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by: ksl (Send Feedback)
Series: - No Series - #1
Chapters: 030 Word Count: 111544
Character(s): Jethro Gibbs, Tony DiNozzo
Category(ies): Alternate Universe
Episode(s): 4-03 Singled Out
Summary: An AU where Tony accepts the position in Rota, Spain when Shepard offered it in season four.
Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30
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Tony was well versed in all aspects of ignoring people, especially when he was the one being ignored.
His mother, the eight years of his life she’d been around for, was often too drunk to be aware he was her son much less that he was in the same room. It was, he’d come to understand much later, more a byproduct of her alcohol consumption than from any desire to be deliberately cruel. She may not have loved him, but she didn’t hate him either. The same couldn’t be said of Tony’s father.
His father was dismissive, treating Tony as though he were beneath notice. It wasn’t simply that he was unaware of Tony’s presence. No, that would have been easier to handle. Ignoring Tony wouldn’t have been enough for him if Tony wasn’t made to understand why he was being ignored. His father always took great pains to ensure Tony knew he wasn’t worth paying attention to. That his father’s needs were more important, that all Tony was good for was making certain his drink should be ready and waiting exactly as he liked it. Tony should stand in a corner, quiet and unnoticed until his father had finished whatever business he was working on and deigned to hear the report on Tony’s progress at school that he’d insisted be given nightly. He often left Tony standing in silence until midnight.
When Tony was sent away to boarding school at the age of ten school breaks and holidays were the only time he and his father saw one another. Whenever Tony was summoned to his father’s den, and it was always a summons never a polite request or anything that could be mistaken as a demonstration of affection, he was to stand silently and wait for what had become an almost ritualized dressing down. His father repeatedly told him that nothing he did would ever, ever be good enough. Tony would always be considered a disappointment, a disgrace, a lost cause, a failure, and unworthy of time or attention.
It was a step up from getting smacked around, but not by much. At least when his father raised a hand to him, Tony knew he’d been noticed. But the pain that came with that attention wasn’t worth it; especially not when Tony’s father had his valet administer the punishment.
By the time he was twelve, Tony had been formally disinherited, and no longer even made it back to the DiNozzo estate. He never really thought of the large house and sprawling gardens as home. It was hard to consider it more than just a house when he had never enjoyed being there and hadn’t visited in years. The only contact he had with his father was the birthday gift he sent every year. It was really more just another opportunity to continue to underscore how little Tony mattered because the gifts his father sent were clearly meant to be insulting.
So from the time he was a child Tony’s parents had helped him to have a firm grasp on the nuances between a deliberate cold shoulder and someone simply being inattentive. As a star athlete he’d come to appreciate the benefits of having some his more outrageous behavior overlooked. Once he blew out his knee he’d come to see the down side of being valued only for what he could do and not for who he was since being sidelined meant suddenly no one seemed to know him at all. As a cop in uniform walking a beat he learned to suspect the people who avoided looking at him, trying to pretend that if they didn’t see him he couldn’t see them, and to hate those who refused to admit to seeing anything illegal happening around them. As a detective, he’d come to despise his commanding officer for turning a blind eye to the corruption going on around them. As a federal agent, he’d learned to distrust people who weren’t curious about what was going on around them. Anyone too focused on what was in front of them, rather than on being aware of what was going on around them was going to be a liability at some point in the field.
Tony adjusted his headset and stifled the urge to smirk at McGee. He knew the other man was doing his best to ignore him. He was clearly trying to behave like he was alone in the surveillance van keeping an eye on Ducky, but he was failing miserably. The set of his shoulders, the quick glances, the aborted movements to talk were all a dead give away. McGee had something to say, and he was trying to work up the courage to say it.
Ton debated whether or not he should help him out. It’s like pulling off a band-aid, Tony thought with amusement. He could do it quickly, or he could let McGee struggle for however long they were trapped in the van. Tony grimaced. He knew he’d been letting McGee struggle since he’d walk into the bullpen the first time in months. He didn’t know why this was so hard for McGee or even what the problem was, but he’d resisted doing anything to help, thinking he didn’t owe McGee anything. It wasn’t his job any more to look out for McGee, nor did he have to worry about Gibbs’ team dynamics.
