A/N: This was written for the first round of the Last Fiction Writer Standing contest on Livejournal. The assignment was to do an episode tag or missing scene...I know everyone and their dog's brother has done Twilight, but that was where my brain went, and once it was there it wasn't coming back. ;-)

Rated T for one word and some blood.

Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo knew blood. Not in a scientific way, of course - he couldn't glance at a sample and tell you if a person had a low iron count, or run it through a machine to break it down into chemical components and reveal its secrets. He gladly left the medicine to Ducky and the science to Abby.

Tony knew blood on a visceral level, in a way that nobody should and every cop did. He knew the smell: a sharp tang in his nostrils, copper mixed with iron mixed with some unidentifiable, unmistakable element that meant life - and, all too often, death. He knew the way it splattered; the way it flowed; the way it dried. He had learned early in his career that a drug dealer gunned down at the end of an alley bled the same as a slaughtered child, even as one felt justified and the other could still leave him vomiting into the bushes.

It had, over time, become just another element of a crime scene, another substance to be photographed and sampled and cataloged. Blood was blood, and by now, Tony was a pro.

As it turned out, though, there were always new lessons to learn. Lesson number one: Your partner's blood sprayed across your face starts out warm, but quickly grows cold. Also, it stings when you get it in your eye.

These were important things to know. Tony blinked a few times and made a mental note: Try to avoid getting your partner's blood in your eyes.

"Stay here."

"Not going anywhere," he said, or thought he said. His lips felt numb and weren't exactly forming words, but it didn't really matter. Gibbs was already slamming through the door to the stairwell, and Tony figured his boss wasn't hearing much except the crack of a rifle on an endless loop inside his head. Tony himself kept hearing five words, over and over again.

I thought I'd die before...

The human body holds about 10 pints of blood, but he had always thought it looked like more. Especially now, looking down at the neat pool spreading towards him across the rough concrete. Tony shuffled backwards. He should not get blood on his shoes. It would disturb the scene. Lesson number two: Do not walk through your partner's blood. You will screw up the evidence.

He wondered if the splatter across his face meant that he was evidence. He wanted to laugh, because really, how ridiculous was that? He was a special agent, not evidence. And Kate was a special agent, not a victim. The whole fucking thing was screwed up. But then he looked at Kate, and it was OK again, because Kate wasn't there, just some stranger staring up through blank, sightless eyes, a neat little hole in the middle of her forehead.

There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead.

I thought I'd die before...

And if Kate wasn't there, it meant that she wasn't a victim and he wasn't evidence and Gibbs hadn't just stood for a solid thirty seconds aiming at a target that even Tony, with his 20/10 vision, couldn't see. If Kate wasn't there, it meant that this wasn't a Case. It was just a case; the kind that you worked through and when you went home you had a beer and said "man, that was a rough one." And you came back the next day to start it all again.

If Kate wasn't there, it was safe. He looked back at the woman at his feet, wondering if he should pull out his camera now or start sketching, or maybe wait for Gibbs. He examined her closely, squinting as sunlight glinted off a fine chain around her neck. A tiny gold pendant hung from it, dangling haphazardly down beside the woman's ear.

Kate's necklace.

Kate's ear.

Tony was suddenly aware that he was very, very tired.

He took a couple more steps back, sitting down heavily on the concrete, a safe distance away, where he could no longer see her face. Time to get it together. He was the senior field agent; he had a scene to secure, an investigation to begin. And McGee was going to be a wreck. He really needed to find the kid; not that he had a whole lot of patience right now, but he was the senior field agent, which meant he needed to -

"Tony." Gibbs was back, crouching in front of him. "Can you hear me?"

He looked up, startled. "Of course I can hear you, Boss." His own voice sounded hollow in his ears but he struggled to his feet. "I was going to start taking pictures but I was waiting..." Waiting for what? For Gibbs to come back? For Kate to get up? For someone to tell him what the hell was going on?

"Morrow is sending out another team," Gibbs said, but he was holding out his hand for Tony's camera.

"I got it."

Gibbs shook his head. "You don't need to do this."

Tony stopped, grip tightening on the camera. "And you do?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said simply. "I do."

Gibbs' eyes bored into him for a long moment, until Tony finally relinquished his grip on the camera. "Where's McGee?"

"Sent him up to the other rooftop to see if he can track down Ari's sniper's nest. Ari will be long gone."

Ari's nest. Of course it was Ari's. "Is he OK?"

"Are you?"

"I'm fine," Tony said shortly. Suddenly, he had to get the hell off that rooftop. "If you don't need me here, I'll go help McGee. That's a lot of territory to cover." He started to leave, but Gibbs stopped him with a hand on his arm.


"What?" He didn't mean to snap, but he couldn't help it. Gibbs didn't sound like Gibbs; his voice was rough, hoarse, and when Tony met his gaze there was something far too soft in his eyes. He jerked away. "What?"

Gibbs let his arm fall. "Wash your face first."

Tony nodded. He ran to the stairwell without looking back.

Hours later, they had been reduced to searching by flashlight. The lights flickered against the sky, tiny impotent Bat signals, as McGee and the other team covered every inch of ground for the third time. The few Lapua shell casings they had found were bagged and tagged and tucked safely in Tony's pocket. He should get them to Abby, make sure she was OK. And though Tony would never admit it aloud, five hours on rooftops in the driving rain had left him dizzy, smothering coughs. The others hadn't noticed and he was damn sure going to keep it that way. The last thing he needed was someone trying to wrestle him back to Bethesda, back to the blue lights.

Alone, this time.

Tony turned his face up into the rain. He closed his eyes, letting the icy water cascade in rivulets down his cheeks and drip from the brim of his hat.

Lesson number three: It does not matter if you have washed your partner's blood off your face. You will still feel it burn.