Tony glanced up as Abby bounced into the lab. He gave her an absent smile, then did a double take. She was dressed in a perky red and white cheerleader's outfit. She even had pom-pom shaped pony-tail holders in. "It must be Halloween."
"Yup. And *you* need a costume."
"Gibbs will kill me."
She rolled her eyes. "No, he won't. He's soft on you." She examined his suit with a critical eye. "You could go the Men In Black route, I suppose."
Tony laughed at that. "I don't think so. I'll just be a homicidal maniac."
"They look just like ordinary people," she finished for him. "So, where is everyone?"
"Last I heard, Gibbs was with the director. McGee was picking up the computer from you and Ziva was going for lunch."
"Is Ziva going to come to the Halloween party with us?"
"Us?" Tony said, raising his brows. "Did you sneak something onto my calendar? Last time I looked, I had a date with Tia."
"Your stylist can wait." Abby put her hands on her hips. "And don't try to weasel out of this."
"It's been four weeks since I've been able to get an appointment with her. Give me one good reason why I should cancel."
Abby settled on Ziva's desk and crossed her legs. "Because if you don't, I will never forgive you. And those fingerprints and stuff you want run on the cold cases? They are so going to the end of my list."
"A hit. A palpable hit. Where are we going?"
"That is a surprise. Dress up, sweetheart, or I'll decide what you're wearing."
"What are you wearing? Not that, I assume."
"Of course not. This was just easy for work. No, I was planning on a flamenco dancer."
Tony nodded. "I can work with that. As long as we don't have a case come up. So, were you really a cheerleader? That looks to be far too good for a cheap costume."
Abby put her finger to her bright red lips. "Shh."
He smirked at her. "How much do you remember?"
She winked. "I dated the captain of the football team for a whole week before I scored a touchdown."
"That long? Must have been new to the position."
"He was so shy." She shook her head. "Anyways, I didn't stay long. All the cheery colors just creeped me out."
"I can see that."
"Since we're sharing, why have you never gotten ink?"
"I can't be that recognizable," he informed her. "Not when Iím doing undercover work."
"That's not the real reason."
"I don't like tats on guys. On women they're decorative. Guys? I don't get it."
"I could change your mind."
"Not on this one." He shook his head.
She cocked her head to the side. "How many tats does your father have?"
He twitched a little at that. Abby always knew where to strike. He was saved by Ziva's return. She nodded a hello to Abby as she handed Tony his box. After she had parceled out the meals, Ziva settled at her desk. "A different color for you," she said blandly.
"It's Halloween. You're coming to the party with us, right?"
"Yeah, the party tonight. It's a costume party."
"I really don't think. . ."
"Oh, come on. You have to. It's totally cool. You get to be what you've always wanted."
"I have no costume," Ziva said calmly.
"We can take care of that. Don't worry."
"You could borrow the director's ballgown and come as a princess," Tony suggested. "The red would be good on you."
"Have to get her a mask. I can run to the store and get one for you before I pick you up."
Ziva sighed. "I suppose I can find something to wear."
Abby clapped. "Good. Now, I just have to find Tim and remind him. See you by eight!" She waved at the two as she left the area.
"Is it wrong for me to wish for a case?" Tony asked when the elevator doors closed behind Abby's back.
Ziva shook her head. "What is the proper sort of costume for a party she's invited us to?"
"Something that will let you carry a weapon."
"Go home," Gibbs ordered his team. He stared in frustration at the mound of paperwork he had to finish. McGee and Ziva hurried out without a backward glance. "What is it, DiNozzo?"
"Just wondering what you're doing for Halloween, boss."
"Okay, I'll grant you that's scary, but are you giving out candy? Frightening young children?"
"Why, you going to film it?"
"I might. Though I think it might be too scary for squeamish audiences."
"I'm going over to Ducky's." Gibbs' eyes narrowed. "You aren't planning on sneaking in to finish your reports tonight are you?"
"No, Abby's picking me up at eight for a party. Just being nosy." Tony shrugged.
"Then get out of here. She'll be pissed if you're late. Rule number two."
"Never piss off Abby." Tony left him there with his mountain of papers.
