It always starts the same way.


She tells herself that's the trigger. She doesn't know if it's true.

Why should tonight be any different?

But... tonight...

Tony likes to sleep with the window open.

She used to as well, used to love a warm bed and a cold room. But now... now she can't stand it, now the room has to be warm, sweltering even.

Because if it's not...

The desert is cold at night.

She'd never been that cold and still managed to sleep. But there, she had no choice. There she'd slept; hard wall, hard floor, pipe digging into her back, cuffs digging into her wrists, her ankles. She'd close her eyes and try to pretend she was somewhere else. Search her memory for cold, uncomfortable places where she'd slept peaceably, where she's felt safe. She'd imagine the woods behind her childhood home. She'd imagine London, the back of Simon's Reliant Robin; Helsinki, that train car with Malachi and Ari - it all seemed like a lifetime ago... And it hadn't worked, nothing worked, not until...

Sawdust. She'd tried to smell sawdust, tried to picture what it looked like, what it felt like...When she'd succeeded, she would be lying on the hard floor in a shell of a boat in Gibbs' drafty basement. It wasn't much, but it often worked long enough for her to fall asleep. She'd wondered often if he'd finished the boat. Imagined all myriad of ways he got it from the basement to the water. Sometimes she'd wondered if he ever thought about her. If he knew what had happened, if he knew where she was, would he care?

He would. She knew that too.

Sometimes it helped.

That one, the nice one, the one who's name now escapes her, he had given her the shirt. It had kept her warm, helped her sleep. The nice one; she'd called him that at the time. He given her the shirt, brought her food, water, occasionally tea but... He wasn't nice. She knew that. He still participated...

He still held her down.

She scrubs her hands over her face, draws her breath in deeply, trying to dislodge the feeling. It's all feeling now, all sensations. The air, the smell, the lash of the cane across her feet, the cold blade of the knife...

They'd stopped using the knife like that after a bit. Stopped holding it to her throat as a threat. Because it wasn't. Every time a knife was held to her throat, or a gun to her head, or twine wrapped around her neck, she'd pushed back even harder, tried everything she could to force their hand.

She'd nearly done it several times, pushed Saleem or one of his men to the line - they'd never cross it. And when they didn't get what they wanted, Saleem changed his strategy...

He'd just cut.

Just small cuts, shallow, hundreds of them, that would make it nearly impossible to lie down, that would sting like hell... that would attract the flies...

Occasionally, she'll find a little white scar but for the most part, they're gone. It's amazing what the human body can do, how it can heal, how it can erase the past. It's not fair that the mind doesn't work the same way. If she closes her eyes she can still see his knife: Four inch blade, thin, two nicks, slight curve to the end, bone handle... Very sharp... bloody... her blood.

She tells herself it was nothing. That's a lie. She knows it. It was not nothing.

But it's also not what invades her dreams, what keeps her up at night, what terrifies her, what makes her nauseous.

It's the weight.

The weight of another body over her hers, the feeling, the sound, the smell...

She chokes on her next breath and chastises herself for it. She needs to get over this. The past is the past.

Except that it isn't...

Except that she can't stop shaking.

She rolls onto her side to the edge of the bed, draws her knees up. She contemplates getting up, sitting up, turning on the TV. If she were at home, she wouldn't hesitate.

But... She doesn't want to wake him.

She pushes the covers off completely, lets the coolness of the night air assault her senses once more. She needs to wake up; she needs to dispel all remnants of Saleem and that dark room; to think of something else. She watches the lights through the gap in the curtains - a little piece of Parisian skyline. She's safe here; she's in Paris, in a real bed... And she's not alone.

She'd tried for months not to think about him. Tried and failed miserably. Some days, the days she was left alone, she would spend the whole day thinking about him. But the little things she loved would quickly degenerate into the things she'd done.

The last time she saw him. The last thing she said to Gibbs...

She hated herself for it; Tony had to hate her too.

And that... That made her feel sick, made her hate herself more, made her welcome another visit from Saleem's men.

It is justified.

And there it is again, that feeling creeping over her - Fear - pulling her down, threatening to suffocate her. She draws her breath deeply, blows it out slowly, tries not to let it overtake her, not again. But she's tired and she can't-

He rolls toward her, throws an arm over her; his hand falls at her waist, slides under her hip, pulls her back to the center of the bed, to him.

She nearly panics.

Nearly... But it's Tony.

What did he just say? Something about Salma Hayek?

Damn it.

He's awake.

Not hard to tell. He's holding his breath. Holding his breath like he's afraid of what she's going to do. It doesn't help. It turns her stomach to knots.

She's not going to do anything. It's Tony.

She should've taken the couch. She's woken him up. If she's woken him up, does he know? He'll suspect. She has to get it under control; get herself under control.

She doesn't want his pity. She doesn't want-

He's breathing again. A little too deeply, a little too slowly...

He's pretending to be asleep. She's thankful he doesn't try and get her to talk. She doesn't want to talk.

She wants to forget. She wants it to go away.

She bites her lip and tries to think of something else.


Soft, warm breath against the side of her face. She shuts her eyes. Concentrates on that feeling; on the sound of his breathing; his hand on her hip; the smell of his skin... Now McGee, McGee wears a nicer cologne, but Tony...Tony just smells so good...

And he's warm. He's shirtless, in a cold room and with barely any blankets and he's warm. It makes her smile. Makes her grateful. So grateful for him. For the fact that she's even here, that she's no longer living a nightmare - because of him.

She shifts a bit, getting comfortable, sliding backward a little until her shoulders make contact with his chest. More warmth; it sends a shiver down her spine. She takes another deep breath and lets it go. Lets it all go. And a small, dark, cold, room in the desert disappears, replaced by a real bed in a four star hotel, by starched, white linen, and a Parisian skyline... and Tony.

Maybe he thinks she's asleep or maybe he doesn't care if she knows anymore but he reaches down and pulls the blankets up over both of them, sliding his arm back around her; tighter this time. His breath now falls against her ear, stubble on his chin scrapes the side of her neck...

And she sleeps.