A/N:- As it's been over eight months since I posted a story of my own, it's time to get back in the game. Unlike all of my other stories, this one is not yet completed but I guarantee it will be. Please bear with me while I get my swing back. This story will contain quotes in italics from the Herman Melville literary classic 'Moby Dick,' Enjoy, L
Disclaimer:- I do not own NCIS or its characters and any copyright infringement is unintentional.
From Hell's Heart
Tony swung the agency sedan into its assigned parking space, hastily grabbed the file from the passenger seat and launched himself from the vehicle. Loping across the parking lot he greeted the guards who checked him through security then he walked briskly to the elevator and slipped between the closing doors. He looked anxiously at his watch, exhaling loudly as he leaned back against the wall. He'd made good time at the JAG office and would still have a chance to complete his reports and get home in time for his date this evening.
It had been four years since the ill-fated Jeanne relationship; four years since the beautiful doctor left town taking a large part of DiNozzo's heart with her. Ultimately, it had been Tony's decision to stay – he knew the lie that formed the foundation of their relationship was a malignancy that would eventually consume them both. So he cut her loose, giving her the chance to rebuild her life without him and hoping to God that he had the strength to do the same. The healing process had been painfully slow but, finally, the irrepressible DiNozzo survival instinct kicked in and after a few false starts he was ready to dust off his libido and begin dating again.
Of course, whether or not he was on time for tonight's date was totally dependent on the mood of his team leader who had spent the better part of the last week perfecting his Captain Ahab impression.
'He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much; but when he does speak, then you may well listen.'
The words may have been from Herman Melville's classic novel and the image in his mind from John Houston's movie adaptation but it was Gibbs and not Gregory Peck that DiNozzo could see with his mind's eye.
"You really need to see Moby Dick, Boss," Tony muttered aloud before shaking his head to dislodge the image.
It wasn't unusual for the former Marine to loudly voice his frustration over a slow-moving case or lack of viable leads but the team had performed more than capably during their last case and the perpetrator had been charged and was cooling his heels downstairs in the holding cell. Whatever it was that had Gibbs in such a foul-temper, it wasn't work related.
McGee and Ziva had noticed the change, hell; everyone in the whole damn building was avoiding eye contact with the testy lead agent. In the past few days, Tony had lost count of the number of times he'd thrown his body on the Gibbs grenade to shield his team mates from the shrapnel. Even the usually glancing head slaps had been delivered with more impact.
Tony's attempts to approach his boss to ask if he there was a problem were met with icy looks that left him in no doubt that the older man was not ready to talk and DiNozzo should stay the hell away. Fair enough…Tony knew the man well enough to realise Gibbs needed space and he was happy to oblige…up to a point. He'd give him another day or two and he'd approach him again, after hours with a couple of steaks and a bottle of Jack. Past experience had taught him that Gibbs may not open up but at least he'd know the younger man was ready and willing to help whenever he was ready to accept it. In the meantime, there was the matter of his big date tonight.
"Just play it cool, DiNozzo. Get your reports done, stay out of the old man's way and you'll be out of here in time to spend the evening with the exquisite Alexandra," he told himself with more optimism that realism.
Exiting the elevator and rounding the partition into the bullpen, the sight of McGee and Ziva packing up their respective desks brought him up short.
"What's going on?" he asked. "Where's Gibbs?"
"You just missed him," McGee answered. "He left for the night and said we could go."
"He sick?" Tony asked, knowing too well that Gibbs rarely left before his team.
"He did not appear to be unwell," Ziva said, her eyebrows drawn in thought. "He was, however, acting rather…strangely."
"Strange strange or Gibbs strange?" Tony asked casually.
"We're worried about him, Tony," McGee said. "He's been moody, thundering around the office, shouting at everyone. This morning, he yelled at Palmer just for being…well, Palmer."
"So far, nothing you've said is unusual," Tony quipped, trying to ease the worry of his partners despite his own concerns.
"It is more than that," Ziva added. "He seems agitated, angry…I think something is very wrong."
"Don't be ridonkulous," Tony said, "sounds to me like Gibbs is just being Gibbs."
"So, you're really not worried?" McGee asked suspiciously.
"And you do not think that anything is wrong?" Ziva asked
"Come on guys, get a grip! Remember how mad Abby was when she got a candy bar with nougat from the vending machine or Ducky when we swiped Petty Officer Dent's body from the morgue? Everyone has bad moods - Gibbs just has more than most," he said as he dropped a file in Gibbs' in basket and continued. "Probie, what about when you found out that nut-bag had spent money on your credit card or when my Dad stopped my trust account? Not to mention the all the times Ziva's come to work looking like she's been weaned on a pickle."
