I didn't know where to go with this, so I decided to keep you hanging about the outcomes of the couples' nights. I will be dropping hints about them, and keep in mind that I am a hopeless romantic.
Thanks as always, to my "beta", who's not really an official beta because she doesn't have an account here, but I love her all the same. By the way, only the first half is beta'd, so I hope there's not too many mistakes! (crosses fingers)
The arrangements that the Jeffersonian had made for the teams included a continental breakfast in the main dining room, which immediately incited delight in Tony and Booth. We were accustomed to the often childish attitudes of the aforementioned, and Gibbs regarded it with his usual callous indifference. I had never seen him eat anyway, seemingly preferring to survive on coffee and the occasional slice of pizza filched from the box Tony ordered sometimes. Of course, there were those times (few and far in between) that a team member came over to his house and he ate actually food, but that was the exception.
I had the ingrained habit of ungodly early rising, ingrained by years of four o'clock wake up calls to prepare for training, and so had reserved the largest banquet table for the joint team, pulling up the necessary number of chairs. Only seconds after I had made a final count, Gibbs had appeared at my side, his silence a comfort to me instead of a burden, as it usually was in social situations. We sat in amiable silence, him nursing his usual cup of coffee (brewed in his room, of course), and me munching on a chocolate chip muffin. There I certainly fill the stereotype of an American woman- I have a weakness for chocolate that I have to succumb to occasionally, and now seemed to be the ideal opportunity.
"Ziva, you have my blessing," Gibbs said out of nowhere, his voice lower and gentler than its usual tone.
"Your blessing?" I inquired, genuinely confused.
"Rule 12," he said tersely.
I wracked my brain for which taboo I had apparently broken or was in danger of breaking. My mind finally set upon a recent time- the plane on the way back from Paris, when Nora was practically interrogating me as to the nature of my relationship with Tony. Rule #12- Never date a co-worker. Understanding washed over me at the meaning of his words, but motive for them still eluded me.
"You're welcome," he said, reading my face, and planting a chaste kiss on my cheek, he strode off, his fingers still clutching his coffee cup.
I sat pensively for a few moments after he left, mostly pondering the many intricacies of Gibbs's character. Just when I thought I had him sized up, he would surprise me again.
The rest of the joint teams arrived in a huge group. Tony was talking animatedly with Booth about some sort of sport, probably basketball because of the motion he was mimicking. Tempe and Angela seemed deep in conversation, and I saw Angela's eyes widen and her mouth open; I had no desire to know what it was they were discussing. Abby was running up behind them, as fast as she could in four inch platforms, and inserting herself into their conversation. Hodgins and McGee were lagging behind, probably talking about the trials and tribulations of their romantic relationships- I couldn't see any other common ground between them other than their "unattainable" women.
Cam was walking alone, all the girls excluding her from their dynamic conversation. Gibbs covertly inserted himself into the group at Cam's side and immediately struck up some sort of conversation that had them laughing in seconds. To see Gibbs laugh so freely was a rarity in and of itself, but for him to charm a woman? I had not seen that since Jenny, and it heartened me to see that maybe he was done mourning his losses and ready to move on. He pushed her thick black hair away from her face and whispered something in her ear which she responded to with a solemn nod, unshed tears obviously shining in her eyes as they drew closer. He wrapped her into an awkward one armed hug, she still obviously resisting, trying to clear her throat and prevent herself from letting the tears fall. Gibbs gently dabbed a finger under her closed eyelid, wiping the tears away. She opened her eyes, which were still glistening with moisture, and put a dazzling smile on her face, the contrast of her white teeth and darker skin making it all the more striking. Gibbs reciprocated the grin, and the expression mirrored on my face because I had never seen Gibbs this happy, and it did not seem forced for a change. I knew all about that.
Somewhere during the short walk from the elevator to the table, the group had split off into "couples"- Tempe and Booth, Angela and Hodgins, McGee and Abby, obviously Gibbs and Cam, and Tony was approaching me, a smile plastered on his face and a mischievous glint in his eyes. What was he planning? I did not wish to know.
