AUTHOR'S NOTE: For Aeidhryn and cecilbmel. Also, the title comes from a Lionel Trilling quote. References to "Bury Your Dead" (and the La Grenouille plotline), "Agent Afloat," "Aliyah," and "Truth and Consequences."
The graffiti is in the women's restroom but still, Ziva is surprised Gibbs doesn't know it's there.
She thought before that Gibbs tuned into the things that could hurt all of them; his ears like radar dishes seeking sound. Evidently his intuition goes no further than the ladies' room door, stopped in its track by floral air freshener and the suggestion of reapplied lipstick. For this situation, she is on her own.
Tony has not smiled since Jeanne left and he did not follow. Her English has been getting progressively worse, as if she can lure him out of his funk with movers and bakers or taking a tree out of his book. When he did not even correct her on making a mountain out of a mole-person, she knew that he was very far gone.
Ziva knows about undercover work. She understands that when you do it, you wear someone else not like clothes but like skin, and you cannot flay yourself back to normal again simply because it is over. She knows, too, that people do not always understand what you have done once you have done it. She has always lived close to people who knew that, under pressure and persona, you had to do certain things—had to enjoy doing them, even. When Ari told her about shooting Gerald, about shooting Gibbs, she had not even blinked—it had surely not been personal, not then, and he had not been hired out to kill or to hurt, only to succeed.
And likewise with Tony, who had not been told, throw your body between us and what we want to know, throw your skin, your mouth, your heart—who had only been told, This is what we need, do what you have to do to get it done. And he had done it, he had loved her, and it had hurt him. All of that was perhaps unavoidable.
Not this, though, this nasty little joke written in black marker on the bathroom stall door:
What's the only thing cheaper than a two-dollar whore?
And to the side, someone else had written: Also a one-dollar whore. But still!
Ziva did not bring her purse with her, so she has no pen of her own to scrawl it out, let alone write exactly what she thought of people who would write such things of someone they clearly did not know at all. She has no pen, nothing mightier than the sword.
Though she does, now that she thinks of it, have a knife, which seems better than the pen and more convenient than the sword.
None of them, not even Gibbs, will dare to come in after her. Ziva takes out her knife and busies herself with removing the writing paint chip by paint chip. When it was done, she grinds her heel into what had fallen on the floor and feels, for the first time since Tony's car turned to smoke and fire on the MTAC screen, somewhat on top of the situation.
Though if she ever sees someone's handwriting and matches it to the graffiti, she thinks she would have to make an object lesson about her position on the pen and sword debate.
Tony sputters incoherently. Ziva makes a neat little check mark on the stationary she uses to keep track of Tony's incoherent sputtering—she will label it later with the cause. Last time, it was a suspect's insistence that the Psycho remake could justify its existence, and that man was very lucky he left the building upright and alive.
This time, it is McGee, and Ziva is fairly certain that he is merely messing with Tony's mind for sport.
"Part two," he says again.
"You aren't following me," Tony says.
"I'm following you, I understand, I just disagree."
"See, that's how I know you're not listening, because no sane person would ever disagree with me about this! It isn't that Back to the Future Part II isn't awesome, it's just that—"
"It plays with the entire conceptual structure of the first movie!"
"This isn't Memento, McComplicated, it's Back to the Future Part II, and it's good, but it's not as good as the original."
McGee folded his arms. "I disagree."
"Well, IMDB says you're wrong, McGee!"
And then for some reason he appeals to Ziva: "What do you think?"
"A tie-breaker," McGee breathes.
She supposes that Tony comes to the tie-breaker from sports and McGee comes to it from competitions that involved naming all the state capitols while also solving complex equations without calculators. Either way, through whatever channel, she is suddenly of extreme importance to them both, though they have spent the whole morning ignoring her while defending their respective positions with increasingly raised voices and, at one point, a reference to French critical theorist Lacan, at which point Gibbs threatened to murder them both and everyone took a time-out for coffee and the mini-muffins some HR worker had very foolishly left unattended. And then back—
"Part One has a humorous commentary on Oedipal desire!"
"How is that a plus? Why are you counting that as a plus? What is wrong with you?"
-and now it all rests on her.
She cannot resist. "I prefer Part III."
Tony beats his head against his desk.
She does, though: Part III has cowboys. Also trains.
"Well," McGee says, "that is just obviously wrong."
And just for that—and because Tony has sat up again with a paperclip clinging to his forehead—she says, "But after Part III, Part I."
Tony sighs. "Thank you. God. I mean," he adds, "of course your preference for Part III means that you can no longer have valid opinions about anything, but I appreciate the support."
She flicks a rubber band at him. Thankfully, though it hits him, it does not knock off the paperclip. She does not like it quite as much as she likes the trains and the cowboys in Back to the Future Part III, but it is a very near thing.
