- Explicit Sex
The coat room of a gallery wasn’t where Tony had expected to end up on a Friday night when he’d had his little epiphany the week before.
He’d gone into work the next day and started to poke at all the sore spots he could identify and armed himself with evidence. What might look paranoid in normal people should be second nature for any good investigator in his opinion. The file he’d put together drew a picture even nastier than he had expected.
It had yet again paid off to be friendly with the ladies in HR, who had made him printouts of not only the reprimands he had filed against McGee, Ziva and Abby, but the complaints from other teams as well, along with the proof that Shepherd had been the one to delete them or sign them off as insubstantial or addressed. The number had been staggering.
He’d done some careful digging about the context of the Benoit op and even on the surface, it looked like a whole barrel of worms, forget about a can. After his first attempt to address the flaws in their setup with Shepherd was summarily brushed away, he’d kept at it and started to record their conversations with his phone. The quality wasn’t the best, but there was little else he could do to document a completely off the records operation.
The good thing was that he wasn’t actively putting any energy into the undercover op itself anymore, which gave him some time to write up everything he knew plus some of his conclusions and suspicions. And he still had time left for a few hours of sleep each night. He’d also given up on picking up all the slack McGee and Ziva left behind as he didn’t see the point anymore, he just kept doing the crucially important parts.
It was freeing not to carry the whole MCRT on his shoulders anymore.
He’d found it equal parts amusing and worrisome that of all the people he worked with closely, the only one who’d noticed the change in his attitude had been Jimmy. But in true Palmer style, he’d just asked if everything was alright with Tony and then had been happy to hear that he was sorting out the problems. Whatever his future had in store, he was determined to keep that unlikely friendship going.
Most of the evidence he could pull together without drawing attention to himself had been gathered since the day before, but Tony hadn’t yet made up his mind how he wanted to deal with it. The latest conversation with Shepherd this afternoon had changed that and forced his hand.
And so it was that he’d called Tyrell Abner, who was an amazing drummer he sometimes improvised with at a small local jazz bar and who happened to be on the security detail for the SecNav. Tyrell hadn’t had any qualms about telling Tony where Davenport would be that evening and even suggested the clandestine meeting in the coatroom. Tony suspected the man was living out his own secret spy phantasies tonight, but where was the harm.
The girl working the coatroom that night for the event had taken one look at Tyrell’s credentials when he’d escorted Tony in, had offered him a stool to wait on, and had paid him no further mind. Tony had positioned himself so that he couldn’t be seen by anyone passing by, but he could still hear the speeches and then the noises of general mingling in the main part of the gallery.
Tyrell had said that the SecNav didn’t plan to stay overly long, which in Tony’s experience translated to roughly an hour after the speeches were over. He wasn’t disappointed when Tyrell’s voice appeared just outside.
“If you could step in here, just for a moment, please, Sir.”
“What is going on, Tyrell? Is there a security problem?” Davenport sounded more exasperated than worried.
“That wouldn’t be an inappropriate description, Sir, though there is no imminent threat to your person,” Tony said and stood up.
“DiNozzo. What are you doing here? And what’s with the cloak and dagger approach?”
“My apologies for the theatrics and interrupting your evening, but I believe you’d want to be aware of this sooner rather than later.” He handed over the rather thick file which Davenport took, but didn’t open.
“What is it and why isn’t this coming to me through the usual channels?”
“It’s a volatile mess brewing at NCIS that has the potential to be very damaging to the agency in multiple ways. And the usual channel to you leads through the director’s office. If the director is part of the problem, detours are required. Everything I could possibly find on the issue is documented in that file.”
The rapid climb of Davenport’s eyebrows up his forehead told Tony that he had the man’s attention if nothing else.
“I know that you’re not as bad as Gibbs about handling things internally, but that you bring this to me in such a manner is still a surprise. You’re aware what this could do to your reputation.”
