- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Canon Divergence
15 August 2009
Tony was perfectly ready for the job hunt to be over. As nice as it was to be wanted, the constant offers, interviews, trial periods, and just sheer madness that had become his life was getting to be too much. And if things went on any longer, he was afraid how many more of the certainties he had about reality would be crushed and swept aside. He’d always considered himself rather flexible and capable of rolling with the punches, but his world view had about all the adjustments it could take.
Some normalcy would be nice.
Luckily, one of the last offers he would be entertaining was exactly that. Tony had expected it to come earlier, but considering what had been going on with the other party lately, it was hardly a surprise that he’d been pushed back. He wasn’t at all insulted. The email with the request to meet to talk about the job offer had finally come last night, and Tony was surprised and intrigued who exactly had sent it and answered in the affirmative.
But for now, it was Saturday, and for once, Tony DiNozzo would have a perfectly ordinary and enjoyable day–he was determined. He already had plans to meet with Rabb for dinner and a few beers under the condition that they spoke of nothing related to NCIS or Tony’s plans for the future.
A look out of the window confirmed that the forecast had been correct and the rain that had been splattering onto the streets when Tony woke up still wasn’t showing any signs of stopping, so indoor plans were preferable. Letting his eyes wander around the living room, the content of his shelves and his piano, Tony knew just the place to go – Treasure Trove.
Technically a second-hand shop, it had little in common with the overstuffed places full of cheap things in sometimes beyond dubious condition. Treasure Trove offered a collection of used books, records, old movies, and even sheet music that deserved the label curated. The owner made sure everything was in good condition, and any damages were labelled–work that was reflected in the prices, but Tony had never regretted a single purchase.
There was also the excellent little café run by the owner’s husband attached to the shop if one needed a bit more energy to continue browsing, wanted to take a more in-depth look at something before buying, or couldn’t wait to get home to start reading. It was the kind of place you better set the alarm on your phone if you had to be anywhere at a later point in the day, lest you forget time entirely.
Walking through the door into the quaint shop with all its dark wood, Tony placed his umbrella in the provided stand by the door–not something he’d do comfortably in most places, but the shop owner had rules about customers splattering water droplets all over her treasures. In turn, she looked after people’s things.
Two hours of in-depth browsing later, Tony’s stomach suggested a break might be in order before he headed upstairs to check out what had been added to the film collection since he’d last been there. He already had a true treasure amongst his finds, a whole box of sheet music and notes from a cinema pianist from the silent movie era. The man had even sketched pictures of the scenes, almost like a storyboard, to make his performance match up with the movie. And quite a few of those movies Tony actually owned in one format or the other. Playing his own music while watching them sounded like a fantastic idea to him.
When he approached the coffee counter, he was greeted by a man in a truly pitiable dilemma. How do you manage a stack of books, a caramel latte, and a bagel, all while relying on a cane to walk?
“Let me get that for you, Dr Reid,” Tony offered with a smile.
“What?” The younger man looked up at him a little startled. “Oh, Agent DiNozzo! I hadn’t expected to see you here. Thank you!”
Tony grabbed the food and beverage, and gestured for Reid to precede him, though he had a fairly good idea which table he would choose; he always sat in the little alcove with the window whenever Tony had seen him in the store.
“Thank you,” Reid said as Tony placed the items on the table while Reid manoeuvred himself into a chair. “I’ll be happy to be rid of this thing.” He waved at the cane he’d leaned against the wall.
“You have my sympathies. I hate being injured and incapacitated to any degree. How much longer does your doctor think you’ll need it?”
“Sadly, for quite a while. My knee was hit very unfortunately. I seem to have the worst kind of luck sometimes.”
“Tell me about it,” Tony answered wryly. “I’ll let you get to your books.”
Reid nodded but then got a pondering expression. “Or you could join me for lunch, and we could have that chat about you joining the BAU.”
Tony stared at Reid for a moment, trying to get a read on him. The man looked unsure of himself and a little uncomfortable, an impression that only increased as Reid started to fidget.
“I didn’t mean to intrude on your weekend, Agent DiNozzo, please forget I asked. We’ll make an appointment to meet in the office next week. I guess the coincidence of running into you like this the day after we exchanged emails was just a bit too convenient.”
“At least with you, I know it’s truly a coincidence,” Tony interrupted the nervous babble.
“Had a lot of overly convenient not-so-chance encounters lately?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe,” Tony groaned. “But I’ve seen you around here enough times not to read anything into this. I’m not sure you ever noticed me, though.”
