[personal profile] lit_gal
I suck at this meme thing. Nothing I do is short. My new pro-fic story that comes out at the end of the month? I had to split it into three books because it’s 200,000 words long. So I found (or created) good breaking points and made three books. I would call that long only the Igigi universe 461,000 words and my Kin series is 480,000

This will NOT be that long. So, here was the prompt:

From [livejournal.com profile] kaleecat: During that summer while Gibbs was on margarita safari, Tony was handling a recalcitrant team & an NCIS director that wants him to go undercover. What if Tony actually questioned deeper the legitimacy of the op? And how would Jenny react?



Illusions Lost
Our experience is composed rather of illusions lost than of wisdom acquired.
Joseph Roux


NCIS/Criminal Minds
Gibbs has left for Mexico, and Tony’s gut is telling him he’s in trouble. Abby is too distracted by her grief for Gibbs to back Tony up, so he decides to go to the most Abbish person he knows for help: Penelope Garcia. Abby introduced them after the two women met at a forensics seminar for federal agents. So Tony asks Garcia if she will do a little digging, but bringing Garcia in means bringing in other members of the BAU. After all, if Garcia thinks a friend is in trouble, she’ll always turn to her Derek, trusting him to do the right thing. Tony just isn't sure that having Derek Morgan on his side is going to help when he has a director making unreasonable requests, a team doing the minimum required for their job and an overwrought Abby to deal with.



Chapter One: Jenny's Request

“Tony. Nice to see you. Please, sit down.”

Oh God. She was going to demote him. That was the first thought that darted through Tony’s mind, but given how things were going in the MCRT, it seemed reasonable. However, DiNozzos never let people see ‘em sweat, so Tony plastered on a smile. “Thank you, Director.”

“How are you settling in as team lead?” The director sat back down in her chair, and Tony chose the one right across the desk from her and tried to project confidence.

“It’s rough, but we’ll work through it.” That was as close as Tony could get to the truth. Did everyone do their job? Yes. Did they do anything directly insubordinate? No. Did any of them act like they trusted Tony for one second? Not a chance in hell. They all acted like four years as Gibbs’ second in command meant nothing and he knew nothing.

“That’s good to hear. Do you have the final paperwork on the Grant case?”

Tony had never missed Gibbs so much in his life. Tony had never dealt with political pressure to close cases because usually those requests went to Gibbs, and Gibbs was utterly unaffected by anyone else’s requests. “Yeah, but I’d like more time to work on it. We never found the money, and Captain Grant insists he didn’t open the account used to channel the funds.”

Director Shepard leaned forward. “You have the witness, yes?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She sighed. “Tony, you’re my lead investigator on my top team. Please, call me Jenny.”

Tony gave a weak smile. “Jenny, then. We do have a witness, but Tim hasn’t found the money and I’d like a little more time.”

“I appreciate your thoroughness, but the Navy has insurance on the money and I need you on another case.” She slid a classified folder across the desk at him. “I think you’re uniquely qualified to handle this case. It’s undercover work, and Gibbs always said you were the best he’d ever seen.

Tony felt a little twinge of pride. He was damn good at undercover, and right now he needed a job that he could finish and finish well. He opened the file and started reading. “Arms dealers?”

“One arms dealer. Rene Benoit has been diverting weapons from naval installations. I want him.” Tony could hear the determination in director Shepard’s voice. When he’d first suspected that Sheppard and Gibbs had a sexual relationship in the past, he’d been surprised. But when he looked into Jenny Shepard’s eyes right now, he saw the cold and unrelenting agent who would’ve been an equal to Gibbs.

Tony whistled when he read the suspected scope of Benoit’s operation. “This is huge.”

“And I want him in my interrogation rooms. I trust you to put him there.” Again, Tony felt that rush of self-worth that been entirely too lacking lately.

“What’s the cover?” Tony started flipping through the files to find the details. As much as he hated to say it, he hoped that director Shepard was bringing in additional manpower for his backup. McGee had been distant and strange lately. Tony understood Abby’s grief. He could even sympathize with Ducky’s pain and the way he withdrew from the team. However, McGee hadn’t even been particularly close with Gibbs. Tony had no idea why Gibbs’s absence was having such an effect on Tony’s Probie. But it was. He was distracted and quick to leave the office the minute he was off the clock. It was like he was working a second job, and if Tony was undercover, he wasn’t sure he wanted McGee in charge of the surveillance. But telling Director Shepard that felt like throwing a teammate under the bus.

“You’re going in as a professor of film studies.”

Tony laughed. “That’s a cover I can get behind.”

