Title: Shifting Currents
Fandom: NCIS/Criminal Minds
Pairings: female Tony DiNozzo/Aaron Hotchner
Warnings: mentions of sexual violence as case work; canon fuckery.
Notes: I started this before Thomas Gibson had his . . . whatever the fuck we call a grown man being able to act in a reasonable, professional manner when dealing with people he works with every day and are responsible for contributing to his fame and success. Fortunately, I got over that shit pretty quick because far be it from me to let reality, daily life, and canon from interfering in my fantasy world (that’s what other people call their head canon, FYI. People who aren’t writers or part of fandom are weird, aren’t they?). It probably helped that I still haven’t caught up with the last season and a half on Criminal Minds. Hell, I wrote a Naruto story and I haven’t seen the last . . . 500 episodes of that show so I am not bothered by this.
Further Notes: I promise I am not stealing Jilly’s idea about having Tony in charge of a Special Victim’s unit and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read De Novo by Jilly James. The idea of a female Tony who leaves the team for her own lead spot in charge of a team or taskforce like this has been in my head since . . . pretty much since Invisible War came out in 2012. Look it up and watch carefully if rape culture and victim blaming can trigger you or cause violent, incoherent rage. Jilly’s story just kind of became my letter from Alfred Wallace — if you don’t write your ideas, someone else will, and they might do a better job than you so get off your ass and give it a try.
Synopsis: Hotchner had the same kind of background as Toni; vice and violence hidden beneath money and class. Private schools and abusive fathers, trust funds and neglect. The cop from Long Island could do much worse than a prosecutor-turned-agent.
Gibbs paused as he entered the squad room, checking his watch. He hadn’t misjudged the time — which meant that DiNozzo was very early.
Despite what the junior agents thought, his SFA was nearly always in the office early. But there was a difference between her normal twenty minutes, and an hour and a half. Plus, there was already a small stack of files on the corner of her desk, and two folders on his own. Toni was efficient with paperwork, but even working smarter not harder, that was at least an hour’s worth of work.
Five minutes later, he returned to the second level. A brief conversation with security had netted the intel he needed. DiNozzo had left ten minutes after he had last night — like she had promised to — and arrived at 5:12 this morning.
Staying late or coming back before midnight meant a case, either current or cold, was nagging her. After midnight meant nightmares. But when DiNozzo rose early and came in, it was because of something personal.
“Oh, hey boss.” Yeah, that was her fake smile — too big and wide — and her cheerful tone was a shade too bright. DiNozzo was one hell of an undercover agent, but Gibbs knew her.
“With me, DiNozzo.”
“Case?” She rose on cue, retrieving her gun.
“Nope. Going for coffee.”
“Oh, well, I’ve already got —” he picked up her takeout cup and shook it. Empty. “Right boss, going for coffee.”
Gibbs bypassed the coffee cart outside the building, silencing DiNozzo’s objection with a glare. Instead, he led the way to a small diner outside the Navy Yard and claimed a booth.
“I’m not —”
“Coffee for us both, pancakes and bacon for her; two eggs, over easy, bacon, hashbrowns for me.”
Toni sighed. “What he said. You know,” she said wryly once the waitress left, “some girls like to be asked, boss.”
“You’ve been up for hours, DiNozzo; you’re no use to me running on fumes.”
“Any reason for your sudden interest in caloric intake? Unless you’re trying to tell me something?”
He waited until the coffee was poured and the waitress disappeared again. “What’s wrong, Toni?’
She fussed with her coffee, adding cream and sugar. “You pick the worst times to drop the functional mute act; you know that, right?”
Pale green eyes met his, and the cheerful mask dropped. Toni DiNozzo was a beautiful woman — maybe the most beautiful one he’d ever seen, after his girls — but her normal animation and demeanor often distracted people from looking at her. Now, her face still and solemn, she looked like someone’s Galatea; a perfect woman, carved from stone and brought to life.
That her personality was more powerful than her looks occasionally amused him.
“Cynthia told me I’m on the short list for the naval sexual violence database project.”
Gibbs took a slurp of coffee, hiding his reaction. His first thought was to pissed that someone wanted to steal his senior agent; his second was pride in her.
The third was grief at the thought of losing her.
“It’s an important project.”
She rolled her eyes. “What, creating a dedicated database of all sexual misconduct, violence and homicide cases and reports — current, solved and cold — of all naval personnel and property? Along with redesigning the reports and evidence collection procedures to make signature behaviour easier to trace? A system that will allow us to collect and correlate data to find patterns by region and base, detect serial offenders, and uncover problematic commands in the face of a growing and systemic rape culture in the military? The one that might well produce the data needed to push through changes in the current uniform code of justice? Yeah, I guess that’s mildly important.”
He ignored the sarcasm — he had years of practice — and made note of how much thought she’d put into the project. “It’s not just a supervisory position — the project lead will also be responsible for the running of a unit out of the Yard and will oversee investigations generated by the database.”
Plates were set on the table, and cups were topped up. Both agents were silent except for chewing.
“How short a list?” Gibbs asked after a few minutes.
“Henderson from Norfolk, Barrett from Rota and me.”
“Barrett would be a political appointment.”
“I’ve met EJ — she’s happy where she is. And she prefers the flashy cases — murder and terrorism.” DiNozzo pushed around the last scraps of pancake.
“You want it?”
