A/N: I had an inner conflict over posting this story, but at the end I decided to do it. I hope you enjoy it, but let me warn you that I haven't been happy with the show and its characters for a while now and it's gonna be obvious in this story!
Let's hope the new season is a better one.
This story, which is a case-fic and Tony-centric, is set in season 10, but there's not many spoilers included and certainly there's nothing about Ziva and her storyline! Sorry, I'm not a big fan of her! So, consider yourself warned.
. Irreversible Step .
"Hey, Abs." Tony entered the lab around 19.30 and called the Goth. "Do you have any plans for tonight?"
Abby turned around and looked at him. "Umm, actually yes. Why?"
Tony shrugged. "Nothing, just wanted to see if you had time to go out with me."
"Rain check?" Abby smiled apologetically. "I... Umm, well..." she had never been a good liar; it was hard for her to find an excuse.
"It's alright." Tony smiled. "Yeah, sure, another night." He waved and walked out, leaving Abby to stare at the retreating figure, feeling bad for not telling Tony the truth.
Up in the bullpen, Gibbs had already called it a day and everyone was about to leave when Tony returned from the lab and approached his teammates to ask; "Guys, what's your plan for tonight?"
Ziva and McGee exchanged a look.
"Why do you ask, Tony?" Ziva narrowed her eyes.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Why do you think? I wanted to invite you out for dinner. And by you, I mean all of you." He added before Ziva could say anything stupid about a date or something.
"We have plans."
'I've figured.' Tony thought. "Can't you change it? I really wanted you guys to come with me tonight."
Tim snorted. "Why would I change my plans to go out with you, Tony? I'm not that desperate."
"What?" Tony exclaimed. "What's so bad about going out with me?"
"Maybe if you stopped acting like a five-year-old, people wouldn't hate spending an extra minute out of work with you, DiNozzo." Gibbs said as he strode into the bullpen.
Tony winced inwardly. That had hurt. "Low blow, Boss."
"People don't hate spending time with me." He protested.
"Right. That's why you have so many friends." Tim snickered.
"Or why you are so desperate to make us go out with you." Ziva smirked.
Tony studied his... his teammates; hurt obvious in his eyes. He gave a watery smile. "Yeah, you're probably right." He grabbed his backpack and moved from behind his desk. "Enjoy your party, Tim. Have a good night." He said and walked away, using the staircase to get out of the bullpen.
Gibbs looked up from his papers and his eyes followed Tony till he disappeared from his sight. He felt remorseful for the remark he'd thrown at Tony, the younger man hadn't deserved it. Subtly looking at his other agents, he saw that they were equally regretful. "What was that about the party?" He asked abruptly.
"Umm, well-" McGee swallowed.
"It is McGee's Birthday, we are going out to celebrate." Ziva jumped in.
"We wanted to ask you to come with us, Boss. But thought we should wait till the day was over." McGee quickly added.
'And you thought it's OK to exclude Tony?' Gibbs thought and regretted his words even more. "I'm busy." He said curtly and went back to his work. He didn't want to interfere with his agents' private lives and he didn't want to be there when they clearly had excluded Tony. He thought he'd check on DiNozzo later to make sure that the younger agent knew he hadn't meant it about him being insufferable.
McGee and Ziva grabbed their bags and quietly walked towards the elevator. "I guess we went too far." Ziva said to McGee.
"I don't even know how he's found out about the party. I swear, sometimes he's worse than Gibbs. There's nothing you can hide from him."
"Do you think we should have invited him?"
Tim shrugged. "No. I'm sure he just wanted to tell us that he knows about the party that he's been excluded from. It's his way to ruin my night." He growled.
Ziva looked at him. "I do not know. He did look a little distraught."
"He'll move on. It's Tony we're talking about. I'm sure he'll find a way to make my life a living hell for not inviting him."
"Oh, I am sure he will do that." Ziva chuckled. "Let's go get Abby and..."
Their voice faded away as the elevator doors closed. Gibbs finally looked up from the papers in front of him and stared at his SFA's desk, remembering the last time they all had excluded him from another party.