“I thought you might enjoy it.”

Tony kept flipping through the pages. “I don’t see location listed. Where are we going to work out of?”

“This isn’t like other undercover work you’ve done. This is a long-term operation, and honestly it has a low probability of success. That means we have to minimize how much we extend ourselves. In phase I, you won’t have any contact with Benoit or his operation. You are to establish yourself.”

“So it’s not twenty-four seven?”

“No. You’ll work with your team on cases during the day, and before you go home you will spend a little time frequenting places where your secondary target has been seen. Sit. Take your laptop and play movies. Grade essays. A lot of this is going to be boring work because you need to establish that you are Tony DiNardo. Once you start to establish that cover, I will pull you from the team at random times. Record all the time you spend working on the case, and I will sign off on overtime or you can save it up as comp time and have a nice vacation after we bring La Grenouille down.”

Tony could already feel himself getting into the headspace. Tony DiNardo. Professor Tony DiNardo. There was a lot of himself in this character. DiNardo was going to be a laid-back sort of man. He was quick to smile make a joke, and he didn’t let things get to him. He worked for an online university because he didn’t like the politics that came with a brick and mortar school. He wanted to teach—not argue over funding. DiNardo was idealistic and enthusiastic. Tony wanted to be him. “Exit strategy? Surveillance?” Those pages were missing from the paperwork .

“Like I said, low risk, low expenditure. I’ve set up a cell phone for you.” Shepard opened a drawer and pushed a phone across the desk. “No matter where I am, I will answer calls from this phone. If something is going on, if you need extraction or if you spot Benoit, then you call me. I will dispatch a team to your position immediately.”

Tony couldn’t be hearing that right. She was suggesting that he wouldn’t have any surveillance. “Ma’am?”

The director sighed and leaned back in her chair. “Please, call me Jenny. I feel so old when people call me ma’am. Undercover work was my bread-and-butter; hell, Gibbs taught me. Back then we didn’t have satellite surveillance and tracking of cell phones. We set up long-term operations and sat and waited. All these other agencies have tried to bring Benoit down, but he knows our game plan. He knows how to spot electronic surveillance. He has some of the best technology people in the world on his staff. So I’m taking a play from Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ playbook. We are running this old school. No surveillance. No wiretaps. No computer forensics. And I understand how dangerous this is, because any undercover operation can go south. That is why I am promising you that I don’t care if I’m in a meeting with the President of the United States, I will take a call from that phone. I will stop everything and make sure that I always have your back. But I have one asset that none of these other agencies have. I have an undercover agent trained by Gibbs. You can do this Tony. You can go old-school and bring this bastard down.” Not only did Jenny give an impassioned speech, but Tony could tell that she meant him. She trusted him to get the job done when others couldn’t.

When she smiled, Tony smiled back. “Old school, huh?”

“Old school, just like me and Jethro in Paris. Read through the background and talk to me about your thoughts and concerns, but I want to get moving on this because developing this avenue could take years.”

“I’ll do that, Jenny.” The name felt strange. Tony stood and tucked the file under his arm.

“And Tony,” Jenny said, “this is strictly classified. Your team does not have the clearance to know any of it, so keep that under lock and key.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tony agreed, but he had to force himself to smile. He couldn’t tell his team about a case he was on? Rule fifteen. Always work as a team. Tony wasn’t sure he wanted to leave himself out in the cold. Hell, that setup led to more than one agent getting screwed over in cold war movies. Tony could feel his heart start to pound. But he would read the file cover to cover, and then maybe Jenny could alleviate a few of his concerns.



Chapter Two: Garcia Rides to the Rescue

Tony regretted asking to meet in a night club the second he pushed through the doors. The music pounded at his bones, but it was one of Garcia’s favorite places. If Tony was going to break the law by revealing classified intel, he wanted to at least make sure he was limiting himself to other federal employees with appropriate clearance levels.

A man with glitter eyeshadow rubbed up against Tony. “You got the hot Daddy going for you,” he yelled in Tony’s ear.”

Daddy. Great. Tony’s ego was never going to recover. “I’m looking for my girl,” Tony shouted back. The moue made the man’s displeasure clear, but he turned and danced away, leaving Tony free to push his way toward the slightly quieter back of the club. That’s where Garcia would be. She was a watcher, a trait that Tony greatly appreciated in her. Where Abby was always dragging him out on the dance floor, Garcia was equally happy dancing or sitting in a dark corner studying everyone.

