A/N Welcome to the final chapter of the story. A reviewer told me that I should feel free to make this last one extra long and it is quite long, I'm afraid. I briefly considered splitting it to make it easier to read but eventually decided against it. Thank-you to everyone for their support in reviewing, following and adding this to their favourites list. I hope everyone will enjoy this last chapter.
Just to clarify, there are certain individuals who are used as part of the story who have had the Thom E. Gemcity treatment since Fan Fiction rules do not permit stories about real people. Just wanted to point out that these mistakes are actually intentional and no reflection on the Beta skills of the wonderful Arress. Real individuals or movies that Tony quotes are still referred to accurately though. If that sounds confusing, you'll understand when you read the chapter :D
Several people accurately identified the episodes in the previous chapter. For the record they are in order or appearance: An Eye For an Eye, Iced, Left For Dead and Probie. FYI, the sequel to this story is titled What a Difference a Year Makes: 8760 Little Hours. Hope to have it up soon :)
Will the Real Narcissist Please Stand up
Anthony DiNozzo, former special agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, or at least he would be when his resignation took effect at the end of the month, smoothed down the sleeves on his beloved Armani jacket. Picking up his car keys, bottle of vintage red wine and a box of handmade Belgian chocolate truffles, he left his apartment with a truly soul searing sigh. The last thing that he felt like doing tonight was driving halfway across DC, especially in the rain for a dinner party with a bunch of people that he didn't even know. Hell, even if he'd known the dinner guests, he wouldn't feel like attending some fashionable DC networking event, but he couldn't get out of it without offending his host. His attendance was quid pro quo of sorts, but Tony was merely going through the motions, putting in an appearance even if his heart wasn't in it.
Before he'd tendered his resignation officially, he'd kept his promise to Faith Coleman. She'd made appointments for him to receive legal opinions about the tenability of his position in law enforcement from the best legal minds. The JAG officer had been true to her promise, and had organised for him to see the Judge Advocate General and the Attorneys' General for DC, Virginia and Maryland, and the Federal AG for good measure. She'd even gone with him to determine if his situation could be salvaged, but as they had already suspected, it would be difficult although not entirely impossible after the hatchet job that Jefferies had engineered, especially when the jury had failed to convict. Although privately, Tony thought that Gibbs was probably just as much of a lame duck, it wasn't really his concern anymore.
Of course, Gibbs had singlehandedly found a way to do his job while stubbornly refusing to obey many of the rules and regulations of the agency for over a decade and a half and ignored his superiors when it suited him. In fact, he'd thrived and flourished where anyone else would have been fired long ago. He was a paradox for sure. He'd filled in as the Acting Director on more than one occasion and if he wanted the big chair, then he would have got it because no one refused Gibbs once he set his mind on something, irrespective of his often outrageous behaviour. But then, there had always been rumours that Gibbs knew where all the bodies were buried, so perhaps that explained it.
Gibbs had always been the sort of guy to make a square peg fit into a round hole, even if he had to pound it in. Remembering how Cynthia, Director Shepard's PA, had told him Gibbs had told Jenny she was a junior director once when she reminded him during a dressing down that she wasn't a junior agent, and he walked away without consequences. He was sure if anyone else had been so contemptuously insubordinate, they'd be sent to an office in Outer Mongolia, but Gibbs was the original Teflon man - nothing stuck to him. Maybe he would just intimidate all the JAG personnel and the defence attorneys in DC or do a Vulcan like memory wipe using a Marine nerve grip and wipe away any memory of his little credibility issues caused by Howard Jefferies, but one thing Tony knew… he wasn't Gibbs.
If he hadn't known it when he was first hired, he was well and truly acquainted with the concept after he'd led the team for a few highly stressed months when Gibbs resigned. His oh so helpful colleagues wasted absolutely no opportunity in telling him, showing him, mocking him or ignoring him, and even if he was just a dumb jock, he could take a hint. So, while his career was effectively toast, no doubt Gibbs would manage to brush the crap off his boots and rise up like the famed phoenix from the ashes, because after all he was Gibbs. So, after Faith had been satisfied that she hadn't given him bad advice, that they'd confirmed he was the agency equivalent to Mark Furman, i.e. the poisoned chalice, he'd gone ahead and handed in his notice, and really he just couldn't bring himself to care. Truthfully, he couldn't seem to shake off the anguished expressions of Verity and James Weber and he saw them when he closed his eyes and when he got up every morning. The sense of failure was overwhelming and he was finding it hard to feel passionate about anything anymore.
