Title: At Terror Street and Agony Way
Word Count: 7,843
Author's Note: For rinslet. Hopefully the length makes up for how long I took. Also, I guess this is me dealing with my issues re: the Somalia storyline and how it was handled by the show. Title stolen from Bukowski.
Summary: There are inquires. Six rounds with a shrink, a proper one this time, a pinched faced woman who doesn’t know him from Jack, except for what his file says. His file says a lot. Not as much as hers, though.
Vance gets thrown under the bus, SecNav’s very own sacrificial lamb.
He goes kicking and screaming but he goes. Not without the shouting match of the century that’s audible through three very solid doors, all the way into the bullpen. When it’s all said and done, Vance is lugging cardboard boxes and Gibbs is stoic as always behind his desk.
They have a new director by Monday and SecNav stays behind his cloud of smoke, answering nothing, and doesn’t that just say it all.
There are inquires. Six rounds with a shrink, a proper one this time, a pinched faced woman who doesn’t know him from Jack, except for what his file says.
His file says a lot.
Not as much as hers, though, and for much of that week Ziva is off. It starts as her not laughing at his jokes and ends with her turning down his offer of pizza and classic movies at his place. The rejection isn’t what makes that last part odd so much as the fact that he gets there at six-thirty the next morning to find her still at her desk.
Tony says nothing.
He’s gotten good at that.
“Tell me about Somalia.”
“You want the long version or the short version?”
“We can start with the short version.” There’s a beat. “If that’s what you’re more comfortable with.”
There is no comfortable version, just varying degrees of disgust and disillusionment. Fear, maybe, but you didn’t hear that from him.
“Lots of sand and empty spaces,” and it’s the smartass remark but it’s what he knows. His default setting. The shrink will make a note on her yellow legal pad, something like rude or uncooperative and it’ll end up in his file, and she’ll never really know him at all, she’ll never really know why he’s like that, but, more importantly, she won’t even try to find out.
She makes a note. He tries not to look smug.
Ziva acknowledges the white paper bag on her desk without actually having to make eye contact, a small nod in his direction and the phone pressed to her ear. They’ve got three different leads that dead-end one by one and a body face down in the Potomac without a name to show for it.
“Isn’t that the same shirt you wore yesterday?” McGee asks, after she’s been on hold for thirty minutes and then disconnected, after Tony’s been down to see Abby and back again, to find Ziva just tucking into her sandwich from the deli two streets over.
Tony doesn’t talk about these things. They don’t talk about these things. But McGee’s foot tends to hover in the vicinity of his mouth and he gets to claim innocence or obliviousness or both and have everyone believe him.
“Yes,” Ziva answers, slowly, “it is.”
She waits exactly two minutes to escape into the bathroom. He counts.
He was expecting that.
“And Agent David?”
She says it wrong. He’s still correcting people long after she’s given up on it. “Dah-veed.”
“Sorry,” the shrink says, purely perfunctory now. Says it right this time.
“Ziva – “ and he laughs. He says her name and he laughs because, really, just what the hell is he supposed to say about her. She sat in a small room and was tortured for three months, came back, and it was like four years of history between them was just up and gone, chaffed away by the wind and all of those nights that he couldn’t sleep, all of those nights that sleep was probably a fever dream to her.
She came back different.
That he expected otherwise, that he had hoped for otherwise, should be the shocking part.
You only get so many second and third and fifteenth chances before something has to give. He knows that now. He knows that you don’t wait like there’s always tomorrow, when you’re a little less raw and a little less angry.
He knows too late.
That’s the moral of this story. That’s the moral of every fucking story, whether it’s Ziva or Jeanne or Kate, dead in the morgue before he could make sense of what her face under ultraviolet lights while he coughed up blood meant when all she had was a cold.
It started with his mother and prescription pills and an eight year old who learned all about guilt complexes and defense mechanisms far too early.
“Care to clue me in on the joke?”
“Considering they’re paying you by the hour, I don’t think they’d be so hot on that idea.” She frowns; it does her no favors. “Whoever they are anymore.”
There are rumors that Vance is stepping down by week’s end.
Tony hums a few bars of The Times They Are A-Changin’ unprompted; Ziva goes to see the shrink without a word.
He hovers but keeps his hands to himself. There’s a barrier there they don’t like to test and he can’t remember how to fit his hands against her shoulders, along her body, any more. He just remembers that he used to. That it used to be easy, second nature really.