Tony just hoped that their tentative friendship would handle the amount of stress he was about to put on it. Garcia had come out clubbing with him and Abby a few times, and Tony had been to her house for a barbeque that had included half the forensic technicians in town and most of the BAU. It’d been a little surreal. But as much as he liked her, they weren’t bosom buddies, and he was going to ask for a big favor.

He just didn’t know who else to talk to. Abby’s grief was making her a little unpredictable, and where he normally would have talked to Ducky, the ME was emotionally shut down after Gibbs’ hasty exit and lack of any respect for a twenty year friendship.

“Hey! Tony! Here we are!” Garcia was bouncing up and down, like Tony might miss her. Even in this club, she stood out. Tony headed for the back booth she had claimed, but halfway there he noticed she had company. Ignoring the flash of guilt that made him feel like he’d been caught out late after curfew, he hurried to greet her.

“Garcia! My computer goddess!” Tony caught her in a big hug.

“Tony! My Italian Gigolo of male perfection!”

Tony laughed. No matter how foul his mood, Garcia could always make him smile. “I never should have told you what Mrs. Mallard calls me.” The familiar teasing made a world of grief slide off his back.

“I would have thought it anyway,” Garcia promised. She turned to the other person at the table. “Tony, you know Derek Morgan.” Tony hid a wince and smiled at the agent.

Morgan stood. “Hey, man. Nice seeing you again.”

“Yeah, it’s great seeing you.” Tony looked over at Garcia, and he could see the tight way she held herself and the worry on her face. She was worried because this wasn’t some random coincidence. She had brought Morgan intentionally. Tony frowned. “Garcia, did you bring back-up to a date?”

“This is a date?” Morgan looked suddenly uncomfortable.

Garcia punched Morgan in the arm. “Not a date-date. You know I avoid dating anyone who does field work. My heart cannot take it, not when I worry about you guys all the time. But Tony, you sounded all weird on the phone. It almost sounded like you were trying to avoiding telling people you were talking to an FBI analyst and you called me Penny. No one calls me Penny.”

“I was distracted,” Tony said, which was a pretty weak defense. Garcia was no Penny. Sure, she was a good Penelope after a few drinks, but Penny didn’t quite fit. “It’s just been a bitch at work lately.”

“You’re a supervisory agent over at NCIS, right?” Morgan asked.

“Yeah,” Tony said, and he could hear the uncertainty in his own voice. He was giving this profiler way too much information, and that was going to complicate things. “Garcia, I was hoping we could talk, just you and me. You know, catch up.”

Morgan raised his hands. “Don’t mind me. Garcia just thought you sounded off, so I tagged along to see if there was anything I could do to help, but I don’t want to cramp your style. I’ll just get us some drinks. What’s your poison, Agent DiNozzo?”

“Rum and coke, heavy on the coke,” Tony said. He’d like to down about a gallon of rum, but it wouldn’t help anything.

“You got it.” With a nod, Derek vanished into the mass of people on the dance floor, and Tony had the feeling he’d be gone a while. It was a good man who took a subtle hint to get lost without even showing an ounce of annoyance.

Garcia sat on the bench seat and patted the space next to her. “Okay, my love, you sit down and tell momma all about it because something has you tied up in knots.”

“I’m fine.”

Garcia snorted. “Do I have to call Abby?”

“No!” Tony snapped far louder than he intended. Garcia considered him with wide eyes before she caught him by the hand and pulled him down next to her on the bench.

“Okay, spill. You’re worrying me.”

Tony ran a hand over his face. Why had he come here? “I shouldn’t put you in the middle.”

“Oh please. I put myself in the middle so much that I can’t even tell how many middles I’m in the middle of. You tell me what’s going on, and I’ll decide for myself whether I’m getting involved in your middle too.”

Tony watched the undulating masses on the dance floor. He wanted to strip off his badge and gun, take off his clothes, and vanish into the crowd like the main character in that old British series who had walked into the ocean and then washed ashore a different man. Tony wanted to be a different man with a different life, and he didn’t know how to get there. He just knew that the more he had read that file, the worse he had felt. And maybe he would have swallowed all that discomfort, but Jenny’s answers had been too vague and her promises of backup were too passionate for complete sincerity. Jenny’s order that he leave his team out had cut off some of Tony’s support, but the team’s lack of interest in doing anything more than the minimum finished the job. If Garcia couldn’t help him, Tony was going to have to either take this job blind or risk pissing off the director.

He studied her for a minute, before he caught her hand in his. Her big flower ring poked his fingers. “If this is too much, you have to tell me. I will never forgive myself if I drag you down with me.”

