– – – –
Jenny reordered her folders, pulling out the ones for Ziva while the switch was made. The door closing with rather more force than necessary caused her to look up as Ziva strode across the room and took a seat.
“What is the meaning of this, Jenny?”
Abruptly annoyed, Jenny’s eyes narrowed as she sharply replied, “You’ll watch your tone, Officer David, or you can find your way back to Israel.”
Ziva reared back, clearly startled, and quickly managed to say, “You have my apology, Director, for my ill temper. I wasn’t prepared to be left waiting for nearly an hour after you asked to see me.”
“If you had been where you were supposed to be when I asked for you, you wouldn’t have had to wait. You could have remained at your desk until I was ready. But since I cannot rely upon you or Agent McGee to be at your duty station when you’re supposed to be, I felt it best for you to wait in my reception area. At least then you’d be in the building,” she replied with saccharine sweetness.
Ziva crossed her arms over her chest. “I see Tony has been telling stories.”
“Telling tales,” Jenny automatically corrected. “And, no, he has not. Most of the rest of the building has been however. Your own time logs paint a vivid enough picture.” Deciding to cut to the chase, she handed over said time logs and the SSRs together and watched Ziva review them.
Unlike McGee, Ziva had almost no reaction. “What of it?” she asked, tossing them back on the desk.
This was much worse than Jenny had suspected, so she decided to take a different tactic. Getting through to Ziva could be challenging, and sometimes the brutal approach was best. “Very well. You’re dismissed.”
Ziva rose to her feet, smirking.
Jenny turned her attention back to her paperwork, making notes as she casually said, “Be sure to leave your security pass and your sidearm on my desk as you leave. Security will supervise you packing your belongings. Since I’m about to suspend your work visa, I expect you on a plane back to Israel within 48 hours.”
“What? No! Jenny, what is this? Because some juvenile clown wants to play at being a leader and cannot manage his team, I am to be punished?”
Looking up and glaring, Jenny gestured to the chair, but Ziva ignored her and remained standing, expression indignant. “Let me make this clear for you. Yes, I am your friend, but when we are in this building, I am your boss first, and you will do as I say. You will do as your team leader says, without argument and without complaint. If you cannot respect the chain of command, there is no place for you here. If you cannot follow NCIS procedures and policies, there is no place for you here. Is there anything about what I have said that is unclear to you?”
Uncharacteristically, Ziva looked completely astonished, and it took her several long moments to finally reply, “No, Director Shepard, there is nothing unclear about your words.”
“Good. Then sit down and listen!”
Ziva took her seat, spots of hectic color high on her cheeks.
“When I agreed to bring you here, you said you wanted to learn to be an investigator, but let’s be brutally honest—we both know your primary motive was to be out from under your father’s thumb. Your skills are a better fit to liaise with the CIA, but they have no particular reason to extend you an olive branch. NCIS is primarily an investigative agency, and though there are other elements to our charter, they are not positions you can hold as a liaison. I was very clear with you that you had to learn to be an investigator.”
“I have been learning,” Ziva countered. “But I expect to learn from the best.”
Jenny’s eyes narrowed again, and she was fighting down her rising annoyance. “First, you’ll learn from who I say. Gibbs is one of the best in the agency, but for his overall skillset, not because of his particular investigative prowess; he’s no slouch in that department, but we have several better investigators.
“The reason I put you with Gibbs is largely because I knew he had the temperament and fortitude to curb your excesses and teach you how to be an investigator and not an assassin or a spy. It has actually been a disappointment to me that he’s been less successful in that regard than I had expected.”
“How can you say that?” Ziva asked looking offended. “I learned from Gibbs! And I do not understand how can you say he is not the best!”
“If Gibbs had been successful in training you to be an investigator and to do things according to proper procedure, you would not have fallen into a pattern of egregious insubordination and absenteeism the minute Gibbs was gone. You would obey the chain of command of this entire agency and not just those you hand-picked for respect. And you would follow our laws, including the handling of prisoners and suspects, and the procedures around investigations.”
Ziva scoffed. “Some of your procedures are ridiculous. They get in the way of efficiency.”
“Your opinion on the matter is irrelevant!” Jenny near shouted. “You are in the United States of America working for the federal government. You will do things the proper and legal way or you will return to Israel. This is not up for debate. You do not ‘rough up’ prisoners, you do not pick locks, you do not search without a warrant, or any of the other things you’ve done when expressly ordered not to.”
She paused to grab a couple pages from a folder and flipped them to Ziva who barely caught them. “And you do not turn in reports to this agency with Hebrew in them in a passive-aggressive rebellion against a team leader you don’t like. Your petty tantrum ends here, and it ends now. Have I made myself clear?”
Ziva flushed as she looked over the pages and wouldn’t meet Jenny’s eyes. “I understand, Director.”
“I’ve heard you pontificate to your team about the merits of Mossad and their training. No one disputes Mossad produces operatives who are excellent in their field, but Mossad and NCIS are not the same. I want that rhetoric to end. It is your job to fit in here, not to try to make NCIS like Mossad or to demean the training of the rest of my agency.” Jenny leaned back in her chair and added, “On a personal note, I’m incredibly disappointed in you. I went out on a limb to bring you here, and more than most, your bad behaviors reflect on me personally.”
Looking away and swallowing heavily, Ziva finally said, “It was not my intention to cause you embarrassment.”
“I hope you mean that, and I hope you’ll think twice before disrespecting the chain of command here again. I want to support you in finding a path away from your father and Mossad, but not at the cost of my career, this agency, or any other agent under my command.”
Ziva’s jaw clenched, and she met Jenny’s gaze with fire in her eyes. “I will chew my tongue, but I will not change my opinion of our team leader,” she said with a sneer.
“The expression is ‘bite my tongue,’ but you’re welcome to chew it if it will keep you from forcing my hand into sending you home. For all that you flaunt Mossad and its superiority at everyone around you, I know that Mossad would not tolerate your disrespect for a superior, regardless of your personal opinion of their qualifications.”
Ziva flushed again and had nothing to say.
“I haven’t addressed the issue of Agent DiNozzo yet, because I don’t actually think he’s the source of the problem. I believe you’ve got a superiority and entitlement issue you need to deal with and deal with very fast. But in terms of DiNozzo, I don’t understand where you disdain for him comes from, and I don’t care,” she quickly added when Ziva seemed set to reply. “But your verbalizing that disdain ends along with all your other bad behavior. I can’t change your opinion of him, but I can damn well ensure you stop voicing it to all and sundry. You will be respectful of your superiors. If you find there is something he’s doing wrong, you’re welcome to file a complaint. And that is the end of that subject.”
She pulled some more papers out of her folder. “You, along with Agent McGee, are being formally reprimanded for insubordination and chronic absenteeism. Provided you keep your nose clean, this reprimand will be a single black mark on your NCIS file. Of course, this is more professionally punitive to McGee than you as this is a liaison’s file not a special agent’s personnel record. But the overall consequences to you are somewhat higher, I’d think, as McGee could get a suspension if he screws up again, but you’ll be going back home.”
