Live Man Talking by cosmic


Part one


Standing by his desk, watching as Gibbs opened its drawers in his search for clues, Tony was struck with how easily it could have been one of them. He was, of course, perfectly aware that it was a job where risking your life was a bi-monthly occurrence at least, but still—this time, an agent had actually died. It had been a while since the last time.

“Regs are to carry your weapon from portal to portal,” Kate said when Gibbs found the gun.  “Why’d he leave his here?”

“He was tailing somebody,” Gibbs said. “Going from place to place. Didn’t want to stop to identify himself, or risk setting off an alarm.”

It was what, two weeks since Tony had had to do the same thing? “We’ve all done it. Especially with the heavy security these days.”

Gibbs finished his hunt and said, “I’ll go over his case files. You two check out his house.”


Tony winced internally before Gibbs had even answered. Since the events with the terrorist in autopsy, Gibbs had been wound even tighter than he normally was.

“Yes, tonight,” Gibbs snapped.

Kate’s face fell. Tony felt a bit sorry for her – she hadn’t been present on the previous occasions when they’d failed to solve a case and this time it was even worse because it was personal. Gibbs was like a slavering wolf on the hunt.

“I’ve just got to make a call,” Kate said, rather softly.

She left, and Gibbs turned to Tony. “Is there anyone you need to call, DiNozzo?”

Tony couldn’t bring himself to tell Gibbs to snap out of his horrid mood; it would serve no purpose, and instead it would only anger Gibbs further. Still, he looked down at Gibbs in silence, trying his best to convey his disappointment in Gibbs’ behavior.

“No, boss,” he said quietly. “No calls.”

Tony left, glancing over his shoulder at Gibbs. The message seemed to have gone through; Gibbs’ shoulders slumped just slightly as he exhaled and Tony knew he felt guilty. It made Tony feel guilty too – Gibbs was doing his job – but it was for the best of everyone. It would do no one any good if Kate handed in her resignation just because Gibbs couldn’t keep his temper in check.

He grabbed his coat and, once Kate had finished her call to Dwayne the lover boy, she followed him to the garage and the car. Silence spread as they traveled to Pacci’s house. Tony’s thoughts ran a mile a minute as he wondered how people would react if he’d been the one shot dead. He was struck with a sudden wish to go home and clean his apartment, just in case it turned out that today was his day to die. He didn’t want Kate and Gibbs to see his apartment in his current state of chaos. Then again, he reasoned, if he was dead, he wouldn’t care.

He wondered if Gibbs would be angry with him for getting killed; he wondered if he would mourn Tony at all.

Glancing at Kate, he saw her staring out the window, a faraway look on her face.

“He doesn’t mean it, you know,” Tony said, breaking the silence for the first time since leaving headquarters.

“What do you mean?” Kate asked.

“Gibbs,” Tony said. “He doesn’t mean it when he’s all moody. It’s just—that terrorist. It was personal, and this is personal, and he doesn’t deal with personal all that well.”

“No kidding.”

Still, she looked somewhat grateful for his explanation of Gibbs’ worse-than-usual temper. She didn’t thank Tony because they never thanked each other for anything, but they just knew, like brother and sister, that they were grateful that they had each other.

Pacci’s house looked like he was going to come walking in through the door at any moment. Kate voiced this as they went through his home. “Don’t you feel like you’re…?”

“What?” Tony asked, looking around but forcing himself to separate this investigation of Pacci’s things from the man he’d drunk beers with after work.

“I don’t know,” Kate said. “Like you’re invading his privacy?”

The weight of the murder got to Tony, and he snapped, “Well, he’s dead, Kate. With his guts slashed open I’d say Chris’ privacy is about as invaded as it’s gonna get.”

It wasn’t quite as bad as Gibbs’ temper, but it was close, and Kate shut her mouth.

Then McGee called, and they were talking. Somehow, McGee had always been easy to talk to for Tony – there was so much potential for jokes and pranks and the Probie got all flustered so easily – and now that a coworker had died, McGee showed a good deal of compassion as he said, “Tony?”


“I’m sorry,” McGee said, and Tony could hear it in his voice; McGee truly was sorry, even though he hadn’t known Pacci very well.