"Hey!" Ziva objected.
Tony raised his hands in supplication.
"I'm just saying, we all have bad days…Gibbs is just having his turn. Now, I don't know about you but I'd rather take advantage of a rare early night than stand around wondering why we got it."
"I guess you're right. Oh, hey that reminds me," McGee said, rifling through his desk drawer. "Ducky came by looking for you earlier and asked me to give you these tickets for tonight's performance of the National Symphony Orchestra. I didn't know you were a symphony buff, Tony."
"Well, Probalicious, I guess this just goes to show that you don't know me as well as you think you do."
"The symphony? Who is the lucky lady, Tony?" Ziva said. "Anyone we know?
Tony turned away quickly, knocking a file from his desk to the floor. Bending to retrieve it, he uttered an expletive and carefully avoided eye contact with his teammates. He laughed awkwardly and checked his watch again.
"Wow! Is that the time? We really should be going…don't let me hold you up."
Ziva's eyes narrowed at her partner's sudden evasiveness.
"Why have we not heard about this mysterious new woman?" she asked. "Usually you subject us to every sordid detail of your love life without batting an eye. What are you hiding?"
"Jealous Zee-vah?" Tony asked, using her own words against her and smiling inwardly at her indignant expression. "If you must know, I'm not hiding anything. I just don't want to keep the lady waiting, that's all."
"Why? Does she charge by the hour?" Ziva goaded, exchanging a smile with a chuckling McGee.
Tony smiled wanly.
"For your information, Alex is not only beautiful but an extremely classy woman who– "
"Wait a minute!" McGee interjected, causing Tony to grimace at his own slip up. "Did you say Alex? Please don't tell me you mean Alexandra Whitney from Accounting."
The grimace, still frozen on Tony's face, said it all.
"I don't believe you!" McGee exclaimed. "I told you three months ago that I'd like to go out with her! I can't believe you'd cut in on me like that!"
"I didn't cut in on you," Tony defended. "You came to me and asked me to help you meet her! You asked me to be your wingman!"
"Some wingman," McGee muttered.
"Hey, I did the reconnoitring and I got you the intel, it's not my fault you didn't know what to do with it!"
"I spent a hundred dollars a piece on centre ice tickets to the NHL playoffs because you told me Alexandra loved ice hockey with a passion."
"And your point is?"
"My point is…it turns out that Alexandra loathes ice hockey with a passion! She wouldn't go out with me because she doesn't date anyone whose interests are so different from her own!"
"I did not know you liked ice hockey, McGee," Ziva said.
"I hate ice hockey! I only bought the tickets because I thought Alexandra loved it!" McGee stressed, looking accusingly at Tony. "I think you did that on purpose."
"Don't get your tighty whiteys in a twist, McPuck, it was a simple mistake – loved, loathed, loved, loathed - could have happened to anyone," Tony justified. "Still got the hockey tickets? I'll take them off your hands for fifty bucks."
"I don't believe this!"
"Okay, seventy-five, but that's my final offer."
McGee offered no reply and continued to stare at his senior field agent in disbelief.
"Okay, McGoo, listen up…I was going to talk to you about this but it never seemed the right time. You hadn't mentioned Alex in months and I thought you'd realised she was out of your league and moved on. So when she asked if I'd like to go out sometime..."
"Wait! She asked you?"
"Three times, actually, but out of respect for our friendship, I turned her down twice. Then when I thought you weren't interested anymore, I thought, what the hell? All's fair in love and war, right, Probie?"
"DiNozzo!" Vance's voice sounded unexpectedly from the landing on the mezzanine level.
"Director?" Tony answered briskly.
"My office, now," he ordered and started back toward his office.
Tony cursed softly and glanced quickly at his watch. Almost as an afterthought, the director turned back.
"You have any plans for tonight?" he asked.
Tony sighed in relief at the possibility of a reprieve. He held the tickets for Vance to see.
"Yes, Sir, as a matter of fact, I do."
"Cancel them," Vance said. "You have agency business tonight. Be in my office in two minutes."
Tony watched the director's retreating back and carded his fingers through his hair in exasperation. He was still holding the tickets aloft when they were plucked from his fingers by McGee.
