Title: Facing My Demons
Rating: Teen (for language)
Spoilers: Up through the current season is fair game.
Summary: Tony looks at his life in a clinical way.
Words: ~5500
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS or any of the characters of the show. I'm just borrowing timelines and events.

Author's Note: Reviews are appreciated, and I hope you enjoy. One shot.


No single event caused me to fall into this pit.

Although, that I have no real desire to quote The Princess Bride about the Pit of Despair ought to be pretty telling.

Over the last eight years, an accumulation of crap has piled higher and higher until it buried me. Don't get me wrong – I have never stopped teasing, joking, or pranking my co-workers. Somewhere along the way, though, I stopped liking it. It's just become second nature. Even more, I've reached a point that wearing a Cheshire grin became an expectation and my face gets stuck that way. Christ, I hate my job some days.

Working for the Major Case Response Team for NCIS may be considered an honor, but I'm starting to understand why most don't last long. Especially working for Leroy Jethro Gibbs.

The only time I seem to get anything accomplished is when I'm completely alone. Gibbs jokes that I do my best work at night. Pressure eases off of me and thankfully I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not with no one around. I show up somewhere near midnight and head home in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep's overrated, and no one's going to notice how tired I am so long as I smile and tease my co-workers.

I am surprised no one's noticed how much more obnoxious I've become, though. Any of my frat brothers can explain how I babble more, and my actions become more slap-stick when I'm exhausted.

No… not one single event caused me to hate my life. But a single event started my downhill slide into what my psychologist has informed me is depression.

Depression. An odd way to think of myself. But the fact that some months back I pulled out my Sig and seriously considered pulling the trigger might have been a dead give-away. Before anyone can ask – of course I wouldn't have pulled the trigger. It took less than two seconds to realize it would be a selfish, ridiculous act. I was scared, though. That I got to that point terrifies me. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

It's why I'm standing in my therapist's office right now, as I have been on a weekly basis for months.

"You know, you can't just make a statement like 'My life sucks' and not explain," she says.

I don't have to turn around from where I stand at the window to know she's giving me a clinical look with just a hint of frustration behind her eyes. She's detached, devastatingly gorgeous, and would make a great challenge – if I really gave a damn. It just isn't worth the effort to chase a woman. Not anymore. If anything, I've become a bumbling moron around the female variety of our fine species and can't seem to get it right.

"Getting the pneumonic plague threw me for a loop," I eventually admit. "I've got permanent lung scarring, and I sometimes get a nasty cough that persists until I see my pulmonologist. Kate sat with me in that damn blue chamber as I slowly drowned in my own fluids. She didn't leave me. But that's not when it all started. Not really."

Caitlin Todd. Kate. My partner and friend. The voice of reason on the team.

"That's not what started what you like to call your 'downhill slide'?" she asks.

"Actually, I believed I called it my downhill slide on the water-free slip-and-slide from hell," I reply. Shrugging, I add, "I've got the slide burns on my ass to prove it."

Then I'm gazing unseeing out the window again. Of course, she's expecting more. Yet she doesn't ask, and I'm annoyed with quiet people – people like Gibbs – who show way too much patience for someone with a pulse. It's what makes her good at her job, though, and what's kept me coming back to see her these last few months.

Blowing out a breath, I finally turn around, saunter over to a designer chair, take my seat and stare right back at her. Of course, I'm the first to crack. Can't win a staring contest against Gibbs, either.

"It started with Kate," I sigh. Kate. Beautiful Kate. Lovely, beautiful, sisterly Kate, who used to drive me crazy one minute and make me laugh the next.

She'd been recruited from the secret service, quickly integrating herself into my team. At first, I'd flirted and played. Then I started making comments that I knew would irritate her feminist views on life. In our short time together, she had come to mean a lot to me – so much so that when she died, I began to drift away. It took awhile to get grounded again. Then again, I can't work around Gibbs without being a little grounded, 'cause he headslaps me until my feet are firmly planted.

At the end of the day, though, Kate's the one that really made me solid. She challenged me and kept me honest. Taught me humility.

Then Probie joined the team – a very young and nervous Timothy McGee. Once that happened, Kate became my co-conspirator, pranking and joking. It felt good. Right. Maybe a little righteous.