She leaned forward. “You tell me what is going on right now or so help me, I’m hacking your computer and replacing all your Tony Bennett and Dean Martin with 50 Cent tracks.”

Tony knew a losing hand when he got dealt one. “Fine, but seriously, you need to consider telling me to fuck off.”

“I will as soon as you tell me why you called.”

“I need you to hack NCIS.”

Garcia reared back like she’d seen a snake.

“Forget it. It’s fine.” Tony tried to stand, but Garcia caught his arm and pulled him back down.

“I won’t forget it. Are you trying to get intel over your clearance level or is this part of some practical joke? What are you looking for?”

Practical joke. Yep, he was DiNozzo the clown—good for nothing for comic relief. “Do you really think I’d ask you to hack a federal agency for a joke?”

Garcia had the grace to look chagrined. “No, but in my defense, if you did, you wouldn’t be the first. And worse, I actually took the dare. But that’s a story of a Garcia long ago and far away. What do you need and why do you need it, and do not even try to leave without giving me those details.” As if to make her point, Garcia tightened her hold on his arm.

“I need to know if NCIS has an open investigation on an arms dealer named La Grenouille, aka René Benoit.”

She looked at him for a second, her expression making it clear that she was waiting for the rest of the story, but that was it. “And you can’t ask your director? You’re a supervisory agent now.”

Tony ran a hand over his face. “Director Shepard asked me to go in undercover with René Benoit’s daughter, but the mission specs don’t include any backup.”

Garcia’s eyes got large and her mouth fell open.

“It’s not completely unheard of for long-term, low-risk positions. With daily check-ins and a panic signal, I would have some support.”

“Low risk? Low risk?” Garcia’s voice rose. “Arms dealers are not low risk.”

Tony leaned close and hushed her. “This is need to know, and you don’t, so could you at least pretend that I didn’t violate my confidentiality agreements by reading you in on a classified piece of intel?”

Garcia slapped a hand over her mouth and then leaned closer. “Are you asking me to get the file and find out why you aren’t assigned any backup?”

“No, no that’s too dangerous. I just want you to check the general logs and find out if NCIS even has an active case officially on file.”

For a long time Garcia was silent. She considered Tony with tragic eyes, and he felt about two inches tall. He was putting her right in the middle because he couldn’t handle his own shit. Gibbs wouldn’t have needed to bring in outsiders to get answers. Finally Garcia said softly, “You think Shepard is running off the books operations.”

Tony looked out over the crowd. “Maybe,” he finally admitted.

“Oh boy.” Garcia’s words were little more than a whisper nearly lost in the thump of the music.

“Look,” Tony quickly added, “I don’t want a team of FBI profilers getting in the middle of an undercover situation. Agent Morgan knows something is up, so if you have time, there is a second favor that you could tell him about if he pushes.” Tony pulled a piece of paper out of his small notepad and wrote a name and bank number on it. “We just sent a case to the prosecutor’s office. Renny Grant stole a million bucks from a Navy credit union. We have a witness and my computer guy tells me the money trail is solid, but he couldn’t find the money, and I don’t know computers well enough to check his work.”

Tony had a little niggle of a doubt on the Renny Grant case. He had been planning to close the case, but he needed a cover or Morgan was going to find out about the Benoit case.

“You couldn’t ask Abby to check it?”

For some reason, that hit Tony like a punch to the gut. A month ago he would have bet anything that he could always turn to Abby, but time had disproven that.

Garcia wrapped her arms around him in an awkward sideways hug. “Hey, no, it’s okay. Tracing money is like a hobby for me. I track down politicians’ illegal slush funds all the time, and I didn’t just tell you that. Forget I mentioned it, and tell me what’s going on with Abby.”

“Nothing. She just…”

“Misses Gibbs and is emoting all over everyone,” Garcia said firmly before she finally let Tony go. “I get that. But if she’s not doing her job, then you should pull her aside and tell her to get her head out of her very perky ass. I love her, but I’m not blind to the fact that she’s not handling this well, and as someone else who doesn’t handle change or accept new people quickly, I get it. But if she’s refusing to help a team leader, that’s over a line. And until her head and ass separate themselves, I have your back.”

Tony wished it had been something as concrete as Abby not doing her job. No one said or did anything that taken singularly could be considered disrespectful or insubordinate, but still, Tony felt like he was suffering a death by papercuts. “She said I was undermining Tim’s confidence and that a good team leader wouldn’t assume that the computer genius screwed up the computer work. She then told me that my gut didn’t justify hurting Tim and that I needed to stop trying to be Gibbs with his famous gut and be Tony, the guy who loves and trusts his team.” Funny, Tony didn’t feel much love or trust, but according to Abby, that’s who he should be.

