“Got any plans tonight?”
Kate Todd looked over at her co-worker. “I did,” she admitted. “Too late now.”
“Want to grab some Chinese at the new place down the street?” Tony asked.
Much to her surprise, Kate accepted his invitation. “Sure.” Realizing what she’d done, she quickly added,” Want to ask Gibbs?”
Tony didn’t even look at their mutual boss. “Nah, he’s busy.”
“Doing what?” Kate asked. As far as she could tell, all Gibbs was doing was staring at a computer screen.
“Same thing he does every night,” Tony answered.
Kate risked a glance at Gibbs and immediately wished he hadn’t. The look on his face was almost frightening. Tony was right, she wouldn’t want to the terrorist that got away and have Gibbs on her trail. With a shiver, quickly suppressed, Kate followed Tony out.
Ten minutes later, Kate found herself in the last place on Earth she thought she’d ever be – across the dinner table from Tony Dinozzo. Willingly. And outside work hours.
“So, you still a virgin?” Tony asked after they’d ordered.
Kate blinked. “Excuse me?”
Tony smirked at her. “Nightmares, Kate. You said you’d never had any – I was just wondering if recent events had changed that.”
It took Kate a minute to formulate a response. “For the last time, Tony, I’m not living in fear of that terrorist.”
“You’re not?” Tony asked, one eyebrow raised in clear disbelief.
“No, I’m not,” Kate responded firmly. “No nightmares. No peeking under the bed for the boogey man. No obsessing over the bad guy that got away.”
Tony immediately picked up on her reference to Gibbs. “You really think Gibbs should let that bastard get away with it?”
“No, of course not,” Kate said, “but he’s been staring at that picture for days now. The man needs some perspective.”
“Gibbs is fine,” Tony said, leaning back in his chair. “He just doesn’t like to lose – especially to a scumbag who shot one of his people. He’ll find the bastard, just you wait.”
Kate laughed and shook her head. “There you go again.”
Tony tilted his head to the side. “What?”
“You defend him all the time,” the other agent explained.
“He’s the boss,” Tony protested.
Kate shook her head again. “It’s more than that. The way you talk about him… I respect Gibbs to but you… you’re like a kindergartener talking about Santa Claus. We’re talking unshakable faith to the extreme, Tony.”
Tony frowned. “You don’t believe in Gibbs?”
“Of course I do,” she answered. “But he’s human, Tony. That means that every once in a while, even Jethro Gibbs can be fallible.”
“Gibbs has not failed to solve a case – not once - while I’ve worked for him,” Tony said hotly. He broke off as he realized he was raising his voice. “And I do *not* think Gibbs is Santa Claus.”
Kate made a show out of unfolding her napkin and delicately spreading it out over her lap. She watched underneath lowered eyelashes as Tony took a drink of water, timing her next comment for when he had a mouthful.
“I was wrong,” she admitted. “It’s obvious you don’t think of Gibbs as Santa Claus – you wouldn’t check out Santa’s ass half as often as you do Gibbs’.”
Tony’s response was everything she could have hoped for. The other agent spewed his water everywhere, sputtering. She got wet, but it was worth it. Kate blotted her face with her napkin as she waited for Tony to become articulate.
“That’s absurd,” Dinozzo finally claimed. “I do not check out Gibbs’ ass!”
“I think you’re protesting too much,” Kate calmly said. This wasn’t exactly how she’d planned on broaching this subject but she owed Tony for messing with her so much.
“Hey, all American male here,” Tony said, thumping himself on the chest. “I’ve lost count of the women I’ve dated, even in the few months you’ve been on the team.”
“Women we’ve conveniently never met,” Agent Todd reminded him. “You rarely even mention any by name… and there’s nothing wrong with being an American male and being attracted to other men, you know.”
Tony snorted. “Like we’ve seen the men you’ve dated. You’re out of your mind, Kate.”
“Am I? I will remind you that I’m a professional profiler. I’m trained to observe behavior patterns and make deductions from them.” Leaning forward, she counted off each point on a finger. “One, you are way more tuned in to Gibbs’ moods than is normal.”
