The Charming Gardener – 3/5 – SASundance

Title: The Charming Gardener, Chapters 12-17
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 Twelve

Tony and Jeanne strolled casually into the hospital cafeteria, having carefully straightened their attire after their impromptu make-out session in the elevator. He smirked, remembering the ludicrous scene in McGee’s dumbass book which had him getting hot and heavy with the Mossad liaison in the NCIS elevator. Really, Tim had a fanciful imagination, not to mention a weird idea of what a healthy relationship looked like if he thought Tony and Ziva were in any way shape or form compatible. Not unless it was as the poster couple for domestic violence with Ziva as the perpetrator.

He might be a commitment-phobe, but even he knew that any relationship with the assassin that he had outside of work would be highly toxic – for him. Hell, she hadn’t done him any favours professionally either, constantly denigrating his intelligence and questioning his competence. No Thom E. Gemcity would make a damned shitty yenta.

As they strolled into the cafeteria, several people greeted them. Although Jeanne was a colleague, Tony had spent so much time visiting her after her engagement to Carson had collapsed that he’d struck up numerous casual acquaintances with people working there. He smiled at various faces he recognised and looked across at Jeanne, asking, “Sandwich or hot food?”

She considered the menu, “Think I’ll settle for a salad. I’m sorry I was late,” she apologised, and Tony had to bite his tongue to prevent him blurting out the ‘don’t apologise it is a sign of weakness’ mantra that had been ingrained in his psyche. The doc was not a fan of that piece of homespun wisdom, calling it sheer idiocy. Jeanne reckoned that many of the world’s ill could be traced back to some person with a small dick and smaller balls not having sufficient courage to ‘fess up to making a mistake. Not just admitting to their mistake but acknowledging the damage they’d caused, then apologising and setting about fixing up their mess.

In this case, Tony didn’t feel he was due an apology. “You were only doing your job,” he said, reaching for a chicken salad sandwich that looked passable.

“Yeah but now we need to rush lunch, and I haven’t seen nearly enough of you,” she pouted playfully, picking up a Caesar Salad and placing in on the tray they’d shared.

Tony knew that she wasn’t making a complaint about his job since hers was equally as demanding and she was also often on call, too. She was telling him she missed him and wanted to spend more time together.

“Miss you too,” he confessed, feeling vulnerable to be admitting that. He picked up a bottle of OJ and gestured to her. She considered for a few seconds before shaking her head. I’ll have apple juice, please.”

Making the selections, he picked up the tray and made his way to the cashier, waving away Jeanne’s objections. “Hey Doctor Benoit,” he told her, “I invited you to lunch, I’ve got it.”

Accepting the truth of his statement Jeanne shrugged, looking around at the various empty tables, choosing one that gave them a little bit of privacy or at least the illusion of privacy. They sat down together, Tony telling her about the case that they were working on, grumbling that a large element of it was cyber fraud and hacking and their computer whizz-kid kept ducking off to run errands for their director.

Jeanne took a forkful of chicken, chewing slowly and swallowing, she asked him, “Didn’t you say that Abby was a whiz with a computer?”

He nodded, “Yeah I did. Sometimes I think she is better than McGeek because she is more of an out of the box thinker, so she comes up with things he never thought about trying. Trouble is that she has other things to do besides.”

Jeanne thought about that. “Don’t you have a team of cyber experts? Why is he getting pulled from the team to run errands for the director?”

Tony sent her an admirable glance, “Smart lady! I don’t know why, I’m just the simple senior field agent, remember? I don’t need to know.”

Jeanne shot him a penetrating look. “And before that, you were the team lead until that amnesiac, alcoholic despot decided he was bored with drinking himself to death and came back without medical clearance.”

Tony snorted on his OJ. Jeanne was terribly outraged at his demotion and the crappy way Keshia Lincoln had been treated. She had met her a handful of times, yet the pair had gotten on like a house on fire. Keshia’s father had a job working in Lyon and Paris for almost 10 years when she was young, so she spoke fluent French. Therefore, it was hardly surprising that Jeanne had taken an immediate dislike to Gibbs on principle because of her friendship with Lincoln.

He was waiting for her predictable query, and here it was. “You said you needed to stay on the team to make sure Gibbs was okay to be in the field, Tony. How much longer are you going to subject yourself to the disrespect and the crap?”

Tony smiled at her indignation. No one had ever cared enough to feel outraged on his behalf before, so it was a novel experience for him. A part of him revelled in the fact that he was worthy of Jeanne’s ire. Even if he felt slightly ridiculous, he wanted to preen that she cared about him so much. It was a weirdly unusual sensation to know that his needs were important to her and he felt loved. Yet there was also a mean niggling little voice (sounding suspiciously like his father) which said that he was a weakling, a worm – that a real DiNozzo should take care of his own issues, not have someone else to fight his battles for him.

Ignoring the malevolent inner voice, he tried to rationalise to himself and Jeanne why he’d taken a demotion, why he’d stayed. It wasn’t easy because a part of him didn’t understand why either.

“He called our Mossad liaison officer, Cate last week. Plus, I had to remind him that we needed to request a warrant today,” Tony explained, shrugging. “Mentally he still isn’t firing on all cylinders.”

Jeanne looked concerned and exasperated. “Then he really shouldn’t be leading a team. The man had a head injury with retrograde amnesia, Tony. Even if it was purely psychogenic in nature, that is still a real cause for concern about how he will react when placed under stress i.e. out in the field.

She paused and sipped the apple juice. “It also doesn’t rule out the possibility that he sustained a closed head injury that wasn’t detectable when he was first diagnosed. Which is why he should have had a full physical and psychological examination and obtained clearance before he could resume duties again.”

“Yeah, I get that. But see… Gibbs is practically a law unto himself at NCIS. He always avoids Psych. Evals and signs himself out of the hospital against medical advice when he is injured. He’s got form.” He said thinking about when Haswari shot Gibbs in the shoulder and the time he tumbled down a ladder because of a grenade in Rota, Spain. Neither time did he get medical clearance, either.

“Well then he’s a brain-dead, arrogant idiot, as well as a danger to anyone who has the misfortune of working with him,” she stated, angrily. Tony couldn’t blame her for being pissed off since by ignoring the knowledge and expertise of her colleagues, Gibbs was displaying his disdain for her profession.

Seeing his tacit agreement, she pressed home her point. “Okay, but why is it up to you to look out for the team? NCIS is negligent for letting him go back in the field – it’s their responsibility and the y have a duty of care to you and the others on the team.

“How long are you willing to sacrifice your career to protect people who don’t respect or appreciate you? They don’t deserve your sacrifices and neither does the agency, Mon Chéri.”

Tony knew she was right, but he couldn’t just turn his feelings on and off like a damned faucet- although sometimes he really wished he could. It would certainly make his life much less complicated. Sighing, because the truth was, he still cared about his team even though he was resigned to the fact that those feelings wouldn’t be reciprocated.

Deciding it was wise to change the topic since it was one that they discussed before and no doubt would again, he picked up her hand and gave it a squeeze. “So, how has your day been so far, Doctor Benoit?”

Rolling her eyes to indicate that she was aware of his deflection, she nevertheless answered his question. “The usual for the most part, although there was a patient that I can’t stop thinking about. She’s a college student – very serious, a violinist who was headed for a musical career as a soloist. Is already in the DC Symphony Orchestra – has been for eighteen months,” she said admiringly.

Tony whistled, “That’s pretty impressive isn’t it?”

Jeanne nodded. “Yeah it is. But she’s led a very sheltered life – not a lot of friends her own age, doesn’t mix a lot. Her room-mate convinced her to let her hair down and party. She’s been hitting the booze pretty hard, got smashed and decided to get into a car with some other students who were practically paralytic.”

Tony groaned – as a former cop he could see how this story was going to end. Badly! “How many dead?”

Jeanne grimaced, “Two, and another girl was left a hemiplegic. One guy had a compound fracture of the fibula and a fractured skull.”

“And what about your patient?”

Jeanne frowned, “Her left hand was crushed, bones were broken, several tendons severed. The orthopaedist and the hand surgeon had her on the table for five hours trying to repair it. They did manage to save it, but…” she trailed off.

“But she’ll never play the violin again,” Tony finished the sentence for her tersely.

Jeanne shook her head, “She may still be able to play the violin again one day. Maybe. But she’ll never have the dexterity required to reach the standard of a concert violinist,” the doctor observed sadly. “What a waste. All the hours and hours of practice, all the sacrificing of other childhood activities – all for nothing.”

Tony squeezed her hand sympathetically. “That sucks, the poor kid.”

Jeanne looked at him hopefully hopeful. “Maybe you could talk to her, you know…tell her about how your leg was broken at college along with your dream of being a professional basketballer.”

“Me?” Tony squawked. “You think because I missed out on ‘maybe’ getting to play on an NBA team and ‘maybe’ I ‘might’ have ‘maybe’ become a great player, that I should talk to a kid who was going to be the next virtuoso and world class concert violinist. I don’t think the two situations are at all comparable, particularly since no one ever got killed when I broke my leg,” he finished gently, looking at her crestfallen expression.

She got so passionate about medicine and her patients’ – it was one of the reasons he loved her. As a daughter of a very wealthy businessman, she could have chosen a much easier profession, but medicine was a calling for her. She talked about wanting to work with Médecins Sans Frontières after she was finished her training. She genuinely cared about people.

Feeling sorry for her, he offered some advice. “To be honest with you, Sweetie, if someone had turned up in my hospital room after I learnt that I would never get a chance to play professionally and that I would probably forfeit my scholarship too, I wouldn’t have wanted to listen to them telling me that the world hadn’t ended. I would have screamed at them to get out because they couldn’t possibly know how I felt.”

Jeanne nodded slowly. “You’re probably right, but I just feel so helpless.” She confessed sorrowfully. “I can help with her physical pain, but I can’t do anything about the rest.”

They sat in comfortable silence for a minute or two before Jeanne looked plaintive. “What are you doing tomorrow night, Special Agent?”

Smirking, he said, “Thought we’d established that it was Very Special Agent, Doctor Benoit.”

Rolling her eyes, she snarked back, “So you keep telling me but then you won’t follow through. Talk is cheap, Tony.”

Tony winced a little. Jeanne had been eager for a while now to move past making out. He’d been holding back, nervous about taking that final commitment but they’d had come close once or twice, only for him to be summoned by Gibbs at the last minute. Jeanne was frustrated and not shy about expressing her desire to consummate their relationship.

“Yeah, sorry, ma Chérie. It’s like Gibbs has a sixth sense or something that knows when we are about to do the deed.”

She laughed a little ruefully, “Sorry but as you pointed out, I am getting more than a little bit horny. I want to ravish you right here,” Jeanne admitted candidly.

“Anyway, I was hoping you might be able to get away for an hour or two tomorrow night. My mother will be here, and she wants to meet you.”

Tony looked at her in absolute horror. “You want me to meet your mother? Are you crazy? She’ll hate me,” he objected, panicking.

“Tony, of course, she won’t hate you. She’ll love you as much as I do.” Jeanne assured him, amused by his pathological fear.

“Of course, she’ll hate me. She’ll hate my expensive Italian shoes and my designer suits. She’ll think I’m way too superficial and vain to be going out with her brilliant and beautiful daughter. Plus, I’m in law enforcement, like John. You remember John,” he said, unnecessarily.

“I’m telling you, Mon Coeur, she’ll hate everything about me,” he babbled frantically. “I think it would be better if you and she had a nice mother-daughter dinner together. Besides, I don’t think Gibbs will let us off unless the case is closed, Jeanne.”

Jeanne looked disappointed. “Okay, but if you can make it, please try to come.”

Before she could try to persuade him further, Tony’s phone pinged with a text message from Annie. ‘Computer guy just turned up.”

She eyed him stoically, “Gibbs?”

“Surprisingly not, although I guess I should get moving soon,” he told her, regretfully.

Checking her watch, she nodded. “Yeah, I should get back too. Pity you have to work tomorrow.”

“Sorry Babe,” he tried to look suitably penitent even if inside he was rejoicing that he had an excellent excuse to avoid being judged and found wanting by Jeanne’s mother. What on earth was Jeanne thinking?

As they deposited their tray on the designated cart for the dirty plates, Tony offered his arm gallantly. “May I have the privilege of escorting you back up to your floor, Mademoiselle Benoit?”

Happily accepting his offer, they preceded to the elevator and made their way back up to the third floor where she worked on her current surgical rotation. As they exited the lift, Tony looked at the administrative area in the middle of the floor, spying a male with short brown hair. He had his back to them and was wearing a navy-blue uniform jacket with a logo he didn’t recognise. There was something frustratingly familiar about the guy. Did he know him from somewhere?

DiNozzo looked across at Annie who was coming out of a patient’s room with a bedpan and a cover draped over it (which probably meant it was full, he thought with a mental euww that he tried to suppress). He quirked a nod in the brunette’s direction and she nodded slightly to indicate he was the one who’d been asking questions about Jeanne.

Nodding back at her, he steered them toward the central desk which enabled staff to see up and down the various wings of the general surgical floor. As they neared the desk, the computer guy turned around and stared at Tony. His expression morphed from one of astonishment to anger and petulance as Timothy McGregor, genius computer fix-it guy turned out to be none other than his teammate, Special Agent Timothy McGee. Tim wasted no time in berating him, apparently leaping to the conclusion he was here to intentionally screw up his undercover mission.

OMG! What idiot would send the Probie undercover? If this was some harebrained scheme of Gibbs, it was further proof that the Boss wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards.

“What are you doing here, Tony? This is my gig – you’re not going to muscle in on it. Jenny handpicked picked me, NOT YOU. So, suck that up, hotshot!” he whined. His anger evident in his voice, which caused several of the staff and visitors to turn around and watch the exchange between them.

Tony, although shocked to discover that McGregor was an NCIS agent, was much better at hiding his emotions than the Probie. He’d had a lot of practice and it was why he was a professional undercover agent. Mentally arranging the facts at warp speed, including the information McLoose Lips had just blurted out, Tony concluded that Tim had been sent in undercover to investigate something or someone at the hospital. Not knowing ‘who’ or ‘what’ the target of the mission was, or even which case was being investigated, he needed to protect the integrity of McGee’s cover. At least until he could find out why NCIS was investigating the place where Jeanne worked.

He hadn’t forgotten that McGee had been showing a lot of interest in Jeanne Benoit, asking questions about her and her father, but Tony tried to remind himself that there might be a logical explanation for his stalkerish interest in her. He might be investigating someone else and he’d developed a crush on her. Tony could understand that occurring because she was a stunning woman – lots of guys made fools out of themselves drooling after her.

Tim might be working up the courage to ask her out again, she’d gone out for coffee with him once before refusing his requests for dates. So maybe, McGee was going to try and woo her – if so, Tim was out of luck – she was already dating him. Of course, Tim might be interested in Jeanne as a potential character in his latest book about Special Agent McGregor and his team of federal agents. Maybe…although Tony’s intuition was telling him otherwise.

But first things first – protect McGee’s cover. Then later, grill him about what the fuck he was doing. Luckily, McGee was not a particularly proficient liar – it would be easy enough for Tony to get the truth out of him.

Looking at McGee, he smiled. “Fancy running into you; I didn’t realise you were working here, McGregor. It’s a small world.” He frowned warningly, seeing Tim was about to open his mouth. “Let’s grab a beer sometime soon and catch up. I’ve been meaning to ask about what Aunt Jenny has been up to – maybe I’ll call her and say hi when I return to work.”

McGee looked frantic. “No, she’s very busy,” he jabbered nervously. “Got a lot on her plate.” Clearly, he didn’t want Tony making waves back at the office.

“Okay, but don’t forget to call me for that beer,” Tony said firmly. He was going to have to wait until McGee returned to the office and that made him frustrated.

Guiding Jeanne over to the staff room where the lockers were situated, she glanced at him. “Where do you know McGregor from?” she asked him, curiously.

“I know him through work,” Tony said, feeling bad. Although he hadn’t lied, it also hadn’t been the whole truth, either. He’d find out what the hell was going on and tell her the rest later.

