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illusionslostMy Post-Hiatus story



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.

Earlier chapters HERE



Chapter Three: Morgan with a Side of Honesty

Tony was sprawled over his couch when the doorbell rang. For a second he considered ignoring it because he was too tired to get up. He put in fewer hours without Gibbs around to drive everyone into the ground and Jenny throwing every damn case at the MCRT, but Tony still somehow ended up more exhausted than ever.

He didn’t handle interpersonal conflict well. That’s why he joked—to put everyone at ease. Only now the strategy seemed to have backfired on him. When the bell rang again, Tony forced himself to cross the room and check the peephole. Agent Morgan was in his hall.

When Tony opened the door, Morgan smiled and held up a sealed envelope. “Hey, Garcia is caught up in a case, and she asked me to bring over some paperwork.”

“Hey thanks.” Tony was about to reach for it, but Morgan put the paperwork at his side. Raising his eyebrows, Tony studied Morgan.

His smile grew wider. Yep, he was playing Tony and not even trying to be subtle. “Mind if I come in?” If Morgan had tried to charm his way in, Tony would have made an excuse, but this open, unvarnished bribery with the paperwork was unexpected. It was enough that Tony was curious.

“Sure, come on in.”

Morgan passed Tony and spent a little time walking the living room and checking out the view. “Nice place you got.”

“Yeah, well when the last tenant gets shot in the living room, it drives the price down into range for a civil servant.”

Morgan laughed. “Not a bad trick. I renovate homes on my off time. I might keep that in mind.”

“Yeah, but make sure you have a good buyer. You have to disclose that information, and a lot of people do not want to go to sleep ten feet from where someone bled to death.”

Morgan nodded slowly. “I imagine not.” Apparently the small talk portion of the evening was over because Morgan leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. Tony imagined that the posture was intended to look less threatening, but Morgan was a large, well-armed federal agent, so he couldn’t exactly make himself look like a fluffy bunny. “So Garcia tells me you just got a promotion to team lead. Good for you.”

Tony felt that same stab of discomfort that showed up every time someone mentioned his promotion. “Yeah. It’s been three weeks now.”

“I turned down an offer for a team. FBI teams are larger, and I was not ready for that responsibility.” Morgan’s honesty was completely unexpected.

Tony got the feeling there was more there that Morgan wasn’t saying, but it seemed rude to say something. “It’s not easy,” Tony admitted. He wondered if Morgan was telling the truth or if he was saying what he had to in order to get Tony to feel comfortable enough to open up. But if it was a lie, it was a dumb one. As a fed, Tony could find that information easy enough.

“I bet not. But Baby Girl says you’re one of the best. I was Chicago PD, and she says that those of us who used to walk a beat have our feet more firmly on the ground.”

“She has a rare respect for cops,” Tony said, bitterness in his voice. When he’d tried to say something about his ten years of experience, McGee had actually corrected him. Corrected him. And then Ziva had accused him of exaggerating because Tony only had four years on the job, as if NCIS were the only place investigations took place.

A frown briefly crossed Morgan’s face. “Not many people do these days. It could be worse, though. Hotch is a lawyer. Now there’s a cross I wouldn’t want to bear.”

Tony laughed dully. It was expected after a line like that. “True enough. I don’t know many who like them. Do you want a beer?”

“Actually, I’d love some water if you have it. It’s been a bitch of a day, and if I start drinking, I am going to want to take my shoes off, put my feet up and fall asleep in front of the closest television.” Morgan followed Tony into the kitchen and parked himself at the island before he asked, “So, how long were you a cop?”

“Six years in three different police forces, including making homicide detective in Baltimore.”

Morgan whistled. “Baltimore is not an easy beat. I did four years in Chicago, but that included eighteen months deep undercover.”

Tony handed over a glass of water. “I did undercover work in Philly. It’s miserable work.”

“Hell yes. After that, I started taking psyche classes and applying at federal agencies. I might have sent my resume over to NCIS at one point. How long have you been with them?”

Tony leaned back and studied Morgan. “You’re less subtle than you think, and I’ve had four years at NCIS. Do you need anything else to complete your profile?”

“It’s not like that.”

“Then what is it like?” Tony leaned against the counter and pinned Morgan with his best Gibbs’ glare. While he didn’t expect to intimidate the man, he did want to make it clear that he had a limited patience when it came to game playing in his own home.

“Baby girl says that your team is giving you a rough time. I got to looking at the structure over in your building, and I realized you don’t even have a special agent in charge of the office. The team leads are on their own unless they want to take a problem all the way up to the director. It’s a hell of a position for a new team lead.”