“She accused you of being Gibbs because you have a gut feeling? Seriously?” Garcia sounded almost amused.

“She’s upset,” Tony said. He might be pissed at Abby, but he didn’t want anyone else taking shots.

“Oh sweetie, every cop, fed, and spook I’ve ever met has talked about his gut, and I’ve known a whole lot. Maybe I should invite Abby over for dinner and let her have a good cry and get all this out because she has a logic circuit that’s come loose somewhere.” Garcia nodded toward the bar. “Look, here comes my chocolate dream.” Garcia took the paper with Renny’s information and slipped it into her bra.

Tony snorted. And people accused him of being unprofessional. He wished he worked somewhere that let him talk like Morgan and Garcia without assuming it meant he couldn’t do his job. “So, do you two want some privacy?” Morgan asked.

“Nope!” Garcia said. “I have the two most beautiful men in this place, and I plan to play queen and lord my riches over all the lesser beings while you guys talk shop.”

“I don’t want to take over the conversation,” Morgan said as he set all three drinks down and slid into the seat on the far side of Garcia.

“Oh please,” she said. “Get two feds together and sooner or later they start comparing scars or near-death experiences. By the way, Tony will win that, and I don’t want to hear another description of his near death by pneumonic plague, so move on to the biggest bad-ass you’ve ever taken on. Tony, you’re first up. Go.” Garcia brought her hand down as though starting a race. Tony started laughing, but he did start the story of Ducky, Vincent Hanlon, and the meat puzzle.

Date: 2016-06-08 05:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] strangefen.livejournal.com
0.0 This is looking excellent. And not short.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lit-gal.livejournal.com
I sure hope so.

Date: 2016-06-08 07:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaleecat.livejournal.com
Woot! I am catnip for the muse! ( should I apologize?)

Awesome and so made of win. Garcia totally needs to kick Abby in the butt. I wouldn't have thought of bringing them in but it all works so wonderfully. You capture Tony's thought processes and what he was probably feeling then so well. Again my imagination has gone crazy.

Thank you so so much.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lit-gal.livejournal.com
You should apologize. This one is eating my brain. I just hope it doesn't get too large because I was looking for something small and quick.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:57 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaleecat.livejournal.com
:( sorry about that then, the eating brain part. Cause I do know you were looking for small and quick; so I feel bad about that part.

But not the great fic part.

Date: 2016-06-08 07:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaleecat.livejournal.com
P.S. The meme didn't specify lengthso you don't suck at it. You rock it because your muse takes off and creates.

I, on the other hand, suck at such things as my muse likes today heels in and run the other direction.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lit-gal.livejournal.com
My muses are so fickle that they run in every direction. At once.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kaleecat.livejournal.com
Like herding cats I suspect.

I'm fairly sure my muses are ninjas cause I often have trouble finding them. And my original post should have said "muses like to dig heels in and then run the other direction". Seriously, trying to do LJ or any comments on the phone never works right.

Date: 2016-06-08 08:10 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] somefangirl79.livejournal.com
This is so good! It is always exciting when excellent authors post something new and you are one of my favourites. I look forward to seeing more of your Garcia, you got her voice just right and I love her!
Thanks for the sneak peak.

Date: 2016-06-08 11:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lit-gal.livejournal.com
Thank you so much. I do love Garcia, and this is my first time writing her, so I hope I do her justice.

Date: 2016-06-09 03:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] texanfan.livejournal.com
I'm never watched Criminal Minds. Perhaps I should just so I can properly enjoy this fic. :) I love how you're killing two birds with one stone, the Grant case and Jenny's out of whack vendetta. Very clever, all he really needs to know is if this is a legitimate operation. What he should do when he discovers it's not is an intriguing question.

Date: 2016-06-10 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lit-gal.livejournal.com
This one is going to be Tony-centric, so I don't know that you NEED it, but it is a good show, even if the violence sometimes crosses a line for me and I can't watch an episode.

Date: 2016-06-11 11:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hawk-soaring.livejournal.com
I sure wish someone had had Tony's back during that whole debacle. Him swallowing that poison pill still galls me. Eager for more... so off to get caught up! LOL

Hi it's been a while

Date: 2016-06-25 02:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] zazreil.livejournal.com
Real life is hell so it's nice when I finally get time to peruse my favorite sites I find a new lit gal opus! And it is about one of my favorite characters. What a Treat! Thank you for writing and sharing

Zaz

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