- Character Bashing
- Canon Divergence
27 June 2009
Tony found a park to run in near his hotel room in New York City. He was leaving for DC the next day and wanted to drive back home instead of flying. He didn’t have his beautiful Corvette or his badass Mustang any longer, but he still enjoyed a good drive when he could find the time. Since it was only about four hours back home, depending on traffic and the number of stops that he made, it would be just enough of a drive to relax him from the madness he’d been living in since he’d decided to quit NCIS.
So far, the job offers had mostly been insane for one reason or another. Whether it was because of the literal insanity of robot cats and aliens, or the madness of being offered jobs for half the departments in New York PD that he mostly wasn’t qualified for, life had been one hell of a roller coaster. He couldn’t help but wonder when Tobias Fornell would make his pitch, because if he knew anything about the man, he knew that the older Italian would never be able to pass up a chance to tweak Gibbs and NCIS.
Once he’d reached the limits of his newly healed body, he headed back toward the hotel, but paused at the entrance to the park seeing a familiar, and out of place, face near the entrance. “Colonel Vance?” he called out slowing his walk until he was standing within a couple feet of the Army Special Ops leader. NCIS didn’t work with Army Special Ops a lot, but Vance wasn’t an in-the-box kind of guy. Instead, he preferred to do whatever it took to catch his bad guy. Therefore, there had been a couple of cases during Tony’s tenure with NCIS where he’d been recruited to help one of Colonel Vance’s special operations due to some crossover with either the Navy or the Marines. Both times, the NCIS agent was left with a favorable impression of the Colonel.
“I apologize for interrupting your run,” Vance offered with a smile as he held out his hand, and Tony respected the man enough to shake it before questioning the man’s sincerity out loud. “When I heard that you were in New York at the same time I was though, I thought I’d take a shot at asking a very special favor from a very special agent.”
“Uhh, you must have missed the memo that’s been going around, but I won’t be an agent for much longer, Colonel, very special or even just an average one,” Tony corrected, but the Colonel just gave him a mysterious smile.
“It’s been my experience that some people are very special no matter where their life takes them, and the couple times we have worked together, if I learned anything, it was that you are one of those people. I have a situation that I could use your assistance with. Think of it as one of the many job offers that I hear you’ve been getting. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that this is something you’d do, but it would mean a lot to me if you would at least hear the pitch.”
When Vance shuffled and let his eyes roam around the park before settling back on Tony, the Italian let him be and waited silently for the Colonel to continue. “The man making the pitch is one of mine. He went off the rails for a while, but it’s my understanding that recently he’s been trying to make up for his wrong doings. You are, if nothing else, one of the fairest people I’ve met in the years I’ve been doing this. I think if anyone can see past the missteps that he’s taken to the man that he is underneath it all, it’s you. My real hope is that you can give him some advice and encouragement, even if you don’t take him up on his offer.”
“I was planning on leaving tomorrow morning, and heading home,” Tony pointed out not really wanting to stick around in New York City any longer. While it was nice to visit, he was itching to get back home. His real home. Not the old home with bad memories from his childhood, not the place he’d left behind. New York City may not be Long Island, but it was close enough.
“So Mac told me,” Vance said with a smile. “What if I told you that Eliot was willing to let you drive his fully restored 1970 Chevy Chevelle LS6 all the way back to DC? All you have to do is listen to his pitch while you drive.”
“How do you…?” Tony started but shook his head knowing better than to ask. One thing he knew about Colonel Michael Vance was that the man had contacts just about everywhere and wasn’t afraid to use any of them. It was a trait that Tony wasn’t ashamed to admit he shared with the man. He’d never really appreciated before how it felt to be on the other side of it to understand how damned annoying it could be.
“Never mind, of course you know Mac, and I doubt I really want to know how an Army Colonel knows a former Marine and the current head of the New York Crime Lab.” Tony took a second to scowl at the Army man, only to get open amusement and not a single indication of regret from the man.
“Cherry red with the black stripes,” Colonel Vance threw out, and Tony openly swore at the man. If there was anything that Tony had a weakness for, it was a classic muscle car.
“I assume he’s no longer a criminal? Don’t think I missed the way you have worded all this. Has he paid for his crimes? Are you putting me in a spot where I’m gonna have to overlook bullshit on the level I just walked away from?”
“Why don’t we go have coffee, or better yet breakfast, and I’ll tell you what I know about Eliot Spencer. It’s your honesty and commitment to justice that made me think about you when he asked for help.”
Giving a nod of agreement, Tony followed the Colonel out of the park and down the block to a nearby restaurant. After both men were seated and had placed their breakfast order, Tony waited for Vance to proceed with his tale.
