Actions

Work Header

Breaking Point

Work Text:

Jason Grady walked into his classroom and assessed his newest group of students. There were twelve of them, just like his previous three classes. He was one of the newer instructors and still settling into his new role both as a civilian and a FLETC instructor. He had an unconventional way of doing things which made settling in a little harder but it was his way and he didn’t see any reason to change it.

“Good morning, recruits,” he greeted as he put his bag down on his desk. “Welcome to FLETC. The name’s Grady, I’ll be your instructor. I served thirteen years as an MP with the United States Army. That’s military police for those of you who’re a little slow. I’ve seen it all. I’ve heard it all. I’ve done it all. Now it’s my job to train you to do the same. I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to. For the next nine weeks you’ll do what I say when I say it.”

A Few Good Men,” Tony said. “Nice!”

Grady’s eyes met Tony’s and a dangerous smile graced his face. “What’s your name?”

“Anthony DiNozzo, Tony.”

“DiNozzo, you’re a pretty boy, aren’t you? Son, you’re not gonna make it. I can tell already.”

“Wanna bet,” Tony challenged good-naturedly.

“Drop and give me twenty!” Grady ordered.

“Huh?”

“Thirty.”

“Are you for real?” Tony asked.

“Forty,” Grady said.

“Fine, sheesh,” Tony grumbled as he stood from his chair and lowered himself into push-up position.

“Fifty,” Grady said. “Would you like to make it more?”

Tony’s only response was to start doing push-ups.

“Count ‘em out loud,” Grady ordered. He sat down on Tony’s desk and put his feet on Tony’s back, letting the full weight of his legs rest on the man he was making an example out of.

“…2 …3 …4 …5…”

“…47 …48 …49 …50.”

Once Tony was finished with his push-ups, Grady returned to the front of the classroom to start his lesson but not before smiling at Tony once more with that same dangerous smile that had graced his face fifty push-ups ago. Tony didn’t know it then but that was the beginning of the end for him.

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS | NCIS

“DiNozzo, on your feet!”

Tony resisted the urge to groan at the order. He was too tired to groan anyways. He’d just laid down in his bed and closed his eyes for the first time in five days and now he was being ordered to get up again. He had no idea how things gotten to the point they had. He wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping and was so busy running errands for Grady that he had no time to do what he needed to do. It almost felt like he was living with his father again.

He scrambled to his feet, doing his best to look alert but knowing he looked like hell.

“Get showered. Get shaved. Get my laundry to the laundry facility. Get me coffee. You have twenty minutes.”

“Yes, Sir!” Tony replied as enthusiastically as he could manage. He winced at how pathetic it came out but Grady, his tormentor, just dropped his laundry bag in the middle of the small room and left.

“Two more days and you can sleep,” Tony told himself, “I hope.” It was Wednesday. They didn’t have class on the weekend and Grady usually left them alone for the most part. Tony knew the chances of getting a visit from the man that weekend was hit or miss.

He hurried into the bathroom and lathered up his face with shaving cream while emptying his bladder. He’d become proficient at multitasking but it still didn’t seem to be enough to allow him to accomplish everything he needed to do. Twenty minutes meant he’d have to skip the shower… again. Hopefully Grady wouldn’t say anything about how bad he smelled this time.

“Didn’t your momma ever teach you how to use a washing machine? Your clothes are filthy! Is your shower broke? Cologne can only cover up so much of your stench, boy! Do you need help wiping your ass too?”

“No, Sir.”

“Maybe I should get your mommy down here to help you take care of yourself. Is that what you want?”

Tony’s eyes dropped to his shoes as he mumbled another ‘No, Sir’. He wished his mother could come rescue him. Hell, he would’ve settled for just being able to talk to her on the phone.

That had been two weeks ago. Surely Grady had known the reason he smelled so bad was because he didn’t have enough free time to take care of his most basic hygiene needs. Grady may have been a former MP for the United States Army but he acted more like a drill sergeant and ran his class like a boot camp. Tony knew the badass military types liked to break their men into submission before letting up on them but Tony already felt beyond broken. He wasn’t sure how much more he could handle. He hadn’t been expecting the hazing and humiliation when he’d agreed to go to a civilian law enforcement agency. Maybe he’d taken a wrong turn at the airport and ended up in boot camp or somehow gotten lost in time and he was reliving hell week in college.

After a quick shave, Tony washed his face, armpits and private area. He squeezed a small glob of toothpaste into his mouth and used his tongue to rub it over his teeth while he smelled the clothes littering his floor in search of an outfit that didn’t reek. He picked the best of the worst and threw it on then swished the toothpaste around and spit it out in the sink. That was as good as it was going to get that morning. He grabbed Grady’s laundry bag and raced off towards the laundry facility.

“Damn it!” he grumbled as he half walked, half ran down the hall. He should’ve grabbed his own laundry to drop off at the same time. He didn’t have time to go back though. Maybe if he had a little time to sleep instead of doing all the busy work Grady assigned him, his brain wouldn’t be a scrambled mess.

