I've not given up Fitting Pieces, but needed a break, something else to work on for a bit so I can return to FP with a clearer head. This was a challenge from AlkalineTeegan, who keeps me sane.


He felt fear as he raced up to the rooftop with his team, but it was a background emotion; fear didn't scare him. It buzzed through his veins with the adrenaline, the hyperawareness, mingling with the buzzing of bullets soon flying through the air.

It was part of the rush.

They split up, circling around the terrorist on the rooftop. They were a hive mind, a swarm of three. Now was one of the only times their leader wasn't a leader, he was fully a part of the team.

It felt strong. They were strong.

Racing around, Tony shot off an entire clip, reloaded, shot again. Gibbs fired from an alternate angle.

The bad guy went down.

LEOs might tell you that when the job stops getting to you, when taking a life no longer matters to you, you should get out of the game. But in DiNozzo's world, these were two different things. If the job ever stopped affecting him, he would get out. But taking a life – sometimes it felt awful. Sometimes regrettable. Sometimes it didn't bother him at all.

He raced towards the transmitter as Gibbs did the same. Shots rang out below them; McGee was pinned down, unable to complete his part of the mission.

Tony silently snarled, wanting to hunt down the man inside who had his team's youngest member under fire, but now was not the time for that. Now was the time to try and stop the –

Gibbs shot the transmitter.

Good plan.

The fight wasn't over. They didn't have to say it, they all felt it. They passed ammo around and reloaded, eyes flashing in each direction, looking for the next target.

Kate spotted it first, jumped in front of the tiny missile meant for Gibbs.

She went down hard, the thud of her body audible over the rapid fire gunshots.

Both men took aim and fired on the intruder. When the body tumbled out the door and down the small staircase, when they were sure he was dead – then, then they moved to Kate. Then Tony felt the fear rise higher than the other emotions.

She was so silent.

Gibbs' movements were efficient, he did not seem panicked. Tony unconsciously mimicked, turning Kate to her back, unzipping her jacket, sighing in relief when he saw the single bullet still stuck in the vest.

The air felt less dangerous. They relaxed, just a little. Violence had found them, but again they had won in the end. He felt strong. Maybe near to invincible. Despite the sickness, the explosions, the running, the lack of sleep – it didn't matter right now. It wasn't even a memory, it wasn't now and therefore it just wasn't.

He teased his injured comrade.

It was his way.

She teased back, as she regained her feet – both actions reassuring herself and her teammates that she was fine. Whole.

They were strong.

All three started to smile at the same time, something that almost never happened.

A crack ripped through the air, tearing a path through the sky, through Kate's head, then through the sky again.

Tony felt the blood spatter his face and was unsure if he was hurt or not. His face was hot, he smelled blood.

His hand went to his gun, but he didn't raise it. He squinted across the rooftops, knowing it was hopeless. A man couldn't see that far without aid.

This wasn't the same as before. Just ninety seconds ago, she was shot, and both he and Gibbs reacted as they would've expected to – taking out the threat before moving to ascertain their teammate's damage.

There was nothing to fire back at now.

There was no point in assessing the damage.

The sniper was too far away.

And Kate was dead.

Now, now of all times he was scared. Not for himself, but because he didn't want to deal with what lay before him. Because it might be real. Because he didn't know what to do next.

His lungs, rib cage, entire body started one big inhale that kept expanding, pushing out, increasing. He felt it, but couldn't stop it. Terrified that what came out would be a wail, a scream, a howl, he looked to Gibbs, the man he'd learned to look to after a lifetime of looking only to himself.

Gibbs paced forward, gun raised, as though he could tell where his target was. "Ari," he whispered, and Tony looked at his face.

It was gray, and afraid.

Gibbs was afraid.

The expanding inhale deflated, and his chest caved in the opposite direction, his stomach touching his spine.

He was afraid he wasn't breathing. It didn't matter much, except he needed to breathe to talk.

Gibbs was frozen in place, eyes searching the skyline.

Tony could feel his heart. It was vibrating around in various locations in his chest like angry hornets searching for a way out.

He looked down at Kate.

Dead.

She was no help.

