By Charli911 and Larabeelady

Chapter 1

Tony DiNozzo couldn't believe what he'd just heard. His fellow agents, his 'backup' hadn't been listening to him while he went house to house in the neighborhood, trying to get the residents' voices on tape to compare with the voice they had on file for their suspect. Their 'terrorist' suspect!

"Oh, look, McGee, we finally found a way to shut him up," Ziva David teased.

"Too bad we didn't think of this earlier," Tim McGee replied. "Sure would have made for a quieter stakeout." Both laughed.

"How long?" DiNozzo asked softly, still in shock.

"How long what, Tony? How long did you ramble? Seemed like hours," Ziva replied. "How long have we had to tolerate this inane behavior from you? Seems like years."

"It has been years, Ziva," McGee reminded her.

"Oh, yes, so it has," she grinned. "But, to answer your question, I believe it was about an hour."

"I think it was actually closer to two hours, Ziva," Tim remarked, laughing.

"Ah yes, you are probably correct. Although it seems a much shorter time that we were able to enjoy the silence. Pity you did not stay out there longer, Tony," she said, joining in the laughter once again.

Tony leaned back in the seat, shaking his head. He turned to look out the window, not noticing that McGee had started the engine and pulled the car away from the curb. He barely heard the animated and almost celebratory conversation going on in the front seat. They had traveled a couple of miles, when he realized he needed to get out of the vehicle.

"Stop the car, McGee," he ordered.

"What? Tony, I'm not stopping. It's late, I'd like to get back to the office and get the paperwork done for the day."

"Stop. The Damn. Car."

McGee sighed. "Fine." He jerked the wheel and got the car to the curb, slamming on the brakes. "We're stopped," he said, snidely.

Tony threw open the door and headed for a nearby trashcan, where he promptly vomited the lunch he'd eaten several of hours before. McGee and David stepped out of the vehicle, somewhat concerned that their fellow agent appeared to be ill.

"Tony, are you alright?" Ziva asked.

But DiNozzo didn't reply. He stood up, wiping his mouth with a handkerchief. Looking around, he spotted what he needed and began walking down the sidewalk.

"Tony, where are you going?" McGee asked. When the other man didn't stop, McGee called out. "Come on, Tony, quit playing games! I want to get back to the office."

Both were shocked when DiNozzo ignored them, climbed into a cab, and left.

"What the hell...?"

"McGee, where is he going?"

"I have no clue, but I'm not waiting for him to come back," McGee declared. "Let's go. If he wants to pout, he can do it on his own time."

Ziva nodded and followed Tim back to the agency sedan.


Gibbs stepped back into the bullpen just as DiNozzo got off the elevator. McGee and David were sitting at their desks, both seemingly engrossed in whatever was on their computer monitors. Tony moved over to his own desk and sat down, not sparing a glance at any of them.

"How did it go?" Gibbs asked of no one in particular.

Several long seconds went by, before Ziva tentatively replied. "It was fine, Gibbs. No problems."

When both David and McGee glanced toward Tony, as if waiting for him to contradict her, Gibbs figured something was up. None of them appeared injured, but when DiNozzo made no attempt to agree or disagree, in fact made no comment at all, Gibbs wondered what had occurred between the three that would cause his most vocal agent to keep quiet.

"DiNozzo, any problems?" Out of the corner of his eye, Gibbs noticed McGee tense up. Now he knew something was going on. He just wondered how long it would take him to get to the bottom of whatever the problem was.

"I got the recordings without a problem. I just spoke to Abby, she's getting everything set up to do the voice recognition. There's almost four hours of recordings, so it'll take a while." Tony spoke all this without lifting his head from his keyboard and with absolutely no animation in his voice at all, which was highly unusual for the normally effervescent young man.

"Alright. Head on home," Gibbs ordered. "Nothing more we can do at the moment."

McGee and Ziva quickly closed down their computers and grabbed their gear, then headed toward the elevator, neither noticing that Tony hadn't even bothered to look up and watch them leave.

But Gibbs noticed. It was hard not to. He didn't like it when DiNozzo got like this. As much as he often hated it when DiNozzo acted like the college frat boy he used to be, at least that was normal. A quiet and introspective DiNozzo wasn't normal and did not bode well.

Gibbs moved to stand in front of Tony's desk. "DiNozzo, did you hear me? Go get something to eat and get some sleep."

"I'd rather get this down while it's still fresh in my mind," he answered.

"It's late."

"It won't take me long."

Gibbs sighed. "An hour. Get your notes down, and then grab some sleep."

Tony just nodded, having never even looked up at his boss, and continued typing.


Two days later, Gibbs was walking down the stairs from MTAC and noticed DiNozzo at his desk. Checking his watch, he discovered that it was still an hour before the younger man's shift was supposed to start. He'd told the group to come in late that morning, since the terrorist case had been wrapped up late the night before. As he walked toward his team's area, he glanced over the partition and noticed that Tony was on the NCIS internal website.

He stopped. DiNozzo was looking at job openings.

