Author: Jilly James
Fandom: NCIS (with Ian from Numb3rs)
Genre: Canon Divergence
Relationship: pre-Tony DiNozzo/Ian Edgerton
Warnings: No beta
Word Count: ~4,500
Author Note: For the One Sentence Prompt on Rough Trade. You can find the prompt here.
Keira’s Response: Axiom (link to her site)
Prompt: Tony DiNozzo runs into Ian Edgerton when he goes to the range to requalify for his weapon after he was injured by Ziva in the shipping container.
– – – –
“Chuck!” Tony called out as he entered the firing range.
“If it isn’t Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.” Chuck grinned brightly. “I was surprised to see you on the schedule for today. You’re not due for nine months, man. You get hurt?”
“Took one in the wing.” He flapped his right arm, ignoring the painful twinges, then signed the entry log.
Chuck grimaced but passed over the forms. “You doing okay?”
“Yeah. A lot of stitches, but a graze all the same.”
“Never want to see you guys getting that close to a bullet, but glad it wasn’t worse, man.”
“You and me both.” He passed over his firearm for Chuck to inspect while he filled out the few blanks on the form and signed his name.
“I could have sworn you carried the P229.” Chuck shot him a quizzical look.
“Usually do. Had to have my weapon reissued, and we didn’t have any 229s available on that day, if you can believe that.” Tony shrugged. “The P239’s single stack is a little more comfortable when I’m in a shoulder holster. I’m just taking it as a sign that it’s time for a change.”
“Good thing Miranda isn’t going to see you. She thinks you’re ‘hot’ in the shoulder holster. She’d refuse to flirt with you, and then later, I’d have to listen to her wax poetic about your broad shoulders.”
Tony laughed. Miranda was hardcore. And also old enough to be his mother. “Where is Miranda?” Miranda Nicholson was the range master—she was always there.
“She’s doing that crazy thing called a vacation. Different people covering for her every day for two weeks. Some of them are a trip and a half. But you got a good one today.” He handed the P239 back to Tony, leaving the magazine out. “Open range hours ended an hour ago, and you’re his last requal. As soon as I finish all my paperwork, I’m hitting the road, so I’ll probably be gone when you’re done. Ian’ll sign you out.” He extended his hand. “It’s good to see you, Tony. Don’t be such a stranger.”
“We’ll get together for a game soon, yeah?” Tony shook Chuck’s hand, regretting how he’d let himself isolate from everyone after Kate died. He’d needed some time to deal with what happened, but Ziva coming on the team had derailed him getting back to any semblance of normal.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
Tony entered the safety area and pulled his protective gear out of his bag. His ears were too sensitive for the ear protection provided by the range, so he’d purchased his own years ago. Although, if he was the only one firing, it wouldn’t matter if he relied on the range’s earplugs.
Through the thick polycarb viewing window, he could see the substitute range master seated at a small desk, filling out a form while an agent waited with several paper targets rolled up under his arm.
Since there was no live fire at the moment, Tony slung his ear protection around his neck and entered the range. As soon as he got a good look at the range master, he ground to a halt.
Ian Edgerton turned his head and stared at Tony for several seconds. Then he handed the form to the agent. “Chuck will copy that for you then you’ll be set.”
“Thank you, Agent Edgerton, it was an honor to meet you.”
Edgerton dipped his head.
As soon as the other agent was in the safety room, Edgerton got to his feet and moved closer. “Saw the name on my schedule and figured there could only be one Tony DiNozzo—one of my best students.” He extended his hand. “How you doin’, Tony?”
Tony shook off his surprise and took the proffered hand, feeling the heat of Ian’s palm and the rasp of many gun callouses. “Fine.” He cleared his throat as he released Ian’s hand. “Good to see you again, Ian.” Ian had been doing a stint at FLETC as an instructor when Tony had passed through after joining NCIS.
“You’re still with NCIS?”
“Yeah. Broke my streak of leaving places quickly. Though, it’s not like I had much choice about Philly.” He rubbed the back of his neck. If a mob boss has a hit on you within the city limits of Philadelphia, you get out of Philly.
“I remember… One of the stranger things I’ve heard in my days. Mob boss who likes you so much that he’s only going to have you killed if you come back to town.”
“I have an odd effect on people.”
Edgerton’s eyebrows shot up. His expression smoothed out and he shoved his hands in the pockets of cargo pants, rocking back on his heels. “And how’s your wife?”
