De Novo – Chapters 1 & 2

Title: De Novo
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: NCIS, Criminal Minds, Using one character from Numb3rs, but not really a Numb3rs crossover.
Genre/Themes: Romance, case file, starting over
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Ian Edgerton, pre Derek/Penelope
Content Rating: NC-17 for language, explicit sex, adult themes, and everything in the warnings.
Warnings: Canon-level violence, case work involving rape, child abuse, domestic violence, stalking, etc. See Expanded Warnings on the main story page regarding sensitive subject matter.
Word Count: ~63k
Beta: Thank you, Naelany.
Summary: Two months into Tony’s run as team leader after Gibbs’ departure for Mexico, Jenny Shepard realizes things are not going well for the MCRT and decides to intervene. She forces Tony to make a choice, and he finds that sometimes, the best thing is to just start again.

Please see main page for casting, author notes, acronyms, spoilers, etc.

De novo: anew; afresh; again; from the beginning.

Note: Other than a small scene in chapter 7 and minor edits, this has not changed from what was posted in the Evil Author Day Live Journal.

– – – –

Chapter One

July 2006

Tony peered blearily at the reports before him, the words starting to bleed together. He’d managed a couple hours of sleep at his desk then showered and changed, but he didn’t feel at all refreshed.

He downed the rest of his cold coffee and contemplated getting some more. It was already 0700, and he wasn’t sure how he was going to get through the day without massive doses of caffeine, but his motivation to get up and go in search of it was lacking.

Since Gibbs had vanished to Mexico two months ago, Tony had been drinking five or six times his normal consumption of caffeine. McGee and Ziva accused him of trying to copy Gibbs with the constant coffee intake, but it had nothing to do with mimicry and everything to do with trying to perform after very little sleep.

He’d expected being the boss to be hard but hadn’t expected it to be this hard. He also hadn’t expected to have almost no support. His team—what he’d thought of as family—had essentially turned away from him in one way or another: Abby through her aggressive emoting and guilt trips; Ducky was lost in his own grief; and Ziva and Tim were just so far off the reservation it wasn’t even in sight. In a surprise development, he had Jimmy popping up when Tony most needed someone to let him talk out an issue—those moments when he was too tired to do it in his head. Jimmy would also grab Tony some dinner when Tony was working late, which seemed to be every night. There had also been some nominal support from the director and that kept the situation from being completely unbearable.

Thinking of Director Shepard made him grimace a bit. They had spent nearly three weeks on the prep and groundwork for an undercover investigation into an arms dealer. Then one day, the director had seemed rattled about something and had immediately pulled the plug on the op. She had taken two weeks’ vacation without ever mentioning the op again. Later, Tony had found out La Grenouille, aka René Benoit, had been killed in an arms deal gone bad in North Africa. Which certainly explained why the op had been cancelled. He’d tried to bring up the subject to Shepard once but she’d gotten this look—something between grief and rage—and he’d never ventured into that territory again.

After the director’s vacation, Tony was keenly aware that she had been watching him closely, though they rarely spoke unless she had a question about a case. It was unnerving. He knew things weren’t going well under his leadership, and he was just waiting to hear it from above. It felt like he was standing on a precipice and could get pushed off at any time.

“Can I use one of these desks?” The unfamiliar male voice startled Tony so badly, he reared back and blinked up at the grey-haired man standing a few feet away in front of his desk. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you. Jenny suggested I’d be able to find a desk down here for a few days.”

Tony stared for a brief second, the adrenaline rush doing more to clear his sluggish brain than the coffee he’d consumed. “Uh, yeah.” He pointed to his immediate left. “Both the TAD desks are free right now; you’re welcome to either one.” Recovering his composure, he got to his feet and held out a hand. “Anthony DiNozzo.”

The handshake was firm but not aggressive and the smile genuine. “Dwayne Pride.”

Surprised, Tony could only blink for a second, belatedly remembering to release Pride’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Agent Pride.” Dwayne Cassius “King” Pride was well known in the agency. Tony knew the veteran agent and Gibbs went back a long ways.

Pride cocked his head to the side, gave a nod, and said, “You can call me Dwayne. I’ve heard a lot about you over the years, and it’s good to finally meet.”

Tony wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so he settled for, “Thank you. Feel free to call me Tony. You here long?”

“Week or so,” Pride replied as he leaned against the partition. “Just takin’ care of a couple things as quickly as possible and then gettin’ back to New Orleans. Trying to keep under the radar while I’m here.”

Tony’s lips twitched in amusement. “Well, you’re welcome to either desk, and if you need anything, just let me know.”

“I think I’ll do okay. Though I may bother you for a lunch recommendation. Jenny and I don’t exactly agree on the definition of good food.”

Tony snorted in amusement. The director’s restaurant choices could be easily classified as style over substance. “I can definitely point you in the right direction.”

With that, Pride settled into the desk directly beside Tony, which completely obscured him from view as he was behind one of the plasmas. Tony was left to return to his unending pile of paperwork.

A few minutes later, Michelle Lee, the team probie, arrived with a bright, “Good morning, Tony.”

“Morning. I left yesterday’s report on your desk with notes. Couple areas you need to expound on. Let me know if you have questions.”

She nodded and got to work reviewing his markups. Even though it was twenty minutes to eight, he had little hope that McGee or Ziva would be on time; they never were these days.

Tony was honestly at a loss as to how to handle the situation with his team. He’d tried talking to them in the old teasing manner and that hadn’t gone well. He’d then attempted speaking with them privately and more seriously. McGee had told him to quit trying to be Gibbs, and Ziva had walked off in the middle of the discussion. He was at the point of having to issue formal reprimands, but he was honestly torn on the subject. It wasn’t doing either of them any good, or him for that matter, to let this bullshit continue, but he still hesitated to take steps that would earn them a permanent black mark. He found himself wondering if all SFAs who were promoted to lead of their team experienced these same issues.

McGee and Ziva still hadn’t arrived by 0900. Tony was getting close to being done with the SFA paperwork that McGee refused to do because he believed Tony was passing off his own work. Now, all he had to do was catch up on the midterm reviews, which were overdue, and he’d be caught up on his own work except for recent case reports.

The midterm reviews were a thorn in his side because he truthfully didn’t have a single good thing to say about Ziva or McGee at the moment. In his opinion, their performance was severely lacking in almost every respect. They were tardy, left early without permission, turned in incomplete reports, and argued with every order he gave. Their investigative work was basically up to snuff, though he was seeing worrying signs there as well. The administrative burden of the team fell almost entirely on Tony. Hell, he couldn’t even get them to stock the van without an argument!

Case reports were another troubling topic because McGee and Ziva were doing a shitty job on theirs. He had no choice but to pass back the reports, and when they refused to do the edits at all, or did an inadequate job, he had to file a supervisor’s supplementary report, or SSR, for each report he felt was inadequate. Of course, that meant that his own report load was nearly tripled. The SSR was only supposed to be used when an agent couldn’t complete their own report for some critical reason, such as injury or death. But Tony had no other recourse that didn’t involve formal reprimands. Not that he could reprimand Ziva—she didn’t technically work for NCIS. When he’d become team lead, he’d tried to get some questions answered about the legality of her situation with regards to certain aspects of their work, but he’d been stonewalled by the legal department.

