- Work in Progress
- Character Bashing
- Explicit Sex
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Alternate Universe
Chapter Seven: Pulling the rug out
Tony’s stuff was in a box. “Okay, so you’re back, boss?”
Gibbs nodded. “Yeah, now where’s Todd?”
Tony frowned. “You mean Ziva right, boss?”
“Yes, I mean David. I am not stupid, DiNozzo.” Gibbs growled at him and Tony wanted to hit a wall with frustration. This wasn’t Gibbs, not really, there were still massive gaps in his memory. He was treating Tony like an inept coworker and that was killing him more than any of the shit the trio had pulled. The worst part was that Gibbs’ attitude was all the green light needed for McGee and Ziva to be even worse, and they were coming perilously close to ignoring his orders.
He kept telling himself that it was day six for Mark’s mission, and Mark was safe on Mars and that when he got home he would be able to see his husband’s face.
“So who has got you so excited?” Ziva sneered. There was something different about Tony today. He seemed happier which meant he was keeping secrets. Secrets were bad news for her as that meant she had incomplete information and that would make it harder to manipulate him if necessary.
Tony normally would engage Ziva to annoy her as it amused him greatly. Not today though, his mind was currently focussing on the more pleasant things in life – like his husband. “I was doing my paperwork to get it done on time. You should try it sometime.” He finished with a sweet smile that did not reach his eyes.
McGee looked up in shock. Tony very rarely bit back in that way and even less since Gibbs’ return. It was noticeable that Ziva had no retort. Tim felt like he should try to defend Ziva. “There is no need to be like that, Tony.”
Tony wondered how someone who had gone through FLETC and been on the MCRT for so long could still be so alive with his trusting nature. Tony wasn’t willing to let this go, not anymore. “Oh, there is. You need to know that as SFA, I have every right to remind you when you are not doing your damn job. And I am still the SFA, McGee.”
Any other comments stopped when Tony saw Annie Montrose entering the bullpen. He paled on sight because she was too busy as a front-woman for NASA, to be here for just any old reason. Tony stood and excused himself from any further conversations with McGee or Ziva. “I need to take this conversation.”
McGee had a retort on his lips about how Tony should stop flirting with all the hot women. It died on his tongue when he saw Tony’s reaction to the woman – he looked shaken. He couldn’t think of many things that scared Tony, he’d survived the plague for christ’s sake. Where was Gibbs?
Tony could handle this, at least that was what he kept trying to convince himself. He wasn’t going to let anyone see him react to whatever news she had. As far as Tony was concerned, it was private, personal business so he took Annie into the meeting room.
Tony didn’t bother to make this difficult, “Don’t say it.” Once she said the words, his world would implode. You would think with the amount of times he’d delivered the news to others it would be easier but that was a big fat lie that Hollywood told.
Annie looked compassionate as she relayed events, “They had to scrub, a solar storm hit faster and nastier than anyone could predict. As they aborted, Mark was hit with debris. His monitor flatlined. For what it’s worth, it was quick.”
Tony missed the chair as he collapsed onto the floor. This was all his worst fears at once come to life. Mark died alone on that godforsaken rock. His chest felt tight and he couldn’t breathe. “When?” He wheezed out because this changed everything.
“We found out an hour ago.” She confirmed.
Tony sighed because he was well aware of how NASA worked. It was a public domain company and if they wanted to have Congress keep funding them then they had to be transparent. “How long until it is announced and my name is dragged into the press?”
“What do you mean?” Annie asked him in confusion. She hadn’t expected that question especially with the weight of his grief still settling on his shoulders.
Tony chuckled but it was hollow and devoid of any humour. “You will feed me to the press with the story of our secret romance. You will have to in order to deflect from the failure of the mission and play up the heartache angle.”
Annie sighed because this sucked and he was right. It wasn’t personal but this failure could see the end of the Mars missions. DiNozzo was right, the initial spin cycles would all focus on the tragedy of the moment but once the dust settled it would be a thousand times worse. There would be those crunching numbers and be looking at cost-benefit.
“I have twenty hours before I have to give a press release.” Was his answer, and confirmed what he’d expected anyway.
Tony still was on the floor with his arms hugging his legs. He didn’t feel much like moving right now – there was a small silver lining. “I see, well, small tiny bright side – my bitch of a director can’t force me to go undercover now. Christ, I will never be able to go undercover again.”
Annie was not the total bitch she portrayed, she also had a rule about not wasting talent. “What are your degrees in?”