Tony blinked. “My wife? Oh! She, uh… There was a whole cliched leaving-the-groom-at-the-altar thing. Very bad 80s romcom. Not recommended, two thumbs way down.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Eh. It was almost five years ago.” Tony shrugged. “I saw you moved up to the number-4 rated sniper after your last tour.” He knew Edgerton had been in Afghanistan, but he wasn’t going to bring that up. Tony’d known more than one sniper in his life, so he’d taken to following the national standings.
“I’ll get the number 3 spot one of these days,” he offered with a small grin.
“I have no doubt.”
Edgerton tilted his head toward the firing lanes. “Let’s do this, and then maybe we can grab a drink…?”
“Yeah, that’d be good.” Tony felt a little flutter of something. Whenever he looked back on his time at FLETC, he’d thought he and Ian had chemistry, but Tony had been engaged and that was the end of it.
“We’ll go through your NCIS service weapon first and then I’d like to do a run on the Glock 22.”
Tony nodded but was swearing up a storm inside his head. The FBI favored .40 S&W. The .40 had more recoil in general than his preferred 9mm, and the Glock definitely had more recoil. Combine the two and he suddenly questioned if he’d perform well with the Glock because his arm still hurt.
It was only a matter of a few minutes before he’d completed the firing patterns required with his Sig Sauer. Ian was noting a couple things on his clipboard, brow furrowed slightly. Tony’s groupings were good, but he knew his time was a little off.
“Let’s do the Glock now.”
Tony didn’t outwardly react, he just put his ear protectors back on and picked up the Glock, slotting the magazine into place. His first shot was wide and he felt the extra recoil in his arm, but experience allowed him to compensate and handle the rest of his firing test. His arm was throbbing in short order.
When he was finished with the second magazine in the Glock, he huffed and pulled off his ear protection. He rubbed his forehead, pretty sure he already knew what he was about to hear.
“You want to tell me what’s going on?” Ian said softly, and he was standing closer than Tony expected. “You passed both for precision, though barely on the Glock. You nearly failed the speed portion with the Sig and you’re way over with the 22.”
Tony blew out a breath. “I’ve been working at my local range to compensate for the recoil. It’s still slowing me down a bit, but I knew I was under time with my regular service weapon. The extra recoil on the Glock…”
Ian set his clipboard down. “Can I see?”
“If you’re struggling with recoil, it’s an injury, right?”
“Bullet graze, yeah.”
Ian just raised one brow.
Tony huffed and pushed up his sleeve to show the scar tissue.
Reaching out, Ian pressed around the wound, and Tony flinched when he hit a sore spot. Ian stilled for a few seconds the proceeded more carefully, feeling all around Tony’s upper arm. “How many stitches?”
“Seventeen, I think.”
“Your doctor cleared you?”
“Yeah. I mean, the stitches are out and he said my body would let me know if it was too soon.”
“Your body is letting you know.”
Tony’s spine stiffened. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not. That bullet went right through a muscle vital for helping stability and control, not to mention even lifting the weapon. Every time you fire, it’s gotta hurt. That can’t be more than two weeks old, Tony.” Ian dropped his hands.
“A little more, but close.”
“It needs more time. That was a deep bullet crease, and the muscle isn’t healed enough. The wound is knitted but scar tissue hasn’t really formed yet.”
“So you’re saying I failed requalification?”
“You technically passed, but I think it’d be irresponsible to go in with your doctor on you hurting yourself.” Ian scowled. “Wait here.” He strode away, coming back a couple of minutes later with another firearm in hand. “I assume you know what this is?”
“H&K VP9. One of the favored weapons of lefties because of its true ambidextrous design.” Tony had one at home.
“Correct. I remember that you’re ambidextrous. So qualify with that and then get NCIS to issues you a Sig P250 and shoot southpaw until that arm has time to heal.”
“Ian, that’s not gonna work.”
“Why not? I honestly don’t know why you haven’t maintained your left-handed qualification. I noticed you aren’t qualified on the sniper rifle anymore either.”
Tony pressed his lips together. “It’s complicated.”
“It’s really not.” Ian slapped the two magazines down on the bench. “Do the damn test with your left hand.”
Scowling, Tony repositioned his ear protection, grabbed the weapon and slotted the magazine into place. Pushing his irritation aside, he took aim and did the first series of shots. He did a quick tactical reload then continued to fire. When he went to the range on his own time, he always practiced with his left hand so he’d stay sharp. In theory, he could shoot leftie with the Glock 22, but it’d take time off the reload because it wasn’t a true ambidextrous weapon, and Tony didn’t have much left-hand magazine release practice on a Glock.
When he finished, he waited with arms crossed for the verdict.
