Veiled
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The gusting winds roll across the cold waters of the Anacostia River, sending a fine mist of frigid spray over the exposed flesh of my face and neck, time and time again, the moisture seeping insidiously into my pores and quickly leaching the heat from my wet, shivering body. I'm so cold and so utterly empty and know I need to get out of this foul, inhospitable weather as soon as I can but the need to remain separated, aloof, untouched by the emotions raging inside the building directly behind me are too great and I find this barren, isolated, and completely unwelcoming environment fits my current mood exceptionally well.

My hair is blowing freely, lifted and tugged into a swirling mass of confusion, the wicked wind teasing and tangling and matting the long, dark strands until I can feel the aching tug of the stressed roots within my scalp, pulling and pulling and pulling some more. I must look vaguely like the mythological Medusa in full fury, my serpentine locks swirling and slashing and biting repeatedly against my cheeks and forehead. I gladly welcome the sensation, the slight nibbling of pain, and do nothing to stop the self-castigation, choosing instead to embrace the simplicity and necessity of it all. It feels right, it feels appropriate, and it brings a sheen of hot, blurring tears to my burning, miserable eyes. Or could those tears merely be the result of the sharp, inconsiderate, invisible wind?

I don't know and I don't care.

When I tilt my head slightly back, I notice the night sky is hidden from my eyes, the cloud coverage thick, ominous, and fairly suffocating in it's intensity. The minor movement allows the wind to slip into the gap of my jacket at the neckline and the cold invades lower, sliding bitter, insidious fingertips over the prickling, goosefleshed skin of my chest, rubbing and tapping against the breastbone until my heart seems to shudder inside. I continue to tip my chilled, wet face heavenward, thinking only of how appropriate it would be if the heavy clouds suddenly drifted down, settling over my body, masking me from reality and covering me completely, making me invisible to everything I want to escape?shrouded, cloaked, concealed. Unseen. Just a part of the gray, foggy haze, pushed about indiscriminately by the uncaring, intangible winter currents.

It would be so easy but...

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, I steady myself against the invisible push of the raging winds, fighting the constant, unseen power, widening my stance and steadying myself against the continuing assault. I can't lose myself out here in the dark, not with all the others celebrating together back inside, and I recognize the need to regain control of my scattered and storm-tossed emotions. The longer I remain out in this tempest, the more concerned they will become, and I can't have them focusing on me now. Their attention needs to stay centered on more current matters. Still, they will expect me to return soon, to join in their small, joyful fellowship, offering my own pleased smiles and heartfelt words of congratulation.

And the thought of doing that almost makes me violently ill.

I want this day to disappear, to simply evaporate, to fade from the memory of all those involved. I want to be able to wish it all away?and make it begin again, so I can craft the events the way *I* want them to be.

I only want the impossible.

But I know what I want will never be and I breathe deeply once more, tasting the bitter tang of disappointment explode across my palate. I know this taste, have experienced it before, but never with the same level of acidic sourness. It burns the inside of my mouth, down into the back of my throat, and up into the cavities of my nasal passages, bringing the beginnings of fresh, hot tears. I want to blame the harsh, invisible wind again but I cannot, for I've turned away from the river and the currents now blow steadily against my body from the rear, pushing me unerringly in the direction I need to be walking, back toward my present, back toward my life.

I cannot escape from this, no matter how much I wish I could.

Miserably, I begin my return to the building, shoving my hands into the protection of the deep pockets at each side of my jacket, and hunching my chin down into the still-gaping neckline. With each step I take, I harden my heart a bit more and push my feelings aside. I can play this part, as I've done dozens of times in the past, and pretend to be happy when I am not, for I am an enigma to my comrades and they have only seen what I wish for them to see. They'll never be any the wiser...even though I may never recover fully from today's events. The damage will remain hidden, invisible, never to be seen by them, and I will continue in my work until it's time for me to move on again.

My steps become surer as I reach the doorway and, as I enter, the warmth of the interior is only remotely inviting to me now. I allow myself a moment, just a brief pause, before continuing on, gathering my composure further before stepping through the security area and angling directly toward the waiting elevator. I have to stop as the doors immediately open, my feet refusing to respond to the dictates of my brain, and I take a moment here before progressing on. The familiarity of it all is almost too much in it's surreal qualities.

My eager eyes scan the empty compartment and my heart does a slow, painful lurch. This is *his* special place, where we've argued and laughed and spoken more truths than anywhere inside or outside this whole building. This is where we've faced off, exchanged hard, brutal truths and earned even harder, grudging respect. The small space fairly reeks of his overpowering, masculine presence and, I know if I look close enough, I'd probably be able to detect the indelible impressions from the soles of his shoes where he positions himself each and every time he enters. He is predictable, in most instances, but in others, he is a wonderful, most-welcomed surprise.

He is Gibbs.

As the doors begin to close without my entrance, I reach out and block the movement with one hand, finally forcing my body into motion. I have to face my demon, push this hurtful, envious monster away, and continue on in my safe, practiced, camouflaged role as a heartless, unfeeling, deadly Mossad officer. It is, after all, what I've been trained all my life to be.

My father would be so proud.