“Yeah, kid,” Tony said, because he suddenly felt much older than his thirty-two years. “Aren’t we all?”

Calling it a night only a few minutes later, after searching Pacci’s home revealed nothing of interest, Tony dropped Kate off at NCIS so that she could get her own car, before he headed home.

As he entered his apartment, he wondered what others would see, had he been the one dead. His apartment wasn’t nearly as filthy as Gibbs always suggested it was – and Gibbs knew that, seeing how he’d been in Tony’s apartment on a handful occasions – but he still wondered what others would think of him. If he’d been killed and Kate or some other agent had gone through his home, would they have assumed him to be a slob? A lonely slob, with movies as his only point of interest?

Tony sighed. Although he didn’t consider himself to be a slob, the other things his apartment said about him were more accurate. He was lonely even though, or perhaps because, he dated more than was probably healthy. His only real hobby was movies. Other than that, work was it for Anthony DiNozzo. He liked it that way, but still— work couldn’t keep him warm at night.

Unless he bedded his boss, of course, but that seemed wholly unlikely, however much he may want it.

He made a quick sandwich from what little he had in his refrigerator, and sat down on the couch. He turned on his plasma, and unwound with the end of some movie he couldn’t recall the title of, but it was one he’d seen before. Soon, all that was left of the sandwich was crumbs, and he felt his eyelids grow heavy. He was snoring away on the couch by the time the end credits rolled.

new scene

Abby and Gibbs had been at work for hours, it seemed, by the time Tony got there, even though he was early. Stretching and yawning, he lounged about Abby’s office. Kate, who’d arrived just after him, looked like she hadn’t gotten much sleep since he last saw her.

“Anything I can do to help?” Tony asked, leaning on Abby’s desk.

“Only if you want to ruin this memory card,” Abby replied, busily at work with cleaning the card. Gibbs had handed it to her minutes earlier, in an evidence bag, and it had been bloody and gooey.

“From Pacci,” Gibbs had said by way of explanation.

“Done!” Abby exclaimed, and headed to her computer. She plugged the card in, and opened the folder it contained. There was a long list of .jpg files. Abby started flipping through them. “Obviously they’re surveillance photos.”

Pacci had been tailing a beautiful woman, and Tony bit back a comment about whether it had been for work or for pleasure. Obviously, since Pacci was currently in the morgue, it couldn’t have been all for pleasure.

He did let out an, “Ooh, hottie!” though, to which Abby raised her eyebrow.

“Don’t you think she’s a little bit too old for you, Tony?”

Tony looked at the photo. “No, she’s about my age.”

Abby grinned. “That’s exactly my point.”

Tony turned and gave her a look, but she ignored him. As she went off, he again wondered what they all really thought of him – although he did prefer to date younger women, it wasn’t all there was to him. He could appreciate an aesthetically appealing woman of almost any age. Well, up to a certain point anyway. Although, he had to admit, his interest tended to switch over to the other gender when it was to do with the older generation. He glanced at Gibbs, appreciative gaze going over the man. He bit back another, ‘ooh, hottie!’ – he was certain Gibbs wouldn’t appreciate such a sentiment.

McGee came stumbling into the room in his usual, bumbling style. “Oh, sorry, sorry I’m five minutes late – I had to park in the visitor’s lot and the guard—”

“Where is it, McGee?” Gibbs interrupted before McGee could get any further.

McGee was so new he practically squeaked – and in front of Gibbs, he was reduced to a puddle of rather useless goo. Opening the briefcase he was carrying turned out to be too big a challenge, and Gibbs grabbed it from him, annoyance emanating from every pore of his body. Tony wondered if it was time for another intervention – getting McGee to shake in his boots, or shoes as was the case here, was obviously fun, but still—

“Special Agent Pacci wanted that ASAP,” McGee said shakily, nodding at the file.

“What is it?” Kate asked.  

McGee seemed to find his voice, but Tony found something more interesting in McGee’s suitcase – food. It was a supremely well-ordered suitcase, and the sandwich sitting in the corner looked like it had Tony’s name on it.

“I didn’t have breakfast this morning,” Tony said, grabbing the sandwich. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“No,” McGee said, though it sounded like he did.

