“What was it like, tonguing a guy?” The words rang in her ears, repeating themselves over and over, just as the look of hurt surprise that had flashed in Tony’s eyes before he turned away from her, played back on her eyelids when she closed her eyes in a vain attempt at sleep.
“What was it like, tonguing a guy?” The words had seemed to echo in the air as she turned away from Tony to meet the shocked and disapproving stares of Abby and McGee. She had quickly turned away from them to Gibbs, expecting to receive a kindred blast of ice from his steely eyes. Instead she had seen something that almost looked like sympathy. She muttered some kind of excuse and fled the office, punching at the elevator button, jumping into it as soon as the doors opened, and quickly pressing the button for the ground floor.
Now she tossed and turned in her bed, unable to get away from the sound of her own voice doing the unforgivable. She had kicked a team member when he was already down. Stuck a knife in the back of one of her own. Tony’s eyes floated in the darkness above her and she groaned. She turned on her stomach and buried her head under her pillow as if she could shut out the sight and sound that way. It was useless and she finally gave up and climbed out of bed. She stumbled groggily into her living room and dropped onto her sofa. The telephone on the stand nearby seemed to exercise a magnetic pull. Maybe if she called Tony…<br> And what will you say, Kate? Oh hi, Tony, I just wanted to call you at three in the morning to say I’m sorry I was a SWEETIE to you earlier? That’s gonna go over real well.
Even as she thought that, she was dialing Tony’s number. The one she remembered from her emergency contact form. Even as she told herself that she was being an idiot, the phone was ringing. Once, twice, five times. With a sense of relief she started to put it down, but there was the unmistakable click of someone picking it up and then Tony’s voice, groggy with sleep, came across the line.
“Dinozzo, here. What’s the emergency?”
Kate sat there paralyzed, unable to make herself answer.
Tony’s voice sharpened as he came more awake, “Who’s there?”<br> Kate forced herself to speak, her voice coming out softer than she intended. “It’s…Kate.”<br> There was silence on the line and for a moment Kate thought he had hung up on her. “What’s up? Gibbs wants us to meet him where, to do what that can’t wait until morning?” His voice was weary, a result of his ordeal with Voss, she supposed.
“Nowhere…I mean it isn’t Gibbs…there’s no case…” Kate fumbled.
There was another silence. Then a heavy sigh. “Kate, its three AM and I was asleep. If there’s no case why are you calling me?”<br> “I was…out of line earlier. What I said… I mean…I didn’t mean it to come out that way…” Kate floundered around and finally stopped.
Tony laughed. Not his usual hearty chuckle but something harsh and humorless, “Did you say something to me? I had the world’s worst headache from being hit on the head with a beer bottle, so I guess I must have spaced when you were talking to me. Now can I go back to sleep?”<br> Kate paused. Tony’s words didn’t ring true. She knew damn well he had heard. It seemed he was going to play dumb over it. “Yeah sure, Tony. I’m sorry I woke you up. I just didn’t want you to…”
“Lose sleep over some comment you made to me? You’ve made it more than clear to me what you think of me all along, Kate, so why should it bother me now? We work together that’s all. You do your job and I’ll do mine and that’s it. We don’t need to be best friends.”<br> It was Kate’s turn to sigh. “Yeah, right. Anyway… see you in the morning.”<br> She was answered by the click of the line disconnecting.
Damn you’ve done it now. He did hear and that was just the perfect example of the freeze out. He’s not going to make it easy for you.
Kate walked slowly into the office the next morning. A quick glance confirmed that Tony was already at his desk, involved in something on his computer. A game probably, given that it was early and Gibbs wasn’t in yet. He had to have heard her dropping her purse onto her desk and then pulling open the drawer to get her gun, but he never looked up; didn’t give her his usual cheerful greeting.
Kate sighed as she booted up her own pc and began to scroll though her email. The silence continued as she read through the usual bulletins about procedures and policies that cluttered her inbox daily. She heard footsteps approaching and glanced up to see Gibbs standing there between her desk and Tony’s. His usual cup of coffee was in his hand and his face was inscrutable as he looked at his two junior team members.
