September 30, 2006: Almost done this story. Back to the Potomac River…

Any characters you recognize belong to the NCIS universe and any you don't recognize belong to me. I write for the sheer pleasure of creating, folks - no infringement intended. This story still isn't being Betaed so any errors are my own darned fault.

Please note that I have had the good fortune of never being 'nearly drowned', so if the medical procedures or the rescue protocol don't match with reality, my apologies. Textbooks and the Internet will only take me so far.

I send a big thank you to all who read and review my writing, especially for your support with this story. Your comments are greatly appreciated. :)

October 5, 2006: Posting…now. Enjoy!

Tin Star

Chapter Thirteen

By lilmouse

"Then don't go back, Will."

"I've got to. That's the whole thing."

- Amy Fowler Kane (Grace Kelly) to Marshall Will Kane (Gary Cooper), as he turns the buggy around and they ride back to town, 'High Noon', 1952

It smells damp. He is reminded of a house in Long Island. Facing the back garden is a sitting room that isn't used except in summer. It is opened in the spring but the heat has been off and the air hasn't been circulating and the sheets covering the ornate furnishings are musty. Being near the water - you can walk through the back garden to reach the dock at the end - adds to the dampness. There are usually spiders nesting in the corners near the French doors. Opening that sitting room means long, lazy summer nights are just a breath away.

How long has it been since he has thought of that house?

His nostrils flare and pick up various scents: paper, wool, antiseptic ointment, lavender, and coffee. He tries to lift his arm to scratch his nose and realizes he can't. He tentatively tests the other arm. It appears he is wrapped in layers of blankets, cocooned like a mummy. There is something warm in each of his hands, like a balled sock. He takes a deep breath and lets it out again slowly. There is heating in the room, electrical, trying to keep the dampness at bay. There are pockets of warmth around his body, but not anything directly placed against his skin. He recognizes the key spots from his rescue training with regards to someone who has hypothermia: in the hands, on the neck, on the chest, on the stomach, on the abdomen, in the groin.

He is dry. He shifts and realizes he does have clothing on underneath all these blankets, but it certainly isn't the clothing he was wearing while he was in the water. It feels like flannel. It feels nice. This is a revelation all its own.

There is a thrumming in the air. It takes him a moment to recognize the sound of an engine. He licks his lips and sighs.

When the room moves, he opens his eyes.

He's in the cabin of a boat. U.S. Coast Guard. Right. I remember that part. There is a wall-mounted light and that is the only illumination. He carefully turns his head and looks to his right. There is a porthole and he can see the river roiling outside in what has become a dark morning in November. If he changes his focus, he can see his reflection in the glass.

He looks away.

"You're awake," a gruff voice says. Tony manages not to look too startled, or so he hopes. The voice matches the man who moves into the cabin. He's still wearing the slicker he had on in the dingy but the hood is back. Greying hair is plastered to his head and his face has enough wrinkles that if he were a cotton shirt, he'd need ironing. "I'm Bart. We're taking you to shore and then you'll be going to the hospital."

Tony swallows. "Thanks."

Bart chuckles. "Glad you're okay. The girls have been looking after you."

He senses movement in the corner farthest from the door. A woman is sitting there and he hadn't noticed. She looks older than a girl but Tony gets the impression that Bart refers to all females as 'girl'. Not as a chauvinistic term, but one of endearment, protection. The woman in the corner smiles.

"Hi, I'm Kitty." She stands and walks towards him, her steps dealing with the gentle rocking of the boat with ease. She tucks the blankets around him even though he doesn't think they need it. Her hair is short and dark and frames her face like the petals of a flower. She is the source of lavender. Must be her shampoo - "Warm enough?"

"Yeah, thanks." He tries to relax. "I'm Tony."

"Hello, Tony. I've heard so much about you." Tony looks surprised but she doesn't seem to notice. "We had to strip you down to prevent more severe hypothermia," Kitty adds matter-of-factly. "We've kept your clothes, of course."

Tony's mind goggles at the concept of this woman seeing him helpless and naked then realizes she said 'we'. "'We'?"

Bart laughs and leaves the room. Another woman, younger than Kitty, enters and smiles when she sees Tony watching her. Her hair is blonde and pulled back into a ponytail. She is holding a mug of what can only be peppermint tea. "Hey, there," she says, her voice accented with the gentle twang of the west. She adjusts his blankets even though he is positive now that they don't need any attention. "Warm enough?"