Tony looked startled and the odd question, considering all of his feelings, threw him and he answered with honesty. “Phys Ed from Ohio State, a Masters in psychology from George Mason and I am working on my Ph.D. in communication from Georgetown.”
Annie saw potential there that he had probably never considered. He had the looks, the brains and more importantly, the charm to be successful as a media relation expert. “You ever think about Media Relations?”
Tony had experienced job offers before but never under such trying circumstances. Grief was all he could feel and he was numb to anything else but even so, he wasn’t naive. “I’ll let you know. When will you want me at NASA?”
She said simply, “And it is that insight that makes me want to hire you.”
Tony sighed, he still hadn’t got off the floor. “You will want to control the media and them having access to me stops that.”
He figured his husband was dead so it was allowed. He was going to count to five and let himself wallow before he was ready to face his day again.
Annie knew this might be the last thing Tony wanted or needed to hear but she said it anyway. “NASA may not be your favourite place right now but the centre is secure and no press are allowed in living quarters.”
Of course, the downside of being at NASA would be the constant reminders of the fact his husband was now dead.
Tony nodded and said nothing else. It would do no good. “I will settle my affairs and phone you.”
She handed her card over, making sure she had eye contact so he could see how serious she was. “I am on the line whenever you need me. It’s not the best circumstances but we look after our own, Tony.”
He nodded to say he understood but he wasn’t ready to speak too much yet. It was all he could do to stop from screaming. She wished she could say something more to soothe Tony as she liked the guy, truly, but anything she could have said would sound hollow.
She left having said her piece and she hoped there was someone here who knew about Mark. His boss was standing outside the door, took one look at Tony and started glaring at her.
“What did you do to him?” He demanded to know.
Annie didn’t hold back on what she had to say. Tony needed someone in his corner. “I just delivered the worst possible news I could. Look after him.”
“Don’t tell me how to watch a man’s six,” was the gruff reply. He knew that look all too well, someone Tony loved was dead – but who?
Annie chose not to say anything to anyone else and left the building as quickly as she arrived. She had a press conference to organise after all. When she reached her car, which she knew was bug-free, she phoned Teddy Sanders, the Director of the Agency. “It’s done.”
“What did you do?” The man asked knowing that her tone was a little too pleased considering the shitstorm she was about to help him weather.
Annie rolled her eyes at his tone. She replied with a simple. “I offered him a job as my Deputy.”
“Why?” Teddy asked as that was definitely not the response he’d been expecting. It was rare for her to take to anyone that quickly. If she had found a deputy, he couldn’t deny that he would be relieved.
Annie snorted, “The guy is gorgeous, great to put in front of the cameras. He hides his intelligence and is, according to Mark, the best undercover operative ever. Oh, and his education isn’t lacking either. Teddy, he’d have Congress eating out of the palm of his hands.”
“His husband is dead because of the agency and you think he will accept a job?” Teddy didn’t bother to hide his incredulity.
Annie snorted. “Well, that will depend on how well the agency he works for handles the news he is the widower of an astronaut.”
She was banking on the fact that the agency worked so closely with the military that the answer would be – not very. Plus, when you factor in that with the decidedly cool relationships she’d noticed between Tony and the others – well, it wasn’t going to take that much of a push.
Back inside NCIS, Tony had no idea about people’s plans for him. He was a man adrift and for once, all his masks were down. This was him and he hurt, badly. He didn’t know what to say, or how to act. This was all too much. It was scary in a way Tony hadn’t felt since his Dad had left him alone in a hotel room as a kid. The difference being his Dad had come back – Mark, however, wouldn’t be coming back.
Tony heard Gibbs storm into the room and he saw the man freeze for a second. It must be the sight of Tony crumpled on the floor. He could hear the Musketeers outside, trying to get in, no doubt seeing if they could use this against him. Idiots. Gibbs had locked the door so they should have caught a clue.
Tony didn’t need the hyenas, he needed a friend. Gibbs spoke as softly as he could manage. “Let it hurt, grieve and I will be here for you.”
Tony chuckled weakly because damn, it must be bad. Gibbs was being nice to him and it was the first time since he’d come back from his siesta in Mexico. “Mark’s dead.”
Gibbs had to think, long and hard, because the name meant something. His memories were not as they should be but then there was an onslaught of memories that hit him all at once – triggered by the one name. Christ he’d got it so wrong, why had he listened to gossip about Tony and not trusted his own instincts. He didn’t care about how it looked to anyone else, he slid down next to Tony and hugged him. Gibbs broke one of his infamous rules. “I’m so sorry Tony, I never wanted you to know how it feels.”
