Testing Courage

By

Annie

There's a time for pushing McGee's buttons and a time for being a friend and Tony knew this was the latter, so he walked across to where McGee sat slump-shouldered on the step of the ambulance and placed a hand on his shoulder, giving it a pat when McGee didn't immediately look up.

"You okay, McGee?" Tony asked and only half believed it when McGee nodded and said he was fine.

For one thing there was a bandage covering half of McGee's forehead and there was also the fact that his shoulder was trembling ever so slightly under Tony's hand. Tony gave it a squeeze then sat down on the step as well and just waited till the medic told McGee he was okay to go. "Come on, I'll give you a ride back to your place," he said as McGee climbed stiffly to his feet.

"I should go back to the office, write up my report-"

"You can do that in the morning," Gibbs interrupted as he walked past them. "DiNozzo, drive McGee home. Stay with him till you're sure he's okay. You know the drill."

"Um, I'm fine, Boss, the paramedic said I was—″

Gibbs stopped and turned around, walking back to stand in front of them. "You know the drill too, McGee. Don't you?" He waited till McGee nodded jerkily and then gave them a crooked grin. "Then do it, McGee. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Come on." Tony put a hand under McGee's elbow and levered him to his feet, waiting till McGee seemed to have his balance. He ushered him ahead of him over to the car and pressed the keypad as they reached it to unlock the doors. "In you go, McWobbly," Tony said as McGee put a hand on the door for a moment. "Don't go fainting on me. I have this back problem and believe me, picking you up off the ground is going to aggravate it like you wouldn't believe."

McGee managed a half-hearted smile at that and managed to get himself into the passenger seat.

Tony closed the door the walked around and climbed behind the wheel. "No puking," he warned as he started up the car. "Or at least try to give me some warning if you feel like you going to so I can pull over and push you out onto the shoulder of the road where you'll be free to puke your little stomach up all you want."

"I'm not going to puke," McGee said but he swallowed hard as Tony put the car in drive and headed out onto the road.

Tony gave momentary thought to flooring the accelerator but one look over at McGee's pale face made him change his mind. "Hey, it's not your fault, you know. That girl made her choice."

"I know. She was just so young." Tim turned stricken eyes on Tony. "She looked a lot like my sister, Sarah. I think that's why I froze." He shook his head ruefully. "I'm sorry. You could have been killed because of me. Tony, I—″

"Forget it," Tony replied, surprised to find he really meant it and that there was no desire in him to want to tease McGee right now. "I'm alive and you're the one who got creased by a stray bullet. She really reminded you of your sister?" When McGee nodded, Tony went on, "Stuff like that can mess with your head in the field. You gotta learn to detach. Doesn't matter how old they are or if they look like your sweet Aunt Mary. If they've got a gun in their hand and it's aimed at you, they have the potential to kill and you need to think about that first."

McGee rested his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. "Sounding like the voice of experience there, Tony."

Deciding McGee needed honesty more than bravado right now, Tony nodded. "Yep. In Baltimore. 12 year old boy with a Saturday Night Special. Shot my partner through the head and then turned his gun on me. I froze. He was a kid, you know. Even though Tom was lying there on the ground at my feet, bleeding out from the bullet this little fucker had put in his head, I couldn't bring myself to pull the trigger on him."

"What happened?" McGee asked, opening his eyes and pinning Tony with a straight look that said 'you better not be yanking my chain here, DiNozzo'.

"Gibbs happened," Tony replied. "That's how we met. He was working the case with us. The deal was a marine selling cheap guns to kids. NCIS had the info and Gibbs came to Baltimore. Tom and I were already working the case and Gibbs was seconded to work with us."

"Gibbs shot the kid?"

Tony shook his head. "He tackled him from behind. The gun went off, grazed my shoulder. Kid lived, my partner died, and a week later Gibbs asked me to join NCIS. I asked him why he'd want someone like me on his team, someone who couldn't bring himself to shoot the person who'd just killed his partner." Tony took a deep breath then flashed a quick grin over at McGee. "He said he wanted someone who didn't react on a hair trigger, someone who knew instinctively that killing a 12 year old was something to think about, no matter what that 12 year old had done."

"Kate told me you said you got the job at NCIS because you smiled," Tim said.

"I tell Kate lots of things," Tony replied. "Some things are truer than others." He shrugged and smiled. You going to be okay if I stop and grab some beer?"

"Sure."

"Not for you, McLoopy, not with a concussion. I just figure I'm going to need a six pack to make it through a night of babysitting you." He threw another sidelong grin at McGee to take the sting from his words. "You know I'm only doing it to make Abby jealous, right? Can you imagine how ticked she's going to be at missing the opportunity to nursemaid you?"

McGee blushed. "Abby's a good friend," he said, "that's all."

Tony decided more teasing could wait till McGee was able to fire back. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Hey, you got food at your place or do we need to swing by the supermarket or the Chinese takeout place as well?"

"There's a couple of frozen pizzas in the freezer," McGee replied.

"Acceptable," Tony agreed. He pulled the car over in front of the liquor store. "Be right back."

The minute he walked into the store, Tony wished he could turn back time. The man in front of the counter turned at the sound of the bell and Tony's heart sunk as he saw the gun in the guy's hand. "Crap," he muttered subvocally as the perp stepped forward and told him to kneel down, using his gun as a motivational tool. Tony didn't need much incentive. He did as he was told. There was, after all, a second perp, a kid not much older than seventeen, behind the counter with a gun held to the clerk's head.

"Put the closed sign up," the kid said. "Lock the door too."

