Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, except the villainous few I made up (whom I don't particularly want…).
A huge debt of gratitude to: My beta, Imbecamiel (awesomeness itself, wielding the gentlest of grammar hammers), to Random Flyer (who has been helping me on another NCIS story, and in the process stirring up the NCIS muse at large), to TrinaXO (who's wonderful PM made me particularly excited to finish this story), and to all you other great reviewers who've been sending me an extra helping of encouragement by way of your comments. :)
Gibbs' wrath was equal to Abby's worry.
Ziva might note it, and worry about Gibbs, but whereas you could pat Abby on the shoulder and try to talk things through, with Gibbs even a glance that lingered on him too long could have bad results. Very bad results, as McGee was already finding out this morning.
"Why are your eyes on me, McGee?" Gibbs drew the agent's last name out into two syllables, leveling him with an assessing look that had been known to make seasoned Marines squirm.
"Well, I uh…" To his credit, McGee was getting better and better at getting a hold of himself in these moments, where mettle met Gibbs—and mettle inevitably failed miserably. At least he was learning how to take his reproofs like a man. No, like an NCIS agent. He cleared his throat. "Right, Boss. Eyes going back to the computer."
It had been one of the least relaxing weekends in Ziva's experience, and that was saying quite a bit. The true turmoil hadn't begun until Sunday afternoon, but there'd been phone calls exchanged with increasing frequency and alarm. Most of the calls started with Abby, but a surprising number had been made by Gibbs, too. Everyone had called their teammates, Ducky, Abby—and even braved the wrath of Gibbs—in their quest to find out where Tony'd disappeared to. At first the conversations had almost been humorous. McGee'd called Ziva, trying not to sound overly concerned in his inquiries—"Have you heard anything from Tony since Friday, Ziva?"—and Ziva in turn had tried to sound equally nonchalant about calling Abby.
And on and on it'd gone. By the time they realized something was most definitely up—at least something unusual was going on with DiNozzo, even if he hadn't actually disappeared—Gibbs was already grouchier than a mother bear missing her cubs. When Tony's apartment had been visited Sunday evening, and no Tony found occupying it, Abby had begun to wring her hands in earnest. She'd claimed to have "a really, really, really bad feeling about this."
When Tony hadn't come in Monday morning they were all agreeing with her about there being something "majorly hinky" going on. Ziva might be the first to shake her head over the rapid turnover rate of Tony's love life, but she knew he was too good an agent, and too much under the Awe of Gibbs, to let a one night stand make him hours late for work. Besides, somehow, Ziva didn't think Tony led quite as busy a life of romance he liked to lead people to believe. Being Gibbs' senior field agent was Tony's real passion—it was what he pursued with rock-solid, unswerving dedication. Even if he had to throw the sand in people's eyes, with his flippant way of joking through life.
It was approaching noon, but she knew none of them had much of an appetite. Gibbs was pushing them, but they were pushing themselves, too. Even if they had very little to go on, they had that little to go on, and they would go on it until they got something more substantial.
But even with their wholehearted effort into the search, the atmosphere in the office was tense. Gibbs seemed sometimes to have a limitless capacity for feeling responsible for the protection of people, particularly those he had "adopted", with the primary requisite for his help just being that they needed help. That was enough. He could be hard enough to live with when total strangers were in danger; one of his team being missing made surviving in the same room next to impossible.
His team held the ultimate claim to his protection. Compounding things, in addition to being one of his by right of the job, Tony was Gibbs' Sentinel. If someone was detaining Anthony DiNozzo by force, he or she was already as good as dead. And that was only if Ziva got her hands on this person first. Gibbs or Abby might do much worse.
He'd been sitting in the dark for a long time, Tony knew that much. Beyond that, he had to strain his brain more than it was worth. His sluggish thought processes simply weren't up to the task.
Right now, though, he was even challenging how long "a long time" was. It felt like it could've been days. He remembered almost coming to consciousness a couple of times, only to be sucked back down into a murky dreamscape before he'd even surfaced long enough to open his eyes. But, then, maybe he hadn't been dreaming—or maybe he was dreaming now.
How could he knew, when the difference between opened eyes and closed was so minute as to be imperceptible? There was a sliver of light to his left, but far off in his peripheral vision, and he'd have to turn his head to get a better look. It seemed like a lot of work, just to look at a sliver of light.
