"No," he heard himself saying.
"Say that again DiNozzo?" The older man's tone was demanding, furious even. After all how dare Tony, his mere underling, go against his direct orders.
It didn't matter if said direct orders were against Tony's cop instincts and who knows against how many rules, even Gibbs's own. Instincts that he had been forced to suppress far too long.
Following Ziva's and Gibbs's lead for so many years now had almost made him forget who he was. He'd made a promise to never forget the reasons why he became a cop in the first place. He did not want to become one of those 'dirty cops' which people would talk about with disdain. Didn't want to be what his team already had become.
Far too long had he been following his 'team' around like a lost puppy. The loyal St. Bernard had become the punching bag. After too many kicks and bites here and there, he felt used. Used and dark for all the dirty work he had to do. All those times he was supposed to turn his back and close his eyes when people who were supposed to catch the criminals, kept forgetting that same rules were still the same rules for them.
If it were only the Directors or some other big boss using him, then he could deal with it somehow, but some of them were people he thought were his family. People he thought he could trust with his everything. Only Ducky and Jimmy... Only those two were still close to him. But for how long? Too much had already happened for him to ignore this situation any longer.
Tony rubbed his aching forehead with utter exhaustion. He was pretty sure he'd have the mother of all the migraines by the time this little 'talk', where he was cornered by his own team members, was over and done with.
Scanning the team and the suddenly silent bullpen in front of his eyes, he knew there was only one thing left for him to do.
"I'm tired Gibbs," he said quietly, but loud enough for anyone near him to hear it.
There was sudden mix of emotions on the older man's face. Confusion and anger being the most intense. Anger mostly. Before Gibbs had a chance to say anything, Tony repeated his previous words, louder and more clearly this time.
"I'm tired. There was a time, long time ago, when I thought we were doing something right. As much as I loved our two man team, I even loved our team... If only Kate hadn't died, maybe things would still be same? Is that the reason for our current situation? The reason why I have to be scared to even come to work now. Are you blaming me for her death? Or was it Jenny? Do you wish it had been me who died? Boss... I used to look up to you. You... were like the father I never had... I can finally admit it. But in the end you're not really that much better from Senior... Only your abuse has a different form or maybe it's just the same. I don't even know anymore and right now I'm not sure which one is worse."
Gibbs opened his mouth again, but Tony raised his hand and glared at him. "Let me finish talking."
He knew he said it with too much sharpness in his tone, but he couldn't help it. For once he wanted to just lay everything out in the open, not hiding anything. Burn all the bridges and never look back. And he knew that if he would let anyone stop him from talking, he'd just walk away and never speak again. If anything, at the very least he wanted to have one less weight to carry on his shoulders once he was gone.
"McGee... Believe it or not, but I was happy to have my very own probie to train. You're all grown up now. I must have done something wrong though since you've lost your true potential to become something great... You shouldn't focus too much on your computers and past education if you wish to become a proper Agent. If you do, you might just as well go back to where you came from. After all, take it all away and then what are you going to do? What can you offer? How useful can you be then?"
He could almost feel the burning anger thrown his way.
"And the computers won't give you the leadership skills which you seem to think you have. It has to be in you. While I blame myself for not teaching you better, I lay part of the blame of you turning this way on Ziva, and Gibbs for looking the other way when he should have been the boss and laid down the law... And if I were you, I'd be more careful what I write in my books about real life situations and people... Especially with the kind of work we do. It's going to put you in some really hot water in the future."
Like the burning anger, he could feel all of their eyes on him now. For a change he had their complete attention.
"Ziva... Miss Mossad. I pray that the day comes soon, when your true colors have been revealed to everyone, before it's too late and the people I still care about end up getting hurt or worse, dead. For me it's been clear since the day one: You're running your own show and you're dragging everyone down with you. This is not the Ziva David show, but it's the whole team. I guess that's something they never taught to you back in Mossad and, for one reason or another, neither have you been able to learn that lesson in here. Then again it's been clear for years that your heart will always be with Mossad. Nothing wrong with that, but for us and this country you're a big giant red flag..."
To his credit, McGee had actually looked slightly embarrassed, before his mouth became almost straight line as he was forcing himself to not say anything, yet. Ziva on the other hand looked furious and she even made a move towards Tony. "How dare you..!"
Surprisingly it was Gibbs of all the people who stopped her from doing anything rash. He whispered something in her ear which calmed her down, but anyone who looked in her eyes could see that all she needed was one perfect moment and all restraints would be off. There was no telling what the 'former' Mossad officer would do, but the angry fire in her eyes was big enough clue for anyone looking.
