DISCLAIMER: I do not own NCIS, its characters, the sets, the cars, Gibbs' boat-in-his-basement, none of it. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only. No money has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.

Originally posted in the zine "Gear Up" on the Ancientsgate website.

We Climbed So High… Once.

~*~ Day 1 ~*~

GW Parkway

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way

Tony Dinozzo merged into traffic carefully, matching his speed with the other cars as he drove the short distance toward NCIS headquarters through the freezing rain. Wintertime wasn't his favorite time of year, wintertime storms weren't pleasant either, and the morning was cold, rainy and windy. It hadn't rained like that in months. Definitely not an enjoyable drive. He turned the volume up on his radio. What better way was there to lift the spirits than listening to an Oldies tune blasting through the speakers? All was right with the world when Born to be Wild was playing on the Oldies station. Classic song. Classic movie. Naturally, he sang along.

Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

He did like that song. Good tempo, nice beat, easy lyrics – It wasn't merely an anthem for an age, it was the soundtrack to a great movie. The last time he watched that movie… no, he hadn't seen that movie in quite a few years. Too many memories were attached to it, and he didn't want to get mired down in the memories. He hadn't even taken the tarps off his own motorcycles in years. He'd spent $500 at the police auction for the bikes because they needed another mode of transportation if his old Chevy Nova quit on them – a good deal, really. They had had so much fun riding around town on those bikes, and they clicked off a lot of miles. Now, the bikes were rusting in storage, gathering cobwebs along with the other mementos of that period of his life that he couldn't bear to look at. He hoped no one else ever found out how he treated his motorcycles. It was inexcusable to own a couple of Harleys and just let them sit in a storage shed.

The song was a different story. He could sing the song, keep it separate from the movie; forget it was the last thing they heard when… No. He just had to remember that it was merely a song. Easy enough, right? Just a song with a good beat to help make the commute go by faster…

I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin' with the wind
And the feelin' that I'm under

It wasn't fun to drive in a fierce headwind that tried to push his car off the road, but racin' with the wind was what he'd been told he'd done all his life. Spinning in place, moving fast but not going anywhere, never wanting anyone to get too close, never wanting to get close to anyone – that sounded like him, didn't it? No one really knew or understood that he had to keep moving and stay distant. Maybe Gibbs did. Gibbs' thorough pre-hire background check on Tony would have told him all he needed to know. Given his boss' own past, Tony knew he would understand. Maybe he was the only one who truly comprehended that if Tony ever stopped moving, if he was ever still, if he ever allowed himself to really get close to people, he'd have to drop the mask he always wore and show people his real self. He'd have time to think, and thinking wasn't always a good thing. It was better to stay busy, to stay moving, to never get accustomed to any one thing for a long time.

Then there was the undercover assignment where he met Jeanne Benoit, and he stopped moving, began thinking…

No, not going down that road, DiNozzo, he thought to himself. You loved her. You lost her. You could have told her the truth and explained that it was real. You didn't. Your fault - get your mind on something else. He cranked the volume on the radio up a little higher.

Maybe that was a reason he was so good at undercover work. A new mask would be firmly in place, a new personality - no one would see the real Tony DiNozzo and he didn't have to think about being Tony DiNozzo and all the baggage that went with it.

Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

Traffic got a bit heavier, and Tony moved over to the next lane in order to get around a slower moving car. He checked his watch… he should reach the Navy Yard earlier than usual. He'd probably beat Gibbs, Ziva and McGee in to the squad room if traffic didn't get any worse. Maybe he would make his usual morning trip by the deli just outside the base and pick up some doughnuts and coffee. That'd be a good pick-me-up on a cold, rainy morning.

"Doughnuts for breakfast again? Isn't that the cliché? And you were a Phys Ed major?" Tony could hear her voice ask teasingly… he still missed hearing her voice. She would always joke about the 'doughnut' stereotype and cops. Okay, so when he was a beat cop, he put away a lot of doughnuts. There was a reason for her to make fun of him - Nope, don't go there, DiNozzo. Don't think that. Don't think about her. Think of the lyrics to the song. He forced himself to keep on singing.

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die

Born to be wild
Born to be wild

The traffic sped up a bit, and Tony glanced around the mirrors. A white van was coming up on the lane just to the right of him.

White van.

He unconsciously pressed down on the accelerator, getting further ahead of the van, forcing himself to not think of events of another time, of another white van, of the sound of gunfire, of a piercing scream, of tires squealing on pavement, of metal grinding on stone -

Get your motor runnin'
Head out on the highway
Lookin' for adventure
And whatever comes our way

The van increased its speed and moved up alongside Tony's car. He took a quick glance at the van door. "Carlisle's Florist" was emblazoned on the logo.

Carlisle's Florist!

"Oh, shit!"

Someone slid open the side door on the van – no, not just someone – it was Carlisle!

But he was dead!

