- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Canon Divergence
11 August 2009
It wasn’t a restaurant where you’d expect to see the movers or shakers of Washington. The press didn’t linger outside of an evening, hoping for a photo of a straight-laced politician staggeringly drunk or with someone not their spouse on their arm. It was just a neighbourhood restaurant that served breakfast until noon and kept pots of coffee and decaf running behind the counter all day.
One uninterested in selling out a semi-famous political appointee who occasionally occupied a booth for lunch, or had a weekend breakfast with her husband or children.
Across the table, Tom Morrow stirred cream into his coffee and took a sip. He hummed. “Not bad.”
“Try the club sandwich. Or the omelet,” Elizabeth advised.
“Both are good,” the waitress, with Jodi scrawled across her breast, said. “Mushroom and cheese omelets are on special.”
“That’s perfect, thank you,” Morrow said. “Ma’am?”
Elizabeth made a face at him. “The same, thanks.”
Jodi flipped her notepad closed. “Be back with that in a few. I like the new hairstyle, ma’am,” she added cheerfully before she walked off.
Elizabeth huffed. “Don’t you know better than to break someone’s cover, Director Morrow?”
The Deputy Director of Homeland Security rolled his eyes. “Somehow, I doubt your identity was much of a secret, Secretary McCord.”
“Leave me my last illusion, would you? And let’s drop the titles. This isn’t one of the hallowed halls of government, thank goodness. Call me Bess.”
“Yes, ma’am. Bess.” He took a sip of coffee and set the mug down with a click. “Then it’s just Tom. How was Israel?”
She blew out a breath and snatched up her own mug. “A mess,” she said after taking a gulp of coffee. “David did damage that will be years in the fixing, and not just diplomatically.”
“The man was certainly an overachiever. He and Leon Vance had that in common, I think. No wonder they made such eager bedfellows.” Morrow twisted his cup absently. “Director Wright filled you in on that, I understand.”
“I got the jist of it, in between all the creative curses and vitriol.” Elizabeth shook her head, unable to fathom the greed and cruelty it took to lie to your own family about your name, to pin your entire life on a lie for no purpose but selfishness. The complexity of living under a false identity was so great it took entire divisions of agencies to manage their undercover operatives or whole organizations like the US Marshals to run WitSec. And that was to protect people and nations, rather than risk every operation you touched in a thirty-year career.
It was hard to swallow that Vance — or the man pretending to be Leon Vance — would never be punished for a lifetime of lies. But perhaps the knowledge that other people knew the truth would be painful enough to offer some comfort.
“I don’t believe in retribution or punitive justice, but I find myself wishing keelhauling was still a viable punishment. Especially since the only other methods of punishing Vance would cause irreparable harm to thousands of people.” Morrow clenched a fist on the table and looked out the window. “And now we’re all guilty of maintaining the fiction that protects the guilty in order to protect the innocent.”
“The first rule of compromise and diplomacy is that when no one wins, you’ve succeeded.” Elizabeth sighed. “Which sucks because I really like winning.”
“The first rule of law enforcement is to protect and defend. But it’s a hard thing when you have to protect the guilty from justice to defend the innocent.”
“Adulting sucks,” Elizabeth said.
Morrow laughed. “I don’t even know what that means.”
“That’s because you don’t have a 20-year-old kid. Or a Twitter account.”
“You couldn’t pay me to get one, either. I’ll leave Twitter to my grandkids.”
Jodi appeared carrying two plates piled high with omelets, mushrooms and cheese spilling out of both ends and set them down. “Anything else, folks? Refills?”
“Not right now, thank you,” Morrow said, reaching for a knife and fork. “This looks excellent.”
Jodi grinned and nodded, her teased and hair-sprayed curls not moving at all. “Tastes better. Just holler if you need something else.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. She watched Jodi walk away. “I haven’t seen hair that big since the eighties.”
Morrow laughed and they were both quiet for a few minutes while they ate. The omelet was excellent and it would be a shame to waste it by talking about things that would make them both lose their appetites.
“Vance and Gibbs will be watched the rest of their lives,” Morrow finally said, toying with the last piece of omelet on his plate. Elizabeth sat back, nursing her coffee. “Not that it’s much consolation as Eli David was supposed to be under watch when he caused another international incident.”
“That’s one way to describe getting shot by MI6 outside of The Hague while trying to kidnap an American federal agent in the company of an investigator for the International Criminal Court.” Elizabeth shook her head. “That must have been an interesting report.”
