Good god. Tony had only himself to blame.
Before he even arrived back in LaJolla, he’d let Morrow know he wanted the job. Almost a year off the job and suddenly he was itching to get back into the thick of things. Tom had overnighted his new Homeland credentials and Tony was going to hit the Homeland office in LA to pick up a weapon.
He’d packed up his rental Ford SUV and started up the coast. Unfortunately, he was an idiot and hit peak traffic and by the time he’d hit Oceanside he was over it. He pulled off of the 5 and found a hotel on the beach.
After watching another spectacular sunset, Tony decided to see if he could get a drink. He’d pulled up a map and picked the first seedy biker type bar he could find and currently, he could only marvel at his fucking ridiculous luck.
Currently he was leaning against the bar and making sure none of the obvious criminals (and the Marines who were dealing drugs) in this bar realized he was a LEO. He didn’t look like one currently, teal board shorts, a definitely touristy t-shirt, (A little tight because he’d been swimming for the past 9 months as part of his exercise/lung therapy program), and worn in sneakers. His Oakleys were hanging off of the neck of his shirt.
He took a sip of his bourbon when a blonde woman sidled up to him. She was wearing painted on jeans, a white tank with no bra and burgundy off the shoulder blouse. Once upon a time she was probably a bombshell, but currently her face showed that she was in constant pain and was using booze or drugs to keep it at bay. Now she just looked like she’d been ridden hard and put away wet.
“Hey Sailor,” she said huskily, “Lookin’ for a good time?”
Tony smirked around the lip of his tumbler. “Sorry darlin’, you’re not what I’m looking for.”
The blonde smirked, “Wrong bar for that, sweet cheeks.”
“I’m aware,” he replied dryly. “Though there is considerable eye candy,” he charitably included her in his bar survey and she chuckled throatily.
“Smurf,” she said and held out her hand, blushing when he pulled it to his lips and pressed a kiss to the back of it.
“Gable,” he replied.
“What are you doing in O’side, Gable?” she asked curiously. He was obviously not a beach bum, jarhead, surfer, biker or a local of any sort.
Tony snorted. “The 5 killed me. I left San Diego at 2, completely forgetting traffic. After four hours watching people walk their dogs in the median I gave up and got a hotel. I’ll try again in the morning.”
Smurf snorted. “Cali traffic is a bitch, alright. Where are you from?”
“Virginia,” Tony offered. He nodded thanks at the bartender as he picked up his second, and last, bourbon.
“Long way from home,” she replied, side eyeing him as she kept her eyes on the occupants of the bar.
“Vacation. I was about to burn out and I decided sun and surf were what I needed,” Tony replied truthfully.
Smurf nodded, “Sounds like it was a smart thing to do. What do you do?”
Tony sighed, “I’m in finance. I help ‘facilitate’ deals for corporations.”
Her faded eyes sharpened. “What are your plans?”
“Headed to LAX, I’m headed back to Richmond. A family friend passed away,” Tony lied with a sigh. He was playing it up because he didn’t want to get tangled up in whatever crap was going on this little seaside bar.
Knowing he wasn’t staying around, her interest in him waned. “Sorry for your loss.”
Nodding, Tony finished up his drink and set it in the bar. He pulled his wallet out of his front pocket and passed a couple of hundreds across and nodded genially to the bartender who looked surprised.
“Nice talking to you, Smurf,” he said, sliding off the bar stool and putting his wallet back.
“You too, Gable,” she replied, her interest in him gone, which was what he’d wanted.
He strode out and turned right, heading down the sidewalk which was bustling with the beach night life.
The shadow he’d picked up at the bar kept back and to the left as Tony stopped and pretended to window shop. He eventually turned and went into a Mexican restaurant and spent a happy couple of hours flirting with the staff in Spanish and being stuffed to the gills in excellent Mexican food. Once he was finished, he left a large tip and ducked out the back and caught a taxi back to his hotel. Tail successfully ducked.
Back in his hotel room, Tony pulled out his phone and dialed the NCIS agent stationed on Pendleton to alert them about the bar and the Marines he saw breaking the law there. Everybody else wasn’t his concern at the moment, because if the local cops didn’t know what was going on, he’d eat his old NCIS cap.
“NCIS, Special Agent Sloan speaking,” a crisp female voice replied. Tony was surprised because the last he knew Jack was in San Diego.
“How special is that Special Agent?” Tony teased. He’d known Dr. Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Sloane for years
“Hey Jack, how are you?”
In her office Jack sat back in her office chair and put her pen down. “I’m shocked. I heard what happened.”
Tony settled back on the obscenely comfortable hotel bed, “I’m sure you heard a version of what happened. Why don’t you tell me what you heard and I’ll clarify or correct you.”
Jack repeated the story she’d been told thirdhand and Tony told her what really happened.
“Wow,” Jack stared blankly at the wall. “I don’t even know what to say.”
“Right?” Tony replied. “While you’re cogitating on the disaster of my life, let me tell you what I stumbled across,” and he gave her a detailed and concise report of what had been happening with the Marines at Cody’s.
“Wait, you’re here?” she demanded.
Tony smirked. “I’ve been here for almost ten months. But if you want to meet for breakfast, I’ll feed you.”
They connected in a beach side diner in San Clemente and he regaled her with his vacation photos, most of which were photos of animals from both the zoo and the wild animal park and the multitude of beautiful sunsets from his balcony.
Finally she sat back, her sides aching from laughter as he described the various people he’d seen on the shores of La Jolla. “Why didn’t you call before?” Jack demanded.
With a sigh, Tony ran a hand through his sun highlighted hair, before dropping it to fiddle with his sunglasses. “I was so burnt out. I felt betrayed and disgusted with the entirety of NCIS.”
“Even Gibbs? Everyone thought he’d drop dead of a heart attack on a crime scene and you’d step into his boots.”
Tony snorted. “Especially Gibbs, Jack. He ignored me after I’d repeatedly told him something wasn’t right. It was always, ‘I’m right and screw everyone else’s opinion.’ Now he gets to spend more time with the boat in his basement.”
Taking a sip of her coffee, she looked Tony over. He was tanned, relaxed and looked fitter than he’d ever been. “What are you going to do now?”
He smirked and slid his new credentials across the table to her.
She opened them up and looked back at him, “Homeland, Special Operations? I’ve never heard of that department.”