Arriving at the modest six-bedroom Georgian home of his host, slightly damp and knocking at the front door, he sighed again, wishing that this dinner party was already finished. Plastering an insincere if fairly convincing smile on his face, the door opened and he was greeted with Tom Morrow's effusive smile when he saw Tony standing on the front doorstep.
Extending his hand, he welcomed him warmly. "Tony, I'm glad you came. I wasn't sure you would."
Tony shrugged as he entered the cosy home of his old boss and smiled wryly, "I didn't want to. No offence, but I'm not feeling very much like socialising…" He handed over his bottle of wine and chocolate truffles, "For Mrs. Morrow and you, Sir."
Leading him into the spacious living area, Tom laid a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Tonight, please call us Tom and Lynette, Tony. Thank you for the wine, that's a good vintage, and you remembered my wife's weakness for chocolates, but then you always noticed the little things. She'll love you," he chuckled. "As to our guests tonight, most are up and coming artists, actors and musicians that my wife takes a special interest in. You might remember she is on the board of the Washington Philharmonic and the Hirshhorn Museum at the Smithsonian. She is quite a patron of the arts, so you shouldn't be too bored with political machinations tonight. Although there is someone here who is eager to talk to you."
Tony stared at the Deputy Director of Homeland Security. Honestly, if Morrow was playing cupid and trying to set him up with someone…although realistically that was probably more Mrs. Morrow's style. He didn't want to have to be social with anyone at the moment let alone go on a date, God forbid! He just wanted to be left alone, even though he appreciated everyone's concern.
Morrow dragged him over to a group of people standing making polite chit-chat as one did at a dinner party, to introduce him to the group and Tony was mildly disconcerted to see Dr. Susan Faber smiling at him.
Raising an eyebrow he smiled thinly. "Hey, Doc, didn't know that you knew the Morrows."
Moving away from the group by tacit agreement to speak privately, the angular, ash blonde smiled at him. "Well, not all that well, only from when our paths crossed when he was the director. But I kind of invited myself to dinner when I heard rumours that you were emerging out of your bat cave, tonight. You know, you're a hard person to get a hold of lately, Tony?" she chided him gently.
Accepting the rebuke in the spirit that it had been intended, out of genuine concern for him, he smiled grimly. "Not feeling very social right now, Doc, y'know?"
Assessing him with a frankly clinical air, Susan looked less than impressed with his current mask. "I think we got that email, Tony, but you have to understand that you have some good people in your corner who care about you a lot and you have us worried." She smiled kindly, "I heard that there was quite a scene at your apartment following the verdict last week?"
Tony shook his head, a genuine grin briefly dancing across his face as he remembered the finale to that shit-filled day.
Eventually, Tony realised that someone was pounding on his door and threatening to break it down. Figuring it was Gibbs come to yell at him for well… maybe possessing a head that had wilfully connected with el Jefe's hand, or possibly Vance come to fire him, he decided that he'd better open the door. Not that he wanted to see either man or indeed anyone actually, but whoever it was didn't sound like they'd go away and he would just end up with a busted door. Striding to the door, flinging it open and determined to tear strips off his unwelcome guest, he stepped back, shocked as he regarded his would-be destroyer-of-doors in stunned silence. For once he was lost for words.
Staring into the scared faces of Jimmy Palmer and Nikki Jardine with Rocky Balboa who was racing up the stairwell, skidding to a stop in front of Tony's now open door way, he looked between the trio.
"Are you okay Tony?" Balboa asked, rather breathlessly after jogging up three flights of stairs flat out.
Tony nodded and gestured for them to come into the apartment, since a small crowd of his neighbours had gathered outside in the hallway, and Tony really didn't want to create any more of a scene than they already had. Wandering to his fridge and snagging four bottles of beer, he turned his stereo low and invited them to sit down, handing them all a beer.
Looking at his friends in confusion, he asked, "What are you doing here and why are you threatening to break down my door?"
It seemed that Balboa had been tacitly appointed spokesperson for the group. "We were worried when you wouldn't answer your phone, Tony, and when you wouldn't talk to Palmer and Nikki and refused to open the door, they got scared and called me."
