Author: brightblue PM
Post-ep oneshot for Double Identity. Tony has a bad day, a much needed conversation, and some puppy therapy. Not necessarily in that order. Tony/Ziva with a healthy dose of Tony/Mortimer because OMG THE CUTENESS. Not entirely fluff, I promise.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Tony D. & Ziva D. - Words: 7,012 - Reviews: 41 - Favs: 49 - Follows: 2 - Published: 03-15-10 - Status: Complete - id: 5818218
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I don't own anything contained in this story. Not even cute, adorable Mortimer, Tony's black t-shirt, or Tony himself…this trio is a known combustible combination so store together at your own risk.
Spoilers: I'd recommend knowing a great deal of what's happening in Season 7, with specific references made to Double Identity, Masquerade, Truth or Consequences, and a cameo from Designated Target. Read responsibly.
AN: See below. But also: thanks and hugs to Ana for test driving this and letting me tease you with all my random ideas that probably won't get written! :) Talking about them is half the fun, right? ;-)
Tony normally liked the day of paperwork that closed out a case.
Sure, he griped and moaned the entire time, dragging his feet as he filled out mandated form after mandated form. But that was all just for show. Well, mostly. Truth be told he liked those laid back sort of days. For as much as he complained about transcribing witness statements and detailing investigative procedures, he did find a certain sort of enjoyment in flexing his creative muscles. As he wrote his reports, he liked to play with words in order to find a new way of saying, "This evidence led us to conclude that Petty Officer So-and-So was guilty of the crime of the week." It was a refreshing change from chasing down runaway naval officers in dirty alleys.
Not that he ever let on that he actually liked narrating the chain of events that led to yet another case solved. He always put on a face of suspicion when his yearly evaluation included positive feedback about his "colorfully written" reports.
He wondered if McAuthor ever got accolades for his dry interpretation of their process.
So, yeah, it was true paperwork hardly fell at the top of his Most Hated Tasks list. That dubious honor went to cleaning out the truck or being stuck on stakeouts with Probie, Original Flavor or The Great Silent One. Paperwork days were fun; they meant he got to pull rank and assign Tim, and now Ziva, the truly tedious forms. It meant that Gibbs passed off most of his work to Tony, trusting him enough to sign off on whatever his senior agent wrote without so much as a glance. Paperwork days were long and boring. Usually the only things that kept the team going were Tony's pranks and antics and he took a certain pride in that. The days were completely predictable except for when he stepped in to make them wild and crazy.
In short, paperwork days were his time to shine, be master of his somewhat limited domain.
But today was different.
Tony had been stuck on the same section of his report for the last two hours. The cursor blinked at him, taunting him with its lack of forward movement. He would start to write a sentence, would start to detail his brief interview with Lieutenant Mayne, only to find it sounded completely wrong and he would have to jab at his delete key to erase it. Lather, rinse, and repeat. There was just no good way to say, "I snuck into his hospital room against doctor advice and interrogated him until he died from the stress of it all."
To put it simply, he would rather be forced to clean out the truck, McAnalRetentive's monologue on the proper way to clean seat cushions his only soundtrack, than to have to finish this report.
The squad room was silent; it was a Sunday and most everyone was off. The only sounds that could be heard were the rapid clicking and typing of Ziva's lengthy descriptions and the little noises McGee made as he fiddled with the shortcuts and macros he had set up to make his writing process more efficient, but which only seemed to cause him major delays. The sound of busy little Probies was sporadically drowned out by claps of thunder from the early spring storm that refused to let up. The sky had been grey and overcast all week, a perfect reflection of Tony's overall mood.
Another crash sounded, followed by a more hurried rhythm of rainfall. Tony grumbled to himself and erased his latest attempt at a sentence.
"Get over it, Tony," McGee spoke the first words that had been uttered in an hour. "The conditions are ripe for an extended rainfall, with all that water vapor—
"Whoa! Spare me the lecture on the water cycle, McWeatherman." Tony dismissed the junior agent with a wave of his hand. Tim just rolled his eyes and went back to work. Tony scowled as he stared at the uncooperative form on his monitor.