Though she looked unhappy, Ziva said nothing, simply nodded tightly.
“You will sign this, and Cynthia will give you your copy on your way out. Now, let’s talk about this mockery of report writing you’ve been doing since Gibbs left and the hours you’ve been putting in.”
The next few minutes were very much like the conversation with McGee. Jenny explained what she expected in terms of the reports being corrected, and she had a suspicion it would take Ziva much longer to correct the issues.
Jenny concluded with, “If you are not finished by Monday, you’ll need to finish up in the evenings after your new case work is complete. I won’t have your new team lead penalized because you and McGee couldn’t get your work done correctly for the last ten weeks.”
Ziva blinked. “Our new team lead?”
“Yes. There will be a new lead effective Monday morning,” Jenny replied as if that should have been obvious.
The liaison officer actually smiled at that. “Tony has been demoted?”
Jenny snorted. “No, but your pleasure at the prospect is flirting with the line I gave you. While I’m inclined to think you and Agent McGee should have to correct your behavioral issues under the team leader where you failed so miserably, I couldn’t see my way to subjecting Tony to such a hostile environment considering what a top notch job he’s done in Gibbs’ absence.”
Ziva’s mouth literally fell open.
“You see, I was going to transfer you and McGee to other teams, but Tony agreed to take over a new team and leave the two of you on the MCRT.”
“What team?” Ziva asked incredulously.
“That really is none of your concern. Now, you have a lot of report writing to do, so you are dismissed.”
When Ziva seemed set to say something, Jenny softly said, “You are dismissed, Ziva. Go back to work.” Once the other woman was at the door, Jenny remembered to tell her, “By the way, those investigators who are better than Gibbs? Tony DiNozzo is one of them. And that’s Gibbs’ own assessment—one I happen to agree with. So you’ve now lost the opportunity to actually learn from the best.”
Once Ziva was alone, Jenny took a few moments to get herself together. That had been difficult, though perhaps not as hard as she’d expected. She cared for Ziva, but she wasn’t prepared to let her friendship with the Israeli woman jeopardize anything she’d worked for at NCIS.
It wasn’t lost on her that part of the reason Ziva had been allowed the leeway she had by others in the agency was because it was perceived that she was a favorite of Jenny’s. Well, that was at an end. She knew Weppler wouldn’t give Ziva an inch, and Jenny wouldn’t ask him to. It would be good for Ziva to have to adhere to a strict chain of command again. The lack of authority and power Gibbs gave the SFA role had done the team no favors once Gibbs was no longer at the helm.
She knew she only had a few minutes before Ms. Sciuto arrived, so she put the folders away for McGee and David and turned her attention to her email while she waited. The next confrontation had the potential to be explosive, but she was resolved to keep it short and concise.
After Cynthia announced her, Abby entered, stomping along in her platform boots with a metaphorical thundercloud over her head.
“Have a seat, Ms. Sciuto,” Jenny said politely, gesturing to one of the chairs.
But Abby just stood there with her arms crossed and tapped her foot. Considering the platform weight, it made a very thumpy noise. “What is going on, Madam Director? McGee was just telling me you’re splitting up Gibbs’ team! How could you?! And what has Tony been saying to you? Timmy said he got a reprimand for insubordination, but he’d never do that. Tony’s just trying too hard to be like Gibbs. You can’t let him run Gibbs’ team into the ground! And you certainly can’t split them up! Things have to be in the right places when Gibbs comes back.” She quickly pointed a finger at Jenny. “And he will be back. When he gets here, he’s gonna expect all his people to be in their right places and no nasty marks on their records that he’s going to have to get rid of, and–”
“Ms. Sciuto!” Jenny yelled getting to her feet, startling the forensic scientist. “That is enough! You do not march into my office and tell me what to do or how to run my agency. If you value your job here, you’ll sit down and wait to find out why you’re here. And I promise you that it has nothing whatsoever to do with the MCRT.”
Abby’s mouth was hanging open, and it took several beats for her to close it and ask. “You’d fire me?”
“At this point? Yes. I realize you’re a prized forensic scientist, and I might need to hire two people to replace you, but I will take that step before I allow someone to throw a tantrum in my office thinking they can dictate how I run my agency. So you better think carefully about every word that passes your lips.”
Jenny had been insisting that everyone sit for these conversations, but she was damn tired of it at this point. If the spoiled little lab princess wanted to stay standing on those enormous platform boots who was Jenny to stop her?
She retook her own seat and immediately began with, “I called you here to speak to you about your job performance since Agent Gibbs’ retirement, and discuss some changes that will be implemented starting tomorrow.”
“You mean besides breaking up Gibbs’ team?” Sciuto snapped.
“Watch your tone, Ms. Sciuto. This is your place of employment, not a bowling alley. If you don’t feel you can maintain a professional mien, you are welcome to pack your belongings; I’ll have security show you out.”
The goth continued to glare fiercely for several long moments before apparently realizing she wasn’t going to get her way. “Yes, Madam Director,” she finally retorted somewhat caustically.
“Before I begin, let’s address that bit of disrespect right there, shall we? When Agent McGee does it, I can tell he’s nervous and not doing it deliberately. But it’s apparent you choose to call me ‘Madam Director’ when I have asked to be called ‘Director’ or ‘Ma’am’. Your obvious aggression is duly noted, Ms. Sciuto. Why don’t you keep on and see just how long you’ll be allowed to get away with it,” Jenny said with a dangerous half smile that should be ample warning for even the most spoiled and stubborn precious little snowflake.
Abby’s arms suddenly uncrossed and hung at her sides. She began to fidget with her skirt as she glanced away.
When there was nothing forthcoming for several seconds, Jenny decided to dive into the problem. “I understand that you have been greatly affected by Agent Gibbs’ departure from NCIS.”
Pale green eyes snapped up to meet Jenny’s gaze and there was a tumult of emotions behind them. “Of course I have been. I miss him. But he’s coming back! And everything will be just like it was before, and–”
“Stop! This is not about Agent Gibbs, this is about you and your job performance. Frankly, if you are so overcome by your angst over Agent Gibbs that you are unable to perform your duties effectively, I suggest you take a leave of absence. And if you’re unable to get yourself together, you’ll need to find employment elsewhere.”
Abby just stared with her mouth hanging open. Finally, she managed a befuddled sounding, “What?”
“I believe I was perfectly clear. NCIS is larger than the MCRT, and the work continues every single day. It doesn’t stop because Gibbs is gone. No team, including the MCRT, should have to deal with your wailing and gnashing of teeth because an agent retired from active duty.”
“That’s not fair!” Abby exploded, actually stomping her foot in her frustration. “He’s an important part of NCIS—we can’t just forget him. And I’m allowed to miss him if I want!”
“No one is forgetting Agent Gibbs or his contribution to NCIS, but he is not now, nor ever has been, the axis on which we revolve,” she said dryly. “And, yes, you are certainly allowed your private feelings and to miss a person who is gone that you were close to. But you are not allowed to emote all over everyone in the building.”
“I haven’t!” she said indignantly.