Ian assessed the targets and made some notes. “You’re requalified with your left. I’m not contributing to your doctor’s negligence by saying you can use your right. If you choose to stress those healing muscles at the range by firing right handed, that’s not my lookout.”
Ian crossed his arms. “At FLETC, you were one of the best on the range. Top 1 percent shooting with your right and top 10 percent with your left. You rated sharpshooter level on the sniper rifle and were only two points from being rated expert. Now you only do your requals with your right hand and you haven’t tested on the rifle since 2003. You were primed for REACT if you wanted it. So what’s going on?”
“I don’t need to requalify with—”
“That’s a bullshit excuse and you know it.”
“Hey! We barely know each other; I haven’t seen you in almost five years! Whether I qualify with a sniper rifle or not shouldn’t matter to anyone but my boss.” Tony flinched. His boss was exactly the problem.
Ian stared at Tony for several long moments. Then he gathered up Glock and the H&K. “I’ll meet you at the front desk to sign you out.” That drink was definitely not happening.
Tony went through the motions of packing up his gear, feeling something uncomfortable stirring in his gut. Something he didn’t want to deal with, but something that wasn’t exactly new.
Ian was waiting at the front desk a roll of paper targets on the desk secured with a rubber band. He observed silently as Tony signed out on the log then passed over the form he needed to give to NCIS. It was clearly marked that Tony had qualified with his left hand, and the weapon used was the H&K.
Tony accepted the targets and the form, saying nothing.
Ian led him to the door to let him out since the place was already locked. “There’s only one reason why an exceptional marksman would dumb down their skills—they’re trying to fly under the radar. Question is why?” He shot Tony an indecipherable look and swung the door open. “Good to see you, Tony.”
– – – –
Gibbs held out his hand as soon as Tony entered the bullpen the next morning, but Tony just shoved his hands in his pockets. Gibbs’ eyebrows went up. “You requalify or not?”
Gibbs’ eyes narrowed. “Your skills get that rusty in two weeks, DiNozzo?”
“No. They were using Glocks at the range, and the extra recoil caused me to fail the timed portion of the test because I was compensating for the pain in unhealed muscles.”
“A few stitches from a scratch doesn’t result in injured muscles.”
“Gee, Gibbs, a bullet through those muscles does. You’d think you hadn’t read my report.” Tony rounded his desk and took a seat, grateful that he and Gibbs were the only ones who arrived early.
Five minutes later, Gibbs barked, “My office.”
“A conference room,” Tony countered. “People are going to start arriving en masse, and I’m not feeling like inconveniencing the entire building so you can yell at me.” He only gave himself a second to register Gibbs’ surprise before he turned on his heel and went to the nearest meeting room, letting Gibbs follow if he so chose.
Tony propped up a wall, arms crossed over his chest, watching as Gibbs entered the room and shut the door. Tony expected him to slam it, but he just let it click softly shut.
Gibbs stood on the opposite side of the table, coffee in hand, watching Tony for several long seconds. “Your report and Ziva’s don’t match up in more than one area.”
“I’m aware. If you’ll recall, I kicked her report back to her for being inaccurate, and got verbally slaughtered by her and McGee. And then you backed them up.”
“Different agents have different perspectives—”
“Bullshit! You didn’t even read the reports closely, but one of her inaccuracies, and by that I mean lie, was contradicted by the damn forensics. Remind me how many people she shot that day and how many she claimed she shot? And let’s not even get into how she left off that she opened fire in a closed metal box. But we’re going to sit here and call it a difference in perspective. Right.”
Gibbs jaw muscles clenched. “I figured you were just sore about not being invited to Ziva’s thing.”
“Oh, Gibbs, I am definitely sore about that, but not because of why you seem to think.”
“Then enlighten me, DiNozzo.”
“I protested Ziva’s inclusion on this team from the jump, and you told me to keep my mouth shut. Anything I’ve had to say since then, you’ve just filed away under me not giving up.”
“Don’t tell me what I think,” Gibbs snapped.
“I say ‘well why don’t you enlighten me’ but I honestly don’t care why you’re going down this path. So let’s stick with your question. Ziva is systematically driving a wedge between us. I don’t know what her agenda is, and, right now, I don’t even care. I’m fed up. Because I realize that you’re sitting at your desk justifying your attitude because you think I’m upset about being left out of the cool kids’ party, like we were all going to the fucking prom or something.”
“You started this! Your refuse to rein her in, refuse to call her on her bullshit, treat her like she’s a seasoned investigator when she’s not even a rookie one. You and Shepard stuck her in our midst, in Kate’s chair, and then you turn a blind eye to everything she does. I get why you’re doing it—I figured that shit out right away and, man, is she manipulating the hell out of you. I’m just not sure what Shepard is getting out of Ziva tearing our team apart.”
