[personal profile] lit_gal
My 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 Seven: Ducky’s the Last to Know


In the elevator, Tony texted Garcia. --3 day suspension

--Y?

--misuse of outside resources, end run around dir.

--I’m thinking words I can’t say! Lunch?

--Still playing SSA DiNozzo

--???


Yeah, Tony had no way to explain his self-imposed undercover mission to fake leadership until it was more natural. Instead he texted back the name of a restaurant, and Garcia countered with a time. Tony could talk to Ducky and make it in time, so he agreed.

Her last message came with a series of borderline obscene emojis that made Tony smile. Leave it to Garcia to turn sexual texts into therapy. Tony got off on the morgue level and headed toward Ducky’s domain. Inside, Ducky was at his desk, working on the omnipresent paperwork that existed at all levels of federal work. “Hey Duck.”

Ducky looked up. “Anthony. I must say I expected to see you earlier. When Abigail called, she suggested you might be coming to see me and requested that I instill some reality into your perception.”

“Did she?” Tony reined in his temper because Ducky didn’t deserve it.

Ducky closed the file he’d been working on. “She appeared quite distraught, but I’m more interested in your perception, Anthony. What in the world is going on upstairs?” Ducky gestured toward his second chair.

Tony took the seat, but he honestly didn’t know what to say.

“Oh dear. I take it that it is more serious than I’ve realized.”

“There’s a lack of respect for my position as team lead,” Tony admitted. The very fact that Abby had gone running to Ducky to complain proved that. No way would she get away with that if the team lead in question were Paula Cassidy or Chad Dunham, but Tony DiNozzo didn’t get the same level of professional respect.

“Are we speaking of Abigail or the team more generally?”

Tony studied Ducky and wondered how far he wanted to push this. “I think the lack of respect is almost universal.”

Ducky straightened up in his chair. “I certainly hope you aren’t including me in that.”

“Intentionally, no, but on the Anderson case, when I asked you for cause of death, you suggested that I try to avoid acting like Gibbs.”

Ducky frowned. “I had simply meant that I could not yet determine the cause, and showing the same sort of impatience Jethro so often showed would likely lead you to have the same difficulties Jethro often encountered. He made his own professional life more challenging than it had to be.”

“I wasn’t trying to be Gibbs. Any team lead is going to ask about most likely cause of death on scene. But I didn’t get the same response any team lead would have gotten.”

Ducky looked down at his desk and rearranged a few pieces of paper. It was a rather unsubtle play for time, so Tony waited. “I can certainly see where my words could be taken that way.” Ducky then looked back up at Tony. “However, I did not intend them to be taken such. I have every faith in your abilities, and my only concern is that you not allow Jethro Gibbs’s poor example to lead you astray. I apologize for ever implying otherwise.” Every time Ducky criticized Gibbs, Tony could still see the pain in the man’s face. The loss of that friendship had struck deep, so Tony was more inclined to forgive and forget.

“I’m just hearing that too much. Either I am trying to be Gibbs or I’m doing things Gibbs wouldn’t have done, which makes those things wrong. I can’t win.”

“These are growing pains. Given the changes in the team and the lack of any time to adjust, I am unsurprised.”

“We can’t afford growing pains, not when innocent people’s lives are in our hands.”

“That sounds rather specific,” Ducky said, his voice neutral. The very lack of judgment invited Tony to continue, as Ducky no doubt intended.

“Renny Grant.” The very name made Tony’s guts tie themselves into knots.

“I’m afraid I don’t remember the case.”

“You never had a body. Captain Grant worked at the Navy Savings and Loan when a million dollars went missing.”

“Ah.”

Part of Tony wanted to avoid ever talking about the damn case again, and another part of him—a masochistic part—wanted to pick at that scab until it bled. He wanted to find random strangers on the street and tell them about Tony DiNozzo’s big fuck up. And Tony hated that part of himself almost as much as he hated the part of himself that wished none of this had come to light. Tony had enjoyed his ignorance in this instance. He took a deep breath and tried to get his thoughts in order. “A retired colonel’s credentials were used to transfer money out of various accounts, ten dollars at a time. We found that Captain Grant had access to the old profiles and passwords, and then we found a witness who saw Grant accessing one of the fraudulent accounts.”

“It sounds rather straightforward,” Ducky said when Tony let the silence continue for too long.

