Kate was curled up on her sofa watching her new dog wander around the living room. She didn't have a clue what it used to be called, the tramp who owned it just seemed to yell at it and call it 'you stupid thing' a lot, but now it was called Toni. It was cute, in a strange sort of way. Normally she liked 'proper dogs' like Labradors or golden retrievers. Nothing that was less than a foot tall and nothing that yapped instead of barked. And most of all, nothing that directed it's yappy fury towards her and not Gibbs.
It was kind of growing on her now, though. Since it had growled at Tony and carried on doing so for the rest of the day, instead of yapping at her. And she had to admit, it was kind of cute. Cute enough that she was seriously trying to remember to call it a 'she' and not an 'it', anyway.
Not as cute as the real Tony, but there wasn't a lot she could do about that. He had made it perfectly clear that he didn't like her. Not even 'in that way' – he just didn't like her. In any way. She hated him for that, hating herself at the same time because maybe if she was a little bit nicer and a little less sarcastic and not so much of a bitch to him all the time, he might not think she was horrible.
Which she wasn't. Not really. She didn't think so, anyway. She hoped not. She wasn't always the friendliest of people, but she could be nice. She was nice most of the time. She wasn't some evil psycho-bitch who made everyone else miserable.
Was she? If she was, she didn't mean to be. But that made it worse, in a way, because if she was deliberately being mean she could make the conscious decision to stop it, but if she didn't know she was doing it then there was nothing she could do.
Anyway, she reminded herself, she didn't care what Tony thought. She didn't care whether he thought she was attractive or not, she had only asked him because she was curious. The fact that he did think she was attractive meant nothing to her. Absolutely nothing. Besides, she wasn't asking for his personal opinion, she was asking for a detached, neutral and honest answer. And as Tony was the only person in the room, she had to ask him. She didn't have a choice. She did not care what Tony thought about her looks.
And she especially didn't care if he didn't like her, because she didn't like him either. He was annoying and nasty and even if he didn't like her, there was no need to say that, was there? No need at all. Saying he didn't like her was just mean. She never said that to him.
Well, she did, but she didn't mean it. He knew she was kidding, and he knew she wouldn't really murder him in his sleep or cut up all his expensive ties or any of the other stuff she said practically every day. Didn't he?
She was only joking when she told him she didn't like him. She did like him, really. A lot.
But if he didn't like her, then she didn't like him, and she wasn't going to say she did. Because she didn't. Not at all. Not one little bit.
Not even a miniscule amount.
Toni jumped up onto the sofa and licked Kate's leg, her wet little tongue flicking over her ankle and making her squirm.
"You hate him too, don't you?" Kate said, stroking the dog's head. "He's a horrible man, and we're never going to talk to him again, are we?"
Toni just wiped her tongue over Kate's foot again, snuffling contentedly.
He was horrible. He was. Other people liked her – if she was that bad, she wouldn't have any friends, right? And she did. Abby liked her, and McGee, and Ducky, and she thought Gibbs did but she wasn't sure because with Gibbs you never could be. And she was friends with people from her school and her college and the Secret Service. It was obviously Tony's problem, not hers, because otherwise more people would hate her.
When McGee had got in an argument with Tony about whether or not all girls had 'best friends' after age twelve, they'd gone to ask Abby.
"Have you got a best friend, Abs?" Tony had asked.
"Sure I do," Abby had nodded.
"Who?" McGee had spluttered, shocked that she would prove Tony right and not him.
"Kate, duh," Abby said, before walking off and leaving him to sulk by himself.
And when Kate and McGee had been the only ones in the bullpen and Kate's ex turned up and started shouting at her, McGee had very politely suggested that he take himself elsewhere before he shot him for harassing a federal agent, then he'd got her a cup of coffee and asked her if she was okay.
Ducky always said sweet things to her, and that time when she shot that boy who hadn't done anything he had offered to take her to the opera with him even though he could have taken his mother or Abby or any one of the many other women he knew.
And Gibbs did like her, because when she'd first met him he'd spent time with her when he didn't actually have too, which he didn't do with anyone else, and when she had gotten ill he'd sat with her instead of just leaving her to suck it up, even though she wasn't his agent at that point and had, to be honest, been kind of hostile towards him.
"See?" Kate said to Toni, probably a little too aggressively considering the poor dog hadn't done anything wrong. "People do like me. If people didn't like me, they wouldn't do any of that stuff, would they?"
She sighed and rested her head on the back of her sofa. Having someone not like you was really crappy. Even if Abby and Gibbs and Ducky and McGee and everyone else on the whole damn planet liked her, Tony didn't. And that hurt more than she'd care to admit, even to herself.
