Tony DiNozzo leaned against the wall of the elevator as it rose from the basement location of the Autopsy suite to the top floor where Director Vance had his office. He was exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally and really just wanted to go home and crash. His collarbone was aching, his arm was sore, and he had bruises nearly everywhere, especially on his back.
Tony had taken one for the team and gone to Israel when they should have been the ones called on the carpet for espionage and murder of a federal agent and interference in US operations on and off of US soil. But Vance cared more about kissing Mossad’s - especially Eli David’s - ass then about his own country, agency, or agents. And Gibbs cared more about Ziva’s grief over the death of her spy boyfriend, who she covered for and passed Intel to, than the man who had his six for eight years.
The one concession from Gibbs had been one Tony would have rather done without. The older man had insisted that Tony see Ducky on their return to the US. Any other agency would have either let Tony go home, or sent him to the hospital to get checked out, not to the autopsy suite. But NCIS was just odd that way. And while Tony preferred Ducky over a trip to the ER, being stuck at the Navy Yard had allowed Vance to insist upon seeing him before he went home.
Tony wished he could have skipped the medical portion of the day and just gone to the meeting with Gibbs and Ziva when they all got off of the plane. But Gibbs wouldn't let him , so it just extended the time Tony was on his feet rather than in his bed.
When the elevator arrived, Tony walked to the outer office but no one was at the desk, so he knocked on the door. Tony wasn't Gibbs and didn't just barge in on his superiors, though Tony only felt that Vance was his superior in the chain of command in the agency because he had been appointed Director by the Secretary of the Navy, not because he deserved respect in any other way.
“Sorry, Director. Your secretary isn't out here.”
Vance waved his hand toward the conference table as he rose to his feet. “I know. She left for the day.”
Tony took a seat at the table across from Vance and waited for the other man to speak.
Vance slid a file folder across the table. “I was impressed by how you played Eli, DiNozzo. He’s cagey and been in the business for a long time. But he fell right into your traps. It was very well done. I don't like you much, which I think I’ve made clear. Probably too obviously, but I see what you bring to the table. Your masks are a little too well made and I admit, I fell for them. It's a pity you won't be on the MCRT any longer.”
Tony's eyes widened as Vance spoke until he nearly choked at the final revelation. “Sir?”
Vance sighed and sat back, rubbing the bridge of his nose as he slid a toothpick into his mouth. “Of course Gibbs didn't tell you. When we all arrived back here, Ziva told us that she couldn't work with you anymore. Gibbs decided she needed space from you and asked me to find you another posting.”
Tony sat forward, incredulous. “Director, you're keeping the liaison position on the MCRT? After everything?”
Vance shook his head. “No. Ziva is applying for US citizenship to become a full agent. We're fast tracking her citizenship application.”
Tony shook his head in disbelief but metaphorically bit his tongue. Going off on Vance wouldn't solve anything and wouldn't change his mind, except possibly about the prospect of Tony continuing to work for NCIS.
Vance nudged the folder. “This is your new assignment. Unfortunately, there aren't any open SFA positions or RA slots for quite a while. Unless something unforeseen occurs, of course. I didn't want to put you on a team as a junior agent, that would be both bureaucratically foolish and a waste of your skills.”
Tony opened the folder, knowing from that speech what he was likely to see. And he was correct. The folder contained orders for him to report as Agent Afloat in seventeen days on the USS Harry S Truman. The paperwork indicated he had two weeks medical leave and then three days given to prepare to meet the ship. Tony slid the folder shut and took a deep breath. Technically, afloat positions were volunteer only. But that didn't stop Vance from sending him off before and Tony knew it wouldn't stop him this time, either. The voluntary nature would be take the spot or resign. Just like when Vance first was appointed to the Director’s chair.
Vance stood, which prompted Tony to do the same. “I hope a more appropriate position will be available soon, but I can't make any promises, DiNozzo. Good luck.” Vance nodded and gave a small smile.
