Thanks for all the reviews and thanks to my beta-reader scousemuz1k for being the awesome person she is
Tony spent the next twenty minutes reading the file, while Gibbs sipped calmly at his coffee and a quiet atmosphere surrounded both men. The NCIS agent felt comfortable enough to let his guard fall a bit and his eyes wandered over the hunched figure sitting in front of him. DiNozzo had his nose almost buried in the papers and seemed to have shut out everything around him. Gibbs already liked the young detective, his passion was contagious and he remembered being like that not so long ago; eager to save the world and make wrongs right. He let a longing smile reach his lips, he missed that.
"I was right," the younger man finally said, emerging from the file and leaning back in the booth, locking his hands behind his head.
"About what, exactly?" Gibbs asked in a low voice, already missing the quietness from before.
"She was the clue. She makes this case different from the others."
"'Ya think?" Gibbs said arching one brow and prompting Tony to continue.
"She was a fighter." Tony put his elbows on the table and tapped one finger on the scattered pages. "Look at all the reprimands and the praises - don't forget those too! She was pigheaded to a fault and I'm going to make a guess here and say that she wasn't a person easy to live with. Imagine keeping her captive, I'm sure she put up one hell of a fight each day she was imprisoned."
"Enough to make her captor want to get rid of her," Gibbs agreed, leaning forward so he was looking directly into Tony's eyes. Twin smiles graced both men's lips.
"Exactly!" Tony cheerfully said. "He found a woman and not a little girl. A marine, nevertheless."
Both men stared at each other, excitement passing from one to the other, until Gibbs' brow suddenly furrowed. His eyes went distant and he pulled at the papers.
"Then... why did he wait almost two years to bury her? Why now and not then?"
"Well..." Tony said staring at the ceiling as if looking there for the answers, "I have a theory about that."
"Uhum," Gibbs murmured, all his attention on the younger man.
Tony bit his lower lip with something akin to nervousness and his look wandered around the small coffee shop.
"Come on, DiNozzo. You don't strike me as the shy type," Gibbs said with a wry smile,and Tony have to laugh at that, 'cause it was true. But he hadn't been so lucky in the trusting department lately and was having doubts about showing all his cards to the man in front of him. The truth was he couldn't let this opportunity be wasted; he needed help and he wasn't going to get it from his boss, nor his police mates. He just wished there were trumpets and bolts of lightning to let you know when you were going to make the right decision, it would be easier.
Tony intertwined his fingers and let his chin rest on them, a soft smile growing.
"Ok, then," he said. "This is what I think happened. Our man, in a fit of fury, kills Theresa and for the first time he really feels responsible. The others? Well, they have gone peacefully - more or less - he has done nothing to them, at least that's what he wants to think, since they succumbed in their sleep. He needs to think. He has crossed the line where he can no longer lie to himself. He's a killer.
"He hides the girl in a freezer, like a doll in its plastic box, a permanent reminder of his actions, and swears this will be the last.
"He keeps his oath for two years, battling his own instincts until something happens, something that makes him leave the fight and succumb to the darkness again. Another girl; and this one is perfect, as if heavens had put her in his path for a reason, but he has doubts. He goes to see his ice princess, and she is so cold, so lifeless, with no resemblance to the other girl. How could have he been so blind? This girl - the one he killed, - had been a mistake. He just got confused at some point, but now he's sure that he's got the right girl and like any other human being, he tried to hide his errors and make a clean start. He buries the frozen girl, but he's a little bit anxious, he's in a little bit of a hurry and doesn't take all the precautions he should, leaving part of the bag for other eyes to see. That's what I think happened."
There was a long silence where Tony waited and Gibbs looked at him, not a single twitch on his face to give away what he was thinking. How Tony hated not being able to read the man; that he could conceal his thoughts so well that even a seasoned policeman like him was having a difficult time knowing what to say to push it further. So for once Tony kept silent and waited.
"Nice story," Gibbs finally said, but his face remained unreadable.
"Perfect for a screenplay, I know," Tony chided, unsure of the tone he should choose to go on.
"So, you think he's kidnapped another one," the fed stated, and Tony nodded, not daring to say a thing – as if one simple word could break Gibbs train of thoughts and wreck the faith he had put in the man in a heartbeat.
"That's a big accusation, and all I've heard that could sustain it, are just your instincts and some kind of timeline you've created."
