Title: Worth It
Author: Jilly James
Fandom: Criminal Minds, hint of NCIS
Genre: Romance, Fluff
Relationship: Penelope Garcia/Tony DiNozzo
Content Rating: PG
Warnings: No triggers, some off-screen violence
Author Note: Emily never left, so no Blake, etc. Takes place in some nebulous time period after 2012 but before Hotch leaves. Show timeline isn’t really important other than the team is JJ, Emily, Derek, Reid, Hotch, Rossi, & Garcia.
Challenge: Written for the 2021 Writing & Junk Prompt Calendar for January. Prompt: Penelope Garcia meets someone new and interesting.
Word Count: 5,820
Summary: Penelope met someone when she moved into her new building. Her whole team was now suspicious of this new man in her life.
* * *
Penelope crowded JJ and Emily near the coffee machine in the break area and whispered, “I have a new neighbor.”
Emily shot her an amused look. “Weren’t you moving this weekend? Aren’t all of your neighbors new?”
“A beautiful neighbor.”
JJ grinned. “Oh, I see how it is. How’d you meet?”
“After the movers were done, I was bringing up my electronics myself—I moved those in my car, you know.”
“Of course,” JJ and Emily said in unison.
“You mock, but I’d never trust a moving company with my babies. Anyway, I had my little cart full of computer gear and I was waiting on the elevator, but it was not coming. And then this lovely baritone said, ‘Mrs. Fisher is holding the elevator on four. It’ll be a while.’ And there he was. Tall, dark blond hair, green eyes, perfect suit.” She sighed.
“And…?” JJ prompted.
“I still have no idea why Mrs. Fisher holds the elevator on four or why it’s such a frequent occurrence in a new building that someone who lives on the second floor knows about it, but he offered to help me carry my stuff up.”
“You didn’t let him touch your babies, did you?” Emily asked, grinning over the rim of her mug.
“I did! I lost all sense and just nodded and stammered out a thank you.” She pressed a hand to her heart. “He was so careful too. He flirted, but it was super polite flirting. No offensive comments, just sweet. He could just be a natural flirt, I suppose.” She pursed her lips. “He did have bodyguards. Security detail or something. They were hanging way back though.”
JJ and Emily exchanged a look before Emily replied, “I guess that’s not uncommon in this area. Did you get his name?”
“Tony,” Penelope said on a sigh.
“That’s not really what I meant.”
* * *
“You’re distracted,” JJ said as she entered Penelope’s office, coffee in hand, and closed the door behind her. “You were almost…moony earlier. What’s going on?”
“I had dinner with Tony.”
JJ choked on her coffee. When she’d recovered and dabbed coffee drops off of her slacks, she said, “How’d you go from speaking once to having dinner?”
“We’ve spoken more than once.”
“You didn’t mention the other times.”
“It’s just in passing in the hallway. He’s always so nice.”
“And how did dinner come about if you’ve only spoken in passing?”
“Is that a question or an answer?”
“Both. I’m not even sure what happened. I wasn’t even sure which condo was his, but it’s the one sorta next to mine.”
“Sorta next to yours?”
“Yeah. The way the building is laid out, there’s a much bigger unit at each end of the floor. So the elevator comes up in the middle, and there are condo doors on each side of the hallway. But one door on each end. The end units are about three times the size of a regular unit. So it’s next to me but sort of kitty-corner.”
“I know, not terribly relevant. The power went out just as I was walking through my living room, and I was unprepared and tripped on something and screeched. He heard and came knocking on my door. I was all tangled up in the cord from my Amazon Echo, not that I knew that at the time. He called out through the door and asked if I was okay. I said I was tangled in something. He asked if he could come in and help. I said yes if he could pick locks. I was being sarcastic. Next thing I know, he picked the lock.”
“He picked the lock,” JJ repeated and held up a hand. “We need Emily. Hold that thought.” She fired off a text on her phone. When Penelope started to say something, JJ held up her hand again. “Nope. I need reinforcements.”
When Emily arrived a bare ninety seconds later, JJ quickly ran through everything Penelope had said, though much more succinctly.
Emily stared. “He picked your lock?”
“I sort of said he could. I was being sarcastic, but I did say it.”
“I have so many questions, but the first one is how did that lead to dinner?”