For a second, Tony considered bluffing. If he had one person in his life that had shown a fraction of this concern, he might have, but he felt like he was running on melting ice and about to take one hell of a fall into a freezing water. If some fed got a preview of the disaster that was about to be DiNozzo’s career, he couldn’t find the energy to care. He shrugged and admitted, “I’m not the best team lead.”

“That so?” Morgan’s voice was utterly devoid of emotion or judgment. The man was definitely a profiler, and he knew how to work the emotional angles.

Tony gave a mirthless laugh. “Yeah.” If he had more leadership skills, he would know how to get out of the hole he found himself in.

Morgan put the envelope on the counter close to him, and leaned his elbows on the granite. “So, give me the rundown. Throw some ideas out and I’ll give you a straight up assessment.”

“Of what?”

“Of your leadership, of your team, of how you can step up to the plate. I don’t promise to give perfect advice, but sometimes you just need someone on the outside looking in. And my Penelope thinks you’re about perfect, so I know you’re a good agent. She has a thing for people who right all the wrongs in the world, and she has your name on that list.”

“Lately, I’m not so sure.” If Jenny had her way, Tony would be spending his time trying to emotionally manipulate a doctor into betraying a father she rarely even saw.

“So, who’s on your team?” The question was factual and without emotional connotation at all.

“Is this an interrogation? You have a nice technique there,” Tony said.

Morgan grinned. “I wouldn’t even try to get something by you, Agent DiNozzo.”

“Tony. Just call me Tony, and my team includes agents McGee and Michelle Lee and Officer Ziva David.”

“Okay, so give me assessments. How do you see each of them fitting into the team?”

Tony snorted. “I might reassess your interrogation technique. That’s a quick jump into difficult and emotionally loaded territory.”

“If you were a suspect, I would have worked my way up,” Morgan said, which was as good as admitting that this was a planned attack. But it was also someone offering to help, and someone trustworthy, and one of Garcia’s friends. Hell, anything Tony said was probably part of the general scuttlebutt already. The top investigators at any agency tended to keep an eye on each other. If it wasn’t out of a worry that another team might step on an active investigation, then it was a desire to poach good people from a rival agency.

“Come on, you fix an engine by taking it apart and looking at the pieces. So give me the parts and let’s see if we can’t talk this out.”

Logically it made sense, but Tony wasn’t sure he wanted the team’s dirty laundry hanging out for the FBI to dissect. On the other hand, Tony didn’t see an exit strategy, and any lifeline looked good to a drowning man.

“Agent Lee was prelaw and had started law school before joining NCIS’s legal department. She’s rigid in her thinking and overly concerned about following policy, but a solid agent, even if she’s greener than grass.”

Morgan laughed. “It sounds like you just described Spencer, although he has degrees in psychology, sociology, philosophy, chemistry, engineering, and mathematics. But for all those books smarts, when he first started, he couldn’t spot the obvious truth two inches in front of his nose unless someone wrote it down in one of the many languages he speaks. He’s gotten better—a lot better—but I do remember when he was so green you’d get grass stains standing next to him.” Morgan shook his head fondly.

“He’s the skinny one, right?”

“We can’t get that kid to gain weight no matter what we do. Rossi feeds him Italian, I take him weight lifting, and Garcia slips him chocolate all day, and that’s the heaviest he’s ever weighed.”

“When he came to Garcia’s barbeque, he was wearing his sidearm, and I remember thinking that it was nearly as heavy as he was.”

“Oh God. Don’t even talk to me about how he handles weapons. I will trust him at my six every time, but do not ask him to make a difficult shot.”

“That’s McGee,” Tony said. He stopped laughing. Morgan was laughing fondly, that was obvious. He liked his teammates and the stories were a sort of sibling exasperation. But Tony found his own laughter had a darker edge the second he brought up McGee.

“Okay, so tell me about McGee,” Morgan said softly.

“Don’t try your Jedi BAU mind tricks on me,” Tony said in an effort to recapture the easy joy, but neither of them laughed. “He came on the team two years ago, but he worked at the Norfolk Naval Base before that, and he helped us with a number of cases. He’s good with computers.”

Morgan nodded. “But he only has two years in investigations. How about your last team member?”

“Ziva? Yeah, she doesn’t have much experience.”

“Does she have less than McGee?”

“Let’s see. She started in October. It’s now June, so yeah. Yeah, she does have less experience. She’s a liaison officer from Mossad.”

Morgan’s eyebrows went up an inch. “On an investigative team? Seriously? What the hell? You guys are the premier team over there. Are you telling me that you’re the only seasoned investigator on the whole damn team?”

“Hey, McGee can hold his own.””

