Ziva never wore her hair up in bars.
Sure, when the team was looking for a witness or a suspect, or maybe when she went out for a drink after a long case and didn't want to be bothered, she would leave it pulled away from her shoulders. Hair up meant business. Nothing conveyed strength and respect in a woman's appearance like a solid, confident ponytail. Even a tight knotted bun at the base of the neck did the trick for letting all around know that she was not in the mood for socializing. But when she went out- out, her hair had to be down. Straight, wavy, loose curls, tight curls- they were all blades in an arsenal of hers that spoke of an entirely different business.
Ziva had never been comfortable with having short hair. It didn't suit her, and it was no use to her and her methodology. She like to keep to her subtleties when it came to makeup, jewelry, and attire: she'd never felt at ease in much more than some eyeliner, mascara, and her signature star of David necklace. Her hair, however, was always down, out, flowing, and used to it's fullest advantage.
Tonight was no exception.
She had been in many bars in her life, all across the world, and this one fell in her top ten of dingiest and dirtiest. Smoke clouded the air as cheap shooters clouded judgement all around. It was not quite a sportsbar, not quite a dive. Without her intents and purposes, she could never see herself stopping in here. She certainly would never be back.
The front door creaked behind her back and the temperature in the place dropped considerably. It wasn't a very large or impressive place, surprising for it's downtown D.C location. The three men's arrival was only noticed from the change in climate. Still in uniform, they peeled off their white and navy caps as they sat down at the counter, five seats down from Ziva's careful peripheral vision, muttering something about that morning's exercise at Norfolk. Two of them gave Ziva a quick up and down, like the majority of the men (and some of the women) had that night. One's eyes lingered much longer.
Ziva took a gulp of her questionable whiskey, letting one of the ice cubes fall into her mouth before setting the tumbler back on the bar top. She sucked the cube between her teeth and tongue, resisting the urge to face her quiet observer. She moved her feet from beneath the counter to her left side, crossing her ankles to proudly and perfectly display her fire engine red pumps. Funny, she thought. It confused, no, boggled her that something as simple as colored shoes or other specific attire could be considered attractive. They were not character traits, or even physical ones. Attire is not a defining quality in another person. Sure, she liked her men well dressed overall- or undressed, she mentally quipped, but there had never been one single object that could get her like that. Strange minds are strange.
She switched the overlap of her prominent ankles two more times before peering over at the onlooking Petty Officer. She wasn't sure if even the bright red would stand out in the smoky and dark bar. But when she turned with her small smile, her previous watcher was no longer found between his shipmates.
"Hey." She felt a tap on her right shoulder and swiveled her neck only to meet two dark blue eyes, an almost smirk, and the dark blue uniform. "What's a pretty thing like you doing in a no good place like this?"
She paused for a beat. Quiet. Submissive. Shy. Words ran through her mind from a list she had carefully constructed. Add red heels and vanilla perfume and that was all she had to go on.
She smiled into her tumbler, holding it to her mouth but not taking another drink. "I've only been in the area for a few months. A friend recommended this place." She gave the man a quick up and down, pretending to be embarrassed when he noticed.
"Well, it certainly wasn't for the atmosphere-" He waived his left arm though the air, gesturing to the tasteless posters and fading black paint on the walls. "But perhaps your friend knows how good the company is, huh?"
"Is it?" She questioned, feigning nervousness as she twirled a loose curl in her fingers. Her new acquaintance gracefully slid into her adjacent barstool.
"Why, yes, yes, if I do say so myself. Mark. Petty Officer Mark Lawrence. First class." He said, extending his right hand, pushing a few loose strands back over Ziva's shoulder with a his left. She played the part well, not leaning into his touch, but not quite shrinking away either. Shock at his boldness was her friend in the situation. Once he'd removed his fingers, she smiled sweetly at him, hoping it proved genuine enough.
"First class, huh? That is impressive." She cooed, purposefully widening her eyes.
