Tony DiNozzo had perfected his persona of the 'class clown'. He'd cultivated and nursed it for years, slowly but surely building a solid persona, one that almost no one ever looked past. No one took notice of the sharp intelligence hidden in the glittering eyes and mocking smile, or the competence behind the mask of klutziness and movie references.
Almost no one.
Abby Sciuto was a genius, and not because of her obvious brains in the science department. She immediately saw through the mask, to the person beneath, and for that, he loved her as only a best friend could.
Gibbs knew- Well, he wasn't sure how Gibbs knew, maybe from personnel records and Gibbs' own, far more intrusive and detailed background check. But he knew. He never said so, letting Tony keep his perfect little mask in place for all to see (or not, as was the case, really), and for that, Tony admired and loved him like an older brother or a father. And he was, really, in every way but blood.
Ducky was a different matter all together. Tony REALLY didn't know how he knew, but he did. He always seemed to know, well, everything. As much as people liked to ignore or push past the older man's stories, when Tony had the time, he loved to listen. It was one of the few things that could make him sit still for an immeasurable amount of time. Ducky's stories and his unique wisdom was hidden deep among allusions to past lives and adventures in Turkey, England, Edinburgh, the Maldives, almost every place imaginable, and Tony loved him for it. The older man gave him encouragement to pursue his endeavours, widen his horizon, and he knew he could never repay him enough for that.
When he finished college the first time around and went into the police forces, Tony already had in place his clown mask, firmly lodged. He knew that trying to prove himself to superiors through obvious displays of intelligence wouldn't make him a good cop, and so, it wasn't not important to his goal. His goal was to put the bad guys behind bars, to make the ordinary, everyday people, feel that little bit safer knowing someone, he, was on the job.
He knew he wouldn't be able to actually GO to college, because his job was completely unpredictable, but it didn't mean he couldn't go, either.
So he did.
He took correspondence courses, and never actually attended a single class. Three weeks after his first in-depth paper had been handed in, his professor sent him a letter requesting permission to publish it, so well had it been received. Accepting the offer on the proviso he used a pseudonym, he began his somewhat illustrious writing career. He managed to fit in articles and more lengthy papers, receiving publishing offers through his professor over the next few years, taking each one, working in his rare off time- studying, writing.
He didn't stop doing the course just because he switched jobs. No, he kept going. Nights and days off were divided between local beauties (of all kinds) and assessing the minds of some of the worst criminals in America's history.
Finally, after years of hard work and more jobs and cases than he could (or wanted to) remember, three weeks after his last paper was handed in, he received his official qualification. His Doctorate in Criminal Psychology. With over a dozen lengthy papers and numerous articles to 'his' name (The newly minted 'Doctor' Matthew Rogers was a very smart man, after all, with 'uncanny insight into the mind of criminals and disturbed individuals' according to the realm of professional profilers everywhere, for whom his writing had become, almost always, compulsory (or, in some cases 'highly suggested' reading)), he was finally finished.
He'd done it.
Now all he had to do was keep it a secret.
No use ruining his perfectly good cover, after all.
There was a slight crumpling sound.
Two seconds later, both Kate and McGee's heads were the unfortunate victims of Tony's boredom. Tony told himself it kept them on guard.
That and it really was fun to see Kate's little annoyed 'I am of superior genetics' glare aimed straight for him.
"You know, Katie, if we could bottle that somehow, we'd never have to use guns" Tony quipped as he aimed yet another paper ball at his partner's head.
"It's KATE or Agent Todd, DiNozzo, and if you EVER grow a brain, the world will have it's first true miracle since Jesus rose from the dead," was Kate's snippy reply. Not for the first time, she asked, "How the hell did you get this job?"
Tony put on his 'award winning' smirk, DiNozzo special number 59 and replied smoothly, "I smiled."
He never let it show, but Kate constantly looking down on him for his 'cop' background was steadily getting to him. It was just like how his father looked down on him for ditching 'the family business' and becoming a cop. It hurt. Sure he was the one with the class clown act going on, and fair enough she didn't know he'd done more than that one degree and technically outranked her in both field work experience and qualifications, but would it hurt to ever get even some credit for the work he did, other than the usual 'dumb luck' comment that was thrown at him for his success on a case.
Whenever the chance to 'profile' came up, Kate seemed to lord her 'expertise' over him, knowingly or not. 'If she was such a good profiler, she'd have figured me out by now', Tony thought as he again received the line about working with NCIS.