Tony let the tears fall but he didn’t acknowledge them. “The press is going to have my name by the end of the day as they sensationalise the story. It won’t matter that he was a human being with a family. All they will care about is the story … Gibbs, it will take away my work, not that they will think about that.” Tony finished bitterly, as right now, work was the only thing he had.
Gibbs just gave him a one-armed hug. He didn’t offer any empty words of platitude as he knew they were just that. “We will go talk to Jenny and then I am taking you home.”
Tony sighed as, right now, staying on the floor and ignoring the world sounded good. He knew he couldn’t, though a man could dream. He offered a wry look on what he didn’t think of as too great a silver lining. “On the bright side, I don’t have to seduce Benoit’s daughter anymore.”
“You what?” Gibbs nearly shouted but remembered the timing. He was a bastard but he wasn’t cruel.
Tony didn’t see the issue so he explained about what the Director had asked of him when Gibbs had been on his siesta. It didn’t sit right with Mark away on Mars. Plus, he’d been putting her off since then but with Gibbs’ return and behaviour she’d started asking him again.
Gibbs rubbed his face. “Oh, we’re all going to have a “clear the air” meeting all right.”
It was at that point that McGee and David fell through the door they’d been listening at so closely. They got up without an ounce of shame. Gibbs was the one to bark first, “What do you think you are doing?”
“We wanted to know if Tony was okay,” McGee tried. He also spoke up. “Also, there is a breaking news segment starting, from NASA. We thought you’d want to know.”
Tony didn’t care anymore, he decided venting was cathartic. He may be lost right now but he could tell his time at NCIS was at an end so there was no point in holding back. “No, you just hoped I was in trouble. Well news flash, dumbasses, I am not as stupid or as promiscuous as you were led to believe. Plus spoilers – one the of the astronauts died.”
Ziva and Tim stood there with gaping mouths, outrage clear on their faces. Gibbs found himself smiling. He was ready to have Tony’s back like he should have all along. He got it wrong but he would now make it right. He’d been ready to jump in but in this case, he didn’t need to.
“Gibbs – aren’t you going to say something to DiNozzo?” David demanded.
Gibbs smirked. “It’s about time you go and write your damn reports. Tony and I need to talk to Jenny.”
The conversation was not going the way Gibbs, nor Tony had expected. It seemed the news of Tony’s marriage was one of anger, there was not an ounce of sympathy or compassion on Shepard’s face. “You are married and you didn’t inform the agency?”
Tony shook his head, not liking her tone but managing to stay respectful. Barely. “That is incorrect, Madam Director.”
She pursed her lips, “So who knew?”
“Well, I did,” Gibbs had to say. “I did stand up for him at his wedding, after all.”
Jenny sneered, her face twisting in a way that wasn’t attractive at all. “Your name is about to be splashed all over the media and you will be expected to be the grieving spouse.”
Tony looked at her sharply, “That is exactly what I am. I don’t appreciate your tone, Madam Director. Mark is dead and I am devastated. We’re informing you as a courtesy.”
“You will be ruined for undercover work.” She said it in such a way that let Tony know that was all she valued of his skill. She ignored his investigative skills or his experience – it was just about how well he could act.
Tony snorted knowing the angle she was most pissed about, her precious unsanctioned op. “You know what? I am sorry if I cannot help you with your vendetta with Benoit but I have other priorities.”
“Like what?” She asked, uncaringly.
Tony growled, wondering how anyone could be so clueless. “My husband is dead, Madame Director.”
She rolled her eyes as that was not her concern, “You are fired, you will be no use to the agency.”
Tony snorted in disgust, “Actually, I will save you the trouble. I quit, as NASA offered me a job. I was dead set on hating their guts but they do show loyalty to their own at least.”
Gibbs had never been so proud of Tony. He wasn’t perfect but he didn’t want any part of this crazy. “You know what, Tony? I think I’m going to talk to Davenport and then retire. I am done with this crazy.”
Jenny was seeing her whole world crumble beneath her feet. She wouldn’t survive the fallout with her job. She knew that much. “Agent Gibbs, get back here!”
Jethro snorted. “Sorry, we are both off to write our resignation letters. Don’t worry, we will give them directly to Secretary Davenport.”
