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Playing the Odds

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Tony DiNozzo checked his appearance once more in the mirror.  He wanted to look his best, even if it wasn’t really a date, at least not in the traditional sense.  Oh there would be good food, wine, and a lovely woman to share both with, but it wasn’t a romantic liaison.  It wasn’t really business either, although, Keira Petrastorsky, ‘Pete’ to friends and family, had asked him out to dinner to offer him a job. 


She’d made the same offer every few months since the first time they’d met nearly three years ago.  The private security firm she worked for, Paladin Inc., routinely handled protection details for diplomats and high ranking government officials, as well as wealthy civilians in countries plagued by violence around the world in the Middle East , Europe and South America .  The company had a good reputation, and was well known for their ability and discretion.  


When they met, Paladin Inc. had been considering accepting a government contract to provide security for American civilians working in Iraq to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed in the war.  A negotiation meeting with the Department of Defense had broken up long enough for Pete to be a witness to altercation between two Marines and a Navy Lieutenant that resulted in bloody noses, bruised egos, a sizeable dent in an embassy limo and a broken plate glass window.  The case was hardly what Tony would have called exciting, and given the circumstances, it didn’t require a lot of effort to solve.  It did, however, warrant a certain amount of diplomacy and tact, something Leroy Jethro Gibbs wasn’t well known for.  That fact had put Tony center stage as he worked to soothe feathers ruffled by both the incident and his boss. 


Tony shook his head, remembering his first meeting with Pete.  Although she was older than the women he usually went for, her looks alone had been enough to get his attention.  At just under six feet tall, she could easily look him in the eye without having to step back or look up, something he rarely encountered in a woman. She was solidly built…not fat or thin, more lean and athletic, lacking the generous endowments that usually got Tony’s attention, but still had enough curve to make her gender obvious and enticing.  Her flawless mocha skin and dark curly hair gave mute testimony to a family tree that was not as exclusively European as her surname might have suggested and offered a startling contrast to eyes as green as Tony’s.  Her voice was deeper than he’d expected, and husky.  It made him wonder if she’d ever given a thought to working a phone sex line.  She’d make a killing. 


His flirting then hadn’t bothered her.  If anything, she’d been a willing participant, playing with him even as she gave a full and accurate account of the event.  Her amusement over the entire incident was readily apparent, her colorful commentary making him chuckle.  She was without a doubt the best eyewitness he’d ever had the opportunity to interview. 


Evidently, he’d impressed her as well, because it wasn’t long after that Pete made him a job offer.  He’d politely refused, surprising himself by doing so since the offer had come not long after his two year anniversary with NCIS.  He’d refused every offer made since, but enjoyed having the opportunity to get together with Pete. By now, it was more like meeting up with an old friend than having a prospective job interview.  It was almost routine for her to offer and him to refuse. 


Tony grabbed his keys, locking his apartment door behind him.  He was glad Pete had been willing to reschedule.  Work had once again interrupted, forcing him to bow out on their meeting earlier in the week.  He was mildly amused that by referring to her as Pete and his casual, friendly tone during the call, made the conversation McGee and Ziva overheard sound like he was canceling dinner plans with a frat brother.


He shrugged his shoulders.  It was better they thought that than knew who Pete really was.  There had been enough speculation and rumor about Abby going to dinner with a head hunter and her possibly leaving, there was no need to generate the same sort of flack again.  Especially after the particularly hard head slap he’d gotten from Gibbs over ‘spreading rumors’. 


It wasn’t like McGee would honestly believe him if he’d said he’d gotten a job offer.  He’d assume Tony was exaggerating or lying, trying to get the same sort of concerned reaction or interest that thoughts of Abby leaving had garnered.  It was only a year ago McGee had come right out and said he didn’t think Tony was capable of leading his own team, never mind that was exactly what he’d done in Gibbs’ absence.  McGee didn’t know that Tony had been offered the opportunity for a team of his own---more than once.  The job Director Shepard had put before him in Spain wasn’t the first, and it likely wouldn’t be the last.  The time he’s put in with Gibbs made a lot of people curious.  Very few had lasted so long. 