Morrow laughed, looking less worn. “Anthony DiNozzo has always excelled at meeting the most interesting people and getting into the oddest situations. Fortunately, he also has a habit of getting out of those situations. But even for him, that was a doozy.” He pushed away his plate and reclaimed his coffee. “What was the reaction in Israel like? I know the rank and file were relieved, at least according to some of my contacts.”
“Relief tempered by irritation and a dash of wishing he was alive so they could have him shot again.” She shook her head. Elizabeth had spent most of her adult life in the intelligence apparatus; no one person was supposed to gain the kind of power David had acquired. While it was true that people should not be disposable, they also couldn’t be irreplaceable. When you relied — or fostered a reliance — upon a single person to keep the apparatus running, you didn’t have an intelligence organization in service of the nation. You had a fiefdom.
“David compromised a number of people in Israel,” she said quietly. “It wasn’t said in so many words, but it was pretty clear he did the same thing to others that he did to Vance. It was how he got out of the country without being stopped, despite being under watch. There’s going to be some very discreet housecleaning going on over there. Even worse —”
“By all means, let’s make it worse.”
“— David promoted based on loyalty to him over the agency, so Mossad has problems that won’t be easy to solve quickly.” She set down her cup, unable to stomach anything. “And I got the impression blackmail wasn’t the only method at David’s disposal.”
“The man was an assassin to his bones, he wouldn’t hesitate to use the same methods as an administrator.” Morrow glowered down into his coffee. “The woman who stepped in as Mossad Director apparently survived at least one attempted assassination on David’s orders.”
“Orli Elbaz, yes. I met her. She seems uniquely motivated but I hadn’t heard anything about assassination. I did hear they had an affair once.” Elizabeth made a face. “Which makes the rest even worse, actually. And people think Washington politics is cutthroat.”
“I’d like to say Eli David gives the wrong impression of the spy world, but, to be honest, I’ve never met one who wasn’t a little off.” Morrow chuckled at her expression. “Spies, not members of intelligence. Though analysts can be very interesting to work with, they rarely aspire to the level of insanity long-term field assets manage.”
“Speaking of insanity, I understand Agent DiNozzo made friends at MI6.” Elizabeth pressed her lips together, hiding a smile. Morrow looked a little put out. “Based on his past history, I’m not sure that man should be allowed to keep company with any double-oh agent. Much less the worst of the lot.”
“Bond is unique in the world. Thank god — we couldn’t handle more than one of him.” Morrow glared at his coffee like it had offended him. “Using Q to try and recruit DiNozzo was dirty pool, and I let M know that exactly.”
She chuckled. “I’ve heard a lot about the efforts to recruit him. Some of the maneuverings behind the scenes is a little ridiculous.”
He rolled his eyes. “Give cops, feds and spies a way to one-up each other and they will. I blame the fact that the interagency baseball teams are having trouble finding space to play this year. Some of the people trying to lure him in right now are so far beneath or outside of Dinozzo’s skill set he won’t even entertain the offers anymore. Damned NYPD,” he muttered.
Elizabeth grinned as Jodi swept up, coffee pot in hand, to refill both their cups. It was true that some of the offers being made to DiNozzo had far more to do with trying to get one over other organizations. A little like a bidding war in an auction, people were throwing up their hands in a frenzy of activity without considering what the hell they were going to do with their prize if they won it. But in amongst the various PDs and private security firms trying to secure an asset they had no place for, there were plenty of legitimate offers. The kind that could make good use of an intuitive thinker, problem solver, and skilled undercover asset with strong people-managing abilities.
Some of those offers came from places she wouldn’t have known existed before she took on the job of Secretary of State. Even as a high-level analyst in the CIA, she’d had no idea the SGC existed. Now she got regular briefings on the state of trade and diplomatic agreements with off-world allies.
“It sounds like you have some real competition for recruiting DiNozzo. I understand a long-lost uncle turned up not long ago, too.”
“The mess NCIS and Mossad stirred up brought some of the old timers back out of retirement,” Morrow agreed. “I’m not sure how things will turn out — the world had changed a lot since people like Uncle Ilya retired — but it’s nice when family steps in to fill in the gaps.”
Elizabeth leaned back. “Are you worried someone as familiar as an uncle might be tempting for DiNozzo after he lost everything?”
Morrow shook his head. “Maybe, but I’m also familiar. I’m not going to flatter myself but if I wasn’t the director he remembered most fondly from NCIS, I’d be concerned. One used him in an unsanctioned op and the other sold him out to Eli David. Besides, Tony DiNozzo isn’t a spy. He has tremendous potential as an intelligence asset, but spycraft isn’t something he wants or likes. It strikes too close to permanent undercover work and, as good as he is at undercover, he understands how dark and dirty it can be. He’s a good man who wants to help people.”
