“I suppose you think I’m very brazen, or tres fou or something.”
January 14, 2008. Washington DC
Timothy McGee walked in at eight the next morning to find Tony already at his desk, as always. Now he might not be able to boast the same astute powers of observation or nose for the suspicious and sneaky as his ‘esteemed’ colleague could. But this hour of the day, he was usually on high alert for whatever new prank Tony might have in store for him today.
Tim narrowed his eyes and walked surreptitiously to his desk. Tony didn’t send up his usual ‘good morning’, in fact he was so engrossed in his screen he hardly noticed Tim’s arrival. Tim checked for traces of toilet paper, confetti, anonymous phallic-shaped gifts, dirty pin-ups on his cubicle that weren’t supposed to be there. He didn’t find any fart bags on his chair, or superglue on his keyboard or mouse or the monitor switch button (remembered to check it this time). Tentatively he moved his mouse to check if Tony had managed to somehow hack into his system and change his screensaver again.
Nothing. Tim frowned, and crept up to Tony’s desk. Tony was still completely engrossed in his screen but didn’t seem to be reading it as much as just… staring at it emptily.
Tony nearly jumped and fell off his chair. Tim guffawed, for once getting to be the pranker and not the prankee. He caught a quick glimpse of Tony’s screen before the senior agent scrambled to minimize his window.
“What are you up to today?”
“Is Damon Werth a person of interest in another case? I thought we wrapped that one good.”
Tony glared at him before turning away, “Go away, McNosy.”
Tim raised an eyebrow. “You smell something fishy, don’t you? If you want any records uncovered or unsealed, you know who to ask.”
And he started to walk back to his desk.
“Alright fine, since you want in so badly,” Tony grumbled, acting like he was doing Tim a favor. Tim grinned and pulled his chair next to Tony’s.
“Something fishy. Did you know the guy’s like Scottish royalty?”
“So what the hell is he doing staying at Gibbs’ house? Surely he can afford his own place and doesn’t need to be mooching off of an old man on federal wages.”
Tim frowned. “You’re thinking he has other motives to stick around? Maybe he just likes to hang out with Gibbs, you know like you –” Tim caught the rising glower on Tony’s face and corrected, “– you have good instincts and if you say he’s dirty, he probably is.”
“That’s right, Probie. Now can you find out his financial net worth or what?”
“Alright, move.” Tim pushed Tony aside and took over the PC controls.
Mentally he ran through every interaction Tony had had with Werth to try and identify what might have triggered Tony’s suspicions. He wasn’t joking when he admitted Tony did have sharper investigative instincts. Maybe it was his years as a cop, maybe it was just his naturally curious nature.
“Here we are…” Both heads leaned in close to the monitor (and to each other) to read the small print. Seconds later, both heads leaned back in their chairs with matching bewildered looks on their faces.
“He owns nothing. No house, no offshore bank accounts, no yachts, not even a car,” Tony seemed surprised.
“All he has is six years of savings from the Corps.” Tim scrolled through Werth’s bank statements as he spoke. “Not much of a spender either. No vacations, no luxury purchases, just the one trip to Scotland last summer, only because he was already there for his stint with the British SAS.”
“But no inheritance at all? How can that be, McGee? Maybe he has a secret identity, a Scottish alias in Gaelic!”
“There’s no unusual activity in the last eight years to suggest that. No unexplained time-offs, no unexplained expenses… maybe he was disowned?”
Tim watched as Tony’s face melted for just a second. Surely he could empathize. Tony had also been disowned by his father at a young age. All said and done, Tim was genuinely befuddled. Nothing about Werth or his records was ringing any bells for him but Tony was clearly more than disturbed by the very existence of this man in their lives.
“What’s on your mind, Tony?”
Tony blinked and refused to meet Tim’s eyes. “Something I can’t quite put a finger on, I guess. M-maybe he wants revenge! Gibbs is responsible for getting him kicked out of the Corps, the only place he’s ever called home, the only place he felt he belonged… maybe, maybe he’s working some kind of angle to discredit the whole investigation and get him reinstated?”
