A Few Cents Short

Disclaimer: I just own the fanfiction. The characters all belong to Bellisario and Co. This is my very first NCIS fic. I became a fan of this show in mid March, 2005. I just adore its witty humor and engaging storylines. But most of all, I love the way the characters interact with one another. I really wanted to stay true to the format of the show when I wrote this- which meant keeping Tony and Kate as friends, yet still leaving small clues for those of us who root for them as couple material. It's definitely not the same without Kate now, and her bantering with Tony was truly priceless. Try as they may, that level of chemistry cannot be reached again. This takes place about a month or so after Twilight, and in my little state of denial, Kate didn't die. In fact, she survived that episode. ;)

"Spare me, DiNozzo," Caitlin Todd muttered under her breath, as she carefully edged the vehicle into the near vacant parking lot of the department store, a tight and slightly annoyed frown spilling over her pretty face, her wide eyes narrowing themselves into tiny slits, as she offered a single albeit perturbed glance at the young man who sat in the passenger seat beside her. She calmly slid into an empty spot that was no more than a few feet away from the sliding doors, fretfully stealing the briefest of gazes at her watch, as she professed a short sigh, cutting the headlights in the dead night air. "Tell me again why you couldn't do this earlier?" she demanded, rubbing her gloved hands together, as she quietly blew into them, trying to keep herself warm.

"Because we were busy before, Kate," Anthony DiNozzo abruptly countered, an eyebrow raised, as a flicker of a smile instantly fell over his handsome face, his words crisp and clear, and bordering on his usual brand of sarcasm, quickly letting himself out. The breeze swiftly ruffled his hair as he ran a hand through it, proceeding to replace the ball cap he'd had on only moments ago, the letters NCIS embedded in a bright white hue. "And I need to stretch my legs."

"So you picked a giant 7-Eleven at..." She randomly surveyed the clock in front of her. "Ten seventeen at night," she finished, rolling her eyes.

"Yeah, except 7-Eleven doesn't sell clothes and sports equipment." He paused, regarding her expression with the faintest traces of amusement, as his blues suddenly softened with what she thought may have surprisingly been a hint of concern. "If you're really that tired, you can wait in the car."

"Oh, but why do that, when this could just be the highlight of my evening?"

"I guess it would be, considering you haven't had a date in God knows how long." He merely shrugged his shoulders, fondly tipping his hat to her, as he began to head towards the entrance. "But, really, who's counting?"

"Yeah, you laugh now, Tony, but I wasn't the one who was caught locking lips and dining with the infamous Commander Voss. Or do we keep forgetting about that?"

"And for the one zillionth, trillionth, billionth time, for all intents and purposes, she looked like a girl."

"Too bad you never made it past first base in time to find out," she added rather curtly, bestowing him a smug smile. "Of course, that would have been fairly amusing, wouldn't it?"

Lightly gritting his teeth, he sharply winced, as he politely gestured her ahead of him, waiting until she'd gone in before he did so himself, hearing the doors slap shut again behind them. A middle-aged woman clad in a wool coat, her pleasant face adorned in a pair of large round glasses and a bonnet cloaked about her head, gave him a quick wink, as he darted past her with a wave of uncertainty, watching her appropriately regain her composure when she exited. He reluctantly let out the quiet breath he'd been holding, and looked down to the significantly smaller height of the agent still standing next to him, her hands situated atop the hips of her petite, but admirable frame. He clasped his hands together, revealing a set of straight white teeth in yet another brilliant smile. "I've gotta grab a few things for the apartment, so just...do...whatever it is that you do, and I'll come get you when I'm done."

"Tony, they're closing in ten minutes."

"Yeah, and I'll be fast."

"I bet that's what you say to all the girls."

He started to open his mouth and respond, an index finger pointed in her direction, when he suddenly shut it, curiously tilting his head instead. It moved him to see a woman of Kate's well established demeanor and reputation taking such an interest in him when he least expected it, and at the same time, it deeply frustrated him to no end that his insults seemed to reflect the overwhelming immaturity that plagued him, just when he'd thought they'd reached some common ground. To put it simply, it was a vicious cycle, and under normal circumstances he'd be enjoying every second of it. But it was late, he was starting to get a bit irritable, and he just wanted to grab his stuff and get out. "I'll be back for you in five."

