[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



Abby, Take Two

Tony stopped in the door of the lab and listened to the heavy beat of Abby’s music. If Renny Grant was the last case he worked, that meant he would never again bring Abby evidence. That made his heart ache a little. He loved Abby’s individuality. He admired her willingness to be herself even as he hid behind layers of obfuscation. He waited until the music had a natural lull and then he shouted, “Hey Abby.”

She whirled around, her pig tails flying. In a heartbeat, she turned her music off and flew toward him. “Tony! You're here,” she said as she caught him in a bear hug. “I'm so sorry, and I know Ducky said that I should show I'm sorry instead of saying it, but you're here, and you don't have evidence. Because I would totally slip you in ahead of anyone else if you needed evidence processed.” She backed off and gave him a hesitant smile.

“No evidence, Abs.”

“Then I can only say I'm sorry, and Ducky is right that it's not enough.” Her gaze dropped to the floor for a second before she looked up at him. “I never thought you'd get in trouble.”

Tony knew she meant that as an apology, and part of him wanted to take it and hug Abby and have everything go back to normal. But he couldn’t be that guy who laughed off disrespect, and Abby’s apology did imply a lack of respect. “Because you never thought of me as a team leader,” Tony said. He tried to keep his tone neutral, but she had to see the condemnation in his words.

She cringed back. “That makes me a bad friend, huh?” She bit her lip, but she didn’t defend herself.

“It makes you...” Tony sighed. “You're not good at change.”

She wrinkled her nose. “Not even a little. But if you tell me when I'm being bad at it, I will totally throw everything I have into changing. And if you say the word, I know how to make the ventilation system to the director's office smell like skunk, and no one will ever trace it back to us.”

“As much as I appreciate the offer of vengeance, it's not necessary.”

She raised her chin and studied him. Abby always had been able to see past his bullshit, which is why it hurt more when she ignored the investigator behind the mask. But right now, Tony was more concerned that she was already getting suspicious. “Something is hinky. What's hinky?” She narrowed her eyes more as she considered him.

Tony took a deep breath and jumped in the deep end. “I put in my resignation, Abby. I agreed to stay for two weeks to give the director time to move someone else over to MCRT, but I've taken another job.”

For a time, she simply stared at him, her mouth open. He had a mental countdown going in his head but she jumped his guestimate by a good three seconds by shouting, “What? No!”

“I already turned in my letter of resignation.”

“But… you can’t. I mean, you can’t leave us. Leave me. Just because I was totally off base and didn’t treat you right, but I apologized and you can’t leave now when we’re just getting back to being better.”

“This has nothing to do with you,” Tony said as gently as he could.

“But the team. You can't leave them. The director is so new and Gibbs is gone. And Gibbs! You totally know Gibbs is going to come back, and he gave the team to you, and you're supposed to take care of them.” Her anguish was starting to fade into anger. Tony knew exactly how he could soothe her and make this better. He would promise to think about it and give her time to process the idea of him leaving. She would nag him to stay and he would provide reasons for why the move was best for him, but each time he would promise to consider staying. And after a week or so, she would slowly come around. He just wasn’t sure why it was his job to ease her into change. And when had he taken on the task to sacrifice his peace of mind for hers?

Tony girded his loins and sailed right into the thick of the storm. “I'm not their father. They're all grown up and they can take care of themselves.”

“Tony!” Abby gasped, her mouth open in horror. “What would Gibbs say?”

“That if they can’t do their jobs they should find other work.” Gibbs might not talk that way to Abby and Tony doubted he’d be that blunt with Ziva, but the rest of them had all gotten variations on that speech, and that included Viv.

“He would not!” Abby put her hands on her hips. “Don’t even try to pretend that this is what Gibbs would want because he wouldn’t. He’s hurt and suffering and trying to deal with all the bad that hit him at once, and he trusts you to keep his work family together for him until he can come home.”

Tony crossed his arms. “You’re reading a lot into ‘you’ll do.’”

“You know how Gibbs has trouble with compliments. You know it. You know Gibbs!” Abby poked a finger in his direction. “But he trusted you to keep the team together and lead them. And I was wrong for not supporting you well enough, but if you walk away, you’re more wrong-wrong-wrong.”