Damn, what the hell was wrong with him? He knew about the younger man's childhood and insecurities; why was it so easy to be a bastard towards Tony?
Sighing he stood up from his chair; he wasn't going to get any work done. Grabbing his stuff, he was about to head out and go to his agent's place, when once again the Director chose the worst moment possible to call him.
"Gibbs, I need you in the MTAC."
That night Tony went home and went straight to bed.
It wasn't even 21.00 and yet he was feeling bone-tired; of course, his teammates' words hadn't helped the matter.
Sighing, he closed his eyes and wished for sleep to come. But it didn't and Tony lay there, staring at the ceiling, and thought about his so called friends' comments.
Earlier that morning, he'd guessed that something was going on and by noon he'd realized that once again everyone was hiding something from him.
In the evening, when he started to ask them out, he actually wanted to invite them all to a restaurant and celebrate McGee's birthday, but of course they already had plans for the night.
He cursed himself for his stupidity; he should've never asked. He'd thought that things had changed, but he was clearly mistaken. He had just humiliated himself by showing vulnerability; yet he couldn't help wondering what else he was supposed to do! He'd learned that they'd excluded him from their party and it wasn't the first time, but he didn't expect them to be so blunt, especially not Gibbs. They had caught him off guard.
Did they really hate spending an extra minute out of work with him? Was he such a bad friend?
He turned to his side and stared at the wall.
Suddenly a thought occurred to him and made him feel sick; Gibbs had been the one saying those words. And Tony had spent so many nights in the other man's house. Damn, did that mean that he had been imposing? He'd never thought about it that way; it'd always looked like that Gibbs wouldn't mind having him around. But now, after those words, it just meant that the older man had been tolerating him the whole time, just out of courtesy.
Great. Just great. His whole life, he'd worked so hard not to be a burden to anyone; he'd been on his own for more than 30 years, and here he'd found out that not only had he let people get too close to him and had trusted them too much, he'd also put them to trouble with his stupid childish needs.
Man, he'd been so blind. Gibbs obviously didn't want him in his house; why else would he hide his project when he went there to talk to him? And yet the older man had asked him if he still needed an excuse to go there. Well, of course he needed an excuse. He hadn't felt welcome in his Boss' house for a long time now and clearly he'd been right feeling that way.
Berating himself, he got up from bed, changed his clothes, grabbed his overcoat and stormed out of his home.
The next morning when Gibbs stepped out of the elevator, he found Tony's gear already at his desk, but the owner of it wasn't there himself.
Last night by the time he was done in the MTAC, it was too late to go to Tony's place; so he'd decided to wait and see how Tony was doing the next day and then talk to him if it was needed.
He had just sat at his desk when his SFA walked back into the bullpen, eyes on a case file in his hands and apparently totally unaware of his presence.
"Morning, Boss." Tony called without taking his eyes from the file.
'Or not!' Gibbs thought and smiled faintly. There weren't many occasions when you could find Tony unaware of his surroundings.
"What's that?" Gibbs asked indicating to the file in his agent's hand.
"A cold case." Tony replied. "Something caught my eyes and I thought it was worth checking further."
Tony finally looked up and the hollowness and desolation in his eyes sent a chill down Gibbs' spine. "And I'm working on it."
Gibbs just stared at him, not sure how to bring up that emptiness in the other man's eyes. He was about to address the previous night's conversation when the elevator dinged and a slightly disheveled McGee left it with Ziva following him, giggling at something that had clearly bothered McGee.
"Hi Boss." McGee greeted. "Tony."
"Gibbs. Tony." Ziva smiled.
Tony looked up and narrowed his eyes when he saw Tim's appearance, but he didn't comment on it and just nodded his head and looked back at the file he was reading.
Gibbs growled. "You drink too much on a school night again and you don't bother coming back to work the next day."
Tim gulped. "Yes, Boss. Sorry, boss."
He glanced at Tony, expecting a snide remark or smirk from him, but when he got nothing he looked at Ziva and frowned.
