Author: brightblue PM
Two weeks after the explosion, Tony and Ziva are still struggling to re-define their relationship. Tony/Ziva, Post 9x24. No major S10 spoilers.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance - Tony D. & Ziva D. - Words: 13,507 - Reviews: 44 - Favs: 72 - Follows: 9 - Published: 09-19-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8540392
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
DISCLAIMER: I think they are in good hands with GG & co. This is just for fun and stress release.
SPOILERS: Everything through the end of S9 is fair game. No real spoilers for the new season (ha! I wish!).
AN: OMG I am alive and writing! It feels like it's been forever. This nearly killed me with the amount of times I've read and re-read and edited it and now it just needs to be put out there before the premiere renders it AU. Big thankies to Ana for everything!
It had been fifteen days since the explosion. Eleven days since Dearing was killed. Ten days ago, McGee's doctors had assured the team that he would make a full recovery. Eight days ago, Jimmy helped Ducky do a video chat with the team from the beachfront condo where he was convalescing. Five days ago, Vance had deemed NCIS fully operational once more, even as contractors scurried about plastering walls and repairing phone lines.
Life had moved forward; the explosion relegated to memories and tall tales by the copy machine. Recovery had begun. Wounds healed. Bandages were removed. And even if the bullpen now glowed a nice, peaceful blue in place of its former orange, life, in its day to day, seemed much the same. For most.
It had been fifteen days since the explosion. Fifteen days since Ziva had spent a mere three hours trapped in an elevator with her partner. A blip on the radar, really, given all that had happened before then and all that would continue to happen. Three hours trapped, but then the doors had opened and life had demanded forward momentum—find a killer, catch a killer, write a report and then repeat.
She had been out for fifteen days and sometimes, when she blinked, she had to take a deep breath and remind herself that she was no longer trapped. No longer enclosed by walls. The ground was no longer unstable beneath her. In that elevator, she and Tony had come to a decision of sorts: life was too short and their relationship far too important to be stunted by their fears and suppressed by Gibbs' rules. And, well, okay, maybe they hadn't said that in so many words but three hours and a near death experience had changed a lot.
The problem was that change still lacked definition.
Ziva blinked awake, the morning light harsh on her eyes. It was disorienting; she didn't often sleep in this late. She smelled coffee and toast, heard the gentle swish-click of a knife as it worked its way through a melon. All pleasant, normal, morning sounds. She took a moment to burrow into her pillow before forcing her eyes open.
"Morning, sunshine." Tony's voice was low and soothing, purposefully moderated to a wake-up tone. She blinked one eye open at him, knowing he would be watching her body stretch itself awake. Sure enough, there he stood at the breakfast bar, his knife slashing air as he leered at her. She untangled herself from the blankets on his couch and sat up.
"G'morning," she grumbled, tugging at her askew tank top. She felt Tony's amused grin at her disheveled state. She didn't look at him for confirmation, just glared in his general direction, and huffed her way off to the bathroom. Along the way, she tried to make sense of her hair.
"Breakfast is ready when you are!"
Who knew he would be so damn chipper in the mornings?
Ready to start the day, she emerged from Tony's bathroom. She found her partner sitting at his breakfast bar, scrolling through the morning's news on his iPad and sipping coffee. He had set out a plate for her next to him—lightly buttered toast, fruit, and a yogurt with a steaming mug of coffee set beside. He didn't look up at her, just patted the stool next to his like sitting down to breakfast together was the most normal thing in the world.
For the past few weeks, though, it kind of was.
A furtive glance in the direction of the living room told Ziva that, once again, Tony had folded up all her bedding and put it to the side. The stack of blankets on the end of the couch was the only clue that she had been there at all.
"Thank you," she murmured as she sat down. They jostled their legs to find a fit in the tight space at the counter, her knee bumping into his as he tried to turn on his stool to give himself more legroom. Tony ended up sitting sideways, his legs open so Ziva could scoot her stool just a little closer to his. Their knees touched still and if he had to use his right arm, he ended up enfolding Ziva in his embrace. Tilting her head, she gave him a half-smile when he made an exaggerated grab for his coffee. With his left hand, he arranged the iPad so she could see it as well, pointing out an interesting bit to her as he chomped on his egg sandwich. It occurred to her, not for the first time, that Tony had a small but functional dining table that would easily accommodate their meal and yet every morning they crammed themselves into this little space. But, as she picked up a piece of toast and leaned in to read the news along with him, she found she enjoyed the heady scent of his freshly showered body practically all around her. It was Tony, times ten, and everything about this was so fresh and normal and comforting that it had become the best part of Ziva's day.