But if he was going to take the bull by the horns, it was definitely better to do it without an audience. It was just the two of them in the van and now would be the best time before Benoit showed up. How Gibbs had managed to convince Shepard not to get involved was something Tony didn’t feel up to asking. He’d seen the look on both their faces after their ‘discussion’. It was better to stand clear of that potential explosion.
Gibbs had also managed to get the CIA to agree to guard the perimeter of the small private airfield where the exchange was scheduled to take place rather than play a more active role. That was another miracle. That they hadn’t taken over the entire operation was akin to Moses parting the Red Sea in Tony’s mind.
Tony sighed silently, wondering how exactly he should broach the subject with McGee. Not that he was entirely clear on just what the subject was, but still, he should do something. He didn’t honestly want to. It wasn’t his responsibility, but it had been once, and it was a hard thing to forget.
Tony sighed again. He wished he could ask Miri. She would undoubtedly have some good advice. She was good with people, her interactions with Tony’s old team notwithstanding. She’d know what to do, would know how to break the ice and fix whatever the hell it was that had gotten McGee so worked up. Unfortunately, she was posted on top of one of the nearby roofs acting as Gibbs’ spotter.
Gibbs was the logical choice to be armed with a sniper riffle. Miri hadn’t objected when asked if she was willing to help round out the roster and act as a second pair of eyes and ears. She could have said no, but Tony knew she wouldn’t. And he felt better knowing Gibbs had someone watching out for him.
To make sure all the angles were covered, Ziva was on another roof similarly armed. Bahl was acting as her spotter. Tony didn’t envy him. Although, with her focus on the job, she likely wouldn’t have time to be pissy with him. Why she was so pissy was a mystery to Tony. Bahl didn’t seem like a bad guy. A little green, but otherwise an okay agent. He didn’t have any overly annoying qualities that stood out and would warrant treating him like shit. If he had, Miri would have mentioned them.
Maybe he could get an answer to that question and put McGee out of his misery at the same time.
“What’s Ziva got against Bahl?”
Tony snorted. “I may have been born at night, McGee, but it wasn’t last night.”
“I have no idea what—“
“If you can’t see her snapping and snarling at him like some sort of junk yard dog,” Tony retorted sharply, annoyed with McGee’s denial of the obvious, “you’ve got no business being second in command of your team.”
“I am a damn good senior agent,” McGee shot back heatedly, glaring angrily at Tony, color rising at the back of his neck.
“Then you know exactly what I’m asking about,” Tony returned, softening his tone. He hadn’t expected to get such a rise so early from McGee. He wasn’t trying to make the situation worse.
“Tell me the truth. What did he do to her or fail to do that has her treating him like she’d sooner shoot him than talk to him?”
He was tempted to ask why the hell McGee hadn’t stepped in and done something about it. As the senior agent he should have. Training the probie was Gibbs’ responsibility, but looking out for him was McGee’s. McGee had looked out for Lee. It wasn’t like he didn’t know what he should be doing.
“We’re supposed to be working, DiNozzo.”
Tony hid a smile at the use of his surname. McGee had never realized how many tells he had. “I can work and talk, McGee. I can even walk and chew bubblegum at the same time. Would think someone who went to Hopkins and MIT could master those simple concepts too.”
McGee glared at him again. “Why don’t you ask her?”
“Because she’s not here. She’s out there,” Tony used his thumb to point over his shoulder. “And she’s got a guy acting as her spotter and watching her back who she clearly doesn’t like or trust. So I’m asking you if I should be worried that she thinks Bahl is a liability.”
“She won’t jeopardize this operation.”
“That’s comforting, but still not the point.” Tony made eye contact and held it. “What is her problem with him?”
“He not you, okay, he’s not you! That’s her problem.”