"What is with the hard work, Tony?" Ziva quipped. "Another one night stand of yours has checked herself into a... Umm, what was that? Psych ward?"
Tony looked up sharply, silently chiding himself for opening up to Ziva and for trusting the wrong people again. "It was a depression treatment facility." He growled. "And no, Zeevah. You don't need to worry about any poor girl."
He went back to his work and Ziva was about to say something else when Gibbs growled again, this time sounding even angrier. "Start working, David or I'll get rid of both you and McGee."
Ziva quickly sat down and turned her computer on.
McGee looked puzzled; he wasn't sure what had gotten into his boss and Tony. Of course, he could remember the previous night and the way Tony had left the office, but this wasn't what he expected to see today. Then again, you'd never know with Tony; for all he knew this could be Tony's way to make him feel guilty.
Shrugging inwardly, McGee promised himself not to react or show anything, even if Tony could manage to get under his skin.
The day passed without any events and by the evening, when they were once again ready to leave, no one had found a way to make Tony talk. Finally around 20.00, Abby waltzed into the bullpen and stood in front of Tony's desk, clearing her throat when the man didn't acknowledge her.
Tony looked up and tilted his head.
"You should ask me what I want." Abby instructed.
"What do you want, Abby?"
"Nothing." She smiled broadly. "Actually, I just wanted to invite you out for dinner. You know, instead of last night that I had plans and couldn't go out with you."
Gibbs stopped working and looked up, waiting for Tony's answer; he barely registered it when McGee and Ziva did the same.
Tony didn't say anything at first. He just turned his computer off, slowly stood up and opened one of the drawers. "You mean last night when you went out to celebrate McGee's birthday and didn't know how to tell me that I wasn't invited?"
Abby paled. "How... Oh... Umm, Tony... Look-"
"No, Abby." Tony sighed. "It's OK." He smiled warmly, like nothing had happened and he wasn't upset with the world. "I understand; this wasn't the first time. I shouldn't have bothered you in the first place."
Grabbing something from inside the drawer, Tony walked to McGee's desk and put it on his desk. "Happy Birthday." He smiled. "Last night, I had a table booked in a restaurant to celebrate your birthday; that's why I asked you guys out. But it doesn't matter anymore."
He then grabbed his backpack, murmured a "Good night" and walked out.
There was no word to explain how everyone was feeling after Tony's departure.
Abby just glared at McGee. "I told you this would happen, didn't I?" She spat angrily and then turned on her heel and stormed out of the bullpen; McGee silently took his stuff, grabbed Tony's gift and without a word walked towards the elevators to leave and shortly after that, Ziva followed him.
Gibbs just sat there and tried to analyze what was happening to his team. Last time that they had excluded Tony from a party, the younger man had obviously been hurt, but he hid it amazingly well and was back to his normal self in no time.
This time, Gibbs wasn't so sure things would go that smoothly. This time, Tony seemed so spent.
He wished he hadn't opened his mouth to say anything the other night; that way, there was a chance that Tony'd come to his place and then Gibbs could find a way to make him believe that he wasn't just being tolerated; that he was very much wanted, needed and of course loved. But no, he had to open his big mouth and say the worst thing possible.
Cursing himself, he quickly turned his computer off and left the bullpen before anything else could come up.
He really needed to talk to Tony.
Arriving at Tony's place, he went straight up and knocked, but nobody answered; pulling the spare key out of his pocket, he opened the door, only to find the neatly decorated apartment empty and dark. Tony hadn't come back home.
Shaking his head, Gibbs pulled out his cellphone to call the younger man, but his finger lingered on the speed dial button. Maybe Tony needed to be alone. Closing his phone and pocketing it, he headed out of the building and went back home, hoping that everything would get back to normal of its own accord.
... TBC ...
A/N: I'd love to know what you think! :)
And for those of you who think the team would never treat Tony this way; let me remind you that we've seen this kinda behavior many times before! This is just a fiction, but it's based on what they actually do on the show.
This story is not beta-ed. All mistakes are mine.