Gibbs knew about some of the previous offers—at least the internal ones.  Because Tony had come right out and said so to Gibbs, the former Marine was also aware that the reason Tony hadn’t taken any of them was he hadn’t thought he was ready for the responsibility.  But then, the man had simply handed his own team over to Tony, ready or not.  And taken it back just as abruptly.  So what Tony might or might not have thought of his own abilities clearly didn’t matter much to Gibbs. 


Tony rated his own performance a solid ‘B’, using Gibbs as his yardstick.  But he knew others, measuring by different standards, thought he’d done better than that.  And a job like what Pete routinely offered was one he knew he could excel at.  She knew it too.  It was why she kept offering it.


Tony started his rental car, having not yet replaced the Mustang that had gotten blown up.  He grimaced.  Another car lost.  Paladin Inc. would have replaced it without batting an eye.   Hell, they’d have offered him a car to use for the assignment.  NCIS…he’d be lucky to get a mo-ped out of them.  Working for the government definitely had its drawbacks.


Tony pursed his lips as he thought about Pete’s past offers.  He could leave the team now if he wanted.  There really wasn’t anything to hold him to NCIS now. 


If he left, McGee would be senior.  McGee still lacked a little in instinct and experience, but he was on his way to being a capable agent.  And he was far better with technology than Tony would ever be.  Despite stumbling occasionally, McGee was gaining confidence daily in his abilities.  He might not be Gibbs’ choice for a senior field agent, but then Ziva hadn’t been Gibbs’ choice for the team either.  And she’d worked out okay. 

Ziva was well on her way to being a good investigator.  She had blossomed in the last two years.  It wasn’t like she couldn’t handle the job.  Her only real limitation with the job was her grasp of English colloquialisms.  That was hardly an issue because God knew she had the lethal skills necessary to be good back up.  And Gibbs had survived years being oblivious to and clueless about pop culture references.  Ziva could easily do the same.


He and Abby were good friends and he’d miss her, but it wasn’t like they shared all their secrets.  Tony hadn’t known she got several job offers a year, and it was a safe bet she didn’t know he did either.  She never mentioned her crazy, stalker ex-boyfriend.  And Tony didn’t tell her about Jeanne.  On a day to day basis, his presence or absence wouldn’t affect her job much.  The work load would be the same whether he was there or not.  He seriously doubted she’d have his picture on her computer screen the way she had with Gibbs’ when he left. 


It would be business as usual for Ducky.  The older man had handled Vivian leaving.  He’d dealt with Gerald not coming back smoothly enough.  Had weathered the loss of Kate better than anyone else. And other than being pissed at Gibbs, Ducky had continued as nothing happened when Tony took over the team.  He was the only one to express any real faith in Tony’s abilities.  And would probably be the only one not surprised if Tony elected to accept a position somewhere else.  


Gibbs had been the main reason Tony hadn’t accepted the job in Spain .  But the former Marine was back to his old self, up and running at 100%.  He clearly didn’t need Tony…and likely never had.  Tony didn’t bother trying to stifle the flinch that always came with that thought.  It wasn’t like there was anyone in the car to see or care. 


Tony pulled into traffic, pleased to find it a bit lighter than it had been when he got home.  He didn’t want to be late.  Pete wouldn’t really mind, but it was the principle of the thing.


Tony sighed, mind going back to his boss the way it so often did.  He thought Gibbs might eventually respect him, if not genuinely like him.  He knew that was just another foolish hope.  It had taken almost five years and Gibbs leaving for Tony to come to understand he was never going to matter to Gibbs. Not the way he wanted to.  And Gibbs’ coming back, dismissing him out of hand, made it clear he hadn’t left the team to Tony as an act of faith. No….that was simply a matter of convenience.  At that point, Tony wasn’t even sure Gibbs knew his name.  He could have just as easily left his gun and badge with McGee or Ziva. 


