Title: When the Dust Settles
Author: Jilly James
Genre: Drama, Gen
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: adult language and themes
Author Notes: For the Writer’s Table Thursday Vignettes prompt from January 3rd. You must have a Rough Trade account and be logged in to see the visual prompt on the Workshop.
Word Count: 1,998
Summary: When Tony feels he can no longer stay at NCIS, he goes away to clear his head and make some decision. Someone unexpected comes after him.
Additional Note: The visual prompt for this week featured a picture of Tony from the episode Truth or Consequences (7×01). That episode featured as much in the inspiration as the two pictures in the prompt.
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Tony climbed back to the beach house—it was easier now than it had been ten days ago. The house sat on the top of a cliff, blending seamlessly into the natural landscape, but the steep winding stairs leading down to the beach had challenged his perception of how fit he was.
But after a week of up and down, it was easier and his lungs felt better than they had in years. He’d come to here to clear his head and try to figure out what to do next, but clearing his lungs was all he’d actually managed to accomplish.
Well, that wasn’t true. He’d decided to leave NCIS, he just wasn’t sure what else.
A light was on in the house that shouldn’t be on. Tony touched his waist where there wasn’t a firearm because Tony had been suspended. Then the door opened and a familiar figure stepped out.
Tony’s mouth fell open. “Director Morrow? What in the world are you doing here?”
“You got yourself suspended and then ran away before waiting for the dust to settle, son.”
“I did not run away,” Tony countered. “I’m hiding. There was zero running involved. There was very deliberate packing, a leisurely trip to the airport, and then a long drive to Half Moon Bay. Absolutely no running.”
Morrow’s lips twitched. “I misspoke, my apologies. But no one knew how to find you.”
“Not to be rude or anything, but what the hell are you doing here? And how did you find me?”
“I’ve known about the beach house since you bought it off your…fraternity brother, was it?”
“Yeah.” Tony rubbed the back of his neck. One of his frat brothers had needed to sell the place due to financial complications. He wouldn’t take a loan from Tony, so Tony had bought the place through an intermediary at above asking price.
“It’s lovely here. I can see why you’d come to a place like this to get your head together.”
“I…probably should spend more time here. Though I can’t say that I’ve really got my head together yet.” He hesitated briefly. “I’m still not clear on why you’re here.”
“You kicked up quite a storm when you left. Might have been wise to wait to see how the dust settled.”
Tony blinked. “I wasn’t aware there was any dust to settle. I objected to Ziva David coming back to NCIS, my fight with the director and Gibbs got me suspended for two weeks. That doesn’t sound very dusty.”
“It was more than you thought. Although, if I’m perfectly honest, if you hadn’t gotten suspended, I doubt anyone would have noticed the issues at NCIS.”
“I really don’t follow.”
“Do you mind if we go inside and talk? I brought a nice bottle of Scotch. I seem to recall that your bar sported the Balvenie PortWood…?”
“Wow. This must be some talk if you’re bringing my favorite Scotch. And I’m not sure if I’m flattered that your one visit to my home in 2002 resulted in you remembering my favorite Scotch for seven years or creeped out.”
“I always remember good taste.”
How could he argue with that? Tony escorted Morrow back inside and was surprisingly okay with Morrow acting like he was the host. His former director got down a couple glasses and poured. Tony side eyed Morrow but didn’t say anything as Morrow put a tumbler of Scotch on the side table. He decided to wait it out and see what the Deputy Director of Homeland Security wanted.
Morrow sat across from him with his own glass. After a bit, Morrow offered, “Would it surprise you to know that there are several parties that keep an eye on you?”
Tony’s brows shot up. “In what sense?”
“In the sense that they hope you’ll be ready to move on someday. You’ve turned down a lot of job offers over the years, Tony, surely you didn’t think they’d lose interest.”
“I don’t… I mean… But why?” Yeah, he’d gotten a lot of offers, but he mostly assumed it was people poking at Gibbs. Gibbs knew where more than a few bodies were buried in D.C. and the other agencies. Tony just figured they were subtly trying to goad him.
“You have an incredible aptitude for intelligence analysis.”
Tony started to protest, but Morrow held up a hand.
“I know you don’t want to sit in a cubicle and analyze intel, but it doesn’t change the fact that groups that rely on sensitive information are interested in you and keep watch. So you being suspended raised some red flags. And not a little interest”
“So are you saying I can expect job offers?”
“The job offers were always on the table, but certainly the apparent fracture between you and Gibbs means they’re going to actively step up their recruitment. Including Homeland Security. I like to keep my cards close to the vest, and I never had reason to disclose that I had a good idea where you’d be.”
“Tell me what I missed.”
“CIA got wind of your suspension first.”
“Oh my god. They hate me.”
“They really don’t. But they don’t like someone who can figure them out being outside their control.”
“One of their assets blew up my car!”
“That was unsanctioned. But I’m aware of your feelings about the CIA. Still, the reason for your suspension piqued an AD’s curiosity, and then he pulled the FBI in to investigate because what Vance and Gibbs were trying to do was borderline criminal.”
