"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' own. Instincts that he'd been forced to suppress far too long, making him almost forget who he was. He made a promise years ago, to never forget the reasons why he became a cop in the first place. He didn't want to become one of those 'dirty cops' people would talk about with disdain. Didn't want to be what his team had already become. All those times when he had to turn his back and shut his eyes whenever people who were supposed to catch the criminals were acting too much like criminals themselves, if not worse in some cases. 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 used to think of as his family. People he thought he could trust. Only Ducky and Jimmy—mostly the latter—were still close enough to him. But for how long? Too much had already happened for him to ignore this situation any longer. Far too long had he been following his 'team' around like a lost puppy. After too many kicks here and there he now felt used. Ruined. The loyal St. Bernard had become the punching bag.
Tony rubbed his aching forehead with utter exhaustion. He was pretty sure he'd have the mother of all migraines by the time this little 'talk', where he was cornered by his 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 and the evidence of that was the sudden mix of emotions on the older man's face; confusion and anger being the most intense. Anger mostly. Deep frown had formed between the eyebrows of doom.
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 when I thought we were doing something right. Much as I loved our two man team, I even liked having a full team. If Kate hadn't died, maybe things would still be how they used to be or not as we are now. Are you blaming me for her death or was it Jenny's? Are they or one of them the reason? Do you wish it had been me who died? I used to look up to you, boss. For a time you... you were like the father I never had. I can finally admit it. But in the end you and Senior are not so different."
Gibbs opened his mouth again, but Tony raised his hand and glared at him. "Let me finish."
He knew he had 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. He knew if he allowed anyone stop him from talking, he'd just walk away and never speak again. At the very least he wanted to have one less weight to carry on his shoulders once he was gone. No things left unsaid. He didn't foresee himself ever regretting finally speaking out the things that had been brewing for years.
"McGee... You shouldn't focus too much on your computers and past education if you wish to become a proper field Agent. If you do, you might just as well go back to where you came from, which probably is the better place for you anyway. Take it all away and then what can you offer? How useful can you be?" Tony could almost feel the burning anger thrown his way. "It won't give you the leadership skills that you seem to think you have. It has to be in you. I lay part of the blame you turning this way on Gibbs, for looking the other way when he should have been the leader, but I also blame myself. 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, Tony could feel all their eyes on him now. For a change he had their complete attention.
"Ziva, our miss Mossad. I pray for the day to come 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. You're running your own show and dragging everyone down with you. This is not the Ziva David show, but it's the whole team. I guess it's something they never taught you back in Mossad and 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 your father. Nothing wrong with that, but for us and this country you're a huge red flag."
To his credit, McGee had looked slightly embarrassed, before his mouth became almost a straight line as he forced himself to not say anything, yet. Ziva on the other hand had no such restraints and she looked furious and even made a move toward Tony. "How dare you..!"
Surprisingly it was Gibbs of all 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 to make her move. She held her head high and there was a promise of something unpleasant hiding behind the angry face. There was no telling what the 'former' Mossad officer would do, but the fire in her eyes was a 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 anyone willing to listen.
"My dearest Abby. I'm sure by now she's using the security cameras to spy on us... She was once like a sister to me, someone I held so dear to me and I thought she felt the same way about me. However, after Gibbs' retirement 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, since I looked up to you. I wanted to be like you. You..."
His voice had quieted down to the point where it was hard to hear what he was saying. Tony swallowed down the sudden lump in his throat. It wasn't something he ever did, breaking down in front of these people or in front of anyone really, 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 when he was alone. Well, he 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; you were the kind of man I always wanted to be, but then I came to realize I had been blinded by the good memories and good times. To this day I regret 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. He stood rigid and possessive, looking as if he had the right.
"Be quiet. I'm not done talking yet. You'll have your moment to shine." Tony let out a deep suffering sigh and once again he rubbed at his forehead. Dealing with this situation and these people had given him a full-blown 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, but in the end it would change nothing. Not you and definitely not me. I'm not getting any younger and neither are you, Gibbs. I'm over forty years old. I have wasted more than ten years of my life behaving like a good boy, taking in everything and obeying the commands like a good 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 many nights I've spent staring at my gun. That'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 isn't 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, closing his eyes for a moment.
Once he felt the dizziness pass, Tony opened his eyes just in time to see Gibbs reaching out his hand. To steady him or to give him the mother of all head slaps? Was that concern in his eyes? Before he even realized what he was doing, Tony slapped the hand away. He didn't see the flash of hurt and shock, and then confusion mixed with anger in the man's eyes.
"Don't," Tony hissed between his teeth. Anger or headache. Whatever the reason may be, he didn't care. "I'm done. Done with this conversation and done with you. If you have anything worthwhile to say to me, Ducky or Jimmy can give me a message from you and I'll think really hard whether your reason is good enough for me to talk to any of you."
Finished talking, he left his gun and badge on his desk—and if it looked like he made a show out of it, then surely he had the right for that much at least—and turned around toward the stairs instead of the elevator, to make sure nothing stopped him from getting away from there as quickly as possible. He felt sudden tightness in his chest and it was hard to breathe.
