A Shoulder To Die On

There's a school of thought which tells its students that to save thousands, sometimes one must be sacrificed; that it's better to let one perish than to let a crowd perish. Yet, when you think about it, the 'one' tends to have very little say in the matter. Think about it: there are always films and movies which have a heroic someone laying down their life for a crowd, a community, a city, a planet, a galaxy. It happens from here to Timbuktu. But, in real life, does the person with their life on the line really get that much of an opinion. No. It's a tough, gritty world, the streets and the alley-ways. You don't tend to get a say in what happens around you, and if what happens around you puts you in a position you dislike...tough. Either get out of it or live with it.

At the moment, the dark haired young man sitting in the darkened room, his wrist lashed to the chair with sturdy, thick rope, was thinking he'd much rather have the former of those options.

A door opened, it was wooden, splintered with age and disuse, but it didn't actually creak. It just opened.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Charlotte." A soft-spoken, light voice appeared from the doorway, followed by the shadowed figure of a tall man. This wasn't unusual, the shadows, the entire room was filled with the flickering things, tossed from the fireplace towards Alexander Charlotte's left. Being a polite man, Alexander Charlotte would've replied, if his mouth hadn't been stuffed with the dark remnants of a thick handkerchief.

"You don't mind if I call you 'Alex' do you, Mr. Charlotte."

Mr. Charlotte gave a grunt.

"I'll take that as a yes. Now, Alex, I imagine you are rather wondering what you are doing here, am I correct?" Another grunt, this one with a slight jerk of the head. The shadowed figure brushed something from the shoulder of his thick coat. To tell the truth it was freezing in there, the fire did little except to warm one side of either occupant and Alexander was only dressed in his hiking gear and socks. Somewhere his shoes were, but he couldn't remember losing them. Actually, he couldn't remember getting here. He just remembered being here when he did wake up.

"You were hiking, if you can remember, with a few of your friends. Four of them apart from you, I believe. Now, we here are a small organisation, yet our clients are far from small. We need to make ends meet and that's where you come in." The voice never rose, never fell, it was just a soothing wave; but it was the words which made Alexander Charlotte's eyes widen, his breathing increase. "Calm yourself, Alex, it will do you no good."

The figure remained standing, reaching into his coat for a pad of paper, which he carefully flipped open. "Yes, four of you, and last night you camped just below the Creffeld Ridge about four miles away from here. Now, we couldn't take all of you, of course not, that would be far too conspicuous. So, instead we selected. I'm afraid, Alex, you were the front man, the scout. Do you remember saying you would go ahead while the others rested? And you did, but you have to remember, there are rumours of escaped wolves in those parts. " A small, almost sad smile flickered over the strangers face. "We've been called much worse than wolves. But, now, Mr. Charlotte. I'm afraid I cannot talk any longer and since you haven't been able to from the start we might as well just put you out of your misery. Parker!"

The wooden door was eased open again and a taller, thicker shadow entered, and without preamble grasped the back of the chair Alexander Charlotte was bound to and hauled it from the room, the legs screeching against the floorboards.

The shadowed stranger slowly made his way over to the fire, picked up a piece of new firewood from the pile and tossed it into the flames. It took a few seconds for the fire to lick up around its new fuel, crackling furiously as it cast dancing light across the strangers chiselled, middle-aged features. Straightening up slowly, he dusted his hands together with exaggerated care, listening out for the screams of agony, of terror, of begging.

And he didn't have to wait long. Well, this was biding his time wasn't it? And another customer would be made perfectly happy right now, because stocks were low and orders were high. He needed the people. Bryno should be here soon.


"I don't believe you!" Came the whine from the back-seat of the NCIS stylised, company sedan.

"Shut up, DiNozzo, I swear to the heavens above that if you so much as open your mouth again I will tie you to a tree and leave you for the honey badgers." Came the thoroughly irritated reply from NCIS Supervisory Agent Liam Tarrigan. Tarrigan had found the twenty four year old Detective DiNozzo on a joint operation with the Baltimore Police. The kid had shown something that Tarrigan had thought of as potential, as skill, but in actual fact all Tarrigan had received now was a headache. He couldn't control the boy, he just did what he pleased, and infuriatingly it actually came out with something resembling a result. In short, Tarrigan hated the kid and didn't exactly hide his feelings.