He raised his eyebrows, “Your head still hurting, Dinozzo?”<br> Tony looked up from his computer, “No, boss. Why’d you ask?”<br> “I’ve never seen you so quiet unless there’s no one around to talk to, is all.” Gibbs seated himself at his desk and glanced at the computer that was silently running the face matching program, searching for the terrorist who had held half of his team hostage several weeks earlier.
Tony glanced over at Kate and shrugged, “Nothing to say this morning, I guess.”<br> The look on Gibbs’ face made it clear he wasn’t buying that for a minute but he let it pass. “What’ve you got for cases, Kate?”<br> Kate jumped, startled by his sudden switch of attention to her. “Nothing so far, Gibbs. Just the usual bureaucratic drivel that we get every day.”<br> Gibbs grunted and turned to answer his ringing phone.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next few days were a nightmare for Kate. Tony was definitely freezing her out albeit subtly when Gibbs was around, and not so subtly when he wasn’t. The “you don’t really believe you still look twenty-five” comment had stung, not so much the words themselves, but the fact that it was Tony saying them to her. Tony, who had never before teased her in a way that was anything but harmless fun. Annoying maybe but never comments intended to make her bleed.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Gibbs had let him go off on his own to tail a potential serial killer and sure enough, Tony had fallen victim and gone missing. All Kate could think of the entire time Tony was gone, were her words to him. Guilt ate at her as she wondered if one of the reasons Tony had been so hot to go after Sacco alone had been because of her actions. And if Gibbs had known that and that was why he had let him go.
But then they found Tony. Tony unarmed and facing a psycho holding a gun on him. Tony making himself a human shield between said psycho and the Marine she intended to kill. It had all been a blur to Kate from the moment they saw what was going on and Gibbs said to her “if you think she’s going to shoot take her out.” She vaguely remembered firing her gun and missing even as Tony disarmed the woman and spun her to face them. Vaguely remembered a silent drive back to NCIS HQ with Gibbs behind the wheel and Tony in the front seat. Vaguely remembered riding up the elevator standing behind Tony and Gibbs, as Tony pushed Gibbs for some acknowledgment that his team leader had been worried about him.
She wondered why she couldn’t seem to find the words to tell Tony that she had been worried about him and that she was glad he was back in one piece. But one look at his face and the distance he had recently put between them stopped the words in her throat. Abby had no such compunctions, rushing up to Tony and hugging him, and then proceeding to scold both him and Gibbs for sending him out alone. Kate sighed and turned to her paperwork, wondering how and why things had gotten to this state.
She looked up to see Gibbs watching her, that knowing look in his eyes once again. She frowned, wondering what it was he was thinking, and then shrugged and went back to her work. Tony left for the night accompanied by Abby and McGee, and Gibbs wandered off, probably in search of Ducky to hold another of their brainstorming sessions on the terrorist. Kate closed her desk up, telling herself that all she needed was a good night’s sleep. Then the next day she’d do what she had to, to mend her fences with Tony. Cheered by that thought she headed for home.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ Chapter Two: From Bad to Worse
What was it they say about the best intentions going astray? Kate wondered to herself over the next week as, despite her best efforts, Tony remained elusive. He was friendly enough on the surface and to all appearances things were back to normal, but Kate knew that they weren’t. Not really.
She couldn’t seem to get a moment alone with him to smooth things over. And as time passed she started to get annoyed. Sure she had been bitchy to him about Voss. But it wasn’t as if he hadn’t screwed up. The cardinal rule of observing a suspect was to observe. It wasn’t her fault he had broken the rules and interacted. When the niggling reminder that Gibbs had allowed it, inserted herself into her thoughts, she ruthlessly pushed it down. Gibbs wasn’t exactly one for the rule book himself. Tony might go on about Gibb’s almighty gut, but the rules were there for a reason. If Tony had just followed them, he wouldn’t have put himself in the position that had caused her to make her remark. And if Gibbs was half the team leader he should be, he would have been the one to point that out to Tony.
