JJ wrapped her hands around her mug of hot coffee and tried not to stare expectantly at the café entrance. She felt so awkward, sitting alone in a café waiting for her cousin to arrive. It was silly because she knew from experience that if she had come to the café with the intention of sitting alone she wouldn’t feel awkward at all – if anything she would feel empowered. But sitting and waiting for Paula made her feel embarrassed – almost as though everyone else in the café would know that she had been stood up.
The café door opened and JJ looked up hopefully, only to sigh in disappointment when the woman who entered was not her cousin. She wasn’t even sure why she was surprised. It wasn’t as though Paula being late was anything new – her cousin’s propensity for lateness was a family joke.
JJ looked up again when she heard the door open and smiled in relief when she saw her cousin. Paula returned her smile with a grin and made her way over the table where JJ was sitting.
“Sorry, Jenny.” Paula grinned sheepishly. “I’ll just grab a coffee. Do you want a top up?”
JJ glanced down at her half empty mug. “Another latte would be great.”
“Coming right up.” Paula promised, before taking her purse out of her handbag and then leaving the handbag at the table.
Barely a minute later, Paula slipped into the seat opposite JJ and grinned at her. “Sorry again for being late.”
JJ shrugged with a smile. “I probably should expect it by now. But aren’t you…”
“Military folk supposed to be timely.” Paula finished the sentence with a laugh. “So my father tells me.”
JJ grinned. “Not that you’re actually military.”
“No more than you are.” Paula agreed.
“A little more than I am.” JJ argued with a smile. “You actually work for the Navy.”
Paula’s eyes sparkled. “It’s good to see you, Jenny.”
“You too.” JJ agreed. “How has the Agent Afloat position been treating you?”
“It’s been good.” Paula answered. “But over now, thank goodness. One year on a ship is quite enough for me.”
JJ smiled. “Where are you stationed now? At the Navy Yard?”
“For now.” Paula nodded. “I’ve been temporarily assigned as TAD to the MCRT for a week. They just lost one of their agents.”
JJ winced, she had read about the death of a NCIS agent’s in the Post. “Did you know her?”
“I can’t imagine losing a member of my team.” JJ commented with a small shudder. “I know it’s always a risk, but…”
“It’s hard to believe that it might happen until it does.” Paula finished for her.
They fell into a sober silence, only broken when a waitress brought them their coffees.
“Sorry,” Paula apologised once the waitress had gone. “I didn’t mean to bring the mood down.”
“It’s fine.” JJ told her with a weak smile. “So, how are you enjoying working with a team again?”
Paula shrugged. “I don’t start until next week, the USS Kennedy just got in a few days ago.”
JJ smiled warmly. “Where are you staying?”
“With an old friend.” Paula answered. “We dated back in college and have kept in touch ever since.”
JJ searched her memory for the names of Paula’s past boyfriends. “Robert or Justin?”
“Robert.” Paula told her. “He’s a lawyer now.”
“Any chance of the two of you two getting back together?” JJ asked with a grin.
Paula laughed. “No way. He’s looking for someone to settle down with.”
JJ considered her cousin. “And you’re not?”
“I thought I was,” Paula admitted. “But I was dating this guy last year. He was great – comes across as a real playboy – but then I got to know him and realised that it was all an act. He’s sweet and smart and desperate to find someone to commit to. Which should have made me happy.”
“But no?” JJ asked.
Paula shook her head. “No so much. I broke up with him after a few months. I don’t want to be tied down.”
“See that doesn’t make sense to me.” JJ admitted. “I guess I just don’t see it as being tied down.”
“Maybe you should date him then.” Paul grinned.
JJ paused, trying to decide whether her cousin was serious. The guy sounded great, but she was pretty sure that you weren’t supposed to date your cousin’s ex. And you definitely weren’t supposed to ask your cousin to set you up with her ex.
“What does that look mean?” Paula asked her curiously. “Are you seeing anyone? Would you like me to set you up with Tony?”
JJ bit her lip nervously. “Would you be alright with that?”
“Sure!” Paula looked thrilled. “He’s a bit older than you.”
“A bit older as in five years older?” JJ asked cautiously. “Or a bit older as in twenty years older than me?”
“Ten years older.” Paula told her.
JJ considered that. So the guy, Tony, was thirty seven – that wasn’t too bad. “What does he do?”
“He’s an NCIS agent.” Paula grinned. “He’s the Senior Field Agent of the MCRT.”