McGee, for all the fact that half the time he acted more skittish than a jackrabbit around him, also had his own little brand of disapproval just for Tony and his 'stupidity'.
People were forever underestimating him, and while that was of great use in interrogation, investigations and undercover work, he thought at least his team-mates would recognize he wasn't really that stupid, that he was just as good as them.
But they didn't.
Tonight, Tony was getting some of his own back. The man had NO respect for personal boundaries, never felt any qualm over searching her or McGee or anyone's desks and belongings without permission, so tonight she'd get even.
On duty to bring dinner in for the team, DiNozzo would be gone for a good half hour or more by the time he picked up the orders and got back to HQ. Plenty of time to get her revenge. Even better, Gibbs had gone with him for some reason, meaning the boss wouldn't catch them either. It was the perfect time to do it.
Even McGee was helping. Apparently he'd been called 'probie' and 'McGeek' one too many times.
They began on top of his desk, but nothing useful or personal was there, aside from some scrawled notes that were basically illegible and his PDA. Top drawer revealed his spare badge and ID, an extra clip for his gun (against protocol) and some bills. The second, larger, drawer however held...
Kate and Tim shared identical, perplexed looks as they took the box out of the drawer and rested it onto the empty space of the desk. Lifting the lid almost apprehensively, Kate absently wondered if this was going to far, but shook her head and held her resolve.
What was inside the box shocked both agents to the core.
Many minutes of stunned silence passed, no noise to be heard except for the slight pant of breath coming from each agent.
"A degree?" McGee stated incredulously, looking at the top most piece of paper.
"On Criminal Psychology" Kate whispered. Somehow, talking at a normal level just didn't feel right.
Almost reverently, Kate pulled out the sheet to access the now treasure trove of gold beneath. Two more degrees were found, one dated not three weeks ago, on, of all things, Philosophy. Numerous records of published articles were beneath that, dates and title listed, the names of each publication they were in hand written.
"I thought there'd be dirty photos, maybe a little black book, not..." Kate trailed off, still in awe of what they'd found.
At the very bottom, lay a few, well handled and obviously treasured photos. The first ere of a couple, from a long time ago as the photo was black and white. The next of a woman and a small boy- perhaps two or three, undeniably Tony from the infectious grin and happy almost green eyes. There were a few others- one or two of 'college Tony' with friends. What stumped the two agents going through the photographs were the few photos of them- the team. There were candid shots of each of them- some at work in the building, a couple from crime scenes.
Kate stared at the photos, silent.
McGee's mouth worked open and closed, flabbergasted at the findings. Neither of them noticed the two men who came out of the stairwell instead of the elevator, until one spoke.
"Close your mouth McGee, I can see your tonsils" Tony said casually, he and Gibbs watching as they jumped guiltily from their perches on Tony's desk. From his vantage point, Gibbs could see the lines around his senior agent's mouth tense, jaw clenching. Nothing else betrayed the younger man's emotions, though, the easy smile fitted onto his face one that disarmed most people at first glance.
"Tony! I - you- I" Kate stuttered, her shock of their findings mingling with her embarrassment and shame at being caught in such a position not forgiving enough o allow her coherent speech.
Tony dropped the several bags of takeout onto another desk before turning back the way he came, glancing very briefly at his boss. "I forgot something. I'll be back… Later, Boss" he half stated-half mumbled as he made headway for the elevator, not bothering to look back.
Not seeing the look of shock and almost despair on Kate and McGee's faces.
Gibbs wasn't so sparing. "Have fun, Agents Todd, McGee?" he asked in his usual 'the second 'b' is for bastard and I'm about to show you why' tone.
"Boss, we never- I mean, I-" Kate said miserably, her face dropping. Tony may have acted casual, but for once she'd seen the flash of hurt (?) in his eyes before he'd turned away. She'd seen through the mask. She just wished the revelation didn't have such a high cost.
"Pack it up, Kate, McGee" Gibbs instructed, turning to the takeout. He knew where Tony had gone, where he always went when he needed what Abby had dubbed 'friend time'.
Abby and Duck were more than capable of dealing with Tony for now. It was his job to deal with Todd and McGee.
"Yes sir" came the identical, miserable replies.
Tony punched the little button on the elevator, heading down to where Abby and Ducky resided.