And with that Tony knew it was all lost. He reached for his notes and silently started to collect the photos, maps and papers that littered the table. Gibbs didn't believe him, so what? He didn't need the NCIS agent. He had been alone for a long time now and knew how to deal with this just fine, thank you. No one was going to stop him for doing his job and saving that girl. He raised his head, proudly, wanting to say something that mirrored his thoughts, only to find Gibbs smiling at him. That was too much for Tony to stand and if Gibbs hadn't said something in that exact moment, Tony would have jumped across the table and punched the smile off the older man's face.
"I've worked with less."
The trip back to the precinct was made with a chattering DiNozzo and a sulking Gibbs. The younger man kept throwing out movie references, trashing all the compartments in the car and not caring if Gibbs paid any attention to him, until his phone started ringing insistently.
Tony looked at the caller ID and ignored it. The second time it began to ring, he put it on vibrate and the third time he just silenced the phone.
"My fans," he said with a big grin that didn't reach his eyes. After that the silence filled the car and Gibbs thanked whoever was calling the younger agent, even if he didn't like the distant look that had settled into his green eyes.
Tony was starting to get worried about Anna's persistence, and he wondered if he had a stalker on his hands... As if it wasn't bad enough that she was the Chief's niece! He knew his phone was still ringing in his pocket, even if he couldn't hear it, and that was beginning to wear on his nerves. He needed to do something, but for the life of him, he didn't know what. Everything in this city was conspiring against him to make him go crazy. He thought about leaving, about starting a new life in a new town where he wouldn't repeat the same mistakes. For starters he would choose a sunny town where this icy weather was something just mentioned on other people's forecasts, and he would be pickier about his dates.
A loud noise made by the closing of Gibbs' door startled Tony out of his reverie. They were back at the precinct and Gibbs was making already his way toward the glass doors. Tony hurried out of the car and ran to catch up with the NCIS agent feeling slightly like a dog running behind his master. He was going to mention something about it when an uni* came barreling up to him. He recognized the man as one of Marcus' protégées.
"Detective DiNozzo!" the young man said, grabbing Tony by his arm and panting heavily. "Your office, they're taking it apart!"
"What?" Tony asked incredulously. "What do you mean?"
The agent pulled at the detective to prompt him to follow and Gibbs silently walked behind.
Tony all but ran to his office, coming to a halt when he almost collided with one of the men who were pulling box after box out of the little room.
"HEY!" he shouted, glaring at them. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Chief's orders," one said, not even looking at DiNozzo.
"Dammit," he swore, making his way into the room. One person was standing in the middle of all the chaos, taking note of the few boxes that where still on the floor waiting to be lifted.
"Dunlap," Tony said, seeing his ex-partner.
The man, quite a bit older than Tony, looked at him through his glasses and stopped writing.
"DiNozzo," he said by way of greeting. He was tall and lean, prematurely grey hair covering his head.
"So it's you," Tony said in a low voice. "I should have known."
"It wasn't my idea," Dunlap said raising both hands in a placating gestured.
"Bullshit!" Tony said, a pointing finger jabbing at the other man's chest
"Hold on a moment!" Dunlap pushed the finger out of his way and stepped forward, but DiNozzo didn't back off and they ended up almost nose to nose. "Don't be so cocky, DiNozzo! You've brought this upon yourself!
"See! That, right there. That attitude!" Dunlap said throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation. "You've never known how to keep your place!"
"Yeah, well, 'cause being an ass-licker is way better."
"Don't you dare, DiNozzo. This has nothing to do with that."
"Don't fool yourself, Mister Righteous," Tony said between gritted teeth. "You handed me to the captain and this is his price for the good little detective you claim to be. He asked for a fall guy and you wasted no time in giving my name."
"I couldn't let you get away with that."
"I didn't do anything!" Tony cried almost pleadingly. "How many times I must repeat myself! You passed judgment and sentence and didn't bother to ask for my version. I was your partner, for God's sake!"
"She said you did it." Dunlap stated, but he seemed to be losing his grip on the discussion and he backed away a little.
"And you choose to believe a killer and a thief rather than your own partner. How does that make sense?"
Dunlap shrugged one shoulder and scrubbed a hand across the back of his neck in an unconscious gesture Tony had seen him do when he was nervous.
"I was your friend," Tony continued, but his words weren't angry any more, just sad. "You should have known I would never do that."
"That's the thing, Tony," Dunlap said, letting his eyes rest on the slumped form of his ex-partner who was looking at the photos still attached to the wall. "I don't know you. No one does. For all we know you just appeared here one day bragging about how things were done in Philly."
Tony's face scrunched up at hearing that.
"I was your partner, the one who had your back. That should have been enough."
There was a silence as the last box was lifted from the floor and carried through the door. Tony tracked its movements with his eyes, until someone closed the door blocking the sight. He felt like something had been ripped from his very soul. He turned around to face Dunlap again.