“Eliot Spencer served under me when I was still working in the field. He was one of the best soldiers that I’ve ever worked with. Completely committed to the mission and his team. I think part of that was because of the split with his family when he chose the Army over working in his father’s hardware store. Regardless, he gave everything he had to us, and I feel like in return, we didn’t give him as much back as he put into it, at least not long term. You know the kind of missions my unit takes. It wasn’t much different then than it is now. In time it wears down even the strongest people.
“Eventually, Eliot began to fray a little, which led to an eventual discharge, and that is really where things went bad. Eliot struggled to find his footing and found himself in the employment of someone who more closely resembled the people he was used to tracking down. You ask if he’s a criminal now. The answer is complicated. Technically, yes. However, there’s a future pardon with his name on it if he keeps traveling his current path. The country owes him at least that much.” Vance paused when the waiter brought over their coffees and juice. Tony found himself feeling sympathetic but wondering what any of this had to do with him.
“I sympathize, Colonel,” Tony murmured as he doctored his coffee. “It isn’t like I am unused to the story. I heard it quite often while I was with NCIS. I’m not sure what this has to do with me though. Certainly, you don’t think I am going to go to work for a bunch of criminals, though. Pending future pardons or not. They’re still criminals now. Unless you’re talking some kind of undercover gig, and I’m not sure I’m looking for that right now. Which isn’t to say I’d immediately turn it down, this just doesn’t sound like my ball of wax, though.”
“The thing is, Tony, that Eliot was eventually able to part himself from the man he’d been working with. At some point, something happened that jarred him enough that he left the position and started trying to get back on the right path. For a while, that meant doing some lesser criminal jobs getting things back for people that they either lost or wished to acquire. However, then one day he was recruited by a man named Nate Ford to do a job with him and some other people that Ford recruited. That’s where you come in.”
Vance folded his hands together on the table top and Tony fought the urge to squirm under the man’s scrutiny. “I’ve never worked with someone from outside my own units that I didn’t run a very thorough background check on. So, I am well aware of you father’s, shall we say, questionable business dealings. It’s because you managed to find your own path away from that I am asking you to hear Eliot’s pitch. He’s not totally on the up and up, if you look at it from a black and white perspective, but he’s trying damned hard to help people now instead of hurting them or taking advantage of them.
“While I will be honest in that I would be surprised if you said yes to him, I think that you have something you can offer him, and you never know. Maybe I’ll be surprised and once you hear what he’s trying to do you’ll be swayed. I’m just asking you to hear him out. I would consider it a personal favor, and I am more than willing to pay up whenever you need. Even if you don’t say yes, I am hoping that you can give him some words of advice or encouragement. I think you’re in a unique position to understand where he’s been and where he’s trying to get back to.”
Tony leaned back and studied the Colonel quietly as he tossed around the pros and cons of the request in his head. Vance smoothly turned the conversation away from his favor, and they spent the rest of the meal talking sports and current entertainment. It wasn’t until they were standing on the sidewalk outside the café that Tony made up his mind.
One thing he knew for sure was that Colonel Michael Vance was a good man. He did at times bend the rules to fulfill his mission, but he never outright broke the law. Vance wasn’t Gibbs. He also didn’t tolerate those that would blatantly commit one wrong and justify it because of another wrong committed by someone else. If Colonel Vance was asking for this favor, then he must honestly believe that this Eliot Spencer was on the upswing. He also must think a lot of the man, because while Vance was loyal to all of the men and women under his command, this was a little above and beyond even for him.
“Tell Spencer to meet me outside my hotel in the morning. I want to be on the road by 10AM. Those keys better be mine for the whole 4 to 6 hours it will take to get back to DC.”
“You won’t regret this, DiNozzo,” Vance promised as they shook hands, and Tony just hoped that he was right.
* * *
The next morning, as Tony stepped out of his hotel pulling his suitcase, it was the car parked across the street that drew his attention before the man standing next to it leaned against the trunk. Hurrying across the street during a gap in the traffic, Tony walked around the car letting out a low appreciative whistle at the beauty in front of him. Red paint with black stripes and a black interior, the Chevy Chevelle appeared to have been beautifully restored, and if there was anything Tony could appreciate it was a well taken care of classic muscle car.
When he got back to the trunk, having circled the car completely and now standing on the opposite sidewalk from the hotel, there was a man waiting for him with long dark hair, ice blue eyes, and a grin on his face. “Special Agent DiNozzo?” the man asked, and Tony could clearly hear a twang that under different circumstances would have made him weak in the knees.
“Just Tony,” he confirmed holding his hand out with his own smile for the shorter man, who seemed to be a good three or four inches shorter than Tony was. “Eliot Spencer? Colonel Vance speaks highly of you.”
