- Discussion - Murder
- Discussion - Other Trigger Topics
- Violence - Canon-Level
- Canon Divergence
- Crime Drama
5 August 2009
Tony sighed with relief as he unlocked his front door and stepped inside. All the traveling was making him appreciate his apartment more and more. New York City had been fun, and he was glad he’d gone. Catching up with Jubal and Dana, making new friends with Maggie and especially OA had been fun. He really liked what they were doing there. While it wasn’t immediately clear to him how he would fit in, he trusted Jubal and Dana enough that he knew they wouldn’t offer him something if he wasn’t going to fit in. The thought of being able to work closely with Jubal in particular strongly appealed to him.
Dropping his keys in the bowl by the front door, Tony headed into the bedroom as he mentally contemplated his upcoming conversation. One thing that New York City had given him was time to work through his thoughts on McGee. In the end, he’d decided to take Morrow’s suggestion. So, that morning while he was at the airport, he’d contacted the younger man and proposed that they have lunch that day. He maybe should have put it off till the next day, but Tony didn’t want to give himself time to obsess about it too much, which would happen if he delayed the meeting.
Busying himself with unpacking and starting some laundry before leaving, Tony forced himself to consider the newest job offers and not think about whether he thought his Probie was worth saving or not. In the end, he left his apartment earlier than he needed to because he decided that he’d rather sit in the restaurant than pretend that he wasn’t worried about the upcoming discussion.
Thanks to the unpredictability of DC traffic, Tony ended up not being as early as he thought he would be. However, he still had enough time to beat the normal lunch crowd so that he could request a more secluded seat. He was just putting in his drink order with the waiter when McGee arrived.
If there was a little extra something in the smile while he was ordering it was mostly because he enjoyed flirting. He also worked as a waiter previously and knew that some people were just assholes for no reason. So, he tried his best to be as easy going and as friendly as he could be with his servers. Of course, all Tim saw was him flirting, and greeted them both with an eye roll as he threw out his drink order before sitting.
As the waiter headed off glaring at McGee, Tony turned his attention to his Probie and gifted the younger man with a glare of his own. “There was no reason to be rude, McStuckUp,” Tony threw at him as he studied his former teammate. Tim looked somewhat worse for wear since the last time Tony had seen him, and he could only hope that it meant the younger man was taking this whole thing seriously.
“Not… not all of us like to flirt with everyone they meet, Tony,” McGee stammered as he sat down, and Tony didn’t answer right away as he silently dissected the stammer and the defensive tone.
“So, we’re going to start this off with you being a defensive asshole, huh?” Tony asked frankly and watched McGee wince at the question. “As for the flirting, I’ve been a waiter before. I did it in college to make money when I was waiting on the lawyers to make Senior give me my money or Clive’s loan to come through.
“It’s not as easy as it seems, and there’s a lot of rude people who treat you like some kind of servant. You’re on your feet all day long, and you don’t make nearly enough money for what you’re putting up with. So, yeah. I flirt, I’m nice, and I overtip because I figure some days, I might be the only decent person they serve. It also ensures that I get excellent service. You’d be surprised the kinds of things you can get with just being a little extra nice to a waiter or secretary or scared witness. It was something I tried to teach you, but you refused to learn.”
When McGee blushed and hung his head, Tony held in his sigh of frustration. “I… I’m sorry,” McGee offered, “you… you’re right.”
“Take a deep breath, McNervous,” Tony interrupted quietly as he tried to calm his irritation. This meeting would get nowhere positive if he didn’t have the right headspace. As much as he wanted to unleash on McGee, there was another part of him that still wanted to see the man succeed. Tim was his first Probie, and Tony felt more than a little bit of regret that things hadn’t gone better. He couldn’t help but wonder if he had been a better mentor somewhere along the way then maybe Tim wouldn’t have slipped.
Tim nodded and Tony watched him trying to calm himself down. Deciding to give him some time, Tony picked up his menu to decide on his meal choices. The restaurant was a steak house, chosen because Tony had been craving red meat. By the time he had decided on his meal and put the menu down, Tim was studying him again.
“Are you ok?” McGee asked and Tony couldn’t help but quirk his eyebrow at the question. “Should you be out of your sling? They said that you’d hurt your arm pretty bad.”
“I’m fine, Tim,” Tony assured and paused his answer to give the waiter his order when the young man showed up at the table. He was relieved to hear Tim apologize for being an asshole before giving his own order. Maybe McGee was still redeemable after all. Being nice to a waiter was a small thing in the big picture, but sometimes it was those little things that said the most. When the waiter went to put in their orders, Tony picked up his thought from where he’d stopped.