“Yeah, I did. I’m not actually as oblivious to my surroundings as I seem. Not unless I know I’m in a truly safe environment and company.”
“That’s relieving to hear given our line of work. Okay, let me grab something from the counter, and I’ll be right back so you can try to seduce me into your corner of the Bureau.” Tony winked at Reid with a smile and went to make his own selection for lunch. He returned to the table with a special blend of tea he liked and had never found anywhere else and a sandwich, to find Reid with his food untouched, fidgeting with his latte.
“You’d love to just have this over with,” he observed. “Why did you get the task to lure me into the BAU when the task makes you that uncomfortable?”
Reid blew out a deep breath. “Hotch had all these very good, very logical reasons. But I’m just not any good at the recruitment thing!” He broke the cookie that came with his coffee and stuffed one half in his mouth in frustration.
Tony got the feeling that he had to help this conversation along, at least until Reid found his equilibrium again. “I had expected Aaron would try to make his case in person. Not that I mind your company, quite the opposite,” he quickly reassured. “And with everything that has happened lately, Aaron has enough other things on his plate. If there’s anyone whose life has been upended more than mine over the last few months, it’s surely him. How is he settling back into work?”
Reid shrugged. “I’m not really sure yet. Physically, he’s doing pretty well, much better than me for sure. But I’m not so sure about the rest. Derek is watching him like a hawk and thinks that he came back too early. I can understand Hotch’s desire for some normalcy and the feeling that he’s doing something and not letting Foyet get him down. But in case you hadn’t noticed, Hotch has this tendency to carry the guilt of the world and put everybody else before his own needs, and I’m not sure that’s serving him so well in this particular situation. I’m worried, but I don’t know what to do to help.”
“Be there, do your job, and let him know that he has someone willing to listen,” Tony suggested. “My friendship with Aaron is still fresh, and the man is difficult to get to know, but it’s pretty obvious to me that he cares for you and values your friendship. I don’t think there’s any sense in trying to prod Mr Stubborn into his own good, but we can show him where to turn to when he’s finally ready to reach out.”
Reid nodded thoughtfully and sipped his coffee.
“Okay, just to satisfy my curiosity,” Tony decided to change the topic, “tell me all those logical reasons Aaron presented for you to be the one to give me the BAU pitch.”
“Well, for starters, he didn’t want to do it himself because that would be like preying on your friendship and create undue pressure for you to accept.”
“That is probably the most Aaron thing I’ve ever heard, and I appreciate the sentiment.”
“I suggested Morgan next, because… you guys just seem to have quite a lot in common. You went to college on sports scholarships, both playing football until your career dreams there were cut off by an injury. You both joined the police before becoming federal agents… seems like you’d have an easy time connecting.”
“You gracefully skipped that we also both have a reputation as womanisers,” Tony added lightly. “Morgan and I actually know each other superficially from a few sports events. It’s almost scary how parallel our bios sound when you list it like that. Hell, we even both injured a knee! Anyway, similarities don’t always mesh well. That’s not to say that I’d have any difficulties working with Morgan, but we might rub each other the wrong way every now and then, and that makes sending him to convince me to join your team a bit of a gamble. Aaron is no gambler. Talking of womaniser, why not send one of the gorgeous women on your team my way to make the offer attractive, quite literally?” Tony asked in a teasing tone, curious how Reid would react.
He snorted. “Each of them, including Garcia, would wipe the metaphorical floor with you. Hotch would never resort to such tactics, he has too much respect for both them and you. During a case, all bets are off, and we play all of our advantages to get the UnSub and protect innocents. We’ve all played parts to that end. But outside such situations, Hotch would never be that manipulative with the team, that’s not how we work.”
Tony filed that away. It said a lot of good things about the team dynamics and Aaron’s style of handling investigations. “So, what spoke against Rossi?”
“Besides the fact that for a man who keeps writing bestselling books, he’s astonishingly uncomfortable meeting people who might admire him? I think Hotch was afraid you two would end up talking about food and you could probably say something that Rossi found so deeply insulting to the art of cooking that he might just walk out. He’s kind of touchy, especially when it comes to pasta.”
“Excuse me! I make all my own pasta as that is the only way to do it. And Aaron would bloody well know this if he’d finally come over and allow me to cook for him!”
“Oh god, that truly is an Italian thing!” Reid exclaimed.
“Depends on who you ask. Fornell can’t make a decent spaghetti Napoli to save his life but delights in mangling my name with the supposed correct pronunciation. Somebody should tell that man that anglicisation is a thing,” he groused.