“He’s my boss,” Tony said defensively. “It’s in my own best interests to know what his mood is.”
“Nah-uh,” Kate shook her head, not buying it for a minute. “Not to the extent that you know what he’s feeling. And, thanks for reminding me. Two, you call him boss all the time.”
“He is my boss,” Tony said sarcastically. “What am I supposed to call him, Jethro?”
Kate just looked at him levelly, ignoring his point. “Three, we’ve already talked about - the Santa Claus Syndrome. As far as you’re concerned, Gibbs can walk on water.”
“I’ve never said he could walk on water,” Tony protested before getting a thoughtful look on his face. “Then again, I’ve never seen him try.”
“Four – you’re always defending him,” Kate listed. “The other day, before the hostage situation, Gibbs was frustrated because he didn’t know computer technology the way you and I do. You were the first one to reassure him.”
“That’s called brown-nosing, Kate,” Tony refuted. “Maybe in the Secret Service, they call it something else. Ass-kissing, perhaps?”
Kate shot a feral grin at Tony. “And, five, speaking of asses… you check out Gibbs’ at least half a dozen times a day.”
Tony opened his mouth to protest but closed it again. There really was nothing he could say to that point; he knew it was the truth every bit as much as Kate did. Admitting defeat, he dropped his head. “I am *so* busted.”
The other agent chuckled but the waiter came with their food and she didn’t answer right away. Instead, she started in on her dinner, thinking to give Dinozzo some space to compose himself. When Tony did speak, however, his words surprised her.
“Okay, you got me, I admit it,” Tony said. He hadn’t touched his own meal. “But, I know where Gibbs true interest is. I won’t get in your way, I promise. It’s the best thing for everyone.”
Kate looked up sharply. At first, she didn’t have a clue regarding what Tony was saying. Then she saw the sad look in his eye and put two and two together.
“You mean that you think…” she said, putting her chopsticks down. “You think that me and Gibbs….?”
Tony nodded and Kate couldn’t help herself. She started laughing and once she started, she couldn’t stop.
”What’s so funny?” Dinozzo asked.
Kate made an effort to pull herself together. Taking a drink from her water, she fanned herself in an attempt to calm down. It was the hurt expression on Tony’s face, though, that sobered her up. Despite the fact that the other agent tended to act like the worst kind of teenager, she’d become fond of him, in spite of herself.
“Look, Tony, I admire Gibbs. Really, I do,” Kate said earnestly. “But there’s no way in hell I would ever become romantically involved with him.”
“Why not?” Tony looked like he was torn between feeling relieved and feeling offended. “This is Jethro *Gibbs* we’re talking about.”
In other words, how could she not be attracted to him?
“And that’s exactly the reason, Tony,” Kate explained. “He’s my boss and, to a certain extent, my teacher. I like the man and respect him but I feel no attraction to him whatsoever. Besides,” she added, “Remember that doctor I told you about?”
”The one that stood you up because he had to do an operation?” Tony filled in automatically.
“That’s the one,” Kate confirmed. “Well, he hasn’t had to cancel all of our dates and there’s… there’s some chemistry between us.”
“Oooh-Hooo!” Tony crowed, unable to resist teasing her despite the seriousness of their conversation. “The doc’s got a good bedside manner, huh?”
Kate blushed, all the answer that Dinozzo needed. “And last but not least, some people can date their coworkers and not have any problems. Not me. I learned that the hard way.”
Tony sobered. “Do you think that Gibbs is one of those people who could make it work?”
It would take a harder woman than Kate Todd not to react to the forlorn tone in Dinozzo’s voice. “Honestly, Tony, I think a relationship with a colleague is the *only* type that would work out for Gibbs. He’s so wrapped up in his job, he needs someone who understands that.”
By this time, Tony had picked up his fork and was absently twirling it in his lo mein. “You figured out I was attracted to Gibbs - do you think he’s noticed?”
Kate bit her lip, not wanting to answer that. When Tony lifted his head to look her in the eye, though, she had no choice. “He’s Gibbs, Tony,” she pointed out gently. “What do you think?”