"Hey, Ziva! How are you this fine morning?" he questioned happily.
"Why are you so chipper?" I asked hesitatingly, not sure if I was using the correct expression.
"Because it's a bright sunny day, and that makes me happy!" he said excitedly, even more energetic than his usual self, which was quite an achievement. I took this as an explanation for his behavior despite the fact that it was not legitimate.
"So whatcha got for me to eat, Zee-vah?" he asked, rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
I shook my head at his childish antics, though I actually found it quite endearing and part of his charm. Instead, I replied "There is an entire buffet over there. No one else seems to be having a problem finding it." I gestured to the rest of the team gathered around the large table.
"Fine, be mean, Zi. I don't mind." Tony said, a pout on his face as he feigned distress. He skipped off to the buffet, and I plopped down in a chair, the lack of sleep last night finally catching up to me.
I kept a close eye on him as he mingled amongst the others. I made the observance that he had lost some of that cocky strut that had colored his every move when I had first made his acquaintance. He I had been humbled by the ever-present death of the ones closest to him. Kate had been before my time, but Abby had filled me in on the details one night. She had barely stopped crying throughout the whole retelling, and despite the fact that Abby's extremely sensitive, a little too naïve for our line of work, I could tell that this had been a horrifying time for every single member of the team.
Paula's death had hit him hard too- I think it was that he thought he should have protected her, saved her from harm, a weight that is always on his shoulders. He was also scared when he heard that we were the team that was supposed to be on hotline detail that weekend, but some twist of fate had saved our lives. It is not like we don't look death in the eyes each and every day, that the murders we solve atone for the lives we have taken, but to see our very mortality displayed in front of us? It is enough to scare the most courageous of men.
Jenny's murder sent him into a rapid downward spiral. I know that he still regrets to this day the mistakes we made in our protection detail, and the re-assignment as Agent Afloat just exacerbated his pain, making him truly believe that he had erred, and all of us were too busy dealing with our own problems to worry about him. I had found him in a drunken stupor a few nights after work in those first few weeks before we all got reassigned, and he had obliquely indicated that his father had had drinking problems, so I knew he was genetically predisposed to addiction. And Gibbs had, advertently or otherwise, added to the notion that he, Tony, was responsible for the death of his friend and boss.
"Ziva! Ziva! You in there?" Tony asked loudly, having suddenly reappeared at my side.
"Of course I am," I said perplexedly. "Where else would I be?"
He rolled his eyes exaggeratedly and plopped himself down in the chair next to me, a plate full of food of horrible nutritional value in front of him. I could not resist the opportunity to taunt him a little bit.
"This is why you have bulked up," I teased, gesturing to the plate.
"It's all muscle, baby," he said, flexing his upper arm and nodding approvingly.
I couldn't keep the smile off my face- he definitely countered the seriousness of our work with his light-hearted humor.
"Of course it is," I replied skeptically, and before I could say anything else, the rest of the group arrived, their food in tow.
Tempe came over to sit on the other side of me (Tony occupied the other), but before she could take a seat, Booth appeared behind her and courteously pulled the chair out for her. She smiled shyly at him, a fierce blush rising up her cheeks.
"Thank you, Seeley," she purred. Seeley? She had always seemed to call him Booth, and by the look on Angela's face that flitted between shock and content, this was a new occurrence.
"You're welcome, Temperance," he accentuated. He seemed to be embracing this obviously new and different relationship with Tempe, and she was all too ready to return his advances. Something had happened it that hotel room last night…
Tempe was gazing dreamily off into the distance, her blue eyes sparkling with an emotion I could not place. I tapped her on the shoulder, my short nails penetrating the thin fabric. She shifted in her seat, her eyes locking with mine.
"What happened between you and Booth last night?" I asked, feeling like a teenage girl spreading the latest gossip- a naivety I never got to possess, an experience I never got to have. I was too preoccupied with learning how to kill people in creative (and untraceable) ways.
