Chapter 1 - You know me
Tony's treacherous guts were apparently sleepy that morning. Nothing could have prepared him for what was about to happen. It was the most boring, paperwork filled, 'no-serial-marine-killer' morning ever. Naturally, Tony had to entertain himself with the little he had. And after Gibbs had grounded him to his desk because he'd spent one too many pauses at Abby's lab, this particular task required a certain evil thinking on his part. How to annoy McGeek with no preparation and no leaving his desk-for-fear-of-the-big-bad-silver-haired-wolf ? Throwing stuff at him wouldn't cut it. He was in a mood for genius. He wanted something that would take McGee, Ziva and heck, even Gibbs by surprise. He knew that even if his boss would never admit it, ol' LJ Gibbs loved his most ingenious pranks. The older man would always try to hide his little smirk behind his sacred coffee cup, but Tony just knew. He saw the amusement dancing in his eyes. Tony saw a lot of things that he kept to himself.
DiNozzo was thus pretending to fill out some paperwork to avoid suspicion when the familiar 'ding' of the elevator rang in the silence of the bullpen. Almost unconsciously, his eyes shot up to the newcomers; two suits were talking to the poor newbie whose desk was unfortunately facing the elevator. People always thought it was an information desk, poor guy.
Tony’s guts were still dormant, but two FBI agents at the MCRT's floor and no traces of Fornell? Didn't smell good. The calm of the morning suddenly didn't seem so boring anymore. Tony saw the desk agent looking up at Gibbs and his team, and the two suits following his gaze. Of course they were coming to see Gibbs’s team! Weren’t they always?
"I should probably go through my alibi for last night, huh boss?"
Tony didn't need to look at Gibbs to know that he had also spotted the two agents coming their way.
"Guilty conscience, DiNozzo ?"
The Senior Field Agent put his self-deprecating smile on and was about to remind his boss of the tendency the FBI had to accuse him of murder every time they put a foot in the building, when another "ding" from the elevator had his mouth snap shut, and his eyes turn to ice.
"Hey Boss?" He called a few seconds later, when the two FBI agents arrived by his desk.
The team leader had obviously heard the shift in his tone, because his own voice carried a worried note that only Tony could notice.
"I should really start working on my own gut thingy."
His didn’t exactly reach the right flippant tone, which brought McGee and Ziva's attention to him, but he couldn't care less if Ducky had just popped up and started hulla dancing.
"Anthony, my boy."
Damn, his voice hadn't changed. He hadn't changed. The two FBI agents immediately turned to face the man that had just spoken. He was escorted by a third suit who looked annoyed.
"I told you to wait with him downstairs, Sloan!"
Oops, third guy was in trouble. The two first agents had stridden in with all the self-confidence of two suits that had yet to meet Leroy Jethro Gibbs. The third one just shrugged. Tony couldn't help but stare at the man they had just unknowingly brought back into his world. He was taller than Tony remembered. His hair had a silver quality to them that hadn't existed when they’d first known each other. His eyes were just as piercing as ever though, and his smile… his damn, knowing, smirk of a smile, was telling him that this was no coincidence. That he had come here because he'd wanted to. Because he'd found out that Tony wasn't dead: Anthony DiNocci Jr. had been nothing but illusion.
"Hey, pops," Tony answered with the biggest, fakest smile he'd ever had to plaster on his face. He saw the flash of anger in the eyes of the man, and something relaxed inside him. He could still play that man. Even if every time he did, he feared he'd lose.
The Senior Field Agent had to bite his tongue not to apologize to that. Old habit and all that. Instead, he kept on smiling. He knew how to annoy people. Didn't Ziva say it was his specialty? She’d thought he was joking when he’d replied it was just as deadly as knowing how to kill with a paperclip, but she had obviously never crossed paths with an annoyed Carmine Achenza, also known as Father, in the famiglia. Tony glanced at his team and shook his head slowly. The Godfather would not be McGee's favourite movie anymore, by the end of this case. If case there was.
"You Agent DiNozzo?"
Suit number one asked; obviously a smart guy, that one.
"Yes, and here's Leroy Jethro Gibbs, fearless team leader whom you'd have to consult if you need anything from our lovely and yet lethal team. Please don't be shy, go, he won't bite you," Tony said with his more familiar tone. It would've been funny if his eyes were not so cautious.
