[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 Nine: The Jenny Remix

“Tony, welcome back,” Director Shepard said when Tony walked in.

“Director.” He nodded politely.

She sighed. “I hope this has not damaged our working relationship. As much as you made an error, you are still one of the best agents in this building, and I would still prefer it if you called me Jenny. After all, we will be working closely together.”

She kept her words vague enough that they could refer to either the Benoit case or Tony’s work with the MCRT, but it no longer mattered. Not only had Katie gotten him in for an interview the same day, but she was a boss he felt comfortable calling by her first name. He’d been honest about his failures in leadership and his strengths in thinking outside the box. She’d been brutally frank about the emotional toll the unit took on people and the importance of having good people willing to pay that price to bring down pedophiles and child predators. Tony would run a field team, but she was also clear that he would answer to agents who coordinated the largely online efforts to track pedophiles.

Tony was comfortable with that. Katie’s field teams worked under the online teams, which was a different setup from most crimes where the online activities were secondary to the real life interactions. Tony didn’t have the technical skills to run the online half of the operation, but Katie also encouraged him to upgrade his computer skills so he was eligible for promotion. It was strange to meet coworkers and have the boss introduce him as someone with great potential.

Shepard started the meeting with, “I would like to review the disciplinary action before discussing your team.”

“Director, there is an issue that I would like to discuss first,” Tony said before she could launch into some song and dance about how he should feel guilty. He did feel guilt and likely always would. It was a reminder that he needed to put the job first or others would pay a steep price. However, hearing Shepard reprimand him was too hypocritical for him to handle first thing in the morning on a Monday.

“Oh?” Shepard leaned forward, her body language inviting him to confide in her.

Tony pulled an envelope out of his pocket. “My leadership skills suffered because I played the part of the class clown with the MCRT and changing direction is difficult.”

“We all make mistakes,” Shepard said.

Tony hadn’t called his act a mistake. His act had allowed him to get along with Gibbs, who—looking back—was antagonistic with anyone he perceived as a threat. Hotchner had thought Gibbs aggressive with males, but when Tony remembered how Gibbs had verbally struck out at dozens of people, Tony could safely say that Gibbs was an equal opportunity abuser.

Abuse was the wrong term. Gibbs was equally distrustful. He was equally wary. He didn’t want people to have power over him, and he struck out equally at everyone who did. Rumor had it that Morrow had eliminated the Agent in Charge position in the DC office because Gibbs had undermined the man so badly that he couldn’t function. Morrow had kept hands off Gibbs’ team, allowing Gibbs to run cases and his team however he saw fit. Hell, they'd even taken cases and run the team when it was just the two of them, which was a clear violation of protocol for the MCRT teams. And while Morrow might have bugged Gibbs about having a full team of four, he’d never required it. When Shepherd refused to back down to Gibbs and had made what Gibbs considered a bad call, Gibbs had even walked away and moved to Mexico. Gibbs and authority were not a good mix, which was ironic considering that he had been military. But then he had more respect for military people.

When it came to civilians, Gibbs didn’t trust anyone to know as much as him. And that meant he wouldn’t take shit from anyone. If Tony had come off as a threat, Gibbs would have slapped him down so hard that he might not have recovered. So Tony didn’t consider his class clown act a mistake, and that act had allowed him to shield teammates from the worst of Gibbs’ bad humor. More importantly, it kept suspects off guard. In fact, Tony still planned to use it when appropriate. As far as he was concerned, chewing on a tie and playing Tetris while in an interrogation room with a gang-banger was good investigative technique.

Tony slid the envelope across the table at Shepherd. “I need a chance to start over with a new team where I can establish myself as a leader without carrying the baggage of the years I worked with Gibbs.”

“I don’t have any team lead positions open right now.” Shepard took the envelope, but she didn’t open it. Instead she stared at Tony as though trying to figure him out.

“You misunderstand me. Assuming my final background check goes well, I’m joining the FBI. That’s my letter of resignation."

Shepard straightened up. "Excuse me?"

"I am giving two weeks' notice and I would like to finish the Renny Grant case, but if we can finish that one early, I would like to request to use my vacation and comp pay for any remaining notice."

Tony watched while Shepard ripped open the envelope and started reading. Her mouth drew up into a tense line, but he suspected she was more upset about her unsanctioned op. Now that he'd taken a few days to get away from the situation, he could see how idiotic this whole plan was. If Benoit was watching his daughter, Shepard's cover identity wouldn't protect Tony. No matter how deep the cover went on paper, Tony would have to leave Jeanne Benoit and go to his own apartment, where the mortgage was under the name DiNozzo. He would go from her hospital straight to the Navy Yard. Tony knew how to spot a tail, but could he keep up that level of awareness and paranoia for the months or years required for the op to pay off? Tony doubted it.

And he knew that the other team leads in the yard would turn down the job. Tony had been the only one desperate for some way to prove himself. And he had nearly made a tragic error because of it.

"Let's talk about this, Tony. You're telling me that you feel like you need to develop stronger leadership skills, yet you plan to take a position in one of the most difficult positions in the federal government. If you had made an error similar to the one with Renny Grant, the consequences could have been disastrous."

