Word Count: 4460
Summary: Sometimes, you don't recover. Sometime the fire burns. Dead Air Tag.
Characters: Tony Dinozzo, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, Kate Todd (in spirit). Mentioned Ziva David, Timothy McGee, Mallard Ducky and Abigail Scutio.
Spoilers: Season 1-2, 6x01 Agent Afloat, 8x05 Dead Air, 8x06 Cracked, 8x17 A Man Walks Into A Bar, Minor reference to dialogue from 11x14 Monsters and Men.
A/N: There was so much potential for Dead Air, so I'm still a little sore over it. This is Tony's journey from the 8x06 cracked with copious amounts of Kate mentioned. Because Kate is AWESOME! And did everyone hear the news about the potential Tony Centric season 11 finale? Hell Yes!
The food grates against the sore, swollen walls of Tony's throat. As carefully as he can, he chews the cooling slice of pizza. For a moment, he feels on the verge of throwing it up again. With a steal mantra of 'Dinozzo's don't throw up', he manages to keep it down and his voice safe from a further postponed return. Of course that also means his decision time is running out. Soon he'll rapidly have to decide whether or not to take it up with the Bossman.
It could have all been just an amusing joke but after tricking McGee to luring Abby away for lunch, he'd snuck down to the lab. The tapes played side by side had proved the disparity between the voice recordings and the radio's. He'd been writing his report later that day. So many times he had pressed the backspace button as again and again he subconsciously wrote it out. 'Agents David and McGee reported when I returned from collecting samples that they had "turned off the radio", whether this was an un-amusing attempt at humor or a serious dereliction of duty, I cannot comment upon.'
In the end he hadn't kept it in his report, but ever since Tony had found himself inexplicably angry for following rule one... Ziva and Tim hadn't exactly been following that rule themselves, had they?
Shaking his head, Tony stood up and went to his fridge to pull out a ready-made milkshake and took a slurp of the thick, cool liquid. His throat, if it could, would be crying wtih relief at the soothing feeling. His mum had used to make them for him when he had a cough, getting rid of the itchy feeling left at the back of his throat.
As he was turning back to the lounge, his eye caught the end of a spiral binder and his heart thumped heavily in his chest. Kate's sketchbook.
Gibbs had shown up at his apartment the evening after Ziva had joined the team with it in hand, an indescribably warm look in his eyes. Tony had only seen it once or twice before, back in those early days. They'd been an endangered rarity after Gibbs had come back from Mexico for the next few years. Tony liked to think that was his look;endless blue eyes coupled with a half crooked smile, kept especially for Tony. Not that Abby or Ducky hadn't been on the receiving end of Gibbs' more affectionate looks. But those were the times Tony lived for, and he had been so fucking amazed when they had begun to show up again, more then just once a month like clockwork. 'Ah Kate, you'd of smacked him silly over Mexico. Heck, you'd have smacked both of us for being such children.'
Smiling wryly to himself, Tony guessed he'd kind of been right back when he'd come to check in on Gibbs house one night and ended up chatting with the boat. It had taken nearly half a decade before his Gibbs, Gibbs the man, re-emerged from the Bossman persona.
Picking out the sketchbook, he ran a hand over the green cover. In an unusual moment of weakness, she'd scribbled her name on the inside and in giant letters had written, 'STAY THE HELL OUT DINOZZO!'. The tongue sticking out face included free of charge. The pages were bent slightly at the corners from the many times she'd flipped through them. He'd never managed more then a few pages being hot tears would slipped down his cheeks. Perhaps it was time he did.
Moving to place it on the table, Tony jumped when there was a quiet thud on the ground. Blinking, he then frowned down at the cream paper that had fallen out. Bending down to retrieve it, he realized it was a envelope. Turning it over, he felt surprise as his name, written in Kate's looping handwriting, stared back at him.
If you're reading this then either you're being a nosy snitch or my 'gut' feeling has come true. If something has happened to me, then you're probably wondering why I'm leaving you of all people a letter. Especially when we spend most of our time bickering like five year olds. But - that's just it. For all your blubbering and deflection, with your silly frat boy smiles and female conquering tales, you aren't a five year old and hormonal. And it's - it's taken me way too long to see that.
