This has to be a nightmare. Tony's pretty sure he's been a suspect in more murders than most serial killers at this point, and it's getting ridiculous. He still can't believe Gibbs of all people has sent him home, "pending investigation". Tony knows what that means. It means Gibbs doesn't trust him in the office until the older man knows whether or not he killed his ex girlfriend. Which means Gibbs suspects it's possible that he did kill his ex girlfriend.
Tony knows he was meant to go back to Gibbs' house, where he's been staying since he got back from his time as Agent Afloat. What started out as a matter of convenience, Tony's sudden return having left him no time to rent an apartment, has become a comfort to both men, and Tony never bothered going apartment hunting.
Now, though, with Gibbs' near accusation ringing in his ears, "You're too close to this, Tony, and we can't risk contamination. Just go home. I'll call you," Tony can't bear the though of sitting around in his Boss' house waiting to hear what's going on. It feels like waiting for 'Dad' to get home and find out about a fight at school, and Tony just can't handle feeling like a troublesome kid right now, when he hasn'tdoneanythingwrong. It doesn't seem to have occurred to anyone that he could be sad about Michelle, that her death could upset him. Of course why should it? It's only a month ago his old partner was murdered. They let him work that case.
Well, fine, Tony decides, going up to his room and packing a small bag with a few changes of casual clothes. If they're going to treat him like a criminal, he's going on the lamb. He debates for a moment before leaving his cell on the coffee table, where Gibbs will see it as soon as he gets home. The small act of defiance will cost him, but Tony's pissed enough not to care. He picks up a disposable at the gas station anyway, programing Gibbs' number in from memory, just in case. He then stops at a bank near the house and withdraws a thousand dollars cash. No point in making it easy for McGee to track him- whether his team winds up looking for him as a suspect or a friend, he doesn't particularly want to see them for awhile.
Tony's been driving aimlessly for a couple of hours when he realizes he's more than halfway to Stillwater. If he's honest with himself, Jack's grandfatherly presence is exactly what he needs right now, but he can't exactly hide out from one Gibbs in the other's spare room. Annoyed with himself, Tony pulls into a small hotel parking lot in Harrisburg, paying cash for a one night stay. He doesn't intend to stay in Pennsylvania long, but he needs to stop and come up with some kind of plan.
A few hours later, Tony still has no idea where he's headed next or what he's going to do long term, but he is starving, having skipped lunch in his snit with Gibbs. He's driving around town looking for somewhere to eat when police lights in his rearview mirror startle him.
Tony goes cold as he pulls over. He wasn't speeding or breaking any traffic laws, and he knows he doesn't have a taillight out or anything like that. Which means Gibbs put out a BOLO on him. He rolls down his window and places his hands on the steering wheel as he waits for the officer to come talk to him.
When the cop reaches his window, Tony immediately begins speaking. "Anthony DiNozzo, NCIS- that's Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which means I'm a Fed. But you wouldn't be pulling me over if I weren't a suspect in something, so you should probably know there's a gun in my glove compartment, along with my badge, which is why I haven't gotten it out. The badge, I mean. And I have a knife in my pocket, and another in my belt buckle. I mean, my belt buckle is a knife. In the interest of full disclosure, of course."
"Anybody ever tell you you talk too much, kid?" the cop, who is probably about Gibbs' age, asks.
Tony gives him a wry smile. "All the time."
The older man reaches through the open window to open Tony's car door. "Out," he says, but the command is soft and somehow gruffly reassuring. Tony's surprised to be allowed to unfasten his own seatbelt. Usually, a suspect who's known to be carrying a weapon isn't allowed to do much of anything with his hands.
Tony immediately braces himself against the car in the standard search position. "What are you doing?" the cop asks him, in that same gentle tone, as if Tony is a victim, not a suspect.
"Aren't you going to search me?" Tony asks, not moving.
