Shirts versus Skins
It was supposed to be a mid-summer diversion, a friendly game of baseball, until a thoughtless remark turned it into so much more. When the white sign went up on the lounge bulletin board, it hung unnoticed for over a day until the stylized bat and ball at the top corners of the announcement caught Tony DiNozzo's attention. "Hey, McShortstop," he called to his partner, "look at this."
Tim McGee, already near the exit and intent upon the elevator beyond, didn't allow his thoughts at this new epithet to reach his face. He's long past the point where any of DiNozzo's friendly perversions of his name have any effect upon him. They usually telegraph something about the in-this-case-non-conversation the Agent wants to draw him into and there's no point in protesting, for the man can come up with ten new names in the time it takes him to object to the first one.
"What is it, Tony?" He'd prefer to have spent the last fifteen minutes of his hour break dropping in on his wife in her fourth floor office but there was no real way out of this – other than to rudely ignore the call, which did have its appeal.
"Baseball game this Saturday, noon on the Recreation Field."
"So? Today's only Tuesday." 'And the day Shav's here rather than at Saint Mary's and you're cutting into my time.'
"So? SO? So, the chance to get out, the great outdoors, fresh air, the challenge of warriors."
"Tony, it's a baseball game and there's only one sign-in, Reznik from Fraud." He hated pointing out the obvious almost as much as he hated DiNozzo's bouts of enthusiasm.
"Well, now it has two," he said as, with a flourish, he drew a pen and added his name to the list, choosing 'right handed' and 'third base' for himself. Reznik had not chosen a position - or even a hand.
"Congratulations, now only sixteen more to go in three days."
"I don't care. Don't you know, McBatboy, that if you sign it they will come? Field of Dreams, Crucible of Challenge – go ahead, Probambino, mark your Abner Doubleday right there."
"I will not."
"Chicken. What am I saying, anyway?" he asked expansively, attracting the attention of all the agents in the lounge, hoping to embarrass his partner into signing up. "You'd only wind up as the water boy."
"Water boy? I'll have you know–"
"This is a test of talent, Gladiator skill and the determination to win. It takes heart, it take courage, it takes soul. Baseball is for real men."
"Excuse me?" That offended tone came from behind them, and when they turned it was to Special Agent Lisa DuBois seated on one of the cushioned chairs, a magazine on her lap. "Did you just say baseball is for 'real men'?"
"You bet. Not DuBois, this is for men like DiMaggio and DiNozzo."
"HA! I could dust the field with you any day."
"We're not talking softball, my friend, we're talking hardball – the real thing."
DuBois tossed the magazine off her lap. "I don't play with soft balls. Real women go for hard balls." That elicited a gaggle of laughter from most of the now-quite-attentive women in the room.
"Sorry, but that 'League of Their Own' stuff was only a movie, though Geena Davis did know how to fill out a uniform. Madonna too."
DuBois was out of her seat in an instant. Having eaten the bait meant for McGee, she stalked across the room and snatched DiNozzo's pen from his hand. "Out of the way, water boy, I'll show you how the game is played."
By the time she'd signed her own name, 'right handed' and 'center field', there were four more women lined up behind her. She gave DiNozzo's pen to her partner Janet Levy and turned to face DiNozzo across the line. "We'll show you a 'League of our own'."
"You got it, lady; the men against the girls."
That halted the line between them and all smiles vanished. "That was your last chance," Levy declared as Agent Tina Larsen took up the sword - or rather the mightier pen. "Now it's 'to the death'."
"So it's 'Shirts versus Skins'," DiNozzo announced, relishing the prospect as Larsen, one of his earlier relished fantasies, turned his pen over to Peggy Uchitel. He watched her sign up, taking the moment for a glimpse. "We'll be 'shirts'."
Uchitel, finished signing as Catcher, turned to him and slapped the pen into his chest. "In your dreams, DiNozzo."
"We've got talents you'll never have," Tina Larsen declared.
"Well, McQueue," Tony said to Tim on the opposite side of the quickly shortening line, ignoring Larsen's tone, "you'd better get your name on there fast or it's going to be sixteen to two, with seven working against their own teammates."
"Serve you right, DiLoudmouth."
Gibbs, DiNozzo, McGee, SSA Fred Higgins, Ducky, Palmer together with Ken Templeton and Patrick Larsen from Melanie Kelman's team wait in the dusty ground by home plate with other assorted agents. The sun is high, the temperature climbing, the air is dry and the challenge is awry. "Ten minutes, boss," McGee reports, checking his watch for the third time since noon but only speaking this once. He's particularly concerned, since Shav had signed up, relishing a chance to play with him on this Saturday afternoon, and he can count on one hand the number of times he's known her to be late - since she was sixteen. The men scan the Navy Yard in every direction, finding no challengers.
