Title: Outside the Frame
Characters: Tony DiNozzo, Jethro Gibbs
Warnings: Angst, violence, hurt/comfort
Spoilers: Takes place in the 3rd season after "Frame Up"
Summary: They say prison changes a man and no one knows that better than former NCIS agent, Tony DiNozzo. Can Gibbs and the team save Tony from life in prison and more importantly, can they save him from himself? A Frame Up AU
Disclaimer: I still do not own NCIS; if I did, the character of Tony would definitely be in trouble.
"We the jury, find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree."
The courtroom exploded around him but former NCIS Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo seemed oblivious to the proclamations of injustice being made on his behalf by those few who had remained convinced of his innocence. Tony collapsed into his chair as the judge demanded silence in his courtroom; the chaos began to settle as the judge announced that sentencing would be in two weeks.
Tony felt like he was going to be sick. He had known from the moment that the jury had entered the room that they had found him guilty; not a single juror would look at him or even in his direction and that realization had sent what little hope he had managed to retain spiraling into the depths of darkness. Although there hadn't been an eyewitness that could tie him to the severed legs, the forensic evidence submitted had been completely damning and it had been more than enough to render a guilty verdict.
The sound of the gavel hammering down on the wooden block forced him back to his present reality, which was somewhere that he didn't want to be at the moment. His attorney, Taylor Dylan leaned over and whispered something in his ear, but he truthfully had no idea what she had said; he thought that she had said something about an appeal but he couldn't be sure.
Within a few seconds, the jury had been thanked and dismissed and he was being placed in handcuffs and leg irons to be taken back to prison. Tony found it odd that the men and women on the jury were being thanked for basically taking away his freedom. He couldn't fault them for doing their job; if he had been on the jury, he probably would have reached the same conclusion. The only difference between him and the twelve individuals that had passed judgment on him was that he knew that he didn't kill anybody.
As he was being escorted from the courtroom, he heard a familiar voice call out to him. Leroy Jethro Gibbs had stood by his side since the beginning and when others had given up, he had continued to relentlessly pursue a way to prove his innocence. Unfortunately his efforts had been in vain and now instead of walking out of the courtroom a free man, he was headed back to prison to wait for the decision that would seal his fate.
He tried to look back over his shoulder but the officers refused to let him linger; they pushed him through the flashing cameras and the media that were covering the trial and away from his friends. Tony knew that Gibbs would more than likely be at the prison before he could get back and get changed out of his suit and into his standard prison issued clothing; the team leader would be ready to discuss another plan to prove his innocence but Tony wasn't sure that he was ready to listen.
Tony barely remembered being ushered into the transport; his mind was still reeling from the verdict and all he wanted was for someone to wake him up from the nightmare that his life had become. As he stared at the scenery passing by, his thoughts were consumed by worry for his future and for everything that he had lost.
How was he going to survive life in prison? He had already spent the better part of six months in jail because the judge, wanting to make an example of him, had denied him bail, but he had managed to convince himself that the arrangement would be temporary. With the earlier proclamation of guilt, that idea had quickly become nothing but dust in the wind; his dreams of freedom would remain just that—dreams that would never come true.
In the time that he had already spent behind bars, he had quickly learned that even among prisoners, he was a pariah. He was a cop and that had automatically made him a marked man. Despite the fact that he had a cell to himself on a secure wing and spent a lot of unrequested time in solitary, he had already had several forced confrontations with the other inmates. Not only did he have to contend with the other prisoners, there were also a couple of guards who were determined to make his life utterly miserable; it seemed that they thought he deserved what he got because his actions had given good cops a bad name.
His attackers were experienced enough not to leave any visible evidence and he had never told Gibbs about the fights he had been in; Tony knew the team leader had enough to worry about trying to prove his innocence and he didn't want to add to his already heavy burden. He doubted that Gibbs had actually slept through an entire night since his arrest; the Marine had poured everything he had into the investigation, going against orders to separate himself from DiNozzo and the bad publicity that NCIS would be subjected to because of the charges brought against him.
