What Happens in the Dark of Night

by Calliatra

Summary: What happens in the darkest hours of the night bears no relation to reality. Written for the NFA O'Dark Thirty Challenge.

Disclaimer: All recognizable NCIS characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

It's that time of night that is almost too late to be called night, but too early to be called morning. That time of night when the sky is at its darkest and the world at its quietest. That time of night when all that the few scattered shards of light permit, if they penetrate the veil of blinding darkness at all, is black and white vision. That time of night when reality blurs with dreams in the mind until one can barely be distinguished from the other. It is that time of night, always that time of night.

She comes to him that first time. He's in his basement – where else? – working on the boat. It's dark; the weak lamp in the corner of the room casts more shadows than light, illuminating the scene just enough to make visible the outlines of dark shapes. He doesn't need light to work, the feel of the wood under his hands tells him where it needs sanding and the repetitive back-and-forth motion is one he can do blind. He really ought to be sleeping, but woodworking is far more relaxing than tossing and turning in his bed, and it offers no opportunity for nightmares.

It's too dark for him to see her form descend the stairs, but he would recognized her step anywhere. She doesn't say a word and neither does he. She simply walks up to him and stands there, close enough that he can tell she is shaking. He doesn't ask what demons drove her into his basement at this hour. They never were much for talking, and anyway, that's not the comfort she came looking for. He rests the sander on the workbench and guides her up the stairs into his bedroom.

It's still dark when he wakes, but he's alone and the sheets are already cold. All that remains are a hint of her smell and greyscale memories and if he misses her warmth, he doesn't show it.

The second time, he comes to her. It's after a grueling case where the team ended up being just a few crucial seconds too late. Just a few seconds that mean the difference between life and death, between joy and despair. It's late by the time he gets home and very late by the time he realizes that tonight, the boat is not enough. It's not yet early, however, and he figures she owes him one.

She opens the door in a pale silk robe, but he can tell she hasn't been sleeping. She doesn't seem surprised to see him and he wonders if she was waiting for him. It's possible, she is one of the few who has complete access to all the gruesome details, after all. She reaches past him to close the door and wordlessly leads him to her bed.

He slips out of the sheets once he's sure she's asleep, pausing only to softly press his lips to her temple. As long as he's gone before daybreak, this never happened. Nothing that has to be acknowledged or dealt with, just a figment of those dark hours before dawn.

The next time, he comes to her, offering. He's seen the effect recent events have had on her, has seen it before, in Paris, but knows that this time her pride won't let her seek him out. So he shows up on her doorstep, a little earlier this time, so as to not give her the chance to drown the world in bourbon. He sees a spark of gratefulness in her eyes as she puts down the tumbler of amber liquid to wrap her arms around him instead.

And so it continues. Not often and not with any real regularity, but whenever the world gets too heavy for their shoulders. When everything gets to be just a little too much and the urge to lose themselves in a warm and willing body and the illusive promises of shadows in the dark becomes overpowering.

Together they have created an irreality entirely their own, hidden away in the depths of blackest nights, providing comfort when they need it and, most importantly, completely distinct from the lives they lead during the day. And if the comfort they derive is based on more than just physical sensations, it's just one more thing to deny when faced with daylight.

During the day they still bicker and fight and laugh and tease and never show a hint of what they may have done the night before. They do their jobs, are Agent and Director in public, friends and former lovers in private and never stop to think about those nights and how they might make the "former" part a thing of the past.

This time, he wakes up to an unaccustomed warmth. Her body is still tangled with his and he turns his head to check the time. Still very early, but later than she usually stays. She'll want to leave before the dawn can bring regrets. He gently nudges her awake and nods towards the clock. She seem just as reluctant to leave his arms as he is to let her go.

"I thought I'd stay," she whispers, and it's too dark for him to see her face, but he can hear the question in her voice. In answer, he kisses her and pulls her close. He feels her breathing even out, but stays awake and holds her tight until the first light of dawn creeps into the room and adds the color that transforms the scene into reality.