“That’s impossible, Tony.”
“Rule forty, McCynic!”
Tim squinted, “I don’t know that one.”
“If it seems like someone is out to get you, they are.”
“You just made that up right now, didn’t you?”
Tony stood up in a huff and started to pace. Tim started to get worried, something was wrong with his partner but he didn’t know what and he didn’t know how to help Tony either. Something told him neither did Tony.
“Alright fine, let’s assume you’re right. But if he wanted back in, why did he fess up at his trial?”
“Maybe it was the drugs in his system. Maybe he’s thinking more clearly now, or not, either. I don’t know, McGee! All I know is the guy is dangerous and volatile and… I don’t trust him! And he’s shacked up in Gibbs’ house where the boss gets drunk and passes out under his boat in the basement without his weapon. Why is he still here? Why not go back to Scotland and be a super-sailor like his dad? Why… just, why?”
DiNozzo could be an obnoxious, over-the-top annoying jack-ass, but Tim knew he was never malicious. Tony was the one who showed Tim the ropes when he first started as field agent, assured him Gibbs was just as much a bastard to everyone as to Tim. Tony as his wingman had helped Tim pick girls he’d never dare approach on his own. Tony was the one who helped him through tough times like when Tim thought he’d killed an innocent cop, or when his sister Sara was suspected for murder.
But this whole deal with Werth… it felt more personal for Tony than professional. Maybe it was concern for Gibbs, maybe it was something else. Maybe it was the fact that Gibbs had pulled away from Tony but connected to Damon, even called him ‘son’ in investigation with Tony watching from observation?
It didn’t matter what Tony’s reasons were. He was Tim’s best friend, that’s all Tim needed to know.
He let the older man ramble on for awhile and once Tony ran out of steam, he stood up.
“Tony, I can see this is important to you. So let me help, okay?” he gestured for Tony to take his chair again and took his own seat beside him. “What do you want to do?”
Tony bit his lip. His face was flushed and his breathing was faster than usual. “Pre-emptive action instead of damage control. Dig up all the dirt you can on this man and get him to leave. Not just Gibbs’ house, we need him to leave period, preferably the country, but I’ll take DC too.”
Tim nodded. “I’ll start digging.”
Tony smiled (at last) and clapped him on the back so hard it made Tim wince. Ziva chose that moment to walk in, late as usual.
“What are you guys up to?”
The men responded in unison, “Nothin’.”
Abby smirked as she prepped an evidence sample to be analyzed by Major Mass-Spec. “So, while the two of us are plotting to keep Damon in, the boys are scheming to get him out? Interesting.”
Ziva smirked too, “Yes, the two of them were so deeply engaged in conversation about Damon, they did not even notice I was there.” Then she frowned. “Tony did not seem himself, though. Did something happen we do not know about?”
Abby bit her lip sheepishly, “It seems our ruse worked a little better than expected. Not that it was a ruse ruse, because technically a ruse is a lie and what I told Gibbs wasn’t false, even though the HIPAA regulations say I shouldn’t have access to nor can I credibly divulge medical information about a complete stranger to another complete stranger, well… not stranger because Gibbs is no stranger and technically Damon isn’t completely strange –“
“I told Gibbs about Damon’s ongoing treatment and Gibbs asked Damon if he had a place to stay in DC and when he said he didn’t, Gibbs offered Damon his guest room.”
Ziva grimaced. “Oh, leazazel. And Tony knows?”
“That would explain the scheming, wouldn’t it?”
Ziva looked down at her PDA. “I texted Damon last night from film class, he did not mention he was staying at Gibbs’ place.”
Abby turned back from her evidence towards Ziva. “Film class?”
Ziva grinned. “Yes, well, American pop culture references continue to baffle me and Tony thinks the movies are the best way to learn them. But there are so many movies to watch so I thought maybe a crash course might help speed things up? That way I will also understand what Tony is talking about most of the time!”
