A recent moment in my life made me think of this episode and gives birth to a new story... I'm just glad that I(as the Bard would say), have such meet food to feed it as Seignior DiNozzo! He's so wonderfully, comically, tragic... Exactly what caused Tony to lose his voice? Feedback always welcomed! ~ Ozzyols

Fade Out [feyd-out]: Noun: Broadcasting; Recording . A gradual decrease in the volume of sound, especially of recorded or broadcast music, dialogue, or the like, usually ending in complete inaudibility.


One can only stand your voice for so long…

Ziva's words were as sharp as the knives she owned and just as lethal, and left Tony feeling like a man bleeding to death from a thousand shallow cuts.

It had been a gloriously simple plan. Tony would canvas the male residents of Royal Woods and McGee and Ziva would record and monitor his conversations before turning them over to Abby work her magic.

The first part of the plan had worked like a charm. A hot, sweaty, feet-aching charm that had seen Tony chase down a voice print of every resident of the gated community.

When Tony had staggered exhausted and footsore into the back of the sedan, the snide statements of his two co-workers was the last thing he expected to be returning to.

Now seated in the back of the sedan as the three travelled back towards the Navy Yard, Tony took a moment to assimilate just what the other two had said. Had he really heard them admit to effectively hanging him out to dry because he talked too much?

Setting aside for the moment the colossal breach of protocol McGee and Ziva had made in turning off the surveillance equipment, Tony found himself trying to comprehend how two people he had learned, finally, to trust, could inflict so much damage with a callous handful of words?

Resting his chin against the heel of his hand, Tony let the scenery pass him by in silence. The rhythmic ka-dunk, ka-dunk of the sedans tires rolling over the seams in the Arland D Williams Memorial Bridge louder in his ears than the chatter coming from the front two seats from the other two agents. Or maybe that was just the sound of his own heart he was hearing? A heart unexpectedly wounded on a metaphorical battlefield, a heart that was now fighting to remain whole.

It was rumoured that much like the rhinoceros, DiNozzo's were synonymous at developing a skin so think that the cruelest barbs bounced back off them like silly putty. Tony always had a private laugh at comments like that. If they only knew how far from the truth they were. No, thick skin wasn't the secret to the seemingly unflappable DiNozzo chutzpah, as Ziva would put it. Having a black belt in emotional kung-fu was. Developing a sixth sense about how to deflect or avoid unnecessary emotional complications always kept Tony one-step ahead of the game. Always one defensive wall between his attackers and his own self. Most of the time.

That was not to say that occasionally someone would get in a lucky shot. And just once in a while, Tony would be foolish enough to let his guard down – only to find that was usually when someone would inevitably strike at the core of Anthony DiNozzo with lethal emotional accuracy.

Actually um, no, we've not been listening for the last couple of hours.

With McGee's flippant remark still bouncing around his head, Tony didn't hear his name being called. Only when there was a sudden rap on the window next to him was Tony startled back to the here and now.

"You comin' or what?"

Glancing out the side window, Tony was astonished to see McGee's pinched features glaring in at him through the window. How the? He was driving wasn't he?

A quick glance around his surroundings cleared the fog from his brain. They were back at the Navy Yard, of course. Time had done that weird skipping thing when you got distracted.

In what seemed the blink of an eye to Tony, McGee had gotten them from the Bridge back to the yard. God knows how long he'd been sitting in there, just staring out the window zoning out in front of those two. Great… just another wonderful moment in the life of Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo! Like he didn't have enough grief already.

Climbing out of the car, Tony realised why McGoblin looked so pissed. He'd been waiting to plip the plipper to lock the vehicle which of course he couldn't do while Tony was still in it. Tony absently wondered just how long he had been sitting there.

"That was a bit childish wasn't it?" McGee scowled as they walked across the asphalt towards the main lobby of the NCIS building.

"What?" Tony couldn't keep the confusion or the dry raspiness out of his voice.