A broad smile appeared on her face, and she let out a slight giggle, but she shook her head and mouthed "I'll tell you later." I didn't blame her, because the entire table seemed to be starting at her, and I had decided that she was the type who didn't really like the spotlight on her. I nodded quickly, and began to check out the rest of the group and how their nights might have unfolded. This could affect my day (and the focus on the case) tremendously, adversely or otherwise. And I had to admit, I was also quite curious.
McGee and Abby were directly across from me, but the enormity of the table made them entirely out of reach, or even speaking distance. I would have to scream if I wished to carry on a conversation with them. They looked quite content to not be speaking with any others. I could see the adoration in McGee's eyes when he looked at her, and when she reciprocated I was not surprised in the slightest. They were an adorable couple, and both of them deserved someone faithful, someone kind, that they could spend the rest of their lives with. I had been informed by Tony (prior to McGee letting it slip while inebriated) about their fleeting relationship soon after they met, and I hoped, for their sake, that it was more of a commitment, a relationship of permanence, this time around. He had covertly wrapped his arm around her shoulders and planted a kiss on her head. This wasn't actually out of the ordinary for them, which is why I found them denying their emotions before odd now, but I could see Abby glowing at this simple gesture, because now she could; now he was hers, and only hers. I never really understood the gesture of claiming another, as much as it is (and would be) sweet, but that's likely because my people, the Jews, have been subjugated, enslaved, owned for a better part of their history. But still, good for her. She is likely the most sympathetic, considerate and compassionate person I've ever had the pleasure of knowing, but these qualities are often overlooked because of the package they come in- the Goth attire.
Next, I moved on to Angela and Hodgins. The Asian forensic artist was garbed in an extremely provocative (at least in my opinion- but then again, I am quite conservative in my dressing) outfit, well, dress to be precise. It was what they call a "mini-dress" in America, and it was cut deeply down in both the back and front, exposing a fair amount of cleavage and a broad expanse of perfect skin, unlike the skin of my own back, which was marred by scars. I could never wear a dress like I wore that night undercover in Morocco again.
Angela's dress was of a thin, silky, bright red fabric, and it clung to her every curve, the fabric ending at mid thigh. It was accessorized by a pair of four inch black patent leather stiletto heels that had straps that wrapped around her legs, a thin black and silver necklace that rested right below her chest, matching teardrop earrings, and a thick red cuff. Her raven hair was wavy and ran down her back; her eyes adorned with dark mascara to accentuate them. I had never been the type for being jealous about others' appearances, but I was full of envy- she looked beautiful, and Hodgins certainly seemed to appreciate her outfit. He kept attempting to touch her- put his arm around her, run his fingers through her hair, kiss her cheek, but she kept knocking him away. I was surprised because Angela seemed…promiscuous to say the least, but I hate to be judgmental- if I were to have been summed up in one word when I first came to America, I would not like to know what people would have said. Tony would have probably said sexy, exotic, or hot, McGee intimidating or petrifying, Abby something with negative connotations (she had possessed a hatred bordering on abhorrence when I first arrived, because I was replacing Kate), Gibbs I don't know- the way the man's mind works is impossible to decipher.
Angela's anger was mounting and her voice getting louder. "Hodgins, I have a boyfriend! I told you, in a few days, I'll be all yours again," she said, her voice getting sultry as she reached the end of her statement. I furrowed my brow in extreme confusion. Number one, she had a boyfriend? Then why was she flirting shamelessly with Hodgins? And she was going to break up with said (and anonymous) boyfriend? In a few days? I extrapolated that he must be in DC, because she seemed to be the type to do things in person, and I guessed that she assumed that this case would only last a few days, but she should know better- cases can be unsolved for weeks, months, days, years, even forever. There are boxes and boxes of cold cases in storage, ones that might be opened and solved, and others that might remain sealed forever, killers never brought to justice.
