This installment is a bit of a departure from previous chapters, yet still in the vein of Tony's perpetually bad luck that I've been exploring. It just wanted to be written this way. Please enjoy and drop me a line if this does/doesn't work for you.

For Brightblue, JAGNikjen, , ME and Leah. Your continued and kind patronage has not been overlooked.


Marathon 4

Fourth course

Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

Shakespeare's Sonnet 66



The Oscar is heavier than it looks.

Bestowed on those whose acting prowess is deserving of a shiny statuette that doubles for a blunt implement, the award would be less coveted if anyone understood the price of earning one. The screen makes the transition look seamless; fall into character for the sake of art and slip back into reality in time for dinner. The viewer doesn't see the painful morphing, like a werewolf shredding through its own humanity to release the beast from the prison of man. But the tattered clothes, when shrugged back on, can't cover the aftermath.

There's little glamour for a government actor.

Tony dusts off the metaphoric emblem on his internal mantle because he's received the summons to appear onstage, Vance serving as The Academy that DiNozzo is supposed to thank for the honor. Instead, he's shaking with the effort to keeping newly formed fists from cracking the man's skull. Pummeling the director would only wrinkle Tony's expensive suit.

The armor of Ermenegildo Zegn was selected this morning after he'd woken in breathless panic. Too vague to explain to the questioning woman in his arms, tiny shards of the dream's alleged warning carried him through a cold pizza breakfast and three hours of closed case paperwork. Paper cuts included. It's tedium that is interrupted by the order to change his skin.

This calls for a raise.

Because he's going to need more designer shielding, partially due to the role they've assigned him and mostly to protect his more tender aspects from Ziva. Her aim is legendary and her mercy is non-existent. Fear for the safety of his reproductive organs clashes with the stare-down from Gibbs. He notices that the brass never asks if he wants to be swallowed by the personas in his head, rather they stand with hands clasped behind their backs expecting him to wordlessly agree.

To be their whore.

And it infuriates him, this presumption that his body and time are theirs for the directing. And God knows there's usually a film crew documenting every humiliating moment for use later in a court of law. Stand here, say this, move that and despite the vinegar coating his tongue, Tony nods consent for the simple fact that he has no perceivable choice. No matter how deep he buries the skill, his superiors always manage to dig it up and parade it out at their leisure. It's why he's relocated so many times and wisdom tells him to line up another moving company.

He'll have to lie to her.

It should be harder, Tony thinks, to unfurl the long black cloth of an untruth. As he tries to hide behind the clutter of his desk, aimlessly poking around the internet, he decides that there should be at least some kind of flapping sound. Like the menacing jolly roger in Errol Flynn's Captain Blood. McGee is banging away at his keyboard in such an excited rush that Ziva accuses him of plotting a character death for his next book. Tony is expected, if her raised eyebrow is any indication, to back up her threat of disembowelment or at least offer up a relevant movie reference. 'Misery' comes to mind but he can't seem to push his voice through his clenched teeth.

It's been twenty years since his last confession.

And there will be none today because those little booths feel like coffins and why rush that sensation. Ziva would be the sort of priest who slaps the repentant soul, though normally he'd enjoy that. Unfortunately she's made a church out of a room marked for the opposite sex which is where, in the traditional of the village idiot, Tony goes to get away from her. Driven from the bullpen in a fit of conscience, he intends to drown himself in the cleanest toilet he can find.

Reincarnation is a vindictive bitch.

The notion that he'll be returned to this world as an overworked plunger keeps his head, literally, above water. Gripping the sink, the heaving starts as he fights to trap the partially digested pizza in its cell. The bile and nerves are shoved into a compartment labeled 'problematic fuel for later' and he begins the task of washing his hands. For twenty minutes. The mission hasn't even started and already he's desperate to scrub off the taint.

The miracle is delivered in the continued privacy DiNozzo is granted, as though the general populace has forgone peeing for the benefit of a man who needs a quiet moment to yank out the appropriate character for the return to work. He'll need another one in a few scant hours and the breathing exercises, though initially leading to hyperventilation, soon sort out the jumble in his brain until he can choose the right face for the coming evening.

Oh, he's been that guy before.

