A/N: Yay! Back to posting. I've missed it. I missed getting reviews. They're so addictive.
Like the rest of my stories, this one focuses on the Tony/Ziva partnership, with healthy support from the rest of the team. Oh, Team Gibbs. How I miss you. I've been watching The Real NCIS on the Crime and Investigation channel, but it's not the same. All those special agents have these weird moustaches…
Disclaimer: Not mine. All I own is the snoring Labrador in front of the heater and this bowl of Café Grande icecream. And I'll thank you to keep your hands off both.
It would take some time to recall the last day that the major case response team had like this. They had no crime scenes to poke around in, no witnesses to question or suspects to interrogate, no evidence to chase from the lab, not even any paperwork to file. MCRT were between cases for the first time in a long time, but instead of enjoying the break like they assumed they would—in fact, longed for on those cases that had them working 40 hours straight—they found the quiet to be simply…boring.
Gibbs had done the smart thing an hour ago and disappeared in a poof of sawdust and coffee, his destination and estimated time of return unknown. McGee had turned his attention to the next chapter of his book, in which Agent Tommy and Officer Lisa were lost and starving in the Appalachian Mountains. And Tony entertained himself by being Tony. He'd spent the morning throwing paper balls at McGee—had even developed a points system around the game—before moving on to catching up with his backlog of YouTube videos. Every few minutes he'd laugh out loud or make a noise that could reflect either disgust or awe.
Ziva was not one to sit at her desk for extended periods of time. She could do it when the case required it, but unless there was a body on Ducky's table downstairs, she found it difficult to sit still. She'd already spent an hour in the gym this morning, making mincemeat out of the punching bag. But it had hardly tired her out, and she was feeling bugsy again. No, antsy. Yes, that was it.
This antsy-ness was what had sent her down to see Abby a half hour ago, double-fisting Caf-Pow cups and a packet of peanut M&Ms. As soon as Abby realised she had a visitor, she had launched herself into Ziva's arms in a blur of pigtails and metal. And while Ziva had absorbed the body blow and prepared herself in time for the welcoming squeal, she hadn't been fast enough to avoid Abby's studded dog collar. She knew from experience that her neck would carry a welt for the next two days.
It had taken Abby just 20 minutes to get through her Caf-Pow. Ziva was still only a third of the way through hers, but her body was not as used to processing all the sugar and caffeine as Abby's, and she found herself even more jittery than before. She handed the rest of the cup over to Abby to finish before she turned into a Mossad-trained Energiser Bunny.
"So then I told her that I supposed I was going to be alone for the rest of my life," Abby was saying, her words coming out like a freight train. "And the next day my mom sent me a link to petfinder dot com."
Ziva snickered as she bit the chocolate off one side of the M&M. "I thought you weren't allowed to have pets in your apartment."
"I'm not," Abby pouted.
Ziva gave her an earth-grounding look. "Abby, you're not going to be alone for the rest of your life. Sooner or later you'll meet someone who is neither a complete freak nor a stalker, and it'll be happily ever after. Or whatever."
"Well, whatever you want. Maybe only 'happily ever next ten years', or 'happily ever six months of satisfying sex'."
"You think all my boyfriends have been freaks?" Abby challenged.
Ziva remained level-headed. "Frankly, I can think of only one who has not been. And it has nothing to do with your other boyfriends' left-of-centre hobbies or physical appearances."
Abby considered this. "You're talking about McGee, right?"
Ziva popped another M&M. "He adores you."
Abby smiled whimsically. "I know. And I adore him, too. But right now, it's just not what I'm after."
"What are you after?"
"I don't know."
"You can have whatever you want, Abby. The world is your…lobster?"
"Oyster," Abby corrected.
Ziva nodded. "Yes. Oyster." She frowned. "That makes no literal sense."
Abby made a face. "But 'world is your lobster' does?"
Ziva threw her hands up. "Silly language! Anyway, my point with the oysters is that you might have to scrub the dirt off things to see it, but the opportunity is there."
Abby followed the thought. "Okay, but…oysters are all well and good, but I don't want just plain oysters. I want them covered in spice and sauce."
Ziva pointed at her, knowingly. "Just not the kind that brings tears to your eyes and gives you heartburn."
Abby looked at her as if Ziva had just said the most profound thing imaginable. "Yes. Exactly."
Ziva shrugged. "Well, good luck."
Abby looked thoughtful. "Where do I find such an oyster?"
"Probably not on petfinder dot com."
Abby nodded, and then gave her a sidelong glance. She was dying to know where Ziva's head was at on her own 'oyster' issue, but Abby'd learnt long ago that for Ziva to go the full gossip girl, she had to have some tequila shots in her. Abby didn't have any tequila in the lab, so she'd have to make use of her most innocent voice and eyes.
"So, how's Tony today? I haven't seen him." She sucked up a mouthful of Caf-Pow as soon as she felt her straight face start to break.
If Ziva noticed, she didn't let on. "Bored. We all are. We need someone to die."
Abby gave her a horrified look, and Ziva rushed to smooth things over.
"That would be horrible, of course. Absolutely tragic. I just mean we need a case. I am close to creating a crime scene myself."
"Except Gibbs would totally catch you somehow," Abby said. "And then start interrogating you, which probably isn't as much fun as it sounds."
