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Chapter One: An Offer He Can’t Refuse
When he reached Cynthia’s desk, the director was asking her to hold all calls and visitors. Then, he requested that she schedule a meeting in the morning with SSA Gibbs and the Human Resources Manager. It was only his undercover skills that kept his blank mask firmly in place. That was not a good sign for Gibbs, and two sides of Tony were warring between cheering and worry. Taking a deep calming breath, he shoved both down and locked them away until he could examine them in privacy later. When Vance headed into his office, Tony followed noting the door being shut behind them.
“Have a seat, Tony,” the Director requested waving a hand to one of the two chairs in front of his desk.
Feeling more than a little unnerved by the events of the last, not even 10 minutes, Tony sat as requested crossing one leg over the other, and folded his hands over his knee.
“Tell me how things are going in general, Tony. Are you still happy in your position?”
“Are we speaking confidentially, sir or, is this on the books?” Tony questioned knowing the answer would determine his response. Not that he’d always trusted Vance at his word, but he thought that he had reached a point where he had to.
“This is between you and me. I overheard enough from the issue that just unfolded that all I need from you is a written account of your conversation with Gibbs. This conversation isn’t exactly about that. It’s more something that I have been meaning to discuss with you, and the incident just now in the bullpen spurned me into action. So, be honest with me. Tell me how things are going.”
Tony nodded and took a moment to gather his thoughts before proceeding. “This isn’t the first time I have been down this road with Gibbs post serious injury. After the first time, when he got amnesia, I had hoped that I’d not have to do it, again. He certainly doesn’t help my ego or my self-esteem. Maybe some feel that shouldn’t be a problem, but everyone has their limits, even me. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine leaving the team, but lately, that’s changed.”
Tony paused to turn his thoughts over in his head, knowing that he was at a point of no return. If he went forward with what he suspected was the issue, Gibbs’ career would be over. The biggest problem though was that he just didn’t see any way to avoid what he’d come to believe. It just wouldn’t be safe to continue going on as they had been if Gibbs was as far down the rabbit hole as Tony believed him to be.
“There’s something wrong with him, Director Vance. Something that looking back I think has been wrong for quite a while. It’s just that before now it has been easy for him to hide. Now, after getting injured and the long delay in getting him help this last time, I think he’s having trouble faking it like he’s used to doing. The first thing that came to mind is PTSD, but that doesn’t feel right. If that’s the issue, then it’s certainly not the full issue or the biggest issue. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually a memory problem. My best guess would be that it’s a combination of the two with the memory problem being the largest irritant.
“Between his girls dying, the amnesia when he got blown up, now that kid he was trying to save almost killing him, and the constant stress he puts himself under, I think that whatever it is, has just gotten steadily worse. Before now I think he could fake his way through the problem times with anger or stubbornness.
“Now he can’t do it anymore. I also have a suspicion that he may be losing time. I feel bad that this is happening to him, but if I’m right it’s just not safe having him in the field. Hell, it’s not even safe letting him run a team. I’ve been as sympathetic as I could be for as long as I could with his constant irritation and other random bullshit. Now, I can see that it isn’t my imagination, and there is really a more serious issue, I can’t pretend that I don’t see it. He won’t get real help, and I certainly can’t force him. I’ve tried to broach the topic with a visit to the basement within the last week and he told me to mind my own fucking business.”
Sighing, Tony wished he had a coffee or even a bottle of water, but barreled on. “Bishop is going to be one hell of an agent someday. I’m concerned though that the team isn’t the best fit for her, and I’m even more concerned about what would happen to her if I left. Things between McGee and myself have improved with Ziva gone. He seems to have made a real effort to reel himself back in, but I honestly can say that it would take a really long time for the two of us to get back to the trust that I had with him before the coms incident several years ago. Time that I am fairly sure I am not willing to spend on this team”
“What coms incident?”
“The Military at Home case in Royal Woods, when McGee and Ziva turned off my com?” Tony almost swallowed his tongue in shock when Vance looked both clueless and upset.
“It was in my report, and I filed a separate complaint about it! It was with all the paperwork that I gave to… That fucking bastard! Excuse the French, sir.” Agitated, Tony ran a hand through his hair as he tried to keep from storming down to the bullpen and punching Gibbs in the throat.
“As my Grandmother would say, DiNozzo, that wasn’t French. It was plain English, and if I am understanding correctly I think the words were appropriate. Give me a brief rundown, please.”
Taking a deep breath, Tony nodded and complied. “When I was getting the voice samples in Royal Woods, McGee and Ziva got tired of listening to me. So, they turned the volume for the coms off on their end so that they didn’t have to listen to me, and read in the car until I got back. I reported it to Gibbs, and he said that he would take care of it. When I asked again, he advised me that you told him that it wasn’t that big of a deal, and maybe I shouldn’t mess around so much myself.”