Tony did know Gibbs. If Tony had fucked up, Gibbs would have made him suffer. However, if Tony managed to turn this around and become a successful team lead, Gibbs would make him suffer more. Hotchner had nailed Gibbs on his overly competitive nature. Sure, local cops and feds fussed about how they didn't want to work together, but Tony had never seen anyone in law enforcement actively sabotage another agency's case. Gibbs had several times.

"I have a good opportunity that meets my career goals. I can't plan my life around a supervisor who isn't even around to know what I'm doing.” Tony was proud of the fact that he kept his voice calm.

She stared at him, her eyes large and shining with unshed tears. Tony felt like a shit, but he couldn’t go back to being class-clown DiNozzo, not when it compromised his ability to be an investigator. “Are you going to ask me about my new job?” Tony asked.

“No!”

Tony ignored the outburst. He didn’t want to lose Abby as a friend, and if he walked out right now, he didn’t know if he could forgive her. So instead he plowed ahead like nothing was wrong. Tony ‘fake it til ya make it’ DiNozzo—that should be his name. “I was offered a team lead position with the BAU.”

Abby’s mouth fell open. “The BAU? The FBI’s BAU? But you hate the FBI! Now I know something is wrong. What are you not telling me, Tony DiNozzo because you would never, ever work for the FBI.” Abby was such a strange mess of complete cluelessness and sharp insight that Tony figured she was one of a kind.

“First, I don’t hate the FBI. I hate Agent Slacks, but he’s not the whole bureau.”

Abby closed in on him fast, poking him in the chest with her finger. “Don’t change the subject on me, mister. You love NCIS, and you are all anti-FBI guy, so if you’re changing your tune, something happened. What did Madame Director do? Because you know, I can kill her and hide all the evidence.”

“And as much as I appreciate you’re offering to coming a capital crime for me,” Tony said as he captured her hand and held it. Her pokes hurt. “I am leaving because they offered a better position.”

Abby jerked her hand away. “Garcia did this, didn’t she? She talked you into going over to her team, and I’m going to show her what happens when you poach from Abby Scuito.”

“Hey!” Tony caught her arm just as she was wheeling around to her computer. The last thing he needed was to end up in the middle of a geek war. “I’m not even joining Garcia’s unit. SSA Katie Cole from Unit 3 hired me to run one of the field teams. I would get to be a leader, but I would be part of a much larger team, so there would be more support for me as I develop my skills.”

“More support? So you’re still blaming Tim for this? It’s his fault for not supporting you?”

“No! God, no. Tim has two years under his belt. He’s so new he squeaks, so I don’t expect him to be able to support me in a leadership position. But there will be other team leads I can work with.”

“You have team leads here.” The tears had faded away and now Abby was getting angry. Part of Tony preferred the anger. If he left when she was hurt, he’d feel guilty. But he knew Abby. For all her tantrums, she had a good heart. Sure, her heart led her to give him a “trainee” sticker when he tried to do his job as a team lead, but she didn’t mean harm even as she emotionally gutted him. And if she got angry, she would feel bad later. Tony felt like an ass, but he was done being the poo boy for this damn team. This time, she would get to carry her own damn guilt.

“Team leads here don’t really work with me because they’re used to Gibbs’ team being an island. I don’t want to live on an island, and starting over is too hard because people are too used to me following Gibbs’ rules. I need to step out where I can be an investigator on my own terms.”

“So now this is Gibbs’ fault?” Abby’s voice was low and dangerous. Okay, Tony didn’t mean to make her that angry.

“Of course not,” he said. “This is me saying I need something different. The job is an important one. I’ll be working in the crimes against children division—tracking pedophiles, working child abductions and trafficking cases, going undercover, and working with local law enforcement. These cases are important.”

“And protecting the men and women of the armed forces is just as important!”

“Yes, it is,” Tony agreed. “But I’m not the best person for the job.”

“Of course you are! You are awesome. You are Very Special Agent Tony DiNozzo. And if you’re leaving because you think you’re anything less than perfect for this job, I’m going to drag you to therapy so someone can tell you how amazing you are.” Abby nodded her head so vigorously that her pony tails bobbed. Her good heart definitely had not caught up with reality. Tony sighed as he tried to figure out another way to get her to see the truth.