“Oh! Right. I hadn’t even started making my dinner yet.”
Emily gave her an unimpressed look. “I need more.”
“He was so sweet,” Penelope said dreamily. “He helped me up and asked if I was okay. His bodyguards were hanging around in the background with flashlights. And Tony looked nice. Jeans and a cream-colored cashmere sweater. So soft.”
“Penelope,” JJ said sternly. “Focus.”
“I’m focusing on the sweater. And his chest in the sweater. The shoulders were good too, but mostly I was all about the chest. Though I don’t want to shortchange how the cashmere clung to his biceps.”
“Penelope!” Emily barked. “How’d you wind up having dinner?”
“Oh. He asked where my flashlight was, and I was trying to remember where I’d put the candles when I’d unpacked; I always find candles have better ambiance in a power outage. I said so, and he agreed with me. So he’s looking around and notices I had just taken food out of the refrigerator. He says he’s got plenty of light and had just finished making dinner, there’s plenty and it’s still hot, and did I want to join him.”
“I’d like to say tell me you didn’t,” Emily said, crossing her arms, “but this apparently started with you saying you had dinner!”
“Yes, I accepted the hot guy’s invitation to have dinner. In the dark!”
“He picked your lock!”
“I invited him to!”
“Did you get his last name at least?” JJ asked.
“Penelope,” they said in unison in the exact same tone.
“It was so nice, and I didn’t want to spoil it. And if I’d asked for his last name, I’d have been tempted to run a background check.”
“A good impulse,” JJ snarked under her breath. “But back to the dinner invite…”
“He was right about having more light. Aside from the flashlights his bodyguards had, he pulled out a couple of lanterns for general light and then lit candles on the table. And, oh god, the food was good. The man can cook! Fresh pasta carbonara.” She pressed her hands to her heart. “It was lovely.”
“You need to get a name,” Emily insisted.
“It’s Tony. T-O-N-Y.”
Emily’s glare could have melted an iceberg.
“Don’t ruin it, okay? It’s just a fantasy,” she whispered.
“He broke into your house; that’s not a fantasy,” Emily insisted. “It’s a crime.”
“I said he could pick my locks. He had no way of knowing that I was being sarcastic.”
“He should have been able to tell,” JJ insisted.
“Maybe. But I did ask him about it.”
JJ looked slightly mollified. “And?”
“He said he used to be a cop and that’s where he learned.”
“Used to be,” Emily repeated, tone wooden. “That’s just great. Did you ask about the bodyguards?”
“Sort of…? He fed them though, and they seem happy to work for him.”
“Bodyguards for the mob seem happy, too, Pen,” JJ said softly. “And many of them were former cops.”
“Oh my god, you guys, you’re killing me here. Can’t you let me enjoy the buzz of the best dinner date I’ve had in years?”
Both of her friends crossed their arms and glared. “We need his last name,” Emily said firmly.
“I hear you.”
“What in the world did you talk about if you didn’t get his last name or figure out what he does?” JJ asked.
“Everything. Music, wine, travel, plays, movies.” She sighed. “And he was so interested in me.” She gave them both a mild glare. “And he did offer to tell me his name, but I said no.”
“Why?” they both exploded.
“I told him if he gave me his name that I would be tempted to run a background check and engage in more than a little cyberstalking. It was better for our friendship if he remained a man of mystery. He laughed like he was charmed.”
“Oh my god.” Emily buried her face in her hands.
“Does he know what you do?” JJ asked gently.
“He knows I work for the Bureau as an analyst, and my assertions of cyberstalking amused him. He said I could ask for his name whenever I wanted.”
“So ask for it,” Emily pressed. “Better yet, do your magic to look up who owns that unit in your building.”
“Oh no. That would be totally improper and probably get back to someone and bite me in the ass. It’s one thing to use some advanced Google-Fu on some guy’s name to get what’s readily available on the Internet; it’s another to access property records outside of a case. I guarantee that’d come back to bite me in the ass when it’s least convenient.”
Emily and JJ exchanged a look, then JJ said, “I think we should tell Hotch and Rossi about this.”
“What?” Penelope blurted out. “It’s just a harmless flirtation.”
JJ looked worried. “Can we afford to take that chance?”
