Chapter 1 – Futures

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

All was quiet at the Navy Yard, save for the distant sound of the Potomac's angry waters crashing against the banks, powerful and surging thanks to the freshly fallen rain. April showers, and all that. The sun hadn't been seen all week.

Tony sighed deeply, a dim sense of peace flickering in his chest. Alone in his office at night, with the lights low and the only illumination the city-bright glow of DC in the distance, he felt comfortable. He'd been gone most of the day and found himself exhausted; he'd been at the hill, trying to plead with SecNav for the funding NCIS so desperately needed.

Some things never change. Securing additional funding for NCIS had always been a trick. Ex-agent or not, Vance was just as stingy with funding as Jarvis had been.

Tony's cell phone rang, jarring him from his thoughts. He turned, checking the caller ID. He had no intentions of picking up unless it was important. He was beat to hell and ready to go home. Of course, the only thing waiting for him there was his lonely twin bed, but he needed to grab at least a few hours' sleep if he wanted to be able to function properly tomorrow.

He lifted an eyebrow when he read the name. Abby Sciuto.

He contemplated ignoring the call, but even now, after so much had happened, he still couldn't bring himself to say no to Abby. He lowered himself into his desk chair and picked up.

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

"Hey Tony," Abby said, not sounding the least bit lethargic in spite of the late hour. Even in her fifties, Abby still wasn't all that into sleeping. She was just as energetic as she'd always been.

Lucky her.

"Hi Abby," he replied faintly, knowing exactly what was coming next

"We haven't talked in months, you know," she pointed out quietly, getting straight to the point.

It was true. He hadn't spoken to her since early October.

It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to AbbyAbby was family to him, for all intents and purposes. It was just... she was a part of his past. A big part of it. And his past, well, that was something he'd rather avoid facing, given the choice. While every conversation with Abby succeeded in making him feel less alone, it also was a painful, poignant reminder of all that had changed... and all that he'd 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, but he was fairly sure it came out far more bitter than intended.

"I know," she responded, the enthusiasm in her voice dulling significantly. "I just wanted to call and see how you are. I miss you."

And that hurt, a hard, stone-to-the-stomach kind of feeling.

"I'm fine," 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 him.

"I miss you, too. How are you doing?" he continued, clearing his throat uncomfortably.

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

"You'd tell me if something was wrong, right?"

"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 a long time." She broke off, shaking. "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 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'll just 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, more's the pity.

"There's nothing to talk about. There never was anything to talk about." Iron walls slammed up around him, and he was ready to hang up. He didn't want this conversation. He never wanted this conversation.

"How can you say that?" was Abby's whispered response. "Tony, how can you even say that!?"

"Gibbs is dead!" he shouted, losing the fraying composure he'd been struggling 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, probably dead too, 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. It's the past."

He bit down hard on the inside of his lip, trying hard to regain his control. You knew this was gonna happen. You shouldn't have picked up.

"You never moved on. You let it change you," she accused, driving a knife into his heart. Oh, he'd let it change him? That was the understatement of the goddamn year.

"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 at the edge of her words. "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. The lie left his mouth way too easily, and that scared him.

"Go to hell."

"Goodnight, Abby." He hung up without another word, immediately feeling guilty for saying what he did.

Nice job, DiNozzo. You pissed off one of the only people on this Godforsaken planet that still gives a damn about you.

He slid open the bottom drawer of his too-expensive, too-nice desk, and picked out a small, orange bottle. Anthony D. DiNozzo Junior, 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 constantly, 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. They didn't get him high; they got him normal.

Still, 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 wondered fleetingly.

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 for a long time.

Ever since they lost Gibbs.

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

McGee worked for the FBI, now. Fornell snatched him up quickly after Gibbs's 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 no longer worked for the feds. She was a criminology professor at Georgetown. 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 was still Abby. A hurricane of love, good vibes, and sunny optimism... but she was definitely a few shades more damaged than she used to be. She'd been in therapy since the night it had happened. Good for her. He probably should've been in therapy too, all things considered.

So yeah, 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's death, Tony had been named head of the MCRT. With Ziva leaving the night of Gibbs's funeral, only he and McGee remained. 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. But 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.

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, someone Vance had snatched from legal to make sure that the team actually followed protocol every once in awhile.

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 Tony had been promoted to director, but he had never had a non-work related conversation with any of them.

His first team would probably describe him as talkative, annoying, immature, but charming in his own way.

His second team would probably 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 that. Hell no.

Over the past few years, his temper and disposition had become extremely... erratic, to say the least. Sometimes he'd fly into private rages, chucking his possessions against the walls and screaming until his damaged lungs burned like fire, screaming at nothing, at everything.

Sometimes he'd lay in bed all day (if he had the day off, which was rare) and stare 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 losing it. Maybe all the head injuries over the years were finally adding up. 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 rose from his desk, running a hand through his now thinning brownish-silver 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 chasing him.

The pills could only block out so much.

Wiping off his 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 go silver around the temples and roots.

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 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 had 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 still wasn't used to seeing himself like this, even after all these years. 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.