"No," the officer says simply, and as Tony stands up, the other man leans into his car, flipping through the glove compartment for Tony's gun and badge. "Come on, Agent DiNozzo," he says, pocketing the items and taking Tony gently by the arm, "My partner will get your car."
As Tony is gently but insistently pulled toward the squad car, he's shocked to see a familiar face getting out of it. "Tone!" the detective calls gleefully, and it's then that Tony realizes that the men arresting him aren't dressed in blues, like beat cops, but are both wearing suits.
"Charlie?" Tony asks in confusion, surprised to see his old partner from Philly. They both left the precinct at the same time, after their sergeant nearly sacrificed them in an under cover op gone bad, and over the years they've lost touch. He hadn't even realized Charlie had moved back to Pennsylvania.
"How are you doing, buddy?" Charlie asks, hugging him. Tony returns the gesture uncertainly, still confused as to why he isn't being treated like the criminal they obviously believe he is and shell shocked that Gibbs went so far as to put a BOLO out on him in the first place.
"Clearly I've been better. What are you doing back here? I thought you were headed for the sand and sun?" Tony asks, remembering that his friend had transfered to Florida.
"I moved back up to be closer to the family. Mom's sick," Charlie tells him unhappily, and Tony puts a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder.
"What is it?" Tony asks sympathetically. The two Thanksgivings they were partners, Charlie dragged Tony home with him, and Mrs. Snyder's maternal clucking meant more to the motherless cop than she could possibly have imagined. Once, when he was out of commission for a couple of weeks after a bullet skimmed his thigh, she'd insisted Charlie drive him to the Snyder's family home in Penbrook so she could look after him.
"Breast cancer," Charlie says tightly. "You should come home with me tonight, she'd love to see you."
"Aren't I under arrest?" Tony says, wishing he could go see Charlie's mom, and feeling guilty that, even when he realized where he was, it hadn't occurred to him to pay her a visit.
The two men exchange a confused look. "You aren't under arrest, son," the older detective tells him. "Charlie, you go ahead and follow in his car, we'll head back to the station and get this young man sorted out."
Tony's stomach chooses that moment to remind him loudly that he's supposed to be finding dinner. Charlie laughs and says, "Maybe we should make that 3rd Street? Sounds like Tony could use a bite."
"And you can always pack away some of their pie," the other detective, who still hasn't introduced himself, says with an indulgent smile. "Okay, 3rd Street it is. I'll radio the station and tell them we've found our guy and we're taking a break."
Tony decides to speak up. "Um, if you aren't arresting me, could you at least introduce yourself? And can I drive my own car?" Charlie winces at his tone, but the older detective just gives him a warning glare.
"I realize I got distracted and skipped the pleasantries, but can the attitude. I'm Lieutenant Frank Madley, Harrisburg police department. And no, you can't drive your own car, Jethro warned us you might be a flight risk." He nods at Charlie, who obediently makes his way to Tony's car and starts her up.
"You know Gibbs?" Tony asks, letting himself be steered toward the passenger's seat of the squad car.
"You're less than a hundred miles from Stillwater, and you're surprised to meet someone who knows Jethro?" the older man asks as they buckle up.
"My old partner and Gibbs' friend pulling me over out of the blue was a bit of a surprise, yes," Tony says testily.
"Watch it, kid," Frank says annoyedly.
"What I'm watching is a total disregard for legal procedure," Tony says angrily. "Either Gibbs put out a BOLO listing me as a suspect in Michelle's death, in which case I should be in the back seat in handcuffs, or he didn't, in which case you had no right to pull me over, or to take my car and make me come with you."