Everything moved in slow motion. Tony saw Carlisle point an automatic rifle at his car, saw him squeeze the trigger, saw the gunfire blast through the door, shattering the window. Explosions – both passenger side tires blew out! More rounds – Carlisle shot more holes into the passenger side door. Tony swerved, tried to speed up, slow down, move into the next lane, anything - the gunman targeted his hood and repeatedly fired bullets into the engine.

Yeah, darlin', go make it happen
Take the world in a love embrace
Fire all of your guns at once
And explode into space

The hood of the car blasted off the chassis in a fiery cacophony of noise. It crashed back onto the windshield, smashing it, obstructing Tony's view just as the van slammed into him. He turned his steering wheel hard over, against the van, tried to keep control as the van shoved the smaller car over the edge of the highway and down an embankment, flipping hood over trunk into the catch pond at the bottom.

Like a true nature's child
We were born, born to be wild
We can climb so high
I never wanna die

Born to be wild
Born to be wild

The car landed on its roof, crushing it inward, pinning Tony beneath a mass of broken glass and smashed dashboard as the water seeped toward the slowly submerging roof. Just as consciousness fled, Tony's last thought was that he wouldn't be picking up doughnuts for anyone that morning.

Squad Room

Jethro Gibbs walked into the squad room, a large coffee clutched tight in his hand. Despite the ever-building thunderstorm outside the window, it was still relatively quiet inside the squad room – a condition that wouldn't last very long once his team got in the office. They could be a noisy bunch when they wanted to be. He could almost make a bet with himself that within three seconds of arriving at the office, they would be picking good-naturedly at each other. Tony would be regaling them about his weekend conquests. McGee and Ziva would keep saying they didn't want to hear anything about it only to find themselves responding to Tony's leading comments.

Jethro let them have a bit of slack on the firmly held leash. If nothing else, their banter kept stress levels in the squad room at a tolerable level. Years earlier, Director Morrow had commented that Tony's facetious fearlessness in the face of the 'temperamental Gibbs' followed up by the patented head slap was the comic relief everyone sorely needed from time to time. It was good for morale. Jenny Sheppard had pointed out several times that not only were his and Dinozzo's rather unorthodox working relationship 'necessary' for the smooth functioning of his team's dynamic, but their rather vocal synergy gave everyone some comic relief when stress levels were high. Comic relief. Both directors used the same term, so maybe it was true. That was a good enough reason for Jethro to let his agents simmer and percolate a bit, but he would rein in the leash when they got out of hand - which could happen at a moment's notice.

Sometimes, he really did feel like he was babysitting kindergarteners. Other times, he realized that he was witnessing some amused venting that hid unbridled anger underneath.

Especially where Tony was concerned.

But that was 'before.'

Ever since Tony had returned from his assignment as Agent Afloat on the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan and the U.S.S. Seahawk, Gibbs could see a profound difference in him. Ziva had mentioned that Tony seemed 'older' when they met him in Cartagena. That wasn't technically correct as far as Gibbs was concerned. Tony's behavior was always an act that Gibbs alone could see through. Others thought him to be an over-aged frat boy with overactive glands but it was all a performance – one he could shut down at a moment's notice and become as much a hardass as Gibbs was himself. For some reason, Tony wasn't locked into the performance 24/7 anymore. Something had wedged itself into his personality, and he wasn't as rambunctious as he was before the team split. Maybe whatever security he had found staying in one place for several years had been shattered by being exiled from Washington. Whatever it was, it went far beyond the unfairness of being relegated to a ship for months so Vance could try to find the mole in NCIS. It even went beyond his feelings for Jeanne Benoit and their breakup. What Gibbs saw was more of the anger bubbling to the surface that the good-natured smiles, bad jokes, and movie references weren't hiding any longer. Tony's coping mechanisms weren't working like they were supposed to.

He wouldn't admit it to anyone, but he was a little worried about his senior field agent.

He sat down at his desk and brought up his e-mail. He really hated e-mail. Why couldn't people use regular mail anymore? He watched the new messages load into the in-box… then he read through the usual updates and briefings, the latest memos and alerts.

One after the other…

Did he mention that he really hated e-mail?

"He'd say Mustang," McGee's voice sounded around the partitions as Gibbs glanced up and saw two of his agents arriving.

"Ferrari," Ziva corrected him. "He loves Magnum's car."

"Technically, that's Robin Masters' car. Magnum just got to drive it."

"Have you been watching Magnum, McGee?" Ziva inquired.

McGee stopped just before he reached his desk and answered rather sheepishly, "There was a marathon on the other day. But I still think Tony would rather have his Mustang back even if he was offered Magnum's Ferrari."

Ziva squinted at her co-worker. "Think about it. Ferrari or Mustang."

"Ferrari if it was a gift," Gibbs said as the mail carrier brought in the morning mail. He watched as the carrier was about to place a large box on Tony's desk before re-reading the addressee and brought it over to him. "1966 Mustang if he bought it himself. And don't you two have work you can do?"

As Ziva sat down, she glanced over at Gibbs and asked, "Why do you think that?"

