A/N: I had promised to give myself a break after 'Pieces That You Left Behind' but I had a moment of intense idea formation and decided to write it down. The whole thing was written in under 20 minutes so I hope it's up to scratch. It's a one-shot, I can't see how it will evolve - maybe I'm just lazy. :P

I'll call it a character study, and you can call it whatever you like as long as you promise to leave me a review. It's so nice to have your ideas peppered with the ideas of others. big grin

I don't own anything, but anytime anyone wants a brownie they're most welcome.

xx Lola

He doesn't pretend to understand her, the same way she pretends to understand him. He watches her wave her hands around when she talks, understanding the movements but missing the value in the words. She watches his lips when he smiles, talks, stands close to her; it hasn't escaped either one of them that that's precisely where her eye level meets his lower lip. He notices the subtle shift in her hips when he's walking in front of her; she notices the spread of his chest when he stretches after a long speech on some stupid company protocol or movie or Gibbs' rules. She doesn't know. She was watching his lips. He was watching her hands and doesn't really know either.

They go to a crime scene, and she snaps rubber gloves over the skin of her hands. He knows they are calloused, but not in a rough way; they show how hard she works, how good she is at what she does. How hard it is to do what she does. He doubts she'd ever let her emotions show, but he's felt those hands on his own skin during their undercover mission and through them felt what her emotions wouldn't. She watches him exclaim how much the bloodied room looks like a scene from The Shining. When McGee looks perplexed, she almost sighs when he opens those lips and begins to move them with such rapidity that the lecture he's giving on The Greatest Horror Movies of All Time bypasses her completely. She's felt those lips on her own. She remembers the surprise she felt when they made contact; she was expecting something harsh, smug, bored already by the mission at stake. But instead they were pliable against hers, warm and caring, and despite her years of training she found herself leaning into the contact.

The days go by and they do nothing. Because whatever it is they have is easy, and whatever they could have is hard. They have their dreams, their secret moments where a gaze will linger a little too long, or a bad joke will be far too funny. So they keep going, and dreaming, and having, buried deep beneath their layers of skin.

He doesn't pretend to not miss her. She was icy and proper but there were more times than not where she was their team member and he would have traded anything to keep that. She had fun, whether she liked to admit it or not, and she loved him like he loved her; like the best friends in the world who couldn't move forward. Then suddenly it did, and it was too late to tell her. He thinks about her often; she was so comfortable, familiar, beautiful, but he considered her an absolute femme fatale when she wanted to be. He didn't realise the latter ideal was so far misplaced until her replacement turned up; a woman he instantly resented, until she turned out not to be a replacement but an alternative.

He hates himself for thinking it, but the alternative got under his skin so quickly that he can't think of anything he wants more.

She doesn't pretend to not miss him. Whether she likes it or not, whether she believes justice was served or not, he was her brother and the fact she killed him haunts her so badly sometimes she wakes up with tears rolling down salted cheeks, unable to sleep anymore. She remembers the prayer-song she sang to his corpse, as though it would help; her quasi-religious side wanted it to go with him to the next life but her heart new it was too late. He was kind to her, as a child; other girls her age had brothers who taunted them or pulled their pigtails. She suspects this never happened to them because they were as dangerous as each other, but there was always a courtesy between them that made her think that the world might not be as bad as her father told them. Then suddenly her hit was her brother and her new team was so distressed after the death of the one she was replacing, her empathy turned straight to them. She knows he thinks about her, but she doesn't say what she's thinking.

My blood is the reason she's dead.

One day when they're in the elevator, they catch each other's eye and the silence between them grows so incredibly loud that they have difficulty looking away. He watches her hands subtly flex out of his peripheral vision and she can almost hear the blood pounding through the lower lip she knows she will be millimetres from if she could break eye-contact. Then the elevator dings open and the moment is gone.

He's scared of her, he'll give her that. With his old partners, there was harmless flirtation and a bit of banter, perhaps more so with Kate. But he is playing with fire, when he strikes another match of conversation with her, because there is no telling whether it will end in pain, laughter, death, a hug, or something more. She is smart, so confident when she moves, yet he knows how reluctant she is to break the fa├žade. Sometimes she gets this unreadable look in her eye and he swears she's going to kill him, but others he watches her more carefully and doesn't see anger in her eyes.

It more closely resembles lust.

She's scared of him, but she won't give him that. She is a woman used to being in control, a woman without fear or willing submission. But he is so male, so American, so knowledgeable about how the world works on all its levels that it leaves her consciously ignorant. She knows how assassins and drug dealers and men with giant egos work; he knows this too, being one of the latter, but he could just as easily manage the inner workings of suburban life, of football scores, of celebrity idolisation. She knows none of this, and it is with an odd fixation that she enjoys being lectured about it by someone culturally superior than herself. Then later, she berates herself for relinquishing control, for being suckered into something so ordinary; a lifestyle she is trained to observe, not to assimilate into.

She's not supposed to let him see she's impressed.

One day when they're sitting in MTAC, being briefed by an Army CID, they each put their arm on the conjoining armrest at the same time. They both move their arms silently back, feeling the crackling electricity string itself between them as more distance is created. The conference is ended, and Gibbs yells at them to get moving. It takes them much longer than it should.

Somehow, over time, a routine is created where they learn to ignore their emotions and create thick invisible lines on the floor between them. The go to work, they do their jobs, they joke and steal each other's food and correct idioms gone awry. They bring each other coffee, they glue McGee to various items of stationary, they both send Abby black roses on her birthday. Everything they do is together, but they remain far apart. He tries to convince himself that their relationship is easy as it is, and that nothing needs to change. She tries to convince herself that she doesn't need anyone.

And so they lie, and the world keeps throwing the days forward.

On her birthday, which nobody knew about until the director mentioned it in passing to McGee, he walks around behind her desk and hugs her. She tells him to get off, but when he doesn't move and she can feel him grinning cheesily into her hair, and she's satisfied that no one is watching, she smiles broadly and hugs him back. Slowly he pulls away, and makes the mistake of looking down at her. She smiles at him, and he, even if only for a second, is suddenly completely lost.

On his birthday, she gets up early and jogs to the Krispy Kreme store five miles from her apartment. She puts the assorted box of 24 donuts on his desk, and disappears up to MTAC to her weekly conference call with the director and her liaison officer back in Tel Aviv. When she comes down, he is still not there, and she rolls her eyes at his lateness. Settling behind her desk, she notices a plain iced donut balanced squarely on a serviette on her keyboard. Next to it is a post-it that simply says 'Thankyou.'

She looks over at Gibbs' and McGee's desks. And she smiles because he has saved this one donut for her, and her only.

His date stands him up, and so she offers to take him out anyway. They have a good time at the local Chinese place, and she offers him some of her Singapore noodles, which scald his tongue and make her laugh. He offers her some of his Hokkein Mee with rice, and she is surprised when he offers it to her from his own chopsticks. She eyes them suspiciously, then smiles and curls her mouth over them.

As she's chewing considerately and he's watching for her reaction, both realise that this is what it will be. It will be smiles and hugs and banter; it will be Chinese take-away and crime scenes and hours of paper work. It will be everything they want, but nothing it could become.

They pay and leave, and hope that tomorrow will let it evolve a little more, until there is nothing left to unwrap.