He couldn't believe it. Kate and McGee had gone through everything, even opening that box. Sure, he'd done similar (searching through Kate's handbag was something that came to mind) to both McGee and Kate, he deserved, had expected payback but for them to-
It shouldn't bother him. In fact, he should, if anything, feel smug about Kate knowing he had more degrees than her. Hell, she'd probably been made read his papers when she did profiling. He should be proud.
But the whole reason he'd done all that on the quiet was because he didn't want people to know. He liked playing the friendly, flirty but dumb jock. People liked it when other people fit into boxes. They talked to him because he was the 'dumb jock'. Suspects talked to him because they never thought he could figure things out on his own when he was playing 'stupid'. It was a known fact to Tony that people resented people who were good at both sports and academics.
They didn't talk to them. They didn't like them. He'd always been worried if people knew he was smart and good at sports they wouldn't like him, it wouldn't matter if he was friendly or not, and he liked, genuinely liked people.
Hell, he'd kept a perfect 80 percent average. He-
Oh, the elevator had stopped. He should get out now, shouldn't he? Right. Taking a deep breath, he walked into Abby's office, hearing her a Ducky's voices as they chatted, their melodic banter immediately calming him somewhat.
He let go a breath he hadn't realised he was holding.
Abby looked up at the sound of the doors opening. "Tony! What are you- Tony? You ok?"
The pair watched as Tony came forward, both noting the grim stress lines around the special agent's mouth and eyes, the crease on his forehead.
"Anthony my boy, what's wrong?" Ducky asked, concerned.
Tony sighed, shoulders slumping worriedly, "They know."
Abby sat back down on the couch, passing the glass of water to Tony, who sat slumped beside her, eyes down. He still didn't quite get why he was concerned about his team (his friends?) knowing about his past, what he'd done. Logically, he knew he shouldn't be, but it'd be like Jack from Stargate suddenly becoming smarter that Carter, or Magnum actually owning that Ferrari GTS. It wasn't supposed to happen, not that way, not really. Not ever.
"You know, Tony, my man, most people wouldn't freak just 'cause someone else knows they're smart," she pointed out.
She never could figure out why Tony didn't want anyone except her, Gibbs and Duckman to know about his smarts. Personally she thought it was way cool he managed to do his cop-job and get a doctorate at the same time.
"Indeed, my boy, what's so terrible now that the cat's out of the bag? Now you don't need to worry anymore."
"That's not it. People never liked me once they found out. One time, in Philly, my partner found out. They practically shunned me for the rest of time I was there. Calling me 'college boy', 'pretty boy', bitching about how I obviously thought I was better than them just because I went to school. Hell, it was why I left. People don't like it when you're smart, it didn't matter how nice I was" Tony said miserably. Truly, they'd assumed his happy-go-lucky attitude had been poorly concealed smugness and arrogance over his 'achievements' and 'blatant intelligence' and had thought he was lording it over them, when he was, in fact, trying to do the exact opposite.
"Nonsense, dear boy, we like you, and we're well aware of how intelligent you are" Ducky pointed out, Abby nodding furiously at his side, "Yeah, what Duckman says."
"You're different" Tony protested.
Ducky considered the dejected younger man before him before asking quietly, "And what makes you think Caitlin and Timothy would react like your partner in Philly rather than like us?"
Tony considered that for a long moment. True, Kate annoyed him, and both her and McGee had looked down on him, seeing him as the 'dumb one' but that was an image he worked to put forward, after all. Past all that, he knew they had his six always, just like he had theirs. They were more than jus co-workers, more than just another team. They were his friends, his family. More his family than any of his blood related family were at least.
The moment Anthony's eyes lit up once more, the pair knew he'd come to know the same thing they'd known all along. Ultimately, it wouldn't matter if they knew, he was still their Tony, and they were still his team mates.
Tony grinned at Abby and Ducky. "Thanks guys" he said gratefully, hugging Abby when the Goth pounced on him again, smiling at her energetic behaviour.
"So what are you gonna do?" Abby asked, eyes bright.
Tony just smiled "I'll think about it. But for now, I'll go home. Who knows, maybe Boss'll make McGoo and Katie do my homework for me".
The pair watched as Tony left the way he'd come, identical grins on their faces.
"You know what this means, don't you?" Abby asked Ducky with a grin.
"We need to go pay a visit to Caitlin and Timothy" Ducky said with a wicked grin in answer to the Goth's own.