“It is seven in the morning and we’re the only two here. How would you like me to be?” The words are more defensive, more curt, than her tone would have him believe.
“I don’t mean now.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“I mean if you ever want to talk,” he braces his arms against her desk and her pen stills between her fingers as she looks up at him, “I’m here.”
“We are talking,” she replies, defiant to the bitter end and he kind of wants to slap her except she’d break his hand and probably other body parts, and pain was always the opposite of what he wanted to cause. They do enough of that without trying.
“Ziva,” he says, like back at the warehouse, soft and low. Almost pleading, if you’re looking for it.
The ball is in her court and the ball will stay in her court because she’s shut down. Dead eyes and brittle smile as she says “I’m fine” and they may have lost something between here and Israel and Somalia and here again – they may have lost what made them them, Tony and Ziva, forever said in the same breath, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t able to see right through her bullshit.
So there are the cardboard boxes and the glowers from the stairs, his boss and the man who never fit in here to begin with, the man who always had something up his sleeve that he wasn’t sharing.
Vance leaves without a word after he goes at it with Gibbs. No speech, no reasons given, and if it hadn’t been for the boxes and the interoffice memo circulating, one would think he just went home in a particularly bad mood.
The psych sessions come to an abrupt, yet not unwelcome, end. It doesn’t fix things with Ziva. Instead, she stays locked up tight, cutting everyone off save for Ducky and Abby, the former because it’s near impossible to lock him out of your head, even if you want to, and the latter because Abby will always be the most vulnerable of the group, the one who both loves the most and hurts the most.
McGee gets short answers, softened but only barely. Tony gets shorter ones. Gibbs gets a consummate professional absent emotion, who’s there before anyone else is and the last of the three of them to leave, if she even leaves at all.
He worries. He worries when he finds her asleep on her desk in the mornings and he worries when he realizes the phone calls to Ray, the as yet unseen thorn in his side, appear to have ceased. He stops short of entering the women’s bathroom on two separate occasions and every day the lines in McGee’s forehead deepen when he looks at her, like he wants to do something but can’t fathom how to go about it.
Looks at Tony like he expects him to apologize for whatever it is that he did so they can all get back to normal.
For once, he knows this isn’t his fault.
There’s a scar on the back of his left shoulder that he can’t see unless he turns his body just right, squints at his reflection in the mirror. He doesn’t remember the injury but it sure remembers him, white and raised, alternatively the one piece of Somalia that he took home with him or the piece it took of him – however you want to play it.
He still has those photos of her in that bikini, tan skin and long legs stretched out under the L.A. sun before everything went to shit. He lacks a means for comparison so he imagines scars that crisscross her body like train tracks, easy to hide under the sweaters she favors as the cold holds on. The imagery can turn his stomach on even the best of days but, the way he figures it, three months probably amounted to more than just psychological trauma.
They spend seventy-two hours in a safe house – or, more accurately, apartment -- outside of Baltimore with no shift change. Instead, there are local LEOs parked in an unmarked car down the street, a neurotic but mostly tolerable witness, and him sleeping on the couch.
He can always hear her pad into the kitchen, bare feet on carpet and the sound of the faucet turning on, the clink of glasses in the cabinet. The close of the door to the spare bedroom near soundless and then, invariably, two hours later she would be at the kitchen table cleaning the gun she hadn’t even used yet under the dim light.
“I know the saying goes ‘we’ll sleep when we’re dead’ but, really, there’s no need to speed up the process.” This place is laid out in such a way that he doesn’t even need to get up to see into the kitchen and so he doesn’t, just stays sprawled out along the couch with his head on the armrest and there’s thing where he’s trying to keep his distance since hovering and forced proximity has gotten him exactly nowhere.
She frowns. Doesn’t startle. Merely looks at him like she knows he’s been awake for the last twenty minutes, alternating between watching her and trying to sleep while being hyper aware of her presence, and is just wondering why he’s chosen now to speak up. Or that to open with.
“We’re no good to this guy sleep-deprived,” he adds, clarification that gets a single nod from her in acknowledgement.
“If it is the light that’s bothering you – “
“It’s not the light,” he says, a half second later realizing how that sounds.
She sets her gun on the table, solid thud, and, “You can take the bed.”
“I don’t want the bed.”
“Well then what do you want?”
Things to go back to normal. Things not to go back to normal but instead opt to be better. Things he can’t have. Things he doesn’t even understand but wants anyway.