"If you want to sulk on your own time because we didn't listen to you yammering away back there, go ahead Tony, but some of us have work to do." McGee pushed heavily against the glass door to the lobby and stormed inside.

Tony stopped dead in his tracks. Sulk? Where the hell did McGee get off thinking that he was sulking? The melancholy introspection that Tony had been feeling before over McGee and Ziva's actions were quickly being eroded away and replaced with anger.

Checking through security Tony found him thinking over his next course of action. By definition 'McBrutus' and 'Delilah' David breached NCIS operational protocol. If Tony gave in to the belligerence that was beginning to build within him and reported this to Gibbs his two team-mates would be in a world of trouble.

Arriving up on the squad room floor, Tony saw McGee and Ziva already clustered around Gibbs desk, seemingly discussing what had happened at Royal Woods.

"Decided to join us DiNozzo?" His Boss commented without looking up.

Dropping his pack down in its usual space, Tony gritted his teeth and pushed his feelings aside.

"We managed to get all forty three residents voice prints…"

About to drop his Sig and credentials back into his desk, Tony's hand froze over the opened desk draw at McGee's words. 'We managed'? What the hell was this 'we' crap? Tony felt his already dry throat constrict that little bit more.

"I've forwarded the samples to Abby, she said she should have something for us within the hour."

"Good job Tim." Gibbs nodded. "Goin' for coffee."

Tony gave his co-workers the benefit of waiting until their boss was out of earshot before rounding on McGee.

"Nice work McGloryhound! Need a foot massage for all that legwork you did?"

"Now Tony, you know there's no 'I' in team." McGee smirked.

Tony felt his molars squeak as he clenched his teeth harder.

"We were sent to do a job and we did it." Ziva stated matter-of-factly. "There is no need for you to be a Sourwuss about how it was done."

Tony flicked a glare towards Ziva. "Firstly, it's Sourpuss and secondly, don't talk to me about jobs, Probationary Agent David until you can demonstrate you know how to do yours." Tony could feel the backs of his ears beginning to burn. He had to get out of here before he said something he was going to regret. "If Gibbs is looking for me, I'll be with Abby!"

Watching Tony's retreating form, the two younger agents shared a puzzled look.

"What do you suppose he meant by that?" Ziva asked.

"I don't know." McGee pondered. "But with Tony, it could be anything."

Pushing their co-worker's odd reaction to one side, McGee and Ziva set about digging deeper into Adam Gators life.


"Hey Abs." Tony half croaked as he walked through the forensics lab door.

"Back from the land of desperate housewives?"

"Masking taped rosebuds and all." Tony grinned walking over to stand next to his friend.

"I thought that was an urban myth?"

"Nope, little sister of one of my college buddies did the back lot tour last January and caught the props guys sticking flowers on the bushes with green masking tape, sent him the photos to prove it.

Abby sighed heartily. "Another illusion shattered."

Tony blinked. "Abs you're a scientist, don't tell me you… y'know… watch that kinda thing."

Abby awarded Tony with a bemused look.

"What do you think Tony? Do I look like a girl who would watch Desperate Housewives?"

Tony held his hands up in defeat.

"So what was it like anyway, was it, y'know everything like the website said? Exclusive, the picture perfect place to raise a family? Thirty-five pockets of picket fence perfection?

Tony reached over and plucked a black rose from the shelf over Abby's station. Sniffing it he shrugged. "It was no biggy. I've seen better."

"Oh… really." Abby grinned warmly at her co-worker. "Got lots of experience getting into gated communities have we Tony?"

Tony countered with a mock glare. "Abs until I was eleven I practically lived in a gated community. It was just ours was a community of one. Everyone on our street was their own gated community. The idea of having a house that was less that a football field away from the neighbours seemed sacrilegious for some reason. Trick or Treating was always fun!" Tony ran his finger over the flower head before returning it to the shelf. "Kids in my neighbourhood loved the tricks…" he murmured.

The last comment caught Abby's attention. Far from the normal joking tone Tony normally had, there was something decidedly melancholy and injured behind it.

