It was all catching up with Tony. He could feel it. It was like he was standing on a train platform, checking his watch, waiting for the 8:05 from Newark instead of in the doorway to Abby's lab. He could feel the same change in the air, the pressure building up behind him, dangerous and quick and with nowhere he could go to avoid the hot rush of air, the noise, and the squealing of the iron wheels on the track. He was hoping to avoid this – at least until he'd gotten home. Locked himself behind the security door of his apartment and dealt with all the fear, the rage, the pain, the betrayal where no one could see. Just like coming in from an undercover job.
The heady relief of being out of the FBI's cell, away from the criminal welcoming committee, Sacks' venom, and the FBI's own brand of retaliation against a 'fellow Fed gone bad' was gone, leaving Tony with that strange sense of distance, of being outside the warm bubble of the familiar and tied up in his own head.
Too much. Too late. Tony had had one foot aimed at the elevator, his mind on his escape from the team's well-meaning camaraderie when Gibbs had tossed the trial transcript down and bolted for the stairs. It had only taken one glance at Chip's mustached face on the stand staring from the pages to send Tony rushing after him, chasing his own demons.
The rest of them had followed. Never pausing to ask questions, never hesitating to pull their weapons when they saw Gibbs' gun in his hand, they'd followed Gibbs' lead as always. They had no idea that Tony was off-script. Running his own play. That the simple, jovial, loyal Senior Field Agent had left the building.
Fortunately for the mentally unhinged, vindictive, duct-taped lab assistant, Abby had Chip wrapped up like a turkey all ready for the oven before anyone could get their hands on him. Anyone being Gibbs. Or Tony.
Tony stayed in the doorway, letting the rest of Team Gibbs, plus Ducky and the new Director, swarm past him to either console Abby, check out the squealing perp, or stand in the nucleus and admire the destruction the two had managed to create around them. Tony's gaze flicked from here to there to there, the pressure inside him building, building, until a high-pitched squealing, only audible to him, began to wail, like a dry pressure cooker about to explode.
His throat dry, Tony swallowed, unable to hear the banter, to make out the familiar sounds of Gibbs' monosyllables, McGee's whining questions, or Ziva's threats. Instead, his eye became a camera lens, capturing tiny scenes amidst this movie's rapidly paced action. Each burst of Tony's inner flashbulb was accompanied not by the click of the lens, but by a muffled explosion of light and sound like the old-fashioned flash powder of yesteryear. The picture that remained – like an after-image burned into his retina – was black and white, an instant Polaroid with a wide white margin at the bottom for notes and dates.
Exhibit One – smashed beakers. Exhibit Two – half hidden knife beneath a desk. Exhibit Three – Victim, A. Sciuto. Sweaty, rumpled, exhausted. Exhibit Four – whey-faced, duct-taped attacker. Chip Something. Charles. Tony blinked. The man was staring right at him, eyes ringed with red, murderous rage radiating from the man like a skunk's scent. The only connection Tony DiNozzo seemed capable of making was with this man. Victim. Criminal. Both. Neither. Just like Tony.
He thrust his fists into his trouser pockets. He plastered down his 'curious but unaffected' mask and held on tight. When his mind did this, when it removed color and sound and scent from his memories, when it piled his thoughts into neat stacks and filed them into square cardboard photo boxes it meant things had gone beyond bad and were rapidly approaching totally screwed. He had to get out of there. If he stayed, if he set one foot inside the invisible boundary between himself and this scene – and his team – there'd be no going back. No stilted smiles or movie quotes would bring him back from the edge. Not this time.
Gibbs had seen it before. Back when they'd worked together with no net and no buffer of IT geek and Mossad ninja, he'd seen it. Witnessed Tony erupt in naked fury and instant violence. A young girl had been found, naked, tied up, tortured for years as a sex-slave by your average middle-aged couple in their average middle-class ranch house. It had taken all of Gibbs' Marine training to tear Tony from the man's throat. Gibbs had seen it again, just beginning, in the FBI cell. Heard it in Tony's venomous monologue, the self-mutilation of his character he'd shouted from atop the metal toilet. He'd seen it when he crooked his finger and looked into Tony's red-rimmed eyes.