"Fine, and while you're at it, maybe you should call Gibbs and let him know we'll be a little late getting back."

His blue eyes lit up, as he fought to hold back a short laugh. "Kate? This is Gibbs. If you really don't have the slightest idea of what he'd do if he found us slacking on company time, then we really do need to sit down and have a little chat."

"So...what? You're thinking we tell him case related, or did I miss something?"

"I'm thinking yes, unless I want to earn myself another slap on the back of the head," he concluded smartly. "Or possibly unemployment."

She stared at him, careful not to let a self-satisfied grin invade her lips. "Mmm...you'd probably just be in the same boat as McGee."

"Yeah, but Probie and I are nothing alike, Kate. He may...occasionally...look up to me...maybe see me as a kind of Obi-Wan, but I don't, under any circumstances, do geek."

"Whatever you need to tell yourself," she proclaimed a bit tiredly, feeling a yawn coming on.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means it'd be past my bedtime if I didnít work for Gibbs, I'm pretty beat, and I need to find the ladies room."

"Try the back," he answered matter of factly, his eyes crinkling as he sensed her impatience. "They're usually always in the back."

"Okay, so...why don't you just meet me over there instead? I won't be long, I promi-"

"Because it's convenient?" he added.

"No, Tony, because some of us are still in shock that it's one female facility you have yet to frequent."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

"You would," she scoffed.

"We done here?"

"As far as the eye can see," she managed, tossing him a look of pure petulance.

"Good," he murmured.

She watched him hurry off to the right, as she quietly let out the breath she'd started holding, shutting her eyes as she stood there a moment. She reluctantly opened them again, scanning the way the jeans fell over his tall, lean frame, and the way the navy blue shirt with the matching buttons lay comfortably and loosely over his shoulders, the cuff links upbuttoned and pushed an inch or two up his arms. He'd once again removed his cap, abruptly tousling his brown hair with his hand, running his fingers through it somewhat, observing the small tuft of spikes towards the front. He could be a pretty decent guy when he wasn't hassling her about her personal life, or sticking his nose through her things- though she often wondered what the hell his notable line of conquests had ever seen in someone so entirely ready to invest one night of his winning's into a one night stand.

Or maybe, quite frankly, it was simply none of her business. She liked to think that underneath that cool and strangely flirtatious exterior, there was a man who cared from time to time, and actually had a soft side and an intellectual capacity that transcended his current display of childish mannerisms. Of course, she was also still trying to convince herself he wasn't just here to snag a new bottle of cologne and a brand new tie for yet another soon-to-be-forgotten female name that had been scrawled in messy black ink across his calendar. She'd already sufficed his notorious use of movie references drove her utterly and completely nuts, so she really couldn't understand how any woman could seriously sit there and tolerate it for hours on end, without at least letting their brains wander over to what they'd probably already deemed a night of pleasurable sex. Then again, she was just completely content with the fact that she didn't have to see him outside of work.

She let herself into the ladies room, only slightly appalled at the disarray inside, as she dodged a roll of loose toilet paper that had somehow found its way inches from the door. It always amazed her that public restrooms carried such a disorderly air about them, despite the upkeep of the store's interior. But people would be people, she supposed, and they weren't exactly forced to respect a place that held absolutely no value for them, and one they didn't call home. She knew this, and yet she still regarded the empty stalls with the vaguest sense of reluctance, her nose scrunching itself up in mild distaste. She finally decided on the one located at the far end, yanking a single piece of paper towel from the dispenser to her left, as she used it to shut the swinging door behind her.

Meanwhile, Tony had approached the only available checkout he could find, his arms full of laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and shaving cream, a chocolate bar hanging loosely out of his mouth, the wrapper already halfway off. He laid the items on the belt with a content sigh of relief, dusting his hands free, as he proceeded to grasp the junk food in his right. The young woman manning the register shot him a pleasantly amused grin, her blonde hair tied back in a bouncy ponytail, her green eyes flashing with a sudden jolt of interest. He threw her a short wink, his face falling into a smile of his own, turning on the charm he had mastered so well. "Think that's everything," he added warmly.