Tony felt a little guilty, he hadn't felt like talking, but he hadn't meant to worry them. "Okay, I should have sent a text I guess, but c'mon, guys, it's not a reason to threaten to kick my door down - dramatic much? My neighbours undoubtedly think my friends are certifiable."
Palmer gave a long suffering sigh. "We didn't threaten to kick the door in because you didn't answer the phone, Tony. Well, not just because… you scared me when you wouldn't open the door. We knocked and you wouldn't answer and I was expecting to find you…" He seemed reluctant to finish the sentence and when Tony realised what his friend was alluding to, he understood his reluctance to voice his fears. If he hadn't already contemplated it, Jimmy didn't want to plant the thought in his clearly disturbed brain.
"Hey, Gremlin, I told you before that I wasn't going to end it all like some tragic heroine in a cheap romance novel. I've worked enough suicides not to do that to you guys." Besides he finished silently, there were ways of taking care of things so you didn't leave a messy corpse behind for other people to have to clean up. "I still don't get why you didn't just ask me to let you in instead of threatening to break down the door, although who knew that our baby gremlin would go all He-Man on me. You're all grown up now, aren't you, Jimmy?"
Palmer went a pretty shade of pink while Nikki and Balboa sniggered. Still not looking convinced by Tony's statement about not planning on harming himself, he was also clearly irritated. "Damn it, Tony, Nikki and I pounded on the freakin door for twenty minutes and you never answered. Tell me what the Hell were we supposed to think?"
Okay, probably a fair point, Tony conceded silently. "Sorry, Jimmy, but I didn't hear you, honest, I must have zoned out or something. Just needed to get away for a while, y'know?" he apologised, sheepishly. Haven't lost time like that for too long to remember, but not a habit he wanted to encourage even if the shrinks said it was a coping mechanism, a reaction to extreme stress - albeit an unhealthy one.
End of flashback
Susan smiled at Tony, dolefully. "They were scared, Tony. Jimmy said that Nikki was so worked up she was attacking your door without bacterial hand wipes or her latex gloves. And they are all concerned that you've shut yourself away and are avoiding everyone. Cassie said you turned down a pizza and movie the other night. So, talk to me, please."
"Hey," he protested defensively, "I have so been out this week. Faith and I have been doing the rounds of the Attorneys' General, and I went into the Naval Yard to hand in my letter of resignation. That's hardly cloistering myself up in the castle turrets, not in my book, anyway Doc."
"Maybe," she conceded, "But you have been pushing your support network away. You do realise that just because you are planning on leaving, that they don't plan on forgetting you. They want to be there for you and to stay in contact with you, you idiot. As I said before, they care about you. A. LOT."
Tony snorted in amusement, "And that's why I love you, Doc, cuz you're the only shrink I know that would tell a crazy person they're an idiot. Not that I'm deflecting or indulging in self-deceptive behaviour, nope, just that I'm an idiot. Where were you when I was doing mandatory counselling or psych evals? I might have even thrown caution to the winds and tackled my intimacy issues. I actually might have disclosed something significant, Susan." he teased her, flirting with her, gently.
What she was going to retort was lost when Lynette Morrow appeared in the room to conduct everyone to the dining room to eat. Grabbing her arm and offering his own to escort her in, Tony piloted her to the dining table and held out her chair for her to sit down, before taking the seat beside her. Looking around the table he could see that Tom hadn't been fast and loose with the truth. There were no asses from the Hill that needed kissing at this table, hallelujah!
Many of the guests had a bohemian air about them or an unconventional, nonconformist appearance so far removed from the political types or spooks that he had been expecting to see. There was no way these body pierced, dreadlocked; Tele-tubby tinted hair-dyed and tattooed types were anything but artists, actors and musos. Well, with the exception of the pair walking to the table beside Morrow that was. They looked as out of place here among Lynette Morrow's artsy chick-lets as an elephant dressed in a tutu at the ballet.