“Yes, Tony!” Abby said, stopping him by taking the sandwich. Tony took McGee’s apple instead, while Abby returned the sandwich to its rightful owner with a smile. “Hi, McGee.”

Tony glanced at McGee, and saw the ridiculously happy smile on his face as he mouthed ‘hi’ back to Abby while Gibbs talked about the case. Oh, that boy was so in love it was silly. Tony wondered briefly it he ever got that same look of bliss that McGee was currently wearing, when Gibbs was nice to him. He hoped not – it must be awfully easy for others to realize just how much he wanted Gibbs if that was the case.

“He the guy that died before they could file charges?” Tony asked, because he was, after all, listening to what Gibbs was saying. He’d be head smacked hard enough to get a concussion if he didn’t. Besides, he remembered the case.

“Yep,” Gibbs said. “The money was never found. Case went cold.”

“Why was Pacci working it?” Kate asked.

“Found a lead on the money,” Gibbs said, walking over to look more closely at the pretty woman on the screen. “It may be her. McGee!”

“Yes, boss?” McGee asked.

“I want you on this,” Gibbs said. “I’m going to get you a TAD here. DiNozzo, you take McGee with you. You find out who she is and where she is.”

Still chewing on the apple – it was a very good apple – Tony turned. He knew better than to delay following Gibbs orders. “Let’s go, hotshot.”

Tony heard Abby ask, “You need a place to stay?” and McGee’s stammered response. He smiled to himself – it was almost too easy. Feeling rather like Gibbs, he walked back in.

“McGee!” he barked, and pointed to the door.

“Coming,” McGee said, following him.

He had his gaze down, almost as if he was afraid to look at Tony. After all, Tony was the big, bad Senior Field Agent. It made Tony feel fantastic, and it made him hope that McGee would be around some more, so that Tony could feel that way more often. Still, he hoped that this wasn’t the way Gibbs felt when Tony was around – if it was, then they’d certainly never move in any direction near where Tony wanted them to go. Not that they would anyway, for a wide selection of reasons, but—

“You can take that desk,” Tony said, pointing to the unused desk in their space of the bullpen.

“Uh, okay,” McGee said, and sat down.

They worked in silence. Tony went through all of Pacci’s notes and searched for the woman in the pictures, without much luck. Eventually, he came over to stand by McGee’s desk instead, to see what the Probie could come up with.

“Do you have to stand there?” McGee asked, glancing nervously at Tony.

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” Tony said. “Now get on with it.”

“It’s not like I can just Google her address,” McGee said, fingers working furiously on the keyboard. “We don’t have her name.”

“I know that, Probster,” Tony said. “So get a-crackin’.”

McGee glared at him.

Tony watched silently for a few minutes. The Probie was impressive with computers, but that was nothing new – Tony had figured out that much the first time they’d worked together. MIT – now there was a place Tony would never set foot. McGee was obviously as smart as he was nervous.

It wasn’t showing at the moment though and Tony began drumming his fingers with impatience.

“McGee, it’s not like you. What’s taking so long?” he finally snapped.

“I’ve almost got it,” McGee said.

Tony smiled to himself, a small but diabolical plan entering his mind. After all, he was curious, and neither McGee nor Abby would ever spill it.

“You know,” he said innocently, “the quicker you get this done, the more quality time you have to spend with a certain tattooed forensic technician of the Goth persuasion.”

McGee stopped typing and looked at Tony. “What do you mean by that?”

“Oh, come on!” Tony said, chuckling and playing his part perfectly. “Abby told me you closed the deal under some pretty hinky circumstances.”

McGee’s eyes widened. “She told you that? Well, the hinky thing of it – did she tell you that that was her idea? Because—”

Tony held up a hand – that was more information than he needed to know. All he had wanted to know was whether they’d had sex or not, and obviously they had. He did not want to know what kind of sex the geeks had – Abby was like his little sister! But he smiled, because he’d gotten what he wanted.

McGee’s face fell. “Abby didn’t tell you anything, did she?”

Tony smiled. “A well-trained NCIS Special Agent is good at extracting information. You’ll learn. Focus.”

McGee sighed and returned his attention to the computer, and a moment later, it beeped.

“I have her address,” McGee said, leaning back proudly.

“You do?” Tony frowned. “How?”

