Change of Pace

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Once again, this story is a small piece of a much larger story. This story only came to me when I was contemplating bunnies for this challenge, but once it arrived I realized both that I wanted to write it and that it was too big. So you get another fragment. Also, thanks to chelletoo (from LJ), whose bunny suggestion led to this ficlet, even if this ficlet doesn't end up actually fitting the suggestion.

Tony leans back against the heavy, dark wood side panel of his desk, his eyes on the clock mounted on the wall. It counts down the seconds with quiet clicks, soft but audible, if you listen for them. Seven minutes and forty-three seconds left. Forty-two. Forty-one.

The phone on the desk doesn't ring.

"Either he has a sense of drama, or he's not going to call."

It's a little strange, Tony thinks, that he likes the man's voice so much. It's not a particularly distinctive voice, not gravelly or deep or smooth. But there's something very forthright about it. Honest. Or maybe that's just the Stockholm Syndrome talking.

"There's still seven minutes left," Tony says aloud, but he can hear the lack of faith in his own voice.

"Seven minutes isn't a lot of time," the man says, pushing the vertical blinds which cover the window aside a fraction. He keeps his body away from the window itself, peering out the gap he's made from an angle rather than exposing even a fraction of himself to the snipers who are no doubt keeping a close eye on Tony's office.

Seven minutes is even less time to a man like Tony's father, who is compulsively early for important events and meetings. Tony has known for two and a half minutes now that there will be no phone call. Not from his father, anyway. The hostage negotiator will probably try one more time to get the man to let him go. Tony doesn't imagine that the negotiator will be successful. The man by the window strikes Tony as the type who believes that actions should have consequences. Over the past twenty-four hours he's allowed the negotiator to talk him into releasing Tony's secretary, his client, and his client's lawyer. In that order. Tony can't help but like what that says about the man, even if it does mean that there's no doubt that the consequence of Tony's father's choice will be Tony's death.

Tony isn't harboring any false hope here. The man at the window used to be a marine. He's not going to flinch from killing, if he's decided it needs to be done. Given his demands--the distribution of certain files to a variety of different locations, both real and electronic--Tony's pretty sure he's been caught up in something bigger than greed or pride. He doesn't know for sure if the man is one of the good guys or one of the bad guys, but the fact that he's on the opposite side from Tony's father makes it a safe bet that he's one of the good guys.

Is it better, Tony wonders, to be killed by the good guy or the bad guy?

It'd probably be better for his image to be killed by the bad guy, but it'd be better for his father's image, too. On the other hand, it'd be really bad for his father's image for him to be killed by the good guy. Tony decides he's glad the man is probably one of the good guys.

Of course, if he is one of the good guys, he's going to feel pretty shitty about killing Tony. Maybe not right away--if he lets Tony go he won't be taken seriously next time and Tony knows there's going to be a next time, because the man hasn't gotten everything he wants--but eventually a good man would regret the necessity.

That kind of sucks, Tony decides. A good man shouldn't have to carry that shit around. He checks the clock. Five minutes and seventeen seconds. Maybe that'll be enough time. Tony can be pretty convincing when he's trying.

He clears his throat. "Hey."

"What?" The man asks, letting the blinds fall back into position and turning away from the window.

"So I figure you're going to kill me in about five minutes," Tony begins.

"I think we can take the fact that you want to live as a given," the man says, snorting, and turns away again.

Tony frowns and then realizes that the man thinks he was about to beg for his life. Christ, after twenty-four hours locked into Tony's office together, you'd think the man would have realized Tony has a little more dignity than that. "No shit, sherlock," Tony snaps. The man's head whips around at his tone. "I wasn't about to state the obvious."

"Then what were you about to do?" the man demands.

"Believe it or not, I was going to see if I could make this a little easier on you," Tony says. "But you know, if I haven't earned a shred of respect in the last twenty-four hours, I don't think I'm going to bother."