Abby pulled up in front of Tony's apartment building. She grinned when he stalked out in full-Zorro garb. His gun was holstered on his hip and he even had a whip on the other side. He climbed into the front seat, settling his cape with a flourish. "Are we sticking Ziva and McGee in the trunk?"
"No, you and Tim get the back. We're going to pick him up first. What's that?"
"Mask for Ziva."
"Hope she wears red because that's just gorgeous."
"You can have it, if you want it. It's been sitting in a box for years."
"Thanks. Come to mama," Abby cooed. She changed her simple black and red feathered mask for the ornate red, leather and gold-tooled mask. She tied it on behind her head. "What do you think?"
"Very you. Let me guess, McGee's going to be Sherlock Holmes?"
Abby put the hearse into gear as she laughed. "You'll just have to wait and see. Now, tell me about that outfit. That is definitely not costume quality."
"Let's put it down to college."
"Can you use that whip?"
His lips curled up into a secretive smile. "Guess."
"You are a bad boy. Why no sword?"
"It's a pain to carry. Besides, I've got my knife."
They made it to Ziva's apartment in the middle of a discussion of which Nightmare on Elm Street was scariest. Tony couldn't stop the whistle. He got out of the car and held the door open for Ziva. She'd opted for a flapper look in a simple straight red dress with layers of fringe and low black heels. When she sat down the skirt lifted to show a thigh-holstered gun. "Nice look."
Ziva winked at him. She took the feathered mask that Abby offered her. "Are the masks necessary?"
"Rules of the party. If you don't have a mask, they'll loan you one."
Tony settled in the back of the hearse. It had been converted with a low bench. He stretched his legs out. McGee was waiting for them when they got there. He climbed into the back, settling his kilt carefully. McGee was wearing a full kilt, ruffled shirt, and even tassels on his socks. Tony fingered the edge of the kilt. It was real wool. "Robert Bruce?"
McGee nodded. He fixed on the black half-mask he'd gotten when Abby warned him about the party. They drove out of the city and into Virginia. Soon they pulled up in front of a large, secluded house. It looked too large to be a traditional farm house, but it was in a similar style. Cars were lined up on the front lawn. The garden just in front of the porch was tricked out with fake gravestones and "dead" ivy coiled up the front columns. The door opened to reveal a somber butler. "You rang?" he intoned.
"We're here for the party."
The butler stepped back. "Come in."
The party was already swinging by the time they arrived. Music thudded off the walls. The din of people talking, laughing, and generally enjoying themselves, was layered under the music like a back-beat. Tony relaxed into the music as he walked, not noticing that his usual stride had become a swagger. His eyes searched the room, noting exits and possible trouble-makers. It was a habit. He also noted a few dangerously good-looking women and a few wonderfully hot men. He realized his hand had come to rest in the small of Ziva's back, guiding her through the crowd. Her lips were twitching into a sly smile. "Which one are you going to dance with the devil or the angel?" she asked.
He smirked at her. "Both. Do you dance?"
"Good." He guided her onto the dancefloor.
Abby giggled into Tim's ear. "They're so cute when they're pretending they could be a couple."
"Tony and Ziva?" McGee's eyes widened. "You don't think they'd really, you know?"
"Sleep together? Maybe. But nothing permanent. Tony's in love. Has been for years." She waved away the suggestion. "Come on. Let's get something to drink. Tony's going to be awhile out there."
"Tony's in love?" McGee parroted.
"Well, duh. Don't tell me you've never noticed?"
"That Tony's in love." She rolled her eyes at him.
"Abby, you're going to have to spell this one out for me."
"He's in love with Gibbs. Hello, are you totally blind? I mean all the little smiles. The way he goes all Gibbs when Gibbs is out. The way he mother-hens him? Totally in love."
"Tony worries about everyone, Abby," Tim pointed out, not unkindly. "He worries about you. He even calls to check up on me if it's been a bad case."
Abby looked at him with the same sort of fondness you'd show a kitten that had just scratched up the carpet. "Tim, it's not like it's a one-way street. Gibbs totally adores Tony."
"He's harder on Tony than anyone else," he argued.
"Tony's the only one who's not afraid to stand up to him. Even Ziva cringes. Tony snaps back. He'd never get away with that if Gibbs didn't like him. Besides, you have no idea how much trouble he went to to get Tony in the first place."
