October 21, 2006: My continued thanks to those who read and those who have taken the time to review. It is greatly appreciated. :)

Still don't know if I have three months or four months - I could really use some help with this, guys, lol! - so drop me a line, please.

The usual applies: Not been Betaed, no infringement intended, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Once again, more of Ziva's perspective. Please note that I am not familiar with Yiddish and have relied on the Internet to help me get that right. My apologies if I haven't. I might alternate or, like 'Tin Star', periodically give another one of our favourite characters a chapter to explore.

The usual disclaimer applies: I don't own these characters but I doubt anyone will mind if I play with them for a while. :)

January 16, 2007: What the heck happened? FFN had some problems - okay, quite a few problems - so I wrote three-quarters of this chapter and then left it. FFN wouldn't let me post a chapter on another story or let me review stories I was trying to follow, so I figured I had some time. Then the holidays hit, and then I fell ill. So, here we are…

My apologies.


Anyone remember this one, lol? ;)



Chapter Four

By lilmouse

"The best way out is always through."

- Robert Frost

"You know what charm is: a way of getting the answer yes without having asked a clear question."

- Albert Camus, 1913 - 1960, 'La Chute' (The Fall), 1956

Officer Ziva David contemplates her Iotian chicken quesadillas before looking at the faces of the three people across from her.

"We aren't dating."

Her voice speaks in unison with the man to her right. She feels Special Agent Tony DiNozzo shift beside her, the silk of his left shirt sleeve brushing the back of her hand as he leans his arms on the table. He laughs quietly and takes another sip of his beer.

"And we are obviously unanimous about it," he adds, and looks at her sideways - and smiles. It is a nice smile, a sweet smile - a mischievous smile. Ziva struggles briefly not to smile back but loses the battle. She doesn't understand why. She possesses the ultimate poker skills and should be able to control her reactions, or at least keep her mask of calm in place. She only had a few sips of wine at Tony's apartment and is nursing a rum and coke so she can't blame alcohol for the smile she provides.

Ziva permits herself to turn her head and face those green eyes directly. He looks a shade too cocky, given their circumstances. She purses her lips slightly. When doesn't he look cocky?

"Your Oxmyx burger is getting cold," she points out politely and moves her right leg so that it slides deliberately along his left leg. Ziva doesn't want him to forget the heat of their bodies while they danced. She reaches for one of her Iotian triangles and takes a bite, her eyes not leaving his.

"Don't let the wings go to waste," Tony says, and gestures to the plates of food with a flick of his hand. He's talking to the other three people at the table but he is looking at her, the way he did when the woman with the long legs was trying to get his attention. As if I am the only one who matters. Then he faces front, picks up his burger lovingly with both hands and licks his lips before taking a big bite.

Ziva looks away. Touché.

She tries to focus on her food and not on the appreciative noises coming from Tony's throat. She selects a chicken wing and casually notes the non-verbal communication around her.

Jimmy Palmer's smile falters a bit when Ziva glances in his direction, and he pushes his glasses back from where they've slid down his nose. She makes him nervous sometimes. She knows this, and guesses that right now, the situation is sufficiently uncomfortable to make him wonder if she is angry with him. She isn't, but she'll have to deal with that later.

Next to him is Special Agent Timothy McGee. He looks from her to Tony then shares a look with the other two present. He seems a bit nervous, too, but also tired and concerned. Jimmy shrugs at Tim and places some honey garlic wings on his plate. He doesn't see them every day, doesn't share the same dynamic, so he isn't sufficiently informed to be of much help. Ziva senses he doesn't really want to be involved.

She knows that once upon a time, Tim was frequently afraid of her, as if he were uncertain which way to jump to avoid her emotional shrapnel, but lately he has only been worried for his life when it really matters. He meets her gaze and there is nothing there that accuses her of doing anything wrong.

Forensic Specialist Abby Sciuto playfully slaps McGee on the arm. Once she has his attention, she raises her eyebrows and her smug grin says, "I told you so" like only she can manage. The smile is loaded, actually. Ziva thinks it also says: "You didn't see this coming, did you?" and "You owe me fifty bucks!" McGee rolls his eyes and grabs a barbeque chicken wing. He chews on it, worrying it like a dog would a bone, smearing sauce on his chin. He can't seem to relax completely.

Abby turns her grin on Ziva. The lab technician is protective of her friends and isn't known for keeping quiet if she has something to say. Ziva would be surprised if the topic were dropped.

"Yeah," Abby says, nodding her head as if she is giving something thorough consideration. "You two aren't dating and I enjoy wearing pink."

"Man this is good," Tony says, his mouth full. Half the burger has already been devoured. He releases the hold he has on it with his left hand long enough to nudge his plate closer to Ziva. "Help yourself to some Fizbin fries, if you like."

"You can't distract me from this, Tony DiNozzo," Abby states firmly.

He wiggles his eyebrows at her. "Wouldn't dream of it. Have a wing."

Abby makes a face and picks a piece of broccoli from the veggie platter instead. She plunges it into the little ramekin of blue cheese dip and gestures with it across the table. "You know what Gibbs would say."

Ziva can feel him tense, almost imperceptibly. A dollop of relish falls from his burger and makes a small splat on his plate. He doesn't get anything on his shirt.

"He isn't here, Abbs." Tony's voice is quiet, calm, and still audible despite the noise around them. Abby stares at him for a moment, not blinking, then puts the whole piece of broccoli in her mouth, crunching on it as if it were a comment in itself.