“I’m an incredible investigator. I have good instincts, but the fact is that I have a lot more coursework in adolescent psychology than adult. Add to that my own lack of experience with military culture, and the BAU is a better fit for me. The MCRT needs someone with a military background to effectively communicate with the people they’re likely to encounter.”

“Don’t do that!”

“Do what?”

“Talk like you’re already gone. You aren’t. We can fix this. Just tell the director that you’re staying and then ask for a new probie—someone who was in the military. Then it’s all fixed, and you know Michelle Lee wasn’t going to fit in anyway.”

Tony sighed. “I want to leave, Abby. I’ve enjoyed my time at NCIS, but I’ve never stayed this long anywhere, and I’m ready to move on. The director is already considering people for the head of MCRT.” Tony didn’t tell her that Shepard had threatened to bring in a new head investigator even before Tony had retired. Abby really might kill the woman, and Tony didn’t want to testify against her at a trial. Besides, there’s no way he would be able to explain her emotional involvement in his career. Usually people had to sleep together to get this emotionally tangled in each other’s business.

She gave him a wounded expression. “Why aren’t you fighting this?”

“Fighting what? I took a new job, that’s all. I’m even staying in town, so we can still go out clubbing sometimes.” And that time would be in the distant future because Tony did not want to spend time with her until she had come to terms with his decision. He felt sorry for whoever took the MCRT lead position because Abby would take out all her frustration on that person.

“Madam Director did something. You wouldn’t be leaving us unless you had to. Are you protecting us from something? Did she threaten you?” Abby’s stab in the dark was dangerously close to the mark.

Rather than react to her accusations, Tony reached for her hand and held it for a second. “I screwed up. I earned the three-day suspension, and it made me realize I need to make a change. This is the best change for me.”

Abby drew back like she’s seen something disgusting. “So you only care about yourself? You’re abandoning all of us because Tony DiNozzo is selfish and wants what he wants. Well if you don’t care about us, then you can just go to hell. I don’t know why I ever trusted you. When Gibbs comes back, he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks of you for abandoning your post. That’s what you are… an abandoner.”

Tony nodded. That was the tipping point he’d been waiting for. He didn’t deserve to carry the guilt for this, so when Abby realized how unreasonable she was being, she could do the carrying. And while Tony had every intention of forgiving her eventually, he figured he would let her haul around that bucket of guilt for a while. Without a word, he turned and walked out. Behind him, Abby cried out his name, but Tony headed for the elevator.

He rode to the morgue level with another agent who spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at Tony, so the news of his resignation had definitely hit the rumor mill. This place was worse than a high school.

Tony headed into the morgue and ran into Jimmy filling out paperwork at the desk. “Autopsy Gremlin, how’s life?”

“Tony!” Jimmy got up and crossed the distance between them and lowered his voice to a whisper. “Is it true? Are you going to the FBI?”

“The BAU—I’m getting my own field team,” Tony said.

Jimmy’s face lit up. “Wow. The BAU. That’s awesome! How excited are you?”

“Excited, nervous, you name it, I feel it,” Tony confessed, “but the head of the unit is amazing. I think this is going to be good for me.”

“Hey, I will miss the hell out of you.”

Tony slapped Jimmy on the arm. “I’m going to miss you too. Is Ducky around?”

Jimmy used his thumb to point to Ducky’s office. “Abby called.”

Tony cringed.

“Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. Ducky decided to take it in the office.”

If Tony needed more evidence that it was time for him to leave, Abby was providing it. In other workplaces, this sort of gossip and complaining would have led to a write up. Hell, Tony would get written up if he spent half as much time complaining about Abby.

“Don’t disappear without letting me take you out for a congratulatory drink,” Jimmy said. “But I’m going to run some trace down and see if some forensics won’t distract Abby.” He turned back to his desk and took a pile of evidence bags before heading out of the morgue. Tony waited a couple of minutes before heading back toward Ducky’s office. The door was open a crack, so Tony pushed it a little until he could see Ducky sitting at his desk.

“… position, my dear,” Ducky was saying. “This is an excellent opportunity for young Anthony.” Ducky looked over at Tony and smiled as he listened.

