The outdoor courtyard of the bar is dimly lit, but the atmosphere is anything but depressing. Strings of lights, white and colored, drape across the cracked brick walls, permeating the atmosphere of night with a soothing glow. Relaxed couples are scattered across the dance floor in pairs, swaying to the Latin rhythm of the pounding music. The air is thick and warm, but not oppressive. Instead it feels languid, inviting, and is heavy with the fragrances of desert flowers, alcohol, and sweat.

The eclectic group of outsiders hovers together around the bar, absorbing the warmth and the odors as they lazily sip their drinks. Their federal identification badges are tucked inconspicuously inside their clothing, but tonight they've happily left their weapons (or at least the obvious ones) locked securely in their motel rooms around the corner. Their collective week has been mentally and physically trying as they investigated a string of particularly perverse crimes a couple thousand miles from the comfort of home. Now, mere hours after closing the case, and barely an hour after wrapping up the administrative loose ends, they seek a moment of relaxation in this unassuming oasis so far and so foreign from the familiar electric undercurrents of Washington, D.C. They are scheduled to fly home at 0700 tomorrow morning, but for the rest of tonight they are waiting freely in limbo between realities and obligations. And the band at the far end of the courtyard is serenading their freedom with an enjoyable rhythm heavily laden with bass guitar, percussion, and trumpets. The outsiders could almost tell themselves that, for the moment, they have been granted a reprieve from reality—a fleeting and cherished couple of hours of vacation.

Leroy Jethro Gibbs and Donald "Ducky" Mallard, with their respective glasses of bourbon and scotch, flank the more youthful team members at the far end of the bar. Gibbs almost smiles to himself as he sighs and takes another sip; even a hardened Marine (or especially a hardened Marine) who has seen his share of death and pain can appreciate this chance to simply drink in the pleasure of a moment shared with…friends? No, family, he acknowledges. And then he does smile, and that causes Ducky to lean back in his seat and smile with him. Given the horrors of human nature that have stared them in the face all week, the immense value of life and loved ones does not go unobserved by the two seasoned gentlemen.

Abby Sciuto, Jimmy Palmer, Tim McGee, Tony DiNozzo, and Ziva David round out the rest of the group. And despite their relative youth, the weight (or lack thereof) of the evening is not lost on them. After a couple of drinks they are each feeling the tension draining from their tired bodies and minds, and the smiles begin to flow freely again after days of frowns, grimaces, and a few almost-tears.

Abby is the first to abandon her bar stool in favor of the dance floor when the band picks up the tempo. Palmer and McGee are seated on either side of her, and she grabs each of their hands and pulls them up with her, grinning as they fumble with the glasses they try to leave standing upright on the bar as she uproots them. Her jet-black pigtails sway in rhythm with her black-clad hips as she sashays across the room. Of the three, she is unquestionably the most coordinated dancer, but tonight (or at least after a couple of drinks) none of them is caring about misplaced steps or off-beats. Tonight is about being alive.

Abby shoots a glance and a wide smile over her shoulder at Tony and Ziva as she steps away and jerks her head in invitation, making it clear that she wants all her friends out there with her. Ziva smiles back as she sways rhythmically on her stool, but Tony notices that she pauses to knock back the rest of her drink in two heavy gulps before rising. Then, grinning as she stands and turns, she grabs his hand in both of hers and pulls him off his stool. It's been a while since Tony has seen her smile so genuinely, and he can't help but grin in return. He's not going to say no to her request for a dance tonight. Not going to say no to her.

In the few moments it takes for them to reach the dance floor, Tony's mind flashes across time and memories, to days when they were all a little more carefree, a little happier. To a time before a few more meaningful deaths, before torture, before betrayal. To days when they all had fewer disappointments and broken hearts under their belts. Tonight, this moment, suddenly feels very much like a pleasant flashback. Not to any moment in particular, but to a lighter frame of mind, filled with just a few more smiles and glances and laughs.

He settles into a tempo next to Ziva as they reach the dance floor, and his mind is suddenly yanked back to the here and now as he watches her begin to move. The dim glow of strung lights highlights her raven hair, which tonight she wears in curls that fall down her back and cascade over her slender olive-toned shoulders. Those shoulders begin to roll with the rest of her petite frame, and Tony's mouth is already dry. She slides her hips fluidly from side to side, front to back, arching her back to the pulse of the bass. Her head rolls to the side, drawing his eye along her neck and jaw line. Her movements seem effortless, as smooth as liquid silk, and he wonders vaguely how he never knew that Ziva could move like this. He knows he should have assumed, given her athletic abilities and her many talents, but…somehow he missed this. Until now.

Tony feels his chest tighten as he watches her body step and sway and curve hypnotically next to him. He swears his heart skips a beat when suddenly she is dancing up against him, facing him, glancing up at him with parted lips and heavy lids over smoky eyes. Her arms sway and fingers glide every so lightly across his chest and arms. His hands move to her hips. Oh, those hips… Tony blinks and relaxes his hands on her waist, moving with her. Her linen top rides up a little as she dances, and his fingers graze warm flesh. Her skin is soft but he can feel taut muscles flexing through her core as she writhes between his hands.

