Title: Child of Fire
Spoilers: Twilight, Kill Ari
Summary: Flame calls to flame, and it can hide in unexpected places…
Author's Note: For Sherry, who loves McGiva. :) I don't ship them personally, but I've been meaning to see if I can write the pairing for a while. I'm not sure how I've done yet. XD
At this time of year, I do not feel comfortable being around the Navy Yard. Special Agent Caitlin Todd's presence in the squad room is almost palpable; a silent ghost, she stands behind the desk that used to belong to her, gazing over my shoulder at whatever I am working on.
It is nonsense, of course. The reason for my unease is actually the atmosphere in the squad room: Gibbs becomes more irritable and unreasonable than usual, and it does not take Tony and McGee long to connect his mood to the current date. Once they do, Tony begins to throw around cutting comments, mainly aimed at Tim, who deals with the situation by becoming more subdued than usual.
Their dance is well-choreographed, and I do not have a part in it. So a couple of days before the anniversary of Kate Todd's death, I casually enquire if I might take the day in question off. The first year, Gibbs levelled an analytical gaze at me, confirming his suspicions as to the reason for the request, before agreeing. The next year, he merely nodded without even glancing up from his paperwork.
Tomorrow will mark the third anniversary of the day a bullet bored its way through Kate's skull, and I have made arrangements to be elsewhere. It seems fitting, since my half-brother was to blame.
I look up to find McGee watching me expectantly, and I realise that Gibbs has dismissed us while I was lost in thought. Summoning a smile, I nod and begin to gather my belongings, but across from me, DiNozzo remains at his desk. "Aren't you coming, Tony?"
"Gibbs won't let me leave until I've finished this report," he grumbles. "How come you guys never have to do the pain-in-the-ass paperwork?"
"Because you're the senior field agent?" McGee points out.
"And you delight in reminding us of this at least once a week?" I chime in, amused by the disgruntled way he waves a hand at us.
"Go on, get outta here. I'll see you in the morning."
"Friday. I am taking a day's leave tomorrow."
Tony's gaze sharpens slightly, but he chooses not to broach the subject we are all avoiding. "Friday, then. Go on, take McGeek out of here so I can concentrate."
Shaking his head, McGee begins to walk toward the elevator, and I catch up to him with a final nod at Tony. We remain silent on the way to the parking lot, although McGee sneaks the occasional thoughtful glance at me. I am not sure what to say, and I do not feel like idle chatter tonight.
We reach my car – his is parked a couple of rows away – and I lay a hand on the driver's door handle, looking across at him. "Goodnight, McGee."
He hesitates, but not for long. "We don't blame you, you know."
Part of me wants to assert that I do not know what he is talking about, but there is too much running through my mind for that. "Even so, it does not seem right for me to be there tomorrow. Considering the circumstances."
A brief flash of surprise crosses his features; he had expected me to sidestep the issue. Then he sighs, reaching out to touch my arm briefly. "You wanna go get a drink? Talk about it a little – or not?"
Touched by his concern, I nod slowly. "Alright."
We get into our separate vehicles and drive downtown, seeking out parking spaces near Sherry's Bar. It is only a small establishment, but the mojitos are not at all bad.
When we are seated in a corner booth, a few tables away from any other patron, McGee clears his throat, clearly unsure what to say. I take pity on him. "Tell me about Kate."
It is something I have never asked before. When I first arrived at the Navy Yard, her death was too recent, the wounds of her loss raw and bleeding. As time has gone on, those wounds have healed, but because of my relationship to Ari, I have never wanted to risk reopening them.
McGee does not seem perturbed; a small, sad smile touches his lips. "Kate… was a good person. I don't mean that in the way that everyone suddenly becomes a saint by reputation after they die – she really was one of the good guys."
I nod. "I read her file before Mossad dispatched me to…" I leave the rest unsaid, taking a sip of my mojito. "She was highly commended. Were you close?"
"In some ways. She was kind of a big sister to me – there when I needed her, joining in with Tony to make me jump through hoops when I didn't. They used to fight worse than you guys do. He was always nosing through her stuff, and she used to give him a hard time about his attitude towards women. But Tony was closer than I was to her. And Abby knew her better than anyone, I think."
Remembering how Abby treated me back when we first met, I sigh. "I am sorry he took her from you."
McGee shakes his head. "I meant what I said, Ziva. You shouldn't feel responsible for what Ari did – he had this obsession with Kate, somehow. Even if you'd been there to try and talk him out of it, he wouldn't have listened."
Hearing him speak Ari's name lets a flood of memories loose within my mind. His smile, so carefree as he swept a giggling Tali up off the ground and over his shoulder. His eyes like fire as he stormed out of our father's office and past me, cursing under his breath. The way he let me cling to him when he told me of Tali's death; the comforting big brother.
Ari could be so complicated.