“Oh my god, you two. I’m appalled by the lack of trust here.”
“We trust you,” Emily said, “but we don’t trust him. We don’t know him.”
* * *
Penelope was just wrapping up for the day, ready to go home, kick off her heels and enjoy a very large glass of wine, when Hotch stepped into her office, a severe expression on his face.
She flopped back into her chair with a sigh. “JJ and Emily talked to you.”
He nodded tightly. “I think you should get this man’s name.”
“No. This is a complete overreaction.”
“Garcia.” He gave her his patented look that was a weird blend of severe and compassionate. “With your history—”
She held up a hand. “I’ll just avoid him.” Everyone’s paranoia was taking the bloom off the rose. In fact, the reminder of the man who’d shot her was like ice water in her veins.
“We’re just worried about you.”
She felt warmed by their love and care, but she didn’t want to be haunted by that event for the rest of her life. She could just get his name, but what if that ruined it? What if he was a horrible person who was cruel to old ladies and puppies? She’d enjoyed the mystery of it all because she felt safe in not knowing.
* * *
“Baby girl, what happened to you?” Derek asked in alarm as soon as Penelope stepped off the elevator.
She gently touched her face and cringed. “There was a whole thing at my place. It’s a long story.” She tried to go to her office, but Derek took her by the arm.
“Oh no. We need more than that.”
“No, Derek, let me go to my office.”
“Does this have anything to do with this mystery man?”
“It doesn’t not have to do with him,” she hedged.
“I’ll kill him.”
“He didn’t do it!” Penelope dug in her heels.
“You have a black eye!”
“I know! I was there. Tony’s the one who stopped…this.”
Derek’s jaw firmed. “I’m not going to drag you to Hotch’s office, but I’m also not going to hide that you’ve got a black eye. So, you can go back to yours and we’ll all descend, or—”
“Fine!” She went ahead of him, marching into the bullpen, head held high, and headed straight for the conference room.
The whole team had poured into the conference room within two minutes, all asking questions, until Rossi gave a sharp whistle. “Okay, kitten, how about you tell us why you look like that today?”
Penelope sighed. “Friday night, there was this godawful racket at my door at like three in the morning. I went to answer it; I looked through the peephole first!” she threw out quickly because she saw everyone gearing up to yell, even Reid. “And I recognized one of my neighbors who lives two or three doors down. He’s a congressman’s aide, so I opened the door.”
Half of her team groaned, but Rossi just made an encouraging gesture.
“He was a wee bit drunk. Okay, a lot drunk. And suddenly, he was all over me, and too drunk to care that I was beating the crap out of him to get him to let go and screaming up a storm.”
“Oh my god, Penelope.” JJ sat in the chair next to her. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Tony and his bodyguards showed up and subdued him.”
“The mysterious Tony again,” Derek said dryly.
Penelope whispered to JJ. “He was just in lounge pants. Cute bedhead too.”
“Nice?” JJ whispered back.
“So, so nice.”
“I think we’ve strayed from the point,” Hotch said severely. “What happened next?”
“Uh? The police came? Tony’s bodyguards sat on Mr. idiot face while Tony held an ice pack to my eye.” She leaned close to JJ. “No shirt the entire time.”
Hotch sighed. Rossi grinned. JJ gave her a subtle fist bump, apparently willing to enable Penelope now that there were others present to play the heavy.
“And what’d the cops do?” Derek pressed.
“They arrested the guy…? What do you want me to say?”
“What’d they do about ‘Tony’?” Derek made air quotes.
“They went into the hallway and got his statement along with the statements of his bodyguards. They were very nice to him, so I really don’t think he’s a creep.”
“He picked your lock,” Derek retorted.
“I said he could.”
“Not really.” She got to her feet. “I’m fine. Tony kept a drunk letch from abusing my person. Well, anymore than this.” She gestured to her face. “I’m not dating the man. I don’t need to run a background check.”
* * *
Penelope stomped into the bullpen to get more coffee and was infuriated to find the pot was empty. It didn’t matter that it was two in the afternoon. She needed coffee now.
She began to make another pot, slamming drawers and cupboards until Derek appeared and took the pot from her.
“How about I take that before none of us ever get coffee again because you broke the pot.”
“How about you give it back so I can make some damn coffee!”