“I don’t want Henderson to get it; he’s got his eye on the Director’s chair, and everything is about advancement for him. The project lead is a jump in rank and grade, plus it would put him in DC.” She frowned. “And I don’t want to get it just because I’m a woman.”
“Not what I asked, Toni.”
She toyed with her collar — for the third time in twenty minutes. The chain she wore around her neck was unusual for her. Toni only wore a watch and stud earrings at work. Even the St Michael’s medal she carried was tucked in her badge holder instead of worn. DiNozzo wasn’t religious, but she had a cop’s superstition.
“The potential promotion isn’t what’s bothering you. But you deserve it.”
“You’ve been ready for a long time, Toni. It’s loyalty on your side, and selfishness on mine, that’s been keeping you on the team.”
“Nothing wrong with loyalty.”
“Nope. But it shouldn’t be a shackle — or a rod.”
Toni laughed. “Did you just accuse me of self flagellation? What does that say about you as a boss?”
“Nothing kind, or untrue.” He smirked at her and pulled out his wallet. “Of course, you hold the record for working with me. What does that say about you?”
“Screw you, boss.”
“You stuck around because my memory was —”
“— shakey.” He glared when she reached for her own wallet, earning a sigh. “It’s not anymore.”
“Your people skills could use some work.”
They headed back to the yard, stopping at the coffee cart. Rather than head inside, Toni wandered over to a bench and Gibbs settled beside her.
“So what’s the real problem?”
She drew her necklace out from under her shirt. On it. . .
“He asked me to marry him.”
That wasn’t what he was expecting when he’d started prying, but it was a far more pleasant problem than some of the ones Gibbs had been worried about. “The guy you’ve been dating for almost three years? Took him long enough.”
“Not everyone meets, marries, and divorces in the same calendar year, boss.”
He probably deserved that.
“Aaron’s patient and careful.” Toni bit her lip. “It’s a nice change.”
From her asshole father, who moved from place to place, scam to scam, and wife to wife on a whim. “You shouldn’t look for your father in every man.” He almost flinched from her incredulous expression. “Yes, I’m a hypocrite. Don’t be me.”
“I have the wrong equipment to be you.” She eyed him up and down. “I also don’t shop at Sears, or cut my hair myself. In the dark. With a weed whacker.”
“Smartass.” He finished his first coffee, tossed the cup in a nearby bin, and started the second cup.
“Junkie.” Toni toyed with the ring. “Don’t bother pretending you didn’t run a background check.”
“He was your alibi when that idiot Chip tried to frame you — of course I did.”
“Slack’s face was priceless,” she chuckled.
“So was Fornell’s.” They shared a smirk.
“Then you know what the problem is.”
“You said he’s careful — I doubt he asked without thinking of what’s best for his son. How long did he wait before introducing you?”
“And three years to propose? You think this guy is working on an impulse?”
“I think the case in Iraq freaked him out a little.”
Hell, Gibbs had been a little freaked out by sending his agent into a war zone. But Jardine and DiNozzo had been back for a month. “Doubt that.”
“I can’t replace Jack’s mom.”
Exasperated, he smacked the back of her head. Ignoring her offended pout, Gibbs spoke sternly. “Stop it. You’re using excuses to cover for your own issues. Hotchner is a grown man and he knows his own mind; you aren’t the boy’s mother but he’s known you half his life and you would never try to replace her. It’s not about your father, or your job; that leaves —”
“Being married ruined her, boss. Claire Paddington was an outgoing, engaging college student with goals and ambitions once. Claire DiNozzo ended up a depressed, pill-popping alcoholic who drove herself off an incline.”
Along with her eight-year-old daughter, Gibbs reflected. Leaving her traumatized and with a father who, instead of sending her to therapy, had sent her to boarding school.
“Being married to your father ruined her,” he told Toni bluntly. “With plenty of help from herself. You aren’t your mother anymore than Aaron Hotchner is your father — or his own.”
“Pulled out all the stops on that background check, didn’t you?”
For the guy who had made the woman he loved like a daughter a little stupid? Yeah, he had. “The difference between you and Claire DiNozzo? You’ve always been able to walk away from a bad situation.”
And you would never leave a child with an abusive parent, he added mentally. Or try to kill one.
“Besides, you already know what you want.”
“Yeah? How do you figure that?”
“Other than you considering a career advancement that’ll mean a slightly more normal schedule? You wouldn’t have the ring with you if you didn’t want to wear it.”
“You ever get tired of the omnipresent thing you’ve got going on, boss?” She removed the ring — wide band, large flashing diamond — and turned it between her fingers. “What does your superpowered psychic sense tell you comes next?”
“That you’re going to put on the ring and go talk to the director about that position. And that you need to get on David and McGee for their late reports before legal comes down on us.”
“If I have to send back another report this week because Ziva mangled an idiom or switched to Hebrew. . .” Toni sighed. Decisively, she slid the ring on her left hand. “Perfect fit.”
He eyed the way the square diamond lay flush to the wide band, leaving no protrusions or points to snag on evidence gloves. “No kidding, DiNozzo. A man doesn’t spend that kind of money and time to find the perfect ring only to screw up the size.”
“I don’t know, boss; I’ve heard some horror stories from my sorority sisters.” She rose. “I’m going to see if Shepard is in yet. You coming?”
“In a minute.”
DiNozzo grinned. “Are you getting another coffee — or getting rid of the four cups you’ve already had?” She laughed at his glare. “See you in a few, boss.”