She wiped a hand across her face angrily as she realized she had started to cry. It wasn't fair – Tony was just as unpleasant to her as she was to him, and he started it. She didn't even mean it! She'd thought he hadn't meant it either, she'd thought they were just messing around. Maybe Tony had meant it though. Quite a lot of what they said to each other was quite hurtful, if you didn't know it was a joke. But he said stuff to her too, it wasn't just her, and he never seemed bothered before.
Toni jumped up and looked around, obviously bewildered, as the sound of the buzzer filled the room.
"It's okay," Kate soothed, stroking her head and uncurling herself from the sofa. She went to her door and held the button down. "S'open," she called into it, releasing it again and going back to the sofa.
Tony made his way to the elevator and along the hall. Did she normally just let random people into the building before checking who they were? It suited him pretty well this evening – if she had asked who it was he'd have had to lie, or she wouldn't let him in. But the thought of her letting anyone in off the street concerned him a bit. If she forgave him, he'd have to have a talk with her about safety. If not… well, he'd tell Gibbs to talk to her.
He rapped on the door loudly and heard that horrible ratty little dog barking and scratching at it. She'd better restrain that thing before she opened the door, he didn't fancy getting mauled right now. He was about to knock again when the door swung open and Kate stared at him, her eyes wide with surprise and her mouth slightly open. She had the dog in her arms, and it immediately started growling at him.
"Good dog," Kate praised, ruffling it's fur and kissing it's head.
Charming. Oh well, he deserved it. He'd hate him too, if he was her. He hadn't banked on her being ready for bed, though. She was all wrapped up in a little silky gown thing, all satin fabric and bare legs. Tony swallowed thickly. He took in her face, devoid of any of the make-up and professionalism she normally wore to work, and her hair, tied up on top of her head with long loose strands falling around her face. She didn't look like Kate like that – she didn't look bad, far from it, but it wasn't familiar. It was somewhat more personal than when she was at work, when she could pick and choose what he saw of her and what he didn't. He'd seen her with no make-up on before, but that was at NCIS when they were working overnight, and she'd had plenty of opportunity to put some make-up on if she wanted. This was him appearing, uninvited and unannounced, at her home. After insulting her.
He shifted his gaze down from her face, and turned red. He didn't mean to stare at her breasts, truly he didn't, but when he was talking to her usually he had to force himself not to keep glancing down and actually maintain eye-contact. And even if he did sneak a glance, she was usually covered up in sweaters or blouses or jackets. Not silky gowns that went lower than she would consider decent if it were an item of clothing and not nightwear. Forcing his gaze away was harder than it normally was, though, because at the top of the 'v' of her gown was a pretty little strip of pale pink lace, which may well have been her pyjama top but might just be her bra, and when he did manage to put his eyes back in his head before she realized where he was looking he ended up looking at the hem of her gown. And her legs.
Her smooth, tanned, shapely legs that seemed to go on forever even though she was only small, with their curved calves and firm thighs and knees, which on everybody else he found disturbingly unattractive and incredibly weird, but on Kate looked nothing short of beautiful, and – oh God, this wasn't allowed either!
Quickly he averted his gaze to the floor and examined the patterns in the wood. Nice and safe. Nothing that he wasn't allowed to look at on the floor – there was a line between one floorboard and the next, there was a tiny spider scurrying across the threshold, there was a dark knot in the wood, there were his feet, there was a strand of dog hair, Kate's feet… nice feet, he thought. Dainty and pretty, with light pink nail polish on the toes and neatly filed nails.
Oh, God! He'd come to apologize and now he was standing at Kate's door like a crazy person and not saying anything!
"What do you want?" Kate asked, and Tony felt ice cut through him. She didn't sound angry, or even sad. She just sounded kind of tired and like she couldn't really be bothered with him right now.
"Can I come in?" he asked, forcing himself to make eye-contact with her again.
Kate shrugged. She didn't really want to deal with him, and she couldn't for the life of her figure out why he wanted to come in, but if she said no he'd only argue. With a bit of luck, Toni would attack him.
'See?' she thought to herself, redirecting her sarcasm normally aimed at Tony. 'I wonder why he doesn't like you, when you're obviously such a nice person'. Still. She was only thinking that because she didn't like him either, and it didn't count because you're allowed to be nasty to people you don't like. Everyone knows that.
Tony took her silence for consent, and stepped into her apartment and closed the door. He had to struggle not to look around and stare at the furniture and the pictures on the wall, or to go bury his face in her pillow and just inhale all her lovely Kateness. That wouldn't help his case, and he didn't want to make things worse.
"Erm, I came to say, uh, that I'm sorry. For what I said," Tony said, before he pretended he'd got some paperwork or something and just gave her whatever files he had in his car and ran off.
Kate blinked. That was a shock – she didn't expect an apology. She and Tony hardly ever apologized. Only when they caused each other actually bodily harm, and then only with Gibbs standing over them threatening to do the same.