As he woke further, his brain finally decided to send him a trickle of gradual bits and pieces of information as to his situation. They were interesting facts, to be sure. Even if he wasn't sure what the facts meant, he went over each point with a fine-tooth comb, trying to make sense of it all.
He was sitting in a chair. Not a particularly comfortable chair, either. The back had funny ridges that were digging into his lower back. But there was padding on the seat, he noted. Couldn't they, the makers of the chair, have put some of that on the back, where it was needed? At least it meant his rear wasn't completely numb from the hours of sitting. But his hands weren't so lucky. They were really cold, from what he could tell. He tried to wiggle his fingers, and realized there was a good explanation for the lack of circulation: his wrists were tied securely to the arms of the chair. The arms didn't have any padding, either.
As it turned out, his legs were tied, with similar merciless security, to the legs of the chair—which were also lacking in padding. Well, he could have predicted that. Not many people would notice the discomfort of pad-less chair legs, either, unless their legs had been tied to them for hours on end. You're not here to test chairs, DiNozzo, the voice in his head—which sometimes had the gall to sound like Gibbs—reminded him.
"No," Tony muttered aloud, not caring if he was talking to himself, "maybe I'm not here to test chairs. But I've always been good at multitasking, and whoever tied me up isn't giving me much else to do."
He lifted his chin from where it'd been slumped against his chest, looking around at the darkness, kinda hoping that "whoever tied me up" might pop out and own up to the deed. Though that didn't happen, he did find that there were a few muted patches of light in front of him, high up. The sight made him growl in frustration. He didn't have any helpful clues to go on, just a sliver of light, a murky splotch of light, and a chair with insufficient padding. He tugged ineffectively at the bindings on his wrists and ankles, and barked out a few curses. They echoed around the, apparently, large room, and made him feel just a little bit better. The satisfaction was fleeting.
With a less defiant string of swearing, he slumped forward again with a sigh. Though his head ached, he decided it was time for some serious mental back-tracking.
It had been Saturday night. Had he had somewhere to go? Nope. As he recalled, he hadn't had any of those things called "plans" that he was always so keen on boasting about to his co-workers, though he did remember telling Ziva about a cute blond named Linda he had waiting for him. Riiight, Linda: the token female character in that movie he'd rented. She'd been real good at her role, too, letting out an ear-piercing scream when the vine turned out to be a boa constrictor, and going all clingy and hysterical on the hero afterwards.
But when he'd gotten home, he hadn't finished the movie, had he? Not a quarter of an hour after getting home he'd been back in the car, drifting aimlessly out on the town. Too restless for a night at home with popcorn, he'd headed to a bar, the need to be around people overriding his recent distaste for the stuffy, raucous environment. Though things had gotten fuzzy after the first couple drinks, he was fairly sure he hadn't let himself consume enough to take him beyond comfortably warm to truly drunk.
Aha, now he remembered the great irony of the whole evening. He'd met a waitress named Linda. She'd been a brunette instead of a blond, but he wasn't one to quibble over hair color—don't look a gift-horse in the mouth, right?
Maybe he should've made an exception this time. Linda had encouraged him in one parting drink. After that, he remembered struggling against a lot of things: the fuzzy feeling in his head, the sudden lethargy that made him want to sleep in his chair instead of get up and make a call for a cab, and, last but not least, the irresistible pull of gravity, and thinking he hadn't had nearly enough beer to be this out of it. From there, it was all fade-to-black.
Fade-to-black. Good one, Tony. Now if only the black would fade to white, he'd sure appreciate it.
But when the white came, it didn't bother coming gently. He only had a few minutes to register the sound of footsteps approaching, and then a door opened, admitting glorious light. Only it wasn't so glorious on his light-deprived eyes, and when a switch was flipped, flooding the room in florescent brightness, he gave an involuntary exclamation at the pain. The word he used to greet whomever it was that flipped that switch wasn't involuntary.
The last thing he expected was a soft voice near his ear, saying, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't think…" Footsteps moved away, and the light that had been burning at his retinas even through closed lids lessened considerably. The voice came again, "Is that better?"
A/N: 'Tis short—sorry! But the rest is written (eleven chapters), all of which will lead up to a larger story than this (also finished), to be followed up by several shorter stories. I may not always be able to respond to everyone, or at the length to those I do respond to, because I've been having some wrist and hand problems that too much typing aggravates—but I do treasure everyone's comments very much, so if you have the time please drop me a line telling me what you think. :)