He raised a brow. “You seem pissed.”
“Pissed, Derek? No. Pissed is such a mild word. Pissed is when someone cuts you off in traffic or your dry cleaners ruin your favorite shirt. I am enraged. Incandescent with anger. The fire of a thousand suns fuels my fury, Derek!”
“Okay, you’re mad, baby girl. I hear you. I’m still not giving you this coffee pot.”
“I need my coffee!” She registered the rest of the team closing in, concerned looks on their faces. “I want coffee, not a conversation!”
“And I’ll get the coffee started, but how about you start with explaining why you’re so mad.” He began filling the filter basket with fresh ground. “Tell me about the suns.”
Penelope began to pace, gesturing wildly as she explained. “I got a call from some aide from Congressman Bradley’s office. Not the aide who tried to jump me.”
“Is that whose aide assaulted you last weekend? Representative Roger Bradley from Kentucky?” Reid asked. It figured that Reid would know every person named Bradley in Washington DC.
“Yes! So this other aide, a snotty woman who tried to victim blame like whoa, calls me and tries to make it out like I lied to the police.”
“Excuse me?” Hotch said, arms folded over his chest.
“Yeah. Exactly. She said that the account I’d given the police was clearly exaggerated, and it wouldn’t do my professional standing any good to press the issue. Blah blah blah. His office expects me to retract my complaint!”
“What did you say?” Rossi asked, the most outwardly calm from where he was leaning on a partition wall.
“I said like hell I’d retract my complaint, and that if someone else hadn’t intervened that I could have been seriously hurt because, and I didn’t want to complain before, but this guy is big. And she starts making more veiled threats about how I could lose my job!” She glared at Derek, who had stopped what he was doing to watch her pace. “I need my coffee!”
“I’m not sure caffeine is going to help this situation, Garcia.”
“Coffee, Derek, coffee!” Her phone vibrated in her pocket, and she bit back a sigh. Pulling it out, she saw the same number as before. “It’s her again.”
“Let me answer it,” Hotch said, holding his phone out.
“No,” she hissed.
“Then put it on speaker and make it clear that your supervisor is listening since your job has been threatened.”
“This is Penelope Garcia,” she answered as calmly as she could after pressing the speaker button.
“Ms. Garcia,” a man’s voice came over the line. She thought she got something of an accent in the brief greeting. “This is Congressman Roger Bradley.”
“You’re someone else from the congressman’s office?”
“No, ma’am, this is the congressman.”
“Oh.” She stared at the others, utterly flummoxed. “I spoke to your aide about half an hour ago—”
“I know. I just wanted to apologize for that misunderstanding.”
“You do? Oh. Um. I should mention I’m on speaker with my supervisor present because your aide was threatening my job.”
“I understand completely, but I’m sure there’s been some confusion about her intent.”
“No, she really did threaten my job.”
“Ah, well.” The congressman cleared his throat. “I assure you that wasn’t my intent. Uh, I just wanted you to know I’ve taken her to task for the way she’s handled this matter. She’ll be more circumspect in the future.”
“I’d rather not hear from her again.”
“Oh, no. I didn’t mean that she’d call you. I assure you, no one from my office will need to call you again. I meant that I’ve discussed her approach when handling matters when she’s representing my office. As for Mr. Podolak, he’s no longer in my employ. I can’t have an abusive drunkard representing me.”
“I…see.” She looked at the others, feeling completely confused.
“I just want to assure you that my office has no connection with Mr. Podolak any longer, and we won’t make any effort whatsoever to impede the course of justice.”
Impede the course of justice, Derek mouthed, looked as confused as Penelope felt.
“Well, thank you, Congressman. I appreciate the call. The last call was rather distressing and, after my run-in with Mr. Podolak, I was worried about a complete strike-out when it came to you.”
“I certainly don’t want that, Ms. Garcia. And if there’s ever anything I can do for you, please don’t hesitate to call.”
She hung up and looked at the others. “That seemed weird.”
“So, so weird,” Emily agreed.
Penelope blew out a breath. “I really do need coffee. The stress crash is going to kill me. Coffee, Derek, coffee.”
“Yeah, all right.” He got back to work just as Penelope’s phone vibrated.
It was a text message from a number she didn’t recognize with a DC area code.
