Tony pulled their sedan to a sudden halt in the spacious parking lot and removed his sun glasses.
"DiNozzo!" Kate shrieked in his ear, "Gibbs is expecting us back at the Navy yard."
"Take a chill pill Katie," Tony slunk out of his seat and walked away from the car, "this won't take a minute."
"That's what you said last time and I ended up having to come in to fetch you." She snapped, leaning across the seats to shout out of the rolled down window as he walked towards the 7/11.
Grinning Tony waved two fingers in the air without turning, "Two minutes!"
Imagining her disgruntled expression to his blatant defiance amused him no end. The day so far had been long and boring thanks to their new Probie reminding the Director of NCIS's policy on the induction of probationary agents. Consequently the whole of the MCRT, Gibbs included, which proved Morrow really did have a sense of humour, had spent the week so far refreshing their mandatory training. And despite his utter delight that the boss was being subjected to equal treatment for a change, Tony wasn't going to survive another long boring afternoon of safety in the workplace without something sugary to keep his mind sharp and the witty retorts coming. Death by PowerPoint was not something he wanted Ducky writing up as his COD after the autopsy.
With the sun beating down warmly on his back and fleeting wishing for another dead diamond smuggler to take them back to Cuba on the Gulf Stream, Tony nonchalantly pushed on the glass doors and let himself inside the small near deserted store. The tinny bell signalling a new customer sounded loudly above him, disturbing the overall quiet of what had to be the post lunchtime rush. A quick glance at his watched confirmed it was indeed nearly 2.30 in the afternoon and they'd lost not only their lunch time, but easily extended the day by a couple hours thanks to some anonymous tipster claiming to have information on a current case they were working. Gibbs was going to be pissed that they were not only late, but the effort was for nothing as well, the tip having been bogus. He considered faking an injury to distract and garner sympathy or "accidently" get trapped in the elevator on his way back in, but didn't think Gibbs would care either way. Not being able to catch the terrorist had him in a permanent worse than usual bad mood. The headslaps received since Ari's reappearance a few weeks ago were actually starting to hurt.
So in no rush to face off against a pissed off Gibbs Tony opted to ignore the current climate at NCIS and casually gaze around the 7/11 instead. Walking around the back of the store he noticed a couple of pretty girls hanging around the magazine rack and decided to do a little recognisance. After all it was already Wednesday and a date for the weekend would be something fun to look forward to after what was shaping up to be a really crappy week so far. Decision made Tony slyly came up beside them and picked up a TV guide, flicking quickly through the pages while covertly looking over. Girl number two made eye contact with him and nudged her friend. Said blonde friend gave him a teasing smile. Keeping it casual, he inched closer trying to listen in on their hushed giggling conversation.
He was about to introduce himself as a Very Special Agent when a sudden sharp pain impacted his side. He froze, not at all convinced he knew what was happening until a warm body quickly pressed itself close to his from behind, not in a fun way, and Tony recognised the feel of the object he was being jabbed with as a gun.
"Hello, Anthony," A gruff voice, likely damaged from years of chain smoking, spoke lowly into his left ear.
"Well hello-" Tony started off cocky, but his sentence petered off to a squeak when the man jabbed the revolver deeper into his ribs.
"Make another sound and I'll blow those pretty ladies brains out," the man paused and Tony felt more than saw him take stock of the room, "Walk towards the door, slowly."
Without dropping the teasing smile he'd walked in with Tony put the magazine he was holding back on the rack and walked away. The two girls looked perplexed by his behaviour but neither appeared concerned by his sudden about face and quickly carried on with what they were doing prior to his appearance.
The gunman set the pace and Tony inched his way carefully towards the exit, fleeting thinking how proud Gibbs would be to see him following instruction without running commentary for once. He was very aware of what might happen the minute they got outside, but with the two girls still in the store, along with cashier, it was too risky for Tony to pull his own weapon. The fact that he was carrying would be something the man escorting him out at gun point would be very aware of given their close proximity and since he'd been addressed by his first name Tony had to assume he was the only one the man wanted. He had to hope he wouldn't risk hurting anyone else unless provoked. Tony fully intended not to provoke him.
"Want to tell me what this is about?" He asked carefully, still walking, still with a smile on his face.
"You'll find out soon enough, junior."
Tony blanched at the intimate use of his suffix, nobody had called him that in years, in fact the only one to ever use that name against him was-
Tony's thoughts were severed by the stores shrill bell ringing in his ear, followed by Kate storming through the door looking like the PMS witch of the east coast.
"DiNozzo!" She shouted, clapping eyes on him and matching over. "Gibbs is calling you, AGAIN!" Kate threw his cell at him, which he must have stupidly left in the car, "I'm not answering it-"
He caught it on reflex, but realised his mistake too late. Kate's angry expression morphed into surprise upon seeing the gun trained on him by his unwanted companion. Tony closed his eyes in defeat and in what had to be less than a second, yet felt like hours, he saw Kate reach for her own weapon at the same time the bad guy lifted his gun and aimed it dead ahead.
"Federal Agent!" Kate shouted.