Tony rubbed his forehead again, trying to gather his thoughts before he lost his possibly only chance to be able to talk with raw honesty to everyone willing to listen.
"Abby... My dearest sweet Abby... I'm sure by now she's using the security cameras to spy on us. She was always like a sister to me. Someone I always held so dear to me and I actually thought she felt the same way about me. That I was like a brother to her... Or just a very good friend... However, after Gibbs's 'retirement' incident I realized it was all only in my own head... Besides, just like she among the other two kept telling me, I'm not you Gibbs. It used to hurt me deeply, hearing those words. I looked up to you. I wanted to be like you. You were my hero. Boss, you were my... You..."
His voice had quieted down to the point where it was hard to hear what he was saying. He had to swallow down the sudden lump in his throat to be able to continue talking. It wasn't something he ever did. Breaking down in front of these people and neither was he going to start breaking down now. They had no right to see him at his weakest. There was time for that later on, when he was alone. Him and full bottle of something he had saved just for moments like these.
"You were my world boss... Gibbs... As pathetic as it sounds now, but I was like a little boy wanting to be just like his father, or some big hero which boys without a father would look up to. You were the kind of man I always wanted to be. But even I would have to grow up sooner or later and realize I had been blinded by the good memories and good times... To this day I regret for not accepting any of those promotions and job offers. If I had, maybe we'd still have something left to salvage..."
"What promotions and job offers?" Gibbs interrupted suddenly, unable to keep himself quiet any longer.
"Gibbs. Be quiet. I'm not finished talking yet. You'll have your moment to shine." Tony let out a deep suffering sigh and once again he rubbed his forehead. Dealing with this situation, with these people, had gotten him a full headache which showed no signs of getting better. Quite the opposite actually. He wanted to get away from this place before he had no chance to think clearly anymore.
Too late, he realized as he found it suddenly hard to gather his thoughts.
"You know what... I could keep talking and saying the big words, good or bad. In the end it wouldn't matter. It would change nothing. Not you and definitely not me. I'm not getting any younger and neither are you. I'm over forty years old. I have wasted more than ten years of my life behaving like a good little boy, taking in everything and obeying all the commands like a nice little toy soldier. At work I've got nothing and once the work is done I'm left with the emptiness. Empty apartment, empty life, empty heart, empty soul... I'm so tired. You have no idea how tired. You have no idea how many nights I've spent just staring at my gun. That's not me. It's not who I am. I want to die doing my job or growing old where I get to see my grandchildren and then die while sleeping in my own bed. This is not me. You've done this to me. Not this work. You-" His voice broke down suddenly and he had to take hold of his desk and close his eyes for a moment.
Once he felt the dizziness pass, he opened his eyes, just in time to see Gibbs reaching out his hand. To steady him? To give him the mother of all the head slaps? Was that concern in his eyes? Before he even realized what he was doing, he slapped away the older man's hand.
"Don't," he hissed between his teeth. Anger or headache. Whatever the reason may be, he didn't care. He didn't see the flash of hurt and shock, and then confusion mixed with anger, in the man's eyes.
"I'm done. Done with this conversation and done with you. If you have anything important to say to me, Ducky or Jimmy can give me a message from you and I'll think really hard if your reason is good enough for me to talk to any of you. Those two are written down as my next of kin, so no medical reason on my end will cause me to ever contact you either."
Finished talking, he left his gun and badge on his desk and turned around and walked towards the stairs, to make sure nothing stopped him from getting away from there. He felt sudden tightness in his chest and it was hard to breathe.
There was tightness even in his voice when he opened his mouth again, before Director Vance could say anything. "Don't," Tony said, that sharpness in his tone again.
There was surprise and shock wide open on the other man's face. He'd been in the middle of a meeting, important one, when his secretary had come in panicking. At first he thought there was some life threatening situation going on, but although to his great relief that was not the case, this was almost too much of a shock for him to deal with a neutral face. There was going to be many people wanting to have his head on a plate if he'd let Agent DiNozzo leave. As much as he hated admitting it even to himself.
"You'll have my letter of resignation by tomorrow. You and Agent Gibbs both. Goodbye Director. I would say it was nice working with you, but that would be a lie." With that Tony was out of the door before any other word was spoken. Once he was sure there was no one watching, he started running.
In the bullpen the silence was deafening. Gibbs stood frozen as flashes of memories were running through his mind. Memories and feelings involving Tony which he had never gotten back ever since the explosion or perhaps he had simply chosen to ignore them. Memories of what they used to be and where things first started going wrong. He didn't know how pale he looked or how terrified he suddenly looked.
