A/N: This is the last chapter for this, so fair warning. And, yeah, I kinda do leave you hanging. (Imagination people!) Love you all, Kit.
DISCLAIMER: Based upon a 2,000 calorie diet.
She tilts her head back into the cascade, allows the water to massage the tension from her weary body. The humidity of the bathroom is suffocating, but welcome because the intense heat is her sole focus. The intense heat and the pounding water.
And not the haunting images of McGee, lying bleeding and broken.
She wrings her hair out, watches the soap suds slide from her dark tresses, watches the dirt and ash, the debris and dust, the blood and sweat all mingle on the tile floor before swirling down the drain.
She watches remnants of the day slip lazily into oblivion.
Exhaustion and hunger supersede her reluctance to leave the cleansing atmosphere surrounding her and she shuts off the water before groping blindly for a towel. And the cool air outside the shower curtain rushes into the stall, the refreshing chill soothing her flushed skin.
It does little though to alleviate her anxiety.
And it's only half past the point of no return . . . . .
She isn't surprised to find him sitting at her kitchen table, staring blankly at the wall, eyes unseeing and thoughts very far away. He feels her presence, looking up to meet her eyes, green touching brown just as she comes to be framed in the doorway.
"Tony," she acknowledges by way of greeting and it isn't defensive nor blatantly inviting and all semblances of a question are vacant.
"Zee-vah," he breathes, breaking eye contact to rub his face tiredly, his fingers coming to pinch the bridge of his nose. He sighs, offering her a lame smile that lacks its usual vibrancy, but it's genuine and she welcomes the truce. "I made you a sandwich," he says, indicating with his chin the lone plate flanked by a glass of milk resting at the center of the table.
She nods, pulling her robe tighter against herself, crossing the few feet separating them to the table. He watches as she picks up the sandwich and takes a bite, sees the embarrassed pleasure flicker across her face as she relishes the simplicity of a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich.
She swallows, uttering a grateful, "Toda."
"There are clean towels under the sink," she informs him, eyes grazing over his disheveled appearance. He's still wearing his suit minus the jacket and tie, with his slacks ripped at the knee and gravel and dust peppering his wrinkled dress shirt.
He nods once, a mechanical bob of his head, the chair legs scraping back as he stands, silently making his way toward the bathroom.
And she watches him go and finds herself blinking away the sudden stinging behind her eyelids.
There are more regrets than heartbeats . . . .
He isn't surprised to find her perching on the bathroom countertop, legs crossed Indian-style as she leans up against the steam-fogged mirror clad only in her panties and a tank top. She opens her eyes idly at the sound of the shower curtain sliding back, extending a towel toward her dripping partner, with water droplets clinging to his hair and face and shoulders and chest.
His lips twitch up a bit as he wraps the proffered towel modestly around his waist, but his expression grows guarded when she stirs, unfolding herself from her position beside the sink, coming to stand before him, toe to toe.
She stares at him and her mahogany gaze is unsettling in its opaqueness. She memorizes the planes of his face, the paths the rivulets of water trace down his skin, the roughness of his jaw. Because it seems so dire now to imprint these things, little insignificant things, about him, inscribe them in her mind with permanent ink so they'll never go away.
She watches him appraise her with a caution that makes her chest hurt. And when her attention settles on the purplish patch shadowing just beneath his left eye, her breath catches slightly and she raises a tentative hand to touch the bruise she dealt. And her fingertips are soft as they ghost across his darkened skin, her hand warm as she curls her palm to fit his cheek. And he finds himself nuzzling her hand, pressing closer to the contact she's initiated.
She places a chaste kiss to his jaw and steps back with lowered eyes.
His cell phone erupts to life in her bedroom, spewing its harsh trill into the silence and they both flinch at the sound. He mutters a soft, "Gibbs," in realization and she nods, following him mutely, because her throat is suddenly dry and her voice is stuck in her chest.
"DiNozzo," he answers bravely, eyes taking on a determined glint as if he can force fate to bend to his mere will.
She watches Tony's mouth move, his lips form the words he speaks into the receiver, but she can't hear what he's saying over the blood pounding in her ears. It registers somewhere in her scattered thoughts that this could be a panic attack, but Tony's voice replying, "Yeah, boss, I'll let her know," and the click as he snaps the phone shut quells the growing dread.
He stares at her before letting out a heavy breath, his cell slipping from his slackened grip, bouncing happily onto the mattress. "Well?" she demands after he's made no move to speak or offer an expression to help her gauge McGee's fate.
"He's been out of surgery for about an hour, they have the hemorrhaging under control now and the swelling in his brain is going down. They said he lost a lot of blood because of a ruptured spleen. He's got some broken bones in his foot and a fractured rib, but the doctors are hopeful. He'll have some nasty bruises and probably no recollection of the bomb, but he should recover . . . ." Tony trails off, lowers himself to perch at the foot of the bed as Ziva processes the information.
She licks her lips unconsciously, carefully phrases her question: "Has Gibbs seen him?"
A nod of conformation, "Yeah. Spoke to him when he was in recovery, said he was disoriented and totally numb from the drugs. The doctors have him on some crazy dosage of pain killers, Gibbs says he'll be out of it for a while . . . . He's fine."
There's a pause and then Tony stands up, moves toward her, arms held away from his sides, an invitation for a hug. And she debates this, him, for a moment before stepping forward, pressing herself against him, resting her cheek against his chest. And he tucks her head under his chin, squeezes her tightly, releases another sigh. His lips brush her temple and she lifts her head up, tilts her face to meet his eyes, to let understanding flow through them without spoken word. And his mouth is soft on hers, soft and patient and comforting and the only thing separating them is thin cotton and a terrycloth towel.
And you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.
"I should not have gone into that house the other day; I-I should have waited, like you said."
He brushes his thumb over her knuckles, nods into the darkness. "Yes," he agrees, "you should have. But, that never gave me the prerogative to say the things I said."
"Some of them were justified, Tony."
He squeezes her fingers, whispering, "No, no none of them were."
"You are not a deadbeat," she murmurs, kissing his shoulder. And she hears the smile in his voice when he says, "Thanks, I think."
"You are welcome. . . . . It is scary that we know just what to say to cause the most pain, to twist the knife just so . . . ."
"To inflict the most damage," he adds, pensively. And she's right, of course. And it does scare the hell out of him.
"Yes," she agrees absently.
And it sucks, he thinks, as he listens to her breathing slow, listens to her roll onto her side, her back to him. It sucks that it takes another near death experience to make them realize how important the other is, how fragile and uncertain life can be. It's totally cliché and utterly fitting, he muses, in a sad, twisted kind of way.
Because there are things in this world that you can never get back.
It dawns on him as he lays there beside her, last night replaying like an unpleasant movie reel in his head, as they accuse each other and hurl sharp words –and pointy objects- at the other mercilessly. It's only on the third repeat of should haves, could haves, and didn'ts, that he realizes how stupid he's been.
And yes, it is scary that they know each other so well that they can tear the other apart with a few choice blows.
What's scarier, though, is that it's never his life flashing before his eyes –and it hasn't been, for quite some time. What's scary, he decides, is that it's always his life without her that he sees.
He rolls on his side, spooning up against her, curling himself around her sleeping form. And he feels her back expand against his chest as she breathes out slowly, feels her heart beat through her skin. Propping himself up on his elbow, he does watch her sleep, as stalkerish as he fears that may be. And he memorizes her, the crease between her eyebrows, the way her lips part slightly.
He buries his face between her shoulder blades, presses a kiss to her spine.
It's better late than never.
And then he whispers softly, "And Ziva? I love you, too."