Looked back at Gibbs.

Still frozen.

Not good.

It occurred to him that they should pull back to cover. But there had been plenty of time for another shot. Ari meant to hit Kate to destroy their team, and he had done so. There was no reason to pull back now.

He felt a little huff of breath – a tiny pant – and remembered he was supposed to talk. He pulled his phone out and called dispatch. "This is Special Agent DiNozzo." He reported their location. "Send backup, Agent McGee is pinned down in front of the building. Send several buses, dead terrorists and a dead agent. Send the truck, gonna need forensics."

He hung up and called McGee on the radio. "McGee. Kate's down. Hold your position, back up is on the way."

McGee squawked back for more information, but DiNozzo ordered him silent and still, and the kid complied.

Gibbs' gun arm finally fell to his side, but his eyes kept searching the rooftops.

He looked lost.

Tony dialed Ducky. He shouldn't hear about this from dispatch. "Ducky. Kate's been shot. She's dead. I can't talk. Bring Palmer, bring your gear. Straight to the rooftop." It didn't seem like enough, so he added, "I'm sorry," then hung up.

Ducky never had a chance to say anything.

Gibbs turned and ran.

Tony considered going with him, staying with his partner – now, again, his only real partner – but he knew how it would play out, so he decided to stay with his dead partner.

He heard three shots below – Gibbs taking out the remaining shooter in the building. He rolled his eyes at Kate, half expecting her to agree with him that their boss was going nutso, then stepped to the edge of the roof to watch Gibbs run out of the door, across the street, and into the building Ari most likely took his shot from.

He'd be long gone before Gibbs ever reached the top.

Tony walked back to Kate, again using his left hand to make a call; it would be a while before the pistol could be coaxed away from his right hand.

He squatted next to Kate, looked down at her while he waited to be put through to the director.

It didn't take long.

"Sir."

"DiNozzo. Status report?" Morrow didn't mention how odd it was for Tony to be calling him directly, but the question was evident in his tone of voice.

"Sir." His throat closed up. Why was this harder than the other calls? Ducky should've been the hardest. But he did that one fast. He'd started thinking now, thinking was never good.

Telling the director made it real.

Morrow was a good director. He didn't interfere much, but he knew his men. "DiNozzo, who?"

"Agent Todd, sir. Agent Todd is down."

"Dead?"

"Yes. Sir." There was a pause. He made himself say it. "Agent Todd is dead."

"Gibbs? The shooter?"

"All the shooters have been taken down except the sniper. Gibbs…" It occurred to him that saying Gibbs ran off chasing the boogeyman might not be the best plan. "Gibbs went to check the rooftop where the shot likely originated from."

Tony had always talked well, and often. It came naturally to him. He felt some semblance of control reassert itself as he spoke. Words were soothing. You could make them say whatever you wanted, or needed them to convey.

"Damn." It shouldn't have been a strong enough comment, but it was said with feeling, so Tony was satisfied. Quietly, the director asked, "Do you need me to contact dispatch? Dr. Mallard?"

"Done, sir."

There was silence as both men realized they couldn't help the other.

"Keep me updated, Agent DiNozzo."

Tony hung up.

He heard sirens in the distance, finally. Looking back down at Kate, he had an absurd urge to wash her face. She hated when people saw her with a dirty, or anything but perfect, display.

Pocketing his phone, he reached out with both hands to brush her hair back from her face.

Realized a little too late that the gun was still in his right hand. He'd just tucked her hair behind her ear with his weapon.

Possibly he was a little fucked up.

He smiled as her voice rang out inside his head. "Possibly, Tony?"

Restraining himself from further grooming of his cooling partner – no one would be happy if he compromised the scene – Tony stayed by her side, squatting, alternately seeing her as she was now, and seeing flashes of her as he'd known her for the last two years. Bits and pieces of Kate.

He'd seen a lot of people die, seen a lot of dead bodies. Seeing Kate like this wasn't easy, but it also wasn't Kate anymore. It was just a memory of her. The flesh she left behind.

Still, he knew enough to know he didn't want to see the back of her head.