There was a silence in the car. "A honey badger?" Came the annoyingly endearing voice a few moments later. Tarrigan just rolled his eyes, hands tightening on the wheel. Blessed silence filled the car once again, the three agents engaged in their own thoughts. But, it didn't last long.

Craning in his seat, DiNozzo twisted around to look at the agent in the back seat. "Hey, Coop, you got that radio workin' yet?" You could hear the grin in his voice. Robert Cooper raised his dark eyes for a moment and a grin before looking back down at the dismantled machine which had been dropped in a freezing puddle. There was also a four occupant to the car, a man in shiny silver handcuffs glaring moodily out of a window in what was obviously a pout.

"Nope, and it'll go a lot faster if you'd help." He had a soft southern voice which had been tested through long years in Washington, but the south still slipped through on occasion. The convicted man beside Cooper sighed heavily.

"Not likely!" Came the cheerful reply. Tarrigan wanted to eat his own head.

And that was the last conversation had on the snow covered roads of the park, Creffeld Ridge looming off to the right and the car skating over the thin ice in the darkening woods.


Away, in the warmth of the heated NCIS HQ, another Supervisory Agent was despairing over his agents. Special Agent Gibbs ran a frustrated hand over his silvering hair, the confines of the elevator shielding him from anyone else. His lead agent, Stan Burley, had just been relocated after possibly the most useless and pointless mission he'd ever been on. Not to mention unsuccessful. Burley had calmly taken his place as Agent Afloat and retreated home to pack his bags. That left Gibbs with one agent, Andrew Sullivan. Sully was a good man, someone Gibbs had known vaguely since his corps days, he was good at taking orders, yet there was something in his way of holding himself that always made Gibbs think that he just didn't like his job.

The elevator slid open to reveal the bullpen and a shrilly ringing phone. Great. No sleep for the wicked, or even the good guys in this world.

"Yeah, Gibbs." He picked up the phone with the curt response, giving a glance over towards Sully who shrugged his shoulders and rested his feet up on the desk.

"Agent Gibbs? I'm Ranger Paul Richmond, I was directed to you."

"Yes, Ranger Richmond?" The voice didn't sound young enough to be a rookie, but he could never know

"I was supposed to meet a team of NCIS agents four hours ago on a retrieval mission. I'm not sure if you're familiar with the Bryno case?"

"No, I'm not."

"Special Agent Tarrigan was called to the park because of Petty Officer Edward Bryno. Bryno was suspected of drug trafficking, he was suspected to be hiding in the park. Tarrigan and his team located Bryno and had him in custody. They were supposed to meet me at Lodge 14. They never turned up. I sent out a party and they found the car, it was empty. I wasn't sure who else to call and so called the main switchboard, they put me through to you."

Gibbs sat silent for a moment, digesting the information he'd just been given. Agent Tarrigan, the agent who was positioned behind him in the bullpen, his team spread out as a mirror image to his own. Now, Agent Tarrigan had Robert Cooper, a very capable agent he'd seen perform many a time. But, that wasn't what was making his stomach do gymnastics around his insides. Special Agent Tarrigan also had a new, young agent. Tony DiNozzo. And that made his stomach freeze like the puddles all across Washington at night.


Fourteen Years Ago

The grainy television in the dark basement flickered slightly. Giving it a quick thump, the picture came back, it wasn't great but it was something.

"...Mr. DiNozzo's charity, The Protector, has begun making its first donations to the Third World Countries it has committed to help. Mr. DiNozzo gave a speech earlier this afternoon..."

The picture changed, a handsome, high-cheekboned man stood behind a microphone podium, a voluptuous, and much younger, woman standing behind him to his left. And to his right a young boy. He couldn't've been much older than ten or eleven, with the same sweeping soft, brown hair and delicate green eyes. The sand-paper paused for a moment on the rough wood as piercing blue eyes stared up at the screen.

"I am delighted that The Protector has been given such a welcoming reception. This charity has been my dream for over twenty years and has finally come to pass. I just hope that this..."