He guessed since they were in the Morrow home that they really hadn't been headhunting that scum-sucking shyster, ambulance chasing Howard Jefferies, after all. They were Tom's cronies evidently, although the stunning blonde with the riotous curls had traded her ultra-chic Chanel suit for an extremely elegant lace number that was still avant-garde enough to fit in with the artistic dinners. Seeing Susan admiring the dress, he leaned in to ask if she thought it was a Collette Dinnigan design, an up and coming designer making a name for herself. Jeanne had been a big fan of hers and had several of her gowns, admiring the femininity of her formal dresses and he really had to stop doing that, since she was a part of his past. Curly lock's escort, however, looked like exactly what he was - a suit. He was oh so very average in every sense, that Tony figured the guy just had to be a spy and figured he was about to find out who it was that wanted to offer him a job.
Although he was really not keen on the thought of more subterfuge and duplicity, he'd promised Tom that he'd at least consider the job offer, so he supposed that he would have to listen politely before rejecting it. Meanwhile, the food was simple, unpretentious and delicious, and Tom had excellent wines to accompany the various courses. Tony was relieved when none of the guests felt the need to make polite chit-chat or ask what he and the Doc did for a living Although he was surprised when the suit, who introduced himself as Carter Johnson, mentioned he was a producer who had a production company that made reality TV programs and his companion was a Hollywood publicist called Ceinwen Davies. More surprising though, was that several of Mrs. Morrow's aspiring baby thespians seemed to have heard of both of them, so maybe he was losing his touch and they really were just superficial members of the glitterati, after all. He really wasn't a fan of the genre, although the descriptor 'reality' was something of a misnomer as far as he was concerned, since nothing about it was real.
After dinner, Lynette Morrow moved everyone adroitly into a rather spacious music room, housing a grand piano and invited her musical protégés to perform for them all. A young virtuoso wowed them with her classical ability on the piano before she graciously agreed to accompany a mezzo soprano and a tenor who were beginning to garner attention as rising stars of the Washington National Opera, and they sang a number of songs from Madame Butterfly. Then a slightly older musician made his Rhonheimer violin sing for them all, before he played a duet with a painfully thin and awkward woman who dragged out her cello and captivated them all with their magic, her awkwardness forgotten as she lost herself in her music.
Finally, Lynette turned to Tony and smiled winsomely, "Tom tells me you play piano, too, Tony. Please, would you grace us with a song or two?"
Tony wondered how Morrow knew he could play. He'd once posed as a pianist in a jazz bar where they were trying to crack a prostitution ring. That had been when he worked in Baltimore, but it hadn't been an exactly high profile bust and he was surprised that Tom would know about it. Then again, Jenny had him posing as a guitar strumming, reggae singing, street busker when he was running surveillance on La Grenouille and that odious CIA rat bastard, Trent Kort, a couple of years ago. Not sure how she knew he could play guitar, either.
Still, Tony hated performing like this. It reminded him of when he was a child and his mother used to dress him in outlandish sailor suites, or else mini three-piece copies of his father's suits, and have him perform at their society or business dinners. And he hated to be put on the spot, but he could hardly refuse without being rude, so he reluctantly stood and made his way over to the piano stool, wondering what the Hell he was going to play.
Maybe it was thinking about his stint in the jazz bar, but he figured anything classical he offered up following the young virtuoso and Lynette's protégés would inevitably be a huge let down and embarrass the Hell out of him, so the recently unemployed former agent decided to improv. some of his beloved jazz for his captive audience. Tony had always found solace in sitting down and losing himself in his music, but he didn't find the same satisfaction playing for an audience even if, surprisingly, the musicians seemed appreciative of his amateur efforts. Susan Faber appeared stunned, but in a good way, and applauded him generously when he finished playing.
Later she gave him a contemplative look. "You're a dark horse, Tony. Where'd you learn to play like that and why wasn't it in your file?"
He shrugged, like it wasn't enough to have had to bare his soul for the Wells debacle, "My mother was a talented musician, she taught me to play. As to why it wasn't in my file, I don't see that it's relevant." Along with the elocution lessons, the dressage training, fencing lessons, ballroom dancing, French classes and a few other things he didn't even want to think about. Sometimes he'd felt a bit like Little Lord Fauntleroy or a character in one of the Bronte sisters' novels as a young kid. No wonder I ended up being so screwed up.