Fuck it.

He’d just have to try harder. He had to make this work. Gibbs had entrusted the team to him and he had to keep things together.

At 0915, dispatch called with a case, but Tony only had a probie, so he was stuck. He took down the details and immediately sent texts off to both his missing team. Michelle was directed to gas the truck and be ready to leave as soon as the rest of the team arrived.

McGee arrived at 0930.

“Flexible start times, McTardy?” Tony snapped, getting to his feet and grabbing his gear.

“Leave off, Tony. I had an appointment this morning,” he retorted as he gathered his stuff. “So, do we have a case or what?”

Tony ground his teeth but headed toward the elevator. He’d text Ziva the address, and she could meet them there. At least with three people, they could get started. But they ran into Ziva in the parking lot. She offered no explanation but tried to take the keys from Tony.

– – – –

A week later, Tony was at his wits’ end. The cases were still getting solved, but Tony felt like he was pulling well more than half the load on a four-person team. Either he did things like Gibbs and heard, “You’re not Gibbs,” or he did things his own way and it was, “That’s not how Gibbs did it.” It was a complete catch-22. And most days his orders had to be given multiple times. Everything was always a debate.

Tony had to face the fact that it had been almost ten weeks and he was failing at being a team lead. McGee and Ziva would not follow him as the boss. Also, he didn’t have the time to properly develop Michelle, and McGee wasn’t stepping up to the plate there either. Aside from the team issues, Abby was also a pain in his ass with her emotionalism, demands, and “trainee” stickers. Ducky… well, Ducky was just lost in his own hurt feelings. He was doing his job as always but he couldn’t see anything beyond the autopsy table.

With everything already feeling like it was balanced precariously, Shepard wanted a meeting with him this morning. No doubt she had a few choice words for him. Possibly even a demotion and a new team lead for him to show around.

And, once again, it was almost 0900 and only his probie was in the building; the rest of his team was late. With an hour before his meeting with the director, he focused on what he could do that might have tangible benefit and decided to spend some time with Lee going over her crime scene sketches, discussing what she could do better in the future. When he settled at her desk, he caught sight of Pride getting up with a stack of papers. He gave Tony a short wave and a nod.

There had been several cringe-worthy moments over the last week where he’d been acutely aware that Agent Pride had been hidden back behind the plasma, working away, while Tony’s team had been openly insubordinate to him. It was absolutely not the impression he wanted to make on the veteran agent.

McGee and Ziva finally showed up a few minutes apart—he privately wondered if they were collaborating on their tardiness—but he ignored them and kept working with Lee.

He was in the middle of working on the perspective of her sketch when McGee wandered close and interjected, “Don’t listen to him, probie, there’s nothing wrong with your crime scene sketches. Tony just likes showing off.”

Michelle looked like a deer in the headlights, which was nothing new, and Tony was just about to snap when Pride walked up to the desk and extended a hand, clearly asking for the copy of her sketch. “May I?”

She looked to Tony for permission. He nodded tightly, so she turned over the page.

Pride looked at it for several seconds before handing it back. “Listen to your team leader, he knows what he’s talkin’ about.” He gave her a smile that seemed reassuring then glanced at Tony. “The director is ready for you.”

Tony’s brows shot up in surprise that Pride would know anything about his meeting, much less come down to fetch him ten minutes early.

“In trouble, Tony?” Ziva called from her desk.

He stiffened but didn’t say anything, acutely aware it would just escalate to sniping, and that would look worse. McGee had bristled at Pride’s comment about Tony’s expertise but now was smirking.

“Thanks, Dwayne,” Tony murmured as he headed toward the stairs.

When he got upstairs, he straightened his tie then stepped into the outer office and flashed Cynthia a smile. “Cynthia, my dearest, how are you this fine day?”

Lips twitching, she replied, “Save the flirting for someone it will work on, Agent DiNozzo. The director is ready for you. Go right in.”

He entered to find the director on the phone, but she waved him in even as she said, “I appreciate the additional information. I’ll add it to the list. Thank you.” With that, she hung up and gestured for him to sit.

“What can I do for you today, Director?” Tony said after unbuttoning his suit coat and taking a seat.

“I thought you were going to call me Jenny, Tony.”

He still wasn’t quite comfortable with that. They’d worked together quite closely for a few weeks and then he’d barely seen her. “I wasn’t sure how formal this meeting was going to be, Jenny.”

“Not that formal but rather serious for all that.” She laced her fingers together on her desk and leaned forward a bit. “Tell me how you’re doing as team leader, Tony? How would you rate your performance?”

Tony was careful not to react but considered for a few seconds. “Solid B,” he finally replied.

She looked at him thoughtfully and pursed her lips for a second. He was tempted to downgrade his performance, but he’d worked too fucking hard the last nearly-ten weeks to undermine himself. He had enough people willing to do that already.

“Tell me what factors keep you from giving yourself an A?” she prodded.

“Growing pains, mostly. Plus, I haven’t had the time to properly train my probationary agent.” Blowing out a breath, he decided he needed to be honest. “I haven’t earned the respect of my team yet, but it’s a work in progress.” Attempting to reassure, he added, “However, despite the issues, our solve rate doesn’t appear to be dropping. Nine weeks isn’t long enough for a statistical data comparison but we’ve closed every case so far.”

Jenny nodded and pulled over a folder, drumming her fingers on it. “I concur with some of your assessment. I agree that there have been some growing pains, but I think you’ve managed them admirably. Also, you’re correct that Agent Lee isn’t getting enough attention, although I’m not laying that fully on your shoulders; your SFA has to bear part of the blame. And, I admit, I do as well.”

“Excuse me?” Tony asked in surprise.

“Confidentially, Tony, I was rather distracted the first few weeks of Gibbs’– well, let’s call it a leave of absence. Then I myself was on vacation. Other agents had been reporting things to me that I had been choosing to ignore. There were signs I was choosing to overlook. When I returned from my vacation, I wasn’t happy with what I saw. I wasn’t happy with this,” she opened the folder and pulled out at least twenty-five sheets of paper, “stack of complaints from other agents, analysts and team leads. And I’m very unhappy about the number of SSRs in the system for your team.”

Tony winced. Mostly that other teams were complaining about him. “I was unaware that I had done anything to upset the other teams…” he trailed off.

Jenny shook her head. “I haven’t had any complaints about you. The complaints are all about Officer David, Agent McGee, and Ms. Sciuto.”

“Abby?” Tony asked, startled.

“Yes. I’ll get to that in a minute. She’s not your responsibility, but it’s part of the same problem. Tell me why you haven’t formally reprimanded Agent McGee and Officer David for gross insubordination and frequent absenteeism.”

Tony blew out a breath. The voice in the back of his mind said it was because he didn’t want to disappoint Gibbs, and he winced.