After she put her handbag back in her locker, to forestall any more awkward questions, Tony said, “Guess I’d better head back before Gibbs starts demanding to know where I am. I told him I had a medical appointment,” he confessed, with a hint of mischief in his green eyes.

The petite brunette sniggered and reached for and measured his pulse playfully. “Tell him that I recommended that you get plenty of rest and come back and see me soon,” she joked, checking to see that there was no one else in the room before kissing him goodbye.

“Why Doctor Benoit, is that any way for a doctor to act with her patient?” Tony snorted.

Kissing him again, she said. “Absolutely not, and hopefully the next time I see you again we can play doctors and nurses.” Grabbing the ubiquitous stethoscope and draping it around her neck, she chuckled at his expression and exited with a hand wave.

Frowning at her departing back, noticing almost automatically that her ass was flirting with him, he realised that he was going to have to wait until later to get any answers about what the hell was going on.

~oO0Oo~

Gibbs was cranky when he made it back from lunch, but then Gibbs was always cranky with him these days. It was as if he was permanently pissed off that the MCRT had been able to function without him when he went stomping off to Mexico and now, he had to cut Tony down to size. God forbid that he might develop delusions of grandeur.

Tony attempted to tune him and Ziva (who looked way too pleased when Gibbs continually snapped at him all afternoon) out and stay focus on work. Which since he was dying to know what undercover operation he’d inadvertently stumbled into, was not going to be easy. His curiosity was always difficult to control but since it had something to do with Jeanne, even if she was only peripherally involved in the case (although he didn’t think so) all his protective instincts were screaming out to shield her.

Unable to contain his need to know what was going on, Tony had started looking into if there was something about Jeanne’s family which could explain McGee’s interest in them. In addition to the background checks, he also reached out to his various contacts at sister agencies to see if anyone had heard anything about an investigation at Munroe University Hospital. So far, no one was admitting to knowing about an undercover operation and that made Tony very nervous.

Likewise, he had yet to turn up anything of concern about Jeanne’s parents – they were divorced but so were many other people, Gibbs and his own father being prime examples. He learnt that Helen Berkley was also a doctor, like her daughter – obviously Jeanne had chosen to follow in her mother’s footsteps and she and Jeanne lived in the US, not France. Other than that, Rene Benoit appeared on paper to be a successful businessman, very successful if his bank balance was anything to go by. but there was something niggling at him about the info he was looking at – it looked sanitised, but it wasn’t redacted.

Calling up a few trusted contacts at DEA and the FBI, he was wondering if Benoit got rich because he was involved in organised crime. As he settled in to focus on their current investigation, Gibbs announced that he had a conference call with one of their suspect’s former CO in MTAC. Rising to follow Gibbs and Ziva up the stairs, the boss stopped him with a smirk, telling him to go and get a round of coffee for the team. Ziva passed him, a look of triumph barely concealed across her face, deliberately getting into his personal space, in that creepy assassin’s way of her, telling him sotte voce, “Perhaps Gibbs will read you in if you manage to come up with a lead, Tony.

Intellectually, he knew that Gibbs as acting like a prick because he was a cruel bastard who got a hard-on by playing head games with his subordinates. He was also struggling with his memories and feeling threatened by Tony, who’d stepped up and done his job in his absence. Tony believed he was also trying his damnedest to punish him for preventing Jenny appointing McGee as SFA because he’d dared to disregard Gibbs’ public endorsement. Gibbs had probably interpreted that as him usurping his judgement and authority. Aside from McGee, he wasn’t pleased about Keshia Lincoln being given a spot on the MCRT. Tony suspected that the real problem was that Lincoln was an officer – a Marine first lieutenant – because Gibbs had made no attempt to hide his disdain for anyone who was commissioned.

Tony decided that Jeanne was right – he was crazy for not looking out for his own career since his three teammates didn’t appreciate his attempts to protect their sixes. He ducked down to Gibbs favourite coffee shop, picking up coffee and tea for them all and concluding that it was time for a change.

Chapter Thirteen

Tony arrived back in the bullpen after being sent on a coffee run to keep him in his place, lest he gets too uppity, noticing that McGee had returned from the hospital. Good! Time to get some answers.

He sent Gibbs a text asking if he wanted his coffee delivered to him in MTAC, receiving a curt ‘Desk’ response to his question. Delivering Gibbs’ extra-large, extra strong black tar, Ziva’s jasmine tea with honey to their desks and placing McGee’s latte on his desk too, he decided to grab this golden opportunity to learn what the hell the probie was up to and why he was asking questions about Jeanne. No time like the present – especial with Gibbs and Ziva absent.

Tim obviously anticipated his intention, leaping to his feet, muttering something about going to the head. Tony smirked. A quiet chat in the men’s room sounded like a fine idea to him. It was after all a ploy which was favoured by their Mossad liaison officer. Apparently attempting to catch a guy with his dick in his hand taking a piss and asking him awkward questions was Interrogation 101 at Mossad.

Timing it to perfection, he arrived just as McGee was about to commence peeing. Flicking an annoyed look in his direction, Tim whined. “Go away, Tony. I can’t pee when you’re watching me.”

Tony snorted. “Then I guess you’ll need to talk fast, Timbo. So, what is computer fix-it guy Timothy McGregor doing working at Munroe University Hospital?”

Sneering, McGee replied, “Catching an arms dealer, DiNozzo. He killed Colonel Jasper Shepard, Jenny’s…I meant Director Shepard’s father.”

Tony would have been struck by how ludicrous it was for Probie to be sneering, considering where they were and what he was doing…or attempting to do. Except for the information he had revealed. There were two salient points in the info Tim let slip: one that McGee was on a first name basis with Shepard, who he personally didn’t trust as far as he could throw her, and secondly, that she’d, for real, sent McGee undercover.

WTF was the director thinking? The guy was hopeless at undercover work, he couldn’t lie crooked in bed, for Pete’s sake. To send a rookie in to catch an arms dealer was so beyond stupid, it took DiNozzo’s breath away.

Misinterpreting Tony’s shock at the sheer folly of the director’s actions disregarding her duty of care, as professional avarice at being overlooked for the mission, McGee couldn’t resist gloating. Not that he cared about him gloating because McGee also revealed extra information without Tony having to finesse it out of him. He was dumbfounded however that McGee’s ego (which had always existed) would let him walk through doorways, it was now so massive. Standing there, his arms folded and looking dubious was all that it took to have McGee boasting.

“His daughter, Jeanne works at the hospital as a doctor and I’m supposed to charm my way into her bed. and I’m succeeding – I’ve already taken her out for coffee. We have lots in common,” he bragged.

Tony felt his knees go weak and he had to lock them in place to stop himself collapsing on the floor. Jeanne told him how the new guy fixing the problem with patient records had asked her out for coffee and she’d accepted the invitation. Not because she was interested in him but because she was a caring person. She’d also refused his overture to go out on a date.

While Tony was telling himself there had to be some mistake, his brain was working at a million miles per hour, swiftly assembling facts. The so-called benign file he’d pulled up on Rene Benoit made a lot more sense now – it had been sanitised. Maybe Shepard had wiped it clean to stop nosy people like Tony stumbling over the fact that Benoit was an international arms deal. Equally plausible, the CIA or NSA might have him under investigation and not want anyone else muscling in on their turf, either. All the alphabets were incredibly territorial, even after the 9/11 debacle, nothing much had changed despite the lip service paid to interagency cooperation.

Then there was the fact that Benoit was wealthy, and Jeanne had said he was a businessman; one who had enemies and required bodyguards to protect him. A ‘businessman’ who had bodyguards who were keeping track of his daughter and that unfortunately made a lot of sense, too. If NCIS was interested in Benoit and saw Jeanne as a means to take her old man down, then it was entirely plausible that other agents would also think she could lead them to her father.

Still looking sceptical, he scoffed. “Are you sure about that, Probie. Who is this dangerous arms dealer?” It was almost too easy to get Tim to talk.

Looking furious the junior agent revealed, “Just because I was read in and you weren’t that doesn’t mean that Rene Benoit isn’t a vicious arms dealer, DiNosey. And for your information, Mr Hotshot I’m-the-big-important-undercover-expert, Benoit is known in the trade by the handle La Grenouille.”

(The Frog, Tony translated the French word mentally.)

“And the director picked ME to bring him down, not you. So just stay the hell away from Munroe University Hospital.” He stared at Tony suspiciously. “Wait, what were you doing there, anyway?”

“I was meeting up with a friend for lunch,” Tony replied truthfully. Then before McGee could ask who the friend was, he distracted him with a derisive glance at McGee’s hand which still held his dick, unable to urinate because someone was watching him.

“By the way, Super-Undercover-Agent-McGregor, the first rule of undercover operatives is: learn to take a piss in a men’s room filled with other guys. Some of my best leads have been gathered while taking a leak with the bad guys. Undercover Policing 101 and don’t worry, I won’t charge you for that little gem, Padwan, but the next ones won’t be free.”

Predictably, McGee became infuriated at having his lack of experience and expertise pointed out to him and came out swinging. “This is my op, not yours, DiNozzo. Don’t go poking your nose into my mission – it’s not wanted, and it’s not needed. I’ve spent a lot of blood sweat and tears to get in with La Grenouille’s daughter.”

Tony rolled his eyes mentally. McGee had effectively outed himself at the hospital and people who knew that Tony was a federal agent had heard him do it. So, good job, Probie.

It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to add 2 (McGregor) plus 2 (Tony) together and come up with 4 (both guys were feds or a fed and a cop). An experienced undercover operative would have pretended NOT to know Tony. Aside from which Tim was deluding himself if he believed he was ‘in’ with La Grenouille’s daughter. No way was Jeanne going to be inviting McGee into her bed or introducing him to her father.

Leaving him to get on with emptying his bladder, Tony made his way back to his desk. Now that Tony knew exactly what he was looking for, it was relatively easy for him to research La Grenouille and confirm that he was in fact Rene Benoit – Jeanne’s rich businessman papa.

After making his way back to the bullpen, he grabbed the second phone that he used to call Jeanne and called her number. It went straight to voicemail which was not unexpected – she was probably with a patient. So, he left her a message instead.

“Hey, mon Bébé, just in case I can sneak away tomorrow night, what time are you meeting your mother for dinner and where? Talk to you later.” Tony hesitated, looking around before speaking softly into the phone, “Jet’aime, Jeanne.”

Despite wanting to go to dinner with Jeanne’s mother about as much as he wanted to have someone rip out all his fingernails, there was no way Tony could possibly not grab the opportunity to meet Dr Helen Berkley. Tony was as certain as he could be that his friend didn’t have a clue who her father was, but he wasn’t so sure about her mother. Could you be married to a man, and bear a child with him and yet not know how he made his money? While it was possible, he supposed, it was not very probable.

The question that was uppermost in his mind was, could Jeanne be in imminent danger from people who believed that the way to get to La Grenouille was to target his daughter – perhaps abduct, hurt or even try to permanently take out Jeanne Benoit?

His gut was shouting an emphatic, YES!

~oO0Oo~

McGee was relieved to see the back of DiNozzo. At least he put the annoying goof-off in his place, he decided smugly. His whole claim to fame was he was supposed to be a hotshot undercover operative, so how come McGee was the one doing the big undercover mission? Maybe Tony wasn’t nearly as good as he thought he was.

Besides, he thought, it wasn’t as if going undercover was that hard anyway – he’d already got Dr Benoit to go for coffee with him. He had her eating out of his hand. Getting her into bed should be a cinch, doctors were always having sex in supply closets on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, ER and Chicago Hope to deal with their highly stressful work.

As Tim was at last able to empty his bladder, he groaned in relief. FINALLY!

He thought some more about the drivel that spewed out of DiNozzo’s yap constantly, although in this specific instance he was focused on his stupid claim that as a nervous pisser, Tim couldn’t be successful undercover. That had to be the biggest pile of horse poop to come out of his mouth and that was saying something, since he wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.

It was archaic, macho thinking and typical of someone trained to be a cop. Trying to get leads in a urinal…really? Guys all standing around comparing their respective dick sizes. The future of policing lay with people who were adept in digital detecting. There was no way that DiBozzo could have infiltrated Dr Benoit’s life as he had.

Just thinking about Tony trying to pass himself off as a computer expert had him laughing his ass off in merriment. As If! The idiot could barely switch on his computer each morning without assistance.

No, Tony was no threat to his plans to one day be the NCIS director, but right now he needed to focus on the mission Jenny had entrusted him with. So okay, maybe at the beginning he’d had to work hard to convince her that he could seduce Jeanne Benoit rather than simply befriending her to get invited into to La Grenouille circle, which was the ultimate goal. Even if he wasn’t a player like Tony, who had sex with anyone who had a pulse, he was obviously threatened by Tim. If he wasn’t, why else would he tell the women in the admin and evidence departments that Tim was gay unless he was shitting himself, afraid of the competition? QED!

A memory of Abby laughing hysterically when he’d expounded this theory to her flitted momentarily across his thoughts, ruthlessly shoved back down into his subconscious. Along with Ab’s cryptic comment about having delusions of there being anything to compare. Then she’d patted him on the head in a patronising manner and given him one of her peanut butter cookies.

Well, Abby didn’t know shite – she thought that creepy jerk, Michael Mahwr was hot, for Heaven’s sake! Besides, if he was so much hotter than Tim, why had Abby slept with him, not Tony? Didn’t that just prove his point – DiBozzo was afraid he was too much competition.

Ruthlessly he ignored the voice (was it his Id or his Super Ego he wasn’t sure) playing devil’s advocate, pointing out that it was Cate who claimed Tony had told females working at NCIS that McGee was gay. Tony had told him not to act so much like metrosexual with his teeth whiteners, moisturising glow and manicures, lest other agents thought he was gay. ‘If he was threatened by you, if he told people you were gay, wouldn’t he want people to think you were? Wouldn’t he encourage you, not discourage you to use those men’s cosmetics to prove his point?

Tim snarled at the inner voice playing devil’s advocate to his theory that Tony wanted people to think he was gay. He didn’t want to examine an alternative explanation for Tony’s actions. It suited his purpose to believe that Tony was a joke, that he was insecure about McGee’s awesomeness and that he was a better agent than DiNozzo.

As he tucked himself back in and did up his fly he snorted derisively. He was not about to waste his valuable time trying to overcome his aversion to urinating while people watched him, either.

~oO0Oo~

Tony was on his way the Adam’s House to meet Jeanne’s mother for dinner and he was running late. As he drove across town, he thought about what he’d done to make sure he would be able to attend this dinner – this maternal inquisition with Dr Berkley. Nothing would induce him to endure a ‘Meet the Parents’ moment, not normally. Jeanne’s mother was probably sharpening the bamboo slivers to insert under his fingernails right now, unaware that Tony was going to be checking her out at the same time.

Yesterday, Gibbs had finally dismissed the team (at 2300 last night), angry at the lack of progress being made on their case, not to mention pissed off at how McGee kept popping out to run errands for the director or disappearing for dentist appointments. At which point, Tony had raced home to grab a few hours at home and grab a change of clothes and a hot meal.

Once home, he’d had a long hot shower, trying to get all the kinks out – partly from sitting for hours going through a stack of financials and due to his anxiety from learning that Jeanne could be in danger. After spending enough time under the hot water for his extremities to start looking like prunes, Tony had dressed in a pair of his favourite jeans and T-shirt. He wandered out to the kitchen and checked his freezer, finding leftovers from when he and Jeanne had cooked dinner last week. Sighing gratefully, he heated it up in the microwave and sat down to eat, permitting himself a low alcohol beer to wash it down with.

Returning to work an hour later he sighed in relief. The lights were low, the appalling pumpkin-coloured walls appeared muted, softer and there wasn’t an annoying thrum of noise and energy. Tony preferred to do desk work late at night when it was quiet, and he was able to let done his guard and just be himself.