“Remember when we were staking out the warehouse? You ringed the binoculars with marker and I spent the better part of that day looking like a raccoon.”
“And you rigged my chair,” she adds, a faint smile that aches of nostalgia and softens the glare she sends his way. It’s the first bit of warmth he’s seen in her eyes in days, the first time he’s felt like she’s something other than untouchable, a figure ghosting through rooms at night, and she says her lines right on cue, all day every day, but the acting is hardly Oscar-worthy.
He would know.
“I want that,” he tells her, in no uncertain terms, and her lips thin out, eyes turning sad, and he should feel something other than satisfaction that it’s finally an emotion that can’t be described as distant, but he’s never going to be that good of a man.
“She doesn’t like to talk about it.”
It’s a statement, not a question, but he answers it like it isn’t. “No.”
“Does that bother you more than you think it should?”
He has half a mind to tell her that he appreciates what she’s doing, really, but six sessions with a shrink are never going to be close to enough to fix all the damage the years have done, so let’s just put this charade to bed.
It would probably only make her push back harder.
“Yes. No. I don’t know. How exactly do you quantify more than it should?” He pulls that smug grin out, the one that says he knows he’s derailing the conversation and he’s enjoying doing so too, and the woman’s face sours. Tony can be an ass when it suits him. Hell, even when it doesn’t. “Isn’t that more subjective than objective?”
“I’m pretty sure I’m the one who is supposed to be asking the questions.”
“Well you might want to start by asking the right ones.”
“And those are?”
The new director doesn’t like Gibbs any more than Vance did but, then, his reputation precedes him. The word unorthodox gets thrown around a lot and there’s a general, unspoken consensus among the three of them that if worse comes to worse, they’ll be right behind him out the door.
It doesn’t get to that.
It does, however, get to this, the three of them alone in the bullpen, Gibbs down in autopsy, and:
“They didn’t like his ties to,” McGee seems to remember himself, looks down, “certain organizations.”
He means Mossad. He means Vance being buddy-buddy with Eli David. He might even mean the liaison position, though that was inherited, the leftovers of Jenny’s reign.
The prodding about Somalia from the shrink makes just that much more sense, and when he glances at the desk across from him, Ziva shifts in her chair uncomfortably.
“It’s fortunate that that is no longer an issue,” she says, calmly, and they lapse into silence once more.
There’s coffee on his desk when he gets in, a week after the safe house. The cup is still hot to the touch and when he deposits his coat on the back of the chair and holds it up, she nods.
“I just got here,” she tells him, and her computer is powered on but she isn’t on it. Instead, there’s a ripped open envelope tossed the side, his letter opener sitting on top of it, the contents held in her hands.
“Ray?” He asks, his eyes lighting on the letter, because he hasn’t heard word one about loverboy and she’s bringing him coffee in the morning and not looking at him like a wounded animal or someone who might stab him with that letter opener if he asks the wrong thing. A little less guarded today, and he steps forward, takes another step when she doesn’t even bother to look back up at him. Crosses the remainder of the ten feet between them without pause.
“My aunt Nettie,” she folds the letter into thirds when he tries to read over her shoulder, sends a half-amused glare his way for the trouble.
“Isn’t there email for that? Or phones?” She raises an eyebrow. “It was one time.”
“She likes the personal touch,” Ziva replies, putting the letter neatly back inside the envelope and shoving it in the first drawer, next to her gun – or one of her guns. “And she doesn’t like email.”
“Her and Gibbs would get along great.”
He settles on the edge of her desk, that last push forward, and she does nothing more than log onto her computer and hand him the ballistics report he must’ve missed last night. It just confirms what they already figured and he says as much. He still thinks it’s the wife and she still thinks it’s the gardener and they trade barbs and toss around theories until McGee comes in looking like they’ve grown three heads between them.
She taps him on the knuckles with his letter opener and tells him his coffee will get cold if he doesn’t drink it. He stashes the letter opener in his desk and brings the coffee back with him, and it’s by her desk he stays until Gibbs comes out of the elevator with a lead, too wary of letting go of things he’s barely gotten a hold of.
He asks her if she wants to get a drink after work and she declines.
She’s trying though, she heard him back at the safe house and she’s trying to adjust incrementally, he thinks, and he can deal with that. He can wait.