You barely talk about your family, you get shifty when I bring up old work places and I don't think I've ever met someone with as much faith in another person as you have in Gibbs. Maybe that's why I'm choosing to believe my 'gut' this time.
What I'm trying to say is that there's more. To you. You're a great agent and although you're terrible with social boundaries, I know that deep down inside of you there is someone who can be so much more. Who can be better then just a great agent hiding behind the frat boy persona, I just hope someday you're comfortable showing that to the world.
And if I am gone, you better choose someone damn good at watching your six. And I don't care if you don't want them to get into trouble, like when you cover for McGee and me by diverting the wrath of Gibbs. They fail at having your six you better bloody we'll tell Gibbs or so help you... God knows how much trouble likes you. So in that case maybe I should say Gibbs should find someone else? Knowing you, they'd probably be a serial murderer or something. And watch out for McGee, Gibbs can still sideline him a little and I know he's getting better in leaps and bounds but he's got some miles to go.
Thank you for being my partner Tony, I couldn't have chosen someone better.
Tony's hands trembled. A lump formed in his throat that he couldn't swallow away, no matter how hard he tried. His fingers ran over the lines again and again. Kate. Even when she was complimenting someone, revealing her vulnerable inner self, she never lost her steel. There was no whining about her possible death or how she didn't want to die.
Pure, unapologetic Kate. As always.
Licking his lips, he glanced around the room for a distraction before settling on the clock above the mantelpiece. It read as a quarter to eight. Then an idea began forming in his head. Who better to talk it out with, then his partner? The team had the weekend off rotation until Monday. Grabbing his phone off the table, he texted Gibbs (who still completely failed at texting but had at least learned to read them) to say he was out of town for Saturday and he'd be back Sunday afternoon. Grabbing the overnight bag he kept ready in the hallway closet, Tony gathered everything he needed and headed towards the car. He knew Gibbs would be suspicious about why he was suddenly heading away this weekend, but unless Tony brought it up, Gibbs would keep it to himself. It was one of the things Tony loved most about his boss.
It would be a long drive to Indiana. That was Kate for you, she'd make you work for it and even then she might not reveal her hand. Settling inside, he took a slow deep breath and let it out. Then he turned on the engine and pulled away from the curb.
When he got there it was just touching midnight, luckily Tony knew from his previous visit that there was all night hotel in the area and he pulled in to the parking lot. The clerk seemed a little startled to see him; Tony guessed they didn't exactly get too many surprise visitors to their town.
"Hi, could I get a room for two nights please?" He inquired with his most charming smile. Tony could almost feel Kate's outrage at flirting in her hometown.
The girl flushed and rushed around to get his details and the key for the room. Spending a little more time flirting, he found out she had gone to university here in Indiana and her aunt ran the hotel. Seemed like all backwater towns were the same, just like the birthplace of one Leroy Jethro Gibbs. He had to admit there was something about them. Something that released the tight knot in his chest from living in such a large, busy place. Not that Tony wanted to live in a place like this anytime soon.
God was he tired. Trudging up the stairs, he shuffled along the corridor to the far end room and slid his key into the lock. The room was a pale cream with one pastel blue wall. The bed was darker, warm browns with a cream overthrow if he got cold. In the dim hallway light it looked a lot like relief.
Closing the door, he dumped his bag, got out the toiletries and went into the bathroom. Brushing his teeth, it wasn't until he glanced into the mirror that he saw the draw shower curtain. His chest squeezed as he remembered the last time he'd been in a toilet with someone in the shower. A light chuckle escaped him; she'd been so lively. Her face had been an entertaining mixture of exasperation, outrage and outright indignation. The way she had said his name, the slight stressing on the latter half - "To-ny!"
His could still remember her stunned look of disbelief when she realized this wasn't an uncommon practice for not only himself and the Boss, but for all NCIS agents with their low budgeting. Back then, at any rate. Shepard and Vance had managed to increase their budget some over the years.
Smiling a little, he finished cleaning up, clicked off the light and went to the bed. It even felt like a small town bed. The covers were not as soft as his own, but still warm and welcoming. Moonlight streamed through the open bay windows and he smiled, he always slept better with the windows clear to stream light in. The Bossman definitely wouldn't have approved, too much of a security risk if there was- he cut that thought off. This wasn't about Ari. This was about him spending sometime with his partner.