"Going somewhere, DiNozzo?" he asked, leaning on the partition behind Tony's desk. He wasn't at all surprised when his Senior Field Agent didn't so much as jump at the unexpected voice behind him and totally expected to hear the same disclaimer of 'just keeping my options open, boss' that he usually did in circumstances like this.

He was, therefore, shocked to hear a quiet, "Maybe."

Gibbs moved around into the bullpen and sat on the edge of DiNozzo's desk. "What's going on, Tony?"

Tony briefly closed his eyes and when he looked up, the pain in his eyes caused Gibbs to briefly rock back.

"I need to talk to you, boss," he said.

"So. Talk."

Tony looked around. Although it was still early, several agents were on the floor, at the other end of the large room. He didn't want to have this conversation here. "Ah, in private." Troubled, Gibbs stood and moved toward the elevator, better known as 'Gibbs' office', but DiNozzo stopped him. "This will take a while. Might be best not to tie up the elevator."

Gibbs stared at him for several long seconds before nodding and leading the way to one of the smaller conference rooms. Tony picked up a file from his desk, hesitating before grabbing another from the bottom drawer, then followed his boss. Tony closed the door behind him and sat down, placing both files on the desk in front of him. Gibbs sat across from him after filling up a mug with some of the strong, bitter brew from the coffee urn on the credenza under the window.

Taking a sip, he took a good look at his agent. DiNozzo looked exhausted, like he hadn't slept at all the night before. Combined with the atypical behavior of the past couple days, Gibbs was concerned. Rather than growling an order to begin talking he prompted with a quiet, "Are you alright, DiNozzo?"

Tony sighed deeply, his eyes resting on the files, both hands splayed out across the paper. "I'm tired, but otherwise fine. I had a couple of restless nights."

"Do those files have anything to do with your restless nights?" Gibbs asked, gesturing with his cup at the files.

After a brief hesitation, Tony nodded. "I debated long and hard last night whether or not to do this. On one hand, since everything turned out okay, I thought: just let it go. On the other hand, as a Senior Field Agent, what happened couldn't be allowed to be swept under the rug and ignored completely. If I let it go, it could have serious repercussions later on down the road." He fingered the corners of the top file folder nervously. "I went back and forth with myself, but in the end I realized that no matter what happens to me, I couldn't, in good conscience, let it slide."

"Does this have anything to do with why you've been so quiet the last couple of days?"

Tony closed his eyes and nodded again. "Yeah. I wanted to say something to you the day it happened, but decided to wait until the case was over and we caught the guy. I didn't want this to interfere with the case."

"You're scaring me here, DiNozzo," Gibbs said, leaning forward and wrapping both hands around his coffee mug. "What the hell happened? It was something to do with the last case I take it?"

Tony just nodded and picked up the top file. He slid it across the table, but didn't release it right away. Gibbs reached to pick it up, but waited the few seconds it took for Tony to decide to let it go. The former Marine pulled the file closer to him, watching the competing emotions racing across DiNozzo's face, dreading what he was about to read, knowing it had to be bad if it was causing such conflict in his Senior Agent.

He flipped open the file, the quiet slap of the folder hitting the desk causing his agent to flinch. The words at the top of the page jumped out at him. 'Report of Dereliction of Duty'.

"What the hell? DiNozzo, what is this?" he asked, the document inside being the last thing he expected. A request for transfer, official letter of complaint, hell even a letter of resignation wouldn't have shocked him more than this. His eyes read the words, but he wasn't sure if his brain was actually making the connection. Ziva and McGee turned off the speaker they were supposed to be monitoring? They were Tony's backup. What if something had happened? What if DiNozzo had been hurt? What if...? What if?

Tony stood up, pacing while his boss read the file. He really had been up all night, wondering if he was doing the right thing. McGee and Ziva were good agents and he didn't think either of them would have done this if it hadn't been him on the other end of the line. And he was honest with himself, he knew he could get annoying at times, with his constant talking about movies and women. But he tried to never let it interfere with his job. He was serious when he needed to be and he would never fail to back up a partner in the field. And if they would do it to him, they could do it to someone else they might find annoying. And he couldn't allow it to go unchecked. He'd let too much go already, brushed off too much.

"DiNozzo, are you sure you heard this correctly?"

Tony was facing away from Gibbs, staring out the window, so his boss didn't see the brief look of defeated acceptance that crossed his face. But Gibbs saw the tense shoulders slump and knew that he'd said exactly the wrong thing. He moved quickly to correct himself.

"Tony, I'm not saying it didn't happen. I just need to know if those were their exact words."

"As best as I can remember, yes," Tony replied, turning around to face his mentor, a bit of hope coming back at Gibbs' words. "I can get the exact wording if I listen to the recording again. My mic was still on when I got back into the car."

"Okay. Once Abby gets in, I want you to get on this right away. See if she can make a copy of just that part of the tape for you. She should still have everything available after doing the voice recognition yesterday. Think you could get a transcript to me by zero nine hundred?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I can do that. Boss...thanks. I wasn't sure..."

