“Anyone who ever gave you confidence, you owe them a lot.”
January 21, 2008. Washington DC
Tony was lying on his back, looking up at the stars. He was completely and utterly relaxed. No heartrending unsolved cases, no humiliating memories haunting his mind, no one shaking their head at him in disappointment. It was a peaceful night, clear skies above him, soft, dew-damp grass beneath, a cool breeze gently gliding over his bare skin… Tony closed his eyes and wished he could stay in this place forever.
“You’re smiling,” a deep, slightly amused voice beside him whispered.
“Am I?” Tony replied, smiling just a bit wider.
Someone shifted closer to Tony, pressing the warmth of their body against his side. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“What a coincidence, I know what I’m thinking too.”
The voice chuckled, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
“Really, of all things…?”
“It's better to look at the sky than live there,” the soothing voice interrupted, quoting Tony’s favorite neurotic New York socialite. “Such an empty place; so vague…”
Tony sighed, picking up where the voice left off. “Just a country where the thunder goes and things disappear.”
He breathed in deeply, folded his hands under his head but kept his eyes closed. “Alright, how did you know?”
“Because it’s what you always do, Tony, run away and hide inside one of your favorite movies when you don’t want to deal with something real.”
Tony opened his eyes at that, and turned to look into a perfectly chiseled face. He licked his lips. “And what don’t I want to deal with, exactly?”
Damon smiled gently, caressed the side of Tony’s face with his knuckles. He leaned in closer, slowly, as if about to kiss Tony’s lips.
“I think you know the answer to that.”
Tony woke up with a start and promptly fell of his chair.
Gibbs towered over his desk and waited impatiently for Tony to pull himself upright. “Get changed. Can’t have you looking like a street rat on a Monday.”
“Getting changed, Boss!”
With that, Gibbs stalked off for coffee. He looked angry, again.
Ziva and McGee had left sometime after midnight, but Tony had stayed to chase up his contacts on the Korean side. He’d stretched out on his chair for a little nap somewhere around four AM, but got pulled under and it was after seven now. Gibbs must have gone home after Tony dozed off to catch a few hours of sleep and shower and change himself.
Tony picked his overcoat off the floor and frowned at it. He couldn’t remember how it got there, unless he’d dragged it over to cover himself in his sleep. He shrugged, then pulling out his shampoo, toothbrush, and the spare set of clothes he kept in his drawer, headed for the showers. When he came back, his hair was slicked up in the right direction, and he was dressed in a black suit with a crisp white Versace shirt. He’d had to shine his shoes by hand but they would do for the day.
He was contemplating a doughnut run when he walked into the squad room and halted in his tracks. Ziva was at his desk, and on his phone. Fuming, he stalked up to her but she just shushed him with a finger, as she continued to listen to whoever was on the other line and make notes.
Tony went around and tried to take the phone from her, but she wouldn’t let go. It soon turned into a tussle and had it not been for Ziva’s creepy little ninja skills, he would have succeeded.
“And how do you spell that? … Thank you so much. Yeah, you too.” Ziva hung up and smirked at him really annoyingly.
Tony put his hands on his hips. “What was that?”
“Intel on Tom Heung Park, the man Alvarez killed.”
He glared at her. “So? Are you going to tell me or what?”
Ziva acted like she was giving it deep thought, then coyly ambled over to her desk with her notes. “Or what.”
“Just my luck, I keep waiting on the guy all night and he calls when I’m not here!”
“Your phone rang three times before I picked up. You should be thanking me, you know. The guy wouldn’t have called again. International dialing rates in South Korea are going through the terrace, or so he said.”
Tony snorted. “Through the terrace, is that what he said, through the terrace?”
“I might be paraphrasing a little,” she threw back defensively. “Why?”
Tony tried to grab the paper in her hand but failed. “It’s through the roof, not terrace.”
“What’s the difference?”
“One’s right and the other’s wrong! Now give me that!!” But Ziva ducked again and guffawed at his expense.
“Seriously, Ziva? I haven’t had coffee and I haven’t had anything to eat in ten hours so it’s really not a good time to be screwing with me right now.” He dove toward the notes again, and this time she let him.
He continued to glare at her and went to his desk, while Ziva pulled something out from behind hers and came over to his again. Before he could huff or roll his eyes or come up with an appropriately biting tell-off, she placed a large Starbucks vanilla latte and a Krispy Kreme doughnut in front of him. And before he could close his gaping mouth, she curtsied delicately and walked away.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, truly gratefully.