Tony nodded. “It did. I was uncomfortable that the money vanished, and I asked McGee to pull all the financials and go through them again.”

Ducky sighed. “And from Abigail’s rather less coherent version of this story, I take it that young Timothy declined.”

“He has some side project he wanted to get to, and he thought tracking the money down wasn’t important. He actually told me that if he hadn’t been busy, he would have stayed and done the work if only to keep me happy. The worst part is that he doesn’t seem to understand that his answer was disrespectful in and of itself. You don’t humor a boss. You do the work you’re assigned.”

“Only in this case, he did not,” Ducky said. “And Abigail also refused you.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “only she added a healthy dose of accusation. Apparently I was only trying to impress the director by recovering the money, and I was willing to bully and belittle McGee to do it.”

“Oh dear. Anthony, you know she did not mean that. She loves you like a brother, but she is so averse to change that Jethro’s departure has robbed her of some good judgment when it comes to his team.”

“It doesn’t excuse refusing to do work, and I didn’t demand the respect I deserved. I let them get away with the shit.”

“I have to admit I’m confused. If the computer work was not done, then how did you find out that Captain Grant is innocent, or did I misunderstand that part of Abigail’s tale? I must admit that she was difficult to follow at times, despite the fact that I am a fan of a rambling tale.”

“I went to a friend in the FBI and they did the work.”

“Oh.” Ducky cringed.

Tony shrugged. “Political suicide, I know. But I don’t have the technical skills to do the work, and the two people who could… it felt like they were conspiring against me. I was starting to question my own judgment, but it was my gut that was right. I respect their skills, but they have so little respect for mine that I had to stick my neck out with another agency just to get the information. Hell, I was sure it was going to come back saying that Renny was guilty, they were right, and I was being unreasonable.”

“And yet you sent the work out. Give yourself credit for having enough faith in yourself to do that,” Ducky said. He couldn’t know how those words were a knife twisting in Tony’s guts. Tony wished he had followed up on the Grant case rather than finding all this by accident. “How did our good director take this news?” Ducky asked.

“I’m suspended for three days. I won’t protest the discipline because I failed to direct my subordinates to complete work and I sent evidence to another agency without authorization.”

“That seems rather harsh. While it’s admirable for you to take responsibility for failing to provide adequate leadership, that does not absolve young Timothy in this. Perhaps I should speak to the director.”

Ducky looked ready to gird his loins and go to battle, but Tony held out his hand to stop him. “There might be other reasons the director is upset.”

“Ah.” Ducky leaned back. “And are these reasons you can discuss?”

“No.”

For a time, Ducky stared at him, but Tony wasn’t about to share anything about the Benoit case. His gut told him that the director was not about to be reasonable when it came to Rene Benoit, and it was time for Tony to start listening to his own instincts. Eventually Ducky said, “That is a conundrum. Is there anything I can do in order to assist you?”

“Honestly, I don’t know how you can. I laid down the law with both Ziva and Tim, and there’s nothing else I can do.”

“How did they take that?”

“Tim sees the problem,” Tony said. He wasn’t entirely sure McGee could fix his attitude, but at least he was willing to listen. The Renny case would probably haunt McGee’s dreams nearly as long as it would haunt Tony’s. “There is one thing you could do.”

“Anything, my boy.”

“Talk to Abby.” Tony just knew she was going to show up all tears and apologies once she heard about the suspension, but Tony shouldn’t have to clean up her emotional messes. “She insisted McGee was in trouble and that we should all rally around him.” He snorted in disgust.

“Which left you hanging out in the cold, as the saying goes,” Ducky finished for him. “In her defense, I have no doubt she believed Timothy was the only one in danger. Gibbs always weathered such storms without a mark, and he sheltered you rather fiercely, but she sees young McGee as having less protection.”

“So she assumes I would throw him under the bus and selfishly protect my own position,” Tony summarized.

“I suspect it is less a matter of throwing anyone under a bus and more a symptom of Abigail’s inability to truly grasp that the situation has changed.”

“She should have listened to me and respected my opinion. I understand how field operations and how that bull pen run, and she doesn’t. It comes down to that, Duck. If she can’t have faith in my abilities when it comes to my area of expertise, then I don’t see how we can have any sort of relationship. I certainly don’t want her to show up at my house demanding that I comfort her when I’m the one on suspension.”