Tony stiffened. “I honestly wasn’t trying to kick up a hornet’s nest, but she was guilty of espionage and they…”
“Were trying to wash that away. I know, son.”
“So what happened?”
“The FBI is tearing everything apart. The SSA leading the investigation was particularly incensed that Vance agreed to hand you over to Mossad for interrogation and possible trial because you’d killed a damn spy in self defense after he’d murdered an ICE agent. And that’s when I was called because Gibbs and Vance both hid that from me. ICE is my purview.” Morrow looked furious. “If there was any impropriety about your interaction with Rivkin, that should have been handled by the FBI. We don’t ship our people to foreign governments to answer questions.”
Tony stared at his hands, feeling the sting of that once again. It was months ago, but he’d been stunned and hurt when he’d been told he had to take one for the team to appease Mossad.
“The FBI would like to ask you a few questions, but they’ve cleared you of any wrongdoing. Though I am curious why you went there to confront him alone, son. You could have gotten yourself killed. It seems like you almost did.”
“I survived by dumb luck, sir.”
“You excel at that, but I’m not too keen on you continuing to push your luck.”
“I had no idea Rivkin was there. I went to talk to Ziva.”
“I read that in your report, but I still don’t understand why no backup. She was a foreign operative who you knew was guilty of espionage. Why go alone?”
“I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, and it was stupid.”
Morrow nodded gravely. “I figured it was something like that. Your loyalty to your team is something I’ve always appreciated. And I think Gibbs abused that loyalty more than once. But then he pushed you too far, is that it?”
“How do they wipe that slate clean?” Tony whispered. “She knew Rivkin had killed a federal agent. She lied to us about him, which was on top of stealing classified information for years. But I still cared about her… So I went to Somalia. But to pretend like it never happened? Vance and Gibbs were going to lie and call in favors to get her citizenship rushed? I didn’t know how to be okay with it.”
“So you said no.”
“I tried to present my case for why this was a Very Bad Idea, but… Well, it got out of hand. Vance suspended me for insubordination. And I was insubordinate, I can’t even argue with that.”
“No one is going to hold that against you. Especially since Vance is suspended himself. So is Gibbs.”
“Ziva is in custody.”
Tony nearly cringed this time. “Jesus. Mossad is going to put a hit on my ass.”
Morrow’s expression was thunderous. “Not if I have anything to say about it. I can’t say that you laying low for a bit might not be a good idea, but the Secretary of State had a long conversation with the Prime Minister of Israel, and Eli David has been replaced as the Director of Mossad.”
“Oh my god,” Tony whispered into his hands.
“You unintentionally kicked over a huge hornet’s nest when you got pissed at your director.” Morrow sounded a bit amused.
Tony dropped his hands and grabbed the Scotch, resisting the urge to chug it.
“None of this is your fault, except perhaps in the sense that you should have reported what Vance did back in May to the FBI. He had no right to take you to Israel. That was the death knell on his tenure as director of the agency even if no one knew it at the time.”
“So he’s out completely?”
“The FBI is finding plenty to force his retirement that has nothing to do with you. They were going to make Hetty Lange acting director, but she seems to have quite an issue with you, so SecNav nixed that. The FBI and Homeland are being quite protective of you in this, and SecNav is astutely not making waves in that regard.”
Jesus, just the kind of reputation that Tony didn’t need. “She thinks Shepard’s death was my fault.”
“Then she’s a fool and not the woman I knew when I was there. Shepard more than brought her troubles on herself, and the only noble thing I think she did in her tenure as director was not let her mistakes get you and David killed.” Morrow sipped his own Scotch. “It’s in the regs that the director of the agency has the right to dismiss their security detail. She even documented that she did so, which meant we never had to rely on yours and Ziva’s account—though I never questioned your integrity in the matter. If Hetty is holding a grudge over that, I’ll make sure her head parts ways with her ass.”
“It’s really not important since I plan to leave NCIS.”
Morrow shot him a speculative look. “So you’ve decided for sure to leave? Even without knowing who the new director will be?”
“Even if they wanted you to be the new director.”
“Oh come on! There’s no foundation for that, and no one goes from senior field agent to director. I’m not even sure you can jump that many spots in the chain of command.”
“SecNav can make anyone he likes acting director, and you’d just need to succeed for a couple years for it to likely become permanent.”
“A couple years of feeling like there was an axe hanging over my head? No thank you. Besides, I’m an investigator, not a—” He stopped himself before he could say ‘bureaucrat.’ Which would be indelicate since he was sitting across from someone in exactly that position.
“Well, I personally think you’d be wasted running the agency, but SecNav is going to make the offer. So I’m making my offer first. I want you to consider coming to Homeland. On paper you’d be a field agent, but, behind the scenes, you’d be part of an elite intelligence analysis unit.”
Tony made a face at the idea of not being in the field.
“Is there any harm in trying it out, son?”
“No, I suppose there’s not.”
Morrow held up his glass. Tony considered for a few moments then clinked his against it. To whatever the future may bring.
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