Without looking up as he opened one of the many envelopes now sitting on his desk, Gibbs said, "DiNozzo loves certain classic American cars. A '66 Mustang is an American classic. A Ferrari isn't." He then looked up at the two of them. "Do I want to know what brought up this conversation?"

Both agents shook their heads no. Gibbs didn't press the point. Sometimes, it was better to not know.

He picked up the box the mail carrier had almost left on Tony's desk. It was addressed to NCIS Major Crimes Team Leader: Tony DiNozzo. No wonder the mail carrier didn't know who to give it to, Gibbs thought to himself. The return address was Peoria. Maybe it was for Tony? From someone who thought he was still the team leader? Gibbs thought for a moment… he was a big believer in not opening his team's mail if it was personal… but the address… he'd look in the box and see if the contents were for the team leader or for Tony personally. He wouldn't go beyond that.

The box opened up easily enough. Inside were several envelopes.

He opened the first envelope and peered inside. A small photo album filled with dozens of pictures was there. He casually opened the album - DiNozzo was in every picture.

Only it wasn't the Tony DiNozzo that Gibbs knew. This was a younger, genuinely happier DiNozzo. The smiles in the pictures were real, not a mask.

Tony in uniform, standing with another
police officer in front of a Peoria police car
Tony in uniform at a traffic stop, a Peoria police car behind him
Tony and a lady sitting on a garden swing in front a small house
Tony mowing the lawn at the same house
Tony and the woman hanging Christmas lights at the small house
Tony and the woman, obviously pregnant, talking on the front porch
Tony helping the woman out of a beat-up Chevy Nova as she held a baby in her arms
Tony sitting on the front porch, the baby cradled against him

Gibbs grabbed the paper wrapping and re-read the address. It was addressed to NCIS Major Crimes Team Leader: Tony DiNozzo. But Gibbs was the lead agent – why would someone send these photos? The postmark – it had been mailed from the local D.C. post office, but it was postmarked August 17th, three months earlier. Someone had hand-written on the envelope "Forward to: " – It must have gotten lost in the mail for three months, which means whoever sent it may not have realized that the package was late. He glanced at the return address again. It was Peoria.

Definitely Peoria.

A second look… the return address was familiar… what – it was Tony's address when he lived in Peoria.

But it had been mailed from DC.

And it was from someone who thought Tony was still the lead agent.

He pulled out another envelope that held another photo album in it. Casually, he turned the pages to see the next pictures …

Tony and the woman were sitting in the front seat of the old beat-up Chevy Nova, driving down the highway. The baby's car seat was in the back. Both Tony and the woman were smiling. They looked as if they were talking and laughing. Well, Tony was talking. The woman was laughing.

The next group of pictures – it looked as if someone had a camera mounted on a gun sight and the picture taker was aiming down the barrel toward the beat-up car that was a few feet ahead of it.

Bullet holes in the passenger side.

Bullet wounds in both the woman and the baby.

Blood spattered on the windshield and the side window.

Tony desperately trying to control the car as the van slammed into the passenger side, a bullet wound in his arm.

The last few pictures showed the car going over the embankment and lying at the bottom of the ditch. No sign of the people inside the car.

Then, the last picture – two headstones side-by-side with the names Charlotte J. DiNozzo and Jesse A. DiNozzo, dates of birth and the date of their death – August 17, 1997.

There was a single note written in block letters on a torn piece of newspaper at the end of the photo album.

Round two DiNozzo
History will repeat itself
Game set and match

The newspaper was dated … August 18, 1997. And the page… it was the obituary page with the title name DiNozzo stating their death dating August 17, 1997. The rest was torn off.

What the hell?

On a hunch, Gibbs turned on his computer monitor, brought up the database and typed in the names Charlotte DiNozzo and Jesse DiNozzo into the search engine. His phone rang before the first link appeared. "Gibbs!" he barked into the mouthpiece without even looking at who was calling.

"Jethro, it's Bob Torson."

The fire chief? Calling him? That was never good. "Yeah, Bob. What can I do for you?"

Thunder echoed over the fire chief's words. "We just got called to a car accident here on the GW Parkway. Sorry, Jethro, but it's your agent, DiNozzo. Looks like someone shot up his car pretty bad and he went over the edge."

Gibbs' gut tied up in knots. Shot up car? He glanced at the photos of the Nova again. "How is he?" He noticed that he got both Ziva and McGee's attention with that one question.

"Alive, barely conscious. He woke up a few moments ago. We can't tell if he's been shot. The car looks like it was used for target practice at the firing range. It's overturned and upside down in a catch pond. We're working fast since the water's freezing and rising. We'll take him to Bethesda as soon as we can get him out."

Gibbs shut his phone without answering. He shoved the picture albums in his desk drawer as he yelled, "McGee! Get the car. Ziva –"

"Is it Tony?" Ziva asked quickly.

"Car accident," Gibbs said brusquely as he shoved the pictures into his desk drawer. "Let's go."