He made the "go on, shoo" movement with his hands and towards Gibbs, who the suits briefly looked at before turning their attention back to Tony. He sighed. Damn, it was going to be a long day.
"I'm Agent Sticks, these are Agents Locker and Sloan. We need to talk to you. In private."
Sticks nearly jumped out of his socks when Ziva appeared out of nowhere just beside him, seemingly smelling his shoulder. The girl was a pro at being sneaky, and Tony loved to watch outsiders learn that the hard way.
"And why would you want our Senior Field Agent but not our team?" She asked with that husky voice of hers. It used to make him all tingly inside. Now he had other things in mind.
"Fascinating,” Carmine said, eyes sparkling with interest as he observed Ziva. “She must remind you of…"
"What do you want?" Tony interrupted. The older man didn't seem to mind, his eyes all shiny with amusement and his smile still so damn telling. Achenza didn't need to finish his sentence. Tony knew what he had been about to say.
"To talk. In private. We already told you that,” Locker said, finally proving he could speak too.
"Don't bother, Gibbs is the team leader, you don't talk to any of us without him there," McGee intervened, surprising Tony by just how alert and cautious he looked.
Ziva and Tim were treating the FBI agents as a threat. In a second, Gibbs was there too, standing just behind Tony.
DiNozzo could've sworn he heard his boss ordering him "at ease", and only then did he understand what was going on with his team. He was tense. He could feel his muscles ready to snap into action, his eyes never wavered from Achenza's position, and his right hand was clenched into a fist in his pocket. That’s why his team was ready to attack; his tension had them on edge. They had read him.
This time, his smile was real.
"It's need-to-know only, and neither of you do," Sticks smartly answered.
"Well then, gentlemen, let's go to my own personal office, shall we?"
Tony had obviously taken aback his two partners by complying, but Gibbs knew better than to argue. DiNozzo placed a hand on Sticks's shoulder as if they were the best of friends and began leading him toward his favourite place. He knew that totally ignoring the mere presence of Carmine would drive him mad, so he did just that. The whole group followed them. When the elevator doors were about to close, Tony glanced behind him (without interrupting the flow of words he had unleashed on the FBI agents) and locked eyes with Gibbs. The lead agent nodded, and Tony just turned back to them, giving his back to his team.
As soon as the doors closed, Gibbs spun into action.
"Already in the FBI database, boss. I have the files of the three agents here and Abby is already trying to give us an ID on the man they were escorting. I texted her when they came in," McGee added somewhat bashfully, but Gibbs didn't care and was already turning to Ziva.
"I'm going to look into Tony's old files, I have the feeling that this is connected to some old case of his, yes?"
Gibbs just nodded and went to his desk to grab his cellphone.
"Call Abby, tell her I'm on my way down, I want her to show me what's going on in interrogation room number 1 without letting them know we're watching."
"Is that even possible, McGee?" Ziva asked.
"It is… well, we're not supposed to do it but, …"
Tim's babbling was stopped by the patented Gibbs glare. "On it, boss," he said, grabbing the phone. "But er- boss? why the interrogation room?"
Gibbs was in the elevator when he looked up from his cell with a humorless smirk. "Well McGee, do you know any other office DiNozzo may have that I don't know about?"
"Well no but …" His answer was cut short by the doors closing. The two partners left in the bullpen didn't even hear the barked "Fornell, explain!" that Gibbs directed to his phone.
He hadn't even made it into the lab yet when the tall Goth jumped him.
"Gibbs Gibbs Gibbs Gibbs! What's going on? McGee told me to ID that handsome man that came in earlier but then he called me and he didn't seem to like Handsome Face there," she pointed to the screen where the picture taken by the inside camera of the NCIS building stood, "and then he said that you'd probably be pissed and that Tony had acted strange but that he resumed being his totally charming awesome self but that something was still off and here you are and … where is my caff-pow!?"
"Abbs, did you do what McGee told you?"
"Of course Gibbs, you know I always obey orders. I'm not like-"
"Abbs! Now. And I wanna hear them."
Two clicks later, they were watching NCIS interrogation room n°1.
"Weren't there supposed to be 3 Feds with them, boss-man?"
The frown on Gibbs face was answer enough, and she didn't insist, focusing instead on the streaming video and praying inside that everything was going to be okay.
"An interrogation room, Anthony? How fitting," Carmine said once his three escorts had agreed to leave him alone with the NCIS agent.