His thoughts continued to ramble, until finally Anthony Dinozzo Jr slipped off into one of the most peaceful sleeps he'd had in very a long time.
When he woke, the clock had just turned nine and the sun was streaming into the room, curling around him in a warm embrace. Snuggling into the covers, he let out a small yawn as the last swirls of his dream dissipated. Blinking, Tony felt a small grin cover his face. Today was the day he'd be seeing her again for the first time in nearly five years.
Getting dressed into the more comfy clothing he had backed - his favorite green jumper, form fitting jeans and the old, leather brown jacket he'd brought along specifically just for this. He'd known she'd always loved that jacket, even though she denied it. He remembered one time they had been on stakeout and she been a shivering chilled mess. Being the gentlemen Tony was, he'd slipped it off and covered her with it. She had started, as if surprised before gifting him with warm a smile.
His chest burned again but it was a good burn this time, and he carved the feeling into his memory.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. There was a small dinner that served coffee that smelled just right and they had hazelnut creamer. It was kind of like the one the team liked to visit when they actually had time for a break. But what made it perfect was that it caffeinated him without irritating his throat for the first time in a week and a half.
It was about a fifteen-minute walk to the cemetery and Tony hoped it wouldn't be too populated for a Saturday, so that he could just take his time to talk things out. Swallowing down the bitter anger bubbling again, he paid the bill and with a flashed smile at the waitress headed out.
The cemetery was thankfully quiet, and he made the trek to the large oak tree under which she was buried in slow sweeping steeps. The marble sheen of her headstone was still as glossy as he remembered. It had changed little but the family, probably her youngest brother Scott (who was an avid gardener), had planted various flowers. Her favorites of course being tulips sprouting in pale yellows and blues all around the base.
Gathering his nerve, Tony greeted her softly. "Hey Kate." Then breathed out slowly, "I always had this suspicion you were here watching over us. I dreamed about you once, in Somalia. You were yelling. Sounded right pissed too. It was kinder like Ghost, but without the whole clay romance scene. You would have been more likely to strangle me, then let me help you with making pottery."
A light wind rustled and he smiled ruefully. "I know, I know. Stop avoiding the topic. So I found your letter. Kind of makes me pissed, but then you didn't know that rule yet. Rule forty. If you think someone is out to get you, they are."
Kneeling down, Tony laid a hand on the gold script. "I have a problem here Partner. In your letter, you told me that if someone didn't watch my six like they were suppose to, I should tell Gibbs. But come one, it was only for like five minutes and it's not like it would have turned out like this one movie -"
He flinched at the sudden throbbing at the back of his head and he gingerly reached up to rub the spot. "Thought I told you not to do that again."
Then he blinked as he realized he'd never said that to Ziva. He scowled at the thought. It was a liberty she'd taken without permission, he'd only allowed it the one time because if was a defacto order from Gibbs. Maybe it was time he made it clear again.
"Okay, so it's not so much about the time. It's about whether it could happen again. I mean, things were shit the first two years after the Boss was back. He wasn't the boss. He was a pod person who kind of acted like the Boss. If he was fifteen years younger."
Picking at a few small weeds popping through, Tony thought back to the before-Mexico days, "You remember when we had that discussion about how to get a warrant? We didn't break any rules then, it was about bending them. Now it seems like breaking rules is all we do these days. It's going to come back to bite us in the ass, we all know that or at least, I hope we do."
He sighed. "Guess what I'm trying to ask is... What do I do now? I can tell Gibbs or I can file an official complaint. Course, Vance is going to wonder why the hell I didn't put it in my report. Can always say I didn't think about it until later. But should I? Just because they pulled something worthy of Godfather type retribution if I had got hurt, doesn't mean I should break rule one right?"
But then, Gibbs had always trusted Tony, not to always tell him everything but to trust him to be able to tell the truth when it was needed. Technically this was twice Ziva had broached protocol. First there was assaulting a federal officer in Israel and now this, turning off the fucking radio. Was she still pissed at him about Michael despite their bathroom talk? Sure seemed like it. As for McGee... He'd never really broken protocol, apart from all the hacking but he had been rather insubordinate at times and almost breaking the chain of command at moments.