"You think they chickened out?" DiNozzo asks, not believing it. Women who have been under fire in the field do not 'chicken out' at the diamond, no matter how horrible their forthcoming humiliation.
"They didn't chicken out, Tony," McGee, his favorite pigeon, says acerbically.
DiNozzo considers his retort for an instant, but the man's wife is a scheduled player and there are some lines friends - even tormentors and victims - don't cross. "No, McPitcher'sMound, they just forfeit, nothing dishonorable when facing a superior opponent."
McGee doesn't quite get all the way through that retort. "McPitcher'sMound?"
"Well, you are developing another bulge in your center field," DiNozzo says, pointing out the half-inch of increase under Tim's gray MIT tee shirt.
"Nonsense, Anthony," Ducky counters in his best 'defuse the tension' voice. "It just indicates Mr. McGee has married an excellent cook."
"Thank you, Ducky."
"I still think they're forfeiting," DiNozzo insists, checking his watch.
"Don't think so," Gibbs counters. Eyes on his watch, DiNozzo missed the approach of the troop transport that pulls onto the grass beside the dugout beyond third base. It's not a true dugout in the traditional sense but a chain link fence fifteen feet behind the base line, enclosed in the infield but accessible from the Outfield, designed only to protect players from line drives. It will not, however, protect them from the imposing sun in the cloudless sky.
The huge white sign taped to the side of the transport reads 'ENKISS ANGELS' but while the A has the expected halo, the initial E is horned and the final red S trails off into a spiked tail.
McGee can detect a familiar influence in the use of the 'Enkiss', and an equally familiar influence in its modification.
When the door opens the men realize the surprises have only begun as the women alight, each bearing their gear. Sneakers and socks leave long, eye-riveting intervals to light pink or yellow or light blue, or in one case black, shorts cut high enough to be banned in most school gyms. The outer thighs are provocatively slit to within a handbreadth - a small hand's breadth - of elastic waistbands, and all the garments expend the absolute minimum of material to remain securely upon hips.
The short sleeved tops are little more; open necked and unbound by the draw strings, they're of matching colors to the exceedingly shorts and are undoubtedly cool for the summer day. Each frilly top is embroidered on the left side, most of the Agency initials set in contrasting colors, pink on blue and so forth, while between the C and S is a human eye which is quite cunningly placed so that the iris receives special 3D emphasis, which also makes it quite clear that, whether B, C or more, the women's assets are quite unencumbered by cups.
Ziva, clad in jeans and green power shirt, is the only surprising addition to this group. The woman had declared she would not come, having little time or patience for a game comprised mostly of inactivity, and though she's obviously changed her mind Tony regrets that she's out of uniform.
Abby, whose black uniform deviates only in color from her teammates, leads the group to third base, then leaves them behind and walks directly to Ducky, armed with a paper and a smirk. "Sorry we're late," she says, handing him the team line-up.
Ducky would have preferred to watch the game from the stands extending from home to beyond the corner bases or the bleachers that reach almost to the high outfield link fence, but both sides had unanimously drafted him for home plate Umpire, no one willing to waste even an instant in doubting the venerable man's integrity. The other three Umpire positions are filled by previously selected Marines and Sailors, who upon seeing the distaff team are particularly glad for having volunteered. Those who had unwisely declined the offer must get their views from the side stands and bleachers.
Gibbs hands Ducky the men's roster but it's the women Ducky is interested in, and unlike the other men he's not pleased by what he sees. "No, Ms. Sciuto, I think not."
"Would you please call Agent Paulson over?" Abby calls to her team, several of whom are already stretching and limbering up for the upcoming contest. A blonde woman of medium height and clad in eye-riveting pink with blue lettering breaks off her stretching to join them, the reluctance quite clear upon her face.
"Yes, Ducky?" Jean Paulson asks when she reaches the Captains and Umpires. From her tone she already knows why she's been singled out.
"I'm sorry, Agent Paulson, I cannot permit you to play. Your rotator cup is still not completely healed and you do favor your left side. A slide into base, or a collision, could damage it again."
"Then I won't slide." His expression doesn't change. "Oh, come on, Ducky, you said another week and I'll–"
"A week from now is not today. I'm sorry."
"As of now, Jean," Abby cuts in, "you're Second Base Umpire." She turns to the Sailor she's summarily displaced. "No hard feelings?"
Before he can answer, a Corpsman cuts in. "We'll switch around each inning."
"Thanks." He hadn't been at all happy to be relegated - now - to the stands. As passersby notice the challengers, and word begins to spread, those stands are already filling as the large transport departs.
