Somehow Kate was surprised, and not surprised, to find Tony, of all people, standing behind the threshold to her apartment on this night.
It was surprising because she didn't really expect to see him, of all people, tonight. She assumed he had better things to do than show up unannounced at her door on Christmas Eve.
Then again, it wasn't all that surprising given the fact that she was used to it by now. He'd done this before: shown up at her door at odd hours on odd days, eyes bright and smile wide. At first she let him in because it came with the territory of being on Gibbs' team. Early morning wake-ups and assignments on self-taken holidays. After awhile, however, every so often, she began to let him in because it came with the territory of being his friend.
"Santa Claus?" she said finally.
Elegantly, and yet boyishly, he shrugged his shoulders beneath the weight of his snow kissed overcoat.
"I hope you're not disappointed," he remarked.
"That you're not a fat old man in a cheap red suit?" she retorted. "Hardly."
He smiled at her. It was an odd, disarming sort of smile, an upward turn of the mouth more than anything else, like watching paper curl as it burns, she thought. She found herself strangely affected by the smile, of the many she knew, so devoid as it was from any real feeling or meaning, and she forgot why she was ever surprised to see him here in the first place.
Giving herself a mental shrug, Kate backed away from the door to let him in. "Come in," she said simply.
Tony nodded his thanks and walked in but made no movement to remove his coat. Kate felt impossibly short next to him and his huge shoulders. She hated that and he always knew it.
Kate raked a hand through her dishevelled hair. "Shouldn't you be at some party sweeping some socialite of her tiny feet?"
"Probably," Tony shrugged, taking in the now somewhat familiar surroundings. He picked up a photograph from the shelf, realising that hadn't been there the last time he'd woken Kate up for an early morning assignment.
"Dr. Boring?" he asked, flipping the photo around to face her.
Kate remembered that she'd never actually introduced Tony and Daniel before.
"Please put it back, DiNozzo," Kate demanded, before heading toward the kitchen.
He didn't see her smile, for the first time, at his pet name for Daniel, as she rummaged through the cabinets to find a couple of mugs and flipped the switch on her coffee maker.
"Don't bother," he called after her. "We're going out."
Kate paused. She turned around. Her eyebrows were practically scraping the ceiling. "Where are we going?"
Looking wholly unperturbed, Tony played with the ends of his scarf until he tugged an end of a thread free. "You're sitting at home by yourself on Christmas Eve," he pointed out. "Does it really matter?"
She stared at him until the mugs nearly slipped from her grasp. She caught them and put them back in their place. "I guess not," she said with a small smile. "Just let me change my pants." Kate pointed at the red stain on her black slacks.
The last thing she saw before she slipped into the darkness of her bedroom was the thread breaking as Tony gave it a venomous yank.
For a moment, Tony regretted ever coming there in the first place. He closed his eyes and imagined that things were different. He pretended that he was really not about to take her where he knew they needed to go tonight. He told himself that they were, instead, going out on something other than a wild goose chase. Something normal. Something like a date. A normal date.
Somehow, he didn't think that idea would fly with either her or her tall, dark, Ukrainian boyfriend, who probably knew exactly how to dissect him without leaving a shred of medical evidence.
So he stuck to his original plan and he stayed in spite of the fact that he was having second, third, even fourth thoughts, all of which were telling him to go. He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet and fiddled with the fingers of his leather gloves, as he grew increasingly nervous. He was not exactly sure what he was looking to accomplish with this little trip back down memory lane, if he was looking to accomplish anything at all.
He couldn't leave, even if he had a flimsy excuse for being here. Even if a little voice in the back of his head kept telling him that he should be with someone else tonight. Even if that little voice reminded him that the only reason she was with him on this sacred night was because she was on loan.
But he forgot to feel guilty when she appeared. She was just wearing jeans, a work shirt and a sweater but her eyes were dark with curiosity and her hair – short as it was – framed what he thought was a beautiful face.
Suddenly, he found breathing very, very difficult.
Kate didn't notice any of this as she pulled on a coat and threw a scarf around her neck. "This better be good," she warned him. She didn't know that she'd just reduced him to a shrivelling pile of nerves. Not that he planned on ever telling her.
It took only twenty minutes to walk from her apartment to wherever they were going but Kate slipped almost four times. The sidewalks were slick with ice and she was walking twice as fast as he was to keep up with him.
Tony knew this. He knew he should slow down and he knew she wouldn't ask him to. But he also couldn't bring himself to forfeit this chance to catch her each of the four times she slipped. He was sure she thought nothing of it, but his mind always flew blank when she looked up to reward him with one of her rare and infrequent smiles.
"I didn't think you'd be home," he commented, helping her right herself after slip number three, "I thought you'd still end up going out with - "
"We had a fight." She rolled her eyes. To his amusement and secret delight, she didn't sound sorry. "Didn't feel like dealing with him tonight."
"But it's Christmas," Tony teased her. "Have a heart."
Kate glowered at him. "Don't feel like seeing him. It's better this way." She was surprised to find that she really meant it.
Nodding, he didn't expect her to launch into a tirade against her clueless boyfriend. And she didn't. Instead, she focused – for once – on him. This must've been his lucky day.
She peered up at him. She looked adorable all rugged up in her scarf. "You sure you don't have anything better to do tonight?"
"I'm sure," Tony said. His hand rested lightly against the small of her back as they scooted by a crowd of very drunk, very loud teenagers. "Do you?"
"No," Kate sighed. "Where are we going again?"
"It's a surprise," he said truthfully – sort of. He was afraid that if he told her where they were going, she'd laugh, turn on her heel and run from him like a bat out of hell. He didn't think he could take that. Not tonight.
"I'm freezing my ass off," she complained.
"You complain too much," he said automatically. "Be happy. It's Christmas."
She grumbled, but didn't reply. He smiled into his scarf.