Tony threw himself into his captor and a gun went off. The store filled with screams as Tony and the gunman went crashing into the shelves behind them. They fought, but the man whose voice was clearly not the only part of him damaged by cigarettes struggled for control, he got a couple of kicks in before Tony finally got the upper hand and knocked the gun away, sending it skidding across the floor out of reach. Flipping the man over Tony was reaching for his own weapon when he caught sight of his face for the first time and froze. Unable to move, unable to breath, the noise around him, the screams were deafening. In that split second of hesitation Tony received a swift back hander across his cheek which sent him flying. He hit the floor sideways, which allowed him a perfect view of the gunman's back as he ran out of the store into the street.
"You alright?" Kate emerged from cover, lowering her own weapon and walking over to him.
"I'm fine." Tony grimaced without moving from his lying prone position.
Feeling his cheek it was burning and he was sure there'd be a hand print left behind considering the force of the smack.
"You don't look it." Kate gazed down at him with a frown.
Breathing heavily Tony mustered the energy to push himself up into a sitting position on the floor. The two girls were still crying softly somewhere behind them, the store owner brandishing his own shot gun at both him and Kate, though a quick flash of Kate's badge had him lowering it with a scowl and muttering something about fetching a broom.
"Why didn't you follow him?" Tony snapped, drawing her attention back to him.
"What the hell happened?" Kate returned, ignoring his question.
"What do you mean? I tried to restrain him, he got the upper hand." Tony stared blankly up at her.
Kate's jaw dropped, her facial expressions alternating between what looked like concern and confusion.
"I mean," She stressed, "I leave you alone for five minutes and a man puts a gun to your back!"
Tony opened his mouth to snap a retort but found he had no with which to speak and took several quick, gasping breaths instead.
"It's… nothing." He tried to suggest when he could eventually speak.
Tony could see she wasn't buying it, but it didn't matter, he suddenly had another more pressing issue to deal with. Breathing quick and fast he was finding it very difficult to bring any oxygen into his lungs. His chest was tight and his cheek wasn't the only part of him feeling hot now either. Tony pulled at his collar, hoping that would relieve some of his distress.
"It's not nothing!" Kate shouted at him, having not noticed his distress, "that man just tried to kidnap a federal agent. You!" She punctuated her statement with a finger jab in his face.
He flinched like she'd punched him, which only made the nauseous feeling that was building in his stomach all the worse.
"Kate-" Tony rasped, trying to stand.
Before he could get his feet under him Tony fell back down on to his knees. Keeling over he heard the familiar whirr of first responder sirens in the distance, getting louder and louder with each passing second that he struggled to pull in air. He lay motionless on the cold floor amongst the fallen groceries Kate by his side calling his name. She was telling him to calm down and instructing him to take slow deep breaths. Tony tried to do as she said, but the sound of his own heart beating rapidly in his chest echoed in his ears. The heat was unbearable. He was sweating, shaking and aching like he'd run a marathon. Tony didn't know what the hell was happening to him, but all he could do was wish it to stop.
The downtown ER was brimming with people, kids crying, men and woman in various states of undress either looking sick or bleeding. It was July 4th weekend coming up, Washington was in the middle of a heat wave and though some time off would be nice, spending it sick or in quarantine would not be.
The whole waiting room was a cesspool of disease and so Kate avoided standing too close to anyone, choosing instead to hover determinedly near the admit desk awaiting news on Tony. Within minutes of arriving a nurse had handed her a clip board with instructions to fill in his details and now with pen in hand, tip poised over the insurance and medical information form she was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information required. In her time with the Secret Service she and her colleagues had resolutely managed to remain unharmed and had never had the pleasure of filling one of these out. Trust it be DiNozzo to make him her first.
"What happened?" Gibbs stormed up, appearing at her side surprising her.
"How did you get here so fast?" She gaped, having literally just put her phone away after calling him.
"Kate?!" Gibbs growled at her.
He looked as angry as ever, though through the hint of impatience in his tone she determined his real feelings.
"Tony's being checked out, but he's okay." Kate responded softly, attempting to ease his fear, after all she had only managed to tell him briefly what had happened and where they were before he'd disconnected the line.
"I meant at the store." Gibbs snapped after a beat, his huff of impatience more telling than anything else he could have said in that moment.
Kate clicked her tongue in an effort not to say anything she may regret later and rolled her eyes at his obtuseness. He hired her, he knew she was a profiler and a damn good one; hence she wasn't falling for the 'I don't give a damn about anything but the case' attitude. His body language; fists tightly clasped, the inability to stay still, gaze wandering rampantly around the room trying to catch a glimpse of the person he'd broken god knew how many speeding limits to see screamed of fear and concern, so why he was playing the bastard role to the hilt she just didn't no. In truth he'd been edgy like this with all of them since Ari had reappeared and though shooting the supposed double agent in autopsy a few weeks back had relieved some of Gibbs' stress over the whole mess, it was clearly nowhere near enough for him to relax a little. It then occurred to her what he might be thinking now…
"It wasn't Ari." Kate said bluntly, putting it out there.