Jenny looked at him like she could read his mind. “Given the circumstances, the chief reason I’d grade your performance anything less than stellar is that you’re letting someone else run you and therefore run the team.”

Before Tony could reply, the director held up a hand. “I know what Jethro’s expectations can feel like, Tony. I know how heavy that burden can weigh. But even if we take you out of the equation, you’re doing a disservice to them and to the rest of the agency to tolerate their insubordination. I can assure you that Jethro never would expect you to be treated this way. You say you haven’t earned their respect; it’s taken me time to earn people’s respect, but it doesn’t mean they’re allowed to ignore the chain of command. Also, rank is afforded a certain measure of automatic respect. That can then be lost if the leader is poor, but I’ve seen no evidence it was ever given in the first place.

“To some degree, leadership has failed you. Jethro failed to give the SFA position the respect it deserves, and the way he handed off the job ensured that the team lead position would be treated no differently. I even fault myself for leaving a talented asset in a situation where he’s doomed to fail.”

Tony felt like he’d been gut punched. “You don’t think I can lead the team?”

“I didn’t say that,” she said sharply. “Agent Pride was up for two days to review a problematic case. I asked him to extend his stay and get closer eyes on the situation. I promise you that he wasn’t thrilled at first about the idea of spying on you, but he agreed that he’d pass on his general observations. As the week progressed, he lost his reserve about letting me know what was going on down there and confirming everything the other agents had reported, plus some things he was able to observe at closer distance. In addition, he was happy to give his evaluation of you as a team leader.”

She leaned forward intently. “Tony, you have great potential and the makings of an exceptional team lead. But not for those agents. The situation has to change, and it’s my job to set things to rights. The biggest flaw in your leadership so far is that allowing their infractions to pass ultimately harms the team. Other leads aren’t going to be willing to work with them and their behavior becomes harder to correct. It’s also damaging to their careers and their individual growth, and that’s not serving the agency in any way, nor is it serving them or their career prospects. It certainly isn’t in the best interests of the victims that you are personally exhausted and overworked all the time. Eventually something is going to slip because you can’t handle it all on your own.”

Hands clenched, Tony cleared his throat and asked, “What do you plan to do?”

“Frankly, the only person in this situation who I’m giving choices to is you.” She relaxed back into her chair and watched him for a second. “Tell me something: do you believe Gibbs is truly retired? Or do you think he’ll be back?”

“I think he’ll be back,” Tony replied confidently. “He’ll get bored sitting on the beach and drinking Coronas and come back to NCIS. He just needs time to get his head together and mourn his girls again.” Tony couldn’t imagine having to experience that loss twice. He didn’t resent Gibbs needing the time. He resented some of the manner of his leaving, but not the necessity.

“And when he comes back, what happens to you?”

“I’d be demoted, I suppose.” That stung more than he thought it would.

“Is that what you want?” she prodded gently.

“What I want?” he echoed.

“Yes. Do you want a demotion? Do you want to go back to not having all the responsibility? To no longer being the leader?”

He opened his mouth, but the words wouldn’t come. He wanted to say ‘no,’ but to not be part of Team Gibbs? He wasn’t sure how to reconcile that idea.

“Stop thinking about Gibbs!” Jenny snapped then took a breath. “I understand loyalty, Tony, but what are you? Are you an investigator who works for NCIS and seeks justice for victims and their families, or are you Gibbs’ loyal second in command?”

He reared back as much as his chair would allow and let that thought wash over him. Tony had always considered himself a cop first. He wondered when he’d lost that. “I’m an investigator.”

“So, I ask you again. Do you want a demotion?”

“No,” he said with certainty.

“Then you have a few options. The first is that you remain the lead of the MCRT, and I transfer Agents McGee and Officer David to new assignments. When Gibbs returns, we find you a new spot. I realize that’s not fair to you, but if Gibbs asks me for the MCRT back, I’m going to give it to him.”

“Fair enough,” Tony replied noncommittally. He wouldn’t take that option anyway because that would be completely dismantling the team, and Tony couldn’t do that. Taking himself out of the equation was enough he hoped.

“The next option: one of the NCIS spots on the Joint Terrorism Task Force is going to need to be filled. Even though it’s not a supervisory position, because of its high profile nature and the security clearance, it’s actually one grade level higher than you are now.”

He nodded but thought that sounded unappealing. He was a cop, not a task force member.

She was watching him closely but didn’t comment on his lack of reaction. “The Cold Case Unit in Norfolk needs a new team lead. The current lead is at mandatory retirement age.”

Tipping his head to the side, he considered that. Cold cases weren’t exciting generally, but Tony had a knack for them and the Norfolk office had the Cold Case Unit. They went everywhere and investigated everything. They had a lot of latitude and it was a fairly big unit.

“And finally, Agent Matthews is being promoted to Special Agent in Charge and is taking over the Hawaii Field Office. So the FSVU here in DC will need a Supervisory Agent as well.”

That brought Tony up short. Staying in DC was his preference, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about taking over the Family and Sexual Violence Unit. Not that the MCRT didn’t catch some of those cases, but they were rough for everyone.

“Isn’t Agent Jarrett due for that spot?” Tony asked cautiously. Jarrett had seniority by about four years. Tony had more law enforcement experience overall, but she also had twelve years in the Navy.

“If she wanted it and would embrace it, I’d give it to her, but she’s always been clear she doesn’t want the responsibility. She obviously accepted the role of Senior Field Agent, but even that took a lot of persuasion on Agent Matthews’ part. Jarrett is excellent, but she’s very clear about her career ambitions, and she doesn’t have the inclination to be a team lead.”

Tony rubbed his hand absently along the seam of his trousers, mulling that over. He knew both Matthews and Jarrett, and he had never had an inkling that Matthews had to persuade Jacy to be SFA. “What happens to the MCRT if I leave?”

“The agent from the CCU at Norfolk who’s retiring, Mike Weppler, he’ll step in and run the team until Gibbs returns. There’s a gap between now and his retirement date, but that’s a large team over there and they can run briefly under the guidance of the Norfolk SAC while I source a new lead. Provided that’s not you, of course. If Gibbs doesn’t return within three to four months, I’ll be looking for a new permanent team lead. Also, both Agent McGee and Officer David will receive a formal reprimand for their most recent insubordination and absenteeism. I can’t reprimand them for every infraction or they’d be terminated. And even though I don’t believe Agent McGee has demonstrated the skills or professionalism of an SFA, the new team lead will evaluate his performance as a probationary SFA and determine if he should keep the title or be demoted.”

Tony winced.

She gave him a look that seemed to drive home the point that he hadn’t done them any favors by letting things go.

“I didn’t even realize Ziva could be reprimanded,” he said cautiously, needing to feel out the director about what he imagined could be a touchy subject.

“Of course she can be,” Jenny retorted. “Honestly, I’m very disappointed in her, but she and I will have that discussion. As it stands, NCIS pays her salary to work in an investigative capacity, and as long as she’s paid for that work, she’ll perform to our standards. Formal reprimands are, of course, reported back to Mossad, as she is a liaison and ultimately their responsibility. If she doesn’t toe the line, she can return to Israel.” He could see that it pained her to say that.