Three drinks later, he finally asked her about the shoes. Good timing too- five drinks had previously proved to be overkill, a limit that when crossed created obstacles in her clear plans. "Do you always wear shoes like that, my dear?" He reached down to play with the edges, where the shiny leather skimmed the tops of her feet, then her arches, then the beginning of her toes. She forced a hiccup.
"Only when... when I want to have a special evening. I haven't had a night free in a while, you know? Work's kept me busy." She rambled, ending in a giggle. He trailed the pads of his fingers up her calf, and the side of his thumb up her shin. Ziva folded her hands in her lap, still smiling but staring at her knuckles.
"Hey, don't be shy, you look great." He tucked her hair again, this time behind her ear. Now she met his eyes. "Beautiful." He breathed. Such kind words. Why? She knew she wasn't the only one playing pretend. "Hey, you are too good for a place like this. Let's get out of here, shall we?" He settles the table and grabbed his coat, all with a wink at her, Ziva blushing in the process.
"Oh... okay." She shrugged on her coat, attempting to shrink herself, to appear smaller. He put an arm around her shoulders, tipped his cap at his abandoned shipmates. Remarks were made, and he waved them off without a second glance.
They had only just made it into the alley when he'd slipped his fingers under her coat and looped them around the straps of her dress. As soon as the bar's backdoor had slammed shut behind them, she was against the blackened bricks of the wall, lips against hers. His hands ran up, down, up her sides when her coat was pushed off. His tongue did not wait for her to grant access before it was against her teeth, lips suckling the corners of her mouth. She gasped as her coat was shed. He was already working at the zipper at the back of her dress when she pretended to just regain her voice. "I.. I don't usually do this." She said softly, and all but froze in his persistent hands.
"First time for everything, doll." He did not back down. Her dresses' zipper was completely undone, the small metal tab swinging against the base of her spine.
"I mean, I do not do this. Please.. please slow down."
"Babe, babe, you can't just breathe on me all night, let me buy you drinks, and wear those damn red shoes-" He was now growling into her mouth, then her neck- "and expect to just walk away." His hands had now hitched her skirt up, making their way to her inner thighs. "Give us a smile."
"No." Ziva said clearly, the act now gone from her voice. She had to be certain. "Stop." She was met with no hesitation, his hands did not cease or slow down. His lips were making their way down her neck as she gave him one last chance and feigned a struggle. "I'm saying no."
"So am I, doll."
There it was. In no time at all, before his sticky lips could get past her collarbone, she had one wrist in a vice grip and one swift movement put his heavy limbs where hers had just been. She stomped a red pump against the brick wall, between his legs and only inches below his obvious arousal. "Let me get this straight." She repositioned her foot for a more solid and threatening hold. "I said no, I want to slow down, and you decided to just keep going?" She pulled him by his collar, slamming the back of his head against the cold bricks.
"No, no! I just... I..." He quivered under her narrowed gaze, and tried to struggle free.
"You just.. what? Just what? Did not understand? Did I lead you on? I bet it was all that 'no, stop' stuff I was saying. I guess I was not-" She brought her foot up, now directly in contact with him- "clear enough. He squirmed in her grasp but couldn't break her grip. "How does it feel, Mark? To be under someones control? To be..." The red pump went up another inch- "helpless?"
"I... I..." His gaze darted from side to side, his whole head shaking in fear. She tightened her grip on his wrist.
"You seem to be too dumb- or afraid, I do not care which, to speak. So I will speak." She twisted his arm quickly so his chest was now pinned to the wall, one arm contorted stiff behind his back. She pressed the point of her elbow into his back, and he was immobilized as she released his collar and dug in her jacket pocket. She pulled out a series of pictures. "Marcia Grey." She slammed a picture of a young, bruised woman against the wall, next to his ear, close enough so he could see her bruises in the dark. "Jessica Felt." Another photo. "Hannah Mason." Another photo. "All mid twenties, all the same build, all wearing red heels, vanilla perfume." She pulled his head back momentarily just to slam it back into it's rightful position. "All outside of shitty bars like this one. Your credit card tells a story of you conveniently being there with them." She released his head, moving her left hand to grasp a shoulder- initially gentle, until she shoved herself next to his hear, her angry breath not tickling but scalding the skin on the nape of his neck. "Tell me, Mark, did they fight back?"
