Tony didn’t know why he’d let his father drag him to this party. Whatever newly kindled relationship they might have had surely didn’t obligate him to suffer through this. It was all the kinds of people he’d hated being paraded in front of as a kid and his opinion of them hadn’t changed at all. In fact, he was fairly certain the man being steered toward him by his father was actually involved in weapons smuggling and the woman on his arm was suspected of contracting the assassination of a prominent political candidate.
He pretended he hadn’t seen them and ducked away, grabbing a glass of champagne on the way. Slipping through the crowd without attracting too much attention was a little difficult, but not impossible, and he found himself alone on the balcony, breathing fresh air for the first time that night. He hadn’t realised how much the cloying mix of perfumes and colognes had been getting to him.
“Pull yourself together, DiNozzo,” he told himself as he absently watched the guards patrol beneath the balcony.
“Not your kind of party?” a rough voice asked from behind him. He turned, sure that the balcony had been empty. The man who stood there was shorter than him, but of a much sturdier build, with hair just long enough to fall into his face and obscure his eyes. His suit was tailored to him and revealed a strong, athletic physique that Tony couldn’t help but admire.
“Not my kind of people,” Tony corrected, gaze sweeping over the crowd again, lingering briefly on his father and his associates before returning to the man in front of him. He could see the briefest hint of something like regret before it was swept away and the charming smile returned.
“So, what are your kinds of people?” he asked, leaning casually on the railing and closer to Tony.
“Not...” Tony began only to be cut off.
“Junior,” his father called as he stepped out onto the balcony, his two companions following in his wake. “There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” his father said, striding up to Tony and wrapping an arm firmly around his shoulders. “Mr and Mrs Covington, this is my son, Agent Anthony DiNozzo. Junior, Mr and Mrs Covington are on the board of directors for Abstergo. They’re quite curious about what it is you do and if you’d consider consulting them on security issues.”
Something about the way they were looking at him make him uneasy and he couldn’t stop the flicker of alarm that settled heavily into dread in the pit of his stomach. He glanced back, but the man who’d briefly talked to him was gone without a trace. He wasn’t sure what he was expecting from him, anyway.
“My job’s actually pretty boring,” Tony said with an empty smile. He sipped at his champagne. “Most of it’s paperwork; red tape. I’m sure it’s not too different from your job, most of the time.”
“Now Junior,” his father said, hand tightening on his shoulder. “Don’t be modest.”
Clearly, there was something important at stake here, but any of the possibilities that sprang to mind left him distinctly uncomfortable.
“You know how it is,” Tony said with a broad gesture that sloshed the champagne out of his glass and over the cuff of his jacket. “How clumsy of me,” he said with that same empty smile that the couple returned just as vapidly. “If you’ll excuse me, I really should get this cleaned up.”
Tony turned and walked away almost before they’d murmured their assent and kept walking, even when he reached the bathrooms. He turned a corner just in time to see the man he’d encountered earlier slipping into one of the rooms that was supposed to be off-limits. Tony could hear a guard rounding the corner and he slipped into an alcove, waiting for the guard to pass, before he quickly went after the other man. He paused in the doorway to see the man at the computer, brow furrowed in concentration.
“Corporate espionage,” Tony said with a wry smile as he leaned casually in the doorway. “How cliché.”
The man shrugged, not stopping what he was doing. Tony didn’t stop him either. As far as he was concerned, it couldn’t happen to nicer people.
“It’s not what it looks like,” the man said.
“That’s what they all say. It’s rarely, if ever, true,” Tony told him, unable to entirely hide his amusement.
“Nothing is true,” the man said with the inflection of something spoken often, a mantra, and Tony felt his heart thunder in his chest. Half-remembered evenings with his mother flooded his mind before he determinedly pushed it all aside.
“You really shouldn’t be here, Assassin.” It was a statement, not a warning. The Assassin was, after all, in the heart of Templar territory.
“Are you going to stop me?” he asked, eyeing Tony keenly. Tony sighed.
“I really should.” He said it with an air of weary resignation and the other man smiled a little though he didn’t relax. Tony was law enforcement and the man was stealing information. It was part of the reason Tony hadn’t wanted anything to do with the Templars. He didn’t want his loyalties divided when he’d sworn first and foremost to uphold the law.
“You’re not a Templar,” the man said. It wasn’t a question and Tony felt uncomfortable with the ease with which this man could read him.
“And you’re not an Assassin.”
The man tilted his head, evaluating Tony and he withstood the scrutiny without folding. The computer beeped, signalling it had completed the file transfer, and they stood, transfixed, watching each other and waiting for the next move.
“They’re going to start to wonder where I am,” Tony said.
“They’re not the kind of people you want paying attention to you,” the man told him with a note of warning. Tony appreciated the effort, even if it was redundant.
“No,” he agreed. The man pulled the drive out of the computer and slipped it into his breast pocket. Tony stepped to one side, out of the doorway, letting the other man pass. The man paused as he passed, standing almost chest to chest and Tony felt a frisson of anticipation shiver down his spine. Intense green eyes narrowed as they looked up at him, searching his features.
“Keep your eyes open,” the man told him roughly, not moving until Tony nodded, and then he was down the corridor like a silent shadow. Tony had to admire the display of skill.
He was just about to turn and head back to the party, if only to make his excuses, when he heard the sounds of a commotion. Turning, he jogged in the direction the Assassin had gone and came upon him taking out two guards with a third sneaking up on him. Tony sprang into action, grabbing the man in a choke hold, only lowering him to the floor when he was unconscious and had stopped struggling.
The man looked at him in surprise and Tony smiled a little.
“Everything is permitted,” he said with a shrug. The Assassin shot him a quick smile before diving out a window.