“Oh, do not thank me,” clearly Ziva was in a chipper mood today. She started to smirk again when Gibbs strode into the bull pen with a Starbucks cup of his own.
“Stop stealing his food and his notes, Ziver, and tell me what you got.”
Tony marveled at how she never let Gibbs’ gruffness get to her, just carried on like he’d asked her what her weekend plans were. “BOLO came back on the gray SUV. It was found abandoned at a pier in Georgetown fifteen minutes ago.”
“Alright, grab your gear, and call McGee. Ask him to meet us there.”
Tony didn’t move, as he should have, as he usually did at the words ‘grab your gear’. He was so intently reading the notes Ziva had made and connecting the dots to the information he’d collected earlier in the night, that he didn’t notice Gibbs towering over him, again.
“What do you got?” Gibbs’ voice was… normal. He wasn’t yelling at him this time.
Tony showed Gibbs the piece of paper. “Tom Heung Park was not just a small-time thug. He was a protection fee collector for the largest mob syndicate in Korea, called the Ssang-Yong-Pa. He is survived by an illegitimate son who must be, like, twenty-nine years old now.”
Tony stood up. “The son’s name is James Heung Park. According to the Interpol, he is responsible for multiple homicides in Busan and Seoul, and… he recently took over as the new kingpin of the Ssang-Yong-Pa. Interpol has been monitoring his activities and don’t believe he’s left the country himself. But they are sending over a list of his known associates who might not be in Korea right now.”
Gibbs simply nodded. Tony didn’t expect a ‘good job’ and he didn’t get one.
“Grab your gear.”
McGee was running late, again.
He never could do what Tony did almost on a weekly basis – stay up all night and still get to work on time, in Tony’s case an hour before time. He suspected it was because more often than not, Tony never actually went home at all. Tim, on the other hand, always ran back home because he couldn’t get enough sleep if he wasn’t in his own bed.
Tony won’t quit ragging on him all morning. Bracing himself, Tim got out of his car and ran towards the ‘crime scene’.
“Two sets of tire tracks, made at about the same time,” Gibbs was saying as he crouched besides the said tracks. Lucky for them, it’d rained a little two nights ago and the muddy area was damp enough to preserve the tracks.
Tony stood behind him, also studying the tracks. “One incoming here, looks like our SUV. These are pulling out, and judging from the distance between the tires, looks like a sedan.”
“Hair strand!” Ziva called out from inside the van as she scanned the interiors. “Black, not platinum blond.”
“We still don’t know who that second guy is, so that could help,” Tim noted, announcing his presence. All three of his teammates stopped what they were doing and turned to glare at him.
“Good morning, McObvious!” Tony drawled, while everyone else went back to what they were doing without a greeting. Tim decided it was safer, for now, to help Ziva and stay as far away from Gibbs as possible.
Back at NCIS, he took the tire marks and hair strand to Abby’s lab and waited with her for the results. If nothing panned out from them, she planned to go down to the sub-basement and do her own thorough investigation of the van. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that.
“The sedan’s a Hyundai Genesis,” Abby declared, tilting her head to one side in that adorable manner that always made Tim smile. “That’s a Korean car…”
And what Tim and Abby were thinking, they verbalized in unison. “No such thing as a coincidence.”
Gibbs walked in a second later, immediately spotting an image of the car on the monitor and needing no further explanation. Tony and Ziva followed close behind.
“Still processing, might take a few hours.”
“We don’t have a few hours, Abby. The second man has probably left the country by now.”
“Yes, but Trask should not get past customs after the BOLO we sent them,” Tim explained. “If he tries to fly anywhere, we got him and if we get him, he can lead us to the second man.”
Tony cleared his throat, and at Gibbs’ nod he spoke up. Tim had never seen him wait for permission this demurely before. “Interpol came through. Well, actually, Ziva pulled a few strings but we got it.”
He opened his mailbox on Abby’s screen and clicked on an attached image in one of his newest emails. It was a long-lens shot of a handsome man turned slightly to his right, black hair, black sunglasses and a perfectly cut black suit that looked really expensive.
“Eric Wan, forty-four, loyal henchman to the last mob boss for twelve years before he allegedly betrayed him and helped James Park ascend the throne. He chartered a Robinson R44 to DC four days ago. Your DNA analysis won’t return anything, Abs. No one has this guy on any database.”