"You know that for sure?" Gibbs asked straight, confirming she'd been right.
"Well I can't be 100% that he wasn't involved, but the guy I saw was white, late forties and looked like a junkie." Kate reeled off proudly, "not the type of person Ari would be working with."
She heard Gibbs' disapproving growl of agreement more so than the words, but his grudging acceptance of her profiling skills was enough for her.
"So what did happen?" He asked again only slightly calmer this time, his mask of indifference slipping enough for her to see the worry in his eyes.
"Well-" Kate started and immediately stopped, that was a little harder to explain.
When she'd walked into the store unexpectedly and caught sight of the gun in her partners back her reaction hadn't been fast enough, the man would have hit her had Tony not knocked him down, sending the bullet wide. As soon as he fired she'd shouted to the other occupants of the store to get down and sort her own cover. Gun still raised and trained on the man she watched Tony fight and get the upper hand, had thought it was over until he froze.
The look of fear, and ultimately, recognition on Tony's face when he came face to face with his potential kidnapper was why she was struggling now.
"…they fought, but he hit Tony and got away."
Gibbs was giving her The Look that said more than words ever could and from that alone she knew he knew she was leaving something out.
"He only shot out when you made him then?"
"Yeah, he was there for DiNozzo, no doubt." Kate nodded grimly, knowing that made this an NCIS investigation, one which Tony would be at the centre.
Under normal circumstances she had no doubt he'd love the attention and milk it for all its worth, but Kate didn't think he'd much care for his starring role as the victim again. It had only been two months since she and Gibbs had rescued Tony from the sewers. An experience though over pretty quickly, had seriously knocked the confidence out of him.
Kate could still picture him, dirty from head to toe, hair dusty and un-coiffed, hands shaking like a virgin on a third date.
"You okay DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked gruffly nodding at her before walking towards Tony gun pointing at the floor.
The sewers, to put it bluntly, stunk. She was glad Tony was okay, but honestly all Kate wanted was to get out and go home, take a long hot shower and forget all the stress of the last few hours never happened. She followed in Gibbs footsteps contemplating her pipe dream, coming up behind Tony to secure the woman he still held tightly within his grasp. She had holstered her gun and was just taking out her cuffs when she saw Gibbs' minute headshake warning her to stay back. Surprised she nearly opened her mouth to ask why, but one look at Tony answered the question before she could even ask it. He hadn't relaxed upon their approach, if anything he'd become tenser, breathing fast and irregular, his fingertips almost white with the pressure he was applying to his grip on their suspect.
"Hey Tony," Kate sidled up beside him, hands held out front where he could see.
She talked delicately, about whatever she could think of while Gibbs advanced forward and slowly removed Tony's hands from the suspect, eventually releasing her and pushing her off to Kate, never once loosing contact with Tony.
That had been the first time Kate had seen Gibbs look nervous. It seemed like he didn't know what to do, or rather knew what he wanted to do, just wasn't sure if he should do it. Kate guessed from the sympathetic looks he'd been throwing Tony's way that Gibbs had wanted to hug the stuffing out of him there and then, but whereas Gibbs was wanting and DiNozzo likely willing the uncertainty of the moment hung between them like uninvited relatives at Christmas. They played nice and pretended everything was fine while hiding their true feelings about how it could have turned out so different, or Gibbs did at least. Tony made it as far as the NCIS elevator before he lost all pretence of being fine and bared his vulnerable side in the guise of demanding caring attention. Suffice to say the Tony DiNozzo they rescued from the sewers that day resembled more scared little boy than fearless federal agent.
It occurred to Kate that even after being drugged and imprisoned Tony had refused medical treatment by the paramedics, choosing instead to let Ducky look him over at the scene. Yet this afternoon he'd let the paramedics take him without a fight. That might explain why Gibbs was looking so out of sorts now. He'd been expecting something much worse.
"So he didn't get shot or anything?" Gibbs spoke after what felt like a never ending silence, shifting the topic of conversation back onto DiNozzo's condition and bringing then full circle.
"No, just a little banged up." Kate said cagily, trying to avoid mention of what the doctors had since diagnosed as a panic attack.
"So why is he here?" He asked, once again glaring at her like she was a suspect in interrogation.
It seemed today Gibbs was living up to his reputation, there really was nothing the man missed and she saw that in reality, she had little choice but to tell him. Everything.
Tony ripped the sticky heart monitoring pads off his chest and the blood pressure cuff off his arm before grabbing his things from the bottom of his bed and quickly getting dressed.
"What are you doing?" A nurse interrupted him as he was pulling up his pants, walking in with a tray of needles and blood collecting vials.
Shrugging his shirt on, leaving it undone Tony ignored her and slipped into his shoes.
"I'm fine, seriously." He said bundling up the rest of his things and heading for the door of the shared cubical.
"We need to run tests." The nurse put the tray down on the nearest surface, placing her hands on her hips, blocking his way.