“Look,” McGee said, and put the stuff on his screen up on the big screen, so that Tony could see. “Since evidently this is her residence, I used the process of elimination. Quercus Virginia.”

He had zoomed in on a tree, and with a raised eyebrow, Tony asked, “Excuse me?”

“That’s a variety of oak tree,” McGee said.

Tony frowned deeper. “How can you tell? It doesn’t have any leaves on it.”

“I identified the bark,” McGee said.

“Of course you did.” He snorted. It seemed so perfectly in character for the McGeek to do such a thing.

McGee went off on a tirade about how he came up with her address. Tony had to admit – what McGee lacked in looks and personality, he made up for in smarts. He couldn’t have done what McGee just did if he had a week to do it.

Still, when done, he said, “Okay, I’ll take it from here, McGee. You look like you could use some coffee.”

“Not really,” McGee protested.

“I’ll take mine with three sugars and a hazelnut,” Tony said, and McGee was smart enough to take the hint.

It was only a minute later that the elevator door dinged, and Gibbs came in, Kate in tow.

“How’d it go?” he asked – they’d been off interviewing Lieutenant Commander Voss’ C.O.

“Tell me you have her name, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said.

“Any second, boss,” Tony said. “I’ve got an address – I’m running it through the search engines.”

Kate looked impressed. “How’d you find it?”

“Process of elimination, actually,” Tony said. It wasn’t necessarily a lie, it just hadn’t been his process. “Here it is. Amanda Reed.”

Gibbs stood and began walking out of the bullpen. To Kate, he said, “Background her. Deep as you can go.” Kate nodded. “Come on, Tony.”

Tony stood hurriedly, and as McGee came around the corner, coffee cup in hand, he had a sinking feeling. He knew, a moment before Gibbs said it, what was coming.

“McGee, good work on the address.”

Tony made a face, and Kate looked smug, as though it was suddenly obvious that it couldn’t have been Tony who’d found the address.

“Oh, thank you boss,” McGee said, and then he stood silent and watched as Gibbs turned on his heel and dumped the coffee cup – with Tony’s coffee – he’d just taken from McGee in the trash can. He was still scowling from the taste of the sweet stuff Tony preferred. A grimace later, Tony hurried after Gibbs, getting into the elevator just before the doors closed. He heard Kate’s laughter even as they began descending.

“How do you always know?” Tony asked, before he could stop himself. He winced immediately, knowing such a question wasn’t really allowed – especially not when Gibbs was in the pissy mood that he’d been in since the terrorist.

Gibbs, however, looked more amused than angry, although he didn’t look at Tony. “I always know, DiNozzo.”

“Yeah, but—” Tony said.

“You’re not here because you know one kind of oak tree from another,” Gibbs said.

They arrived in the garage and Gibbs strode out. Tony hurried after him, unsure of what to make of Gibbs’ words.

“So McGee—that’s why he’s here?”

“Among other things,” Gibbs said.

They seated themselves in the car.

“So why am I here?” Tony asked, despite not being sure that he wanted to know the answer.

He didn’t get one; Gibbs merely smiled slightly, and drove.

Tony disliked Gibbs’ breakneck driving, but he would always enjoy being on his own with the man. He made sure he wasn’t caught staring at Gibbs, though, because although he didn’t seem to be in as bad a mood now as he had been the night before, Gibbs would never be a ‘the glass is half full’ kind of guy, and catching Tony gawking at him like a teenager in love was definitely on the list of things that’d get him angry.

The car ride wasn’t very long and they found the street they were looking for without much trouble. Tony recognized the lamp and the tree McGee had pointed out, although he had long since forgotten what kind of oak tree it was. It didn’t matter.

“That’s her address,” Tony said, pointing at the 215 number on the mailbox.

“I can see that, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said.

“Yeah,” Tony said. “I know. I just—well, you know, your eyes.”

Gibbs ought to wear glasses, though no one would dare to tell him so.

Tony’s cell phone rang, and he found Kate on the other end. Once finished, he turned to Gibbs. “Well, Kate can’t find any criminal record. In fact, Amanda Reed sounds like an upstanding citizen.  Single, real clean TRW. She just bought this townhouse. Paid cash. No mortgage. She recently was accepted to the Potomac Country Club as a member.”