The scary thing was it was getting worse than not being able to think clearly. The sleep deprivation was starting to cause paranoia and hallucinations. So far he’d been able to figure out what was real and what was in his head but he wasn’t sure how much longer that would last. He just hoped he could make it through another month of training. How he was going to manage that, he had no idea.

“Mornin’, Tony.”

“Hey, Julian,” Tony panted, trying to catch his breath. Julian worked in the laundry facility on campus and had always been nice to Tony. “Got another order for Grady,” he said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

“You look like hell, man,” Julian observed while Tony scribbled the information on the slip that would stay with Grady’s laundry. “Let me get you a cup of coffee.”

“Can’t. Don’t have ti—er, actually, yeah. Thanks, man.” Tony smiled. If he gave the coffee to Grady, it would save him a trip to the cafeteria and he just might meet his twenty minute deadline.

After thanking Julian for the coffee, Tony hurried towards lounge area he knew Grady would be waiting in. He slowed his jog to a walk and did his best to slow his breathing before entering and placing the coffee cup on the table in front of Grady who was enjoying a very hearty breakfast.

“You’re a minute late,” Grady said as he cut off a chunk of the big, fat, juicy sausage link on his plate.

The smell alone was enough to make Tony’s mouth water and his stomach grumble. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a decent meal. Grady always made sure he was late to the chow line. By the time he got there, there were usually only scraps of food left and they were always cold and scraped from the bottoms and sides of the pan.

“Pull the mats out in the gym,” Grady ordered. “PT starts in ten minutes.”

“One mat covered gym, coming right up,” Tony said as he turned to leave.

“Excuse me?” Grady asked.

Tony froze, knowing he’d said the wrong thing. Any response that wasn’t ‘Yes, Sir’ was the wrong thing. His mouth was what had put him on Grady’s shit list in the first place. Grady mistook his humor for stupidity and hadn’t let up on him in the three weeks he’d been there. Tony had gone from a high functioning, confident adult to barely surviving and his self-esteem was plummeting faster than the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The more Grady berated him, the more it felt like affirmation of things Tony had been told by his father all his life.

He was a worthless, stupid, piece of shit; a fuck-up who was going to end up getting someone killed one day. His father may not have said that in so many words but the man’s actions spoke volumes about how he felt. On top of that, his partner on BPD—the one he’d trained—had turned out to be a dirty cop. That had to be his fault somehow and to make it even worse, Tony hadn’t reported him. And that wasn’t even touching on Peoria or Philadelphia or his broken leg that had screwed up the football career he’d been working towards since he was a teenager. His entire life had just been one screw up after another and the pattern was continuing.

“I guess you wanna get a head start on your PT,” Grady said. “Drop and give me twenty. Count ‘em out.”

Three weeks ago twenty push-ups would’ve been child’s play. In his current state, Tony wasn’t even sure he could do one but his determination to prove himself worthy took over and he counted them out as he did them, slowly but surely. He was worthy to be an NCIS Special Agent. He was worthy to investigate crimes and help victims. He was worthy to be handpicked by Gibbs.

It was no surprise that Grady’s boot ended up on Tony’s back halfway through. He pushed down while Tony pushed up but Tony refused to let the instructor from hell win. He wouldn’t quit and he wouldn’t admit defeat. He finished his push-ups then stood in front of the man once again, sweat pouring off his head and breathing heavy.

“Get outta my sight,” Grady grumbled.

“Yes, Sir.”

Tony took off towards the gym. The push-ups had eaten up a good chunk of his ten minutes to get the mats out. Thankfully, some other guys in his class were already there and helped him with the task. He laughed off all the ‘are you okays?’  with ‘I’m fines’ and focused on the mats. 

After two hours of hard physical exercise, the group was given a half an hour to shower, change and eat breakfast before class. Everyone except Tony. Tony was given ten minutes. He spent most of it throwing up before sucking down an overpriced bottle of Gatorade from the vending machine on the way to meet Grady. It was time to help set up for class.

“Since you’re so good at it, I’m gonna let you play the victim for today’s mock crime scene, DiNozzo,” Grady said with an evil smirk. “You’ll still be responsible for knowing the material so pay attention.”

“Yes, Sir,” Tony said. He knew it was meant to be a punishment somehow but he was actually looking forward to the opportunity to play dead. It would be a nice break.

“Agents get called to a scene to find a middle aged male, DOA. He’s naked,” Grady said with a satisfying grin.

Oh shit, Tony thought. He knew what was coming next.

“You have five minutes to get yourself stripped and positioned like the vic in this drawing,” Grady said, sailing a piece of paper through the air at Tony.

“Sir?” Surely Grady wasn’t serious.

“You heard me,” Grady said before disappearing from the classroom turned makeshift hotel room that would be their crime scene.

Any dignity Tony had left disappeared with his clothes. He looked at the sloppy hand drawn illustration Grady had given him then positioned himself half off, half on the bed. At least he got to lay face down. The group would be greeted by his bare ass when they walked in instead of his dick. It was something.

He could hear the laughter as he waited. There was pointing and whispering and people enjoying his pain and suffering. It took a minute to realize he was hallucinating again. There was no one in the room with him and the door was closed. He closed his eyes and slipped into his role as a deceased victim. The shame from being naked and on display for his classmates and instructor pretty much made sleep impossible despite his exhaustion so he settled in and waited… and waited… and waited.