Reid blinked at him for a moment before he continued. “What it boiled down to was that Hotch didn’t feel that Rossi would tell you the things about the team that he thought you needed to hear.”
“And he thought you would?”
“Apparently. If only he’d bothered to tell me what I’m supposed to tell you. I always mess that part up. The brass likes to send me on recruitment events, because of my age.”
“You have to wonder how people with so little understanding of people and such inflexible thinking patterns ever made it that high up the food chain in law enforcement,” Tony said as a form of agreement. “Why don’t you start with telling me what exactly is on offer? They must have given you the hard facts at the very least.”
“You’d be brought in after the short transfer course as a Supervisory Special Agent and be added to our team. Not that you couldn’t pick pretty much any unit you’d wanted, they’d all be more than happy to take you on, especially Unit 1. There has already been talk of them borrowing you should you join Unit 4.”
Tony held in the sigh that wanted to escape. Being the rope in a tug-of-war was an awkward position he was growing exceedingly tired of it. Not having that kind of madness continue after he chose a new job would be nice.
“It wouldn’t be too bad,” Reid said as if he’d guessed where Tony’s thoughts had gone. “Hotch is protective of his people and doesn’t let others toss us around and burn us out. A lot of unit chiefs would like to make their job easier by getting me at least temporarily, especially white collar. Hotch blocks them all unless a situation is growing desperate.
“Beyond that, you pretty much know what to expect with us. You’ve already been on that one case with Garrett’s nascent team, which is more or less what we do as well, minus the difficulties of international legal matters as we pretty much always stay within the US. The work is mentally challenging, and every case is different. We interact with new people from all walks of life all the time, and from what I’ve heard, your talent to connect to pretty much anyone would be a useful addition to the team. From a different perspective though, part of your success in the last years relied on the network of connections and favours you’ve built up in DC and its surroundings, that would be less possible with our constant travelling,” Reid ended on a shrug.
“Oh, I can always build a bigger net, never fret,” Tony said. “I’m still not entirely convinced I’d make a good profiler and I hate to be a disappointment.” That was the crux for him, whether he looked at the BAU or the IRT. Neither position was technically outside his competence, but profiling on that level required a specific talent that wasn’t entirely teachable.
“Really?” Reid looked baffled. “I’d expect that you’re missing some of the structured knowledge that makes approaching a serial crime more efficient. Otherwise, you should already have all the skills you need.”
“How do you figure? I had minimal training on profiling and have never really done it for NCIS.”
“I disagree. Maybe the minimal training is true, but in a way, you’ve done profiling all your career. One of your most outstanding skills is undercover work, right? And good undercover work is nothing else but profiling with the results being applied to your own behaviour. You have to be able to read your target and everyone around them and then create a persona that fits into their needs and expectations in such a way that you can accomplish your objective. That means profiling on the fly in high-pressure situations and under threat much more often than we have to deal with.”
“How is everybody taking me so seriously all of a sudden? I solve most of my cases with movie references!” He threw his hands in the air, feeling both exasperated and frustrated by this fundamental change in attitude towards him, that seemed to have come out of nowhere. He’d probably needed to think some more about how his perception of his own skills had been screwed to such a degree, but that had to wait until he found a quiet hour or two.
“I babble my way through statistics and tangents while getting to a point, so what? How you verbalise your insights is less of an issue than the question whether or not you can reach that kind of insights. And your reputation precedes you as a creative thinker who can both look beyond the apparent box and pay attention to details. And you know and understand people. That’s all the makings of a good profiler.”
Tony drained the rest of his tea, still uncomfortable with being told he was talented and skilled in any specific way.
“To finish off the list of what we can offer you,” Reid went back to their earlier thread of conversation. “Regular confrontations with the worst humanity has to offer, regular absence from home, and the amount of paperwork you’d expect of anything to do with the federal government.”
“You’re not really selling it well right now, Doc.”
“It’s also the most rewarding job I can imagine, and I did and do have quite a few careers to choose from,” Reid continued as if Tony hadn’t interrupted him. “The Bureau can’t pay you anywhere near what you’ve been offered from other places, especially in the private sector, but you knew that beforehand. I don’t have to tell you the kind of benefits that come with the position, that stuff is boring anyway.”
Tony narrowed his eyes at Reid. “How much do you know about the offers I received?”
“Just rumours and hints based on who you met with and where you travelled to. You know that law enforcement is awash with gossip and nowhere more so than in DC. I can make a few more educated guesses based on that because I’ve had offers from some of them as well.”