"I would not mind hearing your explanation, McGee," Ziva spoke up and the sweetness in her tone and the faux-grin curled across her lips informed Tony that her interests were more centered on annoying him than learning about rain.
"She speaks!" Tony exclaimed. He leaned back in his chair and gave Ziva an exaggerated expression of surprise. Ziva had been silent all day, allowing the dark look on her face to speak for her. (It said, "come within ten feet of me and expect a swift kick to the unmentionables.") "I don't think there will be a section on elementary school science on your little test, Ziva. So save us from being subjected to Probie Nye, The Science Guy's discourse."
The condescending words flew out of his mouth without first consulting his brain. He regretted them immediately and tensed in anticipation of an office supply flung at his head. Nothing took flight. Instead, Ziva simply froze. Her eyes flickered slightly as she sat up even straighter in her chair. She stared hard at her monitor. Her fingers danced too quickly across her keyboard to be typing anything coherent.
A total lack of response? Tony was in deep shit. His blue mood became even bluer. It was practically neon by this point, a frickin' blinking sign apparent from the far reaches of Navy Yard announcing that he was not only an incompetent agent, but a raging jerk. A clap of thunder from outside seemed to applaud his campaign of becoming the worst person in all of NCIS.
McGee's mouth was still hanging open, his eyes darting between the agents seated near him. When World War III failed to erupt, he snapped his lips closed. Tony didn't miss the apologetic look Tim sent Ziva's way before he returned to his computer. Tony sunk lower in his chair and began clicking his mouse with such force that he was certain it would break.
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs materialized in front of his desk. Looking up, Tony assumed his boss would be standing over him with a loaded gun and executioner's hood. No such luck. Just his typical casual weekend wear and somehow that was worse. Tony swallowed hard and awaited his punishment. Gibbs dropped a file on his desk. "Take this down to Abby, now." His tone left the threat of death for failure to comply implied.
Hoping to avoid the inevitable judgment in his team's eyes, Tony kept his gaze fixed on the carpet as he scrambled to his feet. Once he was safely enclosed in the elevator, he allowed himself to exhale. Then, still feeling frustration creeping across his skin, he smacked the folder hard against the elevator wall.
Was this goddamned case over yet?
Tony had forgotten all about Abby's newest lab assistant until he crossed the threshold of her domain. It was then he realized the true purpose of his errand. Flipping open the folder, he snorted at its contents: a ballistics report from a case they had weeks ago. Tony understood Gibbs' ploy: rather than try and cheer up the senior agent himself, Gibbs would let Abby do the dirty work.
And now it was even dirtier because Abby had a puppy.
Well, Tony would be stronger than that. He wasn't some girl. He didn't go all mushy at the sight of a pudgy, helpless little dog…. even when that creature was yelping and chasing after Abby's giant boots, his wimpy bark sounding at every rattle of their buckles. He felt some of the darkness pressing down on his body lighten just a smidge.
"Tony! Yay!" Abby dropped the paper in her hand and clomped over to him. He sighed into her embrace, not letting go even when he felt the puppy scratching at his feet. Sometimes he didn't realize how much he needed a hug until Abby forced him into one. And she always smelled so good. Comforting.
"Hey, Abs," he replied, and was surprised his voice couldn't even be classified as a growl. He took that as a sign he could safely continue to speak. "Who's your new helper here?"
With a smile, Abby bent down and scooped up her pet. "Tony, meet Mortimer." She held the yellow lab up to his face in greeting. Tony recoiled when Mortimer started licking his cheek.
"Ugh, tell Mortimer he needs to work on his dental hygiene," Tony winced, scrubbing at his skin. He received matching sad eyes from Abby and Mortimer in response.
Abby held her puppy closer to her body. "It's just puppy breath. It's sweet."
Tony scoffed at that and tossed the folder he had been tasked with delivering on Abby's lab table.
"What's that?" Abby and Mortimer peered at the offering.
"Gibbs' ruse to get me down here," Tony admitted. "I've been banished to the lab for bad behavior."
Well aware of her implied mission, Abby pulled him into another hug, the puppy squirming between them. "I heard this case was pretty rough for you," she said, her voice full of worry for him.
He chose to ignore her concern and focus on the negative because that was just the kind of mood he was in. Tony escaped her hold. "What? Who said that?"
