It all starts in a small way. It's such a small way, that she doesn't even notice it. He doesn't notice it either, but that's more a reflection of his denial skills than of the situation. But she doesn't notice it because she never thought to look. Sometimes when you spend so long seeing so many things, you no longer realise there's more to life than the world in front of your eyes.

By the time the years have passed, they're in so deep that they can't see out. And, like cave-fish adapting to life without light, they no longer miss their life from before. In fact, they are comfortable, in their cosy little world, tucked away from the cruel fingers of time.

But time finds them, slowly at first, and then a little swifter. He gets a phone call, because his nephew's getting married. He was there when his nephew was born. Hell, he had to take time off work to go and see the damned baby. And that means he's getting old, when people who's birth he was there for are getting married before him.

She first realises that time will wait for tide nor man when she misses a plane connection. Had she missed it for something other than what she did, it would have been doubtable that it had any effect. But, truth of the matter was that she missed it just to laugh at the joke he was telling, voice warped by the poor phone signal, no doubt spending too much money on international phone rates to be worth it. She missed it for him. For one of his jokes.

He laughs when she tells him why she got home a day late, and she knows he thinks she's joking. But she isn't, and she wants him to know that she isn't. But she's scared. Too scared. So she grins that little grin of hers, slouches a little in her chair, and returns to her paperwork.

Then it's Father's day, and her father calls. She wishes him a happy day and thanks him for all he does for her, but she doesn't want to. In her mind, there's a happy family. A family she one day wants to give someone, so they don't have to have the family she had. Because nothing hurts more than love given unconditionally and then taken and slaughtered in the dead of night, cloaked in lies.

His father doesn't even email.

They go out to dinner in a commonplace gesture of understanding. They sit at their favourite table at their favourite bistro, and the waitress offers them their usual before they even order. And again, their cosy world is safe. They relax, in the warm glow of the red wine and the bitter sweetness of the chocolate gateau.

He starts to tell her a story, like he so often does, and she listens with hidden rapture, on the edge of her seat, waiting patiently for the punch line. It's about his best friend from high school, a girl called Lily, who promised him that if they were both still unmarried by thirty, they would marry. Just so the pair of them didn't have to grow old alone. How last he heard, she'd moved to Miami, married a nice guy and popped out three kids. How he was now left hanging, without a safety-bride.

They laugh, and she points out that it was a ridiculous plan in the first place. Did this Lily girl really think he would be ready to settle down by thirty? Did she not know him at all?

Then he realises that actually he is ready to settle down. It makes all the lights swim out of focus and the chocolate turn to mud in his mouth, so he gulps some more wine in the hopes it will soften the blow. She notices, and raises an eyebrow in concern.

He tells her that it's fine. That he's fine. That everything is fine and it's always fine and there's nothing in the whole world that isn't fine.

Then he pays the bill, and they both walk home to their separate beds, knowing it isn't fine at all.

Time rolls on and the incident is glossed over, but never quite erased. It sits there, like the sun through thick storm clouds, waiting for a rainbow.

There's a case, with a little girl, some time later. The girl is (was) seven, blonde, adorable. Raped, killed. Somehow it shakes her up like she's never been before, even though she's seen horrors much worse than one girl, killed. He notices, like he always does (after a fashion), and he tries to make it better though he isn't sure what's wrong. He brings round a movie, a funny one that she can't follow the plot of, and they sit up late into the small hours; easier to resist the call of sleep than resist the call of their demons. They fall asleep eventually, faces highlighted eerily in the TV's light, but they sleep smoothly. When they wake in the morning, it is not to awkwardness but to a mutual realisation that they both sleep nightmare-free when they are together.

They move in together two weeks later, three days after she actually falls asleep on the job and Gibbs yells at her to see a shrink or take her problems out of his office.

After that she's fine again. And he's better too, because he's got someone to share his movies with (even though she's a little bit of a reluctant convert) and buy groceries for and laugh at when she mangles the English language, despite her many years (and god, is it really that long?) of experience. Just as before, they settle into it so completely that it barely seems strange at all. In fact, it seems stranger to think they once lived apart.

They keep their two cars though, even though they don't really need to. He likes to drive at a pace he feels will allow him to live into his golden years, and she likes to drive at a pace that is so close to deadly that she forgets her golden years will come. The two are not entirely conducive, but there's enough room to park two cars outside his (their) apartment, so that is what they do.