Tony’s jaw dropped. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“She doesn’t like him because he isn’t you.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Tony stared at him, completely dumbfounded. That was so not what he’d been expecting to hear.
“She told me she didn’t want some probie filling your spot. She never said anything to Gibbs about it because he’s the boss and it was his decision. But she was definitely not happy about him taking your desk and trying to take your place on the team.”
“Why the hell would she care?” Tony shook his head. “It wasn’t as if she thought that much of me—“
“Are you serious?”
“Hell, yes I’m serious.” Tony bit back ‘probie’ before he could say it. Using that nickname likely wouldn’t help.
“She thought I was too juvenile, too soft, too stupid, too little of a lot of things to ever be qualified as anything more than a passable agent. She wondered how I ever got to be senior agent and definitely didn’t think I should have ever been acting lead. She may have worked with me well enough but that was only because she was sure she could handle anything whether I was there to help or not. As long as I didn’t do something stupid and get her shot, she wouldn’t have cared if I fell off the face of the earth.”
When McGee opened his mouth, Tony held up a hand stopping him cold. “When I was acting lead, she didn’t come in on time, didn’t turn in her reports on time, never once called me ‘boss’, and it wasn’t me she called when the shit hit the fan. She was gleeful, honest to God all but fucking dancing when I got demoted. So don’t try to tell me Little Miss Mossad’s problem with your probie is because the poor fucker isn’t me. If I’m her yardstick, there is no way in hell Bahl could fail to measure up.”
McGee paled, eyes almost comically wide. “That’s what you think?”
Both Tony’s eyebrows rose. Was McGee seriously asking him that? “Why wouldn’t I?”
“It’s not like you weren’t right there with her. You came in on time and did your job but you didn’t exactly give me the same 110% you did Gibbs. I might have gotten a ‘boss’ or two from you but it was a slip of the tongue never something you’d meant to say. You were honest enough to tell me you didn’t think I deserved to have my own team, and hey, kudos to you for knowing when to use the truth to your advantage.”
“I was wrong,” McGee all but whispered, blue eyes awash with something Tony thought looked a lot like guilt.
Tony sighed. This wasn’t supposed to be about making McGee feel guilty or airing old grievances. He’d already covered this with Gibbs. Doing it with McGee wouldn’t change anything. That was the past. It was done.
“It doesn’t matter any more.”
And it didn’t. Not really. It was high time Tony got over it.
“Just do me a favor and don’t insult my intelligence, the little you think I might actually possess, and tell me Ziva thought so much of me she actually hates the guy who replaced me.”
“He’s not your replacement,” McGee stated firmly. “He’s not. If anything he’s Lee’s replacement.”
“Okay, he’s Lee’s.” Tony shrugged. It was all semantics as far as he could see. Bahl had taken over what had been Tony’s desk. He might be a probie, but he was sitting where Tony used to.
“So what is Ziva’s deal with him?”
“She didn’t want anyone else on the team.” McGee’s jaw clenched. He looked at Tony. “She…I...that is we both…we both wanted you back.”
“Why?” Tony frowned. “You had Gibbs. You didn’t need me.”
“We wanted our team back, not just Gibbs.” McGee turned to fully face Tony, his expression earnest. “We wanted things to be normal. For things to be the way they were. The way they were supposed to be. And that meant having Gibbs back. That meant having you there as Senior Agent.”
“I thought you’d be thrilled with the promotion.”
“I was.” McGee sighed. “But I didn’t want the job because you left. I wanted it because I’d earned it.”
“You did earn it.” Tony frowned again. McGee had never suffered from any lack of confidence in his ability. He may have started out unsure of his place on the team back when he was fresh out of FLETC, but he’d always been certain of his ability to do the job.
Admittedly working as Gibbs’ second wasn’t exactly a cake walk. McGee hadn’t done everything for Tony as his senior agent that he no doubt had to do for Gibbs, but it wasn’t as if he couldn’t learn. Hell, most of the stuff Tony had continued doing was just paperwork. McGee could type with both hands at a speed Tony had never come close to so none of that should have been much of an issue. He was a good field agent, and had demonstrated his ability while on the team for the last few years. He excelled with computers, tracking down leads and information easily.
