Author's note: Thanks to all who have reviewed my stories on this site—they are all much appreciated. It is harder and harder for me to justify Tony remaining on Team Gibbs as I continued to watch the seasons, especially after the undercover operation with Jeanne. This story is set in the ninth/tenth season and departs from my usual posts in that it is not a direct response to an episode. I fully expect to make some readers a little upset with this, but still, I hope you like it!
"Dinozzo. You have visitors."
Tony Dinozzo looked up from his computer screen and blinked. Staring too long at the monitor made his vision a little hazy. He'd been working on his reports, of course. Every five minutes of excitement in the field resulted in two hours of paperwork, and this case had been no different. Ziva had killed the suspect—it was a justifiable shot (she had, thankfully, gotten much better at determining what "justifiable" meant), but as a result, Tony had four additional documents to complete. Ziva could fill them out, but chances were very good that he would end up correcting so much that it would be easier to just do it himself. She could sign them when they were done, and Tony would save himself a lot of frustration. As the Senior Field Agent, he submitted all the necessary forms to Gibbs, who usually glanced, grunted, and scrawled a signature at the bottom. From there, they went to Vance, who looked them over much more carefully. When Vance first took over the Director's position, it had taken Tony awhile to structure his statements to the other man's preferences. But now, they understood each other. He wished he could say the same for the rest of the MCRT. Other than Jimmy Palmer, he wasn't sure what kept him here anymore. It wasn't the respect, that was for certain. He privately thought of himself as the dog who kept trying to get back to its owners, even though they were mean to it. It just kept trying, because it didn't know any better. He'd promised Jimmy a long time ago that he would stick around, but Jimmy, while still a great friend, was married, and Tony couldn't remember the last time they'd gotten a beer together. He didn't blame him—new wife trumps burned out fed—but he was lonely.
"Dinozzo!" Gibbs barked. Tony shook his head, trying to clear it.
"Where are they, boss?" he asked.
"Conference room." Gibbs gestured toward the room in question with his head. "They're from the FBI."
"Tony." Ziva smiled mockingly. "Are you going to be accused of murder again?"
"Hard to say, Ziva." Tony shook his head. "That's the fun part. I never know when the next charges are going to be filed."
"I'm going to file charges if you don't get in there and talk to them," Gibbs growled, and then his tone became quietly gentle. It was completely out of character, and made Tony suspicious. The only reason Gibbs was gentle was if someone was dead. His next words clarified that it wasn't a death, but Tony wished it was a little. "They aren't here to accuse you of anything. They have questions about an old case from a while ago. Jeffrey White?"
Tony knew he paled, and his stomach gave a lurch. He had not thought about Jeffrey White in a long time. For years after the case closed, he had nightmares about the experience. He hadn't had one in months, but if he had to discuss him today, that was probably going to change. "Sure, Boss." His voice was off and he knew it, but before McGee could formulate the questions circulating in his brain, Tony stood. At least I'm wearing my new Brioni suit, he thought, smoothing the material and loving the smooth feel. It was the suit maker of James Bond, after all. Taking a deep breath, he strove for calm and opened the door to the conference room.
The first thing he noticed, probably because of his love for his own suit, was that the older gentlemen in the room was wearing an impeccably cut Fioravanti suit. Italians really knew their stuff. "Bellissima tuta," he breathed.
The older man, who had neat and tidy black hair and a goatee shot through with silver, grinned at him. His eyes crinkled at the corner, making him seem quite approachable. "Grazie." He had a low and gravelly voice that made Tony want to sit down and talk to him. The fact that he clearly spoke and understood Italian, at least to an extent, certainly didn't hurt. "Agent Dinozzo, my name is SSA David Rossi, and this is Dr. Spencer Reid. We're with the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI."
