A man flies into town on a commercial airliner. Miami to Dulles.
He doesn’t know because she told him; he knows because she speaks English on the phone now. Google Translate just doesn’t get his business like it used to.
“You’re friend coming in tonight?” His attempt at casual is probably not helped by the way in which he hovers over her desk. He backs off, spine straight, and from this angle he can just see her computer screen. Solitaire. Email in the sidebar.
It’s a slow day. They’re stuck in that quiet time between Christmas and New Year’s, where everyone’s still trying for that holiday cheer but, really, if they see one more candy cane or hear one more bell ring at a storefront then there might be another homicide on their hands.
Crime rates spike around the holidays. Too much quality time with family.
Thankfully, neither of them has any to speak of that aren’t separated from them by an ocean. Maybe a continent or two.
He doesn’t know where his father is.
“He is,” she replies, a single nod of her head, and he can see where she should put the seven on the eight of hearts but she just clicks down to the end of the deck.
“You know, you told me I could meet him.”
She doesn’t say any more. He takes that to mean she wasn’t talking about now. Possibly ever. Could is not would or will or any other tense of that word. They could stroll down to that coffee place a few streets over and just be done with work for the day, not that they’re really doing actual work. They won’t.
He sits back down.
Two hours later she powers down her computer and grabs her jacket.
He looks up from level 21 of Tetris with a frown. “And where are you going?”
“To meet my friend. I promised to pick him up from the airport.”
“Do I at least get a name?”
She smiles, faintly. Maybe she enjoys his persistence. Maybe she’s just doing it so that he gives up and shifts his attention elsewhere. His ability to read facial expressions and body language has gone downhill recently.
“Perhaps,” she answers.
Game over is flashing when he looks back at his screen and he makes the executive decision to call the workday over at barely four o’clock. Gibbs has been in MTAC since nine, McGee’s on leave; he won’t be missed.
Thanks to an especially long wait at the elevator bay, he slips inside just before the doors close. Her grip on her bag tightens as they begin their descent in silence.
Two floors down his thoughts give themselves permission to exit out his mouth, “Haven’t we done this before?”
“Rode together on an elevator?”
“No.” Her gaze is absent recognition. “Special friends from far off places, secret phone calls – ”
“—you snooping around my desk.”
“Some people might call that looking out for their friend’s best interests.”
“And some would call it harassment.”
“A necessary side effect.”
His smile is fake as hell, showing too much teeth and cynicism. The numbers count down and the floor beneath their feet halts, split second, like the doors were thinking about opening but changed their mind. He knows how that feels. Or his mouth does anyway.
He wants to tell her they’ve done this before, only it started with a flight to Israel and ended the same way – even his mind omits Africa now, running scared – and that he doesn’t want to do this again. He can’t do this again.
Next to him, she sighs.
“I did not care for the ending.”
She’s not talking about the movie he talked her into last week either.
He figures the ‘neither did I’ is implied. His shoulder throbs in sympathy.
He won’t see her for a day and a half.
And then a man walks into a bar.
(He’s not laughing.)
His father sends her a card; December 1st, right on the dot. Tony imagines he should just be glad it said Happy Hanukkah instead of Merry Christmas. The fact that he finds the gesture both perplexing and disturbing aside, that is.
“I think it is sweet.” And, you know, she would. “My own father never sends me anything.”
“Yeah, well, that’s because you’re father doesn’t have a thing for you.”
She gives him a wry smile; McGee laughs behind his coffee mug.
His alarm comes to life at five-fifteen on the dot. He manages to remain asleep on his feet for a good five minutes afterwards, squinting against the blinding lights as he drags himself under the hot spray of the shower. The bar of soap slips out of his hand, lands just to the north of his foot, magnified bang, and that’s enough of a jolt to make up for the lack of caffeine in his system.
There is no coffee in his apartment. Previously, there was alcohol.
He’s pretty sure that’s a thing of the past.
They may not still be in college anymore, but his frat brothers can certainly drink like it. How he managed to avoid the better part of a hangover, he’ll never know.