Then Kate had to go and get shot in the head by a rogue terrorist, damn it all. A single bullet to the forehead from a sniper's rifle silenced her smart mouth.

"I still miss her," I say as my chest tightens in memory. I think it's the first time I've said that aloud since her funeral. I. Miss. Kate.

"I talk to her sometimes," I murmur. Realizing I've just said that aloud, I wince and add, "I don't mean that I think her ghost is sitting here. It's just that…"

"You take comfort in imagining what she'd say," the therapist finishes for me.

She hit the nail right on the head. When I'm at my worst, when I need advice the most, Kate's the one I usually imagine. Of course, she's often making fun of me; but she comes through when she knows I need her. After all, even though she thought of me as an immature womanizer, she was my partner. She is my partner. Always will be, too. Death doesn't take that away.

"After Kate… Gibbs was impossible to live with," I continue. "He was obsessed in catching the major badass terrorist before Kate died. That same terrorist killed our Katie, and he got even worst."

I won't mention just how much Kate hated being called Katie. Or Kitty. Or Kitty Cat. It's why I called her all three of them. She'd frown, open her mouth, and usually just huff a frustrated breath out or make some comment like, "Real mature, Tony."

Frustration wells up and I can't sit anymore; and I'm pacing back to the window. She shouldn't have died. She'd survived a bullet just moments before. What a stupid move on her part – she jumped in front of a bullet for Gibbs, and survived… thanks to her vest. And the next thing we knew, Kate lay dead in front of us, with her blood splattered across my face and a bullet through her forehead.

Fisting my hands until my nails bite my palms helps a little. As pathetic as it might sound, a little pain makes me less… something. Angry? Sad? Frustrated?

"Kate died right after the plague," the therapist says in a soft, sympathetic voice. I look at her in time to see her tilt her head when she adds, "Didn't you nearly get blown up when you came back?"

"Yeah," I breathe out. "I should've been on leave awhile longer, but… I can't just leave my partners, you know?" I ask. I can't regret coming back so soon, though, because it meant I had Kate's back for those last weeks. That means more to me than just about anything else.

"I had to get back to work so I could have their six," I add, and I feel my throat tighten.

I don't know if my therapist understands. Unless you walk through hell with someone, I'm not sure you really can. So I continue to watch the woman who gives nothing away in her expression, and I bestow on her a dazzling smile. It doesn't work, though, because she gives me the same look Gibbs gives me – impatience with the barest hint of sympathy.

"What happened after Kate?" she asks.

"Ari. The badass terrorist," I reply. I might say his name with hate if I thought I could hate him. There is no doubt that some of the other agents saw my perpetual calm about Kate's killer as cold. It wasn't, though. I'd just burned up and fallen away in ashes when she died.

So I shrug and say, "I was so tired, I couldn't bring myself to really hate him. Not like Gibbs could. Then Ari was dead, and it didn't seem to really matter."

"That's when Ziva became your partner?" she asked, and I snort in response.

"Not really. She was sitting at Kate's desk," I say. "She had to earn her place."

"But she did?"

"Yeah," I gruffly reply. "Eventually. Heck, she had my back when this psycho – Chip – tried to frame me for murder. I mean, geez, all I did was get the kid fired from a job. He built this elaborate plan to get me put away for a murder I didn't commit."

He'd been smart about the way he did it, too. He'd gotten a job in the forensic lab, where he could get a hold of things like my used gloves – great for fingerprints, and an apple – great for dental imprints. In the end, he'd nearly succeeded.

"I spent a little time behind bars, courtesy of the FBI."

Ziva and McGee got a kick out of seeing me in a cell, but they came through in the end. Thinking back to the real hero of the day, I can't help but smile.

"Your team got you cleared," the therapist states, and I find myself nodding emphatically.

"Abby Scuito, our forensic guru and resident Goth Girl figured a lot of it out. By the time the rest of us did, she literally had the guy bound and gagged.

Shaking my head, I chuckle, "Chip was her assistant. And it's our own fault, because she warned us she didn't want anyone in her lab." Shaking my head, I add, "We shoulda believed her."

"Things got back on track after that though, right?"

"Sure," I reply with a shrug. Things had run a little more smoothly. For a little while things had gotten back to semblance of normal, whatever that may be. In my world, dead bodies are the norm. So yeah – we got back on an even keel. It didn't last nearly long enough, though.