"Yeah, and you caught me just in time," she told him. "Gotta shut down and call it quits in a few, or the boss is gonna get pissed." She studied him a moment, those same eyes noting the ball cap he still had with him, as she calmly tilted her head to the side. "NCIS, huh?"

"Naval Criminal Investigative Service," he recited quickly.

"So you're in the navy?"

He shook his head, nearly professing a soft laugh. "We investigate navy crimes...crimes connected to it- that sort of thing. I get to travel a lot."

"Oh. Interesting."

"Eh, not really."

She did her best to suppress a nervous giggle. "You have a name, Agent...."

"DiNozzo," he answered, "Special Agent Tony DiNozzo."

"So you're cute and Italian," she concluded.

His grin grew wider. "And apparently enjoying a compliment-" He paused, glancing fondly at her nametag. "Donna."

"Yeah, that's me." She raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow, as she reported the final cost to him, her demeanor masking itself in quiet disbelief. "Out of twenty," she muttered, reaching for the proper amount of change. "Have a great night, Tony."

"I will now, Donna."

She attempted to place the receipt inside one of the bags, just as he caught it between two fingers, rapidly yanking a pen from the pocket of his jeans. Haphazardly scribbling on it a moment, he calmly pushed it in her direction, tossing her a sly expression, as he reached for the bag. "Name and number, just in case you're...interested in giving me a...survey of the items?" he noted, winking at her again.

"Survey?" she repeated.

"Weekends are good- a plus, even."

"Uh...huh."

She simply stared at it after he departed, shaking her head in what could only be construed as a cause of pure puzzlement mixed with just the briefest hint of the excitement that often provoked a challenge. She abruptly tucked it away in the back of her khaki's, carefully logging out of the company computer system, as she flipped off her register light.

"Kate!" He approached the restroom door with the feminine logo scrolled across it, leading with impatience instead of caution, rapping his knuckles clean across the solid surface, as he awaited any kind of a response from inside. "Kate, c'mon, we gotta go!" He heard the sound of running water and what sounded like a paper towel contraption being utilized, as he laid his bags down upon the tiled floor, freeing up his other hand, while professing a deeply annoyed sigh. Beating against the door with both palms now, he fought the sudden urge to throw himself against it, striking it multiple times, as those same hands threatened to clench themselves into cold, hard fists. "Kate!!! If you can hear me, if you're...still alive in there- we need to go! Kaaaate!"

She rapidly yanked open the door, her eyes narrowing in complete disgust, as she crossed her arms firmly over her chest. But a rather tight smile calmly touched her lips, in spite of her current expression, the corners of her mouth gently teasing. "You know, Tony, I never really pictured you as a whiner. A screamer, maybe, but not a whiner."

"Yeah, and it's always been my observation that women take way too long in the bathroom. What the hell do you do in there, anyway?"

"That's because the men are always leaving the seat up and coming in to brush their teeth when we're trying to shower," she proclaimed smugly. "And just for the record, it's none of your business."

"I stand corrected."

"What?" she breathed, clearly baffled.

"We do the small things, while you try and make a monumental occasion out of it."

"Excuse me, monumental?"

"I thought the words were coming out loud and clear," he added, his speech dripping with sarcasm, as he put a thoughtful index finger to his lips, his eyes narrowing themselves into a wave of concentration.

"Yeah, and a monumental occasion for you would probably be looking under some woman's skirt at the local strip joint."

"Well we're just full of fun things to say today, aren't we?"

"Oh, I try my best," she quipped, smiling up at him. "So what was on the menu this evening? I mean, besides your usual five minutes of disastrous flirting with the unlucky, but gifted female cashier?"

"We talked, Kate. And we- you know, what makes you so sure that cashier was female? It could have just as easily been some big burly guy who's out here supporting his family out of the goodness of his heart."

"Yeah, right. What else would make you so late getting over here?"

"Timed me, did you?"

