[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

Earlier chapters HERE







Epilogue 3: Agent Katie Cole


Katie smiled as she watched Tony and Art double team Derek to get the ball away from him. Derek spun around, but Tony slipped in and stole the ball anyway. Tony hadn’t dribbled even halfway down the court before Derek stole the ball back and then passed it to JJ. She took a shot, but it didn’t even touch the rim. Her whole team groaned.

Katie glanced over when Hotch sat next to her. “How’s he working out?” Hotch asked.

She smiled. “He’s a good agent. He cares about the victims.”

“Too much?” That was the danger. Agents who cared too much burnt out all the quicker.

“He talked everyone into coming out here to defend unit 3’s honor against you guys.” Katie nodded toward the game as one of the analysts, Kevin something from unit 4, tried to block Tony. Tony passed to Robin, who promptly lost the ball to Derek. She’d never considered challenging another BAU team to competitive sports, but she could feel the improved energy in the office after one of the games. She wasn’t interested in playing, but she had to admit that watching the others brought her stress down.

“The teams need to blow off steam,” Hotch said. “I sometimes forget that.”

“Yeah, me too. We get focused on the crimes and don’t look at our team.” Katie didn’t bring up Agent Greenaway. Elle had been so damaged by the attack that had nearly killed her that she never had recovered. Everyone had heard about how she had unraveled. It was a team lead’s worst nightmare—to have someone on the team so mentally compromised that they were unable to continue working.

“It seems like you have an ally in making sure you remember to pay attention to your team.” Hotch nodded toward the game.

“NCIS were morons for letting him go.” Katie had trouble understanding how the head of a federal agency could so fundamentally misunderstand one of her agents. She had failed to back Tony on any leadership issues, all to back him into an undercover assignment. And knowing Tony, he would have put his soul into it and then paid too high a price. The man did lead with his heart, even if he joked around and tried to hide it.

Hotch watched the game for a time. “I get the feeling the new director didn’t understand what DiNozzo brought to the table,” he eventually said.

“Definitely not,” Katie agreed. She still wished that Shepard woman would have tried something before letting Tony leave. If she had filed one unfavorable report or raised one red flag, Katie would have been very happy to let the world know about Shepard’s attempt to send an agent on an unsanctioned op with no backup. As it was, she had quietly informed a friend from the CIA, and she had to trust the grapevine to slowly disseminate the information around the intelligence community.

The court had fallen quiet. The players were gathered around the water station now. She could hear the laughter, but not the specific words. This seemed like a good time, so she turned to really look at Hotch. “So why are you out here?”

Hotch gave her a knowing smile. “Maybe I just want to see if my team is upholding the unit’s good name.”

Katie snorted. Not only was Derek their only decent player, but Hotch was not the sort to socialize. Sometimes Katie worried that he would poach Tony from her because he needed someone with Tony’s social skills just as much as she did. High stress teams needed an outlet. They needed someone inside who could break through the walls that everyone put up. Then again, Hotch had Garcia. And if he tried to take Tony, Katie planned to put up one hell of a fight.

Hotch lowered his voice. “The FBI put out an APB for Ziva David. They want her in connection to the murder of a Syrian national in DC. Rumor is they want to question Director Shepard in relation to Officer David fleeing from the scene.”

“Shit,” Katie blurted out. She had no idea how Tony would take that. She didn’t know if he was still close to his team, but he had enough loyalty to get himself in trouble. “Do you think she’ll ask him for help?”

“Have they been in contact?”

“Derek would know better than I would. Tony makes a show out of being close to everyone, but he doesn’t really let many people in.”

Hotch nodded. “I noticed that.”

Katie lowered her voice to a near whisper. “I don’t want him dragged into her mess.”

“Understood. That’s why I wanted to warn you as soon as I saw the alert.”

Katie shook her head. It did seem like Tony attracted bad luck, but part of that was his own unwillingness to tell people to fuck off. He was working on it, but his heart was still bigger than his common sense. Of course, Katie preferred that to the hard-assed agents who had too little heart. Hotch handed her a folder.

“I’ll talk to him,” she promised.

“If you need any help…”

“I’ll call,” she promised.

“I can find a reason to request him on our next out of town case if he needs some distance.”

Katie smiled. “I appreciate that and I might take you up on the offer.”

Without another word, Hotch got up and left. That was just like him—to come in and offer help and then disappear without a word about what it might cost it to provide it. She hoped his wife appreciated what a unique man Hotch was.

When Tony next looked over, Katie signaled for him to join her. He tossed his towel at JJ, who promptly wadded it up and threw it at his head, but Tony was already trotting away, laughing. “Jerk!” she yelled after him, but she was laughing.

“Hey, boss,” Tony said cheerfully, but then he stopped right in front of her and his smile faded. “Oh crap. That’s your ‘bad shit is going down’ look. What happened?”

“I have a look?” Katie found most people couldn’t read her emotions.

“Hell yes. Now what happened, and do I have permission to hunt the bastard down?” It was a reasonable request, especially since Tony was one of their best trackers in the real world. His insecurities with computers was slowing him down a little on some of the more technical aspects of the job, but he was starting to really develop those skills as well. Katie hadn’t considered it, but he actually might want to hunt David down, either to help or to turn her in. “Katie?” Tony prompted her.