She writes their Christmas cards for him, and signs their names together on the bottom without really thinking about it. He takes them in a neat pile and posts them, one morning while she is Christmas-decorating. He wonders if it offends her religion to be doing this, but when he asks she laughs and admits that America's enthusiasm for the holiday is enough to convert her, however temporarily, into a believer. He tells her he's sure that isn't Kosher, and she tells him he's ridiculously ill educated on her religion. But neither of them means it, no more than they mean to laugh at McGee when he falls victim to their pranks or at Gibbs (behind his back, obviously) when he's being really grouchy.

His grandmother rings him, and he wrestles with his Italian tongue all throughout the conversation. He vows to speak his birth-language more often, but knows he won't.

His grandmother asks about the girl whose name is on the Christmas card along with his this year. She's excited, her frail voice shaky, and he can't help but feel guilty at her false hope. She'll die soon, he's sure of it. She's just that old.

So he tells his grandmother a little white lie. It makes her happy, so happy he can hear her glowing smile down the phone, and when he hangs up it feels like he's done a good deed, not a bad one.

Of course, it doesn't remain a secret for long. She asks him about the little old lady, who rang the house phone and knew her name. She asks why the little old lady thought she was his girlfriend.

He's sheepish, embarrassed, and tries to joke it off.

She admits that she didn't contradict him. That she sat on the phone to his grandmother for near enough an hour, pretending to be his girlfriend, because she couldn't bring herself to admit the truth. And that his grandmother is the most wonderful grandmother anyone could wish for.

So he kisses her, because it's all he's thought about since that day in the bistro, and because she's so perfect and crazy and honest and because he loves her (but he hasn't realised that, yet). She stands there frozen for a moment, in the dull light of his (their) kitchen, before her arms wind around his neck and she moans, pressing herself against him because you never know what you've been missing until you've had it that one, illicit time.

Then hands are roaming, and why have they ever held off from this, and he groans low in his throat. It sends vibrations chasing after the shivers running through her skin, and she wants to weep with need. They stumble to their bedroom, where they've slept together (but not, not like this, not now) every night since they first realised how to sleep without reliving their horrors. There's a familiarity in the novelty that feels like smelling your mother's cooking when you've been away from home for too long. And yet, there's a thrill that comes with strapping yourself into a rollercoaster you're not sure you can ride (and that pun, he isn't sure, may have been intended).

And it's beautiful and too much and so intense that breathing is a miracle in itself. It's colours and light and a coiling feeling that builds and builds and builds and she doesn't quite know what to do with herself (or with him, but she's got a few fantasies stored away she might just pull out and dust off…). She wants to wait, teetering on the edge and avoid taking that final leap (plunge). He takes that choice from her, yanking her over the edge with him, and she screams like she'd warned him she would.

They call in sick to work the next day, and McGee, who takes the call, sounds disbelieving that they've eaten something bad and both have food poisoning. But McGee buys it eventually, after a few sound effects by the pair of them, miming throwing up. It takes them two days to 'recover' from 'food poisoning', after which they really needed two more days to recover from their activities during 'food poisoning'.

The next time they send Christmas cards, he writes them, because she writes the invites that are being sent with them.

He rings his nephew, like he rings all his family members, to invite them informally as well as formally. He has to take the jokes and jibes about him being the last of the lot of them to finally get tied down, because it's true.

They walk (in the rain, because there's something about it that brings out the child in him) to their father's house, and down to the basement. Their hands are intwined, because they're not sure they can face this alone. And Gibbs looks up without saying a word, because he doesn't need to. The pair stand their ground, perhaps a little more out of fear than bravery, but it must have seemed the same to Gibbs. He tips his head a little, and a smile tugs at the corner of his mouth.

So she asks him to walk her down the aisle, because he's kind of the only person she could see doing it. He sets the block of wood he'd been holding down and turns to face them fully. Gibbs lets them stew in silence (for some perverse reason), and then walks over. He slides into a defensive stance, clasping her hand even tighter, as he prepares for the head-slap of a life-time. So he's surprised when Gibbs kisses her on the side of her head and claps him on the shoulder. In fact, he's almost panicked by it.

The head-slap that follows the tender moment is welcomer than the tender moment itself.

They head back outside. The rain is still slicing down, bounding over the landscape, but the sun's shining through, just like it had always been there, and the rain was all the more beautiful for it.

She smiles, and he smiles back.

They step out into the rain.

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