Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS, the characters or their story lines – I just use and abuse them for my own amusement….
A/N: Tags to season 7 so far. Set between Good Cop, Bad Cop and Code of Conduct – simply because I feel that there was something missing here…
Warning: Adult themes... be advised.
She stands at the window of his favored local, watching the lone man with the dejected shoulders, hunch over his beer bottle. She has been here a while, concealed by the shadows. A skill she has mastered: Fading into the background, melting into her surroundings...
It has been a long, hard few days - for all of them. Things better left buried have bubbled to the surface. Damn skeletons, they always find a way to sneak out the closet, don't they?!
Ziva saw the way they looked at her earlier, Ducky and Gibbs. The thinly veiled concern that lurks in their eyes. They are careful, not wanting to push her further than she has already been pushed. But if there is one thing she has learnt, has perfected these past few months, it is the appearance of being unaffected. That and the skill of assessing every situation, quietly, silently.
And so, she knows: They are not fooled. That she hasn't told them the full story, that she is more damaged than she lets on.
And this is partly the reason she is here now...
What she is about to do isn't right, fair. Perhaps she is being selfish. But there is desperation in her that burns... A gaping hole that needs to be healed. Every time she closes her eyes she sees, smells, feels, tastes.... And she wants to silence this scream inside of her. Replace it with a more...pleasing image. She wants, no needs, to do this. She knew he would be here, his hideaway, a mere three blocks away from his apartment.
Slipping quietly inside, she sidles up to the bar. He barely glances in her direction. Twists the warm beer in his hands, peels the label off in tiny strips. She nods to Jerry the barman, points to the beer in Tony's hands, raises two fingers. He acknowledges her request. Lifts the tequila bottle in her direction, shaking it slightly. A glimmer of a smile dances on her lips and she nods again.
Jerry clinks the bottles down, places two glasses and pours generous shots. He sees the dark rings under her eyes – echoed in her partners'. Looking over to her for confirmation, Jerry leaves the bottle behind. She reaches out for her shot, pushing the other closer to Tony. They clink the glasses, eyes catching, holding for a split second, before quickly darting away. Drinks downed, more poured. And still not a word is said.
They sit in an uneasy silence, starring forward, two strangers. Once they would have sat so close, breathing the other's air that it would have been impossible to know where the one began and the other ended, comfortable in each others space and not even be aware they were doing so. Now, they sit - rigid, firm, defiant.
She is painfully aware of what lurks, guarded, in his eyes. The way he doggedly pursued her involvement with Rivkin. The way he wouldn't take no for an answer. How she, who had given up everything, had not expected anything, couldn't believe that the man whom she had pushed so far and so hard was the one who was willing to give his life. How those green eyes lit up for a split second in that dusky cell when he realized that she was alive, tangible, whole…well…almost. As his addled brain took cognizance that his act of vengeance was, in fact, a rescue mission. He had swallowed drily, tried to lick his parched lips as he told her that he was there because he couldn't, wouldn't live without her. He attempted to swallow the words that bubbled up inside him, not wanting to admit to her, to himself even, the depth of his emotions. He warned her, as the truth serum flowed unabated through his veins and the words out of his mouth, that if she didn't want answers, she should rather not ask the questions.
So, she didn't. And he, not wanting to make more of a fool of himself, made sure he kept away from her until he was certain the damn serum was out of his system. And now, sitting next to her, he wonders how much she remembers. How close he came…
Here they are, barely a whisper between them, yet so far apart.
Him, so much in love and her too broken to care.
This is who they have become, forced to become, but, it is not who they are… These polite people who gently tip-toe around the other, apologizing profusely as they test the sardonic behavior that was once as much a part of them as breathing. The last proper conversation – their only true one since her return – was as she snuck up behind him in the Men's room. Leaning against the wall, watching, observing and for a brief moment, a split second, he saw the woman she once was. And it re-enforced just how damaged, how broken they both have become. She spoke quietly, slowly, a slight tremor underlying the depth of emotion she was still holding back. And as she leaned forward, her roughened lips caressing his cheek, he forgot to breath. Her words sunk in and that final cog clicked into place – and slipping into investigator mode, he rushed out. And even now, sitting in this crowded pub, each so distant, he wonders: would it have been different if he had stayed?
He sighs, picks up the near empty spirit bottle and pours them another shot. Ziva downs her drink, gives him a half-smile and slips off the barstool. Once he would have watched her go, as she moved languid and liquid through the throng of people surrounding them. Thursdays were always busy. Now he just sits, slumped at the bar, his thumbnail scratching at the fresh label. He laughs, guttural, humorless. He had read the reports – Gibbs', Vance's, even Ducky's. He had seen the video recordings of her…interviews. And he knows that they have just scratched the surface of what really happened in Somalia. One woman – three months – Salem and his men… Perhaps, perhaps it would have been better for her to die, rather than to have gone through all that. And he knows, although she uses her usual refrain, that she in not fine. She is so far from being fine. Guilt pumps through his veins. Guilt that despite how strong she is…was…is… that despite how much she doesn't, didn't need him to protect her, that he wasn't there to stop the…torture she went through. Guilt that she is still alive, despite all of this, because the alternative wasn't one he could bare to live with. Guilt that as she sits straight-backed at her desk, as she holds herself defiant and aloof, that desire still floods through him. Guilt that he wants back the woman who clawed her way under his skin, who fundamentally challenged his perception of what he needed, who helped make him a better version of himself.