There's a moment of deathly silence as Tony's angry tirade hangs in the air between them. The Lieutenant stops the car before speaking, pulling into a parking place in front of a small, unassuming red awning. "You listen and you listen good, kiddo. You made some serious mistakes today, taking off and leaving Jethro no way to get in touch with you. He sent out an informal 'keep a lookout' that just said you were a Special Agent and he needed to talk to you, not that you were a criminal. Ten minutes after it goes out, I've got Charlie in my office worrying that something's wrong with his old partner. When he showed me the fax and I saw that it was from Jethro, I gave him a call and Charlie and I decided to go looking for you. We're on your side, we're here to help, but if you don't drop the attitude you're going to be a very unhappy young man, even before Jethro gets here to deal with you."
Tony just sits there shocked for a moment. He's furious that Gibbs' friend is treating him like a recalcitrant child, and still feels hopelessly betrayed by his Boss. "Go to hell!" he says and is shocked by a sharp slap on the thigh. It's a relatively mild correction, all things being equal, but the choice of target is more reminiscent of a spank than a headslap. He instantly falls silent, big, hurt green eyes looking up at Detective Madly miserably.
"Don't look at me like that, you earned that swat," Frank says sternly, then softens and tilts Tony's chin so he can look the boy in the eye. "Hey, none of this is the end of the world. You're in trouble for taking off yes, and Jethro's understandably furious. He's never dealt well with worrying about people he cares about. But everything's going to be fine."
"Have you called Gibbs yet?" Tony asks, hating the nervousness in this voice. This whole situation has him feeling like a kid, this time one who is deservedly in trouble and waiting for Dad to pick him up at a friend's house and take him home to deal with him. The worst punishments of his childhood were always the ones for embarrassing his father by screwing up while under the authority of a friend's parent, and he's not looking forward to how angry Gibbs will be about one of his old friends having to haul Tony in like a criminal. Not to mention how much trouble he's going to be in for being so rude to Frank. Gibbs is death on attitude, and Tony knows he's being a brat, even if he seems to be unable to shut himself up.
"I'm not going to call him, you are," Frank tells him, hating how scared the boy seems. If he were an actual teen runaway, Frank would be afraid to send him home, worried that his parents were abusing him. But Gibbs warned him that the kid had a troubled past, and that once he stopped "spitting and clawing" over being caught, he'd probably decide he was too much trouble and Gibbs was going to get rid of him. Still, Frank can't help feeling bad for the kid, so he cuts him some slack. "That can wait till after we get some food in you, though," he says gently, as Charlie walks over to the car.
He rolls down the window at the other detective's knock. "What's taking you two so long?" Charlie asks with a smile.
Seeing Tony's deer in headlights expression, Frank answers, "We'll be in in a minute. Go grab us a booth."
Charlie throws off a sloppy salute before doing as he's told, and Frank turns back to Tony. He's about to reassure him that Gibbs won't actually kill him when the boy speaks. "If Gibbs is worried about me," there's a note of doubt in his voice, but it's the hope under it that makes Frank want to kill whoever hurt this kid so badly, "then I should go ahead and call him."
Knowing half of what's got Jethro so worked up is the kid leaving his phone at home, Frank pulls his own cell out of his pocket, but Tony surprises him by pulling out a burn phone. "I didn't want to give them the opportunity to track my cell when they realized I was gone," he says, sounding ashamed, "But I guess I knew I couldn't stay away indefinitely."
"Good choice," Frank tells him supportively, surprised and pleased at the forethought, especially when Tony presses a speed dial number for his boss.
"I was bound to make one eventually," Tony says self deprecatingly, then visibly straightens up as his call is answered.
"Gibbs," a gruff, furious sounding voice says.
"Hey, Boss," Tony manages weakly.
"Where the hell are you?" the former Marine yells.
"Harrisburg?" Tony says hesitantly. "I was just kind of driving."
"After you took off withoutyourcell, leaving us with no way of contacting you or even knowing if you were alive? You really went for broke this time, DiNozzo. I can't believe even you could screw up so badly. Do you have any idea how many people are wasting their time right now, looking for you?"
"Sorry Boss," Tony practically squeaks.
"I assume since you're calling me Frank found you, and you haven't just suddenly come to your senses?" Gibbs says sharply.
