Tony knew that patterns were dangerous things to have. That was why he regularly changed up the route he took to work. It was why he made sure that he chose which takeaway to visit randomly, rather than assigning each on a week day. But Roger’s Café was his guilty pleasure. He had learnt early on in his career that when on a long term undercover assignment it was important to have one place where you could be yourself – even if you only went once a month. And this assignment, was definitely long term. It had been almost six years since he had last been Major Anthony Dinozzo of the United States Marine Corp. Six damn years since SecNav had gotten a bee in his bonnet about NCIS and had sent Tony in undercover.
So Roger’s was his place of refuge. He was as careful as he could be. He always changed the day and the time of his visits; his coffee order was always mundane, he was careful to use different routes to get there. Heck, today he had even taken the bus.
All to sit by himself in a random café, with only slightly better than average coffee, and not have to play the clown. Of course, he didn’t have to play the clown at his apartment either, but there was something freeing about being able to be himself in public. Sometimes he took a book, sometimes he did the crossword in the newspaper, sometimes he took his laptop and worked on his latest paper. It was nothing special, except it was. It was the only time he ever got to be Major Anthony Dinozzo, PHD, instead of Very Special Agent Tony Dinozzo around people. Even if he never actually talked to any of the people.
Tony lifted his coffee cup up and took a sip. He was seated in the middle of the café today, not his favourite spot, but he knew that if he always sat at the back it would make him conspicuous. He hadn’t brought anything with him today, today he was just going to watch the people. He rarely came to Roger’s this early in the morning, the café was an hour drive from his place and that was if the traffic was kind to him. But the team had been at the office until late closing up their latest case and Gibbs’ had given everyone the morning off. So here he was, at 7.30am, with a couple of hours to kill.
Because of the early hour on a Wednesday, most of the people in the café were hovering around the barista’s bench obviously waiting for their takeaway coffee. There seemed to be a few young lawyers, three cops, a small group of guys who were obviously tradesmen of some sort, and a few other people whose occupations weren’t so easy to guess at first glance.
There was a very pretty blond ordering a coffee. Tony wrapped his hands around his coffee cup and discreetly looked her over. She was in her early thirties, educated, wearing a very professional looking suit, and looking very hot in it. Tony watched as she opened her bag to find her wallet and was surprised to spot the handle of a Glock 26. Huh, she was a fed. She seemed more educated than your average fed, prettier too.
Tony frowned when he realised she was still searching for her wallet, with increasing desperation. What kind of marine would he be if he ignored a pretty woman in distress? He stood and made his way over to the counter.
He smiled at the pretty fed who had looked up from her bag and then at the waitress at the counter and pulled out his wallet.
“I’ll pay for her coffee.” It was nice to smile at someone without it being a smirk.
“No, I couldn’t.” The pretty fed replied, glancing back down to her back
Tony’s smile grew. “I insist. It will be my good deed for the day.”
The fed stared at him for a moment, obviously searching his expression for something.
“Either pay or leave!” The waitress scowled. “You’re holding up the line.”
Tony opened up his wallet and dropped a ten dollar bill on the counter. “Keep the change.”
“Thanks.” The fed was obviously embarrassed. “I can’t even remember where I must have left my purse.”
Tony shrugged. “You’re welcome.” He offered her his hand. “I’m Tony.
“JJ.” The blond responded shaking his hand.
“Nice to meet you.” Tony turned toward his table. “Would you like to join me while you wait? There seems to be a five minute delay.”
JJ considered it, before shrugging. “Sure, thanks.”
Tony led her to the table and pulled out a chair for her. Then he returned to his seat.
“I haven’t seen you here before.” JJ commented after an awkward pause.
“I’m not a regular.” Tony admitted. “This is the first time I’ve ever been here this early.”
“Oh, do you work around here?”
“No, I work about forty five minutes’ drive from here.” Tony answered. “What about you?”
He knew this was a bad idea, making a connection at his place of refuge. Odds were he would have to find a new café, but this was the first time he had had a conversation with anyone, other than his handler or his goldfish, out of character in six years. It was worth the risk.
“Same.” JJ answered with a smiled. “But this is my coffee stop on my way to work and it’s not normally this busy.”
“What do you do?” Tony asked, it was one of the awkward things about being able to read people so well. The dishonest feeling that came with asking a questions he already knew the answer to.
“I’m a Police and Media Liaison for the FBI.” JJ replied.
“Wow.” Tony was impressed. “That must be pretty stressful. My understanding is that the feds and police don’t always get along so well. Let alone the feds and the media.”
JJ laughed. “It’s not always so bad. In many ways the rest of my team have much more stressful jobs. They actually have to catch the unsubs. What do you do?”