Ducky gave a decisive nod. “I assure you she will not bother you. She has done quite enough harm, and I will impress upon her that she must take some time for introspection before she seeks you out. I will also suggest that actions speak louder than words and until she can show you the respect she would for any team lead, she must maintain her distance. Her words of support would be at dire conflict with her actions right now, which would add to your stress.”

“Yes, it would,” Tony said. “And she needs to know that the director is thinking of bringing in someone else for the MCRT.” Tony doubted that Shepard would want someone with too much experience coming in to lead the team. After all, if Agent Macy was as good as Shepard said, there was a chance that she would notice something amiss if Tony took the undercover job, and Shepard probably anticipated that Tony would cave on the issue. No, Shepard would bring in someone good enough to be SFA, but someone who lacked the experience or personality to challenge the director if Tony vanished for long periods of time during the day on some mysterious case that never got logged into the system. A good SFA would also free up Tony from having to supervise the others as closely, and he knew what the director would like him to be doing during that time.

“Does she have someone specific in mind?” Ducky asked.

“She mentioned bringing in Agent Lara Macy to lead the team, but she also said she would like to leave me in the lead and that she might bring in a more experienced SFA.”

Ducky nodded. “Ah. You always smoothed over the edges of Jethro’s harsh leadership style. It’s possible that the director will bring in an enforcer to play the disciplinarian, leaving you free to continue playing the role of the diplomat of the team.”

“Maybe.” Tony disliked the idea because it felt too much like admitting he couldn’t ever learn to discipline his own people. “But if Tim does get demoted, Abby needs to keep her accusations away from me because I will file a complaint if I have to deal with one more round of ‘blame Tony for everything.’” Tony made his tone as uncompromising as possible.

“I quite understand, and I would actually encourage you to follow through on that threat if she cannot respect your boundaries. Abigail may need a more forceful reminder that Jethro’s departure requires us all to adapt and change. However, I will attempt to convince her to take a more reasoned approach to the situation. Have you talked with Timothy?”

“About the fact that one or both of us might lose our promotions? Yep. He took it better than I thought, but that might be because he doesn’t believe it will happen.”

“Just remember that Jethro cast a large shadow, and all of us are having some trouble adjusting to its absence.”

“And I have to remember that people like Captain Grant can never be allowed to suffer because of it,” Tony said firmly.

“Agreed.”

Tony cut his visit with Ducky short in order to head over to the restaurant, and in the time it had taken to fill Ducky in on the drama, he had missed two calls from Ziva, one from Jenny, and a very confused text from Michelle Lee who asked if she was being sent back to the legal department. Tony texted her a reassurance that she was not, but warned her that the director was thinking of changing the leadership of the team. He left if vague whether it was his neck or McGee’s on the chopping block, and she didn’t text back any questions.

She was the only team member who didn’t question him, but in the long run, he recognized that her lack of curiosity was a problem. Investigators were diggers. They were nosy bastards who always wanted answers and would resort to invading teammates’ privacy to get it. Even Ziva had that underlying annoyance when faced with a mystery—that’s why he believed she had the instincts to be a good investigator one day, even if her current training was skewed a little in the lethal direction. Michelle seemed perfectly content to sit in the same room as a mystery and never peek under the cover. It was a bad sign.

Despite that, he was not about to give his probie back to the legal department. She could learn to be a valuable team member even if she would likely never rise to being a team lead. Besides, some days she was the only one he could look at without developing new ulcers.

By the time Tony got to the restaurant, he was five minutes late and Garcia and Morgan were both there. “Hey,” Morgan offered while Garcia took one look at him and wrapped her arms around him. She held on so tightly that Tony actually had trouble breathing.

“He’s turning blue,” Morgan observed.

“Sometimes a person just needs the stuffing hugged out of them,” she said unapologetically before she sat.

Tony rubbed his sternum. “And sometimes a person needs oxygen, but today the hug was more important.” He took the seat across from Morgan and picked up his menu.

“Okay, spill. Three days? For what? Doing your job?” Garcia demanded.

“Baby girl,” Morgan said, his tone clearly warning her to take it down a notch. She glared at him.

“Hey, I’m taking this as a win,” Tony said. “The director gets her pound of flesh to punish me for going outside the agency, and I get three days to practice the SSA DiNozzo act.”

