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Pushed Too Far

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“Is there anyone you need to call, DiNozzo?”

 

“Forget about it, McGee. He's still alive.”

 

“What's a hot case to you, DiNozzo? Shadowing a tight ass?”

 

Tony bolted upright in his bed, rummaging for the switch of the lamp on his nightstand in slight panic. Soft light illuminated his hunched form when he finally found it and in the mirror that hung in front of his bed, he could see his hair sticking into every direction, his eyes red from the tears pouring from them and cold sweat running down his forehead. The T-shirt he used as a pajama was rumpled and nearly chocking him where it had become tangled by his neck. All in all, he looked exactly like he was feeling: horrible.

 

‘It was just a nightmare. Get a grip, DiNozzo!’ – He scolded himself, and still breathing heavily as if he had just finished running a marathon, he heaved himself out of the bed with the clear determination to walk into the kitchen and get a glass of water.

 

It only remained a wish though, as he collapsed onto the floor as soon as he started to stand.

 

‘Damn!’ – He boxed the soft carpet in anger, frustrated with himself, with the job and most of all: his boss.

 

It had started a few of months ago, with a terrorist attacking NCIS, taking Ducky, his assistant and later also Kate as hostages. His demands had been clear: he had wanted his dead partner’s personal effects returned to him, and a free way out with them. At that time, and for long weeks after that, they hadn’t known his identity and Gibbs had become so focused in trying to find the bastard that he had started to neglect their other duties. Now, even though they already knew the man’s name, they still didn’t have him, and the boss was getting more and more difficult to live with each day.

He had always served his ‘the second B is for bastard’ persona well, but not like this. Never like this.

 

And it was also beginning to seem like Tony’s mere presence was setting the man off: the normally bubbly and chirpy young man was unusually silent and withdrawn lately, and everyone had notice it but Gibbs. The leader of MCRT was giving out more head slaps than ever before and 90% of these were aimed at his long-time field agent’s head. Most of them were followed by some malicious comment as well.  

 

If Tony wanted to have dinner, it made Gibbs angry, so he had all but stopped eating altogether.

If Tony made a movie reference, he got slapped, so he wasn’t talking about his hobby anymore.

If Tony happened to make a joke to lighten the mood, he got silenced with a death glare, so he never did it now.

If Tony did something to annoy the man… things were said. Hurtful thing that stung for a long time afterwards and left a gaping black hole where the young man’s soul used to be. And he couldn’t stop that, since he never knew what would be considered ‘annoying’ by his boss. Like yesterday for instance, when the battery had run out of the remote control they used for the big screen in the bullpen, and it stopped working. Unluckily, Tony happened to be holding it at that time, and when Kate was talking about the next diagram and Tony hadn’t been able to change the picture, Gibbs had gotten so angry that he had physically pushed the young man away and sent him down to Abby’s lab ‘before I’ll do something I’ll regret later, DiNozzo’. Tony had, of course, run and bought new batteries but by the time he had been allowed back into the bullpen, Gibbs had only said: ‘McGee has already repaired it. He at least knows what he’s doing.’

 

It had hurt. It was still hurting.

 

Tony half-sat, half-lay on the floor for a long time, trying to decide what to do. Before joining Team Gibbs, he had never felt like his job was his life and his colleagues were his family. Job-hopping every two years hadn’t been a problem back then. With NCIS, something had changed in him… Having an own apartment and a steady life was better than he had expected and with Gibbs, Abby and Ducky there, then Kate and Tim joining their team, he had gained a grandfather, a father and loveable though annoying siblings he had always wished to have. A family. Now this family was falling apart and somehow it always seemed like – along with Ari Haswari of course – he was one of the main reasons for this. He was mostly the cause for Gibbs’ foul mood and angry outbursts.

Could he continue to do this to his teammates?

 

The young agent gave up on his previous plan to drink water and laid down on the floor to sleep. He just didn’t have the energy to climb back into the bed.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Early in the morning the next day, Tony was summoned into the director’s office for a private briefing. With Gibbs’ hard glare following him all the way upstairs, the young man made his way heavyheartedly towards his possible doom: whenever Jenny called him away from a team meeting, it always meant something bad had happened in relation with his strictly confidential undercover assignment that warranted his immediate attention. Otherwise, she’d just wait until he was alone so that nobody would get suspicious. Of course, you couldn’t fool Gibbs: he already knew something was going on and it certainly didn’t improve his feelings towards his senior field agent.

