The Charming Gardener – 2/5 – SASundance

Title: The Charming Gardener, Chapters 6 – 11
Author: SASundance
Fandom: NCIS
Genre: Crime/Drama, Episode Related, Romance
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Jeanne Benoit; Jenny Shepard/ Ziva David
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Discussion – Child Abuse, Character Bashing, Discussion – Murder, Genocide, Infidelity, Violence Canon Level, Explicit Sex, Voyeurism, Permanent Injury, Mental Illness, Delusions, Adult Language.
Author Notes: This is a fix-it for the seasons 4-5 La Grenouille Jenny Shepard revenge arc. The warning about genocide relates to a canon character who is an illegal arms dealer. The primary relationship is between Tony and Jeanne and is a romantic one. The secondary one between Jenny and Ziva is not – more one of convenience. Translations can be found in the Summary Sheet.
Beta: Grammarly
Word Count: ~134,300
Summary: Gibbs resigns from NCIS and heads down to Mexico. Jenny sees the perfect opportunity to realise her plan to make her father’s killer pay dearly and DiNozzo is key to her dangerous undercover mission.   The only problem is, she has no idea that Tony is already good friends with Jeanne Benoit, the daughter of her nemesis.
Artist: Penumbria


 

 


Chapter Six

Tony watched McGee as he listened to Director Shepard’s explanation with barely disguised anger, shooting antagonistic looks his way. Jenny had explained that there had been a rethink of the new team assignments because it had been pointed out that McGee wasn’t eligible to hold a supervisory field position yet, as he had only two years’ field experience, not the five years required. Judging by the poisonous looked he kept shooting at Tony, McGee totally blamed Tony for his demotion – which was fair he supposed. Still the real fault surely lay at the feet of the Director for appointing a baby agent. One who was still woefully underqualified to do a job of critical importance, then being forced by senior agents to rectify the error she’d made.

Director Shepard explained that the plan was for Keisha Lincoln to get more experience of diverse crimes with the MCRT before she applied to take Abbott’s team when she retired. She would be coming over to get extra skills and Probationary Agent Lee would go to Abbot’s team instead, which was a win-win because it had more experienced field agents to train her. Plus, Lincoln would provide the MCRT with nine valuable years of field experience to compensate for the inexperience of the team, assuming the role of the senior field agent.

Tony noticed McGee’s scowl when Jenny mentioned the lack of experience of the team and figured that he was going to be sulky about the changes. Which kind of proved the point that he didn’t have the experience or leadership skills required to be the SFA. A huge part of the role was looking after the team, putting the team before yourself. Having a team that was top heavy with inexperienced agents was a recipe for disaster.

Not to mention, Tim should be jumping at the chance of working with Lincoln who had over ten years’ experience in law enforcement under her belt. Okay…not that he’d never been inclined to listen to Tony either (maybe since he was a cop with a Phys. Ed. Degree), so McGee obviously felt that he had nothing to teach Mr Smarty Pants I’m from MIT.

Despite McGee’s views on his superiority, Tony fully intended to enforce the chain of command on the team, something that Gibbs had never done. He vowed he would have Keisha’s back when it came to her pulling rank when required. He also resolved he wouldn’t play favourites, nor would he play team members off against each other.

He would do things his own way; he already had at least one idea he’d wanted to try out for a while now, but he knew that Gibbs would never go for it. Not in a million years. He was too much of a control freak to relinquish his iron-fisted control of how information was conveyed to the team.

Tony wanted a more relaxed, collaborative method of sharing information and brainstorming and had already decided to call his technique ‘campfires.’ He was hoping that forensic evidence could be included as well to give a more comprehensive picture of each case. Maybe Ducky and Abby could take part too.

After McGee had stomped off to his desk sulkily, he watched as Jenny informed Cynthia that they were ready for Probationary Agent Lee and Agent Abbott now. As they came into the office, Tony shot a grin at Carrie who smiled back.

Although Michelle looked a bit apprehensive, no doubt wondering why she was being hauled up here for an interview before she’d even started as an agent, she was good at covering up her feelings. Tony figured it was a pre-requisite for a lawyer. Perhaps Lee could give McGee some pointers – he always wore his heart on his sleeve, which is one more reason why he wasn’t a good fit for undercover work which he aspired to.

Michelle seemed unfazed by the change of team. Granted that she wasn’t being demoted like McGee but then, he wasn’t entitled to the promotion in the first place. If he was as ready for the role of SFA as he obviously thought, then he would have known he didn’t meet the minimum field requirements.

Tony theorised that as a lawyer, Michelle was able to grasp the larger issues at play, which was that the most important criteria were the team’s welfare and safety. That and solving crimes for the victims and their family was the paramount issue and not individuals or their personal career aspirations.

So, after they’d explained the change of team assignment to Lee and had left the director’s office, Tony had taken Carrie out to grab a cup of coffee and conduct a post mortem.

“How did it go with the interview with McGee?” Carrie asked bluntly.

“Fine,” Tony re-joined, not want to air the team’s dirty laundry in public.

“Did Shepard drop you in it?”

He smiled wryly. “No, she claimed it was an administrative snafu.”

“Yeah, an administrative snafu just like hiring Sterling was an administrative snafu,” Carrie responded cynically, and Tony grinned.

“Yeah…like that.”

“So how did Tim take the news?” she inquired curiously. “Is Keisha going to be on the lookout for a knife in her back?”

Tony grimaced. Of course, Carrie was going to be concerned about her SFA…erm former SFA… well his SFA technically, he supposed.

“He took the news about as well as you’d expect. Let’s just say I’m not going to win any popularity contests any time soon and I’d say that Keisha is probably going to find him pretty pissed off too, in a passive-aggressive sort of way.”

Carrie shook her head. “Well she’s a Marine, so I guess she’ll cope. Any idea what Shepard was trying to pull by appointing him as SFA?”

Tony shook his head. “Honestly, not a clue. The only explanation I can come up with is to try to cause the MCRT to fail and make me look bad but then if that was her intention, why give me the team lead in the first place?”

“Good point, but she must have had some reason why she tried to talk you down when you objected. I don’t trust her as far as I could throw her, Tony. I think she has her own agenda, just can’t figure out what,” the veteran agent declared softly. After all the walls did have ears.

Tony shrugged. Neither did he.

~oO0Oo~

When Tony returned to the bullpen, McGee was silently fuming and the Mossad liaison holding court. “I must say that I was surprised that you would be given the senior field agent job, Tim. I am much better trained than you, and I have more experience. You are still rocky, after all.”

“It’s rookie not rocky, Ziva and I was an agent down in the Norfolk office for a year too. I’m no rookie,” he snarked at the Israeli liaison crossly.

“In Mossad, two years of experience in the field and one year mounting a desk in an office, shoving papers around would be considered a rookie, McGee.”

“It’s riding a desk, NOT mounting it and just so you know, we’re not in Israel, Ziva. I’m perfectly capable of being a senior field agent. If a cop with a Phys. Ed. degree can be senior field agent, then seriously, how hard can it be?” He sneered at her. It was clear he was frustrated his meteoric rise and fall had robbed him of the chance to prove how good he was.

Normally Ziva downplayed DiNozzo’s abilities and played up McGee’s. Partly because she was following Jenny’s orders to isolate Tony and make him question his place on the team. On a more personal level, she’d wanted his job too – she genuinely thought she was better qualified to lead with her far superior Mossad training. But Jenny had passed the word last night when they were having sex that she was to back off from destabilising Tony, at least for the moment.

The Israeli wasn’t sure why the turnabout, although she would make it her business to find out later. Hopefully, she would learn the reason when she went around to Jenn’s again tonight.

So, if she couldn’t garbage speak to Tony then she would garbage speak to McGee instead, who was an annoying jumped up bullfrog. For the longest time she’d wanted to burst his balloon, but she’d used her ‘friendship’ with him to isolate DiNozzo on the team.

The truth was though McGee was weak, whiney and it was no challenge at all to get information out of him since he crumbled like a cookie when she applied the smallest degree of pressure on him. Since Tony was suddenly off-limits and she was pissed off, she decided to give Tim a piece of her brain, instead. Giving him one of her most scornful glares, she let him have it.

“Mossad would not appoint someone to hold a position of authority over others who was too weak to enter a room where a bomb had exploded. And we would not let someone as unskilled in unarmed combat or marksmanship as yourself give orders to others.”

Folding her arms, she chided him, trying not to chuckle at his pouting face. “Tim, you are the junior on the team, you should be the fittest. But you are a joke. It is Tony and me who chase down the dirtbags because you are limp and floppy.

“In Israel, you would be forced to improve your fitness or die in a training accident. At least Tony exercises – you play childish fairy games on a computer screen. A senior field agent should be disciplined enough to work constantly on their leadership skills and their physical and mental fitness.”

“Someone like you, I suppose” Tim jeered at her, stung by the sudden turnaround in her attitude, mocking him instead of DiNozzo.

“Well yes. I would be a much better choice for a senior field agent.” Ziva agreed with him, not realising she was being mocked. In all honesty, she felt she SHOULD be leading the team after Gibbs’ departure since she WAS Mossad trained and that meant she was superior in all areas to DiNozzo. But Jenny didn’t want her to upset Tony for some reason, so she must keep her mouth shut. Although it was going to be difficult, especially with that Lincoln woman joining their team and bossing her around.

“Well even if a foreign operative was eligible to hold a supervisory position, I’m sure DiNozzo would make sure you didn’t get the job either. He can’t bear to see someone as good as me succeed because he’s jealous and insecure.” McGee announced sneeringly, uncaring if the rest of the bullpen heard him.

Jayne Paulsen, SFA on Balboa’s team slammed her desk drawer shut and stalked up to the MCRT workspace. “If you’re gonna run your mouth off then at least get your facts straight, Agent! For your information, McGee every single SSA and SFA in the office threatened to resign if your assignment wasn’t revoked.”

Ignoring his stunned mullet expressed she blasted him. “It had nothing to do with jealousy and everything to do with maintaining professional standards within the agency. It was based solely upon the fact that you have insufficient field experience or training to fulfil the requirements of the position.

“Letting your appointment stand unopposed would set a very dangerous precedent for every single agent in the agency, including yourself. It was all about keeping the public, the team and the agency safe.”

Jayne glared at the junior agent, her grey eyes narrowed in fury at McGee’s massive hubris.

Ziva was quite impressed with how effectively the female agent was able to render McGee speechless. It was a skill she admired but Paulsen wasn’t quite done with him yet.

“A real SFA would understand that. The fact that you don’t, is ample evidence you aren’t ready for such an onerous responsibility, McGee!”

~oO0Oo~

Tony sat at his desk in the newly rearranged team bullpen. After talking to Jeanne and his new senior field agent, he’d decided a new broom was needed to sweep through the team and decided to change some things. Trying to keep everything the same would just invite comparisons with its former leader and he knew that in Tim and Ziva’s eyes, he would never be able to fill Gibbs shoes.

Keshia advised him not to even bother trying and Jeanne agreed. Tony thought it was good advice – the whole new lion taking over the pride phenomenon. Although he’d never go so far as to rip the throats out of Gibbs former agents, he felt that it was a good idea to use different ways of doing some things and make the job his own.

Although Keshia was a former Marine, she was very different from Gibbs in terms of management style – she wasn’t a big fan of mind games. She preferred a collaborative approach but would kick ass if she felt someone wasn’t pulling their weight, and she could kick ass too. Keshia was one very badass agent when she needed to be, as McGee and Ziva soon discovered.

The first case the new MCRT worked on with Keisha Lincoln as SFA was an embezzlement case and he was glad she was there. She ignored the fact that the atmosphere on the MCRT was still quite frosty and kept a weather eye on the two inexperienced investigators. McGee remained sulky and extremely passive aggressive, which hadn’t really shocked him.

Clearly, Tim was not about to put the greater good over his own hurt feelings, but Tony questioned how someone from MIT couldn’t understand that he simply didn’t have the experience and skills to be SFA? It wasn’t like he was stupid, but then, there were plenty of instances where individuals of supposedly genius levels did dumb crap!

DiNozzo was disappointed in Tim and he wondered how long he intended to keep it up. He and his senior field agent had agreed to give McGee a period of grace in which to salve his damaged ego but by now that understanding was starting to wear very thin. Any day now Keshia would read him the riot act about his insubordinate and piss-poor attitude and Tony couldn’t blame her. He would have his senior field agent’s six when she decided enough was enough and tore McGee a new one. He knew it was not going to be pretty, but he would help Lincoln clean up the blood if necessary, as a good team leader should.

Then there was Ziva who was acting all hinky. First off (and totally predictably) she hated Keisha. Especially after the former Marine had seriously kicked her ass in the gym. Since that humiliation, the Israeli was down in the gym every free moment she had, training and practising her martial arts or out running laps around the navy yard every chance she got. It seemed she was on a mission to retrieve her reputation as a dangerous killer, not someone who had ended up on her ass. But that wasn’t what was hinky – her reaction to Lincoln was highly predictable.

What was weird was that Ziva had stopped taking pot shots at him. No sly comments about his dating behaviour, no snarky comments about his weight or appearance. No arguing about his orders – even if she looked like she’d swallowed a lemon every time she obeyed one. She’d remained uncharacteristically silent when McGee and Abby were constantly whining about Tony, saying that ‘Gibbs wouldn’t do it like this’ or ‘he wasn’t Gibbs.’

Ziva’s behaviour was frankly bizarre and he couldn’t help being suspicious, wondering what she was up to. At the end of the day, as much as he hated to admit it about a teammate, he didn’t trust Officer David. Granted he never had, given that her half-brother had killed Cate Todd and Ziva was Ari’s control officer, but her sudden 180-degree change in attitude to him made him even more suspicious of her motives. Unfair or not, he felt that her sudden attitude adjustment was too good to be true, so he looked at her past actions to try to gauge her future ones.

Bottom line, whether she intended it or not, she created the dossiers on the team which had gotten Cate killed. It came close to killing Abby and McGee and gotten him blown up by the car bomb when he was still recovering from the plague. And while Cate was oftentimes extremely annoying and nowhere near as good as she thought she was (as an investigator or a profiler) she was a teammate. He wouldn’t ever get over having her grey matter splattered over his face when Ari shot her as she stood beside him on the roof after they’d foiled a terrorist attack.

He hadn’t ever approved of Ziva joining the MCRT as Todd’s replacement, but Gibbs never bothered to discuss how he felt about it. Not that he’d asked his opinion about Todd or McGee either. Gibbs was a micromanager, so that was hardly surprising that he didn’t ask his opinion about having someone new on the team.

The phrase – ‘My Team, My Rules’ kind of summed up the whole situation with Gibbs’ style of leading. Collaborating wasn’t a word in Leroy Jethro Gibbs vocabulary; so, to an outsider it might not seem like a big deal for him to take on Ziva without consulting his 2IC. Except that the circumstances weren’t exactly normal since her Mossad asset (aka her half-brother) killed one of his partner’s using the damned dossiers she’d blithely handed over to him to manipulate them.

And Ari had manipulated them all with ruthless efficiency. Can anyone say Marta – the blonde bombshell runner who was a Hamas agent?