“You’re looking at it,” he said, leaning back in his chair, arms across his chest.
“You’re going build a team,” she said. “I’m interested.”
Surprised, Tony looked at her curiously. “I thought you were doing to be like Hetty and die at your desk for NCIS.”
Acknowledging the truth of it, Jack sighed. “Vance and Shepard set NCIS up for failure, I’m just lucky I was out here and didn’t splashed by the shit. So, I’m really interested in getting in the ground floor of something new.”
Tony fished in his wallet and handed her a card. “Send your info here. I’ll fast track it with Morrow. How soon can you move?”
Jack pursed her lips. “I have two cases going through JAG, then trial and am working on four more. Two months?”
Tony stood and held out his hand. “Welcome to HSO, Special Agent Sloane.”
Back on the road again, Tony enjoyed the ocean to his left and the towns and rolling hills to the right before he started seeing cities starting to fill in the coastal gap. He followed the GPS to the 405 and then the maze of smaller highways and then city streets until he found parking in downtown LA. He got out of the rental, threw a navy blazer over the polo shirt and khakis he was wearing and went inside.
Once he figured out the map, he found the Department of Homeland Security office and signed in, then signed a shit load of paperwork that Tom had sent over. He handed over his new i.d. to the admin and they inputted everything into the computer. Once he was done, they sent him to pick up weapons, per the directors’ instructions.
The weapons locker held a delightful and varied amount weapons regularly used by both the FBI, Homeland et.al. After a thorough look he picked both a 9mm Glock and a shoulder holster (he had an Italian leather worker back in DC who would be delighted to custom make him a new shoulder rig for his new weapon.) and a backup S&W Shield for an ankle holster. He also picked up two packages of zip-tie cuffs, just to be on the safe side. He signed for it all and handed over his Homeland i.d. and his driver’s license, then opened his wallet and pulled out a folded copy of his birth certificate and social security card and gave them that as well. He’d learned early on in his federal career that the government MAY have copies of everything, not everyone believed it and wanted proof.
The paperwork complete and weapons on, Tony actually felt better. Less naked, but that was weird. He meandered through the facility, introducing himself and getting a tour with the LA director. He realized that the man was giving him everything and stopped abruptly.
“Look, I get the issues but why tell me?” he asked bluntly.
Director Hasserman stopped. “Because you’re headed back to DC and Tom wanted you to give him an assessment of our facility.”
Tony nodded, “Okay, good to know. I wish you’d told me before but now I’m in the correct mindset. So give it to me,” he said, making a ‘bring it at me’ waved with both hands and the director laugh.
The tour was comprehensive, and Tony thought the director was doing a great job and told him so. They ended the tour in the cafeteria and Hasserman regaled him with a bizarre story of how the current Sheriff of LA county got his job.
Apparently he was something of a cowboy and over the years had made enemies in the department, but because he was the longest serving deputy some outdated (late 1800, early 1900) law made him Sheriff when the previous Sheriff dropped dead. Rumor was that he was something else, Feds either hated him, (US Border and Customs was chief among the haters since the Sheriff declined to hand over undocumented aliens) or loved him because he came down like the wrath of god on dealers and criminals and helped get a lot of cases solved.
Tony laughed and didn’t think anything of it. He asked the director for names of people who he thought might be a good fit for HSO and were willing to relocate, then headed to his hotel in Marina Del Ray. He checked in and grabbed his computer, settled on the balcony that was one story above street level with a view of the ocean and typed up his report of the LA office.
“DiNozzo?” a voice called and startled Tony out of his concentration and he looked down to see Callen and Hanna standing on the street below.
“Hey Sam, G, how are you?” he called back and sat the computer down and leaned on the balcony to smile at the agents.
“How about instead of shouting at each other on the street you invite us up,” Sam added with sarcasm, making Tony laugh.
“Come on in, I’ll meet you in the lobby,” he called. He placed the computer in the safe, along with his back-up piece, locking it and headed downstairs.
In the lobby Tony greeted the NCIS agents and took them back up to the suite he was renting.
Callen whistled in appreciation, turning to take in the suite. “Fancy.”
Tony shrugged. “I’m on vacation,” he explained, “Well, I ~was~ on vacation. I took a job with Tom Morrow and Homeland.”
Hanna nodded. “I can see that. I heard about Sciuto’s trial.”
“Ugh, it was a shit show,” Tony complained. “Drink?”
“Nah man, how about coming over for dinner,” Sam said, wandering the room and picking up random objects.
Tony looked at G in surprise and the other man shrugged. Sam looked over at the impatiently, “We’ll be able to talk and eat.”
“I’d rather not,” Tony replied honestly. “I have nothing to say to Hetty. And I’m sure she’s not run out of things to tell me about how poorly I handled things in DC. So, I’m gonna have to decline.”
G snorted because he knew Hetty wasn’t DiNozzo’s biggest fan. “That’s fair. How about ordering room service and we sit around and tell us what you’re doing in LA.”
Sam shrugged, “Let me call Michelle and tell her I’ll be late.”
The three men sat around and passed boxes of Chinese food around, while Tony told them what had happened and how the main NCIS office and MCRT had melted down.
“Well, shit show is an understatement,” G replied, stealing a piece of fried pork from the end of Tony’s chopsticks, making him laugh.
“Frankly, no matter how fond Hetty was of her, most of the bullshit was Shepard’s fault. I just was the dumbass who tried to hold everything together for Gibbs,” Tony sighed.
“No shame in that,” Sam said, he grabbed the chopsticks from G and put them in an empty box. “So, what are you doing in LA? I don’t buy the vacation story, just so you know.”
Getting up, Tony opened he safe and pulled his credentials out and tossed them to Sam.
“Homeland?” Sam asked, passing them to G.
“My own team and everything.”
G frowned at the new badge and credentials. “Doing what?” he asked, handing them back to Tony who put them into the safe.
He explained the job and what he’d be doing, and what he was looking for in a team. “I’ve already poached Jack Sloane,” he finished.
“Dr. Sloane? I had her in FLETC. She’s excellent,” Sam said, his tone impressed.
“It will piss Vance and Granger off,” G smirked, making Sam chuckle.
Tony’s eloquent shrug showed how much he cared.
“Do you know anyone that likes travel, wouldn’t mind moving to the D.C. area and would make a good team member?”