"Uh, yeah."

"I'm Lynn," she says, and smiles. "We have a pressure bandage on your leg wound. It looks like the bullet didn't do much damage, though. They'll deal with it at the hospital."

He manages a crooked smile in return. "Just a flesh wound?"

"Yep." Tony starts to laugh then is being held gently by two women as coughing wracks his body.

"Damn," Kitty says. "Your boss said you weren't kidding about the plague but we weren't sure if it was some kind of joke."

"And now we know it isn't," says another female voice. When he can focus again, he sees a young woman in the doorway, this time with freckles and curly red hair. Her accent says eucalyptus and Crocodile Dundee. Her make-up says MAC. She is holding a cup of coffee like it is a sacred chalice. He wonders if Gibbs has met her yet.

Kitty and Lynn lower him back onto the bed. Tony nearly jumps clear of them, despite his blankets, when he suddenly remembers. "McGee!"

The redhead smiles. "Tim is looking at the engine with Mike," she says. "He won't sit down and shouldn't sleep anyway."

"Not with the goose egg he has," Kitty adds. Lynn nods. Tony drops back to the bed, exhausted. "We found him first so he wasn't in the water as long as you were and he certainly doesn't have the added history of being exposed to the plague. You'll both be getting checked by a doctor." They are wise and professional, human and sane, these three women. The Graces could learn from them

The redhead sips her coffee. "I'm Ellie."

"Hey," he croaks, and looks at each of them in turn. "Thanks for…"

Ellie nods. "You're welcome." She fusses with his blankets. "Warm enough?"

He is surrounded by three beautiful women and has their undivided attention.

He should nearly drown more often.

"'Charlie's Angels'," he whispers, hoping not to trigger another bout of coughing.

They smile.

"I guess that makes me Cameron Diaz," Lynn says cheerily. He was thinking Cheryl Ladd but she wasn't born when the TV show was airing and might not know who he is referring to. Hell, he isn't old enough to have watched the show the first time around, either; he'd caught it on reruns. Don't feel old now, DiNozzo, he admonishes himself.

"I guess it does," he says, and smiles 'DiNozzo Smile # 79': friendly without being predatory, with just a dash of flirtation.

Kitty clears her throat and fusses some more. A flush creeps into Lynn's cheeks. Ellie says, "I'm going to see how far we are from the dock," and hurries away.

Tony's smile deepens and he closes his eyes, satisfied that he's still got it. It is further confirmation that he's alive and well and will see Kate's cactus flower after all.

Then the warmth engulfs him and the movement of the boat rocks him to sleep.

He dreams of summer days in Long Island, when he didn't have a care in the world.

xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx xxx

He wakes up in a white, sterile environment, complete with drawn curtains that billow as people rush passed. The warm blankets from the boat are gone. He has new blankets but they are cool by comparison. Someone is moaning beyond the curtain and the telephone won't stop ringing. A voice murmurs in the area beside him and somewhere, someone is crying. The PA system clicks into being.

"Doctor Floss to ER, Doctor Floss to ER."

He wonders if Doctor Floss ever considered going into dentistry.

"There you are, my boy."

Doctor Donald Mallard stands with the curtain pushed aside just enough for him to look in.

"Hey, Ducky." His voice sounds weak but he isn't surprised. His chest aches and tightens in an attempt to cough even as he thinks about it.

"May I?" Ducky gestures to the chair beside Tony's bed - which is a glorified stretcher on wheels - asking for permission. Tony sighs. The IV in his arm is too familiar. He hasn't been out of the hospital a week yet from his first injuries due to the Garvey case. If he's still in the emergency ward, then either they don't have a bed for him yet or - if he's very lucky - he won't be staying.

"Sure, Ducky. C'mon in."

The man does, his trench coat over one arm, his hat in hand. Both are damp so it must still be raining. He sits, straightens his glasses and smiles. The friendly uncle Tony never had.

"You look well, considering."

"Yeah. I should sell tickets."

"You have had a bit of excitement, haven't you?"

"Too much excitement. Is McGee -?"

"Still here, but I think they'll be sending him home soon."

"And Katie -?"