Oh yeah, Tony knew about Ziva and Ari’s familial relationship. He’d done some digging about Ziva after she’d turned up twice. He’d called in favours and learnt about their sharing the same Israeli father. Now he had a foreign operative on his team who he didn’t trust on a normal day and was acting weird and making him antsy.

Then there was the weirdness going on between Probie and Ninja. Normally Tim and Ziva ganged up against him to make him look and feel stupid, with the occasional free throw or an assist from NCIS’ most valuable player, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Between their smugly patronising behaviour and their unshakeable belief that they were his equal or more accurately that they were his better as an agent, Ziva and Tim had always ignored the orders he issued. Basically, they’d mocked, defied and argued with him every chance they got.

Now, however, there seemed to be a distinct chill between Probie and Ninja, with Ziva turning her nasty and vindictive taunts away from him. She began sniping instead at McGee, taking delight in sticking a metaphoric knife in between his ribs every chance she got. She constantly pointed out McGee’s deficiencies while highlighting her superior strengths and Tony and Keisha were forced more than once to tell her to knock it off. So, she’d become slyer about it, waiting until he or his SFA was out of earshot before slipping in the knife and twisting it to watch McGee squirm.

While the situation with McGee showed no real sign of resolving itself, despite their support of him – Tim became increasingly truculent with both him and Lincoln. Some days Tony wondered why he was bothering trying to lead a team where two of the members didn’t even respect him and he hadn’t had any say on them being on the team. As he was trying to resolve the question of it being worth the effort or not, there was still Abby and her tears and tantrums to contend with.

Although Tony had to concede that if Jeanne hadn’t become his best friend, he would have probably been trying a helluva lot harder to placate Abby. In the past they’d been the best of friends but once Cate, Tim and then Ziva came along, their friendship seemed to wither. Without Jeanne’s support, he probably would have clung tighter, desperate not to lose the Goth as a friend even when she was treating him like crap. But Jeanne had opened his eyes to how much abuse he’d accepted, and he was able to see that their friendship wasn’t worth the effort.

The truth was that Gibbs treated Abby like a spoilt princess and with each passing month, she was becoming more of a tyrant, prepared to hold everyone hostage if they didn’t prostrate themselves at her feet and worship her greatness. Plus, she was wailing and gnashing her teeth because Gibbs had not only left NCIS but to hear her tell it, he’d abandoned her. Truthfully, she’d been quite jealous and angry to find out about his hidden life and secret family, read ‘real’ daughter that she hadn’t known about.

She swung between sobbing all over Tony, demanding that he comfort her because they were best friends and apparently blaming him for ‘letting’ Gibbs leave. What had she expected him to do – handcuff the man to his desk and refuse to let him leave? Barricade him in his house till he agreed to stay?

Of course, she’d been quick to jump on the ‘you’re not Gibbs’ bandwagon with McGee before he’d been appointed as the SSA back when Gibbs was just out injured. Okay…so had Ziva but now he was formally promoted – at least Ziva had for some reason knocked it off, at least saying it out loud. They other two were still bitching to anyone who’d listen.

Yet paradoxically (and yes, what a shocker that he knew and could correctly use a six-syllable word in context) when he didn’t do things like Gibbs, the Goth Princess got even more pissy with him. Abby hated change with a passion and apparently, he’d provoked her ire by making her face up to the changes. According to her logic (now there was an oxymoron since she seemed incapable of thinking clearly when it involved Gibbs) Tony was rubbing her nose in the fact that Gibbs had abandoned her by changing stuff.

Also, she’d told him bluntly, he was acting uppity to think he could do things better than her silver fox did, which FYI was impossible since he was perfect. Gibbs, not him was perfect – Tony DiNozzo was a pale imitation, a pathetic wannabe, a dumb cop who could never hope to be half the agent that Gibbs was. Not that she said all that stuff about him being dumb out loud, but it was implied.

And to that end, in case he was too dumb to get the message that he was merely the pretender to the throne of King Leroy, Abby had tried to insist that he wear a sticker proclaiming him a ‘Trainee.’

Tony smirked, remembering how he’d calmly ripped the sticky label off his Hugo Boss jacket, chucked it into the trash along with her Caff-pow. He left the lab, resolving that he wasn’t going to let Abbs walk all over him a moment longer.

He’d talked to Keisha and Jeanne and they’d persuaded him that Abby was manipulative around males, and they were all rewarding her bad behaviour by pandering to her and giving her Caff-pows. Not just rewarding her – they were reinforcing her behaviour which wasn’t fair to the other teams who had to work with her two.

Her expression when he’d walked out on her had been priceless. He’d returned to the bullpen and sent Keisha down to get the forensic results, ignoring the Goth for several days, which was hard for him.

First off, he’d never really had any long-term relationships with females (with anyone) truth be told. He’d never known how to cope with her crying, pouting, punching and hugging. Especially the crying and sulking. When Wendy did it, he folded like a weak director’s chair, not that it had stopped her leaving him. Just like everyone else who was important to him.

Therefore, while he accepted Keisha and Jeanne’s assessment that Abbs was playing him, he really didn’t understand any other way to relate to her. His mother had been manipulative – well she was an addict and even if he’d been eight when she died, he did have an eidetic memory. Plus, he knew that Abby, like everyone else on the team, Ducky included, was reeling from Gibbs’ departure, or at least the way he departed.

It was hard for Tony, excruciatingly hard for him to stand up to Abby, who had always described them as best friends. However, since meeting Jeanne he was starting to learn about what real friendship was all about, for example that it didn’t impose conditions.

Yep, his friendship with Jeanne was a definite education for him. She accepted him for who he was, had no difficulty in seeing him as a playful jokester but also as someone who was intelligent too. He liked to help her study, he had a reasonable grounding in science subjects such as anatomy and physiology, biology and basic chemistry from his Phys Ed studies, although clearly not as comprehensive as she did. It was enough for him to help her prepare for her exams, but it wasn’t the only thing that they did together. They both loved films, especially Film Noire and New Wave French Foreign language films and would deconstruct them in minute detail after watching them.

He’d loved them because his mother did, and she permitted him to watch them with her. It was a memory that wasn’t tainted by her dressing him up in humiliating clothes or staggering around so drunk that she couldn’t tell the difference between mint julip and sea monkeys. Watching movies together was something he was able to share with other people about his mother, something which sounded like a reasonably normal activity for a loving mother to do with her only child.

Still when he’d called Abby out on what Keisha called her ‘spoilt baby’ behaviour and Jeanne had called ‘manipulative infantilism’, she’d reacted incredibly badly at first. Which meant that when Abby Sciuto was unhappy, everyone else at NCIS suffered too. Everyone was cursing him, even Ducky and Shepard had questioned if his ‘tough luv’ approach was the best thing, under the circumstances.

Thankfully, his strong and supportive SFA had his back though. Keshia scowled at him whenever he seemed like wavering and giving in, bolstering his resolve with cookies when he stood firm and the pain had paid off. After three agonisingly long days of ignoring the tantrum throwing Goth, plus everyone else alternately pleading with him to give into to her, cursing him for being such a stubborn idiot, or threatening him with physical harm, it had finally begun to pay dividends.

Sweet victory indeed when a much-chastened forensic scientist practically belly-crawled her way up to the bullpen. Despite Rule 6, she’d abjectly and publicly apologised to Tony for daring to put a ‘trainee’ sticker’ on him and chastising him for not coming the moment Major Mass Spec spat out his results.

All of which would have been almost impossible to achieve if their first case had been a murder, sexual assault or a kidnapping case. Even Ducky had been decidedly off balance, angry and feeling betrayed; questioning his long friendship with Gibbs. So, all in all, it was taking longer to get the team working as one.

After a long discussion, Tony and Keisha had decided that they would start off the way they meant to go – standing firm. It also meant he’d continued implementing his idea of sharing information with all the members of the team, not compartmentalizing it as Gibbs had done. The idea was, instead of forcing team members to compete against each other to find leads, that cross-pollination, cooperation and brainstorming would lead to breakthroughs and create a much less stressful, rewarding and enjoyable workplace.

Initially, DiNozzo had expected dissent from his SFA – she was, after all, a former first Lieutenant in the Corps. He supposed he was expecting head slaps, a list of rules and threats about ‘it’s my way or the highway,” even though intellectually he knew Lincoln wasn’t Gibbs. Nevertheless, he didn’t expect her to embrace his less autocratic approach to investigating so enthusiastically either.

Yet Keshia had been incredibly supportive of him. Especially when McGee and Ziva had been so negative and derogative about his ‘campfire’ sessions, although Ducky and Jimmy loved the innovation and Abby did too when she’d finally backed down and got with the new program. The cherry atop the ice cream sundae was that their daily campfire had already produced results beyond his wildest expectations.

They’d been reviewing the evidence, McGee had been reporting on the results of his investigation into Renny Grant, one of the suspects in the embezzlement case. Grant was most insistent that he was innocent, but the evidence McGee had gathered said otherwise. During their team campfire, Keisha inquired about Grant’s alibi and if McGee had verified it? Although he’d scowled at Lincoln for doubting his investigation process, in truth he’d messed up, failing to check Renny’s alibi adequately. Something which was one of the most basic tenets of investigation and Ziva pounced. She’d taken great delight in pointing out that his lapse was further evidence that he didn’t have the skills to be 2IC when he made such a basic error.

Further investigation had revealed that yeah, Renny had an alibi alright. Hell, the guy wasn’t even in the country when the crime using his computer had been perpetrated – he was in Iraq. Someone was trying to set him up to take the fall and Tony was furious that McGee was giving such a piss poor effort to the case.

Gibbs would have ripped him a new one if he’d done that when he was still leading the MCRT. However, thanks to the collaborative review process and a diligent and experienced investigator in Lincoln as SFA, they’d dodged a bullet with Grant. It had forced them to dig deeper, discovering that Grant’s CO Carl Davis had been one of the embezzlers and he’d set Remy up to take the fall. Turned out that Davis had also been getting all cosy with Ziva, bonding over her knife collection.

So, they successfully solved their first case as the new MCRT and though it had been rocky, Tony could only hope that it would get better. He was surprised at how much pleasanter it felt having Keisha backing him up. Her fulsome support of the campfire method, plus her years of investigative experience had resulted in Grant being vindicated in his claims of innocence and they’d even managed to trace the money and retrieve it.

Although McGee hadn’t been able to trace it, not that Tony was convinced that the junior agent was giving his all, in the end, they’d found the money by more conventional methods. Once they had the three culprits in their clutches in the interview room, Lincoln and Tony were able to turn them against each other very easily since the maxim WAS true. There is no honour amongst thieves, especially when they are facing serious brig time.

Justin Grady, Marine Sergeant Mitch Wilkins and Navy Commander Carl Davis had fallen over each other to confess and blame it all on the others, including the plot to point the finger at Remy Grant. Telling NCIS how to find the stolen money was a desperate attempt to gain clemency.

All in all, it had been a good effort, a team result. Three dirtbags going down, money retrieved and Remy Grant able to return to work, his good name unsullied. And hopefully, the next case would go even smoother. Tony couldn’t help but wonder though, if they’d have achieved such a positive or such a speedy result if he’d been saddled with three green investigators – no disrespect intended to Michelle Lee. Though he had to question would he have picked up the anomaly with Grant being set up without Keisha watching his back because clearly, McGee wouldn’t have picked it up.

Tony resolved not to take McGee’s work for granted, even if he was a hotshot computer genius. He’d cut him some slack this time, but Tony would be on his ass like barnacles on a boat from now on. Hopefully, it was an honest mistake and not the result of the special agent massive pout fest, but he wouldn’t take any of his work for granted from this point. He’d make sure Lincoln or himself triple checked it all.

Chapter Seven

Ten weeks later…

Director Shepard was on her way home from the security conference she’d attended as head of NCIS, although it had been her relentless pursuit of Rene Benoit that had her skivvying off from the talk-fest to chase after her own White Whale. She’d almost managed to catch up with him in Antwerp but he’d somehow managed to give her the slip. To get that close and lose him was a situation which made her extremely angry.

She wasn’t even sure what she would have done, had she managed to catch up with him. She suspected that she might have been tempted to dispatch him if presented with the opportunity, although a part of her felt like that would have been a mistake. She felt that a swift death was way too quick and compassionate an ending for the man who destroyed her world when he took her beloved father from her.

Still, if she came face to face with him, she guessed that the temptation might prove too much for her. In the end though, it was a moot point because La Grenouille simply vanished like a ghost into the night. Except he wasn’t a ghost – he was very real, and he’d disappeared in broad daylight.

Things were much brighter on the home front though with regards to Benoit’s daughter. Jenny had received some good news before she’d flown out to attend the conference. She’d finally managed to find someone who agreed (for a price) to spy on the daughter of her nemesis. A less than ethical ward clerk in financial troubles with huge gambling debts had agreed to send weekly reports on her activities. He reported that Jeanne Benoit who was engaged to a metro cop had called off her wedding about four months ago and was still struggling in the aftermath.

Jenny was delighted and relieved to hear that Jeanne was still struggling with the breakup, not because she was a bitch and wished her nemesis’ daughter to suffer like she had. Well okay…maybe she did, but that was just frosting on her cupcake. No, the real reason she experienced such a sense of jubilation was because she sensed that it presented her with a new opportunity to worm her way into Jeanne’s life.

If the young doctor was alone and vulnerable because her lying cheating sack of shit fiancé and her best friend had betrayed her, then she was ripe for being exploited. While Jenny still had plans to enlist Tony DiNozzo in her mission to seduce La Grenouille’s little girl, she could see that now wasn’t the right time.

Not for DiNozzo who still didn’t trust her or for Jeanne who wouldn’t want to jump straight into another serious relationship. If DiNozzo were to seduce her now, chances are it would simply be a one-night stand and that wouldn’t earn Jenny a foot into Rene’s organisation. He wouldn’t come to the US for some short-lived affair, but he would come to visit her and checkout the man who’d managed to win his daughter’s heart. Especially one who was her first serious lover after having been cheated on and having her heart broken by her fiancé.

If she’d been successful in enlisting DiNozzo into an undercover op. and had managed to get DiNozzo into place, it would more than likely gone belly up and all her planning and hard work would have been wasted. No at times like these, what a girl needed was a best friend whose shoulder she could cry on and watch sappy rom-coms with. And luckily, Jeanne’s best friend had stabbed her in the heart when she decided to cheat on her with her fiancé.

So, Shepard would arrange for Ziva to meet and befriend the young woman and nurse her broken heart back to health again. By which time, Jenny should have found a way to persuade DiNozzo to go undercover and sweep the beautiful doctor off her feet.

She was pretty sure that Rene kept close tabs on his daughter even if he was in Europe. After all, if she got serious about someone and married them, they would become his son-in-law. Jenny couldn’t help wondering how he’d have handled the idea of having a Metro detective as a son-in-law. She would hazard a guess that he wasn’t that cut up about them breaking up – apart from the hurt to his Little Princess.

