The most common lie is that which one lies to himself.
- Friedrich Nietzsche

I wish I'd never met you.

Tony DiNozzo had always been good at avoidance. When he didn't want to think, he simply reached into his bag of tricks and pulled out a way to distract himself. Talk, watch movies, quote movies, pick on McGee, annoy the crap out of McGee, annoy the crap out of Ziva, annoy the crap out of everyone, get headslapped by the boss. Just another day being DiNozzo.

When his usual MO didn't work, he could dig deeper. A round or two with the bag, sans gloves if things were really bad. A few too many drinks; a warm and willing woman. Anything that would let him shut his mind off, lose himself in physical sensation.

It wasn't going to work this time.

Be a man, Tony! Go tell her what she needs to hear.

His knuckles still stung from their encounter with Trent Kort's nose, though he didn't mind that particular pain. The burning in his throat, though, felt a little too close to tears for his taste, and as he closed his eyes he realized just how tired he was. He let his forehead rest against the cool brick beside the elevator. Being accused of murder tended to wear you out. He should know. He was becoming an expert.

He was becoming an expert at a lot of things, none of them ones he was proud of.

He couldn't blame Jeanne for that. Hell, he'd been half-relieved when he learned who had fingered him for La Grenouille's death. It brought Jeanne back to earth, gave him a reason to be just a little bit angry with her. As he'd come up to her at the elevator, he was foolish enough to think that they might actually be able to bring some closure to the whole mess.

Then she'd turned around, and whatever he had started to say flew from his lips. She came close, so close, searching for something of Tony DiNardo beneath the polished NCIS Special Agent.

Was any of it real, Tony?


He'd told her what she needed to hear. And when she left, he vowed he would never again risk putting that look in a woman's eyes.

You developed feelings for her. That wasn't very professional, Tony - how'd that happen?

"Go to hell, Toby," he muttered under his breath.


Shit. He hadn't meant to speak out loud, and he should have known damn well that Ziva wouldn't leave well enough alone. He turned to face her, plastering a smile on his face. "Yes, Zee-vah?"

She was studying him, head tipped to the side, eyes narrowed. "You look like something the rat dragged in."



He sighed. "Cat, Ziva. Something the cat dragged in." And cats usually dragged in rats, which he found rather apropos.

"Are you alright?"

He straightened his shoulders, tugging at his tie. "I'm fine. Did what I had to do - told her what she needed to hear. She's gone, game over, gotta run." He hit the button on the elevator. "Work to do."

"In the director's office?


Ziva nodded at the button. "You pressed up."

"I meant down." Silently seething, Tony jabbed at the button. Up, down - what the hell did it matter? The elevator dinged, and Tony didn't even wait for the doors to open all the way before barreling inside. This proved unfortunate, as he ran smack into Gibbs. A worn-out Gibbs carrying a fresh, hot cup of coffee.

"The hell?" Gibbs threw up an elbow to block his agent, but it was too late; Tony collided with the cup and sent scalding liquid all over both of them. "Dammit, DiNozzo!"

Most of the coffee hit the front of Tony's shirt, and he bit back a hiss of pain. "Geez, that's hot! Where do you get your coffee, Boss - McDonalds?" Without waiting for an answer - which he was pretty damn sure he wouldn't want to hear anyway - he shoved past Gibbs and hit the button to close the doors. Gibbs, who was momentarily preoccupied with his own unexpected coffee bath, barely managed to grab the door and slip inside before it closed - too late for Tony to retreat.

A few seconds later, between floors, Gibbs reached out and slapped the emergency stop to transform the elevator into his office. Tony began to breathe a bit easier, the sudden quiet and the harsh, cold emergency lights calming him a bit. Better. That was better.

Except that she had just been in here, not five minutes ago.

I wish I'd never met you.

"Should have taken the stairwell," he muttered.

"Would it have made a difference?" Gibbs asked quietly.

"Probably not." Not when everything he had spent the past few months trying desperately not to think about had just been shoved in his face - and along with it, the reminder that it was entirely his fault. He had let the little part of himself that wished for a happy ending take over, hoped that maybe Tony DiNardo could have what he knew Anthony DiNozzo never could. He had started to believe his own lies.

You're right, Agent Fornell - I'm lying. Everything I did with her was a lie. Just recalling those lies, I believe that I am lying now. It's's a cacophony of lies, really.

And Jeanne was not the only one caught in them. His team had been collateral damage, and lying to them was almost as bad as what he'd done to Jeanne.

He had tried, when it first began, to reassure himself that none of them would actually fall for his story. Tony DiNozzo, with a serious girlfriend? The same Tony DiNozzo who still went to Cancun over Spring Break - with one woman for more than a month? He knew they'd see right through him - and then, even if he couldn't give them details, he could drop hints, confirm their suspicions that something was up, and it wouldn't be his fault for giving it away.