Elizabeth sighed. “I could throttle Trent Kort, you know.”
“The CIA’s loss is my potential gain,” he said cheerfully. “He’s been sniffing around DiNozzo, did you know? Homeland and the FBI have been keeping an eye on DiNozzo since Eli made his move, and agents have spotted Kort several times and run him off at least twice.”
“That idiot.” She huffed. “Kort got a heavy slap on the wrist for how he handled DiNozzo during the Frog debacle. He was heavy-handed and overstepped, especially since a simple phone call to the Secretary of the Navy could have reined Sheppard in. Instead, he tried to assassinate an American federal agent on the streets of Washington DC. And on top of the car bomb in the Capital, he gave a prime intel asset candidate a distaste for the whole intelligence apparatus. Huh.” She considered that, tapping a finger on the rim of her mug. “Actually, that explains a lot.”
“You think he wants to undo that black mark and win the interagency competition for the CIA — by approaching DiNozzo and talking him into joining the company?” Morrow snorted. “Well, Kort is ambitious, I’ll give him that. And lucky he didn’t get a chance to approach DiNozzo. In his current frame of mind, he’d probably just punch Kort in the face.”
“Usually an overreaction, but in the case of Trent Kort, understandable. And he’s never tried to blow me up. You’ve invested a lot in giving DiNozzo space and time, protecting him from any political blowback,” Elizabeth observed, studying Morrow. He was one of the more unassuming figures in the alphabet soup, preferring to be a rational voice over a strident one. But the amount of deference all but the most aggressive players gave him spoke volumes about how the entire community saw Tom Morrow.
The man wasn’t a guppy who saw himself as a shark — he was a great white swimming with fishes. Elizabeth knew she’d liked him for a reason.
“Was there a question in there? Or just an observation?”
“That was an observation. Here’s the question — what if he doesn’t choose to take your offer? What if DiNozzo goes to the FBI or one of the other tempting offers?” The SGC had even healed the damage he’d suffered, restoring his health and removing the reminders of what had happened and almost happened. “What if he turns down Homeland Security for a job at a local police department and gives up on the whole alphabet soup of federal agencies.”
“Then the FBI or a PD will get an exceptional investigator, and DiNozzo will hopefully find people he can trust to have his back.” Morrow shrugged and sipped his coffee. “DiNozzo deserves protection from the fallout because he wasn’t to blame, and as inconvenient as this has been, it was vital it all come out before more harm was done. The fact that I like and respect him is a bonus. I’ve done my best to tempt him into the DHS fold because he would be a tremendous asset.
“I’d like to think I have a good chance because of my agency, but if DiNozzo chooses to join Homeland, it will be because he’s looking for a new challenge. And I have the advantage of being someone he knows and trusts — or at least has no reason to distrust.” He smiled at her over the rim of his cup. “Which isn’t to say I won’t remind him, regularly, there’s a place for him at DHS if he does turn me down.”
“And maybe make a call to his new boss, reminding them the asset they’ve acquired has options?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps. Maybe if Vance had been aware that DiNozzo was more than just a body in the bullpen, he’d have thought twice about sacrificing him to appease the monkey on his back.”
Elizabeth hummed. “Maybe. But then the entire disaster that was Vance and David in charge of their respective agencies would still be bubbling away under the surface, waiting to blow up in our faces.” She sighed and grumbled, “I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy job — too many personalities, egos and agendas to manage — but I was expecting the biggest problems to come from without, not within.”
“So, you’re saying you were hopelessly naive?”
“Apparently so. Not something I expected to admit to,” she confessed. “Which, honestly, makes me all the more irritated by the whole mess.”
“Well, we’re in the same boat, then, because I thought Homeland Security meant protecting the country from our enemies, not ourselves. Fortunately, we’ve both learned better.” Morrow lifted his coffee cup. “Here’s to naivety, stupid people, greed, and job security.”
Elizabeth tapped her cup against his. “And doing the right thing, even when it’s inconvenient.” They both drank, two of Washington’s most powerful players toasting with Formica mugs and diner coffee an agent who’d blown the whistle.
“So,” Morrow asked, “how’s the pie here?”
“You can never go wrong with the pie.”
I’m enjoying the asides! Good chapter.
Very Informative. Makes it seem less likely that Tony will be ambushed.
Enjoyed the conversation between two powerful people who want respect Tony and want him to end up in a good place.
Good story update
Cool chapter, loved the diner too !!
What’s behind the curtain is always a treat for me. I love the peek at the powerful people who have Tony’s back.
That is a great pair on Tony’s side and I loved that Morrow is doing his best to protect Tony for the right reasons.