Writers_choice #407: Study
Title: Looking Deeper
Written for: writers_choice
Challenge # 407: Study
Word Count: 1324
Notes: This is the first fanfic I've written since 2008, and the first I've ever written in this fandom.
“Come on, Kate. I’ll cook you dinner. I know you aren’t busy tonight.”
She’d turned him down, of course. It wasn’t much of a surprise – the shrill “Tony!” and the inevitable complaint that he’d been through her PDA again had made the actual refusal pretty much inevitable – but it was a shame. Not just because now he’d have to drum up another guest to share the lasagne taking up space in his fridge, but because Kate’s automatic assumption proved that she still wasn’t what she needed to be: an investigator. Her time in the Secret Service had made her tough as nails and honed her profiling skills, but it hadn’t taught her what she needed to know at NCIS. And although she thought Tony was usually a bit of a slacker, he needed her to think that. When she’d picked up the knowledge she needed, which wouldn’t happen if she was too busy trying to outdo him, the exaggerated behaviour wouldn’t be necessary any more. Then Tony could move on.
Nature hadn’t made him into a man that could stay in one place for very long. It was a good thing he hadn’t been born a few centuries ago, when a life of perpetual change would have meant a lot of trudging through either mud or dust. Tony wasn’t and never had been a country boy – he’d lived in four cities in the last eight years alone – and watching the fields pass by as he drove into the next place on his list was about as close as he wanted to get to nature.
Nature hadn’t made him an idiot, either. It had made him tall, and so of course he’d been a gawky, goofy-looking teenager, but despite a habit of tripping over his own feet he hadn’t knocked so many brain cells out that he was within 20 IQ points of what Kate would have guessed.
There was one really important distinction between profiling and investigating that Kate just hadn’t grasped, he thought. In the field of profiling, his partner was one of the best. When it came to providing motivation, reason, or excuse, she was the best person for the job. But there was more to investigating. Rules 8 and 10 were good for starters. Never take anything for granted. Never get personally involved in a case.
Kate’s skills were in taking in the bare facts and seeing beyond them. If you gave her a toothbrush, a monkey’s scalp and a dead piano tuner in a pet shop, she could give you three possible profiles and motivations in order of likelihood. She’d almost always be right, and when she wasn’t there was usually vital evidence that she wasn’t aware of. She was one of the best partners Tony had worked with, feisty enough to be fun but knowing when the time for teasing was over and following orders. Tony had nothing but faith in her ability to contribute to the team, but waiting for her to realise that Rule 10 wasn’t there to create heartless Gibbs-clones was getting frustrating. He wanted to move on.
The problem was that she put too much of herself into her work. Time and time again, she’d walk a mile in someone’s shoes and get burned. It wasn’t that she let herself be fooled, exactly. It was just that she had a big heart and a lot of faith in human nature. When it came to crimes that were just plain evil, or went completely against her world view, she shut down. There had to be another explanation – she just needed to look at the case from another angle, to be more objective, because obviously she wasn’t coming up with a logical explanation, because people just didn’t do that (after the time Gibbs had mentioned that case where the mother had killed her children because her new boyfriend didn’t like them, Kate had ranted to Tony for a good hour over a pizza about what a callous bastard their boss was). In trying to be objective, she made things personal. And that was a recipe for disaster.
It wasn’t always a big deal. Take Tony, for instance. Kate thought she had him pegged. He had a degree in Physical Education from Ohio State University. He’d worked in D.C, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Peoria, and somehow ended up at NCIS as a federal agent after six drifting years as a cop. He joked around, ate a lot of junk, dated a lot of women and told Kate all about them (she’d stopped listening after a while, because he’d given up on interesting stories and just used the basic leggy, fake-breasted blonde template). He was sometimes a bit of an idiot, and generally preferred to look up porn on the agency’s time than to knuckle down and work, but he got through his workload and she trusted his instincts in a dangerous situation second to none but Gibbs’. In short, he was a productive goofball who she frequently wanted to punch but ultimately respected as a colleague.
It was exactly the image Tony had wanted to give her. And to an extent, it was all true.
He was a joker and he’d had a great time at Ohio State. It wasn’t safe to get between him and a doughnut, especially if they were nice and jammy. He’d always been a hit with the ladies too, and despite a fondness for Tetris he hadn’t handed in a late report since the time he’d had to rush off early to meet his girlfriend, who was panicking because he’d ended up in hospital again.
But there were some really obvious things that Kate hadn’t yet seen. Hadn’t yet seen because they just didn’t fit the profile in her head marked Dinozzo, Tony. The matter of the degree was probably the most obvious omission. He was the Senior Field Agent, and that was a job only open to applicants with a minimum of one Masters degree. Sure, he’d been working since he finished college. But he’d looked around and found a distance learning course that suited him, and ended up continuing the other subject he’d majored in. It came in handy on the job, although he kept quiet about it (one of these days Kate would look up his record and hit the roof, unless he slipped up and understood something that should have been gibberish before she worked up the nerve) and there were benefits to getting in contact with like-minded people. Some of them were women, and one of those was... well, she’d become very special to him. Special enough to be what even Kate would call a steady girlfriend, because they’d lasted both time and distance.
It had been his girlfriend’s idea to convert his spare room into a study. Moving from place to place, he’d never put down enough roots to really need a permanent space to work – there was always the kitchen table, and books were easy enough to fetch from under the bed (king sized, because Tony was definitely one for life’s luxuries). But as she’d pointed out several times, her hands on her hips and a finger pointing disapprovingly at the kitchen pile of journals that were beginning to look a bit dog-eared, he needed somewhere to concentrate.
Now, leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, Tony wondered if he really wanted Kate to know what he’d been waiting for her to discover. He’d always been a wanderer, but moving to the same city – the same workplace – as his girlfriend had planted some roots firmly in D.C. When Kate learnt to separate herself from the job, to partition profiling and investigation while using both, he could move on. But with Abby in his lap, a glass of wine tilting in her left hand and her right playing idly with the buttons of his shirt, he realised that he didn’t want to.