Author's Note : Thanks to everyone who took this journey with me. The title of the epilogue was suggested by smush68in her review. I hope you don't mind that I borrowed it for the story. Many thanks for the wonderful idea.
I have no excuse for the delay, except life. I beg your forgiveness and I hope you find this ending fitting.
Monday, November 21, 2005 – The Crow's Nest – NCIS Headquarters, Washington, DC –
The paper that could change his life rests on Barrows' desk, partially obscured by the team leader's arms. The words are too far away for Tony to make out, but he doesn't have to read them to know what they say.
It's a letter of commendation for taking down a corrupt cop, preventing a school shooting and saving an unsuspecting little boy. It's also Barrows' unofficial recommendation for Tony's promotion.
The silver pen glints in Barrows' fingers as he twirls it. "You did an incredible job last week with Izzy's career day, Tony."
Shifting his weight, Tony worries a loose thread on his sling.
This is everything he wanted…once up on a time. The accolades, the kudos, the medal ceremony he shared with Tim, the notations of bravery in their permanent files were all things he dreamed about during his early years at NCIS. But now, as the days drudge on, he has grown to understand why Gibbs hides in his basement.
I'm no hero. I was just doing my job...
Barrows' pen lands at the bottom of the page, the scratching noise of his signature grating on Tony's already frayed nerves. As soon as he's done, Barrows holds the paper out and Tony takes a step back.
"Don't you want to read it before I submit it to the Director?" Barrows asks.
Tony shakes his head. "I'm sure it reads great…just like a Die Hard script."
"Yippy-ki-yay, motherf – " Barrows stops suddenly, his lips pulling into a crooked smile. "What's wrong, Tony? You don't look particularly excited. This should be a big day for you."
"It's just been a long week." Tony scrubs his good hand over his face. "Do you remember when we talked about me going to Izzy's school?"
"Yeah, I said I'd owe you one." Cocking his head to the side, Barrows shakes the letter. "Doesn't this count?"
"Actually, Steve, I had something else in mind…"
Friday, December 16, 2005 – 11:22am - Dead Eye Dave's Gun Range – Capitol Hill – Washington, DC –
As Tony cuts the wheel hard on his Mustang, Tim lets out a whistle. The Tahoe in the adjacent space lurches closer and Tim jabs his fingers towards it. Ignoring the warning, Tony eases his vehicle into the tight space and kills the engine.
"Tony! You almost hit that car!" Tim yelps.
"But I didn't, McPanic-Attack and – " Tony grins " – that's what matters."
Tim's scowl makes Tony laugh as he scrambles out of the driver's seat. Reaching into the backseat, Tony wrestles his bag free so he can hoist it over his shoulder. Tim copies the action, then slams the door hard enough to make Tony wince.
"Watch it, Probster, she's not an agency car!"
"I didn't mean to – wait, Tony, you refer to your car as a 'she'?" When Tony narrows his eyes, Tim shifts his bag higher. "So…um, why aren't we using the NCIS range today?"
Tony shrugs. "I thought we could use the change of scenery."
Just as Tim opens his mouth for - yet another - question, Tony ushers him through the tiny parking lot into an even smaller alley. Right off a main thoroughfare, the backstreet is deserted, its only occupants the numerous black doors with small signs hanging above them. A blast of air roars past, picking up speed as the tight space acts like a wind tunnel. Their coats flaps in the breeze.
Tim hugs his closer, his breath steaming. "Where are we going?"
"Nowhere." Tony stops suddenly, making Tim's brow furrow. "We're here."
Pointing overhead, Tony directs Tim's attention to a cartooned picture of a dark-haired man looking through a sniper scope. Tony yanks the door open and pushes Tim inside. The oppressive heat greets them, nearly smothering Tony as the sweat beats to his forehead. It takes a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, but the muffled pops of gunshots tell him they're in the right place.