Tony nodded.

“Yes, well, I’m sure we’ll speak later,” Ducky said. “Anderson needs that trace run quickly, Abigail.”

He listened for a moment longer.

“Of course. Goodbye, my dear.” Ducky hung up the phone before turning to Tony. “She is quiet distraught.”

“I think angry is a more accurate word.”

“Yes, well her anger will burn out when she has a chance to think about her reaction. But you, young man.” Ducky stood. “The BAU? Good for you, Anthony. They are fortunate to get such a perspicacious young investigator.”

“Not so young, Ducky. Today I’m feeling older than ever.”

“No doubt. Change is difficult.” Ducky gestured toward his sofa. “Come, sit. Would you like some tea?”

“No thank you. Ziva and I are going to go pick up a new suspect in the embezzlement case, but I wanted to be the one that told you about my new job. I just didn’t get here quick enough.” Tony shrugged and leaned against the door frame. By telling Abby first, he figured his odds weren’t good, but then Ducky was less likely to take offense at being put lower on the priority list.

“Indeed. You would have needed supersonic speed to beat Abigail’s dialing finger.” Ducky wiggled his index finger. “But I do hope you know that her attitude does not reflect on you. I quite understand why you are seeking a change. Her belief that you are acting irrationally is, in itself, irrational.”

Tony ducked his head. “No lecture about how Gibbs is going to be disappointed in me?”

“Ah.” Ducky sank down in his office chair again. “I suspect Jethro will be quite put out. I don’t believe he has ever had a team member leave without his express permission. He prefers to be the one in control of his relationships, to the point that he often undermines them. You were so accomodating that I had hoped he would learn to relax some of that iron control around you.”

“But he never did. He always had to stay in control and keep me in my place until he walked out with a ‘you’ll do.’” Tony still remembered the Atlas case. He’d been locked in a stone prison with a starving marine, fighting his own panic and fear and trying to convince Bill Atlas to fight for his own life. Gibbs had been an ass all day. Kate had even commented on how Gibbs never treated either of them with respect, and she rarely complained about Gibbs even on his worst days.

Tony had gotten out of that locked room and taken their killer on a game of cat and mouse through a maze of tunnels before Gibbs had shown up. Near the end of the case, Gibbs had called Tony irreplaceable. Tony still remembered the rush of pride that he had finally done something, anything, to impress Gibbs. He could have walked on air.

Then Gibbs turned to McGee who’d been sitting at Tony’s desk and implied that he’d already picked the computer guy to replace Tony by saying, “Forget about it, McGee. He's still alive.” The emotional whiplash had nearly made Tony quit. However, the next day Kate and Gibbs had acted like nothing happened, and Tony had started to doubt his feelings. He thought maybe he had imagined just how brutal that insult had been.

But now that Tony saw the exit—the escape—he could look back and say that it had been so shitty that no agent could excuse treating another that way. And if Gibbs came back, he would do exactly the same thing. If Tony found his feet as a leader, and Tony had no doubt that he would, then Gibbs would make sure to drop him hard and fast and make sure that Tony didn’t get back up until he’d learned to stay in his place as the class clown. “If I’m here and doing well as a leader, how do you think Gibbs will react?” Tony asked.

Ducky sighed. “Unfortunately, I believe he would be very threatened and would likely attempt to take control back in your relationship. However, something has changed you. I doubt you would be willing to be placed back into that subordinate position.”

“What changed is that I’ve seen some of the options out there. It’s time for me to move on.”

Ducky smiled. “Indeed it is, my friend. This weekend, come over and I will fix you a gourmet meal and we can discuss this new job opportunity.”

“Thanks, Ducky.”

“Of course. I hope you always count me as one of your friends, even when I make mistakes.”

“We all make mistakes,” Tony said. “I’ve made enough that I don’t have room to complain about other people. But I have to go pick up our new suspect. I’ll see you later.” Tony turned and headed out, and surprisingly, he already felt more like a team lead. He didn’t wonder if Ziva would approve of his decision to question Justin Grady. He didn’t worry that Tim wouldn’t track down the money. His people would follow his orders or he would write them up. The realization that he had the power was freeing.


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