Gibbs stood up and walked over to stand next to the agent who'd been on his team for nearly ten years. " have never lied to me." At the look on DiNozzo's face, he knew what the younger man was about to say. He raised a hand to silence any remark he was about the make. "Not even during the Frog investigation. You were ordered not to say anything, and besides, that investigation began while you were the team leader. You were right not to say anything. And as much as I would have liked to have been in the loop on that operation, if only to give you adequate backup, I understand why you didn't tell me. You, Anthony DiNozzo, have never lied to me. I know that you're not lying about this, and I do plan to do something about it. And just so you know, I'll need to bring the Director in on this."

Tony leaned, half sitting, against the credenza, hands wrapped around the edge and shifted his glance to the floor. He nodded, knowing that for anything official to happen, Leon Vance would have to get involved. He didn't like it, but it was inevitable…and necessary.

"It's not gonna be pretty. McGee is still his golden-boy. He's not gonna want to hear about his protégé screwing up like this. And know he's good friends with her father."

"That's why I want the transcript with the exact wording used by both. After I get that, I'll speak to them and see what they have to say before I talk to Vance. He's not in the office this morning anyway, since there's an appropriations committee meeting at the Pentagon. So that'll give me some time to get statements from McGee and David and decide how to proceed. But know this, Tony. I will not let this slide. This is a gross violation of agency policy, not to mention a breach of trust. They had a job to do and they failed to do it. And if you hadn't brought this to my attention, and I'd learned about it from someone else, I would have questioned whether you should still be a Senior Field Agent."

Tony smiled. The load that had been weighing him down was suddenly gone. Gibbs slapped him lightly on the back of the head. "I could use some better coffee," he told his subordinate. "Feel like making a run?"

"Be happy to," Tony replied. "I'll get Abby's morning Caf-Pow while I'm out, too."

"Good man."

Tony headed for the door, his step noticeably lighter than they had been when he entered the room. His hand on the door knob, he turned back around. "Gibbs. I was thinking..."

"Dangerous ground there, DiNozzo," he joked with a smile tugging at his lips.

Tony's grin got bigger. "Yeah, you could be right about that. But, I'd bet that McGee approaches you before you have a chance to corner him."

Gibbs nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised. I hope he does. I hope they both do. It would go a long way in determining what their punishment will be if they realize what they did wrong before I have to tell them. Have you said anything to either of them?"

DiNozzo shook his head. "No. After I asked them how long they hadn't been listening and they joked about whether it was one or two hours, I kind of just didn't say anything at all. I was too shocked to say anything. In fact, I got out of the car and took a cab back to the office. After I threw up my lunch in the closest trash can."

"I wondered why you were so pale when you got into the office that evening. You sure you'll be okay to work today? I can have McGee and David go over the tapes."

"No, I'm good. I have some notes that I want to add to the report anyway."

Gibbs smiled and shook his head. "Thorough as usual, DiNozzo. And that is one of the many reasons that I offered you the job in the first place." He slapped Tony on the back with the file folder, only then realizing that the second folder still sat on the desk. "By the way, what's in the other folder?"

Tony turned around and pulled the door closed again, leaning against it. "I...I wasn't sure if you'd believe me about what happened yesterday," he admitted. "You know that I often make notes throughout the year, to help me when I do yearly evals." Gibbs nodded. "Those are some notes that I've made this year, more minor incidents of failure to obey orders, arguing about orders and the like. Nothing big, but more of a pattern of problems. I generally took care of the issues myself when they occurred, but was going to note them on the evals and maybe suggest some classes or remedial training."

"Both of them?"

Tony nodded. "More Ziva than McGee, but yeah, both of them to some extent. I want to address it now. McGee is getting to the point where he could make a good Senior Field Agent for some team. But this...Damn it, Gibbs! I don't want this to hurt his chances for promotion, but it's becoming a pattern...and that crap the other day..."

He stopped when Gibbs landed a hand on his shoulder. "Tony, you can only do so much. I'll look these over and talk to both of them today. You plan to spend the day in the lab. If Abby doesn't have a problem with it, do your report down there today. Once I talk to McGee and David, you may get some backlash. I want to know about it if that happens, are we clear?"

"Clear, Gibbs. I'd better go make that coffee run now. The stuff in the pot over there," he said pointing to the urn on the credenza, "is not nearly up to Gibbs' standards on a good day. And this is not looking to be a good day at all. Don't want the boss man going postal on me," he said with a cheeky grin, lightening the mood in the room.

"Get outta here," Gibbs snarled affectionately, but with the requisite head slap.

"Right, back in a bit," he chuckled.

Gibbs watched him go, closing the door behind him, before moving back to the desk and picking up the other file. Reluctant to open it up and see just what he'd missed over the last year, he picked up his coffee cup and decided to get a refill first, figuring he'd need the strong stuff to fortify himself for the confrontations with his junior agents. He took a sip, agreeing with DiNozzo's remark about the quality of the brew. But it would have to do until Tony returned with something better from the local coffee shop.

He settled back into a chair and pulled the second file closer. Flipping it open, he began to read.