“I’m impressed,” Gibbs said, though he didn’t sound it.

“Do you want me to do the interview?” Tony asked, perhaps sounding a bit too enthusiastic.

“No,” Gibbs said.

“I can work her, boss,” Tony said.  

Gibbs tone told him it wasn’t a negotiable answer. “Chris was keeping his distance for a reason. Until we find out why, we do the same.”

“Why?” Tony asked. He couldn’t see what would be wrong with questioning her. By the looks of it, she was innocent, and perhaps she had information. But Gibbs, who was looking around the street, didn’t answer him. 

“This photograph was taken form up there,” he said, looking at a window that said ‘For Rent’. He headed towards the man sweeping the sidewalk just outside the building. Tony followed dutifully. “Excuse me, are you the building manager?”

“No,” the man said sarcastically. “I’ve got a thing for sweeping sidewalks.”

Gibbs’ grin was really a pretty thing, even though this one was brief. Something landed on his jacket, and Tony brushed it off without thinking. Gibbs turned to him, and gave him a look – and Tony realized what he was doing. Touching Gibbs wasn’t really allowed. Ever.

The manager was looking at them funny. “Are you guys—together?”

Tony’s gut twisted, quickly schooling away the ‘caught’ look on his face, and then biting back his immediate retort – ‘I wish’. Gibbs looked at him and there was a small smile on his lips that Tony couldn’t decipher; it spoke of amusement, but was kinder than that, and more secretive. As though he knew something Tony didn’t – which was, of course, perfectly possible. Gibbs always seemed to know stuff Tony didn’t.

Tony forced a laugh, breaking the moment. “No, it’s not what you think.”

Gibbs showed his badge. “NCIS.”

Tony lost himself in the way the light played in Gibbs’ silver hair. The smile from a moment before played before his eyes, with the manager’s words – ‘are you guys—together?’ until it just became ‘together, together, together’ – and he wondered what it all meant. He forced himself to look away, to check out the area around them.

“We’re going to pick up where Chris left off,” Gibbs said and Tony was brought back to the present. “Stakeout time.”

Tony couldn’t help but grin and exclaim, “Yes!”

He followed Gibbs inside, where it took less than five minutes to set up the renting deal for the coming week with the manager. Tony hung back, and they returned to the car once the deal was finished.

“Stakeout, stakeout, stakeout!” Tony sang happily.

Gibbs gave him a look, shaking his head.

Tony pretended not to notice. “You know, stakeouts are half the reason why I became a cop. It just seemed so—great, you know? To wait for the action, to get to watch people and they don’t know it, and then—bang! They don’t ever know what hit them.”

Gibbs drove, and Tony wasn’t certain he was listening at all. Then again, he hadn’t been head slapped yet so perhaps Gibbs was in a fairly good mood.

“What’s the other half?” Gibbs asked.

“Other half?” Tony asked, rather shocked that Gibbs was actually engaging in conversation.

“Of why you became a cop,” Gibbs said.

“Oh,” Tony said, and then he grinned widely. “I get to carry a gun.”

Another amused smile found its way onto Gibbs’ lips. Tony watched him for a few seconds, drinking in the sight and memorizing it, because he feared there wouldn’t be all that many smiles until the terrorist had been caught. He’d get this memory out on late evenings and early mornings, when Gibbs was slapping him and growling at the world in general.

He leaned back into his seat and was quiet the rest of the way back to headquarters, while Gibbs called McGee and asked him to get the necessary equipment.

Once there, he plopped down in front of his computer – there was some work to be done before hitting the stakeout. Kate and McGee didn’t seem as thrilled about the prospect of a stakeout as he was.

“Would you be as excited if the mark was a three hundred pound bald guy?” Kate asked.

He would, but that wouldn’t fit with the general image she had of him, so Tony said, “Nope.” Although Amanda Reed was undoubtedly a hottie, Tony would always love stakeouts for being stakeouts. They could drag on and get very boring, but enough time had passed since the last time, and Tony would look forward to any kind.

“DiNozzo?” Gibbs asked, in askance about the case.

“A connect,” Tony said, rather triumphantly, “between the dead Commander Voss and Amanda Reed. I ran a title search on the townhouse she just bought. It’s too much to be a coincidence.”