But, Gibbs wasn't listening. He wasn't even watching the man giving his 'I'm such a nice man' speech. He was watching the desolate looking little boy, with his bright eyes downcast and one foot scuffing against the steps he was forced to stand on. There was something wrong there, and it only took a few minutes for his suspicions to conclude themselves

Thirteen Years Ago

It had been a long, long year. Longer than he'd ever thought possible, but as the time had drawn on he'd realised that he'd never regret it. He'd never regret almost being fired by his boss. He'd never regret the lawyers and the politics. No, he'd never regret any of that. And now, now that there was a twelve year old boy, snug in bed with his blankets already scattered across the bed, now he'd never regret anything of that year. Well, maybe that it was just a year ago, not more.


Present Day

Gripping the phone in one hand, Gibbs finally answered. "I'm coming out, Ranger Richmond, what information do you have?"

"Not much, we found the car about six miles from Creffeld Ridge, it looked like the car had skidded on ice and crashed. But it wasn't a bad crash, a few dents in the body work. But, there weren't any passengers. All the doors were closed, there was no blood in the car and all their weapons are on the back seat. And there's no sign of Bryno. We wouldn't worry too much, but just by Creffeld Ridge we've had some recent incidents of wolves attacking hikers."

Gibbs grip tightened convulsively on the phone. Good Lord.

"We're on our way, Ranger, have someone meet us at the gate."

"Understood, Agent Gibbs." And the line ended.

"Sullivan." Was all he needed to say, it was the tone of voice which had Andrew Sullivan grasping his backpack and sliding his gun into the holster.

"Car or truck?" The thick New York accent of Sullivan asked – Irish American, fourth generation.

"Car." One word, monotonous answer, yeah, Sully could tell there was something wrong with his boss.

Gibbs informed Sullivan of the situation on the way over, his words specially selected for their ability to be monosyllables.

"So what do we think? That someone kidnapped Tarrigan and his team? C'mon, they're not that useless." Lighten the air with humour, Sullivan, great try. It didn't seem to work. The air inside the ca was just as icy as the air outside of it.

"It's wolf population now, but they wouldn't've left their guns. Someone forced them out." Gibbs concluded, though he hated to presume, he needed some premise to work with. Silence reigned supreme.

"Gibbs? Tony'll be fine, he's resourceful and as annoying as he is, he'll keep them together. Cooper'll look out for him if anything happened and Tarrigan. Well, he's a pain in the ass but he's not an idiot. He'll be fine." Gibbs let his eyes flick to Sullivan, his black hair and blue eyes conveying sincerity. Gibbs turned back to the road. Somehow it still didn't make him feel better.

The fire in the cabin crackled softly, the flames high and bright. A head rolled on it's neck, suddenly feeling incredibly heavy. With a grunt of effort, Tony DiNozzo pulled his head up, an unpleasant throbbing making itself known on the back of his skull.

"Ah, good evening, Mr. DiNozzo." Came a soft, nastily silken voice from beside the fireplace. A shadow detached itself from the others, padding towards the agent, who had just discovered the cords coiling around his stomach, arms and ankles. Charming wake-up gift.

"You don't mind if I call you 'Tony', do you, Mr. DiNozzo?"


Okay, now I bet your wondering why on earth Soul Music has just appeared again. And I'll tell you. When I vanished I had no time, literally no time at all to write. I didn't even have a computer to write on. Then, I kinda lost interest. You ever get that, where your mind is so blank you just don't know whether to go up or down? Well, I had that. Now, I hate abandoning stories, I really do, but I think that 'Hiatus' is a better way to put it. They're not abandoned, and if you want to poke me with ideas as to how to finish them feel free. I'm as blank as a sheet of paper. Except for one story, but that's just infuriating. And that's the story.

Here's another one. My mind is terribly strange, you get used to it. Reviews are beautiful, they blossom on the coldest day like raindrops from a cloud...Okay, that was weird, don't ask.

I apologise to my faithful readers, the stories will be finished, but I believe patience is a virtue in this...as is poking Eryn really hard with a large stick to make her write. Thanks and praise and many an apology.

Eryn [Soul Music]