With a shrug, Abby plopped Mortimer down on the floor and watched as he went to work pushing a stuffed zombie around with his nose. Tony didn't even want to know where Abby found such a toy.
A bubble of acidic laughter forced its way out of Tony's throat. "Oh, Ziva's talking to you now? About me? That's great because she has hardly said a word to me in the last two days." Tony knew his words were once again dipped in aggravation. He didn't dare look at Abby lest he face her stern look of disapproval; he focused on the puppy instead.
He heard Abby take a deep breath. "I think Ziva has good reason to be upset with you, Tony."
His sharpened gaze shot up to Abby and he took great satisfaction in her resulting wince. "Does she? Please. Enlighten me."
"It's not really my place to say…" she began, and Tony could see the sincere apology in her eyes. He rolled his neck and shoulders, trying to ease some of the tension there. His muscles were slowly squeezing his internal organs to death. He was ready for this all to be over with. Ziva was pissed at him? Yeah, tell him something he didn't already know.
"Fine. Great." Tony finally said, voice pinched. "I'll just wait until she sneaks up on me in the parking lot. I'm sure I'll get an earful then."
Abby patted his shoulder sympathetically. "I think things will be better when this case is all wrapped up. Just…" she hesitated, glancing around as if Ziva could be lurking behind the mass spectrometer. He didn't blame her. It wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility. "Take some time to think about why Ziva might be mad." Tony just raised his eyebrows at her. Abby caved and offered another clue. "It might have something to do with why I had to confiscate McGee's phone." As the words left her mouth, Abby did a quick check to make sure retaliation wasn't imminent.
Tony's face fell. Things clicked into place.
No wonder Ziva was pissed. She knew.
He closed his eyes against a tidal wave of self-loathing. When he opened them again, Abby was looking at him curiously.
"It'll be okay, Tony. I mean, you guys didn't get caught and Gibbs hardly seemed to care, so it's not like it's that big of a deal." Abby shrugged and Tony realized that though Ziva may have made a comment or two about his unlawful activities, she probably didn't give Abby the full explanation. Somehow, that made him feel even worse.
He sighed. "It is a big deal, Abby. To Ziva, it is a very big deal."
He really was gunning to replace Vance as asshat of the year.
After studying him for a moment, Abby seemed to come to a decision. She nodded once for effect; Tony recoiled slightly. "Since you were here, I was going to ask you to do me a favor, but now I think it's more like me doing a favor for you."
"Okay…" Tony hedged, warning bells sounding in his head. Favors for Abby could entail anything from helping her lug boxes, which was fine, to escorting her to a charity event featuring death metal bands performing slam poetry, which was not fine. Still, he had little room to refuse given his current scum-like status.
"Puppysit for me?" Abby asked, her most angelic smile spreading across her face. Seeing his hesitation, she hurried to make her case. "I have to go brief Vance and he is not too happy about Mortimer being around, even though I told him that Mortimer needs all the socialization he can get and is being trained to handle all sorts of environments, which includes crime labs and really should extend to meetings with directors of federal agencies. It shouldn't take more than a half an hour. Please?"
Tony looked down at Mortimer, who was now gnawing ineffectively at Tony's shoelaces. "And how is this a favor to me?"
"Duh." Abby rolled her eyes. "Everyone knows it's impossible to be melancholy in the presence of such cuteness."
"Humph," was all Tony said in response. He'd prove that theory wrong.
Taking that as acceptance, Abby kissed his cheek before trooping out of the lab.
Before Mortimer could waddle after her, Tony scooped him up into his arms. "Looks like it's just you and me, little guy."
Mortimer looked back at him with big, sad eyes. Tony felt a sudden warmth on the front of his sweatshirt. He blinked. Of course.
"That was not cool, Morty. Not cool."
It wasn't ten minutes after Abby's departure that Tony was pretty sure he'd not only proven Abby's theory wrong, but further demonstrated that bad moods could be passed onto otherwise carefree baby animals.