It was an excruciatingly long wait. He wondered briefly how fifty push-ups on day one had turned into him lying naked in the middle of a mock crime scene on day twenty three and actually doing it with very little hesitation. What the hell was he thinking? Was this normal? The scary thing was that after three weeks of things gradually getting worse and worse, he really didn’t know what was normal anymore.

He could hear the group coming down the hall. Grady was briefing the future CSIs as he opened the door. Tony could hear a couple surprised gasps when the others saw the scene, when they saw him. None of the students said anything but Grady couldn’t resist.

“Looks like DiNozzo decided to go all out playing the victim,” Grady said, implying it was Tony’s decision to get naked. “It’s nice to know he’s good at something.”

The morning passed slower than any other morning Tony had spent at the school. Thankfully his classmates had more compassion on him than his instructor did but the damage had already been done. After sending the class off on their lunch break, Grady dropped a stack of papers onto the floor next to where Tony was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest.

“I need twelve copies of these by the time class starts in a half an hour,” the man said.

“Yes, Sir.”

“And, DiNozzo, put some clothes on first.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Tony waited for Grady to leave before pulling himself to his feet and getting his clothes back on. He looked at the page number on the last page of the packet he’d been given as he headed down the hall and his shoulders dropped. There were one hundred pages. That was twelve hundred copies. The copy machine was a dinosaur. It would take him over an hour to copy, collate and staple all those pages. That meant he’d be late to class and humiliated in front of everyone. Again.

“Morning, Tony,” Jill greeted.

“Hi,” Tony grumbled.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

Tony looked up at the older woman and smiled. She was always so sweet to him. “Nothin’,” he lied. “Just a little tired. I need to make some copies for Instructor Grady.”

“You must be earning all kinds of bonus points with all the errands you run for him,” Jill said.

Tony laughed awkwardly and nodded his head. He suspected no one had any idea what kind of hell that man was putting him through and Tony doubted there were any bonus points in it for him.

Jill let him into the copy room so he could complete his task, gave him the peanut butter sandwich from her lunch ‘before he passed out’ and then returned to her desk.

Tony started the copies then sat down in the corner of the small room and listened to the hum of the old machine. He planned on heading down the hall to the vending machine to grab something more to eat and something to drink while the copier did its thing but he needed to rest for a second first. He tried to talk himself out of his funk while he waited but the whole ‘it’ll be over soon’ and ‘you just gotta hang in there a little while longer’ pep talk he’d been giving himself didn’t have the same punch anymore.

He leaned his head back against the wall behind him and tried to find a happy memory to lose himself in while he waited and before he could stop it, he was sound asleep.

“Tony. Tony?”

Tony slowly opened his eyes and saw Jill standing over him.

“Your class started a half an hour ago, sweetheart,” she said. “I’m sure Instructor Grady’s expecting these copies.”

“I’m sorry,” Tony said as he rubbed his eyes. “I guess I fell asleep. Thanks for waking me up.”

“I don’t want to see you get in trouble.”

Tony smiled until the woman was gone then he groaned to himself. He stood and looked at the papers in the copy machine and realized less than half had been copied before the machine ran out of paper. He was in so much trouble. He could hear Grady berating him already but the guy had to know the task he’d given him was impossible to complete. He wondered how many push-ups he’d be given for being late and not finishing his task. Probably one for every page he was short.

As he gathered the stacks of papers he’d copied along with the original documents, he decided he wasn’t going to be doing anymore push-ups. He was done. He couldn’t do this anymore. He felt bad about disappointing Gibbs and leaving the man in a bind but he couldn’t handle another day of the hardcore militaristic bullshit training. He smiled at Jill as he passed by her desk then dumped all the papers in the first trashcan he came to and walked right out of the training facility without looking back.

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS| NCIS

Gibbs sat, staring off into space as he thumped his pen against his desk to the rhythm of music in his head. He stared at the empty desk in front of him, thinking about the state of his team. Stan Burley had left almost a month prior to take a position as an agent afloat. Brent Langer had left the previous week for a job at the FBI and Chris Pacci was out due to more stomach problems. Gibbs didn’t have a team anymore. Well, not until Tony DiNozzo returned from FLETC. That left him on desk duty working cold cases until the man arrived. He didn’t like that part but Tony was worth the wait.

This music in his head was interrupted by his ringing phone. His pen dropped to his desk as the snatched the phone up. “Gibbs.”

“Agent Gibbs, this is Bill Epcot at FLETC. Did you send a recruit, Anthony DiNozzo, down a few weeks ago?”

“I did,” Gibbs answered.

“Have you heard from him recently?”

“Not since I dropped him off at the airport,” Gibbs answered, already a little suspicious about the phone call. “What’s going on?”

“He walked out yesterday afternoon and we haven’t been able to find him or get ahold of him. He listed you as his emergency contact so we were just calling to see if you’d heard from him.”

“Could he have taken the day off?” Gibbs asked, his gut really starting to turn.