It’s not like there’s a lot of options here. And they can fall back into the same patterns. They can try to be who they always have been, settle back into place and work around the scar tissue that wasn’t there before because they’ve learned to adapt even when it’s painful. They can go back, hell, that’s what he told her he wanted. Stakeouts and pranks and easy camaraderie while they flirt with Rule 12 and, yeah, that’s preferable to the distant looks and the way she flinched away from him every time he got too close but, then, so is everything else. Even fighting. He knows his lines for that; he knows them so damn well they’re automatic.
They can go back from here, this strange middle ground they’ve found that’s raw and ugly and on the verge of something – fuck if he knows what – but part of him is sure that if they go back now, they’re never going to get here again. They’re never going to find out if the grass is greener on the other side or if it’s still just a mostly satisfying yellow-green that manages to be both too bright and too dull – there was a metaphor here somewhere, he’s sure of it – and he thinks he’ll regret it.
He thinks if he tries and it blows up in his face anyway, he’ll regret that even more.
He finds her in the gym the day after they close the case.
(It had been the wife and the gardener, who were sleeping together, predictably; the neighborhood is a Wisteria Lane clone and he doesn’t know how he didn’t see it before.)
She’s got her hair pulled up into a ponytail, a few sweaty curls falling at the nape of her neck, and her sweatshirt discarded on the floor where her feet won’t tangle in it. The punching bag has definitely seen better days but she’s having a field day and he’s just glad that those fists aren’t aimed at any part of him.
“So I was thinking,” he pauses, keeping his distance and expecting her to whirl on him. She doesn’t. Gets off rhythm for half a second though and her left hook nearly misses the bag entirely. He’s fairly sure her shoulders were that tense before he walked in. “There’s a new Thai place that opened up down the street from me and they do takeout.”
She doesn’t say anything to that for a moment. Goes to town on the bag and he just stands there while Bill from Legal eyes his unwrinkled suit from the weight bench like Tony isn’t at all aware that he’s out of place. The man averts his eyes the second she turns her attention away from that bag, apparently joining the ranks of the majority of the people in this office who happen to be afraid of her.
He’s not. She held a gun to his chest and he’s still not afraid of her, and maybe it’s just that his survival instinct could use work but in that split second he never once considered the possibility that she’d pull.
“Are you trying to get me to talk or are you trying to get me to sleep with you?”
“Who says the two have to be mutually exclusive?” It’s what he would say, if they were playing. He gets the feeling that they’re not.
She bends to pick up her sweatshirt and he gets a good look at the dried blood in the creases of her knuckles as her fingers close over the material. He felt better about where they stood before he came down here. He should’ve just stayed upstairs.
“Ziva,” he starts, and fully intends to follow it up with some variation of talk to me, please, for the love of god except she’s slinging her sweatshirt over one shoulder and heading towards the showers without another word, and he knows better than to follow.
“What are the right questions?”
It’s a repeat. Rerun, technically, and he’s sorry he doesn’t have anything new to entertain the shrink with but she’s caught him in the three week holding period from hell. Nothing’s changing, other than his sleeping patterns. Or lack thereof.
“Agent DiNozzo,” she prompts.
“It’s not if it bothers me, it’s why.” That it bothers him at all is a foregone conclusion in his mind.
“Okay, so why?”
“She’s my partner.”
She taps her pen against the side of the legal pad, considers for a moment, then, “Is this something that you might need to take up with Human Resources in the future?”
“Gibbs – my boss – has this list of rules. One through fifty, although I’m pretty sure there’s a fifty-one now and there tend to be a few duplicates in there. It’s not really a physical list either. But there’s rule number twelve and that pretty much guarantees I won’t be making any visits to them.”
“What’s rule twelve?”
“Never date a co-worker.”
Her eyebrows furrow and he takes the mild surprise in her expression to mean that Gibbs has been skipping out on his own sessions. No surprise there. The only thing Gibbs hates more than people trying to get inside of his head are lawyers. “And if it weren’t for that?”
He shifts forward, hands gripped on the arms of the chair as he tries to get a good look at her notes, propelled forward by nervous energy. He’s done with this conversation. He was done with it twenty minutes ago when it segued into his father’s most recent visit. It’s beginning to feel like she’s pressing buttons for the sake of it, just to see how many it takes to overload him completely, to get him to break down and spill it all. This doesn’t have anything to do with Somalia and even less to do with his competence as an investigator.