"As soon as I was really getting used to having Ziva as my partner, Gibbs pulled a Jason Bourne." Frowning, I realize that's not precisely right, so I clarify, "Except that Gibbs remembered his past. He just didn't remember his present."

Shrugging, I add, "And he didn't go all psycho with guns and stuff. He just took off to Mexico. So… I guess it wasn't just like the Bourne trilogy."

And now my therapist is giving me that look again. Inhaling deep, I release my breath slowly and smile tight.

I explain, after a deep breath, "Gibbs got blown up and ended up in the hospital. When he came around, he didn't remember anything after 1992… when his little girl and first wife were killed."

It had hurt that he hadn't trusted us with his past. Hurt that he hadn't told us about his family that had died so tragically. Hurt that he hadn't remembered us…

"Everything started going downhill a lot faster after that," I say.

Life spiraled in on me after that. I wanted… I needed to get my bearings, but I couldn't because I had no time. I felt like the damn rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. I'm late, I'm late, I'm late. In the end, I had no energy.

Very quietly my therapist says, "Gibbs left you."

She doesn't say, Gibbs left NCIS. Funny that after just a few months of seeing me, she really gets it even if the others don't. And since I've already bared so much of my soul to her, I'm not flustered by admitting any of it. Weird, huh? Usually, I'd start babbling. This time, I just shrug. In reality, part of me understands why he vamoosed. Sometimes, running away feels like the only option.

"Yeah. Gibbs left me out of my element – and in charge of the team. The next thing I know, I'm trying to be… him," I reply. Turning back, I take my seat, leans my forearms on my knees, and say, "Only I'm not Gibbs, and that was a mistake on my part. I let things happen, and I shouldn't have, because I wanted to prove to everyone around me that I was competent."

"You lost control," she prompts, and I nod sharply.

Oh boy is she right on that one. Not only did I lose control, but I'm fairly certain I lost a good dose of self-respect in the process.

So much happened while Gibbs was gone, I don't even know where to start.

"Jeanne," she says, giving me a jumping-off spot to delve into the chaos of those months.

She'd been my first true love. The first woman I'd been able to say I love you to and really mean it. How pathetic is that? I'd been in my thirties before I really fell in love with a woman. Then, it hadn't even been me. It had been my undercover alter-ego. Yet it had still been me.

"Yeah, Jeanne," I murmur. "She's… amazing. Beautiful. Compassionate."

Every part of me sadly sighs when I say, "She loved me."

Our esteemed director at the time, Jenny Shepherd, was after Jeanne's father who dealt in arms. She'd put me undercover to get close to the man's daughter. Jeanne. I didn't realize until the web had become so tangled that it had been personal on her part. I swallowed a bitter pill the day I realized just how obsessed Jenny had become with catching 'La Grenouille'. The Frog.

Even harder to swallow – even now – is the fact that I fell in love with Jeanne Benoit in the process. When it crashed in on me, it hurt so damn bad; and there's Ziva trying to get me to admit my feelings. What was I supposed to do? Stand on a rooftop and scream that the one woman who meant more than the world hates me because I'm a deceitful bastard?

I couldn't, because the only thing I had left was the smallest shred of pride.

"Jeanne tried to frame you for her father's murder," my therapist points out, and once again, I'm out of the chair and pacing around.

This part might bother me a little more if I didn't feel like I truly deserved what she'd done. I know all about vengeance. That she wanted a little of her own is okay by me. So instead I pace back in forth in front of the window, not really seeing anything but her beautiful face in front of me.

"I get it. I do," I reply. "It's the whole 'woman scorned' thing. But when I was cleared and she asked me if it had all been an act…"

I can't say the last part, because I'd told her it hadn't been real. That she'd been nothing but an assignment. And just thinking those words still rips a hole in my chest. I'd been a better kind of man with her.

"I stopped caring about a lot of things for awhile," I continue. "Work hasn't meant the same to me in a long time. I'll always have Gibbs' six, and McGee's, and Ziva's. But there are days that I don't want to show up."

I think about all the lies involved, and am amazed that I can still see the only honest thing in the whole mess – what I felt for Jeanne. Except for my true identity, she knew all of me.