“The last person that saw him was one of our admin assistants and she said he was on his way to class with some copies the instructor had asked him to make. He never made it to class, he’s not in his dorm room and he’s not answering his phone. If he decided he’s done and doesn’t want to do this anymore, that’s fine, but we’d like to rule out foul play. Students usually say something before dropping out.”

Gibbs sat quietly, unsure how to respond. He didn’t know DiNozzo well enough to know where he might be or even if there was a chance he could’ve quit and not told anyone but his gut was telling him there was something more going on.

“Will you just let us know if you hear from him?” Epcot asked.

“Sure,” Gibbs replied. “You do the same.”

“I’ll have him call you if he shows back up.”

After hanging up with Epcot, Gibbs headed straight for Abby’s lab. There was no way he was going to sit around and wait for DiNozzo to show back up; not with the way his gut was turning. He strolled into the back office and turned Abby’s music off before walking over to her computer where she was standing with her elbows on her desk and her head resting in her hands.

“I’m dying of boredom,” Abby said flatly. “That music was the only thing keeping me alive.”

“I have something else that’ll keep you alive,” Gibbs said.

Abby perked up, standing to her full height and smiled at him as she moved her fingers to the ready over her keyboard.

“I need you to look at Anthony DiNozzo’s cell phone records and financials,” Gibbs said. “I wanna know if there’s been any activity in the last couple days.”

“Isn’t that the guy you sent to FLETC that’s gonna start working here?” Abby asked as she typed.

“Uh-huh.”

“What’s going on? Why am I checking up on him?”

“He walked out of training yesterday. No one’s seen him since.”

“Hinky,” Abby said. A window popped up on her computer and she looked it over. “There’s no activity on his cell phone since he left,” she said. “That’s kinda sad. He must not have a family to call.”

Gibbs hadn’t really considered that. It explained why Tony had put him down as his emergency contact though. “We’re his family now,” he replied. “Are there any charges on his credit card or withdrawals from his bank account?”

“Hang on,” Abby said, chewing on her lower lip as she pulled up Tony’s financials.

“Abs, what’ve I told you about chewing on your lips?”

“Uh, not to?” Abby replied sheepishly. “There hasn’t been any financial activity since before he left except paycheck deposits. No withdrawals and no credit or debit charges.”

Gibbs knew Tony didn’t have a car. The fact that there were no charges for transportation, shelter or food was disturbing in itself. It was starting to feel less and less like Tony was hiding and more and more like something had happened to him. “I’m going down there,” he told Abby. “Hold down the fort while I’m gone.”

“Be careful,” Abby said.

“Always.” Gibbs kissed her forehead and flicked one of her pigtails before heading out.

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS | NCIS

It took Gibbs five hours to get down to the training facility in Georgia which was five hours longer than he would’ve liked but he knew he was lucky to find room on a flight. Driving would’ve taken four hours longer. He wasted no time starting his search once he’d arrived. He spoke briefly with Bill Epcot and the administrative assistant who’d last seen Tony but didn’t learn anything new other than Tony had looked tired, which wasn’t terribly alarming.

He interrupted Instructor Grady’s class to question the man only to find him not at all helpful. After laying it on thick about how wonderful of a student Tony was, he politely informed Gibbs that he couldn’t allow him to question Tony’s classmates until after class had ended later that night.

After talking to everyone he could at the school, Gibbs got back into his rental car and headed up the road to the local police station, hoping that since he and Tony were both law enforcement they could expedite the process of getting Tony into the missing person database despite the little they had to go on.

He was surprised when he got to the police station and learned that the local LEOs had already received a report the evening before about a suspicious male in a neighborhood near FLETC. The man fit Tony’s description but by the time officers arrived on scene whoever it was was gone and no other reports had been called in.

Gibbs decided to head over to the neighborhood anyways and check things out for himself. It beat sitting around waiting for class to let out so he could question the other students in Tony’s class. His heart dropped when he reached the neighborhood and found it dense with trees and so rural that someone could hide out for months without being found. If Tony was in there, it would most likely take an army to find him. He pulled his cell phone off his belt and called the only army he knew.

“Abby Sciuto, forensic scientist extraordinaire.”

“Abs—”

“Did you find him?” Abby interrupted.

“Not yet,” Gibbs said. “There was a report of a suspicious male that fit Tony’s description in a neighborhood near FLETC last night but there’s no way I can search the area by myself before nightfall. Can you work some magic?”

“I can run a trace on his phone but that wouldn’t exactly be legal without a warrant,” Abby offered.

“We already ran his phone record and financials,” Gibbs replied. “Do it anyways. I’ll take the heat.”

After a few minutes of nothing but the sound of Abby’s fingers on the keyboard, Gibbs heard her computer ding and Abby’s muttered ‘gotcha’. “He’s about six miles southwest of your current location, Gibbs,” she said. “There’s a lot of trees but if you keep going you’ll get to a small body of water. He’s close to the water.”

“Stay on the phone,” Gibbs said. “Guide me there.”

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS | NCIS

Tony raced through the woods as fast as his exhausted legs would carry him. He wanted so badly to stop and rest but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being hunted. He knew sleep deprivation was causing paranoia and hallucinations but he was having a hard time deciphering what was real and what wasn’t. Were there really wolves chasing him? Were the trees trying to grab him as he passed? Were the other students in his class hunting him and trying to kill him as a class project while Grady stood back and laughed?