"He's right beside me. We're in his squad car," Tony reports.
"He had to arrest you?" Gibbs' voice is deathly serious, and just about as angry as Tony's ever heard him.
"Not exactly. They pulled me over, but I was really cooperative, I mean I argued some when I found out what was going on, but I went where he told me, I swear! I'm in his car instead of mine because he's afraid I'll run." Tony's talking so fast it sounds like his words are tripping over each other trying to escape Gibbs' wrath, and the young agent has his free arm wrapped around his middle for comfort. Frank can't hear Gibbs' side of the conversation, but the boy beside him is clearly extremely well chastised and near tears, so he reaches over and plucks the phone from his hand.
"Calm down, Jet. It's me, the kid's fine, he's been no trouble at all." At Gibbs' snort he amends, "Well, he's got a mouth on him, but nothing I can't handle. My boy Charlie and I found him a few minutes ago, and we're taking him to get something to eat."
"I have half a mind to tell you to toss him in a cell," Gibbs says angrily.
"I wouldn't do it," Frank says seriously, and Gibbs' common sense catches up with his anger and he realizes what he's just said.
"Aw, hell, Frank," Gibbs says, and Madley can hear his old friend go from furious to concerned all over again. "How upset is he? Must be pretty bad if you took the phone."
"Affirmative," Frank says, not wanting Tony to know what's being said. Gibbs sighs, and Frank says, "Tell you what, Jethro, I've got an idea. You know Charlie and Tony go way back to Philly? Well Charlie's mom's something of a mother hen, and it sounds like she's got a soft spot for your agent here. She's a great woman, I'd hate to deprive her of the chance to cluck over the brat, so how about I send him home with Charlie tonight and you meet us up here in the morning?"
"That bad?" Gibbs asks, knowing Frank is trying to give Tony a chance to calm down before facing him.
"Yep," the detective says, watching the miserable special agent in his passenger's seat out of the corner of his eye. Tony's pulled his feet up into the seat with him and has curled up into a ball of misery.
"Okay, I'll see you in the morning. Call me as soon as you've got him settled?" Gibbs sounds more like a worried parent than a supervisor, and Frank finds himself fighting a smile. He's glad this kid has broken through his old friend's walls- there was a time when he though Jethro would never let anyone in again after he lost Shannon and Kelly.
"Will do. We can meet at the station in the morning. Ten okay with you?" Frank asks.
"Make it 0800."
"Jethro, it's a two and a half hour drive- Oh, fine, eight am it is," Frank capitulates, realizing his friend isn't likely to get much sleep with Tony missing anyway.
"Call me. And Frank? Thanks," Gibbs says, hanging up.
Frank hands Tony his phone back. "Looks like you and Charlie are having a sleepover."
"I already rented a hotel room for the night," Tony almost whines.
"We'll go check you out after we eat," Frank says matter of a factly.
"I am an adult. If I want to spend the night in a hotel room I've paid for, then I don't see how it's any of your business, as long as I'm not committing a crime," Tony argues.
Frank nearly yells at the kid, but takes a deep breath and stops himself. Tony could try the patience of a saint. Which, he thinks, might be the point right now- to force a confrontation that either gives him an excuse to run again or leaves him waiting in disgrace for his Boss, the way he clearly feels he deserves to be. "Do you not want to see Mrs. Snyder, or are you just being difficult?"
"Charlie's mom is great. I just... I haven't seen her in years. She's sick and I didn't even know. I had no idea Charlie was even back up North. I fall off the face of the earth, and years later I'm in trouble and I show up at their door? Mrs. Snyder doesn't want to deal with me."
"Charlie called his momma when we went hunting you. Told her you'd gone and done something stupid and might be in the area, and she told him he'd better bring you home with him!" Tony looks shocked at this pronouncement, which makes Frank mad for some reason. "What'll it take to get it through your head that there are people in your life who care about you? Charlie and Mrs. S. are both excited to see you and would have been any time you bothered getting in touch with them. And Jethro is worried sick about your stubborn hide. You worked somewhere between Philly and DC, right? What about a partner there? They off worrying about you because you're too stubborn to call?"