“So you’ll be working with him next week then.” JJ realised. “That’ll be awkward – having him as your superior.”
“Not really.” Paula denied. “Tony’s not like that.”
“He sounds too good to be true.” JJ admitted.
“Well, I wouldn’t go that far.” Paula laughed. “He’s, uh, indescribable really. Should I set the two of you up?”
JJ considered that, trying to ignore her heart that was beating excitedly at the prospect. “What’s his worst flaw?”
“That’s hard.” Paula’s forehead crinkled in concentration. “As I said, he’s got this playboy persona – flirts with anything in a skirt, plays pranks on his team mates, and all that. But once you really get to know him, that all fades away.”
JJ waited patiently for Paula’s answer. It wasn’t often she got the opportunity to get the scoop on a guy before dating him.
“I’d say it’s probably his lack of motivation.” Paula said after a minute. “He’s one of the best agents at NCIS, and if he played the game I reckon he’d be on track for the director’s chair. But he has no interest at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed on Gibbs’ team until Gibbs retires.”
“Gibbs?” JJ asked in confusion.
“He’s the lead agent of MCRT.” Paula explained. “Tony’s been in his team for four years now and I don’t think he has any interest in going anywhere.”
“That’s not too bad, as far as flaws go.” JJ pointed out. “It’s not as though I plan to be running the FBI one day – I’d be happy to stay with the BAU forever.”
“I’m the same.” Paula agreed. “I hope that I’ll get my own team one day, but there’s no way I want any more responsibility than that. It’s just that Tony has so much potential and he seems to go out of his way to hide it.”
“Again, not exactly a terrible flaw.” JJ pointed out. “Not when I compare it to the guys I’ve dated in the last three years. They were either intimated by the fact that I could out shoot them, or jealous of the time I spend at work. At least being a federal agent this Tony guy would understand.”
“He would at that.” Paula agreed. “On the negative side, he’d be just as busy as you and so it might be hard to find time to see each other.”
“And you honestly wouldn’t mind?” JJ asked. “Isn’t there some kind of rule about not dating your friend’s ex?”
Paula waved a hand dismissively. “I don’t mind at all. But you have to promise to tell me all about it.”
When Tony woke up on Monday morning he considered calling in sick. Paula Cassidy would be arriving today and would be working with their team for a week as Kate’s temporary replacement.
Tony got up, pulled on some running clothes, and headed out his door – all the while trying to ignore the giant sinking weight in his gut that had been his constant companion since Kate had died. Died. Died. Died. Kate was dead. She had been shot through the head. One minute she had been talking and then next she had been lying on the rooftop with a bullet in her head. And Tony hadn’t done anything to stop it.
Which wasn’t fair, Tony reminded himself firmly as he walked out of his apartment building and did a few stretches. There hadn’t been anything he could do. There was no way he could have stopped it. Kate was dead because Ari had shot her and Tony refused to absolve the man even slightly by taking some of the blame onto himself.
Still, the knowledge that the blame for Kate’s death rested entirely on Ari’s shoulders didn’t lessen the sinking weight. Sure Kate hadn’t exactly been his friend, she had actually driven him crazy, but she had been a member of his team. They had worked together, joked together, avoided Gibbs together, and now she was dead. The fact that she hadn’t even bothered to look past his persona and had treated him like an idiot hardly mattered now. She was dead and she wasn’t coming back.
Tony set off running, heading towards the park a few blocks away, and tried to turn his focus away from Kate’s death. It was nice to run regularly again. He’d started running every morning when he’d attended Rhode Island Military Academy – a habit that he had kept through his years at college and then when he was working with the police. He’d stopped running regularly when he joined NCIS, mostly due to the exhaustion that came from working with Gibbs, and had only started again under Doctor Pitt’s orders. Apparently it was necessary to keep his damaged lungs in good shape.
At first he had hated running. His lungs had hurt, along with his muscles, and it had been a daily reminder that the plague had permanently damaged his lungs. He’d been running for two months now though and it had become the best part of his day. There was something relaxing about running and it gave him time to think.
Tony turned off the road and into the park, choosing the left path that would take him into the small forest area. He wasn’t sure whether he was looking forward to seeing Paula again. On the one hand, she was a lot of fun and he had always enjoyed working with her. One the other hand, she had been the first woman he had really opened up to since Wendy and she had dumped him. He wasn’t quite melodramatic enough to think that she had broken his heart, but she had hurt him none the less. Mostly because she had confirmed a theory he had about himself – people were only really interested in ‘Very Special Agent Tony Dinozzo’, they didn’t want to know the real him.