“You can look away,” she tells him, leaning back but leaving the legal pad balanced on her knees, uncovered. There are scribbles of black, familiar letters strung together in unfamiliar ways, and he gets it a second before she says it, “I write my notes in German. Keeps my nosier patients from seeing things I don’t want them to.”
He tries not to seem impressed. Says, “That’s not going to stop Ziva. She speaks a crazy amount of languages. Not Swahili though. You could always try that.”
“You are aware that not answering the question is an answer in itself.”
“So what’s my answer?”
“Nothing,” she replies. “You would do nothing.”
OSU is up by sixteen in the first half when she knocks.
The rest of dinner is in a box on the counter, his appetite leaving him more or less by the time he got home, and he would’ve just hit the sack but for the game and his alma mater. He’s nursing his second beer in an hour and they cut to commercial, something involving a talking baby, when there’s the clearing of a throat before the knock outside.
There are a finite number of people that it could be, an index he runs through in his head on the short walk to his front door, but only two of them wouldn’t call before coming and he’s pretty sure Gibbs is holed up in his basement or plotting new ways to piss of the director because that’s all they seem to be doing with this guy and he’s seen this play before, it doesn’t end well.
So he knows it’s Ziva a half-second before he’s got the door open and she doesn’t disappoint, except, sort of. He expected mostly pulled together Ziva who’d shown up to give him shit about this afternoon in the gym, and the ensuing few hours where he just kept looking at her from across the bullpen. What he gets is the Ziva who looks like a wild animal, her hair a tousled mess and her pupils blown. He holds the door open for her, steps back a foot or so, and she hesitates in the doorway, breath catching around what might have been a greeting but might also have been nonsense syllables, strung together to fill the empty spaces they keep running headlong into.
She hesitates and it looks like she’s torn between heading back to her car and jumping him right there in the doorway.
That it’s the latter comes as a surprise, even if she telegraphs it.
Ziva looks up, reaches a hand out that lands on his forearm, and then she’s pulling him in and her mouth is on his. He startles. It’s the best way to describe it, because he inhales hard through his nose and his mouth is open against hers, his hands pulling her in closer like a reflex, like breathing, and he kisses her back because he doesn’t know what else to do and it’s not like he doesn’t want this at all.
Just maybe not this way.
It’s strange because there are moments where he’s thought of pulling the emergency stop button in the elevator just to see what she would do, and there was an entire summer spent alternating between their apartments where he would throw an arm across the back of the couch and she would lean in and all one of them would have to do was tilt their head the right way, so this isn’t a new feeling, wanting her mouth on his, but it the actual act itself feels odd. There’s no rush of satisfaction when her tongue finds its way into his mouth or when he winds a hand into the hair at the nape of her neck. No sense of relief. Instead, the tension doesn’t smooth out of her shoulders and his hands keep slipping, her body keeps slipping out of them because she won’t stop moving, and the door is still wide open.
It’s not right. And it’s not just because his imagination’s failing him or that he’s built things up in his head over the years, it’s because she was barely speaking to him this afternoon and now she’s kicking the door shut with her heel and steering them down the hall towards his bedroom. She still knows the floor plan to his place, while he’s never even been to her new apartment, and he finds that even more suspect than usual, at least he does until they’re clearing the doorway of his bedroom and he puts a hand out to catch himself, stopping them both in their tracks.
She makes a sound in the back of her throat that’s somewhere between confused and largely unhappy with this turn of events.
“What the hell are we doing right now?” he asks, his voice coming out more breathy than firm like he was hoping, but he’ll take it. She moves against him, then cocks her head to the side, raised eyebrows, and he knows that’s a direct reaction to her finding him hard against her. His line of questioning wasn’t quite as literal as she seems to be pretending to take it.
They know better than this. Both of them were taught so much better than this but her fingers start in on the zipper of his jeans and he was only half in this fight to begin with.
Just after midnight she gets up. He can feel it distantly, just on the edge of consciousness, can feel the way her legs untangle from his, but his limbs won’t cooperate enough for him to reach out for her, and his brain doesn’t fully comprehend why he even needs to, so he doesn’t and she finds her footing and he sinks back into unconsciousness.
The next time he resurfaces, she’s gone, the front door is locked, and the three a.m. rerun of SportsCenter is playing on low.