“Turns out, having your director trying to blackmail you into a potentially deadly undercover mission provides quite the change in perspective. You really should read the file, Mr Secretary. Tyrell has my personal phone number if you need to reach me.”
“Why can’t I reach you on your work phone?”
“Because that’s turned off and sitting in an envelope in the outbox on my desk, together with my credentials and resignation letter. Have a good evening, Sir.”
When he woke up the next morning, it took Tony a moment to put a name to how he felt. He settled on free. He probably should feel more nervous or maybe a little lost, given that he’d gone and left his job the night before without any plan for the future. And that was before you factored in the shitstorm he’d likely unleashed when he’d approached SecNav.
But free was definitely his predominant feeling at the moment, and he was determined to enjoy it. The rest could be addressed later.
In celebration of his new circumstances, he indulged in french toast with some fruit, eaten in his PJs on the couch with silly cartoons on the TV. Simple pleasures were the best.
Freshly showered, he stood in his closet and wondered what to wear for the day. For the first time in a long while, he didn’t feel like his clothing had to provide him with any kind of protection or mask which meant some adjustments to his selection process. In the end, he reached for a casual pair of chinos and a soft sweater he’d never wear to work where it could get ruined. He’d treated himself to the luxurious piece on a holiday trip to Italy.
What to do with his day was an easier decision. He’d start off with some leisurely grocery shopping that would allow for proper cooking later. And in the afternoon, he’d wanted to see the exhibition about the history of the cinema that he’d mostly given up hope of catching.
Along the way, he could ponder what he wanted to do next with his life. His trust funds and savings provided him with a comfortable cushion, but it wasn’t enough to allow him to just live off of it for the rest of his life. Besides, he’d go stir crazy with nothing to do.
The exhibition was fascinating and full of little details he hadn’t known or hadn’t seen put into context like this. It also did him a world of good to engage his brain with something unconnected to work and NCIS and in its own way actually did more to clear his mind than vegging out on the couch with a movie.
He’d seen almost all of it when his phone vibrated in his pocket. The display showed an unknown number, and he barely kept in the sigh at what was likely coming his way.
“Agent DiNozzo, this is Jason Thompson, Secretary Davenport’s personal assistant. Mr Davenport would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience. How soon can you come to his private residence? I assume you know the address.”
Tony wanted to argue the agent in the address but bit his tongue. He hadn’t honestly expected to get away this easily. “Yes, I’m aware. I can be there in about 45 minutes.” So much for a relaxed Saturday.
He pulled up to Davenport’s house with two minutes to spare. His housekeeper let him in and pointed him towards the man’s office, asking for his preference in coffee or tea. Tony decided on tea, having run on way too much caffeine for weeks. Tea also always reminded him of Ducky which automatically calmed him down.
His knock was immediately answered with a call to enter.
“You sure know how to ruin a weekend, DiNozzo,” Davenport said in lieu of a greeting.
“I would apologise, Mr Secretary, but I’m convinced my actions were necessary and without alternative.” He settled in the chair the man pointed him to, ignoring the envelope on the corner of the desk that was so obviously the one he’d left at NCIS the night before.
“I wish I could argue your point, it would make my life less stressful.” Davenport paused as the housekeeper delivered a tray with a full tea service for Tony and a fresh carafe of coffee for the secretary.
“Let me confirm one of your suspicions first. The op Shepherd is planning against Benoit is unsanctioned and worse, she’s going against orders. The CIA is already running their own investigation against the man and made it very clear that they wouldn’t appreciate any interference from other agencies.”
Tony took a sip of his tea to let that sink in. Two operations running parallel without any knowledge of each other equalled the potential for an immeasurable disaster, and he would have found himself in the middle of it without reliable backup.
“You spared NCIS and me a big embarrassment by making me aware before the shit hit the fan, and I completely understand your need to extract yourself from this situation.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Out of curiosity, why did you start recording your conversations with Shepherd? You got quite far in planning the op with her.”