"I know I am not to blame, but having me there tomorrow would be a reminder you do not need." I take a breath, my eyes on the glass in front of me.
McGee takes a sip of beer before answering. "It must be tough on you too, though. We lost a friend, but you lost a brother."
"Half-brother," I correct automatically. "I think I lost him years before. When I spoke to him last, I hardly recognised him."
More minty liquid burns down my throat, and I catch the bartender's eye, signalling for another drink. McGee is still nursing his first, and it is half-full. Somehow, he seems to know that I cannot venture down this road without alcohol to comfort me, and he plans to remain sober enough to guide me.
Responsible, dependable Timothy McGee. I am strangely thankful of his presence tonight.
My drink arrives, and while I swallow down the first mouthful, McGee says, "I'm kinda surprised you wanted to work with Gibbs after what happened."
It takes me a moment to remember that in the official story, Gibbs shot Ari in self-defence. I wipe the confusion from my face as swiftly as I am able. "I do not blame Gibbs for Ari's death."
How could I, when I was the one who pulled the trigger?
I keep the words locked away, but not securely enough. McGee's eyes widen, and then his face falls into an expression of sympathetic revelation. "Ziva, you…?"
He falters, searching for the right words, and I rescue him from the awkward moment. "Yes."
McGee runs a hand through his hair, seeming stricken. "Oh, man…"
I give him a humourless smile. "Do you think me a monster, McGee?"
Immediately, he shakes his head. "No, because I know you're not."
Oh. The simplicity of his reply, his unquestioning faith in me, brings an unexpected lump to my throat, and I attempt to wash it away with another sip of mojito. "How can you be so sure?"
He shrugs as if it's obvious, leaning back in his seat. "Monsters don't blame themselves."
I remember Ari's words to Gibbs, before I pulled the trigger. He blamed our father for what he had become, as if every hardship he had endured as a child had culminated in this inevitable result.
If that was true, that would leave me like him – full of hate and bitterness, hoping to bring as much shame upon our father as possible. Part of me believes that it is true. Being summoned to Director David's office is something that unsettles me even now, as an adult. When we were children, that fear was a thousand times more intense. He is a harsh man, and Ari, as the eldest child and the only male, bore most of his expectations; even more so after Tali's death.
Now only I remain, and with no siblings to share the weight of his ambitions for me, I fear becoming as twisted as Ari. Am I a monster? Not yet. Perhaps I never will be.
But the thought is there, and so I cannot help but feel this irrational guilt.
"I would appreciate it if you did not tell anyone about this," I say, keeping my voice as even as I can make it. "Until now, only Gibbs knew the truth."
"You can trust me," McGee promises.
Maybe it is the alcohol, but I feel the need to speak honestly. "I do, McGee. And I thank you for that."
He blushes slightly, and I cannot help but smile. It does not take much to throw him off balance. "I… uh… You're welcome."
We change the subject, focusing on lighter things, although I know that tonight I will dream of my family. Until then, I let McGee distract me with tales of Tony's exploits before I joined the team, genuinely amused by the way he describes the events. A part of me begins to relax, at least temporarily, and I am content to enjoy the respite from the sense that Kate is watching me.
A while later, I drain my glass of a third mojito and stand up, offering him my hand. "I think I may have had too much alcohol to drive. Would you mind taking me home, McGee?"
He abandons what remains of his beer with a smile that's almost shy, taking my hand as if he actually needs my help to rise to his feet. "Sure."
Leaving my Mini parked forlornly by the curb, we get into his car and begin the journey across town. When he starts the engine, some sort of folk music resumes playing on his stereo, and he turns down the volume with a slightly sheepish chuckle.
I have talked quite enough for one night, so I choose to watch the familiar scenery pass by without interrupting the odd soundtrack. When we pull up outside my apartment building, I lean over and kiss McGee lightly on the cheek. "Thank you, Tim."
As I begin to draw back, I catch sight of a sudden flare of emotion in his eyes; something I had never expected to see. Feeling a little off balance, I study his face, wondering if I am mistaken.
My Aunt Nettie once told me that I am a 'child of fire', and that flame calls to flame. According to her, my partners will always have fire in them, and I took that to mean that they would be as impulsive and quick-tempered as I am.
Now, looking at McGee, I see a different kind of fire, quickly concealed: a glowing ember smouldering unobtrusively below the surface. It is steady, constant, yet I have never glimpsed it before. How long has he hidden this from me? And why do I feel this impulse to feed the spark, to give it oxygen and fuel and see how bright a flame I can produce?
McGee is frowning at me, flustered. "Ziva, why are you looking at me like that?"
Without wasting a word, I press my lips to his; his breath catches, his eyes widening in surprise and then falling closed. One hand slips to the nape of my neck, and he leans into me, tentatively at first. Then the spark ignites and he pulls me close, transferring slow-burning heat from his body to mine.
I had not realised how cold I was until this moment.