Pay for Your Pride

by Nix
(crimsonquills AT gmail DOT com)

Author's Notes: Once again, I've used the second season team here. It was incredibly, incredibly fun to write them again. I suspect you'll be seeing a lot more second season fic from me after this. I loved writing this. I just hope all of you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

Tony slid into his chair and watched, grinning, as Kate, Abby, and McGee jockeyed for the three seats that remained after Gibbs claimed the seat across from him. McGee ended up next to Tony, all but pouting as Kate took the end chair and Abby plopped down next to Gibbs. Tony could have told him Abby just liked playing hard to get, but what was the fun in that?

"I'm just saying, anyone who wears gloves to commit a murder and then ditches them at the scene is asking to be caught," Abby said, lifting her hands for moment. "Doesn't everyone know we can lift prints from the inside of gloves?"

"That doesn't mean he wants to be caught, Abs," Gibbs said dryly. "Just that he's stupid."

"Personally, I think we ought to be grateful for the stupid criminals," Tony said, picking up the menu and scanning through it. "Makes our job easier."

"You don't do this job because it's easy," McGee said.

Tony rolled his eyes. "Thank you for that pearl of wisdom, Probie."

"Can we just order?" Kate said impatiently.

"Relax, Kate," Tony said, looking back down at the menu. "This is a celebratory dinner, right?"

"I'm still not sure what we're celebrating," Gibbs said. "The case wasn't difficult."

"We're celebrating closing it in less than a day," Abby said firmly. "Because usually catching a case on a Friday is a death knell for the weekend, and I have plans."

"What kind of plans?" McGee asked, almost diffidently.

Their waitress appeared before Abby could answer. "Can I get you folks something to drink?" she asked cheerfully as she set a dish of salsa and a plate full of tortilla chips on the table.

Kate and Abby ordered margaritas--strawberry for Kate, lime for Abby. Tony and McGee ordered domestic beers while Gibbs went for a Dos Equis. When the waitress had gone, Tony snagged a tortilla chip and dug it into the salsa, loading it up generously.

"Jesus, Tony, leave some for the rest of us!" Kate said, reaching out with a chip as if to scrap some of the salsa off of his.

Tony pulled away quickly and stuffed the chip in his mouth, dripping salsa on the table in the process. "Hey, it takes a lot to get the effect!" he protested. "Restaurants tone down salsa until it's practically tasteless just because some people can't handle a little spice."

"Eating more of it doesn't make it any spicier," Kate said dryly.

"It helps," Tony protested, going for more salsa with a fresh chip. This time Kate succeeded in limiting his scoop. Tony made a face at her.

"Further proof that Tony is a quantity-not-quality kind of guy," McGee said, smirking just a little.

"Spoken like a man who's a little...short on quantity," Tony shot back.

"Is everything about sex with you?" McGee asked.

"No," Tony said calmly, jousting with Kate for another salsa-laden chip. "Sometimes it's about food." This time he won and he grinned in triumph as he crunched down on the chip.

Kate huffed an exasperated sigh. "If you want spice, order a bunch of jalapenos and leave the salsa for the rest of us."

"I like the taste of the salsa," Tony argued.

Kate raised a challenging eyebrow. "Or maybe you just know you can't handle much more spice than the rest of us."

"Go on, Tony," McGee chimed in. "Put your peppers where your mouth is."

"That's not nearly as funny as you think it is," Tony said, glaring at McGee.

Their waitress appeared with their drinks. "You ready to order?" she asked as she set glasses and bottles down on the table top.

The five of them exchanged a few glances to make sure they'd all picked something off of the menu before ordering. Kate went last. As she handed her menu over, she shot Tony a wicked grin and turned to the server and asked, "And could you bring us a plate of jalapeno peppers while we wait for our appetizers?"

The waitress seemed amused, but all she said was, "Sure. Extra water, too?"

Kate leveled a measuring look at Tony. "I think you'd better," she told the waitress sweetly.

"You think I won't eat one?" Tony asked, lifting his chin.

"Oh, I know you will," Kate returned. "I'm just looking forward to the results."

"Hey, Tony can handle a little heat," Abby said. She leered at him. "Or so I've heard."

"Thank you for your faith, Abby," Tony said primly. Then he grinned and waggled his eyebrows at her. "Maybe I'll share a little of that heat later."

"Promises, promises," Abby teased.

McGee, Tony was pleased to note, looked thoroughly disgruntled.

"You want to bet on whether or not he can swallow without flinching?" Kate asked Abby.

"Oh, Tony would never flinch," Abby said confidently. "That's almost as bad as spitting."

"Abby!" Tony exclaimed in horror. "That's not what she meant!"

"Aren't you that polite, DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked calmly.

Tony stared. "Do you have any idea how deeply wrong that question is coming from you, Boss?"

Abby giggled. "Why do you think he asked it?"

"Please, Abby, just take the bet," Tony said, pained.

Abby leaned across the table and patted his arm. "Poor Tony. Sure, I'll defend your honor."


Abby ignored him, turning to Kate. "How much?"

Kate shrugged. "Twenty bucks?"

"You're on," Abby said confidently.

"My honor is only worth twenty bucks?" Tony complained.

"Take what you can get, Tony," McGee advised. "I wouldn't have bet you had any honor at all."