Tony had entered the room as if it was indeed his office; leaving the four visitors a few seconds to go next room and switch on the lights that showed the observation room was empty. He then pointed a finger to the camera to show that it wasn't recording (no red light). It seemed to satisfy the agents.
"Am I to believe that nobody is hacking into these cameras to watch our every move?" Carmine Achenza asked lazily, his mouth stretched in an amused twitch.
"Is that even possible?"
"Always so eager to play the fool, Anthony."
Something inside him cringed each time he heard his full first name but he knew Carmine wasn't going to call him anything else. There were no rules in this game, but it was okay, he loved to play.
"So pops, what brings you here?"
"I am not your pops, Anthony."
"No, that you are not."
Here it was. The flash of anger. Just a fleeting second, and Carmine's poker face was back. Tony knew he'd hit close to home. He had, after all, called the man Father, once upon a time.
Carmine didn't say anything, and Tony knew the man enough to understand he wasn't going to engage. Father loved to just sit silently and let people crumble to his feet and unravel their deepest secrets. Then, he'd just tap them on the cheek, as if it was nothing, as if each one of them was the prodigal son. They thought they were forgiven. They thought everything was going to be okay.
"How did you know I wasn't dead?"
"You're too smart to 'get dead'."
But Carmine Achenza never forgot. Quoting Tony's expressions was like saying “I remember everything. I know you”.
And Tony hated it. Because he knew it was true; Father was exceptionally gifted at seeing through people. Tony's undercover assignment had worked only because he used parts of his real character in his persona. He didn't just play cocky, smart-mouthed, clever or proud. He was it.
"How did you discover I wasn't dead?" Tony rephrased, seemingly unfazed by the first answer.
"You'd think I just happened to stumble over your face in the papers or on the streets, wouldn't you?"
"You don't stumble over anything."
"Told you you were smart."
Tony had voluntarily lost his playful tone. He knew Carmine would see through the bullshit. During his mission he went to bed every night convinced that someone would come "take care of him" because he'd have been made. But nobody ever did. His captain would say he was a genius. He himself thought he’d been a damn lucky fool and that it had been suicidal to keep going back every day for so long.
For a second there, he wondered if agreeing to help the Feds was also a way to fulfill a subconscious death wish. He did know it'd come bite him in the ass, eventually.
"Ah, yes. Deflecting is your specialty; I will concede this to you. But tell me, Anthony, did you really think I would just believe that you were dead? That I would stop looking?"
Tony didn't answer. The plan had been to keep moving every two years just like he'd used to. How could he have known that he'd find Gibbs, Abby and Ducky to anchor him at NCIS?
"Wise answer," Carmine resumed after a few seconds of silence. "We grieved. We cried for you."
"You don't cry, Father."
The last word had slipped out of his lips involuntarily. And as soon as it did, he knew he wouldn't dare look into Gibbs's eyes when his boss would try to talk to him about it. And Gibbs would.
Tony was good enough to show sarcasm by the end of his sentence, making his slip of the tongue a voluntary jab.
Tony couldn't not ask, and he knew he had to make small talk before going for the kill anyway. However, he didn't like the satisfaction that dawned on Achenza's face. That's when his gut started churning. Well hello there, long time no see.
"She is fine. She has grown into quite the beautiful woman, if I might say so myself. We are really proud of her."
Tony knew Carmine wanted him to ask why. And he wanted to. But he couldn't afford being led in.
"Still have a picture of her brother Tonio in her old bedroom," Achenza added.
Damn the power of Father's smirk. He knew he shouldn't feel guilty about betraying a 15 year-old girl. He knew it was probably not healthy to have a picture of her -an assignment- in an old wallet.
"Why are you here?"
"Didn't you hear your FBI friends? They need me. Information and all that. You know how it is."
"Didn't know you for a rat."
"Come now, Anthony. You know how I am, don't you?"
And Tony knew the question was deeper than it seemed. Tony knew Carmine had taken a liking to him from the start. He remembered their long conversations. Carmine telling him that they were alike. Carmine claiming that he understood Tony and that he knew Tony understood him.
Those words had haunted the NCIS agent longer than he'd care to admit.
It was weird how in a way Tony could still read the eyes that were locked on him. How he could sense that whatever happened, Carmine still thought every word he’d said more than nine years earlier.
