Title: A Right to Anger
Disclaimer: I don't think it'd be as fun to beat up something I owned.
Spoilers: Requiem (yep, I love it) and my stories 'Experience Teaches Slowly' and 'What Could Have Been' (the first chapter).
Summary: "Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to." Harriet Lerner
A/N: The Swordsman left a review to 'Experience Teaches Slowly' suggesting a tag to Requiem. I really liked that episode and it's so much fun to play with Tony's feelings, so I figured, why not? And, Mo is still not playing nice with 'Hell in a Handbasket.' The title comes from a quote by Maxine Waters ("I have a right to my anger, and I don't want anybody telling me I shouldn't be, that it's not nice to be, and that something's wrong with me because I get angry"); again, I thought it fit.
He stared at the wall, running his eyes over the familiar crater that still graced his apartment wall. Taking in the details and definitions of the jagged edges and crumbling plaster, he felt the same dark anger, the same sinking bitterness. As the old, half-forgotten emotion sparked within his chest, his hand itched for something to throw, something to break.
As he glanced down at the glass in his hand, a wave of déjà vu crashed over him. He'd done almost the same thing that night, too; made close friends with half a bottle of Jack in his gloom-filled apartment. Fan-freakin'-tastic. A new routine in the making.
Of course, the nightmares didn't help. Unconsciously his hand clenched around his glass, the pressure sending a dull ache up his arm, as he remembered the blank eyes that haunted him at night. That image alone was enough to have him losing sleep each night, the guilt and fear half-choking him. The way the situation had been dealt with, though...
The spark in his chest flared brightly, the emotion rising and eclipsing the fear he still felt. After the past few days, it felt good to let go of his control, to let the emotion rush like a wildfire through him. He stood abruptly and stalked to the kitchen, remembering himself enough to carefully set his glass down by the sink. He prowled around his apartment, feeling twitchy and tense. The energy running through him as the wildfire consumed him set him on edge, pulled him taut. God save anyone who came near him now.
A single, sharp knock echoed through the apartment.
Tony's head whipped around and his eyes narrowed on the door. Despite his anger and hurt, he knew he was on a hair trigger, was immensely thankful he'd carefully stowed away his sidearm when he came home. In the state he was in, he was liable to shoot anyone who looked at him sideways. Trying for control, rigid with emotion, he paced to the door, unlocking the deadbolt and doorknob. He took a deep breath, still feeling the simmer of heat along his veins, and opened the door.
Gibbs relaxed a fraction as the door to his agent's apartment swung open, revealing neither chaos nor bloodshed. His eyes flickered slightly as he took in the darkened apartment and tense lines in Tony's posture, gathering a feel for the situation presented to him. He hesitated for the barest second at the cold heat in the junior agent's eyes, then brushed past the man, stepping through the door without invitation.
"You got a reason for not answering your phone, DiNozzo?" he questioned brusquely, pinning his subordinate with a relatively mild stare.
A muscle twitched in Tony's jaw, but he reached into his pocket and withdrew his cell-phone, his eyes flickering at the 'missed calls' notification. He glanced up at Gibbs and shrugged, something unreadable and dangerous lurking within his green eyes. "Guess I didn't hear it," he said, a bite close to belligerence coloring his tone.
Gibbs narrowed his eyes and really looked at his agent. Tension radiated from the younger man, his hands clenched into fists around his cell-phone. His jaw was held in a stubborn, angry set, muscles in his cheeks clenching with the strain. His eyes glittered with something hard and dark, a feverish brightness that vaguely reminded him of something. The hair stood up on the back of Gibbs' neck and he looked away, searching his mind for where he'd seen that look before. He got the feeling it was vitally important he remember. As he thought, his eyes caught on a hole in the wall across the room. Slightly curious, he stepped over to investigate.
Force had been behind whatever caused the damage to the wall, that much was certain. The drywall had been almost completely punctured, a pinprick of light from the other room showing through the dent. Gibbs stooped to inspect it more closely, determining that, given Tony's height, it hadn't been a fist that made the hole. Besides the fact Tony was too tall, the hole was too deep and he didn't remember having seen the younger agent's hand bandaged; if such damage had been made with a fist, it would've damn-near shattered bone. Relieved but still curious, Gibbs turned to face the silent man standing on the other side of the room.
"Something happen to your wall?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, expecting to hear about some accident involving reorganizing furniture.
The response he got was a surprise.
Gibbs' innocent question relit the wildfire he was just barely keeping under control. The only remaining physical evidence of his last complete loss of control was enough of a reminder in the state he was in, but for the cause of the lost control to ask about it? Tony felt the darkness uncoil in his stomach and spread along his veins.