Tony thought about it for a second, then dropped his head again in dismay. “I am so busted.”
“It’s not so bad,” Kate was quick to reassure him. “Look, you may have been checking his ass out half a dozen times a day, but he had you beat.”
Tony looked up at her. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Kate grinned, “that there’s been mutual ass checking out going on.”
Dinozzo reacted to that statement the very last way Kate thought he would have – he blushed. “He does?”
“Oh, yeah,” she answered. “He’s just a little more subtle about it than you are.”
Tony took a few bites of his meal, obviously chewing on more than his food. “You’re the profiler,” he said after he swallowed. “If he knows I’m attracted to him and he’s attracted to me, why hasn’t he done anything about it?”
Kate gave it some thought and then shrugged. “My best guess is that it’s a numbers game.”
“Rule #12,” she reminded him. Seeing Tony wince, she continued. “The one about not dating co-workers. And then there’s the number three.”
“The number of times Gibbs has been married,” Tony supplied.
“He might be a bit gun shy,” Kate nodded. “There’s also a less firm number, I’d put it at approximately 15.”
Tony looked confused. “15?”
“That’s about how many years older he is than you,” Kate explained. “An age gap like that sometimes can be a problem. Then there’s the countless numbers of women you’ve been dating….”
To her surprise, Tony didn’t answer the jibe. Instead he was staring off into space. “If it’s only numbers,” he said quietly, “that can be taken care of.”
Kate looked confused. “How?”
Tony looked excited. “Well, Rule #12’s more of a guideline than a rule. The three failed marriages are because he was in a relationship with the wrong gender. The age gap is ridiculous, you’re only as young as you feel and, as for my former girlfriends, if you can figure out most of them are made up, so can Gibbs.”
Tony’s reasoning abruptly dropped off – and the enthusiastic light in his eyes died out.
“What is it?” Kate asked.
“There’s one more number I didn’t take into account,” he explained quietly, pushing his plate away and slumping against his chair. “One.”
Kate thought but couldn’t figure it out. “One?”
”The number of days I’d last if I asked and he said no,” Tony said.
“C’mon, Tony, you’ll never know unless you try,” Kate encouraged him.
“No,” he said, voice becoming more firm as he made up his mind. “Look, the relationship I have with Gibbs might not be exactly what I want, but it is a relationship. I’m not willing to risk that.” Dinozzo looked up at her suspiciously. “What’s all this to you anyway? Why are you trying so hard to play matchmaker?”
Kate sighed. “Watching the two of you day after day is somewhat… painful.”
Tony’s eyes widened in dismay. “Is it that obvious? Does everybody know?”
“No,” Kate reassured him. “I think I’m the only one who’s figured it out. It’s not like Gerald and Ducky, that’s for sure.”
“Gerald and Ducky?” Tony asked. “You mean, they’re….?”
“Yeah, if they weren’t together before the terrorist, they are now.” Kate explained. “Everybody else was laying bets on when they’d get together.”
“Gerald and Ducky,” Tony repeated. “I never knew – spill the beans, Kate.”
Kate didn’t fall for the obvious ploy to change the subject. “Tony, if you need to talk about Gibbs….”
“I know, Kate, thanks,” Tony said, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes. “Now tell me about Gerald and Ducky, the sly old dog.”
His companion sighed. Kate thoroughly wished she’d never brought up the topic but she’d only meant to help.
“Okay, the first I noticed something about Ducky and Gerald was when….”
A sea of faces slid by. Old faces. Fat faces. Dark faces. Gibbs let them all pass by. They were all the wrong face. The one he was waiting for was the match to the terrorist. The one who’d played him for a fool and imperiled several of his people.
And Gibbs had sent Tony – Tony – to cover the way out. What would have happened if the younger agent had been Terrorist Victim #2 and joined Gerald at the hospital?
No wonder Gibbs stared at pictures with a vengeance.
As fierce as his concentration was, though, Jethro still heard the footsteps shuffling behind him. Heard them and categorized them as friendly. He’d worked with Ducky far too long to mistake him for a bad guy.
“Still at it, Jethro?”