Guilt that she is broken and he is the reason.
stands by the ancient jukebox scrolling through the songs, flinches as a particularly loud, rather obnoxious man presses up against her as he moves past. Without warning, she grabs hold of his wandering fingers and twists viciously. He gasps out loud, sticks his stinging fingers into his drink and glares at her. "Not very ladylike," he mutters. "Who said I was a lady?" she retorts turning back to the jukebox. Her breathing erratic, she closes her eyes, trying to control the panic that bubbles just below. Never let them see the fear, never let them know that they have won. She shakes her head firmly and turns her attention back to the song list. Perfect, she thinks to herself. Places the coin in the slot and pushes her number choice.
Tony hears the song start and looks up briefly, a smile playing on his lips as he remembers better days – karaoke nights out with Abby and McGee. Abby and Ziva, a few drinks under their belt – doing their bit for girl power. Good times. Good times. Picks up his beer and takes a deep slug. Fingers lightly touch his shoulder, a whisper so soft that for a second he wonders if he has imagined it. He looks up; tired sad eyes meet tired sad eyes. "Dance with me?" she asks quietly. He nods slowly, climbs off the chair and follows her to the dance floor.
Once he would have looked her up and down with appraising eyes, made a lewd comment, pinched her butt. Once she would have smirked, returned the look and twisted one of his nipples in retaliation. Once.
Now, they edge around each other, circling, wary, alert.
Once they would have melted into each others arms, him running his hands up and down the sides of her body, lightly caressing her bra strap before she would give him the warning look, smack away his hand. He would have tried again of course, just to gage her reaction, laughing loudly and lightly stepping out of her way as she would stamp the heel of her boot, aiming for the arch of his foot.
But now, he opens his arms and hesitantly waits to see what she will do. Taking a deep breath, blinking once, twice, then three times she steps forward. Hesitates again, before sliding her arms around him. He can feel her heart pounding, the tremor of her body, his own eyes burn red-hot. Slowly, without any sudden movement, he pulls her closer; she tucks her head under the crook of his neck – a shivering baby bird. "I know." He whispers against her hair, voice cracking. He feels her stiffen slightly. "I know." He repeats, quieter, softer, more tender. "And whatever it is you need, whatever will make you feel better. I am here."
She leans back, looks up into his eyes. "Take it away," she pleads. "Every time I close my eyes, it's all I can see. Take it away, give me something else."
And, as his heart shatters, he lifts his hand, cupping her cheek gently. Stares deep into her sad, sad eyes, leans forward and kisses her ever so lightly.
Linking his fingers with her, he leads her from the bar and out into the cool air. They make the short walk in silence. They have never been ones for small talk, never really needed to be.
Once he would have been able to tell what she was thinking, be able to look into her eyes and have a fair inkling as to the secrets hidden in the chocolate brown depths. She was always able to read him, but then, he admits, he was always a lot more shallow than she.
Now, he doesn't like to look too closely – far too afraid what he might find.
He has barely opened his front door when she makes her intentions clear, pressing her anxious body up against his, her lips gently bite and nibble and suck. Despite all his good intentions, despite the loud screaming in his head telling him this is a very, very bad idea, desire overrides thought, and he succumbs.
He is gentle and careful and takes his time with her. He pushes her to the brink and pulls her back again, and when she is ready, he allows her to spiral out of control. There are no false words of love; no whispers of comfort, just mewls and moans and screams and groans.
Sitting cross-legged on the bed, the words, so long bottled, repressed and hidden, come tumbling out. Somalia. Salem. He listens, grits his teeth, clenches his fists, grinding them into the sheet. She shakes her head, wipes the hair off his brow, closes her smaller calloused hand over his larger one. Leans forward, loses herself in him again.
Afterwards she lightly kisses his forehead and whispers thank you. She turns, wraps herself in his body, closes her eyes and sleeps – truly sleeps for the first time in months. She is not aware of the silent tears that slip unbidden down his cheeks as he gently kisses her hair.
She is gone by the time he wakes and he is not surprised. He doesn't expect it to be any other way. He knows that they will never refer to this, that it will never be spoken of, that this will never be idle lunch-time gossip. That nothing will change…
Or will it?
He walks into the bullpen, a slight jaunt in his step, a whistle on his lips. She is there already, as is McGee.
"Late night Tony?" she asks languidly, her eyebrow slightly raised, a genuine smile on her face.
"You could say that." He replies hesitantly, watching her carefully as he flings his rucksack onto the floor and flops into his chair.
He is suspended mid-air for a few short seconds before he joins his collapsed chair on the ground. McGee, his telephone handset already at his ear watches first in amusement and then horror as he realizes he cannot remove his hand or his ear from the phone.
Gibbs strides into the bullpen, Ziva's throaty laughter bounces off the walls. Opening his desk drawer, Gibbs throws a screwdriver to Tony, who is still glaring at Ziva over the top of his desk. "DiNozzo get off the floor, and McGee…" he walks over, places a bottle of clear liquid in front of him… "When will you learn? This is what? The third time this year you have been super-glued?"
He adds gruffly: "And as for you David…" she stops laughing abruptly, looks sheepish then affronted as Gibbs swipes the back of her head, Tony and McGee grin widely: "…Glad to see you are back."
The healing has begun.