AN: I'm not totally confident about this one, but I wanted to get it up before I went to bed. Please excuse (for the moment) typos and grammatical weirdness: this is a tense that I'm not fully comfortable with. At the same time, this is the tense that I thought the story should be told in. This is not a happy story. I blame (500) Days of Summer, and my tendency to be the devil's advocate. Please let me know what you think, and how you think I could improve this story.


The Other Woman

I've been the other woman before.

It's not like it's something I'm proud of or anything—after all, none of the times were ever my fault. Men lied about their wives, girlfriends. They took off their rings and took me home. Some relationships stuck, for a while, until their inevitable slip. You'd think that I'd catch on sooner than I always do, but something always keeps me from looking too seriously at the evidence in front of me. Maybe it's my own denial. Maybe, just like the wives waiting at home for their husbands to come back from my apartment, I've always refused to face the facts.

The thing is, the few times that I've ended up in bed with a man who should be 'off the market,' so to speak, I've always ended things as soon as I discovered the truth. He'll always accept with with a guilty nod, and, once, a tearful plea that I not tell his wife or his daughter. I'm not a home wrecker. I'm not a monster.

But this time, it was different. It wasn't a matter of denial, but flat-out ignorance. It started so simply, so quietly, that it took me a long time to actually figure out when, exactly, the 'start' had been. At first we just spent quiet nights together, merely existing in the same space together for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes I'd cross the room and step into his personal space, and sometimes I ended up leaving while the night was still young. It all depended, I guess, on the day's case—his frustrations, my moods, the things we'd seen that day.

I don't remember the date of our first night together, but I remember the case. I remember because I'd spent all day combing through a little girl's unicorn bedsheets for any evidence at all as to who had hurt her, hurt her mother. A captain's family had been kidnapped the night before he returned home. All that had been left was several bloody footprints—one the size of an eight-year-old girl's bare foot—and a set of ripped sheets. Our suspect list was bleak—the man had no enemies—and the evidence tubs even bleaker. Finally I found a hair—just one solitary silver hair with root intact—stuck in a footprint. One hair brought the man into interrogation, drew out his confession. Led the team to a warehouse and the two victims of a truly random crime.

To say he took it hard would be like saying the Hindenburg was a little bonfire. I followed him home and slipped, uninvited, into his basement with him. He didn't want me there. I should have taken the hint, but couldn't bring myself to leave. All those times he's stood in my lab and made me feel better just by listening—I felt like I owed it to him to at least try to return the favor. He yelled at me—I don't remember specifics, other than sheer volume, then finally raised his hand into the air. For the briefest of moments, I could have sworn he was going to hit me. Immediately, I felt ridiculous, because he didn't hit women—especially not me. It was like he saw the thought in my eyes, though, because something in him seemed to crack. Not a huge crack, like when a pinata rips apart, but more like when some great force thunders through the face of a cliff and leaves the faintest mark running down into the bedrock.

He touched my face with the hand that he'd raised, softly, like he thought he would break something if we had too much contact. There was something in his eyes that night, and maybe it was the same in mine, but it was like the images from the day had soaked into his very being, and they'd never come out again. I think I pressed my face against his touch—his hand was warm, I remember that better than almost anything else from that night.

He made a sound under his breath that I couldn't quite understand. It could have been a curse word, an apology, a vow of some kind—maybe even a bit of nonsense that he hadn't meant to speak aloud—but before I could ask him to repeat it, he was crushing his lips against mine. It was good, I'm not going to lie about it, but something felt hinky somehow. I'd had fantasies about it in passing—who wouldn't?—but would never have imagined that it would happen like this. I've always been able to give just as good as I get, and that night wasn't anything different. If he was surprised, he didn't show it—but honestly, as well as he'd always been able to read me, I doubt he was. If anything, it spurred him on, and eventually we found ourselves in his bed, coming out of some kind of trance with sweat glistening on our bodies and lungs burning for breath.

For me, sex has always just been sex for me. Rough, gentle, good, bad, kinky, vanilla—I'm not really one to wax poetic about any of it. It is what it is. When it's good, it's good, and when it's bad, who cares? But with him, there was this sense of 'okay, this is right, but what the hell are you doing?' Like I said, hinky.

He felt the same way. He pushed me off, the force in his hands surprising me, and retreated to the head. I can take a hint—I redressed (quietly grateful that nothing had been damaged in our haste) and had every intention of going home, showering, and acting as though nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened. Until his phone rang. I heard his customary greeting, then a very clear oath burning its way through the wood of the door, and more anger as he forcefully turned off the phone. The door opened then.