"I wish I'd told Gibbs about it when he came back from Mexico, but…" I trail off, because I don't know what to say anymore. I was following orders. Jenny had told me I couldn't tell anyone. Need to know. So I worked days, then turned around and worked most nights, too. And by the time Gibbs decided to come out of retirement, I'd started to get a clue about Jenny's personal motive. I really didn't think I was in a position to ask him for anything. Part of me didn't trust him to have my six.

He'd left. McGee had begun to grow into his position as my senior agent, but he wasn't in a position to help. I didn't feel like I could add any other responsibilities.

Sighing, I lean my forehead against the cool glass pane and softly admit, "When Jeanne walked away that last time, part of me was just glad it was over. I'd gotten to the point that I was so deep in all this – feeling like such a fraud – that I couldn't see myself anymore. I couldn't stand to look in the mirror, and I felt like I was betraying everyone."

"Let me ask you something. Do you still love Jeanne?" she asks.

Sure. Ask an easy one. Blowing out a breath, I eventually reply, "I'll always love her, but there's too much mistrust. The line I crossed is the kind that can never be redrawn."

And it's true. I really just wish her the best. Considering who her father was, she deserves a little peace. Could I see spending the rest of my life with her? If things had turned out differently and I'd really been Tony DiNardo – my alter-ego – then yeah. I think we would've been happy together.

"Did I tell you it took Paula – Special Agent Cassidy – dying for me to tell Jeanne that I loved her?" I ask. "Paula was a team leader for another MCRT. Her people were in a building blown up by terrorist and we were working her case. Then she gets blown up a few days later. Hell, she sacrificed herself to save a lot of people, and all I can think is I have to see Jeanne. Tell her how I feel."

"Paula – another woman you liked and admired – died tragically," my psychologist points out.

At one time, what I felt for Paula went beyond friendship and delved into the uncomfortable. But the window of opportunity had shut almost as fast as it had opened. We'd connected and something might have happened if I hadn't been the womanizing prick Kate always accused me of being.

Apparently God has a sense of humor when it comes to me and women.

"If nothing else, I could always count on her to be a friend. After Kate died, I think she gave me enough balance to survive," I murmur.

I see her now and again, too, but not as much as Kate. Her voice pops up in time to give me a verbal headslap when I'm about to do something stupid. Boy did she know how to use her words to get me going. Whether flirting or reprimanding, she completely dominated me when she spoke. Not that I'd ever admit it to her – that gorgeous blonde would've let it go to her head and I would've never heard the end of it.

"I'm tired," I murmur, closing my eyes and leaning heavy against the glass.

"I know, Tony."

"I don't know where to go from here," I admit, and fall silent. I'm tired, confused, and achingly broken. If I'm Humpty Dumpty, am I even fixable?

When my therapist clears her throat, my eyes open slightly and I tilt my head so I can at least look in her general direction.

"Then Gibbs had a case with his deceased daughter's childhood friend," my therapist states.

Another case where we had to play catch up with the boss, 'cause he couldn't just be straight forward about it. It was personal to him. Maybe too personal, though I doubt he'd ever admit it. In the end, I had his six. I always do.

"Yeah," I softly reply. There's not much else I can say.

"Does Gibbs know the extent of the damage you did to your lungs when you had to pull them out of the river?" she asks, and I hold absolutely still – the kind of still I used to hold when my father drank a little too much and was a little too pissed off. The kind of still that prayed no one would really notice me. I've probably done this little act a little too much, though, because I finally get a little emotion out of her. Irritation works.

"Tony, I can still see you," she sardonically replies. "Stop hunching and answer."

Sometimes my therapist even sounds like Gibbs. I still think about the car going into the water, with Gibbs and his daughter's friend trapped inside. The panic that had lanced through me, propelling me into the frigid river after them still spears me in the gut when I think about it.

"Didn't see the point," I eventually reply.

At the time, I hadn't. Gibbs hadn't been back long, the most painful part of the man's past kept rearing up and biting him in the ass, and I just didn't see the point of explaining why I took a few personal days. I'd earned them.

"Has it ever occurred to you that somebody should have gone with you to the hospital in case there were complications? Or that you might need some help?" she asks and I shrug.

