It was silent in the bullpen. Aside from it being a Saturday morning, no one on the MCRT much felt like talking. They had tried to finish up some case notes and filing, but they were distracted, listening for any stirrings of life from upstairs. Gibbs had disappeared into Vance's office over an hour ago, and now all they could do was wait.
The ding of the elevator startled them all from their reverie. They looked up in unison as Secretary Jarvis stormed into view, glaring down furiously over the bullpen.
"YOU THREE!" He roared, pointing an accusatory finger over the railing. "Up here. Now!" He disappeared into the Director's office, the door slamming behind him. Muffled shouts floated down the stairs as they exchanged a long look and rose slowly.
"Maybe we should have used this time to update our resumes," Tony said grimly.
"Or say goodbye to our loved ones before they ship us off to prison," McGee muttered.
"Vance is on our side," Ziva said confidently, though she was nervously flexing her hand on the railing as they climbed.
Tony threw her a dubious look. "You sure about that?"
She huffed. "No. But Gibbs is."
There was no arguing that point.
Once upstairs, they could hear yelling from the Director's inner office and winced as it seemed to confirm their worries.
"You all should be arrested, or at the very least fired!"
Tony took a deep breath, shooting the others a quick grimace before opening the door.
Jarvis rounded immediately on them, his tirade continuing without pause. "You two -" he glared at Ziva and Tony "- you disobeyed a direct order and shared classified information without clearance! It's treasonous! And to top if all off, I gave clear instructions that you were supposed to turn over all evidence to me DIRECTLY!"
"As I was about to say Mr. Secretary, that was my call, not theirs," Gibbs interrupted. "I chose to go to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. They will be investigating both the CIA and the Navy's involvement in this matter from here on out."
"And what's more, I fully support that decision," Vance added from where he stood beside Gibbs. "After all, we operated well within the channels of protocol. The matter will now be investigated properly and all guilty parties brought to justice."
"That's not the point!" bellowed Jarvis.
Vance narrowed his eyes, crossing his arms over his chest. "It's not? So are you saying that justice was never your real goal, Mr. Secretary?" Vance studied the irate man before him and spoke deliberately. "See, hypothetically one could have used that information to blackmail Austin. Sure would be nice to have something over the Director of the CIA; one would rise quickly up the ladder with that kind of leverage. But I think we have all had our share of deception and extortion."
The Secretary looked apocalyptic now. "Do you realize what you're accusing me of? How DARE you..."
"DAMN straight, I dare," Vance growled menacingly. "This whole mess started because of me; because of my ideas. It seems fitting that I have the last word. You wanted to use MY agency to try and manipulate your own personal agenda. I know you cut your teeth on the Hill, Mr. Secretary, and that shit might work there, but you're on our turf now."
Jarvis' eyes narrowed as he took a few deep breaths. "You forget that I'm a bad person to piss off, Leon," he said through gritted teeth. "I am the Secretary of the Goddamn Navy! I can make your lives a living nightmare!"
Vance cocked his head to one side as he pondered that. "Gibbs," He glanced to the man standing next to him, "You've been with NCIS for a long time?"
Gibbs nodded. "Nineteen years."
"How many SecNav's have you seen in your day?"
"Seven," he answered simply.
"And how many NCIS directors?
"And yet you're still here."
"Yep Leon, I'm still here."
Vance pretended to consider that for a moment before nodding speculatively. "I like my chances."
Jarvis was beyond words. He looked ready to have a stroke as his eyes darted between the two defiant men.
"So," Vance sat down in his desk and continued in a conversational tone as if he were simply conducting a daily briefing. "We here at NCIS are ready to put this mess behind us. We'll all continue to work together to fulfill our duties to the best of our abilities. And we're happy to work beside you now, moving forward Mr. Secretary," Vance's eyes narrowed minutely as he studied the man he once considered a friend. "But you've seen how we do things here Clay. And I'd strongly advise that you remember that before you even think about using any of my people again."
The warning rang loudly in the silent room. Jarvis' expression was unreadable as he studied the stony faced men in front of him. "This isn't over Leon," he growled, throwing an acerbic look at Gibbs before turning and pushing past the younger agents.
The door slammed loudly behind him. After a long moment, everyone seemed to let out a collective breath.
"Good work," Vance said finally. He looked specifically to Tony and Ziva. "I regret the position you two were in, but I appreciate how well you handled it."
They nodded in acknowledgement, turning then to get their marching orders.
Gibbs nodded towards the door. "Go home, get some rest."
"Thank you boss," they muttered, glad to be free of the room, free of the case.
Vance turned to Gibbs, who sighed and leaned back against the windowsill.
"So think he go the message?" Vance prompted.
Gibbs shrugged. "Doesn't much matter to me; I like my chances too. But what about you Leon? You said it yourself. You're tangled up in this mess…"
Vance chuckled. "I'd be a hypocrite if, after what I said to Jarvis, I tried to weasel out of my own culpability. The Committee will investigate. And I will accept whatever conclusions they reach."
Gibbs sighed. "For what it's worth, I think you'll be exonerated of any blame. You're a good Director, and we need you here," he said gruffly.
Vance's lips twitched with a smile. "Coming from you Gibbs, it's worth a lot."
"I'm going home and sleeping until Monday morning," McGee yawned as they trudged back down the stairs.
"Puleease, Elf Lord," Tony teased. "You'll be on your computer in an hour's time and pass the weekend as you do any other...in the realm of virgin geekdom."
McGee shot him a look and looked ready to retort, but he stopped when they rounded the corner of the bullpen and saw EJ sitting at Tony's desk.
