Picking Up the Pieces - Chapter 3

“Anthony.” Dr. Mallard sat on the bench beside Tony. “How are you, lad?”

“I’m fine, Ducky.”

“Hmm.”

He’s been listening to Jethro, Timothy, and Abigail for days. They were sick and tired of listening to Tony repeating what used to be Ziva’s mantra while she’d worked with them. I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m good.

They could all see he wasn’t fine, he wasn’t okay, and he wasn’t good. He was still too thin. He was still too pale. He might not be drinking himself to death anymore, but he was far from fine, okay or good. He needed to talk. Talk to someone. Talk about Ziva. And they all thought Ducky was the right man for the job.

The man in question wasn’t that confident. There was remoteness, a coldness even, to Tony of late. The lad has built a wall around him and Ducky suspected it would take more than a few pithy words in addition to a willing ear to even open a slight breach in that wall.

“Timothy told me you’ve been having lunch alone these days,” he continued. “I thought you might want some company.”

“Not really.” A sigh. “I’m sorry, Ducky, but I don’t feel very sociable.”

Ducky nodded. “I understand perfectly, Anthony. The fact remains everybody is very concerned about you.” He spoke quickly when the younger man opened his mouth. “And your reassurances sound rather false.”

“Ducky...”

“You need to talk to someone, lad. Jethro told me you refused seeing the psychologist.” He smiled slightly, though Tony wasn’t looking at him. “I’m a good listener, Anthony, and I can guarantee what we talk about I shall take to my grave.”

“Ducky...”

“We all loved her,” Ducky continued. “And we all have to deal with this terrible loss, but there is no reason to have to suffer through it, deal with it alone. We all loved her, Anthony.”

“Not like I loved her, Ducky.”

Aha. There it was. The fact there had been more than a work relationship, more than friendship between Ziva and Tony was no secret. It had been obvious almost from the start. The glances, the smiles, the teasing, the protectiveness, the jealousy...At first it had been merely a fascination and admiration, that had turned into infatuation, that had slowly grown into love. Strong, unbreakable, unconditional love.

They had all seen it. Even Gibbs. Leroy Jethro Gibbs that oftentimes seemed so remote, so detached from everything had known what was between the partners and had tried to protect them from getting hurt, but knew it was futile.

Rule #12, ‘never date a co-worker’, might have prevented them from culminating their relationship, but there was no Gibbs rule preventing someone from loving a co-worker. And Gibbs had known it, and had known the two would eventually get hurt.

It was because of that Gibbs had been the one who’d insisted the most for Ducky to try and get Tony to talk.

And it looked the boy was finally ready to talk.

“Not the way I loved her, Ducky,” he repeated. “I loved her. I still do. And...And sometimes it’s so hard. Knowing she’s not here anymore, that I won’t see her at work, look into her eyes, see her smile.”

“Has anything happened between you two? Before.” While you still worked together.

Tony shook his head. “No,” he whispered. “Maybe it would’ve, if I hadn’t been such a coward. We wasted eight years.”

“Anthony,” Ducky admonished softly. Yet the boy never mentioned the fatidic rule.

“I was such a coward. I never told her. Never. Not even...Not even when we said goodbye.”

“What happened in Israel?”

Tony shrugged, swallowed. “When that sniper took a shot at me, I was going to see her.”

Yes, that was rather common knowledge.

“We weren’t co-workers anymore by then.” A deprecating smile. “All bets were off. I asked her if she wanted company and she said yes.” A chuckle. “Bets were definitely off.”

He grew silent and Ducky waited patiently, willing him to continue, willing him to get the burden off his chest, even a little.

“When I finally went searching for her, she was already off the grid. It took me weeks to find her.”

Another long, pregnant pause.

“And when I found her...I just wanted to grab her and take her home.”

“But she refused,” Ducky murmured.

“Yeah, said it was better if she stayed. That she was only endangering us all, endangering me. That she was Eli’s daughter and she would always be a target because of that.”

“Did you try to change her mind?”

“Yeah.” The word was barely a whisper. “I did. Didn’t do a very good job, obviously.”

Ducky suspected if Anthony had just laid his heart bare in front of her Ziva would’ve returned with him. They would’ve all tried to make it work.

“I should’ve told her then, I guess,” Tony continued. “Maybe it would’ve made her change her mind.”

“But you didn’t.”

“No, I didn’t.” Ducky saw him make a fist. “She was the one who said it.”

“Oh, my.”

“At the airport. She told me I was loved.”

And you didn’t reply? What is wrong with you? Ducky wanted to ask, but didn’t. “And?”

“I kissed her. And got on the plane.”

Ducky watched the emotions play on Tony’s face. Love, guilt, anger.

“You see, Ducky. It is my fault she’s dead. If I’d have said it, if I’d have just said I loved her, she would’ve boarded that plane with me.”

“You cannot know that, Anthony.”

“Yes, I do. Because she wanted me to say it.” Tony finally turned to look at Ducky. “She waited for me to say it. And I didn’t. She’d still be alive, if I did.” He stood. “And so would I.”

And he walked away, leaving Ducky sitting on the bench, his heart breaking for him. And for the ghost of the woman who walked beside him.

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