Sam stood, “Let me talk to Nell, she knows everybody. Stop by the boathouse in the morning.”
Tony agreed and when the men left, he got his computer out and finished his report. He didn’t trust the hotel wifi but he could send the report from the boathouse, and Tom would get his report securely.
His phone rang and he absently answered it, “Hello.”
“So, I’ve been getting hate mail from Vance.” Morrow’s voice was cheerful.
Tony chuckled, “What now?”
“Luckily I got your email first because he’s hot about losing Dr. Sloane.”
“Too bad for him. Watch for calls from Granger too.”
Morrow chuckled. “He’ll leave it alone if he knows what’s good for him. I told SECNAV to promote Owen instead of that sycophant Vance, and now look where we are.”
“Yep. I’m going to the boathouse tomorrow, so don’t be surprised to get an angry call from Hetty because I’m not going to bow to her emotional blackmail about ~anything~.”
“Good for you, Tony. You’re my agent now and she can complain all she wants.”
Feeling embarrassed but warm and fuzzy from being so appreciated, Tony ended the call and put the computer away. He got ready for bed and clicked through the channel offerings until he stumbled across a True Grit marathon and quickly fell asleep to the western.
The morning was bright and Tony bitterly regretted not closing his curtains but he gamely got up and brushed his teeth before pulling on a pair of swim shorts and going to the roof top pool and doing his laps. He was almost in better shape than when he joined NCIS. His lungs felt great but Brad was nagging him to get his way overdue six month check up somewhere in California while he was there. So far he’d avoided it but would eventually give in.
Back in his room he drank a mango breakfast smoothie, jumped into the shower and got dressed in what he called ‘California business casual’, or a pair of skinny leg gray jeans, a blue polo and a navy blazer. With a quick scrub of gel through his hair, Tony took off his blazer with a quick curse that he’d forgotten he was carrying again, and put his shoulder holster and gun on before be put the back up piece in the safe, the legs to the jeans being too tight for it.
Grabbing the computer and relocking the safe, he headed outside and enjoyed the bright sunshine as he walked to the boathouse.
“DiNozzo?” Kenzi asked incredulously.
Tony smiled, “In the flesh. How are you Agent Blye?”
“Kenzi,” she reminded him and shook his hand. “What are you doing here?”
“I need to connect my computer to a secure network and send a report to Director Morrow and then Sam and G said they’d help me with something,” he explained.
Tony caught Deeks from the corner of his eye and said, “How would you like to work for me at Homeland?”
“Not even on a bet, DiNozzo,” Marty stated as he came up to stand beside Kenzi, arms over his chest and a frown on his handsome face.
Tony caught Kenzi’s eye and both of them burst into laughter. She knew he’d been trolling Deeks and enjoyed the joke on her partner.
Eric trotted down from his office area and held out his hand for Tony’s computer, then pulled it back, “Unless you want to be there as I hook it up?”
“It’s literally got one report for Director Morrow in an email. It’s about my thoughts on the Los Angeles Homeland office. I think I can trust you to send it off for me.”
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Hetty’s indignant voice came from above and everyone looked up to see the Supervisory agent glaring down from the balcony.
“Do you really want to do this here?” Tony asked quietly.
Hetty carefully stepped down the stairs, her laser glare on Tony. “You let your vanity break up the premier team for NCIS.”
“Do you know what NCIS’s mandate is?” Tony asked.
Taken aback, she glared, “Of course I do,” she snapped.
Tony nodded genially. “I used to be a cop, you know? Youngest to ever make detective. My job was to enforce the law, not the gray area but the black and white. For the past year I was blaming Shepard for this disaster. Bending the law, letting grief define her actions and using her office for personal vendettas and ties with shady foreign government agents. Then I realized Vance is part of it, letting Eli lead him around by his balls. Then wow, Gibbs did the same thing, and I began to see a pattern of people you trained or worked with, Agent Lange. I now realize the person I should have blamed was you. You spies forgot how to live like a real law abiding citizen when you came in from the cold. Unfortunately it doesn’t really translate to law enforcement.“
“How dare you!” she spat.
“Oh, don’t be so self- righteous,” Tony tartly replied. “Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Not run around and fuck/fight/kill foreign operatives. You’re ~supposed~ to be helping investigate the Navy and Marines and crimes done to and by them. That’s it. You’re not a spy anymore, Agent Lange and I think it’s something that you, Gibbs, Franks and unfortunately for the MCRT and Abby Sciuto, Shepard forgot. Fortunately for you all, I didn’t. “
“Um, I sent that email,” Eric interrupted, eyes big as he handed off the computer.
“Thanks, Eric,” Tony smiled, ignoring Hetty who had worked herself into an incandescent rage.
Sam sharply nudged G who shook himself and trotted over to the steps to cajole Hetty back to her office.
“I’m sorry,” he offered to Sam.
“You offered to take it elsewhere, man,” Sam shrugged. “What can you do? Listen, Nell and I came up with a list. I’ll send it to your email, okay?”
Tony admired Sam. Former Navy SEAL and so zen. If Hetty wouldn’t put out a hit on him, he’d poach the man in a hot second.
“Thanks, man.” Tony stopped by the door, and looked back, “Oh, someone really should look into the Director’s past. He’s ~really~ not himself.” He smirked and touched his imaginary hat in salute and let the door swing shut.
The LA NCIS office all looked perplexed, then Eric snapped his fingers and went to his computers.
Back at the hotel room, Tony was wired after the confrontation with Hetty. He ordered a sandwich to go, changed into shorts and a t-shirt, threw the computer and shoulder holster and gun into the safe before taking off.
After about a half hour drive to the tallest hill he could see, Tony found a spot that looked out onto LA and to the ocean. He opened up the back of his Ford SUV rental and grabbed his sandwich, chips and a bottle of water and proceeded to sit down and empty his mind and just be.
Bill was driving hell bent for leather, sirens wailing, though he smirked when Bishop grabbed the ‘oh shit’ handle during that last turn. The beat up LA Sheriff blazer roared up the road after the drug dealer who thought he could get away with hitting one of Bill’s deputies with his car.
With one hand still on the ‘oh shit’ handle, Bishop thumbed through her texts with her left. “Carter has a broken leg, four broken ribs but no concussion.”
Bill sighed with relief and pressed his foot down on the gas, the old truck fishtailing as he took another turn.