Later on, Tom invited him into his study for a cognac, along withCarter Johnson, when it was the turn of the thespians to entertain everyone with their oratory skills. Tony was relieved, as he wasn't in the mood to listen to declamations. He'd frankly been forced to listen to way too many during the Wells trial. As he settled into one the comfortable leather wing chairs, Tony was somewhat surprised to see that Ceinwen Davies had joined him. So this wasn't brandy and cigars in the billiard room for the men moment, then. Although he was somewhat amused when Morrow handed Johnson a Havana, but neither man lit up and he didn't bother to offer Tony one, probably in deference to his battle-scarred set of lungs.
As they all sat silently sipping on their French brandy, there was a slightly awkward atmosphere which Tony decided to smash, since he was pretty sure that they weren't who they claimed to be.
"So, Mr. Johnson, are you really a producer of 'reality' television or are you a spook?" Tony enquired, in a deceptively friendly tone.
Tom's cognac apparently went down the wrong way as he started choking violently, while the spectacular Ms. Davies smiled rather maliciously at the Suit.
Johnson stared at Tony appraisingly. "You are as sharp as your reputation suggests, Agent DiNozzo, and obviously you don't beat around the bush, which can be an admirable trait. So, to answer your questions: yes and yes."
Tony absorbed that information dispassionately before turning to Davies. "And are you really a Hollywood publicist or a spy, too?"
She smiled, "Yes, Tony, I am really a publicist and I'm also a spy, and I don't suppose I need to mention that if you tell anyone about my second job, I'll have to kill you."
Tony looked unperturbed by the rejoinder. "Duly noted, Ms. Davies, so I guess it's fortunate that I am the model of discretion. Therefore, I guess it would be fair to assume that tonight is a job interview?"
Seeing the pair of spooks look over at Morrow with a censorious air, Tony interjected. "Hey, I have multiple sources and Tom simply advised me to listen to any job offers I might find coming my way. I'd already notice you two in the courtroom, nice suit by the way," he smiled at Ceinwen. "Carter, I hope you don't mind me being too forward, but a word of advice. When you're trying to blend in and go unnoticed, being too boringly average can be more suspicious than standing out a little bit. There's such a thing as trying too hard to hide in plain sight, and that's suspect in and of itself. Add a colourful tie or complementary toned shirt or even some flashy shoes, and you'll merge in much better."
Johnson looked amused and impressed rather than irritated to have someone twenty years his junior giving him advice on flying below the radar. He looked at Morrow and nodded. "He's everything I hope for, Tom. We'll take him."
Tony cleared his throat dramatically. "I think what we have here is failure to communicate," he drawled. "When I said that this was a job interview I meant that I would be interviewing you. You need to convince me I should work with you, since I'm not really looking to move into spooking." He grinned at the bemused expressions on the faces of the two spies as he exchanged an amused glance with his old boss. "Did I miss something or did I send out feelers that I was looking for employment, Sir?"
Morrow chuckled and looked across at his old partner, his eyes dancing with merriment. "Looks like you're gonna have to woo if him if you want him, Carter. He isn't all that keen on spies, been burnt, as I think I mentioned."
Johnson looked frustrated. "What do you want, DiNozzo, big bucks, fancy cars?"
"The truth, I need to be told the truth. I'm done with lies, betrayals, half-truths and deception." Tony stated passionately. "I won't tolerate it any longer; I need to trust the people I work with or I can't work with them. So, before I even think about accepting a job, I need for you to convince me that you won't feed me BS. I'd rather be told that I can't know the truth than to be lied to… Then I have to figure out if I can trust you. So go ahead… try to sell me the condo that I don't need or want."
Johnson stared at him and nodded, gathering his thoughts. "This new millennium has brought about several important changes in the way we protect our country, mainly because our country has changed," He began, somewhat pompously.
"Apart from the technological changes, we have the Cult of the Celebrity now, where society worships at the altar of people who are famous. While we have always admired movie stars and musicians, rock stars and the like, with the rise of reality TV there has been an upsurgeance in people becoming famous for being... well, famous and they have become role models, God help us all… and people that we aspire to become. Like the Paris Hyatt's and Nicoletta Richie's from that program The Great Life. And focus groups have already forecast that a new crop of celebrity television shows and stars will rise to popularity, such as a new show called Keeping Up Appearances with the Karlashians, although, personally I think it sounds like a pretty weak premise to base a show upon, in all conscience. Who'd want to waste time watching a bunch of vapid clotheshorses every week? Then again, the hit shows Holly Wood Hills and The Real Wives of Lemon County seemed pretty stupid, too, but are ratings successes, so what the Hell do I, a mere male, know."
