Okay, well, this is set after Caught on Tape, when Kate asked Tony if she was attractive and all that and obviously it's Tate lol. What a shocker.

Oh, and here is a disclaimer (I actually remembered! Yay!) I don't own anything from NCIS etc etc etc.

Tony sighed, staring at the drips of condensation spilling over the neck of his beer bottle and onto his hand. They were cold, icy, but he didn't wipe them away. He looked up, making eye-contact with a redheaded woman who was leaning across the bar smiling at him, and quickly dropped his gaze again. He didn't even smile back. Kate would tease him, he knew. She'd pretend to be shocked and astounded that he hadn't pounced on the beautiful woman flirting with him.

Before Tony had met Kate, 'beautiful' was a buxom blonde in a mini skirt. 'Attractive' meant conservative brunettes who were by no means ugly but didn't quite qualify for stunning. Now, he found the covered-up, classy brunettes beautiful, and he didn't even class the slutty blondes as 'attractive'. He wasn't saying all blondes were sluts, and he wasn't saying they weren't pretty. They just… they didn't do it for him so much anymore. He was more interested in the small brunettes with big, innocent eyes and soft features.

Actually, that was a lie.

He was only interested in one brunette, and if he couldn't have her – which he couldn't, especially, he was certain, after today – then he'd settle for look-alikes. Every woman he was with made him think of Kate now, whether they looked like her or not. He'd be sprawled out on the bed with them asleep on his chest and he wouldn't be able to stop himself running his hands through their hair or stroking their backs and thinking 'Kate's hair would be silkier, Kate's legs would be slimmer, Kate's skin would be softer'. It wasn't right and it wasn't fair – not on the girls he was with, who didn't deserve to be compared inch-by-inch with someone else and condemned because they weren't her, not on himself, who couldn't enjoy himself properly with any woman anymore, and not on Kate, who had never given her permission for every last bit of her skin to be evaluated against anyone else, and who wouldn't give it if she was asked.

It hadn't always been like this. He'd always thought she was hot, and if he met her in a bar he'd probably try it on with her, but he hadn't always thought she was the most delightful thing he'd ever seen. He remembered the exact day when she had become more than just 'Kate who was pretty and sat at the desk opposite him', and had become 'Kate who was his favourite person'. They'd been in a field, packing up evidence into the truck, and Ducky had whispered a comment into her ear. She'd laughed, tilting her head back and giggling like a schoolgirl. The sun had shone onto her hair and made it glow amber, and her eyes had half-closed against the sunlight, and her cheeks had flushed with colour. He'd snapped a picture of it, capturing the moment forever, and he had the photo in his drawer at home now. Tony still didn't know what it was that Ducky had said to her – Kate had said he wouldn't find it funny, and she'd probably forgotten the whole incident months ago. He couldn't forget it though. He couldn't get that image out of his mind. Not that he'd ever actually tried that hard – in fact, if he was truly honest, he actively encouraged it to reappear whenever he had a free moment.

Tony took another long sip of his beer and sighed. Kate's words from earlier were echoing around his head, and had been since he got out of work.

"Tony, would you say I was attractive?"

No, not really. 'Attractive' wasn't enough. 'Attractive' was for people like that redhead sitting opposite and eyeing him keenly – slightly-better-than-average-looking, but not a lot more. If this had been any other night, or he had been able to dredge up a trace of the old Tony, he'd have bounded over there and bought her a drink and would be kissing her against a wall in the alley before closing time. But there was only one woman he wanted to press against a wall and kiss, and it wasn't her. Especially not in that hideous dress that looked more like lingerie than clothing.

Kate would never wear a dress like that.

And if she did, it would look better on her than it did on Slut-Features over there.

But when your female co-worker, who acts like a hard-ass but obviously has some major insecurities because otherwise wouldn't feel the need to ask, or ask in that little 'I don't give a damn what you say, this is a casual question' voice that isn't convincing anyone, if you find her attractive, what are you suppose to say?

'No, I find you repulsive?'

That would be cruel and mean and not the slightest bit true.

'Yes, I think you're the most beautiful woman to ever grace the earth and if I could, I'd kiss you right here and right now, then take you home and keep you in my room with a guard so nobody else can ever touch you except me?'

Hmm. That would go down well.

So, he'd gone with what he considered the best, safest, and most complimentary answer he could manage without sounding like a bastard, a sleaze, a liar or a crazy man. He was quite proud of it, actually, considering he had been given no warning and no time to prepare.


And he'd turned back to the window, giving himself a mental pack on the back and congratulating himself on his success in averting a crisis. But then she'd dropped her 'I'm a big tough agent etc etc you can't hurt me blah blah blah' act and just asked him plain and simple, albeit a little nervously and carefully, how come he'd never hit on her or asked her out or whatever it was she was going to say before she got too shy and just trailed off with a 'you know…' and a shrug .