“The act?” Morgan asked.

“SSA DiNozzo is calm in the face of emotional coworkers, firm in the face of insubordination and unflinching in the face of writing people up when they refuse direct orders. I’m of the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ school of thought.”

“Good school,” Morgan said.

“Are the others listening?” Garcia asked. And that was the crux of the matter.

“It’s too soon to tell. I’m working with McGee on SFA paperwork this afternoon. If he can kill a forest with paperwork without accusing me of personally trying to make his life hell, I’ll have some hope.”

Morgan shook his head. “I still can’t believe your director is this upset about another agency running a test.”

“How would your boss feel if you had Abby run your forensics?”

For a second, Morgan seemed to think about it. “He’d ask why. If I had a good answer, Hotch wouldn’t question my judgment. If I didn’t, he’d rip me a new one in his utterly calm voice. It’s weird how he can sound like he’s shouting when he whispers.”

“It’s a talent. That and making a person feel two inches tall when she really screws something up.” From the look on Garcia’s face, whatever she was remembering had been bad. Morgan patted her arm. The easy emotional comfort between them made Tony ache for Kate. She’d been such a puritanical pain in the ass, but when the chips were down, she was the annoying little sister who had never left his side.

“Yeah, well,” Tony said, “NCIS has the little brother syndrome.”

“They don’t want to get shown up by bigger agencies.” Morgan nodded. “I get that. I thought with Gibbs gone, it might be a little better. The way Fornell tells it, that man had a hate on for the FBI.”

“Just slightly,” Tony agreed. “Of course it didn’t help that you guys kept trying to prove I was a murderer.”

Morgan threw his hands up. “Don’t lump me in there. I would have told them you don’t profile as a killer.”

“I’ll call you as a character witness next time Fornell puts me in a jail cell.”

“He did what?” Garcia’s voice grew shrill.

Tony put a hand on her arm. “Hey, he was doing his job, and he kept me away from all the other prisoners while he and Jethro figured out who had framed me.”

Garcia gave a huff that made it clear she was not going to forgive Fornell any time soon.

Morgan opened his menu. “Yeah, but I’ve heard the stories about how you stole a body from him the first time he met you. He never did get over that.”

Tony laughed as he remembered the case. “When he opened the body bag and found me instead of the victim, you should have seen his expression.” Tony didn’t mention that Fornell had then dropped Tony out the back of the ambulance. There were some things Garcia would not forgive. From the amused look Morgan gave Garcia, Tony suspected he’d heard the rest of the story already.

The waitress came over and they ordered. Tony wondered if Morgan was using the lasagna and salad to profile Tony. He also wondered how hard it was to maintain friendships when people were constantly worried about being profiled.

“So, is your director moving on the Grant case?” Morgan asked once the waitress left.

“I assume so. I filed an addendum to my report.” Tony hadn’t even considered that Shepard might bury the evidence. Either Morgan was paranoid or he had heard some really negative scuttlebutt about her. “If I don’t hear about Grant getting freed in a day or two, the defense will get a copy anonymously.”

Morgan said in a near-whisper. “It’s hard when you can’t trust your superiors to do the right thing without checking on them.”

Tony suspected they weren’t talking about the Grant case as much as the Benoit investigation. “I’m not a rookie to accept without verifying,” Tony said, despite the fact that he’d come damn close to making that very error. “At least I won’t make that mistake again in the near future.”

“We all screw up,” Morgan said easily. “That’s how you know you’re human. If you were perfect, the powers that be wouldn’t let you stay on the planet and show up the rest of us imperfect creatures.”

“Enough shop talk,” Garcia said loudly. “I want to hear about your new house.”

Morgan looked at Tony. “I don’t know that Tony wants to spend his lunch talking about my molding choices and the color scheme in the bathroom.”

“Hey, it sounds like a good time to me.” Tony welcomed any conversation that didn’t circle around the same point. He was starting to feel like the Renny case was the drain that had been pulled in some giant cosmic sink and Tony was circling it, dropping ever lower as the water vanished, and pretty soon he was going to hit bottom. Tony just wasn’t sure what that would look like. But he’d upended his life before. He’d reinvented himself. He’d found a new job and new friends, and in the end it always worked out. Tony had to believe that would happen this time, too. So he focused on Morgan and his tale of 1950s plumbing gone bad. The rest could wait.

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