Gibbs had defied orders and he and the team had spent every free moment they had working on his case until they had exhausted all the leads that they had uncovered. Tony appreciated Gibbs' persistence and unwavering support but he couldn't help but wonder if it wasn't time to cut his ties with Gibbs; his mentor and friend had done more for him than anyone else had his entire life and he deserved a break from the madness that now encompassed his life. All he had to do was to convince Gibbs to keep his distance and he also knew that was going to be easier said than done.
Tony was forced back to the present as the transport pulled into the prison entrance. The vehicle came to a stop and the guard motioned for him to get out of the van. He was dreading the all too familiar walk to his cell; Tony had quickly learned that he couldn't react to the threats and insults that were hurled at him by the other inmates and some of the guards or they would be able to use his fear against him and he wouldn't, no, he couldn't let that happen again.
He breathed an inward sigh of relief as he passed through the secured door that led to his cell. Right now he was looking forward to the quietness that being alone permitted him to have; Tony needed to try and calm the myriad of racing thoughts that seemed intent on staying jumbled in his mind. The thought that truly troubled him was the fact that people actually thought he was capable of murder and now that he had been found guilty, those perceptions were now a reality in the minds of both his friends and total strangers.
Stepping into his cell, the guard removed his irons and he waited for the inevitable sound of the door closing and locking; it was a sound he had heard hundreds of times before but this time it seemed so final, so permanent. He sat down on his bunk and raked his hands through his hair as the exhaustion he'd been battling for months began to seep into his bones. Tony considered just curling up on his bunk and sleeping for the next couple of weeks but he couldn't allow himself that small luxury; even when he was alone, he couldn't let his guard down for that long.
The guard had given him a fresh set of clothes, courtesy of the department of corrections and tersely ordered him to change. He loosened his tie and took it off, trying not to think of it as a hangman's noose. Tony began to change, taking time to hang his suit up, knowing that it would be one of the last times that he would be able to don his favorite designer suit. All his others had been packed away and after his sentencing, he would make sure Gibbs packed this one away with the others; actually, maybe he would tell the team leader to give them to charity or something because it looked like he wouldn't need them anytime soon.
He finished changing and laid the suit across his bunk so the guard could take it when he returned. Tony began pacing the length of the small room; he knew that he had to overcome the defeatist attitude that seemed to be overwhelming him but right now, he decided he would allow himself a few more moments of self-pity.
"Hey, DiNozzo," the guard call to him. "Bring your suit over here and I'll put it up for you."
Tony did as Officer Banks instructed. Banks was one of the guards that purposefully antagonized him but today the man was subdued to the point where he was almost congenial. "No, uh, words of inspiration today, Banks?" he asked.
"Not today, DiNozzo; you've had a hard day but just remember that tomorrow is another day. You just found out your verdict today; you need some time to let it sink in."
"I figured that you would have a lot to say about the jury finding me guilty."
"I do, but it'll keep until later."
"And here I thought I wouldn't have anything to look forward to," he mumbled to himself.
"Well, you were wrong," Banks quipped. "You've got a lot to look forward to, DiNozzo; a lot of pain and humiliation. You've been found guilty, so there won't be any more special privileges. No one can protect you now; there's quite a few guys in here that want a piece of you and I might be so inclined to let them have it."
"You know, Banks; if aggravating the piss out of the inmates doesn't work out for you, you can always go on tour as a motivational speaker."
"I'll keep that in mind," the guard sneered. "In the meantime, you've got a visitor."
"I don't know; I didn't ask. Since he's the one that comes up regularly to see you, that'd be my guess."
Tony shook his head. "I don't want to see anyone right now, especially Gibbs."
"Nobody gives a flip what you want, DiNozzo. If you don't want to see him, then you can tell him; come on and stand up so I can cuff you again," Banks growled.
"Coward," he muttered, uncertain if he were speaking of Banks or himself. Conceding to the officer's orders, Tony stood up and permitted Banks to place the irons on him once again. He winced as the metal bit into his flesh; evidently the guard wasn't going to give him too much of a break after all.