Knowing that had made it easy to accept Director Shepard’s offer of an undercover assignment.  At least she thought enough of him to offer him a chance to justify her faith.  Admittedly, it ended badly, but Tony didn’t regret it.  He didn’t regret not choosing Jeanne either. 


Tony grimaced, rolling his eyes at himself.  Choosing Gibbs.  Now that was something he should regret.  He’d already made that mistake before.  And here he had made it again.  He was a glutton for punishment. 


He could claim he’d chosen his dysfunctional NCIS family….but Tony tried not to make a habit of lying to himself.  And while Abby thought their being a family was a reason to stay, Tony found him wondering if it wasn’t grounds for leaving.   Wasn’t that normal?  Grow up and move out on your own?  It was how things were supposed to work.


It wasn’t like Gibbs would ever see him as more than just his senior field agent.  Not that being his senior field agent was a bad thing---but it wasn’t all Tony wanted.  And as far as Tony could tell, he was the only one who thought being ‘senior’ carried any weight.  The position didn’t afford him any perks.  Gibbs didn’t play favorites, with the possible exception of Abby, so he was just as likely to hand out a rare ‘good job’ to someone temporarily assigned to the case like Nikki Jardine as he was to Tony.  More likely, Tony thought darkly, when he considered how rarely he got any sort of recognition at all.  Not that he wanted to be congratulated all the time, or get undeserved kudos, but he did a damn good job and it would be nice to have that mentioned more than once in a blue moon.


And it would be nice if Gibbs would show even a modicum of faith in Tony’s ability.  He’d been right about the wife in their last case.  Maybe not about all the details, but at least he’d been suspicious of the right person. 


Gibbs sure as hell didn’t worry much about Tony’s well being.  No heart to hearts or encouraging words.  There was no cutting him slack after crawling out of the sewers, or killing White, dealing with the plague, Kate’s death or losing Jeanne.  It was just expected he’d suck it up and keep going. 


Hell, Gibbs had been more focused on catching a killer than on saving Tony from a life threatening fall.   Logically, Tony knew it made sense to have McGee be the one to help him.  He was Tony’s partner at the time and closer to him.  Gibbs likely couldn’t have reached him in time anyway.  But it still left Tony feeling disappointed to know he didn’t even warrant a cursory ‘you okay?’ from Gibbs later. 


Tony shook his head.  He was just being petty and selfish.  Gibbs had a grieving sister to deal with.  That call definitely should take precedence.  Especially in light of how guilty Gibbs was feeling over the way Lt. Michael Arnett had died. Not that Gibbs could have saved him, but Tony knew Gibbs would never see it that way.  That sort of single minded devotion was one of the things Tony found attractive about the other man.


And he had been supportive when Tony was being framed for murder.  Although, Tony still wasn’t sure if that was about him, or about not having one Gibbs’ agents convicted.  It wouldn’t reflect well on Gibbs if that had happened. 


Most of the time, it wasn’t like Gibbs to suddenly express concern, or interest in Tony.  As far as Gibbs knew Tony never felt as unappreciated as Abby had recently.  Gibbs likely didn’t know or didn’t care that Tony wanted some sort of meaningful acknowledgement to encourage him to stay.  That he’d actively sought out things to keep him at NCIS since Pete had made that first offer three years ago.  Or that it had gotten harder to do since Kate died.  Or that Tony woke up several times a week looking for a reason to go to the office and subject himself to the punishment of being consistently near someone he couldn’t have.  Or just how close Tony had been to accepting the job in Spain .  So why would Gibbs even think he should bother to let Tony know he was wanted? 


“Stop thinking like a spoiled brat, DiNozzo,” Tony told himself.  Or more accurately, like a lovesick teenager.  Was he really so desperate for some sign that Gibbs liked him he honestly begrudged Abby getting a dozen roses, McGee getting a cup of coffee or Ziva getting a lighter touch when it came to head slaps?  How pathetic was that? 