When he didn’t immediately continue, Gibbs gave him a look. Tony ignored what that look did to him, even when it was filled with annoyance.

“Are you going to spit it out, or do I have to waste my coffee on your head?” Gibbs asked.

Tony told him of the house’s connection between the Voss family and Amanda Reed. Gibbs nodded, pleased enough, and told them that Tony would be doing stakeout with McGee. Kate voiced her concerns – not an unexpected move, considering Kate took every opportunity to point out just what an immature, spoiled brat Tony was. Tony had to admit, he played the part well.

He did wish, though, that Gibbs didn’t sound so much like Tony was a chore, when he said, “You want to be stuck in a cramped apartment with DiNozzo? Be my guest.”

Tony knew that he was getting paired up with McGee because Tony was the Senior Field Agent. Gibbs couldn’t pair up with Tony, because that would leave the two newest members of the team together. At least that was what he told himself.

“You ever been on a stakeout before, McGee?” he asked, directing his thoughts back to the squad room. He placed his hands on McGee’s shoulder. McGee looked rather confused.

“No,” McGee said, looking happy about the prospect. “But I’m looking forward to the experience.”

Kate passed on her way out. “Behave yourself.”

It was definitely directed to Tony, who laughed and slapped McGee’s shoulder. This would be fun.

“Uh,” said McGee. “Can I go back to my desk now?”

Tony, hands still on McGee’s shoulders, pretended to ponder the question for a second before releasing him. McGee scurried back to his computer, looking a bit worried.

“Oh, Probster,” Tony said, sauntering back to his desk. “This’ll be great.”

“You know, we are still looking for a murderer,” McGee said.

Tony made a face at him. How could he forget? Pacci’s desk was right over there, and it was empty. Was Tony’s act of an uncaring brat so convincing they actually thought he didn’t know what they were doing?

“What makes you think I’ve forgotten?” Tony asked.

“You—uh,” said McGee. “You seem—I mean, you’re so excited.”

“I like stakeouts,” Tony said. “Maybe one day, when you’ve grown up to be a real field agent, you’ll like them too.”

He probably sounded a little harsher than he meant to.

His phone rang, saving McGee from further conversation. It was the real estate agent who’d sold the property to Amanda Reed; she agreed to meet him half an hour later in her office.

“Meet you back here at eighteen hundred,” he said to McGee, as he grabbed his jacket and headed out.

The real estate agent, Pat Stone, had some information that added to the puzzle. Tony took notes and thanked her with a smile once they were done.

He headed out again, grabbing a coffee from Starbucks on his way back to the office. It’d be another three hours before their stakeout started. He still had some research to do on Reed’s past but there was enough time for him to enjoy the nice, rather warm weather and the sun on his face.

As his thoughts drifted, they soon landed on the case. Pacci. Death. It was the first agent Tony had known who’d died on the job since he started working at NCIS. There had been a colleague in Baltimore, but they hadn’t worked close and Tony had only known him by his last name and a few rumors. Tony had been a rookie back then, not yet quite included in the gang.

Although they dealt with death on a weekly basis in this job, it still didn’t hit him just how easily his own life – or someone else on the team – could be extinguished, until a fellow agent died. Now he wondered what it would be like if anyone on the team died. If Abby got poisoned, McGee got stabbed, or Kate got shot – or even worse, if anything happened to Gibbs.

He swallowed, the coffee tasting bitterer now than it had a moment ago.

Tony was, if not fine, then at least semi-okay, with the idea of his own death. After all, if he died, then he wouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath, or anything else for that matter. But if someone else died – if Gibbs died—

He didn’t want to think about it but now that the idea had entered his head, images flipped through his brain at an alarming rate – knives, guns, bombs, even bio attacks, all plunged, fired and exploded into and around the team, into and around Gibbs.

He forced himself out of his thoughts. He’d returned to his car, but when he opened his eyes – he hadn’t realized he’d shut them tightly – he was sitting there, gripping the wheel hard, the key in the ignition but not turned on.


Drawing a shuddering breath, he pushed the thoughts away and focused on getting back to headquarters. Once back, in the elevator, he took several deep breaths to calm himself. It wouldn’t do to show up in front of McGee all white-faced and sweaty – and all because of some thoughts.