Ziva smirked, but said, "No, I think he would get Tony to interrogate me, believing that I would crack under the guilt of letting my partner down." She bit her lip as her imagination sparked. "That probably would be a lot of fun."
Abby shook her head firmly, sending pigtails flying. "No, no, no. He couldn't get Tony to do it because Tony would probably be your co-defendant."
"You think Tony would commit a crime if I asked him to?" Ziva asked, almost laughing.
Abby replied, "I dunno, but he'd certainly help you hide the body."
Ziva considered this, and then shook her head. "No. Too big a risk."
"Would you help him?" Abby asked pointedly, already knowing the answer.
"Of course. But I have a slightly different view of right and wrong to Tony. To all of you."
Abby shook her head knowingly. "Trust me, Ziva. If you showed up at his door in the dead of night with a body in your trunk and blood on your hands, he'd help you dig the grave and dispose of the murder weapons." She paused. "Of course, we'd find them again and put you both away, but he'd be loyal to you."
Ziva's eyes went to the floor, suddenly embarrassed by the conversation. She quickly deflected the attention. "McGee would turn me in."
"Oh, he wouldn't let you through the front door," Abby agreed.
When Ziva returned to the bullpen, Gibbs had still not returned and McGee had disappeared, leaving Tony to sit at his desk and type at the blistering speed he reserved for those special occasions when he thought no one was around. For a moment, Ziva watched him from behind the stairs and thought about her conversation with Abby. She really would help Tony clean up a huge mess and then lie to cover his ass. But would he honestly do the same for her? Suddenly, Ziva really wanted to know.
Tony felt her presence as she rounded the corner, and heard her slip into his cubicle behind him a moment later. He cut his eyes away from the screen in her direction for just a moment before returning to his email.
"Your ninja stealth needs polishing," he told her as he finished the paragraph he was on.
She didn't reply—not verbally or by suddenly pressing a fountain pen to his throat—but he could feel the tension coming off her. Curious, he took his hands off the keys and spun his chair to face her.
Ziva was standing with her back against the partition that separated Tony's desk from the hallway. Her hands were clasped together tightly, and she regarded him with a look he absolutely could not read. He raised an eyebrow at her in question, and she opened her mouth as if to reply, before it quickly shut again and looking around skittishly.
"What?" he asked.
She was beginning to give him the heebie jeebies—a feeling that did not ebb when she suddenly dropped to her knees in front of him and sat back on her heels, before leaning forward as if about to impart a forbidden secret. Against his better judgement he leaned towards her, his elbows resting on his knees.
"What?" he asked again. Her edginess was beginning to rub off on him.
Ziva tucked her hair behind one ear—damn it, he loved that—and edged forward just a little. "If I asked," she began, her voice just above a whisper, "would you help me…clean up a mess?"
As the possible meaning behind her words sank in, Tony's expression turned serious. He lifted his head to look around the immediate vicinity, checking to make sure no one else was in earshot. "What did you do?" he asked her, his voice matching hers.
"Would you help?" Ziva asked again. "Even if you would get in a lot of trouble if anyone found out?"
Tony's head spun with the possibilities of what the Mossad assassin may have done that had her in this state. "Yes, of course," he said honestly, trying to remain calm. "Tell me what's going on."
Ziva looked back at him, a thoughtful look coming over her face before she shook her head. "Nothing is going on. I am simply curious."
Tony blinked at her, trying to comprehend. "Huh?"
"I was just talking to Abby," Ziva explained. "And she suggested that you would help me move a dead body if I needed you."
He stared at her for a full five seconds. "How exactly did that come up in conversation?"
Ziva shrugged. "I said we were bored."
Tony frowned deeply, trying to follow the train of thought. He couldn't. "Did you have a flagon of whisky at lunch?"
Ziva shook her head. "No. But I had a Caf-Pow."
Tony sat back quickly, as if moving out of the way of an expected avalanche of crazy. "A full cup of Caf-Pow? Like what Abby has?"
"Half of that," Ziva said, shaking her head a dozen times too many. Finally, Tony realised that there was no red alert, no mess to clean up, no trouble to get into. She was just half-cracked out on caffeine. He sighed in relief.
"Get up," he told her.
When Ziva complied, he clamped his hands down on her hips, then moved her in a semi-circle as he spun in his chair. When he faced the open area towards McGee's desk, he shoved her away from him.
"Get out of here," he told her. "You almost gave me a heart attack."
Ziva chuckled as she lost her balance, then caught herself and wandered to her desk. "I just needed to know," she told him. "I am sorry if I alarmed you, but it is useful information to have."
Tony pointed at her accusingly. "You should not have caffeine," he told her sternly. "We've talked about this before, Ziva. We don't mix ninjas with artificial flavours and colourings in this office."
She smiled and sat at her desk, then pulled up her email.
After a moment's silence, he said, "Hey. You'd do the same for me, right?" The expression on his face said he really and truly wanted to know.
She shrugged with the obvious. "Of course, Tony."
He regarded her for a moment, and then nodded once in approval. "Good to know."
I'm going to do something different with publishing this story. I've actually already finished this puppy, which will allow me to be a lot more consistent with posting. Instead of posting three chapters in one hit, then giving you nothing for a week, you'll get a new chapter every two or three days. (Except today. You get this prologue and Chapter 1 today.) I hope this works for people.
On to Chapter 1.