“Additionally,” she continued, “both of them will fix every single incomplete report and all those SSRs will be obsoleted. But, again, their new boss and I will be responsible for that change. As for Ms. Sciuto… I’ll be dealing with her directly. The majority of the team leads have had issue with the fact that she is so consumed by her grief over Agent Gibbs’ departure that she has become less effective at her job. I ask that you not get involved in any way in that disciplinary process. It’s minor in comparison to the other issues, but if Ms. Sciuto can’t do her work properly when an agent ‘retires,’ in fact if any of them find they can’t, there’s no place for them at NCIS.”

He simply inclined his head, acknowledging the politely phrased order to not get involved in the Abby situation. “How long do I have to think about this, and when am I officially off the MCRT?”

“Are your personal reports finished for the last case?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Then you’re off the team immediately. Unless you want the first option?” At her raised brow, he shook his head. He wouldn’t break up the whole team and rebuild the MCRT. “Then the MCRT is going to be off rotation for a few days, which puts a burden on the other teams. Your job will be to accurately write those overdue midterm reviews for McGee and David. I’d prefer to get you settled in your new role ASAP, so I’d like a decision soon. But, at most, I’ll give you until Monday to decide. Regardless of anything, you’re taking the rest of today off to relax, and then get a good night’s sleep tonight.”

Today was Thursday, so he’d have tomorrow to write the midterm reviews and then the weekend off to regroup and to make his decision. “And what about Agent Lee?” Tony asked belatedly, feeling regret for not thinking of his probie sooner, but he admitted he was internally reeling a bit.

Jenny looked thoughtful. “I’m of the mind that I don’t think a probationary agent is right for the MCRT. With the limitations Officer David has in what she can do in the computer system because of clearance level and in terms of procedural issues, having a probationary agent unfairly burdens the SFA.” She gave him a pointed look. “Or whoever is doing the SFA work.”

He gave another acknowledging nod. Yeah, he’d fucked up.

“Although, I do think training probationary agents is good experience for Senior Field Agents. Nevertheless, it’s not right for the team now. If you go with the option of lead for FSVU, you’re welcome to take her with you. The FSVU is losing one of the agents to the Florida office as soon as can be arranged, and this would solve that staffing problem. If you choose any of the other options, I’ll figure out where Agent Lee will be assigned.”

“Thank you. I’ll consider all the options.”

She nodded. “Thank you, Tony. Please don’t discuss this with anyone at this time—well, except possibly Agent Pride. I will meet with the rest of the team later today.”

He recognized a dismissal when he heard one and got to his feet. “Thank you, Director,” he said with a dip of his head.

“Tony,” she called just before he reached the door. “Whatever your choice, please remember that being a good leader is not about how much you can bear. I understand the burdens of loyalty, but we both know it did a disservice to everyone in the end. And, for the record, I think you were set up in many ways to fail in this situation, and the fact that you didn’t is why I want you to stay on as a team lead. You’ve earned it. Just learn from this.”

He let that sink in for a few seconds. “Thanks, Jenny,” he offered softly, then left the office.

Tony found Pride waiting for him right outside Cynthia’s office, leaning casually against the wall. He came to a halt and raised a brow.

“Let’s get coffee,” the veteran agent half-ordered as he tipped his head toward the elevator.

Huffing a bit, partly in exasperation but mostly in amusement, Tony gestured for Dwayne to precede him. Tony steered him towards Tony’s favorite place rather than the place Gibbs usually went. Gibbs preferred strong drip coffee, but Tony liked espresso drinks.

As soon as they were seated outside the cafe, Pride braced his elbows on the table and said, “I’ll tell you straight, I’m sorry about spyin’ on you. Initially planned to just tell Jenny if there was a real issue she needed to look into but circumstances changed my mind a bit.”

Tony considered for a second. “Well, I can’t say the whole clusterfuck isn’t incredibly awkward, but I appreciate what you and Jenny were trying to do.”

“Look, Tony, Gibbs and I go back a long ways. I don’t know how he runs his team or what’s gone on before now, but I don’t believe for a second he’d be happy with what was happenin’ here. And if for some reason it didn’t bother him, well then… he hit his head harder than anyone told me.”

Deciding not to comment on that because he really wasn’t as confident about Gibbs’ feelings on the matter, he instead offered, “I am aware that I’m partly responsible for how out of control that all got.”

Pride leaned back and looked thoughtful. “Somewhat. In the sense that you didn’t suspend them both a month ago.”

Tony snorted. “That bad?”

“I assume it’s been escalating and none of you realized how out of control it had become. That’s the problem with lettin’ the little things slide; you don’t notice when they get bigger. And bigger things have a tendency to slide faster.”

His mind skittered over the last nearly-ten weeks, and Pride was right; Tony would never have allowed the attitudes of the past week during the first week. It had been building slowly. He rubbed his forehead as all the ramifications of today overwhelmed him a bit. But he couldn’t afford to deal with that now.

The conversation drifted to safer, more mundane topics while they finished their coffee. Then Tony’s phone started to ring, and the display showed it was Ziva.

“Don’t answer it,” Pride suggested.

Tony arched a brow in inquiry.

“No one on your former team has any reason to be lookin’ for you today. And if something urgent should come up, Jenny will call you herself. I’m not tellin’ you what to do… just a bit of advice.”

Tony only had to think about it for a second before he sent it to voicemail. Then, for good measure, he turned the phone off. “They’ll track me down otherwise,” he muttered absently.

Pride looked surprised then resigned. “That’s a rather gross misuse of NCIS resources.”

With an internal wince, he could only nod in agreement. Something else to think about in regards to his future career: just how far was he willing to bend the rules?

“Let’s get out of here. I’d make you take me to lunch, show me one of those fancy Italian places you raved about, but frankly, you look exhausted. Get some sleep.” The older man gathered up the empty cups and tossed them. “I’ll be workin’ late, but if you’re up for dinner…” he trailed off and extended a card, which Tony took, feeling a bit bemused as he noted that it had the other agent’s cell number on it. “Text me and we can meet up.”

Once they were back in the Yard, Pride halted Tony before he could veer off for the parking lot. “One more thing, Tony. There’s one more option for you, and I asked Jenny if I could tell you about it myself.”

Surprised, Tony turned to more fully face the veteran agent. “What’s that?” He really was exhausted and not sure he had bandwidth for much more.

“You’re always welcome in New Orleans. You’d be a valued part of my team if you should decide you don’t want the responsibility of Supervisory Agent and choose to head south. Frankly, I think NCIS will lose out if you decide to not lead a team, but the door is always open to you.”

A feeling of warmth like Tony hadn’t experienced in a long time suffused his being. He kept his reaction masked but was incredibly grateful for the words. Despite how wrong everything had gone, that offer, more than the others, made Tony feel like he hadn’t completely fucked this whole thing up. “Thank you, Dwayne. I appreciate it… and I truly mean that.”

Tony pretty much felt like Dwayne Pride could see right through him, but he was surprisingly okay with that. With a solid handshake, they went their separate ways.