“Hey DiNozzo?” His agent — for now — turned back. “Before you go in, you might wanna put that poor bastard out of his misery.” Her smile was blinding. “Congratulations.”
He lingered on the bench, sipping his coffee and thinking about the many changes a few ounces of metal and carbon were going to bring. Part of him had seen it coming when he’d met Aaron Hotchner — intense, contained, and furious with his FBI colleagues over their treatment of his lover. Chip’s attempt to frame Toni for murder had been shut down by having an SSA as an alibi. But that had been two years ago, and Gibbs had let time — and his bout of amnesia — lull him into believing the status quo would remain.
It could be worse, the marine reminded himself. He could have lost Toni to an overseas posting, or she might have moved on after two years; Kate’s death might have triggered her flight response. Worse still, the plague or a serial killer or even a simple bullet might have taken the vivacious agent. Instead she would be promoted — and Gibbs didn’t doubt Toni would get the post — within the same building, close enough to check on and share the occasional beer and steak. And she had someone else invested in her well-being.
Hotchner had the same kind of background as Toni; vice and violence hidden beneath money and class. Private schools and abusive fathers, trust funds and neglect. Beneath Toni’s deliberately crass humour and her jeans and shoulder holster was a woman who valued substance and quality over flash; her clothes and apartment were proof of that. Hotchner dressed like what he was — a lawyer from a wealthy and conservative background — but his career spoke of a man was adaptive and open minded, and who valued justice as much as Toni.
The cop from Long Island could do much worse than a prosecutor-turned-agent.
Gibbs rose to get another coffee, making plans to stop by the lumber yard after work. He’d need some good oak for his new project.
Toni managed key, door and groceries without a disaster — barely — and headed back to the kitchen.
“Toni!” Jack Hotchner, five going on twenty-five, slid from the kitchen stool with a thud and wrapped himself around her legs. Trapped, Toni looked to the grinning blonde for aid. “A little help?”
Jessica Brooks laughed and called her nephew. “Jack, let her put down the groceries first.”
“Sorry, Toni.” Freed, she deposited the bags on the counter. “We’re colouring — do you want to help?”
“Maybe in a minute, buddy.” Toni removed her sidearm and backup, tucking them in the gun box above the fridge. Jack didn’t even blink, very familiar with this routine. “I know your dad is away —”
“He’s in Ohio — Aunt Jess helped me mark it on the map!” The boy pointed to the large wall map studded in coloured pins. “Toni, you lived in Ohio, right?”
“I went to college there, actually.”
“Go Buckeyes!” Jessica blinked in surprise, then chuckled.
“I have taught you well, young padawan.” Toni ruffled soft blonde hair. “Even though he’s away, I thought I’d make dinner — if it’s okay with your aunt?”
“Always happy to let someone else cook.”
“Do you want pasta, or fish?”
“We had mac’n’cheese for lunch!” Jack declared, returning to his colouring book. “Should the robot be green, or purple?”
“Both. Fish it is, then.” She turned from putting away the groceries to her fiance’s sister-in-law. “Salmon, new potatoes and asparagus alright with you? Or do you want to take advantage of my presence and make a break for it?”
“Salmon sounds great, actually.”
“I made the robot green, purple and orange! Wanna see?”
“Sure, buddy.” Toni leaned over the counter. “Nice. Very robotic.”
But Jack wasn’t interested in the comment on his artistic aspirations. “Daddy gave you the ring! Do you like it? I helped him pick it and we had to look at lots of rings to find the right one.”
She looked down at her hand, pressed flat on the counter and displaying two carats of radiant cut diamond in a wide filigree band, accented by a scattering of smaller stones. It was classic but not traditional, and absolutely gorgeous.
“I think you deserve ice cream for dessert as a reward for your excellent ring choosing.”
“Does Daddy get ice cream too?”
Toni turned to preheat the oven. “Oh, your dad is getting a reward, too. Don’t worry about that.” Jessica fled the room to laugh.
Later, while Jack was putting away his crayons and washing his hands, Toni asked Jessica: “He did actually tell you, right? I didn’t spring this,” she waved her hand, “on you without warning?”
“Aaron told me weeks ago,” Jessica assured her. “I told him it to stop stalling.”
“I — you’re okay with this?” She began filling plates. “I don’t want to —”
“Haley was my sister, and I still love and miss her. Aaron and Jack still love and miss her.” Jessica took the plates from her, set them on the kitchen island, and rested her hands on Toni’s shoulders. “Aaron and Haley grew apart a long time ago, Toni. They were still best friends, but Jack only delayed the inevitable. In the end, they decided that it was better for Jack to grow up with two happy parents and without the burden of being the only reason they were still married.”
“She told me,” Toni remembered. “Jack’s third birthday; they’d been divorced for almost two years and Aaron and I had been together about ten months, and I was still dealing with ending up in a committed relationship.” She smirked. “I hit on him expecting a good time, not a relationship.”
“Don’t ever tell Aaron this, but Haley shared more than a few details over the years.” Jessica wiggled her eyebrow. “You got lucky.”
“Boy, did I.”
“Haley was happy he met you.” The blonde smiled. “I know that surprises you, but they really were best friends since they were sixteen. She just wanted him to be happy, and you can understand him and what he does. Haley couldn’t, and he tried so hard to keep the ugliness he sees away from her and Jack. But you understand, because you see the same thing, and that made her happy.” She laughed. “And you make him a little crazy, which made her laugh.”
