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Ever Onward

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Chapter One

Tony DiNozzo stood gazing at his DC apartment, filled with sealed boxes, the furniture already gone, sold or shipped to his new home. He was in casual clothes, something he was enjoying and mourning as he knew it would change rapidly. He would have to get used to the formality of his new situation. He removed the unneeded glasses from his face and thought about his life choices.

The last year had been more than a bit insane and it had all started on Air Force One. The football handler had keeled over after having a meal with the President and Gibbs had made a deal with the secret service agent to share the case. When trying to explain why he was taking measurements and sketches, rather than just relying on photos to the novice at crime scene investigation, Tony had made a critical mistake. In hindsight, Tony wished he had chosen a different analogy but he didn’t know what events would come and he just grabbed a magazine on a nearby table and used the cover model to illustrate how photos couldn’t give you the whole details. From that moment, Kate Todd had placed him into a box as a chauvinistic, sexist pig.

At the end of the case when she resigned from the Secret Service, Gibbs had offered her a job on their team at NCIS. Tony was the Senior Field Agent and Kate was a probationary agent. She had been a Secret Service Agent but had worked the protection detail, not criminal investigations. Tony still wasn’t sure why Gibbs had offered her a job. Granted, she had resigned due to things they had discovered during the course of the investigation but it had all been things she had done before they even met, Gibbs had no fault in it.

From the moment Kate had arrived, the dynamics of the team had altered dramatically. It wasn’t the first time a third had been on the team, Vivian Blackadder being the one who lasted longest. But it was the first time Gibbs had decided to destroy chain of command.

Tony liked Kate. He found her to be a strong woman, feisty and funny. But with Gibbs subtle encouragement and her own stubborn perceptions of Tony’s character, the humorous teasing had quickly morphed from good-natured to rude and at times, outright mean.

The final straw had been when she informed him at a crime scene they were working while Gibbs was elsewhere that she didn’t need to do what he told her. When he called her on it, she told him that Gibbs was the boss and had flat out informed her on one of the earliest cases she worked that she wasn’t to do what Tony told her, only what Gibbs told her.

Tony hoped she had misunderstood the older man. It had been on a case when all of them were there and Tony had issued instructions while he went to do what Gibbs told him to do while he dealt with a local LEO. Tony had strongly believed Gibbs had meant if Gibbs changed her job, she listened to him over Tony, rather than how she'd taken it, not to listen to Tony at all.

He held onto that hope until he talked to Gibbs straight out. The team leader had told him that Kate had understood his meaning perfectly. Gibbs was the boss. Tony wasn't. Tony tried to talk to him about chain of command but Gibbs got stubborn and simply ended the conversation with a pithy, “My team, my rules.”

Tony spent a long, sleepless night wrestling with his sense of duty versus his loyalty to Gibbs, attempting to push aside the issues of codependency he knew he struggled with. In the end, Tony had decided to see how things played out over the next little while. It hadn’t gone well.

Kate had been in rare form with her insults and had even graduated to slamming him with her elbow into his solar plexus. She had again refused to do as he, the Senior Field Agent, had told her to do and Gibbs had ignored it.

Tony had had enough. Gibbs was going too far. He had even resumed the head slaps that Tony had told him off for just before he was hired at NCIS. And with Kate picking up on the idea of physical “correction” it was too much. Tony had enough issues with being abused, he wasn’t about to take it from his boss and co-workers.

Tony had written Kate up for her insubordination. Gibbs had thrown the reprimand in the trash and head slapped Tony again. Tony had then done the unthinkable just weeks before, he had taken a copy of the reprimand along with a formal complaint about Gibbs to Director Morrow. In his pocket he had a copy of his resignation letter, ready and waiting if needed.

Morrow had tried, Tony would give him that. The director understood Tony’s value to the agency but Gibbs was immovable. He ran his team his way. Tony had asked about chain of command and his time in the Marines. Gibbs had reached out to smack him one for the remark, snarling that Tony had never served. The blow never connected. Tony had spun in place and grabbed the smaller man’s forearm. Normally Tony tried to appear smaller than Gibbs and it often worked since the other man was larger than life. But the fact that Gibbs was willing to physically assault him in front of the head of the agency who hadn’t actually stepped up to try to stop it had broken the camel’s back.