Tony snorted thinking this must be the most inane job interview ever and wondered where this guy was headed and would he ever get to the point. And he'd though Ducky was longwinded.
He continued, "We've come a long way from the first reality shows of the nineties like Every Day Cops, which were genuine fly-on-the-wall documentary-type realities shows. Now, we have all sorts of 'reality shows', but there's not much that is real about them, well, no more than World of Wrestling…"
Tony sniggered remembering Jimmy's shocked expression at a crime scene when Ducky had commented casually that his mother loved watching the wrestling and he didn't have the heart to tell her that it was all a sham. Poor Gremlin had, like the late Victoria Mallard, thought that it had all been entirely on the up and up.
"…Yet Dancing with the Celebrities, America's Next Hot Model, The Lonely Bachelor and Surviving have all helped create a swag of new celebrities and starlets who are famous for being famous, and we have a never ending demand for celebrities who indulge in TMI* that is insatiable. We began to realise that it was possible to use reality television for our own intelligence purposes as a front for counter-intelligence operations. Our organisation produces The Greatest Race Around the World program,and it gives us the perfect cover to traipse into the worlds' hotspots. Our film crews and contestants create a circus making the show and pouring cash into the economy of countries that harbour unfriendlies and diverting attention away from our operatives who can go in under cover, gather intelligence and carry out operations."
Tony considered the information he'd been offered. "Okay, I can see how that might be a smart use of resources and taking advantage of circumstances, but what's that got to do with me and my undercover skills, which according to my sources is what you're interested in? You want me to become a contestant? Because that isn't something that I'm interested in, sorry."
Johnson smirked. "Oh, trust me, Tony, that would be such a waste of your very unique talents. We have a separate division to our ... production company. Mostly our operatives are undercover with stars and celebrities that have the right profile for our specific needs. We look for stars that are hugely famous right around the globe rather than just popular in the US." Tony noticed that Carter was getting enthused about his subject, and Tom and Ceinwen were engaged, too.
"We want to utilise the stars that can get entre to places and people where the usual NSA or CIA operative would never get a foot inside the compound," He continued. "Even dictators and despots, drug and war lords, arms and weapons dealers and, surprisingly, terrorists, will invite a Madinna, Bon Javi, Sean Monnery, George Cooney or an Angelina Julie for a party to impress their guests and business associates. They gain status by having them attend and they gain notoriety orbiting around the stars. So, we've placed people undercover in stars' entourages who have the right profile. Our people are like remora on a shark and can slip in with the celebrity and be invisible. So our operatives are the stylists and makeup artists, the personal chefs and trainers that seem to be de rigueur these days, even for your average celebrity."
"Or a high-profile Hollywood publicist?" Tony inquired slyly.
Ceinwen laughed and he noted absently that her laugh had a pleasing musical quality. "Exactly!"
Tony frowned, still not getting the point. "Okay, guys, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't see the benefit of your operation. The KGB used to travel around with the Bolshoi Ballet and other State run cultural groups spying on the West during the Cold War when they toured, especially outside the Iron Curtain. But not really seeing any of this that has my name jumping up and biting me on the ass and begging me to get involved. I mean, obviously I have a degree in physical education so I could work as a personal trainer, but frankly I would be climbing the walls pandering to some star after a few months and I take it these gigs are long term. So I have to decline the offer."
Tom grinned at his old friend, "You might want to get to the good bits, Carter, before your brand new blue-eyed boy turns you down flat. Lucky you're a spy and not a used car salesman, because I think that you might starve," he teased.
Flashing an exasperated scowl at his old buddy he shook his head and smirked, "Not helping, Tom!" before addressing Tony dryly. "Well, Tony, you're harder to persuade than my first wife when I tried to convince her to sleep with me on our first date."
The former federal agent smirked, "Carter, don't go getting your hopes up. You're so not my type and anyway, I have no intention of ending up as some rich reality producer's trophy wife. I'd never settle for less than a Hollywood movie producer."