It didn’t matter what he did, where he went or how fast he ran, he couldn’t escape it. He stepped over a log, dodged a tree and jumped a bush only to get his foot caught in a vine-like branch and end up face first on the ground. Before he could push himself up, he felt another body on top of him, pinning him down and he screamed. There were people chasing him and they’d caught him.

“Easy, Tony, take it easy.”

Gibbs kept a firm grip on Tony’s belt as he rolled him over so he couldn’t take off. The kid looked like hell and smelled even worse. Before Gibbs could say or do anything else, Tony was desperately clinging to him. His entire body was shaking violently as he wrapped all four limbs around the older man. Something was definitely not right.

“We have to go,” Tony said frantically. “We have to get out of here. You have to get me out of here. Please help me.”

“Why? What’s going on?” Gibbs asked calmly.

“They’re hunting me. They’ve been after me all night,” Tony explained.

“Who, Tony?” Gibbs pried Tony off of him and held him back far enough he could look at him. He looked really bad; exhausted and far too skinny, disheveled and weak, even though his muscles were more toned than they had been when Gibbs had dropped him off at the airport a little over three weeks prior.

“Grady and the others, the ones that were in my class.”

“I just talked to Grady,” Gibbs said. “He’s at the training center.”

“No, he’s here! He’s been here all night. Please, Gibbs, you have to believe me!”

“Tony, when’s the last time you slept?” He raised Tony’s eyelids one at a time and tried to look into his eyes but they were twitching so bad he couldn’t see much and quickly gave up.

“I-I-I-I don’t know. I don’t know.”

“Okay, okay, calm down. We’re gonna go.”

Gibbs held tightly to Tony’s wrist as he led him back to the car. The man was shaking and twitching and grunting and spent the entire time looking over his shoulder and jerking his head back and forth as if could see something Gibbs couldn’t. Gibbs knew just by looking at him that Tony hadn’t gotten any real sleep in a long time. He also knew that sleep deprivation caused paranoia and suspected that was what Tony was experiencing.

“Are ya with me, Tony?”

Tony nodded frantically. “I need help,” he whispered desperately.

“I’m here,” Gibbs assured him. “I’ll help you.” He didn’t have a clue what had happened over the past few weeks but it was apparent that the stories he’d been told at the school were bullshit. Tony had been perfectly fine when he’d dropped him off at the airport and now he was one step away from needing a mental health evaluation. Whatever it was that was going on, Gibbs was determined to find out.

He got a still frantic Tony into his car and headed back towards town, carefully watching the man out of the corner of his eye. He pulled into the parking lot of the big hotel he’d driven past a handful of times that day and parked. Gibbs knew Tony needed a shower, sleep and a hearty, healthy meal before he could even attempt to get anything out of him.  

“Where are we?” Tony asked when Gibbs parked the car.

“We’re at a hotel. It’s getting late. We need somewhere safe to spend the night.”

Tony’s eyes darted all over the parking lot before he finally nodded his agreement. He got out of the car and followed Gibbs toward the building, reaching out and nervously fisting his hand into the back of the man’s shirt as they walked. Instead of berating him for being weak, Gibbs once again held onto his wrist and offered him a reassuring smile as they walked.

“You okay?”

Tony nodded his head frantically, still searching his surroundings for possible threats and keeping a close eye on the mythical creatures he was guessing weren’t really there.

“Okay.”

Gibbs got them a room on the fifth floor of the very nice hotel with two double beds and a large bathroom. It was definitely nice enough to justify the hefty sum of money he’d spent on the room, but the cost was the last thing on his mind. He watched patiently while Tony looked in every corner, behind the curtains, in the bathroom and closet and under both beds before finally deeming the room the safe.

Gibbs contemplated trying to get him to lie down but he knew that wouldn’t go over well just by the way Tony was pacing around and unable to even stand still. “Why don’t you take a shower, Tony,” he suggested instead. “I’ll keep watch.”

“Yeah, a shower. I need a shower.”

“Don’t forget the robe on your bed,” Gibbs said. Neither of them had any luggage. All Tony’s things were still at FLETC and Gibbs hadn’t taken the time to stop by his house before leaving DC. He’d grabbed his go bag out of his car and decided that was going to have to be enough.

As soon as the water in the bathroom started running, Gibbs’ cell phone rang. He grabbed it off the end table where he’d tossed it and glanced at the caller ID.

“Got something for me, Abs?”

“Maybe,” Abby said. “Did you find Tony?”

“Mm-hmm. We just checked into Embassy Suites.”

“Tony’s instructor, Kyle Grady, he left the Army under questionable circumstances,” Abby said. “He was investigated for taking a bribe from one of his recruits the summer before he got out but they couldn’t prove anything. I don’t know how that could play into what’s going on with Tony but I just thought I’d let you know.”

“Means he’s a shady character,” Gibbs said. “He’s willing to cross boundaries. Thanks, Abs.”

When Tony still wasn’t out of the shower an hour later, Gibbs knocked on the door and called his name. He didn’t get any reply so he knocked again.