Toni glanced over at the picture on the wall. Haley Hotchner, holding a two year old Jack, beaming smile immortalized. “So she’d be okay with this?”
“If not for George Foyet,” her eyes dampened, “Haley would have dragged Aaron to a jewelry store at least six months ago. Foyet ended my sister’s life; he cost Aaron and Jack months of separation, and he did the same with you and Aaron. Don’t let him take anything else.”
“I might have the gun, but you’re the real badass, Jessica.”
She laughed softly. They could hear Jack talking to himself as he approached the kitchen. “Is this a good time to bring up house shopping?” Jack asked his aunt what was so funny while Toni gaped at her, stunned.
Aaron gazed out the plane’s window instead of focusing on his paperwork. In his defense, it was late Saturday afternoon they’d been on a case for four days, and he had a lot on his mind.
“So, you remember that question you asked the other day?”
“I seem to recall, yes.”
“You regret asking yet?”
“Not at all.”
“Even though I didn’t say yes?”
“You haven’t said no, either. There’s room for negotiation and persuasion.”
“You won’t be complaining when I get back and begin opening arguments.”
“How about a plea bargain. Yes.”
“I. . . You’ll have to clarify.”
“The answer to the original question, counsellor. It’s yes. Sí. Oui. Ja. Na’am —”
“You had to wait until I was in a different state, didn’t you? I might need to manufacture a personal emergency.”
“You’ve met me, right? I’m perverse. Still not regretting your life choices?”
“Not for a moment. I have to go solve this case, so I can get home quickly.”
“Threat or promise?”
“Definitely a promise. I love you, Toni.”
“You better, because I love you too.”
“Okay, seriously, you’ve been smiling for two days. What’s going on with you, man?”
He looked over to find his whole team watching him, even Garcia from one of the monitors. They all looked curious — except for Dave, who was smirking.
“I can’t be happy?”
Emily arched a brow. “Of course you can but, you have to admit that a four day hunt for a spree killer is an odd time to smile at random moments.”
“Look at Rossi — he knows something,” Morgan added. “C’mon, man, spill.”
Aaron eyed his old friend and mentor. “You look smug. That’s always worrying.”
“I think that you asked a question and got an answer you liked.” Dave grinned. “Jack told his Uncle Dave all about the shopping trip to find a shiny present for Daddy’s friend.”
“No.” Emily’s response was almost lost under Garcia’s excited shriek. “You didn’t?”
Aaron couldn’t contain a slow grin.
“Congratulations!” His female teammates rose and he accepted their hugs. Garcia chattered over the speaker, a blur of excited well-wishes and rambling speculation.
“Wait, you’re dating someone?”
The team gaped at Morgan. Reid spoke for all of them. “You didn’t know that? I knew that, and I find out all the personal stuff last.”
“Seriously, angel cakes, he’s been seeing the same woman for years. How did you miss the bouts of happiness? The fact that he was leaving on time on Friday nights? The use of vacation time even when Haley had Jack?” Garcia eyed the agent like she was judging him.
“I just figured he was getting some,” Morgan shrugged with a grin.
Emily pushed his shoulder. “Happy, not smug, Morgan.”
“There’s a difference?”
“Not for you.”
“When can we met your lady-love?” Garcia spoke over the team’s laughter. “Oh! Can we have a party? We should definitely have a party, a kind of nice-to-meet-you crossed with congrats-on-your-happy-news, with a little dash of thank-you-for-making-our-fearless-leader-happy.”
“Not a big blowout bash with fifty guests! Just a dinner party — cocktails and food and some discreet interrogation —”
Aaron shared an amused look with Dave. “I’ll talk to Toni, Garcia.”
“If it’s too much then I can host! Or Rossi, since he has the most space.”
“Apparently I volunteer. But she has a point,” Dave gave him a dry look. “I know you’re a private man, Aaron, but it might be nice to meet the woman before the wedding.”
“Maybe he’s worried about someone stealing her,” Morgan chimed in.
“Or scaring her off,” Reid muttered.
“I heard that, Pretty Boy.”
“If Reid hadn’t said it, I would have,” Emily told JJ, who grinned.
Aaron shook his head with a smile. “It wasn’t deliberate, but every time I thought about introducing Toni, either we got a big case, or she did. And then, after Foyet. . .”
“How’d she take that?” Dave asked when the team fell silent. “You distancing yourself.”
“It was a serious effort to stop her from making a target of herself, both to draw Foyet’s attention from Haley and Jack, and to draw him out.” And she still felt some guilt over not having done so. Aaron had asked her, the last time she’d brought it up, if she thought he would have wanted to trade one person he loved for another.
“I like her already,” Emily stated.
Aaron reached for his ringing cellphone. “You aren’t the one she’d turn gray.”
“I’m sure you’ll go a dashing silver, sir.”
He gave Garcia a stern look, even as he answered the phone. “Hey Jack. What’s up?”
<Hi Daddy! Guess what? Toni really likes her ring!>
“That’s great, buddy. Did she tell you that?”
<Uhuh. She came over and we had fish and Aunt Jess said we should get a new house. But Toni said this was our house and she didn’t want to make us move, but I said that I didn’t mind and I don’t! Should we get a bigger house? We only have three bedrooms and I know that Toni sleeps in your room and the other one is for Aunt Jess, but the house has lots of stuff and Toni needs room. You said being married means that Toni will live with us all the time.>
God bless Jessica; he’d mentioned the possibility when he spoke to her about proposing, and also mentioned that Toni would try to insist that she didn’t want to take Jack from his home. It was a lovely sentiment, but they’d only had their current place for a few months and Jack was more attached to his belongings than where they were stored.