After several days of telling herself that, Kate decided that she really didn’t need to apologize to Tony after all. She had simply pointed out to him that he had gone outside the lines. There were consequences to actions. Her parents had always drummed that into her head, but clearly Tony hadn’t had the advantages of that kind of upbringing. She had probably done him a favor. Maybe next time a pretty face came along he wouldn’t be so quick to fall all over her. Yes, that was it. Her remark had been along the lines of a parent correcting a child. The child might be angry at first, but in the long run they would come to thank the parent.
Once she had come to that conclusion, Kate found that she was looking at Tony in a new way. She felt responsible for him. Gibbs obviously wasn’t going to do anything to rein him in and make him grow up, but that was okay because she could do it instead. Without realizing what she was doing, Kate found herself taking every opportunity to point out to Tony the things he needed to work on. Once or twice a small inner voice tried to pipe up and tell her that she was coming across as priggish and small-minded, as when Tony explained to her the differences between the types of missile a SMA could use and she commented that it was good to see he read something besides comic books, but she suppressed it.
And then came the real test. Gibbs allowed Tony to go undercover as an illegal weapons dealer. The kicker was that the buyer he was dealing with turned out to be a female undercover ATF agent. A hot blonde one. One who was exactly the type of female to have Tony panting after her. One who the ATF also suspected of going bad. Kate waited to see the results of his encounter with Voss and her recent dealings with him. She knew that this time Tony wouldn’t fall for a hot body and a sexy smile. Surely he had learned his lesson.
She said as much to Abby when they met up briefly in the break room. Tony and Gibbs had gone out with the ATF agent on a sting to get the weapons dealer who had murdered a marine.
“Well at least this time Tony won’t be falling all over the blonde.” Kate commented idly when Abby mentioned the ATF agent.
“What do you mean?” Abby wanted to know.
“Oh, I think he learned his lesson with Voss. He might have been angry that I pointed out to him that he screwed up, but I think he’s been getting the message.”<br> “Message, Kate?”
“You know, men and their hormones. No one’s ever made Tony sit back and realize that he doesn’t have to be ruled by them before.”<br> Abby regarded her silently for a moment. “You really think Tony’s ruled only by his hormones?”<br> Kate laughed, “That’s been obvious from the moment I met him.”<br> “Kate, I don’t think you really get Tony at all.” Abby started out.
“Abby, I’ve known guys like him all my life. The only thing that confuses me is how Gibbs hired him. It doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Gibbs is so serious about what he does and Tony takes it way too lightly.”
Abby shook her head. “Kate, did you ever stop to think that this job can be depressing, to say the least? We all have to cope with it somehow. Check out the alcoholism statistics sometime as regards to law enforcement personnel. When things get tough around here, Gibbs broods. You’ve never seen him when a case isn’t going his way. Hope you never do.”<br> “What’s that got to do with Tony?”<br> “Somehow Tony manages to keep a smile on his face no matter what. You met Gibbs’ old assistant, Stan. He was as serious about things as Gibbs. He also ended up with an ulcer and tension headaches working for Gibbs. He couldn’t cope and more importantly, he didn’t know how to help Gibbs cope. Tony does. Gibbs at his worst doesn’t seem to faze Tony. And no matter how angry Gibbs might get at Tony, he depends on him as well. Tony lets Gibbs get it out instead of bottling it up. You ever notice how Tony seems to always do something to provoke Gibbs, whenever Gibbs seems like he’s on the verge of exploding?”<br> Kate was confused, “You mean it’s an act?”<br> “I mean it’s Tony. He knows how to disconnect when he has to. How to manage to still find the good things in life, despite the awful stuff we see people doing to each other every day. If that includes him enjoying a pretty woman, so be it. When it comes down to it Gibbs trusts Tony with his life. I would too. So can you.”<br> Kate just looked at her digesting what she had said. “You think I was wrong to say what I did to Tony about Voss.”<br> Abby sighed. “Tony was already hurting that night. He felt like he let Gibbs down and he let Pacci down. He didn’t need another reminder of that. Kate, Tony can be the best friend you’ll ever have in this place. If you let him. The stuff about women, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just his way of letting off steam. Don’t let it bother you so much.” She paused, “Unless there’s another reason it bothers you.”<br> “What’s that supposed to mean?”<br> ”Come on, Kate. Tony’s hot. Don’t tell me you never noticed. He’s also smart and charming and funny. Sometimes I’ve watched you with him and wondered…”
“No. No way. Tony is so not my type.” Kate threw up her hands in instant denial.