“Tony, you okay in there?”

Still no reply.

Gibbs opened the door and called Tony’s name again but didn’t get an answer that time either, so he walked over to the shower and peeked behind the curtain. Tony was standing under the now cool spray, sleeping. He chuckled lightly, letting himself be amused by the situation despite the circumstances, then pulled the shower curtain back and turned the water off before drying Tony and wrapping the towel around his waist.

“Step outta the shower, Tony,” he said gently. “I can’t carry you.” He pulled Tony’s arm across his shoulders and managed to get him out of the tub one leg at a time. He led the still half asleep man back into the room and managed to get him tucked into one of the beds without incident. “Sleep, Tony,” he said softly. “You just rest. I’ll keep watch.” And try to figure out what the hell is going on, he thought.

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS | NCIS

Tony was still sound asleep at 4:00 the next afternoon. He’d had bouts of fitful sleep followed by some peaceful sleep before he would start thrashing around again. Gibbs had moved over onto Tony’s bed with him late that morning and every time he started getting restless, Gibbs would lay his hand on Tony’s back or head and remind him he was safe until he calmed again.

A knock on the door late that afternoon startled Gibbs enough it had him grabbing for his gun. He wasn’t expecting anyone and he’d put the do not disturb sign on the door so the hotel staff wouldn’t bother them. As far as he knew, Abby was the only person who knew where he was and he knew she wouldn’t tell anyone. He looked through the peephole and smiled at the face on the other side of the door as he holstered his weapon.

“Tobias, what’re you doing here?” he asked as he opened the door.

“I missed you,” Fornell replied in sarcastic humor. “You got Anthony DiNozzo in there?”

Gibbs cocked his head, wondering how Fornell knew and why he wanted to know.

“I talked to Abby but don’t get upset with her. The director forced her to spill.”

“Yeah, Tony’s in here. Why? What’s this about?”

“It’d be better if I came in.”

Gibbs stepped aside and let his longtime friend in. He poured them both a cup of coffee and they sat down at the small table in the room.

“Tony leaving FLETC yesterday seemed to spark some boldness in a couple of the other students,” Fornell said. “Last night Luke Hargrove disappeared and this morning Aaron Fisk went missing from the facility. Both guys left without a word and both’ve made it home but they’re being very tight lipped about why they left. Luke did let it slip that DiNozzo leaving empowered him to try to get away from Grady but when I pressed he shut down.”

“What the hell is going on over there, Tobias?” Gibbs asked.

“Hell if I know,” Fornell said. “I found the same report Abby did about Grady leaving the Army under suspicious circumstances but I don’t know much more than that at this point. I’ve got Sacks on a plane to visit with Grady’s former CO and see what he can find out.”

“Is Grady being investigated?” Gibbs asked.

Fornell nodded. “It’s being kept quiet for now because no one’s talking and there’s so little to go on but three guys dropping out of the same FLETC class within a day of each other is suspicious. They’ve asked the FBI to investigate. Has DiNozzo said anything?”

“No,” Gibbs said, “but he was a mess when I found him; paranoid, sleep deprived, half-starved, I think he was hallucinating.”

“I’d like to talk to him when he wakes,” Fornell said.

“So would I,” Gibbs said, “but I’m not gonna wake him. I’ll call you when he’s up and talking.”

“Alright. I’m headed over to the training facility now. I’ll check in with you later. You gonna be around?”

“I’ll call you before we leave.”

NCIS | NCIS | NCIS | NCIS

It was 6:00 that evening before Tony finally started coming around. Gibbs hoped his presence on the bed next to him would comfort the man rather than panic him. He had no idea what frame of mind Tony would wake up in but he hoped he’d be calmer than when he’d found him in woods.

“You awake?” Gibbs asked gently.

Tony took a long, deep breath and let it out slowly as he opened his eyes. He looked around and thankfully didn’t see any shadows or fleeting figures that were only in his imagination like he had before he’d slept. “What’re you doing here?” he asked quietly. “And where are we?”

“You don’t remember what happened?” Gibbs asked. He’d fill in the blanks for Tony if necessary but first he wanted to see how much Tony remembered.

“I remember leaving FLETC,” Tony said, “and I remember being chased through the woods but I was seeing things and I couldn’t figure out what was real and what wasn’t.”

Gibbs knew the fact that Tony knew he was hallucinating was a good thing. “Nobody was chasing you, Tony.”

“Are you sure?” Tony asked, making eye contact for the first time.

Gibbs nodded. “When I got to you, you told me Grady had been chasing you but I was at the school before I came to find you and I called over there after we checked in here. Grady was there all day.”

“I don’t suppose the trees grew arms or there was a pack of hungry wolves after me either?”

Gibbs shook his head. “How long has it been since you’ve slept?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Tony, what happened? Why did you leave?”

“I’m sorry, Gibbs. I know you asked me to work for you but I… well, I’ve always been a screw up. I sucked at school and barely made it through the police academy. I guess this one was just too hard for me. Sorry I wasted your time.”

“Don’t apologize,” Gibbs said firmly, “it’s a sign of weakness. I know there’s a lot more going on here than you not doing well in school. Start talking.”