He wouldn’t have been happy that the sack of shit had broken her heart – although she also wondered if Rene had anything to do with the break-up. He might even have bribed Jeanne’s friend to seduce the cop to get rid of him. Someone who killed people including her father wouldn’t be above such actions. Besides, it’s what she’d have done if she was in his shoes.

As she flew home, Jenny decided she’d invite Ziva over for dinner tonight and they could spend the night together. She’d instruct her to get close to Jeanne Benoit which should be relatively easy assignment. Even though Jeanne didn’t know it yet, they had quite a lot in common.

They both spoke fluent French, had fathers who were harbingers of death and destruction. Utterly ruthless men. Both women were the apple of their fathers’ eyes and raised as princesses, given a privileged, comfortable lifestyle. They enjoyed ballet, opera and fine arts so it should be easy enough for Ziva to inveigle her way into the doctor’s world, to relate to Jeanne, and most importantly, to gain her trust.

It was brilliant – Jenny couldn’t see any flaws in the plan. Ziva could even oversee her rebound affairs to fuck her cheating ex-fiancé and best friend out of her system. Ziva should probably arrange for some a couple of male prostitutes for her to play with so there would be no messy emotional entanglements to get in the way of her getting together with DiNozzo at a later point in time. Then Jenny could manoeuvre her resident Lothario into seduction proximity, so she’d fall in love with him. With him as her attentive lover, Rene would sooner or later be forced to come to the States and check out the man who had replaced him in her affections.

It was perfect and although she was bitterly disappointed that her trip had been a waste of time, Jenny was confident that everything was going to work out in the end. Her father’s death would finally be avenged and this terribly lethargy she was feeling of late would dissipate.

~oO0Oo~

Ziva was frustrated. Getting close to her mark was proving harder than expected. Except for going to the Munroe University Hospital for her shifts, she seemed to go to the gym and home and that was it. No going out for coffees and brunches where Ziva could accidently bump into her. Despite her liking the opera and ballet, according to Jenny’s Intel, she was practically a hermit crab, so that only left the gym.

That would not be a problem because Ziva spent hours in the gym every week. The difficulty was the mark – she seemed to have a gym buddy who kept getting in the way of their friendship. Clearly, she would need to get rid of the annoying young Latino woman named Carly who was sticking to Jeanne like glue. The Mossad operative had learnt that she was a nurse and she worked at the same hospital with Benoit.

The Mossad officer decided she would need to organise for Carly to have an unfortunate accident; a simple broken leg would suffice so the irritatingly clingy woman wasn’t able to train for a month or two and give Ziva an opportunity to step onto the beach and get friendly with her. Ziva smiled in happy anticipation. For the Mossad officer, orchestrating an unfortunate slip down the stairs would be a slice of cake.

She also had a gut suspicion that Jeanne wasn’t alone in her apartment at night and that she might have male company. However, Ziva decided that she couldn’t afford to tail her mark, especially when Benoit went home. Although she’d never actually managed to spot anyone, she was sure the one or two times she staked out the doctor’s apartment building that she wasn’t the only one watching her. As the daughter of an international arms dealer, Ziva thought it highly probable that her father had eyes on her.

She was probably a soft target for his business rivals, and it made sense that La Grenouille would have her watched. So Ziva couldn’t afford to be seen hanging around, showing an interest in her. It was crucial that it seemed as if she’d run into Jeanne accidently and befriended her. She couldn’t afford to attract the watcher’s attention.

Her coverup story for Jeanne was as an interpreter, which was easy enough for Ziva to carry off because she spoke a number of languages fluently, including French, which Jenny was hoping would make an instant connection between them. The Israeli spy was confident that between herself and Jenny, they’d created a steel-tight cover for her but first she needed to get rid of that silly little nurse Carly.

One week later…

It had been child’s play to lure the Venezuelan born nurse into the stairs one night when she was working the night shift. So easy to give her a shove, she’d taken the precaution of greasing the handrail with grease, just to be on the safe side. She’d used grease from a burger and French fries, purchased from a fast-food restaurant in case suspicions raised about it not being an accident. Plus, she’d disabled the security cams near the stairwell, and it had gone to plan. One nurse, one fractured femur and one happy Mossad assassin – what could be better?

Or so she’d thought!

Now she was one pissed off Mossad assassin. Ziva tried to connect with Jeanne but the stuck-out princess blew her off the one time she turned up to work out at the gym. Not only had she been rude to her, but some guy kept trying to hit on her. Looked like they had history together. Benoit had slapped his face and cut short her workout, leaving the gym all sweating and distraught without even bothering to shower.

Ziva was furious, especially since Benoit hadn’t come back to the gym since the argument with the guy and the Israeli didn’t dare follow her because of La Grenouille’s men watching his daughter. She couldn’t afford to let them suspect that she was following Jeanne or that she was interested in her because of her father. So, in hindseeing, it was obvious that the idiot guy had scared her off, chasing her away from the gym. Now, thanks to him, she would have to come up with a new way to make friends with the doctor.

All of which put her into a foul mood, so she became frustrated and needed a skating goat. Not allowed to target Tony anymore she turned her attention to the puffed up, self-important computer geek. He would not last five minutes at Mossad, though she had to be careful not to do it when DiNozzo and Lincoln were around.

Surprisingly, both Lincoln and Tony would kick her butt if they heard her verbally attacking the junior agent. She would have thought Tony would enjoy seeing McGee get some of his own crap handed back to him since he’d helped her dish out more than his fair share on DiNozzo. Okay so she’d encouraged it to help drive a wedge through the team, as per her orders from Jenny. Not that she’d minded doing it, but she certainly didn’t have to hold a gun to Tim’s head to get him to join in. He’d been as happy as a lamb in mud to pile the shit on DiNozzo before the bombing and Gibbs’ departure.

She didn’t understand why Tony wasn’t up for a bit of hazing to get back at McGee. Gibbs had been perfectly fine with them heaping crap on Tony any chance they got and that was fine with her too. It had been cathartic and had soothed her frustration, being forced to play second fig to such a buffoon as the ex-cop. Things had changed though – and not just those infernal camp outs either.

Lincoln and DiNozzo were tight – maybe they were sleeping together. They had each other’s backs and supported each other’s decisions and orders. They kicked her and McGee’s butts when they so much as stepped out of line. If either of them caught her hassling the Doughy Boy, they’d kick her ass.

Tony was acting so confident and self-assured that she was convinced he was breaking Rule 12 with the former Marine lieutenant. He was certainly favouring her, despite her being the newest person on the team. He let her give them orders – it made Ziva furious, especially when Keshia beat her on a regular basis when they sparred or fought.

She figured the senior field agent must be cheating somehow because Ziva was Mossad trained, not to mention a trained Kidon assassin. No way could Lincoln beat her, even if she was a Marine.

~oO0Oo~

A couple of weeks later…

Tony was spending the night at Jeanne’s. She wasn’t working the night shift for a change. Lately it seemed that when he wasn’t working a case, Jeanne was rostered on, so he’d been hanging out at home and thinking a lot about his growing feelings for his best friend. Ever since the day that Tony realised, he had feelings for her, he was freaking out.

He hadn’t felt this way for a long time and the last time he was serious about anyone it had ended badly. Really, really relly badly – as in rip his heart out and crush it to dust, badly. He’d ended up going crazy and turning into a serial dater and he didn’t want to be hurt like that again. On the other hand, he was prepared to admit that as much as he’d eschewed long term monogamy or any type of commitment (insisting that avoidance kept him safe from harm) recently he’d come to the painful realisation that it wasn’t true.

He’d merely engaged in self-delusion, looking to fulfil the emptiness he felt with interpersonal relationships with workmates. He’d misguidedly been trying to create meaningful bonds out of casual friendships with work colleagues, people who didn’t care about him on anything deeper than an extremely superficial level. He’d confused them with being his family.

Okay clearly that was his bad… but it made him realise something significant. He’d albeit quite belatedly come to see that he couldn’t go through life without forming deep meaningful connections with others – he wasn’t made that way. He needed people in his life, but he also needed to accept that he was going to be hurt sometimes – it was part and parcel of the risk you take in getting close to others. Sure, he hadn’t let anyone get close to him romantically after Wendy but that hadn’t stopped him getting hurt.

The team had hurt him when he’d stepped up and took over for Gibbs – probably Abby more than anyone else, except for Gibbs. He understood why the boss had left like he did, sort of. He also understood why he’d had kept his family a secret too, even if they were dead. He didn’t agree but he did understand why he did it.

What he couldn’t ever understand was how Gibbs could just walk out like that, leaving him with two derisory words as his legacy and farewell and yet his farewell for McGee was fulsome and he took a gutless pot shot at Tony before he departed. It had made him question his abilities in a way that no one else had been able to achieve since his father had assured him, he’d end up in the gutter, making it sound like a sure thing.

He’d foolishly allowed himself to trust Gibbs, to trust his opinion, to care about him, to think of him as family. He’d revealed things to his former boss that he now deeply regretted. He’d shown him some of his vulnerabilities and scars (of which there was many) and that had been a huge mistake.

Yet through what had been a horrible experience, realising that he’d misinterpreted the relationship he had with his team and the relationship he’d thought he had with his boss, he’d found himself dealing with it so much better than he would ever have expected. While his feelings were really hurt by Abby, Tim and to a far lesser degree, by Ziva David – his self-esteem had been seriously damaged by Gibbs. Taking off like that without leaving contact details was a betrayal of their partnership, although honestly, he wouldn’t be all that shocked to learn that Ducky or Abby knew how to get in touch with him.

But looking after Jeanne after John betrayed her, had centred him. It had bolstered his self-confidence so that he’d been able to stand up to the challenges he faced at work. He’d even been prepared to walk away from work and start over and it had given him the power to effect change that he wouldn’t have had without her friendship.

She knew him as intimately as any close friend had and she wasn’t repulsed by his flaws. She also saw his good attributes and he wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable with her, sharing his music and love of films. Not just the popular stuff but the more artistic, intellectual films and film making. She knew about his interest in literature – that and music. Not even Gibbs had known about that even though he’d been to Tony’s apartment on numerous occasions.

He’d wrongly assumed the baby grand and his collection of literature belonged to his dead mother and Tony had never disabused him of that assumption, especially since some of the books such as the collected works of Emily, Charlotte and Anne Bronte had belonged to his mother. Still, Jeanne knew he’d read every book on his shelf, more than once although she did wonder about the well-thumbed copy of Moby Dick.

Tony thought about his friendship with Jeanne. For a guy who was notoriously distrustful, not letting people in his life get close enough to be a threat, somehow, he’d seemed to have let the beautiful young doctor slip under his guard. More importantly, when he realised it, he hadn’t panicked and used his usual modus operandi to distance himself from the emotional intimacy by being obnoxious or deflecting. Tony figured that was probably a sign that he was open to taking the friendship with Jeanne further if that was what she wanted too, although he was very aware that rushing into a romantic liaison impetuously could be a disaster.

He really didn’t want to be the rebound relationship – he already cared too much for her for that, so he finally resolved to keep his feelings for her to himself for now. He knew that with the battering her sense of esteem had suffered, if she knew how he felt, one of two things would happen. She’d either run in the opposite direction in panic or want to become physically intimate and he knew it was too soon. That she wasn’t ready for a long-term relationship, which could mean that he’d blow the best thing that had ever happened to him before it had a chance to bloom.

For now, he needed to play this card close to his vest – she was worth it even if they just remained best friends and didn’t take it further.

When he used the key, she’d given him a couple of weeks ago, he found her curled up on the sofa reading a historical novel. She smiled when she saw him watching her, but something seemed off with her. Figuring it was a case at work he shrugged. He wouldn’t push – he knew from personal experience that people pushing to talk about work issues just made him clam up. Sitting down on the sofa and giving her a platonic hug, he deliberately didn’t ask about her day.

“So, ma belle, you want to eat out, order in or should we cook?” He asked, figuring that dinner was a safe topic.

Jeanne frowned, thinking about the options. “Definitely don’t feel like going out, Tony. I’d love something home cooked but I’m not sure what I’ve got in the fridge,” she said pensively.

Tony extracted himself off the sofa and headed into the kitchen to reconnoitre. Checking the fridge and freezer he reappeared. There are eggs, cheese and Portobello mushrooms – so mushroom omelettes or you have some chicken fillets in the freezer and some vegetables, so a stir fry?” He enquired.

“Mmm mushroom omelettes, sound good.”

“Okay, you take it easy and I’ll cook.” He told her, watching her to see if he could figure out what was going on.

“Need a hand?” She asked.

“Nope, I can manage,” he assured her, and she snuggled back on the sofa but as he wandered in at various times to check up on her, Tony frowned, noticing she wasn’t really reading. She was still on the same page as when he walked through the door. She must have lost someone, possibly a kid, he guessed.

He couldn’t ring Carly this time to find out though, she was still off on sick leave with a badly fractured leg after someone pushed her down the stairs at work. Carly insisted it was a sign that the Angel of Death was stalking them but of course everyone had laughed at the superstitious nurse.

Later when they were eating, Jeanne had finally admitted to him what was bothering her, and he’d been wrong. It had nothing to do with work.

“So how was your day, Tony?”

“So so. We worked cold cases. Tim was truculent and Keisha smacked him down. Ziva was angry about something but then she’s been acting weird for a while now and the director was all flirty.” He grinned at her. “I think she’s after my body,” he joked. Well half joked since she did seem to invade his personal space a lot, put her hands on him and flick her hair back coquettishly.

“She sexually harasses you?” Jeanne demanded hotly.

Tony laughed. “No, not that blatant, it’s flirting – subtle. Lot of flirting going on at work, Jeanne. I do it too, as you know. Abby is shameless.”

She frowned. “Yeah, I get that in high-pressure environment when you are dealing with the dark side of human nature, flirting can be a fairly harmless coping mechanism. Doctors and nurses, particularly in hospitals do it too, but Shepard’s the director of the agency. When she does it, it’s harassment and against the law. She’s in a position of trust and she has power over you.” Jeanne argued seriously.

Since he really wasn’t sure what Shepard was up to, but he didn’t trust her anymore (however sexual harassment was probably the least of his worries) he changed topics. “So how was the gym? You were planning on going today, weren’t you?”

Seeing Jeanne tear up he cursed. He’d thought that the gym was a safe subject. “What happened, ma chérie?” He perched on the sofa and slipped an arm around her.

“John was there, Tony. Begging me to take him back. Telling me he was drunk when he slept with Clare.”

Tony nodded. That was hardly news. They all knew her fiancé had to be drunk to cheat on the woman he was supposed to be head over heels in love with.”

“What did you say?”

Jeanne scowled. “Honestly, Tony? What do you think I said? I told him I never wanted to see him again. As far as I was concerned, he was dead to me. Being drunk is no excuse. I may also have slapped him across the face, too.”

After a childhood in the company of two alcoholic parents, Tony had no argument with her feelings. It was just too easy to blame everything on alcohol (especially hurting those who were closest to you) and then simply absolve yourself from accepting responsibility for your actions. He was glad she’d whacked him though!

He nodded, hugging her tighter, remaining silent. He knew all about empty platitudes.

