A/N:I don't own anything I'm not supposed to. The characters, references, some dialogue + anything else all belong to whomever. Please don't sue me - it is just for fun. The rest came out of my brain.
Chapter eleven: more April, the Ray-Jay warning is still in force. This chapter gets a little busy and I'm not sure if the idea/layout worked. Feel free to let me know!
I promise we are getting there. At least, I didn't keep you waiting too long this time.
And the usual for the background details….
"Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears."
"So, how's the love-fest going upstairs?" Abby sucked on her Caf-Pow straw, watching McGee expectantly.
"Huh?" McGee was sitting beside her.
They were endeavoring to establish a link between the current suspect and the P2P's methods. The flowers, the travel or the medical supplies: anything which could support extending his custody.
"You know, Tony and E.J. and Ray and Ziva?" She nudged him gleefully in anticipation of the latest update. "Reduced calorie romance….No, I've already checked that one."
"It's not love, Abby." He began amending the algorithm; removing some parameters and altering others. "Everybody hates everybody else."
"Only some bodies, McGee." Abby laughed enigmatically. "If we randomize the range more…."
She could flip from eccentric friend to sensible scientist within seconds, and keep each identity in its designated compartment. "Mr. Port-to-Port has left tracks somewhere and I will find his footprints….or fingerprints….or some type of prints."
McGee was perplexed. "What do you mean?"
Often Abby's audience was less successful and became hopelessly snarled in her mind's multitasking processor. In this instance, the confusion was made worse because McGee hadn't worked out that Tony and E.J. were sleeping together. Ziva was inherently discreet, although this rectitude had nothing to do with her silence on the relationship. If she was honest, the topic was oddly disturbing, and Ziva had conveniently avoided mentioning it to her colleague.
McGee wasn't oblivious to Tony and E.J.'s antics. Nevertheless, it never occurred to him that Tony would ever defy Gibbs over getting laid. Or if he did, the junior agent naturally believed the near capital offense would be committed with their probationary agent, not the Rota team leader.
She took the keyboard. "Like this."
"No, not that: I'm changing the variables input now."
Bruised pride surfaced and a brief tug of war ensued whilst he retrieved the keyboard. "Abby, I've got this." McGee shot her an exasperated look. "I meant the bit about them not hating?"
The purpose of McGee's morning visit was three-fold. There was, of course, the not inconsequential task of finding and arresting a murderer. Additionally, the maelstrom brought on by change, discord at the top and general fluctuations, was making the cheery Goth rashy. He was checking on Abby. Finally, this morning's queasy confection of unease was particularly apocalyptic in flavor; as if a red cross should be painted on the entrance to the Navy Yard. Tony was irascible. Ziva was agitated. Gibbs and E.J. were locking horns over the interrogation of Bruce Leitner. McGee was taking refuge from the fermenting atmosphere.
"It's simple, Silly. Ray's older than Ziva, charming…" Yielding ownership of the computer, she redefined her characterization at McGee's raised eyebrows. "OK, make that smarmy, in a stolid, sticky-out-eared kinda way…"
"He's Tony Lite." She giggled. "And E.J.'s all sassy and independent….waay too much 'aren't I clever?' Pretty, not beautiful sooo...she's Diet Ziva."
Taking another sip, Abby elaborated her theme enthusiastically. "Though E.J.'s very small, so maybe she's like snack-size Ziva or mini-bite…."
"Aw Abby, it's not funny." The interruption was accompanied by a grimace, Abby's mischievous food analogy wasn't curing his ails.
"Tony's pissed at Ray. Ziva's never liked E.J…." He shook his head. "Gibbs doesn't like either E.J. or Ray…" McGee morosely listed the intersecting enmities. "I think Tony and Ziva are mad at each other..."
He noticed her mouth curving into laugh again, and pleaded for sympathy. "You don't have to work with them all day."
McGee pressed some keys and waited for the command to appear on the monitor. "The next search will take a while to run." There was an optimistic air about his manner.
Speculating on the saga brewing in the bull-pen had lifted Abby's mood. "Oh Timmy, you know I'd love to play hide and go seek with you…."
Her eyes sparkled impishly and she squeezed him in a tight hug. "….but you can't stay down here. Be brave. And go away."
"How'd you meet him anyway?" Returning to his desk, Tony tried to acquire additional background via inoffensive curiosity.
Ziva sighed, closing the file cabinet drawer. She wasn't that gullible and Tony's introductory tactic failed miserably. "That is private and has nothing to do with you."
"Fine, I'll ask Ray." Tony's laconic riposte hinted at his determination.
"I'm sure he'll be more than happy to share." A sour critique of the fact that, as far as Tony was concerned, Ray was willing to share in unnecessarily gory detail.
She halted in front of him. Ziva couldn't imagine Tony would consult Ray on the subject of their first meeting. Nevertheless, Tony displayed an extraordinary flair for managing the outlandish, and it would be unwise to set him the challenge.
"I was on assignment and our paths crossed professionally." She clinically described how Ray Cruz had entered her life.
"Yeah." Tony nodded.
"Except: he's not authorized to operate on U.S. soil, so how'd he run across you, professionally?" He matched her cool tone, although there was the tiniest trace of disbelief in the factual observation.
McGee's assessment of the senior agent's tetchy mood was right. Tony had slept badly, not aided by E.J.'s form lying next to him in the bed. Worry over the day's disclosures, and their connotations, combined with the singular hell of envisaging Ziva in another man's arms whilst he whispered 'I love you.' Tony's insomnia was fueled by fierce, burning resentment because Ray possessed the freedom to tell her anything he wished. In Tony's view, the endearment denoted attachment with a romantic depth approximating that of the Mariana Trench. The idea stirred dense, suffocating dread because Ziva might be longing to hear those words from Ray, and to reciprocate the sentiment. Most significantly, Tony battled mind-blowing shock because he shouldn't feel this way. Although, 'shouldn't' was a rather redundant obligation because he did, nonetheless.
"He knew someone on the Task Force, they mentioned our investigation." Ziva shrugged, as if the event was trivial. "Ray contacted me."
"Who?" Tony flatly countermanded her casual dismissal.
"A contact…friend." His question caught Ziva off-guard. "Anyway, Ray was not operating, he was…." Last summer, Ziva had been circumspect in accepting Ray's unsolicited offer of inter agency cooperation.
