Sorry for the long wait. A broken wrist, surgery, lots of cats needing care, and many other things-that-need-attention-now stole a chunk of time and refused to give it back. Haven't done more than check for typos below so if anyone finds glaring booboos, please let me know so I can find the white-out and fix 'em.

I don't usually contemplate sappy scenes, but this one crept out and asked for a chance. Things will be back to their usual angst and head-slaps soon. For all the officers out there who laugh and roll their eyes at the unprofessional scenario and actions below, well, that's why you're professionals and I just scribble fanfiction stories. Life is much safer for everyone this way. g

Every last scrap of sweets I was saving for reviewer treats disappeared during the post-surgery blank-days period. Sorry! More on the way according to the shipping notice, which the cats shredded in lieu of play toys.

Disclaimer: just borrowing them for a little fun.

Chapter 24

Three weeks later, McGee found himself slowly falling behind in a footrace between him, his partner, and their latest pimp of the day. He had no idea how the man was able to run so fast, so far, and up, over, around, and through so many obstacles given that he looked like a stick, with two legs and arms equally thin. Must be sampling his own wares, McGee thought – especially the meth kind. His 'partner' was still going strong and slowly gaining on their target.

McGee lost sight of the two as they vanished between two dilapidated and run down houses. Following, breathing heavily, he stumbled to a stop, finding himself in near pitch darkness. Ahead, he heard scuffling sounds, then his partner, Joe - a 30-something-year-old, lean, scruffy biker type with a heavy beard and smile that could change from friendly to empty cold in a blink of an eye - yelled, "Stop, you punk *ss. Police!"

McGee started forward cautiously, stepping on various items and kicking a can or two inadvertently, before finding himself in an equally dump-strewn backyard, a neighbor's security light giving scant light from across a fence.

Joe shot him a sweeping glance before raising his radio, rapidly giving orders that McGee only caught a phrase or two in the man's rush. Moving towards Joe, McGee chided himself for a flash of gratitude that the pimp had gotten away, if only so he had a chance to catch his breath. He hoped Joe had a flashlight so they could get back out to the street without killing themselves tripping over or stepping in who knows what. Maybe a BOLO could find the man and they could pick him up somewhere other than the dark end of wherever.

McGee looked up as the heavy radio traffic cut off, leaving them in silence. He was about to ask jokingly if Joe wanted to get in trouble with Chao for not monitoring their coms, but something in his partner's posture caught his attention. After a few seconds, during which he felt a growing sense of unease, Joe silently stepped back and…vanished. What….? Swallowing, McGee felt a sharp panic. Immediately, his mind raced to Tony, blaming him for setting up this….this prank. Yeah, they'd left him without backup, but that was in the middle of the day in a safe, secure neighborhood, not in the middle of the night in a gang-infected hell-hole. Joe wouldn't do that to him…would he?

Getting a grip on himself, he shook off the thoughts filling him. No. That isn't what is happening. Tony had no part of this. If Tony were here, he'd have had a very good reason for disappearing like that. He wouldn't play a prank in a situation like this. None of them would – not Tony, not Ziva, not him….

Taking a silent gulp of air, he make himself think. What would Tony do? A small part of him laughed at the thought. Not what would Gibbs do? Nope. This was a Tony situation. This is just like where Tony worked before being snapped up by Gibbs – gang neighborhoods and drugs and homicides. This was Tony territory. What would he do….

Something must have caught Joe's attention, something he missed. No! Don't go looking around like a silly probie! He lifted his Sig Saur and examined it for a second, making it clear to anyone watching that he was armed. Listening intently, he tried to catch anything out of the ordinary. In the background, he could hear several sirens slowly converge towards his position. That must be because of Joe, right? Never would he have thought those sirens could sound so sweet.

Looking up, he glanced around casually, before turning to head back to the street the way he'd come. It took every ounce of courage he had to step into that blackness. Swallowing, he blindly moved forward. A noise, in the dark, not far away. Who? Joe? Should he whisper? What if it wasn't Joe? A rank smell, a new one, drifted towards him. Crack. Not Joe then. A scuffle of a shoe. What should he do? The sirens came closer.

What would Tony do? He'd be setting up an ambush, a way to corner whoever it was he shared this side-yard with, box him in, Tony in front, McGee in back. The bad guys in the middle. Offset. Cross-fire. Stepping slowly sideways, he felt out for the wall of the house to his right. He kept pausing as his shoe brushed against debris underfoot. Finally reaching the wall, he found he could see through the thinning branches of a bush in front of him, a faint glow of a street light just out of sight, not enough to show him the space near him, but enough to let him see if any shape crossed the space at the front of the houses.

