Tony entered the stairwell in his apartment building, huffing in exasperation that the elevator was out of service again. He was tired and on edge after yet another repeat performance of alternately sparring with and being ignored by Gibbs as they worked to close a case. All he wanted to do was eat his takeout, check his email, and maybe watch a little TV before going to bed. He wearily climbed the stairs up to his apartment, absently noting the echoes of someone else’s footsteps in the stairwell. Reaching his floor, he exited the stairwell and headed toward his apartment at the end of the hall. His senses suddenly sharpened at hearing the stairwell door close a second time, followed by rapidly gaining footsteps. He was being followed. Turning his body slightly to hide his actions from the view of the person following him, he reached inside his jacket under the pretense of digging for his keys; he jingled them a bit then gripped his service weapon while continuing to walk. Once he reached his door, Tony suddenly whirled, simultaneously dropping the food and raising his weapon only to find he was pointing his gun at a familiar face.
“What the hell, Joanna!” he hissed at the woman front of him. He lowered his weapon while his heart still raced with adrenaline. CIA Officer Joanna Teague, entirely unruffled at having a weapon aimed at her head, simply smiled enigmatically at him and replied, “Good to see you too, Tony.” After a pause, her smile melted like quicksilver as she said “We need to talk.”
Tony refused to entertain whatever Joanna had come to tell him on an empty stomach. The take out had been salvageable in spite of being dropped and Joanna agreed to Tony’s offer to split the meal. They’d eaten and cleared the table in relative silence, though he noted her demeanor seemed off from what he remembered. He grabbed a bottle of water for each of them and they sat down once again. This little visit was clearly not a social call. Tony was at a loss as to why Joanna would practically stalk him in order to see him covertly, nearly giving him a heart attack in the process. Fatigue made him impatient; he wanted to find out and send her on her way so he could get back to his original plans for the evening. “So,” Tony began, “what’s with the spook act out there in my hallway? You couldn’t see me at the Navy Yard or call first? Or is that against CIA rules these days?”
Joanna smiled and took his obvious irritation at her appearance in stride, though it seemed out of character. She wondered at the source of it as she answered, remembering how well they’d worked together despite Tony’s disapproval of her use of the CIA’s more ‘colorful’ methods of getting results. “You’ve seen for yourself in dealing with the CIA there’s not much in the way of a rule book.” Serious again, she went on. “The truth is I needed to keep this little side trip off the radar and speak to you privately, away from your team.”
Tony gestured impatiently, waving a hand in a ‘get on with it motion’. “You’ll be explaining that now, right?”
Joanna nodded. “First, you need the background. In recent months, the CIA has gathered intel indicating two terrorist groups out of Asia have been working to gain a foothold for their operations in the US by moving part of their network to large west coast cities. Intel indicates sleeper cells are already established and have been for some time. Some are geared more toward cyber-terrorism and others are being armed for operations and attacks against soft targets down the road. Historically, our efforts have been based here on the east coast. Now there’s an investigative presence focused out west, specifically intended to counter these new threats.”
Tony nodded, indicating he was following so far and Joanna continued.
“The CIA, ATF, and FBI have very quietly set up a joint task force based in Seattle, equipped to deal with both types of threats. There will also be civilian consultants and local law enforcement involvement. As you know, the CIA is limited in regards to the activities it can conduct on U.S. soil; that will be the purview of the FBI and ATF. Since we saw each other last, I’ve continued to work with the CIA’s counter-terrorism efforts in Asia and recently shifted to the CIA’s lead for the new task force.”
Tony looked at her questioningly. “That’s a lot of background and I don’t get why you’re telling me this. You’re clearly leading up to something. Normally I’m not one for spoilers, but I’ve had a crap day so would you mind skipping to the end?”
Meeting Tony’s eyes intently, all traces of humor gone from her face; Joanna hesitated then dropped a bombshell. “One of the groups we’re tracking is The Calling.”