His silence elicited tears and more confessions. “I felt like someone was watching me. Turns out I was right.”

Tony frowned. “He’s been stalking you? He’s a cop – he knows that’s not on,” He fumed. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

Jeanne smiled at him through her tears. “Because it was just a feeling and I honestly thought it was Papa.”

“Why would your father be watching you Jeanne? Who is he?” he demanded curiously.

“He’s a rich businessman, Tony. A couple of times he’s hired protection when he thought his competitors might be threatening his family.”

“And did they?”

“No. Probably just Papa being overprotective. But your parents were rich too. You must have had bodyguards when you were growing up.”

Tony frowned, realising that Senior’s assistant could very well have been a bodyguard. He wondered why he’d never realised that. Senior was always pissing off his competitors. And his investors when his schemes went belly up. Now he come to think about it, of course the humourless Benjamin Adams was a bodyguard.

Still being disowned when he was twelve, he could truthfully say that he’d never been shadowed by a bodyguard.

Chapter Eight

Ziva David was sitting outside Munroe University Hospital watching and waiting for La Grenouille’s daughter to come out at the end of her shift. She’d been waiting at Benoit’s gym for over a week now and Jeanne hadn’t been back there since the guy harassed her. What a colossal waste of time that had been all week.

Jenny was getting highly impatient with her lack of results and she was feeling that the good reputation of Mossad was at stake here. She was starting to think they should come up with another way to approach Dr Benoit. So Ziva decided it was time for desperate measures.

Which was why Ziva was sitting in an untraceable car that she borrowed from the embassy, nursing her wrist to her chest. She’d decided that since Jeanne was a doctor, she would work her way in with the precious little princess by becoming her patient. She’d timed it so that she could approach Benoit as she was coming off the night shift. The Mossad liaison had arrived at the hospital almost an hour ago and proceeded to slam the door on her wrist repeatedly before she finally managed to fracture it. She figured once the doctor set it for her, Ziva would invite her out for a coffee and they would become girl buddies. That would give her a solid in with the arms dealer.

She pushed the pain to the back of her mind as she’d been schooled to do by her Mossad trainers. Ziva was accustomed to dealing with high levels of pain since it was an attribute expected of elite assassins to be able to remain focused on the job at hand. As she noticed the change-over of staff and began to see the medical personnel from the night shift beginning to drift out of the entrance, Ziva climbed out of the Toyota sedan and drifted toward the main entrance.

Ignoring the strange looks she was given by the tired looking nurses and doctors as they spilled out of the hospital, Ziva watched, waiting for the exotic brunette with the striking blue eyes. Dr Benoit eventually walked out the hospital entrance wearing an expensive designer jacket over her pink-coloured scrubs, accompanied by a bunch of nurses. Ziva made her move, the Mossad assassin staggered towards Benoit, collapsing against her, whimpering theatrically and begging for help.

Benoit sprang into action, yelling orders and soon Ziva was situated in a wheelchair that had been produced by a nurse and she was being rushed into the emergency department. Ziva was disappointed to find that Benoit hadn’t taken her straight through to a treatment room to set her obviously broken wrist. Her plan was Dr Benoit was supposed to be treating Ziva so they could bond together as she set Ziva’s broken bone. But instead, the spoilt-brat daughter of La Grenouille booked her into the queue of people waiting for the triage nurse to assess them. Jeanne had whispered something about her to the huge sweaty nurse, who looked stressed and he eyed her suspiciously, before approaching with Benoit. Much to Ziva’s fury Jeanne patted her shoulder and swiftly departed.

“Isn’t she going to fix my wrist. I am in terrible pain.” Ziva lied, scowling at the nurse.

“No, Dr Benoit is off duty and besides, she doesn’t work in the ER,” he replied, picking up her wrist to examine it, nodding to himself and writing something down on the patient intake sheet. As he began to check out her vital signs, he took her pulse before he reached for her ear to take her temperature, Ziva’s training kicked in and she reacted by grabbing his large meaty hand and snapping his finger out of its socket.

Too late she realised the instrument in his hand was a piece of medical equipment, not a weapon to cause her harm. Since she had failed in her objective to befriend the overindulged doctor who couldn’t even take a few minutes to care for someone who needed medical attention, there was really no point in remaining here. She was moderately surprised that the nurse hadn’t collapsed in a heap when she’d snapped his index finger.

He was reaching for the phone and was about yell for security when Ziva launched herself at him, briefly considering a chokehold but she shied away from getting up close and personal with the repulsive mound of blabber. Instead, she decided on a kick to his gut to take him out, watching as he went down like a ton of bricks, unable to speak. Ziva left the ER, morphing from a victim who was in terrible pain, into a cool calm predator, melting into the constant sea of humanity that was coming and going from the ER. Slipping confidently out the front entrance, she made her way to the old nondescript Toyota, got into the car and drove away.

Looking at her wrist in irritation she figured she’d get one of the Mossad officers at the Israeli Embassy to fix it for her when she dropped off the vehicle. Jenny was going to be furious, especially now that Benoit would recognise her again should she attempted to make contact with her again. What a FURBALL!

~oO0Oo~

Shepard had informed Tony that Ziva was dealing with Mossad business and would be in late today. She came in after lunch, sporting an ace bandage on her left wrist, her fingers swollen and bruised. When he inquired about it, she told him that she’d sprained it during hand to hand combat training of the embassy staff. Seeing the amused look on McGee’s face because she’d been giving him a hard time about his own unarmed combat skills, she’d scowled at the team in ill-disguised anger.

Eyeballing the junior agent, she casually described her training mishap, three Mossad officers fighting against her and her wrist connecting with the skull of one opponent when she threw a second 220 lb assassin over her shoulder before spinning around to take out another. She then offered to demonstrate the move with McGee who immediately went a pale shade of green.

Tony diverted the discussion, “Did you see a doctor, Ziva?”

“Yes, Tony. I saw a doctor this morning,” she’d replied sweetly, which technically was true. She had seen and talked to Benoit, albeit briefly.

“Okay… when are you cleared to return to field work?” He asked her formally.

“Please do not insult me, it is a minor sprain. A Mossad officer does get stooled for a tiny little sprain. I am fine.”

Keisha snorted disbelievingly. “

You get benched, not stooled Ziva.”

Tony stared at her wrist that was swollen and ugly. “That is not a minor sprain,” he insisted, gesturing at the offending appendage. He’d seen more than his fair share of injuries as a college athlete, especially sprains and strain. “You’re benched, Officer David until I see a medical certificate, clearing you to go into the field, so suck it up. Get a sling from Ducky and wear it if you want to remain on desk duty.” He ordered firmly.

Later, he called a team meeting – not a campfire since they had no active cases which they were working on, so he decided now was as good a time as any to inform them of some of his training goals. He’d already figured that he had to forge his own leadership style. When Gibbs was in a coma, Abby, McGee and Ziva had pointed out very bluntly that he was a poor imitation of the Boss, but they also didn’t like it when he’d tried to change things.

Well tough, because he couldn’t and wouldn’t lead a team as a Gibbs clone. Campfires were the first change of several he was keen to implement and despite herself, Abby liked the campfires. And not just because she was intensely sociable (for someone who insisted on working alone) but because it gave her a chance to hear the evidence in its entirety and to contribute in ways that she didn’t normally.

And that cut both ways, with the trained investigators getting a chance to be more fully educated on matters of forensic science by Ducky and Abby and to come up with suggestions too. Sometimes novices come up with naïve suggestions that those who were more expert discounted or simply overlooked as being too obvious or unlikely. Alternatively, novices sometimes had a scrap of information, an experience or an idea that seemed totally unrelated, off the wall crazy or merely a piece of useless trivia but then it turned out to be key in busting open an investigation.

An example of a novice having a piece of the puzzle that the forensic personnel hadn’t been able to resolve had been the case of Commander Dornan. Abby and McGee were trying to prove he’d spontaneously combusted in Bethesda Hospital after heart surgery. Meanwhile, poor old Ducky had been sweet on the cardiac surgeon, Dr Byers. Gibbs pissed at the lack of progress, had sent Tony down to Abby’s lab with orders to go over the forensic evidence and find a lead and the rest was history.

So today when they were all sitting down in the conference room, he got underway, dispensing with meeting etiquette. “Okay, let’s get started. I want to introduce some team building activities and develop a database of team skills. A successful team is effective because they have a broad range of skills that complement each other, not compete against each other. I want everyone to compile a list of skills, abilities and hobbies that make you who you are and then I want to work with you passing on some of those skills or knowledge to the rest of the team.”

Seeing the looks of disbelief and scorn from the juniors he grinned and handed out paper and pencils. “Transferable skills, guys. We all have things that help us do the job which seems at first glance to have nothing to do with job performance. For example,” he grinned at Ziva, “Let’s discuss how our Mossad Ninja here developed her stealth ability and before you say years of military, martial arts and Mossad training folks, think again.”

Seeing the looks of puzzlement Tony continued. “It started way before that when little Ziva would put on her leotards, tights and pointe shoes and practise her plies and pas de deux. Those lethal head kicks of hers? It’s all the thanks to the Grand Jetes, all the recitals and concerts, leg warmers and hair nets,” he revealed. Taking in her shocked expression, he chuckled.

“What, Officer David? You compiled dossiers on all of us for your brother, Ari and no doubt you’ve rushed to do the same for Keshia, trying to profile her as well. Did you really think I wouldn’t do the same for you too? Or is to that you are shocked that I have contacts that could unearth intimate details about your childhood?” Tony knew it was the second option since she’d made no secret of the fact that she thought he was a dumb cop and now he’d thrown her off balance.

“And you McGee, you want to do undercover work. How about you commit to learning to speak a second language?”

“How does that help me go undercover,” Tim scoffed, obviously still smarting about his demotion back down to the junior agent.

“Told you Probie. Transferable skills. Apart from the obvious benefits of being able to accept jobs that come up in NCIS offices in other countries and understanding dirtbags conversations when they speak in other languages, there’s a multitude of benefits. A study recently found that people who can speak two or more languages were better at solving problems, planning, and other mentally challenging tasks. Bilingual speakers often must shift back and forth between languages and it’s like a physical workout for the brain. It makes it quicker, better at multi-tasking, smarter. All of which are important attributes when you are undercover.”

“Well, I’m already bilingual.” McGee retorted, still quite snarky.

Tony did a mental eye roll. Tim’s passive aggressive jabs were really starting to piss him off. He was quickly reaching the end of his tether with McGee’s acting out, all because he’d been demoted from a job that he wasn’t qualified for in the first place. He and Keisha had cut him some slack, but the sulking was getting old pretty and the former college athlete was getting set to kick his ass.

Keisha smiled gently, to rob her words their sting. “Not sure binary code counts, Tim. It’s numerically based – a different region in the brain. Not saying it isn’t an excellent skill, just different skill set. Now how about we start making our lists.”

~oO0Oo~

“His name is Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo. He’s a Federal agent with NCIS and his boss is Jennifer Shepard.” The CIA agent slapped down a bunch of photos of his daughter Jeanne in the company of a tall well- built and devastatingly handsome man

Rene Benoit blanched. “So, he’s undercover?”

“Unclear at this point.” Kort shrugged. He is supposed to be their best undercover operative – spent a year undercover for the police and brought down an important mafia family.”

“That Shepard bitch sent him in to seduce my daughter? Is he sleeping with her?” He demanded, furiously.

“Definitely no to the second question. They aren’t sleeping together. Our Intel. is that they are best friends. He’s been supporting her through the breakup with her fiancé, Detective John Carson.”

Rene frowned. “You are bugging my daughter’s apartment?” It was bad enough that the CIA had him between a rock and a hard place but spying on Jeanne because of him was deeply distressing to La Grenouille. Jeanne was everything to him and there was always the overt threat that if he didn’t cooperate with these arrogant spooks then they wouldn’t think twice about harming his offspring.

“No, that would be an invasion of her privacy and trespass. Parabolic mic.” He grinned predatorily. “Although she has been begging him to fuck her,” he reported crudely, knowing that Benoit was a cultured man. Sure, he sold weapons that slaughtered innocent people to criminals and terrorists, but he considered himself to be genteel and refined. Kort enjoyed unsettling him. Obscenity worked fine!

Rene winced, he hated that term at the best of times, it was anathema to a Frenchman but using it when discussing his daughter’s private affairs of the heart offended him deeply. Vulgarity and obscenity were gauche and low class, like Kort but knowing that the CIA agent was trying to goad him, he tried not to react.

“Has this man lied to my daughter?”

“Not about who he is or what he does. He met Jeanne through her ex-fiancé.”

“That seems like an odd way to conduct an undercover operation,” Rene stated.

“Yeah, it does,” the spook agreed. “Don’t worry, if we think he is a danger we will handle him.”

La Grenouille knew that was spook-speak for they would kill him. Life was cheap to the CIA as long as they achieved their objective and Rene was under no illusion that he or his family were fair game too. When he eventually outlived his usefulness, when Kort got hold of Rene’s insurance policy his life would be in grave danger and so would Jeanne’s, for no other reason than she was his daughter.

Somehow, he needed to find a way to get out from under Trent’s control and make sure that his daughter didn’t end up dying for something she had no responsibility or knowledge of. That was why he’d created his La Grenouille persona that distanced his business from his family. He did sometimes wonder if Jeanne’s mother (and his ex-wife) Helen Berkley had told Jeanne who and what he was. He didn’t think so.

Deciding to call Jeanne and find out about this Agent DiNozzo she was spending so much time with he sent a text first to see if she was working.

Mon trésor, can you talk?

~oO0Oo~

Jeanne grinned at Tony when she came back from the ladies’ room. She noticed that their pizza had arrived and that he’d waited for her to return before starting to eat. She was touched by his gallant behaviour. Tony loved his pizza, so waiting for her meant a lot.

When she told him her thoughts, he chuckled. “I have willpower, ma puce.”

Jeanne rolled her eyes. “I should never have told you about that nickname, Tony.”

“I think it’s cute, Flea. Oh, and you got a text.”

She picked up her phone to check. “It’s from Papa. Sorry, this won’t take long.”

She quickly called him and chatted for several minutes and Tony was aware that he figured in the conversation. He spoke Italian and Spanish fluently and schoolboy French, but he was hardly fluent yet, especially at the machine gun pace that Jeanne conversed with her father. But he figured that a few more months hanging with her would do wonders for his fluency.

After she ended the call she smiled. “How much of that did you get?”

“Not a lot. It was too fast.”

“Papa was being a concerned father. Wanting to know how I was doing. I finally got around to telling him about John a couple of weeks ago.”

Tony frowned, wondering if she’d be harbouring hope they’d get back together.

“How come you didn’t tell him before?”

“Because I was frightened that he might want to kill him. And although he deserved it, I didn’t want my father to spend the next twenty years incarcerated for murder.” Jeanne admitted, bluntly. “I figured if I told him when I was a sobbing wreck that he’d shoot him. I waited until I could be calm and make sure he didn’t do anything hasty. “

“And my name came up because?”

