Disclaimer: NCIS and its characters are owned by people with a whole lot more money than myself. I just borrow them for my own amusement.

A/N: This story is un-beta'd so any mistakes are completely my own and I apologize for them ahead of time, but I did my best to make it enjoyable. :D

Shore Leave
By Mamapranayama

************

Tony wearily dropped his duffle bag to the floor as he walked into his apartment. Tossing his keys onto the counter in the kitchen, he went straight to the fridge and grabbed a beer, twisted open the top then flicked the cap onto the counter, watching in mild fascination as it bounced and spun with a tinny plink before it came to a stop.

He took a long swig of the beer and decided it was time to finally get out of his funky, air-travel fouled clothes.

Loosening his tie as he walked back to his bedroom, he already had his jacket off and tossed it onto the bed as soon as he crossed into his room. He finished off his beer in just a few gulps then placed the empty bottle on the nightstand before he took off his clothes and headed for the bathroom to take a nice long shower.

Turning the water up to near scalding, he stepped into the shower and let the heat of the spray massage his weary shoulders and back muscles, soaking his hair. It helped him feel a little closer to human again, but in truth, he still felt like crap. The plague had really done a number on him and the ache from his illness lingered still, yet what hurt the most wasn't physical.

Kate was gone.

The irony of it all wasn't lost on him. It was a cruel twist of fate that somehow he had survived the plague with only a 15% chance to live yet she was the one that died. It was like the cosmos had just tossed him into another dimension where nothing was as it should be and everything was backwards.

It should have been the other way around. He should be the one six feet under the ground, not her.

At least Ari was dead and Gibbs had his revenge, his closure. Tony thought he should feel some satisfaction from that, but he didn't have any at all. It didn't change things now that her killer had been blown away, she remained dead and he was still left with that gnawing emptiness inside.

Tony stayed under the water until it ran cold then stepped out and wrapped a towel around his waist. He was still drying off when he heard a knock at the door.

He sighed, tempted to not answer it. He wasn't much in the mood for seeing anyone, but something made him slip on a bathrobe and walk across the apartment to the door and open it.

"Nice robe, DiNozzo." A smiling face appraised his choice of garment from the other side of the threshold and Tony couldn't help the grin that came to his face.

"Hey, Paula." He greeted his visitor, wondering why she was there until he finally remembered that they had made plans to meet when her ship came into port.

"Well, ya gonna let me in or are you just gonna stand there in your jammies?" She grinned as Tony swept his hand and gestured for her to enter.

"I'm not in my jammies, Paula. You just caught me out of the shower and by the way, this happens to be a Hugo Boss bathrobe made from the finest terrycloth. Cost me almost $300."

"Do you really think you're going to impress me because you paid too much for a bathrobe, Tony?" She asked crossing her arms.

"I have a feeling nothing impresses you."

"Very little does these days."

"Sorry, I missed our date.. I sorta forgot....It's ah...been a bad week, ya know?"

"It's okay, Tony. I know what happened and I'm really sorry about Kate. She was good agent. Especially to put up with you full-time." Paula came up to Tony and laid a comforting hand on his sleeve and he was all at once torn between wanting to shrug her off and letting her wrap her arms around him.

"Tonight's my last night of Shore leave." She continued. "I'm shipping off tomorrow- being transferred to the Indianapolis for the remainder of my time as Agent Afloat. Thankfully, I only have about a month left before I go back to Norfolk. So, I just thought I'd stop by and see how you were before I shove off again."

"Well, I had planned a wild night of action and adventure, but I guess I can change my plans for you, Paula."

"Oh, yeah? Action and adventure huh? So, what movie were you going to watch?"

"I haven't decided yet, but I was thinking 'Robo Cop.'" He replied with a grin. "Want a drink?" He asked.

"Sure, what ya got?"

"Well...I got beer and...beer. Sorry, I haven't had much time for shopping lately."

"Beer's fine."

Tony walked back to the kitchen, grabbed two bottles from the fridge and opened them both before handing one to Paula.