"Yeah," he spit, "I got pissed off at some schmuck last year and threw my pocket-knife at the wall."
He had to move, had to do something before he put his fist through the nearest wall. Automatically, his feet set him in motion, the act of pacing channeling away some of the angry energy rampant within him. He glanced at Gibbs and wasn't surprised by the calculating look on his boss' face. He felt a tremor run through him as his mind called forward those same steely blue eyes, blank and staring. His step faltered as the guilt and fear left over from that day ran over him, slightly cooling the flames within. He leaned against the wall, trying to feign casualness. He didn't think it worked.
He tried to continue with his previous conversation. "Yeah, I was stupid and let him get the better of me. Threw things like a little kid." He fell silent. "I wasn't even really drunk," he muttered, slightly angry now, at himself. He still remembered that night, the anger and emotion he'd felt so similar to that which pulled at him now. He also remembered how it ended with thrown punches, leaving his boss with a nasty bruise on his jaw the next day. He wasn't sure how this was going to end.
He glanced up at Gibbs, who had yet to say anything else. The ex-Marine was still staring at him, his expression unreadable. Tony returned the scrutiny for a moment, wondering what his boss was seeing.
"I guess I can understand that," Gibbs finally said, nodding. He moved from his spot by the wall and made to leave the apartment, apparently satisfied with whatever he'd come to see. Tony couldn't quite believe that, even with Gibbs in his apartment and the perfect opportunity available, nothing was said about the incident on the pier. He clamped down on his emotions with iron control, seething but unwilling to be the first to speak. "By the way, Maddie wanted me to tell you she was going back to college tomorrow."
Any semblance of control vanished in an instant.
Even Gibbs was willing to admit he hadn't expected Tony's reaction to Maddie's message. A cheeky comment or sly look and question maybe, but for the junior agent to absolutely blow up? Though used to dealing with DiNozzo's moods, he was hard-pressed to remember a time when Tony had lost it so completely.
The cold anger he'd seen simmering within the green eyes earlier flared, a hard granite glitter that nagged at Gibbs. He'd seen that look before, that absolute fury. He pondered that as DiNozzo raged.
"I'm glad she's doing okay! I'm glad that her late winter dip in the river didn't hurt her at all! She's damn-lucky! Not everyone almost drowns after crashing into the river and comes out unscathed! I'm glad she had someone there to save her life!" the younger agent shouted, his voice bouncing off the walls of his apartment. He leveled a dark glare at Gibbs, watched him for a second, then turned and swung his fist into the wall next to him. Picture frames shook and rattled with the force, but the man didn't flinch at all. Of a sudden, Gibbs realized when he'd last seen that look in DiNozzo's eyes.
When he'd come back from Mexico.
Frowning, he stepped forward as DiNozzo drew breath to continue his tirade, planning on interrupting the dangerous spiral he recognized in his agent. He'd just reached out to touch the younger man's arm when Tony let his knees collapse under him, sliding down the wall, his forehead pressed against it. Gibbs' heart leapt into his throat as memory assailed him, holding him in place: DiNozzo collapsing in the gym after their last confrontation; earlier than that, his face lit by blue light as he fought for breath in that hospital bed; and three days ago, his absolutely exhausted, pale features as he crouched, shivering and wet, on that pier after pulling Maddie and him from the water. He remembered, and it threatened to pull him under. He wrenched himself away from the memories and back to the present; losing himself in the past helped no one, particularly now.
Stepping closer to his agent, Gibbs noticed the lines of tension across DiNozzo's shoulders, proof that he was still conscious and still angry. As he watched, the younger agent's shoulders lifted as he took a deep breath and relaxed, his posture softening slightly. Gibbs relaxed, too, leaned against the same wall and slid down next to the motionless man, knees popping slightly.
The apartment filled with silence as the two agents sat next to each other. Gibbs wasn't sure what the source of DiNozzo's anger was this time, didn't know how to fix it. Oh, he had some clues, but no idea how to use them. So, he waited and hoped the silence would help him get the information he needed. He didn't wait long.
"She could've died," DiNozzo mumbled, his words revealing more in the emotion behind them than what he actually said. And what Gibbs heard there choked him just as surely as the water in the river had. Because he heard far more than what was said; he heard what DiNozzo was hiding, heard the words behind the words he'd spoken: you could've died.
Realizing he was a pro at letting situations get out of control, Gibbs sat there and listened, a feeling of déjà vu settling over him as the truth behind the situation was revealed.
The wall was hard on his forehead, but grounding, keeping him centered in the present. He spoke through the rush of memories, not really knowing what he said. Not really caring, either, if he thought about it. He was too caught up in what had happened, what could have been, despite the reassuring pressure of the wall against his head and the ache building in his hand.