"Don't worry, Tony," McGee said, unable to hide his smile. "I'll explain everything to Alexandra. You can trust me to be your wingman…all's fair in love and war, right?"
He tried to ignore the soft laughter from his teammates while he headed for the director's office, looking more like a man walking to the gallows.
The following morning, McGee and Ziva passed through security and stepped into the elevator, McGee's voice exuding his newfound appreciation of the National Symphony Orchestra and a wonderful evening spent in the company of Alexandra Whitney.
"I am pleased that you had such a lovely night, McGee," Ziva said. "It is about time you found a nice woman who appreciates you."
Blushing slightly, McGee shrugged a shoulder to adjust the weight of his backpack and then cleared his throat nervously.
"To tell you the truth, Ziva, I feel kinda bad about Tony. I mean, I got to spend a great evening with Alexandra, listening to the symphony with his tickets. Meanwhile, for all we know, Director Vance could have sent Tony on some dangerous, life or death assignment."
The elevator deposited them in the operations room and their conversation was aborted mid-sentence when they caught sight of their senior field agent. Dishevelled and unshaven Tony was looking more squeamish than his teammates had ever seen him. The ingredients of the DiNozzo Defibrillator were spread out before him on his desk.
"Oh my," Ziva uttered. "I am having a strong feeling of déjà vu. I had not heard that our Tokyo counterparts had returned for some more…saki bombs?"
Wincing as her voice pieced his thundering headache, he raised a slightly trembling finger to his lips and closed his eyes, breathing heavily to ward off the rising nausea. He reached for a business card and extended it in McGee's general direction.
"McGee…read words," he rasped, barely recognising his own voice.
"Theo Papadopolous, Liaison Agent, NCIS resident unit Souda Bay Crete." McGee raised his eyebrows. "The Greeks are in town?"
Tony nodded sullenly sending a spike of pain shooting through his right eye.
"And Director Vance asked you to show them a good time," Ziva said, wrinkling her nose as she watched Tony chug down his unusual concoction. "Then this is not a saki hangover this is-"
"Ouzo boat races," Tony replied hoarsely.
"Gibbs may be the NCIS poster boy but the director has you pegged as the NCIS party boy," McGee said, his blue eyes opening wide when he noticed Tony's crumpled and besmirched apparel. "You're still wearing yesterday's suit! You were out all night?"
"They wouldn't leave the club, McGoo! Vance gave me specific orders to make sure they had a good time and get them to the airport for their flight home!" Tony said, his bloodshot eyes desperately pleading his case. "They ate, drank and danced until zero five hundred. When I dropped them at the airport departure gate, they were trying to Zorba their way onto the plane."
"You better get cleaned up," McGee warned. "When we were downstairs, we saw Gibbs going to the coffee shop. If he sees you like this, you're a dead man."
"Or worse," Ziva added.
"There's worse than dead?" Tony asked.
"There is with Gibbs," McGee and Ziva said in unison.
"That's true," Tony grimaced. "Think I have time to hit the showers?"
"You will need to move fast." Ziva said. "We will cover for you but Gibbs will be back at any moment."
She and McGee dropped their packs and started to remove the incriminating remains of the trusted hangover cure from Tony's desk. The soft chime of the elevator sounded and Ziva turned her head as the lead agent stepped from the car with the ubiquitous cup of steaming coffee held in one hand. He paused in front of the elevator to speak with Agent Foley.
"It is too late," Ziva hissed. "Gibbs is here!"
"I'm dead." Tony moaned.
"Maybe you'll get lucky," McGee whispered. "Maybe he'll be in a good mood today."
"You think?" Tony asked hopefully.
"Nah," McGee said with a shake of his head. "You're dead."
The silver-haired team leader entered the bullpen, as Ziva and McGee stood shoulder to shoulder in front of Tony's desk, effectively blocking the senior field agent from view.
"Good morning, Gibbs," the younger agents greeted simultaneously.
Immediately sensing the unusual tension in the air, Gibbs stopped, directly in front of his two junior agents and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. He watched as McGee averted his gaze to the skylight and attempted to whistle nonchalantly while Ziva studied her shoes.
"Something wrong?" Gibbs asked.
"No, no, nothing is wrong," Ziva said without making eye contact. "It is a lovely morning, what could possibly be wrong, right McGee?"
"Yes! That is…er…yes, Ziva, that's right…it is a…ah…lovely morning."
Gibbs jerked his head, motioning for them to move aside. They chanced a final sympathetic glance and separated to reveal their dishevelled and still queasy partner.