He wondered if having made it past the two year mark, Gibbs no longer expected him to leave.  Gibbs probably thought if Tony didn’t have enough confidence in his own ability to lead a team by now then he never would.  He might believe that he was too settled in NCIS now to seriously consider working somewhere else.  Tony snorted.  It was far more likely Gibbs didn’t think about him at all. 


Certainly no one else expected him to leave.  There hadn’t been any jokes about his warranty in years.  McGee and Ziva likely thought he couldn’t or wouldn’t work anywhere else.  Abby, no doubt, assumed loyalty would hold him in place.  Tony smiled bitterly.  He was a good dog that way.  No doubt about it.


Insult to injury was the fact that Gibbs was obviously seeing Mann now.  Tony wasn’t above being amused by the former Marine being caught between ex-wife, old girlfriend, and new girlfriend.  It was oddly satisfying to see the other man so uncomfortable.  It was definitely a first. 


Tony tried not to begrudge Gibbs the company of his choice.  It was hard though.  Not only was he jealous of Mann…something he could admit to if only to himself, he was lonely. 


Ziva and McGee had noticed Tony hadn’t been dating recently.  Jeanne made a good excuse, but she wasn’t the reason he gave up on pursuing women.  While Tony had loved her, he wasn’t in love with her.  A distinction he never understood before, but certainly appreciated now. 


If they’d been paying attention, his teammates would have noticed he’d given up on women several weeks before Gibbs left.  And once he was in charge, Tony didn’t have time to pretend to be having a social life.  No one even raised eyebrows at his long hours at the office.  Not that anyone really gave his long hours much thought any more.  Back when he’d started at NCIS people had wondered up until they realized he was on Gibbs’ team.  The man’s reputation as a demanding bastard certainly made Tony being at the office at two in the morning seem logical.  How people managed to forget his workaholic tendencies in the face of his goof-off playboy persona Tony couldn’t even begin to guess.


At least with Gibbs gone, Tony hadn’t needed to worry about misdirection.  Tony had put a lot of effort into being seen as a ladies man.  It meant no one would seriously think he harbored a secret passion for his boss.  So if he stared a little too long, seemed a bit too willing and eager, acted jealous of McGee or Kate or Ziva, stood just a bit too close…well there was obviously a good reason for it; something nicely heterosexual and manly that made sense.  As he took responsibility for the team, it was easy to let the sham fade away.  Ziva thinking his maturity was ‘new found’ was an odd sort of compliment to just how solid the illusion he’d created had been.


By the time Gibbs returned, Tony had started ‘dating’ Jeanne.  Trying to maintain that less than stellar cover it was easy to pretend to be committed to her.  It was part of being Tony DiNardo.  Juggling his job and an undercover assignment, it wasn’t like Tony had time to really pursue anything else.   He recognized there had to be a limit even if the Director didn’t.


He had enjoyed spending time with Jeanne.  If not for the ever present lie regarding who he was, what he did for a living and why he was there, Tony could have easily seen himself staying in that neat little life.  Tony DiNardo wasn’t a bad guy.  He just wasn’t Tony DiNozzo.  And Jeanne Benoit wouldn’t have been a bad choice, she just wasn’t Jethro Gibbs. 


Tony sighed softly.  He missed what she’d briefly represented.  For a time Jeanne was stability, a sense of belonging.  He liked the idea of exclusivity and the familiarity that came with it.  She gave him the feeling of being cared about and valued.  They had common interests and shared passion.  She was bright and beautiful, funny and charming, compassionate and gentle.  But he didn’t really miss her.   


If he stayed in D.C., it was unlikely he’d ever see her again since she’d made it clear she wasn’t coming back.  Tony frowned.  When had staying in D.C. become ‘if’? 


Tony pulled into the front entrance of Pete’s hotel.  Maybe this time when she made her offer he should seriously consider it instead of just dismissing it out of hand.  Assuming she even made an offer.  It was possible she’d given up on him.


Tony shrugged to himself.  He’d find out soon enough.  If there was still an offer on the table…maybe…maybe it was time he’d tell Pete he’d consider it.  He couldn’t expect her to wait forever.