Tony simply stared at her, his expressional veiled. As the silence grew awkward, McGee cleared his throat. "We'll resume this conversation on Monday Tony," he said, quickly grabbing his bag and heading for the elevator.
EJ stood up, coming around the front of Tony's desk to stare up at him. Ziva hovered uncomfortably nearby. Tony had picked her up that morning and she didn't have a ride home. She could have - should have - caught up with McGee, and yet she instead found herself looking to Tony. "I will wait for you outside," she said softly, moving for the stairs.
Tony leaned against his own desk, arms crossed as he studied EJ. He was glad to see that the fury and fear that had frequented her eyes for the past day had been replaced with a look of resignation.
"You talk to Vance earlier?" He asked finally.
She nodded. "Yep and just finished up with the legal department. I am submitting my resignation from NCIS immediately. No surprise there. There will be an Internal Affairs investigation of myself and Kade regarding our part in the P2P case. And I will likely have to testify at the Congressional Hearings at some point…"
Tony scoffed and nodded. "Yeah, I think we can all expect an invitation to that shindig."
EJ gave a short laugh. "Probably. But I'll take what I deserve. Vance doesn't foresee any...jail time...for my actions," she swallowed hard, her brow furrowing as she looked down. She took a deep breath and shook it off, continuing. "Tony, I just want you to know, I think I understand why you did what you did. Even if you don't understand my actions…"
Tony simply tilted his head to the side, unsure how to answer that, unsure if he even knew the answer.
EJ crossed her arms in front of her, looking around awkwardly. "Well, I'm heading home to Rochester for awhile. Time to clear my head, I think." She looked straight at him. "I am...sorry, Tony."
Tony pursed his lips. "Yeah...yeah me too, EJ." He was sorry for a lot of things, things he would have to spend the next few weeks sorting out, but he knew instinctively that their contritions were worlds apart on the spectrum of regrets and guilt.
She looked for a split second like she would extend a hand or even a hug, but she thought better of it, and Tony was glad. Instead, she just gave him a little nod and walked quickly to the elevator. She pressed the button, then turned and called out to him.
"Hey Tony?" He looked up to meet her gaze.
"You're lucky to have the team that you do. Don't take it for granted."
He gave a small smile, more for himself than for her benefit. "I know."
Tony took a deep breath as he stepped outside, turning his face up to the warm sun. It was shaping up to be a gorgeous summer day. His wandered a few minutes looking for Ziva and finally found her leaning against a railing, staring out across the Anacostia.
She heard him coming, of course. Damn Ninja Genes.
"How did it go?"
"Well I think I'll be canceling my Memorial Day plans with EJ," he joked unsuccessfully. He could hear her small sigh and mentally head slapped himself for being a smart ass. After all that had happened in the past few days, he could at least give her a serious answer.
He tried again. "I am sorry to see it come to this. We were over before we ever really started but still, you think you know someone..."
Ziva gave a hard laugh that Tony took to say I know what you mean, and looked down to something in her hand. Tony followed her gaze and grimaced; she was twirling the engagement ring between her fingers.
"Have you talked to Ray?"
She didn't answer, but fished her phone from her back pocket and handed it to him.
Tony looked down at the text message on the screen and felt the muscles in his jaw flex.
I'm sorry Ziva. It wasn't all lies. Take care of yourself.
"That's it?" He said angrily, scrolling down and expecting more. "That's all he had to say for himself?"
She shrugged, her gaze back on the twirling ring as she pushed a few strands of windswept hair back from her face. "I am assuming either Jarvis or Austin told him what has happened. In any case, he knows. I know. And so he is on his way back to Miami, and now the charade is over."
"I'm sorry Ziva," he said softly.
She nodded a few times. "The thing is, Tony. I am not sure that I am…" She flipped the ring into her palm, studying it for several long seconds before suddenly pulling her arm back and throwing the small object as far as she could.
Tony stood agape, watching as the ring tumbled gracefully through the air, winking in the sunlight once before disappearing into the murky waters.
He let out a huff of breath. "It was a fake?" He guessed.
He could see her shaking her head even as he continued to stare at the spot where the ring had disappeared. "Oh no, very real. Beautiful cut and clarity."
He groaned, turning to her. "Seriously?"
Ziva gave him a sad smile but a small wink. "Never doubt an Israeli about diamonds..."
Tony couldn't hide his pained look and tried not to think about how many more fun ways they could have spent Ray Cruz's money.
She laughed softly, deciphering his expression and turned away from the water. "C'mon DiNozzo. You drive, lunch is on me."
Tony returned her smile and couldn't help but notice that she looked more peaceful and less troubled than she had in months. Come to think of it, he felt the same. Maybe chucking the blasted thing into the river hadn't been such a bad idea.
And that's all she wrote! Part of me wanted to crucify EJ and have a giant dramatic final encounter between Ziva and Ray, but I think this is a little more fitting and true to character. I hope you agree!
Thank you so much for hanging in there with me through my first attempt at a casefic. It is so gratifying to have made it through, and knowing that others were actually enjoying it was icing on the cake!
I will probably start posting my new story within the month, so please subscribe or check back. Here is a little preview:
Death is supposed to be an irreversible condition. Ziva is painfully of aware of that fact from a lifetime surrounded by it, until a ghost finds her one day in the bullpen and turns her understanding of death on its head. But joy is tempered by grim reality, and the sins of her family lurk in the shadows. Will she have reunited with the person she loved unconditionally only to watch it all slip away again?
It's not nearly as soap operaesque as it sounds. It will also be partial casefic, but that will be secondary to the character-driven story.
Thank you again, and if you've been reading silently all along, now would be the PERFECT time to leave a final note! :)