 

He knocked on the door and immediately received the reply to enter.

 

“Tony. I’m sorry to do this now but… something happened.” – She began as soon as they were safely locked in the office, away from curious ears. He just nodded for her to continue, too tired for pleasantries. Between the ‘private errands’ he was running for her all the time and Gibbs’ obsessive hunt for Ari after hours, he was so exhausted he didn’t care about the proper protocol of talking to one’s director anymore. Especially not a director who certainly wasn’t treating him like just any other man under her command. – “In the early evening today, we’re expecting a plane to arrive with La Grenouille's men on board. We don’t exactly know how many and we don’t know who. I want you to go and take pictures for us to analyze.”

 

Not so long ago, this would have been such a ridiculous and unlikely request that he’d had laughed out loud. Not now though. Now Tony wasn’t surprised by any assignment she pushed onto him anymore.

 

“Sure.” – Was all he said, shrugging his shoulders as if he had agreed to something absolutely normal, like taking a walk around the lake and eating an ice cream. – “When?”

 

“7 PM. I’ve made arrangements for you to pose as an airport worker.”

 

“Great. And Gibbs?”

 

“Let me worry about Jethro.”

 

Tony sighed, dreading the consequences he’d have to endure and she wouldn’t even know or care about.

 

“As you wish, director.”

 

This was going to be a great day…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“DiNozzo! Just where do you think you’re going?” – Asked Gibbs at half past 5 PM when Tony prepared to leave for the airport. He needed time to get there and change into his clothes as a maintenance worker; make himself look the part completely.

 

Kate and McGee, both still engrossed in their respective tasks at their desks, looked up in surprise upon hearing the question.

 

Tony tried to ignore Kate slowly shaking her head at him, warning him not to say anything. He knew she meant well but he didn’t have time for this; he had a mission to accomplish.

 

“Ahm… Out? For a while?” – He tried, not really knowing what to do. Originally, he was only supposed to be working ‘til 4 today; not that Gibbs ever cared about this small detail. He already had more overtime piled up for this year than ever before in any of his jobs; even though he had always been willing to work hard.

 

Out? For a while?” – Repeated the boss in a dangerously low voice, narrowing his eyes as if saying ‘I’ll slay you if you so much as move towards the elevator another inch’. – “Did I hear you right?”

 

“Really Boss… I’m sorry but---”

 

“If you go now, don’t even bother coming back.” – Interrupted him the older man, clearly considering the matter closed. He wasn’t even looking at his agent anymore, having dismissed him completely and evidently not caring about what he was doing. Tony stood in the middle of the bullpen, feeling conflicted.

 

Kate and McGee gasped audibly. They, especially Kate, had of course noticed how Gibbs’ behavior towards his ex-favorite agent had changed lately, but this venom they heard from him now was of a totally new level.

 

Then Tony saw Jenny standing on top of the catwalk, staring pointedly at him, indicating towards the exit with her head. With a heavy heart, Tony nodded almost invisibly at her and walked out. What else was there to do? He just hoped she’d really ‘take care’ of it, like she had promised.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“I want his name! I want it today! And don't tell me it's Moby Dick!”

 

“War is not fair! And we are at war. Until I dismiss you, which could be any moment now, you will fight that war 24/7. That includes eating, sleeping, taking a crap. Got that?”

 

“Don’t bother coming back!”

 

Tony fell out of the bed with a small shriek and banged his head into his nightstand.

 

“Damn!” – He cursed, rubbing his temple. – “Damn it all!”

 

Staggering into a semi-standing position, he glanced at the clock: it was only 3:12 AM. He could have slept another hour and half before getting up; not gonna happen now.

 

The day before he had gotten back into NCIS at around half past nine. Nobody had been there by then and it had suited him just fine. Alone in the office, he had finished his research in blissful peace and called it a day only a few hours ago.

 

He was also positive he had skipped all mealtimes yesterday, though he couldn’t remember clearly.