"So now, what?" Tony asked.
"The Chief has given us the lead; it's not a cold case anymore."
"Us?" Tony asked, but he already knew the answer.
"My new partner and me."
"And how long have you been crying to the captain to get your hands on it?"
"Don't be a whining kid, DiNozzo. I didn't ask for this. I've never wanted to step on your case."
"Well, you're doing a hell of a job, then."
Dunlap snorted, but there was no fury so far. Silence filled the hole between them, and both men stared at each other waiting to see who would be the one to start the next confrontation. Dunlap let his gaze fall to the floor while a hand reached for the back of his neck again and Tony knew there was something more to be addressed.
"We'll need your notes and everything you've gathered up to now. It would be useful if you make a little resume of the whole thing."
"Sure, do you want tea and cookies too? Maybe some cake?" Tony said, a little smile playing on his lips, but his eyes were stone hard and even Dunlap noticed that he was tiptoeing over a line not worth crossing. "You'll have to do your own work, Dunlap," he continued, the smile dropping from his face. His words were a whisper, with a mocking tone caressing them.
Suddenly Dunlap straightened himself, no traces of the previous nervousness on his chiseled face anymore. There was a hard glint in his eyes and, if it weren't for Tony's stubbornness, he would have taken a step away from the man.
"Maybe I don't know you as I should," Dunlap said, his head tilting to one side as if in consideration of something. "But I know one thing. You want this man behind bars and right now I'm the only one who can give you that. Whine all you want, DiNozzo, get drunk or chase some skirts. I don't care what you need to cope with this situation, but I want those notes and that resume. I'm your only option here."
Tony learned one thing at that moment. Maybe Dunlap didn't know him, but it was crystal clear he didn't know his ex-partner either. He had never heard the older cop talk like that. There he stood, his ex-partner, strong and confident, while Tony retreated in his mind, knowing that he had lost this battle and probably the war. Dunlap felt it too, he grabbed a post-it from his notebook and handed it over to DiNozzo before making his way to the door.
"There's always an option."
Dunlap stopped at Tony's whispered words but he didn't turn around to address him.
"Do you really want to try and solve this with no back-up? You think you could?" He said, a hand already on the knob. "I'm no fool, DiNozzo. Don't treat me like one."
And with that he was gone. Tony wanted to crumple on the floor and have a tantrum, kicking and crying like a little child, but instead he kept staring at the yellow piece of paper Dunlap had given him.
'Agent in charge:
Awesome Detective A. DiNozzo
Knock before entering'
He didn't feel so awesome anymore.
"Was he talking about a case?"
Tony spun around. He had forgotten about the NCIS agent. The man was leaning against a wall and the light barely touched him as if he was part of the shadows in the room. Tony swore under his breath; the man was like a fucking ghost when he wanted to be. For a moment, he was ready to lash out at Gibbs, just for being there, and especially for having witnessed Tony's losses. But the younger man had had enough fights already and didn't feel like he had the energy right now.
"The last case we worked together," he said, placing the post-it down on the table and leaning against it. "A robbery with homicide. It was an inside job, but the family had so many people working for them that it was almost impossible to know who the killer was. Carla Robinson was the daughter of one of the cooks. Mister Carson - the owner of the house - was having an affair with her and she thought that she deserved some of his fortune for entertaining the old man. We arrested her and she thought she could bribe the leading detective with sex. That was me."
"Did you do it?" Gibbs asked, pushing himself from the wall to stand mere feet from DiNozzo.
The younger man lifted his eyes to stare directly at those piercing blue ones.
"No," he said solemnly and to his surprise Gibbs nodded, not doubting his word for a moment.
"If Dunlap told the captain that you had slept with her, why didn't he fire you?"
"There was no proof, and she changed her story, but nevertheless, from that point on, I was the black sheep of the family. The Chief didn't want to take a chance on an investigation from the rat squad** so the whole situation was swept under the rug. I was transferred to Cold Cases and my friend Dunlap got an office near the Chief's."
"Who knows?" Gibbs asked.
"McPherson, Dunlap, me and, well... you," Tony said with a shrug.
Tony shook his head, but let a little amused smile to grace his lips.
"You don't want to know what he thinks I'm being punished for."
Gibbs sighed, rolling his eyes at DiNozzo's flippant attitude.
"You have too many secrets."
The younger man lifted his head and his glance roamed the now empty room.
"There's no such thing as too many secrets."
*Unis: police slang for uniformed police officers
**Rat squad: police slang for officers and detectives assigned to the Internal Affairs Bureau