"In a minute," Tony's minder snapped back. "I'm checking this guy out first. See," he reached under Tony's jacket and Tony groaned mentally as the guy came up with his gun and then a minute later ripped Tony's badge off his belt, "we've got ourselves a cop."

Under normal circumstances, Tony would have left his badge and his gun at the office but he and McGee had left straight from the scene… Thinking about that reminded Tony that McGee was out in the car. He hoped like hell the probie wouldn't get tired of waiting and decide to stumble in on this little debacle. "Look," he said to the guy who'd taken his gun and badge and who was now locking the front door of the store and spinning the sign around so that it read 'closed', "you're right about me being a cop. Anything happens, you're gonna be in deep doodoo, you know that, right?"

The man swung a scornful gaze on him then walked across and without any warning lashed out with Tony's gun, catching him across the side of the head and sending him crashing to the floor, head spinning and his vision graying out.

~oOo~

Tim yawned and stretched then ran a hand across the back of his neck. He felt bruised and sore, his head ached viciously and all he wanted to do was go home, take a handful of aspirin, and sleep for a week. He appreciated Gibbs caring enough to send Tony home with him to make sure he was okay but truthfully he'd rather have been alone. Tony was being conspicuously caring and that alone made Tim unsettled. He felt like he was waiting for one of the zingers that Tony was so good at throwing Tim's way. It was like waiting for the other shoe to drop and he felt jittery on top of concussed.

He glanced at his watch again. Tony had been inside now for ten minutes. Surely it didn't take that long to buy a six pack. Suddenly movement at the store door caught Tim's eye and he leaned closer to the car window, squinting through his still slightly blurred vision. What he saw brought him to attention immediately. The sign saying open had been turned around and now read closed. Worry churning his gut, Tim pulled out his cellphone and dialed 911. "Look, it might be nothing," he said after he'd identified himself as an off duty NCIS special agent, "but my partner's still inside the store and I don't think they'd be closing this early with a customer still inside." He listened as the dispatcher told him to stay in his car, and that a patrol car would be there as soon as possible. He lasted a full thirty seconds before he climbed out, made sure his weapon was secured then headed for the store at a quick run.

He couldn't see through the windows as the blinds were down so he headed for the alleyway next to the building, which he hoped led to a back door. It did and Tim opened it stealthily, wincing as it creaked. He froze for a moment then stepped inside, moving towards the voices he could hear coming from the front of the store.

There was a curtain separating the back of the store from the front and Tim stopped behind it, pulling it back only enough to get a view of the room directly in front of him. What he saw made his blood run cold and his heart seemingly take a sudden fall down into his shoes. Tony was on the floor, looking only half aware, blood streaming down the side of his face. A man straddled him, a gun aimed at Tony's chest.

Tim didn't hesitate as he saw the man release the safety on the gun. Holding his own gun steadily in two hands, Tim yelled, "Police! Drop your weapon!" As the man began to pull back on the trigger, Tim took aim and fired, catching the perp cleanly through the side of the head. The body toppled to land across Tony's legs and Tony raised his head, a shaky hand pointing towards the front counter. "McGee…" he ground out, his voice tight.

Tim pushed the curtain aside and stepped into the room, falling into a crouch as he saw someone holding a gun on the clerk. As he watched, heart in his mouth, the gun moved from its aim on the clerk to him.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion then. Tim saw the gun, its barrel seemingly huge, saw the gunman was just a kid, saw the clerk throw himself to the ground and the kid turn to take a bead on him again. As soon as the gun swung away from him, Tim leapt to his feet, identified himself, and called for the boy to drop his weapon. It was futile, he knew it almost as he said it, the gunman simply swinging the gun back Tim's way and pulling the trigger. Tim threw himself sideways and felt the heat of the bullet across his face. Landing up against the wall, he raised his gun, sighted quickly and pulled the trigger.

~oOo~

"You okay, McGee?" Gibbs' voice was studiedly matter of fact but Tim didn't miss the concern in his team leader's eyes.

"Yeah. I'll be okay." Tim fingered the new bandaid adorning his cheek. "Just got burned a little by a bullet."

Gibbs nodded. "I wasn't really talking about physically," he said. He reached out and tapped the side of Tim's head. "Everything okay in here?"

"Yeah." Tim stood up and nodded firmly. "It was a good shoot. I identified myself but they were going to shoot anyway." He swallowed as one of the perps was wheeled past him on a gurney, the body's identity shrouded by a bodybag.

"Fair enough. How's DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, peering into the ambulance where Tony sat on a stretcher, a bloodstained bandage around his head.

"Concussion," Tim replied.

"Great. I send him home to look after your concussion and he ends up with one," Gibbs said. He shook his head and walked closer to the ambulance, poking his head inside. "You okay to get out of here, DiNozzo?"

The paramedic shrugged. "He says he'll be fine at home but I'm not happy about releasing him unless he has someone to keep an eye on him overnight."

"That'd be me," Gibbs grunted. "Get the lead out, DiNozzo. You can both stay at my place tonight."

"Your place?" Tim asked, aware his voice had risen an octave or two in shock. He'd never been to Gibbs' house, had almost assumed the man didn't actually have one, that he just magically appeared at NCIS headquarters every day having been nowhere at all the night before.

"My place. I have a boat to work on. You two can keep each other awake." Gibbs gave Tony a hand down from the ambulance then turned and strode towards his car. He waited till they caught up with him then ushered Tony into the passenger seat before opening the back door for Tim. "You'll do, McGee," he said with a pat to his shoulder. "You'll do."

End