Tony's targeted inquiry tripped an echo of this caution, and she groped for an adequate answer. "He supplied the informant who knew of Paloma's drug shipments."
Undeterred by her growing discomfort, Tony insisted on an identity. "The friend's name Zee-vah?"
Ziva, too, had found sleep elusive and spent several hours curled on the sofa reading. The book was a ruse in the event Ray wakened and came to find her; in reality, Ziva ingested fewer pages than she had earlier in the evening. Her personal and professional worlds had mingled, and the blend resulted in chaotic fretting. Ziva cataloged and examined all the possible, rational instigators for the bubbling, tumultuous disorder within her being; constructing a type of mental Venn diagram. Alas the two circles - one illustrating what she had, one representing her aspirations - stubbornly refused to merge. Instead of overlapping and reinforcing the merits of her relationship with Ray, Ziva's analysis fostered the nebulous discontentment. Furthermore, the stability of Ziva's formula degraded entirely whenever she tried integrating Tony into the equation.
"I do not know their name." Acidity seeped into Ziva's tone, she didn't appreciate being interrogated. "What is your point?"
"It's one helluva coincidence." Tony cocked his head, and made his point. "A spook just happens to show up with a handy tip to help you, of all people. Then suddenly you're an item."
From the beginning, Tony had suffered from an internal 'stranger danger' alert over Ray's materialization on the scene. Originally, his anxiety had been centered upon the Reynosa cartel and its broad, multifaceted horizons; the government officials in their pocket, the mercenaries and cross-border network. Then Eli's caveat added an alternative, undeveloped dimension which became more exposed upon discovery of CI-Ray's vocation. Tony was delicately sketching the blueprint of his theory, creating the picture by degrees. Inwardly, he was praying Ziva would draw the natural conclusion for herself without Tony actually having to cast the aspersions.
"We were not suddenly an item." She tartly corrected the inference of unseemly haste, narrowing her eyes and tipping up her chin. "And why is any of this important?"
Matter-of-factly, Tony stated the obvious. "You're the daughter of the fucking Director of Mossad, that's why."
"I do not need reminding of whom or what my father is, Tony." Her tone sharpened further in puzzled reprimand.
The threads of Mossad, the CIA, international counter-terrorism and their conceivable interweaving hadn't quite connected. "Ray does not know my father."
"You're sure 'bout that?" Apparently, the designated gods were deaf, busy, or shunning Tony's supplications, and he inched nearer the objective.
"Yes." Ziva's quick confirmation was unthinking, before comprehension dawned and she stared at Tony. "Why would you think Ray knows my father?"
His failure to divulge the full substance of the conversation with Eli David had plagued Tony for months. He vacillated between unabridged testimony and continued postponement until he had certainties, not mysteries. His preferred option was for confiding in Ziva. He didn't like keeping things from her, and he really didn't like breaking his word. This instinct was countered by the small difficulty of not actually knowing anything; there was a distinct paucity of concrete information for disclosure.
He didn't care if Eli and Ray were in cahoots plotting to achieve global domination and establish an evil empire. Tony's sole interests were minimizing any upset to Ziva and who posed the threat: Eli or Ray. If the villain was Eli, Ray may have apprised Ziva himself and Tony would appear as if he were interfering in her private affairs. If the reverse was true, Tony would be crashing Ziva's romance; a prospect laden with all the attendant potential for misunderstandings and unhappiness.
"Because your father knows all about him." Looking at her steadily, Tony ensured his voice was exceptionally even – and calmly pulled the pin.
At best, his news was likely to be unsettling. At worst, its reception and consequences could be decidedly unpleasant. The subject involved Ziva's father and her boyfriend; stalling for extra time had seemed the lesser of two evils. Now time had run out. During the distracted overnight hours, amidst all the torment, one thought had harried Tony's brain relentlessly; he must tackle Ziva on the subject.
"How do you know this?" Although she was clearly surprised by his statement, Ziva's reply was equally neutral.
"Last fall: when I met with Eli." Tony affected nonchalance, despite the fact he was still holding the grenade. "He asked if I knew anything about your boyfriend."
"I see." Ziva tilted her head, absorbing the revelation. "What did you tell him?"
"Nothing; I didn't know anything." Tony was buoyed by Ziva's response. Thus far, he had accomplished a contained implosion.
"And I wouldn't've told him even if I did." Nevertheless, he added a preemptive codicil lest she misinterpret his meaning.
He watched the reign of surprise wane and its heirs, concentration and assimilation, claim sovereignty over Ziva's features.
"Why would he speak to you about Ray?" Ziva was still staring at him, assessing Tony as much as the belated debriefing.
"I don't know…." Uncertainty tinged Tony's voice as the explanation dried up.
'I don't know' had sufficed for November, but it would be wholly unsatisfactory for this discussion. "Eli said there were questions."
"What else did he say?" Their roles had been transposed. At present, Ziva was driving the process with blunt inquiries and Tony was chasing appropriately innocuous replies.
"Um…." If the ignorance clause wouldn't serve, 'um' was unbelievably useless.
For the first time since broaching the problem, Tony glanced off her gaze. "He wanted me….he….uh….to watch out for you…."
Eli's hidden machinations notwithstanding, his attitude throughout the meeting had conveyed a conspicuous definition of Tony's entanglement with Ziva. There was an implicit meaning when he solemnly intoned 'close'; not exactly lovers, but not exactly just good friends and coworkers either. Tony wanted to be candid. Furthermore, enlightening Ziva with the uncut version, and the method by which Eli had yanked his chain, might prove instrumental in supplying a solution.
Ziva raised an eyebrow in eloquent demand.
Shifting uneasily, Tony stuck his hands in his pockets and a subdued grin appealed for mercy. "'Cause he thinks, uh…we're close….or something."
The fractured mosaic of feelings which had haunted Tony's sleeplessness infiltrated the exchange. Eli's motivations for using Tony tangled awkwardly in the root causes of his troubled night. The significance of those fears diffused under the glare of daylight, and became scattered, nonsensical abstracts: best left unreferenced. Tony floated Eli's judgment disguised as an absurd joke.
"Really?" Ziva's chilly laugh and mocking tone indicated clemency would not be forthcoming
Ditching the notion of complete truth, he retreated behind flimsy deflection. "How the hell should I know what goes on in Eli's head? He's your goddamned father, Zee-vah."