Ducky smiles. "Is safe in the children's ward, under guard, just in case something has been missed. And the social worker, what is her name -?"


"Yes," Ducky says, slightly surprised that Tony has remembered her. "She'll recover as well. You've done a good day's work, Anthony. You should be proud."

Tony nods, glad there are three people he doesn't have to worry about but anxious for more information. "Do you know what went down? Did they get Rossi?"

Ducky nods slowly, his smile fading. "Oh, yes, they took care of Petty Officer First Class Federico Rossi, or rather, he took care of himself."

Tony stares at him, not understanding. "Suicide?"

The doctor shrugs. "That depends on how you view it, Anthony. He got in front of the car Jethro was driving and fired at it."

"And Gibbs didn't stop." It is a statement, not a question.

"No. Mr. Rossi chose his fate, Anthony. We all have that option, we all have choices."

There is a pause as Tony absorbs this news. Ducky watches him carefully. Tony is aware of his gaze. "And Stacey?"

Ducky shakes his head. "She struggled when they tried to take her away. She had to be… restrained." He sighs. "I would imagine she'll be up on charges for murder and kidnapping and attempted murder, and will certainly need to be psychologically evaluated. She has a history of instability, as I understand it."

"Ah." Tony isn't surprised but now that he knows it doesn't make him feel any better. "Uh, and what about Mitch?"

Ducky blinks and looks a bit uncomfortable. "Mitch?"

"Dave Mitchell. He's NCIS. He's the guy who leaked the information about Katie's location in the first place, which is why three agents died and we were trapped on the Garvey property and I was shot a few times and ended up in the hospital. And he's why Katie was at the park today." He hesitates. "It is still today, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is…" Ducky consults his watch. "Four in the afternoon. You've been asleep for a while. They're monitoring you, trying to decide if they should keep you or not."

Tony groans. "Great. Now, about Mitch."

"Ah, that Mitch."

"Ducky -"

"I'm sorry, Tony. He was killed by Mr. Rossi. If I understand Jethro correctly, it wasn't long after you went over the wall, just before the man made a stand in front of the car."

Tony stares at him. "Mitch stopped Rossi from shooting me." His voice sounds flat. He doesn't know if it is the acoustics in the small space or his exhaustion or the realization that one of the bad guys won't have the chance to do his time and try to start again.

The world isn't black and white. Tony knows this. He guesses Dave Mitchell was in the grey area and just got in over his head.

"Well," Ducky says, and stands. "I have to be getting back. There is still work to be done."

"Sure." Tony shakes the ghosts loose and focuses on his friend. "Thanks for stopping by." He finds a smile, 'DiNozzo Smile # 60', which is wide and genuine and grateful.

"Anytime, Anthony." Ducky pauses at the curtains. "Though I do recommend you stop needing the attention of hospitals."

"You said it, Ducky."

The curtain falls shut. Tony adjusts the flat pillow under his neck, careful not to tangle his IV line.

Damnit, Mitch.

The curtain opens abruptly and Gibbs strides in. He's wearing the same grey suit he was wearing earlier. Tony notes the shirt is stained with blood and dirt.


"Hey, Boss."

"You look like hell."

"Thanks, Boss. Glad you like it. It took me hours to get right."

They study one another warily. There has been an edge since Tony returned to work. He figures he must still be burning off his excess energy from being stuck in a hospital for so long. If Gibbs could stop treating him like fine bone china, maybe he'll get over it faster.

"We got Rossi."

"So I heard. He tried to become a hood ornament."

Gibbs sits without asking but then he came into the barely private space without asking, too. Tony catches himself sighing again. At least he can count on his boss to be consistent.

"He went a little higher than that."

Tony winces He knows what that means. "Did the windshield hold?"

"Oh, yeah, that's what they're made to do, but no one will be driving that car for a while."

"Ah." Tony glances down at the stains on the shirt then back to the unreadable blue eyes. "What happened?"

"I tried to save Agent Mitchell."

Gibbs doesn't have to say anything else. Tony can picture him applying pressure to the wound, doing compressions, yelling for medical assistance. Any and all to rescue the dying.

"I'm sorry," Tony says quietly.

"So am I."

"He saved my life, Gibbs."

Gibbs doesn't say anything but then, what else can he say? Tony has to try to be an investigator for a while or the day will overwhelm him, and he doesn't have time for that now. "Do we know why he was involved in the first place?"