Except they hadn't seen through him. None of them had, not even Gibbs. And by the time the lie had spread so far and wide that everyone believed it to be the truth, it was too late. The line had become so blurred that Tony himself didn't know where truth ended and the lie began. It was better to keep going, keep his head down, and hope like hell he could keep up the act.

Gibbs seemed to be waiting for him to speak, and Tony obliged. "So, Boss, did Fornell show you the tapes?" He gave a short, harsh laugh, casting a sidelong glance at Gibbs. "Nice little show, wasn't it? Oughta send it off to one of those soaps - it'd make great a script. Lies, intrigue, a double life - hell, forget the soap. Call Spielberg - we've got a movie here."

"Tony - "

"Who should we get to play me? I would've said Tom Cruise, but not anymore. The guy is cuckoo - whacked out of his mind. Plus, he's really short. Did you know he had to wear lifts in Top Gun? Anyway, enough about me. Jeanne - maybe Reese Witherspoon. Jeanne's not blonde, but hey, a little creative revisionism never hurt -"

The smack to the back of his head was completely expected. He kinda wished he'd gotten as far as casting Gibbs, though. He wanted to see what would happen if he suggested Christopher Walken.

He slid down the wall to sit on the floor of the elevator, beginning to shiver as the coffee soaking his shirt turned cold. Silence enveloped them until, out of nowhere, Tony heard his own voice.

"I loved her, Boss."

He'd thought it would get easier the more he said it. It didn't.

"I know." Gibbs was sitting beside him, his face unreadable.

"I can't fix this one, can I?"

"Nope. Sometimes all you can do is move on."

Tony's heart sank as he realized exactly what Gibbs had said. He felt his face flush red, and quickly steeled his expression. "You're right," he said, hauling himself to his feet. "You're absolutely right. Moving on - that's the one thing I am good at. I'll have my resignation on your desk first thing in the morning."

"DiNozzo, what in holy hell are you talking about?" Gibbs glared until slowly, reluctantly, Tony sat down again.

"You said I couldn't fix this."

"With Jeanne? No, I think you've pretty much shot yourself in the ass on this one."

Tony couldn't bring himself to look at Gibbs. "And with you - with the team?" he corrected quickly.

"What about the team?"

"I lied."

"You were on assignment."

"An assignment that you didn't know about." Tony finally met Gibbs' eyes. "An assignment that could have put the team at risk. I lied to you, all of you - I don't blame you for wanting to kick me to the curb."

Gibbs snorted in exasperation. "DiNozzo, the only reason your head is safe right now is that I don't feel like explaining your concussion to Ducky."

"You have to be pissed, though."

"Of course I'm pissed!"

"Well, then?" Tony shrugged as if the matter were settled.

Gibbs closed his eyes, taking a deep breath as though he were trying to control his temper. "Did I say I was pissed at you? My issue's not with you, DiNozzo. Never has been."

"What about Rule 15?" Tony knew he was pushing his luck, but he kept going. "Always work as a team."

"Rule 4," Gibbs shot back. "The best way to keep a secret? Keep it to yourself. Rule 7 - Always be specific when you lie. Rule 18 - it's better to seek forgiveness than ask permission. Do I need to write these down for you?"

Tony managed a faint smile. "No, thanks. Abby already stitched them on throw pillows. I woke up the other day with "Never mess with a Marine's coffee if you want to live" imprinted backwards on my cheek." Gibbs cast a pointed look at the coffee splattered across Tony's shirt. "OK, so, maybe a reminder couldn't hurt."

"You were on assignment," Gibbs said again. "As far as I'm concerned, the matter's closed. You did what you had to do."

Wanna try telling Jeanne that, Boss? Because I don't think she'd like Rule 18 very much.

"Yeah. I know." Tony stood up and smacked the emergency button again. "Look, I'm freezing here. I'm going to get some scrubs from Abby, and then I'm going to go home and have a very large martini, and I'm going to come back tomorrow and restart the count on how long I can go without being accused of murder. We're starting at three weeks this time. You wanna join the pool?"

Gibbs didn't move, and he didn't say a word. He didn't have to. He simply stared - and how, exactly, Gibbs could stare someone down while sitting on the floor was a trick Tony would dearly love to learn.

"Boss, really. I'm fine."

You're lying, Gibbs' look said, and Tony felt himself shrink beneath that steady gaze.

The doors opened with a ding, but neither man moved until, finally, Gibbs gave him a brief nod. An onlooker would think he was being dismissed, but Tony knew his boss well enough to understand that he had been granted a reprieve, nothing more. Still, he'd take what he could get. He made his escape to Abby's lab, fixing another smile on his face and sighing in relief when he didn't hear footsteps following behind him. If Gibbs and Abby ganged up on him, he didn't know how much longer he could keep this up. Even he wasn't that good a liar.

Although, he thought Jeanne might agree that he was very, very damn good.

I wish I'd never met you.

For her sake, he wished it too.