"Yes he is." She studied him for a minute, before quietly detonating the explosive. "You lied to me."
He flinched. "I didn't lie. I….I just didn't tell you everything."
This was, essentially, clutching at verbal straws. Moreover the effectiveness of Tony's emphatic contradiction was marred somewhat by the stumbling qualifier.
"You said he was worried about me. That it was a thank you." Ziva offered a recriminatory précis of Tony's previous characterization of the conference.
"It was. I told you this. Eli talked about taking down Al-Masri, the Somalia op." He dodged escalation, reiterating the overall integrity in his original account by invoking the balance of probabilities. Consistency would strengthen Tony's position.
At Thanksgiving, he had told her Eli mentioned bringing her back. Already jarred by the knowledge Tony had obscured a vital portion of the topics covered, Ziva was beset by irrational apprehensions. The discourse about the Somalia op. may have been more encompassing than mere gratitude.
Startled hurt and anxiety flickered across her face. "You discussed Saleem….what he….what happened..."
As her voice filled with unsteady dismay, Ziva reflexively backed away from him.
The notion Tony had disclosed what little he knew to Eli David induced raw, unreasoned panic. Tony could have depicted the abused, broken woman he had rescued, and thereby revealed Ziva's frailties and humiliation; the terrible emotional damage. The wounds were confined within an impenetrable ring-fence which provided control and regulated their effects. For Tony to have permitted Eli access – even vicarious access, limited by distance – would be unbearable.
"No, Ninja, there wasn't any discussion. None." Tony swiftly intervened, attempting to quell the visible influx of distress.
His guarded manner had vanished and was replaced by sincere reassurance. "He was selling the usual sociopathic bullshit. I wasn't buying."
Moving nearer, he shrugged philosophically. "Figured you didn't need to hear it again."
Ziva paced sideways, as if intent on edging past him. Tony followed suit, cutting off her path; the last thing needed was for Ziva to disengage whilst harboring misconceptions.
"I'm guessing he knows Ray's CIA, and it's some kinda a problem for him or Mossad." Searching for a distraction, Tony proffered his basic hypothesis on Eli's scheme. Her father and Ray were in the same business; perhaps their spheres had converged.
"One with which he enlisted your help." Although she had restored superficial equilibrium, there was an unmistakable trace of censure in the observation.
Tiredness can impede reaction times and cloud perceptions. Tony missed the underlying warning in her remark; he was too slow in noticing Ziva's demeanor. She was watching him warily, strained shadows ghosting her eyes. The fingers of one hand clasped around the clenched fist of the other, knuckles paling with the force.
"I'm not helping him." He shook his head, irked by the suggestion of conspiracy.
"And I am supposed to believe you now?" The cold tone and skepticism in Ziva's expression announced it was a self-answering question. Doubt was creeping to the fore.
Tony had told Dr. Cranston he knew how to handle Ziva, and it was a fairly accurate appraisal of his talent. He exhibited remarkable understanding; reading and adapting to her protean personality, and expertly fielding the infinite variety of moods which presented. Although the process could be somewhat fraught, and sometimes peace wasn't effortlessly achieved, eventually Tony would help Ziva settle. He had initiated the conversation confident he would be able to talk her down should the encounter go pear-shaped. However, Tony's hands were normally clean in whatever was triggering her disquiet; whereas, in this case, they were ever so slightly grubby. Moreover, it was his involvement which was stirring the greatest agitation: an unexpected obstacle.
"Yes." Tony snapped the exasperated, baffled affirmative.
Ziva was more fixated on Tony's role as unwitting accomplice, and less on any connection - hazardous or otherwise - between Eli and her boyfriend.
"How come you're so certain Ray doesn't know your father?" Reverting to the material issue, Tony pushed for clarification.
"Because he would have told me." Ziva's instant, smug retort managed to act for both the defense and prosecution; acquitting Ray and condemning Tony.
"Oh of course he would." Irritated by her shielding Ray - that his reputation was unimpeachable - Tony's scathingly sarcastic agreement was spiked by unacknowledged jealousy.
His simmering frustrations boiled into outright annoyance. "Jesus Zee-vah, will you just think for a second?"
McGee had exited the elevator, made it to the partition beside Ziva's workstation, and aborted his approach in immediate recognition of the scenario. Tony and Ziva were located in the gap between his and Tony's desks, positioned on a diagonal. Tony's back was roughly aligned with Gibbs' place, and Ziva's was toward Tony's chair.
E.J. came up alongside him, glimpsed Tony and started forward in his direction.
"Don't." McGee's arm stretched out, blocking her movement.
Previously, McGee had been nothing but pliant amiability, now his action and tone definitely erred on the side of a command. E.J. was taken aback, and she shot him a quizzical look.
"They're….er…." The junior agent smiled affably in deleting instruction mode. "Tony and Ziva are…erhm….they're sorting something out."
He couldn't hear everything being said. He didn't need to hear. The body language, expressions and ominous, crackling electricity in the air confirmed the status of the pair. This wasn't playful bickering or a harmless squabble; Tony and Ziva were fighting.
"It's usually best to stay out of the way 'til they're done." McGee withdrew his arm, satisfied E.J. wasn't going to barge in.
"Usually?" E.J. turned toward him. "This is normal?" There was unashamed nosiness in E.J.'s demeanor.
"We-ell, weirdly yes, for them anyway." McGee pondered whether he was breaching an unknown principle of team etiquette in chatting about his colleagues' partnership.
Nevertheless, they were all required to cooperate and E.J. might profit from someone filling in the complicated blanks. "I'm not sure how long they've been at this one, but it's probably a three on the scale."
"A three?" E.J. raised her eyebrows.
In common with Gibbs, the imported team leader was accustomed to people volunteering every piece of pertinent information.
"I'm new." E.J. bossily reminded her adviser that she wouldn't be familiar with the all local customs and colloquialisms of the Navy Yard.
"On the TaZ scale: like the Saffir-Simpson scale for hurricanes?" McGee nodded pleasantly.
She occupied the same rank, but E.J. wasn't close to being Leroy Jethro Gibbs in bearing. "I invented it."
He showed sweet, geeky enjoyment in expounding his method for measuring the friction. McGee inhabited the realm of binary code; data, predictions, and outcomes were all based in sensible calculations. It was his comfort zone, and the sporadically demented conduct of his coworkers disrupted that tranquility. The scale provided a buffer. He didn't publicize the gauge and McGee daren't tell Tony and Ziva he rated their interaction in terms of natural disasters.