“It may not feel like it, but it’s already been two and a half months. Plenty of time to heal from that break. Besides, I’ve always been a quick healer. Even when I was playing ball. Being an athlete teaches you the importance of taking care of your body. One thing I am hoping for wherever I end up is to work under someone who doesn’t think I should live at my desk. I miss having enough time to work out, eat right at least sometimes, and get enough sleep to at least function on.”
“Yeah, Gibbs didn’t really believe in having a life outside of work,” Tim conceded, and Tony noted that he’d begun playing with his napkin, rolling it up and then smoothing it back out before repeating the process. “I’m sorry, Tony, I fucked up. Everything is ruined now, and I don’t know where to start to try and make things right.”
“Some of it you can’t make right,” Tony conceded honestly, “some of it just is what it is. It’s the things that you can make right that you need to worry about.”
“That’s what Penny said,” Tim admitted, “that’s why I wanted to meet with you. I was worried. You got hurt, and then they tried to take you to Israel, and I was really worried about what would happen. When you didn’t go, everyone freaked out, but I couldn’t help but wonder why. I mean at first, I couldn’t figure out why you wouldn’t just do what Vance wanted, but then my lawyer pointed out what they were truly asking you to do. I mean, if I get legal representation, why shouldn’t you? And to ask you to do it on foreign soil, where who knows what Mossad would pull? You coulda been killed!”
Tim shifted uneasily in his seat as Tony watched quietly. There was something about this version of Tim sitting in front of him that felt so much like the stammering young man that came to them from Norfolk that it made Tony’s heart ache over how badly things had gone wrong.
“Then I started thinking about everything that happened with that whole mess with Rivkin,” Tim announced drawing Tony back out of his head. “I made myself think of the whole thing as if I was in your shoes and how I would have reacted, and I just kept going backward to when Kate died and I… Ziva never should have been on our team, should she?”
“No, she shouldn’t have,” Tony agreed a little too sharply, and forced himself to calm down before he continued. Kate was still, and maybe always would be, a sore spot for him. “It feels like everything went wrong when Ziva joined the team. We were all vulnerable, and she not just saw it, but used it against all of us.”
“I don’t know who to blame for that,” Tim confessed, and Tony just shrugged.
“A lot of the blame goes to Sheppard for allowing it to begin with,” Tony started as he played with the condensation forming on his glass. “A little bit of it goes to Gibbs for not thinking about the team first and fighting it harder. I don’t really wanna talk about Gibbs though. Anyone else is fine. At some point, Fornell is going to hunt me down and give his pitch. I’m sure that I’ll have to have an emotional bloodletting over Gibbs when that happens. So, I don’t wanna do it twice.”
“How’s the job hunt going?” McGee asked earnestly leaning forward slightly to rest his elbows on the table. “They aren’t holding any of this against you, are they? I know what happened with Abby and me, and she told me what is going on with Gibbs. I know from Abby that Ducky retired, too. She’s… I don’t wanna talk about Abby. I had to tell her not to call me for a while. I don’t think she’s good for me.”
“Good job, McGee,” Tony praised honestly and gave the younger man a half-smile. “You have to think about yourself right now. Just because you can’t work for a Federal Agency again doesn’t mean that you can’t help people and do good things. Just keep your ego in check this time and you’ll be fine.
“As for my job hunt, it’s crazy! I guess it’s good to be wanted, but some of these offers are nuts. I have no clue how I’ll decide which one to pick. How did things go down with your family when they found out?”
“It’s good to be wanted?” Tim half stated and half asked then drained half of his tea before continuing. “As for my family, Jesus. The Admiral won’t speak to me. He said that I was a disgrace. It’s not the first time that he’s said that to me, but it is the first time I kinda felt like he was right. Penny is especially disappointed in me, and I think that hurts worse than the Admiral’s anger. Sarah is mad at me too, and I don’t even know what to do there. It feels like everything is wrong, and I don’t know how it will get better.
“I have a couple of job offers, though, that I’m gonna consider,” Tim shared almost shyly. “One of them is to create new software, and that appeals to me.”
“I’ve started a new book, too. This one is fantasy, though. I honestly feel like shit about Deep Six. I sent Jimmy a letter through my lawyer and apologized for how the book portrayed him. Between how I treated you and how I treated him, I feel like an ass.”
“Well, just hold onto that,” Tony suggested as their waiter showed up with their food. “Don’t beat yourself up forever but remember that. Use it to keep your ego in check when you recover from this, and McGee, I do think that if you put effort into it you can get beyond this. Now, tell me about Penny’s latest adventure.”