"Look lady, look, I'm sorry, let's just forget about..." His rambling was abruptly ended by Ziva producing a cold blade against his cheek.
"You will NOT forget!" She snarled directly into his ear. She flipped the blade, originally lying flat on his cheek, to it's sharp edge. "You may have already forgotten them, but they have not forgotten you!" Her practiced mask for her accent was beginning to slip. Her harsh foreign tone would be obvious if he were listening for it. "They will never forget, and it will never disappear! And now-" she slid the edge of the blade down his cheek and around to the base of his throat, the front of his neck. One diagonal slice. "Now, neither will you." Another opposing cut resulted in a bright red 'X', the blade expressing the excess malice she no longer had room for in her voice. Not deep enough for any harmful bleeding. She pulled out a small spray bottle, and before he could protest, she sprayed the fresh wound. He tried to scream but Ziva stifled his mouth with her free hand. "This will not heal. It will cloth, then it will scab, but the scar will not go away."
She released him. The man's initial reaction was to retaliate, to attack back. But he could do nothing but clutch at the stinging skin on his throat. He sank to the ground. Ziva placed her right heel on him, looking down, the venom in her eyes unwavering. He managed to regain his voice. "Are.. you.. a cop?"
She chuckled and sank the heel down harder into his side. "No, I am not. And I suggest you do not involve any." The heel went down harder, now for the last time. "I will be watching you. I will remember this." And with one swift and loaded kick to his head, Petty Officer Mark Lawrence was left unconscious in the dark alley that he would certainly never forget.
Tony thumbed the bright picture taped to the side of his monitor. Bun in the oven. An undercover pregnant Ziva smiled back at him with her signature smile, showing only the top row of teeth but beaming and glowing nonetheless. Yellow has always been a good color on her, he thought to himself. He quickly swept the thought out of his mind, like he was going to get caught by one of his coworkers through some mind-reading interrogation. His eyes remained on the picture until he tore them over to Ziva's vacant desk. She'd been back from Israel for about two weeks, and they had yet to get into much detail about her trip. Didn't talk much about her last trip to Israel, either, Tony reminded himself. He sighed. Too many things were unspoken between the two of them, regardless of their new status of being open and honest. He was afraid of what would come out if he should accidentally open old wounds. He was shaken from his thoughts by the sound of the elevator doors opening to reveal one Special Agent Timothy McGee.
"McTardypants, where have ya been? I was starting to think you and Ziva had quit on me." He fiddled around with the danish sitting on his desk. McGee rolled his eyes and made his way over, holding three white cups and one extra large CafPow.
"It's 0700 Tony. We are not late, you are just early. Like you have been all week." He set a cup down in front of Tony. "You coming in at the crack of dawn isn't going to be much help in catching Bodner, especially since we're currently working on other cases. Trail's gone cold, Tony."
Tony gave a small smile, picked up the cup, staring at it in his hands. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm just doing my best. For her, ya know? And the team of course." He switched the hot cup from hand to hand rapidly, avoiding contact with it for too long. "Where is our resident Israeli anyway? She is almost always here before I am."
"Good question." Said McGee, eyes turning expectantly to the elevator. "Have you noticed something off in the last few weeks? I mean, I guess it's expected... I'd be the same way if, you know." McGee lost his verbal footing. To make up for it, he shuffled over to Ziva's empty desk and placed the third cup down. Something caught his eye. "Tony, you know that she has that old boarding school picture of you taped to her monitor?"