McGee radioed up when their backup arrived, but Tony told him to stay away until after the ME arrived. McGee understood. Kid wasn't slow.

When Ducky and Palmer opened the door to the rooftop fifteen minutes later, it was a relatively put-together Tony who greeted them. Still squatting, he smiled at the pair somberly. "Look, Kate. Your ride's here. No more getting carsick with Gibbs."

He broke protocol again and reached out, grasping her hand briefly before standing and stretching to work the kinks out of his body.

Jimmy made a few coughing noises and started crying. Tony raised an eyebrow at Ducky when he realized the older gentleman also had tears coming down his face.

It had never occurred to him to cry.

He looked down at Kate, wanting to joke with her about autopsy gremlins crying.

She couldn't banter back, but he knew she got it.

Ducky walked up to Tony with a handkerchief in hand. "Anthony…" His voice faltered. "You've blood on your face, my boy."

Tony turned down the offer.

There was a reason he was dealing with this whole situation better than one might expect.

He went off to find that reason, leaving his dead partner in capable hands.

Gibbs was still on the opposing roof, searching the same spots over and over as though Ari would suddenly appear.

Tony watched him from the door. Gibbs had noticed him, but quickly dismissed him. Not a threat, not helping, must be ignored.

It was a situation Tony was familiar with. Hell, he encouraged it at times. He couldn't let it fly this time, but he paused a minute before venturing forth onto the roof.

Their team was broken. No more hive, no more swarm. Just lonely men searching for ghosts. His mind buzzed, but it was a different sort. Not adrenaline or excitement this time, but pain, and loss, and shock, and anger.

He stepped out, planting himself and his Kate-spattered face in front of Gibbs. Gibbs looked up momentarily, saw the grisly visage and physically flinched back, then detoured around him and kept going, kept searching.

Tony had finally holstered his weapon, and moved with Gibbs, silently planting himself and his face in front of Gibbs at every possible turn.

After a few minutes, Gibbs half-growled, half yelled, "What? What do you want from me?" He tried to angrily stalk off in another direction, but Tony dared to grab his arm and spin him back around.

Gibbs' fist came up, slamming into the wall next to Tony's head.

Finally, Gibbs' eyes lingered on Tony's face, alternating between his eyes and the residue of their team on the right half of his face.

DiNozzo saw a little start, a little shock once when their eyes met. As though Gibbs was surprised to find him here – to find him alive at all. Both men found themselves with a fistful of the other's shirt, neither clear on who had made the move first.

They eyed each other.

What could easily have turned into a fistfight over the mere existence of strong emotion rapidly turned into something else as the skies opened up and rain suddenly poured down. As pieces of Kate washed off of DiNozzo, Gibbs looked a little steadier. His grip turned from desperately violent to merely desperate as he mashed his face into the cement blocks of the wall behind Tony, pinning him in place, holding him still, and safe.

As pieces of Kate washed off of DiNozzo, Tony himself felt like he might finally cry, and his grip in Gibbs' shirt turned from steely intent to wordless need. He bashed his head backwards, into the cement wall behind him.

It would be a long time before they both realized the other felt the same at that moment– not just angry and helpless at being unable to stop Kate's death, but ashamed at their gratitude the other man was still alive, and somehow, somehow feeling left behind, as if they should've died, too. Or maybe as though part of them had, and could no longer be found. Pieces of them riddled with holes, lost in the crack in the air caused by the sniper's shot.

The radio squawked.

McGee wanted to know where they were – not just for himself, he quickly overstated, but Ducky wanted to know they were out of the rain, the director was calling, and they needed to decide who was going to tell Abby.

There was still a team. A broken team was still a team.

Tony glanced at Gibbs, who was still distinctly un-Gibbs looking.

Tony radioed back – "On our way."

Maybe there could still be a team. If he was strong enough to hold them together, just for a little while, just until he could figure out how to get Gibbs back.

He wanted to ask Kate how the hell he was supposed to do that.

In his mind, she mocked him for not being able to figure it out for himself.

So he did.

Just for her.

He held the team together, until they were able to each hold their own parts again.

Soon to be whole in a different way, but for now, pieces of Kate.