A/N: Sorry for the uber-short update, but my muse is running in all kinds of wacky directions, including (but not limited to) a Ducky/Ziva friendship epic, a story exclusively from Palmer's POV (because I miss him, dammit!) and other things both NCIS-related and not. Plus, I just came back from exhausting-but-fun two weeks teaching English/volunteering in Vietnam/Cambodia, and now have to readjust to not eating rice and not having to get up at the butt-crack of dawn. There hasn't been as much time for writing as I'd like. Good times, despite how it might sound. ;)

Hope you enjoy.


They play their roles like actors in a sitcom well past its prime, wooden-faced and too practiced in their lines for them to have any real meaning. Dodging once-friendly fire and waiting for the final straw that sends the ratings diving and sees the cast split for good.

Some moments are glorious and golden, just like they used to be, but the ghosts lurk in the wings and shadow their eyes. She jumps at his touch and so he does not touch her. He lingers on the pointed edge of a remark for just a shade too long – until it sinks into fragile flesh, aimed to wound despite himself – so she does not engage.

And through it all the clock ticks the days away; one step forward, two steps back.


Thursday

They're no closer to solving the case, and the passing of another day has set Gibbs on edge, his annoyance filtering down through the chain of command until they are all restless and impatient. Tony's spent most of the day chasing leads that go nowhere, like a weary old coon dog chasing its tail before looking up to see that it's worked its way down the rabbit hole and can't remember which way is up.

Maybe it's getting past time to move on. Almost ten years now, and the sense of treading water in place sometimes makes him scrabble for his footing on the ocean floor.

He wonders if the water is warmer in Rota.

"Uh, Tony?" McGee says hesitantly, his eyes flicking from his computer screen to the flash of green hanging from the top drawer of Tony's desk and back again. "I was just wondering why – well, how – no, what – "

"Spit it out, McStutter," Tony replies impatiently, leaning back in the chair and crossing his arms behind his head. "Got a report to write, and you know how Principal Gibbs gets when your homework's late." He considers this for a minute. "Actually, you probably don't."

"Tights!" McGee blurts a little too loudly, and heads pop up from the other side of the divider, prompting an amused snort from Tony at the faint pink flush that spreads from the tips of the junior agent's ears. He tries again in a much lower voice. "You have tights in your desk drawer."

"Damn, did Cynthia leave her hose behind again?" Tony mugs, rather enjoying the relapse into the old game of 'tease the Probie'. Two points for a blush, and a bonus if he does that awkward nose-rub thing… wait for it…

He scratches four small lines onto a stray yellow Post-It with a grin before deciding to answer. "All in the name of charity, Tim." If he had to wager, he'd say that the use of the other agent's full name unsettled him more than the hint of green lycra. "Don't tell me Abby hasn't read you in on our Saturday night plans."

McGee abandons the pretense at casual observation and spins in his chair. "Oh, the Halloween thing?" His excitement is quickly replaced by feigned indifference, just a fraction too late. "She did. Sounds like a complete drag. I just didn't know that…"

Tony is suddenly suspicious. His finely tuned investigative senses tell him that he might just be getting royally screwed on this particular deal. "Who are you going as? Soldier of Fortune? Spidey? Hulk?" His open palm meets the top of the desk triumphantly, sending pens and a few stray paperclips flying. "If you're going as Bond, you can forget about being my wingman for the next forever. You'll have to find your own ladies."

"Because you're having so much luck lately," McGee retorts slightly snappishly. He mumbles something under his breath.

"Didn't quite catch that," Tony says, looking around the bullpen for a familiar head of hair. All clear, Maverick. Continue on course.

"I did not see McGee throw anything," Ziva murmurs in his ear in a slightly bemused tone, and her low chuckle at his startled expression is like warm treacle flooding his veins.

"Everyone's a comedian today," Tony mutters darkly. "Laugh while you still can, Tinkerbell. Personally, I don't believe in fairies."

He must be imagining the hurt look that flashes across her features, because surely Peter Pan and the various filmic spin-offs would have slipped through the net of Mossad (ex- Mossad, he reminds himself quickly) pop culture education. Ziva doesn't bite, just rounds the divider and sinks into her chair just a little more heavily than she used to.

He thinks of oddly-stretched muscles and pink raw skin, aching joints on cold Washington mornings, so different to desert heat and the dark stain of old blood, fresh bruises and greasy dust. Old wounds and new scars.

"Tony?"

"What?"

Smooth, DiNozzo.

"I was just going to say that Gibbs is – "

"Can we say avoiding the issue? Besides, you're not gonna fool me with that 'Gibbs is right behind you' schtick. Our fearless leader is still up in the War Room with Vance, discussing international affairs and the price of eggs in China. Probably requisitioned all the good Halloween candy up there, the sneaky – " The hair on the back of his neck prickles suddenly in a horribly familiar way, prompting a sigh. Tony doesn't even have to turn around. "Shutting up, Boss."

"Don't make me order you to test out that costume of yours in the field tomorrow, DiNozzo."

It's really not his week.


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