Abby cocked her head to one side. "Tony. What's wrong?" she asked quietly, turning to face her friend.

A lightning fast and entirely false smile leapt to Tony's face. "Nothing why?"

Tony swore under his breath. He'd been careless with that last statement. He was as transparent as one of Abby's microscope slides and she knew it. If it had been anyone other than Abby… and maybe Gibbs he would have been able to pull the charade off, but ten years working with two of the most astutely observant people on the planet Tony knew that Abby wouldn't let a comment like that pass unnoticed.

"It's nothing Abs." Tony murmured, trying to avoid the gentle scrutiny of those penetrating olive green eyes of hers. "Well, no, it's something, but nothing you can do anything about."

"But from nothing we can see everything"

"That's very profound Ms Sciuto."

"Thank you, but you're dodging the question. What's going on?"

Tony looked down at his nails. "Abs; tell me truthfully. Do I talk too much?"

"What?" the question was laced with two parts surprise, one part breathlessness.

Tony opened his mouth to speak and felt the tight dryness he'd felt before clench at his throat. It took him two attempts to clear his throat before he could repeat the question, still not trusting himself to meet her eyes. The cleanliness of his cuticles suddenly seeming very important.

"Tony how could you even think something like that?"

Tony muttered something unintelligible under his breath.

Abby was stunned. Tony? Talk too much? Never. Tony was a charming and sweet and garrulous guy who could make you smile sooner than look at you. He was funny and worldly and knew more movie references than Roger Ebert and Leonard Maltin put together. Some people might think he was a bit chatty, but to have the moxie to say something about it to him was… was… unthinkable!

"Did someone say that to you?"

When Tony still didn't answer, Abby jabbed him in the upper arm.

"Aow! Abs!" he all but squeaked.

"Then answer me DiNozzo, did someone say something to you?"

"Sort of, not really, well yeah I guess. It was something Z…someone said in passing. But not in those words exactly, but it still kinda got me thinking perhaps I talked to much?"

"What a dumb idea. And a really dumb person." Abby growled. Throwing her arms around his friends neck Abby hugged him close. "Of course you don't talk to much Tony. You always have just the right amount of words at the right time and don't you forget it!"

Held tight in her embrace Tony sighed. He could practically feel the love pouring off the forensic scientist and washing over him. "Thanks Abs" he murmured.

The tickle forming at the back of his throat finally won and Tony pulled away from Abby just in time to let out a cough only to serve to irritate his throat even more.

Reaching over to her desk, Abby retrieved her ever present Caf-Pow and held it out for Tony.

"Bless you Abby." Tony said, thankfully taking the hefty plastic cup from her hands. "Getting those sound bites could make a man build up a mighty thirst."

Drawing the liquid caffeine up through the straw, Tony's mouth was hit with a riot of flavours. Regardless of what it might taste like, right now it was manna from the Gods, a mighty torrent of icy liquid gushing down the back of his throat.

"Just let the cherry-apple propanoate coat your throat," Abby crooned, "you'll be okay…"

Tony took another gulp. "Wow, I forgot how strong that stuff is! Any hits yet?" he deflected.

"No," Abby sighed, looking over at her baby running voice analysis on the sound files. "But! Listening to your conversations with the Royal Woods Residents was SO much more entertaining than listening to Adam Gators phone calls!"

Tony felt himself slip into a bad Elvis impersonation. "Well than-kew very much, I'm puttin' out a CD."

The bleeping of Abby's machine drew the two NCIS officers attention. They had a hit.

"Voice print for Adam Gator's caller matches lucky interviewee… number eleven."

And where there was a hit, there was a lead. Things were looking up!


A/N PS - the story about the Desperate House plants? Very much true. It wasn't the little sister of a friend that saw it in real life, but a good friend of mine did the studio tour in the winter and sure enough she has photos of a stage hand gaffer taping roses to the dormant bushes on "Wisteria Lane". The don't call it Hollyweird for nothin!