As Tony walked back down the hallway with Banks escorting him; with his head held high, he looked straight ahead, once again forcing himself to ignore the cursing and slurs directed at him. Instead, his thoughts were focused on the upcoming conversation that he was going to have with Gibbs.
Tony had no idea what he was going to say to Gibbs; but he knew that somehow he had to tell the team leader to forget about him and get on with his life and although the team leader would more than likely ignore his request, he had to try and encourage the team leader to cut his losses.
He and Gibbs had been through a lot together and the unspoken familial bond between them was strong; he considered the former Marine to be more of a father to him than his own father ever had been or ever would be and for that reason alone, he didn't want Gibbs to watch him rot in prison. Tony had decided that Gibbs was just going to have to respect his wishes; in the end, it would be better for everyone and hopefully one day, Gibbs would be able to forgive him for pushing him away.
When the jury came back into the courtroom from being sequestered, Gibbs immediately noticed that they were doing their best to avoid looking at Tony; he realized that more than likely that they had returned with a guilty verdict and within a few seconds, he learned that his assumption had been correct and that Tony had been convicted of murder. He couldn't believe that the jury had found his best agent guilty of murder; the evidence was condemning but in his opinion, circumstantial and Gibbs couldn't help but feel that the jury, the prosecutor, and the judge were looking to make DiNozzo an example.
The expression of shock and disbelief on Tony's face would be forever etched in the team leader's mind. He had attempted to reach DiNozzo before the guards whisked him away but Tony was cuffed and escorted out before he could fight his way through the crowd. He had then decided that he would come to the prison and see Tony; Gibbs wanted to make sure that the younger man knew that he still believed in him. Despite what the evidence said, he knew that Tony was innocent and Gibbs had vowed that he would spend every waking moment searching for the truth until DiNozzo was exonerated. Someone had framed Tony and somehow he was going to prove it.
He glanced at his watch and mentally calculated that he'd been waiting for DiNozzo to appear on the other side of the plexiglass for about ten minutes; Gibbs had a feeling that Tony probably didn't want to see anyone but the team leader wasn't about to leave until he had spoken his peace. He couldn't allow Tony too much time to mull everything over and convince himself that there wasn't any hope or that he wasn't worth the trouble; it had taken him years to help DiNozzo to quell his insecurities and the events of past year had forced them all to the surface.
The door opened and Tony was escorted into the room. Gibbs didn't think that he would ever get used to seeing DiNozzo wearing the standard prison garb and irons; it angered him to see DiNozzo treated like a hardened criminal but the last thing Tony needed was for him to lose his temper. He had learned several months ago that his interference had often made life even more difficult for Tony and Gibbs didn't want to be responsible for any more scars than DiNozzo already carried.
Gibbs picked up the phone as Tony sat down across from him and did likewise. DiNozzo usually began their conversation with an attempt to lighten the mood and alleviate the guilt that the former Marine felt for not being able to help his man. This time, Tony was silent and the fact that DiNozzo had nothing to say scared Gibbs. He hoped that he wasn't too late and Tony had already given up; Gibbs wasn't ready to quit fighting and he wasn't about to let DiNozzo accept the fate that the jury had handed down.
"You okay?" Gibbs asked.
Tony shrugged. "I guess. Might as well be."
The older man leaned forward slightly, silently cursing the glass between them. "I want you to listen to me, Tony," he pleaded. "Are you listening?"
"The verdict today isn't the end; I haven't given up and neither can you," Gibbs insisted.
Gibbs' declaration was met with more silence. He could tell that DiNozzo wasn't convinced of the need to keep pressing forward until the truth was revealed; the justice system that Tony had put so much faith in all of his life had failed him and had literally shattered his confidence in himself and almost everyone around him.
"Did you hear me?" the team leader asked.
"I heard you," Tony mumbled.
"I need you to trust me, Tony; trust me to help you."
DiNozzo shook his head. "It's not a matter of trust, Gibbs; it's a matter of facing reality and my reality is that I'm more than likely going to face life in prison and that's if the judge is in a good mood."
"Gibbs, please just go," the younger man begged, defeat dripping from every word.