“Guilty as charged,” Eliot replied as they shook hands, and the man seemed to almost not know how to take hearing he was still in positive favor with his old commander. If this man really was as good of a man as Vance insisted, Tony thought that it would fit, considering the hole Spencer was trying to dig himself out of. “I owe Vance a lot, and you as well. I appreciate you givin’ me a chance here. I know I’m facin’ an uphill battle, but I figure I’m not gonna get anywhere without tryin’.”
Eliot popped the trunk and then handed the keys to Tony, who tossed his bag into the trunk and then took them with a grin. One thing Tony did not miss was driving in New York City. So, he appreciated Spencer not immediately jumping into his spiel, and instead helped Tony navigate out of the city. Once they were on the highway though, headed back to DC, Tony gave the man, who he guessed to be younger than him, a quick grin before turning his attention back to the road.
“Thanks for the assist,” Tony said gratefully. “So, tell me about this job you want to offer.”
“Well, I reckon that it’s a bit different than what you’ve probably been listenin’ to from others. Colonel Vance told me you were a hot commodity. So, I appreciate you hearin’ me out. I know that you’re aware that I took the wrong path for a while. I want you to know that I’m tryin to make up for what I did wrong by using my skills to help people instead of takin’ advantage of them.”
“So, what is it that you do now?” Tony asked carefully hoping that he wasn’t going to have to have the man arrested after hearing his job pitch.
“I try to help people that the law can’t assist. People who have been taken advantage of by the rich or by big, corrupt corporations who only care about their bottom dollar. I was working with a team, and while I hated the thought at the beginning, I’ll be honest an’ say that I can see the advantages now. I’m good with security. I’m good with figuring out how to get into places. I’m good with kickin’ some asses when it’s needed, but I need someone who is better than me at puttin’ on a mask when it’s needed and playin’ a role. I need someone I can trust to have m’back and Colonel Vance thought you were that person.”
When Eliot fell quiet, Tony thought the man was done, but before Tony could decide how to respond, Spencer continued. “I actually just finished a job in New Jersey. That’s why I was in the area. The Gates family said they would be willin’ to talk to you, if you’re interested, I mean.”
Deciding that he had nothing to lose, and more than a little curious to hear a first hand account of what the man was doing, Tony agreed. Which was how he found himself about forty-five minutes later sitting at a kitchen table enjoying a cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee with Eliot, along with Jim and Georgiana Gates.
“How is Jessica?” Eliot asked the couple after the younger man swallowed a bite of his roll. It didn’t take any kind of skill to read the proud smiles on the couples faces.
“She’s so excited,” Georgiana explained happily. “She’s been busy making all kinds of lists. We already sent off her acceptance and gave them the payment for her first semester.”
“Jess is our 12-year-old daughter,” Jim explained to Tony who gave the man his full attention. “I don’t know where she got her smarts from, but the test she took said she has an IQ of 182 and got accepted at Cambridge University. Georgiana’s giving up her job so that she can go with her. If it weren’t for Eliot here, we’d never be able to send her.”
Georgiana sniffed and Tony watched Jim take her hand before he continued. “We got a letter for what we thought was from the University asking for money for what they called application fees. Turns out it was a big scam, and the money we needed for her schooling and their living expenses would have been lost.”
“Eliot Spencer is a life saver,” Georgiana professed earnestly, and as skeptical as he was initially, Tony could see nothing but complete honesty from the couple. “All we want is for our baby girl to have a better life than we did, and to have access to every advantage she deserves. Thanks to Eliot, now she’s going to be able to get the schooling she deserves.”
Tony listened for about twenty more minutes while the couple sang Eliot’s praises, but eventually, they had things they need to do, and the two men were back on the road. “I’ll be honest, Eliot, I am impressed. That’s a really good thing that you did. I’m still not sure what you need my help with, though. It looks like you managed things. Vance said that you were working with a team? What happened with them?”
Eliot was quiet for a long while, and they were nearly out of New Jersey before the man spoke again. “Nate decided that we’d accomplished what he set out to, and the team broke up. He doesn’t think much of us anyway, and was happy to be rid of us.”
“What did he want from the team?” Tony asked curious, and Eliot sighed before answering.
“He wanted to get revenge on his old company. Nate worked for an insurance company. His son died because they refused to pay for this treatment that woulda saved the boy. Nate didn’t take it well and started drinkin’. Someone approached him with a job claiming that they had stolen some research, only it turns out they weren’t responsible. Anyway, after that we started doing other jobs together, until eventually we were able to take down Blackpoole, who was the CEO of the insurance company. After that, Nate decided that he was going back to his life and sent us packing. I’ve tried going back to what I was doing before but…”
Eliot sighed and shifted on the seat almost uncomfortably, and Tony found himself feeling sympathetic towards the man. “I liked what we were doing, but I can’t do that on my own. I feel like we were making a difference together. In order to do that without the team though, I need more than just myself. I managed to help the Gates’, but that was mostly dumb luck. The dirtbag behind it all was a sniffling coward who caved the second I threatened to bash his head in. It won’t always be that easy. I need help.”