The last thing Tony wanted to do was confess to Gibbs that he hadn’t been able to handle the training FLETC put people through. He could’ve kicked himself for ever agreeing to go in the first place. Working at a local police department was child’s play compared to working for the feds.

“Hey,” Gibbs coaxed, “talk to me.”

“I just don’t have what it takes,” Tony said. He was starting to get defensive which Gibbs saw as a good thing. He wanted to see a little passion and fight from Tony.

Gibbs reached over onto the end table and handed Tony a piece of laminated cardstock. “Ready for something to eat?” he asked.

Tony cocked his head at the sudden change in conversation but he didn’t question it. At least Gibbs wasn’t prying into his last few weeks in hell anymore. “Steak,” Tony said without even looking at the menu, “any maybe a beer?”

“Mmm, no beer tonight. You’ve been a little fuzzy since I got here. Let’s clear things up a little before we start drinking.”

“Fine,” Tony said with a roll of his eyes. “Coke or would you like me to have milk or a juice box?”

Gibbs picked up the phone and ordered them both a steak and a coke while Tony peeked under the blankets. Just as he’d thought, he was completely naked. At least he was clean but why was he naked and where were his clothes?

“You fell asleep in the shower,” Gibbs said as he tossed a robe across the room to Tony. “I sent your clothes down to the laundry to be washed, although they might end up burning them instead.”

“You always read people’s minds?” Tony asked.

Gibbs smirked as he turned around to give Tony some privacy. “It’s my job.”

Tony got out of bed and wrapped himself in the robe. He had to pee so bad he wasn’t even sure if he’d be able to make it to the bathroom. When he returned Gibbs had moved over to the small table in the room and had a cup of coffee and some ice water at each place. Tony doctored his coffee with cream and sugar then took a long drink, moaning in bliss at the familiar taste.

Their dinner arrived and they enjoyed the satisfying meal with little conversation. Gibbs wanted to get some food into Tony before he pushed him any further and he also need time to figure out how to broach the subject delicately, without doing any more harm to Tony’s fragile sense of self.

“I haven’t had time to sit down and eat like this since I left DC,” Tony said without thinking as he shoved forkfuls of food into his mouth, barely taking the time to chew before adding more.

“They didn’t feed you at FLETC?” Gibbs asked.

Tony paused when he realized what he’d said. “You know, you’re just so busy doing other things, sometimes you don’t have a chance to eat.”

Gibbs just nodded and decided not to push him on the obvious lie. Tony was far too thin to have just missed a couple meals but he’d let it go for the time being. “Two others from your class left after you did, Tony.”

Tony shrugged his shoulders as he continued eating. “Guess they didn’t have what it took either.”

“Guess not,” Gibbs replied.

Tony took a long drink of his Coke, emptying almost half the can before setting it down again. “Why are you here, Gibbs?”

“’cause, I was worried about you.”

Tony laughed. “Nobody worries about me.”

“I do.”

Tony looked into the piercing blue eyes that appeared to be dissecting him as he ate and saw nothing but honesty. “Why?”

“Because I care. Tony, I’ve been an NCIS agent for several years now and you’re the first person I’ve asked to leave their job and come work with me. I care about you,” he emphasized.

“Yeah, but you knew I was thinking about bolting after I found out about Danny anyways,” Tony said. He knew nobody cared about him like that and he didn’t need Gibbs’ pity. People had been walking out on him his whole life. He was perfectly capable of dealing with it.

“So what,” Gibbs said. “Didn’t mean I had to offer you a job. I asked you to come be a member of my team, to watch my six, Tony. You’re a cop, you know how big of a deal that is. There’ve been a lot of people I’ve felt bad for over the course of my career but I haven’t offered any of them a job.”

Tony sat in stunned silence, replaying Gibbs’ words over and over again in his head.

“I’m not buying for one second that bullshit story about you not having what it takes to be in law enforcement. I’ve seen you in action, Tony. You’ve got talent. I’ve seen your college transcripts. I know you graduated with a 3.8 grade point average. I know you graduated from the police academy at the top of your class so whenever you’re ready to stop lying to me, I’m ready to listen.”

Tony swallowed hard. He hadn’t realized Gibbs had checked up on him so thoroughly. “I couldn’t handle this one, Gibbs,” he said with brutal honesty. “I’ve spent years listening to people tell me what a piece of crap I am. My instructor here did the same thing and I know he was just trying to weed out the weak ones and simulate the stress of the job and stuff but I don’t know. I guess it took me back to my younger years or something. I stayed as long as I could but I can’t take it anymore.”

“What exactly did your instructor do?” Gibbs asked.

Tony looked devastated at the question. “Do I have to tell you?”

“Please?”

Tony pushed his empty plate away and leaned back comfortably in his chair. He went through all the shameful and humiliating things Grady had had him do, taking responsibility for all of them. He was surprised to see compassion in the former Marine’s face rather than judgment when he finished his account.

“What happened that finally made you leave?” Gibbs asked when Tony had finished.

“He gave me a half an hour to make twelve hundred copies. I knew it was impossible, the copier won’t go that fast. Up until then I’d just thought he was pushing me to be better and stronger but he set me up for failure just so he could humiliate me in front of the class again. I couldn’t face him. I couldn’t face any of them.”