Abby was impressed and told her friend so. She turned around, only to gracefully swivel back on her feet again. “Do they still do those classic movie screenings at the amphitheater every Thursday?”
“I believe they do.”
“Good! Tony loves classics.” Abby put one hand on her waist and squinted. “Can Damon stand the classics?”
January 16, 2008. Washington DC
“Anthony, my boy! You’ve the heart of a jester, you really do!”
When Ducky laughed, he laughed long and hard. It was one of Tony’s favorite sounds in the world.
They were sitting in Ducky’s office inside Autopsy across his table, sharing a bottle of twelve year old Scotch. Tony knew the ME had had a tough time with their last case. That’s why he was here, to keep him company before he left for the day. Marine Lance Corporal Abdul Bakr and his father’s religious appeal to not perform an autopsy had pitted Ducky squarely against both the Director and Gibbs. And while in the end, he did find a workaround to keep both the Imam and his colleagues happy, Ducky was left exhausted, drowning in sordid memories, and partially resentful of the stoic stance his friend had taken during the investigation.
“Pardon my candor, I know how much you revere Gibbs but some days I wonder if his extreme objectivity and lack of faith in any theological institution doesn’t hamper his abilities as an investigator instead of enhancing them.”
Tony had his elbows resting on the table and his face leaned into one of his hands, already feeling the pleasant buzz of alcohol relaxing his tired muscles to the point of sleepiness. But at Ducky’s words, he frowned with curiosity.
“Well, look at you. Despite your own lack of any particularly social or religious associations, your ability to empathize is what makes you such a brilliant investigator. Gibbs on the other hand…” Ducky exhaled tiredly. “I suppose that’s why he chose you to be his right-hand man.”
The doctor smiled, reached out and kindly patted Tony’s cheek. It made Tony smile and feel comforted, even though the mention of Gibbs caused his stomach to churn again. “I don’t know, Ducky. Some days I think he probably regrets hiring me at all.”
Damn Scotch. Tony bit his lip and hoped Ducky didn’t quite hear what he’d said. He didn’t notice Ducky peering at him knowingly.
“Ah, my dear boy. One of the unfortunate symptoms of being an only child is that one often finds it hard to share a parent’s love with someone else. Even an adoptive parent, especially an adoptive parent.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Kate once told me how you’d reacted to Agent Afloat Stan Burley and his past relationship with Gibbs.”
Tony laughed uncomfortably, still stunned by how perceptive Ducky could be. How the hell did he figure it out? Or more likely, who the hell told him? McGee? Nah, Probie couldn’t have guessed… could he? Did he?
“Ducky, really, it’s nothing. Whatever you’ve heard is a gross exaggeration, I can assure you…”
“All I heard was that Agent Langer was liaising with NCIS for this case and I put the rest of it together myself. But really, Anthony, he was here for not more than a year. No other agent has managed to stick with Gibbs as long as you have. You know that, right?”
Tony started. What the hell was Ducky talking about?
“Sure Brent and Jethro got along like a house on fire back in the day. Like Jethro likes to say, he taught him everything he’s forgotten! They even had their own secret code language that nobody else understood, much like him and Abby with their signing back and forth. Personally, I always chalked it up more to the fact that Brent was his very first agent after Franks retired and Jethro became team leader. He’d inherited the lovely Ms Vivian Blackadder from the previous team but didn’t exactly hold her mental faculties in high regard to begin with…”
“Wait… Agent Langer used to work here? For Gibbs? Before Burley?”
“You didn’t know?” Ducky narrowed his eyes in equal confusion. “What are we talking about then?”
Tony palmed his face. “I don’t know, Ducky. You were talking, I was listening.”
After a few seconds of mutual bewilderment, Ducky chuckled. “My apologies, dear boy. I just thought you looked a little troubled and you usually get this look when it’s got something to do with Gibbs. Forgive me, my circuits must be fried extra crispy today. Perhaps it’s time to call it a day?”