Everything had been fine when they started dating. They had teased each other, laughed a lot, talked about work, had fantastic sex, and then Tony had made the mistake of opening up a bit. He’d told her about his relationship with Wendy and, in a fit of madness, admitted that he hoped their relationship would turn out better. Paula had broken up with him a week later. They had parted on amiable terms and had even worked together since, but Tony wasn’t looking forward to having to spend the entire week working in close quarters with her. Work was hard enough at the moment, with Kate being gone, without adding Paula to the mix.
Paula who would technically be his subordinate (not that it really meant anything on Gibbs’ team – the only person allowed to hold a rank in Team Gibbs was Gibbs) which would mean that Tony would have to go out of his way to make sure that she didn’t feel uncomfortable. He doubted she was looking forward to working with him again either.
Gibbs and McGee were already in the bullpen when Tony arrived and Gibbs greeted him with a glare. Tony ignored him. It wasn’t as though he was late – he was a whole three minutes early.
Tony put his backpack on the floor and then settled in behind his desk, before switching his computer on and waiting impatiently for it to boot up. He looked around the office, ignoring Kate’s empty desk, and saw that McGee was staring at him.
Tony tilted his head to the side curiously. “Can I help you, Probie?”
“N-no.” McGee flushed and quickly looked back to his computer.
Tony turned his attention back to his own computer and quickly logged in before opening his email programme. Time to slog through all the emails he had received over the weekend.
It was ten minutes later, after Gibbs had gone to do whatever he did when he wasn’t sitting behind his desk, that McGee spoke up.
“Did you hear that Agent Cassidy will be joining out team this week, Tony?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No, McGee. I completely missed that piece of information, despite having been right next to you when we were told.”
“Ah, right.” McGee flushed again. “Well, are you looking forward to seeing her?”
“Of course I am.” Tony turned to grin at the younger man. “Agent Cassidy is always fun to work with.”
McGee frowned. “But won’t it be awkward, what with the two of you having broken up?”
Tony rolled his eyes again. “That was a year ago, Probie.”
“I know.” McGee persisted. “But won’t it?”
Tony screwed up the nearest piece of paper and aimed it at McGee’s forehead. He grinned in amusement when it bounced of his nose. “Of course not. Agent Cassidy and I are both professionals.”
“Says that man who’s throwing paper balls at his colleague.” Paula’s voice sounded from behind Tony.
Tony turned around hurriedly, flushing slightly when he almost fell off his chair. “Agent Cassidy, how lovely to see you.”
Paula looked sceptical. “Is Gibbs here?”
“He’s around.” Tony told her, waving a hand around vaguely.
“Right.” Paula said. “Can I have a word with you, Tony? In private?”
“Uh, sure.” Tony’s heart thudded nervously as he stood up and led her down through the bullpen and into one of the meeting rooms. What could she want from him? He doubted it was anything work related, there would be no need to talk privately if it was, but he also knew that there was no way that she would be wanting to ask him out. What else did they have to talk about? Unless she wanted to make sure that he would treat her professionally for the week she worked with the team.
“So, Tony,” Paula started once he’d closed the door behind them. “How have you been?”
“Fine.” Tony answered lightly, trying not to think about the night he had spent dying of the plague or what Kate had looked like with a bullet hole in her head. Instead he focussed his attention on how good Paula looked leaning against the table and one of his memories of how good she had looked naked.
Paula grimaced. “Sorry, that was silly question. How are you holding up?”
Tony shrugged and looked away as his image of a naked Paula slipped away. “I’m fine.”
“You seeing anyone?” Paula asked.
Tony looked back at her in surprise. “What?”
“I’m not asking for me.” Paula said hurriedly. “I’ve got a cousin I think you’d get on with?”
Tony raised his eyebrows sceptically. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Paula confirmed with a nod. “So are you seeing anyone?”
“Not at the moment.” Tony told her. He hadn’t felt like dating since Kate had died. Actually, he hadn’t felt like dating since Paula had broken up with him, what was the point? It hadn’t stopped him of course. His relationships with women, short though they were, were the only times anyone ever touched him – he just hadn’t felt like being touched since Kate had died.
“You interested in a blind date?” Paula actually sounded hopeful.
Tony considered it. “Can you tell me anything about her?”
“She’s a federal agent,” Paula started. “Works as the Media Liaison for the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit. She’s tall, blond, and only twenty seven.”