“Oh, you have. And I’m tired of hearing about how no one wants to go down to your lab because of your rampant emotionalism and the shrine to Agent Gibbs that you have turned my forensics lab into.”
“It’s my lab!”
“Watch it, Ms. Sciuto. I’m going to let that one slide as you being under stress and not thinking clearly. Now, to save you from being fired in the next five minutes I’m going to tell you to keep your mouth shut from here on; I want to hear nothing from you until I finish. You clearly are incapable of tempering your emotions in a manner that is acceptable for the situation.”
Jenny leaned forward and gave Sciuto a hard look. “As soon as we are finished with this conversation, you will return to your lab and take down every single photograph and piece of memorabilia you have up in regards to Agent Gibbs. I will allow you two personal photographs on your desk but that is all. I don’t care what your screensaver or background is on your personal work computer, but the lab computers will be stripped of all personal photos and documents.”
Abby’s eyes were suspiciously shiny, but she seemed more angry than sad for the moment. “That’s not fair!”
“Silence!” Jenny barked, startling Abby into nearly taking a step backward. “Your recent behavior has brought to mind the overall issue of professionalism in your lab. I’m concerned about how some things are carried out and want to be certain that we are current with ASCLD/LAB standards to maintain our accreditation.”
“Of course we are!” the scientist exploded.
“Ms. Sciuto! Shut. Up.” If Jethro were here, Jenny would see to giving him a sound thrashing for letting this overgrown child become so bloody spoiled. “An audit of your lab is obscenely overdue. I’ve scheduled one for tomorrow with a private auditor. I want to be alerted to any issues before we do a formal review with the ASCLD. However, there are some things I’m already aware of that are out of compliance, and I want them remedied immediately.”
Jenny pulled out the list she had prepared. “While I will not attempt to change the overall manner of your dress, I expect the following standards to be adhered to for all lab technicians—I assure you, you are not being singled out: no jewelry or accessories, including around the throat, except for earrings that dangle no more than one inch below the lobe; no nail polish; no hair or cosmetic products with glitter or particles that can flake out; no beverages or food in the lab except specifically at your desk; and no perfume or cologne.”
“But- but we agreed! No dress code! Gibbs fixed it.”
“No one is saying you can’t wear a skull t-shirt with a kilt and boots, but this is basic dress code coupled with fundamental lab safety and common sense practices for evidence processing, plus the handling toxic chemicals that I know you are already aware of. You choose to ignore them, I assume, because you think you’re above them. I assure you that you are not. I will grant lab technicians leeway in the manner of their dress that I would never grant an agent, but you will fall in line with best lab practices, safety standards, and some dress code going forward. Am I understood?”
Abby looked like she truly was caught between anger and tears again.
“There may be more changes after the lab audit is done. It won’t just be the lab at the Navy Yard, but I am starting here. The memo of revised lab standards is going out this evening. I expect adherence or you will be reprimanded. After a formal reprimand there will be suspension and after that, termination.”
“That’s ridiculous! You’re saying I could get fired for wearing my collar?” she asked incredulously, fingering the black dog collar around her throat.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. You know perfectly well that items around the neck are not safe in all labs. Until I hear otherwise from the auditor, it’s out. Also, this is a federal agency responsible for investigating crimes against the men and women of the Navy and Marines; it’s not a bar. Nor is it a democracy. I’m immovable on the subject, and I assure you that I do have the last word.
“Now, this evening, I expect you to set your lab to rights and remove that absurd shrine to Gibbs. Tomorrow, you’ll start fresh and adhere to the new lab guidelines, and be polite, professional, and helpful to Mr. Hollick when he arrives to audit your procedures.”
Abby’s hands were clenched tight and she looked like she was about to burst from frustration. “And what about Gibbs’ team?”
“There is no ‘Gibbs’ team.’ Not anymore. But in terms of the MCRT, what of it?”
“You can’t split them up!”
“Ms. Sciuto, I assure you that I can! And I have already done so. McGee and David are fortunate to remain on the MCRT. It’s an elite position that neither one of them deserve at the moment.”
“What does that mean?” she asked indignantly.
“That really is none of your business. You need to be minding your work and not be so focused on the goings on of the MCRT. I realize you have friends there, but your job is to support all the teams at the agency, and your preoccupation with the MCRT is affecting that.”
“It is not,” she retorted hotly.
“According to the reports I’ve been receiving, it has been. Some level of emotional upset at the beginning was understandable, but after nearly ten weeks, enough is enough. People don’t even want to be around you at this point because they are fed up with your emoting and your angst over Gibbs’ retirement.”
“But I miss him,” she said pathetically.
“I don’t care,” Jenny said coldly. “This is your job, and you are affecting others negatively. I’ve had enough. And I’m only going to warn you once. If you cannot remain professional about Gibbs’ former team, I will transfer you to Anacostia or Norfolk and give everyone a clean slate.”
“You can’t do that!”
Jenny was utterly flummoxed. “Why is it that you think I have no power or authority? I am the director of this agency, and I do not bend to the childish whims of a lab tech.” She knew she was being deliberately insulting; Abby was a forensic scientist, but Jenny was done with this epic tantrum.
“I’d leave first!”
“Don’t let the door hit you…” Jenny trailed off, refusing to get any crasser than that.
Gasping, Abby’s eyes widened and she looked shocked, but it quickly morphed to a seething mass of frustration and anger.
“You may go, Ms. Sciuto. And I remind you to tend to your lab tonight. If it’s not done, security will do it for you and there will be a formal reprimand waiting for you in the morning.”
Abby’s eyes filled with tears, but that wasn’t going to work on Jenny.
“Now, leave my office.” As Abby began stomping away, Jenny added, “And if you give in to your desire to slam my door, you can finish cleaning your lab and then take a one-week suspension without pay.”
The door closed softly a moment later.
– – – –
Jenny requested the pistachio crusted salmon then handed over her menu, watching Ducky as he ordered and sipped his wine. The restaurant was a small upscale bistro that wasn’t particularly crowded this evening, and they had good privacy at a table near the corner.
He looked at her intently for several moments, before finally saying, “As agreeable as dinner with a beautiful young woman is, I assume there is purpose behind our rendezvous other than pleasant discourse? Perhaps something related to the three explosions of temper my sanctum was exposed to over the course of the late afternoon?”
Sighing, Jenny pushed her own wine glass a little farther away. “I’m sorry you had to bear the brunt of that. I wished to speak to you tonight to prepare you for some stormy days ahead. I know you’re unusually close with Ms. Sciuto and Jethro’s former team. They’re all in for a rather difficult adjustment period.”
“I would not dream of challenging your decisions, Jennifer, but might I inquire why you felt it necessary to split up the team?”
Jenny gave a little huff and shook her head. It figured that no one would be honest about what had happened. “Ducky, I know Jethro’s injury, his amnesia, the information he withheld from those closest to him, and the manner of his departure affected everyone greatly. And as you’ve known him so long, I can only imagine how deep a hurt it must be.” She sighed, not quite sure how to say what needed saying.
“I will concede to those facts, but what is your point?” Ducky asked gently, head cocked faintly.