"She could've died." There was a leaden quality to the words, at least in his mind. Perhaps because that knowledge weighed so heavily on him. The short silence was almost awkward in the wake of what he said, so he filled it quickly.
"The doors wouldn't open and the water was pouring in and I—I almost wasn't fast enough. A-and then she was free and I-I got you out and s-started CPR because she wasn't breathing and I was so sure – so sure – that she...that she was...that she was dead," he spoke haltingly, far different from his usually eloquent self, as emotion rose to choke him, burning in his chest, so different from the wildfire he'd felt before. This was a cold burn, a slow and gradual freezing that made it hard to speak, hard to think past the overwhelming emotion. He paused for a second and drew a stuttering breath.
"Y-you weren't breathing and i-it was my fault because I didn't get to you fast enough," Tony continued, not even noticing when the subject of his retelling switched from Maddie to Gibbs, or the swiftly in-drawn breath of the man sitting beside him. "Nothing I did seemed to work and it was so cold and I was so tired." He remembered the lethargy that had pulled at him, that he'd had to fight off to keep going. He had been so tired and only desperation had fueled him. A shadow of the feeling hovered over him, a product of the incident itself and the sleepless nights afterward. He sighed and slumped against the wall, felt himself slid just a little more.
"God, it was so close. I barely made it in time." He heard the hollow ring to his voice and words, felt the corresponding emptiness behind the cold in his chest. He fell silent, the flow of words exhausted, leaving him drained in their wake. He leaned against the wall and willingly let it support him. He'd been strong for so long and had let himself break so few times; he had no energy left to deal with this. He just knew that he'd had to say what he did, however much he'd wanted to hide it.
As the silence thickened, he felt Gibbs move next to him, but Tony didn't shift position at all. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed his boss lean over and pick up something from under the corner table; his tired mind didn't identify the object immediately and he couldn't work up the strength to care what Gibbs'd found.
He quickly realized he should've.
Gibbs let the junior agent speak his piece, revealing the sore points that had led to this discussion. He'd known that the incident on the pier was important, but he hadn't realized quite how close it'd been or how much it still affected DiNozzo, even after a few days had passed. Despite the extensive exam he'd received in the hospital, Gibbs had truly thought the incident had been no more dire than any other they faced daily on the job.
Then he heard what had happened from the one person who'd taken it the hardest and was still dealing.
"Y-you weren't breathing and i-it was my fault because I didn't get to you fast enough." The halting quality of the words, coupled with the simple sentiment and complex emotion behind it, hit Gibbs like a blow to the gut. He didn't realize, didn't completely understand, why DiNozzo blamed himself for what had happened. Gibbs knew that any blame in the situation was his fault, not his agent's.
Looking back at what had happened, Gibbs realized that he'd been entirely too focused on the girl to see what had been going on with his agent. The past and all of his fatherly instincts had combined to keep his attention centered on the care Maddie was receiving and he'd half-way ignored what had been going on around him, only vaguely noticing that DiNozzo had taken charge, despite his own bedraggled state. Gibbs wasn't even sure the younger man had gotten himself checked out, though Ducky might've forced him to. Frowning, he realized he'd fallen down on his job, breaking his own rules by assuming Tony would be okay.
His eyes caught the object on the floor as DiNozzo finished his story, but his attention was directed away from it with his senior agent's words. "God, it was so close. I barely made it in time." And the raw pain and fear behind the words simply drove home the seriousness of the situation. DiNozzo needed to know that what he'd done was important and that Gibbs knew it was.
Because it was. In saving him, DiNozzo could very easily have killed himself, either with the strain of the rescue or the aftermath. And, if he hadn't been able to save both Maddie and Gibbs, Tony would have broken, completely and irreparably.
Gibbs let the silence sink in as he reached over and retrieved what he recognized as DiNozzo's pocket-knife. The one Gibbs himself had given the agent after he'd passed the two-year mark at NCIS. He flipped it open and let the low lights of the room shine off the engraving on the blade, remembering the words, though he couldn't read them: Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo, 2+ years. The young agent had been so pleased and Gibbs knew he'd carried the knife with him everywhere afterward, supposedly in strict adherence to Rule Nine. The Marine knew better, but never said anything. Holding it now made him realize that he hadn't seen his Senior Field Agent use it anytime recently. And, as he registered the drywall dust on the handle, another part of Tony's story and the confrontations they'd had – here now and a year ago after his return – fell into place.
"I got pissed off at some schmuck last year and threw my pocket-knife at the wall."