He parks his car at seven, making a show of being on time for an audience of no one. The bullpen is a ghost town, the only sign of life being a lone Styrofoam cup on Gibbs’ desk, left unattended and most likely empty as well. Ziva’s computer remains powered down. McGee won’t be back until the calendar starts all over again.
Ziva’s phone rings through to voicemail twice, and he would go for a third if not for Gibbs rounding the corner.
“Did I miss the memo, Boss?”
Gibbs weighs the cup in his hand before tossing it in the trash bin. Paper shuffling commences a fraction of a second later. “Go home, DiNozzo.”
“Something up? You and the Director seem to be spending a lot of quality time up in MTAC.” Gibbs levels him with a stare. He knows his cues. “Shutting up now, Boss.”
He does paperwork until noon.
The Israeli’s left and she wouldn’t make eye contact with anyone in the room, eyes glassy and unblinking, until she disappeared in the direction of the bathrooms.
He let her go, his feet rooted in place.
(He let her get on an elevator with only a hastily pulled together turn of phrase in her native language, intended as a too discrete plea that she would never notice but still served the purpose of reassuring him that, yes, he had tried, and failed, and it was best to just move on now.
He let her stay on that tarmac, Tel Aviv sun burning down, when he should’ve dragged her back – possibly with the help of three or four armed men that weren’t readily available at the time – on to that plane and saved himself two months of pretending not to worry and a third trying not to drink himself to unconsciousness while he tried to conjure up scenarios in which this didn’t turn out to be all his fault.
Could’ve saved them all the field trip to Somalia too.
Forget old habits die hard; he’d just be glad if they died at all.)
Finding her in the bar is just the capper to his first official full day off.
He wasn’t looking for her but, then, he wasn’t looking for a drink either. Didn’t stop him from noticing her car in the parking lot.
Tony hadn’t expected her to be alone. In fact, he’d been counting on otherwise.
“Where’s your friend?” He doesn’t bother to preface it with anything in the realm of a greeting, just slips onto the next to her. She doesn’t jump, and her calm expression doesn’t give way to shock or surprise; she probably heard him coming from the minute he walked in the door, identified him by the sound his shoes make on the floor or something incredibly creepy and ninja-like.
Her lips twitch. “You are jealous.”
“I’m not jealous.”
“You are always jealous.”
“Don’t you find it odd that they vehemently refuse to just let us all go home for the holidays, and then suddenly they’re perfectly fine with dismissing us two days after, without notice?”
However ham-handed, it is a subject change. And it has been bugging him. He could list a whole host of things that felt off, most relating to the handling of the whole matter, but what it all came down to – what bothered him the most – was Gibbs. The tone of his voice was all wrong, even if the words fit.
Plus, whatever it was involved Vance, and that always signaled trouble.
“They let McGee go,” her fingers play along her glass but she doesn’t raise it to her lips, “and my holiday was nearly a month ago.”
Evasion. One day, they’ll talk like normal people do.
She ducks her head and he thinks that this is the part where she makes up an excuse and leaves him there with his freshly opened beer, unable to follow without showing his cards. He thinks it and doesn’t reach out, but almost does, almost lets his hand fall from the bar onto her arm, and then her shoulder brushes against his and he realizes that she’s actually leaning in. “And I do find it strange.”
He doesn’t smile, but his relief is palpable. “Whatever it is, they’re both in on it. And we all know what happened the last time.”
“War games,” he echoes.
“They had their reasons,” she says, with the ease of someone who’s spent far too much time taking orders and not questioning them.
“Don’t we all.”
There’s a message on his machine when he gets home.
It’s his father. Wants to let him know that he’ll be in town after New Year’s. Says maybe they could do dinner or something. Things ordinary people do with their fathers, only he doesn’t say that much.
They’re not acknowledging that part. DiNozzos’ are good at that.
Tony doesn’t return his call. Not immediately anyway. Somehow “sure, sounds good” just doesn’t seem to begin to cover the miles of distance between them, put there by time and forced apathy.