Tony went home even more befuddled and dejected than before. Burley, Langer, now Werth… clearly Tony never stood a chance. Why did he ever think he would? With every passing day, he was beginning to realize how much of an ass he’d made of himself.
“What you get for assuming too much, DiNozzo.”
Lesson learnt. Just because you thrust yourself in someone else’s life and they’re too polite to ask you to leave, doesn’t mean you’re welcome to stay. Never take anything for granted. Hell, there was even a rule or something about that.
January 17, 2008. Washington DC
“Rule number eight!” McGee called out to Tony as he walked in with a giant coffee mug (if you could call it that) from Pottery Barn. It was his new thing.
Tony looked up, slightly annoyed at the cheerful expression on his partner’s face as he walked into the squad room that morning. He was finishing his report on the murder of Lance Corporal Bakr and Ziva wasn’t in yet, as usual.
“Never take anything for granted.” Right, that’s what that rule was. “And why are you quoting the rulebook at me this morning, Probie?”
McGee grinned at him cheekily. “You’ll never guess what I found out about Werth back from his high school years.”
“What?” Tony waited with bated breath.
“He was a band geek.”
Tony started to frown in disappointment that was promptly discarded for disbelief. “No way.”
“I know, right? I’d assumed he’d have been a jock too. Turns out he was thin and wiry and out sick most of the time, so he never could pursue sports. Instead, he played the cello.”
Tony snorted coffee through his nose. “Cello?” Despite McGee glaring at him disapprovingly, he sniggered like the obnoxious sixteen year old jock he’d been himself.
“Pardon me for ridiculing your kind, McGeek. Figures that’s why Werth started taking the dope. No way could he make it to the Corps without them, and he must have wanted in desperately. Why do you think that was, by the way?” Tony was genuinely curious.
McGee shrugged as he took off his overcoat. “Werth Senior was Royal Navy. But he wasn’t around all that much. I looked up his service records. He was on tour a lot, didn’t cross the pond to visit his wife and son very often.”
Tony chewed on the end of a pencil, lost in thought. Another thing he seemed to have in common with the guy. Daddy issues.
He leaned back in his chair and put his legs up on the table. Gibbs was nowhere in sight, he could get away with it. “So riddle me this, McCryptic. Why is this piece of intel relevant?”
McGee shrugged again. “It isn’t. Just thought it was a surprising and interesting piece of trivia is all.”
Tony squinted as he mentally connected a few dots together. “Trivia are facts, details, considerations or pieces of information of little to no value and by definition, trivial.” Abruptly he straightened up in his chair and reached for the phone. “But it isn’t trivial if it serves the purpose, directly or indirectly. Thanks, Probie.”
“Uh, you’re welcome? Who’re you calling?”
“A cousin of mine in Long Island is looking for a personal bodyguard for his fifteen-year old daughter who performs with the Westchester Philharmonic. Apparently she’s getting famous and has already landed herself a couple of obsessive fans with stalking tendencies.”
McGee raised his eyebrows. “And you think you could convince him to hire Werth for the job?”
“If he’s still looking. Cello’s the same family of instruments as a violin, right?”
Ziva chose that very moment to walk in. “Good morning!!”
Startled again, Tony immediately banged the phone down and blurted, “Nothin’!”
Ziva sneered. “Yes, you said that the last time.”
Ziva didn’t catch much of the boys’ conversation this time. But it didn’t take a federal agent to deduce they were up to something, again. Didn’t matter, she and Abby were up to something of their own as well.
The timing couldn’t be more perfect – the Bakr case had been wrapped up with only a few legal formalities left to finish. Other MCRTs were first in line to pick up new cases and Gibbs was busy with another of Agent Dunham and Jenny’s covert ops in Africa all day. And it was Thursday.
Ziva took a few minutes to check her email, then got up and ambled over to McGee first. She caught his attention by bending over his table seductively. “So what are you doing tonight, McGee?”
Two years ago, the young agent would have turned beetroot red and stuttered his way through a cringe-worthy response. Now, he just hiked up an eyebrow suspiciously. “Why?”