“At least we know what he looks like. McGee, update the BOLO.”
“On it, Boss.”
The next couple of hours were spent tracking down every missing Hyundai Genesis in the DC area as well as surrounding states. Funnily enough, they couldn’t find any.
“There are no more than two thousand of these cars in the country, it shouldn’t be so hard! Maybe it hasn’t been reported stolen yet?” Tim asked.
“Or maybe, unlike the SUV, this car was not stolen at all,” Tony pondered. “Can you search all rentals and sales for past two weeks?”
“On it,” Tim started pulling the multi-system hacking program together. Fifteen minutes later, during which Abby, Ziva and Tony played a game of who could throw the most number of popcorns in each other’s mouths from a distance of twelve feet or more, he had an answer.
“One Genesis, bought at the Fairfax Hyundai, paid for in full by down-payment, cash.”
They ran for their gear, leaving Abby to eat the rest of the popcorn alone.
An hour later, Tony drummed his fingers on the steering wheel as he drove back towards the headquarters. “What’s taking so long, McTardy?”
“That’s one late joke too many, DiNozzo,” Tim grumbled, his own fingers working his laptop keyboard frantically. Ziva and Gibbs were ahead of them in another car.
Tim was well aware of the urgency and he didn’t need Tony to keep prodding him, but he also understood why Tony couldn’t help it. With every passing minute, the assassins were getting farther and farther away.
The trip to Fairfax had been a productive one. The sales executive was a bit of a smooth talker, especially once he spotted Ziva. But one look at Gibbs, and he got right down to business. Yes, he remembered the bleached blond guy who made the purchase. He also remembered how the man kept looking over at an SUV parked outside, specifically, at the man sitting inside.
Ziva pulled out Eric Wan’s mug shot for verification and indeed, he was the one waiting in the SUV. Question was: where did they go from here?
“Sorry, I couldn’t tell you. There wasn’t a lot of small talk, you know. The guy just waltzed in, pointed at the one he wanted, pulled out the money in hard cash, and boom.”
“Okay, anything else you remember?” Ziva pressed on.
“Mm, not really. We were processing as fast as we could ‘cause he was in a hurry. The Asian dude even called up his friend from the van.” The salesman snorted, “It was weird; they were looking at each other from the distance and talking on the phone to each other. Surfer Dude was assuring Bruce Lee that he’d be done in two minutes, something like that.”
Tim’s ears perked up, “What time was the purchase made exactly?”
So here he was, trying to triangulate all calls that originated from and came to the cell tower nearest to the dealership within the thirty-minute window during which the car sale was closed yesterday evening.
“Got two hits… tracking GPS on all four phones…”
Tony’s drumming got a little more intense.
“One pair of phones is exactly in the same spot as they were yesterday.”
“Third phone is either switched off, or it’s no longer in DC or the surrounding states. Tony, this phone’s log shows multiple international calls made to country code 82. That’s South Korea.”
“It’s Wan, we lost him. What about the last one?”
“It’s still on and somewhere in Baltimore.”
Tony swerved violently around towards the location, leaving Tim to keep his laptop, his cell phone and himself from toppling over. “Let Gibbs know.”
Things happened at supersonic speed after that. Tim narrowed the GPS location to a highway motel just outside of Baltimore. Together the four of them raided the place, causing a bit of a stir in broad daylight. Trask saw them coming and tried to shoot his way out. But four to one he didn’t stand a chance, especially with Ziva, who was covering the back door and was just waiting for Trask to try and make a run for it.
Seconds later, when Tim and Tony caught up with Ziva and Gibbs, they found Trask on the floor, writhing on his stomach, Ziva digging a thick block heel into the middle of his back.
Ziva hissed with a quiet fervor. “Be still and I might return your spine in one piece.”
Tim tilted his head, “Ziva’s kind of chipper today, huh?”
Tony shook his head, “Tell me about it.”
Couple hours of interrogation later, Gibbs had a full confession from Trask and enough evidence to incriminate Eric Wan in the murder of CPO Stefan Alvarez. Wan hired Trask to plan the assault, then flew in to supervise and execute the hit himself. Unfortunately, Trask knew nothing about the whereabouts of Wan or what his plans were. For all they knew, he was halfway back to South Korea by now.