He doesn’t know what to say, so he just doesn’t try.
In lieu of his alarm, his phone wakes him. December thirtieth, and Gibbs needs them. Dead Petty Officer and a witness who thinks they got a partial plate on whoever was driving away in such a hurry.
They’re spread thin but the case is fairly simple, once they track down the car. It’s stolen. It’s always stolen. But there’s also always a fingerprint or a paper trail so –
Gibbs – back in his usual head-slapping form – is down in Abby’s lab, and that just leaves the two of them once more.
He misses McGee. With a buffer there, it isn’t quite so likely that he’ll put his foot in his mouth.
“You got any plans for New Year’s?”
“He is in New York, Tony. He left yesterday,” she says, as if that’s the most logical answer to his question. It’s not. But it’s the one he wanted; she just cut out the small talk.
Her eyes linger just west of his temple.
He was always his mother’s son.
And that’s not to say that they were close. His mother had a drinking problem before she traded that in for a pill habit, and for a while there was a chance she might trade that all in for a trip to the spa that the pamphlets told him was actually a rehab facility. Except she didn’t because she died first.
So he was his mother’s son. He was the boy whose poor mother passed away before her time, and it’s so much easier to romanticize these things, to talk about how she was a dedicated mother and how much her son loved her, to conjure up the image of the young boy saying goodbye. It’s so much easier to ignore the part where he never cried, or how his suit fit oddly because his father hadn’t found the time to take him shopping for a new one. It’s so much easier to ignore the way he spent the next few years developing a sense of humor that could dance along the thin line of lighthearted and almost obnoxious, or how he never really learned what do with his feelings, even if he was aware of them.
See, he was his mother’s son first, and then he was the boy at summer camp, the boy at boarding school, the boy who got sent off to the military academy, and then he was just that boy who used to live here, you know, the one whose mother died.
He became Tony DiNozzo somewhere else, working his way down the East Coast until he landed behind a desk at NCIS.
It’s worth noting that not once did anyone ever think of him as his father’s son.
They ring in the New Year in the bullpen.
Their open and shut case turned out to be less shut and more open when the second body showed up in the morning. The suspect list had widened considerably and it wasn’t that Gibbs wanted them to stay, it was that the thought hadn’t even crossed their minds even after the sun went down. Instead, she disappeared for half an hour and returned with Chinese takeout, cartons that are now scattered between the trash can and their desks.
He wouldn’t even notice the clock nearing midnight had ZNN, perpetually on in the background for the sake of white noise in an otherwise mostly empty building, not switched to cover the ball drop in Times Square with only half an hour left of 2010.
“We should go home,” he says, leaning back in his chair, hands behind his head.
She scribbles something down on a scrap of paper, eyes never leaving the computer screen. Another few clicks and she crosses it out, looking all the more defeated for it.
He understands. He’s been there, oh, about fifteen times today.
“We should,” she echoes, but she doesn’t move so neither does he.
In the absence of champagne, there is her half-empty bottle of water and either his fourth or fifth cup of coffee. It’s also an implied toast because there are several feet of space between them that no one thinks to close.
There’s no kiss at the stroke of midnight either but he’s learned to recognize a pipe dream when he sees one.
“Happy New Year,” and she smiles, the glow of the television throwing blue and green tinted shadows against her skin.
“Happy New Year,” he replies, and tries not to stare too long when her eyes leave his and return to her monitor.
“It was the Reynosa cartel.”
She continues on as if she hadn’t heard him, “SecNav was attempting to dig up old skeletons. Apparently there were things that did not add up.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Do you know what – ”
Ziva looks away. “I don’t know.”
Her phone vibrates on her desk, low buzz and flashing screen. There’s some text, a name, but the angle is all wrong and he’s too tired to be nosy and try to beat her reflexes.
She lets it ring.
“Aren’t you going to answer that?”
“It might be Gibbs.”
There’s an elevator, anyway, and he’s somewhere in the building, in and out of the bullpen. Mostly out. Earlier – much earlier – he was in interrogation. Being one man down complicates things.
