McGee, Gibbs, Ziva and Tony are the property of others. I have borrowed them and returned them unharmed. Thank you to Jesse Stern for writing Truth or Consequences, an episode that continues to rank as my all time favorite and gave me the inspiration for this story.
A special thank you goes out to Kytivafan for graciously lending me her beta services while Zakiyah and Monkeybard are knee deep in NaNoWriMo.
"Look into my eyes and hear what I'm not saying, for my
eyes speak louder than my voice ever will..." Unknown
His are the eyes of the disillusioned.
"I don't care about your team, and I don't care about my team", forced honesty resulting in shattered faith. Hours spent playing possum on a dusty, concrete floor while his drugged out partner traded movie reference-laden barbs with their captor, allowed him a moment of clarity into the senior NCIS agent's state of mind that he would now give anything to erase from memory. Suspicion had been a niggling mite on the edges of his awareness, one that he had chosen to ignore as he was caught up in the ideals of his comic book heroes. The idea of avenging a precious life lost and righting a cosmic wrong gave him a sense of purpose that didn't completely overshadow the possibility of his own demise. He might play the nerdy sidekick, but there wasn't a doubt in his mind that he would willingly throw himself into the line of fire for the three individuals currently sharing the purgatory of a cramped, silent elevator with him. Confirmation that his partner had embarked on what he perceived as a suicide mission had been bad enough; the knowledge that the same man was willing to steal what McGee would have freely given is a bitter pill to swallow with dry, cracked lips and a throat still parched from the desert heat.
His are the eyes of the weary.
"Let's go home." Easier said than done. Once again, he has killed a man who hurt one of his own. And, once again, there is neither peace nor relief in its wake. Bitter frustration resides in the knowledge that, as before, it is too little, too late. The damage has been done, and he can't help but wonder if this is the proverbial straw that will break his team's back and the 'justifiable homicide' that will steal what is left of his soul. The strongest woman he's ever known stands to his left, an uncertainty in exhausted eyes not even visible as she stood on a hot, Israeli tarmac with her world crashing down around her. The elevator is deafening in its silence, Dinozzo's quip a jarring fracture accentuating the tension rather than easing it. His heart breaks for all three of them. He feels the culmination of 59 years of loss, and he is so very tired.
Hers are the eyes of the beaten.
"I am ready to die." The words had been a lie as she was already dead. The soul had fled under the oppressive weight of loss, betrayal and the men who had spent over three months violating her body in ways that even she with all her Mossad training, had been incapable of imagining. All that was left was a drained vessel, or so she had thought until she was dragged from her prison and thrown roughly into a chair. As the stifling hood was pulled from her head, inky blackness evolved into the green eyes she never thought she'd see again. As those eyes stared at her in shock, Ziva felt the first stirrings of life in the vast emptiness that engulfed her. Hot on the heels of this millisecond of profound relief, was the tidal wave of guilt that she would ultimately be responsible for more death - his death. He was forgiven months earlier, when time, loneliness and perspective had given her the freedom to assess the true villains and victims in her tale of woe. His actions had spoken of the exact loyalty she had accused him of lacking. He had every reason to hate her, yet there he sat telling her in every way possible that his devotion had never faltered, not even in the wake of her apparent death. She stands in an elevator surrounded by those who came to avenge that which should have been buried and forgotten. Her frail body swims in too big clothing, and it is an effort to keep standing. In that moment, just as the elevator doors open and life offers her the rare gift of a reprieve, she has never felt more unworthy.
His are the eyes of the guilty.
"Tony, why are you here?" The words of his dead partner, who, as it turns out, isn't nearly as dead as he thought, beat around in a head still pounding from the after effects of a forced chemical cocktail. The truth is, this is the turn in the story that even with a brain chock full of movie scenarios, he never saw coming. She was gone and his world had stopped. His role in how things played out was a knife in his gut, each moment without her increasing the internal bleeding that took every ounce of his wilting strength to mask. Every breath hurt, every day a futile effort to find a purpose without her. Then, they had found Saleem Ulman and with him, skillfully hidden behind the ideas of duty and vengeance, a way to finally end the pain, no matter the cost. Here she stands and here he stands, an ocean of uncertainty between them, and he has absolutely no idea what happens next.