Abby shrugged, “Yeah, just a dumb thought on my part is all.” Her pager vibrated. “That’s the lab calling. Time to check on some tests I’m running. Think about what I said, Kate and give Tony a break. K?”<br> With that she was gone, leaving Kate standing and staring after her. She shook her head and picked up her coffee. Abby was a loyal friend but she was a Goth after all. She didn’t understand about rules either. Kate pushed down her doubts and picked up her coffee to go back to her desk. When she got there, all hell broke loose and she and McGee had to head out to pick up the marine who had been involved in the weapons deal with the dead sergeant. When they finished up with her, Kate returned to the office to do her paperwork and waited for Gibbs and Tony to return.
Word came back that the sting had gone down and that Gibbs and Tony had arrested the ATF agent who had turned out be a part of the weapons ring. Kate waited eagerly for Tony’s return, sure that he had learned his lesson and that this time the pretty face hadn’t gotten to him.
“I really liked her.” Tony said as he gathered his things to go home.
Kate felt a surge of anger at his words. “ATF agent involved in illegal weapons and murder. What’s not to like?”
“So quick to judge, Kate. Sure she had flaws…”
Kate felt a pang at Tony’s first words. Hadn’t Abby accused her of the same thing, although not in so many words? She focused back in on what Tony was saying.
“… she had good qualities as well.”<br> “Two of them wouldn’t happen to live under her shirt would they?” The words were out before Kate could stop them.
Tony tried for a smile, “You’re not gonna believe this, but when it comes to women I actually look for more complex things under the surface.” His voice was soft and he seemed sincere.
“Really.” He was standing at her desk now, looking down at her.
Kate found herself looking into his eyes and something stirred inside of her. Suddenly she felt a surge of panic and heard herself saying, “Like when you were tonguing that he/she a week ago? Lots of complex things under that surface.”
There was no mistaking the look of hurt in Tony’s eyes as he tried for a smile but couldn’t quite seem to make it work. “I gotta go.” His voice was a whisper and he quickly turned away from her.
Kate felt her face stretching into a smile, even as a voice inside of her screamed in protest at her behavior.
Then Tony was gone, almost running Gibbs over in the process and Kate was left to wonder about why she had just done what she had. She refused to think about what Abby had said. With a heavy sigh she packed up her things and rose to leave.
She had forgotten that Gibbs was still there.
“Yes?”<br> “I think its time you worked out whatever the problem is between you and Dinozzo.”<br> “There is no problem, Gibbs.” Her protest sounded weak even to her own ears.
“We’re a team, Kate. Go home and think about that.” Gibbs turned back to his face matching program, effectively dismissing her, but she hadn’t missed the note of warning in his voice.
Kate stared at him for a moment but he didn’t appear to notice. She turned and left the building with Gibbs' words ringing in her ears.
I really like what you've written so far, Star. You have some good insights into Tony's character. I especially like the part where Abby talks about Gibbs and Tony. I think you do a good job of explaining why Gibbs tolerates his attitude as much as he does.