Tony was halfway through his sandwich when he heard the roar of a vehicle and sirens, but with sound bouncing off of the hills it could be anywhere. He continued to munch thoughtfully on his sandwich when a burgundy colored Caprice burst into the parking area. The driver’s side tire was flat and when the driver got out he was wild eyed and his gray t shirt dark with sweat. He had a blue, sweat soaked bandana on his head with Dodgers cap over it, and he stormed over to Tony and pointed a knife at him.
“Give me your car!”
The sound of sirens was getting closer and Tony took his bottle of water and took a drink while the guy jittered in place with his knife.
“Nah, man, it’s a rental. I can’t give it back damaged.”
For the second time that day Tony made someone incandescent with rage. He wondered if it was a record.
“I don’t give a fuck, give me your car!”
Tony put his water bottle down and slid out and onto the ground. Mollified by the apparent obedience, the guy stepped back and Tony bent down and took the guy out like a linebacker. The guy’s head bounced off of the hard dirt and it was lights out. Tony stayed on top of him for a second to make sure before he rolled to his feet and went to the vehicle and pulled out the cable ties and trussed the guy up like a turkey.
He picked up the knife and put it on the bed, ignoring the twinge in his shoulder and picked up his sandwich and took another bite, it was a damn good sandwich. Avocado was a favorite.
The roar of a truck and siren announced the dust covered Chevy it pulled up behind the Caprice and stopped. Blessedly the sirens stopped as well. Two people got out, a Sheriff’s deputy and a woman in a sharp suit, probably a detective, got out and stopped and stared.
“Your village lost it’s idiot. It’s okay, I found him,” Tony explained.
Tony belatedly realized that he knew the woman, and smiled, “Bish! What the hell are you doing out here?” He asked delightedly and dropped his sandwich onto the paper and grabbed her up in a boisterous hug.
Bill stood there, hands on his hips as his usually dry and serious security detail smiled wide. The dumbass at his feet groaned and he was reminded of why they were there.
“Sheriff, this is Agent Tony DiNozzo. I’ve known him for years, we used to play basketball at the Y back in D.C. Tony, this is Sheriff Bill Hollister.” She beamed proudly at the two men.
Tony shook the other man’s hand, “Nice to meet you. I’ve heard some wild shit.”
“Oh, it’s all true,” Bishop said promptly.
“Hey,” Bill said feelingly, “Not all of it. What are you agent of?”
“I work for Homeland,” Tony explained.
“You’re bleeding,” Bill replied, nodding at Tony’s shoulder.
“What?” Tony twisted to look at where the Sheriff nodded and sure as shit, that idiot must have gotten a lucky swipe in when Tony took him down like a Buckeye. “Son of a bitch.”
Another sheriff’s vehicle roared into the clearing and Bishop grabbed the First-Aid kit out of the truck and while she cleaned and bandaged his shoulder, the newly arrived deputy got his specially wrapped prisoner to take to jail.
“DiNozzo. Ohio State?” Bill asked, coming back over as Tony eased his shirt back.
“Guilty as charged” Tony admitted.
Bishop tutted. “He needs to get this checked out. Is Paula working today?”
“Yep. I’ll let her know you’re driving him in,” he said. “Meet you there.”
Tony shook his head. “You’re not taking me to the hospital. It’s just a scratch.”
Bishop snapped her fingers. “Give me your keys, you big baby.”
“If you know her you may as well give up,” Bill said wisely. “Thanks for getting our idiot, by the way, He hit one of my deputies with that piece of shit, and he’s in the same hospital you’ll be going to.”
“It’s always good to get one more idiot off the street,” Tony said resignedly.
Paula glanced over the paperwork Tony had filled out. “Dr. Brad Pitt?” she asked amusedly.
“No relation,” Tony replied blandly. Nothing to see here.
A doctor had come through the curtain and was rifling through the cabinet. “Pitt? I’ve met him, hell of a pulmonologist. He wrote an article about some schmuck in D.C. contracting an antibiotic resistant strain of the plague and recovered!” He apparently found what he was looking for and swept out.
Tony was pokerfaced but Paula hadn’t raised a daughter and worked with patients for years for nothing. “You had the plague?”
Bishop covered an amused cough with her hand when Tony, somewhat sulkily, replied affirmatively.
“Mmhm,” Paula said and made a notation on Tony’s chart. “And if I called Dr. Pitt, what would he say?”
“Please don’t call him,” Tony pleaded, batting his eyes.
Bishop and Paula both snorted at the juvenile plea. “Tell me what I need to know.”
Tony gave up. “He’s been after me to get a pulse ox, chest x-ray and a pulmonary function test.”
Paula’s eyebrows rose at his recitation. “When was the last time you had any of that?”
An aggrieved sigh. “Almost a year?”
“Ay dios mio. Men. They need a limb to fall off before they see a doctor,” she muttered under her breath and Bishop maintained a straight face with difficulty.
“Everything looks good,” the pulmonologist said, as he held up the chest x-ray and nodded. “You need to keep doing what you’re doing, swimming and the dry air here seems to be helping. Fascinating,” he murmured at the end.
Tony took that as permission to get dressed and proceeded to with alacrity. The butterfly bandages on his shoulder pulled somewhat but he ignored it with long practice.
“Do you need an inhaler?”
“I’ve got two with me but haven’t had to use them,” Tony replied as he rapidly buttoned his shirt.
“Will you give me permission to discuss your results with Brad?” the doctor asked as he slid the x-ray into the envelope. “Believe it or not, we occasionally get the homeless person with the plague from being bit by a flea. It will be helpful.”
“Sure, I was going to sign anyway since Brad’s been hounding me,” Tony said and after reading it through, signed it with a flourish.
Bishop was holding up the wall outside and smirked when Tony appeared. “You going to live?”
“So he says,” Tony replied dryly. He held out his hand and Bishop handed over his piece and his badge/credentials. He put everything on and sighed, “I hate you.”
“Oh good,” Bishop smiled. “We’re going over to Bill’s. He’s making tacos and wants to talk football.”
Tony paused. He already like the Sheriff and his wife, and reconnecting with Bish would be fun. “Sounds like a good time. Is Gen going to be there?” He’d met her back in D.C. at a law enforcement event and really liked her.
“Yep. Let’s go.”
Once free of the hospital Tony’s phone rang and he groaned and answered it. “It wasn’t my fault,” he offered before Morrow spoke.