Tony nodded to Gibbs’ coffee cup. “I can see by the way your fingers are twitching that you’re wishing you were on this side of the table so you can headslap me. But I’m putting you on notice that I’m not putting up with that anymore.”
“Is that right?” Gibbs said dangerously.
“Yeah, that’s right. And if you think your career can weather me making a formal complaint to the IG about assault, you go right ahead and push me.”
Gibbs jerked. It was subtle, but Tony could tell he’d shocked his boss.
Tony pushed off the wall. “I’m done taking hits for this team. Figurative or physical. Now, I have an appointment with a physician at Bethesda this morning—one who isn’t an ME doing favors for NCIS—to determine when my arm is likely to be healed enough to reasonably start firing a weapon. All the range time I’ve put in the last week or so has probably set me back if I’m honest.” Tony wasn’t really mad at Ducky, but every bad habit Tony had gotten into had to stop.
“You got a problem with Ducky now, DiNozzo?”
“With Ducky? No. With NCIS letting an ME make decisions about the field readiness of its agents? Yes. Now, I assume my boss won’t have an issue with having a doctor assess my injury?”
The muscles in Gibbs’ jaw clenched again.
“Great. Good talk, Gibbs.”
Tony left the office ten minutes later, before McGee or Ziva ever arrived. He could have submitted the paperwork Edgerton had given him for his requalification, but he’d decided last night, after hours of introspection, that hiding his skills or not wasn’t even the problem anymore. It was why he was doing it. When and why he’d decided he couldn’t be the best at anything was the problem.
Getting a weapon issued he could shoot left-handed wasn’t going to solve that problem.
– – – –
Tony picked out a mellow tune on the piano. The tone of the upright at his favorite bar wasn’t as good as his baby grand, but it was still nice quality. Tony almost never played for people he knew, but he weirdly didn’t mind playing for strangers. It was a quiet night at the bar, and everyone seemed kicked back, so mellow was the order of the day. He stuck with music he knew, and let his mind wander, his thoughts aimlessly going over the events of the last few days and even the last few years.
After about an hour, the bartender brought Tony a drink. It was a good time for a break because Tony’s arm was throbbing again.
“It’s just club soda and lime,” Mark offered. Tony had told him when he’d arrived that he wouldn’t be drinking any alcohol tonight. “Courtesy of the guy at the corner table.”
Tony glanced over to nod his thanks then froze when he recognized his benefactor. “Taking a break, folks.”
A couple of people applauded politely as Tony stepped away from the piano and made his way to the back of the bar.
Edgerton was leaning back in his chair, in an unoccupied corner of the bar, arms crossed loosely. “Hey, Tony.”
Tony frowned. “Something I can do for you?”
He nudged the other chair out. “Sit for a few and let me apologize?”
Thrown a little, Tony found himself sitting and taking a sip of the club soda.
“I’m shit at this kind of thing, so there’s a chance I’m going to dig myself in worse here, but I didn’t have any right to get up in your business like that.”
Tony considered for several moments. “Why’d you get so…”
That was as good a way to describe it as any, so Tony just shrugged.
Ian sighed and leaned forward to brace his arms on the table. “I always remembered you… One of the best students I ever had. You could have been a top-rated marksman, but I understood that investigation is your passion. It hit me hard that you were obviously dumbing down your skills, and if you’re doing it with something like your marksmanship…” he trailed off. “It doesn’t matter because it isn’t any of my business, and I should have stayed out of it.”
Tony felt the defensiveness drain away and slumped down in the chair. “I’m not going to disagree that you crossed a line, but I… You hit a nerve.”
“I’m willing to listen if you need to talk.” Ian held his hands up in a surrender gesture. “No unsolicited advice.”
Tony’s lips twitched with the only amusement he’d felt in several days. “Why?”
“I’m curious,” Ian answered bluntly, “but I’d also like to help if I can—since I stuck my foot in it so badly.”
“Hmm.” Tony wasn’t prepared to completely spill his guts, but talking to another person could be good. He had too much rattling around in his head. “At points in my life, it’s been a good thing to be underestimated.”
Ian cocked his head to the side. “It can be an advantage at times.”
“Yeah.” He fiddled with his drink. “But I let it go too far. I forgot about the advantage part of it, and it started to be about being…unassuming.”
Ian made a face. “Who would buy in to you being unassuming, of all damn things?”