Tony's stomach soured because he did understand the danger. "Yes, ma'am, I have spoken to SSA Cole about my weakness in leadership. I will have a team to rely on and other team leaders who will call me out if I fall back into bad behaviors." Tony had no intention of ever playing class clown again, but he also knew the mask had become habit and he might fall back into old habits. That's why he had been so honest with Katie about his need to have a supervisor who would kick his ass if he backslid.

"The sort of cases they handle... That unit has chewed up more than one highly experienced team leader."

Tony nodded. "SSA Cole was brutally honest about that and about the other positions available if the crimes against children position proves to be too much."

"And you're willing to take the chance?" Shepard asked. She didn't specify whether Tony was taking a chance with his career or taking a chance with the lives of the children.

"I think this is the best choice for my career." Tony decided to ignore the veiled references to him not being good enough to work the position.

"Because of Ziva and McGee?" Shepard asked.

Tony frowned. "This has nothing to do with the team." However, the fact she asked the question suggested she knew a lot more about the conflicts than Tony had assumed. Perhaps she was giving him time to find his feet as a leader, but Tony wondered if her need for the undercover assignment had influenced her decision to allow the team's dysfunction to continue. After all, the more desperate Tony was to prove himself, the less likely he was to question her on it.

"Doesn't it?" Shepard sighed and gave him a compassionate look. "Changing the team and getting new subordinates won't change the most important aspect of your leadership.”

“Myself,” Tony said without flinching. “I need to change myself, but I feel that changing would be nearly impossible at NCIS. My skills, including my undercover skills, will be best utilized in SSA Cole’s unit.” Tony let his own veiled reference to Benoit hang in the air before he added. “They have a lot of people to play the part of pedophiles or victims online, but very few of their agents have the experience working ops in the real world. I would fill a valuable need there in addition to running my own team.”

“So you would be doing largely what you’re doing here. I don’t see why you need to change agencies for that.” Shepard smiled. “In fact, I talked to Agent Baumgartner in LA, and he is very interested in moving here. He would be a strong SSA, and if you feel the need for additional changes, there is a temporary working group on counterterrorism. I could assign Ziva to work with them for a month, which would give you time to make adjustments to your leadership style. I know she can be very obstinate.” Shepard said that last line in a tone that suggested she and Tony were old friends sharing their exasperation. The manipulation was so overt that Tony wondered if she had ever been good at undercover. If she had, she’d lost the knack. She overplayed her hand too much.

“I am sorry, but I have already made a commitment to SSA Cole, and I would like to finish the Renny Grant case with the current team. We made that mistake together and we need to fix it together.”

Shepard made a steeple out of her fingertips, and Tony could almost hear the wheels grinding in her head. She still wanted to find a way to fix this. “And when Gibbs comes back?” she asked.

“What about it?”

“Transitioning back into the team might be difficult for him, and you know how Jethro refuses to ask for help. You always got past those defensive walls he maintains to carefully.”

Tony nodded. That was true, and he did worry. Gibbs would push himself too hard, and his memory had been Swiss cheese when he left. However, he couldn’t base his life about tending the emotional needs of a man who pushed him away. And the more Tony showed his competent side, the more Gibbs was going to push, so it wasn’t like Tony could do a whole lot to control Gibbs. “I hope you do bring in a strong SSA and team lead. If Gibbs comes back, he could use the support.” Tony looked right at Shepard.

They both knew Gibbs would never accept help, especially not from strong investigators who would push him. As far as Tony was concerned, this was as close as he was going to come to telling Shepard that she and Gibbs could fuck off. It wasn’t his job to cover for them.

And Shepard got the point. She pursed her lips and her eyes narrowed. If Tony hadn’t already secured another job, he’d worry about what sort of damage she might do to his reputation. “I see,” she said.

“I would request that the team go off rotation until you can bring in a replacement. I would hate to be in the middle of a case and have to leave because my two weeks’ notice had come to an end.” Tony let her translate that. Not even an active case would keep him from walking out. It was another polite fuck you.

Shepard picked up a pen and tapped it against her desk a couple of time. “That would be inconvenient.”

Tony nodded his head toward her. It had been so many years since he had let his teeth show that he felt good about getting in his own digs. He would have to watch that urge. After so many years, he had a lot of pent up indignation and his new team didn’t deserve that. Now his old team? Yeah, they deserved a little taste of his ire. He might have failed as a leader, but they failed as a team.

“You will need to do exit paperwork.”

“I’ll take care of it today. I’ve already asked McGee to find the missing money, and I plan to go out with Ziva to pick up Lieutenant Justin Grady. His testimony is the most damning piece of evidence against Captain Grant, so he’s now our primary suspect. I want to get to him before he finds out the case against Grant fell apart.”

Shepard was quiet for a time, and Tony knew that she wanted to scream at him; he could feel it in the negative energy that swirled around them. “I’ll hold off filing your severance paperwork for those two weeks. Given some time, you may find you change your mind. In the meantime, focus on the Grant case.” Without discussing the discipline that had ostensibly been the reason for meeting, Shepard dismissed him by simply turning her attention to her computer.

Tony stood and actually got a head rush. He wondered if he had been holding his breath or it was the sheer joy of dropping an act that he had been playing for too long. Either way, he felt light headed as he headed out of the office. He had rushed through the bullpen without doing more than issuing a few orders—Ziva to find out where Lieutenant Grady was and McGee to get on the paper trail. Now he had to tell his team that he was officially their soon to be ex-boss.

He had no idea how they were going to take it, but he found that with every passing minute he cared less.

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