Jenny watched as her chance of revenge disappeared. She didn’t know what to do, how else was she going to get close enough to kill Benoit before her disease overtook her.
Gibbs put his arm around Tony. “Forget her, you need to do what is right for you.”
Tony didn’t think he’d be able to smile considering how numb he felt. He has wished so much for Gibbs to remember him and it had taken Mark dying for that to happen. It just goes to show he should be careful what he wished for.
“What are you going to do?” Tony asked Gibbs.
Gibbs smirked, “I’ll teach firearms over at the Feebs, they need all the damn help they can get. What about you? You don’t do well without work and right now, you will need the distraction.”
Tony smirked. “I think I am going to take Annie Montrose up on her offer to be her deputy.”
Chapter 8: Shock and Awe.
Tony had never sought out cameras and attention, no matter what some of his former colleagues may believe. The cameras would have been detrimental to his health considering a number of times he went undercover.
It had been a whirlwind of activity since he’d phoned the number Annie had given him. He’d gone into a meeting with Teddy Sanders about his role, and so that the boss could express his condolences over the loss of his husband.
Whilst Tony had been meeting with Sanders, Annie had dropped his name into the press pool. His name spread like wildfire, all of them scrambling to find who the husband was, how could they track him down. Annie would have laughed in their faces but it would undo her hard work as Mark’s widower was a few floors away from them.
It had given Tony a day of peace as he came to grips with everything going on his life. He’d quit his job, lost his husband, accepted a new job and was about to deliver a eulogy for his late husband in Arlington in front of the nation’s press.
Tony was about to play a role that was all too close to home. He could do it, and he had to smile when he saw Gibbs in the crowd for him, wearing his Marine uniform as a mark of respect.
He buttoned his cufflinks up and stopped dragging his feet and stepped onto the podium. “Hello. Today we honour the sacrifice of my late husband. Mark was fearless and brave and wanted Mars with all his heart. And whilst we will all feel the loss of Mark deeply, I know that the men and women will soldier on in their mission for NASA. That is what Mark would have wanted.”
Tony had stayed strong through the eulogy, the only clue to his feelings would have been visible to the people closest to him as a stray tear leaked down his face. “By doing this, the men and women of NASA will honour his legacy and ensure that his sacrifice was for a purpose. Thank you.”
His piece said he stepped away from the cameras before he lost it. There was no way he wanted that on camera for the whole world to see.
A standard funeral would have seen a wake, or a gathering of the family members to see the passing of their loved one in whichever way was appropriate for their religion. Sadly, Tony’s post funeral was a meeting with numerous heads of different NASA departments.
Teddy Sanders himself passed Tony a glass of water as he came into the room. “It was a good eulogy.”
Tony didn’t quite know what was the conventional response. He went with a simple, “Thanks.”
Tony was not unaware that by delivering the eulogy, he’d offered Sanders a layer of protection from the Press. “You know, we have a day probably before they stop selling my grief and start looking at the cost of a Mars trip.”
Teddy sighed. “I know.”
Working on problems was the best way Tony could distract himself. Ironically, it helped Tony to know he was helping Mark’s agency as it allowed him to feel closer to Mark. “Are we prepared for the Congress hearings?”
Vincent frowned. “Why would they?”
Annie rolled her eyes. “Don’t be naive, it’s a chance to cut money.”
A young blonde raced into the meeting and stood to attention. It wasn’t difficult to understand why she might feel the need to when faced with the Head of the Agency; the Head of the Mars missions, the Flight Director; the Head of Media Relations and her Deputy. She was clutching something in her hand, it was clear that she was excited by something. “You need to see this.”
She showed it to Kapoor first, as he was head of the Mars missions and most used to dealing with direct satellite imagery. “This is Sol 5 and this is Sol 18, look.”
The others, including Tony, had at that moment no clue what was happening. They just watched as the Director of the Mars missions examined the document like it was a precious metal. Vincent has a big grin on his face. “Are the images confirmed?”
She nodded, “I triple checked before coming here as I didn’t want to give false hope.”
Sanders, Tony could see was fast losing patience. “What is it?”
Vincent has let the full impact wash over him, this was both the best news and terrifying all at the same time. “Someone is living in the HAB right now.”
Teddy yanked the photos out of Vincent’s hands wanting to see the evidence with his own eyes. “Sell it to me.”
Tony was holding his breath, which was a stupid idea considering his plague scarred lungs. He sucked in large deep breaths, he wasn’t too sure if it was the onset of a panic attack. “Mark’s alive and alone on Mars.”