"You made a deal with them just so you could use them in return." Tony said. He had known from the second he had seen Father.
"You know me", Carmine repeated, shrugging.
"Boss, the whole case seems pretty normal procedure," McGee started when both Tony and Carmine stopped talking for a while. McGee kept peeking at the screen, surprised to see them so comfortable in their silence. He wasn't used to seeing Tony like that.
"Focus, McGee!" Abby exclaimed.
She was holding Bert, her farting hippo, tightly against her chest. Having watched the whole conversation, she knew something was hinky with that man. The tension in the room they observed could practically be seen on video, and yet the duo worked like a well-oiled machine.
"This is not my Tony up there McGee, and you better tell me why!" She added, squeezing Bert harder.
McGee tried to ignore the sound the stuffed animal made before going on.
"The FBI operation involving Carmine Achenza is pretty simple. They'd wanted him for years, since he's the head of one of the biggest Mafia Famiglias of Baltimore. Runs half of the town criminals and almost all the officials there. I don't really get it. Everyone knows the man is mafia, yet every official in the city battles for the seat next to his in Church."
"Well McObvious, I'm disappointed. How does that not remind you of… well, every Mafia movie ever made? Al Pacino was even named Commander of a religious Order, for the Movie God's sake!"
McGee nearly fell back on his bottom when Tony spoke just behind his ear. When the hell had he come down there? The Senior Field Agent went on with a mocking smile.
"Well, it's not exactly like the Godfather either. I mean, they don't even call Carmine Godfather. He is "Father" to them. He loves it."
"Want to tell us something, DiNozzo ?"
Gibbs was always straight to the point with his agents, but truth was, even if he didn't let on, he was damn glad his oldest Agent could make jokes like that. He did not like what he'd seen on Abby's screen. He could feel that something was wrong. He could feel the pull the man had on DiNozzo and yet he noticed the spite in Tony's eyes. Exactly like when he used to talk about his father, DiNozzo Sr.
"Not really the time, boss. Don't wanna let this one go yet. Just know that this is Carmine Achenza - as Abbs babies would have already told you," he added with a wink to the forensic genius, "when I was with the Baltimore PD, I was sent undercover to infiltrate his entourage. He liked me. Took me in instantly. Climbed the Famiglia's social ladder. Became a surrogate son. He sent me on missions from time to time, but he preferred when I was planning them with him rather than when I went out. One of the missions went to hell when an old buddy from Peoria recognized me in the street. Vicente and Freddy, his two only sons, opened fire. I killed them both. BPD faked my death. Beautiful funeral, all of the famiglia was there. Touching moment, really."
Tony's tone was casually flippant but there was some unusual bite to it. His team listened carefully, with the same uneasiness. Hadn't Tony said once that each time you went undercover, you lost something there?
"What about your case?" Gibbs asked.
"I'm going back. Call Detective Jackson of Baltimore. He's my old partner and knows everything I know about it."
Gibbs was about to say he doubted it when he saw the look on Tony's eyes. Nostalgia?
"Tell him I say hi. But hey Gibbs, it's not really bad. He's gonna be out of there the second the Feds give him what he wants."
Somehow, his tone was giving bad news when his words meant the opposite. Abby squeezed again, and when he looked up to smile at her, she ran at him to hug him senseless.
"Tony DiNozzo, just how many stories do you hide from us?" She muttered more to herself than to him. She couldn't know that Gibbs wondered the exact same thing.
Tony smiled, reaching out to delicately extricate himself before turning his back at them and leaving.
You don't want to know, Abbs. You really don't, he thought.
Gibbs hadn't wasted a second after Tony's departure. Thirty seconds later he was dialing the number Abby found for one Detective Jackson, Baltimore. McGee had yet to say something after being interrupted by Tony, but he seemed lost in thoughts. When the detective finally answered, Gibbs signaled to Abby to put him on speaker. The introductions were short, Gibbs had no time for small talk. Ziva walked in just after Gibbs asked about Carmine Achenza. McGee explained who they were talking to and she nodded and stayed silent, going through the notes she had brought with her.
"You work with DiNozzo, don't you? That's why NCIS is calling me."
"He told us you knew everything about his undercover assignment."
"Yeah right, and the Pope's protestant."
Ziva's eyebrows rose at the unusual expression and she abandoned the reading she was doing, giving her full attention to the man on the phone.
