Tony glared at the e-mail on the screen, wishing he didn't have to take the stupid test.
The freakin' Firearms Proficiency Exam.
He hadn't done so hot on his previous one and he hadn't had much time to practice since then. He continued to stare at his screen, unaware of the fact that Jimmy Palmer had walked into the bullpen, looking just as nervous and apprehensive as Tony.
Jimmy cleared his throat, and Tony twitched in his chair and looked up in surprise.
"Gah, Palmer! Geez…make more noise when you walk into a room, will you?"
He looked like a wounded puppy as he said, "Sorry. It's just…well, did you get the e-mail? About the…the FPE?" Tony nodded. "Yeah, well…it's my first time taking it, so…I was wondering if you had any advice for me?"
Tony let out a nervous laugh.
"Yeah," he said, drawing out the vowel in a typical Tony way, "I don't think that I'm the person to ask, Jimmy. I'm, uh, not sure if I'm entirely ready for it myself."
Jimmy was surprised at the admission and looked at Tony in shock.
Tony gave him a loose, comfortable smile.
"No one else is in here except for you, Palmer…and you're not the kind to blab." He motioned with a hand to the empty bullpen. "No Ziva, no McGee…no boss man. Just you. And I, uh, you know…consider you a friend. Don't tell them that, though," he added, pointing his thumb to the non-existent team.
Jimmy nodded and then looked back at Tony and then down at the ground.
"Yeah, well…thanks for that." He turned to leave, but then stopped and looked back at Tony and asked, "Tony? Do you ever, uh, have memory loss after shooting at the shooting range?"
At this question, the agent looked perplexed.
"Memory loss?" he repeated, looking at Palmer, trying to figure out what he was asking. "No…why would I have memory loss?"
Suddenly Palmer shook his head and muttered, "No reason," and then hurried out of the bullpen to the elevator, most likely heading back down to autopsy to help Ducky on a case. Jimmy was acting more odd than normal and it disconcerted the older agent…but he shrugged it off and focused instead on his own nervousness, not wanting to be distracted by anyone else's.
He looked back at his computer screen.
And he sighed.
Today was the day. The day that he was going to have to take his FPE. Oh, joy.
Tony was supposed to be at the firing range at 8:30 that morning, but had decided to show up early, so he was there fifteen minutes before he was expected.
It was a Saturday, so in place of his usual office clothes instead he wore a pair of jeans and long sleeved gray henley with a black sweater over top. His firearm was in its holster on his hip, attached to his belt, and he briefly ran his fingers over it to try and reassure himself.
Curious, he glanced into the shooting range, and was surprised to see Jimmy Palmer, autopsy lab rat, already there, along with the agent who was overseeing the Exam, Agent Paulsen.
Jimmy was wearing black jeans and long sleeved, dark blue jumper, with the hint of a white t-shirt showing beneath the collar.
Feeling too curious for his own good, he cracked the door to the shooting range open slightly and heard the agent say to Palmer, "Now remember…there is no pressure, you can take your time before you want to begin. Just say when we can start and we'll start. When we start, I'll have you shoot off two shots at ten yards and then it will automatically drop the target and a new one will immediately be put up at twenty yards, and then the process will repeat and you'll do it at thirty yards. You merely need to shoot as quickly as you can, as accurately as you can. Okay?"
Jimmy nodded, looking nervous, and said, "Okay. I got it."
Agent Paulsen then nodded again and put a reassuring hand on Palmer's shoulder.
"Good. Just tell me when you're ready to start."
Jimmy nodded again and Tony quietly let the door close. Then Tony watched as Jimmy then reached up and took off his glasses…and he tried not to stare too hard at what he saw.
Who knew how much glasses could hide? When he wore the large lenses, Tony always had this sense that Jimmy was a big puppy who was still feeling awkward in his body and not quite all coordinated or matured quite yet, but with them off…my goodness.
The man had surprisingly sculpted cheekbones, and stunningly bright hazel eyes.
Tony watched as the autopsy technician took a deep breath and then pulled on protective headphones and eye gear.
As he continued to watch, he realized that Jimmy was also already wearing his gun.
Taking his time, he took his position and squared up into his firing lane, legs slightly apart, shoulders back and down, his gaze steady. Tony watched with an expert's appreciative eye as he saw Palmer smoothly reach down and pull out his gun, not even needing to look down, and that was when Tony realized that Palmer shot with his left hand.
He took a few deep breaths, put his gun back into his holster and then nodded at Agent Paulsen.
Already with his protective gear on, he pressed a button on the wall and it started.
Tony watched in amazement as Palmer drew his gun sharply and smoothly and quickly fired off two shots, his arms steady and his gaze focused.
The target went down and the new target came up further down the shooting lane, and Jimmy was already reacting, firing of two more shots. That one went down and then a third one came up and he fired off two more shots, just as easily as the first four, unwavering and solid.
And then a new target came up, not ten feet in front of him, and though Tony wasn't surprised because he knew that they always did that on the first test, he expected to see Jimmy falter and hesitate as pretty much everyone did their first time, but instead was shocked as he didn't even flinch and fired off his last four rounds into the fourth target.
He still stood there for a long time after, his gun still raised, and Tony could see Agent Paulsen was worried as more time passed and Jimmy didn't move.
The agent removed his protective gear and stepped forward, gently putting a hand on Palmer's right upper arm, and suddenly found himself on the ground, his arm pulled up behind him and Jimmy's left arm firmly around his neck, keeping Paulsen pinned on the floor and in a brutal half-nelson.
Tony quickly stepped into the room, interfering.
