Hello all.

So here I am back again with another multi chapter fic. I hope you enjoy. This will be my usual brand of overblown angst with a soupcon of whumpage. I can say that this story will not be dwelling on anything graphic regarding the subject matter, it is mainly a study on how difficult some undercover assignments must be. This is inspired by a cop friend who works the kiddy porn side of things. I know it kills him to have to go in day after day and deal with the things he has to see.

Thank you to Mamamia for looking over this.

And a huge big thank you to Scousmuz1k for her kind help and support. If you haven't read any of her stories then do so now...run...go on...they are absolutely wonderful as is the woman behind them.

Cheeks

xx


Tony was bored and that was a bad thing.

They had no case. He'd pretty much finished up on his paperwork apart from the crap that always lurked on the bottom of the pile that was so unimportant it just got conveniently ignored, like all the pointless e-mails from human resources regarding online training and compliance issues. Yeah, dream on…like they would ever get completed.

Tony swung in his chair and looked around the bullpen as he lazily squeezed on a stress ball. McGee seemed like he was busy working but in reality he was surfing the net looking for a new TV and Ziva was surreptitiously reading a gossip magazine she'd found lying around.

He sighed and threw the ball at McGee. It bounced nicely off his head but McGee didn't even flinch and continued to tap away on his keyboard.

Damn, Probie-san was becoming immune to his sneak attacks.

Hmmmm, what to do next?

Tony opened his drawer and dug around for the big box of rubber bands he had in there. He looked up to see both colleagues grinning at him.

"Looking for something Tony?" Ziva swirled a band around her index finger. She quickly aimed and it flew across the floor, narrowly missing his right ear.

"Hey, watch it Zee-va!" Tony frowned. He was obviously getting way too predictable and it was no fun when he wasn't the one inflicting the pain.

He swung his chair in a circle as he pursed his lips and tented his fingers reflectively.

Gibbs had disappeared into MTAC over an hour ago, god knows what they were doing up there because as far as he knew there was no brouhaha going on in the world that would necessitate his being in there.

"Hey Probie," he called out. "Do you think that Gibbs and the techs are all watching porn on the big screen?"

"Can you imagine the techs feeling comfortable enough to watch porn with Gibbs?" McGee looked up and grinned.

"I am not altogether sure Gibbs has ever watched a porn film, Tony." Ziva arched an eyebrow at him.

Tony laughed.

"Good point. The closest thing to erotic films little Leroy had in Stillwater was probably one of those old machines you put a nickel in the slot and all you got was a glimpse of a maiden's ankle."

McGee sniggered from behind his screen.

Tony swung his chair in several circles again.

Whoa, head rush.

Hmmm, what if he tried to balance something on his face as he spun?

Tony rested a slightly chewed HB pencil under his nose and twirled around.

"Agent DiNozzo… my office… now!" Director Vance's authoritative voice carried across the office from the mezzanine level.

Tony tried to look like he hadn't been dicking around, but that was kind of tricky when you'd just been caught whirling on your chair with a writing implement poised on your top lip.

"Um, on my way, Director…"

Okay, Vance looked more than a little pissed as he stalked back towards his office.

Both Ziva and McGee were staring at him like he was a condemned man about to enter death row.

"What did you do this time?" McGee eventually spoke with all the smug confidence of someone who'd never once had a summons from above.

"Nothing, McWhiter-than-white." Tony snapped as he mentally ran through all the things he could be in the shit for. Okay, super gluing the copy room door shut had seemed like a good idea at the time, and there was that whole vending machine incident but that hadn't been his fault, that glass really should have been toughened. Hey, the agency was lucky he wasn't going to sue for the two-inch gash he'd gotten on his hand.

Tony narrowed his eyes.

Crap. There was the incident of last week when he'd been caught on the parking garage security tapes getting more than a little frisky with one of the new baggie bunnies from down in evidence. The bastards in security really had no right circulating the footage around the agency. If anything he was the innocent victim in that one. A total invasion of his privacy… although his YouTube acting debut had lead to an increased interest from the female members of staff, so maybe on reflection he should really send his friends in security a muffin basket as a thank you. It had almost been worth it to see the look on McGee's face when he'd opened up that particular attachment. Tony hadn't been aware that a person could turn that shade of puce so quickly.