“Because I saw it coming. I wish I could say that the director surprised me when she threatened to fire me if I didn’t comply with her orders, but our interactions over the last week built up to it. A little more than a week ago, I had an epiphany about the impossible situation I was getting into – later than I should have bought that clue but at least not too late. I tried to address my concerns with her and see about more promising options, but she was unprepared to discuss it. The more I insisted that the op wasn’t viable in its current conception, the more forcefully she insisted on it. If you listened through all the audio files, you’ll have heard how she worked up to threatening my job by implying my performance was otherwise disappointing, conveniently ignoring the points I made about the lack of support for my disciplinary actions.” He took a deep breath before deciding to add the last point. “Quite frankly, Sir, I felt groomed for this type of exploitation, and I didn’t appreciate it one bit.”
Davenport looked thoughtful. “Listening to her escalating the pressure on you was a scary kind of enlightening. There’s a reason undercover operations are voluntary only, and she stamped all over that. I hadn’t thought of your last point, but I can see the logic in it. Her actions or lack thereof in regards to McGee, David and Sciuto could be seen as a lack in leadership if viewed on their own, which would be bad enough. But factoring in what she followed it up with, it does look intentional – even if we will have a hard time proving it.”
“May I ask what you intend to do about the whole mess, Sir?” Tony figured he hadn’t been called here just for a few clarifications.
“I’ve already put together an investigative team. You mentioned various angles in your report that do or could cause problems each in their own way, so I need all of them covered, as discreetly as possible. I called in the Inspector General’s office, JAG and Owen Granger will run the internal investigation.”
Tony raised an eyebrow in surprise at the last.
“Problems with my choice, DiNozzo?”
“Not at all, Granger sure has the disposition to get to the bottom of this. I’m just surprised you didn’t choose Vance.”
“Before all is said and done, Shepherd will be out of a job. Unlike you, I do have an idea why she’s so fixated on getting Benoit, and I won’t stand for shenanigans like that. So, knowing that the director’s office will soon need a new occupant…”
“… I can assume that Leon Vance is your prefered candidate.”
“Nothing is set in stone at this point, but I won’t create a precedent where someone gets to investigate a superior out of office only to inherit the job. I would like to end up with less of a mess once this is all said and done.”
Tony nodded, satisfied that SecNav seemed determined to sort things out rather than just make them go away.
“Aside from investigating Shepherd’s actions, they’ll take a close look at the procedural concerns you voiced about David. If all your observations on the matter prove correct, that is definitely an issue we need to handle carefully and put measures into place to avoid anything like that happens again. McGee and Sciuto mostly look like disciplinary problems at this point. You mentioned McGee’s literary endeavours in passing. Can you tell me anything more about why you felt it was pertinent?”
It had been the point he’d been most hesitant to add to the file, so Tony chose his words carefully.
“It ties into the disciplinary issues you already mentioned as it has taken up considerable amounts of time he should be focusing on investigations, though I think his absenteeism stands on its own and has just conveniently freed up time for his novel. Beyond that, it is almost more about what he hasn’t said about it than what he has told at the office. McGee easily falls into ramblings about details of topics that excite him, and he is passionate about his writing. Yet, he hasn’t mentioned a lot about the content or characters of the book. I overheard him telling Abby a few details at some point, and the main character seems to be an agent. It’s close enough to his work that the book should have been cleared by legal, which I sincerely doubt has happened.
“The fact that he’s so tight-lipped about it makes me suspect that there are objectionable elements in the book and he hopes to create facts by getting it published before NCIS can learn about it. It’s a short-sighted strategy, but McGee is also still naive enough to convince himself nobody will make a big fuss after the fact.
“I’d like to make it clear that I don’t know for sure that he hasn’t asked for permission. I didn’t want to raise any flags in legal, so I didn’t make any inquiries with them. And for all I know, McGee went directly to the director with it, and she okayed it, but with her current case of tunnel vision that’s not all that reassuring a thought.”