“I work for the Navy.” Tony answered, inwardly wincing at the vagueness.
“At the Navy Yard?” JJ questioned.
Tony nodded. “At the moment, yeah. It’s a pretty busy place.”
“I’m sure.” JJ leaned back in her chair. “So what do you do when you’re not working at the Naval Yard?
“I read, I run, I play piano.” Tony shrugged. “My job’s pretty full on, there isn’t a whole lot of time when I’m not working.”
JJ laughed. “Likewise. You play piano? Are you any good?”
Tony shrugged. “Yeah, a bit.”
“Nice.” JJ smiled.
“Coffee for JJ.” One of the waitresses called.
JJ turned towards the voice and then with an apologetic look toward Tony stood up and went to claim her coffee. When she came back, coffee in hand, she stopped at Tony’s table.
“Sorry, I need to go. Thanks again for the coffee.”
Tony grinned at her. “You’re very welcome. Thanks for the conversation.”
JJ grinned back. “You’re welcome.” She put her coffee on Tony’s table, opened her bag and pulled out a business card. “Here’s my number in case you ever want to get coffee or something.”
Tony accepted the card and smiled up at her, she was blushing. “Thanks. I just might do that.”
JJ’s smile was shyer now. “Bye.”
“Goodbye. Have a good day.”
Tony watched as she picked up her coffee and walked briskly out of the café, before looking down at the card in his hand. Her name was Jennifer Jareau and she worked in the Behavioural Analysis Unit.
He laughed softly. She worked with profilers? Well that was officially reason number one why he shouldn’t call her.
Except that though he had many reasons why he definitely shouldn’t call JJ, he was still very tempted. Which was crazy. He had quite literally written the textbook the Navy used to train marines for undercover work and there was a whole chapter in the book about not being an idiot in this sort of situation.
Tony sighed and looked began flicking the card through his fingers. He was lonely, it would be nice to have someone other than his handler to talk to. Tony placed the card on the table. He would let his handler decide. Colonel Lucten was a good guy. He would be able to look at this situation impartially and make a decision based on the danger level. It wasn’t as though Tony’s life was in danger, but if anyone at NCIS made him the last six years of his life would be wasted.
Tony stood up, pocketing JJ’s card and strode out the door. He needed to find a payphone to ring Colonel Lucten.
Tony stared at the note in his hand in shock. It had been three days since he had rung Colonel Lucten about JJ and in that time he had managed to firmly convince himself that seeing JJ again was a terrible idea. But apparently Lucten didn’t agree. What was he thinking? Tony shoved the note into his pocket, he would shred it later, and got into his car mentally planning the route he would take to work. It needed to be one with payphone on the way.
Tony leant against the payphone. “This is Tony, sir. I got your note.”
Lucten chuckled. “And you’re so horrified that I’m authorising you to go off book that you needed to complain?”
“This is a bad idea, sir.” Tony retorted.
“I wondered how long it would take your training to kick in.” Lucten replied. “But I think you should call the girl.”
Tony let out a deep breath. “Why?”
“Because your sanity is important. You still have at least a few years left, Tony, you know that. Take Agent Jareau out for dinner, have some fun.”
“And if my cover gets blown?” Tony asked.
“It won’t.” Lucten reassured him. “No one suspects you. They’re not even looking for a mole. Tell Agent Jareau that you work for NCIS and discourage her from visiting you there. Worst case scenario you have to tell your team that you pretended to be someone you’re not to get the girl.”
Tony was considered that. “Which they’ll believe.”
“Exactly. Go out, have some fun. We’ve done a background check on her. She’s clean, no connection to NCIS.”
Tony sighed. “I still feel like this is a bad idea, sir.”
“Look, Tony, ultimately this is your call. But I need you to be able to last the distance in this op. If you’re confident that you have a few more years in you without something like this then throw away her number, but if you’re not…” Lucten trailed off.
Tony ran a hand through his hair. “Yes, sir. Understood.”
“And let me know what you decide.” Lucten ordered.
“Yes, sir.” Tony nodded, half wishing that he was in Lucten’s office and could salute him. He missed being a proper solider.
Tony closed his eyes in frustration. Could he be so homesick that he actually missed saluting people? Maybe he did need to ring JJ. He had told himself that he would trust Lucten’s judgement on the matter.
“Yeah?” Lucten responded.
“I’ll ring her.” Tony admitted.
Lucten let out a relieved sigh, making Tony wonder just how worried his handler was. “I’m glad, Tony. Now go to work, you’re running late.”
Tony came to attention immediately, even though the colonel couldn’t see him. “Yes, sir.”
As Tony got back into his car, he was tempted to hit his head against the steering wheel. What was he doing? Had he really just agreed to break his cover over a pretty fed?