"This looks to be running just above a three." Periodically, McGee would check his weather glass and forecast the likely atmosphere. If conditions would be calm, changeable, stormy, or demanded actively battening down the hatches, and evacuating. During spring 2009, circumstances had necessitated near hourly monitoring.
E.J. was amused; there was a nerd on her unit too. Obviously, Special Agents Cade and McGee were going to get along famously. "How high does it go?"
"Five." He noted E.J.'s slightly dubious smirk that the quarrel only rated as moderate.
"But they haven't been like this for, oh….." McGee blew out his cheeks, trying to recall the last occasion when the turbulence had been so powerful and unstable. And the junior agent was forced to concede he couldn't remember a recent outbreak. "…actually, not for a long time."
Ziva folded her arms, indignant intransigence matching Tony's resolute ire. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Eli's in D.C. so Ray decides on a visit, then Eli's no longer around and, oh hey, he cancels." Tony mockingly snapped his fingers and sardonically forged the links in the chain, having reached the stage of 'contained-anything-be-damned'.
He took a couple of paces toward Ziva.
"Did you ever actually ask him why?" The slow, emphasized delivery signaled Tony's encroachment into her territory wasn't reassurance related. He was increasing the pressure.
Tony's embellishment of the charged ether was entirely unnecessary; rising volume and baleful expressions showed the reality of tensions escalating by the minute.
"You have no evidence for such an allegation." Ziva defiantly picked up the gauntlet, stepping even closer and proclaimed an outraged rebuttal.
"No, I don't have any evidence." Tony shook his head, but the admission was extremely unapologetic. "But instead of asking Ray for proof I'm wrong, you're standing here yelling at me."
He conveniently overlooked such a declaration was in absolute violation of one of the fundamentals of natural justice: innocent until proven guilty.
"Because, Tony, it is you who is in collusion with my father." Ziva's non sequitur triggered the secondary fuse with barbed acrimony.
"For Christ's sake Zee-vah, don't be ridiculous." His derisory laugh and scornful dismissal of Ziva's specious claim were warranted, in addition to being exceedingly unkind.
Tony and Eli would be incapable of complicity over the time of day, let alone pull off a dual assault on Ziva's relationship.
He was dimly aware they were both culpable of shooting the messenger type behavior. He had been annoyed at her concealment of Ray's occupation; likewise Ziva's response to Tony's discussion with her father. Tony was grateful she wasn't armed, because there was always the outside chance Ziva might interpret the metaphor literally. Unfortunately, this insight didn't assist Tony in withstanding Ziva's squall.
In a shrewd bid to convince Ziva that his misgivings were prompted by factors beyond merely Eli's opinion, Tony jogged her memory. "Look, I warned you when you got back from Miami, and you said he was a friend."
The self-righteous, 'I-told-you-so' attitude was a less astute ploy.
"We were friends." This was true and, had Ray not persevered, they would still be friends.
Ziva stubbornly clung to the virtue, wielding it as though it was a sword. "I was being truthful, you were not."
Tony began vehement protest. "I didn't…."
"I'll tell you just as soon as I figure it out." Ziva interjected, bitterly spitting out his assurance from five months ago.
Another side-effect of fatigue is impaired cognitive function. If Eli's persona was removed from the situation, Tony's suspicions – the case against Ray - would seem plausible. They were certainly worthy of a thorough inspection. Ray had urged reconciliation with her father. His recommendation was always couched in the benefits for Ziva; a neat and clear-cut settlement for the sake of healing. Intermittently he implied she still struggled with the ordeal, because she wouldn't embrace the simplistic concept of closure. In spite of its rather misguided nature, Ziva had assumed the advice was given genuinely. Her imprisonment and her difficult relationship with Eli were areas she kept largely isolated from Ray, and so he couldn't be expected to fully comprehend her perspective. Tony's revelations had put a different complexion on the matter of making peace with the Director of Mossad.
"And you did figure it out, Tony." Weary and besieged by the contradictory elements, vexed reproach burst into Ziva's voice. "Only telling me cannot have been important."
He hadn't actually uttered the phrase "I promise.' Nevertheless, Ziva had accepted Tony's assertion as a pledge: a supreme, infallible guarantee. And now it appeared she was wrong. Like a cartoon character who realizes they have just run off the edge of a cliff into thin air, legs flailing for purchase, Ziva's brain was frantically scrabbling for solid ground. She trusted him unconditionally and without reservation. Ziva hadn't understood that trust, her absolute reliance on Tony, until confronted with perceived betrayal. The recognition left her reeling, as though a huge hole had been gouged inside, and the void flooded with crazily muddled, desperate emotions.
"Has it ever occurred to you that I didn't tell you because of this?" Tony gestured at Ziva, in illustration of his disparaging estimation.
Often, in many disagreements, there is a watershed when the principles and doctrines go out of the window. In their stead arrive logical fallacies and insults which are all disguised as valid reasoning. The debate becomes a war of attrition: no longer about the actual issue, merely about winning the conflict.
Ziva's sharp inquiry cracked like a whip. "What?"
"This….this goddamned Nikita on steroids routine of yours." Aggrieved frustration colored his complaint.
Tony knew she had been thrown off-balance, yet his tolerance was stifled by Ziva's doubting his integrity. "OK, maybe I should've told you sooner, but I didn't lie to you."
The grudging confession was mixed with surly rejection of any delinquency. In Tony's view the denial was perfectly legitimate; he hadn't lied, he simply hadn't been completely honest.
Similar to the crusty caldera of a dormant super-volcano clearing its throat with a pre-eruption cough, yesterday's argument had been a precursor. Since the toxic introduction of Ray and E.J., the magma chamber had been gradually filling, until there was no room available for expansion. Finally, the built up stresses exceeded the critical combustion point - and exploded spectacularly.
"Yes, you did." She refuted his stance with implacable certainty. Ziva glared at Tony, biting her lip.
"You should have come to me directly…." As a renewed surge of confused emotions rose, overwrought, injured reproach crept into her inflection. "….talked to me about Ray; not…snoop or….or spy on me for my father…."
Ziva knew her father and knew how he operated. Unluckily, she translated 'watch out for' into surveillance, ironically mirroring Tony's initial understanding of the request.