 

Now he sat helplessly on the bed, thinking about how his life had become such a mess in such a short time. He couldn’t even tell with absolute certainty anymore which happenings were the nightmares and which ones were real. He was sure he was losing his mind and soon he’d start murmuring to himself while walking on the street and losing his grip on reality.

 

And the day hadn’t even really started yet…

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

“Good morning, Boss.” – Said Tony as soon as Gibbs strolled into the bullpen with two cups of coffee in his hands. The older man didn’t as much as acknowledge his presence but the young agent wasn’t about to give up so easily. What had happened the day before wasn’t his fault after all, and Jenny had promised to deal with it! – “Boss… I think I found something yesterday when---”

 

“McGee? Where are you?” – Shouted the team leader, ignoring his senior field agent altogether.

 

“Here, Boss… I’m… ahm…”

 

“Stop stuttering and get Kate and Ducky. We’ve got a dead marine at the shore.”

 

“I’ll get the van.” – Said Tony dutifully.

 

Gibbs shook his head.

 

“McGee. Tell Kate to get the van.”

 

Tim gave Tony an almost pitying look before disappearing in the elevator.

 

Tony was left behind, and as Gibbs walked away as well, he wondered when and why his boss’ attitude towards him had changed from good-naturedly joking to outright emotional (sometimes even physical) abuse and if maybe… just maybe being totally overlooked was even an improvement to the by now always seriously painful head slaps...

 

No, absolutely not.

 

NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS * NCIS

 

Tony’s day had been long and dull. The rest of the team hadn’t returned until late in the evening, during which time he had finished all his case reports and even worked on three cold case files to occupy himself. He had expected Jenny to talk to him about their successful airport-operation or even about what she was planning on doing with Gibbs’ attitude, but she never even looked for him. He was beginning to think she didn’t care about anything beyond her vendetta against La Grenouille at all – which was probably the case. Why should she care about him, anyway? He was just one agent amongst hundreds of others in the agency for her. A nobody but a tool to be used when needed and be discarded when not. Still, it didn’t mean knowing this made it hurt any less…

 

He sighed for the tenth time in the evening; turning yet another page, he rubbed his hurting eyes and willed them to focus on the blurry words written by one of the agents many years ago. The man had been retired for about five years now so Tony had never met him, meaning he couldn’t get help deciphering his illegible handwriting now. And Gibbs complained about his writing being messy…

 

“Tony…? Are you going home soon?” – Asked Tim, a bit unsure. He didn’t understand what was going on with the boss and his friend but he knew there was definitely something wrong.

 

“It’s okay, Probie. I just want to finish these.”

 

“What are those?”

 

“Cold case files.”

 

“But then why? We weren’t ordered to do that… There’s an ongoing investigation…”

 

Tony glances towards Gibbs who was acting as if he couldn’t hear them at all.

 

“An investigation I’m not allowed to take part in.” – He said bitterly.

 

“Ahm…” – It was clear McGee didn’t know what to answer to that. Luckily, Kate came to his rescue.

 

“Come on, Tony. It’s time to go home.”

 

“No, Kate. You go. It’s fine.” – He wanted to talk to Gibbs and hoped that with the others gone, the man would be more willing to listen to him. Perhaps he just wanted to demonstrate how strict he could be…

 

Kate seemed to understand his unspoken request, and took a confused Tim’s arm to pull him towards the elevator.

 

As soon as the two disappeared, Tony stood and cleared his throat.

 

“Khm… Boss? About yesterday---”

 

“What is it, DiNozzo? Didn’t I tell you not to come back at all if you dare leave in the middle of the investigation?” – Gibbs exploded, shouting so loud that all the remaining agents around the office cringed. Tony didn’t flinch though; sadly, he was already used to being spoken to this way.

 

“I had orders from the director.” – He simply said. – “It’s not my fault. I came back afterwards to finish my task and I even found---”

 

“Do I look like I care?”

 

“No, Boss. You don’t.” – That was true. He could already see it wouldn’t matter what he had to say. Gibbs simply didn’t care at all.

 

“Right.”

 

“Well… that’s it then?”

 

“What? Did you expect a dinner invitation, DiNozzo?”

 

Tony felt himself getting angrier and angrier.

 

“No. I actually didn’t expect anything.”

 

With that, he stormed out of the squad room, fuming all the way home, thinking about how he’d come to hate his life and what he could do to change this horrible situation.