Joining in the laughter at his expense, Johnson glared at them all. "Okay, wise ass. We don't want you to be part of an entourage, Anthony. We want you to acquire an entourage." Seeing the confusion in Tony's eyes he smiled. "Look, we want you to create an undercover persona as a movie star. Everyone I've talked to about you raves about your acting ability, so this seems like a perfect marriage. I've pulled some strings to get you your first audition, but it will be up to you and your skills from here on in, to land the role and then start building up your resume, since you have to do this the old-fashioned way to avoid any suspicions. Once you have some credibility, we can start creating a movie star persona and build up your entourage of hangers on, but in your case, they will all just be window dressing. You'll only have your handler who will know exactly what you really are and have your back."
Seeing Tony's astonished expression, Tom smiled. "I never thought I live to see the day you'd be lost for words, Tony."
Finally he shook his head, dazed by the suggestion. "Okay, hanging out with actors and directors, making movies, being undercover and still being able to use my skills to make a real difference and help people, that all sounds fantastic and challenging enough so that I wouldn't be bored, I'll admit, but this is nuts, you are nuts."
Johnson stared at him. "Tony, anyone who can stay undercover with the mafia for a year, who can take on the lead of the MCRT and handle training a new senior field agent plus a probie, carry on an undercover mission simultaneously and keep their team mates from knowing about it, and maintaining the role for almost a year, can do this. You love movies, but more importantly you had the knowledge about cinematography to pose as a professor. I watched you play your part during the trial," He noticed the same dangerous expression that he'd observed when he'd mentioned The Frog operation and hurried on.
"You've played a wide variety of characters during your undercover career, so I see no reason we… you wouldn't be able to pull this off. Our analysts have crunched the numbers and we have no doubt. We believe in you, and this isn't something that we dreamed up in the last few weeks. We've been planning this for a few years now, but our sources told us you weren't psychologically ready to leave NCIS before now."
Grimacing at that statement, Tony looked across at his old boss questioningly. "It's true Tony, I've seen the analyses by the boffins, but more to the point, I've seen you under pressure and under cover and I think that you can pull this off, if anyone can, and you decide it is something you want to do. The downside, though, is that some people will take your success in your new job as proof positive of narcissism, in spite of everything."
"Um … thanks, Tom, for the vote of confidence, that means a lot. And those people already think it of me anyway and nothing I did or will do is going to change the way they see me," He said wistfully, thinking of the team. "I'm always gonna be a joke." Tony stated sardonically.
"So… if, and I stress if… I did this, I would need to know who I'd be working with, my partner, before I make a decision…" he started explaining as Ceinwen rose and approached him.
Holding out her hand she said, "Hi, Ceinwen Davies, I'll be your handler, Tony. My mother was a minor but respected character actress and she has provided me with tons of contacts in Hollywood, while my father worked for MI6. So, I also have a healthy network of contacts in the counter-intelligence world, too. I'm going to make you famous," she grinned.
"So, what - that makes you Henry Higgins and I'm Eliza Doolittle? he quipped.
"Exactly," she grinned and reached over gently and took hold of his jaw with her small strong hand and turned his head first one way to examine his profile and then to the other side, examining him with a critical air. "How would you feel about going a few shades lighter with some blonde highlights? And we need to let your hair grow out a wee bit, too, so we subtly change your appearance. We won't hide your past, but we won't go out and shout it to the world either. We'll play up your background as a cop if necessary and downplay the Fed angle, although frankly, most people have never heard of NCIS anyway, so it shouldn't raise too much suspicion if push comes to shove. Once you've started building some cred, no one will be that interested in your old life. Especially when you start dating celebrities - that will sell more magazines."
Ceinwen stared at him appraisingly. "With your acting ability and musical talent, we can make you into the next Hugh Jackman. Do you sing?"
Tony looked embarrassed. "Um, no," as Tom said "Yes, he can. He used to sing in the bullpen all the time."
"Great, we can organise a voice coach and an accent coach, too, so you can audition for more roles," Ceinwen nodded as if it was a fait au compli. Pulling out a folder from her oversized handbag she dropped it in Tony's lap, which he looked at curiously.
"And this is?" He asked.
She grinned. "That's the screen play and script for the movie we have organised for you to audition for, for the director and producers. Read it and memorise your audition scene, then we'll rehearse before your reading. It's a biopic that is being made about the child star Natalie Wood. You're going to read for the role of her husband, Robert John Wagner, so go away and prepare, study his films. You look enough like him that we were able to get you a reading, but the rest will be up to you…if you decide take up our job offer, of course." She looked at him appraisingly. "My business card is attached to the script, by the way."