Tony outright laughed. “I thought everyone, but it turned out…” He made a face.
“Only the people closest to you?”
“Ah.” Ian took a drink of his beer, and Tony thought Ian probably understood more than Tony actually wanted him to. “Were you really trying to be unassuming?”
“Maybe a poor word choice, but it’s how things wound up. When I first started as a cop, I was brash and daring. I started getting feedback that people felt…well, whatever.” He lifted one shoulder. “I was trying to give everyone space to good at something.”
Ian looked confused.
Tony huffed. “I was trying not to overshadow everyone. God, that sounds obnoxiously co-dependent when I say it out loud.”
Ian snorted. “You said it, not me.”
Tony shot Ian the bird. “Anyway, what you said struck a nerve, and I spent the whole night thinking about it. Went to work the next day and told my boss I wasn’t cleared yet and made an appointment with another doctor to have my arm checked.”
“Your arm okay?”
Tony was grateful Ian didn’t press for more about why he’d chosen to not turn in his paperwork. “Probably exactly what you expected. I stressed the wound’s healing quite a bit with all the time I was putting in at the range before the stitches came out. Doctor wants me to give it a couple more weeks and then get some muscle work in on it break up any adhesions and minimize the scar tissue. Even if it forms bad scar tissue, it won’t affect my ability to shoot, but the muscles aren’t healed enough yet.” He dipped his head to Ian. “As you pointed out.”
“I wasn’t trying to be right, Tony,” Ian said so softly that Tony barely head him. “I know exactly which muscles are involved in every aspect of handling a firearm. You lost a chunk of muscle involved in just lifting the weapon. That you were managing to compensate for the pain and keep going is admirable, but I felt then and I still feel that you were jeopardizing your healing.”
“And my new doctor agrees with you, so two more weeks of desk work, except my boss told me to take some vacation time instead.” He stared moodily at the table and turned his drink in circles.
“Vacation gives you heartburn?”
Tony shook his head. “He’s not telling me something. We had words before I left the office.” He thought back over his subsequent phone conversation with Gibbs, still utterly confused by it. “He was weird when we talked on the phone after I saw the doc. Told me he was looking into some things and that I should take the time to let my arm heal.”
Gibbs had sounded oddly subdued. He was terse as always, only willing to say that Tony should enjoy some time off while Gibbs took care of things. Part of Tony had wanted to go right back to the office and fix whatever was wrong, but the Tony who’d had an epiphany about how he’d been dumbing down his skills to the point of losing them had already decided to find a new team. So whatever was going on with the team didn’t really matter anymore.
“So what are you going to do?”
“For the next two weeks or cosmically?” Tony asked with a half smile.
“Well, all the things I’d normally do with a few days off are out since I’m supposed to be babying the arm.”
“I assume babying it doesn’t mean you can’t play the piano?”
“Are you taking on the role of mother hen?” Tony found it more amusing than anything.
“Nope. Just thinking you’re exceptional, and it’d be sad if you had to stop playing.”
Tony actually felt his face get a little warm and was grateful for the dim room. “It’s fine for about half an hour.”
Ian’s lips twitched. “You were playing for over an hour.”
“Yeah, well…” Tony shrugged. “So, I’m going to find things that don’t bug my arm…much. And then in two weeks, I’m going to hit the range again. Maybe put in some time with the rifle—get my sharpshooter qualification again.”
Grinning, Ian saluted Tony with his beer.
“And then I’ll probably figure out where I want to go with my career.”
Ian blinked a few times. “That drastic, huh?”
“There’s some…stuff I’ve been keeping quiet about, and I think that time’s over.”
“The kind of stuff that necessitates a job change?”
“The kind that means I don’t trust most of the people above me. In a very fundamental way.”
“Hmm.” Ian watched him for several long moments. “You want some help with any of that?”
“In what way?”
“When you’re ready to go back to the range, I’m all in on that. And we can talk through the job options if you need a sounding board.” He shrugged. “We could get dinner and just talk.”
“Is this more of you making it up to me? Because it’s not necessary, and I’m not angry.”
“No, it’s not making it up to you.”
Tony decided to trust his instincts. “Is it a date?”
Ian didn’t blink. “Do you want it to be?”
“And if I did?”
“I’d say it’s only eight o’clock, and there’s a great diner two blocks from here.”
Tony smiled and got to his feet, tilting his head toward the door. With all the uncertainty about what would come next, the one thing Tony was absolutely sure of was that he was done being unassuming. It was time to be daring.
– – – –
EndNote: You may answer this prompt if you’d like (see the Rough Trade link above), but no one has permission to continue my work.