Title: Do Your Worst
Summary: An interlude, after the rescue. Tony POV. Post 7.1
Warnings: second person voice, clichés, angst
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS
((I intended this to be a second chapter/sequel to Practice Imperfect, but I thought the tone was pretty different, so I decided to make it another one-shot.))
You wake with a start into another dream. Maybe a nightmare. You're eyes are gummed nearly shut and your skin feels rough and wind-blown. They've trapped you in a canvas oven, and your nose is thick with the stink of sweat and antiseptic.
Ziva's sitting next to you. That's how you know it's a dream. She's featured in your dreams a lot since she died. Sometimes she's wearing the green dress from that one time, and she shimmers like an apparition in the heat coming off of the tarmac. Sometimes you sit bolt upright in bed, only to find her sitting at the foot of it, soaking wet and calmly describing the sensation of drowning.
This time though she's wearing an oversized green jacket, her filthy hair is scraped back into a knot at the back of her head, and there are familiar purple shadows under her eyes. You're sitting side by side on a camp bed. And she's silent.
Whatever. Sometimes your dreams are realistic.
You wait a few minutes for the litany of guilt and accusation to spill forth, but she's not even looking at you. The cot has dipped slightly under your combined weight and her thigh is pressed against yours, warm and solid, in the way your dreams so torturously often are. There's also a pounding sensation in your head, an ache in your throat that doesn't quite feel like thirst, and every third blink lasts a few seconds too long.
Someone stabs you inside your elbow and tells you you're severely dehydrated. From somewhere in your foggy brain a fragment of memory surfaces, a voice speaking of serum and cottonmouth, the rattling of an almost-empty canteen.
Maybe that was your last dream. The throbbing in your head scatters your thoughts, makes them hard to grasp and hang on to.
A shadow picks up Ziva's arm and rolls up the jacket sleeve. The arm that's revealed is much too skinny, and mottled with bruises old and new. The figure swabs the inside of her elbow clean, expertly inserts an IV, and hangs a cobweb line from it that recedes into the darkness.
Ziva looks down at her arm a beat too late, like the nerves that signal pain are moving slowly today, or she's just used to people putting needles in her skin.
"Ziva," you say, and your voice is as gritty and cracked as your skin feels. She finally looks over at you.
"Why so silent?" you prompt, because shy dreams make you nervous. "Lay it on me."
"Lay…what?" She talks like she hasn't had to in a while, and her eyes don't quite focus.
"Don't you have some blaming that needs to get done? Don't make me feed you all your lines."
"What am I blaming you for?" She sounds so uncurious it's practically a rhetorical question.
But this must be a nightmare, because sincere or not the question trips a trigger on your tongue, and you find you have to answer truthfully. Haltingly and stumbling, as if your teeth have ideas of their own, but truthfully nonetheless.
"For, y'know, causing all this to happen," you remind her, trying for vague and finding that the dream-curse demands specificity. "For killing Michael. For letting your father make you take his place. For not letting you shoot me like you should've." You stop to inhale and watch a delayed flinch at Michael's name tighten her mouth. "For getting you killed."
She blinks in blank surprise and makes an arrested gesture that causes the silver thread of the IV to dance. "That's not…I'm not…" Her eyes scatter to various corners of the tent you seem to be in. "Why would you say that?"
"Because it's true," you answer, stupidly rambling, caught in the grip of some new terrible law of physics. "I speak truth. Also, I feel really guilty. And you know I'm telling the truth about that, because, well, I have to. It's a compulsion."
(Seriously? You can't shut up? Worst dream ever.)
Something shifts behind her eyes, like she's remembering an English phrase that escaped her yesterday. "Then I won't ask you any questions."
"Why pass up the opportunity?" You shrug as best you can, when someone's putting a hand on your shoulder and forcing a cup to your lips. The contents are piercingly sweet and lukewarm, and you barely have time to swallow before your tongue continues it's mad quest to bare your soul. "I'd have to tell you about Abby putting your picture next to Kate's in her candy cupboard. About the dream I had where I woke up next to you in your green dress but you were already dead. About how much we all missed you and how I made McGee come with me to kill some over-caffeinated extremist, because we wanted revenge for you."
You wonder how much it would hurt to bite your tongue off.
"I would have come anyway," McGee's voice breaks in defensively. You look across the tent. He's sitting on a cot across from you, next to a pile of sniper camouflage.
Huh. As a rule, you don't like to have Probie in your dreams. It can get weird. Abby is always welcome because all she does is scatter rose petals and teach skeletons how to dance the Charleston. But sometimes Probie has an army of Transformers, or he's subbing for your sophomore math class.
"I would have," McGee repeats sullenly. His eyes are glassy, and he's tethered to his own IV.
"I know you would have," you tell him, and seriously, how crappy is a dream where you can't even lie to tease McGee?
(Nightmare then. Definitely a nightmare.)
"You wanted revenge for me," Ziva repeats softly next to you, and the tone of her voice makes you want to keep looking at McGee, or the rifle at his feet, or the bruise blossoming at his temple, anywhere but her face.
You want to go back to a different dream.
You don't want her to turn that last statement into a question.
"Why?" she asks, in a voice scraped thin and dry, because your subconscious delights in tormenting you.
You feel an answer burbling up like stomach acid, but the sweet thing you swallowed is making you sleepy.
There must be a way to answer without answering. To stall until fatigue rescues you, and pulls you back under into dreamless non-REM mode.
You can feel her eyes trained on you, and you watch McGee get obscured by blurry shapes that make him sleep.
"Why? Because—" You wet your lips with a dusty tongue and look at her. The shadows under her eyes could swallow you up, they're so deep.
"You know why," you force out at last, and it must be true, because you can say it.
"Do I?" she asks, and her voice is a string stretched to breaking, taut and twanging in your head.
"Don't you?" Another stall, another slow heartbeat while your brain weighs all the lies that lie between the two of you. There's still pressure near the back of your tongue though, so there must be more truth that goes unsaid.
This is truth that could get messy though, and you can tell from the way her eyes flutter away from you and back, that she knows better.
Whatever you drank is starting to pull your eyelids down for even longer blinks.
"Don't you?" you ask again, low in her ear, your voice cracking from strain, and your question is soft and hushed, even though McGee's eyes are closed, and the roar of the wind has dimmed and it is only the two of you left in this small circle of the world.
You ask the question in a way that is an answer in itself.
"Yes," she says, and the pressure eases from your throat. It is a reprieve, but one she looks unaccountably sorry to grant. You'll take forgiveness where you can get it though, even from a figment of your own imagination.
The world shrinks a bit more, in a way that maybe means it's your eyelids closing. Her sad pale face wavers in front of you, and you would hope that next time she'll wear the green dress, but something about this dream makes you think it might be the last one you have like it.
Your last blink never ends.
Strange to fall asleep in a dream, but you've done it before.
There's a hand on your shoulder again, and it tips you sideways, maneuvering the IV line out of your way. The walls flap and creak around you, and the cot springs twang as the warmth next to you leaves, and then you move on to a different dream, desperately hoping this one will end with you waking to a blaring alarm and the prospect of beltway traffic.
You wake in a medical tent in Somalia, with a taste of oranges in your mouth and a needle bruise inside your elbow. Ziva's lying on a cot across from you, her head pillowed on a pile of camo netting, her face to the wall.
You remember the shock of seeing her and the adrenaline that got you out and the exhaustion that consumed you afterward.
You don't remember falling asleep. You don't remember any of your dreams.
Ziva doesn't ask you a single question all the long way home.
((I promise the next thing I post will be happy! I'm working on a Paris story, like everyone else I'm sure.))