“I agree, and I’ll have JAG look into that properly. As I see it from the David issues, legal at NCIS has dropped more than a few balls lately, so I want the outside perspective. Looks like there will be a lot of digging going on at NCIS in the near future. Do I have to worry about the DC offices being essentially unable to perform their jobs?”
Tony blew out a surprised huff of air. “That question is a bit beyond my scope, Sir.”
“Tough luck, I’m asking you anyway. You dropped this in my lap after all.”
“From my perspective, the problems seem to be mostly surrounding the director and the MCRT. I’ve had some supportive comments from other team leads and SFAs that make me think they were pretty much left to do their job as usual. If anything, they suffer a little from lack of leadership because Shepherd got so wrapped up in our team, probably since before Gibbs left. And everyone suffered too under Abby’s emotionalism. A check on agency procedures in general probably wouldn’t go amiss as a second wave, but I trust my former colleagues to perform their duties according to the oath they gave and to the best of their abilities.”
Davenport nodded satisfied. “Let’s talk about that former.”
Tony had wondered when the envelope on the corner of the desk would come into the conversation.
“With all due respect, Sir, I absolutely meant it when I typed up that resignation letter and have no intention to step back from that decision.”
“I wholeheartedly agree with your wish to extract yourself from the situation you found yourself in. With Shepherd threatening to fire you unless you walked into an op you knew to carry a high risk to your safety and life, resigning looked like your best option. It’s always more preferable on the CV than having been fired. And I won’t put administrative hurdles in your way should you stick to that decision. But I would very much hate to lose you. This file,” he tapped the folder Tony had given him the evening before, “just serves as additional prove how skilled you are at what you do and how valuable you are to the agency. I’d like to at least propose a few alternative solutions to you leaving NCIS completely.”
Tony made a go-on gesture, knowing it would be impolite to not even hear the man out. Angering the SecNav was not a clever move if he wanted to work in DC again and there was always the possibility that he’d overlooked an option. Tony wasn’t Gibbs, he was aware that he didn’t know everything.
“There are a number of ways I could get you out of the firing line within NCIS, like sending you out as Agent Afloat until the dust settles, or having you join another office on special assignment. Trust me, they’d all take you gladly. One step further out of Shepherd’s influence would be sending you off to one of the interagency task forces or think tanks. I know that that doesn’t suit your skill set best, you are an investigator first. But on a temporary basis, it should provide you with a change of pace, and the insights you have to offer would be highly valued. Lastly, because I appreciate how taxing the last weeks and months must have been for you, I’m prepared to grant you a sabbatical to regain your equilibrium.”
Davenport was difficult to read, but Tony thought he looked moderately hopeful that one of his suggestions might sway him to stay.
“I appreciate your offers, Sir, and it’s nice to hear that I haven’t disappointed everyone in my chain of command. But I’m sorry to say that I thought about all of these options to some degree already and still decided to quit. My reasons go further than just the current threats by Director Shepherd. Quite frankly, Sir, if I needed to get out of the field for a relatively short stretch of time, my doctors would be happy to put me on medical leave. They’re constantly concerned about my lungs and would like me to take timeouts on a somewhat regular basis.”
Davenport frowned. “Is that a serious concern? It is bad enough you contracted the bloody plague through work, I hope you’re not allowing the job to make it even worse.”
“I think they’re mostly worrywarts, but I can’t pretend that there are no lasting ill effects. My experience as an athlete comes in handy, and I mostly manage well, but things like decent food and enough sleep take time. Time that our line of work doesn’t always afford.”
“Hn, if that is a constant concern and not an acute one, what is pushing you to quit your job now? I’m quite aware how many agencies have expressed their interest in you over the years, but you’ve always ignored them.”
Tony nodded in agreement. He’d never been tempted to leave NCIS before, be it out of loyalty to the agency or Gibbs.