Tony nodded, his face blank as he left the office, though inside he was raging. He walked down the stairs to the bullpen, empty of any personnel and cleared out his desk. He knew what he wanted to do next and fuck his physical condition, he was a grown man and could make poor judgement calls. Hell, it was practically a given for his life.
As Tony strode to the cab he had arranged, being unable to safely drive due to the medications he had been forced to take, not to mention the sling, he sent a cryptic text to a burner phone number. He didn't know if anything would come of it or when but it was always worth a try:
Seems like the government's got more interest in a dead man than a live one. I don't like work... but I like what is in work -- the chance to find yourself. It's sort of a hobby of mine - the truth. You grew up, became a man, had to adjust to taking less than you hoped for; you discovered the dream-machine had a big OUT OF ORDER sign on it. Why do they call it a good cry? All it does is make you look like hell. And what's missing is still missing.
Tony groaned as he sat up in bed and grabbed the Tylenol and water he had the foresight to put on his nightstand before he left the apartment for his bender the night before. While the DiNozzo Defibrillator was a masterpiece of a hangover remedy, it took time to assemble and didn’t have much of a shelf life. So in the short term, traditional medicine and a hot shower would do.
Tony knew that getting drunk last night was idiotic but it had helped take some pressure off and gave him a bit of distance from the situation, at least in his head. He knew what his decision was, which was not to decide. He would take his seventeen days leeway, masquerading as sick leave, and use it to determine his options for his future.
The hot water washed away the sweated out alcohol while he made a mental list. Step one, packing. Whether he went afloat or left NCIS, he would need to pack up his apartment. Last time he was sent to a ship, he had only had twenty-four hours notice and when he had returned there had been several problems he hadn't thought about in his short window. This time, he had leisure and he would use it, and past experience, to do better.
For at least the next two weeks, Tony decided it would be best to go off grid. Not only had he killed a rogue Mossad officer in self defense a few days ago but it had been Ziva's boyfriend. And Ziva had shown many times over the years that she was a vindictive bitch. Most recently with her masterful playing of Gibbs leading to Tony losing his SFA position on the MCRT. He had a few days at the minimum while she settled back into DC, getting a new apartment after hers blew up, and feeling self righteous over winning over him. But he knew once she was back into a routine, she would be looking for more revenge. So, he would pack up his place and go off grid while deciding his future.
Tony was always ready to pack and go even though he had smashed his record of job stretches at NCIS. As a premier undercover operative, he had several aliases that he kept current, some the job knew about, some they didn't. And he knew that Ziva would easily be able to play McGee or Abby and get them to search for him and they wouldn't even realize what they were doing. Tony had no desire to suffer a tragic accidental death at the hands of his former teammate.
As Tony gradually recovered his equilibrium, he contacted a moving company. It was owned by one of his frat brothers who had seen a market when Tony began working for NCIS. While the company did jobs as a regular moving company, it had a very specific speciality. It primarily helped servicemen and servicewomen who had short windows to move to new postings. Upon contacting them, Tony was told that they would be available for picking up his belongings and moving them to a storage unit in three hours.
Tony was thankful that after his return from the fiasco that was his last forced assignment from Vance, he had packed up everything he didn't regularly use. It meant that he had three hours to pack his bedroom - which was largely clothing, his bathroom - mostly toiletries, and his kitchen - dishwares, pots, pans, and food.
By the time the moving company arrived, Tony was ready to go, his apartment fully packed and several suitcases ready for the move to off grid. His perishable food had been trashed and taken to the dumpster and everything else was boxed and labeled.
It took just under an hour for the apartment to be emptied and another hour to get it all off of the truck and into the storage unit he had rented years ago. The only thing that wasn't included was his piano which was sent to a special type of storage. Tony tipped the movers generously and parked his car in the automobile storage unit, leaving his work phone in the glove box.