"Abby really should have bet more," Gibbs commented.

"Thank you, boss."

"DiNozzo's family's housekeeper when he was growing up was Mexican," Gibbs went on. "It'll take more than a jalapeno to make him sweat."

"Hey!" Tony protested. "You're giving away my edge!"

"What edge?" Gibbs asked, raising an eyebrow. "You didn't make the bet; you haven't got any profit coming."

Tony frowned suddenly. "Abby..."

"Oh no," Abby said firmly. "I'm not splitting my winnings with you, buster. My bet, my money."

"If I don't eat the pepper, there's no bet to win," Tony argued.

"If he doesn't eat the pepper, I'm going to assume he couldn't handle it and demand a forfeit," Kate told Abby.

Abby pouted. "It's not my fault if he chickens out!"

"It's not about chickening out!" Tony insisted. "It's about my share of the winnings."

"Assuming there are any winnings," Kate shot back.

A plate of six jalapeno peppers thunked down on the table and Tony, Kate, and Abby looked up in surprise to find their waitress walking away, grinning broadly. After a moment, Tony reached out and selected a pepper, holding it up by the fragment of vine. "I want my share out of this," he told Abby.

She rolled her eyes. "It's ten bucks, Tony."

"It's the principal of the thing!"

"It's you trying to weasel out of eating that pepper," Kate said. "Knew you couldn't handle it."

Narrowing his eyes at Kate, Tony opened his mouth and very deliberately bit the pepper off close to the vine fragment and chewed with slow, exaggerated motions. The heat of the pepper exploded through his mouth, almost painful in its intensity, but Tony didn't flinch. Swallowing, he grinned smugly at Kate.

Sighing, she dug into her purse, found a twenty, and handed it over to a triumphant Abby.

"You should have more faith in me than that, Kate," Tony said, mock-mournfully.

"I don't know what you're so proud of, DiNozzo," Gibbs said casually. He plucked another pepper off of the plate, popped it into his mouth, chewed casually, and swallowed. "It's just a jalapeno."

Tony scowled at Gibbs. "It's two jalapenos," he said defiantly, and quickly crunched down on a second one.

Raising an eyebrow, Gibbs matched him with another jalapeno of his own, chewing and swallowing as calmly as if it were a stick of celery. "And?" he asked when he was done.

Eyes narrowed, determined, Tony ignored the fact that his lips were now burning unpleasantly and reached for a third jalapeno, leaving the last one behind on the plate. As he raised it to his mouth, he heard Kate hiss across the table to Abby, "Okay, now fifty bucks says he flinches."

"With Gibbs watching?" Abby whispered back. "You're on."

"I can hear you," Tony said. "And half that fifty is mine."

"Just eat the pepper!" Abby said, reaching across the table to poke him.

Tony shot her a quick glare and ate the pepper, chewing and swallowing as briskly as he could without appearing rushed. He shot Gibbs a triumphant grin, which quickly faded as Gibbs polished off the last jalapeno with slow, deliberate bites, as if mocking Tony's quick work with his third.

Holding Tony's gaze, Gibbs smirked a bit a raised his hand. Their waitress appeared as if by magic. "Water?" she asked.

"Actually," Gibbs said, looking away from Tony to smile at her, "I was wondering if you had any habanero peppers."

Tony swallowed heavily, but didn't object.

"Sir," the waitress said nervously, "those things are a hundred times hotter than a jalapeno. I'm not sure I should--"

"You have them?" Gibbs cut her off.

"Yes," she said reluctantly.

"Bring us a few."

When she was gone, McGee snapped. "Of all the stupid, macho per...form...ances..." he trailed off, meeting Gibbs's deceptively mild gaze. "Boss." He swallowed visibly. "I things have given people chemical burns."

"I really didn't need to know that, Probie," Tony said weakly.

The waitress returned with the habaneros almost immediately, leaving them on the table and departing again quickly, as if distance could absolve her of responsibility for whatever came next. She had, Tony saw, provided only two of the peppers.

Tony watched the plate as if the habaneroes were capable of leaping up and attacking him of their own accord. Chemical burns. He swallowed heavily and glanced up at Gibbs, half hoping the two of them could just leave the peppers there and have dinner.

But Gibbs reached out and selected one of the two. He lifted it to his mouth. Bit. Chewed. Tony watched, fascinated, as a bead of sweat broke out on Gibbs's temple and ran down the side of his face. Deliberately, Gibbs raised a challenging eyebrow.

"Tony," Kate said hesitantly, "You don't have to--"

Tony set his jaw, took the second pepper, and stuck it into his mouth.

Fire. Burning. Pain.

Gasping, Tony spit the remains of the pepper onto the table before his teeth had even finished coming together. Lunging for a glass of water, he chugged it desperately, spilling more than a few splashes. Whimpering, he snatched up Kate's water and used a mouthful of it to rinse, spitting into his empty glass before draining the rest of hers.

When he was done, Tony looked up, panting and fanning his mouth, just in time to see Gibbs calmly pick up his own glass of water and drain it in one long motion. Then he did the same with Abby's water. And finished by chewing on McGee's ice.

For a long moment everyone stared at Tony, shirt damp with spilled water, panting and red faced, and Gibbs, expressionlessly crunching away on McGee's ice...and then they all broke down in helpless laughter.