Takes place down the road with 'Cloak' in mind. A straightforward gift for Mia and Bluey...

Add Retraction and Divide by Two

"You did not mean the war game."

That she mentions it three minutes after midnight and three years after the fact hardly obscures the reference. It freezes the pen in her partner's hand in the middle of the word 'perpetrator' and she now fits the description. Agent David hunches over her report like she's considering giving the breath of life to paper, an innocent lift of a shapely brow evidence that the comment is not a slip.

He knows provocation when it head slaps him.

It's only the banal existence of one Timothy McOblivious that saves her from an onslaught of verbal perversions. While Tony's interest in the present contents of her head is proportionate to his cinema addiction, he's already scouted ahead and learned that particular road makes a steep decline at the first turn. Most of their off-ramps are fatal.

"We've got to stop talking in elevators," Tony mumbles as the pen begins its trek in triplicate anew.

He wants her to know that he knows while simultaneously shutting her up so no one else knows. He gets as far as 'incarcerated' when she tosses out the next pitch.

"You'll recall that I agreed." Damn, she'd strapped on her balls today.

Tony forces a dramatic sigh. "To not talk in elevators?"

"To your statement." Ziva's smile is the expressional equivalent of checkmate. "Which in no way referred to the war game."

McGee, with their alter egos dancing a naked rumba in his head, wisely opts to melt into his chair and, quite possibly, take notes. But his eyes are a vortex wide enough to suck in the office furniture.

Against Ziva's smirk there is little defense and Tony settles for outright visual avoidance. "Can we stop talking altogether?"

Reports don't write themselves, after all. The pen is tapped against a folder, one he's prepared to stuff into that taunting mouth. They can't have this conversation in public. Or ever. But the word of a senior agent is no longer fearsome and his hint is dismissed like the eleventh commandment.

"Only if you are retracting the comment."

His pen is slammed down, scarring the carbon copy form for life. "The one that didn't mean what I meant because you decided it didn't?"

An affront to the relative quiet of the bullpen, Tony's voice has grown harsh, a symptom of rising blood pressure squeezing his vocal cords. The woman is testing boundaries and because he's tired, he concludes she's a bit like Joan of Arc. And if she keeps this up, he'll look for a stake on which to toast her.

"It did not mean what you're pretending it did."

And there it is, the word that has created a backlog of nightmares with its monstrous implications. The ability to control his mouth is a tool genetics failed to correctly install, anger a dripping liquid that shorts the faulty wiring. Turning to an unlikely savior, Tony puts his hopes for a castration-free day on the probie.

"Are you the least bit interested in this wasteland of a conversation?" Pause. "And the correct answer is no."

"It's good book fodder," McGee confesses. "Though the back story needs clarifying." His hands are clasped in such as way as to suggest a recording device hides between his folded fingers.

"And those books are good fireplace fodder." Tony snips, wondering how one might go about renting a black hole.

Ziva stands, stretching paperwork-engineered kinks in her neck. A glance is bestowed to both men and she takes three purposed steps toward the elevator, waiting for someone to join her. Should McGee get there first, Tony reasons, she might provide the requested clarification. Should Tony enter the newly hated mode of transport, she might…

Despite possessing no satisfactory ending to that sentence, he commands a numbed body to an upright position, then shifts into a reluctant forward march. The doors slide shut and she's all over him.

Which is not a good thing.

"Retract it or fuss up," she demands, finger darting to random points on his chest.

"It's fess up and I'll do neither."

Pacing isn't an option in the tiny box but stopping is, which she accomplishes with a sound slap of a frequently mistreated button. Joan of Arc and her slashing sword approaches and Tony's brain cannot operate under the pressure her glare is exerting.

"If I have misunderstood the spirit behind the proclamation that you are tired of pretending, make it known."

Remaining at a safe distance, likely to avoid homicide on federal property, Ziva takes the sort of breaths that he's finding terribly distracting. Blinking past the urge to reach for the heaving masses, Tony puts his head back into the game. The underused one balanced on his shoulders.

"After you tell me what you were agreeing with," he enters her narrowing space, "when you said 'so am I.'"

Does she have to lick her lips? "I asked you first." It's childish, it's coy and it's a challenge.

"I seem to recall you stumbling over an admission." The temperature rises in the confinement as Tony grasps for the elusive upper hand. "You started to say that you only acted when you saw me go down. What do you think that means?"

"That you are too easily disabled."

And she's too easily baited. "No, Zee-va. Means you should retract or fess up."

"I'm tired of pretending," she tells him, the ardor of it matching his own three years and eight thousands arguments ago.

It's hard to remember why they battle as Ziva's checkmate expression bleeds seamlessly into the ultimate endgame scenario. And suddenly it's up to Tony and his lifelong aversion to transparency to give their own private war game a decisive conclusion.

"So am I."

She swallows and he'd never label it a product of emotion except her voice slides into molasses. "I thought you no longer wished to speak in elevators."

God bless a petulant woman delivering a blatant invitation. And, mere mortal that he is, Tony takes it.