“My point is that I believe you’ve been very affected by that wound, that damage to your friendship, since Jethro’s departure and have not seen what’s gone on with the team.”
Instead of taking offense, Ducky looked thoughtful. “What is it I have missed in my preoccupation?”
“What if I told you that Tony worked nearly 130 hours last week?”
Ducky’s glass rattled as he abruptly set it on the table, giving Jenny a horrified look. “Surely not.”
“Oh yes. Aside from his own time logs, security logs bear it out, and it’s the only explanation for several other things. But his average work week since Gibbs left is approximately 105 hours. He’s run himself into the ground and no one can maintain that kind of pace for long.”
“And what of Timothy and Ziva? I know they were both working late. If they are similarly affected, they should be getting some rest!”
“Ducky,” Jenny quickly interjected, “their average workweek has been between thirty and thirty-five hours since Tony took on the mantle of team lead.”
Looking completely bewildered, Ducky considered carefully for several moments before shaking his head, expression morphing to disappointment. “When the cat’s away, the mice will play,” he murmured.
“In a manner of speaking. I admit, I likely shouldn’t be discussing this with you, but right now, I rather think Tony is feeling somewhat adrift with no one he can count on. I personally think it best if you not try to intervene in the situation, but if you were to take sides and Tony felt he couldn’t trust you…” she trailed off, letting him draw his own conclusions.
“I might lose the regard of a very fine young man whom I care for very deeply,” Ducky supplied. “There is no worry in that regard, my dear. I shall be Switzerland in this situation in public, but Anthony will know he has my support. Are you able to enlighten me as to the nature of the issues on the team other than an imbalance in work product?”
Careful with how she phrased things and what she said, she covered the insubordination, the refusal to follow orders without questions, the report writing issues, the absenteeism and the general lack of regard for the team leader.
Ducky sighed and shook his head. “I fear Jethro’s style of management left them all in a poor position, but Anthony most of all. Still, I expected more maturity and professionalism from Timothy and Ziva. It is most disappointing. And I completely understand why you would split the team. Respect, in this circumstance, will not be easily won even though Anthony has more than earned it. Will he remain in the District, or have you sent him farther afield?”
“This is confidential until Monday, but he will be taking over Agent Matthews’ team. She’s being promoted to SAC of Pearl Harbor. He will be taking his probationary agent with him.”
“That is a lovely fit for him, and I’ll be sure to seek out Beth and congratulate her as well. Despite what one may initially think of him, Anthony is quite compassionate towards victims. I believe he will do well.”
“I have no doubt. I gave him the choice of several assignments, and this is the one he preferred. One of his options was to keep the MCRT and I would transfer McGee and David to new teams, but he opted not to go that route.”
Ducky shook his head. “No, I cannot imagine that he would. His deep-seated loyalty to Jethro would drive him to keep as much of the team intact as possible. Who will be taking the reins of the MCRT?”
Jenny grabbed her wine and took a sip, fighting back a smile. “Agent Weppler from Norfolk.”
Eyes widening, Ducky gave a small cough. “Goodness gracious, Jennifer, that is most wicked of you. Timothy and Ziva under the thumb of Michael Weppler. I fear I’m going to need to buy more tea and perhaps dust off my earplugs.” He hesitated a moment before adding, “I was under the impression that Michael was retiring shortly?”
“It was due in three weeks. In fact, his current position is one I offered Tony. In any case, for special circumstances, I can extend the retirement age up to three years, though I assured Mike I wouldn’t extend it beyond seven months.”
“Why seven months, if I might ask?”
“I may not have filed Gibbs’ retirement paperwork,” she admitted. “He might possibly be on leave instead. If he should come back within six months, he can resume leadership of the team, and Weppler can retire. If Jethro isn’t back within six months, I will have to make sure that paperwork is properly routed and find a new lead for the MCRT.”
“You believe he will return?” Dusky asked eventually.
He seemed to consider that for several moments before nodding. “Yes, I rather think he will be back. And I shall do what I can to aid Ziva and Timothy in gaining some perspective, if they are amenable to truly listening, of course. Then Jethro can have two-thirds of his team when he resumes leadership.” Pausing briefly, he then asked, “And what of Abigail? I confess, I understood little of her tirade. Surely it’s not related to the situation with the agents?”
“No, though if she doesn’t stay out of that situation she could find herself suspended. I know she’s attached to the MCRT, but she needs to leave it alone and let Ziva and McGee sort out their own mess.”
“Oh, I quite agree. She mentioned something about photographs being taken from her? I’m afraid I didn’t entirely understand the source of her distress.”
Jenny sighed and turned her wineglass, watching the light bounce off it. “The issue is that it’s been more than two months since Jethro left, and she’s still metaphorically crying all over the entire agency. Other team leads and SFAs are complaining about working with her because of the high level of emotionalism.”
She hesitated for a second before adding, “Gibbs and his team, and perhaps even you, have indulged her whims and her moods relentlessly, and it’s not in the best interests of the agency. I won’t be held hostage by the emotional manipulations of a lab tech.”
Ducky gave her a chastising look. “She’s quite a bit more than that.”
Jenny raised a brow. “She doesn’t need your defense, Ducky. She’s a grown woman who is two years older than Agent DiNozzo. I realize she is an exceptional forensic scientist, but she is not irreplaceable. No one is. The only way an agency can run is if there is no critical point of failure. Indulging her whims like the agency revolves around her was foolish at the outset, and I never should have surrendered my own good judgment about the changes needed in that lab. Perhaps forcing her into a suit was not a wise idea, but more professionalism is.”
Ducky looked thoughtful, but Jenny could see that he was still chafing to defend Abby. “You know her work is always exceptional,” Ducky countered.
“At what cost? Should every agent who has had to work with her for the last more than two months be forced to be miserable because she’s caught in an emotional crisis? Should Tony have to see Gibbs’ face plastered all over the walls, be told he’s nothing like Gibbs, and have to wear ‘trainee’ stickers? Should we ignore standard lab safety protocols and evidence processing guidelines because she’s ‘exceptional’?”
Wincing a little, Ducky finally responded, “No, of course not.”
“You’ve worked with enough forensic technicians over the years to know that just the jewelry she wears is a probable safety issue, not to mention the jewelry on the hands and wrists is typically forbidden when processing most evidence. Hence, most labs ban it entirely.”
With a sigh, Ducky nodded his head. “You are quite right. I fear we’ve rather let the situation run away with us.”
“I know. No one noticed how bad things have become. I realize no one wants to play the heavy with her, but that’s fine, because it’s my job to do it. For starters, I’m not going to set the precedent that I’ll continually surrender to her childish whims. It makes me look bad, Ducky. But, most importantly, I have to consider all the employees who rely on forensic services. Blaring heavy metal, dog collars, incense candles… it’s all got to go.”
Ducky gave a heavy sigh. “Yes, you’re quite right. I assume you directed her to take down the pictures of Jethro, and that sparked the majority of her… we’ll just call it ‘upset.’”