"I thought Tony just applied for the job?" McGee blinked. Abby put a mug of punch into his hand. She dragged him to a corner.
"Tony so did not apply for the job. He was ready to leave Baltimore, yeah, but apply with Gibbs? No way. Gibbs arranged for him to come to NCIS before telling him."
"Tony claims it was because he smiled. I think they just had that instant electric thing going on and went with it. Have you ever noticed that they don't always have to talk to figure things out? They work like they've been partners forever. They always have."
"But how did Gibbs find that out?"
"They worked together on a case. Tony wouldn't let go of it. He figured it out when everyone except Gibbs had given up on it." Abby was quiet for a moment. "Tony doesn't think like other people. He just sees the solutions and then has to go in and figure out how he got there."
"Well, that explains why I hardly ever see him working."
"Yeah, and 'on it, boss' is like 'as you wish.'"
McGee stared at her, eyes narrowed. He didn't want to ask for clarification.
"Oh come on. I'm sure you've seen the movie. Inconceivable? Rats of extraordinary size? My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father?"
"Prepare to die," Tony said right into McGee's ear. Tim jumped. "Princess Bride, Probie. The classic date movie of our generation." He shook his head. "Abby, would you care to join me on the dancefloor? Ziva's found herself a partner. Don't they look cute together?"
Ziva was dancing with a man dressed in Victorian garb.
"Dracula as played by Gary Oldman," Tony informed them. "He even has the cane, but he left it with the butler."
"Totally. Be back in a few." Abby kissed Tim's cheek.
"Don't worry. I'll dance with you too, if you want," Tony threatened.
"No, that's fine. I'm not really much of a dancer."
"He likes formal stuff," he heard Abby telling Tony as they made their way through the crowd. Tim finished his punch. Tony in love with Gibbs? There was just no way.
Gibbs stared at Ducky. "We're what?"
"We are going to a costume party, Jethro. As I informed you when I called earlier. I have a mask for you. If you simply put it on, you'll be fine in your suit."
Gibbs glared at Ducky. The doctor held out the mask with a stubborn tilt to his chin. Gibbs took the mask as if it were going to bite him. "Is this the same party that Abby is going to?"
"Duck, come on. I don't do parties."
"You will tonight. Come along, Jethro."
"Bossman just walked in with Ducky."
"Has he noticed us yet?" Tony asked as he pulled her closer to talk.
"I'm not sure. Ducky made him wear a mask."
"Same outfit as earlier?"
"Yeah, that luscious layered fabrics look."
"Grey's good on him. He should branch out some more though. Think I can get him to dance with me? I know Ducky will, just for the fun of causing consternation."
"Yeah, his old flame's here." Abby smiled brightly. "I'm going for the devil over there. You tackle Ducky."
"Dirty thoughts, young lady."
"And don't you forget it."
He winked at her and moved into the crowd, stopping at any appreciative touch to flirt a bit. He finally tracked Ducky to the drinks table. Abby hid her grin and sidled up to a nicely-figured devil. "Hey, honey, come here often."
"Every time," he replied, painted lips curling up and setting off his neatly trimmed whiskers.
"Hello, Mr. Bond," Tony purred into Ducky's ear. The doctor turned to look at him, a fond smile curling his lips up. "Come onto the dance-floor."
"I'm waiting on someone, my boy." Tony put his arm around Ducky's shoulders, lifting his cape up to obscure the view them together just a bit.
"Ah, but won't he be even better if he knows you've still got it."
Ducky chuckled. "Show me where young Timothy is hiding, would you?" Tony escorted Ducky to McGee who was lingering on the fringes of the wall, simply observing and occasionally talking to the man seated next to him with a pipe. The man had dark hair pierced through with white at the temples and a ring on one hand. Ducky's face blossomed into a wide smile when he saw the seated man. McGee was forgotten by the man in the tux and half mask as soon as he spotted Ducky. They hugged briefly, then took their leave.
"God, that's so sweet," Tony murmured. "Long-distance romances can be such a bitch, don't you think, Tim?"
McGee blinked. "Romance? Ducky and Robert?"