Oftentimes he felt tired of all the roles he played. He was Gibbs’ loyal SFA who wasn’t too bright or too competent since Gibbs was paranoid and would accuse him of trying to usurp him a leader. For a short time, he’d been the competent federal agent and team leader, but that persona was no longer welcome, with his demotion back to senior filed agent. Plus, he was the computer-illiterate ignoramus because McGee had been so insecure about his position on the team (partially due to his issues with a domineering male boss who was way too much like to his own father). Then there was Tony’s juvenile class clown persona – because working for an angry bullying micromanager of a team leader created a toxic atmosphere that made them sitting ducks for getting stress-related conditions. And the other major ‘role’ he played was the sexist skirt-chasing frat boy because it had, up until now, protected him from anyone managing to get too close and break his heart again.

In the early pre-dawn hours in the solitude of the bullpen, he was able to drop the façade, focus on the case and tune out the world. In this case, it gave him an opportunity to study the transcripts of interviews conducted by the other agents on the team to look for discrepancies. While Gibbs was a superb interrogator, sometimes his less than stellar people skills put some more sensitive types off when he was interviewing them, as opposed to interrogating them, particularly his obvious impatience when someone was verbose.

Ziva’s Achille’s heel was her arrogance when interviewing young women her own age who she felt were weak or frivolous. She tended to discount anything they had to say – her attitude radiating her disdain about anything they might think or have seen. Not surprisingly, they tended not to share, not wanting to be a target of her scorn.

McGee hadn’t been here for this investigation long enough to be sent out to do interviews, but while he tended to be the least threatening of the trio when he was interviewing witnesses and or suspects, he too had his blind spot. When he was confronted by someone influential McGee could be a bit of a toady, a suck up. He tended to avoid asking hard questions, hesitating about going for the jugular. Plus, when he encountered anyone who he considered his intellectual equal he was prone to turn into a fanboy, failing to take into consideration that the individual might be a witness or they might be a suspect.

Tony found several points he wanted to follow up on with one of the women Ziva interviewed which she really should have followed up on herself, but she’d dismissed the secretary, Winona Johns’ information as being insignificant for some reason and terminated the interview. Yes, John’s answers had been equivocal, possibly due to her feeling intimidated, either by the circumstance or the person who was interviewing her. He conceded Ziva often had that effect on people, including seasoned federal agents, even if they tried to hide their unease.

Clearly, Winona would need a follow up interview and if his gut was right, she either knew more than she’d shared, or she had suspicions but hadn’t felt like she could confide in Ziva. Arrogance wasn’t helpful in engendering trust.

Trust was crucial in getting people to open-up and share. It was Basic Interview Techniques 101 and yeah, sometimes all you got was a bunch of drivel, but Tony liked to think of it as panning for gold. You had to wash out a lot of soil and dirt to find the occasional fleck of gold – but when you found the speck of gold it made all your effort worthwhile

He’d set up an early morning meeting with Ms Johns over coffee and see if he could get her to open-up to him. It was funny, he mused wryly – both Gibbs and David prided themselves on being fearsome interrogators but with interviews, scaring the crap out of people to make them spill what they knew frequently didn’t work.

If they were uncomfortable or tense, people were much more likely to filter what they said, which was the opposite of what you needed. Often people didn’t even know that they possessed vital information (it could be the most inconsequential snippet of gossip or a thought that might break a case) so you had to be willing to let them chat about things that may or may not seem relevant at the time. Unfortunately, neither individual had any patience with letting people talk – well not unless it was a child and then Gibbs could exhibit vast amounts of tolerance in both his questioning and listening.

Hoping that Winona Johns had key information to break their case or give them a lead, he shifted focus and started working on his personal issues. Tony starting with a background check on NCIS’ director. From his disparate bunch of sources, it appeared that her father Colonel Jasper Shepard had been accused of being involved with Rene Benoit and a Russian Colonel General Dimitri Borov, selling illegal guns and weapons for profit. Okay… so massive profits. 

Shepard’s dad had turned up dead, right before he was due to be charged with dereliction of duty and treason against the United States of America. NIS as it was then, had investigated and the medical examiner had ruled it a suicide. Their rationale was, he killed himself because he was guilty. Colonel Shepard couldn’t deal with the disgrace of being exposed for the crimes he committed, and he shot himself.

His daughter Jenny Shepard did not concur with the official cause of death. She categorically insisted that her father had been murdered by Rene Benoit and that Jasper Shepard was no traitor – she asserted that he’d been set up. She obviously believed that her dad was a patriot, but Tony had a brief look at the evidence against General Shepard and concluded that the JAG case against him had been tight.

Tony wasn’t all that surprised that he would inspire so much loyalty in his own child. In his experience, it was the same old same old. The biggest scumbags he’d investigated, including mass murderers, all had offspring denied that their fathers could commit the horrific acts they had.

People forgot that criminals could commit the most heinous crimes and still be loving and kind to their own families. Mafia Dons were a prime example of this truism, so Tony didn’t set a lot of store by Jenny’s belief in her father’s innocence. But it did point to how invested she was in bringing down Benoit. He could understand her desire to make him pay if she genuinely believed he’d set up and murdered her father – but he did wonder what TPTB was thinking, letting her be the one to chase after someone she obviously had a personal vendetta against.

So much for Gibbs’ rule # 10 – never become personally involved in a case. Although Gibbs never managed to adhere to that rule either. No surprise his protégé would ignore that one too.

And… while he could understand the desire to make someone you genuinely believed to be responsible for murdering a loved one pay, innocent people usually got hurt when you went in search of vengeance at all cost. Which was why Rule # 10 was one of Gibbs’ more sensible rules. Pity he didn’t follow it more often.

Tony had no intention of Jeanne getting hurt in the fallout of Jenny Shepard’s obsessive desire to turn her father, Colonel Shepard, into a martyr. He would have gotten on board if she’d wanted to prove the Colonel was innocent or that he’d been murdered but DiNozzo very much doubted that was her motivation. There was too much about this that smacked of an eye for an eye, for him to be involved.

Meanwhile, from what Tony was able to dig up about Rene, he was one of those bad guys who had, despite his abhorrent way of earning money, managed to earn a reputation as an urbane and cultured businessman. He figured Benoit was a lot like Senior, able to charm the pants off people, even as he robbed them blind. Not that there was any indication that Benoit failed to deliver what he’d promised to his customers, unlike Senior who was a conman and a grifter par excellence. No, Benoit was considered a gentleman as well as a man of his word amongst his clientele and his competitors.

Closing his eyes, he imagined Jeanne’s reaction when she learnt that daddy-dearest was essentially a harbinger of death. That he made money by selling death to criminals and callous and corrupt regimes who didn’t care about the collateral damage of loss of innocent lives or their constituents, only the realisation of their own grab for power. Tony was worried sick that this revelation about her father on top of her former fiancé’s betrayal would shatter her.

Moreover, he wasn’t looking forward to acting as the bearer of such terrible news, but he also wasn’t prepared to lie to her, either. Besides, she would find out eventually, and then she would blame him for not telling her the truth. Whichever way you looked at it, it was a no-win situation and he cursed his insatiable curiosity in wanting to know about the suspicious-sounding computer-fix-it- guy aka Timothy McGregor. Still, if Shepard or McGee had hurt her physically or emotionally, or one of the other interested agencies put her in danger in order to trap Benoit, he would never forgive himself for not noticing what was going on right under his nose.

He thought about what he’d learned about Dr Helen Berkley’s background check. She came from several generations of physicians and surgeons, Jeanne made it number four. Helen attended private schools, her parents were considered well-off, although they couldn’t be classed as filthy rich. Still, she never wanted for anything and didn’t have to work her way through college either.

Berkley had met a young Rene Benoit when she had attended a medical conference in Paris, and he was already earning a reputation selling weapons to criminal gangs at that time. Helen was a barely qualified intern, but her father had taken her along when he presented a paper on a new surgical procedure he’d pioneered. Tony had snorted when he’d read that. It seemed that nepotism was alive and well in medical circles since Tony doubted that the average intern got to attend medical conferences in Europe.

Still, he admonished himself, the main point was that Helen had run into Benoit…literally. She’d been out sightseeing and shopping at several haute couture fashion houses, her arms full of shopping bags and had mowed him down. As they were untangling themselves, Rene had asked her out for dinner …the rest, as they say, was history. She reportedly was besotted by the suavely handsome and by all reports very charming ‘businessman’ and although she returned stateside to finish of her medical training, Benoit had followed her back to American, courting her doggedly.

One year later he proposed to her and she accepted. When she finished her hospital training, Berkley promptly returned to France where they were married in a fairy-tale wedding with a reception in a grand chateau. Jeanne was born fourteen months after the wedding. and Helen returned to work, setting up a successful medical practice. The marriage appeared to be a happy one, until when Jeanne was ten years old, her mother suddenly divorced Benoit, returning to the states with Jeanne where she joined her uncle and one of her cousins in their medical practice. There was no clue as to why the sudden split, although Jeanne spent holidays with her father every year. Tony wondered about that – had she discovered how Rene made his money?

Well, he intended to find out if she knew who Benoit was, ASAP. Thankfully his early morning chat over coffee with Winona Johns had yielded a clue that led to another witness being interviewed, which had broken the case. They’d spent all day tying loose ends and Ziva was pissed off. The Mossad liaison demanding to know why Johns had refused to talk to her and give her the leash. She announced that all America females were superficial idiots and Tony cut her off before she could completely alienate the female population at the office.

Storming off to her desk she muttered something in Spanish about not being a pethidine addict. Sometimes he had real concerns about the ninja’s mental status.

Chapter Fourteen

He guided his beloved ’63 Mustang down into the basement car park of the hotel, having already refused to trust the valet with the parking of his precious car. If anyone put so much as a ding or a scratch on it, Tony was pretty sure he would hurt them badly – hence his reluctance to let anyone else drive it. Although, he did let Jeanne drive it a few times – which he reckoned was a measure of just how strongly he felt about her that he’d entrusted her with his pride and joy.

Steering it into a parking spot which only had one adjacent space next to it, which reduced the risk by fifty percent that someone might hit it, he thought about dinner tonight. Making his way up to the hotel lobby, he ducked through the restaurant kitchen and out the back door, eliciting several disapproving looks from the staff. Flashing his creds as he ran past, the kitchen staff shrugged and went back to work.

He cut through back alleyways, traversing several city blocks, before spying an empty cab and flagging it down. As he dived into the front seat, he directed the cabbie to take him to the Adams House. He wished that this rigmarole wasn’t necessary, but he’d do anything to protect people he cared about.

Tony thought about the upcoming meal. Normally meeting someone’s parents would cause him to have multiple panic attacks, but he was focused on getting information from Dr Berkley about Jeanne’s father. He knew that he had to tell Jeanne about what he’d learnt, so she wasn’t left vulnerable to the people who were out to get La Grenouille, including Director Shepard. Hopefully, Helen Berkley would have some idea of how to manage that without destroying her daughter.

If nothing else, surely her mother’s presence would soften the blow, wouldn’t it? Tony thought that was what a mother was supposed to do, provide a haven when the world turned ugly – and let’s face it, it didn’t get much uglier that learning the man Jeanne called Papa (and who she idolised) was a merchant of death. But of course, Tony didn’t have a lot of experience in being mothered, having lost his own when he was eight years old, and even before her death, she was ‘sick’ for much of his childhood. As an adult, he realised that ‘sick’ was a convenient euphemism that all the staff used to avoid telling a little boy his mother was drunk a lot of the time.

Arriving in the dining room, the maître d’hôtel led him to the table which had been reserved for them, he was dismayed to find that Jeanne hadn’t arrived first. The only positive thing was that Helen Berkley hadn’t left her room either, but it was going to be extremely awkward if she appeared before Jeanne. As much as he was focusing on the need to talk with Berkley to gather Intel. on La Grenouille, he was suddenly overcome with the realisation that he was meeting Jeanne’s mother.

HER MOTHER! He was meeting his girlfriend’s mother. What the hell was he thinking?

What was he supposed to say to her?

“Hello,” he practised out loud.

“Hi. Pleased to meet you.” Tony tried to ignore the strange looks he was getting, talking to himself.

“Hello, Dr Berkley. I’ve heard so much about you.” Yeah because you’ve been investigating her, dumbass!

“I’m pleased to meet you, Dr Berkley,” he tried again nearly jumping out of his skin when he realised that Jeanne had sneaked up on him, curious to see what he was doing. She was smirking at him and he huffed in annoyance because he hated feeling so out of his depth.

Jeanne relented, leaning over and dropping a semi-platonic kiss on his lips before she whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry, my mother will love you, too.”

He scowled. “No, she won’t, Angel. I guarantee that your mother will hate me on sight.”

Jeanne laughed. “Well, I guess we’ll soon find out. She’s just entered the dining room.”

Tony saw an older version of Jeanne, with the same air of casual elegance as Jeanne (apart from being a few inches taller) walking behind the maitre d’ as he showed her to the table. Up close, Helen Berkley’s eyes weren’t as remarkable as her daughter’s, they were more of a blue-grey colour. Jeanne’s were a stunning sapphire blue. However, eye colour aside, Dr Berkley was the epitome of elegance and Tony was glad he’d worn his grey Armani suit and favourite green shot-silk tie.

It occurred to him as he watched her approaching them that it was a good thing that Helen Berkley lived in California, not NYC because she was exactly the type of woman that Senior would be attracted to in a heartbeat. Particularly since she had an extremely generous divorce settlement from her former husband plus a modest (by Senior’s standards) inheritance from her own parents and a not-to-be-sneezed-at doctor’s salary as a physician in a wealthy private practice. Senior would see dollar signs – a lot of dollars in addition to her looks and the next thing would be – hallo brand new step-mom number five…or was it six. Tony had a lot of trouble keeping count of how many there’d been.

Although he realised cynically, his father would probably try to hit on Jeanne who was younger and gorgeous, especially if he learnt that she had a considerable inheritance coming to her on her father’s death. He really was an incorrigible gold digger, who surrounded himself with beautiful women although he preferred them to be less mature if possible. Tony thought it was because he garnered admiration from people wondering why they would be married to someone so mature (in years if not wisdom). Plus, he had no qualms about helping them invest their money, especially on his own get rich quick schemes. It was a miracle that someone hadn’t tried to teach him a lesson.

Standing up politely as Berkley arrived at the table, Jeanne did the honours, introducing her mother to her lover. The older physician ran a somewhat sardonic eye over the tall green-eyed federal agent but seemed cordial enough, although Tony wasn’t fooled. After the two women disappeared into the powder room (he assumed to gossip about him) they returned to find their first course awaiting them. After it was finished, Jeanne’s mother obviously felt like an acceptable amount of time had elapsed and they’d made enough polite chit-chat to get into the hold-his-feet-to-the-flames portion of dinner.

Berkley smiled, and it reminded Tony of a shark. He felt his nuts tighten in anticipation of a mauling and he wasn’t disappointed.

“So, Anthony,” she fixed him with a stare that she probably reserved for foolish patients who refused to follow her sage medical advice. “How did the two of you meet each other?”

Doing a metaphoric eye roll, because even he was not that stupid, he smiled across at Jeanne. “I was playing basketball on a team of Metro PD detectives and one week we were short a player and someone invited Detective Carson along and he ended up staying on the team. He soon began bringing Jeanne along too when she wasn’t working or on call and she’d come out with us to celebrate or commiserate after the game.”

Raising an eyebrow, Helen frowned suspiciously. “Jeanne told me you are a federal agent.”

He nodded. “Guilty as charged.”

She looked even warier. “So then, what were you doing playing basketball with a team of cops?”

Ignoring Jeanne’s outraged, “Moth- errrr!” he settled for a small chuckle.

“Well, I was a cop before I become a federal agent. In fact, I was a homicide detective in Baltimore and since becoming a Fed I’ve worked cases with a few the Dees on the Metro team, so when they asked me if I wanted to play on the team, I accepted.”

“Why would you do that?” she demanded archly.

“I love playing the game,” he explained simply and truthfully. “And it is great stress reliever after cases.

Jeanne rolled her eyes at her mother but that was a totally different kettle of fish – she was family. “I told you Maman, Tony played college basketball and football.”

“Yes, so you did, Jeanne. No offence Anthony, that is what we used to call a jock in my day!”