The conversation turned to Tim sharing stories of his grandmother’s travels, and Tony sharing a few funny notes from his vacations and travels around the world, while they ate. It was nice to sit and just talk to Tim again, and Tony couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if they’d done more of this before everything crumbled. Once they were done eating, they stood outside the restaurant on the sidewalk saying their goodbyes as their cars were in separate directions.
“Are we,” Tim started but stopped and Tony forced himself to be patient in waiting for the full question. “Are we ok?”
“It’s not magic, McGee,” Tony offered frankly as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Lunch was nice, but it doesn’t just poof and everything is all better.
“You were kind of a dickhead, and I’m not fully convinced that you’ll stick to your new path when things get rough or when someone starts stroking your ego again. I’m willing to take a wait and see approach. One thing that keeps sticking with me is that you were my first Probie, and that means something to me. There’s that old saying about throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and I think it applies here.”
Tony sighed and lifted a hand to run it through his hair before shoving it back into his pocket again. “I don’t want to just throw you to the wolves, but I’m not willing to forgive and forget just yet. That being said, I am willing to give you a chance to prove that you mean the things you say. You said that you were sorry and that you regret the things you did, and I believe you.
“What I don’t know is if you’ll forget your good intentions the next time someone tells you how great you are. But you know where I am, and you have my number. I don’t know where I will end up, but I’m willing to give you a chance. Just don’t fuck it up this time. I may give second chances, but you won’t get a third.”
When Tim held out his hand, Tony took it and shook it. “Do better, Probie.”
“You have my word,” Tim promised earnestly, and as Tony headed to his car, he could only hope that it was a declaration that he could trust.
Three days later, Tony was out running his Saturday errands and walking through the farmer’s market picking out some fresh fruit and vegetables. The days off to just do normal things were nice, and he hadn’t realized how badly he needed it until he had to break. As interesting as the process had been thus far, it was nice to regroup and have some time to himself.
Flashing the nice woman selling him the berries and peppers a smile, Tony looked back and almost rolled his eyes when he saw he still had his tail. It wasn’t even really that good of a tail. He had no idea what the older man was doing, but he certainly wasn’t doing his best not to be seen. Last he heard, there were no more threats against him. So, Tony had no idea why Fornell was following him as he ran his Saturday errands.
Once he was done, and deciding that it was time to get answers, Tony dropped his produce off and then headed to a small nearby café that had a huge patio out behind their restaurant that was popular in the spring and summer. It was a gorgeous day outside, and if he was going to be forced to talk about Gibbs, then Tony at least wanted to catch some sun and a nice breeze while he was doing it.
When Tobias slipped into the seat across from him, flashing the waitress a smile and ordering a raspberry lemonade, Tony just gave an amused snort and settled more comfortably in his chair. “You kinda suck at that trailing people thing, Toby,” he pointed out and gave a genuine smile when the older man flashed him an aggravated glare.
“If I hadn’t wanted you to know I was there, you wouldn’t have,” Tobias threw back quickly and with a smirk of his own. “I didn’t want you to freak out though, because I knew eventually that you’d see someone following you. I’ve been trying to be patient and wait for my turn, but something pressing has come up that I need your help with. So, I can’t wait anymore. If you can help Jubal and JOC, you can help me.”
Tony wanted to give the older man shit for assuming and making demands, but he recognized the look of desperation in the older man’s eyes. He’d seen it enough times in his own in the mirror when a life was on the line and his internal clock was screaming at him that he was running out of time.
“What do you have?” Tony asked and quietly thanked the server for the drinks, saying they wouldn’t be ordering a meal after all as Tobias pulled a folder seemingly from nowhere and shoved it across the table.
“Murdered Senator’s Aide and a missing kid,” Tobias shared, and Tony couldn’t help but wince. Missing kids were a hot button for almost anyone in law enforcement but he knew it would be even more so for a man who was as good of a father as Fornell was. “There’s something hinky about this. I just can’t figure out what it is. I don’t have proof, but my gut says that the kid is alive but she’s running out of time. I need an outside the box mind, DiNozzo, and that’s you.”
“I’m not working with Slacks,” Tony warned, and Tobias just waved a hand in the air.
“He’s working with White Collar now. I got tired of his messes. You aren’t the only person he seemed to have focused on, and I can’t work with that shit. I need your help, Tony, if I’m gonna bring this little girl home alive. When we’re done, we can go to my house, and I’ll cook you dinner while we talk about Gibbs. Just help me save this kid.”