Ziva smiled and straightened up. “The film school screens great American classics every Thursday night. Want to come?”
“I don’t know. What are they playing?”
“It is a romantic comedy –”
“Yeah, I’m out,” Tony interrupted from his desk, making both McGee and Ziva turn to look at him. “You lost me at rom.”
“I didn’t even ask you,” Ziva sneered, mentally getting nervous about her plan falling apart already.
“Yet.” Tony retorted with a self-assured grin.
“Alright.” Ziva huffed. “But are you sure you don’t want to come, Tony? Abby is in and I bet McGee will be too. And I have it on good authority that the movie playing tonight is one of your all-time favorites.”
Tony scoffed loudly. “Nice try, Zee-vah. But anyone who knows me knows I don’t do chick flicks, ever.”
Ziva thought about it briefly then tried a different tactic, “McGee? Do you think Tony’s talented? Deeply and importantly talented?”
McGee blinked, lost. “Huh?”
Tony blinked too, in recognition, and answered Ziva’s slightly altered movie quote with the right response. “No, amusingly and superficially talented, yes. But deeply and importantly, no!”
Ziva giggled when a second later Tony realized how Ziva just played him into insulting himself, and made a grumpy face. “Very funny. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961. Audrey Hepburn in the role of a lifetime. I do love that movie.”
“So you’ll come?”
Tony squinted, and again they went at it, the back and forth lasting the better part of the afternoon until Tony admitted he would have shown up even without an invitation. Ziva squealed uncharacteristically and hugged him, then managed to rope in McGee as well.
That done, she texted Abby to put the second part of their plan in motion.
Abby was nervous. Usually she enjoyed playing match-maker for her friends, but this time she wasn’t so sure.
There were too many complications, too many conflicting undercurrents. Mostly she wasn’t sure either man was in the right frame of mind to be dating anyone, let alone each other. Werth, undergoing medical treatment, recently kicked out of the Corps. And Tony, still coping with the aftermath of Jeanne Benoit’s less than amicable exit from his life. On the other hand, the fact that they’d been sparking off of each other despite their respective histories meant there was something worthwhile there, right?
Still, it was with a bit of trepidation that she called Damon just before noon. “Hey Damon, this is Abby Sciuto. I work at NCIS with Ziva David and…”
“Gibbs, I know! Hi, Abby. Gunny talks about you a lot.”
Abby frowned even as she smiled. Her ‘words are poison to me’ silver fox talks?
“That’s great! Saves me the trouble of introducing myself. Hey, listen, we’re planning to catch a movie tonight at the DC Film School and we were wondering if you wanted to get out of the boss’ basement for awhile and, you know, hang?”
There was a pause at the other end of the line.
“Yeah, uh, that’s really kind of you, Abby, but… I don’t know…”
Abby laughed, “Hey, nothing weird going on here, promise! We just thought you might like some company. Not that Gibbs isn’t company, even though he doesn’t talk much, which usually just leaves you to do all the talking, which is almost like you’re giving yourself company. We just thought you might wanna let someone else do the talking, for a change?”
There was laughter on the other end, and Abby joined in. “Sorry, that’s me, no censorship! But in my defense it’s not just me, wait till you meet Tony. He can talk your ears off if you let him.”
Another heavy pause. “Is, um, Tony going to be there too?”
Gotcha. “Uh-huh, and McGee too. It’s all of us Gibblets’ mid-week night out. It’ll be fun, you should come!”
A strong exhale of breath, and then, “I guess I could use the fresh air. What time do I show up?”
So here she was. At fifteen minutes to eight PM, Abby stood outside the amphitheater waiting for her friends and Damon to show up. She thought back to the phone conversation again. Having been around Gibbs for nearly a decade, one learns to read people’s silences… they often reveal a lot more than words can. Abby knew there was a chance this could all still go straight to hell. But something in Damon’s voice (and silence) had comforted her.
Abby smiled. Tonight was going to be a good night, she was sure of that.
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