"We have to go back," he said, his tone even brusquer than usual. "Come on, I'll give you a ride." He didn't meet my eyes.

I had to run more blood tests and search for more evidence with the feeling of his mouth still clinging to my skin.

He didn't come down to my lab that entire day, and sent Tim or Tony for periodic updates or with fresh Caf-Pows. In return, I called Tony when I had anything to share. It made the other three uncomfortable—we both tried unsuccessfully to hide the majority of our tension in those moments where we absolutely had to be in the same room. Finally Ziva cracked—she was the only one of the three brave or foolish enough to "stand up" to either one of us, let alone both at the same time. The other two men stayed in the background, obviously very thankful for the long table that shielded them from the rest of us.

I kicked everyone out of my lab. Maybe it wasn't the best response, but I couldn't take it any more. Gibbs looked like he wanted to say something even as I shooed him away, and it probably wouldn't have been very nice, but I couldn't bring myself to care about what he had to say today. Once they were gone, I set my machines to work and left them alone to process, while I took a very quick shower in the locker rooms. Once I had washed him off of me, I figured I could focus better, and it worked—sort of.

Back in the lab, I'd gotten an AFIS hit, and called Tony. As before, he seemed surprised and mildly uncomfortable to be getting my call, but relayed the information to the rest of the team, and I shared what I'd found. Before Gibbs left, he moved closer, to whisper in my ear. "Don't go home tonight," he warned. "I'm taking you."

I fought the urge to roll my eyes, but, when the janitorial staff showed up, I found myself still sitting in my lab, waiting. Finally he showed up, looking sort of rattled but smug, like he always did after he came out of an interrogation. We didn't speak. I just stood up, shrugged out of my lab coat, and followed him to his car.

Instead of taking me to my flat, though, he pulled up in front of his house. Somehow, I wasn't surprised. Still without speech, I followed him inside, then up to his room. When he saw me, he looked like maybe he thought he'd made a mistake, and his eyes flickered to the bed. How was I supposed to know where I was to sleep, if he wasn't going to say a word to me? He offered me an old, ridiculously oversized NIS shirt, obviously to sleep in, and I changed into it and simply slid under the sheets. I'd been here not thirty hours ago, I was tired and under-caffeinated, and I didn't care what he was trying to work through. I was going to sleep. I didn't open my eyes to see if he was going to protest.

When I woke up that morning, it was as though things were fixed. Not fixed as in repaired, but fixed as in stuck. We had each accepted that whatever had happened was weird and maybe shouldn't have actually happened, but neither of us was going to address that. And so we fell into a routine, not quite domestic bliss, but close enough for the two of us.

After a month, I started to realize that I was the other woman, yet again. Obviously he wasn't married, not technically. I lived in his house, not ours. There were too many times when I found myself tiptoeing around him, trying not to upset the fragile memory of his First Woman. There were too many rules for him. There were certain things you didn't mention, didn't try to discuss—not if you wanted him to speak to you for the rest of the night, that is. I couldn't breathe her name. Sometimes I felt like it was only under duress that he let me sleep next to him in his bed. On Her side. I felt like he was relieved on those nights when I couldn't take any more, and just went back to my flat for the night—or the week. The gravity of our mistake was the elephant in the room, and neither of us was willing to be the first to address it.

I loved him. God help me, I loved him. It's not like that was really any surprise, given our history, but it still shocked me, every time it hit me. Selfishly, I held on too long to him. He wasn't mine (inasmuch as anyone can "belong" to anyone else), just like he wasn't Stephanie's, or Diane's. He still belonged to the memory of his first wife, as much as he wanted to deny it. I never bothered to share this with him, and maybe if I had, things would have been easier. Or they would have ended faster.

All I can say is, I ran. He didn't come home one night—was probably sleeping sitting up at his desk instead of coming home to me—and I couldn't take it anymore. Didn't want to. I packed up most of what I'd brought over the few months that I was there, counted the rest as a loss, and headed back to my flat. The next day, I got yet another job offer from the FBI. This time, I took it, and I haven't looked back.

I have lunch with Tim a couple days a week, and every once in a while, Ziva invites me to come running with her. Tony's still the only one who knows even part of what happened. I haven't been able to tell him everything. He doesn't want to know it all, anyway. He asks me to come back to them sometimes, during one of our monthly all-night movie marathons (which are usually interrupted by a call), but he's never really all that serious. I don't ask about Gibbs, and, I'm guessing, he doesn't ask about me. I hope he's happy, I really do, but we're both too stubborn to bridge that gap.