As she took a swig of her drink, Tony could see that she was assessing his physical appearance, no doubt taking in the dark circles under his eyes, the pale complexion and the weight he had lost since she last saw him. He saw concern come to her eyes, but he didn't want that, not from her, not now. He just wanted things to be like they usually were between them; barely contained sexual tension reigned in by a sort of contemptuous banter just to keep things interesting.

"So..." He began nonchalantly, taking a seat on his couch, still very much aware that all that separated him and Paula was his bathrobe. "you have one more day left of shore-leave and you come to visit little 'ol me? I'm touched Paula, or are you just looking for one last booty call before you go back to sea?"

"Ha! Funny, DiNozzo." Laughing, she sat down beside him and he became aware of her knee touching his.

"I don't think there's anything funny about that. You know how I feel about being used as a sexual object."

"Yeah, I do...you love it." Paula chuckled then took another sip of her beer before her eyes narrowed on him in concern. "You look tired, Tony. You feeling okay?"

"Yeah..I'm fine." He lied with a smile, something he had learned to perfect of the years.

"You look like crap."

"Gee...you sure do know how to flatter a guy."

"Seriously,...you taking care of yourself? Looks like you lost a lot of weight..."

"Paula..." He sighed, shaking his head, wanting to do nothing more than avoid her eyes and the subject.

"C'mon, Tony." She kept pushing for him to open up, placing a hand on his knee. "I'm you're friend and for a while there, I thought we were more than that." Tony swiveled his head towards her and smiled incredulously in reaction to her statement.

"Ha! Right...." He came back, on the defensive. "I thought I couldn't be more than a friend because I was too much of a- what did you call me again?...oh yeah, that's right... a selfish, male, chauvinistic pig that thinks he's God's gift to women. I think we should be clear here. Maybe I was a friend with benefits to you, but no more, right? No sticky, romantic entanglements. That's what you wanted, isn't it? Or at least that's what you always led me to believe. So tell me Paula, why are you really here?"

"Look, Tony" Paula sighed, setting down her beer on the coffee table. "I... I just thought you might want someone to talk to, but maybe I was wrong...." She turned and got up, heading for the door.

"Wait-" Tony got off the couch and called out just as she reached the door. She stopped, but kept her hand on the door knob as if she was still ready to leave at any moment.

"Is it true, Tony?" She asked quietly without turning around.

"Is what true?" he asked as he came up behind her.

"That you almost died...." She turned back around to face him, her eyes once again showing her concern. "When I last called and told you when our ship was coming in, you said you had some time off for sick leave, but you never said why. You never told me that you had been in the hospital for a week before that with pneumonia caused by the damn plague of all things. I had to hear it second hand from Cassie Yates when I came into port. Don't you think you could have told me yourself then? Did you actually think I wouldn't find out?"

"Why does it matter what I was sick with? Sure, it was bad and I could have died, but I didn't and I'm fine now. So can't we just forget about it? I'm alive and everything's just honky-dory now." He gave her one of his wide, playboy smiles, but Paula wasn't buying it for a moment and crossed her arms in a huff, looked up at the ceiling and shaking her head.

"You're such a goddamn liar, you know that?" She half-laughed, half cried, throwing her hands into the air in frustration. "You had the fucking plague, Tony. For God's sake, why are you trying to make this out like it isn't a big deal?"

"Oh I get it now. I understand why you came here." Tony came back in response as he waggled a finger at her. "Let me guess...You were hoping that this near-death experience of mine would have changed me somehow? Maybe turn me into that 'Mr. Sensitive' you've been looking for and allow you to be there for me so I can cry on your shoulder? Is that it? " Tony's face slipped from a mischievous smile into one of cold anger as his voice grew louder.

"Is that what you were hoping for, Paula? That I might be an emotional wreck because I was sick and nearly died and my parter got killed right in front of me? Is that what you want?...You want some sort of breakdown from me so you can exploit that and fulfill some sort of fantasy you have of fixing me? Because if it is, I'm sorry to disappoint you. But, I'm fine. Got it?"