Tom looked at Carter, "I think you've given him enough to chew on for tonight. So time to let him think about the job, hey, Tony?"
Johnson smiled and promised to be in touch. "While you think about it, think about the sort of persona you want to create, because if you do this, you'll be undercover long term.
~ Will The Real Narcissist Please Stand Up ~
Tony closed the door of his apartment, placing his car keys in a small ceramic dish on the hall table beside the door and opened the drawer and stowed his wallet away. Wandering in and collapsing on the sofa, he threw the script onto the coffee table and considered his night. It certainly didn't go down the way that he'd thought it would. He'd been expected to be bored to tears with all the suits and it hadn't worked out that way at all. Standing up and heading to the kitchen to brew up a pot of green tea before bed, he remembered one of the cases that they had worked where they couldn't get into a club. Gibbs had used Thom E. Gemcity to get inside along with his entourage of Ziva, Abby and Michelle Lee, and he had to admit he could see how celebrity opened doors and let them go places they otherwise couldn't.
Thinking about what would have to be the undercover role of the century, it occurred to him it would be like he was an American version of 007…sort of and how cool would it be if he managed to become the new James Bond after Daniel Craig? Well, supposing that he actually decided to take the job, that is. The question was simple, could he trust Carter Johnson not to chew him up and spit him out like Shepard and Vance had? At least he seemed the antithesis of charismatic and non-conformist, my way or the highway Gibbs with nary a hint of a messianic complex in sight so surely it wouldn't be a case of repeating his noxious behaviour patterns of the past. Still, knowing that this was a mission that he would be doing long term should he choose to accept it, he needed to be sure he was doing the right thing.
As he lay in bed that night, the last thing that he thought about before falling asleep was that it would be the ultimate irony if his celebrity persona bought the screen rights to Deep Six and did a little rewriting of the screen play. Then perhaps he would end up played Agent Tommy. It could be a comedy in the Zoolander style, or he could include some embarrassing details that Thom E. Gemcity didn't see fit to include in the book, like teeth whitening, poison ivy or how a super-duper computer genius managed to have his identity stolen on more than one occasion. Oh, such sweet revenge!
And there we have it people. The end of the story on a subject which in theory should have made me run a mile in the other direction. It started with a character that was a traitor eavesdropping on a private conversation and then promptly gossiped and was responsible for letting the genie out of the bottle, trashed one of the most popular characters of the show and used dry diagnostic criteria taken straight from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fourth Edition which is the psychiatric communities diagnostic and therapeutic bible and had a barrowful of psychobabble. Not the most engaging of topics with which to begin a fan fiction.
Then there were the challenges I set myself when I began writing this. For example, could I write a Michelle Lee who wasn't immediately hated by everyone, but was someone who was human yet found herself forced into an intolerable situation? Could I write her in such a way that readers felt empathy for her while not excusing what she had done? The second challenge was could I write a story where a red herring running the length of the story and keep everyone from guessing what was really going on with Jefferies planning his attack on Gibbs but using Tony as a diversion? And finally, could I write a court room scene where Gibbs, who is an accomplished interrogator, was ambushed by a defence attorney and tripped up by his own rules and actions? I leave it to you, the readers, to judge how successful those efforts have been, but while this story has been challenging in every way to write, it has also been an exciting ride from start to finish.
It would be remiss of me to not give credit where credit is due. And I owe a truckload of thanks to Arress for her amazing help and support on this one. She has been right there from its inception, helping out with research and acting as a sounding board and encouraging me every step of the way, including providing insight into Gibbs and Tony's characters. Not to mention lending her Beta skills in wrangling my punctuation into submission :)
One reviewer suggested that I should include a confrontation scene between Tony, Ziva and McGee. This story has been planned in minute detail pretty much from the get go and that wasn't ever in the story outline. With the exception of one element, I have stuck faithfully to the outline. Towards the end I decided that Faith should lose the case because while I know most people want happily ever after, it felt right, but Tony was always going to leave the team regardless. So, back to the confrontation, it has already been written into the sequel. So sorry to disappoint, but you will get it – just not yet. Thanks everyone for reading and hope you enjoyed it.
*TMI =Too much information