There was tightness even in his voice when Tony spoke again, before Director Vance could say anything to either stop or scold him, "Don't."
The surprise and shock were wide open on Vance's face. He had been in the middle of an important meeting when his secretary came 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 still almost too much for him to deal with a neutral face. As much as he hated admitting it, there was going to be many people wanting to have his head on a plate if he'd let Agent DiNozzo leave.
"You'll have my letter of resignation by tomorrow. Goodbye, Director. I would say it was nice working with you, but we both know that would be a lie." With that Tony was out of the door before any other word was spoken. Once he was out of their sights, 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 fully back ever since the explosion. Memories of what they used to be and where things first started going wrong. Or perhaps he had chosen to ignore them. Had he simply become the worst kind of bastard and chose to forget what they had before their team ever became full? What had he lost? How could he have forgotten?
"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 old knee. If anyone else thought about following him, the idea was gone when they saw the look in the man's eyes screaming, 'don't you dare! '
McGee swallowed and finally dared to speak again when their boss was gone from the room. "What... What just happened?" 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, the noise was bound to leave everyone's ears ringing afterwards.
"What do you mean what happened? Tony just lost his head."
"Mind, Ziva. Lost his mind," McGee corrected with weariness in his voice.
"Same thing. Gibbs will bring him back and then everything will go back to normal. Maybe this was a joke. This is Tony; he is always so dramatic."
"I don't know... I've never seen him like that. 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, he rarely was truly annoying and even when he was... I didn't mind it that much. Not really."
"You are all crazy, I say. Do what you want, I need food." Ziva shook her head and 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 entered the silent lab, he knew there was no such luck. Silence if anything was a bad sign. 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 darkest corner and hugging her stuffed animal, which made few farting sounds every once in a while, sounding weirdly out of tune.
There were tears rolling down her cheeks. "Why did things go so wrong?" Her quiet 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 awkwardly toward the empty spot next to Abby who 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 want it back, Tim. Our family. I want Tony back. And Kate, but I know that won't happen... I can't remember when was the last time I saw him smiling even one of his stupid fake smiles or the last time he came to see me for no reason or the last time he talked about movies or... The fact that I stopped noticing makes it so much worse."
They were both silent for a while, Abby hugging Bert the farting hippo and McGee staring 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, which was half-sob, half-laughter. "He did always know me well... He always notices things that matter and even things no one else would bother to find out. It seems none of us bothered to do the same for him. Tim... I was too afraid to come to you guys and at least say how sorry I am. I really wanted to hug him, but I don't know if he would have let me..."
When McGee finally looked at her he saw she hadn't stopped crying. It made him feel even worse and he swallowed. "If anyone is to blame for any of this, then it's me."
"Don't. Let's just share the blame. All four of us. I know I want to be mad at someone, but you don't want to face my full fury."
McGee swallowed again. "Y-yes..."
"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 brightened and 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 and the way Ziva had been ever since the Rivkin case. Maybe even before it. The way he had been. It was a wonder Tony hadn't said anything for so many years. So many others 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!" She reached 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?
Meanwhile the man in question was looking for Tony. Although his car was still in the parking slot, the younger man was nowhere to be found. "Tony! DiNozzo!" Gibbs 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 toward the car, but the relief 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 flinched each time Gibbs talked too loud. Noticing this, Gibbs crouched in front of him and gently removed the arms around Tony's head.
Looking up from his knees, Tony tried to focus on what someone was saying. Gibbs? No, someone else. Maybe. He didn't know anymore. The world was spinning and his headache had turned into skull splitting agony.
"Tony, what's wrong?" Unable to make things better, Gibbs could only watch helplessly the obvious growing pain and confusion in the once vibrant green eyes. Wishing that he truly was someone who had all the answers, which Abby believed him to be, Gibbs took out his phone.
"Whashapp'nin'..?" It was near impossible getting the words out of his mouth and just as the world started 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..." Although it was oddly soothing, the older man's voice sounded strange. It was as if the man himself was miles away from him and Tony 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' 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. Loud beeping noise cut through his panic and brought everything back to focus in front of his eyes. Strong arms pushed him back in bed and someone kept saying something to him. He was in a white room and there was 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 weakly toward the person in the room. Expecting to see Gibbs there, he froze.
"Danny? Did I die?"
His former partner laughed and called out to someone and then someone in a white coat entered the room.
"Danny?" Tony spoke again, hardly even noticing the other person when there in front of him stood his dead former partner, looking very much alive. Never before had he been so confused.
"You've been in a coma for couple of weeks and that's what you ask? Really, Tony. Should I feel insulted?"
"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 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 headaches and then Gibbs was there and—"
"My boss." Tony didn't see the strange looks 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, some of which he didn't want to even think about, but they still had to go. He nearly fell on the floor as he stood up on his shaking legs. Using anything he could as a support, he made it to the tiny bathroom.
As he was 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 and 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, staring at the tiles in front of him.