Tony knew that Helen Berkley hated him – well he wasn’t all that impressed with her. Okay, it was more accurate to say that he hated that she hadn’t told Jeanne about her father. He was now even more certain that she knew who and what Benoit was. Her suspicions that a federal agent ‘happened’ to be dating her daughter was suggestive but little more. Believing he’d engineered their meeting by arranging to play on the same team confirmed it.

He could see why she’d be suspicious of his motives, though to be fair, he had been playing on the team way before Carson had ever joined it. He had no way of knowing that John would start playing or bring Jeanne along either.

Tony doubted that she had picked up the true subtext of the conversation between himself and her mother, though. She probably thought Berkley was just being a bitch aka an average overprotective mother. He was pleased to see that she had some maternal feelings for her daughter – Tony was relying on her to help him protect Jeanne.

Tony stared down Dr Berkley. “I always find it a little ironic that people say something that they know is going to be offensive but by dragging out that hackneyed phrase telling you not take offence, it somehow absolves them of being mean or rude. Or is it supposed to make me feel like a jerk because I do take offence?”

Jeanne squeezed his hand, he wasn’t sure if it was in solidarity or as a warning. Funny ironic that before he met Jeanne and got to know her, he would have tried to let the insult about him being a jock slide off him, but she had made him see that if he accepted people treating him like dirt it would keep happening. It was time he took a stand. Of course, she’d been talking about his team and their disrespect for his skills – he doubted that she had thought he’d call out her own mother.

Seeing Berkley’s calculating look, he defended himself. “Yes, I played college football AND basketball. I was on a sports scholarship at OSU and graduated with a degree in Physical Education but many of the courses I took were essentially the same ones that the pre-med students had to take, including anatomy and physiology, nutrition and biochemistry. This dumb jock speaks three languages fluently and can speak several other languages even though I’m not fluent. Plus, I play several musical instruments and have a post graduate degree which is a prerequisite for attaining a supervisory position in federal agencies.”

Jeanne leapt in. “It’s true, Tony is a senior field agent, supervising junior agents and has been acting supervisory special agent – a team leader – for four months this year. Plus, he often helps me study for my medical exams. He was more than a dumb jock, Maman.”

Helen looked a little shocked that he’d taken her to task about her attitude. Frankly, Tony was too but the fact that he blamed her for making her daughter a target meant he wasn’t all that fussed about her opinion of him. Plus, wasn’t it obligatory for mothers to hate their sons-in-law.

Sons-in-law? Oops – where had that come from? Boyfriend – he meant boyfriend! Even that seemed a stretch since they hadn’t even consummated their relationship yet.

Jeanne smiled. “Tony plays piano and guitar, Maman. After I found out about John and Christiane’s affair, he would play his guitar to me for hours when I couldn’t sleep. He’s a gifted musician.” She said reaching across and placed her hand on his – admiring the long agile hands of a pianist.

He turned his hand over and interlaced their fingers, smiling at her lovingly.

The main meal arrived – Tony and Jeanne had opted for steak while Helen had ordered Lobster Thermador. Once everyone had taken several bites of her dinner, she launched a second offensive. “Jeanne tells me you two have not slept together yet. Of course, I find that very difficult to believe, since my daughter is a stunningly beautiful woman. So, is that true, Anthony?”

As an interrogator of some considerable skill, he’d longed to give her conversational gambit the mother of all eye rolls, but he restrained himself…just. “Is what true, Dr Berkley? That Jeanne is a stunning and beautiful woman or that we haven’t slept together sexually because we sleep together frequently, just for snuggle purposes?” Before waiting for an answer, he replied, “Actually both statements are true.”

“Why haven’t you had sex. Are you gay, in denial about your orientation, in the closet or something else you’re ashamed of?”

Before he could reply, Helen gave a cry of pain before fixing her daughter with an angry stare. “Why did you just kick my ankle, Jeanne?”

Tony choked on his piece of steak and feared that he would require Jeanne to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on him. Instead, she shoved a glass of water towards him and pounded him sharply on the back with the heel of her hand in an upwards motion while he coughed violently, dislodging it eventually. Gasping for air, he watched as she scowled at her mother.

“How dare you ask him that, Maman.”

“I don’t want you to get hurt again, my darling.” Her mother justified before pointing at him. “He wears insanely expensive designer clothes, is obscenely good looking, plus you said he was a gifted musician and yet he doesn’t have a normal healthy sex drive. So, what else is a mother to think?

“Unless… you aren’t impotent, are you? Did you suffer a work-related injury, or did it happen when playing sport? Jeanne, I believe you mentioned something about him getting hurt during a football game.”

Oh. My. Lord! This woman was every nightmare about meeting the parents that he’d ever dreamt about. Greg Focker’s experience was a piece of cake in comparison to what Tony was going through. She was even worse than Wendy’s parents and that was truly saying something.

Tony was sorely tempted to bang his head on the table – multiple times but held back, knowing that it would embarrass Jeanne even more than she was already.

Deciding to give her the answers she was seeking, he replied tersely, “I broke my leg during a football game, or rather Brad Pitt broke it, stupid Wolverine! No, I don’t have a workplace injury that makes me impotent either.

“I am not gay, not that I consider that there is anything wrong with being attracted to a member of your own sex. Some of my friends happen to be gay and as long as they have consenting sex, they don’t harm anyone. Not like murderers or people who sell illegal drugs or weapons for profit which kill thousands of people.”

He stared at Helen and she went pale. He figured she got the message.

Jeanne didn’t of course but when he stopped talking, she leapt in. “Instead of embarrassing us both, Maman, why didn’t you ask me in private why we haven’t been sexually active? The truth is that I’ve been wanting to jump Tony’s bones since I called off the wedding.

“Actually,” she sneaked a guilty peek over at Tony, “I might have had a few naughty thoughts about him before that…not that I would have acted upon them, because I was engaged, and I would never cheat on someone I love.”

Tony looked surprised. Jeanne hadn’t told him that before, it was a tad embarrassing to be hearing it in front of her mother, but he supposed the questions Helen had already bombarded him with were ten times more awkward. See this was why no guy wanted to meet THE MOTHER!

Tony wondered if he could fake a call from Gibbs, He was still regretting not slamming his head down on the table until he blacked out. Sighing he ducked into the head to try to get better control over his emotions.

~oO0Oo~

Helen watched as the federal agent returned to the table looking tense.

Jeanne smiled at him and said, “The truth about Tony is that he was a perfect gentleman and a good friend to me when I really needed him. He’d been through something similar and he looked out for me. I threw myself at him shamelessly, begging him to fuck me because I felt so worthless and unlovable, but he told me that having meaningless sex wouldn’t cure a broken heart, that I had to work through the grief and loss.”

Helen nodded. “He’s right, my darling. It would have left you feeling even more empty and even more depressed.

Jeanne shrugged. “At the time I thought he was being a jerk or that he wasn’t attracted to me but…” She stopped overwhelmed with emotion.

“You needed a best friend more than you needed a quick roll in the sheets.” Tony finished for her. “Someone who could tell you that all men are pigs and watch chick flicks with you and eat ice cream.”

“Someone who could hug me when I cried myself to sleep. Which I did for weeks on end.”

“And your best friend wasn’t there for you because she had betrayed you with your fiancé.” Helen finished off, understanding finally the dynamic of their relationship. “So, Tony did what Clare should have done for you.”

“And when I started to heal, and I still wanted him to fuck me senseless, he refused, thinking that it would be a rebound romance. So, I wore him down, told him we would not rush into meaningless sex, that I wanted a long-term relationship with him. He is my best friend and he’s my lover too, even if we haven’t had proper sex, yet. I want to spend the rest of our lives together – I want to have his babies.”

Helen looked shell-shocked at her daughter’s declarations. Looking at Tony she could see he looked torn between fear and longing and it dawned on her. “You’ve been hurt?” She stated.

He looked supremely uncomfortable by her question. “Only a truck full of baggage. My fiancée left me the night before our wedding. I had no clue that she was questioning our marriage until I was left to call off the wedding and pay all the bills.

“She said it wasn’t me – that she wasn’t ready – so why did she accept my proposal. Why wait until the last minute to call it off?” The federal agent shook his head in disgust because it still hurt to go there after all this time.

Helen nodded, understanding a lot of issues. Tony had wanted to support her daughter because he understood how hurt she was, not to take advantage of her. Understood that he was also scared of giving up his power to someone else again.

“You tried dealing with your hurt with meaningless sex?”

Tony inclined his head. “You could say that.”

Satisfied that he wasn’t another John Carson, she dropped the interrogation and returned to her deliciously cooked lobster after giving Jeanne a stern look. “Do not mess with Anthony’s emotions, Darling.”

She knew Jeanne had been completely shattered by the betrayal of her former best friend and fiancé, but she also felt intuitively she was way more emotionally resilient than Anthony DiNozzo was. Helen Berkley prided herself on her intuitive approach to medicine and her patients, although she guessed it was mostly due to her ability to pick up on people’s non-verbal body language. Not that it made her like that guy on that television show, Lie To Me.

Berkley wasn’t consciously aware of all the mechanics of decoding non-verbal cues, not like the main character in the show, Dr Cal Lightman who was an expert, but she was as a seasoned physician. She was aware that up to two-thirds of information that people communicated, consciously and unconsciously, was not based upon linguistics. And her read on the young man that her daughter was besotted with, now she was convinced he loved her too and wasn’t using her to get to Jeanne’s POS father, was that he was emotionally vulnerable.

Yes, Jeanne was too but that was only to be expected after such a massive breach of trust by her fiancé, but she was well on the way to getting over him. She’d already acknowledged that Tony’s support; his friendship and his love had helped her on the road to healing. She had noted the glow about her that had made her think that she was getting a surfeit of sex (despite denying it) but since that wasn’t happening, then it must be due to the good old-fashion case of being in love with Anthony, and an extra-large dose of oxytocin.

Gotta love those love hormones, she thought, with a smidgeon of envy.

Berkley was glad that Jeanne wasn’t shedding any more tears over her fiancé’s unforgivable betrayal, even though the scars would always linger. On the other hand, her intuition told her that the extremely handsome federal agent was much more emotionally fragile. She hoped that Jeanne really was in love with him; that it wasn’t a rebound relationship. Helen wasn’t sanguine he would recover if her daughter dumped him if she changed her mind in the future.

Still, even though she had decided that Anthony DiNozzo truly cared for her daughter, she had a hunch he also knew about her former husband. That did not bode well at all.

Maybe she and Rene should have been upfront with Jeanne about who he was rather than trying to protect her from the truth.

Chapter Fifteen

Tony sipped his beer and gave the woman sitting opposite, laughing her ass off at him, his very best wounded puppy dog look. “Not nice Viv.”

“Sorry Tony, but your girlfriend’s mother really asked you if you were gay or impotent? Wish I was a fly on the wall for that conversation.”

Looking pained, he took another sip of the beer he’d brought to Vivian Blackadder’s apartment. Changing the subject rather pointedly he asked, “Did you manage to sniff anything out about La Grenouille?”

She grimaced. “He’s one bad dude, DiNozzo. He’s been on all the US alphabet’s radar for more than two decades. Not to mention most of the law enforcement and security agencies of Europe including Interpol plus Mossad.”

Tony looked serious, even if he basically already knew all this data already. He could tell that Viv hadn’t finished yet.

Viv took a pull of beer and continued, “but there are a couple of things I found odd. There seems to have been very little Intel. collected on Benoit by us in the last couple of years – almost like he’s disappeared off all the alphabet’s radars. The other thing is that there are definitely no whispers of any joint interagency operations that would lead me to conclude there’s an operation to bring him and his network down.”

Tony winced. “Yeah, I’ve basically heard the same information from contacts at the DEA, and ATF too. Granted there were other more shadowy organisations who may be running a clandestine operation but usually, there were some hints that something was going on. Plus, if it was that ‘Off Book’ I seriously doubt that any agency would agree to a joint operation with NCIS and let an absolute rookie like McGee risk going undercover and blowing an important operation.”

Blackadder grunted in agreement. “Damned good point, Dino. They’d make sure they sent in a professional undercover operative. Someone like yourself!” She pointed at him with her bottle of beer, before taking a slow sip.

He ceded that point with a nod of his head before continuing. “So, then I made discreet enquiries at NCIS and hadn’t been able to find any scuttlebutt about La Grenouille or any undercover op., apart from McGee of course. Plus, there’s the fact that the file we have on him seems to suggest he’s a harmless businessman – which we know is not the case.

“And although not hearing any chatter isn’t what you’d call definitive proof, it’s odd, I’ll grant you. Honestly, Viv, if something had been going on, I’d have expected somebody to give the game away, either by a non-verbal tell, if not by outright indiscreet talk.

They sat together in companionable silence. Two former partners reconnecting after several years apart.

~oO0Oo~

Finally, Viv stood up and took the empties outside to the trash, returning with two more bottles and a couple of bottles of water and placed them on her coffee table within easy reach of them both.

After listening to his impressions, she was ready to resume their post mortem of the situation. “What you said before about the scuttlebutt. I agree with you, Tony – it’s weird given that DC is such a rumour mill. So, what’s your take on it?”

Tony looked at his bottle of boutique beer, idly staring at the beads of condensation on the amber bottle as if they held the answers to the universe. “I think it is too much of a coincidence that there’s so much data on Benoit and then suddenly it dries up and there’s no recent Intel. It reminds me of how a criminal informant would be handled if they were collaborating with us. Obviously, the powers that be wouldn’t want everyone to know that they’d turned a CI and they were now busy selling out their cronies to stay out of jail.

Vivien looked intrigued; she’d never had a criminal informant. In her experience, not that many agents had either. Agents tended to network with their fellow agents, but she’d noticed Tony used CIs quite a bit when she’d been an NCIS agent. Since returning to work at the FBI after the Rota screwup, she’d observed agents with CI a couple of times, but it wasn’t a common practise amongst Feds. The FBI agents who used them were, like DiNozzo, former cops.

Viv was curious. “Why not wipe their files completely or have a special code denoting CI against their file? That way, other law enforcement people know too”.

She stopped, aware she had said something that amused her former colleague. Although his mouth stayed firm, having worked with him she detected the tell-tale crinkling around his eyes that indicated that he was mentally laughing at someone or something. Yeah like Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ stupidity over his cell phones needing to be rebooted after he’d smashed them to bits in a fit of pique.

Fixing him with a glare she demanded, “Okay, Dino, what did I say that was stupid?”

Realising he’d been caught out, he shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, but if you wiped their file, then every bent cop or dirty fed would have access to the info and put two and two together. They might as well go around with a massive bullseye painted on their back because someone would kill them before they had a chance to spill their guts or give evidence.” He explained, his tone neutral.

Well duh, Viv! Feeling chagrined at herself, she filled in the blanks. “Yeah, I get it…plus having a code to denote CI would amount to the same danger too. My bad.”

Thinking about a subject she hadn’t considered, she asked, “So, okay, this is probably another dumb question, but what if another cop decided to go after one of your CI’s, Dino?”

Tony shook his head, giving her his contrite puppy dog look. “Didn’t mean to make you feel dumb Viv – it’s a good question. If someone decided to go after someone’s CI, then oftentimes you let them run with it since it actually helps them to build their cover.”

Seeing her puzzled look, he explained. “Helps build street credibility to have the cops investigate them or better yet to roust them out and take them in for questioning, particularly if you hold them for the maximum 24 hours. The same principle applies when you’re undercover and want crims to trust you.

Blackadder looked sceptical. “Wouldn’t that just draw attention to you? I thought you wanted to blend in?”

“If you are going undercover as a criminal, then having cops ignore you is highly suspicious AND draws attention to you rather than blending in.” He told her how Gibbs had deliberately gotten himself arrested by Tony and his partner when he was still a homicide detective in Baltimore.

She was pissed. “He used you? Did you know?”

Tony shook his head. “No, NCIS didn’t bother mentioning they had someone undercover. But you know, Gibbs doesn’t play nice with others.” He shrugged philosophically because they both recognised it to be true.

He was right, Viv concluded bitterly. Gibbs had a poor opinion of anyone working for other agencies or PDs – for fuck’s sake he had a piss poor opinion of anyone failing to live up to his nigh-near impossible standards. That encompassed most of his colleagues at NCIS – including his superiors. Especially his superiors.

