Ziva was half an hour early to work in spite of tacking three extra miles onto her run that morning. She hadn't slept well. It was better this way – done all in one quick motion, like removing a band-aid. Doubts about the decision she'd made – she and Ray had made, like clear-headed adults – had been expected, but… She dropped her phone on her blotter as if it had shocked her. It hadn't been her intention to scroll down to his name. She was going to have to delete his number from her contacts. For now. Her cell remained on her desk, his name highlighted. Perhaps just a text message to… No.
She reached around the phone rather than move it to type in her email password. Several old emails from Ray were in her inbox. She hesitated before sending them to the recycle bin, one by one. An email could be more trivial than a text; she knew he never checked his personal email while working overseas. One little note to… No, no, no! Would she have to delete his email address as well? Shoot.
Yes! Firing range. Shooting at nothing would make her feel better. It almost always did.
The room was empty when she arrived. Moving to her favorite stall on the end, she set out the three weapons and two boxes of ammunition she had brought with her. Her mind clicked off as she went through motions she had completed hundreds if not thousands of times before. This was control. No matter what else happened in life, she could always hit a target.
She was methodically reloading her second backup for the third time when Tony walked into the room. "Hey, there you are, just like I said."
"Said to who?"
"McGee. He guessed tea with Ducky, proving once again why I'm the senior field agent. Anyway, I brought cannoli that I think give those donuts you brought yesterday a run for their money. I locked 'em in my desk so McGlutton won't suck them all down before we get back up there."
She assumed the dig at McGee was an attempt to get a rise out of her, so she let it pass and continued to reload. "When I am done here."
"They're really good cannoli. I got you a latte too, if…" He poked his head over her shoulder. "How long have you been down here? And why do you have three guns? That's one more than normal."
She shrugged, bumping his chin.
"You didn't beat up another agent in the elevator and take it from him, did you?" He took a quick step back.
"I got in before McGee, so I know you didn't give him the stink-eye until he voluntarily gave you his."
"This is my other backup." She raised her earphones and put another six holes in the paper target. Or through the hole in the middle of the paper chest that had been there since she had finished her SIG's first magazine.
"Hey! A little warning next time!" He reached for the earphones hanging from the hook at the next station and clapped them on. "So why are you down here disintegrating paper people?"
"I have not shot for a few days and I like to stay…"
She shook her head and set the weapon in her hands beside the other two on the shelf in front of her. Tony took off his earphones. "I was saying that I like to stay in practice."
He smirked. "Uh huh."
"Nothing. Just that you're down here with three guns, dropping enough brass to make a tuba. Even McGee doesn't need that much practice." He toed a few stray casings away as he stepped toward her. His posture was almost painfully casual as he leaned against the partition. "So…I'm guessing CI-Ray left early?"
All that shooting for nothing. Of course Tony would be the one to pull it out of her, just like he knew to check the firing range for her. Not that there was anything secret about it; she and Ray had made a mutual decision that… She took a deep breath. "In a manner of speaking."
Tony shook his head. "Jerk just couldn't step away from the CIA for two measly weeks…"
"Do not…" She pursed her lips for a moment before saying in a gentler tone, "Ray is a good man. We were just not right for each other at this point in our lives."
"Hey, I'm not saying he's a complete asshole, I'm just saying you deserve…wait, you broke up?"
"Yes." She reached for her service weapon and began to push fresh rounds into her SIG's clip. "We decided that, as things stand, the relationship was not going to work. No matter how much we wanted it to work…it was just not the right time for us."
"And that's it?"
"I thought…" Tony made a grab for his earphones as she raised her SIG and fired. The recoil from each shot felt comforting as it reverberated up her arms, through her chest. In spite of the forces at work, her grip was solid and her aim remained true. She held the trigger even though the magazine was now empty, feeling the clicks in her hands. Tony eventually pulled her earphones off before pushing her arms down. "I thought you loved him."
She blinked away water in her eyes, probably from the smoke and fine particles in the air around her. "I do."
"Uh-huh. And I kinda thought he was in love with you."
"Then I'm confused."
"And I am out of ammunition." She inspected the three weapons on the shelf in front of her. They were going to need cleaning. That would be more time away from her phone and email, more automatic actions requiring no thought.
Tony awkwardly patted her shoulder. "If you wanna, uh, talk or…"
"I am fine."
"Paper guy says different." To her surprise, he unholstered his weapon and held it out to her. "If it'll help…"
"Tony…" She considered it for a moment before shaking her head with a slight smile. "That is sweet, but unnecessary."
"Hm. Well, maybe I should take a few so you don't make me look bad with all the extra practice you're taking." He pointedly waited for her to put on her earphones before leveling his SIG and aiming for the same target she had been using. When he had finished, not emptying his full magazine, he recalled the target along the track toward them. He pointed proudly to a grouping of shots through the head of the target. "Not bad. I figured that in case by some miracle he survived the implosion of the chest you gave him, I better get in a few headshots. Boom."
She swallowed hard, not realizing her choice of target until he had pointed it out. "Showoff."
"Says the woman who cut the heart out of Jackie Paper here. That's a Puff the Magic…"
That was it. She lunged forward, burying her face in Tony's chest. Though she hated to admit it, crying felt even better than shooting.
"I know it is better this way, but it still…"
He stroked her back as she sobbed. "Hey, it's okay. I may not be clear on why you and Ray broke up, but…actually, this response concerns me a lot less than all that denial the first time around. Maybe, someday in the far off future, he'll come back into your life and be your elderly boyfriend. You can move to a retirement community in Miami together and play shuffleboard. And you'll be the envy of all the other eighty-five year old widows because your guy is still alive and…"
"Sorry. I…talking. Right."
He continued to hold her until her breathing returned to normal. Ray was gone, but she wasn't alone. "Thank you."
"Whatever I can do to help." He tilted her chin upward as she stepped back. "Really."
"I know." The moment lingered, but he dropped his hand. She smiled. "Are we still on for the movies this weekend?"
"Definitely. Duck Soup, Animal Crackers, dinner, A Night at the Opera. One of those things isn't a Marx Brothers movie. Then…" He waggled his eyebrows.
"Three words – hot fudge sundaes."
She laughed. "Sounds…wonderful."
"Good. Now let's get back to the bullpen. Cannoli, remember?"
Seated at her desk a few minutes later, Ziva took a bite and pressed delete.
Thank you to all for reading and reviewing. Title refers to Frost's 'Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.'