He watched as Vance shoved a toothpick in his mouth, which was a sure sign he was agitated. “I will admit that it took me longer than it should have to warm up to you, DiNozzo. Even when I thought you were less professional than you should be, though, I would never have let that go. Do you have a copy of your original report by chance? I don’t know how much I can do about it now, but I would like the opportunity. Ziva may be gone, but McGee isn’t, and if our conversation goes the way I hope. I am not willing to put him in a leadership position at this point if he’s so willing to be led by his nose.”
Tony blushed slightly and fidgeted in his seat. “I umm maybe possibly have a copy of every report I’ve ever filled out with NCIS. IT has set me up with my own server space to keep them.”
Vance’s lips twitched, and the amusement was clear to read on his face. “How did you manage that?”
Tony shrugged settling back in his seat to get more comfortable. “I asked? It pays to help people out. They said that we had the room, but if it was ever needed I’d have to get rid of them. So far they haven’t needed it.”
Vance nodded smiling. “Only you, DiNozzo. Now, let’s get back to what we were talking about.”
Tony nodded and paused to recall what he’d been discussing. “McGee… Oh. Yeah, he’s gotten better, but that’s still some questions in my mind about him. I’d be concerned how he’d stand up to the next strong-willed, attractive female against someone he felt he was better than. I know I said it already, but I’d be worried to leave Elle alone with them. She has so much potential, and I’d hate to see it ruined like Ziva ruined McGee despite my best efforts.”
Tony took a deep breath. He found it hard to believe what the next words were going to come out of his mouth, but they were. “To be honest, I’m not sure… No, I know that I don’t want to be a part of this team any longer.”
Vance nodded smiling. “What if I told you that you didn’t have to? I have been tasked by SecNav and SecDef to create an internationally based team that deals with major cases that have both domestic and international ties. This new team would be located in London, England.
“Then, if you do as well with that team as I think you will, there is a spot opening that I think you would be perfect for. Your first case will be completing the investigation with The Calling. There’s word going around that Daniel wasn’t the top of the mountain like we thought he was. We have a vested interest in seeing them brought down, and I trust you to make sure it happens.”
Tony cocked his head to one side and arched an eyebrow. He was more than a little shocked to hear what he’d already been offered, let alone that there was more to it.
“Within the next five years, Europe and Northern Africa will be divided into two separate Assistant Directors. Northern Africa is quickly becoming more than enough for one all by itself. Once that happens, should you be living up to my expectations, I would like to promote you to the new AD spot. I wasn’t kidding when I said that someday this chair could be yours, Tony.”
“The new team will be in London, sir?” Tony verified as his mind spun with the notion of being able to live in his Mother’s home country. She’d often talked fondly of England, and he’d always secretly hoped to live there someday.
“Yes, it will. You’ll be able to pick your own team, although I do have a name I would appreciate you consider for your SFA. I think that she would be perfect for your team, as previously she’s spent time working with Interpol. Also, her Mother is an ambassador. So, she spent quite a bit of time overseas.”
“Emily Prentiss? If it is, then I fully agree, sir. She’d be a kick ass SFA. Is there any chance that… I mean…” Tony sighed and Vance smiled lifting an eyebrow.
“I’d like Ellie Bishop for the new team, sir.”
Vance nodded smiling. “Good for you, DiNozzo. One thing I like about you is your ability to tactfully speak your mind. You have a real future with this agency, Tony, if you want it that is.”
“If I may, sir?” Tony asked and waited for Vance to nod, before continuing.
“I thought you felt McGee was the future of the agency.”
Vance sighed and then nodded carefully. “I feel that agents LIKE McGee are the future of NCIS. Technically minded with field ability. Let’s face it, Tony. The world is only becoming more and more digital. You aren’t exactly a novice to computers, though, despite what you let your team believe. I am very aware of your Bachelor’s in computer science, and your ongoing studies in Criminal Psychology, also for that matter. When is your thesis for your doctorate?”
Tony grinned shyly. He wasn’t aware that anyone at NCIS paid attention to those parts of his file. “A few weeks sir. I am part of a special program because of my job. So, I can do my studies and tests when I have the time. I have the day off already for when I am scheduled to present it.”
Vance nodded looking proud. “Recognizing that people like McGee are our future is not the same as McGee himself being our future. No, in my opinion, you will be the one on that team to do us proud. I’d like to see what you can manage when you’re out from underneath Gibbs’ long shadow. I also think that it would be good for you to be able to be more open about your son. I don’t know what your situation is with your English relatives, but it might be good for you both to have family nearby. So, do I have my new Supervisory Special Agent?”
Knowing that he should think about it, but not wanting to wait, Tony stood and held out his hand. When the director shook it, he grinned big. “You do, Director Vance. I promise I will make you proud.”
“I don’t have a single doubt, DiNozzo. Not even one.”
Smiling happily, Tony shook the Director’s hand and headed back downstairs to get the case solved. Suddenly, he was confident that he could handle whatever the case and Gibbs threw at him. After all, his time in DC was winding down, and his future had a whole new direction.