Abby turns to Gibbs. "Any objection?"
"Nope." This is only a friendly game; he doesn't care if someone from the opposing team umpires.
"Good," Abby declares as Tony arrives to check on the start of the game, "we'll just limber up a bit more before we get started.
But DiNozzo has an outstanding issue. "We never did settle on which side is shirts and which is skins."
Abby smiles, grabs the hem of her black shirt and gets midway up her ribs when Gibbs' hands on hers stop her.
"We'll be 'skins'."
"Suit yourselves. Better anyhow, since I spent nearly seven hundred bucks getting these outfits ready in time." Her smirk doesn't fade as she heads back to her team, but the men notice a feature of her black short shorts that hadn't been turned to them before. Embroidered white palm prints, fingers pointing down toward her bare legs, decorate each saucily swaying cheek.
Gibbs, assuring himself that Abby is the only one to so modify her uniform, notes DiNozzo's attention on her retreating palms and gives him his first rapid succession double head strike.
DiNozzo turns. "What was that second one for?"
"Then what was the first one for?"
'Not fair,' he thinks but is wise enough not to say. He hadn't thought the 'skins' question to have been that unreasonable.
He turns his attention back to - it's almost impossible not to - the limbering and stretching exercises the women do in preparation for play. Though the widely spaced women face in no particular direction, their stretching consists of a great deal of low bends, clasped hands held high behind them, high kicks that Rockettes might consider challenging together with long, sinuous reaches or, in several cases, feet spread very widely apart, hands reaching down to press palms flat into the grass.
The field is utterly silent.
McGee strolls over to the women but watches his wife, third from the end past Abby and Director Shepherd, focusing more on arm and body extensions appropriate to pitching. He approaches her, relieved to note that of all the women, Jennifer Shepherd included, Shav is the only one wearing a bra. She's clad in light pink that compliments her flame-red hair, as well as the too suggestive blue lettering on the left side of her very nice chest, but he also notices she's wearing make-up and lipstick, hardly what he expected for a ball game but he'll take it. A brief glance at the other women surprises him, for she's not alone in her preparations for the game. All the women look gorgeous ….
But he strives to keep his attention solely upon Shav, determinedly not seeing Michelle Palmer limbering up five feet to his right with some eye catching stretches, nor to see Lisa DuBois or Janet Levy or Melanie Kelman or Tina Larsen or...
"Well, this is quite a new look," he says, trying to sound casual and not like how her outfit is making him feel. He puts his arms around her, draws her close.
"For being out in public, you mean." Siobhan touches the open neck of the shirt, and the tiny gold cross on the thin chain. After so many years a closed neckline, and the white wrap-about collar, are more natural to her - in public. "Abby insisted. She's got a whole secret strategy worked out in her head that I'm not supposed to tell you about."
He looks at the near dozen women stretching on either side of them and warming up ... the men. "I think I've figured it out."
"I knew you would. You're a born detective."
"Under cover," he tells her broadly, his touch on her back drawing her into a kiss. It's over too soon, but for him an hour is too soon. He glances very briefly at the other women, but only briefly as the woman in his arms can make him forget an entire planet. "But you," he's had his eyes off her quite long enough, all of three seconds. "Very sexy."
She leans back. "You think this is sexy?"
His eyes cuddle her body, stroke down her pink, short sleeved top, the material light enough to flutter in the slight breeze. He's seen, but can't now, the matching shorts, so he lets her loose, enough so he can take her in, their hands clasped. The shorts are cut so high they barely have a hem and his eyes stroke her long, bare legs. He takes his time climbing back up, pausing at the so-suggestive eye in the embroidered NC*S, the iris poked to captivating 3D, proving her bra isn't all that effective. "Oh, yeah."
"Good, I was hoping I could hold your attention today."
He laughs; holding his attention is something she's never had to worry about. "You've always got me."
"Good." She releases his hands, adjusts her top, the open-laced neckline giving him a quick flash or two, but she's still glad she wore a bra. She doesn't want to give anyone else the treats she'll give to only her husband. "Still, it's not bad. Maybe I'm thinking of changing my style, lighten up a bit. Abby was right. You know, Nil sé'n lá."
"What?" The 'nil shen law' interrupted his visual exploration of her charms, forced him to use his brain for thinking and at this moment that's really asking too much. She's been teaching him Gaelic for some time, mostly with the intent that they could have private conversations even in Headquarters, but she hasn't taught him this.
"Well, the Latin is 'Carpe diem', either way 'seize the day' and that's exactly what I've decided to do." She giggles when he tugs her back into the hug. "You've decided to seize something too."
"I've married a ssaty," is her fair common observation.