—Did Congressman Bradley apologize?
She stared at the phone then flashed it to Rossi, whose brows shot up. “That’s more than a little worrying, kitten.” Everyone crowded around as she typed back her response.
—Who is this?
—Tony. Are you okay?
She nearly dropped her phone. Derek tried to make a grab for it, but she stepped back and began to type again.
—How’d you get my number?
—Police report. Are you okay?
—Yeah, I’m fine. Is your number in the police report?
—A number is in it, but it’s a number that’d take you through about ten people to get to me. Seriously, did Bradley apologize, or do I need to call him again?
—He apologized. How did you know what happened?
—One of the officers called me, said they’d gotten pressure from Bradley’s office to drop the investigation and make it go away. When we called his office, I found out they’d already contacted you. I had words with him about his poor behavior.
—Thank you. It was honestly really upsetting to have them try to blame me for what happened and then threaten my job if I didn’t retract my complaint.
—They threatened your job? Oh, I’m am so ruining that man.
Garcia giggled and held her phone a little tighter.
Another text came in before she could reply.
—But you’re okay?
—I’m fine. Thank you, Tony.
—It’s my most sincere pleasure, Penelope.
She looked up and was met with six looks of varying degrees of inquisitiveness and worry. “He’s like my knight in shining consequences.”
“What?” Reid asked around a sputtering laugh.
“A knight in shining armor isn’t very useful. But one who comes bearing consequences for people who behave badly? That’s good.”
“Sweet baby Jesus,” Derek muttered under his breath, eyes rolling toward the ceiling.
She let JJ and Emily read the texts but wouldn’t release her phone. Her friends were getting protective and weird.
* * *
It was a crappy case, the kind that was so bad that Penelope had to travel with her team, a part of her job she did not enjoy. They were gone too long, didn’t get enough sleep, but it was worth it in the end because they managed to stop another bad person from doing another bad thing. Unfortunately, the bad people and bad things were all starting to blur together.
They arrived back at Quantico in the late afternoon, plenty of time to work on reports, but Hotch, looking tired and like he’d aged five years in ten days, sent them all home and told them to report back on Monday. That gave them an early day and a three-day weekend.
JJ, Emily, Reid, and Penelope all headed to their own homes then took Ubers to a bar to get thoroughly sloshed. It was good to hang out and ogle hot guys and girls, speculate on whether the guy at the bar was with his girlfriend or cheating on his wife. It would only have been better if the whole team had come. Derek had wanted some quiet time with his latest renovation project, and Rossi wanted mellow jazz, single malt, and a book.
Reid, the utter lightweight, tapped out early, so they ordered an UberBLACK so they’d have enough room for all of them. They dropped him off first then had the driver taken them to Penelope’s. She had plenty of wine and a new sectional with a comfy chaise on one end that Emily was dying to try out.
Penelope fumbled to get her keys out of the bottom of her bag. The security guard in the lobby of her new building meant she was always trying to find her keys at the last minute when she used to always get them out while in the car so she’d be able to unlock the front door of her old building.
She’d just managed to get her keys from the depths of her too-large bag when the stairwell door opened, catching everyone’s attention. Two men came out, followed by Tony and four other men. That was way more bodyguards than Penelope had ever seen with him. She dropped her keys with a loud jangle that echoed down the corridor.
JJ and Emily both stiffened and sucked in a sharp breath.
The first two guards went on to the apartment, but Tony paused by them, the other four guards stopping a respectful distance away. He leaned down and grabbed her keys, passing them over.
“Good evening, Penelope,” he said with a soft smile.
He glanced at JJ and Emily, his smile becoming more pleasant and less personal. “Agent Prentiss, Agent Jareau,” he greeted with a faint nod.
“Sir,” they both said stiffly, and Penelope frowned. They knew who Tony was.
“You look tired,” Penelope blurted out, then blushed when he looked back at her. “Sorry. I just meant I hope that you’re okay.”
“Well, a certain BAU team was investigating a case this week that caused the terror alert level to go up, so it was tiring, but it was a good outcome all the way around.” His gaze flicked to the other two. “As we all know.”
“R-right,” she stammered. “I’m so in the dark.”
