Chapter 1

A/N: So this is an idea I've been toying with for awhile, and I thought for my first NCIS story (more than just a tag series or a oneshot) I wanted to go with a plot bunny that had been bugging me for a long time. Just warning anyone who hops on for the ride, this is depressing, angsty, and bleak. Includes major character death. Read on with caution.

Disclaimer: I do not own NCIS, and make no profit from this story.

"I'm a stitch away from making it,

And a scar away from falling apart, apart,

Blood cells pixelate, and eyes dilate,

And the full moon pills got me out on the street at night." -The (After) Life of the Party, Fall Out Boy

April 2nd, 2023, 01:49 - NCIS Director's Office, Naval Yard, Washington DC

Tony's eyes raked over the Navy Yard and the Potomac, gaining an almost undetectable sense of peace from the familiar surroundings. He had met with the SecNav earlier, so he had spent most of the day on the hill instead of in his office, where he felt most comfortable.

However, today's meeting had been crucial. Securing additional funding for NCIS was always a trick. He had thought that Vance being an ex-agent and director would help, but the old bastard was just as stingy with funding as Jarvis had been.

His cell phone rang on his desk, and he quickly checked the caller ID, not intending to pick up unless it was important. As soon as he'd checked his inbox and gathered his things, he planned on heading home. Of course, the only thing waiting for him there was his lonely twin bed, but he needed a few hours of sleep if he wanted to be able to function the next day.

He lifted an eyebrow at the name. Abby Sciuto.

He contemplated not picking up, but even now, after so much had happened, he still couldn't bring himself to say even a silent 'no' to the former forensic scientist.

"DiNozzo," he answered, settling his head on the open palm of his hand.

"Hey, Tony," Abby said, not sounding the least bit lethargic in spite of the late hour. He knew that Abby wasn't really all that into sleeping - with her hyperactive intelligence and energetic nature, it didn't come as a surprise.

"Hey, Abby," he replied, the voice making him feel a little warmer than the cold and hollow emptiness he was used to.

"We haven't talked in months, you know," she pointed out quietly, getting straight to the point. He sighed heavily, knowing where this conversation was going. It was true, they hadn't talked since early October.

It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to Abby - they had known each other for going on twenty two years now, and he cared deeply for her, but reminders of the past were not things that he wanted to actively seek out. Abby was a member of his family. Every conversation with her, while making him feel just a little less alone, still served as a poignant and painful reminder of all that had changed and all that he had lost.

"I'm sorry, Abs, I've just been... you know, busy. Director stuff and all that. Apparently, Vance did more than just sit up here and stare at the pretty pictures on the wall," he said, trying to keep the sarcasm in his voice light. He didn't joke much anymore. Most of it just came out as either a hint too dark or bitter.

Well, he was a fairly bitter man, so maybe that fit.

"I know," she responded, her voice seeming to have dropped into a melancholy tone that still hurt him to hear, even though it had become more and more frequent over the years. "I just wanted to call and see how you are."

"I'm fine." It came out of his mouth before he even fully processed what she had said. That was always his immediate response. He was always fine. No one needed to know anything below the professional surface of fine. Not even Abby, although he knew that she could still see straight through his facade. "How are you?"

"I'm okay. I mean, as okay as ever," she said, though her voice told him otherwise. It always did.

"You'd tell me if something was wrong, right?" Tony asked, the edges of worry creeping into his chest.

"Would you tell me?" she snapped, uncharacteristically angry. "Wait, no, let me answer. You wouldn't, because you're always fine. You're always okay, even though you're not. You haven't been fine in eight years," she paused, her voice shaking slightly. "None of us have."

"Can't we go one conversation without -" he began, but she quickly interrupted him.

"No, we can't! Because it's been eight friggin' years and you still haven't talked about it to any of us! I'm supposed to be the emotionally fragile one, not you. Are you so close to the edge that if someone even mentions Gibbs or Ziva you completely shut down?" her ranting was oddly comforting, because he hadn't heard it in a long time. She didn't go off on wild and mildly nonsensical tangents anymore.

"There's nothing to talk about. There never was anything to talk about." He could feel himself shutting down just as Abby had described. The heart that he barely had to try to hide nowadays, because he was fairly sure it'd been dead for a long time, quickly put up iron walls to protect itself.

"How can you say that?" was her whispered response. "Tony, how can you even say that!?" she repeated.

"Gibbs is dead!" he shouted, losing the composure he had tried so hard to keep. "Gibbs is dead, Abby! Getting all heart to heart isn't going to change that. Gibbs and Ducky are dead, Ziva's gone, and that's how it is. I don't talk about it because I don't want to think about it. It's been eight years. It's done and over with." He bit down hard on the inside of his lip, trying hard to control his emotions.

"You never moved on. You changed," she accused, driving a knife into his heart. I've changed? That's the understatement of the goddamn decade.

"Kind of the pot calling the kettle black, isn't it? You've changed more than I have," he retorted, tapping his knuckles on the top of his maple desk. It was a really nice desk. His father had shipped it to him after he had been promoted.

"How couldn't I?" she asked, and he heard a sob threatening to break forth from her. "Gibbs was like-"

"A father? Yeah, I'm familiar with the feeling, but I've moved on, Abs. You should try to do the same," he advised, letting the lie leave his mouth with the kind of ease that scared the crap out of him.

"Go to hell."

"Goodnight, Abby." He hung up without another word, immediately feeling guilty for saying what he did. Nice job, DiNozzo. You fucked up again. You alienated one of the only people you have left in your life after ignoring her for months.

He slid open the bottom drawer of his too-expensive, too-nice desk, and picked out a small, orange bottle. Anthony DiNozzo, hydrocodone, forty five tablets. A month's supply. He picked up the prescription two weeks ago. There were four pills left.