“I told him that you had punched John in the nose and been a shoulder for me to cry on. He wanted to know more about you, but I told him we were eating a pizza and then going to see a movie. I’ll talk to him tomorrow.”

Tony shrugged. “You could have talked longer; I wouldn’t have minded.”

Jeanne grinned at him. “I’m famished. Let’s eat.”

After they’d taken the edge off with the second piece of pizza and, that was something that he admired about Jeanne – that she could match him, slice for slice, he made what was their customary query.

“So how was work?”

“Had a pretty quiet night. One post-surgical anaphylactic reaction to analgesia and a pneumonia patient who wasn’t doing so well, but the rest of the shift was dull. I catnapped for about half an hour. What about you?”

“Quiet too. No active cases. Ziva came in late – she was off doing something at the Israeli Embassy. Came in with an injured wrist, claimed it was a minor sprain and she’d seen a doctor. Told McGee that it a hand to hand training accident – her against three other Mossad operatives.”

“You don’t believe her?” Jeanne asked, picking up on his obvious doubt.

“She’s a trained assassin and spy. I think she was probably off doing something nefarious for her employer. And it didn’t look like a minor sprain to me. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was busted. I made her ice it and keep it elevated but if it isn’t looking a whole heap better tomorrow then I’ll order her down to autopsy to make sure Ducky x-rays it before she can work.”

Jeanne nodded approvingly. “Sounds like a good idea, Tony. Even if a doctor cleared her, sometimes fractures don’t show up on an x-ray or they get missed.” She rolled her eyes. “That reminds me, a junkie accosted me as I was leaving the hospital this morning with a fractured wrist.”

Tony was curious. “They been attacked?”

“No, she was looking for a hit of morphine.”

“She a regular?”

“No, I’ve never seen her before but then again I haven’t worked in the ER for nearly nine months. Perhaps she is a regular.”

“How’d you know she was junkie, Doc?” Tony pressed, his incurable nosiness getting the better of him again.

She looked disgusted. “Because I recognised how her wrist got broken. She’d slammed it in a door more than once, attempting to fracture it.”

Seeing his scepticism, she explained, “I worked a case of domestic violence where a husband slammed his wife’s hand in the car door and fractured her wrist – the pattern of bruising was identical. Plus, she was complaining that she was in terrible pain, but her autonomic responses suggested she was exaggerating. Probably in order to get a larger dose of painkiller.”

Tony grinned at her. “Our jobs have a lot of similarities, ma petite truffe. We both need strong observation skills and the ability to solve mysteries. And we both get to spend too much time with dregs and dirtbags.”

Rolling her eyes at the nickname before changing the subject, she asked, “How did your team meeting go?”

Chuckling, Tony’s eyes sparkled with mischief. “Oh, it was awesome. Ziva is going to teach ballet to improve our flexibility and coordination. McGee is going to teach us how to write simple computer programs and Keisha is going to teach us to knit.”

“Knitting? You’re joking? I thought she was a Marine.” Jeanne started laughing and ended up choking.

“What? It is good for eye-hand coordination AND if you don’t follow the rules or the pattern to the letter then you end up in a huge mess full of holes. McGee and David have trouble with the chain-of-command and following orders, so this will be a damned good experience for them.”

“What about you? Does the team leader have to learn these skills too?” Jeanne demanded, still giggling.

“Of course, but I can already follow the chain of command, so knitting shouldn’t be a problem.” He looked incredibly smug and Jeanne wondered why.

Suddenly she smacked his hand lightly. “You can already knit, can’t you?”

He nodded, “Yeah I can. I told you about my broken leg. A girlfriend taught me to knit while I was laid up. I was going crazy and she thought it might stop me climbing the walls while I was in the hospital and then recovering from the surgery. There was only so much TV, movies and books I could cope with before I was going crazy and driving everybody else to Crazy Town with me. It wasn’t the same as being able to go running but it helped keep me sane.”

He looked pensive and Jeanne understood that it had been a dark time for her friend, so she changed the subject. “And you, what skill are you going to teach the team?”

Tony snorted. “I’m undecided. I thought about something sporty but obscure like lacrosse or shuttlecock to focus on teamwork. I also thought about teaching them guitar but with two people on one instrument, one providing the finger picking and the second one playing the chords, so they learn how to cooperate and depend upon each other to make music. But I’m kind of thinking about Shakespeare and drama lessons or making them walk a beat. Can’t decide,” he shrugged before looking at his watch.

“You still up for the Bogy and Bacall double feature?”

Jeanne pretended to be horrified. “You want to miss The Big Sleep and Key Largo? Surely you jest, Special Agent.

“That’s Very Special Agent to you, Dr Benoit,” he mock-pouted.

“What’s so very special DiNozzo?” she inquired playfully.

“Wouldn’t you like to know, ma puce,” he teased her.

“Well yeah, I would, but you keep saying no to me.” His friend bantered back but Tony found the topic was getting way too close to the forbidden territory, knowing she was only half joking and changed the subject adroitly. Calling for the check they left the pizza place.

Notes:
Grand Jeté is a classical ballet term meaning “big throw.” It describes a big jump where the dancer throws one leg into the air, pushes off the floor with the other, jumping into the air and landing again on the first leg.

Plies is a classic ballet move

Pas de deux in ballet is a dance duet in which two dancers, typically a male and a female, perform ballet steps together.

Chapter Nine

Jenny Shepard looked out her bedroom window, staring at the cloudless indigo sky, contemplating her inability to sleep through the night. It was happening more and more frequently – her headaches waking her up in the middle of the night from a deep sleep. She resolved to make an appointment to see the optometrist about her eyestrain as soon as practical. She obviously needed to have her glasses changed – or else it was stress from running a federal agency and simultaneously conducting an off the books undercover mission.

It was true that she was feeling the pressure to move the La Grenouille mission along, now that she had launched it. Jasper Shepard was haunting her dreams, his silent but stern visage a rebuke that she hadn’t lived up to her vow to him when he was laid to rest that she’d exact revenge on Rene Benoit for his cold-blooded murder. He was probably also angry that he wasn’t buried in Arlington National Cemetery, as he should have been but in a civilian one.

In her dreams when he frequently appeared, Jenny tried to explain why it was taking so long… that she hadn’t forgotten her promise. Tried to make it clear that it took time to manoeuvre herself into the top job and now she was able to begin her campaign. Unfortunately, in her dreams her father refused to acknowledge her verbally. She somehow just knew that he would refrain from speaking to her until she had fulfilled her oath to him.

Her dreams merely cemented Jenny’s determined to make that son of a bitch die a slow painful death and she fantasied about the most agonising ways to achieve those ends. She was undecided if she would be the one to execute Benoit or if she would be the puppet master directing the death scene. Jenn knew that Ziva would carry out the kill in a New York minute if she asked her to. Glancing at the sleeping figure of the young Mossad officer beside her in bed, Jenny thought about waking her up for a massage. Maybe it would help with this rotten headache – heaven knows Advil wasn’t cutting it.

Leaning over to wake her up, Jenn raked her perfectly manicured French nails firmly across a smooth expanse of bare back, knowing that Ziva got off on pain. She smirked as her supine companion stretched out luxuriously, reminding Jenny of a cat, before purring throatily. She rolled over onto her back, exposing her pert breasts with a slow smile. Ah, the arrogance of youth! Wait until she had a few more years on the clock and things began to head south, Jenny thought bitchily.

Recognising the request cum challenge for what it was, she gritted her teeth against the pain. Her head pounding, Jenny took a tauntingly erect nipple into her mouth, biting down on it hard while scratching the other areolar with her fingernails. Inwardly she sighed – Ziva David’s libido was phenomenal and while sometimes that was welcome in a bed partner, tonight it was a damned nuisance.

Knowing Ziva’s sexual appetite, which was voracious, there was next to no chance of her receiving a massage. Not until Ziva was satisfied sexually (even though the younger woman had climaxed four times already tonight) she decided to bite the bullet, no pun intended, and get on with it. Guess this will make number five, Shepard thought wearily, as she reached into her bedside drawer for the elephantine proportioned vibrator favoured by the Israeli assassin.

Ziva was quite a petite young woman but with her, everything always had to be about pleasure and pain. Jenny didn’t get it. Big wasn’t necessarily better – it was how you used it that counted. Shrugging, she decided not to try to psychoanalyse her bed mate – she needed sleep.

There was no way she was feeling up to another strenuous bout of sex with Ziva – she’d have to settle for Jenny’s not inconsiderable expertise with a dildo for now.

~oO0Oo~

The red-haired director groaned in a combination of relief and pain as Ziva’s steel-like digits of her right hand dug into her back muscles, making her feel far more relaxed than she had done for days. Even reduced to massaging with her dominant hand because the left one was broken, Jenn found herself blissfully floating on a heady mix of endorphins.

She was considering her father’s nocturnal visits, silently expressing his disapproval at her lack of progress. Of course, Ziva’s lame-ass attempt today to establish a report with her arch enemy’s daughter had certainly thrown a wrench in her plan. Honestly, what on earth had possessed the assassin to fracture her own hand like that?

Ziva had claimed that she’d used the ploy on more than one occasion to seduce a doctor – but both times they had been men. And she wasn’t trying to seduce Jeanne – she was trying to befriend her. It was possible that Jeanne had pegged her as a pethidine addict, in which case, she wouldn’t be in a hurry to go off for a coffee with the Israeli any time soon.

When she’d tried to explain to her lover why her clumsy attempt at friendship had failed, Ziva seemed insulted that the doctor might have categorised her as an addict looking for a fix. She’d protested that she was nothing like an addict, she had been well dressed, articulate, coherent and was obviously intelligent. Jenny figured that she’d been watching too many hackneyed movies about crackheads and tried to explain she shouldn’t fall into the trap of believing that addicts all fit the stereotypical portrayal of the media.

For example, young professionals can and did become addicted to prescription meds, often due to a serious injury requiring habit-forming pain medication. They looked and acted like your typical young professional and frequently held down responsible jobs.

Unfortunately, the Israeli’s sheer umbrage at the thought that she might have been identified as an addict, along with her colossal ego made it difficult for her to listen, much less acknowledge she might have screwed up. Shepard had metaphorically thrown in the towel, knowing that it exposed a critical flaw in the Israeli’s ability to go undercover – at least here in the US.

Ziva had made a complete cockup of Jenn’s attempt to place her into Jeanne Benoit’s social circle. So, despite all the things they had in common, if Ziva tried to infiltrate her life now, she would undoubtedly be recognised. Even to the most gullible of marks, it would appear extremely suspicious – and Dr Benoit was nobody’s fool.

No, she would have to find someone else to worm their way into La Grenouille’s inner circle via his daughter. Jenn was still pissed off with Ziva for the total cockup she’d made of a simple task. The NCIS director was extremely tempted to impose harsh punishment on her for the lapse in Ziva’s judgement. The only trouble with that idea was that the Kidon trained killer enjoyed pain, so it wouldn’t be punitive as intended!

She supposed she could promise to hurt her and then renege after building Ziva’s anticipation. Yeah, that’d work!

Meanwhile, under Ziva’s talented ministration Jenny found herself drifting off as feel-good endorphins flooded her body, making her feel relaxed and drowsy. At some point she found herself dozing until her bliss was interrupted as she realised that Ziva’s skilled digits were now reaching inside her.

Gasping at the sudden intrusion, Jenny was shocked into wakefulness. Meanwhile the doe-eyed masseuse leaned over her chuckling, her breasts brushing against the redhead’s naked skin tantalisingly.

She whispered throatily in Jenn’s ear, “No massage is truly complete without experiencing at least one good orgasm, preferably two, Jenny.” Without further ado, she set about fulfilling her promise, expertly bringing the director to climax at least twice before Shepard gave up trying to keep track, surrendering to bliss-filled

unconsciousness.

She slept soundly until the early hours of the morning, her headache once again waking her from her sleep. However, it was not as bad as it had been last night, and Jenny felt that black coffee washed down with several Advil would probably allow her to function. She needed to get to the office and figure out how to resurrect the La Grenouille operation. She could not afford to have any more setbacks – Jasper Shepard was counting on her.

~oO0Oo~

For the next few weeks, Jenny formulated plans and then rejected them, one after another. When she received Intel. that Benoit was flying into DC – presumably to visit his daughter, the director contemplated getting DiNozzo to go undercover at the airport and try to slip a tracking device into his luggage She swiftly discounted that idea. She could see the speculative look in his green-grey eyes and literally smell the distrust oozing out of every pore.

In the end, Ziva arranged for one of her contacts to carry out the job but it didn’t address the situation with DiNozzo.

Jenny really needed to find some way to mend fences with Tony – she was going to need his undercover skills to seduce La Grenouille’s daughter sooner or later. The probability of the good doctor falling into a relationship with some fool and ruining Jenn’s plan was a constant concern. Ziva had been supposed to make sure that didn’t happen, but her impetuousness had ruined any ideas of the NCIS director controlling Dr Benoit’s sex life until she could manoeuvre DiNozzo into the picture.

Constantly interfering with her goal of coming up with someone else to befriend Jeanne Benoit, were those damned blasted headaches. A trip to the ophthalmologist had ruled out eyestrain or needing a stronger prescription for her glasses. He’d recommended that she contact her internist ASAP for a full workup, but Jenny resisted, telling herself it was all the strain she was under. Running the agency and the unsanctioned La Grenouille op was highly stressful – that was all. Ziva was spending more and more nights at her house, helping her cope with the stress with a combination of sex and remedial massage.

Despite being most definitely straight, preferring to fuck men who were younger than herself (apart from the redoubtable Leroy Jethro Gibbs), Ziva had become indispensable. She was Jenny’s go-to analgesia, for when her headaches became unbearable. The truth was that Shepard hadn’t slept with anyone possessing a dick in weeks now and she was in too much pain to miss it. Besides, Ziva was making sure that she didn’t abstain from experiencing regular orgasms either – in fact, Jenny frequently was having multiple ones when the Mossad officer slept over.

No, she didn’t miss all the young hard bodies of the toy-boys she preferred to sate her sexually, with their fast recovery, their ability to maintain an erection for longer than average. She did sometimes remember wistfully how good it felt to don her dominatrix persona along with her whip and leather catsuit, but she was simply too exhausted to play those games any more. The only male she really longed to have in her bed these days was Jethro, who was currently trying to pickle his liver in cheap hooch in Baja with Mike Franks, his former NIS mentor.

Yes, Jethro was quite a lot older than she was, but with his military bearing, his silver-grey hair and his piercing gaze, he reminded her a lot of her father, Colonel Jasper Shepard who she’d idolised and adored in equal measure. It was ironic – he’d was using her as a substitute for his murdered wife and Jenn had been fucking him because he reminded her of her daddy! What a fucked-up pair they’d made – yet it hadn’t taken away from the fact that the sex had been mind-blowing. While it lasted.

When she finally achieved her ambition as NCIS director, she dreamed of resurrecting their affair, but Gibbs had proved to be unusually oblivious to her less than subtle overtures. Short of calling him into the office and engaging the SCIF so he couldn’t leave, and they weren’t interrupted then proceeding to blow him, she really didn’t know how to pick up where they’d left off in Paris. Much as she wanted to.

