Written for the following No Safety Pin challenge prompt on LiveJournal:

Shoulder to shoulder in a race headed back to the start

My feet bleeding, heavy breathing from running so hard

I hear them dogs in the distance starting to bark

And its getting dark

He chases after her, gun drawn, eyes straining against the glare as they race directly west toward the setting sun. She keeps a steady pace, sure footed and light, as they round the corner, their intended target at least twenty yards in the distance. He remembers suddenly why he always runs with his iPod; it drowns out the sound of labored breaths forced from lungs that are far from whole.

Her stride catches for an instant as his lengthens and they run shoulder to shoulder, perfectly in sync, perfectly in tune and perfectly in time. Just like they've always done, like it has always been.

Later, she'll tease him when he whines about the bloody rub on his heel from expensive leather shoes that are, quite frankly, far from practical when it comes to chasing perps. Later, when he complains of silly things and makes lame jokes to ease the sadness. Later, when the ache still burns and the nerves are still raw. Later, in the dark and in private she'll ease his shaking with calm hands and smooth lips. But she'll never imply he can't keep up, nor have her six, nor pull his weight. She'll never say he had any other choice.

She nods slightly and he veers left while she turns right. They circle their prey as he darts like a crazed rabbit through the shabby streets of this rundown neighborhood. He can only imagine and she knows all too well, the horrors of war that can force a decorated marine to snap. Nearly feral dogs bark and claw at chain link fencing as they sprint on by, chasing prey of their own. He's always been one to appreciate irony.

Racing back to the start, they come full circle as their target runs directly into the trap. A gun waves in an unsteady hand in a last attempt to ward them off, but they hold steady; weapons drawn, breath heavy from running too long, too fast.

She orders the marine to drop his weapon, gives him the chance to save his own life. Pleads with him, reminds him that there's a little girl that wants to see him alive. He wavers, and for a moment, his eyes are clear and his stance falters. This is the part, Tony thinks, this is the part where they save the day and reunite a little girl with her broken father. This is the part where the credits roll against the backdrop of an orange setting sun.

But Ziva knows better. In a mere heartbeat, she drops to one knee, tilting her head just so as if she could predict the very trajectory of a wayward bullet. Three shots from three different weapons ricochet into the darkening alley, but it is Tony's that finds the mark first. And later, it would be Abby's ballistics that proved which bullet pierced his heart.

She touches Tony's hand briefly as they wait for the rest of their team. She tells him that he had no choice. He nods because he knows she is right. They have a job to do, after all.

Later. He'll mourn later when they're alone and she's there to ward off the monsters.

He can still hear the dogs barking in the distance.

And it's finally getting dark.

Thank you for reading. Thoughts and comments are much appreciated.