“What about the rest of the team?” Tony asked curiously and when the silence stretched on longer than he expected, he turned his attention briefly toward Spencer to find the younger man studying him. “I mean, team means there was more than just you and this Nate. Just because he threw in the towel doesn’t mean that the rest of you have to. So, what happened with the others?”
Tony saw Eliot shrug out of the corner of his eye and was relieved when the other man soon spoke again. “They went back to what they were doin’, just like me, I guess. I’m not sure it would work without Nate. As much as the man pisses the hell out of me with his attitude like he’s better’n us, we need someone to be in charge. The others sure as shit ain’t gonna follow my orders. Unless you’re interested in that?”
Tony quickly shook his head. He wasn’t sure he wanted to work with a group of criminals at all, much less be their boss, even if they were trying to reform their ways. Maybe. Kinda. Occasionally, when nothing distracts them. “I’ll be honest, I’m not really interested in leading anyone. I will say, though, that I’m not as opposed to this whole situation as I thought I would be. The thing you need to know is that I have some pretty strong feelings about what you’re asking me to do.”
Tony paused to consider what he was about to say and decided that Colonel Vance was right. This was essentially a good man who had just lost his way, and deserved Tony’s help in finding his way back to the correct track. “My father isn’t a good man. In my mind, the man is a conman who takes people’s money because he’s too lazy to hold down a real job. He would tell you that he’s an Entrepreneur who believes in what he does and can’t help it if things just fall through sometimes. The fact that things seem to always fall through, and most of his business associates are on the wrong side of the law seems to not matter. Frankly, I detest the man, and the thought of becoming anything like him makes my stomach turn. That is my biggest hurdle in what you’re asking me to do.”
Tony let the miles pass as the drive worked to relax him as his mind worked though what was being asked of him. Eventually, Eliot turned the conversation away from his job and onto easier topics, and the two men found themselves sharing a love for music that helped pass the miles.
By the time they passed over into Maryland, Tony wasn’t any surer that he could get over the mental hurdle of doing something that was so close to what his father did. However, on the other hand, the thought of helping people that the law couldn’t was very appealing.
The thing Tony had always hated both as a cop and as a Federal Agent was to have someone in front of him that needed him, but that he couldn’t assist because no law had officially been broken. The idea that there were people out there helping these citizens and that Tony could be one of them was very attractive to him.
Eventually, Tony found himself pulling up on front of his apartment building, and honestly found himself sorry that he couldn’t spend longer with the other man. He offered to make Eliot dinner, but Spencer admitted that he actually had a flight to catch, because he had a job out of the country that needed his attention. When Tony arched an eyebrow, Eliot just smirked.
“There’s a thing going on in Pakistan,” Eliot said with a shrug not looking a bit worried. “Thought I’d go lend a hand.”
Tony just snorted and both men got out of the car meeting at the trunk. After taking out his bags, he held out his hand and let out a startled laugh when he ended up in a hug. “I promise you that I will think about your request. In the meantime, don’t write off your former team just yet, huh? Trust me when I say that a good team makes all the difference in your life. No matter what happens though, if you need me, and I don’t have to break any laws, give me a call. I’ll be happy to help, and don’t get dead in Pakistan!”
Eliot just smirked again still looking unworried. “I’m pretty hard to kill. I’m a lot tougher than I look.”
Tony watched the car drive off until the he couldn’t see it anymore. Shaking his head thinking about all the craziness that had gone on since he’d last been home, Tony picked up his suitcase and headed into the building. Whether it was robot cats, aliens, computers that predicted people about to commit or be the victim of a crime, or crazy offers to head up divisions of the NYPD that he was spectacularly unqualified for, so far the job offers had just been one increasing level of insanity after the other.
Walking through the door of his apartment, Tony shut his eyes, and sighed, glad to be home. Knowing how his luck ran though, it was only a matter of time before the insanity returned. Now that he was back in DC, he had a feeling that he would be hearing from Fornell soon. He couldn’t help but laugh when he realized that he was actually looking forward to it.
Tony knew that the job itself would be one that he was comfortable with. So, the biggest decision he’d have to make would be whether or not he could stomach working for the FBI. If nothing else, sparring with Fornell was always amusing. So, it should be an enjoyable meeting.