Tony didn’t know what was worse, her occupation or her age.
“So?” Paula prompted him. “Can I set the two of you up? One date, no strings attached.”
Tony grimaced but nodded slowly. It sounded like a terrible idea, but he supposed it was time to get back on the horse.
“Great.” Paula beamed at him. “I’ll contact Jenny and arrange a time. What evening would work best for you?”
“Any day.” Tony answered. “So long as we don’t have a case.”
“Got it.” Paula grinned for a moment, before her expression turned serious. “She’s not like me, Tony. She actually wants something serious. Give her a chance.”
Tony looked away uncomfortably. This was a terrible idea.
JJ stared at her wardrobe, most of which had been thrown across her bed, in despair. What had she been thinking agreeing to a blind date? And, more importantly, what should she wear? Normally she would wear a dress, but that felt too dressy for a blind date.
When her doorbell rang, JJ looked up with a relieved smile and went to let Paula in. She had never been so glad that she had agreed to let her cousin help her prepare for the date.
JJ opened her door, only to freeze in horror – her smile slipping from her face. “Are you alright? What happened?”
Paula’s face was covered in bruises, but she smiled weakly anyway. “I’m fine. We just had a bit of a rough case.”
“What happened?” JJ repeated, ushering her cousin in. She moved to her kitchenette and put the kettle on.
“Do you know the name Kyle Boone?” Paula asked her, leaning against one of the benches.
“Sit down.” JJ told her firmly, gesturing towards her lounge suite. “And yes. My team has been talking about him this week. He’s a serial killer, killed twenty two women, but only five bodies were found. He’s being executed in a few days.”
“Right.” Paula lowered herself into a chair with a small groan. “Well the agent who arrested him was Gibbs…”
“The agent who runs the team you’ve been working with this week?” JJ asked.
“That’s the one.” Paula sighed. “Boone claimed that he would divulge the locations of the other seventeen bodies if he got to talk to Gibbs.”
JJ shook her head unconsciously as she remembered the things that Morgan and Reid had been saying. “Unlikely.”
“That’s what Gibbs said.” Paula smiled painfully. “But the Governor ordered Gibbs to co-operate.”
“So did you find the bodies?” JJ asked hopefully.
“Yes,” Paula answered. “But it turned out that his lawyer had taken over his work and killed four women in the last three years. The bastard knocked me out and tried to kill me too.”
JJ’s heartrate increased despite the fact that she could see that her cousin was fine. “But your team got to you in time?”
“No,” Paula sighed. “I killed him.”
JJ grimaced sympathetically. “You alright?”
“About killing him?” Paula asked. “He’s not the first criminal I’ve had to kill and I doubt he’ll be the last. It’ll take me a while to get my head around it, but then I’ll be fine.”
The kettle boiled and JJ set about making both her and Paula a cup of tea. “Black, one sugar right?”
“Right.” Paula agreed. “So, on a more cheery note, how are you feeling about tonight?”
“It’s a terrible idea.” JJ groaned. “I haven’t been on a blind date since college.”
“It’s not exactly blind.” Paula argued. “I brought you a picture.”
JJ carefully passed her cousin the tea, before settling into another seat with her own tea. “Really?”
“I figured one of you ought to know what the other one looks like.” Paula grinned. “It’s in my bag.”
“I’ll get it.” JJ said quickly, placing her tea on her coffee table and moving to pick up Paula’s bag. “Moving must be agony for you right now.”
“Two broken ribs will do that.” Paula agreed.
JJ winced sympathetically. “So what am I looking for?”
“It’s in the magazine.” Paula told her.
JJ pulled out the only magazine in the handbag and carried it back to her chair.
“The photo should be near the front.” Paula said, sipping at her tea. “I put it there this morning.”
JJ opened the magazine and turned a few pages until she found a photo sitting onto of one of the pages. The man in the photo was obviously older than JJ, and Paula for that matter, but not in a bad way. Paula had said that Tony was thirty seven, which sounded pretty old to JJ – he was only three years from forty – but, man, did he look good for his age.
“Nice, huh?” Paula looked amused.
“Yeah.” JJ admitted. “Anything else you can tell me?”
“Give him a chance.” Paula told her seriously. “Tony doesn’t open up well. Chances are he’ll spend the date being suave and charming, which isn’t bad, but he won’t open up at first.”
“That’s alright.” JJ smiled. She was feeling better about the date already. “Nobody really opens up on a first date.”
“Good point.” Paula acknowledged. “So, what are you planning to wear?”