“Oh, really? Now I’m curious. Do tell, Dr Reid. Who wants both you and me in their employ?” Tony leaned forward in his chair.
“Let’s just say that I got an in-depth tour of Cheyenne Mountain once, but didn’t like the lack of windows. And I wouldn’t want to join Global Dynamics, come hell or high water–in their case, probably both at the same time while a micro black hole opens on the main street of Eureka.”
Tony snorted in amusement. “I would have thought that a man with your intellect and variety of STEM degrees would enjoy the kind of R&D they are doing there.”
“You know that famous quote Jeff Goldblum’s character says in Jurassic Park?”
Tony just raised an oh please eyebrow at the question. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should–that one?”
“Yeah, that one. That’s GD’s R&D division in a nutshell. And I like my life a bit more orderly.”
“So you decided to hunt serial killers instead.”
“Exactly. Much more controllable forms of craziness,” he deadpanned, making them both laugh. “I really have no clue what else to tell you, that’s why I hate doing things like this. It’s probably easier if you ask me what you’d like to know.”
Tony leaned back again and thought about that for a moment. He’d heard so many spiels about what the people that headhunted him thought made their organisation worth working for–but what was important to him?
“Aaron has a reputation of being a hardass, which is actually difficult to believe when you mostly know him in private. What’s your take on that?”
“The hardass is more of an outside perspective. Hotch is very no-nonsense when it comes to our work, and people misinterpret that all the time. He’s also very protective of everyone he considers his, and he definitely considers the team his. That means everyone who tries to mess with one of us finds themselves confronted with a wall of designer-suited unit chief. Not everybody deals well with that. Hotch is also very by the book, not to the point where he sees nothing but the rules and is married to the book, but there’s only so far he’s willing to bend. I guess his philosophy is that you need to know exactly where the line is to walk right up to it, but never beyond. Probably a reaction to seeing cases dismissed on procedural breaches when he was still a prosecutor.”
“Yeah, I always figured that must be incredibly frustrating,” Tony agreed. He felt actually very comfortable with how Reid had described Aaron’s approach to their work. “There’s a worryingly large number of people in law enforcement who think getting their perp is all that counts, and that how they got there doesn’t affect the chances of putting them away afterwards.” He’d had plenty of experience reining in such attitudes and trying to ensure the prosecutors had a solid basis to work with. It would be a relief to not be alone in such endeavours anymore.
“What’s the one thing you like best about working in the BAU?” Tony asked on a whim.
Reid drained the last remnants of his latte while he gave the question some consideration. “That we’re family. Things aren’t perfect, but neither are families. I mean, Gideon just walked out on us, but so did my father. Sometimes, the others annoy me, but at least I know that they do so because they mean well. And we look out for each other. I know there are no guarantees, and people do all kinds of things that can surprise you in the worst way, but I really feel like everyone who’s on the team now would keep in contact, even if one of us quit the job. Maybe it’s because we live in each other’s pockets so much when travelling, and despite the official moratorium on profiling each other, we can’t help noticing what’s going on with our teammates, but what we have feels like more than just a job.”
“That brings something else to mind. Isn’t your team complete? I wouldn’t want to be the reason such a tight-knit group was broken up because someone got transferred to bring me in.”
“That’s not what would happen, Hotch made sure. Technically, we are complete, but having another agent on the team wouldn’t hurt. It would make us a bit more flexible and reliable. Between me on crutches and Hotch out of work entirely, we were stretched pretty thin lately. TADs don’t really work well in the BAU. What it comes down to is that even the brass that have a stranglehold on the budget are so eager to snatch you up for the bureau that they’d grant an additional spot for our team, if that’s the position you want.”
Reid shrugged as Tony sighed. He should be used to institutions bending over backwards to get him on board after the last few months, but that kind of thing would probably never not be surreal.
“Listen,” Reid continued, “I’ve heard your old team described in terms of family as well, and I know how spectacularly that imploded, so I get if you’re sceptical about it. We’re having a barbecue at Derek’s place tomorrow, the whole team plus probably Will and Henry, that’s JJ’s partner and son. You could get to know everyone in a relaxed setting and get a feeling for us.”
“I wouldn’t want to intrude on a team afternoon.”
