Tony straightened his tie nervously. He hated these videoconference meetings with the upper echelon brass, they always made him feel like he was on trial or something. Made his back itch, though he knew better than to show any discomfort -- rule #8: never let 'em see you sweat.
"We're ready whenever you are, sir," the MTAC technician said, her hand hovering over a switch.
With one last swallow, Tony raised his chin proudly and gave her the go-ahead. He had nothing to be ashamed of here, he was the one with the questions afterall.
The screen flickered with static for a moment, then suddenly switched to the view of a typical Pentagon office. The large mohagany desk was littered with papers and folders Tony could see just well enough to identify the classified-coloured labels on. A row of pictures and medals lined the back wall, nicely displayed with the usual flags of country and service bookending them in each corner. There was even an incongruously cute little statue of a Roswell Grey alien mounted on the shelf over the desk, which Tony thought was odd but he who was he to understand the ways of Air Force Major Generals?
The only thing missing was the General himself.
"Um, sir? Hello, is anybody there?" Tony called cautiously, instinctively trying to lean forward as if he could peek around the camera view to see the rest of the room.
"Hey, huh, wha--" a grey-haired head suddenly appeared too close in front of the camera and scowled. "Who are you? What do you want? What the hell is this damn thing? Davis!"
A disembodied voice answered patiently from another room. "Special Agent DiNizzo, sir, of NCIS. Wants to talk to you about Sergeant Bates? I sent you a memo yesterday, sir."
The General grumbled something too low for Tony to hear.
"I also told you about it this morning before the meeting with the Russian Directorate, sir." The voice added, startling the General into a vaguely guilty wince.
"Oh, um... sorry." It was unclear whether he was apologising to Davis or to Tony, but at least the General finally took a seat behind his desk where DiNozzo could see him clearly.
The General pushed a few papers around on his desk for a few minutes, presumably looking for the lost memo. Tony waited patiently, one eyebrow arched in bemusement.
The General soon gave up with a shrug and turned to look right at the camera. "So what's this about, Agent DiNozzo?"
"I've been trying to track down Ensign Matthew Bates' older brother, sir. We're conducting an investigation into the murder of a Navy Lieutenant and the ensign is a suspect. We really need to speak with his brother to collaborate his story, sir."
The General raised his own eyebrow. "And you came to me? I don't even know this Bates guy--"
The disembodied voice spoke again, supplying the information before the General could continue. "Sergeant Bates is one of Colonel Sumner's men, sir." And at the General's still blank expression: "On Dr. Weir's expedition, sir."
Recognition spread across the General's face. "Oh. Yeah. Um... look, Special Agent Doozo--"
"DiNozzo, sir," Tony corrected mildly, not put off by the mangling of his name.
"--but I'm afraid you won't be able to talk to Sergeant Bates. He's been deployed on a classified mission."
Tony grimaced. "That's unfortunate, sir. Ensign Bates was depending on his brother's testimony to clear him. Things won't look good for him without the Sergeant's collaboration."
The General paused, scrutinizing DiNozzo carefully through the small screen. Tony held his relaxed pose with difficultly, that gaze having as powerful an effect on him as one of Gibbs' at his best.
"Do you think the Ensign's guilty, Agent DiNozzo?" the General spoke at length, still watching him disconcertingly.
"It's too soon to say, sir..." Tony hedged.
"Screw that. What's your gut feeling, kid?"
His gut feeling... Tony thought, seeing more and more resemblance between his boss and the Zoomie General in front of him. He decided to chance that the similarities were more than just surface traits. "Honestly, sir? No. I think he's been set-up. That's why I was really hoping to talk with his brother to straighten things out. His CO, unfortunately, seems to have already convicted him."
"Alright, how about this... I'll meet you for lunch at Sandrines," the General named a pub equidistant between the Pentagon and NCIS Headquarters, "in an hour and we'll work something out. Sergeant Bates is one of my marines, and if his little brother is being rail-roaded... well, we look after our own." The General looked off to the side. "Davis!"
"I'll reschedule your afternoon appointments, sir." The disembodied voice replied promptly.
The General nodded with a little smile that looked vaguely dangerous to Tony. "Bring your files, DiNozzo. We've got work to do."
Tony blinked. "Ah, yes, sir."
Major General Jack O'Neill, veteran and head of the most powerful and classified project in existence, grinned the grin that had inspired fear and loathing in every snakehead he'd ever met. On Earth, or anywhere else in the galaxy.
Tony grinned back, eagerly.
You know, he could really get to like this General. O'Neill was just his kind of upper echelon brass!