Perhaps when he got tired of chasing ghosts of his dead wife and child, not to mention, alcohol poisoning and returned to NCIS, he would be ready to resume their liaison. Despite his age, he kept himself in pretty good shape, and while he wasn’t ripped like a twenty-something, he had the advantage of being able to speak coherently and carry out a conversation that didn’t leave her bored out of her brains. Oh well, once she had taken care of La Grenouille, she would get serious about winning Jethro back.

Meanwhile, thank heavens for Ziva prodigious sex drive and her massage skills. She owed Eli for lending her his daughter. He was another of her former lovers (a minor detail that Ziva was not privy to) and Jenn vowed to keep it that way. Jenn had discovered that she was not well disposed to any of her father’s lovers, particularly Orli Erbaz, a Mossad trained operative who Ziva blamed for the breakup of her parent’s marriage.

Evidently, her blind devotion to her father made it impossible for Ziva to apportion Eli an equal share of the blame for cheating on her mother with Orli or a score of other mistresses. So, she’d decided not to reveal that she’d also a tempestuous fling with the man who was quite a Casanova and much like his daughter, had a libido of a horny teenage boy.

She doubted that the young David would want to continue their friends-with-benefits arrangement if she knew that Jenny had slept with her father. Although…it was just sex, not a romantic relationship with either David. Jenny ruthlessly stepped on thoughts that rose unbidden that while it meant nothing to Jenn, Ziva very possibly had a crush on her. She was pretty sure that Ziva had a thing for older women, who she regarded as mentors – Mossad’s Monique Lisson immediately sprang to mind as an example of one of Ziva’s crushes.

~oO0Oo~

By the next week, Jenny had conceived of two possible solutions to her problem regarding her desire to make Rene Benoit pay for killing her father. Firstly, due her to goal to regain DiNozzo’s trust she had not only publicly supported Tony’s plan for team building, but she’d also declared that all the field teams should follow his lead. In fact, she’d gone one better and set up a program where agents would share transferable skills, that seemed on the surface not to be related to law enforcement.

Michelle Lee was already slated to teach knife slicing skills to her fellow agents next week and Agent Jenkins had already conducted a training session for the whole office on tying knots. Who’d have thought that the mousey little Agent Lee would be an expert in slicing and dicing vegetables or Ross Jenkins had swallowed a manual on how to tie a half hitch, a bowline or a square knot. Still, she knew that DiNozzo and to be honest, all the team leads, were still highly suspicious of her and she had her work cut out to change that.

Frankly, Jenny still wasn’t sure what had happened with DiNozzo after the divide and conquer strategy that Ziva had started to execute to marginalise him seemed to be working. His unanticipated standing up to her had totally wrong-footed her, plus the unforeseen support from his fellow agents had caught her completely off guard. He was supposed to have been putty in her hands by the time she placed the team leader’s job on his shoulders.

She’d studied his psych. profile and there was no clue there as to why Tony should have reacted the way he did. He should have been devastated with Jethro’s cruel abandonment and parsimonious two-word encouragement. Instead, he’d shocked her by seriously considering leaving NCIS completely. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

The redhead metaphorically shook her head – mostly because she knew by now that to do so literally would cause her head to pound even harder. What was done was done. Much as she might wish for a do-over, that wasn’t a possibility. Time to focus on the future.

With the best friends’ angle between Jeanne and Ziva ruined, Jenny needed a second option. After quite a lot of sleepless nights, she decided to offer the undercover role to Timothy McGee. For a start, she could request the computer whiz kid’s services to help with computer-related matters without causing too much suspicion from the team.

Even Jethro, if he was still in residence, would accept her appropriating McGee for computer related stuff. He wouldn’t like it because he was possessive of his agents’, but he couldn’t have objected. In his own inimitably highhanded fashion when Ari was playing mind games with him (after escaping the hostage siege in Autopsy a couple of years ago) Gibbs had appropriated McGee for his own personal use. Tony had dubbed it Jethro’s Great White Whale hunt and she had to agree that Jethro had become as obsessed over finding Haswari as Captain Ahab had over the whale.

It may not be quite as easy to allay suspicion now that Tony was SSA and openly mistrustful of her motives. It also wasn’t helpful that he had an on-the-ball senior field agent in Keshia Lincoln, but Jenn was confident she could swing it. Plus, she knew that McGee would be easy to recruit for the assignment.

He was still smarting from having the senior field agent position taken away from him, and thankfully he placed all the blame for it upon DiNozzo. He didn’t seem to resent her at all so that was all to the good. She would feed his anger at Tony, commiserate with him about the demotion and offer the undercover job to prove he was more than capable of doing the job.

It had been obvious to the director during the Sophie and Jean-Paul Ranier undercover mission, that McGee fancied himself as an undercover operative. He chaffed at being sent in as a waiter – considering it not challenging enough for his abilities. Of course, the young agent’s ego was way more ambitious than his acting abilities. He was a terrible liar, tended to stutter when placed under pressure and was not very good at acting. In this operation however, he would essentially be playing himself – a computer geek minus the federal agent. Surely that shouldn’t be too taxing for the bombastic agent.

To be honest, she wasn’t certain what other roles he’d expected to be given during the Ranier op. After all, he didn’t speak French (didn’t speak any foreign language) and since the husband and wife team were French-speaking Canadians, there was no way that he could have impersonated Jean Paul. Arrogant young fool – yet it wouldn’t stop Jenn from taking advantage of his delusions. She would feed them, tell him that she’d wanted him to go undercover with Ziva as husband and wife, but Gibbs had vetoed her pick, insisting that Tony was better qualified and look what had happened.

If there was one thing that Jenny excelled at it was stroking the egos of insecure delusional men. The number of partners she’d had who needed assuring that they were the best lover ever, the most endowed; well she’d lost count to be honest…but she had a lot of practice at bullshitting them. She’d used her ‘charms’ to help her inveigle her way into the NCIS directorship to be in a position to avenge her father.

Shepard was not about to give up on her objective when she was so close to bringing it off. McGee would be no problem for her to control, his insecurities made him extremely prone to manipulation. He was very vulnerable to dominant females’ exploitations and flattery. In the privacy of their bedroom, she and her lover had nicknamed him Mr Gumby.

DiNozzo was clearly going to be a much harder nut to crack than Jenn had anticipated but ultimately, she was confident she could get him back on side. If all else failed, she would arrange to play the damsel in distress and have Tony save her. She’d done it before and Ziva would help find some inept person to try to attack her. From there she’d get him into bed and once she had his dick in her highly skilled ‘hands’ he would do anything she wanted.

Ziva might have failed to seduce him because she didn’t understand his complexities, but Jenny was much more wily – she knew how to be subtle.

In some ways he was like Jethro, emotionally scarred, full of contradictions and inconsistencies. Hard to say which man was the most psychologically damaged but the difference was that Gibbs was angry at the world for his pain and DiNozzo was angry at himself. It would take time to regain his trust but DiNozzo was a classic co-dependent personality type – he needed to save people – he needed to be needed. Jenny could work with that. It just might take a while and she had to be a lot sneakier.

Turning her attention to other avenues to get inside the Benoit clique she continued to use every opportunity she could to win Tony over. She knew that it was just a matter of time until Jethro decided to come back. When he did, she would not observe protocol and inform him of his imminent return as team lead, she would leave it Jethro to do it. Knowing Gibbs as she did, Jenn figured he’d be a complete ass about it and probably humiliate him in front of the whole office.

That would drive a further wedge between the two agents, and she’d offer him a plum job. Either way, she would be seen by Tony as commiserating with him and supportive of his leadership. And to be fair, Director Shepard was thrilled at the way the MCRT was working, despite listening to Ziva’s bitching in private about DiNozzo and Lincoln. With a little bit of luck, DiNozzo would feel her owed her his loyalty for the job.

Over the next couple of weeks, Jenny sought out and hired a hacker who went by the suitably cheery handle ‘Doomsayer’ to handle several highly specialised jobs she needed doing. She needed him to create a serious glitch in the administrative and patient records systems at Monroe University Hospital which ultimately was only fixable if you knew exactly what the problem was. Of course, it wouldn’t endanger patients’ lives or medical treatment though. She wasn’t a monster!

Creating a bug in their systems would enable her to set McGee up as a computer guy, a Mr Fix-it who could come up with solutions for the unfixable problem when no one else could. That way she would get him into the hospital -hopefully into the same department as Jeanne Benoit so he could strike up a workplace friendship.

She also needed Doomsayer to sabotage the NCIS computers so she would have a legitimate excuse for seconding McGee from the MCRT so he could rectify the ‘very serious’ threat to the agency’s cyber problems. No one would be suspicious about her separating him from the team for a computer issue. While it wasn’t ideal to have to bring in an outsider like Doomsayer, Ziva didn’t have the skills necessary for the job.

It was likely that Ziva might have contacts who could do the job, however, Jenny preferred to keep her cards close to her vest. Plus, Ziva wasn’t anywhere near as subtle around DiNozzo as she thought she was, and Jenn didn’t want to set off his radar. It clearly rankled that he hadn’t fallen into bed with the Mossad trained spy and she wasn’t handling his rejection at all well. Nor was she dealing with her failure to strike up a friendship with Dr Benoit for that matter.

Then there was Gibbs’ Rule # 7 which Jenny had taken to heart years before. If you have a secret, keep it to yourself, second best, tell one other person – although even that was risky – there is no third best.

Jenny knew that she would have to come up with a way to ameliorate the risk she was taking, by using Doomsayer – although that was a consideration for another day. Ziva could take care of him for her once he’d served his purpose. After all, his abilities to cause cyber chaos to institutions was a clear and present danger to the world – taking him out was clearly justified.

For now, she’d enjoy a bottle of crisp chilled Chablis from her impressive collection, perhaps served with a piece of lightly seared fish. Tomorrow she would talk to McGee.

Notes:
SCIF – Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility. An enclosed area within a building that is used to process sensitive compartmentalised Information (SCI) types of classified information.

Chapter Ten

Two months later:

Tony was exhausted. With what was happening at work with Gibbs on the war-path and therefore no one getting enough sleep, he reckoned this was what it must be like to be a zombie. He really wasn’t thinking clearly, had almost neglected his normal security routine of driving to his apartment, making sure there was ample evidence he was at home, switching vehicles and heading out again

When he arrived at Jeanne’s place, they decided to order in some Thai food from her favourite restaurant before helping her revise for an upcoming exam. Later they watched an episode of Gilmour Girls which she’d taped, curled up together on the sofa.

Personally, he couldn’t understand why so many women raved about the show – he found the two main characters to be highly annoying with their rapid-fire dialogue. He figured it was probably a male versus female brain thingy, although he did have a soft spot for two of the supporting actresses: Carole ‘Kelly Bishop and Melissa McCarthy. Maybe it was just that he had been Gibbs 2IC for so long, always in the shadows. Although they weren’t the stars – in Tony’s opinion, they were the more interesting characters or possibly they were just better actresses. Well unless the show’s creators and writers had intended that Lorelai and Rory grate on his last nerve. If that was the case – job well is done, Ladies!

Still, Tony had enough smarts not to diss one of Jeanne’s favourite TV show, so he watched it dutifully, reminding himself that it made his friend feel better after a rough day. Just like he could always depend on Magnum PI to make him feel better. Automatically, he took note of details like interior versus exterior scenes, dialogue, plot, guest stars and all the other things he mentally catalogued when he watched TV shows or movies. He sometimes wondered what life might have been like if instead of becoming a cop, he’d become a director or a film and television critic – even a college lecturer of cinematography.

One thing for sure, he would probably never have met Jeanne – but then it was also doubtful he’d have run into his former high school piano teacher either. That cold-hearted bitch had broken him but good – he was still terrified of giving away his heart to anyone he dated. He’d truly believed these last five years that it wasn’t worth the risk. Although, he had begun questioning his perception lately, which was stupid since Jeanne was just a friend. He swiftly curbed the thought that she was willing to be more, particularly since she was practically sitting in his lap.

After the episode was over, Jeanne started talking about her day. It was their custom to debrief. Both had high-pressure jobs and to some extent, understood the basics about each other’s work – Jeanne possibly more so since she had been engaged to a cop. They both found it was helpful to be able to talk about the events that occurred with someone who was also not a colleague and had a different perspective.

She told him about the elderly lady who had fallen and sustained a concussion. She had no family, so they had been monitoring her in hospital and she kept going AWOL and ending up in the wrong bed. They weren’t sure if her confusion was due to her head injury or because of other causes but she’d led them on a merry dance. Jeanne regaled him with the story of an FBI agent who’d accidentally reversed their work vehicle over his partner’s foot.

“His partner was not happy. The car crushed his foot, he broke multiple bones, Tony. His calcaneus, cuneiform, navicular and cuboid bones, plus 3 metatarsus and 5 phalanges”

Tony whistled in sympathy, “Ouch!”

Jeanne shook her head. “It was such a mess. He was in surgery for hours.”

They were silent until she remarked. “I got the feeling that their partnership wouldn’t survive.”

Tony snorted. Jeanne had a flair for understatement.

After they made coffee and sat back down to drink it, Jeanne described how the hospital was still experiencing a major computer issue. It had started happening approximately six weeks ago and the IT department had attempted to fix it. Unsuccessfully it would seem because whatever they did, the whole computer records system was now acting up. Records kept disappearing and inexplicably reappearing, forcing them to rely pretty much exclusively on handwritten records.

She said that several computer technicians from different companies had been hired to try and fix the issue, but it kept on reoccurring. A new expert had been appointed to fix the problem and Jeanne said he was working his way through the various floors, apparently trying to diagnose what the problem was – which seemed to be a highly logical approach.

Tony nodded, “Makes sense. Hopefully, this one will be able to locate the problem.”

Jeanne looked frustrated. “It’s almost like we have a gremlin in the system, hiding in the hospital servers and coming out to cause trouble at the most inopportune times. We’re lucky it hasn’t cost any lives yet, but if patient files were to get mixed up manually, we could be in a lot of trouble.”

Tony cocked his head. “How likely is that though?”

Jeanne grimaced. “A lot more likely than anyone would like to admit, Tony. Hospitals are dangerous places – a lot of deaths happen due to human error. Not just physicians making a wrong decision about treatments or incorrect diagnoses either. Doctors and nurses are overworked and understaffed. They often make mistakes with medication dosages – it is easy to misread a handwritten order on a patient file or to not see a decimal place in what dosage to administer when you are glancing at a computer screen. Drug overdoses of prescribed drugs are much more common than people will admit, or sometimes giving a similar sounding drug by mistake.”

Tony looked freaked out and considering how often he availed himself of the services of a hospital because he was a trouble magnet, he felt it was an entirely justifiable reaction. “Do patients ever get given someone’ else’s meds?” he asked her.

She nodded ruefully. “Sure, all the time. Although theoretically when administering meds, staff are supposed to check the name of the patient file against the patient’s wristband. And mothers have been given the wrong baby to breastfeed or occasionally, cancer patients have had the wrong limb amputated,” she admitted, noting Tony’s look of horror.