Hitching up his unfastened pants Tony barged passed her, nearly knocking her over in his determination to get the hell out. He approached the nearest nurses' station and while buttoning up his shirt and belt demanded without any of his usual charm or flare to sign the required AMA form. The lone administrator looked him up and down and cautiously signalled the security guard stood a few feet behind them. Turning to see the large burley man approach Tony decided he honestly didn't care if the hospital got paid or not, he spun on his heels and all but ran past the admit desk towards the exit. He made it as far as the first sliding door before someone grabbed him from behind. One hand landed on his on his arm at first, which was swiftly joined by a second when he tried to shrug the person off. Ready for a fight Tony spun around, expecting to face off with the security guard.
"Let me go!" Tony screamed in his face.
"Hey!" Gibbs shouted, slapping the back of Tony's head. "Where's the fire DiNozzo?"
Tony immediately stilled the fight or flight response draining out of him faster than Abby could drink a Caf-Pow.
"Kate shouldn't have called you, I'm fine." He covered, pretending he hadn't nearly let loose on his boss.
Tony avoided making direct eye contact, gaze shifting from corner to corner much like the rest of him that was practically vibrating with nervous energy. Like always Gibbs did the exact opposite and kept his own gaze strong and steady, the glare one of the best weapons in his private arsenal. Feeling incredibly uncomfortable Tony did he best to remain in control, losing it in front of Gibbs was not an option for him today.
"You been seen?" The boss asked him straight, glare still fixed in place missing nothing.
"Yes," Tony heard the crack in his own voice, but didn't care anymore; he just needed to leave the hospital. "Please…" Tony finally looked him in the eye. "Take me home."
Gibbs held his gaze steady, the only hint that his plea had surprised him was a slight narrowing of the eyes, there and then gone again just as quickly. Tony maintained the contact hoping like hell Gibbs would be too suspicious to challenge him now and let it drop.
"Sure." Gibbs relaxed the grip on his arm, but didn't let go.
Even though Tony was pretty sure it was because Gibbs didn't trust him right now, the contact offered some much needed comfort nevertheless.
They drove back to the Navy Yard in silence, Kate up front with Gibbs and Tony in back. He'd not fought her for shot gun, which was a sure sign to Kate that something more than nearly being kidnapped was bothering him. And if nothing else his little scene at the hospital proved that. She couldn't quite believe it had actually happened. When Tony had ran passed them heading for the exit, looking much like he did that day in the sewers, only less grubby Gibbs didn't even blink. Swooping into action he pulled Tony up short and since Tony didn't make a habit of yelling at Gibbs, his admiration for their boss bordering on hero worship, she surmised that could be the reason for DiNozzo's subdued mood now. But then that didn't explain why he was in such a rush to leave the hospital in the first place did it? She'd travelled with him in the ambulance, held the oxygen mask over his face, was he planning on just ditching her there?
They arrived at NCIS quicker than she'd expected, even with Gibbs at the wheel. Tony barely waited for the car to stop before jumping out and making his way determinedly inside without waiting for them. Kate remained seated, watching him go.
"He's embarrassed he had a panic attack." She said evenly.
"You think?" Gibbs gave his usual glib response reserved for when anyone, though usually Tony, said something so obvious.
"There's more going on though, he's still shaken and it can't just be the attempted kidnapping. Tony's stronger than that, he's been through worse." She looked to Gibbs expectantly.
"Okay." He nodded.
"Okay? Are you kidding?" Kate shrieked, but was cut her off with a mere look. "Sorry, but Tony doesn't panic."
Gibbs snorted and she stared at him, waiting for him to share, knowing he had an idea about something.
"I'll get metro to transfer all evidence to Abby, we're taking the case. I want you to arrange security for tonight, DiNozzo will have to remain in protective custody until we have an idea about what this guy wants with him."
"Oh he's going to love that." Kate laughed, imaging all the innuendoes and uncouth jokes Tony would make at her expense.
"Any ID on the guy?" Gibbs asked, moving the topic along.
"No, but I got a good look at his face. I think I could identify him. Tony got a better look because he pushed him over, fell right on top of him."
"Sketch it and get it to Abby." Gibbs answered distractedly, getting out of the car.
"What about Tony?" She asked, chasing after him.
Gibbs kept walking and didn't offer an answer.
Music beat loudly in the background as Abby slapped her hand down on the keyboard.
"And we're done!" She announced after scanning Kate's sketch into the system.
The facial recognition software launched and they both sat back and watched it work.
"Done Abs?" Gibbs questioned her, strolling in with Tony looking sad on his heels.
"Well not done, done, but-" Abby cut herself off getting a good look at Tony for the first time since she'd heard what had happen. "Oh my god, look at your cheek!"
Kate smiled as Abby launched herself at Tony, giving him a big hug which he gratefully returned. She had to admit the red mark that had faded some at the hospital now looked dark and purplish. It would be a proper bruise before the day was out.
"You got a hit." Gibbs spoke, just before Abby's machine started beeping.
Abby glanced at her machines over Tony's shoulder, releasing him with a smile and wink at Kate she walked over and hit a few buttons on her keyboard.
