Summary: Post Judgement Day. T/Z. Suddenly, he is standing in the middle of her living room, and she has a shot trained between his eyes. " You didn't say goodbye."
Disclaimer: Not mine.
A/N: Exists in the same universe as "The Last Unspoken Summer", but fits canonically other than that. You should probably read TLUS first, as it will make this piece make slightly more sense, but it isn't 100 necessary.
Thank you, as always, to G for her willingness to read things in the middle of the night, and humouring me with my very special preoccupations.
A/N 2: As with the prequel to this fic, "The Last Unspoken Summer", this story has moved to a new home here on my own profile, where previously it had simply been squatting on a friend's. I do apologise to those who have read this and reviewed it before. To those who have not seen this story before, please enjoy, and comments are always welcomed and appreciated.
The Short Walk to the Long Goodbye
The last time there had been a split in the team, she had felt it like a sharp blow to the chest. She had salved that wound with sweat-soaked kisses, murmured touches and midnight-dark assurances that everything would be alright. But last time, Gibbs had chosen to leave, and the rest of them had remained, together. Last time, she hadn't seen Jenny's blood-soaked, broken body every time she closed her eyes.
This time, the separation didn't feel like a blow. If the pain had mirrored a bruise or a break or injury, she would have known what to do, how to make it feel better. But it didn't, and she couldn't, and instead it was more like a black hole, threatening to pull her very existence out into the unknown. It was a fear she hadn't been trained against: panicky and feverish and thick with despair. It lay heavy on her shoulders like a stifling cloak under a desert sun.
She had never expected her 'termination' to end with an order. With a stack of neatly folded sweaters, phone calls with shipping companies and a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv. She had always envisaged crimson blood and wooden box, and her father's lilting bass reciting Kaddish. That, she was prepared for.
She wasn't prepared for this.
Her suitcase lies, its mouth a waiting, gaping chasm, threatening to swallow her whole. She stands as far across the room from it as she can, the length of her back pressed against the flat, cold wall, her body draped in shadow. She still wears her black dress from the funeral and the material swishes around her knees. How can she be leaving now? When she has just found a bakery that makes challah that tastes like her grandmother's? When she has finally routed a new run that she likes? When she has adjusted to the biting North American cold? She has clothes at the dry cleaners, a new lamp arriving on Thursday to replace the one she broke two years ago. There's food in her fridge that will spoil.
Once upon a time she would have turned and dropped these things like hot coals in her wake. A spy and a killer, attachment to material goods made her weak. Attachment to anything made her weak. To places, to things, to people…
She won't think about the people. She won't. She won't hear Abby's soft hiccups, stifled with every ounce of strength she had left, or feel her final desperate hug. The sweet, fake-fruit smell of her Caf-Pows, the metallic tang of gunpowder – simply Abby.
She won't see McGee as he shuffled in front of his desk, her name on his lips, won't feel herself cup his cheek and promise to look out for his newest book as soon as it translates into Hebrew. Won't hear the gentle pat of her palm against his soft, guilt-filled cheek. In her mind, she blocked out the lingering scent of antiseptic and Earl Grey that would forever be Ducky's gracious farewell.
She wouldn't let her mind register the way her thumb still tingled from Gibbs' strong grip (he hadn't touched her like that since that night in his basement, her brother's body spread before them, and when he does it again part of her can almost smell the heady copper. She wonders if he remembers). She won't let herself replay the words still ringing in her ears.
" I will fix this," Gibbs promised, not only to her.
But she definitely wasn't going to let herself think of him.
She tries to convince herself that she is going home. Home. But the word doesn't seem to want to fit, like pieces of a puzzle out of line. She can barely remember her apartment in Tel Aviv, though she vaguely recalls leaving a man asleep in her bed before she slipped out the door. Had she been heading to Washington then? Or Egypt, or Gaza or Paris? Had that barely-recalled man cared when he had woken up to find her gone?
Contact with her father had been awkward at best and taciturn at worst.
" They are sending you back?" he had asked in Hebrew, and in her distraction it took her a moment to make sense of his words.
" Yes," she answered simply. " I am no longer needed here." The words had rolled around her mouth like broken glass, and when she spat them out she almost expected to see blood. " I arrive in Tel Aviv tomorrow night."