Tom chuckled warmly. “Was there something I needed to know?”
“Nope!” Tony lied through his teeth as he got into the passenger side of his rental. Bishop started the car and they headed out.
“I helped the LA Sheriff’s office with an idiot, but that’s it!”
“Liar,” Bishop fake coughed. Tony shot her the finger.
“Mmhm, you know I get notified when an agent goes to the hospital.”
Tony made a face. “The idiot had a knife, I got butterfly bandages. Nothing to see here.”
“I’m sure,” Morrow replied dryly. “Technically vacation doesn’t involve ‘idiots’.”
“Yes sir!” Tony chirped.
“Thanks for the report, by the way, it’s very helpful.”
“You’re welcome. Oh look, it’s almost dinner time. Have a good night, sir,” Tony said and pressed end on his phone.
“Hoo boy,” Bishop said with a head shake.
“Shut up,” Tony sulked and sunk down in his seat.
Paula threw her head back and laughed as Bishop told the story of the village idiot. Bill smirked from the grill as he threw more beef strips in a cast iron pan and it sizzled.
“So, tell me what you’re really doing in my county,” Bill asked Tony who was sitting on the bench nearby.
Tony sipped his truly excellent Mexican beer. “I’m actually recruiting a team for Homeland, though ostensibly on vacation. I’ve already poached an agent from NCIS and I have a list to go through.”
“What kind of team?” Bill asked curiously and listened as Tony verbally sketched out what he was looking for.
Bill nodded thoughtfully. A commotion at the door brought both men’s heads around and an African American deputy in uniform came into the backyard.
“I heard it was tacos!” the man said cheerfully. “I wanted to pick some up for Carter. He was already complaining about the hospital food.”
“Joseph,” Bill greeted the younger man with a smile. “Tony, this is my godson, Deputy Joseph Harris. He’s so new he squeaks. Joey, this is Special Agent Tony DiNozzo. He played for Ohio State in the Final Four twice.”
Tony snorted and stood, shaking the younger man’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Harris.” He eyed the kid and even though he was green, Tony could tell he was already getting seasoned by the job.
“You too, sir,” Harris said politely, before turning pleading eyes to Bill. Bill snorted and pointed with his tongs to the counter by Paula where a large bag already sat.
“You’re the best!” He grabbed the bag, kissed Paula on the cheek and ruffled Maggie’s hair before he left.
“Do you need a rookie?” Bill asked, not looking over at Tony as he stirred the secret spices into the meat. The smell was glorious, if he did say so himself.
“That smells amazing,” Tony said and looked at Bill. “I need people. Why do you ask?”
Bill pulled the beef out and placed it on the platter before dumping in a bowl with sliced red and green peppers and onions into the sizzling skillet. He stirred it meditatively before he looked at Tony.
“His dad was my partner and died on the job. His mother begged me to fail him from the course.”
Tony nodded, he’d seen parents do that before.
“He’s got the right instincts,” Bill bragged a bit.
“He graduated in May? He’s seen action already.”
The lawman in Bill appreciated that the agent knew what he was talking about. Tony’s police background went a long way in his books.
“Yep. But a Federal job? His mother might speak to me again and it would be good for his future.”
Tony nodded. “I’ll leave my email with Bish. Send me his info. I could do with a Probie again,” he said.
There was something like grief in the agent’s voice, but Bill nodded. “I’ll owe you.”
“Oh,” Tony assured him, “I’ll collect.” Bill’s laughter rang out.
Cade stepped into the backyard, his wife and foster kids following. “Tacos!” the man crowed while the women performed a synchronized eyeroll at the menfolk.
Bill introduced Tony around and then switched the conversation to college football while Cade stuffed his face. The little girl was chattering away to Maggie while the pre-teen boy was sullenly sitting close and eating his plate of tacos, beans and rice, but not too close.
“So, was your dad law enforcement?” Cade asked curiously. He hadn’t seen Bill take to someone like this since Bishop. Who apparently knew the fed.
Tony laughed, “Nah. My dad is a criminal,” he said, unaware that little ears perked up. “He was responsible for my mother’s death, though I can’t prove it and he’s a professional con man. He disowned me when I was twelve and after 20 years barged back into my life, tried to steal from me and trashed my condo.”
“Wow, sorry I asked,” Cade replied with chagrin, and Bill laughed.
Tony waved a hand that wasn’t busy doctoring his taco, “No problem. I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. I proved that his choices didn’t make me bad too. Of course, I’m a work in progress.”
“As are we all,” Paula interjected as she stole her husband’s taco right out of his hand.
“Hey!” Bill protested before pulling her close and kissing her fondly.
“How’s your shoulder?” she asked Tony, eyes sharp.
Tony swallowed and shrugged, then winced. “I’m fine.”
“Uh huh,” she replied.
“Let the man alone,” Bill chided playfully. “He’s an adult.”
Paula rolled her eyes. “Oh, sure.”
“I play one on T.V.,” Tony said earnestly and everyone laughed.
Tony has said his good-byes and was about to get into his rental when Cade came out and cleared his throat. “Hey, DiNozzo. Thanks for that.”
Baffled, Tony leaned against the SUV and asked. “For…?”
“My foster kids were in the room when I had to shoot their father. He was a pretty bad guy, drugs, assault, theft, you know the drill. What you said about your father got my foster son thinking.”
“Wow, and how did you become their foster dad?” Tony asked curiously.
“I kind if fell into it. I was in foster care all my childhood, then the Marines. I understand their circumstances probably better than most,” Cade explained.
Tony nodded, “Listen. They’re both going to be angry, separately and at the same time. It will suck. But be patient and consistent. Don’t try to bribe them to like you, because you’ll be tempted.”
“Sounds like you were in foster care.”
“Well, I bounced in and out of several military schools but comparisons could be drawn. This is the time he’ll make a choice whether he’ll grow up to be a criminal, or take the road you’re on, so be patient.”
Cade nodded, hands in his pocket. “Thanks, I appreciate the advice.”
Tony waved a hand, “You already knew all of this. Semper Fi,” he said and offered a fist to the other man.
“You were a Marine?”
“I played one for a day, during an NCIS investigation. Did a night jump and everything,” Tony smiled as the other man fist bumped him back.
“Well Jesus, that was dumb. You're lucky to not have ended up as a greasy spot.” Cade laugh.