Check your six, McGee, he heard Tony's voice in his head. Don't get target fixation. Almost involuntarily he started to raise his hand to brush the back of his head at an imaginary head-slap. Rolling his eyes, he carefully turned and scanned the darkness behind him, listening intently. Nothing. He hoped.

He'd just faced forward again, crouching, hardly breathing for trying to hear, when something caught his eye – something small, something falling in the darkness close to the front of the houses to hit and bounce a couple of times before stopping. There was a figurative silent intake of breath around him, then all hell broke loose. Gunfire from a dozen feet in front of him, aimed toward the fallen object, sounded – automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Low curses. Standing men in gang colors aiming weapons forward, strobed in and out of sight as the muzzle-flashes illuminated their shapes. Four men. Four gang members, and he had almost walked into the middle of them. His gut clenched. Damn.

A quick touch on his shoulder and Joe crouched down, grinning at him. McGee was barely able to keep from yelling in surprise. Joe pointed up, and McGee could see vague outlines of men looking down on them from the low roof edge on both sides. Motioning for McGee to turn from the firefight and cover his ears, Joe gave a general thumbs-up to the men above.

Sharp loud explosions sounded, and bright lights flashing sharp in the darkness, movement around them, sirens approaching, shouts, blue and red lights flashing from the walls of the houses on either side of them, bright white floodlights shining, thuds from running feet pounding past them, screaming, angry voices…before McGee could put a coherent picture of what was happening around them in place, Joe was up and moving fast, running back towards the back yard and disappearing.

McGee was up and running after him. Damn if he'd not cover Joe's back. The backyard was lit now by flashlights, and the moving spotlight from a police copter overhead. Where had that come from, McGee wondered? He didn't even know Metro PD had a police helicopter. Skipping over and around piles of junkyard debris, McGee stuck by Joe's back. Suddenly three more men dressed in gang colors appeared, running from between the house whose backyard they were crossing and the next house over, weapons in hand, angry scowls on their faces.

Raising their handguns, Joe and McGee shouted simultaneously, "Freeze!" From behind the men, two more uniforms and a police dog on a long-line and harness appeared, weapons drawn and aimed, police dog barking and snapping. The men paused, and two of them started swearing as they dropped their weapons and sank to their knees, hands moving to the top of their heads. The last man, stood wide-eyed and furious, holding the weapon loosely, but not dropping it. As he turned from the officer with the police dog, the cop unsnapped the line and gave a command to the dog. In a flash, the dog had the man's forearm in his jaws, and the weapon dropped as the man screamed and fell back. As the officers approached and secured the men, the K9 officer called her four-legged partner off and leashed him, leading him back towards the front yard, praising him loudly.

As the men were searched, cuffed, and escorted from the backyard, Joe turned to McGee, "Good job, man." He held his hand out to McGee who, surprised, shook it, finding himself grinning back. "Thanks."

"Sorry I didn't give any warning. We need to cover some of the hand signals we use out in the field. Didn't have time to do more than call for help after I saw the movement in the shadows. Knew it wasn't good news. I knew you'd figure it out and not panic. After all, you're not a rookie."

Gesturing toward the street, he added, "Let's go see what the uniforms caught for us."

As they stepped out from between the houses, McGee gaped. There must have been a dozen police cruisers and a couple of unmarked cards up and down the street, lights flashing, officers moving around, conferring. Where had all these cops come from? And so quickly?

Seeing McGee's reaction, Joe said, "When you need help in our business, you need it now, not ten minutes from now. We know what to do and how to do it. Lives depend on it." He pointed to one cruiser, "Looks like our runner got caught. Let's go see what he has to say for himself."

McGee felt something he hadn't felt before when he thought about LEOs….surprise, and…yes, awe. All this just because one officer had called for help. They got backup when they needed it at NCIS, but nothing like this. A cynical part of him snorted, c'mon, McGee, you know all about officer-needs-help responses, you're not some shiny new probie or rookie. Yeah, he thought to himself, but being in the middle of it, well, that wasn't quite the same. He could feel Tony's imaginary hand resting on his shoulder, yup, but we're a part of this also, Tim. At the bottom line, we're all part of this.

Thinking about that long-past day that had brought him to this place…McGee contrasted that to the scene before him. Not the same situation, but still…he filed it away to think over later when he had time to concentrate. Right now, they had a pimp and a lead to investigate…