Three blocks walk brought him to a tiny coffee shop. He ordered a latte and when he finished it, he went into the bathroom to change. When he emerged, he looked different but at the same time, it was obviously Tony. But between his changed gait, the shoes with lifts and a heel, the cowboy hat, and the different clothes, street cameras wouldn't mark him as the same man who entered the shop. And this place only had working security cameras at the counter facing the cash register. He slipped out the back of the shop into the alley and walked confidently seven blocks to a different storage unit.
In the unit office he picked up an envelope that had been left for him and then went to a unit rented under one of his private aliases. Inside was a generic blue pickup truck and he drove it out of the city and its surrounds.
As the sky darkened and the sun set, Tony found a small motel in a medium sized town in North Carolina. It wasn't a five star hotel but it also wasn't the kind of place that would ever rent by the hour. Tony rented an efficiency room under his alias for a week and took his baggage - left in a bus station locker by one of the well tipped movers and claimed by the key from the storage unit envelope - inside.
It had been a long day and Tony had no desire to make it longer than it had to be. He took off his boots and hat, settled on his bed and looked over the delivery menus he had picked up in the motel office. Once he made his selection and called it in, Tony cleaned up and changed. As he ate his dinner, he watched a game on the TV and let his mind drift.
Just as he was finishing his meal, the burner phone on his pocket rang. Only one person had this number and only if he had been able to decode the text. “Hey.”
“What in the world is going on over there, Tony?”
“I am not there, so I don't know.”
“I heard through the grapevine that you killed a rogue Mossad agent and your bosses made you go to Israel, injured, to be interrogated? Tell me they got it wrong.”
“Can't do that, T. Sounds about right. Except the killing was in self defense, I wasn't expecting him to be at Ziva's apartment, but he was sleeping with her on her daddy's orders.”
A sigh came over the line. “Only you, cousin. I assume you forced that knowledge from him during your interview.”
“Yep. He relied on Ziva's dossiers and read on the situation which included me being madly in love with her and killing her boyfriend because I was jealous. I don't understand why the women I work with who are touted to be masters in profiling and such, actually suck at it so badly. I miss Kate and hate that she died but her profiling skills sucked. And Ziva is just as bad, she relies on first impressions and making things fit her worldview - in which she is a femme fatale that no man can resist.”
“It is a problem when nepotism comes into play. She never had to truly prove herself, she rode her daddy's coattails and was never called on her bullshit.”
Tony nodded. “Everyone has blinders of one sort or another but really? I’ve worked with some amazing women in law enforcement but it is like there is something in the water at NCIS that attracts the ones who are totally off script.”
Tony sighed. “No, that is not fair. There are some great female agents at NCIS, Cassie Yates, Maria Canning, Paula. But once one enters Gibbs’ orbit long term, they lose their minds, one way or another. Vivian, Kate, Abby, Ziva, Jenny.”
“To be fair, your former director lost her mind long before she got appointed to the post.”
“Ah, but she was involved with Gibbs both personally and professionally years before that, too.”
The other man huffed a light laugh. “True. But she started going off the rails when her father died. However that went down, I don't know for sure. No one alive knows for sure. But she started her descent then.”
“Yes. As you warned me when she got me tangled up in her vendetta.”
“I wanted to smack you one when I recognized you at the airport loading the luggage. At least you listened and refused to go deeper than the surveillance duties. I'm just glad you were the spotter and not the sniper when your director gave the order to shoot. I still don't know how she got out of that intact.”
“Gibbs. He used his contacts to keep her safe. She killed a dirtbag. And you got the computer and it still got it the buyer. He says he doesn't play the game but it is total bullshit.”
“You did masterfully stay in character even when you recognized me, though. You would such an excellent asset to the Agency, Tony.”
“I’m not cut out to be a spook, Trent. I just don't have it in me. I'm burning out as it is. I'm totally off the grid in a motel in the idle of nowhere under an alias to avoid Ziva.”