The ride is short...too short...and I'm suddenly there, doors reopening to allow my exit. I instantly hear the combined laughter and good-natured ribbing coming from somewhere around his desk and I swallow the remains of my bitterness, refusing to recognize my true emotions, forcing them back down, bit by bit, until I feel nothing...or as close to nothing as I'm able. This is what I have to do. This will make me stronger. This will be nothing more but another hard lesson learned.

I conjure a small, fake smile and join the group, my eyes wanting nothing more than to simply drink in the sight of Gibbs' pleased, contented expression, and I automatically accept the plastic cup filled with some non-alcoholic beverage Ducky presses immediately into my hand. It is all we are allowed to have here, while still in the building, but I'm sure there will be much stronger libations consumed, in greater quantities, once this celebration moves to a far more appropriate arena. I manage to choke a sip of the sweetly flavored liquid down, barely refraining from gagging, and cast my eyes about the room, eager to look at anyone but Gibbs and *her*. I just can't bring myself to acknowledge her presence?not just yet.

Abby and McGee are standing close, eyes alight with warm pleasure, heads tilted slightly toward each other as they drink and laugh and chat companionably. I hear a word or two, things about ceremonies and showers and something called a bachelorette party but I quickly tune them out. The less I hear of the plans to take this sudden, surprising engagement into marriage, the easier it will be. Palmer and Lee are assisting Ducky with the distribution and refilling of the cups but I'm not surprised to see their clever hands touching each other more than is actually necessary. I want to offer a true smile at their continued perceived illusion of innocence but it's just beyond my capabilities at the moment. Besides, it just may be this 'invisible' impression they believe they have of their own relationship that is actually keeping them together. Who am I to reveal it to the world?

I have to work hard to keep my gaze from resettling on Gibbs and Mann again so I look anywhere but in their direction and, as my eyes finally stray to settle on DiNozzo, I'm stunned by what I see. Standing slightly off to one side and staring fixedly at Gibbs, those usually expressive eyes are so dull and so flat and filled with such desolation, I feel my heart clench hard in my chest again.

Oh, no?not him, too?

He blinks suddenly and looks away from Gibbs, tipping the remains of his fruity drink into his mouth, swallowing thickly, and with an obvious hint of difficulty, like the mere act of consuming the beverage is going to make him vomit. I can easily see the tension in his stance, can see the slight trembling of his fingers around the fragile cup, and can recognize the moment when he finally manages to pull himself under a measure of control. I recognize it because I use the technique as well.

But it's a hard, terrible thing to witness in another human being, especially one I've grown to consider as a friend, but I just can't seem to look away from the devastation this announcement has wrought on him. Gibbs' declaration, it seems, has taken another unwilling victim.

When he looks back up, there's a thin, frail smile plastered on his pale face but the shining light of his spirit is all but gone from his anguished eyes. I can see the effort this is costing him and, even though I had no idea of his intimate feelings toward Gibbs before now, I feel an immediate connection forming between us. We have, separately and together, over the passage of time, given up all we are for Jethro Gibbs and his single-minded quest for perfection: family, personal relationships, even a part of our sanity. But I can also see one other important factor that actually divides and delineates us from each other: whereas I will continue to work and keep my emotions hidden, for as long as necessary, I believe the deception will eventually twist and torment inside DiNozzo until it putrefies, poisons, and kills him. He is not made for this kind of dishonesty, certainly not with Gibbs, and will either end up ruining his career with a series of stupid, dangerous choices or lose what's left of his now-tenuous relationship with our unavailable supervisor by confessing his feelings...or will just silently walk off one day and never return to us.

And none of those options are acceptable to me. Not now.

I realize it is up to me to do something, anything, to let him know I understand what he's going through, without exposing myself in turn. I shift silently around the outskirts of the small group and edge closer, until I'm directly at DiNozzo's side, letting an arm brush lightly against one of his. He visibly starts at the sudden, unexpected touch and looks questioningly my way, tilting his head downward in consideration of my shorter stature. I can see the confusion in his dull eyes as I allow my hand to curl around his solid forearm, pulling him slightly closer. He bends more and offers his closest ear, having no idea what I'm about to say.

"It will be all right, Tony," I promise softly and feel him try to jerk immediately away. I maintain my grip and tighten my hold, giving his arm a slight shake and willing him to look me directly in the eyes, to *see* that he's not alone in this. "Everything will be all right."

His surprised, desperate gaze swiftly scans my face, seeing the truth and the acceptance, and then quickly scans the room, looking to see if any of the others, Gibbs specifically, have noticed our private, little exchange. I can feel him shift from foot to foot and I fleetingly wonder if he's contemplating escaping the scene but I'm certain he'd never do anything to disrespect the event now unfolding before our eyes. This moment belongs to Gibbs and Mann...no one else...and the realization is like a physical blow for both of us, holding us in place. We have to stay, suffering silently, and play out our roles until the end.

DiNozzo suddenly sags against me, a soft, raspy moan of pure agony edging from between his tightly compressed lips, and I welcome his weight against my slighter frame. When he hesitantly, shyly, slips an arm almost casually around my shoulders, I'm grateful for his silent attempt at support as well, leaning thankfully toward his strong, solid warmth, our posture reflective of two, friendly drunks or addicts depending on each other for sobering reinforcement. And, maybe, that sums us up now fairly well now: dependent.

Together, we can get through this. Together we can survive the crushing blow of this unforeseen revelation. Together we can keep our true feelings from the man we both admire and desire and love.

Silent, concealed, unseen...forever.

END