"Yeah right, 'cause that worked real fucking well last time, didn't it Zee-vah?" Goaded by the inference he was Eli's ally – Tony's honor was at stake – he lashed out with a savage interruption.
He was enraged by Ziva's insistence on willful deceit as his rationale. Most importantly, the core of Ziva's position, delineated with painful clarity, had emerged from the jumbled reactions. She didn't trust him. This realization was exacerbated by a guilty conscience; he was the architect of his own downfall. Eternal procrastination had led to forfeiture of Ziva's faith.
"Oh God, Tony, you just had to go there, didn't you?" McGee groaned a despairing rebuke of his friend and winced. "Four point five."
E.J. had been watching the performance in horrified fascination. Tony and Ziva were practically occupying the same spot: oblivious to onlookers, the surroundings - everything but each other. He was exuding cold rage, which clashed with the fiery fury radiating from the normally icily detached Israeli. The sight was akin to the human equivalent of an oxy-acetylene torch: the mingling of their individual components creating a fountain of sparks. And E.J. experienced a stab of disconsolation, struck by what it meant to capture Tony's undivided attention. The Rota team leader had never seen this aspect of Tony's personality. She had basically called him a coward, suggested his sense of ambition was deficient, and Tony had reacted with good-natured indifference. E.J. queried internally if she was the sideshow, not the main event.
Mesmerized, she nudged McGee. "What happens at five?"
McGee inclined his head. "They stop talking."
He spoke gravely, as though he had just discovered a bomb underneath them and the timing mechanism had run down to zero. "Then it gets bad."
E.J. looked at him, open-mouthed and incredulous that a self-imposed quarantine for Tony and Ziva could be worse than a warring Tony and Ziva.
Sleep deprivation shortens tempers: inhibits the capacity for coping and patience. When Tony flaunted Ziva's heedless disregard over Michael Rivkin, the argument acquired the characteristics of an internecine dispute, and mutually assured destruction was waiting in the wings. Lack of practice hadn't diminished their ability to inflict damage. The stunning sense of how much she depended upon Tony and the simultaneous shattering of that foundation had rattled and unnerved Ziva. Typically, she utilized attack to supply safety.
"So this is my fault." Blaming Ziva was iniquitous, and she furiously seized the injustice.
"Will that be your excuse again, Tony?" The comment was heavily imbued with malicious moral superiority.
Conscious control on his temper had rapidly degenerated from endangered to extinct, Tony started to leave.
"You never care about the damage or who you hurt, do you?" Ziva called out the accusation, striking with scalding spite.
She could have been alluding to hurting Jeanne or perhaps even killing Rivkin; however, the most likely, and most incendiary, candidate was Ziva. Her egregious, cutting condemnation was, in essence, a slap in the face.
If Ziva had just recklessly burned a bridge, Tony proceeded to hunt down the bridge designer and perpetrate a scorched earth policy on both riverbanks.
He spun around and retraced his steps, getting in her space. "Tell me something, do you deliberately pick them for their ability to fuck with us?"
His tone was viciously quiet, drenched in frigid anger and biting contempt. "Or do you just get stupid for any guy that hits on you?"
Then he walked away.
Long ago, Mcgee had evolved the knack of acting totally unaware when it came to their quarrels.
"Tony." Passing the senior agent with a friendly nod, McGee sat down at his desk.
Tony was fuming, cursing under his breath as he strode to the elevator and smacked the call button. He wasn't sure which antagonist he wanted to punch first: her father or her boyfriend. Eli had ensnared him in another incomprehensible maze. Currently, he was favoring Cruz for scoring a double by ensnaring Tony and Ziva in Eli's maze. Plus Ray was in the neighborhood; retribution could be satisfyingly imminent.
E.J. wasn't as circumspect as McGee when she bounced up to Tony.
"Wow." She smiled at him admiringly, and launched into bitchy disapproval of his partner. "Temperamental's way too kind."
Studying Ziva's figure, receding in the opposite direction, E.J. eagerly sought inclusion. "What was that all about?"
"None of your fucking business." She was suitably abashed by the ferocious snarl.
Tony screwed up his face. "Sorry."
Shaking his head, he examined the skylight for a few moments, as a wave of despondent self-loathing washed into his thoughts. "It was….she's….it's work stuff."
It was a pathetic, unpersuasive justification, yet it was impossible to coherently explain the inexplicable. Whenever Tony truly lost his temper, the chances were exceptionally good that Ziva would be found at the flashpoint: holding accelerant and matches. She could provoke him to aggravation or delight; bedevil or beguile him in a heartbeat, and he kept going back for more.
"Lunch?" E.J. opted for dropping the topic of Ziva.
"Yeah, why not." Tony sighed, suddenly dispirited and drained; a brief respite from the office would be appreciated.
Ideally he craved solitude to try and figure out a strategy. Immediate reconstruction would be an overly ambitious aim, but extinguishing the fire might be feasible.
E.J. finished her latest round of criticizing Gibbs and moved closer. Tony restarted the elevator, wondering forlornly why none of the women in his life ever listened to him.
"Well, maybe your coworkers could get used to the idea of me being here on a more permanent basis?" E.J. coquettishly hinted at staying in D.C., whilst taking a shot at Ziva.
When Tony remained mildly interested but silent, she carried on. "I look at you, and how you've made this place work for yourself….it's your home."
These types of exchange always made him uncomfortable, and it had become something of a recurring theme for E.J. They had been dating a month; by anyone's standards it was too early to be considering picking out china patterns. Additionally, Tony's yardstick for girlfriends was rather similar to dog versus people years. Reasonable commitment milestones for regular couples equated to excessively precipitous actions in his book.
Tony glanced at her, making a deftly noncommittal reply. "It's all about the people around you."
"Yeah, I'm starting to get that." E.J. smiled because it seemed as though he was going to kiss her. And then the doors opened.
There was an awful, embarrassed pause as they all surveyed the scene.
"Agent David, CI-Ray…" Caught in a vaguely compromising position, Tony taunted Ray with his nickname.
"Stop calling him that." Ziva hissed admonishment. Ray had come to collect her for a prearranged lunch.
"It's OK, I kinda like it." Ray feigned camaraderie, and the two men renewed the psychological contest for dominance.