Tony stiffened then stood suddenly, chair scraping across the floor and nearly toppling. He turned away from Joanna, pacing and scrubbing his hands over his face to hide his shock and anger at her revelation. It had been a rotten year and much that had happened since last summer had roots in NCIS crossing paths with The Calling. Tony’s thoughts inevitably turned to Gibbs. There had already been an unacknowledged, creeping distance between them for some time. Since Gibbs’ shooting, both their friendship and working relationship had seen a spectacular deterioration that remained the status quo. Tony knew the sudden change in Gibbs’ behavior toward him traced its beginning back to their pursuit of Daniel Budd and his little band of Lost Boys. The tension between them was becoming problematic for the entire team and making it damn near impossible for him to remain in his position as Gibbs’ SFA.
Joanna simply sat calmly, watching Tony pace in agitation and waiting for him to absorb the unwelcome news. As bad as that news was, he hadn’t heard the worst of it yet.
Tony couldn’t help his building resentment at the thought of The Calling gaining a foothold again after all that had happened. He turned back to her angrily, struggling to keep his composure. “How is that even possible? CIA dropped the ball on the cleanup, right?”
Joanna ignored the jibe and gathered her thoughts. Tony was justified in his anger and she shared it. The Calling had taken something from them both and their shared personal connection gave them common ground. They’d worked quite well together; spending four months tirelessly tracing Daniel Budd and The Calling’s network from Iraq across the globe to Shanghai. Tony was well aware of her devastation over Ned’s violent death in Cairo and exactly how driven she was to bring Budd and those responsible to justice by any means necessary.
For her part, it was immediately clear how deeply Tony was affected by his mentor’s shooting; guilt and the need to make amends were primarily what drove him. Guilt, both at being unable to prevent it happening and at being ordered away from Gibbs’ side. She’d been impressed by Gibbs’ senior agent, but never more so than when he shoved down his overwhelming guilt and worry to carry on their mission as if nothing had happened. She only caught the barest glimmer of anger as Vance had them on a chopper back to Iraq even before the critically wounded man had been taken into surgery. She’d wondered what it cost Tony to shove down his emotions beneath a mask like that, as they were unable to learn Gibbs’ fate until days later. Ultimately, they’d both gotten a measure of closure in the aftermath of Tony’s final confrontation with Budd and now this development was like tearing open barely healed wounds for them both. Though judging by Tony’s reaction, perhaps not so healed as she’d assumed.
“Well?” Tony’s sharp tone pulled her attention back to the present.
Joanna sighed heavily. “Yes, mistakes were made and some of the operatives were already here before we knew about the sleeper cells. They had no connection to The Calling’s operations in Iraq and Shanghai so they were able to regroup and reorganize under our radar.” she admitted.
“Joanna.” He gritted out. “It’s been a long day and you’re making it longer. You still haven’t answered my question. Why are you here?”
“We’d like you to work with the task force.”
“Why us? At this point, there’s no Navy connection to merit bringing in NCIS. Vance won’t play this time around.”
“You misunderstand me. Not NCIS, Tony. Just you.” Joanna paused, tilting her head and giving him a speculative glance. “I’ve noticed you’ve been floating your resume around.”
Tony blinked and started a bit. How the hell did she know that and what else did she know about what had been going on? Tony fought back a sigh. He had been quietly testing the waters for a while, unsure if he even wanted to stay with NCIS once it became clear Gibbs had little use for him these days.
“I’m missing something. You’ve been keeping tabs on me? What the hell for?” Tony’s voice rose as his frustration began to bleed through again. “I don’t believe for a minute you’re playing the role of agency headhunter here to recruit me because you happened to come across my resume.”
His investigative instincts told him something more was going on here. He looked at her pointedly, “Come on, there’s something you haven’t told me yet, isn’t there?” Joanna looked at him steadily for a moment, her stalling told him in no uncertain terms he wasn’t going to like this.
“Yes. There’s something else you need to know.”