As Tony sipped at his peach juice and flipped through the information Tobias had given him, he started seeing a couple of points that he wanted some clarification on. By the time he got to the bottom of his glass, he was ready to go. Throwing some money on the table, making sure it more than covered the bill and along with a very generous tip, Tony stood with Fornell following his actions. “Lead the way, Fornell. I’m in.”
Two days later, Tony was standing watching the sun go down as Genevieve Wu was reunited with her 5-year-old daughter Melanie, a bright, brown-haired little girl with the cutest dimples he’d ever seen, and only regretted that the kidnappers wouldn’t go to prison for what they’d done. Both were lying dead in the abandoned house where they’d been holding little Mellie, as her mother called her. The little girl was already asking about daddy, and Tony’s heart broke knowing that her life was already forever changed.
When Fornell appeared at his side, Tony forced himself to turn away from the pair, leaving them in the hands of the LEOs and the rest of Tobias’ team. “We couldn’t have done this without you, DiNozzo,” the older Italian admitted, and Tony immediately shook his head at the statement.
“You guys would have eventually figured it out,” Tony argued, and Tobias immediately shook his head.
“Not in time,” he disputed and placed a hand on Tony’s arm to stop them just shy of the car they’d arrived at the scene in. “I know that between that shitty father of yours and the way Gibbs has treated you that you genuinely don’t see how exceptional of an agent you are. The fact is we wouldn’t have saved that little girl in time if it wasn’t for you. If I didn’t have you on the case, then that mother would be burying not just her husband, but also her little girl because someone didn’t like the man her husband worked for.
“You are the only one I have ever known who can make connections the way that you can, and we sure as shit would never have broken that witness without you,” Tobias pointed out fiercely, and Tony couldn’t help but shuffle uncomfortably. Eventually, Fornell let go of his arm, and Tony darted around to the other side of the car hoping to make the conversation more private. He knew there was no way Tobias was done.
Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t until they were inside the man’s home that the conversation resumed. “How did you like the team?” Tobias asked handing him a bottle of beer as Tony settled into an armchair.
“I really like them a lot,” Tony admitted ruefully and gave Tobias a small shrug when the SAC grinned at him.
“You have a couple of really green rookies. Rodriguez, though, is going to be a killer agent if she has the right person to guide her. Nguyen seems like he could run rings around McGee tech-wise and has much better instincts as an agent on top of it. He’ll need a good mentor of his own to make sure he doesn’t get lost in the land of computers though and lose track of developing his field skills. I’ll be honest though; I wasn’t all that impressed with your SIC. What is it with you and agents who think too much of themselves?”
“We all have our flaws, DiNozzo,” Tobias admitted as he settled into his own chair. A pan of homemade lasagna was already in the oven. They just had to wait for it to bake. “Gibbs’ is thinking every woman he meets is either a replacement for his daughter or his wife and mine is trying to find a SIC that can match up to you.”
“Jesus, I have to choose between talking about myself or Gibbs, Toby?” Tony complained and the FBI agent just grinned back at him. “Not fair. I hate talking about myself. Let’s just get the Gibbs crap out of the way, although I don’t know what there is to say.”
“Really?” Tobias asked looking at him with disbelief. “That’s the door you’re gonna try? Look, if you absolutely don’t want to talk about him. I won’t make you, but I’m worried. I think I know better than anyone the mess of confusion Gibbs can create in your head. Unlike those morons under you in seniority, I also know how much you looked up to Gibbs, and just how badly he treated you for it after Kate died.”
“I think it was more Ziva than it was Kate’s death,” Tony disagreed staring at the bottle in his hand so he wouldn’t have to see whatever expression was on Tobias’ face. “I think that we would have eventually gotten over Kate’s death if they hadn’t put that bitch on our team. From day one she tried to break up the team, and I’d say she did a pretty damned good job of it, all things considered. I don’t want to talk about her though.”
“So, tell me where your head is at with Gibbs,” Fornell insisted and Tony looked up to see the man had leaned forward resting his elbows on the front of the arms of his chair.
“I don’t know what to think about Gibbs,” Tony relented, and this time forced himself to keep his gaze on Tobias. “I mean, there’s a part of me that will never forget what it was like in the beginning when it was just the two of us. The thing is though that he’s completely destroyed that relationship. There’s no way to look at this current mess and not heap a shitload of the blame on him.
“I had lunch with McGee the other day and downplayed Gibbs part in all this because I don’t trust him with my true feelings. The honest to God truth, though, is I am really fucking pissed off at him right now, and I could care less if I ever see him again. Maybe that will change in the future, and maybe it won’t. I just… it’s his fault this is all fucked up. He wasn’t always a total cowboy, or I never would have stayed with him. When we started, he believed in the law and didn’t break the rules for every criminal he sympathized with.