"Mornin', Boss," Tony managed with a smile that looked more like a grimace.
The older man's expression was implacable but his eyes were shooting daggers at his senior agent.
"I know what this looks like, Boss, but it's not what you're thinking," Tony said.
"You get any sleep last night?" Gibbs asked abruptly.
"Ah…no but I-"
"Is that the suit you had on yesterday?"
"Yes, but that's-"
"Have you been drinking?"
"Then it's exactly what I'm thinking," Gibbs snapped in a dangerous tone. "How the hell did you get hung over on a Friday morning?"
"Drinking on a Thursday night," Tony offered weakly.
"Boss, this wasn't Tony's fault," McGee said. "Director Vance asked him to entertain the liaison agents from our regional unit in Souda Bay. Apparently those guys party pretty hard."
Gibbs' eyes flicked from McGee back to Tony who squirmed slightly under the intensity.
"What he said," Tony croaked, pointing a shaking finger at McGee.
"On your feet, DiNozzo!" Gibbs said menacingly.
Gibbs exhaled a long breath to calm himself. It didn't work.
"I should kick your inebriated ass right here…but I'm not gonna do that."
"That's very tolerant of you, Boss and I appreciate that more than you could-"
"I said on your feet!" Gibbs snapped.
Tony shot out of his chair like he was fired from a canon, quickly grasping the nearby filing cabinet until the world stopped spinning.
"Where…where we going?" he asked, swallowing the rising bile.
"Director's office. Since you were operating under his instructions, he can watch me kick your inebriated ass."
"Well…that's a little less tolerant, than I was hoping for."
"On your six, Boss," Tony responded, setting action to words as he fell into line on his lead agent's heels
Ziva and McGee watched the retreating backs of the two senior agents for a moment before walking to their desks to start their day.
As luck would have it, the director had been called to a meeting with SecNav at the Pentagon and it was with great relief that Tony was spared the threatened ass kicking. His relief was short-lived when Gibbs ordered him to Autopsy to "present arms" while Ducky extracted a blood sample and Abby ran a test to determine his blood alcohol levels.
Tony knew with certainty that the alcohol levels would barely register despite the sizable hangover - he was more of a beer and pretzels man and hadn't consumed a lot of Ouzo. It was a combination of the strong anise-flavoured spirit; the spicy, rich Grecian food and a sleepless night that left his head and his stomach feeling worse for wear. He was just as sure that Gibbs would expect likewise had he not been in such a snit.
The look of reproach in Gibbs' eyes and a swift clip to the back of the head that silently shouted 'smarten up,' only managed to restart the jackhammer in Tony's brain.
'Oh yeah, Captain Ahab was in the building.'
Tony was more than relieved when he was banished to the showers, grateful for a few moments out of the older man's admonitory gaze.
Thirty minutes later, showered, shaved and dressed casually in jeans and a dark sweater, Tony walked back into the bullpen. After scanning the operations room and noting Gibbs' absence, he dropped heavily into his chair, groaning miserably he folded his arms on his desk as a pillow for his aching head.
"Looks like the DiNozzo Defibrillator is no match for Ouzo," McGee said casting a semi sympathetic look at his senior field agent.
"Six generations of DiNozzos are spinning in their graves," Tony replied, his voice muffled by his arms.
"By the look of you, it may soon be seven generations of DiNozzos spinning in their graves," Ziva added, studying her partner's pallor and the lavender smudges of fatigue under both eyes.
"On the bright side," McGee continued, "You'll be pleased to know that Ducky dropped your blood alcohol results on Gibbs' desk ten minutes ago and you're officially in the clear."
"Never had a doubt, Probie. From twenty-two hundred onward I only drank soda," Tony said, wincing as his stomach protested loudly.
"It is a scientific fact that younger bodies metabolise alcohol much faster and with less unpleasant after effects than older ones. Perhaps this is your body's way of telling you that you are not as young as you once were and you need to start taking better care of yourself?" Ziva teased.
"Before you pension me off, Ziva, maybe you can tell me where Gibbs is."
"We do not know," she replied. "He left the building about twenty minutes ago."
"Where'd he go?"
"He did not feel the need to inform us and we did not ask," she replied, returning her attention to her computer.
"He's been doing that a lot lately," McGee added. "Leaving without saying where he's going. I think something's wrong."
"Lighten up Probie. The man's entitled to some personal time every now and then. It's not like we're in the middle of a case."
