He watched them as they danced the traditional first dance. He recognized the song as being a jazz standard, even if he didn't know the title. They seemed to flow together perfectly as they moved, their bodies fitting together like puzzle pieces. Her simple white dress swayed behind her and with the added height of her heels, she was able to reach his shoulder enough to rest her head upon it. He, in turn, buried his face in her dark hair, smiling as he whispered something that only she could hear.
It was a beautiful ceremony. While it was customary for the bride's family to pay, given the circumstances they had decided to pay their own way, with a little help from his family. Nothing too lavish or showy; just a simple wedding and a nice reception, a time to bring together their loved ones to share the day. He had been shocked when it was requested that he be the Best Man, but had accepted, not admitting how flattered he truly was by the honor.
"It was a nice wedding, huh?"
He turned. Abby was there, dressed in her gown, having done her duties as Maid of Honor. Her black hair was pulled up for once, piled high, rather than in her customary pigtails. The gown was a deep burgundy, a nice compliment to her pale skin.
"Vey nice," he agreed. "They seem happy."
They turned to where Tim and Ziva were now finishing their dance, inviting Tim's parents to join them for the next one.
"Do you ever wonder, Tony?"
"What could have happened? If it had been you and not him that day?"
He didn't need to ask what she meant. It had been more than a year, but he remembered it clearly; perhaps a little too clearly. The day had been dreary and dark with rain clouds looming in the near distance. It had been a routine assignment. They were to split up, with two investigating a tip they'd received regarding P.O. Jason Mahler, a sailor who'd gone AWOL with Navy funds, while the other two went, once again, to interview the same sailor's parents. The tip would have led them almost two hours from D.C. and into rush hour traffic whereas Mahler's parents lived only fifteen minutes away. In Tony's mind it had been a no-brainer which one he'd rather do, so he had finagled Tim into switching with him: he would go talk to the parents with Gibbs while Tim and Ziva checked out the tip. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
They didn't notice anything until an hour after they'd gotten back. It was no surprise that Tim and Ziva hadn't arrived yet and they had a large enough workload not to fret over it at the moment. It was after countless calls to both of their cell phones that he and Gibbs had started to get worried. When evening rolled around and there was still no sign of them anywhere, Gibbs sent up his concerns to Director Vance who, in turn, assigned two agents to help with the search. One—a CCU man—traced the phones and credit card transactions while another got on the phone with local LEOs to see if any John and Jane Does had been found injured or dead, or if the Sedan had been spotted. In the meantime, Tony and Gibbs had retraced the steps, going to where Tim and Ziva had gone to investigate the tip. What they found was an empty farmhouse that looked like it hadn't been lived in for months. No sign of anyone, let alone Tim and Ziva.
Days went by with nothing. No phone calls. No ransom demands. Nothing. The car was found a few miles away from the farmhouse, abandoned and with their cell phones, badges, and guns sitting in the backseat. After two weeks, they'd begun dragging the rivers and brought out the cadaver dogs.
The fact that they ended up being found at all was a miracle in and of itself. Almost a month after they had disappeared, Mahler popped up on the radar. It didn't take a genius to figure out that he was a key in all of this, so an APB had been issued almost immediately. Going under the assumed name of Fredrick Calhoun, Mahler had attempted to purchase three plane tickets to Ukraine. Despite attempts to disguising himself, a hawkeyed ticket agent had called it in with suspicions, and NCIS had him custody within the hour. After that, it was simple to get the location of where they were and how many armed men were with them.
The sight had been a horrible one, one that no one—no matter how a seasoned a veteran—can really prepare for. Both of them were in an underground cellar tied to chairs and barely clothed. Bruises and cuts decorated their bodies and there were places where the blood had caked so much that it had practically become part of the skin. Neither was moving, though both were breathing…barely. It would later be found that each had no fewer than seven broken bones.
Bit by bit, the story came out. An ambush that got them captured. Being brought to that place. Being asked for information about NCIS, about how to get in and cause damage. The men had not been squeamish about asking, either. Both had suffered tortures like being shocked and having their heads submerged under water, unsure if they would be allowed to breathe again. Bones had been snapped and smashed without a second thought. Sometimes they would even be blindfolded so they wouldn't see it coming. Or sometimes they would be tied so that they were hanging from hooks with their toes barely touching the ground. It was also discovered that Ziva had been raped more than once. They asked little about it and she told them even less.
They were different when they came back. They were hailed by their colleagues as heroes for not once giving in to their tormentors, but the so-called accomplishment didn't register with them. They became reserved and cut-off, especially Ziva. She didn't like to talk much anymore and she didn't talk at all about the month spent with Tim in captivity. At least, she didn't talk about it with them. She only talked about it with Tim. He became her go-to companion who would listen quietly. It only made sense, after all; he had been there and understood what they had gone through. There was a kinship between them, a connection that had formed since their ordeal.
It started innocently enough. She would invite him for dinner; he would invite her to a movie. Anything to keep from thinking about it. That's what the psychiatrist had suggested to them. Then, things started to change. The talks became more intimate, the dinner and movie dates more common, and the nights longer. Before anyone could guess, they were dating, spending each night with one another. Tony didn't know if they were sleeping together, nor did he ask. He knew better than that.
And now the relationship had culminated, leaving so many questions in everyone's mind, not least of all Tony's. It was something he'd considered many times over the course of the year. If he had gone with her that day and had been the one captured with her, would things have turned out the same way? Or would his have been the shoulder she would silently cry on when they were alone? Would this day have been about them instead of being about her and Tim?
He shrugged and took a long swig of his beer. "I don't know, Abbs." He liked Ziva, of course, and not necessarily in a platonic way. She was an attractive woman and he'd known that from the moment he met her. Perhaps if things had been different they could have made it as a couple. The fact that they hadn't was something that made Tony neither upset nor relieved; it just made him curious. Curious about the way the world works, how the choices we make can be life-changing without us even knowing it.
"I think things worked out the way they were supposed to," he said finally. "After everything she's been through—the Mahler nightmare, Somalia, everything—McGee is exactly what she needed. You know; a nice guy."
Abby nudged him gently. "You're a nice guy too, Tony."
"I know…but in a different way. McGee, he's got the whole gentleman thing down to a science. I think no matter what had happened that day, we weren't meant for each other. It was always going to be him."
"Okay," Abby said, giving his shoulder a gentle squeeze, "I'm glad. I just wanted to make sure you were happy."
He finished off his beer and dropped the bottle in the nearest trash bin. He leaned against the wall, arms folded, watching as Tim and Ziva stood side-by-side. Her arm was intertwined with his, their hands clasped together at the bottom. Her other hand clutched his arm, keeping her practically glued to him. He watched as Tim leaned over, gently cupped Ziva's face, and softly kissed her. She smiled in a way that Tony had rarely seen her smile, the kind of simple smile that almost radiated.
And that made him happy.