Tony doubted McGee wanted to hear any of that, so he opted for what he thought the younger man might believe. “If Gibbs thought you weren’t ready for it, he’d have gotten someone else.”
Gibbs knew what McGee was capable of. He’d have never promoted him if he thought the younger man wasn’t ready.
“Who the hell do you think would have taken him up on his offer?” McGee asked incredulously. “He’s a bear to work with, you know that.”
“He’s also the best.” Tony shrugged. “That’s why you wanted to be on his team. Safe bet there are a lot of others who would take a shot at being on his team for the same reason regardless of how big a bastard the man can be.”
“He was even worse after you left,” McGee said, ignoring Tony as if he hadn’t spoken. “I didn’t think it was possible but it was; it definitely was. I didn’t know what to do…no one was laughing or talking any more. Hell, half the time we didn’t even look at each other. Gibbs was glaring and growling at everyone. He was even more demanding, and I kept wishing you’d walk in, say something stupid and childish and he’d cuff you across the back of the head and everything would be like it used to be. I wanted to wake up one morning and find it had all been a bad dream.”
McGee swallowed hard, looking away. “I must have tried calling you a dozen times, but I always quit before I even dialed your number. What was I supposed to say? Hey, Tony, I’m in over my head here, and the team is falling apart, would you be willing to, I don’t know, help me out? After I’d been such a schmuck, I didn’t think you’d even answer me anyway. E-mail wasn’t an option either. I didn’t know what to say much less what to type. And it wasn’t like you’d have to read anything I sent. You didn’t read Abby’s. She was impossible to talk to for weeks because you didn’t write back.”
McGee gestured with his hands, meaningless, nervous motions that conveyed his agitation as much as his voice. “And I didn’t want to give you the chance to laugh in my face. I mean, I knew if I did some serious groveling, you’d probably only haze me a little. Really, how much could you do from Spain? Right?”
McGee laughed a little, sounding mildly hysterical. “I didn’t want to deal with you rubbing my face in my not being able to do your job. I thought it would be easy. I knew Gibbs. I wasn’t a Probie any more. I knew what to expect. I knew what to do. But I was wrong.”
McGee’s hands flailed again. “I really didn’t want to admit I was wrong. Not to you. There I said it. I didn’t want to admit I’d been an ass. I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t do your job as well or better than you did despite my skill with computers and my education. I didn’t want you to tell me how to deal with Gibbs or how to be his senior agent when I should be able to figure it out on my own. I wasn’t going to be a failure. I was the top of my class, damn it. I could do this. I wasn’t going to--“
“Whoa, McGee, buddy, you got to breathe.”
“fall apart or let Gibbs down. But then I couldn’t do everything. I have no idea how you did so much. You never looked busy. Never looked tired. Well, except after you’d had the plague. The damn plague. Only you could get a freaking disease from the middle ages and come back after only two weeks off. I am never home, Tony. Someone could steal everything I own and I’d never know. And I have no time to work on my novel. None. Not that it matters because if I sit down for five minutes I fall asleep.”
“McGee, man, seriously, take a breath.”
“I had to start working out. Is Gibbs even human? Because I couldn’t keep up with him and I’m a hell of a lot younger than he is. It shouldn’t be possible for him to—“
“McGee,” Tony reached out and used both hands to gently cup the younger man’s face. He forced him to make eye contact. “Take a deep breath. Hold it.”
When it looked like McGee might protest, Tony barked. “Do it! Now.” Reflexively, McGee took a deep breath and held it.
“Good.” Tony nodded. “Now let it out slowly.”
McGee nodded and exhaled slowly.
“In again.” Tony waited. “Out.”
Tony patterned his own breathing on the rhythm he was setting for McGee. When McGee seemed to be in control of himself again, Tony let go of him and stopped coaching him.
McGee nodded. “Sorry.”