"And the slowpoke comes to a conclusion - that's what you'd be saying right now huh, Kate?" Standing up, Tony stretched and felt his muscles pull. "It isn't about the past, isn't it Kate? It's about making sure the future is safe. Because it looks like my two little probies could do with a wake up call."
The sun, if only to Tony's imagination, seemed to shine bright for a moment or two. "Yeah, yeah I know. Take care of Abby, make sure the Bossman doesn't overwork, stop McGee from huddling in his apartment and help Duckster out when I can." Feeling his eye burned a little, but he didn't have to force the genuine grin onto his face. "Love you too, Partner."
Stepping back, Tony turned and resolutely walked away without turning back. If he had, he probably would have noticed the brown haired one watching him with open curiosity and, Tony would have noted, a big similarity to Kate.
But for Tony - It felt like enough.
- GIBBS RESIDENCE -
The sound of the back and forth motions of wood being stripped filled the room. Pulling to a halt, he blew on the plank and ran his hands over the grain. Still not quite smooth enough for him to begin sanding. Blinking as he heard his phone buzz, he wondered who was dumb enough to text him versus calling. Flipping it open, he squinted at the writing. 'Hey Boss. Going out of town. Be back Sunday night, Tony.'
It was odd. Dinozzo rarely texted him. Usually if he was going out of town, the man was so excited he had to either call and splurge until Gibbs decided to cut through the babble, or Tony would show up in person and bounce around the basement as he told Gibbs all about it, hand gestures and movie references on the tip of his tongue.
There were only two instances in which Tony would use text. One, when he was going out of town on business and therefore not looking at all forward to it or two, because something made him feel emotionally vulnerable. Gibbs frowned a little and thought back to over the past few weeks. Apart from loosing his voice there hadn't been any dramatic events happening during the case - anymore then normal, that is. So what had set him off? The only time Gibbs hadn't been actively involved in the case had been during the recording stakeout and Abby hadn't called him about any issues with the evidence.
But there was something - something niggling at the back of his mind and his gut was churning. He tried to remember how Dinozzo had acted after they had returned from the stakeout but it had been a rush to get then recordings to Abby so he had been justifiably focused more-so on the case then his underlings.
Not that it would make much difference in Ducky and Abby's minds. The two of them had become mother-hens after Mexico and Tony's time as agent afloat. Abby had been so guilty when she had come to speak to him about how she had been with Tony during his absence and Ducky had been similarly displeased about Tony being out at sea, with the potential of catching all sorts of lung affecting viruses. Meaning he would be potentially without the proper medical care, should he need it. Although Tony would probably have done just about anything to avoid the blue room had he caught anything.
Forcing himself to get back on track and away from the images of Tony trying to breathe through coughing up mucus bit after mucus bit, Gibbs turned to the time after the case was solved. The typing of reports was when the mental states of his people were at their most obvious. Ziva and McGee's reports had been typed out in an efficient, clinical manner. Though McGee's at a faster pace then Ziva's. Tony...
Now that Gibbs thought about it, there had been an awful lot more backspacing then was usual for Dinozzo, as if he was having trouble phrasing something. But he hadn't asked his co-workers about how they were putting it down, so obviously it was something that he had picked up or felt more strongly about then his two co-workers.
So the question was, what was it?
Working the wood harder then he had been before, Gibbs went over what it could be causing Tony distress but, try as he might, there was nothing in the report that indicated any kind of issue.
For a moment he thought about calling the man, but he respected his Senior Field Agent's decision enough to leave it be. For now. He'd see how things were come Monday.
- NCIS HEADQUARTERS -
Mondays. The scourge of the working world. On most Mondays, Tony could be seen dragging his feet from the car to the building, in a most reluctant manner at exactly seven o'clock in the morning.
SFA's were required to meet at the beginning of every week and update all others teams about casework and to make sure there was no missed crossing of cases that were. It was also useful for getting a hand on the gossip ladder about who was doing what and what promotions were going on. They also had to have conference meetings with the LA office, New Orleans and the Europe division on current terrorist threats, as well as new potential targets and weaponry warfare.
Especially so in Tony's case, as were anything to happen to the three men above him in the NCIS Washington D.C. Naval Base hierarchy, it would leave Tony in-charge until SEC-NAV appointed a temporary director or, worse comes to worse, a new one.