“Yes. I told her she can have two personal pictures on her desk and digital photos on her work computer, but walls and lab computers are to be free of personal paraphernalia.”
“That’s just the start, Ducky. I have a feeling we’ve slowly been sliding away from ASCLD/LAB standards and that could risk our certification and accreditation. I have a private auditor doing an assessment starting tomorrow in Ms. Sciuto’s lab.”
“Oh my, indeed,” he said as he took hold of his wineglass and took a healthy swallow. “The next few days promise to be quite interesting.” He looked off at nothing for several moments, and while he was thinking, their food was delivered.
As soon as they had privacy again, he gently offered, “I do apologize for my distraction these last couple months, Jennifer. I do not believe I could have prevented this situation, but I do wish I could have provided better council to Anthony during these trying times. I shall do my best to aid him when I can, and not inflame the passions of those upset by the changing status quo. However, if there is anything you need of me, you only have to ask.”
He held up his wineglass and she clinked it gently. “Thank you, Ducky.”
– – – –
Tony watched as Dwayne leaned back in his chair and gave his stomach a quick rub. “I tell ya, that’s not what I was expectin’ when I said dinner, but it was damn good, Tony.”
“Good. Glad you enjoyed it,” Tony replied as he got up to clear the plates. Instead of taking Pride to his favorite Italian place a few blocks from the apartment, Tony had decided to cook. It had been months—several weeks before Gibbs left—since Tony had the time to make fresh pasta and really cook.
Earlier, he’d woken up from the first truly restful sleep he’d had in a long time and knew he wanted to take the position as the FSVU team lead. For all that part of him didn’t want to step out on the ledge, the rest of him knew it was the right choice. He’d taken the time to finish his overdue midterm reviews, then called Jenny to discuss the situation with her. Then, impulsively, he’d gone grocery shopping—another mundane task he hadn’t had time for in many weeks.
He returned to the table and divided the rest of the wine between their glasses. “Panna cotta actually set properly this time, so there’s that whenever you want it.”
“Lord, you gotta give me a minute, kid… need a breather before dessert.” He fiddled with the wineglass for a second then asked, “Can I offer you a piece of completely unsolicited advice?”
“How about if I solicit any advice you feel I could use?” Tony countered.
Dwayne’s lips twitched. “All right, then. There are some things I can’t explain, but if someone should ever try to send you off undercover without real backup, you tell ‘em no. If they won’t take a no, you put your safety first and you leave. You hear me?”
Tony’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “I hear you.” His mind was spinning. He knew Jenny had been planning the op with him and was his primary contact, but since they hadn’t ever taken action beyond prep, he’d never heard who his backup would be. But if there wasn’t any…
Sighing, he set his glass down and pushed it away. “The op wasn’t sanctioned, was it?”
Pride quirked a brow. “Gibbs said you made intuitive leaps—see what he means. I can’t really say in this case, but in general, I think you know that most above-board operations don’t require you to work your day job and the undercover gig, too. And even if your op really were secret to that degree, you should always have full-time backup whose only mission in life is to take your call and make sure you check in on time, and then pull your ass from the fire when necessary. Clear?”
He rubbed his hands over his face, wondering if he’d have gone through with the undercover op once he found out Jenny was his only backup. Considering his state of mind, he probably would have. Feeling like he was failing with his team, he’d have desperately wanted to succeed at something, to get validation from somewhere. Although how he could manage undercover work and the hours he’d been pulling he didn’t know. Something would have had to give. Cases would have started to suffer.
“Clear,” he finally agreed. “And thanks. I usually make better decisions, but I can’t say I’ve been doing a stellar job at that lately.”
“Over tired and/or over stressed are not friends with good decisions. Your mentor modeled that for you plenty, I’m sure.”
Tony choked, not at all expecting anything remotely negative about Gibbs to come out of Pride’s mouth.
“Ah, don’t give me that look. I’ve known Jethro too long to start pretendin’ he’s a saint.”
“I don’t think Gibbs gets stressed,” Tony muttered, taking a sip of water to soothe his throat.
“You don’t think being obsessed creates a state of stress on the mind and body?”
That got a wince from Tony. “Okay, point.”
“And when he’s obsessed with something, what do you think of his decision making?”
Tony made a face and Dwayne laughed.
“I get it… he’s your mentor and you have him on a bit of a pedestal. He may have taught you a lot but I promise it wasn’t all good. As much as we try to pass on our skills and our good habits to our protégées, reality is we also pass on the bad habits. So let him down off that pedestal; it’s uncomfortable being up so high, but it also blinds you to his faults so you can’t discern what’s not worth knowin’. And then remember, when you find the person you’re ready to take under your wing, they’re gonna learn things you might not have intended.”
“Well, that’s a cautionary tale if I ever heard one,” Tony replied, thinking it through. He certainly didn’t want his future protégée, whomever that might be, to make some of the same shitty decisions Tony had.
“Come on,” Pride said getting to his feet. “Anyone who has a piano that fine had better be able to play it. So show me what you got.”
Though Tony preferred classical or contemporary, he did like jazz and was happy to stick to that. He managed to impress the other man, and then traded off with him, truly awestruck by how skilled Pride was at jazz piano.
They’d been playing back and forth for about twenty minutes when there was a loud knock at his door.
“You expectin’ someone?” Dwayne asked.
“Your old team?”
“Possibly. Though none of them actually know where I live. I’ve only been here a few months. Just give me a sec. I’ll be right back.” He headed for the door. He wouldn’t be surprised if it were McGee or Ziva. His phone had been ringing off the hook. He’d programmed a special ringtone for Jenny and been ignoring all the other calls today. Dispatch knew his former team was off rotation, so they wouldn’t be calling.
He hated peepholes, so he just called out, “Who is it?”
“Open the door, DiNozzo!” Abby’s voice came through loud and clear.
For some reason, he hadn’t been expecting her. Taking a fortifying breath, he opened the door about ten inches and stood blocking the view inside. “What are you doing here, Abby?”
She tried to push past him, but he refused to budge, and she sort of bounced backward. When she regained her footing, she glared at him. “What the hell are you doing, Tony?”
“Eating dinner and playing the piano?” he asked leadingly.
“That’s not what I mean! Why are you letting the team be split up? And why are you here while poor Timmy and Ziva have to work all weekend on reports? Don’t you care about Gibbs’ team at all?”
“Hey!” he snapped, though he kept his voice low. “They were not Gibbs’ team anymore. They were my team. Do you get that? MY team. And the team being split up was actually not my call, but it’s one I happen to agree with. They don’t respect me as a team lead, and I’m not willing to risk my life out in the field with two people who can’t follow orders.”
She looked like he’d slapped her. “You just needed to give it time! If you weren’t trying to be like Gibbs or do everything differently, then things would settle down!” she insisted.
“Do you even hear yourself?” he asked incredulously. “‘Don’t do it like Gibbs, but don’t do it differently’?”
Her mouth fell open for a moment before she snapped it shut and glared at him. “You’re twisting my words.”
“Okay. You need to go. If you want to have a sane, rational discussion about work, at work, you let me know, but we’re not doing this now.”