He gets the phone call just after six-fifteen, and the four of them spend the better part of the morning photographing a crime scene in Vienna. Double homicide, or so they hear, but when they get there all they’ve got is two dead bodies and only one gunshot wound. Boy and girl, man and woman, and Tony floats a Romeo and Juliet scenario that no one laughs at, while Ziva never looks directly at him – much like the sun, although that set up only makes it seem like a compliment she most certainly doesn’t mean -- and McGee watches them both like he’s expecting someone to just tell him what’s going on.
Yeah, cause there’s a conversation Tony wants to have at seven in the morning.
Gibbs slaps him upside the head in the elevator when they get back to the Navy Yard for reasons unknown to him and he likes it that way, very much, because Gibbs is all knowing and if he knows anything about the events of last night, Tony’s probably about to have another very unpleasant day.
And it was shaping up to be such a great one.
“Did you two have a fight?” Abby asks later. He’s starting to get a headache that no amount of aspirin is going to cure and the click-clack of her heeled boots against the floor isn’t exactly doing anything to help that. “McGee said you guys are acting strange. Like not talking. At all. Not that you guys have been very chatty for weeks now, which is weird, ‘cause, you know, that’s like your thing. Flirty banter and angry banter and…banter.”
“Is this your way of saying I never shut up?” He says it with his most charming smile plastered on his face, even if his heart isn’t in it, and her mouth twists like she isn’t quite buying what he’s selling but desperately wants to. “We’re fine, Abby.”
Her eyes narrow, accusatorially. “Did you do something?”
“Why is it always me?”
“Fine. Did she do something?”
“We. Are. Fine.”
The spelling it out like you would to a small child approach? It only earns him a glare, and where he was pretty sure when he walked in that she was going to tackle him in a bear hug now he’s more worried about her slapping him upside the head. Or telling Gibbs to. Again.
He barks at McGee on and off for about the next two hours after that, and, sure, he feels bad about it. McGee isn’t the only one who gossips and Abby probably would’ve picked up on it anyway, but Tony’s too busy trying to wrap his head around the case on fairly little sleep, with no one to bounce theories off of, while he also tries to come up with a plan of action to keep himself from ending up in any elevators alone with Gibbs for the next few days and to tell Ziva that she was so busy fleeing his apartment in the middle of the night that she neglected to remember to take her underwear with her.
The clock takes this opportunity to remind him it’s only noon.
His resolve to get through the day and deal with this – whatever it is – after hours, when there’s zero chance of acquiring a captive audience, breaks sometime after two. They spend the previous two hours playing a variation on telephone, where both of them only talk directly to McGee, or Gibbs for the five minutes he’s actually in the bullpen, never to the room in general and never to each other. It starts off as unconscious, but when he’s looking at McGee and giving him the results of the license plate search, when Ziva was the one who tracked down the plate number in the first place, he knows something is wrong.
McGee volunteers to go get lunch and pay when two o’clock rolls around and makes a less than subtle dash for the elevators, and that’s when Tony puts down his pen, closes his browser, and decides that they’re going to do this now, whether she wants to or not.
Which is of course when Ziva decides to head to the bathroom.
Not that that’s ever stopped either of them before. If she wanted to hide, heading down to autopsy is the better bet. But, then, she would know that.
He wonders if this is her version of Gibbs commandeering the elevator.
There’s a lock on the door to the ladies restroom, stiff from lack of use, but he manages. Slips inside as soon as the coast is clear and locks it behind him the second he finds her standing in front of the row of sinks alone, with the water turned off. She nods at his reflection in the water-flecked mirror and it goes a mile to confirm his earlier suspicions.
He steps forward and she doesn’t turn but, instead, her eyes follow his reflection as he crosses the space between them. Her spine straightens the moment he falls in line behind her, when she’s left with her reflection superimposed atop his. It leaves things a little less clear and it messes with her equilibrium, her eyes flicking away from him and her hand falling to the counter as she turns, or tries to anyway.
Tony crowds her against the counter, her back to his chest and his hands on either side of hers on the counter. He’s taller than her, larger than her, and the movement effectively dwarfs her as her shoulders curve in and her jaw sets. When she breathes he can feel it and when her muscles tense he can feel it and, sure, this is Ziva so she can move him if she wants to, she’s not trapped in any real sense of the word, but she’d have to hurt him in order to do so successfully.
It’s a power grab from a woman who is never not in power, never except for three months in the dry heat of Somalia, and if it freaks her out then that’s the intention.