Tartlets Night Operations Division -- "Ready to go all night"
After his comment to her about clearing things up with Tony, Gibbs let the matter drop. Tony made it easier by resuming his outwardly teasing air with her, and Kate guessed that had lulled Gibbs into the assumption that whatever had been festering between the two of them was gone. But she knew differently. Tony still managed to get in some barbs disguised as teasing, as when he laughed at her for not knowing much about dating. That one had hurt, not least because Kate knew that he knew about her last two abortive boyfriends, the doctor who had never seemed to get out of surgery, and the attorney who worked 80 hour weeks and who always had some kind of last minute something or other come up when they were supposed to be going out.
Later that day he had idly zeroed in on the Seal’s widow’s comment about Kate never being married. Despite his grin and light tone she’d gotten the message. Tony was still ticked at her and until she did something to straighten things out it was war. Undercover and barely spoken, but war nonetheless.
On top of that Kate had somehow found herself flirting with of all people, a priest. The fact that he was hot didn’t excuse it in her mind. Somehow she should have known who he was. As a good Catholic girl she was supposed to have built in radar for that kind of thing. Wasn’t she?
When she went home that night, she fixed herself a big bowl of ice cream and curled up on her oversize sofa as she pondered what had gone wrong with her life. She began by mentally ranting over one Agent Anthony Dinozzo. He was the cause of everything that was wrong with her life. If he hadn’t had her so rattled she never would have come on to the priest that day. It had to be his fault. From there she went to the next logical step, Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs. If it hadn’t been for him, she’d still be in the Secret Service, wearing her neat navy blue suits, riding Air Force One, and guarding the President. It was Gibbs’ fault. He was the one who maneuvered her into quitting the Secret Service and joining up with his team of cowboys at NCIS.
That line of thought lasted all of five minutes as Kate’s inherent sense of fairness asserted itself. She hadn’t even known Gibbs when she had made the mistake of hooking up with a colleague, and that was what had resulted in her resigning from the Secret Service. Gibbs had taken advantage of her situation, but when it came down to it, Kate had decided long ago that she liked being one of the cowboys. For a girl who had grown up being rigidly careful to always color inside the lines, stepping out of the box and not getting chastised for it had turned out to be a heady and addictive experience. No, she couldn’t blame Gibbs for her problems.
That left Tony. But now that she had absolved Gibbs, in all fairness she probably ought to re-evaluate his right hand man. Gibbs wasn’t one to tolerate incompetence and Tony had lasted two years with him. Not only lasted but, according to both Stan Burleigh, Gibbs’ former SIC, and Abby, Gibbs both liked and depended on Tony.
Two bowls of ice cream later, Kate finally admitted that maybe the problem wasn’t Tony. Maybe it was her. Maybe she was…jealous of Tony? Tony, who was confident enough in Gibbs’ dependence on him that he was willing to put himself on the line and confront him when he was being unreasonable. Tony, for whom Gibbs had moved faster than she had ever seen him do before (and that was saying a lot) when he had been in trouble. Tony, for whom Abby had practically been in tears when he went missing.
Maybe if she was honest with herself, she could admit that she wanted some of that devotion and caring aimed at her. She’d always been the good girl, the teacher’s pet. She’d bet Tony had been one of the cool kids. The guy who all the other guys wanted to be, and all the girls wanted to date. While she’d been getting her straight A’s and scholarships, he’d been dating the prom queen and lettering in basketball. He’d been the guy she had worshipped from afar for all of her high school and college years, even while she settled for dating the president of the chess club.
At that last thought Kate stopped. Abby’s question to her about her real motives for being so down on Tony came back to kick her in the butt. No,she thought to herself. No way. You are not even coming close to going there. This is 2004, not high school or even college. You got over that kind of thinking years ago, Kate Todd. Its stress and need of a vacation talking.
