Thanks to Gibbsgirl and m.a.c. for their plot bunny which they kindly entrusted to us.
Highest praise is due my editor and so much more, Margaret. Not only did she find all of my mistakes, but she was the one who took the original idea and ran with it in the first place! She also kept (and continues to keep) me on track with our timeline. I never could have done this without her.
"That still leaves us with the fact that you don't have a date tonight…and I do," Tony gloated.
"And I'm supposed to care, why?" Kate countered.
Tony faltered. "Because…"
"Because the testosterone is raging and you just have to tell someone about your mighty conquest? Because your every thought is about the opposite sex, so everyone else's should be, too?"
Tony considered this for a moment. "Yeah, sounds about right," he replied with a grin.
Kate rolled her eyes. "Tony, you have a lot to learn about women."
"Wanna teach me?" he teased.
Tony saw Kate shake her head in disbelief. Eighteen months ago, she would have nailed his butt to the wall with a sexual harassment suit. She seemed to have grown more comfortable with (or at least more used to) his personality, though, and often gave him a taste of his own medicine. Occasionally, Tony thought, she enjoyed shoving the spoon down his throat a little too much. He could see that she was framing just such a sarcastic zinger when her phone rang.
He barely noticed that it was her desk phone, not her cell, as she picked up the receiver and smoothly answered, "Agent Todd."
A smile still played across Tony's face as he sat at his desk. She would be off the phone soon and their conversation would pick right up where it had left off. Their banter always did. Only seconds into the call, though, and he was beginning to suspect that something was not normal. He could actually see the blood draining from Kate's face, so quickly that even her lips went white, as she listened to the caller. Aside from a few initial murmurs of assent, she wasn't speaking at all. Suddenly, she reached out a hand to her desk to steady herself and lowered herself slowly into her chair. Fully alert now, he watched her slowly pick up a pen and scribble something onto a scrap of paper. This kind of response to a phone call was never a good sign.
"Okay. Yes. I'll be right there. Thank you." The last was barely a whisper, as she not so much hung up as dropped the handset into the cradle. Sluggishly, as if in a dream, she picked up the piece of paper and ran a hand through her hair almost mechanically.
Tony watched in fascination, reluctant to speak in case it would add to her misery. He assumed it was a death in the family. He'd only seen that kind of reaction twice; once when a chaplain had paid a visit to his friend's house and once when his grandfather had called his mother. After two or three awkward minutes of silence, however, his essential Tony-ness felt compelled to speak.
"You okay, Kate?"
She looked at him blankly, as if wondering why other people were in this suddenly private world of hers. "I…I have to go." She stood surprisingly quickly given her previous listlessness, gathered her coat and the piece of paper, and dashed out of the room. Or, at least, she tried to. A very solid former Marine got in the way.
"Going somewhere, Kate?" Gibbs asked offhandedly, in a tone that clearly said: Not anymore.
"I…need the afternoon off, Gibbs," she answered quietly.
"Why?" he asked.
"I just do." Kate's steely tone caught Tony completely off guard. He had only heard her use it on suspects. (And, on the not-so-rare-occasion that he pushed her too far, himself.) It wasn't the sort of tone people used with Gibbs, especially Kate.
"And if I say no?"
Kate swallowed hard. "Then I'll have to go anyway."
Tony, hazarding a quick glimpse upward, noticed that Gibbs looked only mildly surprised. Tony assumed that the look on Kate's face had affected Gibbs as much as it had him. Even so, Gibbs was still Gibbs.
"Agent Todd, you're not going anywhere without an explanation," he growled in a voice that brooked no argument.
"I can't give you one," Kate admitted softly.
"Then I can't let you go," Gibbs retorted.
Kate nodded. "Fair enough. See you tomorrow."
"Agent Todd!" he barked after her. She continued to the elevator, never turning around. Gibbs' eyes stormed as he returned to his desk. "What are you gawking at, DiNozzo?"
"Nothing, boss," Tony returned automatically, wisely focusing on his work. A few moments later, however, he hazarded a question. "What was that about?"
"I don't know, DiNozzo!" Gibbs all but yelled. Tony didn't hear him add, almost in a whisper, "I don't know."