“Relax,” he says, against her ear, and she doesn’t. Her face remains expressionless but her body stays coiled up, meticulously self-contained energy that leaves her ready to spring, and this is probably why they invented the term playing with fire. He’s doused himself in gasoline and now he won’t stop playing with matches, like a small child who doesn’t know any better.
He knows better. She arches back against him and one of his hands falls to her hip, fingers that bite when she moves sharply, right up until she says “let go” between her teeth and he releases the pressure but keeps his hand there.
“You don’t trust me,” he murmurs thickly, because that’s what this is, an exercise in trust. He’s not going to hurt her. If she knows him at all then she knows he’s not going to hurt her, but she can’t quite stand still, she can’t let herself be trapped, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that is.
“What exactly is the point of this?”
“You don’t trust me because you don’t really trust anyone.” Her breath hitches when his other hand slides into contact with the half inch of bare skin between the waistband of her pants and where her shirt rides up when she arches like that. His fingers graze the skin there, unblemished, and when she swallows her head bobs back, just a little, his mouth right along the line of her jaw. “And I want you to trust me, Ziva. I think I’ve earned that much.”
“It is not so easy,” she says but there’s this incremental relaxation of her body to the point where he doesn’t feel like he’s literally up against a brick wall and it’s reassuring, it’s a step in the right direction after countless wrong turns.
“Then say that. Tell me that. But for the love of god, stop pretending that everything’s fine.”
She nods, the fight going out of her as she leans back as much as she’ll allow herself to, and that’s the exact moment that he lets go.
McGee returns to find them back at their separate desks.
For the first time in too long, the silence is a companionable one.
Two days later, she fishes his keys out of his desk with the hand that’s not dropping the phone records of Mr. Dead-By-Poisoning on top of the paperwork he has on the backburner from two cases ago, because a weapon was discharged and that always means triple the usual amount of work for him to do afterwards. Those, she drops next to his mouse, along with a significant look, and then she says goodnight to McGee and heads for the elevator.
He makes a hasty exit two minutes later and finds her idling in the parking garage with her lights on, and he gets that she means for him to follow her in rather short order. She takes a wrong turn right off the bat, a left instead of the right that would’ve taken them back to either of their apartments, and he doesn’t realize where they’re going until they’re already there.
The regulars still call her Gina, here. Gina or that FBI agent who killed that one guy, you know, the one who was, like, a serial killer or something, only the latter is whispered by people who can’t get their facts straight. The bartender, however, is relatively expressionless as he takes their order and they grab a table in the back, where she can toy with her glass more than she actually drinks from it. He doesn’t think it’s the alcohol she’s interested in, so much as the familiarity of the bar without the intimacy of her own apartment.
“We don’t talk about it,” she tells him, and they’re not the first words out her mouth but they’re the first significant ones.
“In Mossad,” she clarifies. “Our training quite often precludes the need for – “ she falters on an inhale, mouth opening and then settling for closed, and it’s not like he needed spelling out anyway. He’s used to filling in the blank spaces. After a moment, she adds, “And those who would…tend not to live long enough to receive it.”
“So you don’t talk about it.”
“No.” There’s a faint smudge of wine colored lipstick on the edge of her glass and she scrubs the pad of her thumb over it absentmindedly and earlier it was her foot tapping against the leg of the table, and he thinks it’s an anything but running type of reaction because her movements are always deliberate, carefully controlled just like her silence, where here they’re just a step up from the frantic ones in his doorway three nights ago.
“When my sister Tali was killed,” she continues, “my aunts were the ones to sit Shiva. Our mother was long gone, but they said it was what she would have wanted. I got on a plane to Cairo a few hours after the funeral and my father went back to work. I don’t know where Ari was.” Her eyes are glassy and he prefers to blame it on the alcohol. She shakes her head. “We did not talk about it. We did not deal with it. When I returned with Ari’s body, my father was more concerned with his betrayal, with the political ramifications of it. And when I – “
He watches sadness bleed into acceptance, and it turns his stomach, the way she slides into it like it’s all she ever known how to do, and it is. But then they’re not that different, it just looks that way from the other side of the fence.
“My father knew about the Damocles, same as you did, and no doubt weeks before you as well. And yet it was you who found me. We do not talk about these things. We acknowledge them,” she takes a shaky breath, “and then we move on.”
“Well, you’re not Mossad anymore. And we talk about these things,” he says and her gaze turns doubtful.
“Your father abandoned you for a slew of younger women and most likely illegal activities with foreign dignitaries.”
