "McGee...?" He wanted to ask if it was just a nightmare, but didn't know how.

"I wish I could," McGee said, reaching over and squeezing his shoulder. Tony shifted away from his touch.

"How bad is it?" the senior agent asked. "Even the plague didn't knock me out for three days."

"It's not," McGee said. "Through and through on your arm nicked the deep artery, so you lost a lot of blood, but they had plenty of time to fill you back up. You were only out because you hit your head when you fell, as far as they could tell."

"One more concussion," Tony said, forcing a big grin.

"No concussion," McGee said. "You just wouldn't wake up."

All he could remember was a gray fog. "I'm awake now." He sighed. "What happened?"

"You saved my life," McGee said. "The shooter got the drop on me, would have gotten either my jaw or my carotid artery if you hadn't knocked me out of the way, as best Abby can figure it. She's ready to give you a medal."

"I got lucky." Tony didn't try to keep the bitter from his voice. "You know how it works. You know we can't save everybody. You can do everything in the world right and try as hard as you want and you still can't save her." He looked away so McGee wouldn't see whatever was on his face. Not now. Not when he couldn't hide.

"I wish I could have saved her," McGee said. "I'm just glad we saved you." He hesitated. "There was a lot of blood, Tony." Another pause. "When you didn't wake up, I started to worry it had been too much blood."

"Nothing kills me." Tony couldn't resist this moment of honesty. "Not a sniper rifle from the next rooftop, not a bomb on a Sealift command ship, not a suicide bomber wearing the mask of a friend, not even the damned plague. I'll be the last one standing when all of you are gone because nothing kills me."

He felt McGee's hand on his shoulder again and didn't even try to pull away.

"That's not true," McGee said. "If you go around acting like it is, or trying to get killed..." His sigh was heavy enough that Tony was surprised he couldn't feel it. "You want Zoe back. Or you want to be with her again, like Gibbs wanted to be with Shannon after she and Kelly were killed."

"McGee."

"Tony, you can't-" He moved so Tony couldn't not see him, no matter how he turned his head.

"I can't what?"

"You want her back, but we'd all want you back," McGee said. "Just because Abby's ready to make you your own superhero cape doesn't mean you're bulletproof. You're always going to try and save everybody, but you need to try and save yourself, too."

"If there's really nothing wrong with me, how long until a doctor springs me loose?" Tony pulled out his best Gibbs glare.

"Fine, be that way," McGee said. "I'll go find out."


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tim left after he carried Tony's stuff into the apartment. By the time he'd gotten back with food, Tony's masks would be gone. Then at least he'd know if he needed to call in Gibbs as reinforcement.

When he let himself in forty-five minutes later, Tony was still sitting on the couch in the living room, the only sign he'd moved the glass on the table next to him.

"Tell me you at least didn't also take the painkillers the doctor gave you." He set the takeout from the Italian place Tony liked down on the coffee table.

"Why would I want those?" Tony didn't move. "Go home, Tim."

"After we eat," he replied. "I got your favorite."

"I'm not hungry."

"You're always hungry." Tim picked up the glass and went to the kitchen for silverware and something else to drink — water or juice or anything that wasn't Scotch. Tony didn't protest that he'd taken the glass, at least.

Then again, when he set the glasses of water down Tony hadn't moved, so maybe he just didn't realize the glass was gone.

"Eat, DiNozzo," Tim said.

"McGoo."

"You need real food," Tim said. "You eat, I'll tell Ducky you're eating, and then you don't have to stop by the Duck Pond tomorrow to convince him you're fine."

"I am fine."

"For values of fine equaling conscious and mobile, yeah, you're fine, Tony. But Ducky's not going to be satisfied with that." Tim opened the container with chicken marsala and handed it to his partner. "You're going to eat, you're not going to drink and you're going to take your pain pills."

Tony didn't agree, but he did pick up the fork and at least take a few bites of the food, so Tim counted it as a win.

The first two times Tony tried to set the container back down, Tim just looked at him. No glare like Gibbs or disappointment like Ducky, or even puppy eyes the way only Abby could do. At least, he didn't think he was doing any of those. He was just making sure Tony knew he was watching, and both times Tony sighed and settled back on the couch and ate another few bites.

Third time was the one where Tim conceded. A noticeable amount of food had made it from the takeout box to Tony's mouth and he wasn't about to force-feed Tony. Not when he was trying. Tim finished his food as Tony sat there.

Tony remained the in the same place the entire time Tim cleaned up. He wasn't himself, but he wasn't going to the cabinet where he stored his liquor either, and that had to count for something. Didn't it?

Tim picked up his jacket. "I'll see you tomorrow."

As he left, he only hoped that wasn't wishful thinking on his part.


~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~NCIS~



Tony stared at the closed door, waiting for an answer. Not that he had any idea what the question was. The crisp, sharp lines and cream paint on the door mocked him, their tidy expanse attempting futile hospital corners to the mess of his life.

I'll pick you up tomorrow. No questions, no hesitations. No thoughts that there could be a different plan, that Tony might not be here. He rose and walked into the bedroom, only to stop at the sign of the small square on his dresser between his good watch and his box of cufflinks. Tim knew. Had known, probably, since he stopped by to pick up clothes after Tony was shot. The stammering probie of years past would have blurted it out at the most awkward time. McGee hadn't said a word. He'd just pushed and steered and insisted in his own quiet way that Tony keep moving, one more day, one more hour — hell, one more minute — instead of burying himself in an alcoholic haze without even a boat and some hand tools to keep him on track.

You want her back, but we'd all want you back. Abby with tears running black streaks down her face. Ducky, smaller and looking his age for once. Jimmy's perpetual smile gone as he tried to tell Victoria about her Uncle Tony. Ellie with no older brother to keep her from getting herself killed. Gibbs in the basement, staring at yet another boat, adding another tally to the list of those he'd lost.

McGee.

Standing on the roof, the tang of blood on his lips as Kate lay there, eyes open. Bloodying the side of his fist against the brick false door as the room beyond exploded and took Paula with it. That day on the docks, breathing life into Maddy's lungs while beating himself up over letting the boss go, then the small movement of Gibbs' fingers, relief swamping Tony the way the ocean had submerged the car minutes earlier. McGee was throwing him the lifeline, and if Tony didn't pick it up, McStubborn would just swim out and get him anyway.

He couldn't let go without dragging McGee down with him, and maybe that was enough to keep the Scotch on the shelf.

Tonight.


Prompt: Sherry's prompt shaped this story, but the original bunny was inspired by one of Rogue Tomato’s prompts and it would have been much different if I hadn't had that prompt stuck in my head while I was brainstorming.
Sherry's prompt: White Chrysanthemum (truth): Someone has been hiding a secret that comes out after a life-changing event. What is it?
Rogue Tomato’s prompt: "Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." — F. Scott Fitzgerald

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