When he got home, he thought the day’s events would spin in his head and keep him from actually being able to rest, but the relief of having the clusterfuck at an end was so profound that he felt fatigue yanking at him practically the minute he walked in the door. Stripping off his clothes, he collapsed into bed and immediately fell asleep.

– – – –

Chapter Two

Jenny Shepard stared at the paperwork on her desk without really seeing it as she thought back over the last ten months. They were not the proudest moments of her life. In fact, they may be her greatest failures. For so long she’d been driven by a need to see the truth about her father’s death revealed and his reputation restored that she barely knew what to do with herself when that had been taken away.

She’d been so pleased to make it to the director’s chair, knowing it would give her the resources she would need to see justice done for her father. Of course she’d known it was wrong to use her position in that manner, but it didn’t matter; Benoit had to pay, and her father’s name needed to be cleared. She had been willing to sacrifice everything for that end. To her great shame that included the well-being, the career, and possibly even the life of a very good young agent. She winced just having the thought.

At the time, she certainly hadn’t consciously thought she was endangering Tony DiNozzo with her personal vendetta, but that’s exactly what could have happened; he could easily have been killed. Her plan had been for her to be his only backup so she could keep everything off the books and read in as few people as possible. It made her want to cringe at the risks she had recklessly been willing to take. She was frequently unavailable in meetings and should never have even considered being the only backup for an undercover asset.

Everything had changed one morning after she’d read a seemingly innocuous intelligence report about activity in Africa and the Middle East. There had been a brief mention of Rene Benoit’s death during an arms’ deal. It had felt like the world had crashed around her. She’d been denied her opportunity to clear her father’s name and take revenge on Benoit.

Straightaway, she’d taken time off from work. At first, she had simply fallen apart—head-on collisions with reality were painful—but then had come the time to take a long hard look in the mirror, and she had not been at all pleased with what had become of Jennifer Shepard. And, even more importantly, she knew her father wouldn’t be pleased with her, would not be proud of the path she had chosen.

Immediately, she resolved to do her best by the agency for as long as she could. In particular, she vowed to make sure the agent she’d been so willing to sacrifice in her vendetta was supported and set up for success. Somewhat reluctantly, she’d eventually confessed the plan of the unsanctioned undercover operation—which was treading on the CIA’s toes and so even more dangerous for Tony—to Agent Pride and dealt with his displeasure, a lecture, and, even harder to bear, his disappointment.

Jenny had known Dwayne for many years and thought highly of the veteran agent. She’d never been as close to him as she was to Gibbs, but Pride’s good opinion of her mattered. It was a bitter pill to swallow that she’d lost some of that regard.

When you make a mistake, Jenny, you gotta make it right… gotta do right by the people you hurt,” he’d told her.

In reality, she’d hurt the entire agency with inattentive leadership as she obsessed over Benoit, but she could only rectify that by doing her best going forward. Tony was another matter altogether. She certainly didn’t plan to give him anything he hadn’t earned, but no one could doubt that Tony DiNozzo should have already been promoted by now. Even Morrow had tried to promote him towards the end of his tenure as director.

Granted, the Cold Case Unit at Norfolk was a little above his pay grade or experience. It was a full unit and therefore larger than a typical field team. Normally, more seasoned agents were offered that post. Giving it to Tony might be seen as favoritism, but she felt she could support the decision if he should choose that option. Plus, she was confident that given time, he’d prove he was up to the task.

When calculated per year, Tony had the best cold case closure rate of any active field agent outside of the CCU themselves. While he definitely had a knack for them, she had a feeling he wasn’t going to take it, even it if was the most highly ranked position she’d offered him. The CCU would be the least troubling for her logistically as she could just switch Tony and Agent Mike Weppler and not have to source any other team leads in the next few days, but she felt that was a small factor.

The most high-profile was the position on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, but she’d be shocked out of her shoes if he selected that option. True investigators just did not enjoy sitting on task forces all year round—no matter how vital they were to national security.

She was fairly confident Tony would choose the FSVU in DC. She could always assign him a team outside of the DC area, but she thought his preference was to stay local, so she hadn’t even brought up the postings in Rhode Island or Nevada.

Considering the expression on his face when she’d mentioned the option, it was also highly unlikely he’d choose to have an entirely new MCRT. If Tony took the FSVU, then she’d bring Weppler over from the CCU and postpone his retirement until Gibbs came back—provided it was within six months or so. McGee and David would have no easy time of it with Weppler at the helm. The man had a reputation for being a hard ass, and with ten years of Navy service under his belt and twenty-five as an NCIS agent, he was a stickler for the chain of command.

The thought actually gave her cause to smile, and she found herself able to concentrate on her work once again.

Some time later, the intercom chimed. “Director, Agent DiNozzo is on the line for you. Are you available to take the call?” Cynthia asked.

Surprised, Jenny immediately replied, “Yes, Cynthia. I’ve got it. Thank you.”

Picking up the phone, she immediately said, “Tony, I didn’t expect to hear from you today. Is everything all right?”

Yes, Jenny, everything is fine,” he quickly replied. “I got some sleep, cleared my head, and immediately knew what I wanted to do. Since I’d made up my mind, I thought I should let you know. I’d like the FSVU in DC.” There was much less stress in his voice than she’d observed earlier in the day, and he sounded completely calm and confident.

Smiling, she nodded, even though he obviously couldn’t see her reactions. “You sure you don’t want the CCU? It’s a higher grade.”

Honestly, it’s a position senior agents go into and tend to retire from. I know they’re technically field agents but it’s just not the same. And it’s not for me. I like the puzzle of cold cases sometimes, but I prefer active investigations.”

There was possibly something buried in there she wanted to tease out a bit. “You considering long term career advancement?”

He hesitated a moment. “Maybe.”

“That’s good, Tony. I like to hear it. You don’t have your eye on my job, do you?” she teased.

Tony snorted. “No, Jenny. Your job is safe from me.” There was a pause. “Vance’s… well, that might be interesting some day.”

For the first time in a long time, Jenny found a reason to laugh.

When she hung up the phone fifteen minutes later, she was in better spirits than she’d been able to muster for quite some time. This was the first real proof that she was rectifying her mistakes. She’d known there was nothing more she could do for Tony than open the door; he had to choose to walk through it. And she was so incredibly pleased that’s what he had decided to do.

She logged into her email and fired off a couple quick missives. First to Agent Beth Matthews, letting her know that DiNozzo had accepted the offer to take over her team. He would be reaching out to her directly about meeting ahead of time, but if nothing else, would see her in the office on Monday. Jenny made note to check in with Matthews tomorrow as well.

Next, she emailed Agent Weppler that he would be needed, as expected, for the MCRT on Monday, and that Cynthia would be setting up a brief call tomorrow and an in-person meeting first thing Monday to review all the details of the assignment.

Her next communication went to the SAC for Norfolk, confirming that Weppler would be TAD to the MCRT immediately, and one of the SFAs for the CCU would need to step into the lead position, closely monitored by the SAC, until they found the right candidate for SSA. She and the SAC would be working that problem together.

