Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS, or any of its characters. It sure makes for a great playground, though.

Chapter Warnings: This is set six months after the end of A Question of Honor. If you haven't read AQOH, you are going to get pretty darn confused, though if you want to read this first, I'm not going to hold a gun to your head. ;)


"But we carry on our backs the burden

Time always reveals

In the lonely light of morning,

In the wound that would not heal…"

Fallen by Sarah McLachlan


Tony DiNozzo woke with a strangled gasp.

Too-warm air clogged his throat, like twin hands clenched tight around his windpipe. Tony sucked in oxygen like a drowning man. An endless stream of images played past his eyes, raising bile in the back of his throat. Struggling to breath through his nose, he wrenched himself free of the covers and his bedmate's suddenly cloying heat. Staggering, he stumbled down the stairs.

A glimpse of sweat-gleaming skin and bloodshot eyes in the bathroom mirror, and he was vomiting so hard his chest ached. Miserably, Tony clung to the smooth porcelain bowl.

Eventually, his stomach steadied.

Tremors wracked his limbs. Tony pulled in his arms and legs, wiping his mouth on his arm, and slumped against the wall, shuddering so hard his teeth chattered.

The green eyes fluttered closed, a brief, silent moment of defeat.


Tony inhaled shakily as the trembling finally subsided. It was his third nightmare in so many days, following an unprecedented weeklong reprieve. Desperation had led him to charm Linda at a bar last night, hope telling him that a cuddly form might keep the demons at bay. It had felt cheap—the romantic in him still balked at one night stands—but it had worked.

For a few hours.

At least he hadn't woken her up.

Tony pulled himself up; dragged himself over to the sink. The shock of ice-cold water to his face was unpleasant, but it jolted his brain into action. A few drips traveled down his bare chest, inciting shivers. Deadened eyes, outlined in shadows, stared back at him.

He averted his gaze.

The detective walked into the living room, gait still unsteady. Red numbers blazed through the darkness: 3:36 AM. A button-down shirt and designer jeans lay on the sofa, tossed aside in last night's romantic diversions. He shrugged them on, and with them his shoulder holster—reluctantly left downstairs, as Linda had balked at the idea of sleeping near a gun.

He was tucking his wallet in his pocket when he heard it.

A shout—guttural and jarring, filtered through the open window.

Tony went rigid. One hand on his gun, he bolted for the door.

There it was, again—to the north, where the borderline "safe" neighborhood merged into the slums. Tony took off, the gentle July air whistling around him. It felt almost good to run, to feel the adrenaline sharpening his perception of his surroundings until this moment was the entirety of existence.

A drawn-out scream, deep and raw, splintered the night. Tony's heart pulsed in answer as he pushed his endurance to the limit. His feet pounded into the pavement, the sound muffled by his bare soles. The sound went on and on and on—

And stopped, sounding so close that he could have reached out and touched it.

Low conversation to the left, down a dimly lit street. Tony skidded to a halt, pressing his body flat against the street corner. A deep breath.

He threw himself around the corner, gun raised high.

"Baltimore PD! Hands in the air!"

Three dark figures stood, unmoving, around a crumpled body. For a fraction of a second, the grisly tableaux was motionless, the men clearly startled by the cop's abrupt appearance.

"I said, hands in the air!" Tony bellowed again, moving forward.

Time unfroze.

They bolted.

The urge to give chase was topped only by the heat of his fury, but duty made him halt. The odds were impossibly, maddeningly slim, but the man might still be alive. Cursing under his breath, Tony started to turn, scanning the area for any other threats.

A muffled rasp was his only warning.

Tony leapt sideways. Something glanced off his right shoulder, the blow striking with bone-jarring impact where his head had been a moment before. His arm throbbed and went completely numb, fingers losing their grip on his gun. It clattered onto the asphalt several feet away, loud as a clap of thunder. Sheer instinct brought Tony's good arm up, catching his assailment's weapon in his hand before the second blow could gain momentum.

A fist flew at his face; Tony dodged sideways. His right arm twinged, filling him with a growing sense of his own peril; the numbness in his arm wasn't a good sign, but it was keeping him moving. Time was running out. Desperate, Tony clung one handed to the weapon—some sort of wood that pricked his fingers—and dragged up his nearly unresponsive limb.

A weak, uncontrolled blow. But by some freak of chance it landed in his attacker's eye.

The man yelled. Tony dropped, hurling himself sideways into the street and out of striking range. He slid several feet, shredding cloth and skin. But it was enough. His outstretched fingers closed on the butt of his gun. Swiveling, Tony turned and fired.

The shot flew wide. The criminal took off, back of his head gleaming like yellow fire in the streetlights. Blond. Tony struggled sit up, firing ceaselessly, but it was too late.

He was gone.

Cursing, still holding onto his gun, Tony scrabbled with his bad arm for his cellphone. The pain was increasing by the second, but he bit the inside of his cheek and kept his fingers going. His eyes locked on a nearby street sign.


A groggy voice. "DiNozzo, it's three in the morning."

"Adam," Tony panted, "Get a squad and an ambulance to the corner of Furley and Sinclair Greens Street, ASAP. A man's been attacked; I think he's dead. The killers ran; one of them attacked me, but he got away."

"What the hell—"

"Not the time," Tony snapped, sweat building on his forehead. "And get your ass over here!"

He slammed the phone shut. The numbness was almost completely gone, replaced with a growing agony that made his stomach churn. If he had to guess, the shoulder was dislocated, but he didn't have time to check, and less time to do anything about it.

Stupid. Stupid, stupid!

Biting his lip, Tony stood, swallowing hard. Gun still raised, he stumbled towards the prone body, eyes and ears searching madly for any sign of movement.


He crumpled to his knees just inches away from the body. A man, Tony registered distantly, in his fifties or sixties, jaw and forehead black with bruises.

Sinking his teeth into his own cheek even harder than before, the detective reached out his right hand and felt the man's pulse.

Tony bowed his head. Slowly, he drew back his fingers, and hugged his throbbing arm to his body.

The faraway wail of sirens was the only sound left in the darkness.


Chapter Notes: Well, it's me already. :D Surprise! Quite short; just think of it as a prologue, or the short little intro before the NCIS song. ;) The other chapters should be my typical length. Hope you enjoyed!