"Oh yeah. Only next time you might want to try a little harder to make what you buy somewhat more believable."

He merely stared at her, carefully raising an eyebrow. "What?"

"The...laundry soap, the dishwashing soap, the shaving cream. C'mon. Those are all things you can actually buy at a real 7-Eleven, Tony. You don't need a big and glamorous macho man establishment to show the world you know how to live."

"Macho man?" he murmured.

"The point is, we wasted gas," she snapped.

"The point is- it was on the way," he objected.

"Hey, look. I'm not gonna stand here and argue. In fact-"

"After you," he cut her off.

"It's about time," she hissed.

He smiled then, her back to him, his blue eyes casually wandering over her small frame, as she made it to the front of the store in complete silence, waiting as the doors opened and greeted her at the exit, her shoes clicking wildly against the pavement, as she continued walking briskly toward the car. "Cold?"

She quickly shot a menacing glance back at him, as she glided to a stop near the driver's side, lightly arching her brows. He'd set the bags down on the ground again, his body coming up beside hers, his blues gently caressing her face, his arms moving absentmindedly across his chest. "Not that I owe you an explanation or anything, but I wasn't planning on seeing her after I left the store. I wasn't going to call her and I wasn't going to-"

"Hey, look, it's none of my business, Tony, so why don't we just drop it, okay?"

"Because you don't wanna drop it," he insisted, tilting his head rather slightly, a small smirk covering his handsome features.

"Where's this going?" she demanded, her lips somewhat pursed, as she quietly narrowed her eyes at him.

"You're jealous," he taunted playfully.

"Oh, c'mon, DiNozzo, we work together," Kate countered. "What you do outside of your job doesn't concern me, just as my...personal...activities shouldn't concern you. You made me go out of my way tonight, and we could have bee-"

"We could have been, what? Sitting, working, and sharing some Chinese?"

"We could have been questioning that man's wife!" she shouted.

"Yeah, and as far as we know, that case is closed. End of story. His brother went crazy, tried to let her take the fall, and the motive fell right into our laps."

"Still, she probably knew something."

"Yeah. She knew that he belonged behind bars with all the other crazy people."

"And just for the record, just so we're...clear here, I am not jealous."

"Then why do you keep bringing it up?" he challenged.

"Hey, look, you accused me, Tony. I'm just trying to straighten this out. I'm-"

"Trying to pretend it never occurred to you that you should be," he finished, laughing softly.

"I'm not talking to you anymore," she whispered, abruptly turning away, as she began fishing for her keys, her hands digging deep in the pockets of the thin windbreaker she wore. She cursed lightly under her breath, as she fished among the other debris inside, finally dragging up the clanging metal in her right hand, her hand gripping it rather tightly.

He brought one of his own hands up, gingerly reaching out for her, placing it over her enclosed fist, clasping the metal in the warmth of his hand, hesitantly holding his grip there, as he searched her troubled profile rather intently. "And yet we keep playing this little game, don't we, Kate?"

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Really?"

"Yes," she whispered, very nearly blushing, as he leaned toward her, craning his neck, their faces almost touching.

"I don't believe you," he whispered back.

"And I suppose you're going to politely inform me of one of your lame movie references where one of your infamous heroines did exactly the same thing."

"Not unless you count Gone With the Wind where Rhett left Scarlett in quite a huff," he mused carefully, obviously amused by her sarcasm.

"Dream on, cowboy."

"You really should learn to loosen up," he suggested then, pulling away, his hand falling free of hers, as he quickly reclaimed his bags, walking around to the other side of the car. "You might just surprise yourself."

"Oh, really? Well, when I do, you'll be the first person I call, Tony."

"See? You do like me."

"As my slightly disturbed and emotionally challenged colleague? Yes. As anything more than that? Probably not. Of course, sometimes it's just awfully hard to see past the stupidity."

"I'm glad we had all this time to bond, Kate."

"Go to hell, DiNozzo."

"So glad, in fact, that I'm going to remember it for days to come," he added, slipping into the passenger side as she unlocked the doors, flashing her one of his trademark grins.