After that, she found the midterm reviews Tony had promised had already been filed and took the time to read them. After going over them carefully, she was once again surprised at Tony’s level of professionalism. It was sometimes hard to reconcile the demeanor of the agent with the way the man was on paper. To read his reports, you’d never know he was fond of practical jokes or movies or was a complete flirt. Although, to be fair, a lot of the excesses and extremes about Tony that she had observed while he worked for Gibbs had nearly vanished when he took the Senior Agent’s chair.

The midterm reviews were no different in terms of his professionalism. Instead of overly focusing on the behavioral problems, which he’d have every right to do, Tony had dissected each of their strengths and weaknesses as they pertained to their primary function as investigators. He’d then given recommendations for future development. There was also a summary of behavioral issues that needed to be addressed, such as questioning or ignoring orders or chronic absenteeism. He wrote up a career development plan, along with a recommendation that both be given thirty days to correct the behavioral issues or be formally disciplined and/or placed on probation.

Overall, it was kinder to their careers than they had a right to, and the recommended development plans were so well thought out, she planned to send the structure of them to other team leads to consider. She made a mental note to ask him where he’d developed review writing skills. It wasn’t something that even very senior agents mastered easily.

She planned to let Weppler go over the reviews and deliver them next week. It certainly wasn’t her role to deliver the performance reviews of individual agents, but she did plan to address a few issues before Weppler arrived. She wouldn’t throw him to the sharks completely unprepared.

Pressing the intercom, she called out, “Cynthia, would you have Agent McGee and Officer David join me in my office? Thank you.”

Five minutes later, Cynthia rang back, “I’m sorry, Director Shepard, both have apparently left for the day.

Jenny’s brows shot up. It was barely after three, but she supposed she really shouldn’t be surprised. “Is Agent Lee still here?”

Yes. Should I have her come up?”

“Please. I need to make a couple phone calls, and then you may send her in. Also, schedule Ms. Sciuto for the end of my day, and see if Dr. Mallard would be willing to meet with me after business hours. Possibly for dinner if he’s agreeable. If he’s busy, I can meet with him tomorrow.”

She called Ziva first.

Shalom, Jenny.”

Pushing away their personal relationship and all the complication that presented, she replied, “Officer David, I asked Cynthia to summon you to a meeting, yet I understand you’ve left for the day.”

There was a brief pause. “We all made an early afternoon of it, I believe is the expression. Is there something wrong, Jenny?”

“That would be ‘Director Shepard’ when it’s regarding work, Officer David. And the expression is ‘an early day of it.’ But by whose authority did you leave your duty station?”

After an even longer pause, Ziva replied, “Our team lead left for the day, and we saw no need to remain.” The obvious scorn when Tony was mentioned set Jenny’s teeth on edge.

“Senior Supervisory Agent DiNozzo is taking care of the tasks his supervisor assigned him. I expect seasoned operatives such as yourself and Agent McGee to be able to work for an afternoon without direct supervision.” She paused meaningfully, but when nothing was forthcoming, she asked, “Were all of your tasks completed before you left the office without authorization?”

I will admit I still have tasks to perform,” Ziva said frankly.

“I’d like you in my office in fifteen minutes.” With that, she hung up the phone then quickly dialed McGee’s number.

Agent McGee,” he answered promptly.

“Agent McGee, this is Director Shepard. Why are you not at your desk?” she asked tersely. There was no particular bond with McGee she had to tap dance around. She didn’t plan to let her bond with Ziva affect the outcome of the situation but the subtext was always there. With McGee, the situation was much more straightforward.

Ah… Well, um… Ma’am, we, uh, decided to leave for the day. You know, after Tony did,” he stammered out eventually.

“I see. And was your work completed when you left?”

No, ma’am. It, uh, I still have to finish my last case report.”

She had a very strong suspicion that he needed to do a lot more than that. Barely ten percent of the SFA paperwork had McGee’s name on it for the last ten weeks, and tomorrow was month end. “Tell me, what is your probie doing, Agent McGee?”

What? I don’t- I assume she went home.”

“No, Agent, she’s at her desk working,” Jenny snapped. “What is she working on?”

I don’t know, ma’am,” he eventually admitted.

“You, the Senior Field Agent, left a probationary agent to work alone and you don’t even know what she’s working on?”

I don’t, well I mean, that’s really Tony’s job. Isn’t it?” The last was delivered uncertainly as if he wasn’t certain what his own duties were.

“Be in my office in fifteen minutes, Agent McGee.” She hung up and immediately called Cynthia. “Send in Agent Lee. Let me know when McGee and David show up but have them wait.”

The door closed, and she looked up at the nervous young woman who was obviously trying not to wring her hands and standing as close to the door as she could. “Have a seat, Agent Lee,” she said, directing the probationary agent to the chair in front of her desk.

She came around the desk and sat in the seat next to her, angling it to face the anxious woman so their discussion would be more casual. “First, I want to let you know that you are not in any sort of trouble, but there are going to be some changes on the team. I wanted to talk to you personally and let you know that you are going to be reassigned effective Monday.”

“Oh.” She looked a little hesitant. “Is Tony, I mean, Agent DiNozzo not happy with me?”

“Actually, Tony is very pleased with your performance, but he feels that you aren’t getting the development you need with the current team. We both feel there’s a better fit for you. I can’t say any more about it now, but it will all be clear on Monday.”

Lee looked a little brighter at knowing that Tony wasn’t unhappy with her, and she relaxed a bit. “Yes, Director.”

“Now, are you caught up on your case work?” Jenny prompted.

“Yes. I filed my report this morning, and Tony had already sent back the corrections needed; I made them immediately. I scanned my training notes into my probationary file and was continuing to work on my crime scene sketches. I pulled several of Agent DiNozzo’s old sketches to compare, and I can definitely see what he means about the importance of stationary reference points. I mean, his measurements always match up when cross checked.”

She smiled as she let the probationary agent babble a bit about everything she’d learned before gently interjecting. “Well, then, it sounds like you’re completely caught up on your work. I’d like you to take the rest of the day today and all day tomorrow as personal time; you’ve done good work for us, and you should take the opportunity for a breather before the new position starts. Clear out your desk and check with facilities before you leave. Please do it while I’m talking to the other members of your team. When you arrive on Monday, your belongings will be at your new desk, and you’ll be instructed where to report. Security will know where to send you.”

“This building, Director?”

“Yes, this building.” She noticed that Lee looked relieved at not being sent out of DC—not that Jenny would send an agent to another geography with one day’s notice. “Now, I’d like to hear your impressions of your time on the MCRT. What was good about it as a training experience, and what do you think could have been improved?”

Lee suddenly looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“Agent Lee, I assure you, there’s nothing that has happened down there that I don’t already know about. I’m not asking you to blow the whistle on your colleagues. Just tell me what went well in your field training and what could have been better.”

After about twenty minutes, Jenny had all the information she felt she needed. Moving Michelle Lee to Tony’s new team was the right thing for now. Although, she wondered if the woman would be able to tolerate field work long-term, particularly the type of field work of the FSVU.