After he had shown his displeasure with Abby's absence all over Tony's sweatshirt, Tony had given Mortimer free reign over the soiled article of clothing. The little dude had marked it as his own, hadn't he? Tony had shed his cherished OSU garment and let the puppy pounce all over it for a few minutes. In a moment of weakness, Tony had dropped to the floor as well and engaged the dog in a rousing game of tug-of-war with the sleeve of the sweatshirt. That had lasted a good three minutes until both Tony and Mortimer had let the pounding rain lull them into defeated silence. Mortimer let the cloth fall from his mouth with a great yawn before swaying on his paws as his eyes threatened to close. Tony understood the feeling and had lain down on the floor with a groan. It wasn't long before Mortimer had scaled his body, collapsing dead center on Tony's chest with a squeak. The little pup apparently led an easy life, as he had no trouble dropping off to sleep as soon as he rested his head just under Tony's heart. As Tony stared up at the ceiling, he idly wondered what Mortimer's puppy dreams were all about-- endless chew toys and bacon snacks if his occasional pants and whines were any indication.
Tony let his eyes slide closed. Maybe if he fell asleep things would be better when he woke. Mortimer seemed to agree with this assessment and rolled onto his side with a mighty yawn. Tony's hands went up to keep him from tumbling off his chest and the puppy took that as opportunity to nibble on Tony's fingers, his sharp teeth and rough tongue worrying at the new chew toy. Tony couldn't bring himself to care.
"This is a sad sight."
Tony didn't open his eyes at the sound of Ziva's voice. He felt Mortimer perk up at the sound of a female. Tony clutched him tightly to his chest until the puppy gave in, snuggling nose-first into his black t-shirt and capturing a good chunk of the cotton in his mouth. In seconds, he was snoring again. Ziva wouldn't try to maim him with a puppy as a shield, would she?
"You're interrupting our siesta," Tony replied curtly. His new friend Morty huffed his agreement. The pup's nails bit at his skin as he tried to get comfortable.
He felt Ziva lower herself to the floor beside him. He felt the warmth of her hand as it hovered over his arm before he felt the gentle pressure of it on Mortimer. He heard the telltale scratch of her fingernails on the puppy's belly. Mortimer made a happy noise. Traitor.
"You are still in a mood, I see," Ziva said. Tony did not justify that with a response. She poked him in the belly. Hard. Tony couldn't hold back his noise of discomfort, but still refused to look at her. "Open up your eyes, Tony. Stop pouting like a child."
He complied. But only to refute the claim he was acting like a kid. He was confronted with the image of Ziva sitting next to him. Her legs were tucked under her body and, as she bent to pet Mortimer, her long hair swung tantalizingly toward him. Craning his neck back, he tried to get a peak down the front of her sweater where it gaped from her chest. Sensing his intent, Ziva quickly sat up. Mortimer squeaked his protest.
"I am not pouting," Tony sniffed. He held the puppy steady on his chest with one hand as he tucked the other behind his head, not feeling like sitting up quite yet.
Ziva watched him, her dark eyes shimmering with hurt. He could read the lines of her body; he could see that she wanted to be anywhere but here beside him. And yet she was forcing it. As always, it was Ziva steamrolling through his carefully built defenses. Even when it seemed to cause her to feel pain, too.
She was so much braver than him.
Still, he did not want to talk about it. He tore his eyes from her and blinked at the ceiling instead. Now that he knew why she was upset with him, he was pissed enough at himself without needing to add her anger on top of it. He couldn't stand to admit the truth to her, to see any more pain work its way across her pretty features. If he just pretended everything was okay, it soon would be. He'd learned that lesson well enough.
For a long moment, the only sound was the rain pattering against the windows.
Ziva's expression shifted and closed. It made Tony's heart wrench; he knew that look. It was defeat. It was Ziva giving up.
"Fine," she said tightly, then started to stand. Tony felt a burning sensation in his chest. Mortimer whined. Tony knew if he let this latest misunderstanding linger between them something would be lost. All the hard work they had been doing lately, all the tiny shuffles forward in their relationship, would be erased as she lost a little faith in him and he turned slightly away from her.
All just steps down the road to another plane taking off with only one of them on it.