Directly in front of them, a long glass case displays every make and model of gun available. In the corner, a cash register lurks behind a pop-up calendar featuring several scantily-clad women. To the left, an entrance way leads to the shooting area, the black targets waiting patiently to be taken down.
"Hey! Anybody here?" Tony yells.
The staccato of pops ends, followed the echo of footsteps. Seconds later, a tall, heavy-set man with a wild grey beard and a gleaming head ambles out of the shooting area. He pushes a pair of headphones around his neck and squints through his safety glasses.
Tim's hand tightens on his back-pack strap. "What's going on?"
The glare melts from the man's face and he reaches out to shake Tony's hand. "Agent DiNozzo! I haven't seen your ugly mug around these parts for a while. How the hell have you been?"
"Good, busy. How are things with you, Dave?"
"Not bad. I managed to get this whole place cleared out, just like you asked. I always knew you'd come to collect on that favor, but I never expected you'd ask for this." His thick fingers gesture to the empty room. "This really what you wanted?"
"Yeah, you bet it is." Tony laughs. "I hope we didn't cause you any – "
"For the guy who helped save my son? Anything. Did you know this guy helped my son out in Baltimore? Drug dealers tried to gun down my boy, but luckily Agent DiNozzo and his partner were there to stop them. Even got him into witness protection. Can you believe he waited for ten years to call in his favor - " Dave turns to Tim, hand extended "- Agent…?"
"McGee," he says, shaking the proffered hand.
"Nice to meet you, Agent McGee. You got one hell of a partner here. This place is all yours." With a salute, Dave slides behind the counter and drops three sets of headphones and safety glasses on it. "Don't forget your gear, boys. The little lady'll be here soon."
The furrow in Tim's brow deepens. "Who?"
"Izzy," Tony replies, cracking a grin.
As if on cue, the door opens. A tiny blonde figure darts inside, straight for the gun case. Her eyes go wide at the sight. Seconds later, an older man follows and grabs her shoulder, pulling her away. His knuckles are white against a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles backpack.
"That's not what we're here for, Isabella," Barrows warns.
"But Dad, I thought you said there was a surprise in here!" she whines.
He crouches next to her, pointing over at Tim and Tony. "And there is…"
Her face is twisted in a grimace when she glances over at the male agents, but it fades into a bright smile. She launches herself at them, pulling each one into a tight hug.
"Agent Tony! Agent Tim!" She carefully inspects Tim's face. "You look a lot better than last time..."
Tony chuckles. "Hey, Izzy, how have you been?"
"I've been good. Right, Dad?" Barrows stifles a laugh, but she continues anyway, "You know, Agent Tony, do you think you and Agent Tim could tell Santa to bring me lots of presents too? Maybe if three grown-ups talk to him for me, I can get more stuff. What do you think?"
Tony shoots Tim a grin. "I bet Agent Tim will get right on that e-mail to the North Pole. But how's school been?"
"It's been boring since you guys left and Miss Hastings has been acting weird ever since. She's been nicer than usual, but at least she doesn't give us homework and pop quizzes anymore. You know what, yesterday, she got flowers and she sat there, reading the card for a long time. She said Agent Tim sent them." Izzy gestures for Tony to kneel down, then stage whispers in his ear, "I think he has a crush on her."
"You don't say, - " Tony raises his eyebrows at Tim "- and do you think she likes him back?"
"Yeah, I'd bet she does."Izzy makes a face and shakes her head. "It's kind of gross…"
Clearing his throat, Tim's cheeks turn an unnatural shade of red. "Hey Tony, mind telling us why we're here?"
"Because Agent Tony owes me," Izzy explains.
With a nod, Tony reaches into his bag for his Sig. "Yeah, I promised that I'd help her with her aim."
"Fair enough," Tim replies, pulling out his own weapon.
Izzy rushes over to Barrows and rips open her backpack to produce two sling shots, several sheets of paper and a fistful of paper wads. "See, Dad? I told you I would need this. This is so cool! Now what?"