" You will fly back" – her father was not naïve enough to use the word 'home' – "via Kabul. I have some work for you to do there before your return."
He didn't bother saying that this was her chance to prove that she could still do her job, that she hadn't been softened beyond reclamation. In return, she didn't bother to argue.
" Yes Aba," she replied, before being met with a click, and the sound of a dial tone.
Stepping from the shadows, she pulls a long black burqa from the depths of her wardrobe. It has been years since she wore it – wisps of memory of a touch-and-go mission to Ramallah float through her mind – but she holds it up to her body. It will still fit. Normally, she hates to see the world through the small lattice screen, but she knows that for whatever her father has planned her greatest asset will be her anonymity. Her ability to disappear.
She briefly considers just that – turning tail with whatever she can carry, falling off the radar until Gibbs straightens this whole mess out. She knows she can, she's done it before. But part of her just can't bring herself to do it: it seems selfish. From Israel, she can call, she can email. She can let them know she is alive. Running, she can do none of this, and she knows they don't deserve to lose anyone else right now. Gibbs, Ducky, Abby, McGee – she knows they'll bide their time and find a way to make it right. A phrase tickles the inside of her mind – 'getting the band back together'. In her memory, it is not her voice that says it.
She will not think of him.
Leaving the bedroom, she stands in her living room, watching as the starlight filters through the curtains she has not concerned herself to close. Streaks of silver catch on the wooden floorboards, and her eyes are drawn to the patch of discolouration in the hallway. As she stares, she, for some reason, is overwhelmed by a memory: laughing at juggling perfume bottles, turning her head for a moment and hearing an 'oops' followed by a crash. She knows, if she lies down on the floor, she can still breathe the scent of jasmine, lingering in the boards.
She is just wondering why he keeps breaking into her mind when she hears the familiar scratching sound of someone breaking into her apartment. Pulling her weapon from the small of her back (she'll have to collect up all the weapons she scattered around her house - can't leave them for the movers to find), she points it at the door. Her hand is steady, sure. The door opens a crack.
Suddenly, he is standing in the middle of her living room, and she has a shot trained between his eyes.
" Not exactly the kind of goodbye I was hoping for."
He has not stepped inside her apartment for over a year. He has not been inside ("we have been compromised, we must end this – they had pictures, Tony!"), but now his presence seems all too familiar. His body pressed against her on the couch, wrapped around her in the bed, sprawled with her on the kitchen floor, surrounded in a sea of scattered magnets. Two years ago, she had known his touch, and two weeks ago it had seemed as though they were heading back towards some kind of normalcy ("I was just gonna tousle your hair. Sometimes that makes you smile"). Now, in two days, everything has fallen down around their ankles, and she can't help but feel like she's wasted so much time ("Jenny's dead").
" What are you doing here Tony?"
It's a stupid question, because she knows the answer. It's the same reason she had been attempting to force him out of her mind since she left the Navy Yard: because otherwise, something was going to overtake her, and she wouldn't be able to stop herself jumping in her car and not stopping until she found herself face-to-face with him. It seems as though he has caved in first.
When he shrugs, it says nothing and everything, and for a moment she wonders when it became hard to read his expression. " Can I have a beer?" he asks, and at her confused nod, he goes to the fridge and removes one, twisting the top so it falls from his hand, and clatters across the bare kitchen floor. He doesn't move to pick it up. " You didn't say goodbye."
She had hugged Abby, touched McGee, made promises with Gibbs. Tony, she had barely managed to look at, before the pain-not-pain feeling threatened to overwhelm her. When he had left the squad room, she had left the building.
" What did you want me to say?" Because how was she supposed to put three years into a simple salutation? How could she really explain all they had been through and all that they were in words – even with all the languages she spoke?
At her question he laughs, and the sound seems strangely whole in the vacuum of the room. Laced with knowing and regret and genuine amusement, it seems almost too many things for her to comprehend.
" I don't know," he finally admits. Tipping his head up, he looks her in the eye, and only then does she realise she still has her weapon trained on him. It doesn't seem to faze him. " Did you speak to your father?"
" I am to attend to some business in Afghanistan before returning to Israel," she admits, finally lowering her weapon. She sets it on the coffee table, before dropping onto the sofa, her body weary.
" Another mission he doesn't expect you to come home from?"