It also allowed him to clear out the backlog on paperwork, the HR requests to those from Legal and finally, the requisition forms all there sitting in his in-tray. But this particular morning there was neither misery nor outright happiness to be beginning the working week. Gibbs had nodded at the other when he'd swept in, dumped his stuff and headed upstairs to the Director's office for the morning briefing.
When he returned half and hour later Gibbs found Tony working on some kind of forms. "Having fun, Dinozzo?"
The green-eyed man glanced up and it startled the ex-marine a fraction to see the settled look on the other's face. As he took a more in-depth study, Gibbs noticed how Tony's shoulders appeared more relaxed. But there was still something that was bothering the other, lurking there in the crinkles around his SFA's eyes.
"As fun as paperwork can be. In fact, I probably won't even die in field Boss. It'll be the paperwork that does me in and then I can do as Ziva suggested and say, as I lay dying, I saw this in a movie once." Tony replied with a grin.
Gibbs rolled his eyes. Classic Dinozzo. "Uhuh. Last I checked Dinozzo I hadn't given you permission to die yet."
It was amusing to watch the other scramble to backtrack. "No Boss. No dying for this Dinozzo."
Arching an eyebrow, he took a sip of his coffee and took at seat at his desk. Abby would be in in forty minutes and she'd be needing her morning caf-pow.
Tony sighed in relief when Gibbs returned to his desk and he could begin filling out the two forms in front of him. He couldn't do anything about Ziva's actions in Israel unless he wanted her charged for attacking a federal agent but he could do something about this. Slowly, he began writing out the events of what happened. It was difficult to write it in a clinical manner, without elapsing into lines of scribbled rage but he managed it.
Now, all he had to do was figure out how to give the forms to Gibbs. Easier said then done.
"Going for coffee."
Tony started and when he glanced at the time on his desktop he was surprised to find thirty minutes had passed. "Don't forget Abby's caf-pow." No one wanted to relieve that particular event ever again, Tony chuckled to himself when Gibbs sent him an 'do I look like an idiot to you, Dinozzo' expression.
After returning from his drop-off at Abby's lab and swinging by the morgue to greet Ducky, Gibbs returned to the pen. As he retook his seat, he caught Tony's sneaking looks as if his theatrical attempts at Sean Connery made him look any less obvious. Hiding a smile, he decided he'd give Tony ten more minutes before he demand the papers that Dinozzo kept fiddling with.
Tony swallowed as ten minutes later the Bossman's shadow fell over him. Could he do this? Meeting the intense, searching gaze, he steeled himself as he felt a weight spread around his shoulders. Kate.
Gibbs stared at his SFA neutrally before holding out a hand. "Got something for me, Dinozzo?"
Of course he knew, Tony thought sourly and something of it must have shown on his face because Gibbs cracked a smirk as Tony gathered the two copies of the four page forms. One for Gibbs and one for the Director. He couldn't stop his hands from shaking as he handed them over.
His gaze quickly fixed on the desk as Gibbs read over the papers. Tony didn't think he could stand to see the disappointed look.
A minute lapsed into two before, finally, "Dinozzo."
Dragging it out, inch-by-inch, Tony's eyes rose to meet the others. Gibbs' face was blank and he cringed. Oh great, the Bossman was pissed. He knew he shouldn't have told him. Thanks a lot Kate, he muttered in his mind. So caught up in his thoughts, Tony was completely unprepared for returning to reality. The ominous expression only changed when Tony's gaze met his, the look softening into a purely affectionate gaze.
Stunned, Tony didn't even flinch when a hand reached out and ruffled his hair. Tony felt his heart pound. What did it mean? Gibbs approved? Or was he lulling him into a state of safety only to rip it away with the dressing down of the century? The he mentally smacked himself; this was Gibbs he was talking about. The man who walked a straighter road them the Romans could hope to build.
The hand ruffling his hair moved to grasp the back of his neck and squeezed. Tony felt a warmth flush through his body, and the aching burn that had been scalding him for days finally receded. Cooled by the waters of Le Gibbs' words.
It's not thank me for being a good partner Kate, Tony thought, its thank you. So, thank you Kate.
"Atta boy, Dinozzo."