"Okay, McGee, you're starting to scare me. I thought you were more aware of the rest of the population than this. You hang out with Abby and you can't tell those two are a couple? Did you forget your contacts?"
"I don't wear contacts."
Tony shook his head. "Have you seen the boss yet?"
"Boo," Gibbs said. Tony jumped.
"Oh, there you are. I didn't see you come in." Tony turned to face his boss. He had to grin. Ducky had removed the mouth portion of the mask to allow the wearer to eat and drink, but beyond that it was a fairly good likeness of Humphrey Bogart. "Sam Spade, I assume."
Gibbs snorted. "How do you figure?"
"'When a man's partner dies, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him.' It suits."
"Maltese Falcon. That one I recognize."
"Good. I knew I'd find something from your era eventually." The swat to the back of Tony's head was lighter than it would be at work. "Did Ducky set you up with a drink?"
"Then come out on the dancefloor and drive everyone crazy with speculation."
"I don't dance."
"Oh, come on. Just once."
"Tony." Tony pouted at Gibbs for a moment, but knew it wouldn't work. "Fine, see you in a few. Take care of McGee. Find him a girl or something." Tony sidled up to a "Playboy Bunny" who smiled sweetly at him. He winked. "Want to dance?" The older woman patted her silver hair. He offered his hand and she took it.
Gibbs found himself a cup of coffee. McGee had finally been physically pulled onto the dancefloor by an insistent Abby. He didn't envy the man. Damn, here came Tony, obviously on a search and browbeat mission to make him dance. He glared at the younger man. Tony wasn't deterred. He smiled brightly. He tugged on Gibbs' hand. "Come on, boss, there's someone who's *dying* to meet you." The emphasis he put on dying made him wince internally. He followed Tony through the crowd to a very pale and "bleeding" redhead. Gibbs chuckled. Trust Tony to recognize his cousin. She kissed him on the cheek.
"Hello, Jethro. It's been awhile."
"Too long. When did you get into town?"
"A few days ago. I haven't gotten my phone reconnected yet."
Tony smiled at them. "I'll leave you kids to catch up."
Gibbs watched him go with a rueful smile. Paula shook her head. "You've got it bad for the boy, Leroy Jethro Gibbs," she informed him. "Explain to me again why you haven't told him."
"He works for me," he said flatly.
"He's besotted with you. And you're an idiot, but I love you anyway."
"How was LA?"
"Is that Gibbs with his mysterious redhead?" Tim asked Abby.
Her eyes grew wide. "Damn. It is. Tony's not going to be happy about that." Tony was chatting with a succubus in red latex. Abby blinked. "I so didn't think he was into that scene." The succubus tickled Tony under the chin with her tail. Abby snickered. "So, have you found anyone interesting tonight?"
"I've talked to a few people. Ziva disappeared about half-an-hour ago with a Sherlock Holmes."
"Go Ziva. You know the rooms upstairs are open, right?"
She shook her head at him. "Oh, relax, McGee. It's just fun. You don't have to be yourself tonight."
"I don't know. Seems to me that everyone's themselves tonight," he said. He realized that he probably should stop drinking the punch. It was relaxing him too much.
Abby slipped her arm through his and dragged him to the corner. "Tell me more." Her smile was devilish.
"Well," he paused to swallow. "Take you for instance. Flamenco is an expression of p-passion." She nodded eagerly. "Tony went for Zorro - justice and helping people who can't help themselves. Ziva is Roxy Hart - a killer who gets away with it through smoke and mirrors. Ducky came as a secret agent. I'm not going to say anything else on that."
"Gibbs is here as Bogart."
"Tony called him Sam Spade. A tough-guy detective who thinks honor is important. But I was thinking more Rick from Casablanca. He'd do what's right even if it breaks his heart."
"And you as Robert the Bruce?"
McGee faltered for a minute. "I manage to make mistakes, and still come out on top."
Abby grinned at him. "I knew there was a reason I liked you." She kissed him quickly. "Now, come dance with me."
Tim gulped the rest of the punch. He had a funny feeling he was going to need it to survive the rest of the night.
"Taking a time out?" Gibbs said quietly, dropping down onto the sofa next to Tony.
"Had a coughing fit. I don't know what set me off," the younger man said. "I figured I should take a break."