His scar pained him every minute of every day, but it wasn't enough to warrant the strong pain medication. Of course, he was the only one who knew that. The numb feeling that the pills blessed him with was one of the only things that kept him from going off the edge.

He'd used up his supply way too fast this time. If he took the four that were left now, he would be detoxing by this time tomorrow. If he spaced them out, he could stave off the inevitable detox for a few more days, at least. He knew from experience that it wasn't a fun time.

I can take these now, hunt down some street Oxy or something tomorrow. It's the only option.

Without another thought, he tossed the four pills in his mouth, dry swallowing them. He closed his eyes for a long moment. His home suddenly seemed very far away, too far away. When was the last time I even had a home?

He sighed, rubbing the scar tissue that made up the left side of his face and wincing. A few minutes, and hopefully he'd be hazy enough to fall asleep here at his desk. It would only worsen the crick in his neck, but right now, he honestly didn't give a shit.

He hated himself for the fact that he almost couldn't make himself care about anything anymore. He was just a robot going through the motions. It had been like that since he lost his family.

Gibbs would have wanted them to stick together, to take care of each other. He wouldn't have wanted this. If he saw him now, hiding behind the haze of narcotics, not speaking to McGee or Abby, he'd head smack him so hard he would probably forget his own name.

McGee works for the FBI now, Fornell snatched him up quickly after Gibbs' death. Now he was the senior agent at the FBI field office in Denver. He hadn't seen McGee since he moved to Colorado four years prior. They'd exchanged Christmas cards, talked once or twice on the phone. They hadn't spoken in about a year and a half. McGee had moved on. Hell, he'd heard through the grapevine that he was getting married. Beautiful girl named Scottie, if the rumors were right. He hoped they were. McGee deserved to be happy.

Abby was a criminology professor at Georgetown, now. The Goth look had finally faded, though she still wore her hair in braids and ponytails, and she didn't bother to cover up her tattoos. Abby had been damaged by the events of that horrible night badly, and was still in therapy. Maybe he should have tried therapy, too.

The only one left at NCIS was him... and Palmer, who'd become the chief ME since Ducky's passing nine years ago. After Gibbs' death, Tony had been named senior field agent. With Ziva leaving the night of Gibbs' funeral, only he and McGee were left. Tony pulled away from McGee fast, trying so hard not to face any real emotion. Fornell appeared unannounced at the Navy Yard one month later. Two weeks following that, he received a mumbled apology and McGee's resignation on his desk.

He didn't blame him for leaving, he would have left too, if he'd had the option. He could never leave NCIS, it wasn't even a choice for him. He had to take over where Gibbs had left off, carry on his pseudo father's legacy, as it were. It's what was expected of him.

He had his own team for seven years. Agents Rockwell, Feller, and Logan were his charges. Trevor Rockwell was transferred from Norfolk to be the new senior field agent for his team, and Harry Feller was sent up from cyber crimes to be the new McGee. Sarah Logan was the female addition to the team, Ziva's replacement.

He couldn't really claim to be particularly close to any of them, now or then. They were his team, he cared about them as much as he could, and he knew Rockwell was more than capable of taking over now that he had been promoted to director, but he had never had a non-work related conversation with any of them. His first team would describe him as talkative, annoying, immature, but charming in his own way.

His second team would describe him as a humorless hard ass, brave and daring almost to a fault, and not one for casual conversation.

Everybody changes.

Being director was not a fun job by any means, but with his age and his hidden emotional and mental instability, he privately didn't think he was safe for the field anymore, though he would never tell anyone else about this.

Over the past few years, his temper and disposition had become extremely erratic. Sometimes he'd fly into private rages, chucking his possessions against the walls and screaming until his damaged lungs burned like fire.

Sometimes he'd lay in bed all day (if he had the day off - which was rare) and simply lay there, staring at the ceiling or wall, trying to come up with a reason to get out of bed. Most of the time, he couldn't find one.

Maybe he was just losing it, maybe all the head injuries over the years were finally adding up. Hell, maybe he was just taking too many pills. He didn't know, but he didn't want his own problems to rear their head while he is in the field. One thing that no one had ever questioned since he took over the MCRT or NCIS was his judgment, and he intended on keeping it that way.

Tony sighed as he rose from his desk, running a hand through his now thinning brownish-gray hair. His knees, back, and neck ached when he moved. Christ, I hate being old.

Tony walked toward the director's private bathroom, opening and shutting the door quietly. Inside, he splashed some water on his face, trying to cleanse himself of the dark thoughts and emotions that were chasing him. The pills can only block out so much.

Wiping off his now moist face with his sleeve, he looked into the mirror, finding his own bloodshot hazel eyes staring back at him. Wrinkles tugged at the corners of his eyes and mouth, saying his age loud and clear. Although his hair was still mostly brown, he was starting to get gray around the temples.

The left side of his face, from the bottom of his ear and spreading over most of his left cheek and to his jaw line, was marred and damaged, a mismatched array of scars from the original severe burn and the following skin grafts.

No one escaped that night unscarred (whether it be physically like himself and Ziva, or mentally like McGee and Abby) but his reminder was blunt and ever-present, quite literally written all over his face. He could never escape what happened, the scar was a symbol that he would never again be who he was before that night.

Some would say he'd let his tragedies define him. Well, he would say to those people that your tragedies do define you, whether you like it or not.

He winced, still not used to seeing his once pristine face damaged like this. He used to pride himself on his looks, now... well, the ladies weren't exactly lining up. He placed two fingers on the disfigured side of his face.

"I look like a monster," he whispered to the silent room. Maybe I am a monster. I went into that warehouse a man - I came out a monster.

A/N: Not sure how frequent updates will be on this. The chapters will alternate between flashbacks and current time, so, the next chapter will be a flashback.