"My partner from Baltimore died last month. Our old major murdered him. So no, he's probably not so worried about whether he's on my Christmas card list this year," Tony snipes angrily. Frank opens his mouth to speak, but Tony continues, "I guess you could say Danny's death was my fault for not staying in touch- I left because I found out he was dirty, and the day he died he called me to tell me he'd found out the major was dirty too. Only I didn't pick up and the major shut him up before he had a chance to tell me. I arrested the asshole myself, that's got to count for something."
"Tony," Frank begins. He never meant to open up such a well of guilt in the younger man- it hadn't occurred to him that Tony could be dealing with anything so serious. But this bit of 'tough love' seems to have pushed the young man over the edge.
"Don't," the Special Agent bites out, suddenly going hard and deadly. "You're right- I'm a jerk who doesn't form meaningful relationships, and when I do, I up and abandon them the first chance I get. Hell, the only reason you've even met me is because I did a runner on Gibbs. And on that note," Tony hops out of the car. Frank follows and manages to catch him around the back of the squad car, pinning him gently against it.
"Calm down, kiddo," he soothes, not letting go of the struggling young man underneath him. "That's not what I meant at all. I've known Jethro a long time, and he wouldn't keep you around if he didn't think you were something special. And Charlie's a damn good judge of character, as is his mama. They all seem to be rather fond of you, and I'm inclined to take their word over yours, considering the circumstances."
"Gibbs thinks I'm a murderer," Tony says flatly.
"What?" Frank asks, shocked.
"He thinks I killed Michelle. He wouldn't let me help with the investigation so I didn't have a chance to contaminate the scene."
"Jethro does not suspect you of murder. I'm one of his oldest friends. Do you think he would have let me go hunting you down without warning me if he thought you were capable of that?" the Lieutenant reasons gently, letting go of Tony but staying close to grab him again if necessary.
"Then why did he send me home?" Tony counters, straightening up and brushing his jacket off pointedly.
"Conflict of interest? You dated her," Frank points out.
"Months ago. We only went out a couple of times. And he let me work my old partner's murder. That hit a lot closer to home."
"I'm not going to speak to Jethro's motives. You need to discuss that with him. All I can tell you is what he told me. He knew the case would upset you, and he sent you home because he was trying to spare you. Clearly it was a mistake, but he was just being overprotective," Frank assures Tony, privately wondering if anything he's saying is penetrating the wall of hurt he sees so clearly in the boy's eyes.
"Whatever," Tony says, closing the conversation. "Look, lets just agree to disagree and catch up with Charlie. I'm starving."
Frank sees that Tony is too overwrought to listen and allows him to lead the way into the restaurant. They all order: just coffee for Frank, coffee and pie for Charlie, and a huge burger and fries followed by pie for Tony, who is apparently ravenous. The meal is actually quite pleasant. Tony probes Frank for the story of how he knows Gibbs, and takes obvious delight in tales of high school football, where his Boss was the quarterback that took Stillwater all the way to state. The young man has a clear case of hero worship going on for his Boss, and Frank finds himself enjoying telling stories of his past and his adventures with his old best friend for an appreciative audience. Charlie soaks up the tales almost as eagerly as Tony does, enjoying learning about his mentor's youth.
Frank insists on treating the boys, and reflects on the complicated ties between all of them as they wait for the check. Charlie is five or six years older than Tony, and treats the boy like a younger brother. That's clear from his watchful, protective gaze and the mild scolding Frank overheard him deliver when he returned from a quick trip to the restroom, chastising his friend for going to ground when he was upset instead of calling for help. He's proud of his young detective's behavior during this unusual situation- his loyalty to Tony is truly impressive, but at the same time, he's kept a cool head on his shoulders and taken very good care of his shaken former partner.
