[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 Six: Director Shepard versus Supervisory Special Agent DiNozzo

Tony took a deep breath, put on his Supervisory Special Agent DiNozzo persona and pushed the door to Director Shepard’s office. She stood when he walked in and he tried to start off on a good note. “Director Shepard, thank you for seeing me.”

Her smile was warm and open. “I told you to call me Jenny. And I understand that this undercover assignment is different from anything you’ve done before. I’m here to help you transition into this assignment in any way I can.” Smile still in place, she came around the desk, making Tony the center of attention in the room.

Rather than continue with the strange dance they had going, Tony went for the heart of the matter. “Actually, I don’t think I have the time to spare from the team. Something has come to my attention, and I’ve filed a supplementary report on the Grant case. I wanted to give you a briefing before the JAG caught wind of this.” Tony held out the file.

She gave him a curious look before taking it. “What is this?” When she opened the file, her good humor quickly started to fade.

“I had a new computer search done on the Grant fraud.”

Shepard sighed as she flipped to the second page. “Tony, I told you that finding the money was not a priority. I appreciate your diligence, but sometimes efficiency demands that we move on without finding every puzzle piece.”

“I understand that; however, I was uncomfortable dropping the case. I apologize because I should have been more direct with you about that.” Tony didn’t add that he would forever live with the guilt of not being uncomfortable enough to actually follow up on the Grant case. He would have allowed Renny Grant to get railroaded. Luck and a little nagging discomfort had led him to give Garcia that name when he needed a case to cover for his request she look into the Benoit investigation.

Shepard turned another page. “Who completed this work?”

Tony knew that Garcia would be sending an official report for use in court, so he couldn’t hide her name forever. “Penelope Garcia.”

“Who is?”

And here was where the shit and the fan had an up close and personal meeting. “She’s the analyst for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, unit four.”

Shepard’s head snapped up. “The BAU? SES Erin Struss’s unit?”

Only after asking Garcia for the favor had Tony considered the politics of it. But he wouldn’t apologize for finding the truth. “Yes,” he said without apology.

“You asked an outside agency to investigate one of our crimes?”

“I asked a friend to look into a case,” Tony said.

“And why didn’t you ask Agent McGee?”

Tony took a breath and centered himself. He wanted to throw a fit and throw Tim so far under the bus that he’d have asphalt between his teeth, but the fact was that Tony carried his share of the blame, and he had to accept that. Tim was a kid who screwed up because he lacked experience. Tony was the supervisor. It was just that admitting it to Shepard felt a little like he was having to cut his own switch. “I actually did ask Agent McGee. He felt it was unnecessary. I take full responsibility for not taking a more direct approach. This was our first case without Gibbs, and I was too slow to take charge.”

Director Sheppard sighed and took the file back to her desk. “I have a phone conference and I need time to review this. Perhaps we could discuss it in say, two hours.” Her smile was considerably colder now.

“Of course. I’ll be finishing the work on the Anderson case.” Tony turned and headed out of the office. Events were in motion and he could do nothing to stop them. But still, the waiting was far worse than any punishment. Rather than head back down to his desk, he asked Cynthia if she would mind if he used one of the conference room computers on the upper level. It gave him a quiet place to get work done, but two hours later he was still poking at his various reports instead of actually filing them. He shut the computer down and headed back to the director’s office.

He wondered if she’d truly had a meeting or if she was simply reminding him of the way things worked. If he played her game, he would get right in. If he made her life difficult, she would leave him waiting for hours. It was a rather unsubtle reminder of her power.

After being waved past by Cynthia, Tony went into the office for the second time. “Director.” Tony stood by the door and waited to see if he even rated an invitation to sit. Director Shepard didn’t get up from her seat this time. “Tony, leadership is a difficult skill, one that requires as much time to develop as investigative skills. You have a learning curve in front of you, one I am sure you will master.”

“And I appreciate you saying that.”

She sighed. “However, I can’t have my agents going outside NCIS. As much as this work is exemplary, it hurts the agency because it makes it appear that we need the assistance of the FBI to do our jobs. You should have taken this work to Abby.”

It was a valid political concern, but Tony had no intention of apologizing, not when his choice to talk to Garcia saved Captain Grant from years of prison. “I asked Abby to look into the computer system, but she felt uncomfortable redoing McGee’s work. Again, the fault is mine because I didn’t insist on it.”

“Her refusal is a serious breach of policy that should have come to me.”

“Director, you have far more pressing matters, and I didn’t have any additional reasons for wanting the work done. I was simply uncomfortable. You had already asked for the case to be closed, and again, I was not confident enough in my judgment to make a coherent reason for keeping it open. I definitely need to take a more forceful stance as a team leader.”

Something in Tony’s words caught her attention because she leaned back in her chair and gestured for him to take one of the guest seats. “More forceful how?” she asked.