Tony pulled his phone out and connected it to his hands free system. If he was going to call her, now was as good a time as any. He dialled her number and then pulled out into traffic.
“JJ, this is Tony.” Tony replied, keeping his eye on the car in front of him. “The guy from Roger’s. I don’t know if you remember me.”
“Right, Tony, yes I remember you.” JJ sounded rushed. “Listen, Tony, now isn’t a great time, I’m about to board a plane.”
“Oh, sorry.” Tony answered. “I’ll be quick. I was just, uh, ringing to ask if you’d like to have dinner with me this week.”
“That sounds great.” JJ sounded as though she was smiling. “I’m going to be out of town for a few days, shall I call you when I get back?”
“Yeah.” Tony nodded, as he changed lanes. “Let me know when works for you. Good luck catching the unsub.”
“Thanks. I’ll ring you in a few days.”
A few days had actually been five days, not that Tony was counting, and a week before their actual date. Tony had been on edge all week, and he had decided not to hide it. When McGee and Ziva asked, he fed them a line about a twenty three year old waitress. They ate it up, like they always did.
Tony wasn’t sure what had put him on edge the most, the idea of breaking his cover or the fact that he was about to go on his first real date in over six years. It was probably both.
Tony had arrived at the restaurant, specifically chosen because it was in the same neighbourhood as Roger’s, a few minutes early. He stood by his decision, it was the polite thing for a guy to do, but it still left him ten minutes to dream up worst case scenarios while sitting at their table alone. Not that he hadn’t spent the entire day coming up with worst case scenarios. What was he doing again?
That question was clearly answered when JJ walked in, looking stunning in a red and white floral dress. He had forgotten just how pretty and poised she was. Maybe Lucten was right, maybe he did need this.
He stood up and waved her over.
“Sorry I’m late.” JJ greeted him.
“You’re not late.” Tony disputed as he pulled out her chair. “I was early.”
“How gentlemanly.” JJ replied, sitting down with a smile.
Tony wasn’t sure whether she was referring to his earliness or the fact that he had pulled out her chair.
“So, did you catch the guy?” Tony asked.
JJ looked away. “Yeah, eventually.”
Tony winced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
JJ shrugged. “It’s fine. You didn’t know. We were in Georgia, we caught the unsub, but not before he tortured one of the guys on our team.”
“Is he alright?” Tony asked, leaning forward in concern.
“Yeah, physically at least.” JJ looked tired. “The thing is that Reid, the guy Hankel tortured, is just a kid. He’s only twenty five and he’s so smart that he’s hardly lived. He graduated high school when he was twelve. He’s just so innocent, when he gets hurt it hits us all pretty hard. And having to watch him be tortured…”
“Yeah,” Tony sighed. “I know the feeling. I worked with someone a bit like that once. He actually was a kid, just nineteen. It’s horrible to be helpless.”
“Yeah.” JJ looked down at the table in front of her and then glanced up at Tony. “Sorry, I’m a pretty gloomy date tonight.”
“It’s fine.” Tony reached out and touched her hand. “I don’t mind. I’m here to get to know you.”
JJ shrugged. “I’m not normally like this.”
“Hopefully I’ll have time to get to know that first hand.” Tony grinned at her.
JJ smiled back. “You’re sweet.”
Now it was Tony’s turn to shrug. “I try. Would you like a drink?”
“Yeah.” JJ turned to look for a waiter, even as Tony beckoned one over. “Thanks.”
Tony waited as the waiter took her order and then ordered himself a glass of merlot.
“You’re a wine drinker.” JJ observed. “That’s rare in a man.”
“Rare in a good way?” Tony asked with a grin.
JJ picked up one of the menus the waiter had given them. “That would be telling.”
Tony chuckled softly and picked up the second menu. “I have something to admit.”
“Yeah?” JJ glanced up at him.
“I wasn’t entirely honest about something the day we met.”
“Okay.” JJ put down her menu and stared at him seriously.
“It’s not that I lied exactly,” Tony tried to reassure her. “I just didn’t give you the whole truth.”
JJ leaned back in her seat. “Spit it out, Tony.”
“You know how I said that I work for the Navy?” Tony asked. “Well, I do, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. I’m an N.C.I.S. agent.”
JJ stared at him for a moment. “You’re a fed too?”
“Yeah.” Tony shrugged. “Sorry I didn’t admit it straight away. I don’t tend to tell people.”
“Even to another fed?” JJ asked, picking up her menu again.
Tony sighed in relief, he felt as though he was back on solid ground. “Especially then. The FBI agents I know don’t exactly love me.”
JJ glanced at him in a decidedly flirtatious manner. “You’re obviously not hanging out with the right FBI agents.”