Gibbs nodded. He gave Tony's wrist a squeeze, unable to provide any other type of comfort. "Want me to find some tea?"
"Nah. I'll be fine. Probably just got into something. Ducky met up with his flame, so you might want to catch a ride back with the rest of us."
"I drove. Ducky told me to get myself home and not to worry about him. Was it Robert?"
"Yeah." Tony sighed. "I don't know why they aren't together on a more permanent basis. I'd hate to think Robert's married."
"Ducky wouldn't put up with that."
"I know." Tony's smile was sad. "I was actually surprised that he didn't hook up with Gerald. That was before I knew about his S.O." His voice was wistful.
"You ever want something like that?" Gibbs asked, keeping his voice as neutral as possible.
"You wouldn't be able to work after hours."
"Why do you think Iím not married? It's not for lack of prospects. I couldn't do that to someone. I need someone who's as big a freak as I am."
"Someone who understands that the job doesn't always stay at work?"
"Yeah. Someone who wouldnít mind if I didn't make it on time for dinner or that I had to sleep at my desk during a hot case." Tony snorted. "Maybe someone I could just be me with. Sometimes I get tired of playing." Tony's voice dropped to a murmur. He turned to look Gibbs in the eye. "I think the plague did kill me, I just didn't notice until now."
Gibbs smacked the back of his head sharply. He had to stop that bullcrap before Tony started believing it. "You're the same man I met in Baltimore," Gibbs informed him. "I don't know what you saw when you looked in the mirror, but I see the same man today that I saw then."
"You mean it?"
"Thanks, boss. Dance with me?"
Gibbs chuckled. "Sure. Just don't expect much."
"You might be surprised at yourself."
"Gibbs!" Abby squealed when he picked her up from behind and twirled her around. He set her back on her feet and put a finger to her lips.
"I'm taking Tony home. Don't stay out too late. Ducky said he'd make his own way home, but if you see him, offer him a ride."
"It's awfully early for Tony. What's wrong?"
"He's had three coughing fits in the past hour."
"Oh, crud. You take good care of him," she ordered. "I'll spread the word." Abby watched them leave, noting Gibbs' protective posture. She smiled. "You're a sneak, Tony," she murmured.
Tony took off his hat and mask. Gibbs tossed his mask in the back seat. "This sucks, Gibbs."
"Getting old, DiNozzo."
"Yeah. I guess."
"Home. Shower. Bed. Capice?"
"Boss," Tony whined. "It's too early for bed. I'm all keyed up. Stay and watch a movie or something?" Gibbs chuckled as he wound through the rows of cars and out onto the road.
"You need rest."
"Sitting on the couch and watching a movie is relaxing. I've got Maltese Falcon. Or there's TV shows. Please? I figured I'd still be at the party right now."
"Did you eat anything at the party?"
"Not much. We can call in for pizza or something."
Gibbs risked a glance at his second. It was a tactical error. There was no way that he could refuse the hope on that face. "Sounds good," he said. Tony lit up for a moment. Then, they were off the street-lamp lit roads. He heard Tony shift and sigh next to him. He wasn't surprised when the young man started fiddling with the radio. He ended up on the classical station. Gibbs smirked to himself. Tony's roots showed up at the strangest times. "Did you ever actually play polo?"
"Yeah. In the summers when I was back from boarding school. It kept me out of my parent's hair and increased the possibilities of marrying me off to some wealthy old woman's daughter."
"You like horses?"
"I can take them or leave them. I don't like the smell of them, but I like the power of them."
Gibbs nodded. "Basketball. Football. Polo. Fencing. Anything you didn't play?"
"Cricket, much to Ducky's dismay. He explained it to me and invited me over to watch a match. It was interesting, but a little slow for my tastes. I didn't do much baseball, but I can throw and hit a ball. I was a soccer freak for awhile. Raul took me all the games and he used to practice with me in the backyard when he didn't have anything else to do."
"The chauffer. He was Rosa and Rick's son. He started driving mama and me around when he was 18. I think I was about seven. He was a good guy. I missed him more than Mama." The last sentence was barely spoken, but Gibbs heard it clearly.
"Was he driving the car?"
"Yes." Silence reigned for a moment. "Why have Abby and I never been able to get you to a party?"