He quickly pulled off Jimmy's ear coverings and grabbed his shoulders and said, "Jimmy! Jimmy!" but he still didn't react…and then Tony remembered what Palmer had asked him yesterday in the bullpen…
"Do you ever, uh, have memory loss after shooting at the shooting range?"
He was in some sort of fugue state and that was why he wasn't reacting. Tony resorted to more drastic measures, and pried Jimmy's surprisingly strong arms off of Agent Paulsen, who immediately started coughing and rubbing his throat, while thanking Tony at the same time.
He didn't notice the thanks, however, as he was too worried about Jimmy.
"Jimmy," he repeated trying to get his attention once more. "Jimmy!"
Finally, he reacted.
He shook his head as though he were waking up and looked at Tony with a very bewildered look.
"Tony? What…what are you doing here?" He then looked around himself and added, "And why am I on the ground?"
Tony gave him a half-smile and tried to make light of the situation.
"Well, you tried to kill Agent Paulsen here by putting him into a half-nelson, so I'm not sure about that passing grade on the Firearms Proficiency…maybe on hand to hand fighting, but, even so, your technique needs a little work…"
The Italian flashed him another smile and helped him back up to his feet, while in the meanwhile Agent Paulsen had recovered enough to go out to retrieve the targets from the range.
He came back to them and, while still absently rubbing his slightly bruised throat, he said, "Well, Agent DiNozzo…I wouldn't say that."
He lifted the targets and smiled.
"Agent Palmer…you have passed with flying colors. Not a single stray shot. You're what's a called a crack-shot. Dead center, each and every time. Good job," he said, patting Jimmy on the shoulder and then leaning down and picking up the empty gun that Palmer had dropped and putting it in his hand. "I won't hold the choking against you. I'm just here to make sure you can still shoot straight."
He then nodded at DiNozzo.
"Be back in here in six minutes for your exam, alright?"
Tony nodded, and then helped Jimmy out of the room, who still seemed shaken up by the whole incident as his hand shook slightly as he slid the now empty gun into its holster. Tony was shaken up as well, but he hid it, not wanting to show his own fear.
As he helped him into a chair, he finally spoke to him, keeping his voice low, his tone filled with genuine concern for the younger man.
"Jimmy, what happened in there?" He said nothing, but Tony gently pushed, knowing that what had happened was dangerous and needed to be addressed. "Jimmy…does this have something to do with what you asked me about the other day? About memory loss?"
He nodded, still not speaking.
They sat there for a while, and then Palmer spoke up.
"I…I started having this happen when I was a kid. My granddad had a farm and whenever I would visit, he would set up cans in the back and show me how to shoot. The first time I shot, I missed the can and instead hit a buck that was in the woods behind it. On accident. And I didn't remember doing it."
He paused and then continued.
"My granddad then told me that it was something that runs in the family. We can sort of…feel the target, but then can't remember it afterwards. He said it was a gift because it kept the bad memories away, and that it made him stronger during the war than anyone else in his unit. He could shoot the enemy and make the terrible calls and never miss a shot, but not have to live with the memory or guilt of having made the shot…" He paused a second time. "…That's why I was afraid to do my test today. I thought I might…hurt someone. Luckily I used all of my bullets…"
Tony nodded, but then asked, "Well, okay, I get that…but what was with tackling Agent Paulsen?"
At that, Jimmy dropped his head.
"Granddad taught me fighting, too, and he said that sometimes after he took his shots he was in a vulnerable state afterwards, so he trained his body to go after anyone who touched him while he was still in his 'haze', as he called it. He taught me to do the same. I guess…I guess mine kicked in when Agent Paulsen touched my arm…"
"The operative word being 'kicked'," Tony muttered under his breath.
He nodded again, but was surprised when Jimmy then asked, "So…who's going to file the report? You or Agent Paulsen?"
"Wait…what? What do you mean, report?"
Jimmy looked at him with wide eyes.
"I attacked a fellow agent, at a shooting range, and could have seriously injured him had you not already been here, Tony! This needs to be reported!"
DiNozzo stared at him, trying to figure out whether the autopsy gremlin was being serious or not. Did he want to get in trouble? Did he want to get punished? It had been an honest to God accident, so why was Jimmy overreacting?
"Uh, Palmer…we're not going to report you. As Agent Paulsen said, it's a Firearms Proficiency Exam…and you passed that with flying colors. Which, by the way, I was not expecting, so now I have a lot to live up to," he added, and was glad to see a faint smile of embarrassed pride cross the young man's lips.
He just shook his head and gave him a smile.
But then Palmer's hesitant smile faltered.
"But I'm dangerous with a gun, and I don't want this to happen to me out in the field. I could hurt someone I know, someone I care about…like you."
Tony nodded, realizing that the younger man was right, but wasn't sure what to do about it. He could report it, but he knew that it would simply cause even more problems for Jimmy when it came to field work. He was brilliant, and to have something like this on his record would only inhibit him.
He honestly didn't know what to do.
And then he had an idea.
"Here's what we're going to do, Palmer…we're going to tell Ducky and we're going to tell Gibbs and the rest of the team. No one else, just them."
Palmer looked panicked at the idea, so Tony quickly explained.
"When it comes to field work, you do the most of it with us, and we usually have the more dangerous cases, so they need to know about this in case something happens and you have to shoot to defend yourself or someone else…"
He nodded, slowly realizing that Tony was right.
"…And now, I'm going to go ahead and take my exam, and then you and I are going to go back to the office and tell everyone, okay?"
"Thanks, Tony…I mean, really. Thank you."
"Like I said before, Jimmy…anytime."