Tony chuckled. “Obviously not.”
It was a few minutes later, after they had ordered their meals, before JJ brought up the topic again.
“So you’re a fed.” She repeated. “So you were speaking from first-hand experience about the police and feds.”
“From both sides actually.” Tony admitted. “I spend a year as a cop before I began an agent.”
JJ nodded. “That’s pretty common right? One of the guys in my team used to be a cop too. How long ago was that?”
“I’ve been at N.C.I.S. for five years now.” Tony answered. “And yeah, I’ve heard that it happens a bit, not so much at N.C.I.S. though.”
Tony shrugged. “Partly because we’re a lot smaller than you guys. Let’s just say that right now I work with Gibbs, who’s a marine, Ziva who is a Mossad officer and McGee, who started as a computer tech. I’ve also worked with an ex-FBI agent and an ex-secret service agent.”
“Wow.” JJ looked surprised. “That’s a lot of different backgrounds.”
“What did your team do, before they were FBI?” Tony asked.
JJ frowned in thought. “Well, Morgan was a cop; Hotch was a lawyer; Reid got three PHDs; I don’t know about Gideon and Prentiss. I think they’ve been FBI since they got out of college.”
“And you?” Tony asked, leaning forward with a grin.
JJ shrugged. “After college I worked in press relations in the private sector for a few years and then joined the FBI. What about you. You said you were only a cop for one year before you joined N.C.I.S. what did you do before that?”
“I was a marine.” Tony admitted.
“Wow.” JJ looked impressed. “That’s hot. Do you still have your uniform?”
Tony laughed. “I sure do.”
“Wait,” JJ frowned. “Did you say you say you worked with a Mossad officer? As in the Israeli Mossad?”
“Yeah, Ziva David.” Tony explained. “She’s only been with us for a few months, she’s a liaison officer.”
“I imagine that N.C.I.S. is a bit different than she’s used to.”
Tony chuckled dryly. “Just a bit. She’s more of an assassin than an agent.”
“What’s it like working with her?”
Tony shrugged uncomfortably. “I’m still getting used to it.”
“So did you join the marines straight out of high school?” JJ asked.
“Sort of. I went to Rhode Island Military Academy straight after high school.” Tony admitted, it felt strange to tell someone the truth after so many years of lying. “Then I went to Ohio State and got my degree, but the navy paid the tab. After that I went into active service.”
“What was your major?”
“Psychology; my PHD was focussed in that area too.”
JJ’s eyes widened. “You have a PHD?”
“Yeah.” Tony chuckled. “Do I not look the type?”
Now JJ was blushing. “Sorry. It’s just that marine, cop and fed aren’t exactly professions that suggest you might have a PHD.”
“I know.” Tony shrugged. “Though didn’t you say that one of the agents you work with has three?”
JJ laughed. “Yes, Reid. But he’s hardly your average fed.”
“And I am?” Tony asked with a grin.
“Apparently not.” JJ responded. “You’re full of surprises, Agent Dinozzo. Or should I say Dr. Dinozzo.”
“Agent Dinozzo is fine.” Tony told her. “My colleagues don’t actually know about the doctor part.”
“Seriously?” JJ looked surprised again. “Why not?”
“I don’t really tell people.” Tony shrugged.
“You don’t really tell people much, do you?” JJ pointed out.
“It’s easier that way.” Tony replied.
JJ looked unconvinced. “Well, thank you for telling me. Will you tell me what your PHD was on?”
“Primarily the psychological factors in undercover work. Both the psychological effects on the person undercover, and the factors needed for someone to be effective.”
“Wow. When you say undercover, are you talking espionage or undercover law enforcement?” JJ asked.
“Either.” Tony grinned. He felt better than he had in years. The freedom to have an honest, okay mostly honest, conversation was very refreshing. “And both. There are some definite difference between the two, but they are more similar than you might think.”
“I didn’t know that the marines were so interested in that sort of thing.” JJ observed. “I thought they were more…”
“Gung ho?” Tony suggested, his grin growing. “Prone to rushing in guns blazing without thought or intel?”
“Yeah.” JJ admitted.
“They can be.” Tony agreed. “But the higher ups are trying change things. The problem with gung ho is that people die unnecessarily.”
JJ’s expression became serious.
“Sorry!” Tony apologised. “I didn’t mean to kill the mood.”
“It’s fine.” JJ smiled softly. “So what rank were you? When you resigned from the marines, I mean.”
“Major Tony Dinozzo.” JJ grinned. “Major Doctor Agent Dinozzo, or should it be Agent Major Doctor, or Doctor Agent Major.”
Tony laughed. “Let’s just stick with Tony.”