Gibbs stood up abruptly and pushed his chair in, the legs squeaking against the tile floor. He coughed loudly, obviously trying to make as much noise as possible, which was against his nature.
"Excuse me!" he addressed the rowdy bunch. I looked at him, and lifted my shoulders and eyebrows in exasperation, not knowing how to get the group's attention either.
"Hey!" he tried louder to no avail.
"Shut the hell up!" he bellowed angrily, and all the heads turned to face him. Cam looked a little unnerved at his outburst, but at seeing her discomfort he gave her a reassuring nod, and she gave him a small smile in return.
"If you are all done playing grab ass, it's time to work on the damn case!" he said irately. All the members of his team, including myself, knew that he meant business, and immediately rose out of our seats, clearing our places at the table. Tempe, glimpsing Tony and I out of the corner of her eye, followed suit and gestured to her team to emulate.
Taking a quick look at the classic watch on his tanned wrist, Gibbs said matter of factly "Meet at the lab in thirty minutes." It was approximately twenty minutes away from the hotel, so it was necessary to get on the road right away, in order to allow for rush hour traffic and ensure punctuality.
"Timmy, you're coming in the hearse whether you like it or not," Abby said defiantly, crossing her arms in an uncharacteristic aggressive manner for someone of her disposition.
"Okay, Abs," said man sighed, adopting our fearless leader's nickname for the Goth, and they walked off arm in arm. With the third member of our team otherwise engaged, and Gibbs preferring as usual to provide his own method of transportation, that would leave Tony and me in the van alone.
"Hey, Zee-vah," he said boisterously, wrapping a long arm around my waist. The movement was actually more sweet than provocative, a surprise for Tony. Then again, he had proved time and time again that he had grown up, been hardened by the world, or just let it affect him now.
Despite the slight impediment on our speed, we continued to walk in this manner until we reached the entrance/exit of the hotel, but once stepping up to the revolving door, he gave me a slight squeeze and withdrew his arm. He rubbed his palm on his (tight) jeans, and after allowing me to pass through first, he tentatively took my hand. It fit perfectly in my own, our fingers interlocking.
The conversation I had shared with Tony a few years ago pertaining to the subject of soul mates immediately came into mind. I believed in soul mates, even then, and had recognized Tony as my own. I am not sure if he did not share my belief, or if he was just afraid to admit it, always trying to protect himself, never wanting to make himself vulnerable.
Soon, we had reached the van, and Tony had a concerned look on his face at my recurring absentmindedness. He chivalrously went ahead and opened the passenger door for me, outstretching a hand to indicate that I should sit. I jumped up and plopped down, and he walked around to the other side, slamming the door behind him.
"Thank you, Tony," I said graciously.
"No problem, Ziva," he returned.
"Tony…we have to talk about this." I began, knowing that this would be a long and awkward conversation.
"Shhh," he said, placing a finger on my lips as he expertly navigated the car with his other hand.
"Tony," I said exasperatedly.
"Ziva…this is enough for now. At least for me. We know that we love each other, we know a lot more about each other than we did before, but I'm…I'm not ready to take the next step yet." He admitted.
I was genuinely surprised- I knew the playboy persona had dissipated quite a bit, but I was not aware that it was to this extent. In truth, I did not mind. I had fallen in love with the man behind the mask, the part of him he only let slip through when his guard was down.
"It is all right, Tony. I do not mind waiting. I have been waiting for four years already. I know now that my l…love for you is not unrequited, and we can have these little things." I caressed his cheek, and he smiled broadly. It was still a struggle for me to say "love" at all. I had never been loved, not since Tali. I thought my father had loved me, but he had loved my position as a prestigious officer of Mossad, not as his daughter.
"Thank you, Ziva. I want to take this slow and do it right." he said seriously, and squeezed my hand across the divide.
I just smiled. I was finally with the love of my life, my soulmate. What could go wrong?
This isn't a proper ending, but I just wanted to post this. As always, drop me a line, positive or constructive criticism. I want to know if people are still reading this! - Dolphins