Ziva's invitation is only slightly covert. The team gathers around the conference table and beneath the polished surface her fingers trace gliding patterns on his thigh. Hebrew symbols. She'd made a repetitive engraving on Tony's shoulder last night as his head rested contently on her taut stomach. When pressed, she'd drawn it again on his palm as she explained its significance. Fidelity.

Then told him not to panic.

A pair of daunting men had insisted on a different sign of loyalty this morning which will craft a new false relationship as he simultaneously lies about another one. The wood grain on the file-strewn table is weaving before his eyes and he might be sweating a bit despite the cold chill racing through him. Gibbs notices and wraps the meeting. Tony is released from further duty in order to prepare for his scene while the team is informed that the senior agent is under the weather. What he's actually under is commonly known as deep shit.

Of course, Ziva doesn't buy it since she knows firsthand just how fit he'd been earlier in the day. Passing a mirror, he's aware that he looks the part and when she calls, he begins the program by blaming the rushed breakfast. A mental spreadsheet records lies number one through eight in the span of the conversation. The drive to Delaware includes a gasoline purchase on a virgin federal card, settling onto a barstool and waiting for a woman he'll recognize from a dossier. He chomps on peanuts to stifle the temptation to drink himself stupid. No need.

He's already there.

…………

The redhead is beautiful and easy, a favorite combination for a man who prefers not to work for it. He's definitely been that guy before. When Tara suggests they continue their ten minute acquaintance, consisting of an offhanded nod and subsequent kissing, in her suite, DiNozzo realizes that he misses the chase. But a wealthy architect doesn't need to run after this sort of woman, though he considers running from her when she offers to chain him. Her body is limber and he mourns the acquisition of this knowledge. The shovel is out and he's digging himself a hole as her nails dig into his shoulder.

The same one Ziva marked Fidelity.

His traitorous equipment betrays his mind and he hates every nerve ending currently boasting that this is so damned good. He's triple wrapped to ward off the curse of defective condoms and he just barely manages to stop Ziva's name from escaping his filthy lips.

There's not enough soap in the universe.

What should have taken days to establish has been accomplished in a few sweaty hours. The brass is notified that the long-hunted data has been secured by way of a James Bond-ish camera pen. At four am a repulsed body leaves its heart at the door and falls into an empty bed.

He hates his character a little less than himself.

…………

Two weeks and two hundred scalding showers later, Agent DiNozzo is trapped in a halted elevator with the sense that an interrogation will be the least of her goals. Ziva's jaw is set beneath a ponytail so tight, it qualifies as self-inflicted torture. Standing close enough for him to examine her pores, Ziva slides a hand into strategic position where only a eunuch wouldn't notice and then furrows pretty brows when he flinches. It's a test and whatever confirmation she sought is found. She removes her cupped hand and assigns it a different purpose altogether.

The sting on his cheek lasts hours.

In all the years he's been doing undercover work, Tony has always struggled to keep his alter ego from infringing on real life. Instead of leaving the skins on the playing field, the numerous versions of himself are taken home, given a beer and brought to bed. A bit like sewer stench that no amount of disinfectant can eradicate, much to the detriment of whomever is sharing the air with him. No one else sees it, however, which should earn him an Emmy, Golden Globe and governor's pardon.

Tony can't touch her. Not since the first time he used those fingers to induce a screaming fit from a woman who calls him Tomas and though Ziva has surely noticed, he can offer no explanation for why the Israeli's touch condemns him, why her gaze pins him to the spiked wall of guilt. And tucked into the envelope of lies is the knowledge that he's already lost her because no sane woman would forgive nineteen individual indiscretions within twelve days. His internal tally keeps tabs in order to provide sufficient self-flagellation weapons.

He breaks like dropped china.

Rather than angry words or accusations, Ziva whips out a surprising tool against him. When she loses her grip on the tears, he loses control of his tongue and spills every facet of the mission in a torrent that would make Father McGinney forsake his calling. But not a single detail of his affair. He doesn't have to. She's furious at the men who put him in this position and at Tony for accepting it.

This is the last time, Ziva tells him as she strips him down and reclaims all that is hers with the gentleness of a drunken mosh pit. Not in forgiveness, specifically, but as an informational session that includes a pamphlet on how Lorena Bobbit borrowed the technique from the woman presently holding his manhood in a fierce clench. He's so very tired of lying and when he adds the final insult, a confession of love, she neither reciprocates nor believes.

And then the condom rips.