Well. What was he supposed to say to that?

"I know you," he'd told her.

What he'd meant was 'I know you'd turn me down'. 'I know you'd worry about what Gibbs would say'. 'I know you'd find it hard to work with me'. 'I know you'd get upset when I screw it up'. 'I know you would worry because of what happened with your boyfriend in the Secret Service'. 'I know you deserve better than my half-assed attempts at romance'.

But he didn't want her to know how deeply he cared for her, how intense his feelings were when he looked at her, so he just said 'I know you'.

Basically, he had told her he didn't actually like her. That she may be good-looking, but he didn't like her as a person enough to even try for a one-night-stand.

And he called Gibbs a bastard.

Gibbs shouted at her and ordered her to her desk and hung up on her, but he was never downright nasty for no reason at all. He did mean things sometimes, but he did them to everyone and he probably didn't even realize, and he wasn't deliberately cruel to her. Tony was pretty sure that if he was – if he ever delivered some hurtful comment that was totally uncalled for and obviously upsetting, he'd know he was a bastard and he'd… well, not apologize to her, because he didn't do that, but he'd do the Gibbs equivalent.

But he wouldn't be stupid – or nasty – enough to do it in the first place. Not like Tony.

He hadn't said it to be spiteful. He'd just… said it. He didn't mean that he didn't like her, or that he hated her or anything. He was just too afraid of being too extreme one way that he'd gone too far the other.

And now he had hurt her.

She acted like she didn't care, and she made out like it was just another one of those things that he said that she couldn't care less about. But it was pretty obvious that it was an act. Even McGee and Abby had noticed. When they were on the way to Abby's lab, McGee had caught Tony and pulled him away from the group, whispering in his ear to ask what was wrong with Kate. And Abby had made him wait behind in her lab, pouncing on him as soon as the others were out of earshot and demanding to know why Kate was sad.

Why did they assume he would know? Probably because they assumed he had caused it, Tony thought bitterly. Which he had. But still. He wasn't her keeper, she didn't answer to him. If they wanted to know why she was upset, they should ask her themselves.

Of course, she wouldn't answer McGee. She'd snap at him and tell him she was fine, making it all the more obvious she wasn't, and Gibbs might see and then he'd want to know why she pissed off, and even Kate couldn't hold out on Gibbs. She might tell Abby, eventually. It would take a lot of pushing, but then she'd admit that Tony was a total bastard, then Abby would tell Gibbs and both Abby and Gibbs would come after him.

On second thoughts, he was glad they asked him and not Kate. Kate's version would make them hate him. Maybe he should do something.

But what could he actually do, short of having McGee build him a time-machine so he could go back and make it so he never said it? If it was Abby, he'd apologise. Scrap that, if it was Abby she wouldn't care and he wouldn't have anything to apologise for. Still, he'd probably do it anyway, because it was the right thing to do.

But Gibbs didn't approve of apologizing.

Screw that – he was already breaking rule five billion and seventy three sub clause nineteen Q or whatever number the rule was about not getting drunk on a work night, so what difference would it make breaking the one about apologies? Besides, he was pretty sure you were allowed to break one rule in order to keep another, if the rule you were keeping was more important. And if he was going to break a rule, Gibbs would probably prefer him to break the apology one and not the drunk one.

Taking a deep breath, he swallowed the last of his beer and dropped a bill on the bar, before running his hands through his hair and getting his coat. Kate was probably at home with that little dog Gibbs had given her. Forced upon her, actually, even though she had made it perfectly clear from the word go that she was it that she wasn't too keen on it. Anyway, she'd be at home. Like he should be, instead of drowning his sorrows – which he didn't have a right to have, actually, considering nobody had done anything to him.

Hopefully she'd let him apologise. Hopefully she wouldn't slam the door in his face, or refuse to buzz him into her building, or call one of her old big tough Secret Service buddies she'd mentioned to come beat him up. Surely they were all too busy protecting important people to come rescue Kate? Mind you, they weren't too busy to have 'interesting sex' with their wives, if Kate's phone conversation was anything to go by. Having said that, if he was having sex, he wouldn't drop everything to come save Kate from some loser who had made her mad or sad or whatever she was right now.

Well, actually, he would. But he wasn't going to beat himself up, unless Kate asked him too, and thankfully the idea probably wouldn't occur to her.

Before he could chicken out and go home, he got in his car and tapped her address into the satnav. He didn't know where she lived, but he did know her address, and he figured that with an annoying voice telling him to 'take the next left' he would somehow be more likely to change his mind and go back to the bar.

And if it all went terribly and Kate was miserable and wouldn't let him in, at least he had beer at home.