He got up and straightened his suit.

"Ziva, can I borrow your magazine?"

"Why?" she asked.

"Because I think the headmaster is going to discipline me and I need some protection." He grinned as he exited the bullpen and made his way up the stairs.

"Protection?" Ziva called.

"Probie…explain!" Tony bent over at the top of the stairs and lifting up the back of his jacket he made a swishing motion with his hand.

He swept passed Vance's secretary and winked at her as he nodded towards the door. She smiled and indicated for him to go in.

Now that was not what he'd been expecting.

Sitting behind Vance's desk, smoking one of his fat Cuban cigars was the Secretary of the Navy.

"Special Agent DiNozzo… good to see you again." SecNav smiled an oily smile.

"You too Sir," he lied.

It was on the tip of his tongue to say that it was against the law to smoke in a federal building, but Vance was shooting daggers from his eyes in a clear warning for him to behave so Tony let that one drop; he did give an exaggerated cough though.

The SecNav was a complete cliché.

I am clearly important therefore I must smoke the biggest cigar I can purchase… illegally of course… but I'm the Secretary of the freaking US Navy so who's going to bust me.

Tony was sure Freud had probably written at length on the subject of large cigars being a sure sign of over compensating for penis size but again Tony kept that thought to himself. The pompous ass reported directly to the freaking President so it was probably prudent not to bait him. All he could think of was that his previous dealings with the SecNav had never gone well. In fact the last time they'd met he'd just come round from having the butt of a gun shoved hard into his face.

"I've been hearing good things about you, Tony. Please…sit. Coffee?" The SecNav looked at Vance and smiled again.

Smoke billowed.

Huh. Tony hadn't been aware that they were on first name terms and his bullshit radar started to ping.

"No thank you, Sir." Gibbs would be proud. Tony kept the emphasis hard on the 'Sir', using the military form of putting an inflection there to indicate you thought the person was a compete ass-hole, but if the SecNav noticed the deliberate insolence he didn't show it.

"What you are about to hear is strictly need to know, and that expressly means members of your team, understand Agent DiNozzo?" Vance stated firmly.

Tony bit the inside of his cheek.

"Understood Director," Tony frowned.

He really didn't like the direction this was going, seeing as the last time he'd been involved in a 'need to know op' it had consumed his life for over six months and ended with the CIA blowing up his car.

The SecNav tossed a file over.

Tony opened it and scanned the contents as Vance spoke.

"You are aware of Operation Ruby Slipper Agent DiNozzo?"

"The FBI's Pedo. Op. right." Tony confirmed.

It had been constantly in the press, so much that Tony suspected that just about everyone in the free world knew about it. The FBI had been tracking a child pornography ring and in doing so had uncovered a whole can of worms. Along with the hundreds of perverted Joe Average's unmasked by the operation, the real shock to the public had been the congressmen, politicians, union leaders and a whole slew of generally 'important' people who had been identified as having indecent images lurking on their hard drives and in their favorites files.

Scandal after scandal had erupted in the press.

Oh, they all had 'valid' excuses for why the kiddy porn was there, ranging from 'someone else must have used my PC' to 'I was merely doing research in the hopes of trying to stamp out this disgusting canker blighting the great US of A'. None of it washed, and several very influential men now languished in six by six cells quietly shitting themselves that their next shower mate would be a big redneck called Bubba.

Tony flipped the page and looked at the photo of a naval officer wearing full dress uniform, proudly staring at the camera. The next photograph was a typical posed family shot, a pretty blonde woman sat at his side, the kids sat at their feet.

"Commander Charles Philip Grey, aged fifty-two, married twelve years to Senator Norman Reinhart's daughter, Sarah. They have one son, Dexter, nine and two daughters, Madeline six, Molly four. Now serving in Washington as of a week ago."

Vance's voice was neutral but Tony could hear the tightness behind the words.