“Yeah, no, he can’t. Garcia told me about your fishing expedition and your gut feeling that he had dropped the ball. He did. And if you had ignored your gut, you would have been just as guilty of negligence.” Morgan slid the envelope across the counter to Tony. Tony opened it and started reading. He wasn’t halfway through the first page before the nausea set in. Renny was innocent. The logs were falsified, and Garcia hadn’t even required fancy hacking to prove it. A high-quality forensics software identified areas where the logs had been altered, and Garcia had simply had to go through the code line by line. Even Tony could have spotted the mismatched dates once the software had dug the information out of the encrypted program and translated it into useable data. Renny had been in Iraq when the money had vanished. And Tony had signed off on the case. He had put his name down on a report that condemned an innocent man.

“Who?” Tony asked weakly.

“Don’t know,” Morgan said. “My guess is you know where to start looking.”

“Lieutenant Grady signed a sworn statement and agreed to testify that Renny Grant opened the account. And since this is on a military base, I need to check up the chain of command. Renny was an officer and if he didn’t help set this up, someone higher up the food chain than a lieutenant must have.”

“Sounds like you have a good place to start,” Morgan said. “So tell me, were you comfortable signing off on that case? And did you sign off on it?”

Tony knew his answers damned him, but he wouldn’t lie, not after what he’d nearly done. “I had a few doubts, but not enough to go up against the director and my team. If Gibbs had been here, I would have told him that I didn’t feel good about it, but instead I signed off on the investigation.”

“What would Gibbs have told you?”

Tony thought about that. He’d been trying so hard to avoid thinking about how Gibbs ran cases that it took him some time. “He would have told me that feelings weren’t evidence and to come back with evidence. I would have then threatened or bullied McGee into finding the evidence.” Tony sighed as he suddenly realized the problem. “But I didn’t want to bully my team, and I don’t know how to give an order and have them follow it without doing exactly that. When I was a teammate, it didn’t matter.”

“But it does now,” Morgan said softly.

Tony looked at the Renny file and his gut was so tied in knots that it hurt. His chest ached with the weight of the mistake he’d made. “I don’t know how to lead this team.”

“Do you trust them?”

Tony wanted to say he did, but he just wasn’t sure, not anymore.

Morgan sighed. “I can’t give you answers. I can only tell you to follow that gut. It seems to lead you right. If you trust your team, talk to them. If you don’t, ask for a transfer.”

“And if I don’t trust myself?” Tony asked without looking up from that damning file.

“Work in an office with an agent in charge who can help you develop some leadership skills, the first among those is to trust yourself. If NCIS won’t accommodate that request, the FBI sure as hell will. You have a good reputation, DiNozzo. You’re the one who makes Gibbs play nice with others. You have a way with investigations. Hell, get about twenty hours of deviant psychology under your belt and I’ll advocate for you to join the BAU.”

Tony looked up. Trying to get Tony to change agencies was a long leap from one botched case. However, one piece of information would make that a logical jump. “You know about the undercover assignment.”

Morgan nodded. “My baby girl is worried, and when she worries, she comes to me to fix things. But the fact that you figured that out so fast is why I know you’d be one hell of a profiler. Both of us want you out of NCIS because the op isn’t sanctioned. It looks like the CIA has an active case and has flagged any activity with Benoit, so your director would be sending you into the crossfire between an arms dealer and the CIA. Garcia is sick over the thought of you taking this assignment.”

“I won’t,” Tony said firmly. He hadn’t trusted himself on the Renny case. He’d taken easy answers because it made everyone uncomfortable when Tony pushed. Tony wasn’t Gibbs. He might not ever be as good as Gibbs. However, he couldn’t keep second guessing himself and trying to stay in the shadows to avoid conflict. “I’ll tell Director Shepard that I am too concerned with my team to take time running an op. This is exhibit A.” Tony tapped the file.

“How are you going to explain where you got it?”

And this was the part where Tony ruined any chance at staying on Shepard’s good side. “I’m going to tell her the truth. Abby refused to run the computer work a second time so I took it to another agency and asked them for help.”

“She’s going to be pissed.”

Tony snorted. “She’s going to be in a long line of people who are going to want my head, although she’ll get the first spot.” Tony was throwing himself and the whole team under the bus, and getting shown up by the FBI was the cherry on the shit sundae. “No offense, but I really need a little time to get my thoughts together.”

“I hear that.” Morgan stood. For a second he stood there like he was going to say something, but Tony turned to the refrigerator. He wanted for footsteps as Morgan left, but instead Morgan said, “You’ve got one hell of a day tomorrow, but listen, under the suits, we’re both still cops. If you need me to have your six, you let me know.”

Tony nodded mutely. Only then did Morgan leave.
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