Yeah, Gibbs knew exactly what had happened then. And he'd managed to fix that with few problems.
He didn't think this one would be so easy.
"I'd, uh, wondered where that was," Tony said quickly, drawing Gibbs' attention back to the younger man as he realized what his boss was holding. "I lost it about a year ago and, uh, haven't been able to find it."
"Uh-huh," Gibbs replied. "It was under that table." He gestured in the proper direction.
"Boss," the younger agent sighed, "don't—"
"I know." They fell silent again as Gibbs stared at the knife and Tony stared at the floor. He thought for a while about how to fix what had gone wrong and quickly came to a decision. Hauling himself to his feet, he turned and looked down at the man on the floor, before offering a hand and pulling him to his feet, too.
They stood there for a second, then Gibbs flipped shut the pocket-knife and took a step nearer his agent. With a firm hand, he shoved him toward his bedroom, intent on taking care of the younger man.
"Go to bed, DiNozzo."
But, Boss, I—"
"Now." Tony's eyes hardened momentarily, then quickly softened as exhaustion set in. He nodded sharply once and turned. He'd only taken one step when he faced his boss again. "I've got your six, DiNozzo," Gibbs assured him and he relaxed before heading to his room and shutting the door. Sighing hugely, Gibbs made his way over to the couch, settling himself on the cushions, preparing for a long night. He considered the knife in his hand briefly before sliding it into his pocket. Leaning his head back on the back of the couch, he let his thoughts drift and slid into sleep, alert as only a Marine could be.
Once again, same as every night, Tony sat bolt upright, sweating and gasping for breath. As he struggled for calm, he felt the twinge in the back of his throat before a ragged, barking cough ripped out of him. Lying spent in the aftermath of the dream and the cough, he heard movement in the doorway of his room. Sitting up slowly, he saw his boss standing there, a serious expression on his face.
"You do that every night?" he asked and Tony knew he meant both the cough and the dream.
"Brad said it was to be expected, but it's not a problem and it doesn't happen very often. He said I was lucky not to have caught pneumonia." A snort sounded from the doorway in response to his reply, and Tony felt a grin lift one corner of his mouth.
But his boss was still very serious. "And the nightmare?"
"It's nothing, Boss. I'm fine."
"Okay, yes, every night since it happened, alright? I've relived that second dive every night and every time I'm too late. You're dead and I've failed." There was silence from the doorway as Tony glared sullenly at the blankets in front of him.
"You didn't fail, DiNozzo," came the response. "Even if you had been too late, it wouldn't have been your fault."
Tony sighed. "Yeah, I wouldn't've felt any better," he muttered, mostly to himself.
"It's still the truth. And, anyway, it's not an issue. Maddie's fine. I'm fine. You're fine. We'll be alright."
Tony nodded, though he knew Gibbs couldn't see him. It made sense, was the same thing he'd told himself each night, but hearing his boss say it helped some. It didn't take away the fear, but it lessened it a little. He lay back on his pillows and pulled the covers up to his shoulders.
There was no response, but he knew Gibbs had heard.
Two days later, Tony walked into the bullpen and headed for his desk. He stopped short next to Ziva's desk as he caught sight of the box sitting in the middle of his workspace. Glancing around at the rest of the team's empty desks, he set down his backpack and picked up the box.
The lid creaked slightly as he opened it and he frowned when he saw the familiar shape of his pocket-knife. The one Gibbs had given him years ago; the one he'd thrown at the wall in a fit of anger. The drywall dust was gone from the handle, though a new scratch was still white with it. The familiar weight of the weapon was comforting, a feeling he hadn't realized he missed. Setting down the box, he flicked open the blade. He read the engraving, felt the old warmth at the simple truth behind the statement. Smiling slightly, he made to close the blade when he noticed something about it.
On the other side of the knife blade was a new engraving, one that Tony was sure hadn't been there before. He read it once, twice, and felt something twisted within him unwind. Glancing up at the catwalk, he caught his boss' eye and smiled, a glowing expression that reflected exactly what the engraving meant to him. Gibbs nodded once in acknowledgement, and Tony looked back down at the pocket-knife.
As Ziva and McGee walked in and the job reasserted itself, he settled the knife in his pocket and joined them in their banter, feeling more light-hearted than he had in days. A small smile still lingered around his mouth as they launched into a new case, the words in the engraving running through his head and filling him with warmth.
Above and beyond the call of duty. Semper Fi.
Things really would be alright.
A/N: Holy crap, but this is long! Much longer than I expected. Ah, well. It was fun. ^^ I hope they all remained in character and that everything resolved itself okay for you. Even if it didn't, though, this is what it is. Enjoy it as such. ^^ Ta!