She could only watch him as he shut the door, setting his items down on the mat below, his left hand reaching for the seatbelt, as he yanked it securely over his lean frame, his fingers placing it into its clasp with the smallest of clicks, his long legs once again slightly cramped.

"What?"

She fumbled then, quickly shaking her head, as she focused her line of vision on the set of keys in front of her, plunging them into the ignition, as the car rumbled itself to life. "I...I was just thinking it'd be pretty funny if you'd actually gone a step further back there. I mean, not funny in the- you know, never mind, okay? Like I said, I'm tired and I'm just not really in the mood right now, all right?"

"Gone a step further in what?" he returned.

"Never mind," she repeated.

"Okay, fair enough."

"Good. Fine."

"Fine," he echoed, as he proceeded to lay his head back against the seat, his lids calmly falling across his blues.

"But you know...now that we're...still on the subject- what did you mean?"

He slowly opened them again to turn to look at her, his gaze holding hers steady for a moment, his features somewhat unreadable. "About what?"

"Tony, we don't go around playing games with each other. It's not-"

"We do it all the time, Kate."

"Like when?" she started, hesitating in shifting the vehicle into drive, her hand shaking slightly, as it fell faintly over the knob, miserably failing to move them out of the lot.

"Like right now," he confirmed.

"That's ridiculous-"

"No." He unhooked his seatbelt, his motions careful and yet deliberate, as he calmly reached over, his fingers brushing themselves gingerly across her jawline. She flinched without completely realizing it, and yet she didn't bother to reach out to stop him, his touch full of warmth and an odd, but surprising tenderness she simply hadn't expected. She knew her cheeks were probably flushed with a bright crimson hue by now, and it wasn't helping any that he was so close to her again. "It's not."

"Tony?"

"But you know," he sided, considering it, his voice low, a thoughtful expression plaguing his face, as a slow smile crept up along the edges. "I'm just not really in the mood right now."

Crestfallen, and somewhat annoyed that he'd chosen to echo her previous sentiment, she was still very much troubled in how it was affecting her to begin with. She never liked to let on what was just below that surface, itching to make its way to the forefront, and yet still buried under her own unexplainable feelings that had transpired for him since he'd nearly died a month ago from contracting the plague. He still even managed to get on her nerves quite easily, as she was guiltily reminded of that obvious revelation again tonight, and yet a small part of her knew it was who he was, who he'd always been since she first met him when Gibbs had offered her a job on his team. And she wasn't supposed to get involved- wasn't supposed to break down and fall for a man's charms, especially a man who had her pegged like night and day in the bickering department, and would constantly go at it with her on a daily basis, because....well, just because, she guessed. There was never really any point to it and she'd never been able to really uncover a valid reason underneath it all. Maybe she never wanted to.

"You all right?" he spoke up then.

She finally smiled back at him, nodding, as she finally began moving out of the parking space, her eyes alive and suddenly not feeling nearly so exhausted. "Yeah," she whispered. "I'm great."

"Think we could stop for a pizza on the way back? I haven't really been having too much luck with those health food bars."

"Told you they were no good for you," she commented, falling back into their rhythm once more, pulling out onto the empty street.

"Besides...I think it's your turn to pay," he objected, laughing, as he rolled down the window, a nice breeze settling inside the car, his hand reaching for the knob to the radio. He couldnít help but steal one last and final glance at her, as they made their way through the darkness, the irony of it proving to be a great deal more obvious to him now, as he realized what he felt was bathed and clothed in anything but this vast pile of black, shedding its skin in an all too familiar light.

Kate's smile grew a bit wider in the dark just then, as she quietly drummed her fingers against the steering wheel, absentmindedly keeping the beat with the tune that could now be heard falling casually over the small set of speakers. It wasn't so bad, she decided, and she really did enjoy messing with him on occasion, just as he did her. Their friendship was bound to keep bordering on what ifs, and she'd just witnessed it yet again firsthand. She still couldn't deny the fact that something was different though, and would hope that certain something chose to completely reveal itself in time. But for now, she'd take what she could get, and if it meant playing the game he spoke of, she'd continue to do it, protectively shielding herself from feelings she couldn't work up the courage to confess.

The End