"Please call me Tony," Tony said, leaning forward to shake his hand across the table. Then he turned to Dr. Reid, the other occupant in the room, who was as different from Agent Rossi as a person could get. He was slender—almost painfully so—and based on his slumped shoulders and lanky legs, Tony was willing to bet he was at least as tall as Tony was. Maybe even taller. He had a fragile look to him; aside from appearing to be entirely too young to be a federal agent (let alone a member of such an elite team at the FBI), he was a bit of a wreck. His hair was disheveled, like he'd neglected to brush it at all in the morning and had simply run his hands through it repeatedly. He had wide, seemingly innocent brown eyes. He dressed in a way that had Tony thinking of college hipster, except that there was no way the man had actually gone for any particular look. Most likely, he just grabbed the nondescript black slacks (just using the word slacks made Tony wonder when his AARP card was coming in the mail), striped button down shirt, and high-necked sweater vest on his way to the bookstore. The worn, buttery leather satchel resting by his feet was probably the most expensive part of his ensemble (Tony had noticed, of course, that the good doctor was wearing Chuck Taylors and mismatched socks that looked like they had come out of an eleven-year-old girls' wardrobe), but did little to defy the absentminded college kid vibe Dr. Reid had working for him. The funniest part about the whole thing was that the man was completely comfortable in his own skin. He was sitting in a room with two men wearing about $10,000 worth of the finest Italian suits, and he seemed 100% ok with that. Tony immediately decided he liked the kid. That opinion was strengthened when Dr. Reid, instead of shaking Tony's hand, gave an awkward little "hi there" kind of wave. Oh, this guy was great.
"Agent Dinozzo—" Dr. Reid began, and Tony held up his hands.
"Please. We all work for the feds. You guys are just a different part of the alphabet. Call me Tony." He smiled at Dr. Reid, who dropped his eyes, seemingly unwilling to make extended eye contact. Was he shy, or was this a condition? Tony smiled at Agent Rossi again, and the man returned it with enough charm to be welcoming without that oily, used car salesman air.
"All right then. Tony. We're here because we study serial killers and their motivations. Their decision making processes and what leads them to commit the murders. Typical stressors include being fired from a job, getting a divorce, or a death in the family. Some narcissistic serial killers reach their breaking point when a child is born, because the attention and focus is taken off of them and transferred to the baby. Of course, the victims don't always have a connection to the unsub, but rather represents someone else that the person wants to destroy. It's fascinating, really, when you consider that most research about serial killers is incomplete. Some current research considers the cultural experiences of the unsub over the childhood and immediate family of these people, which of course has no grounding in any real scientific proof—"
"Reid." Rossi broke in quietly, and immediately, Dr. Reid fell silent. "We are here to ask Tony questions, not to discuss the dissertation topic for your fourth PhD."
"Sorry," the younger man mumbled, looking for all the world like a scolded puppy.
"Don't apologize on my account." Tony had actually been quite interested in what Dr. Reid had been discussing. "I actually agree that childhood interactions and immediate family has much more to do with future criminology of a person than cultural makeup."
Dr. Reid gave him a shy smile, but remained silent. Rossi took over the conversation. "We recently discovered the body of Donovan Scofield in Seattle Washington during an investigation of a serial killer. We were able to determine that Jeffrey White had committed the murder, and that it occurred more than a decade ago. Since White is also responsible for the deaths of at least three other people, we are attempting to add to our data regarding motivations and interactions of unsubs before and after their stressor occurs. We were able to track down some people who knew White as a child and determined that he was physically and sexually abused by both parents. School records determine that while White was a bright child, he spent a large percentage of his time ostracized and bullied for both his small stature and his intelligence. Having gotten that information regarding White's life before the stressor, we thought we would try to fill in some blanks from after the event."
"What was White's stressor?" Tony asked quietly. He wasn't exactly sure how he was going to talk about those few days so long ago, but he figured that anything less than complete honesty was not going to cut it.