Her phone is quiet for all of a minute before it starts up again. She smothers a yawn with the back of her hand, but doesn’t touch it.
And he knows right there who it is, if he’s really thinking about it, but he doesn’t know why she refuses to answer. He doesn’t know if it’s because she’s too busy or she doesn’t want to do it in front of him or if she just flat out doesn’t care.
One thirty rolls around and Gibbs tells – no orders – them to go home.
Stiff and half asleep on his feet, he weighs the keys in his hand and calculates whether or not he can squeeze an extra half an hour of sleep in and set the alarm for six instead of five thirty. If he shows up an hour late Gibbs probably won’t kill him, all things considered. Even if they’ve still got work to do.
In the elevator, she leans back against the wall, eyes closed while the ground under their feet moves smoothly, no jerks or unanticipated stops. He watches her as she stretches out her neck and holds back another yawn, grip loose on her jacket. It’s the first time she’s really seemed tired all night. It’s a weakness. Ziva doesn’t show weakness unless she’s confident there’s no chance for repercussions.
Four walls and him and she’s confident in that, and his sleep-addled brain lets him open his mouth because of it. “My place is closer, you know.”
“It’s just an offer. You’re tired and my place is closer.”
Her eyes flutter open, palms flat against cold metal behind her. “I am tired.”
“So am I,” he says on an exhale, and he can’t help but think that they’ve done this before too, plus a few words and minus the calm tones. The script is derivative and the context is all wrong.
He hopes for a different ending.
He hopes for better things.
She kisses him in the doorway of his bathroom.
There should be more explanation there, more lead up – there’s supposed to be buildup and that moment where something in the air changes and you just know what’s going to happen next, and if this were a movie, that would be where the music would swell before the two leads fell into each other’s arms – but there isn’t.
It just happens.
He brushes his teeth and gropes for the mouthwash in the cabinet, half-blinded by the lights, and he thinks about how he needs to get a dimmer or something in here. He can hear her rustling around in his closet where he told her there was a spare blanket and he wonders when the last time it saw the inside of a washing machine was.
She’s outside the door when he steps out, arms crossed and an old t-shirt of his loose on her frame, thrown on over the pants she wore to work. He knows those are coming off and he’s trying very hard not to picture her bare legs stretched out along his couch.
It’s all for naught anyways because she leans forward and presses her lips to his. He was expecting the cheek, relying too heavily on the past, and it takes him a moment to separate the dream from the reality, those dizzy half-awake moments where he’s in his bed or on his couch or behind his desk and swears that he can feel the heat from her body or her mouth on his skin.
His hand comes to rest against her cheek and the contact doesn’t shock him awake. Reality. Not dream.
She opens her mouth to him and she tastes like earth, warm and faintly salty, his shirt between her curled fingers, and he doesn’t remember that. He remembers her tasting of wine and something spicy, remembers hands that were quick and determined to get a job done.
This is different.
“You know,” he says when she pulls back, dumbfounded but still talking, “not that I’m complaining, but as far as New Year’s kisses go your timing’s a little off.”
“I need a reason to kiss you?” She asks sleepily, eyebrows knit together, and her hands sadly nowhere on his person.
He doesn’t need to think before he speaks, for once. “No.”
It feels strange to let her walk away, anticlimactic even, because in a way they’ve been coming to this for a while – it was going to go one way or another, fight or fuck, and this is just edging closer to the latter – and here he is, nearly two in the morning, stock still in the doorway and watching her walk away so that she can take off most of her clothes and go to sleep on his couch. That’s just not the usual order of things, for him.
But maybe there’s a reason for that.
He returns his father’s phone call at six the next morning, tells him via voicemail to call him, because he’s never been a fan of phone tag and he’d rather not make plans with a machine when that’s what he’s been doing for years and he wants, needs, that to change. Tells him that this time he’ll pick up.
There’s a promise that gets swallowed when he trails off.
Gibbs calls him and tells him they have until nine, a two hour reprieve.
He shuts off the alarm on her phone and lets her sleep on.