Tony saw the burning look in Paula's eyes as she leveled her gaze on him and he figured that she would be walking out that door, never to be seen again. Instead, she marched up to him, nose to nose, invading his personal boundaries with a fearlessness and a clear purpose in mind to show him all of the raw emotion she was feeling, most of which was disappointment in having him push her away.

"I don't think there is anyone that can fix you, Tony." She spoke quietly and pointedly, anger working its way into her words, daring to look into his eyes while she was still so close to his face. "And you are anything but fine."

She stormed out after that, practically slamming the door behind her.

He sighed and threw his head back. How did she know how to get under his skin so well? He stood around without a clue what to do until the urge to run out the door after her overtook him suddenly with unstoppable force. The next thing he knew, he was speeding down the hallway barefoot , wearing nothing but his bathrobe and ignoring the startled look of his neighbor as he nearly ran into the poor old woman while she tried to get into her apartment.

"Sorry, Mrs. Jenkins." He called out to her as he raced for the closing elevator doors and thrust a hand between them to stop them from shutting him out. He jumped inside and allowed the doors to shut again before flipping on the emergency stop button.

"Tony, what the hell are you-"

Wasting no time, he stopped Paula's startled question short by pulling her face to his and kissing her deeply, thrusting his tongue passed her surprised, but willing lips. Getting over her initial shock quickly, she responded by wrapping her arms around him, as if she was sensing that he needed this closeness. In truth, all he wanted was to feel some kind of emotion besides grief and guilt again, to experience something that connected him to another and allowed him be grateful that he was still alive. He prayed that this lust might somehow fill that ever growing hole inside that Kate had left him with.

Paula returned the kiss with equal amounts of passion, partly fueled by her still seething anger and her genuine attraction to Tony. He pulled her in close, sliding her pliable body against his own growing arousal. Their hands roamed over each other's bodies, hers running under his robe and over the smooth skin of his backside while his slid up the inside length of her shirt to cup her breasts through her lacy bra.

Her back hit the wall of the elevator as he pushed her up against it, causing her to gasp and break contact with his lips. He seized that opportunity to trace his lips along the edge of her jaw and down her neck towards her chest while his hands and fingers made quick work undoing the buttons of her shirt and freeing her breasts from the confines of the bra holding them hostage.

Paula moaned as Tony began to grind his pelvis into hers. Losing all connection with rational thought, he bent down and teased her nipples with the tip of his tongue before running an exploring hand up her thigh and under the short skirt she was wearing.

"God, Kate..." He whispered while in the throes of his ecstasy. The Freudian slip didn't register with his brain until it was too late to keep it from escaping his mouth and as soon as he said it, he had hope that Paula hadn't heard it. Unfortunately for him, she had.

"Tony..." Paula began to push against him. "Tony...we can't...I'm sorry...stop"

Tony wanted to ignore her, wanted to keep going and ravage her body with his own, wanted to feel himself deep inside of her, to reach some kind of release and some kind of escape. Was it too much to ask to actually feel good, if only for a little while?

But no matter how much he wanted it, it wasn't going to happen now- he'd blown it quite royally.

"Shit. I'm sorry. I don't know why I said that...Kate and I never....ya know..." he tried to explain as he backed off in mortification.

"I know, Tony. But that doesn't matter." She moved away from him and began buttoning up her shirt. "I'm the one that's sorry. It was a mistake coming here...I should have known better." She muttered.

"Should have know what better?...That I'm a jerk? Yeah, I get that already."

"No... I should have known that it's not me you want." She insisted with a sad shake of her head, stopping him cold. "I can't give you what you really want. No one can."

The sharp edge of her words cut him like a knife and he backed off even further, straightening his robe again. Paula finished redressing and he sighed, leaning his head back against the cool wall of the elevator in dejection nearing the point of despair and once again he felt that abyss inside of him deepen a little further.

"I'm sorry, Paula. I really am." She flicked the emergency brake switch and the elevator hummed back to life.

"Me too." She replied in true disappointment just as the doors opened.

"Take care of yourself, Tony. I mean it." She pleaded with him sincerely and a moment later she walked away, leaving him behind to watch the elevators doors close behind her.

The End