“Tony, what Grady did to you and the other recruits was wrong. It wasn’t to help you or inspire you or make you stronger and I think somewhere deep down inside of you, you know that.”

“My whole life I’ve felt like I wasn’t good enough,” Tony confessed quietly. “My mom left me, my dad abandoned me, I was shuffled around from school to school, never really making a friend or feeling any sense of belonging. College was the same and then I got a real job. And another one. And another one. I just keep bouncing around, repeating the same pattern. At first I really did think Grady was just one of those teachers who taught through intimidation. I thought that if just put my head down and did what I needed to do that I’d be fine, just like I was all those other times but when he gave me that impossible task I knew. I knew he was making a fool out of me in front of everyone and I was so tired and so hungry and so… drained, I can’t do it anymore.”

“And you shouldn’t have to,” Gibbs replied, “but listen to me, Tony. Don’t give up. Don’t let one overzealous asshole take something that you worked so hard for.”

“What do you want from me, Gibbs?” Tony asked. He didn’t understand why this guy didn’t just kick him to the curb like so many people in his life had done in the past.

“I want you to give me a chance,” Gibbs said. “I won’t abandon you. I won’t humiliate you. I won’t use you. Come work for me. Come join my team. I’ll teach everything I know. It won’t be easy and I’m not gonna coddle you but I will be fair and I will make you stronger. I’ll always be a friend you can rely on.”

“Why?” Tony asked.

“I want you by my side, Tony.”

“But why?” Tony asked again.

Gibbs shrugged. “I like you. You’ve got what it takes.”

Tony rolled his eyes, realizing he wasn’t going to get any more of an explanation but he couldn’t hide the smile or stop the surge of pride he felt at actually being wanted. “Okay,” he said. “What do we do now?”

“Agent Fornell from the FBI is gonna take your statement then we’re gonna put this while mess behind us and let him deal with it while we head back to DC.”

“But what about my training?”

“Once everything here settles down I’ll send you back to finish your training,” Gibbs answered, “and this time I’ll be choosing whose class you get put in. Until then you’ll be working with me and learning from me.”

The smile on Tony’s face was genuine as he nodded his approval. He’d expected to leave Georgia without a job, a friend or a place to go but despite his best effort to push the man away, it appeared there was no way Gibbs was going to let that happen. Maybe everything was going to work out after all.

Epilogue

Tony sawed off a manly sized chunk of steak with the knife Gibbs had given him as a welcome aboard present and put it in his mouth while Gibbs sat next to him on the couch doing the same thing. Both men washed it down with a swig of beer as the commercial break ended and the news started again. They rarely watched the news, both thought it was too depressing after a long day of dealing with similar tragedies, but Fornell had informed them earlier in the day that there was a story that would be of particular interest to both of them on that evening.

“Former United States Army MP Kyle Grady was arraigned on multiple charges today after authorities discovered he’d been abusing his power as a FLETC instructor at the school’s Georgia campus. The school started getting suspicious when an unprecedented number of students dropped out of Grady’s class which lead to an FBI investigation. The FBI doesn’t comment on open cases but a spokesman did tell us there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence and that they’re not worried about getting a conviction.”

“You helped take that bastard down,” Gibbs said proudly.

“I wish I could say that’s what I was trying to do,” Tony replied. “I just couldn’t take any more.”

“You had the wherewithal to walk out despite the control he had over you,” Gibbs said. “The guy practically had you brainwashed. That takes strength. It takes guts, Tony. And because of you all those other people had the guts to stand up for themselves too. Whether you meant to do it or not isn’t important. It showed leadership.”

“I didn’t mean to do it,” Tony confessed shamefully. He wished he’d earned the pride Gibbs seemed to have in him.

“So you were following your instincts,” Gibbs replied nonchalantly, “that just means you’re a natural leader.”

Tony thought about it for a moment before smiling and giving in. “I just wish that’s what it felt like, Boss.”

“You’re getting there,” Gibbs said.

“Whoa, was that a compliment from the almighty Leroy Jethro Gibbs? Mark it on your calendars, folks. On this day at this time Gibbs gave me, Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, a compliment. Uh-huh. You heard it here first. I, Anthony DiNozzo, got a compliment from the man, the myth, the legend, Jethro Gibbs.”

Gibbs reached around and playfully smacked the back of Tony’s head, earning him one Tony’s award winning smiles, something he was always thrilled to see. It had taken some time but Tony was relaxing into his new position as Gibbs’ senior field agent and he was damn good at his job, just like Gibbs knew he would be. The man was learning to trust him and learning to trust himself again. Gibbs hadn’t taken it easy on him, knowing Tony wouldn’t want him to and wouldn’t feel as if he’d earned anything if he had.

Tony was doing his best to put the whole mess with Grady behind him. He knew there was a very real possibility he would have to testify at the man’s trial but if that moment came, he’d face the man with his head held high; he’d stand up and show Grady just how strong, competent and capable he was.

Until then, Tony was simply enjoying his new job, his new friends and his new role in life because he had something now that he’d never had before… a family.

End.