Tony hit his palm to his forehead and then held his head in his hands. "Yeah, I know, I know. Can't convince her to take it off." His head down, McGee couldn't see the small smile forming on Tony's lips at the thought.
"Well, I'm headed down to Abby's lab. Said I'd check with her first thing in the morning. She keeps asking for me to come down but then doesn't have anything really to show me. You think she's starting to get lonely down there?" McGee questioned, moving back to the center of the bullpen.
Tony chuckled. "McGee, you have a lot to learn about women, young padawan. Go. See your woman." McGee looked as if he were going to protest, but then decided against it, taking his own coffee cup and the CafPow to the elevator. He was about to press the button when they opened to reveal Ziva. Tony watched from the distance as the two younger agents greeted each other, McGee making a strange face, Tim's eyes trailing her as the elevator doors closed on him and she made her way to the desks. Tony's heart skipped a beat when he saw why.
"Good morning, Tony." Ziva said in her usual pleasant way. Everything looked perfectly normal- hair back in it's familiar fierce ponytail, clean pressed blouse and cargo pants, leather boots. Star of David necklace, a smell of her lavender shampoo. A small but dark purple bruise right below her cheekbone.
"One of you will tell me the identities and locations of agents in the area, and the other one, will die!" Saleem ripped off the bag to reveal Ziva. Tony's heartbeat was absent. Alive. Beautiful. Breathing. Damaged. One eye shadowed with an unmistakeable bruise. She's here.
"Tony, good morning? You look as though you had seen a ghost." Ziva gave him a look as she set her bag and coat behind her desk and took her place behind her computer. Acting normal.
"Ziva, uh, hey. Have anything to share?" He said, his voice wavering with poorly hidden alarm. He gestured to below his eye when she looked at him questioningly. "Anything at all?"
"Oh." She averted from his gaze. "Sparring at the NCIS gym. That Agent Krager has a mean left anchor." She started up her computer, not letting her eyes leave the blank monitor.
"Hook. I think you mean hook." Tony said, standing up from his desk and closing the space between them. "Ziva, really? You're going to tell me that's from sparring? First off, lamest excuse ever, second, I know no one would get the upper hand on our ninja like that."
"Fine, Tony, I am fine. Stop hovering." She finally looked up at him, but his eyes were fixed on the small bruise. An occupational hazard, it was really nothing too out of the ordinary. But Tony couldn't help but worry and wonder. Before she could turn back to her computer, he placed his right hand next to her face, tucking his fingers into her hair and swiping his thumb across the bruise on her cheek. Tony's lips narrowed into a line when she flinched ever so slightly, but didn't back away. Her lips parted in surprise, but she didn't stop him. His brow was now knotted from a mix of frustration and concern. "Tony, do not. I am okay." She said, much more softly this time. Tony opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by Gibbs striding into bullpen.
"Dead Marine. Quantico. Grab your-" He halted upon seeing his two agents. At first Tony thought it was because of their proximity, which they both quickly gave more space to, but Gibbs' eyes were fixated on the bruise as well. Tony wondered if Gibbs saw Somalia in it too. "David, everything alright?"
Ziva was already in motion, grabbing her coat and backpack. "Yes, Gibbs. I am fine. McGee was headed down to Abby's lab when I arrived. Shall I go get him?"
Gibbs adopted Tony's look of concern, but shrugged it off. "Yes, now. We'll meet you at the cars." Ziva met Tony's eyes once more before heading out of the bullpen all too quickly. Gibbs looked pointedly at the senior field agent.
"Don't ask me, boss, she didn't fill me in, either." Tony reached for his own stuff, sighing. "I'll get the car." As he made his way over to the elevator, forgetting to ask for details about the new case, he tried to clear the morning encounter from his mind. But Tony, in all his years of being alive had gotten to know himself pretty well. He knew he'd be seeing little purple spots on tan skin for the rest of the week.