"I, erm, I didn't mean it the way it sounded, it just came out all wrong, and I just… thought you should know. That I didn't mean it. That I don't like you, I, er, mean. Because I do, and, you know, I don't want you to think that I don't. Because I do. But I did mean the first bit. Uh, that is… I meant that I think you're attractive, because you are, but I didn't mean that I never hit on you because I don't like you because that's not true. Because I don't not like you."
Kate frowned. Usually Tony was fairly articulate – fairly – but now she was struggling to understand what he was talking about.
Tony took another deep breath. That's what happens when you rush off to do something without thinking it through first – you get confused and make no sense.
"I do like you. And I'm sorry I made it sound like I didn't. And I do think you're attractive. And nice," Tony said, nodding to keep his concentration.
He looked at Kate, worried. He'd said it now, apologized, and there wasn't a lot else he could do. Toni was on the floor – hey, when did she put that dog down? It might eat him! – and Kate was fidgeting with her sleeve.
"Really?" she asked, sounding shyer and more nervous than Tony had ever heard her sound before.
"Really," he promised.
Before he could say anything else to try and convince her, she had thrown herself at him and was clenching him tightly in a hug that would Abby proud. Her arms barely stretched around his body, and she was on tiptoes and still didn't reach up to his chin, but even so she was squeezing him so tight he could tell he would be bruised tomorrow morning.
"Ooww, Kate," he grimaced, but she didn't let go. She just nuzzled her head into his chest.
Kate's cheeks were starting to ache from smiling so widely, and the balls of her feet were stinging on the hard floor from having all her weight on them, but she didn't care. She knew that she'd really regret hugging him like this at work tomorrow, but if he was going to turn up at her apartment in the middle of the night and say he was sorry, what did he expect? She rubbed her face against his shirt, fighting off the urge to kiss him, and clung to him.
"Thank you," she whispered into his chest, and she probably meant those two little words more than she'd meant them ever before in her whole life.
Tony put his arms over her shoulders awkwardly and hugged her back. When she finally broke away from him, she sat on her sofa with Toni laying over her feet and stared at him. Unsure as to whether that was a 'you can go home now' stare or a 'you can stay a bit longer if you want' stare, he decided to chance his luck and sat on the sofa beside her.
Realizing as he sat down that actually now he was next to Kate with nowhere for her to lean except him or the dog, he wished he'd sat somewhere else. The chair opposite, perhaps, or the floor. Anywhere, other than right here next to Kate.
"Can I lean on you?" she asked, not wanting to put her weight on the little dog to her right but not willing to lean against Tony if he didn't want her too.
"You don't have to ask, it's your sofa," Tony said, shifting his arm slightly so Kate could relax on him.
"It's your body," Kate shrugged, settling against him. And a very nice body it was too, but she wasn't about to tell him that. Not right now, anyway. Maybe in the future sometime. Perhaps.
"You know I like you too, yeah?" Kate said suddenly, twisting round so she was looking up at Tony.
"How much?" Tony grinned.
Kate slapped him playfully on the arm.
"Seriously, how much do you like me?"
"More than I like Gibbs," Kate laughed. More than she liked most people, actually, but again, not telling.
"So what is it particularly about me that appeals to you over Gibbs?" Tony asked, absently stroking her hair. If she'd minded, he'd have stopped straight away because he shouldn't really be doing it, but Kate didn't even seem to be aware of it and it was so soft and silky that maybe he'd just carry on for a little bit longer…
"Well," Kate said, matter-of-factly. "You aren't going to fire me because I look like the woman who served your coffee to you funny last week. You don't creep up on me and scare me and you don't make weird comments. And you don't make crazy rules that nobody can remember and then switch the numbers round when they finally get a handle on it. You've actually got a sense of humour, even if it's absolutely disgusting most of the time and just downright disturbing the rest. And you're kind of better looking."
Wow, that last one shocked him. Better looking than Gibbs? Obviously he knew he was, because Gibbs was old, but he didn't realize Kate had noticed.
"Better looking?" Tony teased, and enjoyed watching Kate's cheeks flush with colour.
"It's not like I've got a thing for you or anything," Kate said quickly. "It's just that, you know, you are quite good-looking."
"Why thank you."
"So how much do you like me?" Kate grinned up at him.
"More than I like Gibbs," Tony said cheekily.
Kate made a face at him. That wasn't fair, he couldn't just steal her answer. That was… well, stealing.
"How come?" Kate asked, nudging him lightly in the ribs.
"Well," Tony said, poking Kate's elbow away from him playfully. "You smell better than Gibbs – the man reeks of sawdust. And you're a girl, which automatically rates you pretty high up there."
"You really do have a one-track mind, don't you, DiNozzo?"
"I have lots of tracks," Tony corrected. "I just happen to be doing well with this one."
Kate rolled her eyes.