“You wouldn’t! When Hotch talked to all of us about possibly adding you to the team, Prentiss suggested getting to know you in an informal setting might be nicer and less hectic than in the office or on a case. We didn’t get to interact a lot on that one case after Hotch had won the fight for jurisdiction. Pretty much everyone agreed that it was a shame the barbecue was planned for this weekend with little chance for me to talk to you beforehand. Who could have known our paths would cross like this?”
Tony snorted. “Yeah, quite the fortunate chance encounter. Okay then, if you’re sure I’m not ruining a perfectly good team event, give me Morgan’s address and tell me what I can contribute to the spread. There’s no way I’m showing up to a cookout with empty hands!”
* * *
The conversation he’d had with Reid had rattled in Tony’s head over the afternoon, and he’d ended up breaking his own rule and talked it through with Harm over their dinner. The conclusion Rabb had come to had been a bit surprising but also hit a cord with him.
“They don’t want to use you up for their own benefit. Yes, your skills would be valuable for their work and put to good use, but what they seem to offer the most is a place that cares about you just as much as what you can do for them. That you know and trust Hotchner already makes that easier to believe than it would be with any stranger. After what you’ve been through, I see how that’s an attractive prospect.”
Tony had that thought in mind when he approached Morgan’s house with a bowl of his special tortellini salad and a freshly baked focaccia in hand.
He was warmly welcomed, and even the dog seemed to like him, which was almost as strange as robocats. The afternoon turned out very enjoyable, and the best word Tony could pick to describe it was uncomplicated. Everyone took time to chat with him without making him the centre of attention, which he appreciated.
Derek and he talked sports and Tony had a feeling that they could get along very well. Rossi had eyed his food contribution with scepticism but had hummed in approval after actually trying it. It was easy to see that the man kept himself at a bit of a distance to the majority of the team, but without it being anything negative. Maybe it was just the age difference.
Garcia was a hand full and then some. She reminded Tony a little bit of Abby, which stung for a moment, but he pushed it aside, not wanting to sully his impression of the bubbly analyst with dark memories. Chatting with her for a while gave Tony the impression that her worldview was a good bit more mature and balanced. The outrageous flirting was fun, and before he knew how it happened, he had promised to take her dancing two weeks later for a theme night.
Morgan just laughed and slapped him on the shoulder. “Better you than me, bro. I need all the help I can get keeping up with that one.”
Prentiss was an enigma he would love to unravel if he joined the team. She was fascinating, and they had an interesting conversation about Interpol’s role in their work. But he was well aware that she was cautious, and it would take some time to truly get to know her–which was fine, he was hardly one to go all in from the get-go either.
JJ was charming, and Tony quickly caught on to the same kind of people managing skills he had, that made her such an excellent media liaison. He was relieved to find it combined with an honest warmth and care for others when many in that line of work would apply it by pure calculation. Will’s accent reminded him of Pride, and when he said so, they were off on sharing stories about the other agent as Dwayne “King” Pride was apparently even more infamous around New Orleans than Tony had imagined in his wildest dreams.
When Tony came back from the bathroom, he got a chance to watch the team interact before joining the conversation again. Reid was in a deck chair with his sleeping godson on his chest. There was a lot of teasing going on at his cost, and just when Tony thought Morgan was taking it too far, Reid shot back such a scathing reply, that Derek shut up dumbfounded while the rest of the team laughed as Reid grinned at his victory. This was how these things were supposed to be, good fun among equals and within the boundaries each person could take.
Tony found himself smiling at the picture until Aaron leaned against the patio bannister beside him.
“So, did my pitch work?”
“You getting it right meant sending me your awkward genius who loathes doing recruitments?” Tony raised an eyebrow at his friend.
“It meant sending you the one person on the team who wears his heart on his sleeve and sees no point in pretence or dishonesty unless you give him a very good reason. Unless it’s poker, then Reid can bluff like a pro.”
“I guess anyone stupid enough to sit down at a poker table with a Vegas born genius gets what he deserves,” Tony conceded.
“I’m sure you’ve been wined and dined and bullshitted a lot over the last months. And I know you’ve probably seen through all of it. I didn’t want to do that to you. The BAU isn’t nearly as glorious as some agents think. It can give you some of the worst nightmares this job has to offer. That’s why it’s so important that we look out for each other, and because we do, this team is as successful as it is. We make a difference and make sure we all get through it mostly okay. That’s the honest offer we can make you. And tricking someone into our unit is not something I’d ever do, least of all to a friend.”
Tony let his eyes rest on the group of laughing people in front of him before he turned back to Aaron again. “I still haven’t made a decision. But this,” he nodded over to the others, “this is very tempting.”