I wrote this back when Engaged first aired then completely forgot about it until this past week (and then had a surreal moment where I wondered if I had, in fact, actually wrote it or just imagined it). In any case I found it, re-read it, and decided to post. It deals with religion/faith more overtly than my other stories (besides Something's Lost) so be warned if that's not your thing. But I think it's neutral as well - just an honest and frank discussion not unlike we've seen play out a few times on the show.

Disclaimer: A few choice curses but nothing too bad.


"Tony?"

He jumps at the sudden and unexpected voice echoing through the empty chapel and turns to see Chaplain Burke at the doors. She walks casually towards him, an easy smile on her face. "Here to help with daycare again?"

He chuckles and leans back in the pew. "Nah. Fear tackled, I'm good thanks."

She sits down beside him, leaving a comfortable distance. "So what brings you to my door?" His eyes roam, studying the altar, the stained glass windows set high in the side walls. He doesn't answer for several minutes and she doesn't rush him.

"Do you really believe in all this?" he asks finally.

She glances sideways and raises a curious eyebrow. "Care to be more specific?"

"Religion...God…a benevolent and/or malevolent force ruling the ethos..."

She ignores the sarcasm tinging his question and answers simply, "I do."

"Why?"

She purses her lips, throwing her arm over the back of the pew and turns to face him properly. "I have my reasons. I don't pretend they'll serve as justification or 'proof' for anyone else, but they're enough for me at the end of the day."

"That's all ya got for me?" he chides jokingly.

"I'm not the one sitting in an empty chapel looking for answers," she offers in a quiet voice. "Why don't you tell me why you do or don't believe God exists."

He shrugs. "That's not the rub; I've almost always believed in God. My mom was...well, her faith got her through a lot and she died confident she was heading to heaven. I had to believe it too, because the alternative of her just ceasing to exist was too…" His voice trails off and he fights the sudden and unexpected tightness in his throat. Burke is silent, waiting for him to continue. "I believe in God," he finally repeats, "but as I got older, I really began to believe that He was just a malevolent son-of-a-bitch."

He wonders fleetingly if his bluntness will have offended her - this essential stranger he again finds himself opening up to - but her small smile encourages him to continue. "I came slowly, painfully, to the conclusion that I was living out Bedazzled…" When her brow furrows and she shows no sign of recognition, he rolls his eyes. "Fine, Faust and Mephistopheles for the smart people in the room." Her confused expression turns to one of surprise and perhaps even disbelief. "Just because I'm a smartass who prefers movies to literature doesn't mean I'm an uncultured idiot."

His tone is teasing but Burke doesn't miss the tinge of bitterness that darkens Tony's eyes. "Tony, I don't think you're a -"

He brushes it off with a wave of his hand and a cocky smile. "I know. But in any case, the movie is better; 1967 classic where Dudley Moore makes a deal with Peter Cook's devil to get the girl and the life he wants. But no matter what he asks for, the devil manages to screw him, to twist his wishes around in some horrible way..."

She nods in understanding. "I see. So you think God goes out of his way to twist your prayers into something bad?"

Tony sighs, his eyes trailing up to the ceiling. "You know Chaplain, I once prayed for a fellow NCIS Agent whose team died in an explosion. I hadn't bothered to pray for a long time, but I cared for this Agent and she was hurting. So I took a chance and asked God to help her find peace, and he sent another suicide bomber to finish her off. Then, well then there was the time I took an undercover assignment to seduce a mark, fell in love with her and broke her heart. I was so...lost. I prayed that someday our paths might cross again, just so I could see her one more time and tell her I was sorry, get some closure. And she did come back, all the way from Africa, just to accuse me of her father's murder…"

His smile now twists into one of bitter self-flagellation as he continues. "But, my finest moment was when my partner doubted me, betrayed me in the worst way. I was so freakin angry I actually wished that she'd just fuck off and die. Those were my actual words Burke...Jesus Christ, I wish she'd just fuck off and die. And guess what? She kinda did for awhile…"

"Tony…"

He shakes his head dismissively, and it's clear he has shared more than he intended. "I know, now I'm just being overly dramatic. Anyways, she survived in the end."

Burke rests her head against her hand and studies him carefully. "God isn't Peter Cook or Mephistopheles or a vindictive genie, Tony. He doesn't get his jollies in twisting around people's pleas for help."

"I know," he answers automatically.

She calls him on it. "Do you?" He grimaces and is suddenly and immensely interested in his cuticles. Burke sighs, leaning back in the pew and turning her sights away from the self-conscious agent as she contemplates his words. "Did you consider that maybe the death of that NCIS Agent was the onlyway she could find peace? Or that her death saved others? And what about this mark of yours? She was wrong to accuse you of murder, but did it give her the closure that she needed? And your partner who died but didn't...I assume you mean Ziva? Your partnership with her seems stronger than any I've ever seen; did it bring you closer in the end?"

Tony glances over at her in surprise. It's clear she's just flipping around what he told her, but the insight is impressive nonetheless and he tells her so.

She laughs. "I'm pretty good at playing Devil's Advocate - though not a term I prefer to use," she teases. "The point, Tony, is that none of us really knows where this life is going. We can't tell if today's tragedies may serve a higher purpose in a day or a year or a decade. It's faith that sustains us; the belief that someday - God willing - things will become clear."

"And what if they don't? What if we never understand why some things happen?" he whispers.

"Well, then we might have to accept that it was or was not meant to be for reasons beyond our understanding. At the end of the day, you can't always get what you want."

Tony chuckles softly. "Quoting the Stones. Nice. You are very different from the priests I grew up with Chaplain Burke."

"I'd hope so," she says, leaning toward him conspiratorially. "See, I'm a woman." She pats his knee a few times and then stands. "Take your time Agent DiNozzo, and you're welcome here anytime. I'm always up for a good chat if you're game." She walks to the end of the pew, but turns back to offer one more piece of advice. "But don't give up just yet on talking with the big guy too. I think he's like your Agent Gibbs. Strong and silent for the most part, but when he does have something important to say, it's worth paying attention." She gives him a small wink and leaves.

He listens to the echoing click of her retreating shoes and then there is nothing but silence in the chapel once more. He is alone with his thoughts again, and yet - somehow - he feels just a little less alone than before.