“You have no idea,” Tony said feelingly. “What did you do in the Corps?”
“Oh god, you knew my old boss then. Gunnery Sergeant Gibbs.”
“Gunny Gibbs? I sure did. Small world.”
Tony made a face, “More like I’m being haunted.”
Driving up the coast, Tony began to slowly unwind. The morning confrontation between himself and Hetty had bothered him more than he thought, and he’d kept worrying at it like a sore tooth. Driving away from LA was helping him let it go.
He didn’t really have a goal. He’d planned on trying to fly out of San Fran back to Virginia but he still wanted to look into getting more team members before he left. He had the list that Sam and Nell gave him so he was going to get a hotel and check it out.
Outside Morro Bay he found a sweet little B and B and checked in. It was on the beach, (his running theme for his vacation) and he’d decided to hike the local trails. It was gorgeous and eventually the trail he was on ended up in the downtown area, which had several charming restaurants. He stuffed himself with the best clam chowder and cheddar biscuits he’d ever had and then meandered back to the B&B to go through the names.
Deciding to take advantage of the beautiful evening, Tony took his computer to the front porch and planted himself in the wicker rocker and opened up the email from Sam and Nell.
“Hi Tony, Sam and I went through people, agents and even people we didn’t like and made this list. Sam told me to tell you it ~wasn’t ~ a hit list.”
Tony chuckled and opened the attached file.
‘Retired Admiral A.J Chegwidden’
His record was the bomb. Navy SEAL. Spy. JAG. A living legend.
“Huh.” Tony knew that Chegwidden lived in the Falls Creek area. A possibility.
‘Special Agent Nick Torres’
Tony had been asked to teach a class on undercover at FLETC when Nick was going through. Nick was a middle of the road student, but excellent at undercover according to G. He’d also heard rumors that the man was really into underaged girls, so that needed to be investigated first. A probable no.
‘Former Agent Meredith Brody’
She used to work on Pride’s team in NOLA and her record was stellar. She’d quit after killing her boyfriend, a former Homeland Agent. Tony winced. He’d send out feelers and see if she was even interested. He didn’t want Jack to be the only woman on the team but yikes.
“Master Sgt. Brad Colbert.’
Colbert he knew. He’d met him at the Marine Corps ball with his partner, Nate Fick. Nate was busy with CNAS, but Tony hadn’t realized that Brad was retiring. A definite yes, if he could tempt him.
An email popped up from Bishop and he laughed at the subject line ‘You OWE me a game’.
He really liked Bishop and Gen and it had been an unexpected pleasure to see them in LA. He opened the attached file and the sparse record for Joseph Harris appeared. It showed that the kid was newer than a shiny penny, but he’d graduated top of his class from USC, and almost top of his class in the academy, and had potential. Tony was all about potential. He may have failed with McGee, but there was no Mossad Mata Hari on his new team and he felt hopeful that he could turn this kid into a stellar agent. If he accepted.
He went through more names, including a task force member in Nevada, a native Hawaiian named Kono Kalakua, only looking up when the elderly proprietress of his B and B came out, a bundle of knitting her hands. She settled into the other seat and smiled at him. “I always end up here at the end of the day.”
Glancing back at the beginning of the sunset that he’d been ignoring due to work, Tony nodded. “Yes, ma’am. I can see why.”
“Call me Ms. Emma, dear.”
The creak of the rocking chair and the click of needles lulled him into a comfortable daze, the computer sat ignored on his lap as the sun performed its spectacular dance into the ocean. When the last ray blinked out but the sky still glowed faintly, Tony looked over.
“If you were going to hire someone, what would be the most important thing that you’d look for?”
The porch light was obviously on a sensor because it blinked on and Ms. Emma smiled. “Looking to learn how to makes beds, dear?”
Tony chuckled, “No. Just want another opinion.”
The needles clicked for a minute as Emma considered his question. “Heart. Anything else can be taught, but if they don’t the heart for it, they aren’t worth a hill of beans.”
Tony sat back and thought about it, nodding. “You’re right, Ms Emma. “
“Well, I’m old so being right comes automatically,” she replied prosaically. Tony’s laughter made her grin and she continued to rock and knit.
He forwarded his thoughts to Director Morrow, then an email to Pride about Brody and shut everything down. In his room, he checked the time and checked through his phone numbers and pressed call.
“Dwayne, it’s Tony.”
In New Orleans, King smiled. “My favorite Italian. How the hell are ya, Tony?”
Warmed, Tony could only smile. “I’m good. Working for Homeland now.”
“I’d heard. I’m so sorry about MCRT. It was a mess.”
“Old news,” Tony said lightly. “I have a favor to ask.”
“Anything that I can give,” King replied earnestly.
Pride sighed. “She’s got a self confidence problem. Brody was an exceptional agent but having to shoot the man she’d once loved made her doubt herself.”
“Hmm,” Tony mused. “I can relate. Though I didn’t have to kill Ziva. I might have fantasized about it once or twice,” he confided.
“Tony,” Pride laughed. “Shame on you.”
Tony chuckled. “I’m going to call her and sound her out.”
“It’s been a couple of years,” Pride mused. “Tell her to call me if she has questions.”
“Thanks, Dwayne, I appreciate your help.”
The older man sighed. “I wish I coulda helped ~you~ sooner.”
“Can’t live in the past, can only move forward.”
Pride smiled. “Truth, my friend. Be well.”
“I will, thanks.”
“You look great, Tony,” Tom said sincerely.
It was true. Tony was tanned, fit and more relaxed than he’d been since college. His hair was sun bleached and his smile easy.
“Thank you, sir, California was good to me,” Tony replied, fanning the folders in his hands like a card dealer.
Tom gestured to the desk. “Okay, let me have them.”
Tony smiled. “Admiral A.J. Chegwidden.”
Tom looked startled and opened the file. “Well hell, son. I’ll say yes automatically.”
“Right? He’s wearing jeans, a SEAL t-shirt and rummaging through office supplies even as we speak.”
“Dr. Jack Sloane.”
“Already said yes to her. She’s chomping at the bit.”
Tony chuckled. “She’ll be on the plane tomorrow.”
“So,” Tony began, “I was offered a probie and really thought about it, especially after failing with McGee. I thought hard enough that I turned around from Morro Bay and went back to LA to interview him and offer him the job. Joseph Harris, his dad was the current Sheriff’s partner who died on the job. His instincts are good, I think we’ll turn him into an excellent agent.”
