The Longest Running Show
When things are unspoken, it is not that they don't exist. They are thoughts, feelings, memories, perching on the edge of a cliff, ready to leap into the abyss the minute they are given wings. Ziva and Tony revisit an unfinished conversation. Post-ep for Silent Night.
She is almost out of the building when she realises that one glove has, once again, liberated itself from her pocket. She checks around her desk, and the bullpen, before realising that she had last seen the nefarious leather item as they sat down to watch Tony's movie in MTAC. Leaving her bag and her gift from Abby on her desk, she takes the stairs two at a time, revelling in the quiet of the usually humming building. Americans and their holidays, she can't help but think. Everyone save their team had been out of the building that night by six.
Pushing the door open to MTAC, she is surprised to find lights still on. She had watched Gibbs (who had arrived back in the building just as the Angel Clarence had put the little town of Bedford Falls to rights) walk Abby out of the building with a small, almost relaxed smile on his face and her arm tucked through his almost an hour ago. Ducky and McGee had followed, McGee having promised to drive the elder man home past his mother's new nursing home on his way out. That leaves one person, she realises, and she recognises the head reclined as it is against the back of one of the large, plush chairs, a mostly empty bowl of popcorn in his lap. The DVD menu still lights up the screen.
" Forget something?" His voice pipes up, and she knows she hasn't been as stealthy as she normally would have. Lifting his arm up, she sees her glove held between his fingers. " I was going to leave it on your desk," he explains. " I forget you're still not used to Washington winters."
They have had this conversation before, and it's the familiarity of the exchange that has her feet moving down the slope, and her body slinking into the seat next to him. Cool blue light washes over her face from the big screen. " You would fare no better in the desert," she teases, reaching over and snagging a piece of popcorn from the bowl. The caramel is sweet on her tongue.
He doesn't reply in words, but a small smile ghosts over his lips as he passes her the glove. She notices, however, that the smile doesn't reach his eyes. She can't help but think he looks tired, and from more than simply a few nights' missed sleep. " I liked your movie," she says finally, when the silence becomes too much. It's unusual between the two of them for so little to be said.
" A classic," he agrees, looking at the screen instead of at her. " Stewart's finest work."
She pulls her legs beneath her body, booted feet peeking out from beneath too-long jeans. " You watch it every year?" she asks, tilting her head so that a loose strand of hair falls over her shoulder. She sees his eye catch on the sight, but he pulls his gaze away. It seems an effort.
" I used to," he admits, and then after a pause, asks, " What are you doing here Ziva?"
" Looking for my glove," she responds, but she knows it's not the answer he wants.
" You have your glove. What are you still doing here?"
" I could ask you the same." There is a brittle quality about him tonight, one that has been lingering since the holiday music started playing in the lobby and in every shop they passed, and only escalated when Officer Kemp had stepped out of the elevator and onto the scene. " It is Christmas night, and you are sitting at work, in the dark, alone."
He is silent then, before noting, " You're here." He runs his finger absently along the edge of the popcorn bowl, catching the lingering drops of caramel. Then he slides his finger between his lips. His eyes flutter closed for a beat before he speaks again. " You should go home you know. They're predicting snow and your driving scares me when the weather's perfect."
She can tell he's aching to be left alone, to wallow here in this room, and it's that knowledge that keeps her firmly in her seat. Ignoring the jibe – rather, recognising the jibe for what it is - she reaches out to touch his sleeve. The reaction is electric; he pulls his arm away and looks at her with almost a scowl. " Don't, Ziva," is all he says.
He is rarely like this: a few weeks ago in the elevator when the frustration became too much, and nearly half a year ago before that. She still remembers the crash, and the beer dripping down her apartment walls. Keeping her hands to herself, she needles him with her words instead. " You never did answer my question."
" You still want to know about mistletoe? You know, I'd be more than willing to give you a demonstration," he jokes, but his tone is hard and sharp, and she knows he is being purposefully facetious. He pushes himself up from the chair, dropping the popcorn bowl thoughtlessly. Left-over kernels scatter haphazardly across the floor.
" You are changing the subject."
" Something we've both got pretty good at don't you think?" he shoots back, and then there is a long silence as they study one another. From across the room, she can't help but find the angles and planes of his face both comfortingly familiar and surprisingly changed.
" I want to know what happened between you and Kemp's wife."
She considers this question, allowing herself a beat before answering. " Because whatever the answer, it is making you angry at me."
Tony rakes a hand through his hair in frustration. " Maybe because you won't leave it alone," he suggests, turning to face her. The light from the screen means that half of his face is lit up, and the other half cast in shadow. It's almost telling. He stares at her, not quite glaring, for a long time. Neither speak, and she knows he is waiting for her to break the silence.
Finally, she does. " Four months is a long time for you," she says, and her words are soft.
" Sixteen weeks," he notes, spinning one of the wheeled chairs around with his hand so it rotates in a circle. " Quarter of a year."