“We’ll talk about it when I get home, buddy, but I think you’re right. What else have you done?”
<Toni stayed over — so did Aunt Jess, but she always does when you’re gone. Toni only comes when you’re home. I liked it. Oh! Daddy, today we went to Mr Ernie’s house and Toni took him lots of food for his freezer — we’re having lasagna tonight, Daddy, it’s my favorite and I got to help! We made real pasta and rolled it out and used it in the lasagna!>
“That’s great, Jack; lasagna is my favorite too, so if I don’t make it home for dinner, save me a piece, alright?”
<I promise! Daddy, do you know Mr Ernie?>
“I’ve never met him, but I know about him. He’s a friend of Toni’s.”
<Uhuh, and he was a soldier a long time ago. Daddy, he was very brave and, did you know that the army people gave him a special medal because of how brave he was? He let me hold it! But Daddy, even though it’s special, it made him a little sad. D’you know why?>
He remembered Toni’s story about Corporal Yost and his actions on Iwo Jima, and that the man’s age and grief had triggered a PTSD episode that blurred his memories; that a hero had believed he was a murderer. “Sometimes, Jack, when people do brave things, it’s because something bad happens. Mr Ernie did something very brave, yes; and the military gave him that medal for it — it’s the very highest honour any soldier can receive, did you know that?”
<No. It’s like getting an A+?>
“Like getting an A with three pluses — maybe even more.”
“Yes. But even though what he did was brave, it was wartime and a lot of people died. Mr Ernie’s friend died, and so did a lot of people he knew. And that makes him sad to think about.”
His son made a soft humming noise, thinking, and Aaron took the chance to point at the monitor, whispering, “Public records only, Garcia. Stay out of the military database.”
“Sir, yes sir!”
<Daddy, you’re very brave and you stop bad people. . . like George.> He closed his eyes, hating that whenever someone mentioned a bad man or a bad guy — Jack thought of George Foyet. That his son associated evil not with a comic book villain, but with a real person who had spoken to him, touched him. Murdered his mother. <Do you have medals? Because you’re just as brave as Mr Ernie.>
“I have a couple of medals, yes, but I keep them in my office. I can bring them home if you want to see them.”
<Yes, please, Daddy!>
“You know, Jack, Toni has several as well.” He wanted to distract Jack, before he thought to ask about why Aaron had received them; since the most recent honour he’d been given was for the events surrounding Foyet. “Including a special one from the city of Baltimore.”
“Really. Toni did something very brave, before she was even with the police, and they gave her a medal for it. She keeps it in her jewelry box, next to her badge, to remind her why she became a police officer. If you ask, she’ll let you see it.”
<I’m going to ask! Daddy, are you coming home tonight?”
“Yes, but if I’m not home before you go to bed, I’ll see you in the morning.”
<Can we have pancakes?>
“I think we can discuss the merits of pancakes, yes.” He smiled at his son’s giggle. “Be good for your Aunt and Toni, alright?”
<Aunt Jess went home; she said Toni needed practice, but I don’t know why — Toni knows how to make really good lasagna.>
Practice being with Jack, without Jessica or Aaron as a buffer. Clever. “I’ll see you soon, Jack.”
He hung up, and eyed his expectant team. Garcia was tapping away, muttering. “Lots of Ernests have received military honours over the years —”
“Medal of Honor, Garcia,” Dave interrupted. “That’s the highest honour available.”
“Yost, Corporal Ernest,” he gave her. Better than letting Garcia get creative.
“Ahah! Corporal Yost, US Marine Corp, 1st Battalion — oh, my goodness.” She looked up, saddened. “Recipient of the the Navy Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry, above and beyond the call of duty. . . at Iwo Jima, in 1945.”
“Semper Fi,” Dave murmured.
“How —?” JJ began.
“They met on a case several years ago,” Aaron explained. “Corporal Yost was recently widowed, and his children live in different states. Whenever she makes food to stock the freezer — soups, pasta sauce, casseroles — Toni delivers a few, stays for coffee or a drink. She took Jack today.”
“Good for her.” Dave stretched his legs out. “Not a bad way for an old marine to spend his days — getting food delivered by a pretty woman.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Dave.”
“Garcia,” Morgan leaned forward. “Look up civilian recipients of the Meritorious Service Medal in Baltimore.”
“As you wish, my treasure — a slightly more fun group. Checking, and crossing — I presume Toni is an abbreviation, not a birth name?”
“And make it easy for you?”
“Most common female names that can be shortened to Toni — Antonia, Antonietta, Antonella, Antonie.”
“And. . . Voila! I present exhibit A, one Antonia Clara DiNozzo. . . oh.”
Her face fell, and the team sans Dave leaned forward. “Wrong name?”
“No, but. . . on April 6, 1996, during the NCAA championships, an Ohio State female basketball player —”
“That’s where I recognize the name from,” Morgan exclaimed. “She ran point for the Buckeyes for three years.”
“Thank you, my love. During this particular culmination of the madness of March, our young athlete went for a walk in the early hours, presumably to clear her head, and came across an apartment building going up in flames.” Garcia typed again. “No cell phones back then, and no payphone nearby, so when she heard someone screaming for help. . .”
“She went in,” Emily stated.