He wanted to just let it go. He knew that if they didn't talk about it, they would both show up tomorrow morning with pasted-on smiles and strained banter. Sure, they were veiled overtures that could never substitute for the more long-term solution of actually talking about it, but it would suffice. They'd get over it eventually like they always did. But the next case that rolled around where he was tempted to fudge the truth and skirt the law, she would look at him with those inscrutable eyes and he would just know. And, yet again, an issue they both thought dead and buried would rise up to bite them in the ass. Their house of cards was delicately balanced even at the best of times. And that was something they needed to work on. Or so his therapist said.
Tony sighed. His decision to grow up was something he regretted every day. It was so much work.
"Wait," he whispered and Ziva paused. She looked at him expectantly, hope bright in her dark eyes. That she hadn't expected him to do anything but let her walk away broken was enough to give him the strength to go on. God, he could really be such an ass sometimes. "Don't go."
Ziva sat down. Slowly. Deliberately. She shifted her gaze to Mortimer and resumed rubbing his ears. Tony watched as the lucky bastard's tongue lolled out of his mouth.
"I know why you're angry with me," Tony began. Ziva looked up at him in alarm. Clearly, she hadn't expected him to be so forthright. He offered her a lopsided grin in return. It faded after a moment. "And you have every right to be."
"I do?" A slightly incredulous pitch colored her voice.
Tony nodded. He had to turn away from Ziva's eyes, their endless depths swirling in confusion. He lifted the hand that held Mortimer and used it to rub his face. "It's not an excuse, but…this case sucked from the beginning, Ziva. I just…I wanted it to be over."
He hadn't lent much thought to why this case affected him so much. It wasn't until this moment that he realized many of his illicit efforts had been an attempt to close the investigation as quickly as possible.
"Convenience won out," Ziva said softly, echoing her words from that day in the abandoned building. Tony's stomach churned even thinking he deserved the same excuse as Salim. He was suddenly glad for his decision to remain flat on the floor—a physical manifestation of how low he felt.
He shuddered as he covered his eyes. "I'm no better than him…"
He'd known his actions were reprehensible this entire case—interrogating a medically fragile man, causing his death, then topping off those winning moves with a little ol' fashioned B&E. He should've just turned in his badge while he was ahead.
"No," Ziva replied, the word choking somewhere in her throat. She cleared it and then said it again, more urgently. "No."
His hand was pried off his eyes. She forced him to look at her, to see the fierce resolve in her face. "Do not think for a moment you are anything like him."
Tears shimmered in her eyes. Tony hated himself. He felt his own eyes start to burn.
"I killed a man today, and then I forced McGee to break into that P.I.'s car. I illegally searched his files. All because I wanted this friggin' case closed. That's it. No other reason." Tony flinched at the raw emotion in his own voice. Great, now he was going to freaking cry. Could this day possibly get any worse? Mortimer seemed to sense his despair; the little animal whimpered and blinked concerned eyes at him. Tony banged his head against the floor a few times. It seemed to curb the sting in his eyes at least.
"Stop that," Ziva admonished softly. He exhaled noisily. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as she shifted so she was closer to him on the floor. Her eyes searched his and he prayed to a God he wasn't quite sure he believed in that Ziva would find something worthy there. It hurt to look at her with her expression so open and vulnerable. Not that he was able to look away, though. He felt his muscles clench with the desire to pull her body close to his. But he couldn't reach out to her. Not now. Not when she had every reason to walk away and never speak to him again.
Finally, Ziva's gaze lowered. Tony stopped breathing, waiting for her to look at him again. When she finally did, he felt a sudden surrender wash over him. Relief flooded his body. Her face was set in determination. That meant she wasn't giving up on him and that was all he could ask. She placed her hand on his chest, right over his heart, right next to a dozing Mortimer. He didn't care that she could surely feel his heart pounding out of control. She wasn't going to hate him and that's all that mattered.
"You are nothing like him," she repeated, words even and careful. "You should not have done those things, yes. But Mayne was not a good man. He was a guilty man. And his heart could not stand up to the mistakes he had made. Ducky cleared you—
"Yeah, but if I hadn't—
Ziva splayed her fingers across his chest, earning his full attention. She leveled him with her gaze. "We will never know for certain. But Ducky said Mayne's prognosis was poor, even prior to your interrogation."