"Why would you want to make this any easier on me?" the man asks, waggling the gun he's holding.

"You think I don't know what kind of man my father is?" Tony asks. "I've known him longer than you have. I may not know exactly what kind of shit he's eyeball deep in this time, but I know enough to bet that you're the good guy here."

"And me being the good guy is enough for you to be okay with the idea of dying in four minutes?" the man asks skeptically.

"Not wanting you to wake up nights later thinking about it and being okay with it aren't the same thing," Tony shoots back. "I just figure there's no point in generating more than one casualty here."

The man turns to face Tony more completely and leans back against the wall. "That's a pragmatic point of view."

Tony chuckles a little. "First time I've ever been called pragmatic," he explains in response to the man's inquiring eyebrow. "I think I like it." The man smiles a little and they're quiet for a beat. "That would have been a good time, you know," Tony comments. He cocks his fingers like a gun in elaboration. "Let me go on a good note, you know?"

The man glances at the clock. "You've still got three and a half minutes."

"Not really," Tony replies. "If he didn't call at ten to, he's not going to call at all. My father is always ten minutes early for the important things."

The man frowns. "I should have researched him more thoroughly," he comments.

"What do you mean?" Tony asks curiously.

"Everything I learned about Mr. DiNozzo led me to believe he was the type of man to place an enormous amount of value on his son and heir," the man explains. "I believed he'd cough up the information in exchange for your life."

"Ah," Tony says. "Don't fault your research. My father is exactly that type...if I weren't the son and heir. I've always been a bit of a disappointment."

The man glances around the opulent office and raises his eyebrows.

Tony shrugs. "My attitude is the problem, not my accomplishments," he says.

"You're pretty calm for a man who expects to die in less than three minutes," the man comments.

Tony's mouth twists into a smile. "I'm kind of tired," he says quietly, as much to himself as to the man. "I could use a rest."

"Maybe you just need a change of pace."

"Too late for that," Tony murmurs. He relaxes back against the side of his desk and closes his eyes. "I'll settle for a rest."

The quiet ticking of the clock is louder with his eyes closed. Tony doesn't bother to count the seconds. He really is tired. Maybe he actually would end up going in his sleep.

The ringing of the phone startles Tony so badly he actually thumps his head on the solid wood of the desk and curses, reaching back to rub at the sore spot. The man steps up to the desk and lifts the receiver with the hand not holding the gun.

"Yes?" he answers the phone crisply. Tony glances at the clock. Time's up. It had to be the hostage negotiator on the phone, probably playing for more time. "No, he won't," the man says. He looks at Tony. "Because he's ten minutes early for everything important." There was a long pause during which Tony could just make out the tinny voice of the negotiator, if not the actual words. "Save your breath," the man interrupts. "You're not getting him back." He hangs up.

Thirty seconds ago Tony was hoping to go with his eyes closed, but he finds now that he can't take his eyes off of the man. Their gazes meet for a long time.

The man puts the safety on the gun and sticks it into the back of his waist band. "Come on," he says briskly, holding out a hand to Tony.

Tony takes it automatically and finds himself hauled up to his feet. "Excuse me?"

"Time to go," the man says. He turns his back on Tony, exposing the gun, and peers through the blinds on Tony's office door.

"I think someone changed the script when I wasn't looking," Tony mutters.

The man chuckles and glances back at Tony. "I've never been that good at playing by the rules," he says. "Besides, we could use someone else in the field."

"We?" Tony asks, head spinning.

"You didn't think I pulled all this off by myself, did you?"

Tony thinks of the many different locations to which the man had directed the series of files he'd demanded. "No, not really."

"There you go then," the man says. He moves as if to open the office door.

"Hey," Tony interrupts before the man can spill them into whatever the hell comes next. "You got a name?" He never gave it to the negotiator, undoubtedly fully aware of how much could be learned about him--and thus used against him--if they knew who he was.

The man turns and grins at him for a brief moment. "Jethro Gibbs."