Meanwhile, Kate and McGee had packed all of Tony's things away again, under Gibbs' silent glare, the pair's shoulders slumped mutually in defeat and regret. Apparently, Gibbs had made it clear they'd been bad, bad agents and had done wrong by Tony. The time alone, working had amplified any regret and guilt the pair had about their… deeds.
The elevator pinged and all three turned as the doors open, Kate and McGee's eyes shining hopefully that their team-mate would be back and all could be set right in the world once more, but dimmed when they recognized the forms exiting the lift. It seems Gibbs' disapproval wasn't enough.
"Where's DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked abruptly, surprised the pair were in the bullpen, with Tony nowhere to be seen. Had it actually bothered the younger man so much? Maybe Gibbs was overestimating his bounce-back ability?
"He, ah, respectfully asked for a personal day, Jethro" Ducky said, eyeing the other two agents sternly in a manner a grandfather might.
"What did you do?" Abby asked directly, glaring at her friends.
Surprised eyes turned onto the forensic technician. "Nothing!" the pair protested, hands up in surrender. At the persistent eyeballing, Kate and McGee slumped again.
"Well, nothing we really meant to do" Kate said sadly. She really was sorry.
"We, uhm, got into Tony's desk" McGee confessed miserably.
"It was my idea" Kate said, eyes sorrowful, "I just- he always"
"You wanted payback for his snooping, right?" Abby asked, keeping up with her act.
Sighing, she turned to Gibbs, "It seems they didn't know, Gibbs. Whadda we do?"
Gibbs remained silent.
"Why- uhm, why was he so, so upset?" Kate asked, confused, "I mean, he has a doctorate in Criminal Psychology, a-and all those articles, he's gotta be-
"Really, really smart?" Abby put in.
"Yeah" McGee and Kate answered simultaneously.
"I always thought his 80 percent average was...hinky" McGee said, "I mean, the likelihood of someone constantly maintaining that percentage for their grade average is low, like lottery winning chances low, but I didn't think it was because he was so smart. I mean he acts so-
"That's cause he's Tony" Abby said simply, shrugging her shoulders. This was going better than she'd anticipated. She kept control of herself, however, and kept her face straight.
"So why was he so upset?" McGee asked again.
Abby sighed like she didn't want to tell them.
"You think we should tell 'em Ducky?" The forensic tech asked, eyes turning to the older man. Ducky gazed down upon the young woman, noticing how twitchy she was getting. They weren't done yet.
"I don't know, Abigail" Ducky said, knowing the response he'd get for calling her by her full name should calm her down, let her get her equilibrium back.
"Call you Abigail, I know dear, but it is your name, and a lovely one at that- why-
At Gibbs' cough, Ducky stopped, "Sorry, Jethro, where was I?"
"You were going to tell us about Tony" Kate prompted.
"Was I? No, no I don't think I should" Ducky said, eyes sorrowful. "Not my place, after all. If young Anthony wants to tell you, he will. In good time. I'm rather afraid you've worried and possibly hurt the poor boy somewhat, after all, he's not had a good run with people… finding out about him." Ducky concluded sorrowfully.
The evil masterminds (currently known as Abby Sciuto and Dr. Donald Mallard) had enjoyed torturing the two remaining tem members of Gibbs' team for almost an hour before Gibbs (of all people!) seemed to take sympathy upon them and let them go (seeing as there was nothing else to be done for the day, after all they'd only been doing reports and the like, and Gibbs figured the director would understand).
As the rather miserable duo walked through the parking lot, McGee spoke up, his conscience, as ever, actively voicing its guilt.
"Do you think we went too far?" the nervous man asked.
Kate grimaced. Truthfully she didn't know. Clearly there was a reason DiNozzo – Tony- didn't want them to know about his intelligence and academic achievements but if it was her she'd gloat (at least on occasion) heck, she did sometimes flaunt her profiling abilities and previous experience with the Secret Service. The real question was, why didn't Tony?
Mentally shrugging, she turned back to McGee's question. "I don't know, Tim. We'll just have to wait until Tony comes in tomorrow and talk to him then, ok?"