"Look Agent Gibbs, if you're the one that's been working with him these past 8 years, you now by now that the kid is the biggest, smartest, bullshitter ever."
"Nine years. And you telling me you don't know the case?"
"Oh, I know the case alright. Well, I know what the kid told me. I read his reports. But was in for more than 6 months, Agent Gibbs. And I'm pretty sure the two pages report he gave us every other week meant that we didn't know jack about what was really going on in there."
"So what, you let him give you crappy reports on an assignment this big?"
On the other end of the line, the man chuckled humorlessly.
"His reports were far from crappy. He gave us everything we needed. By his third week in, we had enough evidence to arrest the perp we wanted."
"So why didn't you pull him out?"
Gibbs was getting more and more unnerved by the second. What kind of cops were they, letting one of their own stay six months undercover in such a dangerous environment? Baltimore had one of the highest crime rates in the country, and McGee's first report was clear enough as to how important and vicious Achenza and his goons were known to be. Letting an agent in this situation when he already had enough information to close the case was irresponsible and Gibbs was damn tempted to go give a piece of his mind to whomever was in charge at the time.
He forced himself to calm down. What had him so twitchy? His agent was safe upstairs, in a building full of highly trained federal agents. He tried to reason with himself for 5 seconds before giving up to the bad feeling he had. His guts were rarely wrong. And the look on DiNozzo's when he told them it was no big deal just made Gibbs want to reach out for his Senior Field Agent and pull him out of the room he had just now reentered, as the video cameras showed. And then the Baltimore cop added something Gibbs had not expected.
"He's the one who didn't want to leave them."
Abby's gasp summed up pretty much everyone's reactions.
"Tell me," Gibbs asked quietly while fixing his stare on the screen that showed his agent sitting in the same position as before, facing Achenza.
"Told us he was earning the leader's trust. I don't know what they did to make him think that, but the kid was right. In a month, he had done better than the FBI. He gave us pictures and data that he told us he stole from the computer of one of Achenza's sons. We had enough to build a serious case, maybe even enough to put the two sons behind bars."
"Why didn't you?"
It was Abby's murmured voice that asked the question. Things were beginning to make sense. And she didn't like the feeling in her chest. She couldn't watch Tony on her screen anymore; she was transfixed by the phone on the desk, and hang onto every word. She didn't even notice that she wasn't the only one in this situation.
"Look Ma'am, whoever you are, the kid is a damn good cop ..."
"Agent," McGee interrupted nearly involuntarily.
"He was a cop when I knew him. And he was as good as they come. But this thing was big. And Anthony was one of those cops that … thrived for justice, if you know what I mean."
"He prefers Tony," McGee interrupted again, as if he couldn't stop himself. Gibbs shot him an impatient glare.
"Well, he didn't when I knew him," there was a thoughtful pause, "anyway, what I was saying is that he didn't want out. He told me he couldn't stop until he had all of them. I went to see the Captain anyway. Wanted the boy pulled out immediately."
"Why, Detective? Why did you do that?"
None of the Agents wanted to hear the answer.
"Because I thought he liked it there."
"Vince, Freddy, maybe. But you? too smart."
"You're talking about your sons, Carmine," the cold voice of Tony answered.
Carmine just smiled. That smile that had given the creeps to McGee and to many other suspects Tony had interrogated. When the case had been tough. When he had wanted answers and was tired of the lies. When his friends were in danger or when he was left to fend for himself and let the clown and jock personae go. That glacial twitch of the lips that made his eyes look like ice and showed an undercurrent of ferocity when his words seemed friendly and casual.
Tony didn't know that McGee, Gibbs and Ziva were noticing how Carmine's expression was just like the one that they had sometimes seen crossing his own features. He didn't know that they were now realizing that he had picked it up from someone, and that that someone was the head of one of the most important famiglias in the country.
He just recognized the smile for what it was, and knew in advance that whatever Carmine was about to say was going to have the effect of a bomb.
And he needn't say more. Two words, and Tony understood exactly what "the Father" had wanted to say. He had always understood so easily. I know I'm talking about my sons. My three sons.
"Your deal with the FBI. What you want..."
Tony marked a pause and looked up to lock eyes with the man facing him, showing detachment when inside him his heart was making loud bangs, making it hard for him to think.
And Carmine smiled again.