"I got a hit." Abby repeated. "And our bad guy of the day is none other than…" she hit a key bringing up a police booking photo on her big screen, "Craig Bower, ex-con out of New York and general gun for hire, very bad rap sheet. Not a nice guy Gibbs."
"So what does he want with you Tony?" Kate questioned naturally, turning to face him.
The lack of witty retort garnered the rest of the room's attention as well, making them turn too.
"DiNozzo?!" Gibbs shouted to Tony's retreating back as he sprinted out of the room.
Kate shared a surprised look with Abby. When she'd turned around Tony had been frozen to the spot, staring at Bower's image on the as if he were the devil incarnate. The minute she met his gaze he spun on his heels, running out the lab without looking back. Gibbs stood staring at the exit looking bewildered, an expression she wasn't used to seeing on his face at all.
"Gibbs?" She commanded his attention, feeling the need to do something.
He gave her a brief nod of in the direction Tony had left and she immediately went after him. Once out the door she checked the corridor, noting they hadn't heard the elevator Kate pushed open the door to the stairwell and her efforts were immediately rewarded. She found Tony sat on the first flight top step, head held between raised knees, taking short quick breaths just like he had been at the scene. Kate eased the door shut behind her, checking no one had followed her before she spoke.
"You okay?" she started, forcing casualness to her tone.
Tony didn't raise his head, but Kate heard the sudden intake of breath before he answered.
"DiNozzo, you say you're fine and I'll shoot you myself."
Tony laughed. A short humourless chuckled that petered out to a sob.
Kate's irritation morphed into shock, but she quickly schooled her expression in case he chose then to come out of hiding.
"What's so funny?" She asked, pretending like nothing was different, like he wasn't as close to a break down as she'd ever seen him.
"You've only been here ten months and that's the third time you've threatened to shoot me. I must be getting rusty anyone else would have followed through by now." Tony spoke hesitantly without lifting his head.
"Ha well," Kate forced humour into her voice, "believe it or not DiNozzo, I'd actually miss having you around…
Tony looked up, seeming honestly surprised by her statement. It was then that she realised he was too vulnerable for jokes, despite the fact he'd started it. The hope shinning bright in his eyes that some of what she had just said was true was testament to that.
"..If you weren't here, who would Gibbs slap in the back of the head?" She finished.
His face mocked hurt, but she knew the truth and beneath that pout was the relief that she hadn't admitted to seeing that brief look of hope in his eyes. There was a little desperation in DiNozzo that went a lot deeper than he'd ever let people see. She and Gibbs had been paired while on a stakeout once and the subject of DiNozzo had come up. Originally she'd just been making a joke, but her joke profile of Tony high-lighted so much that made sense. Kate had then questioned Gibbs about Tony's origins, but his avoidance of the subject told her more than he could have said with words. He clearly knew things about Tony that he didn't want, or simply couldn't, share. She had dropped the subject without a fight, but it'd stayed in the back of her mind.
Kate had seen Gibbs give Tony a back handed compliment many times and had originally thought it was cruel, but after Tony went missing with Sacko she saw how fragile he could be, practically begging Gibbs to say he cared about him, like if Gibbs didn't then no one else in the world would either. In those moments Tony was wearing his heart on his sleeve and not in a healthy, life affirming way.
If Tony thought anyone could see his weakness, he'd run, unable to face his true nature and maintain his Don Juan persona if he thought everyone knew how he really thought of himself. After nearly a year of working together Kate had learned for all his bravado, Tony could be easily hurt by the simplest of things. So they all played the game and kept the status quo.
"Tony what happened today?" Kate went in for the kill, knowing his defences were down enough that he might give in, but not so fragile that he'd resent her for asking.
"I honestly don't know." He sighed, being honest with her for once.
"How can you not know?"
"I just don't, okay." Tony raised his voice, but caught himself and calmed immediately, "In the store I was fine, then I…"
"Then you what?" Kate pushed, unwilling to wait, to give him time to change his mind and make a joke instead of telling her the truth.
"I saw his face and froze." He admitted like it cost him dearly.
Kate looked over her shoulder as if she was seeing through the orange walls to the lab, the image of Craig Bower still on the screen.
"Do you think you've seen him before?" Kate walked up the stairs towards him.
"No!" Tony shot up, putting space between them.
Kate held her hands up and closed the new distance. If that wasn't a conditioned response she'd eat DiNozzo's socks.
"Tony, don't freak out-"
"I am not freaking out I'm," Tony ran a frustrated hand through his hair, "I'm … I'm…"
"Freaking out." Kate said bluntly, "DiNozzo he was in there for you, he knew you."
"Well I don't know him!" Tony shouted again, looking almost angry if it wasn't for the brightness of his eyes.
Kate stopped, stunned at what she was seeing, Tony was acting like someone who had PTSD and Bower was his trigger. She looked at his hands which he was holding high against his chest as if to protect himself. His eyes were red, sweat breaking out on his forehead and he was trembling. Changing tactics Kate stepped back and beckoned Tony to come back down the stairs to join her, fully intending to take him to Ducky, but Tony refused to budge.