Tony sighed, unwilling to let the burden of guilt go. Ziva leaned down toward him just a bit and he found himself mesmerized by the vision of her looming over him. He swallowed.
"I should never have gone into his room, Ziva," he confessed in a shaky voice, "and I shouldn't have broken into Iger's vehicle."
The corner of Ziva's mouth quirked up; her face softened. "And now you will not do it ever again."
He intertwined his fingers with hers, their hands bound together over his heart. Ziva looked suddenly bashful. Tony hesitated to say what he had to say. "You know I can't promise that, Ziva."
Furrowing her brow, Ziva tried to yank her hand from his grasp. He wouldn't let her. "Why not?"
He gave her hand a quick squeeze, which made her scowl. He chose his words carefully. "Because we're not perfect. Because the law isn't perfect. And though I can promise to do my best to stay on the right side of it, there's always those times when the end justifies the means. I can't promise you that sometimes it won't be worth the risk."
Her mouth fell open. He felt her skin go cold.
"It's not a black and white world, Ziva. You know that," he implored. He traced his thumb across the back of her hand. Ziva started to blink furiously. He noticed her body tense. He didn't let go of her.
Finally, she spoke, her voice thick with emotion. "Four months. I had four months to sit and remember all the horrible things I have done just because I was following orders, because I thought I was on the right side. But what if I wasn't? What if the men and women I have tortured and killed were not guilty of the crimes I thought? And even if they were, does that make it right?" A single tear coursed down Ziva's cheek. She hurriedly swiped it away. Tony swallowed a lump in his throat. He felt her grip his hand hard.
"I don't know, Ziva," he answered honestly. "I don't know what happened in your past at Mossad. But that doesn't matter. Because I know you. And the Ziva I know would never willingly hurt someone without good, justifiable reason. You never would've followed the orders if you didn't believe it was for the good of your country. You are nothing like Salim."
Ziva let out a watery laugh. "And you do not think Salim thought he was a patriot?"
Tony had no answer for that. There wasn't one. It was all just shades of perspective. One turn of the truth and suddenly everything Salim did to Ziva was justified. This was something Ziva understood more than he ever could. It was the reason for the dark cloud that hung over her the past few days—the realization that one emotional decision made them no better than a terrorist in the eyes of some.
"Trust me," Tony said, his voice low and gravely. He raised her palm to his mouth and brushed his lips across it. Ziva bit her lip as she struggled to regain her composure. "You are nothing like Salim."
The echo of her words from earlier earned a half smile of concession from Ziva. It blossomed into a near grin when, as he returned their hands to rest on his chest, Mortimer sleepily licked her wrist. He made sure Ziva could see how much he trusted her in his eyes; he hid none of the feelings he had for her. After a few seconds, Ziva started to look back at him with the same naked affection.
Maybe talking about things wasn't so bad after all.
Ziva took one deep breath, then another. His heart broke at the emotion rattling in her chest. Sometimes he thought of her past, wondering just what sort of demons lurked there. He was quite sure there were secrets that would break her if they were ever brought to light. There were probably things it was best he never knew about. But he always forced himself to remember that beneath Ziva's cold, ninja exterior was a heart as kind and good as anyone he knew. She wasn't her father's puppet any longer. He trusted her. That's all that mattered.
"Tell me why this case was so bad for you," she finally said. Her voice was hardly above a whisper. His grip slackened and she untangled her hand from his.
Tony felt the loss of her touch acutely.
He closed his eyes. "Gibbs ordered me to tell Leah about her husband. At first I was excited. I thought that I'd get to be the bearer of life-changing news. I remembered…" He cleared his throat. "I remember every day what it was like…"
He opened his eyes then and was met with Ziva's stormy gaze. Her bottom lip trembled ever so slightly. God, she was so beautiful. Beautiful and alive and sitting right next to him and how could he have ever survived without her?
"I thought you were dead, Ziva. For weeks. 78 days, to be exact. And that moment when Salim ripped the bag off of your head? I…I can't even begin to describe how that felt. I thought you were dead and then suddenly you weren't and I could hardly believe it was all real but…god, Ziva… It was like winning the lottery a thousand times over."