"It was prior to meeting Donovan Scofield." Dr. Reid sounded a little subdued, as though he was trying to reign in his affinity for rambling. "Jeffrey White fixated on a man named Christopher Everly. Everly was an art collector; he loved Middle Eastern sculpture more than art from any other area in the world. Jeffrey was able to become friends with Everly, and even lived with him for a time. He created a lie about the plumbing in his own apartment, and Everly took him in. This helped White feel like they were beginning a real relationship, but when he confessed his romantic feelings, Everly mocked him and kicked him out of his house. White came back two days later and tried to reconcile, but when Everly refused him, he became enraged and killed him."
"We have the file with the reports you filed immediately after the undercover op happened, but we would like to get your own idea about the events. Be as specific as you can, and try not to leave anything out. Even the minutest detail could be vital to helping us understand the minds of serial killers." Rossi studied Tony, and he squirmed under the intense scrutiny for a moment.
"It's been eight years. There have been a lot of other cases since then." It was instinct to deflect at this point, really.
"Is it difficult to remember the events of that operation?" Dr. Reid asked.
"No." Tony sighed. It wasn't going to work. These men were too smart to bamboozle, and they cared about the answer, more than anyone on his team ever would. "Pretty much everything that happened is unforgettable."
"Take your time." Rossi's voice had gone gentle. Tony realized that this conversation would mark the first time he had ever actually spoken about the case. He had typed up his report, of course, but it had been devoid of all the specific details that Rossi and Dr. Reid were most likely looking for. Director Morrow had accepted his statement without any question, but he wasn't looking for what the BAU was hoping to discover.
"We got along pretty well at first. My cover story was pretty thin—we were banking on the danger of the situation to keep him from heavy investigation into my background. I was a pilot who flew a rich American couple over the border with a lot of drugs in their possession. They bought their way out of charges and I was left with a hefty prison sentence. We decided that a nonviolent offense would be the best cover, because at that time, we thought White was responsible for stealing Iraqi antiques. We had no idea he was actually a murderer several times over. My team helped facilitate the 'escape', and it was meant to showcase my ability to get out of sticky situations. It worked really well, or so we thought. White immediately latched on to me, and I believed at the time that it was because of my actions. Afterwards, I realized that he followed me because of my resemblance to Donovan Scofield." He paused. "Did Everly look like Scofield and me?"
"It's uncanny." Dr. Reid fished through his satchel and retrieved a picture. Tony glanced, and then looked again. Everly, like Scofield and Tony himself, had strong bone structure, high cheekbones, and a wide mouth with green-blue eyes. The three of them could be brothers, except two of them were dead.
"Just dumb luck that I looked like these two." He shrugged.
"We believe that White would have killed you immediately if you had not looked the way you do," Rossi explained. "Your appearance most likely bought you the time you needed to finish the job."
"Your report mentions that Jeffrey White killed Lane Danielson, whose real name was actually Billy Collins. Collins was the main suspect in the Seattle murders until it was determined that White was the real killer. Were you there when he killed Collins?" Dr. Reid leaned forward, his eyes narrowed in determination.
"Yeah. I mean, yes. I was there." Tony struggled to keep his voice steady, although it was a difficult endeavor.
"What led to the murder? White was a preferential killer. He killed people who fit his delusion or those who stood in his way. Collins was useful to White—he was a scapegoat for the murders, and he was a partner in the antique theft. It seems out of character for White to kill him." Rossi tilted his head to the side, studying Tony closely.
"They argued. I remember that they were fighting." Tony swallowed bile, unable to suppress completely the shudder that overtook him.
"What were they fighting about, Tony?" Dr. Reid asked, his voice gentler than Tony needed, although it was nice to hear.
"Me. They were fighting over me." He sucked in a deep breath and held it for a second, and then released it. "Danielson—that is Collins, I guess, didn't trust me. White was pretty insistent that I could be trusted."
"I could see that leading to an argument. But White killed to 'protect' his relationships, not over disagreements. Not after Everly, anyway. So Collins must have been threatening you." Dr. Reid stated.
"Threatening me." Tony meant it to sound like a question, possibly a silly one, but it came out flat and toneless.