Gibbs didn’t bother to turn around to face the other man. “Yup.” When Ducky didn’t answer, he reluctantly paused the computer program and turned to face his colleague. “I thought you were going to the hospital to visit Gerald?”
“I am,” the medical examiner responded, holding up a plastic bag. “But I forgot Gerald’s clothes. I stopped by his townhouse to pick up his own pajamas. He’ll still have to wear that drafty hospital gown, but at least he can don his pajama bottoms.”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t want my assets hanging out either,” Gibbs said. He turned back to his computer and restarted the photo identification program, dismissing the other man.
“I saw Kate and young Tony headed out. They invited me for dinner but I’ll share Gerald’s hospital tray instead,” Ducky said. When Gibb didn’t answer, he added, “They make quite the striking couple.” In the reflection of the computer screen, he could see Gibbs wince. “A-hah!”
Gibbs sighed and stilled the stream of photographs again. “Your point being, Ducky?”
Mallard came around until he could face his friend. “You’re not as indifferent to Mr. Dinozzo as you pretend to be.”
“And?” Gibbs said blandly, not giving an inch.
Ducky did something rare for him – he got mad. “Don’t be a fool, Jethro. That boy patently adores you. Do something about it.”
“The foolish thing here, Duck, is for me to enter into a relationship with a man who’s my subordinate, especially right in the middle of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ military land,” Gibbs corrected him, “And Dinozzo is not a boy.”
“When you get to my age, Jethro,” Ducky waved off Gibbs’ protest, “everyone’s a boy. That was part of the problem with me seeing my Gerald for the gem that he is – the arrogant assumption that I was too old for him.”
Gibbs grinned, a lopsided smile that lit his face all too rarely. “You and Gerald, huh? About time.”
“You don’t mind?” Mallard asked, almost shyly. “I don’t want it to complicate matters, with how the department runs. We’ll both be very professional, I assure you.”
“The only part of it I mind is that I lost the betting pool,” Gibbs said, leaning back in his chair. Ducky’s was the best news he’d had since finding out Gerald wouldn’t lose his arm. “Hell, Duck, couldn’t you have waited two weeks more?”
Ducky blinked. “The office was betting on it?”
”Hell, yes,” Gibbs said. “Except maybe for Dinozzo. I think he’s about the only one who didn’t catch on.”
The medical examiner looked briefly offended but then his face cleared as he realized his coworkers would hardly be betting on something they had a problem accepting. “Who won?”
Gibbs grinned again. “Who do you think? Abby.”
“That’s my girl,” Ducky said fondly. Then, realizing Gibbs had used his own tactic of diverting someone with minutia, got back to the point. “I have to tell you, Jethro, when I watched as Gerald lay there, bleeding, I counted myself all types of a fool.”
The grin vanished from Gibbs’ face. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Ducky.”
“Of course I did,” Ducky shot back at him. “I held back from my feelings for Gerald until it was almost too late. Don’t do that with Tony.”
“Don’t ‘Ducky” me, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, I know you far too well,” Ducky lectured him. “You’re pining after our Mr. Dinozzo and if you don’t get busy, you’ll lose the opportunity.”
“Ducky, I can’t,” Gibbs said. “I won’t.”
Ducky took a long look into Jethro’s eyes and sighed. He’d pushed as far as he could; he only hoped it was enough. “All right, I’ll leave you alone,” he reluctantly admitted. “For now.”
He started heading towards the exit. “But I’ve never known a marine to back down from a fight, especially you. Tony would be good for you, Jethro. I only hope it doesn’t take a trauma like seeing him injured for you to realize what he means to you.” With that somewhat ominous statement, he left.
Gibbs waited until Ducky was truly gone. “Too late, pal, I already know what he means to me.”
Ducky had said it – Tony and Kate had gone out for dinner. The beginning of the end of his window of opportunity with Tony had arrived. The fact that he’d at least partially orchestrated it was of no comfort at all.
Gibbs turned back to his computer screen and flipped the program back on. The sea of endlessly changing faces would have to keep him company for the night – and perhaps many a night to come.
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