Ziva smiled ever so slightly. She avoided his eyes, though. Was she embarrassed? Tony didn't care. She had to know how perfectly, impossibly wonderful that moment was for him. In one instant, his will to live had been restored. His world had started turning again.
"I wanted to give that moment to someone else. I thought I would. But then…" He shook his head as he remembered. His fingers idly scratched at Mortimer's fur. "Leah had moved on. She seemed upset that he was alive, like she wanted him to still be dead."
"People react differently to stressful situations," Ziva said, her words clipped and clinical. "And after six years…."
"Six years is nothing," Tony protested. Ziva was getting uncomfortable and seemed as if now she might be the one to run. But he didn't care. He was pretty good at knocking down walls, too. He sat up abruptly and Mortimer rolled into his lap with a bark of protest. Tony used his arm to right him again. "It wouldn't have mattered if it were ten years or twenty or whatever."
Ziva frowned. "I would never ask for you to—
"You don't have to ask, Ziva," Tony interrupted, his voice rising in disbelief. How could she expect him to feel any less for her? "You never had to ask. It just is."
Ziva seemed stunned and said nothing for a long moment. Tony was quite stunned himself. His words still burned in his throat, the closest he had ever come to admitting how he felt for her and this time without the benefit of truth serum. He watched as her long, graceful, size-5-ring fingers reached over to pet Mortimer. She scooted closer to him. He could smell the rich scent of her lotion. He only had to lean a little bit forward and her face would be right there. Her lips inches from his.
How badly would she kick his ass if he just kissed her?
Eventually, she spoke. "McGee and I interviewed Gontz when we first tracked him down. He was a cabbie at the same place Thomas Zuri was employed."
Tony paused. He remembered that case. The soulmates. How could he ever forget the utterly lost look on Ziva's face after Sayda was reunited with her supposed soulmate, the one who had already moved on? He wasn't as dense as he had pretended to be; he knew why Ziva had fished around about soulmates to him. What he could never explain was why that had freaked him out so much. It had freaked him out then, though now he felt like he finally understood what Ziva had meant. And that brought on a whole other level of fear.
"Thomas and Sayda," he finally said.
"She waited for him. She waited for him and she loved him and he had moved on," Ziva remembered, the longing clear in her voice.
"He still loved her," Tony reminded her.
"Yes. But not like she loved him," Ziva replied. She wouldn't look at him. Mortimer rolled over in Tony's lap. His eyes blinked up at Ziva. She scratched him under his chin. Tony wondered how there could be times when he felt as if they were so close that they might as well exist under the same skin and yet there were times, times like this, when he would give his right arm to know what was running through her mind.
"I think the problem is that we only see the cases of love gone wrong," Tony declared after an extended silence. "It's not a representative sample." He reached to pet Mortimer, too. Their fingers moved across his fur, taking separate journeys but brushing together occasionally and, in Tony's case, deliberately.
Making a face as his fingers clashed with hers in an attempt to get at the puppy's neck, Ziva chuckled. "Yes, I believe you are right." She looked up at him through dark eyelashes. One of her fingers caught around his and stayed there for a long moment. Tony raised his eyebrow at her. "So where do we find the good cases?"
With a shrug, Tony gave her a brilliant smile. "Don't know, spygirl. Maybe we'll just have to make one up ourselves."
He didn't miss the way Ziva's fingers came to an abrupt stop on Mortimer's belly. The dog whined his protest.
"Mmm, yes, perhaps," Ziva murmured cryptically, turning her attention to the pup's snout. She laughed when he tried to nip at her fingers. Her eyes met Tony's and he felt his heart stutter in his chest. Unhappy that his current caretaker had stopped showering him with attention, Mortimer ventured out of his lap and lumbered over to Ziva. His tail wagged, taking his whole rear end with it. He yipped happily as Ziva reached out to pet him again. She cooed at him. Tony found it irresistible.
"Looks like you have another suitor, Agent David," Tony smirked.
Ziva quirked an eyebrow at him as she scooped the puppy into her arms. "Indeed. Are you jealous, Tony?" Her voice was coy.
Tony admitted to himself that, yeah, he was definitely slightly, irrationally jealous of the dog getting its belly rubbed by Ziva.