"Yes." Dr. Reid nodded. "Was Collins threatening you?"
"You could say that." Tony rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Yes. He was threatening me."
"Did he have a weapon?" Rossi persisted.
"Not really." Tony shook his head.
"Well then how did he threaten you?" Dr. Reid asked patiently.
"He was—really interested in me. Really interested." Tony couldn't even hope that they would abandon this line of questioning, especially not when his answers were giving them information not on the report.
"You mean he was attracted to you?" Rossi scrawled on a small notepad, his writing illegible.
Tony shrugged. "Yes."
"So Collins came onto you." Dr. Reid's eyes were sharp on Tony's face now, and he got the feeling that the man's fragility covered a spine made of steel. "And White killed him. Cause of death on Collins was blood loss from a laceration of the jugular."
"Yes. He was going to—he wanted to…he was trying to protect me, I think." He cringed at his own voice, which sounded breathy and uncertain.
"Did anything else happen that could give us insight into White's character?" Rossi's question was deliberately vague, and Tony knew that he could respond with generalities as well and neither agent would push him. But another part of him knew that if he took this lifeline, it would not only be cowardly, but it would also make the inevitable nightmares even worse. Nothing could change what had happened, but it was in the past. Refusing to discuss it and failing to give the agents a realistic impression of who Jeffrey White was gave the man power over Tony's present and future as well.
"He made dinner. He was a pretty good cook, actually. He gave me a beer. I saw the powder in it, but I knew he would kill me if I didn't drink it. I weighed my options—distraction wasn't going to work, and I knew that insanity gave people strength that they wouldn't normally have. So I drank the beer." He shrugged.
"Did you know what the drug was?" Reid asked, his unusually colored eyes intent.
"I think it was ketamine." Tony struggled to still his hands, which were shaking. "I know a lot about drugs from when I worked as a cop. The specific side effects were specific to that drug."
"So you had impaired motor functions, distorted perceptions of sight and sound, problems breathing, loss of memory, that kind of thing?" Reid seemed to have taken over the questioning, and Rossi was writing steadily while his partner questioned Tony.
"I didn't have loss of memory. The rest, yes. I had those." Tony nodded.
"Did he drug you to get you out of his way so that he could work on the Iraqi antique situation?" Reid asked the question as though he already knew the answer, and Tony was sure he did know.
"Maybe a little, but it wasn't his only goal." He raised his chin a little. "His main purpose for drugging me was to make it easier for him to assault me."
"He beat you up?" Reid pushed for clarification.
"Not the kind of assault I was talking about." Tony shook his head, but found himself unable to elaborate.
"He sexually assaulted you." It was a statement, not a question. Tony jerked at hearing the words aloud, his heart pounding so fast and hard that he thought the agents might be able to see it through his suit.
"Yes. He did," he managed to say.
"You didn't report this. Did you get checked out? Make sure he didn't infect you with anything?" Reid leaned forward, trying to make eye contact with Tony.
"Yeah I took care of it. I'm fine." He smiled, but knew it was a mere shadow of his usual full-wattage grin.
"Did you tell anyone? Anyone at all?" Rossi had stopped writing and was now giving Tony his full attention, which made him squirm.
"Our forensics/tech person found out. Agent Gibbs knows. Or rather, he knew. He was in an accident a few years ago that took 15 years of his memory. He went off the reservation for a while. When he came back, he said he remembered everything, but I never bought it." Tony rubbed his hands over his face, hiding both the trembling and the tears that were trying like hell to fall.
"That must be really difficult. Have you tried to find out if he remembered? It seems like it would be important information for your boss to have." Rossi was trying to be encouraging, Tony knew, but he didn't know Gibbs.