“Typical. Such an arrogant jerk!”

Tony shrugged. “Second B,” was all he said.

Viv huffed. “You know it!”

And it was no trite rejoinder or even an exaggeration either since they had both worked on his team, albeit Dino for a lot longer than she had, poor sap. Still as arrogant an ass-wipe as Gibbs had been back in the day, by all accounts he’d gotten a helluva lot worse since he’d replaced her with some clueless bra-burning secret service agent.

According to the watercooler gossip, Todd was supposed to be a hotshot profiler who it turned out, couldn’t profile her way out of a wet paper bag. Then after Cate, had come two other agents who’d joined the team and didn’t have any investigative experience and Jethro was undermining Dino’s position as their supervisor. WTF was that all about?

Blackadder shook her head in disbelief. It was hard for her to believe Gibbs had once been a Marine. She was glad that she no longer had to put up with him, even though being chucked off his team by him had hurt at the time. In hindsight, it had been a very good thing.

She looked at Tony who was staring glumly at his almost full bottle of beer and her heart went out to him. He looked like he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

She stood up and walked over, grabbing the bottle out of his hands and drinking it down.

When he looked at her incredulously, she asked, “Another one, Dino?”

He looked up at her and smiled, “Thanks but no, better not. School night! You know how that is.”

Nodding sympathetically, the FBI agent headed to her kitchen and started brewing up coffee. Realising she didn’t have any of that hazelnut cream crap he used to drink, she decided to make him a cup of tea instead.

She’d had lost contact with Tony after her ignominious booting off Gibbs’ team – too mad and embarrassed to want to stay in touch with anyone from NCIS. Even though after the screw-up, almost getting Gibbs killed (which Viv had to admit when it came to screw-ups, didn’t come any bigger than that) Tony had assured her he still liked her. The subtext being that Gibbs did not! Which was true!

Then after hearing about the shocking death of Paula Cassidy last month, she’d sought him out so she could express her condolences over his loss. Cassidy had always been kind to her while she worked at NCIS, along with Cassie Yates. They’d sometimes taken her out for meals and given her the lowdown on people she needed to watch out for or not accept dates from – the sort of things that female cops and agents did to support the sisterhood in law enforcement.

Anyway, DC was quite a small place, even after she’d gone back to the FBI. She’d heard via the grapevine that Paula and Tony had gotten a lot closer than Gibbs approved of with his stupid rule # 12; even if it hadn’t lasted long because truth be told, Paula was way more of a player than DiNozzo. She was ambitious, was going places and didn’t want to be tied down by a serious relationship, so she’d ended it before anything really got started between them.

Yet despite that, they had remained good friends. Viv knew that Tony would be shattered by her death. Friends were important to Tony, he would do anything to protect his friends, including taking a bullet if it was required. Sadly, it had been Paula who’d stepped in front of the bomb to save Tony.

Vivian knew DiNozzo long before the psychological profiler who’d joined the MCRT had pigeonholed him as a chauvinist who couldn’t keep his dick in his pants. She knew he wasn’t the skirt-chasing dumb jock that he was painted as by Agent Todd and those who came after. Yes, sometimes he’d flirted with her as he’d done with lots of other people, but he’d also been extremely sympathetic when she’d told him about her brother, Rex killed aboard the suicide bombing of the USS Cole.

He’d been supportive of her desire to bring the monster responsible for his murder to justice and tried to be a buffer for her with Gibbs when she was out of control. Dino really was one of the good ones, honest, incorruptible, take a bullet for you, type of partner and a brilliant investigator to boot.

She’d come to think of him as a surrogate for her beloved brother, Rex. Tony even run interference for her when Donald Mallard had developed a creepy fixation on her, wanting her to go out with him. The ME wouldn’t stop pursuing her despite her rejecting his overtures, so Tony had pretended to be dating her. He had a quiet word with the old letch, after which, Ducky had backed off. Thankfully he’d become a perfect gentleman.

Now Viv cursed herself for letting their friendship falter because of …what? Gibbs’ bastardry? Her embarrassment at being thrown off his team? Her desire to start afresh? All these reasons (um excuses) sounded stupid when she thought about how dumb it had been to chuck away her friendship with Tony. What had she been thinking? Life was too short to take anyone for granted and poor Paula had reminded her of that, tragically. All her ambition hadn’t kept her warm at night either.

Blackadder wandered back into her living room and plopped down on the sofa beside her former partner, handing him a mug of tea. “So, what are you planning on doing, Dino?”

He stretched out and put his feet on her coffee table as he took a careful sip of his hot tea. “I’m going to talk to Dr Berkley tomorrow.” He grimaced. “That will be a whole heap of laughs.”

Viv agreed. This whole situation was such a fuckup. And it threatened the happiness he’d managed to find with Dr Benoit. She couldn’t help feeling sorry for the young woman. Imagine what it would feel like to discover that her father, the man who was responsible for her creation, who she shared fifty percent of her DNA with, was an illegal international arms dealer. Someone who was ultimately responsible for the death, destruction and suffering of untold thousands of deaths, many of whom were likely innocent lives, including children and babies. It sickened her, even envisaging such a horrific scenario.

She also had to acknowledge that one of Dino’s biggest fears, that she might blame the messenger, was a real possibility. After all, Viv had broken off contact with him even though they had been teammates (no, he was her partner) because she was embarrassed about the right royal screw-up, she’d made of the Hussan Mohammed takedown in Spain. Following her subsequent banishment from the MCRT, talking to him, spending time with him would be a constant reminder of an episode in her career that she wasn’t proud of.

So, it wasn’t fanciful to assume that Jeanne would associate Tony with the shocking news that her father was evil personified and her whole life had been a lie. Viv hoped that Jeanne could see that pushing Tony aside because it was easier to start over without any reminders, was cutting off her nose to spite her face. Tony was a loyal caring person who would gladly give up his life to protect her.

They’d talked about scenarios, that Jeanne might need to go into witness protection and Blackadder was pretty sure that if she asked him to, Tony would go with her. They talked about her needing a safehouse for a while, particularly until Tony could try to sort something out to protect her. He didn’t trust that Director Shepard or some other individuals with their own agendas wouldn’t use her to flush out La Grenouille. His greatest fear was that someone would decide that killing Benoit’s daughter was the quickest way to make him vulnerable and bring him out in the open.

Viv thought what he said was pretty on the money about the situation. She took a deep breath and said, “If you need a safe house for yourself, Jeanne or both of you are welcome to stay here, Dino.”

Blinking at her out of the blue offer, he replied, intelligently, “Whoa, what?”

Chuckling at being able to wrongfoot the agile thinking agent, she folded her arms. “Well, let’s review, shall we. I have a huge two bedroomed apartment. I usually work at a minimum 12-14 hours a day – sometimes I’m away on cases and the apartment is empty. I left NCIS in disgrace and broke off all contact with my former colleagues because I didn’t want any physical reminders of how badly … now, how did Gibbs put it in his charming vernacular? Oh yeah – how badly I screwed HIS pooch,” she said sarcastically.

“Like Gibbs-Almighty hasn’t become obsessed with a case, taken it far too personally and should have recused himself from working a case because of hello… his own freakin’ Rule #10. He’s also guilty of being so desperate to close out a case he’s put his agents in danger or nearly got them killed – and isn’t that breaking his highest rule of never screw over your partner?” Viv took a deep breath but hadn’t finished venting her spleen by a long shot.

“Like when he was responsible for getting you thrown out of a plane on a night flight when you had zero jump training, let alone being close to being qualified to parachute at fucking night! You are lucky you just broke a bone in your foot and not you god-damned neck, Dino! And what about…”

She caught herself mid-rant and apologised. “Sorry – I guess I got a little off topic for a minute.”

Tony gave her a tiny but genuine smile. “Jeanne was pissed about that episode too when I told her about it.”

Viv nodded approvingly. “Good for her. I think I’m going to like her a lot – Jethro should have been disciplined over that cock-up. He’d probably have been fired over it if he worked for the FBI.”

Tony and Blackadder shared a snigger at the thought he would ever work for the fibbies.

“Anyway, Dino – getting back on track, I haven’t exactly hidden my resentment about NCIS and Gibbs, particularly his out and out hypocrisy. And I haven’t mentioned to anyone that you and I have reconnected.”

She saw Tony raise his eyebrows at that statement and saw the almost imperceptible flicker of hurt flashed across his face before it was swiftly shielded from view and rushed to correct any false assumption he may have formed.

“Not because I have any regrets but because it felt too personal to talk about Paula or you to people who didn’t know her.” She reached over and took his hand, squeezing it hard. “Honestly, the only regrets I have is that it took me way too long to reach out to you. Especially when you were such a good partner to me.” Viv told him contritely.

“But the pertinent fact is that no one knows we are in contact, so even if they can backtrack the link back between you and Jeanne, seeing you’ve been super paranoid about covering your tracks, they wouldn’t look for her here. They would check out hotel rooms and known safe houses. They would have no reason to look for her at an FBI agent’s place, even if I did spend some time working on the MCRT more than four years ago. Particularly one Gibbs booted off his team.”

DiNozzo shook his head. “It places you in danger, I can’t possibly ask you to do that, Viv. Benoit is one bad hombre, as you said yourself. His peers are going to be equally bad news and if he IS working for one of the alphabets’ as their trojan horse, they won’t be messing around either.” He stated seriously.

Giving him a sibling-like nudge with her shoulder she argued, “But YOU didn’t ask me to, Dino – I offered. I’m a badass FBI agent and I know what I’m getting myself into. I want to help you, so let me?” she pleaded, giving him her best puppy dog look, although it wasn’t a patch on his.

Not that Viv was about to tell him that!

~oO0Oo~

DiNozzo had left Viv’s apartment not long after she’d offered up her apartment as a safe house for himself and Jeanne if he needed it. He was loath to accept her offer and potentially endanger her, but he’d looked into her chocolate brown eyes and saw she was serious about her offer. He didn’t like it, but he honestly didn’t have a lot of people that he trusted. He trusted Viv. She was good people.

So even though he hoped that it wouldn’t be necessary, he thanked her and promised he would keep it in mind if he needed somewhere safe to stash Jeanne. It was odd that someone who wasn’t even his partner anymore would offer up her home as a safe house for him and Jeanne when his teammates, who he worked with for a helluva lot longer than he worked with Viv, wouldn’t even let him stay over for a few days when his building lost its power and heat. He’d ended up sleeping under his desk at work or trying to sleep in his car.

His team had all refused his request to stay with them – or pre-empted him, letting him know he shouldn’t even bother asking them to help. Although after repeated knockbacks, Gibbs had grudgingly told him his door was always open, Tony figured it was guilt talking since it was snowing at the time and they’d just been blown up Caitlin Todd’s victim, who she’d invited to stay with her so Tony wouldn’t ask her if he could stay with her. Great psychological profiling from Todd (who was supposed to be a professional profiler) formerly with the Secret Service.

So, he hoped he wouldn’t need to accept Viv’s offer but although he had been his usual cautious (okay maybe paranoid) self about leading anyone to people who he cared about, it was possible that he hadn’t been as careful coming here. He was off balance with all this La Grenouille business because it threatened Jeanne’s safety and because it threatened the nascent relationship between him and her. Now he had even more incentive to make sure there was no recent link between himself and Blackadder.

Tony realised just how much of a gift her offer of support was. Maybe he should have been the one to reach out to her – after a reasonable interval of course. He’d told her he still liked her but perhaps that hadn’t been enough reassurance that he didn’t blame her for her momentary lapse in Rota. She wasn’t an experienced undercover specialist and she had come face to face with the man responsible for Rex Blackadder’s death, so of course, it was going to throw her.

He’d tried to intercede on her behalf with Gibbs, to point all that out to him, but he’d been unmoved. He’d argued heatedly that she knew Hussan Mohammed would be there, it wasn’t as if she’d bumped into him unexpectedly while she was out shopping for dinner. Tony wondered how Gibbs would have reacted if he’d come face to face with the killers of his wife and daughter during a sting operation – he reckoned he might have an done equally poor job of remaining in character.

Unfortunately, back when he was advocating for Viv to be given a second chance, he hadn’t known about Gibbs’ family tragedy. Gibbs had been adamant that she was a liability. Funny thing was that less than six months after getting rid of Viv, he’d let an ex-Secret Service agent with no investigative training onto the team and forgiven her constant screwups that had continually placed them in danger. The BFF bomber, Suzanne O’Neil was merely one such example and Gibbs had barely Todd her a slap on the wrist afterwards. Can anyone say double standards much?

Still, it was ancient history now. However, it made him think about maybe working for a larger agency – a less parochial (okay a less pissant) agency where rookie agents didn’t get promoted to senior field agent over several extremely qualified other agents. An agency where a foreign operative – a trained assassin cum spy wasn’t permitted to join the team as a Mossad liaison. An agency that knew that letting a foreign agent ‘investigate’ would see any charges thrown out of court on a technicality. Where a team leader injured in a terrorist bombing and who’d resigned from the agency wasn’t allowed to return to active field status without proper medical clearances because it would be illegal and dangerous.

Maybe Jeanne was right, he’d stuck around after Gibbs return because demonstrably, the boss was floundering around trying to remember and lead the team safely and effectively. Tony had been was worried about the welfare and safety of the two junior agents but as the good doctor had pointed out – it wasn’t as if they appreciated his efforts. Maybe he should put in his notice and accept one of the offers he turned down periodically. He’d liked leading his own team – well he would have if the agents hadn’t already been encouraged to ignore every order he issued. Thanks so much, Gibbs!

As he pulled into a Starbucks, as part of his routine to make sure no was following him, he received a text message from Jeanne telling him to not to come over to her place tonight. He’d had no intention of spending the night with her because he hated being close to her and lying, even if it was lies of omission. Still, he felt a stab of hurt because she didn’t want to see him. During dinner when Helen Berkley had stepped outside to take a phone call, Jeanne had tried to get him to spend the night with her.

The last few dates had been interrupted by Tony getting called into work, thwarting their attempts to take their relationship into the final phase of intimacy. They’d come increasingly close, making out and had even gone as far as oral sex a few times although he’d been nervous about taking the final step, knowing for him there would be no turning back. He finally recognised his heart was already in love with her, however work had gotten in the way.

So, Jeanne had wanted him to come home with her tonight and as she’d whispered to him naughtily as her mother reappeared at the table, “Play doctors with her.”

As the image of playing with Jeanne created a bunch of wicked fantasies, he’d also mentally cringed, knowing he wouldn’t be able to make love to her in the way he wanted to their first time together. Not until he was honest with her. Of course, when he came clean with her about what he knew, it was possible that it would destroy the relationship they were trying to build together. And as much as he didn’t want to lose her, Tony knew if he had sex with Jeanne and didn’t tell her what he knew, it would ultimately destroy any chance they had of having a proper grown-up relationship.

If there was one thing that being with Jeanne had taught him – he was done with meaningless sex and one-night stands. Kaput, finished, over with, ceased, finished and whatever other synonyms you could come up with to indicate he was not going back there.

Tony knew that he wanted someone who could be there for him, physically and emotionally. Someone who understood that his job was important, but he also wanted to be more than his job. Maybe what he wanted was unattainable – although he thought he might just have found it in Jeanne.

Wondering at the sudden cooling of her ardour tonight made him even more aware of how vulnerable he felt at opening-up to her emotionally. Had Dr Berkley convinced Jeanne that he was not right for her? She seemed to have a thing against cops – maybe because she was worried that someone would tell Jeanne who her father was. In a way she was right, it was beyond time for her to learn the truth about who her father was.

Perhaps he shouldn’t put off talking to her mother until tomorrow. It was 2230 -was that too late to talk? He decided to call first and then it occurred to him that possibly Jeanne had put him off because she was still with her mother. He called Jeanne to see if they were still together. She answered on the second ring.

“Hey Special Agent, did you get my text.?

“Yeah, are you having a sleepover with your mom?”

Jeanne chuckled. “Do you honestly think I’d ditch a night of playing doctors with you to spend time with my Maman? she teased him playfully. “Besides, she was exhausted and went to bed. Meanwhile I got paged to go into the hospital, there was a mass shooting in a bar, and they need all available medical personnel STAT.”