'Tim' seemed to be in the midst of a breakdown, however. He valued Tony's uncharacteristic (and often teasing) friendship. It was like having a big brother and friend rolled into one. Sure, he teased and pranked him…. But he was also responsible for a lot of McGee's progress as a field agent. He recognised that most of the time, Tony teased him to toughen him up-and, for the most part- it worked. He also noticed that Tony helped everyone stay focused by being… well, Tony at crime scenes- breaking into song, his ever flowing diatribe of movie references…. It all helped them, especially during the bad (and boring) moments.
"What if he doesn't come in? What if he leaves, Kate? You heard what Ducky said- he left his last job when they found out!"
"We're different" Kate said firmly, not allowing doubt to take over her mind as it had Tim's. Someone needed to stay calm here.
"How? How are we different?"
"We just are. I know for a fact he's stayed here longer than any other job posting he's had before. He's got no reason to leave. Plus, he loves us."
"He loves us?" McGee squeaked.
Kate nodded, "Like a family, that's what Abby told me last week. Y'know, after that rape and murder case we had?"
Tim nodded, shuddering a little at the aforementioned case. That had been a bad one- he'd had nightmares about it when he'd gone home- he was pretty sure no one had slept well that night. It had been so late by the time they were done, no one wanted or was able to go out to wind down, so they'd all just dragged their tired bodies home.
The next morning though, Tony had come in with coffee, pizza and chocolates for everyone (and Caf-pow! for Abs), singing a mix of Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow and songs that had featured in the Shrek movies all day. He'd also had a rose delivered to each of the girls…. And McGee ("For my McWonderful Probie-san").
In short he annoyed the hell out of them. And McGee (and, he figured) the rest of them couldn't be more grateful for it. He'd helped distract them all from what may have been their worst case yet as a team. He'd pulled them all together, helped each and every one of them to rise above the case and move forward again. It was those moments McGee truly looked up to Tony like a big brother and felt like they were all a pseudo-family.
Maybe they could do something to show their team mate they felt the same way? The agent thought to himself. Thinking of the pictures of each of them they'd found earlier in Tony's shoebox, McGee had an idea. McGee voiced his thoughts to Kate, who agreed, glad for a plan. After some more discussion, each part more animated and upbeat, the pair separated.
"Okay, Kate. See you tomorrow?"
"Bright and early, Tim."
That said, the pair waved each other off and went their separate ways.
The very next morning, Tony came in to find the office empty; no agent in sight. 'Odd' he thought. He thought back over his time here and couldn't remember a time that absolutely everyone was vacant. Was there something he didn't know about going on?
Shrugging his shoulders and stuffing his face with the rest of the 'primo jelly doughnut' he'd come in with, rinsing it down with coffee, he sat down at his desk and flicked on his computer.
The jelly doughnut remains fell from his hanging jaw as he looked at the screen, then up to the plasma.
Tony stared at the screen, at the plasma, and at his screen again.
No one. No one had ever...
Down below, all the team had gathered in Abby's lab and were wtahcing the scene unfold. When Kate and McGee had come in early that morning, they'd wrangled Abby and ducky onto their side (who, after hearing what they wanted to do, were all to eager to be of assistance) and Abby had gotten Gibbs to get the director to make the other teams on their floor not be there for their surprise.
"Awww, he looks so cute like that," Abby purred as she watched on the screen the feed she'd set up with McGee's help.
Kate and Tim just grinned madly, while Ducky and even Gibbs were smiling softly.
"They really are nuts" Tony murmured as a grin grew on his face, "Completely."
On the screen in front of him was a graduation style picture of a family. His family. McGee, Kate, Tony and Abby sandwiched between Gibbs and Ducky. It was excellently photoshopped- seamless in its appearance- if Tony didn't know better, he'd swear the photo had really been taken.
"Thanks for the help, Abs" Kate said, as she kept watch of her team mate and friend through the video feed, smiling softly at his stunned, rather emotional look. It looks like their plan paid off.
"Yeah, the picture's awesome" Tim agreed, grinning.
"I hope you all agree, cause I got us all copies" Abby said, grinning.
By this time Tony had made his way down to the lab, and ran in, seeing his team gathered there.
"What'd ya think, Tony?"
"It's ... it's great" He smiled, holding the framed version of the picture that had bee on his screen. There stood Abby, McGee, Kate, Ducky, Gibbs and himself. All together. The best part- the saying down the bottom in rolling script. 'Semper Fi'.
"Damn straight" Gibbs uttered as Tony mouthed the words almost silently, a gentle smile rarely seen spread across his face, head slapping Tony as he walked past, "Now get back to work."
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