They were too late.
“You mean, I was too late,” Tony deadpanned, refusing to meet Tim’s eyes.
Tim frowned. It was just the two of them in the bull pen. Ziva was escorting Trask to a civilian penitentiary, and Gibbs was up in the Director’s office updating her on the case.
“Tony, you’re the one who reminds me over and over again that there’s no ‘I’ in team.” Tim quipped casually.
He noticed Tony straightening up in his chair. The older agent’s knee was popping nervously and he briefly looked up at Gibbs’ empty desk before looking away. “I was responsible for ID-ing the gunmen, Probie. I should’ve moved faster.”
“How, pray tell, could you possibly coordinate with the US Navy, the South Korean consulate, the KNPA, and the Interpol any faster than you did?”
Tony stood up. “I don’t know, maybe I lost too many hours sleeping. I just know I fucked up.”
Tim just laughed, brushing his friend’s whining off. Attention-whore that Tony was, this was probably just another ploy of his to glean a couple of compliments out of Tim. Well, tough luck, DiNozzo. McEasy was not going to be so easy this time.
“Sure, Tony. Eric Wan waited for just the right moment for you to fall asleep to make his perfect getaway. That makes sense.”
“We have to keep tracking the Genesis. Check the BOLO, Probie.”
“I checked ten minutes ag–“
“Check it again!!”
Tim rolled his eyes but did as told, only for said eyes to suddenly open wide. “Uh, Tony…”
The senior field agent came running towards him and leaned in to look at his screen. “They just found it abandoned in Dulles airport parking. According to the security logs, it was brought in at five AM yesterday morning. Long before we even got called in for the case. So you see, it’s not your fault…”
Tony didn’t respond, just stood up straight and pursed his lips.
“Besides, we would have had to extradite him anyway.” Tim stood up, speaking in hushed tones so only his friend could hear what he had to say, which wasn’t much really. “Tony, it’s okay. You did really good.”
Without a response, Tony turned to go back to his desk. He collapsed heavily into his chair and rubbed his tired eyes with one hand. A minute passed, or maybe several hundred, Tim couldn’t tell. He was shocked into complete speechlessness by the raw vulnerability in DiNozzo’s eyes, words, and body language. He’d never seen him so… so defeated before.
“Last night…” he began tentatively, still not looking at Tim. “After you guys left and I was waiting on our Interpol contact to call me back, I started organizing my filing cabinet. You know all the medals and stuff Gibbs keeps getting, and I collect ‘em and keep ‘em safe because if it were up to him he’d throw them all in the trash?”
Tony smiled sadly, his eyelids fluttering as he stared off into empty space. “I found one of the medals missing – the Silver Star.”
Tim gulped, remembering Damon Werth was supposed to receive the Silver Star, but it’d been rescinded after revelation of his drug use. “You think… would Gibbs really…? To Werth?”
No response from Tony was all the response Tim needed. Truth was he didn’t know Gibbs as well as Tony did, so if Tony believed it was true, then it probably was.
“He must think I’m really pathetic, huh, Probie? Hoarding all of his medals, knowing I’d never ever get my hands on one otherwise, one with my own name on it…”
Tim didn’t know what to say. He remembered Kate’s words back from three years ago when he’d just made field agent and Tony was acting like a spoilt little toddler jealous of a new baby in the house.
“When it comes to Gibbs and Tony, let me give you a word of advice, McGee. Don’t be deceived by all the head-slaps and barking. It’s all a front.”
“A front for what?”
“To disguise the fact that Tony is actually, and always will be, the boss’ favorite.”
“I thought Abby was his favorite.”
“Sure he loves her too but who doesn’t? Tony on the other hand… do you really think you and I could get away with half the crap DiNozzo pulls?”
“I-I don’t know, guess I don’t know either of them so well, yet.”
“The day you do, and I’m sure you will soon, let’s pull up and compare notes.”
That day, unfortunately, never came. If it had, Tim would have probably told Kate that she was right. Tony did hold a special place in Gibbs’ eyes and his life, at least he did once. Hell, Tim admitted to even feeling a bit jealous of Tony because of it. But seeing Tony silently struggling these last few months, standing by helplessly as his friend’s self-esteem slowly waned, Tim wasn’t so sure anymore.
If the fall from Gibbs’ grace was supposed to be this hard, Tim was glad he never had it in the first place.
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