He nodded to McGee as he returned, but didn’t trust his voice enough to say anything. Instead, he sat down by his computer and continued his background check on Reed.

They stopped to pick up dinner on the way, and then they headed to the apartment where Gibbs and Kate were holed up.

“Miss me?” Tony asked as soon as Kate opened the door, and she gave him a look that told him clearly that she hadn’t. Sometimes, Tony couldn’t help but wonder if Kate even liked him. He had no doubt she’d give her life for him if they were in danger, but a sense of duty did not necessarily translate to liking.

He was flooded with relief upon seeing Gibbs, even though the stakeout was nothing dangerous and they’d seen each other only hours earlier. The creative images of him dying was still affecting Tony, and he plastered on a grin and joking attitude to hide behind.

After updating Gibbs and Kate on what they’d found out about Reed’s background, Kate concluded, “Well, they knew each other.”

“Sounds like more than knew to me,” Gibbs said.

Tony smiled. “Good work, huh, boss?”

Gibbs ignored him, as usual. He wouldn’t be Gibbs if he didn’t, but Tony still thought it would have been nice to get a ‘good job’ a tad more often than he did. Abby got it on a daily basis, and Kate and McGee both seemed to get it more often than Tony. Perhaps Gibbs really did think Tony was a chore after all.

“Tomorrow’s garbage day,” Gibbs said instead. “I’m sure she’ll take her trash out tonight. Go through it.”

“Right,” Tony said, none too eagerly.

Kate harped on about the bathroom, and he wondered what she thought he’d do to it during the night. He had to wind her up about it a bit – it was just too easy – and she left in a huff. Gibbs left while they were at it and Tony glanced briefly after him, before returning his attention to Kate, and then McGee.

“We’ve gotta go there,” Tony said to McGee about pulling a prank on Kate. “Any ideas, McGee?”

“No!” McGee said.

“Well, don’t worry,” Tony said. “I’ve got plenty.”

He did – and he was having a lot more fun imagining Kate’s horrified response to each of the pranks, than he’d had with the previous subject of his imagination.

“You realize that any prank we pull on Kate, we’ll also be pulling on Gibbs?” McGee asked.

Tony frowned. “That’s a problem.”

And then, McGee showed himself to be the genius he claimed to be by suggesting, “Well, I was thinking, since she’s expecting something, maybe we should do nothing.”

When Tony told him he was brilliant, and that he was all right, McGee shone rather like the sun with pride. Kate could protest all she wanted, but McGee did look up to Tony.

Still, after they’d finished their dinners, Tony slapped McGee on the back.

“She just took the trash out,” he said. “Go down and get it, McNerd.”

“But Gibbs said—why not you?” McGee asked.

“Because I’m the Senior Field Agent and I just told you to do it,” Tony said. He gave McGee a look, and though McGee frowned and sighed, he did leave. Tony smiled to himself. He could really get used to having a Probie around. It was refreshing to boss someone around, instead of just being bossed around and lusting after the boss in question. He certainly hoped Probie wasn’t doing any lusting.

McGee returned, wearing gloves and holding the trash at arm’s length. Tony spread out a sheet on the floor, and they spread out the junk. It smelled, and McGee wrinkled his nose.

“You know, if you think this is gross, you’ll never be able to deal with this job,” Tony said.

“I lived through a half-melted body,” McGee said.

“More like puked through,” Tony said, remembering the case when he’d first met McGee. “You were so green. Kinda like now.”

“It’s trash, Tony,” McGee said.

“It might be clues,” Tony said.

“Yeah? An old banana, newspapers, hair spray, left over mango, and L’Oreal’s Q10 cream – that’s clues?” McGee said, holding up the near-black banana with two fingers.

“Might be,” Tony said.

They looked through the trash, but there was nothing there that pointed them towards Voss. Amanda Reed’s trash did not suggest her having any relationship with a man at all.

They slept in shifts, but the night gave little by way of case progress. Amanda went to bed in a rather skimpy nightgown, and Tony watched appreciatively before she headed into the bedroom, which had no windows out towards the street. Tony kept watch until two thirty a.m., but Amanda didn’t get up except to get a glass of milk, and then McGee took over. He had nothing to report, come morning; Amanda had not yet gotten up by the time Tony awoke at six thirty.