Kate's phone rang and she cursed its intrusion. She took her eyes off Tony momentarily, but it was all that was needed, by the time she took the phone off her belt to see who it was and looked back up he was gone.
"What's going on with Tony?" Abby asked Gibbs once Kate was out the door.
Gibbs stared after his agents wondering the same thing himself, before turning on Abby and asking about the man who had tried to abduct his agent earlier today.
"Does Bower have any Navy connections?" He came up on her left side, making Abby spin around to reface the screen.
Gibbs heard her audible huff at his rebuff, but remained steadfast and focused. Abby typed on her keyboard.
"Nope. No navy or military connections." She announced. "Is Tony okay?" She tried again, undeterred.
"We ever arrest him?" Gibbs once again ignored her.
She tapped a few more times, but again nothing.
"You want me to source out Tony's previous forces see if they crossed paths there." Gibbs gave her a look. "Cross checking and… nothing!" She announced, he sensed she was about to ask another DiNozzo related question when the system gave her the beep. "Oh that's interesting…"
"Abs-" Gibbs urged when she didn't elaborate.
"What?" He snapped, joining her in looking at the screen.
"A reference to the name Anthony DiNozzo came up…" Abby frowned, stomping one high heel to the floor, "but in a file from 1978, New York PD? Must be a coincidence, Tony would have been about, what… four?" Abby clicked the link that led her to the case files.
"Six. And you know how I feel about coincidences Abby." Gibbs pointed at the file folder labelled Bower/June 30th 1978 on her screen, "open it."
His gut was definitely churning and Gibbs feared what they'd find inside relating to his agent. There was no doubt in his mind that his Anthony DiNozzo and the one referenced in the file were going to be one and the same.
Abby clicked a few more times, then hit her keyboard.
"Can't," she muttered angrily.
"The file's been sealed. I don't have clearance. Whatever's in it someone high up doesn't want anyone to see. Very super spy… Maybe if I can go via a different ISP I can download the file from a secure location and …"
"Abby?" He snapped.
He didn't understand what she was going on about and didn't care so long as she got him into that file.
"Okay, sheesh Gibbs." Abby hit the keyboard a few more times in succession. "I can try… maybe a cache of the original pre blocked file still exists, I mean it wasn't always sealed because otherwise why upload it onto the new system much easy to pretend it doesn't exist though in that case there might be a deleted file that I can retrieve, depends when the file got deleted and…"
Gibbs saw the screen change Abby type some more and then a scanned document pop up. He leaned in closer and read what was on the screen as did Abby. They both paled at the meagre information offered in what appeared to be a brief summary of what Bower had been charged for in 1978. Gibbs flipped out his phone angrily as Abby uttered an emphatic 'oh my god' under her breath.
"Call McGee down here, I want the full contents of that file NOW!" He shouted at Abby just before the person he was calling picked up. "Where's DiNozzo?" He shouted down the line at Kate.
Gibbs heard some shuffling then Kate's out of breath voice.
"Gibbs I think there's more going on here-"
"I know there is Kate, get him back to the lab." Gibbs hung up without waiting for her reply.
Kate stared at her phone, then flipped it shut and replaced it on her belt. Tony had run off and she'd tried to follow, but after running up the stairs she'd entered the corridor of the floor above out of breath and found nothing. Refusing to give up Kate made a search of the corridors around the gym and armoury before heading up to the bullpen.
She checked Tony's desk and was pleased to see his bag was still there, she thought about looking through his draws, but wanted to make certain it was necessary first. Whereas Tony had no problem going through her things on a daily basis, whether she was present or not, Kate had a little more respect for his privacy. After making a quick call to the front gate, checking Tony hadn't signed out she left instructions for the security attendants to detain him if he tried to leave and call her immediately, not Gibbs. She ignored their obvious questions, their concern for her partner not surprising her. Tony was someone who everyone knew and most really liked in one way or another, the ones that didn't like him, still knew him, whether they wanted to or not.
Giving up her search, unsatisfied that she couldn't locate him, but content enough knowing he was in the Navy Yard somewhere, she walked back down to the lab to explain her failure to Gibbs in person. Kate entered the lab without DiNozzo and instead of the expected bark she discovered Abby, McGee and Gibbs all looking at the computer screen with a shared look of profound sorrow.
"Is it even possible?" McGee was asking.
"Is what possible?" Kate asked, drawing their attention.
Gibbs spun around and pinned her with an anxious glare.
"You find him?"
"No," Kate uttered, wondering what on Earth she'd missed while looking for DiNozzo, "I looked everywhere Gibbs his stuff is still here-"
"Find him!" He snapped, his panic completely disproportional to the threat.
"What's happen?" She asked pointedly with a frown.
When no answer came Kate looked over at McGee who immediately averted his eyes, Abby looked tearful, which was slightly strange considering Tony had been missing less than an hour, but Gibbs was worst of all, he looked afraid.
"You need to see this." Abby said quietly and then Kate knew for definite something was very, very wrong.