We all miss
This is the eighth time Ziva has tried to write Tony, and the eighth time she has torn up the paper or deleted the email, each time arguing with herself about it: He is on a ship! In the middle of nowhere! Anything you said would be better than silence! That would get her through the first furious bout of typing, before she would come back to herself with the argument that he had not really kept in touch with her, either, and also, what was there to say? We still cannot get you home? People still blame you for Jenny?
I found a bag of M&Ms in your desk. I have eaten all of the green ones. If you don't come home soon, the blue ones will also be gone.
In the end, she just sends him a picture of herself in a bikini, and pretends it is from McGee.
Ziva is very comfortable with a rifle in her hands. Still, she is not sure why she is here, stuck in her sentry position, her back against the wall as she peers through darkness and low, thick fog for any search of the enemy. She does not even like laser tag—all of their opponents so far have been twelve-year-olds and one grim-eyed parent who is going to be thrown out any time now for swearing whenever she trips over a Styrofoam boulder. But it is Abby's birthday, and somehow she has agreed, so it comes to her, Tony, Gibbs, McGee, Abby herself, and a nun to defend themselves against an onslaught of sticky-fingered children and their beleaguered mother.
Suddenly Tony crashes into her and she shoots him by reflex.
"I'm on your team, Ziva!"
It is a kill shot, but here the kill shots reset themselves, and all it means is that Tony cannot fire his own laser gun for thirty seconds.
That is not what it normally means—not for her, not for either of them.
He takes her by the shoulders. "Are you all right?"
She wrenches away. "It is only a game."
"I thought you would like it. Shooting people. -That was a very stupid thing to say."
She must really look terrible if he is second-guessing his sarcasm. She tries to steady herself. The last time she pointed a gun at Tony, it had been real, and more than reflex—it is strange that he has forgotten that better than she has.
But maybe he hasn't, because he leans in suddenly and does the very un-Tony-like thing of giving her a swift kiss on the forehead. When he pulls back, she laughs, because his teeth are brilliant and almost neon, because of the black-lights, and she can see every stray piece of lint on his clothes—not that, being Tony, he has many. His grin stays.
"Probationary Agent David! Come on, you want to live forever?"
She comes to a half-hearted salute.
"Lay down some cover fire while I go rescue Gibbs from fifth-graders."
She does—he makes it all the way to their nest, where he finds that Gibbs has switched sides on all of them and is now fighting for the kids, and then Tony is taken down by superior firepower and lies groaning in very fake agony at the bottom of a dog-pile of children who, given their insider information, keep smacking at his head. Ziva considers her options—surely it is a suicide mission, when she has no idea where to find McGee and Abby to back her up—but in the end, she makes her decision. She goes and finds the uninterested mother smoking a cigarette in the corner and blowing the smoke into the fog machine; the mother is more than willing to surrender her gun for a chance to sit down for a minute or two.
So Ziva goes, a laser pistol in each hand and a smile on her face—striding into the belly of the beast to get Tony back.
As he did the same for her, it is only fair.
"Chunky Monkey," he says, shaking rain out of his hair. "Two different convenience stores just because you won't eat Cherry Garcia like the rest of us."
"Did you not have an umbrella?"
"To walk from the car to the store? No, Ziva, I didn't, because I'm not someone's grandmother with a bad hip."
"That is too bad," Ziva said. "Because if you were, you would be much drier."
He blows water off his lips at her.
She takes pity on him: "Towels in the linen closet down the hall."
"You have a linen closet?"
"Yes. For linen. And towels. Now go, Tony, you're getting everything wet."
He grins at her and disappears down the hall. She puts their pints of ice cream down on the countertop: one Chunky Monkey, one Cherry Garcia, and she won the argument about the film, Pulp Fiction v. To Have and Have Not, Ziva obviously in favor of Pulp Fiction, since it has guns and betrayal and sex and drugs and—
Is perhaps altogether a little too close to their own lives.
Tony comes back in, his hair sticking up at all angles, the pink towel still in his hands. "You own a pink towel," he announces. "A pink towel that you keep in your linen closet."
"It used to be white," she says.
"Washed it with a red shirt?"
She looks at him. "No."
"Then how—oh. I see what you're doing. No, no, this isn't a bloody death towel, this is a pink, girly towel that you bought, willingly and with your own money. Somewhere in this apartment, there is Lisa Frank stationary and a little stuffed unicorn."
He is still limping a little from having been shoved off the curb by their suspect. And there is still water by his hairline, little specks of rain that are in their lives to stay.
And so she loves him—for the Chunky Monkey that he went out into the rain to get—and so she says, "I like unicorns," because she does, dammit, they're more dangerous versions of horses, and pretty as they are, they would be fierce if crossed, and Tony, awed by this revelation, flops back onto the couch and says, "So—To Have and Have Not?"
"Oh no," she says, "you're not getting off that easy," but when his pain medication kicks in halfway through the dancing competition, she lets him fall asleep on her shoulder. So long as he does not drool Cherry Garcia ice cream onto her, everything will, she thinks, be fine in the end.