He stepped a little closer, smiling softly again. “Well, I’ve never more appreciated in my life meeting someone who doesn’t watch C-SPAN. Since the cat is out of the bag, because your friends aren’t going to let you be in ignorance for much longer, do you want to have dinner with me? I’ve wanted to ask since you lectured me about how to properly carry your computer equipment up a single flight of stairs, but you were so determined not to know my last name.”
She felt her cheeks get even hotter. “I’d like that. Unless, when I Google you later, I find out that you’re a terribly awful person, then I’ll make a lame excuse about a bad perm or something.”
His smile grew to something blinding that shook off all his fatigue. “It’s probably a lot to ask of a first date, but there’s a State dinner tomorrow night. Would you like to accompany me? No harm, no foul if that’s too much for a first outing.”
“State dinner?” she repeated. “You mean like—”
“At the White House, yes.”
Penelope pressed her hand to her throat. “Oh. That’s a lot. But, yes. I reserve the right to freak out and cancel at the last minute, which should be no indication that I don’t want to try again for something low-key like the Marine Corps Birthday Ball or the Met Gala.”
He chuckled, the sound moving through her like warm honey. “Birthday Ball is in six weeks. I definitely need a date for that, so consider your time reserved, Ms. Garcia. I’ll text you the details about tomorrow, and I won’t hold it against you if the idea of meeting the president and first lady is too much.”
“Oh. I’d get to meet Mrs. Obama?”
“Then I refuse to let my freak out get in the way of spending time with you and meeting one of my heroes.” She cleared her throat. “I’m all in, sir.”
He took her hand, squeezing gently, and leaned in to drop a lingering kiss on her cheek. Then he was gone, with one of his guards, muttering, “Finally!”
Penelope was left leaning against the door, wondering just how much she’d had to drink, and if that was all a hallucination.
Emily took her keys and unlocked the door, ushering them all inside and prodding Penelope to enter her security code on the alarm panel.
JJ and Emily both faced her with hands on their hips.
“What?” she asked weakly.
“Yeah, he is hot,” JJ said flatly. “He’s also the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security, Anthony DiNozzo.”
“That’s DiNozzo?” she whispered.
JJ threw up her hands. “Really? You didn’t recognize him? Do you not watch the news at all?”
“I read the news when it’s necessary via text in a feed I designed. Reading is faster than listening to people yap. On the plus side, I think he’s pretty great professionally, so at least I don’t have to make up a bad perm because he’s an atrocious human being.”
Emily started laughing.
“He is so gone on you.”
“Why is that funny?”
“I don’t know. I guess because we’ve all been so worried about the creep living next door who picks your locks and intimidates members of Congress. I mean, I had money on mob boss.”
“You bet on what he does?” Penelope screeched.
“Oh yeah,” JJ said with a grin. “I had wealthy businessman with the power to influence politicians. You said he was gone for days at a time, so I thought this might be his condo for when he was in DC.”
Penelope blew out a breath and collapsed on her sofa. “Why does he live in a condo?”
JJ went to get the wine. Emily took the chaise end of the sectional, stretching out as she kicked off her heels. “My mother said that he’s a nightmare for his security detail but hates to live in a house. They made him move when he was confirmed because his prior residence wasn’t secure enough.” She lifted her head and looked at Penelope. “What’s under his condo?”
“Um. The building gym and maybe a little of the pool? I don’t go down there much.”
“They just opened this building, right?”
“It was new. Opened a couple of months before I moved in.”
“Right. He’s on the second floor right above an ostensibly public space. I’d bet anything there’s an emergency evacuation from his unit down through the gym.”
Penelope goggled at her friend. “Really?”
“Yeah. Though, don’t speculate about that to anyone.”
“I would never.”
JJ came in and passed around glasses of wine, nudging Emily over so they could both recline on the chaise. It was plenty big enough for two people. Penelope suddenly had a fantasy of lounging over there with Tony.
Emily continued, “I’d also bet the door directly across from you is a condo occupied by his security detail, and they’ve cut an access door into his unit.”
Penelope swallowed heavily. “I’ve never seen more than two of them.”
JJ gave her a sympathetic look. “Before you decide to go out with him, if you’re serious about it, you need to think about what you’re getting yourself into. Not every high-profile person in DC has that kind of security, but the big names in intelligence all do because of their threat profile.”