Overall, Lee liked Tony and felt she had learned a lot from him, even if she had wished she had more of his time. Without outright saying it, she intimated that she hadn’t learned anything from McGee, or if she did, it mostly had to be corrected by DiNozzo. She stressed that she didn’t think McGee was bad at his job, he just seemed to frequently decide on a way to do things that was different from the way Tony wanted them done. To Jenny, it sounded like McGee being deliberately contrary even if it resulted in less efficiency. For all that she’d worked with some true bastards and assholes in her years in law enforcement, she’d rarely encountered that degree of pettiness.

As she ushered Lee to the door, she offered, “I don’t know if anyone from your old team will call you this weekend, but you might want to consider only taking calls from Tony.”

Lee’s expression shifted to something speculative. “Yes, Director Shepard. I believe I’m going to be very unavailable this weekend. It’s almost August, after all… beach weather.”

Smiling, she opened the door and ushered Lee out, finding McGee and David waiting. Ziva looked annoyed and McGee looked anxious. Ziva was going to the be harder discussion, so she’d save her for last. “Agent McGee, you first,” she ordered as she turned on her heel and started back toward her desk.

“Am I to just continue to wait?” Ziva asked, sounding outraged.

“Yes,” Jenny called back. “You are to sit there and wait until I am done speaking with Agent McGee.” When she took a seat behind her desk, she found McGee hovering uncertainly by the still-open door. “Agent McGee!” she snapped. “Close the door and sit down.”

He quickly jumped to obey and was presently seated across from her. “What can I do for you, Madam Director?”

She leaned back in her chair and watched him with narrowed eyes for several long seconds. “Do not call me ‘Madam Director.’” Finally, she pulled one of the folders from the stack and tossed it to him. “Explain that.”

Cautiously, he took the folder and began to peruse the contents, paling as he did so. “I didn’t… realize.” He looked up sharply. “Did Tony complain?”

Her brows shot up. “No. Although, he most assuredly should have. Frankly, this has nothing to do with Senior Supervisory Agent DiNozzo. I want you to explain why your average workweek hours under Agent Gibbs were 74 and your average workweek under Agent DiNozzo dropped to barely over 30.”

“I…” he trailed off and fiddled with his collar. “It’s been a difficult adjustment,” he offered weakly.

“That’s your excuse?” she asked incredulously. “Because there’s absolutely no doubt that Agent Gibbs was working his team too hard. I’ll be looking into that separately. Something like that will not be happening except for the case of an emergency; a seventy to eighty-hour workweek should be the exception not the average. But if you didn’t like the way Gibbs worked the team, you should have complained, not simply waited for him to be gone and then felt free to set your own hours and come and go as you please!”

“No! No, ma’am, it wasn’t Gibbs. Not at all. I have no complaints about Agent Gibbs,” he quickly insisted.

“Are you saying it’s Agent DiNozzo’s fault that you can’t be on time or work a full day?” she asked softly.

“Yes, Madam– I mean, Director. No, it’s just… DiNozzo isn’t… I mean, no one takes him seriously. He’s lording his power over all of us and ordering us around and it’s ridiculous. It’s not like he’s any better than anyone else on the team.”

“He. Is. Your. Boss,” she enunciated slowly and carefully. “He does have power over you. It’s not imagined, it is real. He’s entitled to order you around as he sees fit!” she snapped. Instead of letting him reply, she tossed another, thicker, folder at him. “Explain that.”

Looking worried, he began to peruse the folder and his expression shifted to anger. Finally, he exploded, “Tony had no right to do this! He shouldn’t have filed those supplementals. There was nothing wrong with those reports!”

“Dial it down, Agent, and remember who you’re talking to!” she barked.

Paling, he settled back in his chair.

“I had two team leads review your reports and the SSRs that Senior Supervisory Agent DiNozzo filed on your behalf, and they agreed that every single one was necessary. I only looked at a few reports and their attached SSRs, but I compared it to your reports under Gibbs. There’s no doubt your work has become subpar since Agent Gibbs’ departure.”

McGee flushed and looked away but didn’t say anything.

She leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers. “Why don’t you explain to me what the issues are from your perspective, Agent, because I’d like to think there is something behind these lapses.”

What ensued was a rambling bitch session that amounted to nothing but sour grapes and resentment, and probably a lot of jealousy. There was also a fair amount of tantrum in there over Gibbs’ retirement.

“Agent McGee, let me first say that I think you have the potential to be a very good agent. DiNozzo and Gibbs saw something in you or they wouldn’t have recommended you for the MCRT with so little relevant field experience. But your work the last couple months has been atrocious, and your attitude has been even worse. Your personal opinion of Agent DiNozzo is, quite frankly, completely irrelevant. His education and qualifications are none of your business. They’re my business. Tony has to satisfy me with his performance. He has to work to my standard. And it’s your job to work to Tony’s standard. A task at which you’ve failed miserably.

“Everything you just laid out amounts to nothing but a childish tantrum at not getting your way. There is a chain of command at NCIS, and you are expected to follow it. I don’t care if you like your team lead or not, you follow orders. If there is a legitimate issue with your supervisor, you work it through the chain of command, you don’t just do as you please.”

She picked up a third folder and set it in front of her, resting her hands on the surface. McGee eyed it warily. She had no intention of handing this one over. “This is a stack of complaints from other Senior Supervisory Agents and Senior Field Agents. Filed about you and Officer David, outlining your gross misconduct over the last ten weeks. This is how you handle a situation you don’t like at NCIS; you write a complaint and address it through the chain of command. You don’t engage in childish back biting, passive-aggressive tantrums, and ignore orders.”

Leaning forward, she braced her elbows on her desk. “Now, if I were to do something about every complaint in this folder, I’d have to terminate you.”

McGee blanched. “Ma’am, this is all a misunderstanding.”

“No, Agent, I misunderstand nothing. I understand perfectly well, and here’s what’s going to happen.” She pulled out a couple sheets of paper that had her signature at the bottom and a blank line for his. “This is a formal reprimand for absenteeism, supported by your own work logs, and for insubordination. This will be a single black mark on your record, and if you shape up, that will be the end of it.”

“Yes, Madam Director, I will, I assure you,” he said, getting to his feet, then winced when she glared at him for the ‘Madam’ bit.

“Sit down! I’m not finished,” she shot back.

He quickly sat, looking flustered.

“You will sign that immediately. Cynthia will give you a copy on your way out. Starting this afternoon, proceeding to tomorrow, and all weekend if necessary, you will fix every single report that has an SSR filed against it. I have three team leads who will be logging into the report system over the weekend and will accept or reject your reports until they are satisfactory. Once a report is accepted, I will personally obsolete the SSR filed for that report. I expect fourteen hour days from you until this report fiasco is remedied. Am I clear?”

McGee did not look happy, but he didn’t demur. “Yes, Director, I understand.”

She smiled, and she knew it wasn’t a nice smile. “If you’re not done by Monday, you can explain the situation to your new team lead and arrange for time after working hours to continue fixing these reports. Although, I do hope the weekend is sufficient time for this endeavor, Agent McGee.”