"His name came up during the FBI's investigation way too many times to be a coincidence, but when a joint op between the FBI and NCIS moved in and seized his computers they found nothing; hard drives were totally wiped with the latest hi-tech software so that even the best experts couldn't find anything remotely incriminating. He came out as pure as the driven snow."

Tony read the report. It stunk. No one had a history that clean. Hell, even the Pope probably had a few questionable sites lurking on his hard-drive; it was the nature of the Internet. Certainly by the law of averages several humble porn sites would show up no matter how careful or sophisticated the security, you only had to click on the most innocent of links for something smutty to pop up behind the façade. So, to have nothing was more than suspicious.

As if reading his mind, Vance spoke. "Everything suggests he was tipped off about the raid and the leak was eventually traced back to our Norfolk office."

Tony looked up from the file. Okay, that was why the director was being so secretive. Things were making a little more sense now.

"The smug bastard called in his lawyers, and with the help of the Senator he's got everything locked down so tight that if his name is so much as whispered in relation to the 'Ruby Slipper' operation then he'll sue the ass off everyone from the FBI and NCIS to the federal government." SecNav slowly rolled his cigar in his fingers. "The Commander is an embarrassment, and I don't like people who hide behind lawyers and I certainly don't like to be played, Agent DiNozzo. I think its time we cleaned house."

Now they were getting somewhere. Tony had the distinct impression he'd be the one wielding the mop.

"So where do I come into this?" Tony shut the file and sat back in the chair.

Vance walked around the desk and sat down on the corner.

"We want you to go undercover and get the evidence we need to nail his ass to the board."

Tony didn't say anything. He was starting to feel a tension headache coming on.

Vance threw over a buff envelope. Inside was a driver's license, several credit cards all under the name of Anthony DiMatteo. He opened the artfully battered passport and saw his own face staring back at him. He flicked through the pages; apparently he'd just been to Bangkok for a week. Nice, pity he didn't remember taking that trip.

"We've leased an apartment under your new name for six months. Your assignment will be to befriend him and take him down, Agent DiNozzo." Vance sat down on the couch.

"Why me?" Tony asked.

"The Commander is big on exercise. The first thing he did was join a gym where you now have a job as a personal trainer, time to put your physical education degree to good use. Your undercover experience is very impressive, Tony. I've been reading about how you spent seven months working your way up the Macaluso family in Baltimore. For anyone who can fool the Mafia, this will be a piece of cake," SecNav answered as he took a long pull on the cigar.

Tony could smell the blatant flattery a mile off and he didn't like it.

Did they think he was stupid? That if they didn't say it out loud he wouldn't realize what this op was really about?

"But this time it isn't about me pretending I'm Don Corleone is it?" Tony couldn't help the angry tone that crept into his voice as he threw the envelope down on the table.

Vance at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

"Agent DiNozzo…" he started but Tony jumped in.

"No, don't try and act like this is just another undercover op. You know damn well what you are asking. We all know that there is only one way I'm ever going to be able to get Grey to open up to me."

He stared hard at Vance to let him know he wasn't happy. Considering the assignment he felt he had that right. Tony felt the bile rising in his gut just thinking about what they were asking him to do.

"We are aware this going to be unpleasant for you but considering some of your undercover operations…" SecNav interjected.

"Unpleasant? You are asking me to spend the next god knows how long trying to get Grey to think that I'm a fucking pedophile." Tony interrupted and gave a bitter laugh. "With all due respect I really don't think 'unpleasant' really cuts it, Sir."

The SecNav looked like he was about to say something about his tone of voice but Vance thankfully jumped in before his disgust and anger completely took over.

"Sir, didn't you say you had a meeting at eleven?" Vance reminded him.

The SecNav checked his watch and cursed. He dumped his cigar and pulled on his coat.

"I really must go, but please keep me updated Leon." SecNav picked up the phone and barked at Vance's secretary to ring down to his driver, he then walked over and held out his hand.

"Agent DiNozzo. Good to see you again."

Tony begrudgingly took the hand proffered.

"The Navy has suffered enough embarrassment recently. Get this bastard Agent DiNozzo, before he can do more damage to our reputation." SecNav ordered.