“But there’s eventually going to be an administration change. His is an appointed position, right? So it won’t be forever.”
Emily shook her head. “The job title could change, but he’s been a big name in intelligence for a while. That’s not going to stop, and the security detail isn’t going away.”
“Is it worth it?” JJ asked.
“How do I know that before our first date?”
“You may not know right this second, but there will be a moment when it’ll be clear.”
Penelope took a sip of her wine and thought about how he’d made her feel precious and safe in every encounter. “Do you like him? What you know of him?”
“I’ve met him before,” JJ admitted. “A few years ago.”
Emily glanced at her, eyebrows raised. “You have?”
“Yeah. He and Will know each other. They play ball sometimes.” She glanced over at Penelope. “With Derek.”
“Oh my god. Really?”
Penelope cackled. “Oh, that’s too good. I need to figure out a way to spring that on Derek. He’s been so overbearing about figuring out who Tony is so he can investigate him.”
“We definitely need to plan something,” Emily said with an evil gleam in her eye.
“You two,” JJ said with a huff. Then she snapped her fingers. “Reid knows him too. Back when DiNozzo was in the DIA, Reid would sometimes consult with DiNozzo’s department.”
“This is getting better,” Penelope said. She set her wine glass aside. “Who else?”
“Hotch has surely met him,” Emily mused.
“What about Rossi?” JJ asked.
Emily made a face. “Okay, keep this on the down-low.”
Penelope leaned forward. “What? I have to know. Whatever it is, I’ll keep it safe.”
“Rossi is his uncle.”
JJ’s mouth fell open, which was a direct mirror of Penelope’s expression. “No. Way.”
“Oh yeah. But I really wouldn’t bring it up unless they do. I only found out about it through some contacts at Interpol.” She cocked her head to the side. “If I remember correctly, Rossi is the youngest of four siblings. The oldest was DiNozzo’s maternal grandmother. Supposedly, DiNozzo is estranged from his entire maternal family, so I don’t think they have any meaningful contact.”
“Wow.” Penelope slumped back into her cushy sofa. “That’s next level. Wait. So everyone knew him already except for me?”
“Seems like it.”
“We need to plan a team dinner with extended family, partners, spouses, dates, whatever,” Penelope said, getting into the idea. “I can bring Tony, pretending like I still don’t know his last name. All the guys will be expecting a criminal.”
“You’re a terrible person,” JJ said with a grin. “Be sure to get DiNozzo’s buy-in on that before you use him to troll the men on the team.”
Her phone chimed, and she flailed for her purse, pulling it out and finding a text from Rossi.
—Congratulations, kitten. I hear he finally got up the nerve to ask you out.
She gasped and immediately replied.
—I found out about ten minutes ago. He just called.
—Emily said she wasn’t sure you two were in touch…? Sorry if that’s none of my business. 🙁
—It’s okay. For a few years now, we’ve been slowly working on mending fences that my family broke when he was a kid, but we keep it quiet. He’s a good man, and he couldn’t have picked better for himself.
She felt her cheeks heat again.
—Thanks. I mean it. But, uh, don’t tell anyone. We’re working on a plan to traumatize Derek. He thinks Tony is a mob boss or something.
—How about dinner at my house. I’ll say my nephew is going to be a guest. You can show up and sit in his lap.
—Oh. My. God. We are not at the lap-sitting place! And yet I like this plan, and I’m not averse to sitting on his lap.
—You let me know when lap-sitting has commenced, and I’ll make the pasta. 😉
She passed the phone over to JJ and Emily, who both goggled at the text messages and then started laughing. Her phone chimed again while JJ was reading, and JJ hurriedly passed it over.
It was a message from Tony.
—I thought a state dinner might be a bit much for the first real date. How about a casual breakfast tomorrow morning? I’ll bring coffee and croissants. If you still want to spend time with me, we’ll go all formal tomorrow night and head to the White House.
There was a map location and a picture attached of a park.
—I’m down still for dinner, no bad perm in sight, but I’d love to have breakfast with you too.
They agreed on a time, and she put her phone away with a sigh. “I think I’m a little in love.”
JJ and Emily both laughed. JJ said, “This is not news.”
“You’ve had it bad for weeks,” Emily agreed.
“I don’t care how complicated it gets; he’s worth it.”