Frank has always played a somewhat avuncular role with Charlie. The young man had a hard time trusting anyone when he joined the Harrisburg force, a remnant of the disaster in Philly. But at the same time, he was dealing with serious family issues in his mother's illness, and desperately needed someone to trust and confide in. Somehow, Frank managed to earn this brilliant young man's faith and respect, and he's done his best to be worthy of them ever sense, guiding Charlie into becoming the great detective- and man- he knows he can be.
If anything, Jethro's bond with Tony is even closer. His old friend mentioned during their short call after Frank read the alert that Tony was actually living with him, and had been for about a year. He also confessed how concerned he was, remarking at one point that, "At least when Kelly ran away from home, she didn't leave the yard." The comparison shocked Frank. He'd been best man when Jethro married Shannon, and had adored Kelly all her short life. He knew firsthand how devastated his friend had been by her loss. Gibbs equating his feelings for Tony to how he'd once felt about Kelly told the detective just how important this young man was to his old friend. For that alone, Frank would do just about anything for this kid. He never expected Jethro to let anyone past his walls again, but there's something about the young Italian, even on a day like today, which has obviously been awful, that just pulls you in and makes you want to take care of him.
After dinner, they all return to the station. Frank allows Tony to drive his own vehicle with Charlie riding shotgun, but when they get there and return the squad car, he lays down the law.
"Now, you boys are spending the night with Mrs. Snyder," he reminds them. Charlie has an apartment, but he spends a lot of nights in his family home, just to be close to his mom.
"Yep. I called mom while I was waiting on you guys at the restaurant, and she's making up the foldout you usually use," Charlie tells Tony matter of a factly.
"Usually? I haven't seen you or your mom in a decade, Charlie. I don't think there is a usually anymore," Tony says, ducking his head. He's still ashamed he went so long without getting in touch with them, Frank can tell. Luckily, Charlie notices it too.
"Trust me, everything's exactly like you remember it. Except, of course, that I've continued to get better looking with every passing year," Charlie jokes.
That gets a smile out of Tony, and Frank changes the subject, knowing Tony's not going to like what he's about to say. "Okay, so you boys take Charlie's car and leave the keys to Tony's here with me. We'll lock it up in the yard overnight."
Tony immediately bristles. "You don't trust me not to run off in the middle of the night?"
"Just removing the temptation," Frank says easily, reaching out a hand for the keys. Tony obediently hands them over, even as he continues to protest.
"It's my car. I don't want to leave it here, I want it with me. I'm an adult. Where I drive is my business, and I'd never sneak out without saying goodbye to Mrs. Snyder anyway," the young agent defends himself.
"And you know she'd be after you with her spoon if you even thought about it!" Charlie jokes, and Tony winces good naturedly. Frank just smiles at the boys, confident that Charlie's mom is more than capable of handling anything they throw at her. Sick or not, she's one of the most impressive women he's ever had the pleasure of meeting.
"You boys should head on out. It's getting late," Frank tells them.
"Almost bedtime for an old geezer like you!" Charlie teases good naturedly.
"Watch it boy, this old geezer can still kick your ass!" Frank jokes back. "I'll be over at seven for breakfast, so be ready to go then, and don't give your momma any trouble." Frank ruffles his detective's hair affectionately as he speaks, and Charlie grins at him.
"Me? Trouble?" he says innocently.
"Yes, now git!" Frank commands, swatting Charlie on the ass to get him moving.
"We're going, we're going! No need to get rough," Charlie mock-gripes, grabbing his old partner by the arm. "Come on, Tone, quick, Frank gets cranky when you keep him out past his bedtime." Pulling a slightly shocked looking Tony toward his car, Charlie retreats.
Frank watches them go with an affectionate smile before making his way to his own vehicle. He needs to get home and call Jethro- they've obviously got a lot to talk about.