“NO!” Abby yelled. “Let me in, DiNozzo, we’re gonna talk about this!”
“Be quiet!” he hissed looking down the hallway to make sure his neighbors weren’t disturbed. “And I’m not having this conversation with you on the first night off I’ve had off in over two months.”
“Oh, stop exaggerating.”
Tony started to say something, but he felt the door being pulled away from his hand from the inside, and he was aware of Pride’s presence at his shoulder. He let the door be pulled wide open, and Abby gaped at the other agent.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
“Phone call for you,” Pride said, extending his cell phone to her.
“For me? And who are you?”
Pride just wiggled the phone at her, which she took reluctantly.
“Hello?” She suddenly straightened up and looked horrified. “Madam Director! I mean–” she broke off with a wince. “I mean, yes, Director Shepard?” There was a pause before, “I came over to speak with Tony about Gibbs’ team–” she broke off abruptly and actually flinched at whatever Jenny said. “I know that, ma’am,” she stressed, “but I’m allowed to visit a friend of mine to–” Abby stopped suddenly again. “I-I, well I got his address from… Agent McGee?” she asked weakly as she closed her eyes briefly. “No, ma’am. I haven’t completed that yet. But–” She made a face and glared hatefully at Tony, like he was at fault for whatever trouble she was in. “Yes, ma’am. I’m returning to my lab now. It will be completed tonight.” There was a brief pause. “Yes, ma’am.”
Hanging up the phone, she practically threw it at Dwayne. “Thank your little boyfriend for me, Tony!”
Before Tony could respond, Dwayne had stepped out into the hall into Abby’s space. “Ms. Sciuto, I understand you’ve had an upsettin’ evening, but you best be careful about saying things like that. You start any rumors, and I’ll be sure you suffer the consequences for it,” he said in a tone of voice that would almost be gentle if it weren’t for the hard look in his eyes.
Abby took a step back. “You have a problem with people being gay?” she shot back, apropos of nothing. Tony’s brows shot up at how antagonistic Abby was being.
“I have no trouble with what anyone chooses to do in their personal life, but I’m a married man, and I’ll thank you to keep your insinuations to yourself. I try to be a nice man, but if you start malicious rumors, I promise I won’t be so nice.”
“And just who the hell are you?” Abby asked as if she were trying to find her footing in the situation.
“Senior Supervisory Agent Dwayne Cassius Pride, and Agent in Charge of NCIS Resident Agency New Orleans.”
Abby blanched and her hand covered her mouth for a moment. Eventually she said, “I should have recognized you. I… I’m sorry. I know you’re an old friend of Gibbs.” She took a step forward, and her hands twisted together. “Surely you understand he wouldn’t want his team split up?”
Dwayne snorted. “My thoughts on Jethro’s former team, more recently Tony’s former team, are none of your concern, ma’am. Frankly, the only person whose opinion matters in all this is Jenny’s. Now, if you’ll excuse us, you interrupted some fine piano playing.”
Abby seemed to realize Pride was a lost cause and shot Tony an angry look before she spun on her heel and stomped away.
Tony thought about letting Dwayne know he could handle his own problems, but after the summer he’d had so far, he kind of didn’t mind someone giving a shit enough to step in. He blew out a breath as he closed the door.
Pride clapped a hand on his shoulder and led him back toward the piano. “Come on, kid, you owe me some more piano time before serving that fancy Italian dessert.”
– – – –
Early Friday afternoon, Tony pulled up outside a small café in Anacostia. Even though he was a few minutes early, he found Agent Matthews already waiting for him.
She got to her feet as he approached and held out her hand, which he shook. “It’s good to see you, Tony. I’m glad our caseload let me take some time away to meet you today,” the veteran agent began. Elizabeth Matthews was in her late 40’s, if not already 50, but looked younger. She was 5’9, with an athletic build, and had short blonde hair.
“Beth will do just fine, Tony,” she interjected as they took their seats. “You’ve known me for years.”
That was true, though he’d never been particularly tight with her. He’d spent more time with Jacy Jarrett over the years. Jacy had helped Tony find his feet when he’d first started at NCIS, and they got along very well. Plus she had that cool name alliteration thing. “All right then, Beth. First, congratulations on Pearl Harbor. They’re lucky to have you.”
She inclined her head. “Thank you. I admit, I’m looking forward to working out my years up to retirement in Hawaii.”
“I have some geographic envy,” he responded with a grin. “As a kid, I always wanted to live in Hawaii and be the next Thomas Magnum.”
Beth laughed. “You’d do well at that, I’m sure.” The waitress turned up and they ordered lunch and coffee, then Beth leaned forward, bracing her elbows on the table. “I’m pleased you took the assignment, and so is Jacy; she’s the only person on the team I’ve informed about who will be taking over for me. I’ll let the others know on Monday when you’re there in person.”
“I’m a little surprised by that. That you’re pleased I’m taking over, I mean. Considering that we’ve never really worked together.”
“Ah, yes, but I’ve got eyes, and you’ve been successfully wrangling Gibbs for five years. If that wasn’t enough, Jacy respects you a great deal, and I have the highest respect for her opinion and incredible faith in her ability to judge someone’s character.”
“Jacy was really good to me when I started at NCIS,” Tony replied noncommittally.
“She saw a lot of potential in you. Like I said, she’s an excellent judge of character. Now, tell me how you’re feeling about taking on the FSVU?”
“Well, nervous, to be honest,” he replied.
“Yes. I’d be concerned about you if you weren’t.” Beth gave him a speaking look. “I know the MCRT catches its fair share of horrible cases, but even coming from Major Case, I’d be worried about an agent who didn’t have some reservations and concerns about taking on a job that is very focused on sexual violence and crimes against children.”
He winced a little, but nodded. “I admit, it gave me pause.”
“It should have. But Jacy tells me you have the compassion necessary to do the job while still being able to be emotionally detached.”
“I’m not as good about the detachment as she thinks; not as good as I need to be.”
“Trust me, Tony, none of us are. There will always be cases that will get to you. When that stops happening, take my advice and arrange for a leave of absence, because that’s when you’ve truly lost perspective.”
Their coffee was delivered before Tony could say anything else, and he sipped his latte happily for a few moments.
Beth was giving him an assessing look. “May I give you a few pieces of advice? And then I have a request.”
“I thought you giving me advice was the whole point of the transition period.”
She huffed a little. “No, that’s just showing you the ropes. Telling you how to do the job isn’t really any of my business.”
Tony couldn’t help but smile. “So you want me to give you permission to tell me what to do?”
She waved her hand. “No, I’m going to do it anyway, but it’s easier if you think you invited it.”
He laughed at that, suddenly wishing he’d had the chance to work with her more in the past.
“First, Jacy likes you and respects you, but she will run you if you let her. She doesn’t want the responsibility of team lead, but she is the sort to take charge as much as possible. Mostly that’s a good thing, because when you’re not around, she is in charge, but she will step on your toes. Push back, be the boss. Got it?”
“Yeah.” That was actually good to know, because he probably wouldn’t have policed his boundaries with Jacy all that much without the warning.