How could he have forgotten? Was there still more memories lost? Or had he simply become the worse kind of bastard and had he chosen to forget what they had before their team even became full? What had he lost?
"Tony!" Gibbs heard someone yelling, not realizing it was him as he took off running after the younger man, ignoring the pain shooting through his bad knee. If anyone else was thinking about following him, that idea was gone the moment they saw the look in the man's eyes, which were screaming 'don't you dare! ' at them.
"What just... What in the world just happened?" McGee swallowed, and the moment the words were out it was as if someone broke a dam and everyone in the bullpen were talking at the same time. If the silence before was deafening then the noise was bound to leave everyone's ears ringing for hours afterwards.
"What do you mean what happened? Tony just lost his head."
"Mind, Ziva. Lost his mind," McGee said with weariness in his voice.
"Do I look like I care? Gibbs will bring him back and then everything will go back to normal. Maybe this was a joke even."
"I don't know... I mean, I've never seen Tony like that. He didn't even quote one movie. Not one single line. He was being too serious. This is serious."
"And he will be back to his old annoying self."
McGee didn't add anything. He didn't know what to say. Part of him was angry, but the other part was feeling guilty and terrified at the mere thought of a storm called Gibbs, which was bound to get really bad without that one person around who usually took it all. Realization hit him suddenly. "You know... Actually, he rarely was annoying and even when he was... I didn't really mind it that much... Not really..."
"You all are crazy I say. Do what you want, I need food." With that Ziva left. Muttering something in a language McGee couldn't understand even if his life depended on it.
Feeling nauseous with no apparent reason, he stood up from where he'd been sitting and left to find Abby. Hoping that at the very least she was in a better mood, but as he was entering the silent lab a moment later, he knew there was no such luck.
Silence if anything was a sign that something was wrong. As long as he could remember the lab was only silent when Abby wasn't there or something was wrong. He found her sitting in the corner and hugging her stuffed animal, which was making few farting sounds every once in a while, though they sounded oddly off tune. That is, if you could say that about farting sounds...
There were tears rolling down her cheeks. "Why did things go so wrong?" Her silent voice was loud against the silence in the room and it startled McGee.
"I... uh... I don't know... Can I..?" He waved his hand towards the empty spot next to Abby who just nodded without looking up.
"I want to be mad at someone. Scream at someone... But I'm not sure who to be angry at. I never realized... I never knew what's been going on in our family, Tim... I want it back... Our family... I want Tony back... and Kate, but I know that won't happen... Tim... I just realized that I can't remember when was the last time that I saw him smiling even one of his stupid fake smiles. I can't remember the last time he came to see me for no reason. The last time he shared his life and secrets with me... The last time he quoted a movie..."
They were both silent for a while. Abby was still hugging Bert the farting hippo. McGee however simply stared at nothing. Unsure if he even had the right words he could say.
"So Tony was right. You did spy on us through the cameras."
Abby let out a sound that was half sob and half laughter. "He did always know me well... Still does... He always notices things that others don't... Things that matter and even things that no one else would even bother to find out... It seems none of us bothered to do the same for him... Tim... I was too afraid to go to you guys and at least say how sorry I am... I really wanted to hug him, but I don't even know if he would have let me... I'm such a coward on top of everything else..."
When McGee finally looked at her, he saw she hadn't stopped crying. It made him feel even worse and he swallowed hard. "You know... If anyone is to blame for any of this, then it's me..."
"Stop it. Please. Let's just share the blame. All four of us. Is that clear? I know I want to be mad at someone, but you don't want to face my full fury."
"Y-yes..." McGee swallowed again.
"Good. Now tell me what happened after Tony left. I stopped watching at that point."
"Ah... he... uh... Well, all I know is that Gibbs went after him."
Abby's face suddenly brightened as she smiled. "Bossman will bring him back. I just know it!"
"I don't know Abby... You didn't see Tony's face as close as I did... I've never seen him look like that. I wouldn't set my hopes too high... Besides..." McGee hesitated and then decided to not add anything. It was better if she didn't know too much about what had been going on between Tony and the team. The way they'd been treating him. The way Ziva had been ever since the Rivkin case. Maybe even before it. The way he had been. The way they kept putting him in danger. It was a wonder Tony hadn't said anything for so many years. So many other people would have snapped way before things could've gone this far...
"Oh worry not Tim. Bossman always sets things right. Always. Now, help me up. I've got work to do!" With that she was back to her usual self and she was reaching out her hand until McGee got up and pulled her on her feet. By the time he left the lab, the noise which she called music was back on.