“Doctors and nurses are often under incredible pressure, Tony. We work long shifts, often double shifts and treat too many patients. We aren’t robots, we do our best, but mistakes are inevitable,” she said pragmatically. “Patients need to be proactive and question what drugs they are being given and what treatments are carried out.”

Tony shrugged. “I guess you’re right.” Seeing her defeated air, he decided to change the subject to something a little cheerier. He smiled teasingly. “And tell me, Doctor, how many guys have you flirted with today?”

Jeanne pouted at him. “No, Very Special Agent DiNozzo, the real question is how many people flirted with me, made a pass at me or proposed to me.”

Tony raised his eyebrows. “People as in males and females?”

Jeanne giggled, her amazingly blue eyes alight with mischief. “Uh huh. Terry Anne made an impassioned plea for me to embrace lesbianism, eschewing heterosexualism. She wanted me to go out with her.”

Tony chuckled. “Oh really? What did her fervent entreaty involve, Dr Benoit?

Wrinkling her nose as she tried to remember their conversation, Jeanne said. “Well, it was along the lines of males having little evolutionary or biological value now that reproduction could take place in a petri dish.” She rolled her eyes and continued. “And that men were ruled by their dicks and couldn’t be trusted not to cheat if they thought they wouldn’t be caught.”

There was an uncomfortable silence between them as they both processed that statement. As much as she tried to pretend that John’s betrayal with her best friend – the person who she’d asked to be her maid of honour – didn’t bother her any more, Jeanne was painfully transparent to Tony. She wasn’t good at covering up her emotions, unlike himself who was adept at wearing masks so that people couldn’t tell what he was really thinking or feeling. But with Jeanne, her openness was one of the reasons why he loved her; she wore her heart on her sleeve.

Loved her as a friend, he told himself hastily, he didn’t LOVE love her in a romantic way because that was waaay too dangerous.

In an effort to move on from the awkwardness, donning a familiar mask, he teased her. “And who else was trying to seduce you, Doc?”

Thankful to skip over the awkwardness of thinking about John who she’d fallen head over heels for, Jeanne grinned. “Well there was Philip: an octogenarian tycoon with prostate problems, a three-hundred-pound tattooed biker named Biff, and a tow-headed, gap-toothed eight-year-old appendectomy patient named Johnny wanted to be my boyfriend.” She giggled.

Tony chuckled. “Did you accept Johnny’s offer?”

Shaking her head, Jeanne grinned adorably. “Nope.”

“I hope you let him down easy, Doctor. A guy’s first crush can be pretty tough.”

Jeanne snuggled into him. “Do tell, Very Special Agent.”

Sighing dramatically, Tony obediently began to speak. “I was six years old and my teacher, Miss Morton had the prettiest smile and an entrancing dimple.” He smiled reminiscently. “She fixed up my skinned knee when an older girl pushed me off the swing. After she was done tending my war wounds, she hugged me for being so brave. I was smitten,” he stated wryly. What he neglected to mention was that he hadn’t been brave, merely following Senior’s edict that DiNozzo’s didn’t cry – he would get spanked when he forgot the rules and cried.

Jeanne grinned. “Did she let you down gently, Tony?”

He smirked, “Nope, Miss Morton told me she was engaged to a pilot and then she ruffled my hair. Broke my heart” he revealed tragically. “So, what did you say to Johnny, you heartless harridan?” he teased.

She looked a bit sheepish. “I told him my heart belonged to another man…and I ruffled his hair,” Jeanne admitted reluctantly.

After shaking his head, he eyed her speculatively. She was squirming uncomfortably, and he didn’t reckon it was because of her regret over little Johnny, either.

“So, anyone else’s heart you’ve broken today?” he asked her jokingly.

Jeanne tensed momentarily before seeming to come to some decision, relaxing. “Well… there was Mac, the newest computer technician. He asked me out for coffee,” she confided.

Tony felt a twinge of jealousy before he tamped down on his emotions. Jeanne was just a friend, she could go out with anyone she damn well pleased, he reminded himself before he realised that Jeanne hadn’t finished. Looking at her she dropped her gaze and started fiddling with the hem of her T-shirt.

“And,” she looked uncomfortable, “John called…again.”

Tony raise an eyebrow. “John as in Detective John Carson, your ex-fiancé, John?” he clarified, trying to keep calm. Was she about to admit that they had reconciled? Was he the man she referred to when she had broken little Johnny’s heart, he wondered?

Of course, if they had reconciled, that was their business – not his. But as someone who’d been cheated upon, he didn’t think it was smart to go back with a person who betrayed you – and with your best friend no less. Once a cheater always a cheater as the saying went. Still, it was none of his business.

“One and the same,” she admitted quietly. “He begged me to try again. He said that he was drunk, and he made a mistake.”

Tony kept his tone even, his expression impassive. “What did you tell him?”

Jeanne blushed and said, “I told him I wasn’t interested. I told him that my heart belongs to another man. I told him that he should stop calling me and if he didn’t, I would take out a restraining order against him.”

As much as it wasn’t his business if Jeanne went back to John, he was glad that she’d told him to go jump in the lake. After holding her as she cried her heart out, night after night for the last couple of months, he didn’t think it was a good idea to forgive John and resume their relationship.

BUT it wasn’t his call to make.

Tony knew damned well that if Wendy had called him up in the months following her very public breakup with him if she’d proposed a reconciliation, he’ probably have taken her back like a shot. So, it would be highly hypocritical of him to blame his friend if she’d decided to give their relationship another go.

Smiling at her sympathetically, he said. “Quick thinking there, Bella. Did he believe you about your other guy?”

Scowling slightly, she demanded, “Why wouldn’t he, Tony?”

“Um…because you weren’t telling him the truth.”

She scowled at him. “No, I wasn’t lying. My heart does belong to someone else,” she declared rather quaintly.

Tony recoiled as if slapped. “Oh. I didn’t realise, I’m sorry Jeanne.” He managed to compose himself. “When did this happen? Is it someone at work?”

The petite brunette rolled her stunning blue eyes at his apparent denseness. “And you call yourself an investigator! No, Tony, get a clue. My heart belongs to YOU, you idiot. It has always been you, Mon Chéri!”

Tony gaped at her for a second before shaking his head decidedly. “Jeanne, I thought we’d agreed that we’re just friends.”

Jeanne looked defiant. “No Tony, I never agreed with you about us just being friends. Of course, we are friends, good friends but I want to be more than friends with you. I want us to be together.”

Tony felt torn, but he was certain Jeanne was confused, that he was just a rebound relationship…or it would be if they got together. “Pretty sure what you’re feeling for me is simple gratitude for being a friend at a time when you needed one, Jeanne. Maybe with a healthy dose of lust thrown in, because you haven’t had sex since you kicked arson’s cheating ass to the curb.”

“You’re saying I can’t tell the difference between hanging out for an orgasm or okay, a few dozen and feeling real attraction and desire for you?” Jeanne challenged him archly.

He frowned. “I’m saying that it can be confusing, especially after such a messy breakup when someone fucks with your heart. I’m saying it’s understandable to need to blame someone for him being a stupid two-timing asshole, so you end up blaming yourself. I’m saying maybe you’re feeling insecure, needing assurance that you are a beautiful and highly desirable woman- which you are – because John screwed your best friend.”

Jeanne had gradually distanced herself from Tony, ending up at the end of the sofa, curled up with her feet underneath her looking small and alone. She asked him plaintively. “If I was as beautiful and desirable as you say, then why don’t you want me, Tony?”

“Because if you do what you’ve always done then you get what you always get, Jeanne. I’m tired of meaningless affairs. I don’t want meaningless sex, not with you…not with anyone. I want a real proper to goodness adult relationship, un bout de chou. I don’t want right now, I want forever, and you aren’t ready for that,” he finally admitted, deciding to be straight with her.

She threw herself at him, specifically his mouth, kissing him greedily and though he initially resisted the kiss, he finally yielded, reciprocating even if there was still a degree of hesitancy.

Later Jeanne evaluated their kiss that had made her feel as horny as hell (kind of proving his point that she wasn’t thinking straight) but wow, his kiss had ignited the chemistry between them. It was vindication of her point though, that he’d manage to capture her heart and he wasn’t even trying to seduce her. Still, in the heady euphoria she was feeling now, knowing he loved her too, Jeanne knew she’d have to let Tony set the pace and that he would likely want to go slow.

As his best friend, she more than anyone understood how damaged he was over his fiancée, Wendy leaving him the day before their wedding. She could see that he had doubts about them – doubts that could and would break them up before they got together if they weren’t properly addressed. She would wait for Tony because he was a keeper and he was worth the wait.

Thinking about their kiss she knew when she fell asleep tonight, she would dream about what it will be like to have him in her bed, and not in the platonic sense that he had been up until now. No, she meant it in the hot and sweaty, drive her to ecstasy sense.

Sighing frustratedly, she wondered if she had any fresh batteries before she smiled at her still shell-shocked friend regretfully, trying hard to ignore his kiss-swollen lush lips and asked, “So, Honeybuns, how was your day?

Tony glowered for a couple of seconds before huffing, “I should never have told you about that nickname, Jeanne.”

She chuckled. “Would you rather I call you Sex Machine instead?”

Tony looked horrified. “No, absolutely not. That was a long time ago Things change…I changed.”

Jeanne wanted to ask more but decided to let sleeping dogs lie for now. She chuckled, “well you just called me a bit of cabbage, Babe. I’d say we’re even.”

Returning to her original query she leaned against him but platonically, carefully to avoid any intimate zones, just as they had been doing ever since Tony had been her emotional support after John’s betrayal. “So, at the risk of repeating myself, how was your day? Any long-lost lovers ring you up and want to get back together again?”

Jeanne had been joking but the look of horror on his face at the suggestion, she decided that she’d touched a raw nerve without meaning too. “Using a tactic that she’d observed him use when they had been out with the other members of the basketball team when they got together after a game, she deflected the topic.

“Or did Ziva try to seduce you again?” Seeing the look of pure horror mixed with a massive measure EUWWW, she couldn’t help but giggle. “She can’t be that bad, Tony?” she asked curiously, deciding that she would make it her business to meet this woman who caused such a visceral reaction in her friend. Potentially a lot more than a friend, if she played her cards right and took things slowly.

“No, but she was stupid enough to get herself framed for a bombing by the Iranian Secret Police. Then when she was wanted by the FBI, she refused sanctuary in the Israeli Embassy, assaulting numerous officials in the process and hid out in Gibbs basement. Which, given that she shot and killed her half-brother there, in what I strongly suspect was a hit to curry favour with NCIS, particularly Leroy Special Agent Gibbs, I find a really creepy place to hide out.

Jeanne was shocked. “You’re kidding?”

“Nope. But wait, it gets better. Gibbs is back! She called him and her came running to her aid.”

“Gibbs? Your old boss? The guy that resigned and went to Mexico?”

“Yep. Seems that only the Great and Powerful Oz… oops, I mean, Gibbs could possibly save her. She refused Mossad’s help, she didn’t trust the chain-of-command i.e. she didn’t trust me.”

“Clearly, she didn’t trust NCIS either, Tony, not just you. She could have gone to your director – didn’t you say that they were friends, that they had done missions together. Why wouldn’t she go to her or go to her father? Isn’t he someone high up in Mossad? Why go to an alcohol-soaked former agent who had no authority to act?”

Tony shrugged. “Ziva and Gibbs have this ‘we have a secret together that you don’t know junior high’ crap that has been going on ever since she joined the team after Cate was murdered by Miss Mossad’s half-brother Ari. Gibbs has always been vulnerable to young, pretty females, I think it’s because he sees in them a substitute for his own dead daughter. Just like he went around marrying every red-headed female he encountered, desperately trying to replace the mother of his only child.”

Chapter Eleven

Tony was driving across town to meet Jeanne during her lunch break and being his usually cautious self to lose anyone who was trying to follow him. And not just the bad guys either. Abby was driving him nuts!

The Goth kept putting locators in his car and his watch and he kept taking them out. Oh, he didn’t think she was suspicious about Jeanne, but Abby had decided after Gibbs “abandoned her” for 4 months that she needed to keep track of all of “her family.” But her irrational need to keep track of him was interfering in Tony’s totally realist desire to keep other people safe

Truthfully, he was exhausted and hadn’t been home for days. With Gibbs back again for what…the third time since he resigned, he was literally working him into the ground. That meant that he rarely got time to spend time with Jeanne, Yes, he wanted to take things slow, but this was ridiculous, even for his idea of massively commitment-phobic self. Jeanne was keen to start having sex but even if Tony was ready to take that step with her… which maybe he was, he was honestly too exhausted, physically and emotionally by what was taking place at work.

Everything was fucked up with Gibbs return. He’d turned up with no warning that he was planning to take his old job back, chucking all Tony’s stuff back on his old desk – which had been Keshia Lincoln’s and dumping Keshia’s stuff in the trash (the arrogant prick). Tony had offered to let the former MP keep her place on the MCRT as the senior field agent and he could move to another team.

Frankly, he was seriously thinking about moving to a team at another agency. If there wasn’t his nascent relationship with Jeanne to consider then he would have probably been looking to move to another field office, possibly even overseas. As in Rota, Spain, which had surprised the hell out of him. He did not see that coming, or her effusive praise for his leadership skills.

Keshia had thanked him sincerely for his offer to leave so she could stay on the team and get more experience, hugging him fiercely. Shaking her head emphatically, she informed him that she refused to work for Gibbs as his SFA.

She stated bluntly that the former Marine had no concept of having his second in command’s six, he completely ignored the chain-of-command, played favourites amongst the team and undercut the senior field agent’s authority every chance he got.

“I have had no intention of tolerating his crap, Tony. And if I can offer you some advice, neither should you.”

Keshia had taken a week’s unpaid leave to consider her future. revealing that FLETC had been trying to recruit her to fill a vacancy as a weapons instructor down in Georgia. Considering the agency seemed to be coming unglued, she was uncertain if she could serve under someone like Shepard who flaunted rules and regs left, right and centre.

Tony admitted wryly, “Yeah, I can totally see where you’re coming from Linc, I’m also considering my future on the major case response team as well as with NCIS, too. “

He couldn’t help wondering if he’d be so ready to cut ties with the place he’d thought of as his home if he and Jeanne hadn’t met. While it was true that they had yet to take what in his mind was an irrevocable step, taking their relationship to the next level, he had to admit (if only to himself) that it didn’t really matter that they weren’t lovers in the strictest sense of the word. She already held his heart hostage and he could only hope that she didn’t destroy him because he loved her fiercely.

Truthfully, Tony wanted to spend his life with her, he wanted them to have kids together and that realisation thrilled him almost as much as it scared him witless since he was pretty sure he would be just as crap a father as Senior had been to him. How could he not be with such a shitty example to model himself on?

Yet, terrified as he was, he still wanted to have it all with Jeanne, a real relationship between equals, He wanted the kids and dog, plus a real home with a white picket fence even if it was too sappy for words.