"We were in the middle of a case yesterday when he left you to interrogate Gunnery Sergeant Hughes. He was gone for five hours and no one knew where he was - and then he left early!" McGee said, obviously concerned by Gibbs' unusual behaviour.
"It's not like it's the first time he's let me interrogate a suspect, McGoo."
Hoping to change the subject, he sauntered across to perch himself on McGee's desk.
"So…how was last night?" Tony asked.
"Last night was great, thanks for asking," the younger man said before turning back to his computer.
"So…Alex wasn't too disappointed then?"
"Well, you know, she was expecting a date with Chuck Norris and she opened her door to Chuck E Cheese."
"Nice try, Tony," McGee grinned, "but Alexandra told me that you called her to apologise and that you said some very nice things about me."
"I had a weak moment," Tony shrugged. "I meant what I said though, man. I would never have agreed to go out with her if I'd known you were still interested. DiNozzos don't go out with married women and don't cut in on their friends."
"I know, Tony," McGee replied, "and I'll pay you for the symphony tickets."
"Hockey tickets," Tony answered quickly.
"You could give me your hockey tickets."
"I paid a hundred dollars each for those tickets!"
"Come on, McScrooge, those were my box seats you sat your skinny ass on last night – do you have any idea how much they cost? Besides, you said yourself, you hate ice hockey!"
McGee pursed his lips, imaging the extravagant cost of box seat tickets at the Kennedy Centre and he realised that he was getting off easy. He opened his wallet and handed Tony the tickets, frowning when the older man remained seated on the edge of his desk.
"Something else I can do for you, Tony?"
"Details, Probie, I want details!"
McGee hesitated for a moment then grinned at the memory of the best date he'd had in a long time.
"Well, I managed to get reservations at La Chaumière in Georgetown…"
"Very stylish, - and?"
"And…we had a nice meal and great conversation."
"Then we drove to the Kennedy Centre and enjoyed the champagne and hors d'œuvres at interval and the symphony was amazing."
"And then what happened?"
"Then I drove her home."
"What? No nightcap or coffee or…you know?" he said raising his eyebrows suggestively.
"Alexandra invited me in for coffee but it was getting late and we both had work this morning so…"
"Wait a minute, let me get this right. You turned down an invitation into the apartment of a smoking hot woman because it was a school night? Are you crazy?"
Tony felt the glancing blow of a head slap as Gibbs made his presence known.
"Sounds like someone who values their job to me," Gibbs said curtly. "What about you, DiNozzo? You value yours 'cause at the moment it's hard to tell."
"Where's the transcript of Gunnery Sergeant Hughes' interrogation? I told you to get it to me yesterday." Gibbs said as he stepped into Tony's personal space. "If doing your damn job is getting in the way of your drinking and socialising, DiNozzo, there are ways to fix that."
Tony flushed slightly from the unexpected heat of the comment and feeling the eyes of his teammates burning into his back. The muscle in his jaw clenched and tightened as he straightened to his full height without breaking eye contact.
"Can I say something now?" Tony's voice was hard, the words brittle with suppressed emotion.
Gibbs raised an eyebrow in silent response.
"Signed transcript's been in your in basket since yesterday – I put it there when I got back from the JAG office - you'd already left. It's under the requisition forms, witness statements and my firearms discharge report that are all waiting for your sign off. I was in early this morning, figured I'd get a head start."
Gibbs nodded his head tersely and without another word Tony returned to his desk, his entire body taut with the effort of containing his anger.
Dropping into his seat, Gibbs carded his fingers through short silver strands and sighed deeply. He knew that the situation was not entirely Tony's fault and he was determined to suggest that the director find someone else to entertain the agency's out-of-town visitors.
Tony had a keen investigative mind and Gibbs needed him sharp and at the top of his game, not clouded by alcohol and lack of rest…especially now, when he had matters pressing on his own mind.
The next few hours passed under the shroud of a heavy silence as the agents completed their reports and started to work on some cold cases. McGee and Ziva kept their heads down, sensing the palpable current of antagonism between the senior agents.
Returning from another coffee run later in the day, Gibbs placed a cup of overly sweet hazelnut coffee on Tony's desk. As his senior field agent raised his eyes to meet his, Gibbs hoped Tony could read an apology in the gesture. Tony's confusion warred with his concern as he watched his boss' retreating back and a familiar feeling wrapped its icy fingers around his heart and squeezed tightly.
'Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales here-abouts! If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!'
A/N:- I hope you enjoyed that, L