“Indeed she did, and found a very frightened little boy named James King, trapped in his apartment. Ms King was working her third shift of the day, leaving James and his little sister alone. Toni got to the boy but. . . Amy King was unreachable. She save the boy, but couldn’t rescue his little sister.”
“Garcia, what was the cause of the fire?” Reid asked, looking thoughtful.
“Arson. Oh! Scumbag! The landlord had been dinged one too many times for violating code, and was looking at heavy fines — he hired an arsonist to set a building full of people on fire so he could collect insurance! Worse? The point of origin was in the apartment next to the Kings — which was also the residence of said scumbag’s mistress, who he also wanted to get rid of, and possibly blame for the fire.” She huffed, tapping away. “Both arsonist and landlord were arrested — but not until after the firebug set another fire and killed another person — fortunately not another child, but still!”
“Profit and concealment are the primary reasons for arson,” Reid explained. “For a fire to become so involved before the residents could evacuate indicated accelerants.”
“Gasoline, kerosene and polyurethane foam — remind me to throw away my couch, since apparently is can be used as an accelerant — jeez, our heroine had second degree burns on her hands and arms, and smoke inhalation, as did that poor boy. Oh, there’s a photo from the ceremony — look at her, she’s just a baby.”
“Twenty.” Aaron said. “She was a sophomore.”
“Brave, beautiful girl. . . oh, there was an article in the paper about six years later, when she joined the Baltimore Police Department; ‘Hero Returns to City to Serve and Protect’.” She hummed again. “Let’s see — Ohio State Alumni. . . yowza.”
“What is it, mama?”
“Proof that the boss has got game.”
“No, really, bossman. I am impressed — I mean, not that I don’t think you are very attractive and a catch and you obviously have great taste because we did meet Haley and —”
“Garcia,” he sighed.
Morgan shared an amused look with the rest of the team. “I take it you found a photo, Garcia?”
“I did indeed, updated last year. Presenting exhibit b. . . now!” A picture appeared on the open laptop. Aaron caught a glimpse of his lover’s face before the screen was blocked from view.
“Damn, Hotch.” Morgan.
“Huh. Some people could be very easy to hate.” Emily.
“I would actually kill someone for those cheekbones.” JJ.
“Good job, Aaron.” Dave.
The team all looked to Reid, who blinked and ventured, “She’s structured in a very symmetrical manner.”
Morgan sighed. “You’re killin’ me, pretty boy. Symmetrical?”
“What? Humans judge attractiveness based on facial symmetry — it’s an indicator of genetic health!”
Emily grinned. “One day, Reid, I hope you find a girl who finds that kind of compliment flattering.”
“If you’ve all finished objectifying a decorated law enforcement officer and the woman I’m marrying,” Aaron drawled.
“Not quite, el capitán . Give us another minute.”
He moved through the silent house, turning off the lights left for him. One of the hardest things to become accustomed to after the divorce was coming back to a dark and empty home. Even now, Jack was often at Jessica’s house when Aaron came home. Tonight, with clean dishes in the drying rack and signs of an evening spent in the living room — colouring books, crayons, and dvd cases scattered across the coffee table — Aaron felt. . . satisfied.
Jack was burrowed under his blanket, sleeping quietly; he watched his son for a moment before closing the door and continuing on.
In the dim light of his bedroom, a warm body was stretched out in his bed. Quietly, Aaron began undressing. This wasn’t the first time he’d come back to a sleeping Toni in his bed but it was. . . satisfying to have both his lover and son safe under the same roof.
“Stop thinking so hard and come to bed.”
He lay his shirt over the back of a chair. “Impatient.”
“I’m in your bed, wearing nothing but your ring. A little speed wouldn’t be out of place.”
Aaron paused, swallowed, and rapidly stripped. The woman always knew how to push his buttons. “Naked?”
Toni rolled onto her back, covers shifting as she casually stretched. “Well, I dabbed on a little perfume.”
He caught the duvet and tugged it down, revealing his lover in her glory. Toni shifted her left hand, ring flashing as she tapped her fingers on her stomach and shamelessly spread her legs.
She laughed as he cursed and settled over her length, pressing them skin to skin. “You are. . .”
“Shameless? Naughty?” She arched her throat into his nipping kisses. “Yours?”
“Definitely the last.” He sucked a mark on the curve of her breast, above the heart. “But also the other two.”
Mile long legs wrapped around his hips. “I guess you should take me in hand.”
“I should spank you,” he muttered. Toni laughed lowly, and scraped her nails down his back. He pinched her thigh in retaliation.
“C’mon, Agent Hotchner. You have a naked fiancée, ready and willing.” She moaned when Aaron pressed his fingertips against her clit. “I love you; now hurry up.”
That was all Toni. Thank god she’d said yes.
Monday morning started with a smile — she’d had a good weekend! — and a two congratulations cards on her desk. Ziva and Tim exchanged curious looks and baffled shrugs.
By eleven thirty, seven people had swung by her desk with well-wishes or cards and her teammates moved on from glances to interrogation.
“What’s with the —” McGee waved a hand, indicating the retreating back of Ruiz, Balboa’s senior agent, as well as the growing pile of cards.
“Excellent descriptive prose, McArticulate. Aren’t you a published author?”
“I think you are deflecting,” Ziva stated.
“Deflecting? Me?” Toni gave Ziva a sardonic look. “Nice observation of the blindingly obvious.”
“There is something going on with you. We are a team, yes? Should you not tell us?”