Ziva turns in his grasp and leans against him, her back melting against his chest as they both sway with the music. Her fingertips graze his thighs as she dips. Tony hears blood rushing through head, his ears. Ziva again rolls her head provocatively to the side as she glides back up, exposing the lean lines of her neck and shoulder, and Tony lowers his head to brush his lips across her skin in a brief feather of a touch. He tastes sweat, and it's exquisite. Ziva shivers and arches her back against him just a bit more firmly before turning toward him again, never losing the pulsing tempo. Her gaze comes up just far enough to fix on his lips, and Tony's breath catches in his chest. Her dark lashes against tan skin, her flushed cheeks, her lips parted in breathlessness. He thinks she's intoxicating, and he thinks he's going to need another drink soon. His body is simultaneously relaxed and tight, drunk off the mesmerizing pulse of the music and the warm body moving against his, yet tensing under the physical effects triggered by said warm body.

Ziva slides her arms up and hooks her hands behind Tony's neck, moving in closer, if that is at all possible—which apparently it is. He's nearly panting now, and he's not sure how much of it is because of his easy dance moves, and how much is because his dance partner is stealing more and more of his breath as she invades his space and his mind. His hands still on her hips under the hem of her shirt, his fingers close around her tiny waste and press against the small of her back. More softness, and more muscle. His hands are trembling slightly by now, and he realizes that Ziva must feel the tremor, because she suddenly lifts her eyes to his. Deep within the abyss of those bottomless pools of coffee-colored glass, he sees something he thinks is vaguely familiar, but also entirely new, and it makes him ache mentally, emotionally, and physically. His head lowers slightly, their eyes still locked and radiating heat as their bodies roll and sway in rhythm, and he feels another shiver pass through her despite the warm night air. His hands hold her tightly now and his lips twitch as he tries to tell her everything through his gaze in this rare shared moment. Tries to tell her how beautiful he thinks she is, how deserving he knows she is, how sorry he is for the pain in her life, how much he loves her… He blinks as she barely raises an eyebrow, and he sees something flash across her eyes as her fingers curl into the back of his neck. He isn't sure how he's suddenly so close to her eyes, to her lips, but then her lids are lowering and he can feel her breath on his face. And then he realizes that they're barely moving now, barely swaying in tandem, pressed together. His gaze moves from her closing eyes to her parting lips as he leans closer.

The music stops very abruptly, or at least it feels very abruptly to Tony and Ziva. Tony stands up a little straighter, reluctantly moving away from that delicate mouth before he can even taste it – taste her – because he's all too conscious now of the other people around them. Still he does not release her waist, and she merely lowers her hands from behind his neck to lay them flat against his chest before gently curling her fingers into his shirt. They don't look away, and after a moment she smiles a small but genuine (if maybe a bit wistful) smile. And then she whispers 'thank you,' and he wonders if she was able to read his eyes after all. He smiles back.

He begrudgingly releases her and turns them back toward the bar, his hand coming to rest against the small of her back as they leave the dance floor. He's not yet ready to give up the feel of her completely.

He watches her the rest of the evening, ignoring the probing glances from Gibbs, the curious glances from McGee and Palmer, the pleased glimmer in Ducky's eyes, and the knowing grins from Abby. He looks only for the small smiles that Ziva occasionally throws his way between drinks and conversation.

He thinks to himself that he isn't yet ready to face the cold wall of reality when the group finally decides to turn in for the night. They do need some rest before catching their flight in the morning, after all. But that flight will take them back to DC, back to NCIS, back to a reality where truth and feelings are too often masked and complicated and denied, if even acknowledged, for the sake of the safety of the status quo. The norm is too comfortable, and right now returning to that norm is his biggest fear.

So Tony isn't surprised when he finds himself knocking quietly on Ziva's motel room door. Isn't surprised when he invites her out for a walk down the quiet streets of the desert border town bathed in moonlight. He is, however, just a little surprised (albeit pleasantly so) when she accepts with a smile, and even more surprised when she wordlessly slips her arm around his waist as they walk. He wraps his arm around her shoulders and pulls her closer.

They talk about the weather. They talk about tomorrow's flight. They talk about work and they wonder what kinds of cases will meet them back home, and they hope out loud that they are a bit more routine than the disturbing crimes they are leaving behind in this otherwise-peaceful arid haven. They talk about summer and vacation plans. Ziva asks about Tony's father; Tony knows better than to ask about hers. And they talk about dancing. Tony tells her appreciatively that he had no idea she could dance like that, and a throaty chuckle escapes her lips as she tightens her grip around him. And then Tony stops walking, and stops talking, and simply stops to look at Ziva.

She doesn't shy from his gaze, instead choosing to stare back with a mix of curiosity and intensity that gives him the courage he needs to finally confess what he's been feeling. But of course words don't always come easy to him, so he shows her rather than tells her.

They're standing on a random street corner when Tony finally, somewhat hesitantly, leans down and brushes his lips across Ziva's in a ghost of a kiss. He pauses then, mere inches from her, waiting for her reaction. She's a bit breathless and blinks a few times, her eyes flicking from his lips to his eyes. Slowly she reaches out and lays her hand against his face, caressing his cheek with her thumb for a moment while she thinks intently. Then her hand tightens and pulls his face to hers as she stretches up to meet his kiss. It's still a tentative kiss, exploratory, gentle, slow. And then it's firm, with open mouths seeking and finding acceptance, and soft gasps and moans. Then it's passionate. Fingers laced in hair, gripping, stroking, pulling, needing. Arms encircling and groping and pleading and holding.

They stay like that, claiming their little corner of paradise, kissing and smiling and chuckling and kissing again, until common sense drives them back to their rooms when it's nearly time for all of them to wake. But that's okay, because they'll have plenty of time to sleep on the flight, and this was a "conversation" that wasn't going to wait for the comfortable familiarity of home. And now, as Tony stands at Ziva's motel room door once again, sharing one last lingering kiss good night (or good morning), he smiles inwardly because he knows they'll be returning home to something better than the status quo.