“Good deal,” Tom replied approvingly. He looked at Tony, compassion in his eyes. “You do know McGee wasn’t your fault?”
Tony sighed. “I’ll get there, sir.”
“Master Gunner Brad Colbert,” Tony pushed the folder over with a flourish. It was thick, full of action, awards and read like a novel.
Tom’s eyebrows went up. “No kidding?” he asked as he thumbs through it.
Tony smirked. “I got in before any of the other alphabets. He’s in with A.J. organizing the office.”
“Am I going to get hate mail?”
“Aren’t you already?”
It was true-He’d heard whining from several other alphabet agencies when they’d heard that Tony was joining Homeland. “Point. Next?”
“Kono Kalakua. Formerly of the Governor’s Task Force in Hawaii. Most recently she was helping with the child trafficking task force in Nevada.” Another file that read like an action movie.
Tom opened the folder and flipped through a few pages. “Impressive.”
“She’s amazing. Her and Jack are going to get along like a house on fire,” Tony said, then paused. “I should be very afraid.”
Morrow laughed at the look on Tony’s face.
“And?” he saw the last folder Tony was fiddling with.
“Former Agent Meredith Brody.”
“I’ve met her,” Tom said, opening up her folder, going to the back to see details.
Tony nodded, drummed his fingers on the table. “She’s considering it. She’s flying out from Michigan.”
“She dated that rat bastard Russo,” Tom said quietly. He’d cleaned house as best he could but was relieved that Tony was going to take that job. His deputy director agreed, it would leave both of them more time to do their actual jobs. It was coming up on hurricane season and they were behind the eight-ball in relation to supplies. While in California Tony had quietly sourced some items on Tom’s wish-list and they were expecting pallets of supplies for the DC warehouses any day.
“I think she’ll stay,” Tony said. “Michigan is okay,” Ohio State alum to the bone, Tony made a face which made Tom laugh. “But I think she’s itching to get back in the saddle. Getting her here on the ground and meeting everyone will help. Pride was super helpful.”
Tom sat back and put all of the folders in a pile. “You done good, DiNozzo.”
“Thank you, sir,” Tony said quietly. “I appreciate the chance. I think we’ll do good things.”
“I know you will,” Tom said warmly and stood. Tony stood too and shook Tom’s hand.
Time to get to work.
Tony meandered down to the offices that he’d been assigned and stepped inside. Brad was bent over, seemingly in stitches and the retired Admiral was smirking from the desk he’d claimed.
“Everything okay?” he asked, taking off his suit jacket and dumping it onto the desk he was thinking of grabbing.
“Uh uh, you’re in there,” A.J. said firmly, steering Tony into a small office that’d originally planned on turning into a supply room.
“I don’t need an office,” Tony protested.
A.J. snorted. “What if one of us wants a one on one with you. Can’t do that in a bullpen.”
Tony acknowledged that maybe A.J. was right. “I just want people to know that I’ll be working with them,” he murmured. He walked around the desk and sat down. The computer was set up already and the tech had put the Ohio State logo as the background.
“DiNozzo,” A.J.’s voice was serious. “Your reputation proceeds you. Everybody knows that you’re a rabid Ohio State grad, that you are like a bulldog when you get your teeth in a case, you’ve got excellent instincts and can make connections no one else can, and that you’re compassionate. You’re also a goof ball and apparently like gluing people’s fingers to their keyboards.”
“He’d better not!” Colbert shouted, “The keyboards are sensitive and glue will ruin them.”
“Which reminds me, we need to get a tech up here,” Tony said, resolutely not remembering McGee.
“Don’t bother. Apparently Colbert is a computer savant. He set up all of our computers, networked them, secured them from the outside network and a dozen other things that I didn’t understand.”
“Huh,” Tony said. “Bonus.”
“Excuse me, I’m looking for Agent DiNozzo?” a feminine voice asked and Tony popped to his feet.
“Kono!” he called and came out, holding his hand. “You found us!”
Kono Kalakua smiled at him and shook it briskly. “Nice to see you again, sir.”
“Really?” Tony asked, pained. “Please don’t sir me. You can ‘sir’ the Admiral but I’m just an agent.”
“Hey, don’t ‘sir’ me either. I’m just an agent too.”
Kono smiled. “I’ve heard ~all~ about you from Steve McGarrett.”
“It’s all lies. I mean, I’ve never put a suspect in a shark cage.”
Tony and Colbert laughed, but Kono fondly shook her head. “He’s a mess. It’s a good thing he was on our side.”
“Wait, really?” Tony asked incredulously. “I thought that was an urban legend.”
Brad held out a hand, “Brad Colbert.”
“Kono Kalakua,” she replied, shaking his hand. Stepping back she glanced around the office.
The walls were painted a soothing shade of blue green and there were seven desks scattered around, a pile of what looked like modular walls leaning against the far wall. There were four 48 inch monitors on the closer wall, three with a different news feed running and the fourth had the Military News Network on.
“Okay, we’re going to need plants,” she said firmly.
The men all shrugged.
“Pick a desk,” was all Tony said, before his phone buzzed.
“Where in the hell is the office?” Jack barked. “This place is like a freaking maze.”
Tony laughed. “Hey Jack, I’ll send Colbert down. Where are you currently?”
“Just after the gauntlet,” she groused.
Tony looked at Brad, “She’s down by the security area. Can you get her?”
“Of course,” Brad replied, heading out.
“Remind me to add our office to the lobby listing.” Tony said to his phone, and the phone obediently parroted it back.
Kono selected a desk, closest to the window and dumped the bag she’d been carrying onto it. “Who else is coming?” she asked curiously.
“Well, we’ve got a probie. He was a deputy with the LA Sheriff’s department. Joseph Harris. Of course, Jack. Um, Dr. Jacqueline Sloane. I poached her from NCIS. I’m hoping Meredith Brody will come, she was an agent with NCIS in New Orleans. And you’ve met Brad.”
Kono nodded. “I’ve heard of Dr. Sloane. And I’ve heard the wild stories about the LA Sheriff’s department.”
“Oh, it’s all true,” Tony confirmed. “Sheriff Hollister is an old-fashioned lawman. I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was in LA. Frankly, I’d like to be him when I grow up.”