The head-slap had shut him up, but it was the touch under his chin that had stopped Tony's inner runaway locomotive from derailing. For a while. Until Sacks had appeared with blood in his eye and a heavy-set partner he'd sicced on the apparently dirty Fed. More colorless photos flipped past and Tony ground his teeth together to keep the images moving. Keep the sound and scent and touch from reaching him.
It had started when he was a kid. When Tony's mom died and his father checked out of the fathering business. If little Anthony DiNozzo's memories could be clipped of movement, drained of bright colors, and the scent of sickness and scotch, the feel of rough hands and the taste of bile, then he would be okay. That little boy could hide in the big lounge chair in the den and watch TV. Or he could get one of the staff to take him into town where he could spend hours in the movie theater not remembering the sound of his mom's laugh and the smell of her perfume.
Since then, Tony's little quirk had served him well. Hazing at Military School. A broken leg on the OSU football field. A broken dream of marriage and family the night before his wedding. Kate's blood spraying across his face on a rooftop. Snapshots of black and white could be tucked away beneath every day needs, a demanding boss, and the current Ms. Right Now. Pile up enough sensations on top of them and sometimes Tony forgot they were even there.
For a while. For a window. For enough time to bury himself behind solid walls of buffoonery and smiles.
"We'll take it from here."
Fornell and Sacks. Here. Now. They shouldered past Tony's stillness, Sacks making sure to smack his elbow into Tony's sore back to try to knock him off balance. Suddenly the lab leaped into full Technicolor and Tony found his hand in the Fibbie's collar, yanking Sacks back into the hallway and away from Chip and the team. Yep, too late.
Tony didn't waste time on Gibbs' reaction or the team's surprise. He stalked forward, turning Fornell to face him with a single grip on the balding man's shoulder. "The FBI has screwed this one up quite enough, Fornell, don't you think?"
Fornell's bland three-letter attitude, colorless face, grey off-the-rack suit, and pale blue eyes blazed cold as Tony leaned in, his breath hot enough to melt the older man's eyebrows.
"You've heard it often enough. Filled it in on the arrest warrant. On the booking slip. On the personal property inventory. On the notice of arraignment – deferred, of course." He felt his teeth pull back from his lips. "DiNozzo." Tony let the z's scorch like dull blades across Fornell's tender turkey neck. "I won't remind you again."
Fornell's eyes narrowed and then focused over Tony's shoulder. "Better call off your boy, Gibbs. He's likely to get hurt."
Tony's hands gripped Fornell's lapels. He jerked him close, chest to chest, just to see the bright flare of fear in the much shorter man's eyes. Then he thrust him away, letting him stumble backwards over Chip's trussed up legs. The agent didn't fall, but it was a close one.
Agent DiNozzo, I understand that you're angry, but –"
Tony raised one hand to shut the Director up. Her advice he did not need. She'd hired the homicidal idiot. She'd let the FBI take Tony, hide him away in their in-house dungeon, bypassing proper procedure over and over again. Let them – He shook off the thoughts, shoving the damned polaroids back into their boxes, and grabbed his phone, paging down until he found the right number.
Staring straight into Jenny Shepard's wide doe-eyes, he kept his words clipped and short. It was either that or spill out all the curses that were trying to find their way out. "Adler. DiNozzo. You owe me. Get your ass over here. To the Navy Yard. I find I'm in need of some legal advice. Actually," he took a breath and steadied his resolve, "I was in need of some two days ago but, strangely, was never allowed a phone to get some." He paused, listening. "Am I in trouble?" His laugh sounded dark and twisted, even by his standards. "Not anymore, but several other people and government agencies are. Yes, including NCIS."
