He tried to think about the boxing class he'd signed up for his Freshman year at Ohio State University, when he was still reveling in the freedom that came from leaving Long Island, and Rhode Island, the freedom of choice. This was before he learned that sometimes choices lead you to concussions and confusion and coffins with expensive brass hardware.
"You heading home soon?"
Tony didn't look up as his boss came to stand in front of his desk. Ziva and McGee had gone home hours ago, but Tony and Gibbs had stayed to catch up the paperwork that had piled up since the splints on Tony's fingers made it impossible for him to type. He'd returned to the office that morning, hands healed, but he hadn't had a chance to get any paperwork done. He'd been too busy harassing Ziva and McGee, trying to get things back to normal. He wondered why Gibbs had let him get away with it.
"In a minute. I just have to finish these requisition reports."
His boxing instructor had told the class that amateur boxers always used gloves, but he'd still taught them about maximizing the force of the punch and minimizing the damage to the hand. Tony was pretty sure that he'd already broken a couple of fingers, but he wanted to keep the trauma to a minimum, because he wanted to be able to shoot when this was over, because he wanted to be able to shoot the person who had done this to him.
"How are you doing, Dinozzo?"
"Right," said Gibbs. "Ask a stupid question..."
"I'm really fine, Boss."
Gibbs shifted from one foot to the other. "Is that why you've been taking the stairs instead of the elevator?"
"I need the exercise." Tony didn't miss a beat.
"Tony," said Gibbs. Just his name.
He tried to think about the punching bag in the gym at OSU, but all he could think about as the lid of the coffin started to splinter, was the day his father had locked him in the broom cupboard. Tony couldn't remember what he was being punished for, but he remembering sitting in the dark, in the only room in his father's house that was, ironically, dusty. He had curled his fingers, gripping the plush carpet and tried to convince himself that his father had chosen the broom cupboard because he knew that the maid would find him when it was time to polish the silver later that afternoon. Lying with the crown of his head pressed against the wall of the coffin, and his long legs starting to cramp, as he whispered, "He'll find me," even though he knew that the oxygen would last longer if he didn't speak, Tony felt like he was in the broom cupboard again.
"I'll get over it."
"You were buried alive."
Tony shrugged awkwardly. "What do you want me to say? I'll get over it."
"I won't," said Gibbs.
Tony waited for the punch line, but Gibbs continued to stand silently in front of Tony's desk, watching his agent with wide blue eyes. Tony remembered the way Gibbs had knelt in the dirt next to him, next to his grave, until he'd been able to stand up and talk and pretend that he hadn't just been buried alive.
He wondered how long Gibbs would wait before replacing him. The protocol for getting buried alive was kind of delicate. The social etiquette books his mother had made him read in preparation for the dinner parties he'd been ignored at anyway hadn't covered psychopaths with shovels and the people who pissed them off. Manners had never been Gibbs' biggest concern anyway. McGee would become the senior field agent, but they would need to hire someone new eventually, and Tony knew he wouldn't be hard to replace. He was standard government issue.
"I'm sorry, Boss," he said quietly.
"It's a sign of weakness."
"It's not your fault."
Tony ducked his head. "You want to grab a steak, Boss? I figure I can afford to pig out since I'm taking the stairs so much."
"Tell you what. You show up at my place in an hour, and I'll cook you one cowboy style."
"I'll bring the beer."
It wasn't the feeling that he was going to die. He'd been in dangerous situations before. It was the feeling that he'd just been to his own funeral, and the turn out wasn't exactly what he'd expected.
Gibbs turned to leave, and later, when Tony followed him, he hesitated in front of the stairwell door before turning around and pressing the elevator call button. The doors opened, and he stepped inside.