Tony stormed out of the building avoiding contact with anyone who might recognise him and call Gibbs. He knew he looked like crap. After ditching Kate he'd run into the restroom and thrown up. He had fully intended on going back to Abby's lab to face the music, that was until he saw his face in the rest room mirror. Red rimmed eyes, shallow pale complexion, if he lay down Tony was sure he'd be mistaken for one of Ducky's corpses. Knowing he couldn't face his teammates looking the way he was Tony splashed water on his face and ran shaking hands through mushed up hair before sneaking out, taking a detour via the evidence garage and exiting the building through the back door into the parking lot. Tony reached his car quickly, only realising when he shoved his hands in his pockets that he'd left his keys in his bag upstairs. Cursing his own stupidity Tony dithered, unsure whether to hotwire his own car or go back for his keys and hope no one saw him.
A noised sounded from behind him in the nearly vacant lot, prompting him to spin around. Searching through the darkness for the source Tony's special agent senses kicked in and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. The night air was cool compared to the summer heat of earlier in the day and he felt a sudden chill come over him. He should have been home hours ago, but although they'd missed the mandatory training while at the ER, the reporting and evidence processing had progressed well into the late evening. He had wanted something exciting to happen, to get him out of training and on a case, but hadn't quite meant like this, investigating a crime and being the victim were not mutually exclusive in the entertainment stakes. Not that crimes where entertaining, "they are not movies, DiNozzo" Tony repeated the mantra that Gibbs had drilled into him during his first few weeks on the job.
As he decided to go back inside, either for his keys or to ask Gibbs if he could leave he wasn't sure, only the noise sounded again before he could move, this time louder and more deliberate. Tony reached for his weapon, only realising too late that wasn't there either. Tony stamped his foot, and slapped his face cursing his utter stupidity before taking cover as a dark figure approached. Footsteps, steady and certain got louder and louder until the trainer clad feet where directly in front of him. Tony felt unable to contain his fear and not for the first time today questioned his own sanity.
"Good night Agent DiNozzo." Gerald waved as he passed him by, head phones in heading for his own vehicle.
Tony waved politely back and smiled, straightening himself up. He rolled his eyes at his own paranoia and let out the breath he'd been holding onto.
"Get a grip, DiNozzo." He chastised himself in a Gibbs like tone.
"That'd be a good plan."
Tony jumped upon hearing the strange voice.
"Who are you?" Tony turned and stepped back out into the open, looking around to see if Gerald had reached his car already.
Not that he'd be much use in a fight, what with his shoulder still keeping him out. Probably only here to use the gym, lucky guy had a simple life…
"You know who I am, Anthony." The man answered, drawing back his attention and closing the distance between them as fast as Tony could make it, "we go well back."
Tony sized the man up, he wasn't Bower, that was for damn sure, but there was something familiar about this guy and not just because he claimed they went 'way back'.
"How? No offence but you're like what, sixty? Seventy? Not sure I remember you from my graduating class." Tony shrugged and smiled.
"Always was a comedian," the man laughed, a fake chuckle that sent a shiver down Tony's spine. "Even as a kid you could always make everyone laugh."
Tony felt his stomach drop all the way to his feet and could barely get his next word out.
"All in good time Anthony, I'm sorry about Craig earlier, he was not meant to cause such a fuss. Believe me when I say we want you to help us willingly this time." The man smiled and nodded, "I'll be in touch."
The man winked at him, then turned and walking away leaving Tony feeling not only confused, but with new determination to find out what the hell was going on.
"Gibbs what are we going to do?" Abby asked urgently pacing her lab.
Gibbs shook his head, the information they'd discovered still being processed in his mind and not making a lick sense. This had never come up in any of Tony's background checks, even the officially one's, how did something this big get by him?
"Maybe it's not him?" McGee offered trying to break the suffocating tension in the room.
"Possible." Kate sighed, "But unlikely, same birthdate, same name-"
"Same home town," Abby joined in.
"No such thing as a coincidence." Gibbs sighed out, wishing that for once he'd be wrong, but they'd been bouncing that idea around for a while now and it was time to face facts and deal with what they knew.
The dinging of the elevator out in the corridor alerted Gibbs to his presence and everyone turned at once to see Tony enter, looking much more put together than when he'd left.
"Abs, Probie there you are." He greeted enthusiastically, "I need you to pull footage off the cameras in the parking lot I…" Tony trailed off upon seeing the twin looks of apprehension and distress on each of their faces. "What?"
Gibbs continued to stare, feeling protective and sad and angry all at once.
"Tony we know where you know Bower from." Abby spoke up shyly when the rest of them remained quiet. "It's ok." Abby nodded, forcing a weak smile.
"It is?" Tony stepped back, so he was close to the doors.
Gibbs gut clenched, he'd gotten to know Tony well enough over the last two and a half years to realise it would only take one false step from them for him to make a run for it again. Only this time Gibbs wasn't so sure he'd be coming back once he knew that they knew.
"Yeah," Kate jumped in, "Why didn't you just tell me? I could've helped, you reaction makes perfect sense, there's nothing to be embarrassed about, but what we need to work out is what he wants from you now." Kate looked to Gibbs for confirmation.