"I don't think we can fix this one Abby..." McGee muttered as he walked in the elevator. He did however still hold a small piece of hope that their boss could somehow fix everything. If Gibbs couldn't do it, then who else could?
The man in question, Gibbs, was meanwhile looking for Tony. Although his car was still in the parking slot, the younger man was nowhere to be found. "Tony! DiNozzo!" He approached Tony's car, while scanning the area with his eyes. The younger man was sitting next to his car so he almost missed him.
"Tony!" Gibbs couldn't help feeling deep relief as he hurried towards the car. Relief on his face turned into a frown as soon as he got a better look of the man sitting in front of him. Tony was pretty much hugging his own head and he was flinching each time Gibbs talked too loud. Noticing this, Gibbs crouched in front of him and gently yet forcefully removed the arms around Tony's head.
Looking up from his knees, Tony tried really hard to focus on what someone was saying. Gibbs? No, someone else. Maybe. He didn't know anymore. The world around him was spinning and his headache had turned into full skull splitting agony.
"Tony... What's wrong? Please tell me what's wrong?" Gibbs could only watch the younger man in front of him. Watch the obvious pain and confusion in the green eyes. Feeling helpless when he couldn't make things better for him.
"Whashapp'nin'..? 'oss..?" It felt near impossible getting the words out of his mouth and just as he felt the world starting to fade into darkness, Tony felt panic rising and he grabbed someone's hand. "B-Boss..."
"I've got you Tony... Ducky is on his way... I've got you... Let me take care of you..." The older man's voice sounded strange. It was as if the man himself was miles away from him and he could just barely make out the words.
Rough hands were brushing through his hair. Too gently for the owner of those hands. Suddenly Tony found himself lying on his back, using Gibbs's lap as his pillow. It felt nice. So soft-
Too soft, he realized as he sat up straight, gasping for his breath and eyes wide open. It was loud yet steady beeping noise which brought everything back to focus in front of his eyes. Strong arms were pushing him back in bed and someone kept saying something to him. White room and that smell he hated so much... He must've been brought to a hospital at some point. His head felt as if he was under water and he turned his head towards the person in the room. Expecting to see Gibbs in there, he froze.
"Danny? Did I die?"
His former partner laughed and called out to someone. Someone in a white coat entered the room.
"Danny?" Tony asked again. Confusion clear on his face.
"You've been in coma for couple of weeks and that's what you ask? Really Tony."
"Alright Detective. I'm going to ask you a few questions." The man in a white coat was talking now.
Tony gave the two men a blank stare. Coma? Weeks? Detective?
"What's your name?" The question brought him back to reality. Only he wasn't sure what reality it was.
"Anthony D. DiNozzo."
"Who is our current President?"
The silence between his answer and the next question was a few seconds too long.
"How old are you?"
Again, that silence.
"What do you do for a living?"
Because of the silence and the looks he received before, Tony hesitated for a moment. "NCIS..."
"Stands for Naval Criminal Investigative Service..."
"Oh... I see... Listen, Detective... What is the last thing you remember?"
Tony shrugged slightly. "Not sure... It's kind of fuzzy. I remember I had the mother of all the headaches and then Gibbs was there and-"
"My boss." Tony didn't see the strange look the other two exchanged.
"Alright Detective. Why don't you try to relax for a bit. I'll go see if I can find your doctor."
Danny squeezed Tony's shoulder for a few seconds with a small, oddly concerned, smile on his face before following the male nurse.
Tony closed his eyes as he sat up again. Something was wrong, he knew that much. Something was very, very wrong. He made sure to shut down the machine before getting rid of who knows what they had attached on him. He nearly fell on the floor as he stood up. Using anything he could as a support, he made it to the tiny bathroom.
Splashing cold water on his face and then drinking some, he froze to the spot, staring at the stranger staring back at him. No, not a stranger. He just hadn't seen that face in a very long time. For almost twenty years to be precise. He was looking in the mirror. Looking at his much younger self. His twenty something self. Twenty seven? Someone must've been shaving his face since there was hardly a day's worth of stubble.
There were flashes of images in his head. Memories? Several gunshots and then pain.
He felt suddenly faint and had he not been leaning against the sink, he would've crashed on the floor. The young man in the mirror held horror, confusion and deep despair in his eyes.
"What's going on..?" Tony heard himself whisper. Only now he realized his voice sounded as if he hadn't used it for a while. He let himself slump down on the floor, just staring at the tiles in front of him.