"No. Gibbs has other things to worry about." Like when Ziva would go off the reservation next, or what Vance was up to, or whatever woman he happened to be screwing at that moment. Hell, Tony was pretty sure that random strangers got more attention and respect from Gibbs than he did. It was a feeling that he had been dealing with for some time now. Slowly but surely, the compliments, though they had always been minimal, had disappeared entirely. Tony felt like the kid who misbehaved just to get attention from a neglectful father, even if it was negative attention. Since he had already experienced some of that with his own dad (who his whole team loved—they obviously didn't listen to the few things he had managed to say about the man. That, or they just didn't care), he was less and less inclined to continue to do so.
"The mental condition of his senior field agent should be a high priority." Reid's brow was furrowed.
"Yeah, well, it is what it is." Tony sighed. "Did you have any more questions for me?"
"Just one." Rossi leaned back in his chair. "The BAU lost an agent recently." At his words, Reid flinched, and Tony knew that the agent had died. "You completed your Master's degree in psychology, correct?"
Tony nodded. "I didn't mention it to anyone here. It has nothing to do with the job, really, except it makes it easier for me to determine causality in the actions of criminals and victims alike."
"In other words," Rossi smirked, "it makes you a better profiler."
Tony blinked, and then shrugged. "I guess you can say that."
"Have you ever thought about trying those new skills out somewhere else? Like maybe on our team?" Rossi invited.
Tony's eyes widened. "Really? You guys are the best in the country. What could I possibly add to your team?"
"Based on your file?" Rossi looked down at the folder in front of him. "You're adaptive, intuitive, motivated, analytical, great at undercover work, and skilled enough in language, technology, and people skills to conduct investigations as an asset to the team. Off the record? You're strong, because you've been through hell. We have a lot of people like that on the team. Their empathy is a great help when the time comes to try to get into an unsub's head. Your morals have made you quit jobs that most people would cheerfully die for, because they are easy and lucrative. You communicate your ideas well. And because you're miserable here, and it doesn't seem like anyone values your opinion."
Tony smiled despite himself. "You've been talking to Fornell."
"Fornell and I go way back." Rossi admitted cheerfully. "He can't seem to get you away from Team Gibbs, but maybe we have more to offer?"
"You do." Tony nodded. "Can I think about this?"
"Sure you can. We are in no hurry to replace Prentiss." Reid flinched again at Rossi's words, but the older man kept talking. "We can't go into the field until everyone passes mandatory psych evals anyway."
Tony gave an elaborate shudder. "I don't envy you that."
"Take some time, Tony. Think it over. When you come to a decision, no matter what it is, let us know." Rossi handed him a card, which Tony accepted and tucked into his pocket.
"Just so you know, several years ago, I was taken by an unsub suffering from a split personality. He held me prisoner for three days. During that time, he repeatedly injected me with Dilaudid until I wasn't sure what reality was anymore. He tried to force me to dig my own grave, and I was able to kill him then." Reid's tone was impersonal, but the pain in his eyes was anything but distant.
"I'm sorry that happened to you." Tony wasn't sure what prompted this story, but didn't really know what to say.
"There are things that happened in that house that I have never shared with another person. Not my psychologist, not my mother, not my friends, not even my colleagues." Reid swallowed hard at the last description, and Tony knew that there was a lot more to that story too. "But I want you to know that I am here to listen to you, whether you join the team or not." He scrawled a number onto a post-it and handed it to Tony. "I know what you went through."
Tony found himself agreeing with his earlier assessment of Reid's strength. The younger agent looked like a stiff wind would knock him over, but in reality, he would not be defeated by anything. "Thank you." His own voice was rough and on the edge of breaking.
"You're welcome." Reid smiled. "I hope you decide to join us."
Later, after another afternoon of watching Ziva do whatever the hell she wanted, listening to McGee discuss his lack of intellect in thinly veiled contempt, dealing with Gibbs mercurial mood changes, and dodging another "request" from Vance in regards to a top-secret undercover op that he wouldn't be allowed to tell his team about, Tony made his decision. As he dialed the numbers, he realized he had no worries about his actions. He was doing the right thing and he knew it.
"Agent Rossi? I'm in."