Tony forced himself to put on a relaxed air he didn’t feel. “I’ve already spoken to both Tim and Ziva. I’ve allowed them to question me to the point that I’m questioning myself, but I am trying to correct course here.”

“Tony, make sure you don’t overcorrect. You have good people working for you. Don’t spend too much time second guessing them.”

The fact that she would say that when the Renny Grant file was on her desk shocked Tony. His team was made up of good people and even good computer techs, but they weren’t good investigators, and the definitive evidence for that was on Shepard’s desk. “No one on my team is experienced with investigations. Tim honestly believed that a witness’s testimony and the evidence we had gathered was sufficient, and that’s because he hasn’t seen enough cases where the evidence has been doctored and he still takes facts at face value. I need to take more control here.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to turn into Gibbs. He was so directive that he had to be involved in every aspect of a case.” Shepard laughed and shook her head as though amused by Gibbs’ antics. “Let your people develop more independence.”

Tony leaned forward. “Jenny, I tried. It resulted in Captain Grant being sent forward for prosecution. Ziva has a few months of experience, Tim has less than two years, and Michelle Lee is so new she squeaks. She still hasn’t passed the firearms live range testing. She’s down there today working on it.”

Director Shepard took a long time before she answered, and Tony couldn’t even guess what was going on in her head. Now that he’d said all that out loud, he was starting to wonder if she was setting him up to fail. He needed more investigative experience on the team or he needed to ride herd on every decision the others made.

Shepard pursed her lips before saying, “Perhaps Agent McGee is a little unseasoned for the position of SFA, especially when you’ll be dividing your time between the team and undercover work. There are a number of qualified investigators who are not committed to a particular office at this time. Lara Macy was an investigator for JAG and retired as a major before moving to NCIS and Vivian Blackadder has really proved herself in the Sigonella office and might be ready to come back to the MCRT.”

Tony nearly choked at the idea of adding Viv back into this mess. Viv and Ziva would circle each other like angry spiders before they tried devouring each other’s heads. He didn’t know anything about Macy, but the fact that the director was putting her in with Viv concerned him. However, he couldn’t deny that more experienced eyes would improve the chance that another clusterfuck like the Grant case never happened again.

“I would like to see Macy’s file, although I don’t think Viv is a good fit for the team as it currently stands.” And if Gibbs came back, he might shoot her. He had a long memory. At least he had one before that bomb had ripped it away.

“I can see if Macy is interested in transferring.”

Tony nodded even though that wasn’t what he had said. “As the SFA or as the team lead?” He was a bandage off fast kind of guy, so it was best to know up front if the director planned to demote him, Tim, or both of them.

“I won’t demote you, Tony. However, if you feel that team lead would require more time than you have given the Benoit case, I will support your choice to step down. Just know that I do have every faith in your skills. I believe you can excel in both jobs.” And her bright and motherly smile was back.

“Director, I am not comfortable taking an undercover job at this time.” He didn’t add that he planned to never take a job from her without evidence it was officially sanctioned.

She studied him as though honestly confused by his answer. Tony had no idea why because even without Garcia’s background information, Tony would have hesitated to take a job without a clear plan for backup. Shepard tapped her fingers on the Grant file before saying, “We both know that this is a long-term assignment. It will require only a few hours a week, and you may be at it for years.”

“With the team this unsettled, I don’t believe this is the right choice for me right now.”

“Tony, you have made a number of mistakes, including going around me after a case was closed to ask another agency to assist you.” Her voice turned hard. “You have a bright future at NCIS, but you need to make wise decisions based on what will reflect best on you as an agent.”

Tony understood exactly what threat hung in the air, but he couldn’t put his own promotion ahead of doing the right thing for victims. “Right now, I believe that this Grant case has shown deficiencies in my leadership, and I need to address those.”

“Certainly Lara Macy has the leadership you see yourself as lacking. Serving as her SFA would give you someone to emulate. After all, Jethro’s techniques are not easy to duplicate.” And there was the threat.

Tony nodded and ignored the hard knot of pain in his gut. Demoted it was. “If you think that’s best.”

“It would give you more time for the Benoit case.”

“I’m afraid I still have to decline the undercover position,” Tony said firmly.

“This error with Grant has no bearing on your undercover skills. I would think you would like a chance to prove yourself in an area where, by every report, you are quite talented.”

“Undercover work requires a certain frame of mind. I don’t think I’m in the right mindset to handle it right now.”

Shepard fell silent, and Tony kept his body loose and still as he channeled his inner supervisory special agent self. Ironically, in trying to step up and being equal to the job, he might lose it. “Take a few days to think about it, Tony.” Translation: call and agree to do the undercover if you want to keep your promotion. The words were practically carved into the air.

“Director, my answer will not change. The team… I’ve had too many difficult choices in too short a period of time. I’m not grounded enough to handle an undercover assignment.”