A yawn caught her and she decided that she needed sleep. She’d figure things out tomorrow, and maybe she’d get a chance to mend her fences with Tony. No matter the reason, Gibbs was right. They were a team and undercurrents between them could ultimately result in one of them getting injured or even killed.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day Kate made a conscious effort to grab a moment alone with Tony. She saw her chance when she saw him heading for the coffee room. Not even bothering to save the email she had just spent fifteen minutes typing, she jumped up and arrived in the small break room just as he finished pouring himself a cup of coffee. No one else was around, the office was empty that afternoon, and they had the room to themselves. Tony gave her an automatic grin but Kate didn’t miss the touch of wariness in his eyes.
She poured herself some coffee and walked over to sit at one of the small tables in the room, saying to Tony as she did, “Gibbs is closeted with Morrow, we’ve got at least ten minutes before he comes back.”<br> She didn’t miss the startled look in his eyes as he shrugged and sat down across from her. He sipped his coffee, being uncharacteristically quiet, and waited her out.
“So I guess you heard about my faux pas yesterday?” Kate said quietly.
Tony raised his eyebrows, “Kate Todd made a faux pas? Do tell.”<br> “Just managed to hit on a priest is all. I felt pretty stupid when he introduced himself to me.” Kate’s eyes met Tony’s and she hoped he was getting the message she was trying to send him. She didn’t think she could manage to grovel, so she hoped he was.
“I guess we all manage to do some stupid things when it comes to the opposite sex.” Tony agreed cautiously, looking like he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Yeah, well, that’s pretty much the story of my life. And I guess sometimes, I kind of take it out on people who I think have it more together than I do.” She paused and then took a breath before continuing on, “You only happen to be looking at the queen of high school dorks. Funny how you think you’ve gotten past all that, and then somehow, you find yourself acting like you’re right back in high school. I still remember the time the captain of the baseball team asked me if I’d tutor him in English and I pretty much demolished the guy. Made him sorry he even asked.” Kate mused. “I was a real SWEETIE to him.”<br> Tony gave her a long look. “Had a crush on him, huh?”<br> Kate felt herself flushing and reminded herself that Anthony Dinozzo might play dumb, but he was anything but. She steeled herself to go on, “The biggest. But of course his girlfriend was a drop dead gorgeous blonde. I heard she went into modeling after high school. Was doing pretty well at it, last I knew.”<br> “By now she’s washed up. Probably sitting at home in Podunk, fat as a house, with two whiny kids and an obnoxious dog.” Tony quipped.
“You think?”<br> “Kate, I know these things.” Tony smiled at her and she smiled back, the first genuine smiles they had exchanged in weeks. Before either of them could say anymore, the door to the break room slammed open and Gibbs stood in the doorway.
“Um yeah, boss. The box of evidence from the crime scene. It’s waiting downstairs for us.” Tony jumped up hastily, followed by Kate.
“I’m not even going to ask why your butts are up here, rather than down there sorting through it.” With that Gibbs was gone, leaving his two agents to grab their coffee and follow after.
Kate trailed behind Tony feeling better than she had in weeks. She wasn’t positive but she thought she had been forgiven.
It was much later before she knew she had been. When she exclaimed in frustration that she wished she knew more about rappelling, she didn’t miss the instant glance that Tony and Gibbs exchanged. Standing on the top of the lift with only Tony and a thin rope separating her from a date with the hard concrete floor below, she was suddenly afraid that she had misread Tony earlier. He was still ticked at her. And so was Gibbs. Thoughts of broken limbs and full body casts flashed through her mind.
But then Tony called up to her “I’ve got your back.” And with a shove from Gibbs, she was swinging in space, totally dependent on her gear and on Tony. Amazingly enough she made it down in one piece.
And when Tony said to her “Now you know what it feels like,” she knew he wasn’t just talking about rappelling. He was letting her know that she was forgiven and he really did have her back. Just like he had Gibbs’ back.
A rush of warmth passed over Kate at his words, but then they were back to the case with no more time for talking. It didn’t matter. When she went home that night she knew that things had changed. For the first time she felt part of the team. Maybe not quite as much a part as Tony and Gibbs and Abby and Ducky. But she thought she might get there someday. And on that note she fell asleep, resting peacefully for the first time in days.