“Yeah, how come people we barely know are aware of whatever’s going on?”
“First — just because you barely know anyone who isn’t in Cyber or this squad room, doesn’t mean I don’t know them. Considering I am the Senior Field Agent —”
“Oh god, not again.”
She glared at her probie “ — I deal with any number of people who would either flee, weep, or shoot Gibbs if he tried to talk to them.”
“That is an exaggeration, I think.”
“Not really,” Gibbs drawled from his own desk.
“I’ve also been at the Yard longer than both of you. Plus, I know the value of contacts and networking and favours.”
“I understand networking,” McGee huffed. “But what good are mid-level HR staff or a paralegal from the Legal department? They can’t help you move up.”
Seriously? “No, McIdiot, but they can help you do your job more easily.” She looked to Gibbs, who appeared as annoyed as she felt. “You ever feel like we’ve been wasting our time training them?”
“If you two idiots can’t see what’s right in front of you, I have been wasting my time!”
Two imploring looks were shot her way, but Toni just shook her head, not interested in saving them from the boss’s temper. “Oh, no; he’s right. All these well-wishers? I’ve only told Gibbs my news — everyone else has observed, or listened.” Considering this was the thirds day she was wearing a ring in the office, the gossip must be in full swing. Toni had no sympathy for two supposedly experienced agents who didn’t know the value of scuttlebutt.
The elevator chimed, depositing three women on their floor; Abby raced ahead, boots clomping, chattering away. “Guys, guys, guys! You will not believe the crazy rumor being passed around the Yard!”
“Does this rumor include Toni?”
Abby pouted at Ziva. “You already heard?
“No, but the squad room has been humming with activity.”
“Buzzing,” Tim corrected.
The goth brightened. “You haven’t heard! Great. Are you ready? Rumour has it that Toni — our Toni — is . . . engaged! Isn’t that crazy?”
Abby and the junior agents shared grins and a laugh, which slowly petered out under Toni and Gibbs’ blank gazes.
Into the awkward silence, Cassie Yates and Nikki Jardine strolled — well, Cassie strolled, Nikki sidled in her wake — up to Toni’s desk. Jardine eyed the tableau warily; Cassie ignored it.
“Hey gorgeous,” Cassie drawled.
“Hey, hot stuff.” They hugged briefly, then the other agent gave Toni a sassy look.
“Well, well; the famous Dinozzo charm hits a homerun.”
“Congratulations, Toni,” Nikki’s hands fluttered beneath her long sleeves.
“Forget that, show me the bling.” Toni ignored the incredulous stares of her team and Abby as she offered her hand. “Damn, did he hock his car to buy that rock?”
“Cassie,” Nikki implored, but Toni just laughed.
“No, Yates, he didn’t”
“A man with money and taste. Does he have a brother?”
“One that’s far too young for you.”
“A younger man — excellent.”
“Ignore her,” Toni told the analyst.
Nikki grinned. “I always do.”
Toni laughed as Cassie huffed. “No respect.”
“We respect you, Cassie; we just know that you’re crazy.”
“She used to be such a shy, quiet thing,” Cassie said mournfully. “This is your fault, Toni.”
“Yes, Toni, it’s your fault I’m less of a timid little mouse.”
“I accept thanks in monetary and chocolate form.”
“Wait!” Abby recovered her bearings and her tongue. “Wait, wait, wait — are to kidding?” She brightened. “Oh! A prank!” The goth pouted at Toni. “You should have let me in on the prank, Toni; you know I love a good joke.”
And hated change to the point of blind obstinance. Toni exchanged a glance with Gibbs; he nodded, looking resigned.
“Not a joke or a prank, Abby.”
Her face froze, then fell. “But —” Abby’s lip firmed, going stubborn. Toni heard Nikki inhale and Cassie patted her shoulder. “But you can’t.”
McGee, as ever unable to withstand strong females in general and Abby in particular, stepped into the breech. He patted Abby gently, saying, “Don’t worry, Abs, nothing’s going to change. It’s not like Toni is going to go through with it.”
“Excuse me, McGee?”
He flinched at her glare and deadly tone, managing to stammer out, “You — you were engaged before and called it off.”
“That’s right!” Abby immediately brightened. It was a little like being stabbed. “You called it off not long after you came to NCIS!”
“You know why, Abby.” Because the man she’d cared about — the man she loved — had started making demands. You can’t join NCIS. Why don’t you just quit — it’s not like you’ll be working after we get married anyway. And, worst of all: are you going to waste your life as a cop?
She’d packed her things, left the ring, and stayed with Abby for two weeks. Of course, that was before the scientist had slowly become a caricature of herself.
“You never said why,” Nikki asked.
“He wanted to date a girl cop, but never wanted to be married to one.” Cassie and Nikki looked sympathetic; for a heartbeat, so did Ziva and Abby. Toni shoved aside the old grief and hurt and smirked. “You know what it’s like, Cassie — men either find a woman with a gun sexy, or emasculating.”
The other agent played along with a gentle shoulder squeeze and a smirk of her own. “Sometimes both.”
A lifetime of practice stopped Toni from flinching when Abby spoke up. “So it could totally happen again, right? Fifty bucks.”
McGee proclaimed that a sucker bet just as Ziva demanded, “Any why have you told them but not us?”
“I didn’t tell them, though I was planning on it.”
“Then how did they know?”