“Then Ari happened, and he’s never been the same since. It seems like it just got easier and easier for him to let things slide, and no matter how much I kept hoping for it, he never really supported my position on the team. He constantly set me up for failure, and looking back… Well, let’s just say it’s an unforgivable sin in my current state of mind. There’s a lot of unforgivable sins that seem to keep stacking up against Gibbs the further I get away from this whole fiasco, though. Have you seen him?”
“I tried a couple of times in the beginning,” Tobias admitted almost hesitantly. Whether it was because he didn’t want to speak the truth for his sanity or Tony’s the younger man wasn’t sure. “It got to be too much bullshit, and I wasn’t willing to kiss his ass enough for his liking. So, I haven’t been back since he threw me out of the house. My guess is he’s just waiting for the ok to bug out to Mexico before he leaves. Part of me hopes he just stays there this time. I think we’d all be better off. The only thing I don’t like about that is if that happens, he’ll never be forced to try and make things right with you. It doesn’t seem fair to me that he gets to just escape without making things right.”
“Do you think that’s even possible, Toby?” Tony asked quietly and carefully set his half-full beer on the side table coaster. He suddenly wasn’t in the mood to drink. He had no interest in following his father’s lead, and his recent conversation with Jubal had reminded him how easy it was to get lost on that path.
“I’m so bitter and angry at the moment that I don’t know if it’s even possible for him to fix what he’s broken. Then I think I’m maybe being too much of an asshole for thinking that. So, I try and imagine talking to him to settle things between us, but it doesn’t take long before I am bitter and angry again and it all starts over, again. I keep thinking about one of those inspirational poster type quotes. ‘Not everyone is meant to stay in your life forever. Sometimes they are only there long enough to teach you the lesson that you needed to learn.’
“It feels like that applies here. Like, there were things I needed to learn from Gibbs, but that time has passed, and now I just need to move onto whatever those Gibbs lessons were leading me to. I just wish I knew what that it was.”
“Fair enough,” Tobias conceded, and Tony was glad when his host and friend shifted the conversation. “Tell me the truth, do I have a chance? I would genuinely like to have you on my team. This last case proves to me what you can accomplish with the FBI.”
Tony sincerely thought about Tobias’ question before answering. He wanted to give him something more than he’d given the others just because of the history between them. So, after contemplating the pros and cons he settled on something as close to the truth as he had at the moment.
“The honest truth is I don’t know, Tobs. I think being on your team would be both the best thing I could do and the worst. Joining your team would be the closest thing I could get to the familiarity of what I thought I had at NCIS. I’d have the connection and history with you along with some other friends I have at the FBI to fall back on. The downside, though, is that it’s so familiar and that history. I have to think about what people would say about working with the man who tried to arrest me for murder twice.
“Then there’s the Gibbs angle. At some point, he will show up at your doorstep or you’ll go back to his, and I don’t know as I want to deal with him on someone else’s timetable.
“Lastly, there’s the part of me that surprisingly does want to spread my wings and try something new, learn new lessons, meet new people. I feel like I’ve been stagnant, and this is my chance to start over exactly where I want to be. Some of the offers I’ve received are crazy, but there’s something about all of them that has drawn my attention. At least of the ones that I feel qualified for. I just, I don’t know if I want to settle for familiar, but I also don’t know if I want to lose it either.”
“Well, let me assure you that no matter where you go, I will always be on your side,” Tobias professed, and Tony felt himself relax a little at the words.
“This isn’t me blowing smoke up your ass, DiNozzo. I think you’re one hell of an agent, and I feel honor-bound to try and pick up that mantle that Gibbs dropped. I’ll always be here to give you advice when you need it. Your final destination won’t change that.”
Taking a deep breath, Tony nodded to signal his understanding and was saved from responding when the timer for the lasagna went off. Moving to the kitchen table, he was glad when Tobias shifted the conversation, and by the time he got back to his apartment, Tony felt a lot better about both his past and his future. NCIS felt less like a complete failure and choosing something unfamiliar felt less like a risk knowing he wasn’t leaving absolutely everyone behind him from his NCIS days.
He had Tobias, and maybe he even had Tim. He’d talked to Palmer enough to know Jimmy was on his side, and he was pretty sure that even if he didn’t take Ducky’s offer, he still would have him on his side. Even if he knew his true identity was Ilya Kuryakin, there would always be a part of Tony that though of the former ME as Ducky. So that was three, and maybe four people that Tony would always have in his life. As someone who’d had a pretty solitary childhood, that fact alone made his time at NCIS a success.