Tony laughed at her mischievousness although he was relieved that she hadn’t blown him off, which he acknowledged was more than a bit hypocritical of him since he’d intended to do just that to Jeanne. Although it was purely because he didn’t want to have to lie to her and only until he’d talked to her mother about telling her the truth about her father.

He told Jeanne he would let her go and catch up with her tomorrow before telling her to stay safe and hanging up. As he collected his coffee with hazelnut creamer, he decided that the good thing was that he knew that Berkley was probably sound asleep so that saved him a needless trip to the Adams House where she was staying. Maybe he’d try and catch her at breakfast early tomorrow morning.

He couldn’t keep lying to Jeanne or he was going to drive himself crazy.

Chapter Sixteen

Helen Berkley entered her suite at the Adam’s House and decided she needed a stiff drink before she did what she needed to do. Of course, since it was a quarter past nine in the morning and she had only fished breakfast an hour ago, consuming alcohol was not a good idea. She needed to have all her wits about her if she was going to navigate the tricky waters awaiting her. Sighing regretfully, the doctor picked up her phone and ordered a pot of strong black coffee to be delivered to her room.

Crossing the reception area to the balcony, she opened the curtains, deciding to drink her coffee outside in the fresh air. Room service arrived a timely ten minutes later, depositing her coffee, plus a complimentary platter of fruit onto the rattan table setting and departed discreetly with a smile at her generous tip. Sitting down, she poured herself a cup of coffee that was strong enough to keep the average individual up all night. For a doctor though, it was a relatively mild kick start as they were often in a state of sleep deprivation from the killer hours they were forced to working.

There were, of course, exceptions to that rule. For instance, dermatologists treating teenagers with zits or plastic surgeons who treated the rich, the famous, the self-obsessed narcissists and specialised in boob, butt and facelifts. They worked civilised hours and charged outrageous professional fees. Of course, Helen had a pretty cushy gig these days, working as she did in private practise, but they’d all started out as sleep deprived young hospital interns and coffee had been their drug of choice. Bottom line, most doctors still had incredibly high tolerance levels for it, and Helen was no exception.

Sipping on the black brew, she took a deep breath and called a number she’d had no intention of ever using, waiting for it to be answered by a man she’d sworn never again to talk to.

After five rings it was answered, “Oui?” (Yes)

“Is this Rene?”

“Non. Qui appelle?” (Who is calling please?)

At first, possibly due to her nervousness, she’d thought it might be her ex-husband speaking, although now she thought she detected another accent. Not French or American.

“Dr Helen Berkley.” She replied and heard a sharp intact of breath on the end of the line. Whoever she was talking to knew who Helen was.

“Patientezz s’il-vous-plait.” (Please wait a moment)

Speaking English this time, he returned after several minutes.

“Monsieur Benoit is unable to talk to you at this time.”

She was shocked since Rene’s last promise to her when they parted for the final time had been that he would be there for her if she called him. As much as she despised the man that she’d once been deeply passionately in love with, she also knew he’d always kept his word. Stalling for time, she replied, “And whom am I speaking to?”

I am Trent Kort, your husband’s assistant. He asked for you to leave a message and he will respond as soon as possible.”

Helen was tempted to point out that Rene was no longer her husband, however, she decided to let it pass. Instead, she told the man on the phone (Rene’s personal line) that she wanted to let him know that the reception he had planned for Jeanne wouldn’t be required as she had called off the wedding to John Carson. It was not, of course, the real reason for her call, but she wasn’t going to talk to anyone but Rene – and she didn’t even want to speak to him.

The man on the end of the line hesitated a fraction of a second before replying, “I will pass along your message Madame, although I believe Monsieur Benoit has already been informed of Mademoiselle Jeanne’s intentions to call off her wedding.”

Helen laughed, as if embarrassed. “Oh, my goodness, I must have misunderstood my daughter – I thought she had said she hadn’t contacted him yet. I feel so foolish. I’m sorry to have bothered you and Rene of course, au revoir.”

She hung up, severely chastened, considering what she had learnt. She hadn’t talked to Rene since she divorced the sonofabitch nearly two decades ago. The last thing he’d said to her had been giving her that number, telling her that if she ever needed help, to call and he’d be there for either of them. The fact he’d refused to come to the phone (or he was prevented from talking to her) forced her to reconsider her conviction that he would never work with any Intelligence agencies or law enforcement.

She’d been adamant that he would find some way to avoid becoming a criminal informant – naïve much? Anthony DiNozzo had tried to convince her that he probably hadn’t done it voluntarily – that he’d done so because his only other choice was a lifetime in prison or execution.

Berkley had been so sure her assessment of Rene Benoit was the accurate one. She knew he was an amoral monster, but he was also insanely Intelligent, sly and terribly magnetic – a potent and deadly combination. After all, she’d been married to him for more than a decade before she’d learnt the truth about him. She was also certain her ex would never allow himself to become compromised in the manner that Anthony was suggesting – and place Jeanne in any sort of danger. Her certainty was partial because in her opinion, her ex-husband was a classic narcissist, who saw his child as an extension of himself. Therefore, an attack upon Jeanne constituted, in his mind, an attack upon himself and could not be tolerated.

She’d stupidly insisted that what needed to happen was that Benoit needed to get his ass over here and deal with the mess surround NCIS and Jenny Shepard. Despite Tony’s plea for them to proceed with extreme caution, she’d gone in like a bull at a gate, determined to do it her way. Genuinely believing she knew best how to handle the situation.

Helen had been supremely confident she could ensure her daughter’s safety without Jeanne needing to know that her father was a merchant of death and human misery. After all, she had managed to protect her from this terrible truth for the past two decades. She could and would protect her again – even if it meant that she had to work with Rene Benoit to achieve her goal.

She knew that Anthony was not on board with her plan to keep Jeanne in the dark about her father. She could see it in his eyes and the determine set of his jaw that he thought she was a fool – even if he didn’t come straight and tell her so. Still, she had thought that he was being overly pessimistic in his assessment of the threat posed to Jeanne. Seems she was the one who was being incredibly naïve about something she clearly didn’t know enough about to make a measured and informed decision.

Picking up a slice of fresh pineapple and nibbling on it half-heartedly, she knew that part of the reason she’d been so determined to hold Rene accountable for cleaning up the gargantuan mess he’d created was a self -serving one. The reality was that she had deliberately withheld the truth about Jeanne’s father from their beloved daughter – albeit for all the right reasons.

How was a daughter supposed to reconcile her loving and much-adored papa with the monster that Rene Benoit truly was? And that still held true all these years later but if she was being totally honest, she was also extremely worried that Jeanne would hate her for lying to her for all these years.

Her daughter, particularly considering the betrayal of her fiancé screwing around with Clare Lamont, her best friend from college, would be absolutely devastated that her mother had withheld the truth about her father from her. Helen couldn’t bear the idea of a serious, perhaps even a permanent estrangement between them, but she knew that was a distinct possibility. Jeanne tended to see things in black and white, good and bad and had little patience for those things and individuals who fell into the area in between the two poles.

Helen had lied but for what she’d considered as the best reason in the world – to protect her child. She knew that Jeanne might not see it like that.

Tony had called her early this morning, requesting that she join him for breakfast at his favourite breakfast place. Knowing he was an ex-cop (like John Carson) and now a federal agent, Helen had agreed to meet him, somewhat reluctantly. She tried to suggest that they could have breakfast in her suite -at least the Adam’s House chefs did an excellent eggs benedict. She really didn’t relish a cup of stewed black coffee and a stale doughnut in a diner or a stack of lukewarm hot cakes swimming in a sea of cheap maple syrup.

Anthony had been obdurate, insisting that she would love his suggestion. She really wasn’t optimistic about him being able to keep his promise – given she readily admitted she was a bit of a food snob if not an out and out epicurean.

She had to acknowledge that the café was not what she was expecting. The décor was fresh and bright but without any bold neon colours to offend the senses or glass and chrome furniture and fixtures that she found impersonal and cold. The menu had surprised her too. They had freshly squeezed vegetable and or fruit juices that were made to order. There were dairy and non-dairy varieties of smoothies of every imaginable variety, several brands of organic oatmeal and fruit that looked and sounded delightful. They also boasted a myriad of organic seeds, nuts, handmade granolas and yoghurts made on the premises. The cafe also had items such as sourdough toast with freshly-made jellies, hand ground peanut, cashew or almond butter. Plus, several vegan alternatives to egg, bacon and sausage fry ups – except they were grilled instead.

Helen wondered if this was an attempt to impress her with his healthy eating habits since she was a doctor and Anthony was seeing her daughter. It was only natural to want to create a good impression – maybe he wanted to ask her permission to marry her daughter.

Her less than charitable thoughts about his motivations were quickly dashed when the waitress and owner of the café, Skye Mitchell came over, giving him an effusive hug in greeting and asking if he wanted his usual order. Helen supposed she was guilty of buying into stereotypes about dumb cops hanging out in greasy diners, drinking stewed coffee and consuming piles of jelly doughnuts, she thought guiltily. As she reminded herself sternly that Jeanne wouldn’t want to spend her life with someone who wasn’t her intellectual equal, she caught part of Skye and Tony’s conversation.

“I’m fine, Skye. Stop fussing.”

“Not fussing, Tony. You are wheezing more than you usually do. How many miles did you do this morning? Have you talked to Brad recently?” she interrogated him, keenly.

“Chillax, Dr Mitchell,” Tony said firmly. “I just pushed myself a bit hard this morning and my lungs are letting me know about it, okay. AND Brad doesn’t need to know because there isn’t ANYTHING to tell him.”

Skye looked mutinous. “How many miles did you run today?”

Tony sighed, “Eight.”

“How many do you normally run?”

“Five… sometimes six.” He admitted grudgingly.

“Any tightness in your chest?”

He rolled his eyes at the tall and slender ash blonde female, but Helen didn’t think he was truly angry with her. “No tightness but I am a bit short of breath,” he reluctantly admitted to her.

“Have you used your inhaler?”

“Yeah.”

“Go home and have a nebuliser treatment before you head into work, Tony,” she ordered him, and Helen wondered who Skye Mitchell really was. Seeing his stubborn expression, she said, “I mean it, DiNozzo. If you don’t want me to rat you out to Brad, then follow my instructions,” she chided him with an affection which seemed born out of familiarity.

With a roll of those very striking green-grey eyes, he nodded. “Yeah, yeah! Stop nagging Doc. Just don’t rat me out to Brad – he’ll insist I come in and draw multiple vials of blood, he’s a damned vampire.” Helen noticed he was well practised in the wounded puppy look.

Skye pursed her lips, “On condition that you increase your inhaler meds and add a breathing treatment tonight as well as this morning. Don’t rely on your emergency puffer to deal with this wheezing, Tony. Plus, please get Jeanne to check you out before you sleep. And if she’s got any concerns…and I mean any worries no matter how slight, then you ring Brad and tell him,” she instructed him, sternly. “Deal?”

“Deal,” he grumped as she smiled like a Cheshire cat.

“Excellent,” she exclaimed before looking over at Helen apologetically.

“My apologies, Ma’am but Tony needs a nursemaid,” she joked, although the older physician got the impression that she was only half joking. “What would you like to order?”

Tony suddenly realised he’d neglected to introduce her to Skye although to be fair, the waitress had been quite focused on his health. “My bad! Dr Helen Berkley, this is Dr Skye Mitchell, owner of this awesome establishment. Skye, Dr Berkley is Jeanne’s mother.”

“Nice to meet you, I can see the resemblance to your daughter,” Skye responded warmly. “So, Doctor, what can I get you?”

Helen had decided to get the buckwheat pancakes with goat milk yoghurt, a drizzle of Manuka honey and the organic berry medley. She also ordered a celery, carrot, ginger and orange juice and Skye bustled away to deliver their order to the kitchen and organise napkins and flatware.

Helen looked at Tony curiously. “You have a problem with your lungs?”

He looked rather reluctant to talk about it but said briefly, “Yep, they’re both scarred.”

She raised her eyes at that info, “Are you a smoker?”

“Nope, double pneumonia about three years ago – voila scarred lungs.”

She felt like he was holding back vital details but didn’t push. “And Skye? You called her Dr Mitchell?”

She was an ICU doctor at Bethesda when I had pneumonia and helped save my life. Skye was a commander in the navy and decided not to re-up eighteen months ago. She also decided to take a break from medicine cuz she was burnt out and opened Blu Skye Café instead since she’s always been interested in the role nutrition plays in good health. I eat here quite a bit to support her and she bosses me around.”

“And threatens to rat you out to Brad?”

Tony shrugged, “My doctor,” he said briefly as their food made its way toward them. After Skye had delivered Helen’s pancakes and juice (that looked far too delicious to be healthy) and Tony’s order: organic granola, Greek yoghurt and blueberries, plus a cup of chai tea and discreetly disappeared, Tony dropped his bombshell.

“But I didn’t invite you to breakfast to talk about my doctors or my lung function, Dr Berkley. I want to know why Jeanne doesn’t know that her father is an illegal arms dealer?”

Helen had felt as if she’d been kicked in the guts by a particularly vicious mule, although she had briefly wondered about Anthony DiNozzo’s comments the night before. She’d tried to pass them off as an unfortunate coincidence but deep down she had feared otherwise. Feeling like an incipient panic attack was imminent, she did the only sane thing she could think of. She deflected.

“And how long have you known about her father?”

He smiled grimly. “Almost 48 hours. I’m still reeling.” Tony sipped his tea and leaned forward maintaining eye contact. “I know you’re suspicious that a federal agent happened to get involved with your daughter – you think I engineered a meeting with her. The truth is I had been playing on the Metro PD detectives’ team because of my friendship with Detective Andy Kochofis, who I’ve known and worked with for five years. Detective Carson joined our team long after I did. He came as a one-time sub when one of our team was out injured and he ended up staying. I had no way of knowing he’d join the team permanently or that he’d bring Jeanne along to be his cheer squad, either.”

Helen wasn’t sure if she could trust him – even if her daughter did – but then Jeanne was clearly besotted with him. She also didn’t know who her father was (and whose fault was that, Helen) so she didn’t understand how vulnerable she was to a honey trap. Looking at the man in front of her, she saw how easy it would have been for him to seduce her. Good lord, Berkley knew how vulnerable she was thanks to John Carson and that little trollop, Clare.

Sighing, he leaned back and regarded her with barely feigned anger. “Yes, I get that you don’t trust me and maybe you shouldn’t because you are right – Jeanne is being targeted. The reason I found out about La Grenouille (Benoit’s code name since apparently, it is de rigueur for all the hip arms dealers to have one) was because I encountered an agent who works at NCIS. He’s one of the agents on my team who was sent undercover at Jeanne’s hospital as an IT specialist to seduce her. Through her he is supposed to get close to her father.”

Helen was shocked to her core and she thought she read anger in Anthony’s face and another odd expression she couldn’t identify. It might have been jealousy which would be understandable if he was truly in love with her daughter but his feelings at this moment were incidental to Helen. The fact that Jeanne was being targeted was what she needed to focus upon. It was intolerable that she was being used like that, and Berkley felt a sense of panic threatening to engulf her.

“I managed to get the truth out of him because… well it doesn’t matter why but he told me that our director blames Rene Benoit for her own father’s death and is determined to bring him down. Pretty sure that she doesn’t care if Jeanne is hurt in the process,”

The agent sucked in a breath and Helen noted automatically that he did sound quite wheezy, like an asthmatic. Was he one? Like any good doctor, she wondered what had prompted him to push himself so hard when he was exercising this morning.

He stared at his breakfast but didn’t touch it. “Revenge is an ugly motive and it has no place in law enforcement. She might even have plans to make Jeanne to suffer.”

“But Jeanne is innocent, and she has no idea who or what her father really is,” she protested, her outrage apparent to everyone in the cafe. And no doubt her panic, if the look on Anthony’s face was anything to go by.