"What?" Tony is genuinely surprised. "Hot chocolate, go-to-church, never-use-a-swear-word Mitch? Gambling?"

"Yep. Got into debt with the wrong people and Rossi and Stacey used him to get to Katie Garvey."

"You've had a busy day."

"So has Abby. She's under strict orders not to get hurt or we'll have to move the office here."

They were short staffed to start with. Most teams don't work with a supervisor and only two field agents. Since the death of Caitlin Todd, her desk has remained empty. Gibbs has shown no indication that he has considered anyone a suitable candidate to take her place.

"Well," Tony says, then isn't sure how to finish the sentence. In fact, he isn't sure what he was going to say.

Gibbs stands. "Rest. Get better. Be at work on Monday."

Tony has a few days to get his feet under him again, then he'll be back chasing the bad guys - and trying to come to terms with another empty desk. He guesses that his boss has spoken with the doctors and knows his status well enough to give him the rest of the week off - and still expect him at work on Monday. Tony grins. That has to be a good sign.

"Thanks, Boss."

Gibbs turns at the curtains. "For what?"

"Driving like a maniac. Reaching us in time. Trying to save Mitch."

Gibbs pauses and Tony thinks he's just going to leave. He pulls the curtain and says, "Good work, DiNozzo." The curtain closes behind him.

It takes a few beats for Tony to realize he didn't get a head slap. He isn't sure what that means. He chews on his bottom lip about it for a few minutes before his thoughts are interrupted.

"Hello, Mr. DiNozzo." The woman who enters is wearing a white top and matching pants, but her lab coat has SpongeBob SquarePants dancing all over a blue background. He squints at her nametag: Marion. She checks one of the smaller pouches on his IV stand and deftly switches it for a new one. "This is more of the same and should help with the pain."

"And the other ones?"

"Saline and an antibiotic." She finishes her work and gives him a smile. "I've never met anyone who had the plague before."

"I hope to never have it again."

"Absolutely. You'll be better soon, cutie."

Tony finds a smile. "I'll try."

Marion vanishes behind the curtain and he is once more alone. It doesn't last.


"Is this Grand Central Station or something?"

McGee's smile falters a little and he looks like he's considering pulling his head back into the safety of the corridor. "I've caught you at a bad time -"



Tony snaps his fingers and points to the chair. McGee enters and sits, moving as quickly as he dares. His face is bruised and swollen and one side of his head has an incredible bump on it. "What'd they give you for that?"

"Pain medication and ice. I can't be alone for the next twenty-four hours. I have bruising and a slight concussion but my brain isn't swelling or anything like that."

"I bet you have one doozie of a headache, too."

McGee nods very carefully. "I do."

"So, who is staying with you?" Tony thinks he knows the answer but asks anyway. He's being polite and nice and it probably scares the heck out of McGee but there is something soothing about routine. There was a point during the day that he didn't know if he'd see Timothy McGee again or not. Tony thanks whatever deity might have nudged the odds in their favour.

"Abby. I'm staying with her in the lab tonight." He shrugs. "She's got a lot to do. I'll help where I can and she can make sure nothing happens to me."

"Sounds like a fair trade."

"Well, I'd better get going." McGee stands and hesitates. "Thanks, Tony."

The medication is working already and Tony can feel himself being pulled under. "For what?"

"Saving my life."

"I threw you to the river, Probie -"

"Rossi would've shot us if we'd stayed." They exchange a look and a thought goes unspoken: Like he shot Mitch.

"Glad you're okay."

"Same here." McGee walks towards the curtain then turns back just before leaving. "Oh. This is for you." He sticks a folded piece of paper into Tony's right hand and leaves, a small smile on his face.

Tony stares at his hand. He manages to open the paper and squints at the names and telephone numbers written there: Kitty, Lynn and Ellie. He smiles. What do you know?

"Don't get too cocky, DiNozzo."

Caitlin Todd sits in the chair that McGee was in only seconds before. She is wearing a suit that is the blue of a clear autumn sky. She looks as sharp as he remembers.

"I won't," he says. It is a promise he hopes he can keep.

Kate smiles. Her face is the last thing he sees before the drugs embrace him for a healing sleep. Maybe this won't be such a bad Christmas, after all.