“It’s a sign of weakness, I know. In this case—“
“In this case, Probie,” Tony used the name deliberately, reaching out to squeeze his shoulder, “you momentarily lost your mind. That’s not weak, that’s understandable.”
He chuckled wryly. “And do not think for even a second that I do not know of which I speak. I got drafted to be Gibbs’ senior agent with a lot less time in on his team than you had. And for a while he and I were a two man team, so I didn’t have anyone to share the burden with. That you didn’t have a front row seat to witness my baptism of fire and subsequent meltdown doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
“But you made it look easy—“
“And let that be a lesson to you. No one makes anything look easy without a hell of a lot of practice.” Tony shook his head. That was something McGee should have already known, but then McGee had always been smart, always been diligent in his studies and applying himself. Things he was good at had come easy to him without requiring repeated effort.
“Gibbs was not born a great investigator any more than you were born knowing how to type. And for all his skills as an investigator, he can be utterly clueless to what is going on with the people around him. So, a word of advice, say something to him before you let things get to you this badly. He may be a bastard, but he’s not going to let you drown.”
“No, he’ll just replace me.”
Tony snorted. “Don’t be stupid. He’s not going to fire you for admitting there are things you didn’t know how to do or need more time to complete.”
“He can be remarkably tolerant, Tim, if you let him know what you need.” Tony smiled. “Trust me, I know.”
“I’ve never seen him be tolerant,” McGee said looking doubtful.
“Yes, you have.” Tony countered. “When he came back from Mexico, he took you under his wing.”
That Gibbs had taken time to start teaching McGee things had been another reason Tony had elected to go to Spain. If Gibbs was grooming McGee to be his replacement, he didn’t want to hang around and watch. Especially not when Gibbs was still acting like he barely knew Tony and didn’t particularly like him.
McGee looked thoughtful. “He stopped doing that when you left.”
“We’ve already talked about how clueless he can be at times.” Tony shrugged. “And really communication isn’t exactly his forte. You were his second in command, he expected you to know what to do because, well—“
“Because you did.”
“Yeah.” Tony nodded. “He got used to having someone take care of stuff without having to think much about how it got done. He assigned you the job and figured you’d let him know if there was anything you couldn’t handle. When you didn’t say anything, he didn’t question it.”
Tony lightly bumped McGee’s shoulder with his fist. “And he probably thought you had Ziva to help out.”
“Yeah.” Tony grimaced. “He tends to forget that she’s not actually an agent, and she’s not technically in the chain of command. There is no way you could order her to do anything.”
“I’m sorry, Tony.” McGee’s expression was sincere, his tone genuinely apologetic. “I never realized how much you did, how much you mattered to the team, to me. I never understood. And now I do, and I’m sorry I didn’t give you my all as your second. I’m sorry I was an ass when Gibbs came back. I’m sorry I didn’t have the guts to just call you and say something before now.”
“Don’t worry about it.” Tony smiled warmly. He was somewhat embarrassed by McGee’s apology. “It’s over and done.”
“I should have handled it better.”
“You will the next time.” Tony chuckled. “Good judgment is the product of bad. You learn what not to do by doing it.” He doubted McGee would make the same mistake twice.
Tony glanced toward one of the many monitors giving them full view of the airfield. A plane was landing. “Show time, McGee.”
He keyed his mic. “Ducky, we’ve got incoming. You ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Anthony.” Ducky’s voice was reassuringly steady, giving away only mild uncertainty.
“Remember we can hear you and you can hear us. We’ve got eyes on you as well. You’ve got nothing to worry about. You’ll be fine.”
“Thank you for that vote of confidence, my boy.”
“Gibbs, Ziva, you guys good?”
“Ready,” Ziva replied, her voice calm and confident.
“Ready,” Gibbs said, his usual abrupt nature reassuring. Tony would have liked to have been with him on the roof, but understood he’d be more useful in the van. Once this went down, he and Gibbs could spend some time together. So the sooner they took care of this the better.
“Okay then, let’s sell some secrets.”
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