Disclaimer: The usual.

Author's Note: I couldn't help but to notice how distant Tony & Ziva have become toward one another since "Cloak" (plus Cote's comments about Ziva not playing the game anymore - bad idea! That's at least 50% of the reason I watch the damned show!) or how unhappy and (dare I say it) lonely that DiNozzo seems to be in the recent episodes (though he conceals well under his clown façade, which I'm personally a little tired of.)

As I don't believe that Tiva have begun a secret relationship like some claim, and I'm really not happy with the direction the show is going (I miss the fun of the show, dammit, and I'm tired of Tony & Ziva acting like idiot teenagers instead of adults), so this bit of angst was born.

Oneshot. I'm just trying to get into Tony's mindset here - the guy is really screwed up, and I can actually see him having a continuing issue with alcohol so...

He hated Valentine's Day.

That wasn't always the case. In the past, Tony DiNozzo would have had a date lined up months in advance, with at least two alternates in the wings in case the first one fell through, just so he wouldn't be alone on this dreadful day. When she had learned about it, his old partner Kate had been aghast at the practice … though Tony still suspected she was at least partially envious at the same time. But that was a long time ago, before Kate died senselessly on a rooftop so a terrorist could make a point, before Tony got himself tangled up in Jenny Shepard's private war against La Grenouille, before Jeanne.

Before Ziva.

From where he sat behind his desk, Tony grimaced at the direction his thoughts had taken and wondered if Ducky possessed any industrial-strength aspirin for the headache pounding through his skull. The team had been called in by Gibbs at a ridiculous hour – the body of a Marine just back from Iraq had been found in a local movie theater, his wrists and throat slit – and DiNozzo was feeling the aftermath of a twenty-hour work day coming on the heels of another long night with hard alcohol as his only companion. Gibbs had given his bloodshot eyes a dark, disappointed frown, but offered no comment, rebuke, or even a head slap, though that wasn't surprising. Tony couldn't recall the last time the older man had popped anyone on the back of the head; it was certainly before … before … Jenny…

The ring of a cell phone drew DiNozzo's attention, and he gave his partner a discreet look as she answered the small cell. A pleased smile crossed her face almost instantly, and she almost leaped out of her chair to get some privacy as she responded to the caller. Smiling as she spoke softly in Hebrew, Ziva paused before the large window, the fingers of her right hand twisting and curling strands of her hair.

Tony swallowed and forced his eyes back to the computer screen before him. The report wasn't going to write itself, and if he wanted to get out here before midnight, he needed to focus. McGee was already long gone – probably to celebrate this damned holiday with Abby – his own report already printed and awaiting DiNozzo's review before it went onto Gibbs' desk. The perils of being the senior field agent, Tony lamented as he resumed typing his notes. It had been almost too easy to determine that Lance Corporal Gillespie had committed suicide, and his best friend – a fellow corporal by the name of Jim Ramirez – had slit the corpse's throat to make it look like gang violence so Gillespie's wife would receive death benefits. Gibbs had broken Ramirez within minutes; he hadn't even had to use the Stage Two Glare.

Ziva's soft words continued to distract him, however, and Tony once more glanced in her direction. For a moment, he drank in her lovely profile, grateful for the opportunity to openly study her without drawing attention to himself. Somehow, she had made the transition from attractive or stunning to beautiful, and he didn't quite know when or how it had happened. Before she – or even worse, Gibbs – noticed his stare, DiNozzo tore his eyes away and glowered at the monitor in front of him as a singular truth pulsed through his mind.

He was too late.

Five months had passed since her brief return to Israel, and in that time, Tony had felt her slowly slip away from him. It was his own damned fault, of course. It always was. He'd waited too long, wasted too many opportunities, hid behind Gibbs' ridiculous rules, and now, she'd found someone else to love, someone who wasn't an emotional cripple like him. She hadn't admitted anything despite Tony's best efforts to get her talking, but he recognized the signs. The flirty phone calls in her native Hebrew, the bright smiles that caused his breath to catch, the spring in her step – it all added up to the bitter realization that he'd lost the only thing that mattered to him.

Far worse, though, was the distance that she had gradually put between them in recent months. No longer did she openly flirt with him, or join the banter that had long defined their friendship, or invade his personal space. Gone was the twinkle in her eye that he'd learned to read as her hidden feelings for him. Now, she looked at him the same way she looked at McGee, or Gibbs, or Director Vance.

And he hated it. God, how he hated it.

He wanted to blame Jenny and her obsession with the Frog, or Jeanne Benoit and Professor Anthony DiNardo, or even his pathetic excuse of a father who obviously screwed him up more than he realized, but Tony knew there was only one person to blame for this entire situation. Only an idiot wouldn't have recognized the hints Ziva had been dropping in the years – God, was it really that long ago? – since Jenny recruited him for the mission that would ultimately shatter his life. Ziva hadn't been subtle in her worry or her emotions, but the fear that always crippled his relationships kept him from responding, no matter how badly he wanted to seize the sole chance he might have at true happiness. Instead of telling her how he felt, he had hidden behind regulations and Gibbs' rules, pretended ignorance while doing everything he could to keep her from leaving, and all because the one real relationship he'd ever had been involved in had been a covert mission and a lie.

A low, delighted laugh snapped his attention back to Ziva, and Tony winced at the bright expression on her face as she continued her conversation. He missed being the source of that smile, missed being the reason her eyes lit up. Self-disgust welled up within his stomach, and he stood, instantly drawing Gibbs' notice. Forcing a smile on his face that didn't come close to touching his eyes, he hefted his empty coffee and strode away from his desk, hoping his boss would buy the excuse but knowing he didn't.

Inside the bathroom, he splashed some cold water on his face and studied the face of the stranger in the mirror. There were new creases that hadn't been there before, and the scruff on his chin that he'd not been able to shave this morning had a light dusting of gray in it. The eyes that looked back at him were older than they had any right to be. Tony sighed. His father had been right after all: he was a complete failure.

"Great job, DiNozzo," he murmured. "Is there anything you can't fuck up?"

The stranger in the mirror did not reply, so Tony closed his eyes, breathed deeply, and tried to wrestle his emotions under control.

"She's happy," he told himself tersely. "You couldn't give that to her," he said, knowing it was the truth. If he had learned anything over the years, it was that he was worthless, fine for a couple of laughs and hopefully some fond memories but nothing else. A woman like Ziva David was far too good for a piece of crap like him. This was for the best. In the end, he always disappointed the people who cared for him anyway, so it was better this way. He couldn't hurt her anymore if someone else was making her happy. Tony nodded.

This was for the best.

He wondered what the weather was like in Rota.