Tony didn’t find Gibbs to be as bad as Danny, his dirty ex-partner from Baltimore, but for whatever reason, the man’s reaction to Kate Todd had changed his entire bearing and mindset. And Tony could read the writing on the wall, it would get worse as time went on. Kate would get more comfortable with her place on the team and more aggressive. Gibbs would push Tony down and Tony would slowly forget who he actually was, his mask of lovable fool would become glued on and Tony’s self would disappear.

When he released Gibbs arm, he had taken his resignation letter and laid it on Morrow’s desk before adding his badge, ID and sidearm. “There have been some really good times, Gibbs, but I can see that has come to an end. Good luck with molding Kate into a good agent.”

Tony had been out of the building with his belongings before Gibbs had even come down to the bullpen. On his way out he had called Abby and Ducky to tell them what had happened and though upset, they had both wished him luck. Abby had insisted he keep in touch.

Though few knew it, Tony was actually fairly well off. He had an inheritance from his maternal grandfather, as his favorite child’s only child. Tony’s mother, Elizabeth DiNozzo nee Paddington, had been the only daughter of the family in generations. She had been doted upon and Tony had reaped the benefits of that after the death of his mother and his grandfather.

So, Tony didn’t feel pressured by money to immediately find another position. But he knew himself well enough to know he would have to find something to do before long or he would go insane. While he tried to decide if he wanted to go to another federal agency, back to a police force position, or move on entirely to a new path, he received word that one of his maternal uncles, the second son of the family, Clive Paddington, had died.

At loose ends, Tony decided to go to the funeral, pay his respects and try to reconnect with some of the English relations he rarely saw, though he did talk on the phone and exchange e-mails with his eldest uncle, Jeffery Paddington, the Earl of Devon, every few months.

The funeral had been relatively generic other than the fact that it was closed casket. Everyone was told Uncle Clive’s death in a car accident had been incredibly brutal. There was a wake following which Tony found slightly odd since the family was more stoic British than more emotional Celtic.

Tony had circulated and been introduced by Uncle Jeffery to a number of people and overheard the other man bragging about Tony’s college sports accomplishments and what he knew of Tony’s exploits in law enforcement. Uncle Jeffery had truly doted on Tony’s mom and he transferred those feelings to his nephew whenever they were together. Even from a distance Uncle Jeffery doted on Tony. He always sent the best Christmas and birthday gifts, not necessarily expensive, though sometimes they were, but always perfectly on point with Tony’s desires, unlike Tony’s father and his occasional present of power tools or other things Tony would never use that were likely sent by the wife du jour or a new secretary trying to curry favor by anticipating the boss’ wants.

Tony had been embarrassed by his uncle’s near gushing to the men Uncle Clive worked with but as the older man never did it when standing with Tony, he had no recourse but to curse his good hearing. In hindsight, Tony could understand the reasoning and timing behind the ovations but in the moment it had seemed wildly inappropriate.

After the wake, Tony had returned to his hotel and gone to the bar. He hadn’t planned on getting drunk but he wanted to have a nightcap and snack before heading to bed. As he had sat at the bar, a man he vaguely recognized from the wake had approached him and asked to talk for a bit.

Tony had assumed the man was close with Uncle Clive and wanted to have someone he could reminisce with, so he agreed and they made their way to a semi-secluded table in a corner of the bar. Tony had sipped his scotch and smiled lightly at the other man.

“I’m sure you were introduced to a fair amount of people today and it wouldn’t surprise me to know that you were overloaded a bit, so I’ll re-introduce myself. My name is Jonathan Percival and I worked with your uncle. He was a colleague and if I may say, a friend. I know you heard your Uncle Jeffery heaping plaudits on you earlier. And from all I’ve discovered, you quite deserve them. Your sheer athleticism is impressive, playing first string in two major college sports by your second year of college, going to the ‘Final Four’ as they call it twice, and being scouted seriously by pro team scouts before your leg was broken so spectacularly by Bradley Pitt of Michigan State. Finishing your physical education degree with a minor in child psychology, graduating from the Peoria police academy first in your class and with scores higher than 99 percent of the graduates overall. On your own undercover in Philadelphia, almost single handedly taking down the highest echelons of the Macaluso mob but being so beloved by the ‘don’ that though he put out a hit on you for your betrayal, he specified that it only would pay if you were within the city when you were killed. If you left, you would be left alone. And he insured no one would try to kidnap you to fulfill the terms by having the first two who tried killed brutally. Working your way up to the youngest gold shield in Baltimore. Then transferring to NCIS to work with arguably the largest bastard in the agency for two years and leaving on your terms rather than having him kick you out as he usually did with most of those he worked with. You have impressive skills, physical and mental, Tony DiNozzo.”