Teddy Sanders was brilliant, calculated and measured but even he was unable to ignore a message made from the debris next to the HAB.
Vincent confirmed. “Yes.”
It should be noted that the message was fairly specific and definitely meant for Tony. In large letters in the red dust was the message “I <3 ya T and I am comin’ home.” There was only one person who would write that message. Mark was alive and coming back to him.
Tony would do everything in his power to make that happen.
Sol 18 – Personal Diary of Mark Watney
The mission log camera sprang to life once more even if the mission was officially scrubbed. Mark was here alone, and this was the only way he could communicate and even if it was just the sound of his own voice, it filled the void of noise.
“So this is the personal log of Mark Watney on Sol 18. Yeah … that’s right … I am not dead. SURPRISE.”
Although Mark knew that he looked a little worse for the wear. The care on Mars just wasn’t what it was back home when you get sliced by a piece of antennae. He’d done a patch up job but he wasn’t Beck. Still, he was determined to stay focussed on the task at hand, stay alive and get home to Tony so Mark added jazz hands to his statement.
Still, he was serious and he wanted to record a proper entry. He wasn’t a naive man, he knew the odds of making it out of this situation alive were small so he would leave a proper legacy of videos behind. “Okay, stupid stuff out of the way and now onto serious things.” Mark looked in the dead centre of the camera before speaking. ”First of all, I do not blame the crew at all. They had every reason to believe I was dead. The satellite dish stabbed through my biomedical monitor.”
Mark took a second to let whoever read this message to absorb what he said. “And finally, Tony, I fucking love you and I will do everything to say fuck Mars and get back to you. If the worst should happen and I don’t make it, know this … I did everything possible and I want you to live a good life.”
Tony wondered if he should get glare glasses or something from the camera’s clicking in front of his face. This was definitely not what the Press imagined he would be saying.
“So I have the greatest news possible. It turns out, thanks to some incredible satellite imagery we can now confirm that whilst Astronaut Watney was injured during the storm on Sol 6. He did, in fact, survive.”
Tony paused and let that comment sink in. Sure enough, the room paused as they considered what they’d been told – and then it exploded in noise.
“How is this confirmed?”
Tony smirked and left the last photo for effect and theatre. He wanted this to be the thought they stayed with when he walked off the podium. “You don’t get more romantic than a message left in Mars dust.”
There was the image blown up for all to see. “Thank you. Next briefing in twenty-four hours.”
And he left the podium before they could ask any further questions.
Tony had done the press briefing, buoyant on the news his husband was alive and because he and Annie knew how to play the press. It would control the story narrative, the focus would be the not-so-tragic love story rather than the fact NASA had stranded an astronaut on Mars.
In the main conference room Teddy Sanders, the Director of NASA, was waiting for them along with Vincent Kapoor, Head of Mars Missions. They needed to come up with a Plan B as the focus wouldn’t stay on the tragic romantic angle and they needed to stay ahead of the game.
“Well, that was masterful,” was Teddy’s judgement. He was pretty sure this situation with the press would be tenser without DiNozzo’s presence. He made a mental note to find something nice for Montrose.
Vincent frowned because bless him, while he was great at rocket science – it was subtle interactions he missed. “I am not following, what was masterful?.”
Tony snorted at the question. He’d found since the news of Mark’s death being greatly exaggerated – his sense of humour had returned, “Did you ever let him go in front of the camera?”
Annie rolled her eyes, as she thought the answer was obvious. “Not by fucking choice.”
Teddy didn’t get it, “You should be happy so why are you still swearing?”
Annie Montrose was the best in the business, hence the title. She had on more than one occasion orchestrated events to sweet talk Congress out of money. Her personality, to describe it politely, was fiery. Her quirks were ignored on the grounds of her skills – that and Sanders liked the fact there was at least one person who stood up to him.
Tony got it and to be honest he was of the same opinion, “Right now, they are stuck on the romanticism. He is alive and love has a chance.”
Sanders winced because he was hoping they could direct the focus away from that narrative. So he said it to the group. “And soon it will turn to why did NASA strand a scientist on Mars?”
Tony shook his head, as he would fight to keep the narrative to what he wanted. He was very persuasive. “No, I will make sure the press steers away from that story narrative but they are going to start asking how are we going to get him off, Mars. In all honesty, I would like to know what is the plan to get my husband off that rock and back home?”
It turns out silence was not a comforting answer.