Tony gave a sardonic laugh. “Jeanne is piggy-in-the-middle and I doubt that Director Shepard is losing sleep over the possibility that she will be caught in the crossfires, Dr Berkley. Unfortunately, she won’t be the only one who will try to use Jeanne to control Rene Benoit and that’s why Jeanne needs to know who her father is. At present, she is totally vulnerable to people who have no ethical or moral problem with using her to get to him.”

“NO!” she practically snarled at him. “Jeanne must never find out about her father – it will destroy her.”

Tony looked sympathetic but determined. “It will be difficult, I know but keeping it from her is like sending a baby wildebeest out on the savanna plains right into the territory of a hungry pride of lions and expect it not to get eaten. She needs to know about him so she can protect herself; to be on the lookout for people who will try to use her to bring down La Grenouille.

Tony shook his head. “Even if we can find a way to prevent NCIS from involving her, there are probably dozens of federal agencies here that would love the kudos they’d gain if they were to claim his scalp.”

Helen went to object and Tony, sensing her resistance held up his hand to indicate he wasn’t done yet.

“In my professional opinion, at least one organisation (probably the CIA but possibly the NSA) is using him as their ‘asset’ to attract other big fish into their net. There are other organisations, like MI5 and Mossad, who are probably just as eager to bring him to justice and seize any Intel. he will have collected about his business partners and his rivals.”

Dr Berkley was shaking her head emphatically, saying, “NO, that’s not possible!!”

Ignoring her denial, he warned her grimly, “If that means abducting La Grenouille’s daughter or threatening her life, TPTB will have no compunction in using her as a bargaining chip.”

The rational part of Helen Berkley’s brain knew on some level that the federal agent was right, but the fiercely maternal and utterly irrational portion of her brain refused to listen to it or more importantly listen to Tony. The emotional portion of her brain was terrified (and with good reason) that Jeanne would blame her for keeping such a massive secret all these years. Her daughter would feel betrayed, angry and hurt (and with good reason). She couldn’t let that happen.

“No, I forbid you to tell Jeanne about Rene. Trust me, no good will come of it. She will blame you – she won’t believe that you have only just discovered who her father is. It will destroy your relationship.” She warned him, bleakly.

Tony grimaced. “I’m aware of the real possibility of that occurring, Dr Berkley but equally, I refuse to lie to her now that I know the truth.”

He paused. “Me lying to her would unquestionably destroy our relationship…maybe not now but it would eventually come out because it always does in the end. Even if she never found out – I would despise myself for keeping it from her.”

He shook his head decidedly before lifting his eyes and making eye contact with her. Helen was overwhelmed by the depth of sorrow in those mesmerising eyes of his.

“I’m not about to run the risk of that happening. Jeanne is an adult, a doctor. She tells people that they have terminal illnesses – yes this is terrible news, but she IS TOUGH. And if the worst should happen and she decided to end our relationship, embryonic as it still is, then it must be her choice.”

Tony closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing, “At least I’ll know that I was honest with her and she didn’t leave me because of my lies and deceit. I’ll have done everything I can, and I’ll have no regrets.”

Helen opened her mouth to try to talk him around and barely managed to get out a pathetic, “But if she knows…” before he ploughed right on, over the top of her with his implacable determination to do right at all costs.

“Besides, if telling her is what I have to do to keep her safe then I will sacrifice my relationship with her because I love her” he declared sadly but with no small amount of wonder. If I’ve sworn an oath to serve and protect the innocent, even at the cost of my own life, how can you expect me to do less for someone who I know? Someone that I admire and love.”

Tony frowned at Helen. “Of course, I’d prefer it doesn’t ruin what we have together – the life we hoped to create. Yet I refuse to stand by and see Jeanne end up as collateral damage because you wanted to protect her. Better she is hurt emotionally and still alive because alive she can heal.”

Grasping at straws, Helen snarled, “This is Rene’s fault. He can fix this!”

Tony chuckled sardonically at her comment and murmured somewhat cryptically, “Rule # 45.”

Which didn’t make any sense to Helen. What the devil was Rule #45, anyway?

Oblivious to her confusion he shook his head, emphatically. “Nope, not a good idea, Dr Berkley. La Grenouille is currently being controlled by one of our Intelligence agencies and they won’t let him just drop everything and come racing over to DC to attend to the family business.”

Helen looked at him bemused. “Rene Benoit working with the likes of the CIA? That is impossible, Anthony. Rene was always a lone wolf – he didn’t trust anyone enough to work with them.”

“No, I don’t mean he is working with them, Dr Berkley. I said he was being controlled by them – it is my strong suspicion that he is working FOR them. He is little more than a criminal informant – what is euphemistically known in our business as an asset,” he explained.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Look, I’m not saying that he wouldn’t kill a business rival without blinking an eye, Anthony. I’m pretty sure he would and has, but ratting them out? Rene would never sell out his rivals to the authorities – that would be a stupid move – not to mention dangerous for himself…”

“And for anyone associated with him, like his daughter or his ex-wife.” Tony finished grimly.

Ignoring his warning she continued, desperate to stop him at all cost. “I loathe Rene with every fibre of my being, but you are wrong about him. He was far too wily to end up working for the likes of the CIA.”

The NCIS agent sighed patronisingly. “If I had a dollar for every time a criminal who I’ve arrested had taunted me that they were too smart to get caught and then ended up in jail, my bank balance would be a lot bigger than it is, Helen. All criminals slip up sooner or later and if they aren’t arrested, then it will be a rival that will kill them and take over their business or territory. It’s merely a matter of time and with all due respect, La Grenouille is no different to every other criminal and scum bag – in the end, they all get cocky and that leads to sloppiness.

Helen was sure he genuinely believed that but still, he didn’t know Rene – not like she did. The man although extremely charismatic and charming, god damn him, was also crazy as a snake; paranoid to the point of psychopathology. She simply couldn’t believe that he would leave any evidence lying around that would trip him up and make him vulnerable to the type of situation Anthony had laid out for her.

She decided not to argue with the federal agent since he believed what he was saying and had the best intentions in the world – protecting Jeanne. The problem was that he was wrong about Rene and he was wrong about the need to tell Jeanne the secret she had been keeping. He jokingly called it her MOAS and she’d looked askance at him, not familiar with that term. Berkley assumed it was cop speak but he’d chuckled and explained that it stood for ‘Mother of All Secrets’ and was a phrase he’d borrowed from a friend of his – a forensic scientist who was also a cross between a Goth and Pollyanna Whittier mainlining caffeine. That image made her head pound as she tried to envisage what such a woman would be like.

So, the doctor let him think she had acquiesced about telling Jeanne about her father, to keep Tony happy. After they ate their breakfast (which was surprisingly delicious) they parted ways quite cordially. Anthony to go home and have a nebuliser treatment before he headed into work and her to her suite at the Adam’s House for a cup of strong black coffee. For some reason she hadn’t felt comfortable ordering it at Dr Mitchell’s healthy eating establishment, feeling perhaps the weight of caffeine shaming from her fellow diners.

Then had come the disastrous call to Rene. After their acrimonious divorce (well acrimonious on her part, Rene had been completely civilised about it) he had given her a number to contact her on that was his super-secret private telephone line. He’d pledged to be available 24/7 via this number should she or Jeanne ever need him to be. Rene was a monster, but she totally believed him when he made this promised to them both and Helen still did. She’d honestly believed that he could deal with this threat to Jeanne -after all, he no more wanted Jeanne to know how he made a living than she did. So, let him come and clean up his own mess.

Now, sitting here after her disastrous phone call to Rene, or her not call to Rene, she was forced to re-examine her assumptions. His failure to come to the phone, despite him promising to do just that, made it that clear that Anthony had called it correctly. Her ex-husband was now cooperating with someone who had been able to threaten him with spending the rest of his life in jail and or the death penalty. That meant as Tony had pointed out, he couldn’t help them clean up this mess with NCIS. Nor would he be able to protect her from anyone else who decided Jeanne could give them entre to Rene or his despicable business enterprise.

The question was, had she tipped off whoever was now pulling Rene’s strings and placed Jeanne in more jeopardy. Reluctantly, she picked up the phone and called Agent DiNozzo.

~oO0Oo~

Tony was riding shotgun in the black Ford van they’d requisitioned from NCIS’ motor pool with Ziva driving. His heart was still in his mouth every time the crazy Israeli drove. She claimed her atrocious driving was the result of her learning to drive in a war zone where improvised explosive devices on the West bank of Gaza were a common fact of life. Tony thought that was a crock of horse shit. Ziva was a Kidon trained assassin and Mossad spy – trained to fit in and not draw attention to herself.

When going after a target or spying, it was imperative to blend into the background not stick out like a sore thumb. Her style of driving most definitely drew attention to herself – so horse shit!

The whole crazy foreigner routine, the erratic and illegal driving and her mangling of the English language were likely, just an act to hide what she was really up to. Case in point – her half- brother Ari spoke impeccable English, so he doubted that she could be so appallingly bad since she was a trained officer of Mossad. The real question in his mind was what exactly was it that Ziva wished to cover up?

Tony had never bought the whole excuse that she had joined their team because she wished to escape her father’s clutches. If that was the case, why did she constantly inform everyone about the merits of Mossad’s methods of doing everything over NCIS or the US? In this instance, Tony believed that she was expressing genuine sentiments, she honestly believed Mossad (and by extension, herself) was superior in every way.

After a tense breakfast with Jeanne’s mother, Helen Berkley earlier this morning, he’d barely had time to head home and take the nebuliser treatment as ordered by his interfering friend and medico before bolting into work. He’d anticipated a quiet day, tying up the loose ends of the case they’d cracked the day before – thanks to Winona Johns.

Instead of a day full of paperwork and cold cases, Ziva had received a tip-off from Mossad about an Israeli arms dealer code-named Goliath that they wished to ‘question’ who was in DC. NCIS… well specifically the MCRT, had offered to help with a sting to find out exactly what he was up to.

So, Tony had found himself on his way to abduct Goliath with the able assistance of the Mossad officer. How very James Bond. As they were approaching the outskirts of their position, his personal phone rang silently. Looking at the caller ID, he realised that Jeanne’s mother was calling him, even though he’d left her less than two and a half hours ago. Since Gibbs and McGee were still at least ten minutes away from their position, he decided that he’d better take the call.

Glancing sideways at his companion who was trying just a little too hard to look disinterested, he answered with an intentionally oblique, greeting. “Hello, Doctor. What’s up?”

Keeping his expression deliberately impassive he listened as Helen confessed to using her emergency contact number for Rene, likely raising suspicious in those who had acquired him as an asset. She told him that she had spoken to someone who called himself Trent Kort, who professed to be his assistant and he’d refused to let her speak to Jeanne’s father.

Knowing that this was a complication he didn’t need just before they set out to capture Goliath, he responded guardedly, ever mindful that his partner was a spy and would be listening. “I see. Look I can’t talk to you right now. I’ll get back to you as soon as I reach the office.” He chuckled, hoping that it sounded real. “Yeah, baddies to catch, you know how it is.”

He hung up, extremely pissed off at Helen Berkley for complicating an already complex situation. If only she’d just listened to him – after all, he wasn’t a newbie at this stuff. How would she like it if he ignored her knowledge and experience because he ignorantly believed he knew better than she did about something medical?

Sighing ever so slightly, he slipped his phone back inside his pocket.

Chapter Seventeen

Tony smirked. McGee had been late getting back from a ‘medical appointment’ and so Gibbs and Probie were late getting into position. The Boss would skin him alive later, he’d take him and bust his ass on the mats but for now, he was in too much of a hurry trying to make it to their position to support Tony and Ziva. He could only imagine the car ride that McGee was experiencing right about now – he’d be lucky not to have crapped his tightie-whities before they arrived.

He wouldn’t be surprised if the medical appointment had been Timmy’s moonlighting at Munroe University Hospital trying to seduce Jeanne. Talk about doomed to failure from the get-go. Perhaps if he’d been dumb-enough to keep saying no to Jeanne, then Probie might have stood a chance with her but not now they were a couple. Jeanne was the last person on the planet who would have an affair with ‘the computer guy’ and risk hurting him since she knew from personal experience how much it hurt.

Both Ziva and himself were clad in black leather jackets and gloves, their black balaclavas ready to be donned during the takedown. They scanned the DC streetscape waiting for Goliath to emerge from the Far East Diamond Company. To kill time, they were imagining all the ways Jethro Gibbs would make McGee pay (cry) for committing the ultimate crime of being late.

“Take away his chair for a week.” Tony predicted.

“Take away his computer for a week,” Ziva countered.

Tony chuckled. “How ‘bout take away his computer and his office chair for a week.”

Ziva not to be outdone, suggested, “Hack his computer and trash all his highest records as the Elf Lord.”

“Good one, Zee. Hack his avatar, post a picture of a Smurf and mess with his backstory so he’s the illegitimate son of Evil Smurf.” Tony was mildly amused by her sniggering at that one.

“And so, if Evil Smurf is his father, who is his mother?”

Tony considered it briefly, like a millisecond before replying, “Stewardess Barbie.”

Ziva’s dark brown almost black eyes gleamed with mirth.

“Or My Little Pony.” She chuckled.

“Or Special Agent MacGregor.”

“But he’s male, he can’t be the Elf Lord’s mother.” Ziva objected

“Haven’t you heard of mpreg, Ziva?”

She shook her head. “I have not heard of this word. What does it mean?”

“Male pregnancy, Zeevah. It is a commonly used trope in some sci-fi and AU fandoms.”

“What? Men cannot have babies!”

“Well, Smurfs, evil or otherwise and Airline Barbie aren’t real either, my Israeli Ninja. It’s all make-believe, so why can’t Agent McGregor have a baby Elf Lord?”

Ziva was quiet for almost a minute, looking like her head hurt from the existential issues he’d raised. “Eventually, she replied, “Fine, Gibbs changes his profile, so his father is Evil Smurf and his mother is Agent MacGregor.”

Tony continued with a fresh suggestion about how Gibbs would make McGee pay for being late. “Kick his butt so bad he can’t sit down for a fortnight.”

“Order me to kick his butt so he can’t sit down for a month.”

“Make him scrub the men’s head with his toothbrush and then brush his teeth with it,” Tony suggested.

She made a moue of distaste at that one. “That is quite gross, DiNozzo.” Changing the subject, she eyed him casually. “I wonder why he had a medical appointment. Do you think he is unwell?”

He wondered if this was Ziva fishing to see if he knew what Tim was up to. Duh, of course it was! The real question – was she fishing to find out if he knew anything and report it to Jenny or maybe Gibbs (was McGee wrong about the Boss being read in on La Grenouille op) or did she not know what was going on?

Tony shrugged. “Beats me, Zeevah.”

She smirked and asked coyly, “Was that a request, Tony. I do not believe we have time for a little S&L punishment,”

Tony looked at her like she was a pile of dogshit on his expensive Italian leather boots but didn’t take her bait, nor correct her dumbass error either.

Looking angry not to have gotten a rise out of him, she turned to other topics. “Speaking of doctors, were we not? Are you quite well, Tony? It is not every day that a doctor rings you up to chat when you are on a case.

Tony had been expecting her to interrogate him – he was surprised that Ziva had waited as long as she did. She wasn’t usually known for her subtlety or her patience for that matter. He shrugged, “Nothing too serious, just some results from routine blood tests I had a couple of days ago. My iron levels are a little low,” he told her teasingly.

She snorted. “Why do you have two cell phones? This is new this is it not? I have read about this for patients on transplant lists, do you need a new kidney or liver?”

Tony chuckled.

Suddenly Ziva hissed, “There is Goliath. Let us go.”

It was obvious that Gibbs and McGee weren’t going to be able to provide backup since they weren’t in location. It was down to them to execute their plan, the first part relying heavily on Gibbs Rule # 27 which was – there are two ways to follow someone. The first way – they never notice you; the second way – they only notice you. For their purposes today, the second way was what they would be doing.

Ziva, having swapped and now riding shotgun, rolled down the tinted window of the van and used a camera with a telephoto lens on it that cried out ‘look at me’ to snap some shots of Goliath as he emerged from the Far East Diamond Company. He bought himself a newspaper and looking around, noticed the van and began walking away. Tony switched on the ignition as Ziva drew her weapon – well one of them.