“But you see yourself as fit to handle cases in the field?” Shepard’s threat against Tony’s active agent status was a tactic Tony hadn’t expected, but he couldn’t react. If she knew how much he feared being chained to a desk, that would give her leverage.

He said as calmly as he could, “I believe so, but after the Renny Grant case, I can see where that might be in doubt, I won’t deny I made a mistake. I can only promise you that improving my leadership skills and preserving the integrity of the MCRT is my first priority, which is why I have to respectfully decline the undercover position. Thank you for considering me for it, and I do consider it a complement that you asked me.” If she took him from active duty, that would trigger a psyche evaluation, and Tony was almost sure he could not only pass but make the director look like a fool for questioning him. However, this dance had turned into more of a fencing match, so she might take it that far. Director Shepard had left subtle behind and was going for trying to wear him down through sheer obstinacy. Yeah, he could now see how she and Gibbs would have meshed at one point. They were both stubborn bastards.

Just when Tony expected to lose his agent status altogether, she leaned back in her chair. “I see. And can anything change your mind?”

“No, Director.”

She nodded slowly, but Tony could see the fury in every tightly controlled gesture and the strain lines at the corners of her mouth.

“As far as taking evidence outside the chain of command and potentially damaging a prosecution by bypassing our forensics lab, that is a clear violation of policy. You will receive a three day suspension without pay.”

“Understood.” Tony waited, but Shepard didn’t speak or give any sign the meeting was finished. Tony suspected that he was supposed to beg forgiveness or ask her to reconsider or show some sign of anger that would tell her how to best proceed. If he didn’t give her any emotions to work with, she couldn’t know which direction to take any manipulation.

“The suspension will start tomorrow. Before the end of day, Cynthia will have the paperwork.”

Tony took that as a dismissal and he stood. “Yes, director.” He hesitated a second. “Do you plan to bring Macy in as the supervisory agent for the MCRT?”

Shepard pressed her fingertips together. “You made a serious error in judgment.” She looked down at the file. Tony wasn’t sure if she was referencing the failed investigation into Grant or the use of the FBI computers.

“I understand that and I accept that I should have made different choices.”

A small frown crossed her face. “I have to think about making the best choice for NCIS.”

Tony nodded.

“I still believe you have great potential, Tony.” Her voice carried something of maternal disappointment now, and Tony suspected she knew how to use that button. Maybe it was a director thing because Director Morrow could do one hell of a disappointed uncle act.

“Thank you,” Tony said. At this point they were both just playing parts in this farce, but Tony could only end it by letting her know that he’d found out the op was unsanctioned. To do that he would have to admit that he had broken laws for handling classified intelligence. “If you bring in Macy, will I be her SFA or will I move to another team?”

“You’ll stay on the MCRT,” Shepard said quickly, “and right now I’m leaning toward leaving you as the team lead, but I made the decision to promote you rather quickly, and this time I need to consider my decision. I’ll have an answer when you come back from your suspension.”

Tony nodded, and when Shepard turned to her computer, he took that as a dismissal. He could almost see the wheels turn in Shepard’s head. She hoped Tony would come back desperate to impress her, and impressing her would require him to take the Benoit job. Hell, even though he knew the whole truth, he still felt a nagging urge to make her happy. He was damn good at undercover—better than he was at leading. A legitimate undercover job would be welcome at this point. Handcuff him to an antiquities thief and let him run around the countryside and he’d almost be happy.

Tony nodded at Cynthia on his way past. Suspensions were supposed to be private, but if Tony disappeared for three days right after the Grant case fell apart, it wouldn’t take a genius to put two and two together. So his best way forward was head up and unemotional.

McGee jumped up from his desk when Tony came around the corner. “How’d it go?”

“Three days of suspension starting tomorrow, so get to lunch so we can get the SFA paperwork done before I’m gone.”

Ziva frowned. “You are suspended? Why?”

“Because I didn’t handle the Grant case correctly and because I went to an outside analyst instead of ordering McGee to do the work.”

“I should be suspended for at least as long as you,” Tim said. Tony was happy to see his probie wasn’t trying to throw him under the bus.

“If you had refused an order, I would have suspended you for a lot longer. However, this was my fuckup and I’ll take the hit. Now go, shoo. Get lunch and be back here ready for work. I assume you’ve finished the paperwork on the Anderson case.”

“Yeah. I found all the dummy identities he used and tracked the IP addresses.”

“Good. Ziva, is your field report done, and before you say yes, did you actually proofread it after putting it through your translation program?”

“Of course I did,” she said unhappily.

"Good, because if the report is unreadable, I will not fix it, and I will not mark your errors for you.”

“Why are you being so unreasonable?”

“If Director Shepard brings in Agent Macy to run the MCRT, she’s going to want a team that is up to speed. Fix your report or I don’t want to see it, Agent David.”

Tony turned and walked away before she could argue with him. Tony had one more person to talk to. While Ducky wasn’t part of the team or part of the problem, he would certainly suffer some of the fallout from all this.

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