“It’s your old team—”

“Dead?” Tony immediately jumped to.

“No, nothing like that. Ziva David has been implicated in a triple homicide.”

Tony’s eyebrows went up. “Okay.” He drew the word out to show his uncertainty with the issue, but then he gave her a crooked grin. “Usually I’m the one getting framed for murder. I guess she inherited that dubious honor when I left.”

“Two FBI agents were guarding a Syrian wanted by Israel. A bomb killed all three, and David was seen leaving the scene. Her car was found nearby.”

Tony sank down onto the bench. “Okay. I can see why it looks bad, but I would point out that David is very capable of killing someone without being seen or being stupid enough to leave her car there. That feels more like a setup. It could be that Daddy David is trying to force Ziva back into the fold.”

That sounded reasonable, and Tony did have a good gut for how an investigation would break, but Katie still didn’t want her people in the middle of this disaster. If the agency tracked David down, someone was going to die. Tony usually appreciated directness, so Katie came right out and asked, “Will she come to you?”

Tony blew out a breath and looked over to where most of the players were leaving. They’d packed their stuff, and some headed to cars while others went toward the building where the FBI gyms had showers. “I honestly don’t know.”

“Meaning?”

“Meaning Ziva always ran hot and cold with me. One day she would talk about her favorite porn and laugh. The next, she would have a team dinner and invite everyone but me.”

Katie couldn’t imagine how confusing that would be. “And how did you react?”

“Probably not well. I was still reeling from losing Kate, and Kate was all…” Tony’s voice cracked. “She was all Catholic morality and sexual repression.”

“So you played the sexual card with Kate.”

Tony nodded.

“Did you ever tell her that you were trying to get her to build an emotional wall that let her deal with shocking sexual cases?”

Tony gave her a cocky grin that covered the pain she knew he hid. “You’re assuming that’s why I did it.”

“I am. You did the same thing with Robin, and like I told you then, I don’t have a problem with using humor as a coping mechanism. You do need to be honest with people up front and give them a chance to tell you to stop.”

The smile slowly faded from Tony’s face, and Katie assumed the mix of confusion and pain was the real Tony DiNozzo. “I don’t think I was honest with Kate, Ziva or myself. But with Ziva, it all got tangled up. I could never figure out if she was working me like a target or if she liked me and was doing some ninja version of pulling my pigtails because she was so screwed up by her life. Some days I was certain it was the first, but then I would see some vulnerability and…” He stopped for a second and took a breath. “I never knew where she stood or how I was supposed to react to her. My own psyche got a little turned around.” He circled his finger in the air.

“And if she contacts you?”

“I will smile and play nice until I can send out a 911, because I have no doubt that I would lose any fight I started.”

“Do you feel any loyalty to her or desire to help her?” If Tony said he did, so help her God, she was shoving him on Hotch’s BAU jet.

“Help her get a good lawyer? Sure. Hell, I’d call a frat brother right now if she wanted. Help her evade the FBI?” Tony laughed. “Oh hell no. I do not need to jump into that fire.”

Katie dialed down her own concern a little. So she didn’t have to make him leave town, but he still might appreciate a little distance. “Hotch said you can go with them on their next case if you need to get out of town.”

“You two are closet mother hens. Do you have any idea how much I love you for that?”

“Love me?” It wasn’t the word that surprised Katie as much as the affectionate tone Tony used. “You have some low standards if that’s all it takes to earn love.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. But the fact that you will put all my cases on hold to protect my sanity, I think that’s a pretty big thing. So my low standards don’t even come into play here. That said, I’m fine. They aren’t my team anymore. I may still have an occasional beer with Tim or Jimmy, I might sometimes go dancing with Abby, but I don’t owe them.” Tony’s voice grew a little harder. “I certainly don’t owe Ziva who hasn’t said one word to me since I left NCIS.”

And then Tony smiled and he was right back to his affable personality. Sometimes he shifted so fast that she worried about him, but like Hotch had told her, he had learned to wear personalities so young that he could do so without even blinking an eye. And right now he was back to happy-go-lucky Tony. “So, I’m good. You don’t need to patch any emotional holes, and I really need a shower. Derek is a badass on the basketball court.”

Katie decided to let this one go. He’d let her see his real pain and confusion, so she trusted that he would come to her if he needed something more. Following Tony’s change of topic, she looked over to where Derek was the last person left by the basketball court. “He is. You’re not too bad yourself.”

Tony got up and trotted backward toward the building. “You should have seen me before I got the plague!”

He turned and ran off, and Katie shook her head. She had the feeling he’d been amazing, but then in so many ways, Tony still was an amazing man, plague-scarred lungs or not. She looked over, and Derek stood with his gym bag, not even hiding the fact that he was watching.

She turned toward her car and walked off, secure knowing that Derek was going to track Tony down and ask about the conversation. If Tony did need any minor emotional patch jobs, he had the support network to provide it. Despite sometimes playing at having a broken wing, Tony DiNozzo did not need her mothering. However, there was a list of victims on her caseload who did. Now that she’d had her own mental health break, she needed to get back to them.

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