When he was with her it felt as if they were both halves of a whole. He had stopped waking up in the middle of the night, going into the office to work instead of lying tossing and turning in his bed. Even before they agree to try being a couple, sleeping with her had helped to chase away his nightmares. She understood that he saw things that were too horrible to imagine and didn’t ever judge him when he woke up yelling or even sobbing sometimes.

He helped her study for exams because she knew he was intelligent, unlike his teammates who seemed to view him as having the intellectual depth of an amoeba. They both liked old movies – in particular, Film Noir and loved nothing better than snuggled up on the sofa together and watch them late at night. Granted their snuggling was a helluva lot less platonic now than it was before Jeanne had kissed him, convincing him they could make their relationship work despite the difficulties. Sometime soon, he’d finally get the opportunity to take the delectable Dr Benoit to bed and do more than just cuddle.

Trouble was he wasn’t sure when that might be. Whenever Gibbs was done punishing him, deciding he’d paid enough blood, sweat and tears for being a competent replacement senior supervisory agent in his absence – or as Jenny Shepard liked to whimsically refer to it as – Jethro’s margarita safari.

Sure, DiNozzo still had doubts nagging at him, that one day Jeanne would see what a huge mistake she’d made. That she would see what a seething mass of insecurity and emotional baggage he was lugging around with him and figure out he wasn’t worth the effort. But he also knew that his fear of abandonment was driving his insecurities and that if he didn’t curb it, it would easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Consequently, he was trying to let go of his fears and doubts. He had decided that since he agreed to give them a go, he had to make a genuine effort to stop all the what-ifs that tormented him.

He was trying his best to court her, wanting to get to know Jeanne as more than his best friend. As a closet romantic, he had gathered his courage and turned up one night with a bottle of wine, a picnic hamper filled with anti-pasta and other Italian delicacies prepared by his favourite restaurant to have a romantic dinner in the hospital car park during Jeanne’s dinner break. To his eternal gratitude, Jeanne had been charmed by their date, not thinking that the fold up table and chairs and food was corny or cliched. Quite the opposite, she’d dragged him into his car when they were done to make out in the limited time she had left before disappearing back into the hospital again with a frustrated and passion-filled kiss.

On Valentine’s day, she’d presented him with an expensive and classy wristband which was a luxury version of a hospital ID band. She’d jokingly slapped the cheap plastic identity tag on his wrist, declaring him as a patient in the psych ward in the doctors’ lounge when they had been watching a Gerry Lewis movie, The Disorderly Orderly and laughing like lunatics. While the hospital ID had been a joke, the platinum ID band had been a test of sorts.

Although Jeanne worked at a hospital, she was still finishing up her training for a couple more years at least, depending upon which speciality she chose to pursue. Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have been paid a huge amount of money as a doctor -it may come later if she decided to go into a field that paid well but probably not. She was already talking about working in Third World countries or becoming a craniofacial surgeon to help people born with horrific facial deformities. Neither jobs attracted a huge salary.

However, aside from Jeanne’s desire to pay it forward and help people who were poor, she was an extremely wealthy young woman, thanks to her father who was a successful businessman. Any relationship that she and Tony had would always be one of unequal power in turns of wealth. He was the disinherited son of a thrice bankrupt so-called entrepreneur who had gone through his own considerable inheritance as well as Tony’s mother’s trust fund she’d set up for her son before she died.

Tony was pretty sure that Jeanne didn’t think that he was with her because of her money. She knew, or at least he thought she did, that while he liked having enough money to buy nice clothes and a car, he’d learned the hard way that money couldn’t buy happiness. It couldn’t buy love and it certainly didn’t buy you a family or loved ones.

No… the test was that she bought him an expensive gift as a token of her love, knowing he couldn’t reciprocate and give her something of equal value. It was a situation which was unlikely to change (since he had no intention of changing his career, which she knew) and so she was testing him to see if he was going to be a macho jerk, that her being richer was going to be a threat to his masculinity. Of all the tests that she could have set him, it wasn’t one that he was really worried about.

No what he was really worried about was that he might not be able to be open and honest with Jeanne regarding his emotions because he’d been schooled his whole life to see feelings as a weakness.

His father and his rules about The DiNozzo comportment had contributed, along with RIMA military school rules, which was run, for the most part, by a pack of emotionally constipated washed-up military types. It consisted of a rigid hierarchical structure of students, every ready to fall upon any peers who showed the slightest vulnerability (never mind outright weakness) and rip them to shreds. And last but never least – there was Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a man Tony readily admitted to idolising for the longest time. Gibbs abhorred weakness in his agents or in himself – not that anyone ever got to witness any of his potential vulnerability because he never let anyone in. These forces had helped mould his inner narrative about feelings being weak and as such, should be avoided at all cost.

Tony had learned from an early age that he needed to hide his feelings, that he needed to be a chameleon and fit in with others. When his parents were drunk and angry, he was adept at not drawing attention to himself, because to do so resulted in him being hurt or scared or both. As a little boy, he’d learnt to keep in the shadows, to move about the Long Island mansion without making a sound and to refrain from laughing, singing, running, banging doors or yelling out. The normal things that kids did and got sentenced to a harmless time out for their sins, were prohibited during his childhood.

If he ever forgot the rules, as he did on a few rare occasions because kids forget, he learnt the hard way that ‘DiNozzo Time Out often involved being locked in a room for days, not hours and being in pain from a licking by a drunk father that left him bruised and battered. Once or twice, his time out was spent with a concussion or broken bone as company.

So as a kid, his goal was to disappear into the woodwork and not draw attention to himself. As he got older, he learnt that paradoxically, by drawing attention to himself he could keep people (teacher, friends, parents of his friends and miscellaneous adults) from looking at him too closely and finding his innumerable flaws.

His ability to change personas at the drop of a hat is what made him such a valuable undercover operative. However, it also made it that much harder for him to open and be authentic – partly because of habit but also because his whole life had been about surviving as best as he could, rather than living and experiencing what life had on offer.

In truth, Tony didn’t really know which parts of him were fabrications and which were the real deal because he’d never had the chance to get to know himself, let alone learn to like Anthony the individual.

Yeah, superficially he knew that he was athletic, that his music kept him sane. He also knew he had an abiding need to protect other people who were not able to protect themselves. Tony also recognised that he didn’t think the same way that other ‘so-called normal people did, which annoyed people because he seemed to be so random and lacking in concentration.

Gibbs constantly hit him upside the head, trying to get him to think the way he did, not flitting off on never-ending tangents during investigations. One of his training partners at Philadelphia PD used to call it his ‘falling down the rabbit hole thinking’ and though frustrating at times for people around him, it often paid off with him coming up with leads on cases.

Of course, his thinking wasn’t the only reason Gibbs doled out a constant barrage of head slaps. He frequently hit Tony when he needed to blow off steam, his anger threatening to boil over and engulf the entire bullpen. Up until recently (when Jeanne had pointed out it was abuse and assault), DiNozzo had never paid much heed to how wrong it was for Gibbs to treat him that way. After a lifetime of enduring physical ‘corrections’ handed out by Senior and other boys at Rhode Island Military Academy, he’d developed a very high tolerance to pain. Which he’d always regarded as a lucky happenstance when he played college basketball and football at OSU.

So apart from those major aspects of himself, he really didn’t know how much of the rest of his personality was real and what was artifice. However, he was pretty sure of one thing, cops and federal agents made crappy money – as did others who chose to serve their communities or country. Teachers, nurses, military personnel, firefighters and paramedics and a lot of doctors were also paid a pittance and that wasn’t about to change any time soon.

If he was dating a lawyer, accountant, or a myriad of other occupations, chances were that anyone he dated or entered a relationship with would earn a bigger pay check than he did. It was simple math, and the size of his wallet didn’t define who he was as a man.

Hell, if money had been a priority, he never would have become a cop. Senior had certainly offered enough growing up to set him up with a highly paid job with one of his cronies, it just didn’t interest him. So, he had no doubt that the disparity in their financial contribution would not be a thorn in his side. So long as Jeanne was prepared to accept that he’d never be able to shower her with diamonds and expensive gifts like her father could.

Glancing at the platinum ID cuff with his name engraved he smiled, seeing it not only for the test it was but Jeanne’s way of declaring that he belonged to her. It was a novel feeling, he had to admit that it also scared him more than a little bit and left him feeling incredibly vulnerable. He was trying not to hark back to how it was when he was with Wendy and make comparisons, though.

Resolutely putting his former fiancé out of his mind, he exited his pride and joy, his 1969 baby blue mustang, his inherent grace and years of practice making it seem easy for someone of his stature to extricate themselves from the low-slung vehicle. Gazing up at Munroe University Hospital where Jeanne worked, he sighed, wishing that he could take her out for a real meal tonight. Unfortunately, they were working, and Gibbs had told them that any plans they had were on hold until this case was closed.

It was all he could do to sneak away and have lunch with Jeanne. Entering the building he knew that lunch would consist of the hospital cafeteria food because he couldn’t even spare the time to pick up takeout at his favourite deli. Just trying to get away on his own had been a difficult task. Ziva was getting increasingly nosy, she’d even attempted to follow him, although he’d outwitted her by having the Autopsy Gremlin page her to Autopsy on a flimsy excuse, just so he could get away with her tailing him. She’d even caught him once or twice talking to Jeanne on his second phone – the phone that was reserved for his private business.

Crowding on the elevator with sundry medical personnel, patients wearing hospital gowns and slippers, one who was attached to an IV pole and IV set apparatus, plus the usual assortment of visitors coming to see friends and family, Tony shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, full of nervous energy.

He still felt anxiety whenever he was in a hospital; little wonder, what with his bout with Yersinia pestis, a variety of work injuries, college sporting injuries plus a childhood filled with more than the average number of childhood trips to the ER because as Senior had explained, he was a clumsy kid. Blocking out the memories and focusing on seeing Jeanne and getting to spend a full forty minutes together, he exited on the general surgical floor on three, hoping she’d be waiting so they could go immediately.

Unfortunately, she was in with a patient, so he hung around at the nurses’ desk, chatting with two nurses who he knew because Jeanne was friendly with them– Carly Mercano and Annie Hayes. Carly was only recently returned to work after tumbling down the stairs and breaking her leg rather badly. At the time of the accident she’d insisted that someone had deliberately pushed her down the stairs, although the general consensus had been that it must have been accidental.

After a few minutes of general chitchat, Carly launched into her favourite topic – Tony and Jeanne. The dedicated nurse had recently married a proctologist and was awash with a glut of the love hormone oxytocin. She was on a personal crusade to see all her friends and colleagues in long term relationships too.

She smiled at him coyly. “So, you and Jeanne are having lunch together?”

Tony didn’t bother responding to her rhetorical question. They’d both agreed that as part of Tony’s need to proceed slowly, they wouldn’t be announcing their relationship publicly at this stage.

“When are you two going to figure out that you are made for each other, Tony?” Carly prodded.

Tony quirked an eyebrow at the nurse, his usual response to her match-making attempts.

The curly haired nurse looked over at her nursing colleague, Annie Hayes, looking for support. She wagged her finger at Carly, laughingly. “Uh huh, Cupid, I’m staying out of this one. Just like I’ve refused to get involved every other single time you’ve brought it up. Give it up, already!”

Rather than looking crestfallen at Annie’s refusal to support her, Carly smiled slyly. “Well if you don’t snap her up soon, Tony, you might just miss out when you are ready. I think our computer fix-it guy has a crush on our Doctor Benoit.”

Annie glanced apologetically at Tony. “I’m afraid Carly is right about him. He seems quite interested in her. He watches her whenever he’s up here. He’s been asking lots of questions about her with the other nursing staff too.”

Tony frowned, trying to keep his jealousy under control. Alarm bells were ringing, and he didn’t want to turn into a jealous ass.

“I think Jeanne mentioned him, he said carefully. Is this Mac?”

Annie nodded, “Yeah McGregor. Thomas? Timothy?”

Carly gave him a knowing look. “Timothy McGregor.”

Tony gave her an innocent look. “Jeanne said he invited her out for a cup of coffee,” he responded, remembering her comments about him being an awkward computer geek. Although he’d tried to invite her out on a real date – to dinner and a museum exhibition, she’d turned him down as gently as she could, by explaining that she wasn’t interested in pursuing a relationship with him.

Tony frowned, if Jeanne’s admirer wasn’t taking no for an answer maybe he needed to have a word with this guy and tell him to take a hike. “What sort of questions has he been asking people, Ladies?” he interrogated them subtly.

Annie wrinkled her brow as she absently turned her coffee mug in a circle on the countertop. “He asked me what sort of things she was interested in.”

Carly looked confused, somehow sensing his disquiet and not sure how to interpret it considering her preconceived opinion about his feelings for Jeanne. Thankfully, she decided to ditch the relationship commentary and simply answer his question. “He asked me a lot of questions about her family, where they lived, did she see them often.”

An orderly wandered by, overhearing their conversation. He nodded at Tony. I’m Mike Walsh and extended his hand. Tony shook it briefly.

“Anthony DiNozzo, nice to meet you, Mike.”

Mike nodded. “Sorry to interrupt but I couldn’t help overhearing. Is this about that McGregor guy? He’s been pumping me for info about Dr Benoit too. Wanting to know if she and her father are close. Was she involved in the family business? He’s a nosy bastard.”

Annie piped up, “That reminds me, Mac was asking one day about if Jeanne ever went to France to spend time with her papa.”

Tony was not liking where this was going. Was this about her father’s business, had he made enemies and were they trying to get back at him via his daughter. Was this about Jeanne? Did she have enemies or was this a stalker? Or finally, what if this was all about him? What if, despite the precautions he’d gone through to protect her from his enemies, someone had learnt about how close they were and decided to get back at him by hurting Jeanne. Because, let’s face it, if anything happened to Jeanne because of him or his job, it would destroy him.

Looking at Jeanne’s colleagues, he asked, “Where is this McGregor guy, now?”

“He hasn’t been in yet, today,” Annie said, looking at her workmates in confirmation.

They both nodded in agreement. Mike said, “I think he said something about having to go to another job today.”

Tony was disappointed. “Well when he does show up, can you give me a heads up? And keep an eye on him until I check him out?”

The trio agreed, and he noticed Jeanne leaving a patient’s room, so he said goodbye to the others and hurried over to greet her, conscious of how her three workmates were watching them. Grimacing at her, he gave her a perfunctory kiss on her cheek, telling her with his eyes what he really wanted to do.

She smiled at him and took his arm as she directed them into the tea room to collect her handbag which was kept in her work locker. They left the floor with a wave to the nurses, orderlies and the ward clerk, entering the elevator. It was clear that she had something on her mind.

As the elevator doors closed, Jeanne leapt on him attacking his mouth hungrily and while he responded in kind, he glanced up at the ceiling, wondering if the elevator had a security camera filming them making out in a manner that was decidedly non-platonic. As her tongue sought entrance into his mouth, he decided that not letting the cat out of the bag was probably more of a guideline than a deal breaker and gave in to her ardour as his best friend started running her fingers through his artfully mussed hair.

 



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SASundance

Writer and reader from down under, obsessive filler of pot-holes um plot holes. You can find me at A03 and fanfic.net under my pen name SASundance

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