“Good. Second, be you, but don’t be Gibbs’ Senior Field Agent.”
He blinked at that.
“Trust me, I know that you have to do some fancy footwork to survive with Gibbs for five years, four of them as SFA. Whatever adaptive traits you picked up that allowed you to make a team finally gel for Gibbs—and believe me, anyone with an ounce of perceptiveness knows you’re the glue on the team—probably won’t serve you well as a team leader. You’re beginning de novo… take the opportunity and truly start fresh and be authentically you.”
Tony was more than a little uncomfortable with the conversation, but he appreciated the sentiment. It was something he’d need to think on, so he settled for an oblique nod.
She watched him for a few seconds then seemed to find whatever she was looking for. “And finally, when it gets to be too much, the person you call is me. I’m serious about that. I understand what it’s like to deal with this unit day in and day out. I know what it is to feel ineffectual in proving a rape that you know happened, or when a victim won’t testify. So, when that time comes that you need to talk about it, you pick up the phone and call.”
That seemed rather out of character for him to commit to, but instead of arguing, he just said, “Okay. I appreciate the offer.”
Beth snorted. “I know you’re thinking you won’t need it, but you will. And I want you to remember this. Your team needs to be able to lean on you, and you need someone to lean on, too.”
“Gotcha. Was that the request?”
“No, that was advice. My request is in regards to our transition period. I know Shepard requested a three-week transition and training period, but I’m not a fan of the idea. And it’s not just because I’d rather take some more time to pack and get ready to leave. I think me hanging over your shoulder for that long isn’t a good idea. You already know the area, every person in the building, and you have a proven track record. Plus, it’s not like you’re coming up from Cyber or Counterintelligence; you’ve worked violent crimes already, and you know the drill. I propose that we spend the week together, and then we talk regularly to go over any issues that come up.”
Tony couldn’t think of any reason why that wouldn’t work. Honestly, the three-week transition had given him heartburn because it didn’t really allow him to take over without feeling scrutinized by the prior lead or feel like he was stepping on her toes. “I can agree to that.”
“Excellent! Now, what are you doing this weekend?”
“I was going to ask about any active cases you have and get caught up before Monday.”
“Absolutely not. You need to take the weekend and recharge. But if the theater sounds like your idea of recharging, I have two spare tickets,” she said leadingly and somewhat hopefully.
Tony started laughing.
– – – –
Early Monday morning, Mike Weppler exited the elevator and strode into the bullpen that housed DC’s Major Case Response Team. God, the orange was just too much. He’d only been to the Yard a few times in his whole career and only seen the orange once, but he’d forgotten just how wretched it was. He sure as hell hoped this assignment didn’t really last the maximum seven months, or he might just gouge his eyes out.
No field agent was ever happy about reaching retirement age, but Mike had accepted that it was his time to step down. Getting thrown back into the thick of things with active investigations could be an exciting way to end his twenty-five years with NCIS. If only it wasn’t so damn orange. Well, he’d adapt. He was damn good at that.
He checked his watch then headed up the stairs for his 0700 meeting with Director Shepard. She’d been somewhat cagey about the details of this assignment from the beginning. They’d spoken briefly on Friday, but she had wanted to wait to review all the ‘salient details’ until they could meet in person. But Mike was no idiot. He had over ten years in the SEALs, recovered from a serious injury, then twenty-five at NCIS as a field agent; he could spot a clusterfuck from a mile away. All that remained to be seen was just how a big a cluster Shepard had pulled him into.
The secretary wasn’t in yet, but the director’s door was open so he gave a perfunctory knock as he walked in. “Director,” he acknowledged tersely.
“Good morning, Mike,” she said with a smile. “I was sincere that you’re welcome to call me Jenny.”
“Not on the job, ma’am. Worked for Tom Morrow for over fifteen years, never called him Tom in the office. Not changing my ways when my butt’s halfway out the door.”
Her lips quirked up and she inclined her head. “Very well. Please have a seat.”
Mike took the seat across from her desk. “I’m not one much for tap dancing, ma’am, so if you could get to why you suddenly need a lead for the MCRT and why you think I am the right choice.”
Shepard leaned back in her chair, looking thoughtful. “What do you already know about the situation here?”
Mike’s eyes narrowed a bit, wondering if she were playing a game with him or just trying to save time by not repeating what he knew. Guess he’d find out. “Don’t know much about the team structure now. Previously, there was Gibbs and his cop recruit, DiNozzo, leading the team. They started out more like partners, as I recall. Then Morrow insisted on a full Major Case team in the DC office, so they started rotating through junior agents.”
Her brows shot up. “Surprised you knew that much about DiNozzo.”
He gave a vague grunt of annoyance. “About eighteen months in, I noticed the kid. Seemed whenever he had a spare second he was picking up cold cases and solving them. I asked Morrow for him, but Morrow wasn’t gonna rock the boat with Gibbs finally having someone he could work with for more than five minutes straight.”
“I did not know that. Tom never noted that in Tony’s file,” Shepard remarked looking thoughtful.
“Eh. Not all that surprised. DiNozzo was a junior agent whose primary value to Morrow was to keep Gibbs working on a stable team. At least back then. No telling how things went the last couple years. I asked Morrow to let DiNozzo know he was welcome in the CCU anytime he wanted, but I doubt the message was passed on. Still, I’ve been aware of DiNozzo because, as you know, every case that goes cold figuratively crosses my desk, and every one that gets solved does the same. DiNozzo’s name is on a lot of the closures that aren’t handled by my team.
“So, yeah, I was aware of him. Knew he took over the MCRT when Gibbs retired. Don’t know much else. Well, that’s not true. I do know that no cold cases have been logged from that team since Gibbs left, so that says something.”
Shepard nodded. “Well, despite closure rates on the MCRT not falling, the team was not functioning well. I felt it necessary to offer Tony another assignment.”
“Ma’am, I’m a blunt instrument. No one calls me into a situation that needs finesse. So if you could just tell me what the situation is,” he said, not making it a question.
Instead of responding, she handed him a folder. With ill grace, he pulled out his reading glasses and perused what looked like some old time logs and some post-it notes with averages. Then there were some reports written by an agent named McGee and a liaison named David. Mike knew these two by name but not much else about them other than their basic position on the team.
He finally looked up. “Well, Gibbs clearly overworked his team if they were pulling these kind of hours all the time. The then-SFA was pulling eighty-hour weeks on average, and the junior agents six to ten hours less. That’s too much and we both know it. The reports are just,” he waved the pieces of paper around a bit, “reports. Every agent does them. These aren’t notable.”
In response, Shepard handed him a second folder.
Forcing back a sigh of exasperation, he began to peruse the contents of the new folder. Everything was dated after the 22nd of May and DiNozzo was noted as Senior Supervisory Agent. But the more he read, the more he started to get at least part of the picture. “What the hell?” he finally bit out, tossing the folders back on her desk. “Is that a joke?”