Tony’s mouth had figuratively dropped open as the man had gotten more and more in depth into Tony’s life. He felt more than a bit wrong footed but he was nothing if not a player, one way or another. “I’m flattered Mister Percival. Never had a real stalker before, just girls who couldn’t quite get the message, if you know what I mean.” Tony had winked and grinned.

“Very nice. I know you’re currently - let’s call it between positions. I have a proposal for you. A job. I think you’d do well but there is a lengthy interview process and training.”

Tony had stared at the other man, his face blank as his mind jumped from point to point and came up with a picture. “You’re looking to fill Uncle Clive’s spot. And Uncle Jeffery knows that and must think I’m a good fit, thus his over-the-top bragging to you and several others, who I assume are also colleagues of yours. He wanted to bring me to your attention. Implant the idea.”

Percival had nodded and smiled thinly. “Very good. As I said, impressive skills.”

The man had slid a business card from his pocket across the table. “If you’re interested in having that interview, a very intense one, I warn you, come to that address and tell them you are Percival's proposal. This is a time-sensitive proposition, Mister DiNozzo. You have until tomorrow afternoon to report or the door closes. And it is a delicate one as well, so do keep this quiet.”

The man had stood and extended his hand, shaking Tony’s when he reciprocated and then patting his left shoulder. “Your Uncle Clive was a good man and I think he’d be proud to have you take his position.” The man had picked up his umbrella from where he had rested it when they had sat down and left the bar without a backward glance.

Tony had downed the rest of his Scotch and left the bar to return to his room, the business card with a tailor shop’s name and address in his pants pocket. His mind had been running faster than the Concorde as he tried to make sense of the different things he had learned, both directly and from his own observations.

When he got to his room, he had changed for bed and as he laid there attempting to quiet his brain enough to get some sleep, an inconsistency had pinged at his mind. Jonathan Percival was the ultimate English gentleman, from his finely tailored suit to his highly polished shoes, from his tortoiseshell glasses to his signet ring, from his carefully styled hair to his ubiquitous umbrella. And typical, stoic Englishmen did not touch practical strangers other than shaking hands. And those glasses had not been prescription.

Tony had gotten up from his bed, switched on the lamp and picked his suit jacket up from the back of the chair where he had draped it. He examined the left sleeve and found an anomaly. It was a small, nearly invisible electronic device. It had been slid under one of the decorative buttons at the cuff. Tony guessed it was a bug, possibly simply tracking but most likely literally bugging him.

He had smiled, taken the device into the bathroom, and murmured, “Sorry, Mister Percival, I've always loved James Bond, but I’m a private guy. I’ll see you tomorrow though.”

He had then flushed the bug, pushing the plunger a good half a dozen times after each refill to make sure it was gone.

The revelations he had gotten when he showed up at Kingsman had showed his guess had been more or less correct, though Kingsman was an independent international intelligence agency rather than being part of the government like MI5 or MI6.

The interview process had been brutal indeed. From the first test where Tony had prevented one of the other recruits from drowning to the dog test which he only passed because Tony knew the feel of a properly loaded gun. And then the first mission, when it was down to himself and Lee Unwin. Tony had seen the grenade but two seconds too late to stop Lee from pulling a Steve Rogers. Only it hadn’t been a dummy and Lee had saved the lives of himself, Merlin, and Galahad.

As Tony stood in his empty apartment, his Kingsman glasses in his hand, he resolved to drop the masks, at least within his own mind. He was Lancelot, a Kingsman knight, an international spy. And he had the job because the other candidate, a great guy, with a wife and child, had given his life for Tony. He owed the other man everything and he promised Lee’s ghost he would be less of a clown, less cocky, and fight the good fight to be worthy of such a sacrifice.