Tony purposefully walked between Ziva and Ray, E.J. trailed after him. "Agent Cruz."
There was a second horrible pause, but this time the discomfort belonged solely to Ray.
'Wait….you two know each other?" Consternation sounded in Ziva's query.
"Well, yeah, didn't he tell you?" E.J.'s snarky rejoinder was uncalled for and bordered on gloating.
Having seen Tony and Ziva's altercation, she was standing by her man in a show of unity; albeit a badly misconstrued display. "Ray's our CIA Liaison with NCIS on the P2P case."
Alas, at that precise juncture, E.J.'s man was fervently wishing she was standing in bottomless pit of quicksand or on a trapdoor; anywhere except next to him. Tony's heart sank as mortified shock swamped Ziva, and plummeted further as she faultlessly masked the weakness. Tony steadily scrutinized Ray - who was avoiding everyone's eyes - before gazing at Ziva. E.J. was disconcerted because Tony's amorous mood in the elevator had evaporated; he was totally focused on his partner. Puzzled and peeved, E.J. walked off into the squad room. Reluctantly, Tony turned and followed.
Sitting at the bar, Ziva hoped the bartender was happily married, gay or otherwise attached, so she wouldn't spend the evening fending off inept chat up lines. She had selected this establishment specifically on the basis of its patrons. They were a different group than the crowd at the livelier haunts frequented by the team. Of all the havens situated relatively near the Navy Yard, here she was unlikely to run across any acquaintances. Ziva didn't want to go home, but she did want to mull over the wreckage in solitary misery.
Her life had unraveled with breathtaking speed and, although contemplating its ruin was not a particularly pleasant procedure, Ziva didn't recoil from a brutally candid inquisition. She had resolved asking Ray about Tony's insinuations at lunch. Ray's unveiling as liaison on the Port-to-Port case had rendered that task unnecessary, and Ziva hadn't even bothered to inquire. The surrender of Bruce Leitner was a calculated strategy; one devised to win back her trust. However, since Gibbs would eventually find out by himself, Ray wasn't taking a gamble and Ziva had identified the tactic. Manipulation was also a part of her skill set. On her way back to the Navy Yard, she had weighed how much of Ray's persistent suit had been professional, how much personal and where her father fitted into the picture. These were all practical questions and, although the answers were unedifying, they were manageable.
Ray had accused Ziva of overreaction. Tony would have been hugely entertained by the false characterization, because the encounter would have barely recorded a one on McGee's meter. This comprehension formed part of her conundrum. She was annoyed and hurt by Ray's deception but, on reflection, Ziva couldn't honestly say she was angry with him; not truly angry. Embarrassment in front of one's coworkers is guaranteed to bruise an ego which, in reality, had been the source of her ire. After the discovery of Tony's stretch of truth and their confrontation, she had been trembling, on the verge of tears; taking sanctuary in the evidence locker until composure was restored. The disparity between her reactions – the strength and nature of them – led Ziva to melancholic, introspective musing this evening.
"Wine or beer? Thai or Italian?" E.J. leaned over the 'hedge', enticingly describing the order of play for the evening. "Your place or mine?"
Tony stared across at Ziva's empty desk. "Pass."
"Oh." E.J. pouted, obviously expecting and in-depth excuse.
"I gotta…." Tony hesitated. The primary task was to find out where Ziva had fled at the end of the day, and he definitely didn't need E.J. tagging along.
Shrugging apologetically, he firmly announced his plans. "I gotta talk to Zee-vah."
E.J. remembered what McGee had said about communication breaking down once a dispute reached five. Yet there was a strange, worried quality to Tony's declaration, and she surmised the hostilities had nothing to do with his quest. She was an able investigator and the presumption was correct. McGee had brought Tony up-to-date with the news of Ziva's split with Ray. Tony was very concerned.
"Well, I guess I'll see you….tomorrow….then?" E.J.'s farewell was slanted toward the goal of giving Tony an opportunity; he could stop at her apartment afterwards.
"Uh, yeah: night." Tony's disconnected reply underlined his preoccupied thoughts.
Ziva despised herself for the unthinking plea that Ray tell her he loved her; it was needy and insecure. Moreover, she admitted the sense of wishing to be loved had shaped her fall. She was conscious the constant longing had been dispelled by Ray's attention. He had pursued and wooed her: desired Ziva. In spite of any possible ulterior motives, at least Ray saw her as a woman. Not merely as a lethal, booted and spurred, cargo-pant-clad, one of the boys. In allowing his courtship to ameliorate the lonely yearning, Ziva realized she personified the axiom of 'hope told a flattering tale.' Her own heart had betrayed Ziva; not Ray. This sad conclusion had the tears pricking again.
"Hey, you shouldn't drink alone. It's too depressing." He nonchalantly tossed his coat onto an adjacent stool and sat beside Ziva.
Ziva was focused on the big screen t.v. as she sipped her drink. "It is a club soda, and I am not depressed."
She was depressed, although not for the reason Tony believed. She was also confused. Which was a depressing sensation by itself, and the turmoil wasn't aided by Tony trespassing in the middle of her meditations. Ziva could isolate parts of her being from Ray; she possessed no such power with Tony. His capacity to access and invade her soul, seemingly at will, was wonderful, gratifying and absolutely terrifying.
"Jesus, who the hell goes to a bar and drinks club soda?" He beckoned in relief for the barman.
This was the fourth place he had reconnoitered in the search for Ziva; a cocktail was long overdue. "Seriously, you really need to practice this whole getting drunk to fix a broken heart thing."
"I do not have a broken heart." She was studiously avoiding eye contact and her tone was coolly distant. The fortifications had been erected, entrenched and secured.
Tony grinned wolfishly. "Well, if it's some other part of you that broken Zee-vah, I'd love to help but we'd get fired."
His quip was full-throttle, irresistible charm. The outrageous suggestion designed to break the ice, trigger a response: amusement or exasperation - even annoyance - some sort of engagement.
"Wouldn't blame you, it's been a rough day." He shook his head in commiseration.
Rough was missing the mark by a fairly wide margin. The deity of woe had meted out further punishment in numerically proper measure; the forty eight hour tally was one short of a dozen. In addition to their fight and Ray's faux pas, the suspect hadn't panned out and the P2P had killed again. The murderer had cunningly misdirected the team and demonstrated the undeniable excellence of his talents.