“Anything new?” he asked, stretching and heading towards the window.

McGee looked like he could have used several more hours of sleep. “Uh, no. She’s not up yet.”

“Well, then,” Tony said. “Want some coffee?”

“Sure,” McGee said.

“Good,” Tony said. “Go get some for us.”

McGee glared at him, but left. There was a Starbucks less than two minutes away, so he wouldn’t be gone for long. Tony listened for any signs of Amanda getting out of bed, but she seemed to enjoy sleeping in. Tony couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept in.

Eventually, after McGee had returned and they’d both finished their coffees and the bagels McGee had bought, Amanda woke. Tony turned on the camera as she came out of the bedroom, and listened in as she hummed to herself while making coffee. A shower later, and she was on the phone with the Historical Committee, talking about painting her door while getting dressed. She really had a lovely body.

“Are you finished yet?” Tony asked McGee, who’d gone over the trash again, just in case they’d missed something the night before.

“Yeah,” McGee said. “And all I’ve learned is she loves bananas and mangoes. Also uses every beauty product sold on cable TV.”

“Maybe she’s older than she looks,” Tony said, frowning.

“I don’t know,” McGee said. “Thirties?”

Tony sighed, and stood. Heading back to the camera, he discovered that Amanda had exited her apartment and looked like she was going to be futzing with her plants. Making a split second decision, he stood and headed out the door.

“Oh, yeah,” he said to McGee. “I need some fresh air.”

He was out the door before McGee knew what was happening. He smiled to himself as he skipped down the stairs – he was going undercover! Stakeouts were fun, but undercover was even better – especially when the target in question was a hot woman.

“Hi,” he said, once he’d crossed the street.

She barely glanced at him. “Hi.”

“Those are some nice flowers,” he said. McGee would probably know what kind of flowers Amanda was planting, but Tony had never needed such knowledge to get a girl to chat with him.

“Thanks,” she said, still obviously unimpressed.

“You know, this is a great place to live,” he said. “I live down on Canal and I just—I’ve been trying to paint my door. And the Historical Society has given me nothing but grief.”

At this, Amanda looked up. Tony knew then that she had her hooked – after all, she’d been annoyed about it earlier, and bonding over something they both found annoying would be easy.

“I know,” she said. “I just got off the phone with them. I just want to paint my door and my trim, and they’re making it virtually impossible.”

“Total nonsense,” Tony said, and he wondered if he was pushing it too far, using her words.

But she seemed to like having someone agreeing with her. “You know, those were my exact words.” She paused, looking at him. “Hi, I’m Amanda.”

He took her hand. She had a strong grip, and he smiled. Coming up with a name quickly, he said, “Hi. I’m Stringfellow.”

It was an easy name to remember, and it would probably make her laugh. It did. “You’re kidding, right?”

Chatting with her came easy, as easy as it always did for Tony. Getting girls – women – into bed had never been hard for him, and he was currently two cocktails and perhaps a dinner away from bedding this one. Of course, Gibbs would have his head if he got involved – he’d likely have his head already, for not sticking to his orders. ‘Keep our distance’ wasn’t really an order that was open for interpretation.

Wrapping their conversation up, he said, “Well, it’s been nice chatting with you.”

She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear. “You too, Stringfellow.”

He gave her a grin, one of those he knew women had a hard time resisting, and with a wave, he left. As he returned, making sure she didn’t watch as he entered the door to the building housing the stakeout apartment, he wondered why Gibbs had to be so completely immune to his smile. It was unfair. Then again, if Gibbs had fallen all over himself because Tony smiled at him, Tony wouldn’t be here now. He wanted Gibbs because he was Gibbs.

“Did you have to do that?” McGee asked as soon as he came into the apartment.

“Relax, Probie,” Tony said, shrugging off McGee’s annoyance. “No harm, no foul.”

“If Gibbs finds out—”

“Then Gibbs doesn’t find out, I guess,” Tony said. “Breathe, McGeek. Oxygen is good for you.”

McGee glared darkly at him, but didn’t say anything else.

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