" Or a whole summer."
Both of them flinch then, because she's broken one of their rules. Like Gibbs, they've been cultivating a set, though theirs are generally private, and always unspoken. At her words, they are both thrown back three years, and memories of lingering heat and sweat-soaked kisses flash through both of their minds: a set of photos being thrust into her hands and the knowledge that they had been caught. She sees his shoulders tense. " Ziva - "
" Why did it end?" she asks, speaking over him. She knows it's not a good idea for them to break their silence now.
He studies her for a long while – as though deciding exactly which 'it' she speaks of - and words and thoughts flicker behind his eyes. She can see the memories lingering in the clenched fists at his sides. " Same reason it always ends," he finally speaks through clenched teeth, and even though he is across the room she can hear his words as though he is standing right next to her. " I screwed up."
" You cheated?" she asks automatically, and she knows it's an unfair, cutting blow.
His jaw tenses, but when he speaks his tone is level and his words measured. " No. I got her pregnant."
The news smacks her like a two-by-four to the head, and sends her brain spinning inside her skull. She tries to claw back her words, " Tony I - " she begins, but he cuts her off with a waved hand as he sighs.
" Don't." It's one word, but it has her perfectly silent. He sighs again, shuffling back to his seat and dropping into it. His anger dissipated, he seems simply weary. " It was a long time ago, and she lost it, and we couldn't get past it. She knew Kemp from college. He picked up the pieces when I couldn't. But you asked about regrets - " he shrugs, finally meeting her eyes. " I have a few."
She barely registers the touch of his fingers on her face until he has untucked a strand of hair caught in her scarf and returned his hand to his side. " Sorry," he says softly, not sounding at all apologetic. " I've wanted to do that all night."
In the dim light his green eyes seem dark, and bottomless, and she finds herself staring, expecting to see ripples in their depths. " It was a simple question," she reiterates, dragging them back to the point – back to their unfinished conversation in the car - so that she doesn't have to think about the ghost of his touch on her skin.
" It didn't have a simple answer," he acknowledges, and she nods in understanding. The music from the DVD starts its loop again, and for a moment they simply sit, listening to the chiming bells and grandiose orchestral arrangement. With both their heads tilted back, eyes staring at the ceiling, Tony speaks again, and his voice is soft. " Do you?"
" Do I what?" she asks, confused, but doesn't look at him.
His arm lays on the armrest next to hers, and he pokes her gently with his little finger, lightly teasing. " Have regrets. About not having shackled down some poor guy and popped out some mini-ninjas."
Her silence speaks volumes. " That question does not have a simple answer," she echoes after a moment, feeling his forearm pressed against hers.
" It could," he replies, and his voice is barely above a whisper.
" But it doesn't," she reminds him in the same tone, because there are some things that they don't talk about, even in the dark, even when they are the only two people in the building.
Finally, when she realises she isn't going to get a reply, she pushes herself up from her chair. " Merry Christmas Tony," is all she says, and her tone is resigned as she steps away from where he remains in the chair.
She has one hand on the door when she is stopped by the sound of her name. When she turns, he is barely a step behind her, and as he reaches out, his fingers brush her skin. " You forgot your glove." The words are simple, but a small smile – genuine this time – paints his lips as he holds it out to her. " Next Hanukah I'll get you some of those mittens on a string," he jokes, and she can't help but smile back. She knows reality means one or both of them might not be here next year: sent away for good this time, sent home, or worse. The scent of copper and the sight of red hair sticky with blood tickle her reminiscence.
" Next year," she agrees, pushing the memories down. " We will watch your movie again."
She doesn't realise he is walking out with her until they are halfway down the stairs. " Abby says her and Ducky are going to make Christmas pudding," he tells her as he slides his arms into his jacket.
She can't help but laugh, wiggling her fingers into her gloves. " Make sure you do not eat any. The raisons will put you in hospital for the whole holiday."
" A novel way to get out of working Christmas."
They are in the middle of the bullpen, and her bag is over her shoulder when she finally looks at him again. He is watching her, his eyes dark and heavy lidded, and the memory of that expression sends shivers up her spine. " Let me walk you to your car."
It's a simple request, and shouldn't warrant any thought, but it does. She knows that expression, knows the pleading tone of his voice, knows that if she leaves the building with him now then things won't be able to go back to normal in the morning. They won't be able to pretend anymore. " Not tonight," she tells him, shaking her head, but softens the dismissal by leaning in and pressing a warm kiss to his cheek. Her lips linger, so when she speaks, the words are a breath against his skin. " I will see you in the new year, Tony."
Nodding, he pulls back, burying his hands in his pockets as though to keep them still and under control. " Happy New Year Ziva."
As he watches her slide through the elevator doors, he can't help but let out a relieved breath, and feel glad to see the end of 2008. Because who knew what 2009 would bring…