Trent exhaled. “I had not heard about this. She's back in the US? I was under the impression that Eli David wanted her back in Israel.”
“He probably did. It would explain Rivkin’s orders. But she wanted the US. And Gibbs decided that she needed the team and Ziva decided that the team didn't need me and convinced Gibbs and Vance if it, too. Now Vance wants me to go afloating again. This time with no one even pretending they want me back. It would be an unending assignment.”
“You're too social to be in that situation again, Tony.”
“I know. The lone cop on a boat of thousands. The enemy. I hated it then. I hate it now. I’ve got a few weeks to figure out my next step. Report to the ship or something else.”
“I know, Trent. I can't do the ship. I’d end up swimming within a month. But if I turn it down my only other choice is resignation. Starting over somewhere. I'm getting too old for that, Trent.”
“All of the agencies that are constantly offering you jobs would disagree. I know you have standing offers from the FBI, CIA, Homeland, Metro PD, NYPD, and even Interpol, Tony. You have lots of options. Don't blind yourself to the possibilities due to,your fear of change. David, Gibbs, and Vance forced this. Don't let them win. Fight. Gibbs abandoned you before, physically when he went to Mexico and in every other way since then, and sometimes before. He chose her.”
“Yeah. I just luck out I guess. Father figures and mentors are always kicking me to the curb or leaving me behind. I was loyal, Trent. I took his crap, I protected the probies, I turned his anger on me so they wouldn't run like so many before. I worked my contacts for him on cases. I stood between him and other agencies. I stood between him and bullets, knives. I got the plague and still came to work to protect them from a terrorist. And he just throws me away because a woman who lied to him constantly wanted me gone. Because she killed her brother and saved Gibbs’ life. But only after there was a sudden opening on the team thanks to that very brother. I should have walked then. I wanted to. I thought about it. But I’m too loyal.”
“He doesn't deserve your loyalty. You didn't swear an oath to Gibbs, Tony. You swore an oath to the law.”
“Right. Well, fine then. I already said I don't want to be undercover full time, I already felt like my life was that on the MCRT with my masks that they never saw through. So, sorry, not coming to the CIA with you. DC or NY police departments would be steps back, and they are only offering desk positions anyway. I want to still be an investigator at least part of the time. The FBI has tried to arrest me too often. The Secret Service is not a fit, really. I am not a protection detail full time kind of guy and fraud is not my cup of tea. Interpol is interesting as an idea but I don't really want to relocate overseas forever. So, I guess I need to contact Director Morrow and see if that option is still open. He wanted me to go with him when he left, you know.”
“I know. But you didn't want to abandon the team just after they lost Kate.”
“And it was several weeks after he left that Ziva was brought in. I think if it had been right away I would have walked out and gone with him. But hindsight and all of that.”
“Sounds like you have a decision made. What are you going to do about Gibbs?”
“I could just walk away and not look back but the Ziva situation is too much. She was just caught passing intelligence to Mossad, lying to Gibbs and Vance, protecting a man who was spying on US officials and who almost certainly killed a federal agent. And now because she asked, they are getting her fast tracked citizenship and making her a full agent.”
“What? What exactly are they smoking over there, Tony?”
“I don't know. But I can't let it go. I’ll bring it up with Morrow when I talk to him and go further if that doesn't do anything. She proved she has no loyalty, not to Gibbs, not to NCIS, and now, not even to Mossad and Israel. She is dangerous on so many levels.”
“Do what you know you need to, Tony. You always are on the side of justice. Such a Boy Scout. But that is what the world needs. Be yourself again. I am so proud of you.”
“Thanks, Trent. For everything. I hate the idea of blowing up NCIS, figuratively speaking, but I have always been a fan of Uncle Ben Parker, and I have the power of knowledge and with it comes the responsibility to use that power for the good of the people that I swore an oath to protect and serve.”