“No. It was a very real problem, and I had to do something about it. I’d been receiving complaints from the other leads and SFAs in the building but needed some time to get some more information and to come up with options. I gave Tony his choice of a few different assignments, including the option to stay the lead of the MCRT and I’d transfer the other two. He chose to take over the FSVU from Beth Matthews.”
Mike crossed his arms over his chest. “That doesn’t explain anything. Why’d he put up with that kind of crap?”
“I believe that he felt he didn’t have much choice. I know he tried talking to them, but beyond that, he felt he wouldn’t receive any support. That’s partially Gibbs’ doing, but it’s also on me.”
Liking this situation less and less, Mike managed to stay polite as he bluntly said, “Why don’t we start with your part in this, Director, because I’m feeling like I should just stick with my retirement date.”
She sighed and braced her arms on the desk. “I will own that I let things, specifically past history, influence me in my dealings with Jethro. I never made much effort to rein him in, and I should have. I also insisted that Ziva be placed on the team against Jethro’s wishes, and since she’s a liaison, I doubt anyone felt she was really in the chain of command. Further, I admit that I was focused on several other things my first year as a director and let a lot of things that didn’t seem as important slide by. That included the first few weeks of Tony’s tenure as team lead.”
Her acknowledgment of her failings was pretty blunt, and there was nothing deceitful in her body language or in her tells, but he knew she was leaving something out. After a pause, she added, “I observed early on that Jethro’s style of leadership was to keep the chain of command very flat. I had definitely seen that he didn’t give his SFA any real authority even if he did give him a lot of responsibility. He believed he got the best from his people by making them compete with one another.”
Mike snorted derisively. “That’s just short-sighted. Yeah, you may get good closure rates and the best out of your people as they compete for your approval, but look what happened the minute he walked away? What’s that saying? You don’t have to swim faster than the sharks, you just have to swim faster than your dive mates? Think that’s Gibbs’ leadership style summed up, don’t you? It doesn’t exactly promote teamwork.”
“Yes, exactly,” she agreed.
“So, since DiNozzo’s boss had never really backed him up before, and you had been tacitly approving Gibbs’ habit of feeding him to the sharks, he had no reason to assume anyone would support him now.”
Instead of getting defensive, Shepard just inclined her head.
Sighing, Mike ran his hands over his head. Back when he had hair, he’d have never done something like that, but since shaving himself smooth as a cue ball, he’d picked up the habit when he was frustrated. “You really think DiNozzo’s got the chops to lead?”
“Actually, I do. I think he just needs to begin again and find his footing. But time will tell on that front. However, pulling Tony off the MCRT left a huge hole that I need filled by an agent with real experience.”
“You mean you need someone who won’t put up with any crap down there.”
“I need someone with the fortitude to lead that team. You’ll have complete control.”
“Well… that’s an interesting problem. Tell me this, why are those two even still here? Clearly you want me to believe this David woman isn’t going to be protected by you any longer. Why keep her at all? Seems she’s not cut out for NCIS. And why isn’t McGee manning some remote RU instead of being on the elite MCRT in the agency?”
“If management failed Tony, in a different way, it failed those two as well. There were plenty of mistakes to go around. The best I can do to correct my own in regards to this situation is to give everyone another chance.”
“I’ll be straight with you, Director, when I say I’m not sure there’s not more to it. How much is you trying to set things to rights, and how much is you trying to leave Gibbs’ team intact?” He wasn’t an idiot. The seven months max was an odd thing. If she planned to source a new lead right away, she didn’t need that long. But if she were giving Gibbs say six months to return, then that would give her a month to find a new SSA if he should be truly retired.
He kept expecting her to get defensive, but she just spread her hands and shrugged. “I couldn’t honestly say. I’ll admit that I do hope to salvage as much as I can of the team he trained while doing the best for the agency. I feel like the best chance to keep those two even in the employ of NCIS is if someone knocks them down a few pegs and beats some sense and respect for the chain of command into them. I know you are more than fit for that role. Another person I considered was Dwayne Pride, but he’s not near retirement and would be leaving his RA in the lurch. That said, if they don’t shape up, they’re gone. I won’t get in your way of running the team how you see fit. Contrition and sentimentality only takes me to the point of giving what’s left of the team this second chance. Beyond that, it’s up to them.”
Since they started this discussion, Mike had been planning to say no, but he abruptly changed his mind. “All right. Who’s my fourth? And it better not be a probie.”
“Definitely not. With a liaison on the team, you can’t afford to have a probationary agent. I have a TAD agent reporting at ten today for your team until you can find someone to fill the vacant slot.”
He nodded slowly, thinking things through. “McGee is probationary in his new role for two more weeks. I’ll give him a week to prove he can do the work. We both know he won’t be able to, and then he’ll be demoted. So I’ll be looking for an SFA for the team.”
“However you want to handle it.”
“All right. They should be here soon. Anything else?”
“I should probably brief you on the situation with Ms. Sciuto,” the director said with a pinched look on her face.
“The lab tech?”
“Well, forensic scientist.”
He waved the distinction away. “What does she have to do with the MCRT?”
Shepard took a measured breath and began to tell him a very odd tale of co-dependence and bizarre juvenile behavior.
Mike realized his face was twisted up in some cross between distaste and confusion. “So your forensics person was so upset about Gibbs, who might not come back, not finding his team exactly where he left them, that she got McGee to hack DiNozzo’s personnel file and went to his home to berate him when she was supposed to be here taking down a shrine? What kind of shrine?” he asked as if that really mattered.
Shepard actually slumped a little and looked rather frustrated. “McGee denied that he did the hacking, and Ms. Sciuto admitted she did it herself. As for the shrine… her lab was plastered with photographs and tributes to Agent Gibbs.”
Opening his mouth, Mike started to say something, but nothing cogent was coming out. “I got nothin’. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“I had no choice but to let her work on Friday because I needed her to be here for the audit of her lab procedures, but I suspended her for a week without pay. There’s a temporary replacement, who, I will admit, will not be as good or as fast as Ms. Sciuto. However, at least you won’t have to deal with her this week as well. By the time she returns next week, I’ll have the report from the auditor, and I’ll beard the lion when the time comes.”
Mike rubbed his forehead, having a premonition that headaches were about to become a regular thing for him. “You’ll have to forgive my confusion but I’m not clear why this emotional terrorist is working here.”
“If she doesn’t shape up, she won’t be. But she is one of the best forensic scientists in the country, and my hope is that I can salvage her. That’s my issue though. I’ll take care of it. But I couldn’t not tell you considering her attachment to Gibbs’ team. If she causes any problems for you, I need to know about it.”
Shaking his head, Mike got to his feet. “Okay then. If that’s all, I’m going to get some tea and wait for my agents to show up.”
“Yes, that’s all. Except, I appreciate you delaying your retirement for this. I don’t think there’s anyone else I could slot in here who has a better chance of fixing the situation.”
He just nodded his head and left. Privately he thought the situation shouldn’t be fixed, it should have just been obliterated, but someone gave him a second chance once. Even though he knew Shepard hadn’t told him everything, he was going to help her give these people their second chance. But if they screwed it up, he’d be the first person in line to help shove them out the door.
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