Tony points to the target range and Izzy ducks into the room without needing to be told twice. Snatching the safety gear off the counter, Tim rushes after her. "Wait up, Izzy! You can't go in there without these!"
Just as Tony's about to follow, he turns to Barrows. "You want to come, Steve?"
He shakes his head, studying his fingernails. "My little girl at a gun range? This is the kind of world that I try to hide from her, Tony. Just have fun and please, don't let me see her…"
Nodding, Tony trails Tim and Izzy into the target area. Already decked out with headphones and safety glasses that are too big for her tiny face, she scrambles onto a wooden box. Tongue between her lips and slingshot at the ready, she takes careful aim, then lets the paper wad fly. The smacking noise tells them she hit something.
"Nice shot," Tim offers.
"Where'd I get him?" she asks.
While Tim shrugs, Tony passes her a small bottle of hot pink paint from a neighboring stall. "Maybe that's what this is for?"
Her lips press into a line as she dots a piece of paper with the paint, then shoots it at the target. It slams into the head, leaving a pink mark in the middle of the target's forehead.
Tim's eyebrows jump. "Wow, that was a really nice shot."
"Thanks," she replies.
Izzy takes a several shots, each time carefully dipping her ammo into the bright paint and leaving a pink spot on the target's forehead. Once she's out of ammo, she leaps off the box. Grinning at Tony, she gestures at the stall.
"Our turn?" he asks, holding his hand to his chest.
Nodding, she slides the step-stool out of the way and Tony moves into her place. Raising his weapon, he aims and pulls a deep inhale. On the exhale, he pulls the trigger, repeating the motion until the clip is empty. In the adjacent stall, Tim mimics the action, rapid-firing eight shots.
Dropping his gun on the counter, Tony pushes his headphones around his neck.
"So how do you think we did, Iz? As good as you?" he asks.
While the targets buzz forward, Izzy bounces in her place. All the pink on her paper is gone, erased by Tony's clean bullet holes, grouped in the center of the forehead. Tim's are clustered around the figure's heart, one errant bullet clipping the left shoulder.
Izzy puts her hand on her hips, surveying their work. "I can't believe you hit all my shots, Agent Tony! Now it's my turn to shoot!"
When she lunges for Tony's gun, he lifts it over her head. "Nice try, kiddo. But your dad will kill me and I'm sort of attached to living."
Her face falls, but she holds out her slingshots. "Then why don't you guys try mine?"
The targets fly back to their original positions as the agents try their luck with a slingshot. Tony manages to hit the figure in the legs, arms, head, everywhere except where he aimed : the torso. Tim smacks a target in the head, except it wasn't the one he was aiming for. All his other shots go wild, disappearing into the berm at the back of the range. He clenches his jaw, grabbing his gun to unload a clip into his target. Everyone hits its mark.
"Don't worry, McWildShot, you've still got it." Tony places his hand on Tim's shoulder, squeezing hard.
Tim breathes raggedly as they buzz their targets forward. "Come on, Tony, it's a slingshot. It should be easy, shouldn't it?"
When she surveys their progress, Izzy shakes her head. "Not really and you two need some work."
Tony cracks a grin at Tim's flushed face. "We'll get it next time. Won't we, McFrustrated?"
"Definitely," Tim agrees, yanking off his headphones.
"Next time?" Izzy's eyes light up. "We're coming back here? We really are? I can't wait! When? When?"
"As soon as your dad agrees to another round."
Hand clutched her slingshot, a conspiratorial grin spreads over her face as she glances over her shoulder. "I want to come back tomorrow! Let me go ask him!"
When she darts out of the room, the pit forming in Tony's stomach threatens to swallow him. By the time Izzy gets done with her dad, Tony has no doubt that Barrows will be another perpetually pissed off team leader gunning for him.
He runs his hand over his face, ignoring Tim's questioning glance.
It'll be like having another Gibbs around and G-d knows, that's just what I need…
Author's Note 2.0 : Thanks for taking the journey for me. I'll be back for another one...eventually.