Gibbs rose from his desk and calmly smacked all three of them. “Because she’s been wearing the ring since last Thursday!” Abby, pouting and rubbing the back of her head, started to speak. “And you might as well tear up that fifty, because they’re more likely to elope than call it off!”
“There’s an idea,” Toni told Nikki. “Eloping to Hawaii for two weeks is cheaper than a wedding and less likely to result in tears or bloodshed.”
“Hell, no — if I’m going to have that much sand, I want an ocean to go along with it. Might as well go back to Iraq as Vegas — hot, expensive, and dangerous.”
Abby stamped her six-inch sole. “Gibbs, Toni can’t get married! We haven’t met him, or given our approval — you haven’t given permission! We’re a family!”
“Thirty-five year old women don’t need permission for a damned thing, Abby.”
“Enough, Abby!” Toni finally snapped. “The whole family approval and seeking a blessing from a father figure is cute and funny, if overdone, in a sitcom. In real life it’s demeaning. I don’t need legal or moral permission from a male authority figure because I’m perfectly capable of making my own choices. You haven’t met Aaron because: first, plans fall through in our line of work and second, I want to avoid subjecting him to this kind of display. Also,” she spoke over the goth’s attempt to interrupt, “maybe we are family — but families don’t always like each other.”
“But you have shown very poor taste in men before, yes?” Ziva stated.
“No one here can throw stones in that respect — unless you’d like a list of your romantic misadventures?”
“But — is this a new guy?” McGee asked. “Or the one from before? You broke up with him, right?”
“We didn’t break up, McGee, he was being stalked by a serial killer.”
“Gibbs, make her —”
“Stop!” Gibbs’ glare was volcanic. “Abby, go back to the lab. Toni, take them,” he pointed to Yates and Jardine, “to lunch — one hour. McGee, you can do the evidence logs. David, that stack of cold case files.”
“But Gibbs —”
“I do not —”
Everyone but Cassie and Toni flinched or jumped; McGee all but flew to his desk chair. Toni eyed her boss’ furious face. “Right, Nikki, you pick where we’re going. You want me to bring you something, boss?”
“No. Going for coffee.”
Gibbs waited until Toni was in the elevator before glaring at his junior agents one last time and stalking away. Once he’d made it to the coffee cart — and finished the first cup — he dug out his cell phone, squinting a little as he scrolled the contacts. The number he wanted — stolen from his senior agent’s phone more than a year ago — was near the end.
“This is Gibbs. She’s fine.” And he was sorry for the fear he’d likely caused, however briefly.
There was a short pause and a quiet exhale. <Alright. What can I do for you, Gibbs?>
“You in town?”
<Custodial interviews, consultations and paperwork all week. Why?>
“Team gave Toni a hard time today. Brought up old wounds. You know about Wendell Miller?”
<Some, yes. She doesn’t like to talk about it much.>
“Dented her ego, her heart, and demeaned her job. Brought up some of the crap her father dumped on her.”
<Always a tender spot.>
He grunted. His opinion of Anthony Dinozzo required several minutes and a lot of four letter words. “They brought that up, plus plenty more. Sent her lunch with a couple of girlfriends.”
<I see. Thank you, Gibbs.> Because Toni wouldn’t have said anything.
“Should find a way to meet the team. Might quiet them.” And end any potential rumours that the fianceè didn’t exist.
<One of my team is already planning a party. What does your week look like?>
“Off rotation next two days — court appearances. End of month in Friday, so lots of paperwork.”
Hotchner hummed a little. <Thank you, Gibbs.>
“Can’t fix it if you don’t know about it.” He hung up and went to get another coffee.
In his office, Hotch blinked once at the abrupt dial tone, then began making plans.
Toni ended her call absently, still going over the conversation she;d just had with Aaron.
“What was that?”
“Sounded like dinner plans,” Gibbs answered Ziva’s question. “Finished those files yet?”
“I have not.”
“Then stop talking a work.”
Toni eyed Gibbs. Aaron’s timing was interesting, and her boss seemed particularly satisfied. She smelled a conspiracy. “I’m going to need to get out of here at six tomorrow, boss.”
“I heard. Reservations for seven. You finish at six, change here, and head out.”
“No time to go home first. Also, the yard is halfway between Aaron and the restaurant, so he’s picking me up.” She arched a brow. “Okay?”
“Fine. Leave his name at the gate.”
“You mean you haven’t already?” she asked innocently. He glared, making her grin. “Testimony tomorrow for all of us on the Haas trial. McGee, eight AM; Ziva at ten. Coleman is prosecuting. Be on time.”
“You have told us this before, Toni,” Ziva snapped.
“Dress appropriately,” she continued, “and remember to speak English — not Hebrew, mangled American, or Geek. Also, leave any weapons other than regulation side arms at home. Do not bring anything illegal, like lockpicks. Do not commit perjury —”
“And yet, the fact that I have an itemized list indicated that these are all things that have been an issue in the past, McGeek, and Coleman has already promised to court martial the next person who does any of the above.”
“We are not military and cannot be court martialled.”
“But you can be arrested, fired, and deported,” Gibbs growled, “and it’s more likely by the minute. Toni, send them an email; both of you, read it. Especially you, Ziva; if I get called on the carpet by the Admiral one more time, I’ll put you on a plane back to Israel personally. Everyone, shut up and get back to work.”
The geek and the ninja bent their heads over their work; Toni looked at Gibbs, who smirked. She shook her head, mouthed You asshole, and dove into the endless redundancy of paperwork that the federal government required.