"Noooo," he insisted. Then, off the look on Ziva's face, he relented, "Okay, maybe a little. He was all warm and cozy on my lap a few minutes ago and then as soon as another warm lap came around…"
Ziva snorted. She cradled Mortimer closer to her body. The pup tried to catch some of her hair in his mouth rather unsuccessfully. Ziva giggled.
Tony couldn't help but smile at that. "Okay, yeah, definitely jealous."
"Going to find a job for him in Ohio, then?" She asked with a wicked grin.
Knowing he was well and truly busted, Tony just beamed back at her. She shook her head, but the sudden light in her face was worth it.
"Mortimer! Foster mama's home!" Abby's voice suddenly rang in the lab, breaking the rising tension between Tony and Ziva. Tony reluctantly tore his gaze from his partner to acknowledge the scientist.
"Welcome back, Abs," Tony said in a cheery voice.
As Abby approached them, her grin widened. "Kissed and made up, I see."
Tony's grin faltered and Ziva's eyes flew open wide in shock.
"We did not kiss, Abby," Ziva said and there was an unmistakable color in her cheeks. Tony noticed that it was hard for her to meet his eyes. He took that as a very good sign.
"But we did make up," he pointed out with a smirk. Ziva whacked his thigh. There was the familiar ninja he knew and loved, handling conflict with violence.
Abby glanced between them, a strange, vaguely suspicious look on her face. "Geez. Just an expression, guys."
Mortimer had crawled out of Ziva's lap and was pouncing on Abby's boots once again. Abby seemed to forget them both as she bent down and scooped up her charge.
"He was very good, Abby. He took a nap. Peed on my sweatshirt," Tony informed her. Both Abby and Ziva laughed.
"Aw, Mortimer," Abby clucked. "We only pee on Michigan apparel. Right, Tony?"
"Got that right, Abs," Tony confirmed. Ziva made a face at him.
Tony hauled himself to his feet, offering his hand to pull Ziva up as well. He noted that they both held on a little longer than strictly necessary. When Abby's gaze wandered downward, they snatched their hands apart. Ziva stuffed her arms across her chest. Tony scratched his neck.
"Well, I'm glad to see that a little puppy therapy was effective," Abby said, a twinkle in her eye. Mortimer was busy lapping all the make-up off of her cheek.
"Puppy therapy?" Ziva asked, confused.
Tony just shook his head. "Don't ask." He paused to give the dog a swift scratch between the ears. "Thanks for the time, Morty." Mortimer squealed and kicked his legs in approval.
"You guys are leaving?" Abby said, her expression bearing a striking resemblance to that of the animal in her arms.
Ziva nodded. "Tony has paperwork to finish. And you know how long he takes to get it completed."
"True," Abby agreed.
Tony mimed being wounded. "No worries, Abs. Probette here offered to help me, right?"
"I did what?" Ziva's voice startled Mortimer from his current mission of getting his teeth around Abby's necklace. He perked his head in her direction. Ziva narrowed her eyes at Tony. "And do not call me Probette."
Tony laughed as he led Ziva out of the lab. "C'mon, Ziva. If you help me, I'll buy you a drink."
Raising her eyebrows at him, Ziva gave her hair a seductive flip over her shoulder. Tony's mouth went dry. "A drink, dinner, and a movie."
"Damn, David, who's taking advantage of the system now?" Tony teased, fully anticipating the answering swat to his stomach. "Sounds a bit like a date to me. Are you asking me out?" He waggled his eyebrows at her, his most charming grin easing across his lips.
She gave him an arch look as she beat him inside the elevator. "I do not know, Tony. It is not always so black and white."
"Touché," he grinned as he followed behind her. He made it inside just as the elevator doors slid closed.
Thanks to everyone who dropped me a review or a note wondering where I've been. I've definitely been enjoying these latest episodes, though the writing has slacked off a bit. (Boo.) Job stress is a major mojo killer, yo. Also, it makes me highly allergic to angst—it's like my brain is only capable of processing fluff. But I'm working on it. I am tinkering with a few projects right now so be on the lookout for new things.
Thanks again for reading!! Hope you enjoyed this.