His mouth dropped open briefly. “New team lead?” he asked weakly.

“Oh, hadn’t I mentioned that? Yes, it seems to me that familiarity does indeed breed contempt, but it also seems to engender a lack of respect for the chain of command. So it was either reassign you and Officer David to new teams and let Agent DiNozzo build a new MCRT or move him elsewhere. He chose the latter. It’s unfortunate for you, really,” she said vaguely.

“Tony’s still a lead?” McGee asked hesitantly, not even questioning the ‘unfortunate’ comment.

Jenny snorted. “Why wouldn’t he be? You and David dropped your working hours by more than half, yet closure rates didn’t fall. Your reports were garbage, yet complete SSRs were filed for every single one of them. DiNozzo was working 100-plus hour weeks—over 130 last week alone. It seems someone was actually doing their job down there. Why wouldn’t I want to keep someone that dedicated and capable of getting results as a team lead?”

McGee just looked stunned.

“You are dismissed, Agent McGee. I think we both know you need all the time you have available to get those reports finished.”

He hesitated as he was walking away. “Director? Uh… there’s this personal project I’ve been working on that’s been taking a bit of time on occasion.”

She blinked in surprise that he’d even go there considering what they just discussed and started to tell him she didn’t care about his personal projects, but decided to go for intel instead of the scathing put down. “What kind of project, Agent?”

“Well, you see, I wrote a novel, and it’s being published in a few months. It’ll be available in stores and everything. There will be publicity and book signings to deal with,” he finished proudly.

“You’ve been taking time away from pursuing investigations to tend to your novel?” she asked incredulously.

He winced. “Well, a bit, but mostly no. I mean, I had contracts and stuff to sign and meetings with the editor. It’s just, I’ll need to be away occasionally during the day once the book is closer to publication and then after it hits the shelves.”

“What kind of novel is this?” she queried as she tried to get her head around the absurdity of his request.

Brightening, he quickly replied, “It’s a crime novel.”

Eyes narrowing, she asked, “I assume you haven’t referenced any of your work with NCIS in this novel?”

His hesitation said it all. “Well, not exactly. I mean, I drew from my experiences as an investigator, but it’s all original.”

She drummed her fingers on the desk, contemplating the issues. “Well, there are two separate problems to address. With regard to the need to be away from the office to promote your book, you will need to discuss that with your new lead when he arrives next week. However, I suspect you will need to arrange for vacation time to tend to that level of personal business. You certainly shouldn’t have been seeing to it on the agency’s dime thus far.” She gave him a speaking look.

He flushed but nodded his head.

“As to the other issue, I’d like the legal department to review your novel. Please submit a copy of the manuscript tomorrow.” She phrased it as a request but it was clearly an order.

“Excuse me?” he asked, expression clearly conveying his complete shock.

“You wrote a novel that’s effectively tangential to your work. I want a clear okay from the legal department that you have not leveraged classified or confidential information in your work of fiction,” she replied sternly.

“But, Director, I assure you, anything I used was merely as a vague inspiration point. I revealed no classified information. I wouldn’t do that,” he said hotly.

“Then there will be no problem when the legal team finishes their review, Agent McGee. Now, you are dismissed. Please send in Officer David.”

– – – –

Main Story Page  |  Chapters 3 – 4


  1. greywolfthewanderer

    aw yeah, epic beat-down and mcgee had every bit of that coming and more besides. she was *nice* to the little twerp.

  2. Just a warning ahead – you might be in for some rather long comments. At least, I’ll try to let you know all I love about your fics – this one and all the others. It might be slow coming, but I’ll hopefully get there in the end. You might wonder why, why now when my comments have been sporadic at best. I had this planned for a while, but your fics are like an addiction – the moment you post I just have to read (which, since I assume we live in different time zones is very stupid because it’s usually in the middle of my work day) and I can’t put them down before I’m finished. Since I want to leave more than a ‘I love your fic’, it gets pushed off in a rather hectic everyday life. To answer the why now – of course I read a certain post you left today. And I’ll comment on that as well, but since the negative reaction you’ve gotten for this fic was the reason for the post, I decided to do this first.

    I like that this is placed in the middle of Gibbs’ Mexican vacation. It means that there will be a solution without Gibbs’ involvement. I hated the way he came back, so I’m all for solving this issue without him around.

    I’m not really a violent person (well, maybe?) and I don’t agree with the head slaps, but I wanted to give McGee one when he told Michelle not to listen to Tony. WTF? Of course I loved Dwayne getting involved, so that was a total win. But, as a whole I think you’re nailing the little remarks from McGee and Ziva. They’re not over the top, seem to just be teasing…until you remember they’re talking to their superior. And then it’s just wrong.

    I love your Jenny. Yes, she’s got flaws but she’s not evil incarnate. She sees that Tony’s not without fault (and neither does he think he’s done everything right), but she’s not blaming everything on him either. She’s actually a rather supportive boss with a good grasp on reality. Like I would’ve loved to see on the show. Ah well, that’s what fics for, right? The only thing I don’t agree with is how she seems to be willing to give the MCRT back to Gibbs without reservation. But, as I say it seems, doesn’t mean she won’t force him through some evaluations first. And the options? I love how many details we’re getting here from you. About the possibilities and the thought process both Jenny and Tony put into them.

    Oh Dwayne. That’s a nice offer. And I can’t help but wonder what Pride would say to Gibbs right now.

    Again, wonderful insight into Jenny’s head. And a very human and likeable Jenny. OMG, when Tony tells Jenny he isn’t after her job but maybe Vance’s? I couldn’t keep the grin from my face.

    Now, the conversations/confrontations with Michelle and McGee. Damn. Let me tell you, I love all of your AUs to the moon and back. In most of them you also take on one or more of the canon related issues, but I also absolutely love it when you stay in more ‘inside’ NCIS (if that makes sense) and focus on one if the major issues. You absolutely nail the characters. I’m pretty sure McGee fans won’t agree with me, but I couldn’t care less. There’s no over the top, way out of character behavior. You’re not the only writer addressing the different huge canon ‘disasters’, but you’re one of the few where I feel every issue that needed to be addresses was handled. Thank you for that.

    • Way back when, I had about 40 or so comments related to my departure from AO3 I hadn’t been up to dealing with, so I’d left them. I thought I got all the fic comments approved but I missed about a dozen on De Novo including the gems from you! Sorry for the long approval delay. I guess I was feeling masochistic tonight because I decided to deal with that backlog of comments related to AO3 but my masochism was foiled because I got to read a bunch of great comments on the story.

      It’s always a delight to hear from you. Your feedback is insightful and thoughtful and very appreciated. You touched on a lot of my favorite bits and things I worked hard on. Thank you for reading, commenting, and making tonight a lot better than it was.

  3. Oooh, SNAP! “Submit a copy of [your novel] tomorrow…” McGee, you are SO BUSTED! ?

  4. I wish we’d had this Jenny. McGee is going down in flames!

no matter where you go, there you are...