Tony clenched his jaw and didn't respond. He'd thought that his days of being used were over. It also didn't escape his notice that the first name familiarity was gone. How quickly one fell out of favor.

He sat still as the Director and SecNav moved towards the door and spoke together in hushed tones; several glances were cast his way but he pretended to be engrossed in the file he had opened again.

The Secretary of the Navy eventually left with a flourish of his camel hair coat and Vance quietly closed the door behind him. He walked over to the water jug on the side and poured himself a glass before sitting down heavily behind his desk.

Tony shut the file and waited for him to speak.

"Agent DiNozzo… Tony, I am more than aware this is not going to be an easy assignment, but you are one of the best undercover agents we have and I need someone I can trust one hundred percent."

"You trust me, you really trust me." Tony bit back a sarcastic laugh. It was almost a Sally Field moment.

Vance ignored his comment and continued.

"The agency cannot afford to mess this up. Norfolk screwed the pooch on the original investigation and I will not let that happen again with this office. Grey has contacts everywhere and we can't risk this operation coming to his attention. The less people know about this the less likely that it gets talked about. We need that evidence if he's going to be prosecuted and there is no other way we can get it; if we put him under any kind of surveillance his lawyers will have us for harassment. This is the only way."

"Do I actually have any choice in the matter?" Tony asked knowing the answer before he even spoke.

Vance rubbed a hand over his face and Tony watched as he picked up a photo of his wife and kids.

"I've just heard that he's offered to coach the under tens swim team. Do you think Commander Grey should be anywhere near kids knowing what you do of the man? Can you really sit back and do nothing just because this is not going to be an easy ride? I can order you to do this but I would prefer you took the assignment because your sense of justice tells you that Grey can't be allowed to hide behind his rank, his lawyers and his father-in-law anymore. You can stop this Agent DiNozzo and no, I may not always approve of some of your methods but I do respect that you are a competent and skilled agent and I know that you will do the right thing."

Tony shut his eyes and sighed.

Vance was right; as much as he didn't want to touch the assignment with a ten-foot pole, he also knew he wouldn't be able to live with a clear conscience if he walked away from this one. This was his job and he couldn't pick and choose assignments just because they offended his sensibilities.

"Who do I report to?" he asked with a sense of resignation.

"Me and only me." Vance looked relieved. "I'll expect you to give me a sitrep and written report every week or whenever you feel necessary. Just keep me in the loop. Obviously you can work on whatever back story you feel necessary."

It was always best to keep things as near to your own circumstances where possible, less like to fuck up in the long run. Tony quickly worked it out in his head.

"I'm a trust fund baby who works as a PT because it gives me something to do in between spending my family's money. I like the best in life, fine wine, fine foods, and fast cars. That sort of man should appeal to him. Commander Grey is clearly a snob. He married for money and he likes his social standing and what it can give him."

"You learned that from glancing at the file? I'm impressed" Vance looked amused.

"I'm a trained undercover investigator, wouldn't be very good if I wasn't perceptive now would I?" Tony shrugged. Grey was easy to read really, his humble beginnings and subsequent rise in the world told him all he needed to know.

"We came up with the same reasoning. SecNav has set the budget high on this one. So the apartment in Woodley Park you'll be using is high end."

"I'll also need a car to go with the image." Tony pushed.

Vance merely nodded.

"Naturally; it's all on SecNav's dime DiNozzo, knock yourself out."

Tony raised an eyebrow.

"Really?"

Tony suddenly got the distinct impression that he was being given cart-blanch to go crazy.

"Really," Vance replied and gave him a sly smile. "Got to maintain your cover, and the SecNav was quite insistent that he wanted this op to go smoothly."

The Director picked up his coffee cup and looked at the cigar butt with distaste. It seemed like he wasn't the only one who really disliked the SecNav.

Vance became a little more human in his eyes.

"You start work tomorrow, all you need to know about your new 'life' is in that file, including a new cell. You'll find all my numbers are there, including my personal cell and home lines. Don't hesitate to call me."

"Thanks." At least it seemed like the Director was taking his role seriously. If Vance was to be his only contact then he needed to be able to get hold of him any time day or night should the shit hit the fan for any reason.