"I called Ducky the next day. Told him what was going on, since he's my primary physician. Besides, the infection wasn't too bad," I explain.

She retorts quickly and accusingly, "You developed walking pneumonia. And we won't even get into why your medical examiner – a man who works on the dead – is your personal physician."

The pneumonia hadn't been too bad. Just a mild case, and one that didn't last long once I started the antibiotics.

"Then not long after, your Director, Jennifer Shepherd died," she says, and I shrug.

I have nothing to say to this – nothing I can say to justify my culpability, so I sit heavily and close my eyes. Of all the dumbass things I've done in my life, this will always rank up there towards the top. I should've been thinking like Gibbs. I should've been watching Jen's six. I should've…

"Tony, she gave you a direct order to stop working her protection detail."

"Still negligence on my part. Order or not, my job was to keep her safe," I reply with little feeling. Another death.

"And you were punished," she says, and I nod sharply.

Gibbs and Vance have both said that being sent to the Seahawk was never intended as a punishment, but I'm not completely stupid. Of course it had been, whether they intended it or not. I hate boats with every fiber of my being, and I had to be the only cop on one for months. I'll admit I was pleasantly surprised when I got to come home. I thought maybe things could go back – that we could pull a Back to the Future and we could reverse how the team got along to before Kate died.

"No sooner do I get back, then I'm thrown into this 'war game' that turns out not to be a war game after all," I mutter.

Man, I'm still bitter about that. Gibbs hadn't bothered to inform us that we were being used as tools in the damn escapade. I understand the concept of need to know, but he took it too far. He made me feel… the same way Jenny made me feel. Like nothing more than a thing.

"Until that day, I never felt expendable," I add.

Sometimes I get a glimpse of what we used to have on our team, but it's like a trick of the mind. It's just a hint of something I see in my peripheral vision. When I try to find it – Poof! Gone.

It's all mired in lies. First I'd lied to him about the whole undercover op, dating Jeanne… falling in love with Jeanne. Then he turns around and uses me. Lies to me. And ever since a piece of me has wondered if anything is the truth anymore.

"Has it ever occurred to you that maybe you need a break?" she asks, and I can hear the concern in her voice.

I wouldn't know a break if it slapped me in the face. I can't think of the last time I took a vacation without working during at least part of it – whether filling in details from a closed case or just acting as a sounding board for Abby or McGee. Occasionally even Gibbs – although he rarely calls directly. Usually he hints for the others to do so – hell, for years I've just checked in when I can, because it's more than expected.

"Your team was brought back together, but before that, you weren't the only one sent away," she adds. "Ziva was sent back to Israel and McGee was sent to work in Cyber Crimes."

And McProbie had flourished. I'm a little surprised he wanted back into the team after we got back, because he'd built his own little fiefdom down in the tombs of the Navy Yard. He had all kinds of little geeks chasing him down and treating him like royalty.

"We were back together," I murmur.

It had felt like a reprieve on one hand, and an even worse punishment on the other. Because I felt like I should've paid for Jenny's death. At least being an agent afloat had given me the sharp pain I needed to stay grounded. The only saving grace was being able to see them again. Gibbs. McGee. Abby. Ducky. Palmer. Ziva.

"I don't think Ziva will ever know the sanity she gave me, just having her picture tacked to the wall on the ship," I say. The first thing I'd done was post pictures of her on my bulletin board in that tiny cupboard of space I called mine on the Seahawk. Looking at it whenever I sat at my desk gave me a tangible connection to a life I'd once loved.

I can't help but smile, though, when I think of the irate look on her face when she realized they were the pictures of her in a bathing suit. Boy had she been pissed.

"You and your partner are close," the therapist interjects, and I shrug. Another point of confusion in my life.

Can't be close to another person if I can't even bring myself to be honest with her. If I had the guts, I'd corner her in the damn Lady's room. After all, she has no problem cornering me in the Men's room. I'd tell her how I feel – that when I look at her, I see the one person that can possibly mean something to me. But I can't, because I'm too damn much of a coward.

"You went after her – put your life in danger, even though you thought she was dead," she points out.

Why not? I'm alone. Lonely. Tired. Aching. And she's… my partner. Above and beyond what we could be, she's my partner. Like Kate. And we thought Ziva was dead when McGoo and I hatched our hare-brained plan to finish Ziva's mission. What a mess it was. A mess I'd earned, because of what I'd done.