Goliath continued down the sidewalk, checking on the van over his shoulder. Tony pulled out onto the road, keeping pace with him, as he ducked out of sight around a corner. The van passed him, and he picked up his speed, heading into an alleyway. Goliath heard the screech of the tyres and began running in earnest, trying to evade them as the van reversed, turning and accelerating down the alley behind him. Their target turned yet another corner, running down an alley which fortuitously, was blocked by a fence at the far end.

The van screeched to a violent stop and Ziva asked, “Are we good to depart?”

Tony threw the van into neutral and he engaged the handbrake before responding as he slipped the black woollen balaclava over his head, “All set.”

Exiting the van, the senior field agent dutifully corrected her mashing of the latest idiom. “It’s good to go, Ziva.”

Grunting as they picked up the pace, she protested, “That is what I said.”

Rolling his eyes at her apparent obtuseness, Tony felt he’d paid adequate lip service to her little game of dumb foreigner and turned his attention to their prey who was attempting to escape over the fence. Grasping hold of him they pulled him off the fence, swiftly restraining him and dragging him none too gently back to the van. There they threw a black hood over his head and chucked him into the back of the van, piling in behind him. Tony pinned him down as Ziva expertly injected a quick acting sedative into his neck and he ceased struggling.

They gained their seats and shed their balaclavas with the intention of moving out ASAP before someone called the cops and complicated their op. Tony couldn’t help but be impressed and just a little creeped out at the speed and efficiency with which Ziva had administered the sedative.

Clearly, she’d had a great deal of practice.

By the time Goliath came around, he was already loaded on the SECNAV’s private jet which they had borrowed to carry out their sting. Tony and Gibbs proceeded to scare the crap out of the Israeli, who immediately assumed they were with the CIA, but they denied that telling him they are couriers for their Israeli friends. Ziva then made a dramatic entrance into the cabin of the plane from the cockpit. She walked up to the Israeli and slapped him forcefully across the face. In Hebrew, she greeted him with, “You are a traitor to our country and our people.”

Also replying in Hebrew, he told her “I never sell weapons to Hamas or Hezbollah!”

She grabbed him by his coat, pulling him close in her predatory manner. Ziva switched back into English, hissing at him, “You sell to people who do.”

Letting him go, he fell back gracelessly into the seat. They continued psyching him out, letting him think they were CIA or a sister agency

Playing further mind games with her fellow Israel, Ziva informed Gibbs and himself that they’re awaiting clearance to take off and that they’ll only be on the ground for a few minutes in Zaire since it’s too dangerous to stay any longer.

Goliath nearly shit his pants at that point, interjecting “Zaire? You’re taking me to Zaire?”

They told him that the army wanted to discuss the poor quality of the RPGs he’d sold them.

Tony told him, “I believe the President of Zaire himself is eager to discuss how you stiffed him.”

Ziva smiled what she called her Mona Lisa smile but in Tony’s humble opinion it wasn’t enigmatic – it was downright scary. She stated, “He, in turn, has some information Mossad needs.”

“And we owe Mossad a little favour because they told us you were in DC, and so here we are. We deliver you to Zaire, the President gives the Israelis whatever information they want, and everyone is happy.”

“Well, not everyone,” Ziva noted, with a pitiless glance at Goliath.

At first, the arms dealer tried to bribe them into letting him go free by offering them his diamonds, but they quickly convinced him they’d already confiscated his diamonds to pay for chartering the plain to Zaire since they were after Intel. That’s when he offered up the Intel. he had on the Navy’s encrypted satellite system, Ares. It was up for sale and he claimed to know who the other bidders were.

According to Goliath, Charles Andrew Harrow was a 68-year-old civilian encryption specialist (formerly employed by the Department of Defence) who was selling Ares, the top-secret naval satellite system. The Ares system had been the biggest project he’d worked on in his career and their Israeli arms dealer speculated that he must have stolen the specs sometime prior to his retirement three years ago.

After turning Goliath over to the Israel embassy they’d returned to the office. McGee had been cross-checking Harrow’s recent phone calls against known arms-dealers but hadn’t gotten any hits yet, so Tony ducked away to call Berkley back.

He’d told her he probably would need to work tonight so he wouldn’t be able to talk to Jeanne about La Grenouille. That delay had made Helen quite happy as she really didn’t want to break the news to Jeanne. Meanwhile, Tony was concerned that Berkley may have stirred up a hornet nest with her phone call to the person who Tony theorised was Benoit’s handler – someone called Trent Kort. So, he recommended that Helen stay with Jeanne or else convince Jeanne to stay with her in her suite at the Adams House until they could fill her in on the situation.

With him away from his desk, albeit for a five- minute conversation, Gibbs decided to pick up Harrow for questioning. When he returned to the squad room it fell to Tony, in McGee’s absence, to upload Goliath’s file into the NCIS database. When a name popped up on the list of bidders for Ares, Trent Kort (the same guy that Helen had been talking to earlier today) Tony needed to use all his undercover skills not to react. Although Gibbs must have seen him flinch or something though because he asked him outright if he knew him.

Tony was careful not to lie to Gibbs, the guy could spot a liar a mile away. Aside from which, Tony was a professional and he was working on a case – even if it was because Mossad had requested their assistance. Still, he wouldn’t obstruct an ongoing investigation or impede a matter of national security.

Shrugging he said, “I’ve heard his name recently.”

Gibbs cocked his head and fixed him with a stare that was reminiscent of Gibbs of old, “Yeah. When was that?”

Tony thought about it, “Think it was from one of my sources.” Well, that was true enough – Helen Berkley was one of his sources – just not an official one.

“That right? And what exactly did ya hear, DiNozzo?” Gibbs demanded, watching him closely for signs of deceit.

“That he was reputed to be the new 2IC of an international arms dealer known as La Grenouille,” Tony answered being completely honest. It was speculation that Kort was his handler and that Benoit had been turned and he wasn’t obliged at this stage to reveal his unproven theories. Not yet.

Gibbs grunted, looking unconvinced. “What information does Goliath have on him?”

“Bio’s thin, Trent Thomas Kort, 37 years old, British national, believed to have recently joined La Grenouille, an international arms dealer fronting corporations in Paris, Nairobi, Cape Town.” Tony read the data that Goliath had provided. Smirking at the picture of the weaselly looking guy with the beady eyes he observed glibly, “Nice Hawaiian shirt!”

Not surprisingly, that flippancy earned him a head slap from Gibbs and Tony realised with a huff that Jeanne was right about them. They were getting old or was it just that he was getting too old to receive them?

Ziva and McGee arrived back with the former Department of Defence encryption specialist in custody, who, instead of appearing nervous, was looking rather smug. Seeing he was staring down the barrel of a bunch of charges, the most serious of which was treason which if convicted, carried a mandatory penalty of death, Tony thought he was looking way too chipper. Plus, he was refusing to talk, insisting that he be permitted to make a call before he could talk about the upcoming sale of his Greek villa.

Gibbs was pissed off with him and ordered that he couldn’t make his call since he was a traitor. Harrow didn’t exactly exude an air of being a tough badass spy and Gibbs evidently thought the 68-year-old cryptologist would eventually crack if they left him in the interrogation room to stew. Ziva was keen to try her brand of persuasion, but Gibbs obviously had decided that the Navy’s top-secret satellite topped Mossad’s interest in Goliath or else he was marking his territory.

When Harrow finally decided to talk to Gibbs, the rest of the team and Jenny had crowded into the observation area. When the Boss had informed the director that they had taken Charles Harrow into custody on suspicion of selling stolen classified information she’d gone ballistic. Although not until after McGee had gone racing up to her office to hand her a list of the bidders who were trying to obtain Ares.

Tony figured that Goliath or Rose O’Leary whose code name was The Black Rose wasn’t the reason why she was so frantic. McGee hadn’t exaggerated about how desperate she was to get Rene Benoit, she was furious when she’d learnt that they’d picked up Harrow. Obviously, she’d seen him as a way of finally getting La Grenouille with his hands in the cookie jar and Gibbs had ruined it.

As Gibbs made his way into Interview Room 1, his attitude was pure arrogance, sensing he had the upper hand and Harrow was about to start talking. Sitting down opposite the older man he gave a shark-like grin.

“Hear ya ready to talk, Harrow.” He said.

Harrow shrugged. “Time is not infinite. I need to sell my villa.” Tossing a plain white card (the size of a business card) with only a series of numbers on the table, “That number will put you in contact with the director of the CIA, Agent Gibbs. I will need his authorisation before I say another word.”

Gibbs looked pissed and in the observation room, the tension that had been evident a moment before dissipated like someone had pricked a balloon.

Ziva looked between her teammates and Jenny and asked, “What just happened? Gibbs looks like someone kicked his guppy.”

McGee corrected her, “Kicked his puppy, not his guppy, Ziva.”

Ziva huffed. “Puppy, guppy – I fail to see the difference. Are they not both pets that should not be kicked?” she argued pugnaciously.

Jenny wasn’t amused, yelling, “Enough you two. What just happened is that this is a CIA set up and we have egg all over our faces.”

Ziva looked over at Tony inquiringly, who said, “We just messed up a CIA operation – Harrow is working with the CIA.

Jenny scowled, “And I’m going to be spending a lot of time mending fences,” she predicted grimly. She looked over at Tim. “Has bidding for Ares ended, Agent McGee.”

He checked out his laptop and nodded. “Yes, it has, Director.”

Frowning at him, she pressed impatiently, “And? Who won the bid, McGee?” She barked, sounding a lot like Gibbs on a tear.

Looking harried, he stuttered in the face of anger. “La Grenouille won it, with a bid of $20 million dollars US.”

“God Damn it!” Shepard yelled, storming out of the observation area, slamming the door in her wake.

McGee and Ziva exchanged an expressive look before Ziva noted. “I think Jenny is blowing her back.”

Tony rolled his eyes but refrained from correcting her. McGee had no such compunction though. “Stack, Ziva. You blow your stack, not your back.”

She went to say something, but Gibbs burst through the doorway looking extremely pissed off. “Where’s Jenn…the Director,” he barked at them.

Tony shrugged, “She left when she found out about the CIA involvement.

Cursing Gibbs turned on his heel without further comment and the three agents looked at each other and shrugged, since there wasn’t anything to be said, before heading back to the bullpen.

As they headed to the elevator McGee said, What I don’t get is why Harrow didn’t tell us as soon as we picked him up that he was working for the CIA?”

Tony chuckled cynically. “He waited until after the bidding for Ares oops…my bad, the Greek villa closed. He didn’t want anything to stop the sale going through.”

~oO0Oo~

Jenny was thrumming with fury, her hands clenched so tightly that her fingernails dug into the fleshy part of her palms, but she was too angry to notice. She clenched her jaw so hard she was probably in danger of breaking a tooth. Jenn couldn’t believe it – she had been so damned close to capturing La Grenouille. Now she was sitting in the dark up the back of the multiple threat assessment centre (MTAC) staring at various photographs of Benoit and other arms dealers that Goliath had given them in return for not sending him to Zaire. Of course, that agreement didn’t mean that Israel wouldn’t send him back there since Mossad hadn’t made any agreements with him, the stupid idiot.

Having gotten off the phone with CIA Director Robertson, Jenny was extremely angry. She was so close to getting Benoit – she could practically taste the sweet vengeance that she’d craved for years. All her efforts at rising through the ranks at NCIS had been for the sole purpose of being able to take La Grenouille down – to wipe him off the face of the earth.

She dreamed about it at night, when she went to sleep. Fantasizing about how when he realised that he was going to die at the hands of the daughter of the man he’d murdered so callously, Benoit would beg piteously for his worthless, miserable life. How he would sob and piss himself in terror and self-pity when he realised that vengeance was her.

Trying to resurrect something out of the complete FUBAR that Gibbs’ team and Mossad had made of her plans, she suggested to the director of the CIA that since they’d fucked up, NCIS should be the ones to accompany Harrow to Aéroport de Sherbrooke in south-eastern Quebec to make the exchange and arrest La Grenouille.

Granted, she didn’t want to arrest him, she wanted to kill the fucker, painfully with malice aforethought but it was made much more difficult because of the spotlight that had been shone on him by this whole damned sting. Though, she’d still held out a fragile hope that perhaps if she was there when he bought Ares and he was stupid enough to resist arrest or try to flee, she would have an excuse to shoot him.

Unfortunately, the CIA director had refused her offer of assistance, explaining that they wanted La Grenouille to get away so he could pass the radar system on to Iran because Harrow had installed a Trojan horse program on Ares. When the Iranians acquired the top-secret naval technology and tried to use it, they’d end up targeting their own defence systems.

The CIA director gloated, “Quite a strategic advantage. Wouldn’t you say, Jenny?”

The truth was she didn’t give a damn about fucking with the Iranian’s defences. As far as Jenny was concerned, there’d always be some other piece of technology that could be booby-trapped in the hope that their Iranian enemies blew themselves up. That piece of shit, Benoit had killed her father. Colonel Jasper Shepard was a deeply moral man who had integrity and honour oozing out of every pore and he’d served his country selflessly. He deserved to have his death avenged by the United States – not the travesty of justice that had seen him labelled a traitor and a coward who died by his own hand.

She cared only that they were letting La Grenouille get away with murder.

Jethro came in as she was sitting in the dark staring at the faces of the arms dealers after Ares. The former Marine strode up the aisle to the last row of seats where she had seated herself. Plonking down beside her he handed over a cup of coffee. Taking a sip, assuming it was Gibbs’ and expecting it to taste like drain cleaner, Jenny was pleasantly surprised that it was intended for her, just the way she liked it, including the soy milk froth.

She smiled although it was more for the sake of politeness. “Thanks, Jethro.”

In the silence that followed as Jenny sipped her coffee, staring at the photos of O’Malley and Benoit, Gibbs must have detected something non-verbal in her response since she’d tamped down upon her emotions when he appeared.

How long have you known the Black Rose?” he asked.

She gave a mental sigh; Gibbs wasn’t anywhere near as subtle as he liked to think he was. “Long enough to know that I’d like her if she wasn’t an arms dealer.”

“And the Frog?”

She turned around to look at him.

“La Grenouille,” Gibbs paused before adding, “Means ‘The Frog’ in French”.

“I know what it means, Jethro. Did you forget I speak French?” she asked, noting that Jethro didn’t although he did speak Russian. Probably Ziva or McGee had supplied the translation.

“Then why don’t you call him that?” he asked in his typically irritating manner, which as his former probie she knew was his modus operandi when trying to prise information out of someone. It wasn’t going to work on her though!

“La Grenouille’ is his code name.”

“Well, I’m gonna call him Frog,” Gibbs told her facetiously. “Ribbit,” he croaked at her, trying to psyche her out. How childish could he be? Really!

Finally, he decided to stop playing games. “Ya wanna tell me what has you chasing ya tail, Jenn?

“That there might be earlier copies of Ares still be in play.” Jenny lied since she couldn’t give a damn about anything but making La Grenouille pay for what he’d done to her and her father – not to mention ruining the reputation of a damned good soldier!

“You don’t want Ares, you want him.” Gibbs nodded at a picture of La Grenouille on the big screen.

“Damn right I want him! I have been trying for a decade to bring him down!”

She stood up and stalked down to glare at the picture of Benoit. If looks could kill, she resolved, he would have died a thousand deaths by now, probably more. If only!

“So, it is personal. What did he do to you, Jenny?” Jethro prodded at her, obviously still able to read her despite them not having been intimate for years.

Giving him her haughtiest directorial glare, she told him, “You have no need to know, Special Agent Gibbs.”

Jenny watched in satisfaction as he rose and left the room. As he was almost at the door, she called to him, “Oh, and thanks for the coffee, Jethro.”

He didn’t bother turning around, simply raised his hand in acknowledgement before slipping out the door, back presumably to the bullpen.

Jenny had already informed Abby and McGee that the CIA would be picking up Harrow and Ares. She had also assured Director Robertson that NCIS would return all the computers and related equipment that had been seized during their search for Ares.

She sighed, deciding to return to her office; she could feel another one of her headaches coming on. Probably she still had some Advil in her desk drawer.

Notes:
RPGs ~ rocket propelled grenades

 



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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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