Sloane appeared at the door and smiled. “Yes, tell us all how you met him, Tony.”
“Jack,” Tony said fondly and walked over to shake her hand. She ignored it and yanked him in for a quick hug.
Stepping back, her gray eyes checking everyone out. “I think I’ve met everyone before, except you,” she said to Kono, “though you look familiar.”
“Kono Kalakua,” Kono said, liking the doctor already.
“Of course, I knew you looked familiar. I consulted on a case for 5-0 a few years ago.”
“Yes ma’am,” Kono said.
“Okay, no ‘ma’am’s’ here. Jack, or Sloane, or if you MUST be formal Agent Sloane or Dr. Sloane,” Jack replied firmly.
“Jack, do you have place to stay?” Tony asked. “I’ve got a spare room.”
“I actually have a house here that I bought years ago. I’ll be okay. I was actually going to offer a couple of my spare rooms,” she replied.
Kono raised a hand. “I could use a room until I find a place. “
“Done,” Jack said.
“Nate and I have a place here,” Brad replied blandly and no one blinked an eye.
Tony nodded. “Okay, I’ll take Harris when he gets here. Jack, if Meredith comes can she stay with you?”
“Fine, we’ll have a sleep over and braid each other’s hair,” Jack replied sarcastically, flipping her honey colored hair over her shoulder.
“Oh, I love me a sleepover,” Kono replied, deadpan. “I’ll bring the popcorn and the nail polish.” She looked over at Jack, who smirked back and her, and they both burst out laughing.
“I knew introducing you to each other was gonna be a mistake,” Tony grumped, but he was smiling.
6 months later-
Special Agent Joseph Harris of Homeland Special Operations tried not to giggle like a little girl.
“God fucking damn it, Harris!” Colbert shouted from across the room. He’d just arrived.
Tony snorted and Joseph lost it. He began to laugh like a loon and Tony joined him. Colbert stormed over and frowned at them, but the corner of his mouth twitched.
“Okay, truce already.”
Tony wiped tears of laughter from the corner of his eyes. He’d watched Harris come in early and meticulously wrap everything on Brad’s desk, including the desk, in saran wrap. Even the ultra hi-tech computer tower was wrapped up like a robot sandwich.
Brad had started the prank war. Harris didn’t seem to be able to finish a bottle of water, and both his desk and car had discarded, half full bottles. Normally it wouldn’t have been an issue but one day Brad had enough and positioned one of the bottles in a shaft of direct sunlight from the window. The refraction had generated enough heat to set the report on Harris’s desk on fire.
Joseph’s high pitched yelp of alarm had alerted the rest of the office, that and the smoke curling up and A.J. had lurched to his feet and grabbed one of the other half empty bottles and quickly extinguished the fire before the fire suppression system activated.
It had degenerated from there. When Meredith complained after getting caught in the periphery of one of the pranks, (her hair and her thumb were only green for a week) Tony had declared that it could only involve Brad and Joseph and their desk area. If someone else was affected by a prank, it ended.
“Well, thank you Baby Jesus,” Jack said with asperity. “Who had Harris?” she called and pulled out a notebook that NCIS agents habitually carried.
“You bet on us?” Colbert asked incredulously. He had pulled a large K-bar knife out and was carefully unsealing his desk area. He’d already filled his trashcan and A.J. had contributed his to the cause.
“Duh,” Jack replied with an eyeroll. “For a Marine you’re woefully innocent,” she teased.
Kono raised her hand. “I had Joey.”
“Joseph,” Harris complained. “I don’t look like a Joey. God.”
“Well, ‘Joseph’,” Kono enunciated. “I believed in you and also won 200 bucks. I’ll take you to lunch to soothe your hurt feelings.”
“Joey’s fine,” Harris replied hurriedly. “I want Ichi Ban.”
Tony was laughing so hard that his shoulders were shaking.
When the team had first been gathered, Tony had held himself back. He’d been burned by NCIS and so he’d held his heart back, trying to not get attached. But this group of men and women he’d hand-picked had proven that his instincts were still excellent.
“Ichi ban sounds excellent,” he said after he’d wiped his eyes again. He hadn’t laughed that hard in a while.
“We’ll pick some up for the team,” Kono agreed. “C’mon Joey.” She gathered her purse, smirking at Colbert as he fussed with the third trash can, already almost full of saran wrap.
“Shut up,” he said, doggedly unwrapping his stapler.
Tony’s phone rang. “DiNozzo.” He listened for a minute, grabbing a lined yellow pad and jotting down what he was hearing. “Uh huh. Yes, yes. Got it. Thanks.” He hung up. “We’ll get sushi in Alaska. Grab your go bags. A.J., call and see if we can get the ‘bus’, if not we’re going to have to fly civilian. Brad, I know you and Nate have plans so you can run it from here.”
Brad nodded in appreciation.
A.J. snorted. “She told you she’s gonna kneecap you the next time you call it that.”
It being the Lear jet that belonged to Homeland, and if they were lucky got to borrow for their trips. ‘She’ was Major Brandi Partridge, a mother to six and no-nonsense Air Force pilot. The first time Tony had found out her last name Tony had likened the team to the Partridge family and the plane as the ‘bus’.
“Nah, she loves me,” Tony assured A.J. blithely as he rummaged through his go-bag to make sure he had everything before straightening up.
A.J. and the rest of the team smiled at their team leader. He’d recruited them all, and as diverse as the team was, their common tie was DiNozzo. His unshakeable morals, his respect for the law, his ridiculous movie knowledge and his bent sense of humor helped tie them together in unexpected ways.
“Yeah, yeah,” A.J. said, sharing an eyeroll with Jack. His desk phone rang and he picked it up, “Ops. Yeah, thanks,” he said and hung up. “Good to go!”
Tony smothered a smile at Brad freeing the stapler and going to work on his monitor. “Use my office, Brad. Morrow sent the information there. Do the usual and we’ll call when we arrive.”
Harris slapped Brad on the shoulder, “No sushi for you!” he exclaimed cheerfully, ducking the return swat with a laugh.
“C’mon fellas, stop lollygagging and pick up the pace,” Jack barked and the men all straightened and followed her out, with Kono and Meredith trailing behind with identical smirks.
“Well call when we land, Brad,” A.J. waved and the team was gone.
Brad shook his head at his desk and moved into Tony’s office to see what was going on in Alaska.