Author's Note: A birthday present for JMHaughey who wanted angst, a ship and unresolved Tiva. I am not always great at fic-on-demand, but I tried my best. :)
They had all been caught off guard, though they each tried to pretend this wasn't the case. They were a crack investigative team. How could they admit surprise that a man who had already taken five wives (consecutively, not concurrently!) would eventually take a sixth? So on this, their boss's wedding day, they were each trying to couch their shock in something else.
Ducky took the high road. "It is good to see Jethro smile."
Ziva, always pragmatic, chose simple acceptance. She smiled and said nothing.
McGee went the furthest, pretending he had seen this coming. "Borin's nice. Plus, she's a redhead."
Tony masked his lack of foresight with deflection. "Do you think they're trying to make some sort of comedic meta statement by getting married on cruise ship? Because my first thought is that the only reason they'd do something so cheesy is to be funny. But Gibbs is never funny."
Abby was torn between loyalty and disappointment. "Gibbs is funny," she admonished. "But I don't know why he would get married. He doesn't need a wife. He already has a family- us. And he'll never love anyone the way he loved Shannon."
Team as family was a metaphor often employed among the group. Though not the most sentimental illustration of the truth of said metaphor, the relationship between Ziva and Abby was arguably the most accurate. The women were like sisters: the kind who loved each other always, but disliked each other sometimes.
Ziva's poise slipped as she eyed her "sister" with disapproval. "The vows have been said, and it is not for us to decide what is best for Gibbs. Or for Borin, for that matter. Perhaps she is well-aware of where she will rank in his life. Perhaps she has decided it will be good enough."
"You should listen to her Abbs," Tony gestured to the diamond on his partner's left hand, "She knows all about settling for 'good enough.' Heard from Ray lately, Zi? I guess it's hard to set a wedding date when you don't have any idea which continent your fiance is on."
And here was where the family metaphor got a little tricky. In some ways, Tony and Ziva fit. They knew how to hit each other where it would hurt the most. It was understood that while they could inflict as many wounds as they wanted, they would never standby and allow anyone else to do the same. Like siblings, right? Except someone with brotherly feelings wouldn't have been running his eyes over Ziva's cobalt dress all night like he couldn't wait to rip it off. And someone with purely sisterly feelings wouldn't consistently angle her body so that she was leaning into Tony.
No, they weren't exactly family, and it confused them. It had them turning on each other again and again. When Tony landed a blow, Ziva didn't crumple in pain. She prepared a strike of her own.
"I know this must be hard for you. All of these weddings and engagements must make you feel your own loneliness more acutely."
And like the bickering relatives that make families worldwide dread the occasions that bring them together, Tony and Ziva chased away their group. Alone, in a quiet corner of a ship's ballroom, they had no incentive to temper their words.
"You're just always so pleasant. I can't imagine why the only man who could stand to marry you would happen to be one who spends most of his year living a secret life away from you."
"Your bitterness is showing, Tony."
"As is your desperation, Ziva.There is no other explanation for you agreeing to marry someone who hasn't returned a single email since he proposed nine months ago."
It's important to point out that they weren't shouting. They weren't exactly making a scene. In fact, any of the guests who happened to notice them, would most likely mistake them for a couple trying to sneak away from the party. Because what they were doing was inching closer and closer to each other.
They were interrupted by cake. Cake, and a steely warning glare from the man whose marriage they were here to celebrate.
"Take these," he handed them small plates. "And go to your corners."
They obeyed because they knew no other way, and because, contrary to popular opinion, they did not actually enjoy hurting each other.
They just knew no other way.
By the time the sky grew dark, the party was coming to an end and the two most volatile members of the cobbled together family-of-the-groom were ready to make amends. Ziva stood on the deck, hoping that a clear sky would lead to a clear mind. Tony was searching for her, an activity he feared would always occupy far to much of his time.
When he found her, though, it was worth it. Because she was beautiful, and the wind was blowing her hair, and she wasn't his. God, how he'd always loved what he didn't have.
She could feel him there, but she did not acknowledge him. She tried not to pretend she had not been waiting for him all along. She kept her eyes on the stars, mentally tracing Orion's belt.
"I'd do the stars with you anytime."
It was a strange thing to say, and it got her attention. The look she gave him was a question.
"It's a line from a song," he answered with a shrug. "I don't know what means. It just felt like the thing to say."
She accepted his explanation. She looked back up at the sky, but she directed her words to him. "I am sorry, Tony. I do not believe you are lonely and bitter, nor do I wish you to be."
He joined her against the railing, his hand millimeters from hers. So close, but not touching. Never touching. "I'm sorry too. You deserve to be happy. I want you happy. You and Ray will be great."
This was the part of who they were that no one else saw. It was the part that still made the family metaphor, no matter how shaky, still work for them. Because they always did this. They always reached out to each other before they reached the point of no return. No matter how wrong they got it, neither could let the other go too far.
"I do not know if that is true." Ziva twisted the ring on her finger. "Nine months is a very long time."
There was something to her words that could've been interpreted as an invitation. He wanted to grab onto that, but he was terrified of where it might lead. He comforted himself with an attempt at being a better man. "He'll be back. It will work out. I know it."
Ziva nodded quietly, still twisting that damn ring. He couldn't help adding, "You know, I think you and I might be destined to be together one day."
Her hands froze, her head snapped up.
"When we're old. I mean, really old. It will be one of those stories where I find you in the nursing home, and we get married and live out our last year's together. People love those stories. Hell, maybe they'll even make a movie about it."
She just kept looking at him, trying to pretend that she didn't want to yank off the ring and throw it in the water below, trying to pretend that she hadn't been hoping for more than the offer of a geriatric romance. But she was the pragmatic one, and she did not lend much power to hopes that were meant to remain unfulfilled.
"Your story defies logic. Let us forget that you are older than me and will be long dead before I ever step foot in a nursing home. Even if that did not matter, it is highly improbable that the two of us would end in the same place at the end of our lives. I do not believe that is the way fate would have it."
He tried something different. He slid his hand over until it was touching hers, and he gave her a tiny squeeze. "Who said anything about fate?"
She looked a little sad that he had nothing more to say as he lead her back to the ballroom. They had never been very good at words, so he was going to give action a try. She would see. He would spend the rest of his life searching for her.