He saw her out of the corner of his eye, but Gibbs kept his gaze on Tony, gauging his reactions to what she was saying, something was off.
"Kate," Tony said carefully, yet carefree, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
Gibbs believed him. Tony had looked tense earlier, but wherever he'd run off to he'd clearly got his head on straight, because he seemed just fine now. He wouldn't be fine if he knew exactly who Bower was, and besides Gibbs thought his gut would know if Tony was keeping a secret like this from him.
"You don't remember?" Gibbs stepped toward him, prepared to stop him from running if it became necessary.
"Remember what?" Tony asked, looking suddenly agitated, as if the close proximity was uncomfortable.
Clue two that something was off. Tony never respected personal space, and was rarely bothered when someone invaded his. They could be in a room the size of the Potomac and Tony would still be mere inches from his side at all times, always within easy reach.
Gibbs turned around and shared a knowing look with Abby, McGee and Kate.
"Okay WHAT?" Tony shouted, irritation bleeding through his words.
"DiNozzo," Gibbs calmly took Tony's arm and guided him out, "With me."
Walking him into the elevator Gibbs no soon got it moving when he brought it to a stop.
"Boss what's going on, you look…" Tony shuffled, backing up to the wall, again putting unnatural space between them, "you're scaring me."
Gibbs didn't doubt that, he was scaring himself.
"You really don't remember Bower?" He asked tightly, eyes narrowed.
"No, I told you when we left the hospital that I didn't know who he was." Tony sounded stressed, hand actions alluding to his sense of building panic.
"The ER docs think you had a panic attack, that true?" Gibbs played his hand, forcing Tony to either lie or admit the truth.
"Did Kate tell you that?" Tony aimed his own narrowed eyed gaze at him, but Gibbs refused to back down.
"Answer the question DiNozzo."
"No boss," Tony growled affronted, then immediately deflated, which gave Gibbs his real answer.
"You recognised Bower at the scene and froze," he summarised and moved on. "That what happened when you saw Bowers face on the scene too?"
Tony looked away from him, but Gibbs knew the kid well enough to believe Tony couldn't outright lie to his face.
"I've never panicked like that on the job, never." Tony pointed out, sounding worn and genuinely confused by his own behaviour.
Gibbs took Tony's un-bruised cheek in his palm and fixed his gaze. Thankfully, though he shrunk away from the sudden movement, Tony didn't flinch at the physical contact.
"Abby found a connection." Gibbs informed him calmly, "From when you were a kid."
Tony's faced shuttered.
"He called me Junior." He admitted quietly, Gibbs dropped his hand and listened, "And Anthony. I went outside, just now. After seeing his photo, I couldn't, I didn't - was… leaving," Tony gave him a lopsided smile of apology, but Gibbs wasn't going to worry about that now and encouraged him to continue. "A man was waiting for me, not Bower, someone else, but they know each other… he said I knew him when I was a kid and that they wanted me to help willingly this time. I don't know what that means."
Gibbs paled upon hearing Tony had been approached a second time and inside NCIS, he had questions, but swung into immediate action, pulling out his cell phone and releasing the elevator car.
"McGee, get security to the front gates now!" Gibbs ran out of the elevator as soon as the doors open on the squad room.
"Boss he's gone, I was coming down to Abby to get her bring up the footage…" Tony chased after him, but when Gibbs didn't stop he shouted, "What the hell is going on?"
Gibbs took the stairs up to MTAC two at a time, only stopping when he heard Tony's desperate plea for answers to his admittedly erratic behaviour. Scanning the bullpen and the various other desks below he could see the office was generally empty, the dim night lights were on and the agents working late noticeable only by their bright desk lamps.
"June 30th 1978. That date mean anything to you, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked, walking back down to meet Tony halfway.
Tony stared blankly back at him for a near minute.
"Other than it's exactly twenty-five years ago to the day?" He joked with a nervous smile, then asked more quietly, "What's going on Gibbs, what do you know?"
Gibbs stood before Tony and assessed his current state. Though it often appeared like he had no patience for the young man that got more headslaps from him than any other agent in NCIS history, the truth was Tony was actually quite special. Stan hadn't been wrong when he'd told Tony he must really like him. He did. So that made what he was about to tell him so much harder. This wasn't a case he could detach from when it was over. Once the details were out there it could potential change the dynamics of the team forever, Kate was already talking to Tony with more care than she'd ever shown him. Abby was sure to over Abby him for the foreseeable future and though Gibbs couldn't see himself treating Tony like a fragile flower any time soon, he definitely felt an ache in his chest that had nothing to do with the seven coffee's he'd had since lunch.
"Abby found a sealed file in Bowers rap sheet, from NYPD." Gibbs started, pausing to see if anything he had said triggered DiNozzo's memory, getting nothing but a blank stare in return, he continued. "Craig Bower was arrested and imprisoned for child abduction in '78."
"Who did he abduct?" Tony asked him nervously and Gibbs thought he had a right to that.
Taking a step closer to Tony, reaching out and holding his arm, in comfort not restraint, Gibbs answered him.
Thanks for reading ;) Next chapter coming soon…