"Maybe for you." Ziva flintily blocked the sympathy, her gaze fixed straight ahead. "I am fine."
It seemed the coals were still glowing from this morning's inferno. Fortunately, Tony was a gifted firewalker when it came to negotiating the volatility of Ziva's moods.
Glancing at the screen, he remained neutral. "If you were fine, you wouldn't be here."
Embers flared, the hotspot igniting into irritation. "OK, then, let's go." Ziva collected her bag and prepared to leave.
Tony's hand shot out, grabbing the upper part of her arm.
"I would like a drink." That was something of an understatement.
Ziva was surprised by the forceful maneuver and, for the first time since his arrival, she met his eyes.
"And it's depressing to drink alone." He wryly reclaimed the cavalier attitude.
As she sat down, Ziva glared pointedly at his hand. He released his grip, exaggeratedly holding his open hand in the air for a second. Tony cocked his head and raised his eyebrows in a subtle warning to Ziva. His message was clear; they weren't done yet, and Tony would repeat the move if necessary. The last two waltzes had ended abruptly with one of them walking away. Flight wasn't on tonight's dance card.
Having successfully gained Ziva's attention, Tony ordered refreshment and glanced at her. "He's CIA."
Privately, Tony considered Ray's actions extremely half-baked. The issue wasn't a State secret; Ray wouldn't have been giving Ziva the nuclear launch codes. Furthermore, because of her history, Tony knew she would keep a secret to the grave, through the after-life and, if commanded, Ziva would maintain confidentiality in any reincarnation. By Tony's reckoning, Agent Cruz was demoted from the register of idiots, and enrolled in the ledger of the catatonically dumb. And, regretfully, Tony had inscribed his own name at the very bottom of that list. He may have been acting in good faith; however, he knew had hurt Ziva which annulled the virtue in Tony's estimation.
Ziva cast a withering grimace at Tony. She was acutely aware of Ray's occupation; it had been the cause of considerable dissent.
"They have a sworn duty to protect what they know….same as we do." Tony's voice was low and serious. "He was just doing his job."
Naturally, Ziva understood the reason the vast majority of Ray's duties and operations for the CIA were off-limits, and she happily acquiesced to the requirement. This assignment was another matter, because it impacted her work. She wondered ruefully what elements of her railing against E.J.'s handling of the case, or other details, had been reported to his boss. Ray's undisclosed role placed Ziva in a difficult situation regarding Gibbs. Since she was dating a coworker from a disliked sibling agency, it was contravention of Rule #12 to the max. Ziva was entitled to a professional 'heads up' purely as a courtesy. Last night it had become apparent Ray respected neither NCIS, nor Ziva's job, and this was extremely annoying.
"He lied to me, Tony." Ziva's adamant tone denounced the transgression as unforgivable. Tony cringed inwardly.
Tony and Ray had deceived Ziva. Tony's lingual artistry notwithstanding, he had misled her just as surely as Ray had done. However, that was where the parallel behaviors of the two men diverged, and the differences were enormously significant. Ray was protecting his career and himself: whereas Tony was protecting Ziva. Tony would tease her and disagree with her; offer open advice or stand in forthright opposition. Nevertheless, ultimately, Tony never prevented Ziva from determining her own fate and, once she had made her decision, he would be at her side in unwavering support.
Most importantly, when Ziva's choice was a misjudgment, or if she made a mistake, Tony was always there to catch her before she hit the ground. Admittedly, on occasion, he cut the timing a little too fine for comfort, but he was steadfast and ever-present, nonetheless. The recognition provoked a wistful ache in Ziva's consciousness. Tony's appearance in the bar, right on cue, was an explicit endorsement of his fidelity.
"Yeah." Tony nodded, pausing and briefly abandoning her gaze.
"Because he cares about you." The remark was touchingly earnest because Tony wasn't referring to Ray; he was talking about himself.
He refocused on the screen, swallowing and suppressing the feelings from conquering calm.
If Ziva noticed the subtext to Tony's phrase, she didn't acknowledge the hidden content.
"It does not matter, because it is over." Her uncompromising statement centered upon Ray and the consequences of his malfeasance.
There is an appropriate moment for telling someone their newly ex-boyfriend is a cad. And this wasn't it. Ray had adroitly proved Tony's point for him; rubbing in the victory would be gratuitous. Tony's self-appointed mission was to remove the sting and administer balm; seeking to console Ziva with the notion she hadn't been completely defrauded. He didn't doubt Ray coveted her, sizing up the competition was an intuitive skill, Tony simply didn't believe Ray loved Ziva.
As the barman placed the scotch in front of him, Tony looked at her again. "Maybe he was protecting you….'til he….uh, 'til…."
For the second time, Tony struggled to separate remission of his sins from convincing Ziva the debacle wasn't Rivkin Redux.
"The P2P's only just come to town; Ray's been on it for months." He shrugged carelessly. "E.J. didn't tell me about her assignment either."
"And you do not mind?" She was curious about his level of trust in E.J.
"Yeah, I did, I guess…kinda." Tony fumbled for an answer because he hadn't really cared.
Although E.J.'s air of mystery and theatrics at the victim's apartment were mildly annoying, the matter had barely entered his consciousness. He had been absorbed by numerous troubles, whose common denominator was Ziva, which didn't augur well for his future with E.J.
"What about you and E.J.?" Her query was asked rather stiffly.
She assumed his unconcerned manner at E.J's cover-up indicated the depth of Tony's affections for the agent; how highly she was treasured. The cosy vignette on display in the elevator flashed into Ziva's thoughts.
Caught off-guard by the switch, Tony frowned and deflected. "What about us?"
Overt diplomacy and empathy did not come readily to Ziva, and she pondered her approach for a few minutes. Tony was being a good partner, sacrificing an evening with his girlfriend, and Ziva attempted to repay his friendship.
E.J.'s rank as lead investigator would undoubtedly pose Gibbs-related problems. "What are you going to do when Gibbs finds out?"
Their eyes hovered and captured each other.
The straightforward pleasures of having company and someone with whom to have sex, would not be especially appealing character recommendations.
"I understand this one, Zee-vah. I understand her." Tony applied a veneer of respectability to his motivations.
And his explanation was honest; dealing with E.J. was akin to reading 'Goodnight Moon" in comparison to the complexities of Ziva's 'Ulysses.'
She was staring at him.