Tony let Steve Adler throw out a couple more questions before he cut his frat brother off. "Well, that's what I need you for." He ended the call and fingered his phone a moment, lining up all the calls he needed to make, one after the other, on his speed dial.
"What do you think you're doing, Agent DiNozzo?"
"Director – at least, for the moment," Tony added with a shark's grin, "Maybe you should try not to piss me or Abby or Gibbs off any more right now. Go up to your cushy office and call your own lawyer. Or SecNav. Or whoever you're – " Tony bit off the hot, bitter words before his anger put him immediately out of a job. "You're going to need them," he finished.
Yeah, you can't fake pale. Tony's first partner had taught him that a long time ago, long before Gibbs' rules. His almost accusations had hit Madame Director right in the gut. He'd follow up on that later.
"Anthony, my dear boy."
"Ducky." Tony cut him off before the kind, old ME could touch him. "I'm sorry, I know you want to help, but I think I'm going to need an impartial doctor to document everything."
The ME's eyes turned from warm and caring to a cold, steel blue aimed directly at Fornell. "To document what, Anthony?"
Yeah. Ducky wasn't stupid. The older man moved a step closer to Tony as if his small frame could stand as a barrier between Tony and the others – Fornell, Sacks, Shepard – hell, everyone. The only one on Team Gibbs who was more protective was …
"McGee, David, get this piece of crap out of here. Get him booked and read his rights and into interrogation. And tell Vincente to get his team down here to document the crime scene."
Tony could feel the waves of frustration coming off his Boss – delegating Abby's lab to another team? Yeah, someone was going to pay for that necessity. Not Tony. Not this time.
"Ducky – why don't you take Abby into her office and make sure she's okay."
Gibbs was watching him. Tony could feel it, but he wouldn't turn his head. More file photos were flipping past, rippling like one of those old flip books he used to make on the edge of his school tablets. Sacks in interrogation. Cuffs snapped on too tight behind his back. The 'oh, so sorry' trip and push that sent Tony tumbling down the cement steps into the Fibbies' special holding area, unable to stop himself. Sacks in the FBI Interrogation Room, gloves off, his sneering, teeth-bared attitude wiping away Tony's reserve. His jumbo-sized partner. Coming at him - Tony shook his head, trying to stop the parade of images, to get them to line up into precise and perfect stacks so he could deal with the right now. The right here.
He had to get out of here.
Gibbs was there. Standing close, his voice low and even, his hands in plain sight. Lion-tamer. Child rescuer. Not the lean, mean Marine face he'd be showing to everyone else as soon as he turned away. Something tied up tight inside Tony's gut churned. He didn't like Gibbs nice.
"Go wait in Conference Room 2. Make your calls. I'll let security know to let Adler and…" he waited for Tony to fill in the blank.
Nodding, Gibbs finished. "… Pitt in. Lock the door. I'll bring up your go-bag from your locker." He tilted his head, the light from the lab throwing harsh lines around his eyes. "Took it from your car before they could tow it."
A word of thanks, of acknowledgment, tossed itself around in Tony's mouth but he couldn't open his clenched jaw enough to let it out.
One hand latched onto Tony's elbow and turned him towards the door. Tony let it. Until he raised his eyes and saw the figure waiting in the doorway.
Gibbs didn't pause, not for a second, just kept right on walking. Tony's eyes narrowed at the FBI agent, wondering what it would feel like to stomp the man's face under his Zegna loafers. Unfortunately, Gibbs' vibe was strong enough to proceed them like some kind of force field and it swept Sacks right out of the way and against the wall. After depositing Tony in the open elevator – no doubt called there by Gibbs' thoughts – his Boss didn't waste any more words. He nodded, one finger pointed upward to the bullpen level before turning back to the chaos.
Tony's last sight over the man's shoulder was Sacks' squinty eyes, his hands on his hips, while Fornell stood just behind him, ignored, white-faced and grim as he spoke quickly in his fellow Fibbie's ear.