The words are bitter, and she doesn't understand why he sounds so angry. " It is possible. I do not have the details yet."
There is a sudden crash, and she flinches before she realises it is simply the sound of his beer bottle hitting against the far wall. Green glass and sudsy foam drip down the neutral paint, and it's all she can do to stare.
" How can you be calm about this?!" he is yelling now, kicking at her coffee table with the ferocity of a caged animal, sending the spindly wood skittering across the room, and if she did not know that she could quite easily subdue him, she might almost be frightened.
Standing from her seat, she places her hands on her hips. The skirt of her dress is soft and smooth to the touch, and she's amazed for a moment that a dress for such purpose should be made with such delicacy. " What would you like me to do Tony? Tell him no?"
" I'd like you to try!" He throws his hands up in emphasis, knocking into the lampshade, making the light swing across the room in a broad, bending arch.
Taking a breath, she pauses, and when she speaks her words are softer. " Either I am in Afghanistan, or I am in Israel. Either way, I am not remaining here. Director Vance has made it clear that I no longer have a position with NCIS." Repeating the statement makes her jaw ache, as if protesting against forming the sounds.
At her words, his face falls, and when he speaks, it is aghast. " And you're okay with that?"
" Of course I'm not! You think I want to be sent away?" Her voice is plaintive and she steps towards him just slightly. She is glad when he doesn't back away. Looking into his face, into his eyes, she is overwhelmed by desperate curiosity. " Why are you mad at me?"
" I'm mad at everyone!" he admits, and she knows that if he had had another bottle in his hand, that one too would have gone flying across the room. His voice is loud but brittle, and she wonders how long he will have to carry on shouting for the neighbours to complain. " I'm mad at you for sounding like you don't care, I'm mad at your father for sending you off to God-knows-where again, I'm mad at Vance for making you go!"
She does not realise how close he has stepped up to her until he is a scant foot away, and she can practically feel the energy radiating off of him. " I'm mad at Gibbs. Hell, I'm even mad at Jenny, and what kind of person does that make me?"
Her voice is barely a whisper when she finally makes a sound, and though she wants to reach out and touch him – because she recognises that desperate, broken quality in him – she fights to keep her hands down by her sides. At his words, visions of blood pooling in the desert heat come unbidden to her mind, and she can't quite quell the shudder. " Why are you mad at Jenny?"
" For Le Grenouille!" he shouts, and at once she understands. Understands his anger, understands his words, understands what he is doing here. " I'm mad at her for making me waste so much time. For making me keep secrets. For making you hate me. I'm mad at Gibbs for Rule 12. I'm mad at both of them for not making whatever they had in Paris work out!"
Finally, it is as though he has run out of anger, and he seems to deflate right in front of her. " And she's dead, and I hate her for dying." She knows they both feel guilt and shame over what happened, and combined with grief it makes for a sickly pallet. " And I'm mad 'cause she's gone, and I couldn't save her. And I have to leave. And you're being sent away. And I might never see you again."
His hand is cupping her cheek, and threading through her hair, and the touch is so familiar that she can't pull away. She marvels for a moment that he still smells the same. " Tony - " She doesn't know whether she wants him to stop, or hold her closer, but at the sound of his name, he stares her square in the eye.
" We were happy, that summer, weren't we?"
Exhaling, she knows she cannot lie. " We were. But Tony - "
" Don't," he murmurs, and she can hear the pleading in his tone - just let him have this. In acquiescence, she says nothing, leaning into his touch and sighing deeply when his lips inevitably brush against her own ("nothing is inevitable").
There is nothing as clichéd as music or fireworks; there is simply the two of them, blighted by fear and grief and a longing to not make the same mistakes as the people who came before them. Even knowing it may be just for one night ("but Gibbs promised to make it right and he doesn't back out on a promise") they relish the touch and taste of one another, and let their bodies speak words of apology and reconciliation that somehow, in the last year, their mouths have not been able to.
They make a hundred years exist in one night, a hundred pasts and a hundred futures, and countless presents live between the mussed cool-cotton sheets. Every touch committed to memory, every eyelash and freckle counted. Every word in every language spoken, so they can avoid the regret of not knowing.
In tonight is everything. In tomorrow, they begin the short walk to the long goodbye.