"Satyrs chased nymphs."
"Is that what you think of me?"
He kisses her quite thoroughly. "Yeah."
She considers for a moment. "I can live with that. With you. You know," she declares as though she's just decided it, "Abby's right, I'm a married woman and it's time I learned to relax. I don't have to be so ultra concerned about my reputation anymore. You've made an honest woman out of me," she grins at the irony, her emerald eyes sparkling, "and I don't have to be worried all the time about what people will say. I can go out without the collar and learn to relax, not always be so..." she tugs the strings, closes the top firmly, "...uptight."
He pulls the material apart, spreads it so it sets naturally; not over exposed but very attractive. "I love it when you're loose."
"No, a chuisle," she smiles sensually, "you love it when I'm tight."
He nearly chokes, looks around quickly to make sure no one heard this outrageous revelation, but the men are distant, gathered around home plate and the closest one to them is Michelle, five feet away, working long, sensuous stretches, and beyond her is Lisa DuBois, reaching high, her lithe body straining in a hip-wiggling - he looks away from her quickly – to his left now but straight down a deep-bending Jennifer Shepherd's shirt! She always wears suits, but impressive as she is he never dared imagine this for fear of the image sticking in his head. He'd seen her once in a stunning ball gown she'd worn some time ago for the Marine Corps dinner but he never dared imagine more.
He rips his eyes off her before she might look up and notice him noticing and his eyes smack Abby's bottom where those two white embroidered palms–
His attention snaps back to his wife so quickly he nearly suffers cognitive whiplash. "Huh?"
"It's okay to look."
"I wasn't looking!"
"I know." She kisses him, holds him tighter, or is it more firmly? "You can look, everybody else is, but no touching."
"Never." The look she gives him suggests that she knows him too well, and he's not entirely sure what she's thinking. He glances away for a second but his eyes leap right down Tina Larsen's blouse as she bends low. Returning his eyes to the safety of Siobhan's emerald ones, he has to ask: "Did they have to come up with that?"
"Up with what?" she asks innocently.
"That," he says, looking at the women surrounding them. Only Ziva, standing near the knot of women, is out of uniform in her jeans and green shirt. "At least you're wearing a bra."
"Well, Cara, you know what they say: 'tachraidh na daoine, ach cha tachair na cnuic'."
This, completely unfamiliar, halts him for a moment. "They say that, do they?"
"Uh huh," she assures him, solemnity broken by a teasing smile.
"I've never said it. What do they say in America?"
"'Men will meet, but the hills will not'."
"Oh." He thinks it over. Thinks it over longer. "What does that mean?"
"It means, a mhuirnin, that–" Jimmy suddenly bursts past them; he grabs Michelle's arm tightly and yanks so hard that, bent low, she's pulled off her feet and stumbles after him. "Oh, oh."
Jimmy drags his wife, who can barely stay on her feet, past the other limbering women who stop at the distraction. He yanks her well beyond the third base fenced off 'dugout' before she recovers her balance yet he drags her another twenty feet before he stops, his face scarlet with rage.
"What are you doing?" he demands, his words too low to be heard beyond the dugout or as far as the base and neither of them caring that activity throughout the infield has halted.
"Stretching," she nearly spits the word up at him, outraged by this almost brutal treatment. His grip on her arm hurts worse now than when he was pulling her and she yanks away.
"I can see that!" His voice makes up in bite what it lacks in volume. "So can every man on this field!"
"So what? Not like I'm alone." She looks back at the other similarly attired women beyond third. All of them stare at the pair. The men clustered near home had been enjoying the warm up, now they too stare with equal intensity.
"I don't care about that," he grates, yanks her eyes back to his rage. "You're my wife and I care about you traipsing about looking like … like…"
"Like what?" She can barely keep her words low.
"Like a streetwalker slut!"
Eyes flaring, fists suddenly clenched at her sides, she can't believe he said that and steps closer, gives him a single chance to retract it. "What did you say I look like?"
"Like a $10 whore!"
Enraged, Michelle turns her back on him, spreads her feet as wide as she can and bends low on stiff legs, her palms upon the grass, her back curved to raise her and accentuate her challenge.
Jimmy, feeling left only with choices from striking her ass to escalating the scene, turns sharply and crosses the field, face scarlet and body stiff, every motion sharp as he storms around the fence and crashes onto the long seat.
Tim starts to take a step toward that enclave when his wife's hand on his elbow halts him. He turns back to her.
"A chuisle, a word of advice?" He nods, feeling he needs some after that astonishing, uncharacteristic display. "Don't come between a wife and a husband unless you must." She shakes her head, having heard - from him - too many stories. "It never can end well."