"I killed her lover," I say. "Michael Rivkin was a rogue Mossad agent, and he'd committed crimes here in the US. He was Ziva's boyfriend. Then he comes over to the US and we start connecting dead bodies to Rivkin. We followed some evidence back to Ziva's address. I didn't want it to become official until she talked to me – so maybe I could protect her."

Helplessly holding my hands out, palms up, I say, "She's my partner. I worried Rivkin would hurt her. So I went to talk to her."

"And instead you found her lover and killed him in self defense," she says.

That's only part of it, though. Not even the most painful part. I lost my partner in the end. After that, we started holding back from each other. Still do to some degree – although I think I'm holding back more than she is now.

I'd been summoned to accompany Director Vance and Gibbs to Israel, where Ziva's father (Director of Mossad) interrogated me. He ruthlessly questioned me. I think I surprised him, because he never tripped me up, and I'm pretty damn sure he expected to. Where Ziva's harsh, angry words cut me open, his meant nothing. And in Israel, she had some pretty harsh words to slice away with.

It hurt most when I got on the military plane back to the states. Ziva stayed in Israel, and it was my fault. With Rivkin dead, she went on to continue his mission to take out a terrorist training camp.

"You went to Somalia. You took a lot of risks. Your whole team did," my therapist points out.

When word came down Ziva's operation had failed and the ship she'd been on sunk, I'd wondered just how much of me was left. A huge, gaping hole lay in the middle of my chest.

"Didn't see the point in living with the situation. Not if she was dead," I admit, knowing just how those words must sound to a trained psychologist. "Why not finish Ziva's operation? Why not extract a little revenge? Why not…"

I blow out a breath, and pause, before I finish, "I didn't care if I died in the process."

"It must've been a shock to find her alive," my therapist murmurs.

"Yeah," I reply. "I came here to see you a couple weeks after we got back state-side. A couple of weeks after… the incident."

"Because you were afraid of what you might do," she says, and I nod once sharply. It sounds so pathetic when she says it, and while it might have been a momentarily lapse in judgment, it's true.

But it woke me up. The day after we got home… after Ziva had been welcomed with open and caring arms, I walked into my apartment, unharnessed my gun, and stood there like an idiot. The thoughts that coursed through my mind in a flash sent me into a panic attack, and I spent the night dry-heaving in the bathroom.

For a moment I can feel her studying me, and she finally asks, "Do you still feel that way?"

"No. Not anymore." And I really don't. I've realized a few too many things about myself these last few months – come to some self-realizations.

My therapist takes her seat and smiles at me when she asks, "So where do you want to go from here?"

And there's the million dollar question.

I just can't do this anymore. My father's recent impromptu visit taught me that. That he sought me out made me come to the harsh realization that he wasn't the man I thought he'd been. Yeah, he still has the charm, but he's not this guy that's out of reach for me anymore. Funny how seeing him as human – flaws and all – can make me realize he did the best he could at the time.

It also made me realize I have no excuses for not being the kind of man I want to be.

Shrugging, I say, "I'm not sure who the hell I am anymore, but I know I can't keep relying on the past to define me. I won't be someone else – I'm not my father and I'm not Gibbs. I'm Anthony."

Standing and pacing once again, I think about my team. My time with NCIS. A lot has changed over the years. I can remember clearly when McGee started on the team, stuttering often and looking like a lost, kicked puppy. Now, though, he's got confidence enough to stand up to Gibbs, and the experience to know where to look for answers. Even more important, he knows who the hell he is, even if he loses himself now and then. He always finds his way – something I've always been jealous of, but will never admit aloud.

"Something's gotta change," I murmur. I have to change. Over the past few years I've begun to anyway, but I know who I no longer want to be. I'm sick of being a lesser imitation of men I admire and love. I'll never measure up. Don't really want to anymore.

Until this very second, I couldn't have said what I had to do. But thinking of Tim, and maybe feeling a little pride in helping shape him into a great agent, I come to the startling realization.

At the end of the day, the world has changed, and I'm holding still. Maybe it's time I grew up.

And now I have my answer.

It's so obvious, I have to laugh.

"I'm leaving NCIS."