"I will inform your team that you will be out of the office for the foreseeable future. You can go home now and get yourself prepared, sort out whatever you need to sort out. And I meant it when I said tell no one about this assignment Agent DiNozzo. I've noticed that Agent Gibbs can act like a bull in a china shop where members of his team are concerned and I do not want this op blown to hell because your boss can't keep things professional."

Gibbs was many things but unprofessional was not one of them, especially when it came to a case - but then again arguing that point with Vance clearly wasn't going to help any.

"Understood but if you can trust me then you can trust Gibbs." Tony left it at that and picked up the file. He was already at the door when Vance spoke again.

"Good luck Tony and feel free to contact me at anytime if you need to, case related or not. I do mean that."

Tony nodded.

"Thanks."

Yeah, right…not going to happen, but he actually appreciated what Vance was offering.

Tony closed the door and took a deep breath.

He walked past Cynthia and made for the bathroom.

Luckily it was empty, he dumped the file on the side and filled one of the sinks with cold water. He splashed his face relishing the shock as the icy water hit his skin.

He stared blankly into the mirror.

Usually he felt the thrill of the chase, felt the fire ignite in his belly whenever he prepared to go undercover but not this time. He didn't want to think about it yet, not here. What he needed was to be in the comfort of his own home, surrounded by his things and maybe then he'd be able to get his head around the assignment because right now he was failing dismally.

Tony dried his face, shoved the file under his arm and made for the bullpen. Looking down he saw there was still no sign of Gibbs. He was probably on an extended coffee run.

Both McGee and Ziva looked at him expectantly as he trotted down the stairs. He ignored their worried looks as he made his way over to his desk.

Tony jammed the file in his backpack and hitched it high on his shoulder. He then opened his drawer and picked up his gun and put it in his shoulder holster.

Shit, he should really go see Abby before he went but he really couldn't cope with her worry and she would worry. She always did when he went undercover. She'd have to understand. Yeah, he'd make it up to her when this assignment was over.

"Tony, what did the Director want?" Ziva was suddenly at his side. He really wished she wouldn't sneak up like that. He leaned forward and turned his PC off.

He wasn't sure what made him kiss her on the cheek but he did.

Maybe it was the bleak thought that he was going to be cut off from his friends and colleagues, cut off from everything that was familiar to him for the foreseeable future.

"Bye, Ziva," he said quietly, leaving her clearly shocked. Maybe she realized that it really was a good-bye kiss because she didn't try to rip his arm off or maim him.

"Where you going?" McGee sounded confused.

He turned and said succinctly, "Home."

"Tony, what happened?" Ziva asked in a tone that suggested she wasn't going to be fobbed of with the 'need to know' explanation.

Tony sighed. He was aware that the Director was watching them from the mezzanine level, probably making sure he wasn't spilling his guts.

He nodded to Vance then turned back to his colleagues.

"When Gibbs gets back the director will call you up into his office, that's all I can say."

Both sets of eyes looked toward the stairs then back to him.

Tony knew they were probably thinking he'd been suspended, but they'd hear soon whatever explanation Vance wanted to give to explain his absence.

"What's going on?" McGee sounded concerned. Tony lifted his hand and tapped him several times on his cheek.

"I've gotta go, Probie. Take care while I'm gone."

He shrugged apologetically and walked up the ramp towards the elevator. At least they both had the sense not to follow him, considering Vance was still eyeballing them all.

"Tony!" Ziva called out to him.

With every step he could feel their eyes following his progress. Tony hit the button for the ground floor, got in and gave them a wave before the doors shut.

He rested his head against the cool metal as the elevator descended. It was strange, he hadn't even left the building but he inexplicably felt a deep sense of loneliness settle around him like a cloak.

A ball of anxiety settled in his stomach.

He had a bad feeling about this.

TBC

Hands up who thinks Gibbs is going to sit back and do nothing when he hears that his SFA is on a mystery assignment. :)

Reiviews are always welcome. I'm a needy little flower. Plus they help feed my muse, they are like chocolate cupcakes to her. :)

xx