"How is everything?"

Debbie, their server, is dutifully checking to ensure their evening at the Fizbin is going well.

"Great," Jimmy says, a bit too loud, but Debbie doesn't seem to mind.

"Can I get you another Rickard's?"

Tony smiles at her. "Absolutely," he states, and she blushes before hurrying away.

Ziva frowns and bites into another triangle. He isn't even trying and the girl reacts to his charm. Ziva isn't sure how much of it is cultivated and how much is just natural talent. Either way, it's dangerous, and she wonders why she's never thought much about that before tonight.

"Abbs," Tony says, sucking lightly on his fingers, burger completely consumed. "We really aren't dating."

"Then why am I getting all this UST from you guys?"

"You don't give up, do you?" Tony asks lightly.

"That's what my family tells me, especially when I'm trying to find where they've hidden the Christmas presents."

Ziva raises her eyebrows. "What is 'UST'?"

"'Unresolved sexual tension'." Tony reaches for a chicken wing as he speaks. "And maybe there is some of that." He grins. Ziva stares at him. He shrugs. "You're a beautiful, intelligent woman, Ziva. I have a pulse and I'm not stupid." He bites into the chicken wing and turns to Abby. "But if you're picking up any 'unresolved sexual tension', that's because it is 'unresolved'."

She wishes she wasn't staring at him but she is and she can't seem to stop. Tony has just complimented her in front of the rest of the team and admitted that he doesn't think it unreasonable for people to suspect that he's attracted to her. Ziva decides it would be prudent to try some of the celery sticks and does so, just to give her something else to do.

Just to give her time to think.

If Tony DiNozzo wasn't her partner at NCIS, didn't share office space, local slang or flirty innuendo, would she find him attractive? If she'd come to the Fizbin on her own, just to relax and enjoy the music, and he'd offered to buy her a drink or asked her to dance, what would she say? Would she brush him off, put him down; tell him she isn't into scaring adolescent males so he'd better try another target? Or would she let him buy her that drink and risk a dance with the handsome man?

Yes, she'd notice him - who wouldn't? - but she doesn't do 'casual'. Before she came to the United States, she occasionally had an assignment that required intimacy, but for that she had no choice. It was all part of the job. Flirting with her fellow officers, when their lives were in fairly constant danger of ending violently and before they turned thirty? Sure.

The only man she'd dared to love had died right in front of her, just as they'd finished lunch, a bomb shattering the restaurant wall and her heart. His body had shielded her from the worst of it. After smashing her to the floor, the air knocked out of her lungs, she'd struggled to move. He hadn't answered her pleas to speak. She'd rolled them both so he lay on the floor and assessed his injuries as people screamed around her and the building burned. His blood had flowed between her fingers as she'd made a futile attempt to halt the bleeding. The gaping wound in his torso was irrelevant. It turned out that it didn't matter what she did. It didn't matter what they might have promised to each other, the future they'd tentatively discussed for when the fighting stopped - when they chose to let someone else do it for them. He had died instantly from the debris that had crushed the back of his skull.


It's Tim's voice, drawing her back, but they're all looking at her, genuinely concerned. She crunches on another celery stick but focuses on the polished, wooden surface of the table. Now isn't the time or place to remember such things.

She hasn't thought about that day in a very long time, and she almost tells them.


"I'm fine," she says and clears her throat. She looks at Tim and manages a smile. "Really. I'm… just tired."

There is an awkward pause, and then Tony says, "It's been a long day." Debbie delivers his beer and hurries to another table. He raises the glass, apparently studying the froth on the amber liquid. "I'd like to propose a toast."

Ziva finds her rum and coke and the others find their beverages. Glasses lift and catch the light. They wait.

"To Leroy Jethro Gibbs," Tony states quietly. "May he find whatever the hell it is he's looking for."

"To Gibbs," Abby repeats.

"Gibbs," Tim and Jimmy say, in stereo.

"Gibbs," Ziva murmurs and sips her drink.

A silence follows, companionable, respectful. They don't understand entirely why their boss has chosen to leave, though they can deduce without any heavy investigation as to what caused his departure: All those people, betrayed by their own country. Everything he stood for ignored in favour of some tactical decision. None of them are happy about that.

They look at one another and a thought goes unspoken: But he didn't have to leave.

Didn't have to leave his team. His friends. His -


Tony turns to her, a slight smile on his face. "Gesundheit."

Ziva can't help but roll her eyes and smirk in return, even when she smacks him on the shoulder. "It's Yiddish."

"Ow," he says, rubbing his shoulder but not really angry. "I knew that."

"What does it mean?" Jimmy asks.

"It means… 'extended family'," she says, and looks at her other hand as it clenches and unclenches around her drink.

Her father used to say that she had her mother's hands.

Tony places his hand on her arm. She stares at it then looks up at him. By the expression on his face, she thinks he understands. She turns to Abby and Tim, who are glancing at one another and seem uncertain. Jimmy's face is solemn. She swallows and can't find the words.

"Looks like it's us now, people," Tony says. "And we've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow." He checks his watch. "Let's enjoy the rest of the food and then I think we'd better be on our way."

Abby salutes, but she's smiling, even though she looks like she might start crying at any minute. "Whatever you say, boss."

Tim laughs and Jimmy joins him. Ziva allows herself a small smile and leans into Tony, just a little.

He doesn't seem to mind.


To Be Continued?