"Gibbs should make a whole new set of rules just for you," she said. "Though it probably wouldn't make any difference – you'd only break them."
"Hey!" Tony pouted. "I never break the rules!"
That wasn't strictly true. He had broken the apology rule only a few minutes ago. But still, come on! He always – well, mostly – carried his knife with him, and he never let suspects stay together, and he didn't mess up any marine's coffee. Often. He was pretty sure he did a pretty good job of keeping all the rules. Rule Twelve especially – not one single time had he broken that rule. Ever, in his whole career with Gibbs and NCIS. Excluding, of course, Paula Cassidy. And Karen, who worked down in records. And Chantelle at reception. There was one night with Linda, this agent who used to work with Chris Patchi, but that had only been one night so he wasn't sure it actually counted all that much.
But, with Kate, he hadn't broken Rule Twelve. And if they weren't on your actual team, they weren't affected by Gibbs' rules and that meant he could do whatever he liked.
"You're breaking one of them right now!" Kate told him, digging him in the ribs and scowling.
Huh? Did sitting on a sofa with Kate in her – very nice – pyjamas count as breaking Rule Twelve? He was certain that it didn't. Pretty certain, anyway. All he was doing was sitting next to her, touching her a little. Perhaps maybe staring at her for a bit when she was distracted. But he was only doing what he did at work!
"Apologizing is against the rules," Kate pointed out, apparently oblivious to Tony's confusion.
Oh. The apology rule. Not the making-out-with-your-teammate-rule. Why did his brain instantly jump to Rule Twelve whenever it was to do with Kate? It couldn't be healthy. He should have known he was breaking the apology rule. Mind you, the making-out rule was probably a lot more fun to break.
Well at least he wasn't inadvertently breaking rules. He knew he was apologizing, which meant he could be held accountable, but it was kind of a relief to know that he wasn't doing things without even realizing. Not that he'd have a problem with breaking Rule Twelve with Kate if she offered, but he would like to be aware of it. He'd feel kind of cheated if he wasn't.
Kate fidgeted slightly. She didn't know why she was even asking this question – it would only cause more trouble, and she knew she'd regret it as soon as the words left her mouth. Besides, she wasn't really sure that she actually wanted to know the answer. But…
"Do you ever think… you know, us two… if it wasn't for Gibbs rules, do you think we would have… done something?"
Tony froze. Yes, he did. But he didn't know how to say that without offending her. And if he said no, she might get upset again. He hated these questions, it wasn't fair. He should make his own rules – no hard questions. Maybe he could be like politicians and celebrities, who got a list of what they were going to be asked in interviews before they started.
"I think I'd have probably tried it," Tony admitted truthfully.
Kate frowned at him.
"Liar," she accused.
"You wouldn't have done anything," Kate said. "You're chicken."
Tony's jaw dropped.
"I am not!"
"Yeah you are," Kate said.
"What, so if I did something, you wouldn't mind?"
"I don't know," Kate said smugly. "You're too chicken to try."
"Okay… say I wasn't chicken."
"Which you are."
"But if I wasn't. Hypothetically. What would happen?"
Kate tilted her head thoughtfully and chewed on her lip.
"That would depend."
"On exactly how hypothetical you were actually being."
"Very hypothetical," Tony nodded.
"Hypothetically… well, I'd probably say it was okay with me."
Tony nodded thoughtfully.
"But," Kate said slowly, and Tony's ears pricked up. "If we were talking realistically, then I guess I'd have to say it was wrong and inappropriate and all that. So I'd probably have to slap you or something, and tell Gibbs."
"So," Tony smiled. "Realistically, this," he leaned forward and kissed Kate quickly. "Would be banned. But in theory, it would be -"
"Still banned," Kate interrupted, her eyebrows raised. "And incredibly lame."
"I see. Would this be better? Hypothetically, of course."
Tony leaned forwards again and kissed Kate properly, letting himself get used to the taste and feel of her mouth against his, before breaking away again.
"I think," Kate said thoughtfully, "That I would allow that. Hypothetically. If it wasn't against the rules and Gibbs wouldn't strangle us both."
"Do you think," Tony said, deep in thought, "That, if we didn't tell Gibbs and he weren't to find out… you might let me try it again? In a… slightly less hypothetical manner?"
"As in… what he doesn't know can't hurt him?"
"Or us," Tony grinned.
"I'm not sure," Kate said, her eyes sparkling mischievously. "Maybe you should try again and see."
Tony slid one of his hands into Kate's hair and brought her face closer to his, using his free hand to wrap his fingers around hers and squeeze gently. He leant over to her, kissing her gently until he couldn't breathe anymore and he had to pull away.
"Yeah," Kate said, snuggling up to him on the sofa and slipping her arms around his waist, so she was pressed up against him with her chin on his chest. "I'm good with that."
"Oh good," Tony said, relieved. "Me too."