"That's why it's working." It was true. The relationship was undemanding in terms of effort required.
Chewing her lip, Ziva's gaze slipped away and the throbbing ache became more pronounced. In mastering her muddled reactions, Ziva was oblivious the note of self-persuasion in Tony's comment.
"I didn't order that." Tony declined the drink.
"That guy in the booth did." Refusing a free beverage seemed ungrateful from the bartender's point of view.
The joint visual survey of the booth meant they only glimpsed the door swinging shut, not Tony's anonymous benefactor.
"I wonder who…." Her intrigued supposition was rudely interrupted when Tony dropped the drink as though bitten. And Ziva spied a human eyeball nestling amongst the shards of smashed ice and glass.
The twelfth grief ghoulishly stared back at them.
An appalled nano-second ensued before Tony and Ziva reacted. "Don't touch that." Tony curtly instructed.
The aghast man's features registered unadulterated 'do-you-seriously-think-I-would?' revulsion.
"And do not leave." Ziva's snapped caveat followed on immediately.
"Should I call….?" Tony and Ziva forestalled the query, almost telepathically. "NO." Chorusing the negative, they drew weapons and raced to the street.
The bar was in the middle of a block, Ziva peeled left and Tony to the right. Separately they scanned the stream of passers-by; the office workers, shoppers and tourists - willing themselves to spot the anomaly. The person walking too quickly, or loitering too casually: the one trying too hard to blend in. It was a fruitless exercise and they converged outside the building.
"He's gone." Tony vocalized their twin deductions and Ziva nodded assent. "Was he there when you arrived?"
"Perhaps." She paused in diligent recall. Immersed in her upset, Ziva had paid scant regard to the customers. "I could not be certain."
She gave up, sighing. "If he was, I did not see him. What about you?"
Tony had been distracted by locating Ziva and anticipating his probable welcome. "Same."
He noticed her scrutinizing the dark, narrow gap which ran down one side of the bar, leading to the rear entrance.
Tony reiterated the sick jokester's absence. "No, he's gone."
Ziva took a couple of paces toward the recess. "This might have been his route, yes?"
"Uh-uh, Ninja." Tony grimly shook his head. "Canvassing." He was the senior agent and had no qualms about pulling rank.
It might be a long-shot. However, the P2P must have tailed either Tony or Ziva, and had been watching them for an indeterminate period. Alleys were his favorite killing zone, and Tony wasn't about to let Ziva go exploring alone. Additionally, his priorities were valid; there were witnesses to interview, there was a crime scene to secure. Not to mention the fact, a window to someone's soul was quietly defrosting in a puddle of gin and tonic.
"Call Gibbs." Tony settled on the first requirement, as Ziva tugged open the door.
She looked at him quizzically. "We should call E.J."
"I don't care, call Gibbs." Tony was fond of his girlfriend but was familiar with her shortcomings.
This case and this killer were beyond Agent Barrett's capabilities, and his boss would counter that imbalance. "He can decide about E.J. and take any heat."
In addition to the bartender, there were four people present. A group of architects who hadn't noticed anything until commotion broke into their conversation. They had been permitted to go home. The orb had been sequestered and the establishment sealed off. Tony had questioned the still-revolted bartender. He had poured the guy a generous shot of liquid courage, whilst prodding for a better description of the customer. Once he was satisfied there was nothing else to be gained, Tony wandered over to Ziva who was standing near the offending booth, in the dusky gloom of closed-for-business lighting.
She was obsessively erasing the latest bombardment of Ray's communiques from her cell 'phone with ardent concentration. Uncertain as to whether she was ignoring him, or hadn't seen him, Tony stretched out a hand. Ziva was rigid; her back felt as if it had been welded to an iron bar. Instinctively, Tony's fingers tentatively squeezed her shoulder. She didn't shrug him off and his hand wasn't broken - encouraged, Tony continued with greater confidence.
"Are you alright?" He peered around at her, sensing Ziva relax a little.
"Yes." Ziva exhaled a long, slow breath, flexing her neck.
"Listen, um…'bout this morning….what I said…." Tony cleared his throat awkwardly. "I'm sorry Zee-vah and I should have…"
Ziva craned her head slightly, watching his expression. "Thank you. But it is I who owes the apology and I am sorry." She interjected an acknowledgement of heartfelt remorse.
"No, Zee-vah, I…." Ziva seemed so lost and vulnerable, Tony desperately sought to ease the tension.
Ziva reached up a hand, lightly laying it on top of his, in a fleeting caress.
"Stop, please. Do not say any more, please Tony? I would rather not discuss it." There was a tinge of shaky stress in her voice, and her eyes were suspiciously bright.
She'd had an astonishingly shitty day. At the same time, skipping the argument over apologizing for an argument was eminently desirable. Adjusting the placement of his hand, Tony slid his thumb beneath her hair and gently stroked the nape of Ziva's neck. She leaned back, seeking his touch. Tony stepped forward, closing the gap between them.
"OK, it's OK." He muttered soft, soothing comfort into her hair.
Suddenly, the spontaneous contact had become incredibly – dangerously – intimate and intense. Tony found himself repressing the compulsion to hold Ziva, wrap her in his arms. She was fighting the temptation to turn around and bury her face against Tony's chest. The concurrent impulses were only resisted because the shimmering gleam of streetlamps highlighted a halo of silver hair, and Gibbs' effigy loomed on the other side of the plate glass window.
The umbra is the darkest part of a shadow, where the light source is totally obscured by the occluding body. For Tony and Ziva that darkness seemed to have the endurance of an Antarctic winter. Yet, at long last, there was an imperceptible glimmer of brightness.
They had attained a five but, despite McGee's fears, the achievement hadn't resulted in catastrophe because Tony and Ziva didn't stop talking. The solidly crafted, slowly built friendship which had been evolving was their saving grace; permitting them to staunch the hemorrhage of retaliatory hurts. Tony and Ziva met at the mid-point and redeemed their romance.
Now all they had to do was start moving in the same direction, at the same time –and it would be useful if they could actually find the same road.
Huge thanks to my reviewers; it is always great to hear you're enjoying [or not] the story and you prompted me to stop tinkering with this bit and post it! Please do leave a comment, if you have the time; making sense or not, bored rigid, can't wait…
Thanks also for the alerts. As ever, make of it what you will and hope you enjoy the read.