He frowns. “Okay, we can talk about these things, we’re just not required to.”
“Perhaps it is better not to,” and in that moment she is still, completely, finally, and he wants to stretch an arm across the table, lay a hand over hers in some tangible show of solidarity, but he lacks confidence where it’s always come naturally and it keeps his hand wrapped around the damp half-empty bottle of beer he’s been nursing since they sat down. He’s working against type, after all, giving up on the say nothing, do nothing, and hope time and distance heals all wounds approach that’s saved him just as often as it’s let him down, and that doesn’t fix itself overnight any more than she will.
“Wasn’t really doing you any favors before,” he remarks.
“And that bothers you?”
It’s a genuine question, he thinks, and he answers in kind. “It bothers me.”
“I think that’s been pretty well established,” he says, and means because you’re my partner or something that would’ve sounded equally saccharine the second it left his mouth.
Definitely doesn’t mean because i love you.
Tony’s never been any good with those sorts of declarations anyway.
They close the case on a Friday.
Unfortunately, not before suspect number one flees and then, when Ziva climbs over the chain link fence in like five seconds flat before Tony’s even got a foothold, the guy tries to wail on her. He lands one punch, and then she’s got him pinned face-down on the ground with his hands behind him and her knee in his back. There’s a bruise high on her cheekbone just starting to come in and she doesn’t bother with concealer, instead wearing it like a badge.
The irony here is that the guy didn’t even do it, he’s just easily spooked because, as it turns out, he had a trunk full of weed parked a block away, so now they’re charging him possession with intent to distribute and assaulting a federal officer. And the guy who actually poisoned victim number one, who then shot victim number two before said poison kicked in, is so proud of himself for doing the deed that he doesn’t put up any fight at all, just goes willingly, wondering if he’s going to make the eleven o’clock news.
He probably does. Tony doesn’t know. There’s another bar because sometimes they do these things, crowd into a booth at their regular place and drink until everything is pleasantly blurry around the edges before they part for the weekend, even though half the time they’re all back by Sunday, because murderers don’t take the day off. Abby talks about bowling nuns and leans on McGee more as the night progresses. Palmer texts his girlfriend when he thinks no one’s paying attention and turns a not at all faint pink when he realizes they all are.
Ziva drinks this time. More than he does, anyway, and he must be getting old because it feels later than it is when they leave, when they get to the parking lot and he takes her keys and shoves them back in her coat pocket and tells her he’ll drive, it’s on the way.
He walks her up reflexively, not because she needs it, and she doesn’t look at him funny, hell, she doesn’t look at him at all until she unlocks the door with one hand and pulls him inside by the lapel of his jacket with the other. Kisses him with her arm looped around his neck, her keys still clicking against each other in her other hand as he presses her back against the door. It’s the worst thing he could’ve done, opening his mouth to her, because it makes him want more, makes him want to stay, when he really shouldn’t even have come inside.
She pulls away before he does, angles her head back and fists her hands in his jacket, as she says “goodnight” in this firm, decisive tone, and he wasn’t going to stay and she wasn’t going to ask him to but it’s still hard to walk out that door again.
Slowly, things calm down.
They order from that Thai place down the street and she doesn’t let on that she’s already seen the movie, some late-night AMC marathon when she couldn’t sleep, until he’s grabbing a beer out of the fridge, popping the cap off, and he sees her mouthing the dialogue at the same time as he’s saying it in his head, this being the important part, this being the part right before the climax where it all goes wrong.
He didn’t pick a movie with a happy ending.
It’s called tempting fate or maybe it’s just called not thinking before doing, before speaking, an ailment he’s suffered from for years.
He slings an arm along the back of the couch and she leans back against it, until his hand can curl over her shoulder, and they don’t see the end of the movie. The credits roll while the back of her knees hit the bed, an orchestra playing them out, and the screen still glows blue when he invariably wakes at two in the morning, like clockwork, to the sound of her snoring and her body stretched along her side of the bed, a country’s worth of space between them.
She’s quieted when he climbs back in next to her, still asleep, and he wakes up just short of catching an elbow to the temple ten minutes before his alarm goes off, but she says she dreamt of zombies, not terrorists, and he questions whether she’s stumbled across Night Of The Living Dead somewhere in her insomnia or if it was some ridiculous, low-budget nightmare. She says she can’t remember but there was a man on a horse and turn down the gas before the pancakes burn.