Gibbs knew that he shouldn't have been surprised by Tony's request but that didn't stop the words from cutting through him like a knife. DiNozzo had never been fond of people coming to see him in prison; he once told Gibbs that he didn't want the memory of seeing him through a plexiglass wall be the memory that his friends carried with him. However, Gibbs had not been easily dissuaded and continued to visit DiNozzo; truthfully, none of Tony's true friends had given up on him and continued to visit him despite the fact there had been more than a few times that he had refused to see them.
"I can't do that, Tony," Gibbs quietly replied. "We're in this together."
"No, we're not. I'm in here and you can walk out that door anytime you want," Tony bitterly reminded him.
"And one day, you're going to walk out with me as a free man."
"Boss, I mean, Gibbs," Tony immediately corrected. "You did everything you could; you've got to accept that."
"Not everything. You're still in here so that tells me that I've overlooked something."
Tony's eyes narrowed; Gibbs could sense the turmoil churning inside of the dark-haired man. The agent was grateful to see some kind of emotional response from Tony; he didn't like the resigned expression of acceptance that DiNozzo had been wearing ever since he had stepped into the room.
"I can't handle your guilt on top of what I'm going to have to deal with," Tony growled, the fierceness of his words taking Gibbs by surprise.
"I don't hold you responsible for this," DiNozzo continued. "You did for more for me than anyone and don't you ever forget that. I…think you need to let this go, Gibbs."
Gibbs shook his head. "I can't. I won't. You don't belong in here and I'm not just going to give up. Don't ask me to do that, Tony."
"You have to! You have to move on, Gibbs!"
"Tony, listen to me!"
"I'm done listening, Gibbs," Tony declared. "I don't want you coming back here anymore and I don't want any of the others coming to see me either."
"We're not going to stay away, Tony."
Tony's eyes were clenched shut and he buried his head in his hand. Gibbs knew that he was trying to control his anger; the time that DiNozzo had already spent in prison had quickened his temper and more than once, Tony's short fuse and sharp tongue had created even more trouble for him. He had lost count how many times that he had come to visit DiNozzo only to be informed that Tony was in solitary confinement for fighting; Gibbs wasn't foolish enough to believe that his former agent had started all the fights but he knew Tony well enough to know that he wouldn't have simply walked away.
DiNozzo had never bore any visible injuries on his body but Gibbs knew that they existed; life in prison was not meant to be easy but because Tony had been a cop, his life had become a living hell. There was several times when he had visited that Tony had been moving slowly or was having trouble sitting upright but DiNozzo had refused to admit that anything was wrong and had purposefully changed the subject whenever Gibbs tried to press the matter.
"Fine," Tony finally rasped. "Come all you want, but don't be disappointed when I don't show up. I may not have many rights in this place, but I do know that I have the right to turn away any visitors."
"Tony, we're not giving up," Gibbs forcibly repeated.
The agent looked up to see one of guards standing over Tony indicating to him that his time was up. He saw DiNozzo acknowledge the officer with a curt nod, his eyes coming to meet the team leader's steely and determined gaze. "I've got to go," Tony announced.
"If our friendship ever meant anything to you, Gibbs, you'll stay away."
Before Gibbs could reply, Tony hung up the phone and slowly rose from his seat. Without so much as a backward glance, DiNozzo allowed the guard to escort him from the room back to his prison cell. As the door closed, Gibbs hung up his receiver and sat back in his chair, feeling like someone had punched him in the gut; he couldn't shake the feeling that things were about to get a lot worse before they got better.
Gibbs knew that he couldn't accomplish anything by sitting around. He had a killer to find and despite Tony's constant pleas to simply forget about the case, he was going to review all the evidence again and pursue every lead until he had the proof he needed in order for Tony DiNozzo to be a free man. Gibbs had failed Tony once and he was going to have to live with that knowledge for the rest of his life; failure a second time was not an option.
And we're off on another adventure! I can't wait to find out what you all think! Thanks so much for reading and for encouraging me to go with this story! A special shout out to AZGirl for being my sounding board on this story!