“It all started because I had a hard time getting into the headspace of the persona for the Benoit op, something that’s hardly ever an issue for me and was even more confusing as we kept it purposefully close to myself. That had me take a very close look at my position on the team and the dynamics that led me to this point.” He took a deep breath, needing to get the wording on the next part right. “We all wear masks most of the time, slip them on and off to fit the situation. Nobody acts the same around their lover and their boss, not even if that’s the same person. But normally, those masks are all just aspects of ourselves, minor tweaks to our natural personality, not elaborate smoke screens.
“I’ve come to see that the more our team grew, the more the masks I wore developed a runaway dynamic that grew further and further away from me, to the point where I’m completely hiding essential parts of myself, even parts of my personality that are directly important to my success as an investigator, while playing up traits I outgrew years ago or that were never intended to be more than a comic relief. All in the name of making the team and the job run smoothly and not messing with people’s expectations.
“Twisting myself up like that isn’t healthy, and I started losing myself to it. I don’t believe that returning to NCIS in the future, especially not the near future would be a smart choice under these circumstances. The roles we play largely depend on the expectations of the people around us and those wouldn’t change easily. I can’t ignore that I have a reputation within the agency and law enforcement – for better or worse.”
Davenport looked thoughtful but tried to sound flippantly. “So what? Will you give up your promising career to open your own restaurant?”
“The idea has appeal,” Tony answered with a laugh. “But no, I don’t think I’m quite done with law enforcement, I just need a significant break before I open a new chapter. First of all, I need a vacation to find my centre again, and then I figured I might pursue my masters in earnest. I managed to take a class here and there around my job but going to uni full time and putting a serious effort in rather than scraping by after exhausting cases or while I’m laid up with an injury would be a good change. After that… who knows?”
“What are you getting your masters in, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“Criminology. I managed to get the Criminal Justice BA finished while I was still a cop.”
“You’re always full of surprises, and in this case, you’re making yourself only more attractive to other agencies.” Tony had rarely seen the SecNav look this grumpy. “Either way, I wish you the best of luck.”
Tony was a bit dumbfounded as he really had expected more of an argument about his resignation. “Thank you, Sir.”
“One last thing though.” Davenport pulled Tony’s credentials out of the envelope and seemed to exchange the photo ID for some reason. “I’d like you to keep this.” He held it out over the desk and wriggled it until Tony reached out and grabbed it.
He flipped it open.
Consulting Agent Anthony DiNozzo
“Sir? I’m not sure what exactly this is supposed to mean.”
“It’s been something the DoD and DoJ have been talking about for a while. Consider yourself a test case. Essentially, it’ll keep your security clearance active, allow you to carry a weapon as if you were on active duty – because goodness knows you’ve made plenty of enemies and get in enough trouble without them. We could call on you for advice in cases where we consider your input needed, but it is up to you which cases you actually agree to take on. I promise you, I’ll keep it to a minimum. There’s no regular payment in it, just the normal consultant fees for services rendered. You won’t owe us anything.”
Tony looked at Davenport with narrowed eyes. “Aside from making self-defence easier for me, you mostly want to make my future re-entry into law enforcement as smooth as possible. That’s why you’re really doing this, right?”
The SecNav just nodded.
“You’re aware that you’re also making it easier for me to go to any other agency, as I’d be coming in as a transfer.”
“A risk I’m willing to take. Who knows what we can offer you after you finished your degree. And you could always come to miss NCIS.” He didn’t sound like he genuinely believed that, so Tony didn’t bother to answer to that.
“I’ll take this for now, though I’d like the detailed conditions in writing before I ultimately agree to it.”
“I’ll have my office deliver them to you by Monday, as we’re rushing this from idea to reality sooner than planned, they are still polishing the details. Will you be already on vacation by then?”
“I haven’t arranged anything yet, and I don’t mind waiting for the paperwork before my departure.”
After some minor logistic arrangements, SecNav escorted him out, and Tony found himself sitting in his car, staring at his old badge and new title. This was not how he expected this meeting to go.
Note: Bear with me on the Consulting Agent. It’s relevant for a later plot point that Tony be still considered a federal agent, so SecNav gets to experiment.