"You do not have to make me breakfast, you know," she felt compelled to say. It occurred to her for the first time since this little routine had started that maybe he wasn't totally comfortable with it. Maybe he was just humoring her, wondering all the while when he'd get his mornings back to himself.
His cheeks, she swore, turned a little pink and he stared at the dredges of coffee in his mug like they held the secrets of the universe.
"Just trying to be a good host, I guess," he mumbled and the words, as they registered to them both, sounded completely wrong and awkward, and then it was Ziva's turn to blush. Because even though she knew he regretted them, felt his body tense beside her, he still let them hang in the air for a moment too long. Host, right. Because that implied she was just a guest. Which of course, she was, crashing on his couch and using his good towels and borrowing his toothpaste.
Ziva sat up straight, trying to occupy as little of his personal space as possible. Her appetite was gone. She used her fork to chase a few blueberries around her plate.
Tony's brain finally seemed to have caught up with his mouth. "I didn't mean…of course, you're welcome here any time, and you're not a guest, really, you're…. you're…"
And there. Words left unsaid, conversations they never had. They'd emerged so different after the elevator. It was almost like starting over, like all the walls and barricades they'd built between themselves over the years had been reduced to rubble just as easily as the plaster walls of the bullpen. Suddenly, there was an abundance of light and freedom; things just seemed so easy for once. But that obviously wasn't to be, not forever. There was still plenty of debris for them to trip on, remnants from decades of unrest.
"I am what?" She prodded, because he was so close to admitting it and she was so tired of wondering. Sometimes it felt that one misstep, one turn of luck, and she'd lose the ground beneath her feet all over again.
Tony pushed his tablet away. He turned to face her fully. Ziva focused on her half-eaten breakfast, but her partner would have none of that. Tony tipped her chin up, forcing her to meet his gaze. Staring into the depths of his impossibly green eyes, she felt her anxiety ease. "You're with me. Which is where I want you to be."
Something sad passed across face; something dark and scared and she wondered if he didn't feel as desperate as she did these days. It was not an answer, not really, but it touched her heart. Yes, this was where she wanted to be too.
She offered him a soft smile. His focus dropped to her lips. Her pulse quickened in response. And because apparently they both were content to live in this state of uncertainty, she leaned forward just a little bit more until her lips brushed against his in a soft kiss.
After a few seconds, she drew back and rested her forehead against his for just a moment before pulling away completely. He traced her cheek with his knuckles.
"We do have to talk about this, sometime," he murmured.
"Yeah," she agreed, and meant it, but the vagueness of their promise didn't go unnoticed by either one.
They were working cases again. With McGee still on bed rest at home, Vance imposed upon them the greenest agent he could find—Probationary Special Agent Matt "The Puppy" Parsons.
On Matt's first day, he was cocky as hell. He jumped around and slobbered theories and protocol all over the bullpen earning himself both a nickname and a full-scale attack on his ego. As Tony and Ziva struggled to housetrain the eager young agent, Gibbs just smirked idly by. Though the Marine had taken to whistling to get the kid's attention.
Perhaps this was why the tentative shift in Tony and Ziva's relationship had flown under Gibbs' radar. It was easy to avoid suspicion when they had to act so suspicious themselves. After all, who wanted an interloper on the team when it had just so recently been threatened?
Parsons was an outsider. That was obvious. So if Tony and Ziva stood a little too close in the bullpen, that wasn't an unprofessional lack of personal space; it was a united front. And when Tony caught little Matty ogling Ziva as she bent over to take crime scene photos and proceeded to act like a total possessive buffoon? Well, that was to make it clear that Tony was the only one allowed to worship Ziva's perfect ass and live to tell the story. The Puppy had to learn some respect for women and for his teammates. And if the kid felt left out when Ziva and Tony reverted to completely nonverbal communication to punish him for blabbing about their case all over the break room? Gibbs couldn't possibly suspect they'd gone all couple, mind meld-y because they were just demonstrating what a set of minimally competent partners were capable of doing. So what if their silent conversation seemed a little more flirty than strictly necessary? That was only because it was so enjoyable to watch Parsons twitch in embarrassment.
"So does Gibbs not know you guys are sleeping together?" The Puppy asked out of the clear blue sky one day as he tried to make sense of McGee's computer. Apparently, their beloved Probie did not make it easy for someone to just walk in and take his place. Parsons was too engrossed in the screen to notice the panicked looks Tony and Ziva shared.
"Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Matty?" Tony played it cool. He went back to his email like he couldn't even be bothered to make visual contact with the younger, bothersome agent.
Parsons may have been inexperienced, but he was not a total idiot, unfortunately. He'd stepped in something, however accidentally, and he realized it. Rising from his chair, he looked between Ziva and Tony—two agents trying way too hard to look perfectly innocent.
"You and Ziva," he shrugged. "I've seen you guys drive in together in the mornings. But you don't get to the bullpen at the same time—she's always here exactly five to ten minutes before you. Why the subterfuge if you were just carpooling?"
Tony gave the young man his iciest glare. "And what's wrong with carpooling, Matty? Are you opposed to saving our planet? Are you one of those people who doesn't believe in global warming?"
Matt quickly crumbled under the full weight of Tony's personality. "I, uh, no…"
"Tony has to visit Abby in the morning," Ziva interjected, not bothering to look up from her paperwork. Tony fought to hide a smile at the utter no nonsense of her tone. "He brings her a Caf-Pow."
It wasn't a lie; it was actually the complete truth. Well, almost complete truth.
"Oh. Hmm." Matt pretended to think it over, tried to act for a moment like he didn't buy their act. But Tony and Ziva had worked hard over the last few days to completely destroy any confidence The Puppy had in his own latent instincts. He was left with no choice but to give up his clearly wild theory.
"Besides," Tony said, shoving off from his desk with files that needed to go to HR. He gave the newbie agent a sympathetic look; a look that said their guts had all been completely off base at one time or another. "Gibbs has rules against that sort of thing."
"Damn right, I do," Gibbs grumbled with impeccable timing as he strode into the bullpen. And it was only because both Tony and Ziva had expected that perfect entrance that neither one reacted in the least.
"DiNozzo, Parsons, go pick up the Petty Officer," Gibbs ordered as they realized the man was their missing link, their likely murderer.
Ziva heard him, of course, but she had become so accustomed to Gibbs keeping the probie agent at his side and always partnering her with Tony, that she stood before the order could sink into her brain. Once it did, she was left standing sheepish under the judgment of Gibbs' eyebrow. Tony froze, torn between addressing Ziva's gaffe and chasing after Parsons, who had bounded out of the bullpen oblivious to what had just happened. Gibbs snapped his fingers at DiNozzo, sending him off after The Puppy. Tony shot Ziva a look of concern as he left.
"Got a problem with this, David?" Gibbs snapped because Ziva couldn't bring herself to sit down just yet. Her legs were frozen and though she knew she was letting Gibbs in on too much, she couldn't remove her gaze from her partner.
"No, Gibbs." Ziva caught Tony's eye as he waited for the elevator. He jerked his head in the direction of a bouncing Parsons and gave her an exaggerated eye roll that made her smile. As the doors closed on him, he smiled back at her—a beautiful, open grin that made her feel a little light headed. She watched him until the elevator's doors closed. A wave of panic seized her body.
She suddenly had to remind herself to breathe—in and out and, no, not that much air.
"Ziver." Gibbs had sneaked up on her. His sharp blue eyes assessed her. For a second, she thought he might touch her or perhaps say some words of comfort. Or maybe that was just what she wanted from him at that moment. Something to quell the sudden anxiety churning in her stomach and radiating out of her chest —but who was she kidding, this was Gibbs. Instead, he offered her a file folder. "You're with Abby."
Ziva was glad her hand was steady as she accepted the assignment. She didn't understand why Gibbs was going this easy on her, but she'd accept it because she couldn't process much else at the moment. She noted that the elevator had safely landed at the ground level and moved along to pick up new passengers.
Ziva took the stairs to Abby's lab.
Abby was chattering on about their evidence and Ziva knew she should pay attention, that she'd be expected to relay all this information for their interrogation. But she couldn't keep her mind focused no matter how hard she tried. She kept absently brushing her hand over her phone tucked in her pocket, wondering when she'd hear from her partner. In her mind, she had tracked how long it would take to drive to the Petty Officer's apartment, how long it would take to walk to his door, to knock, to explain their presence, to cuff him, to read the suspect his rights…really, Tony should've been on his way back by now.
"Ziva, are you even paying attention?" Abby stopped mid-monologue to take a slurp from her caffeine supply.
Abby leveled her with a look that said she knew that was a full out lie. "Don't worry. I will brief the boys for you."
Ziva exhaled, the remnants of Abby's briefing she managed to keep in her mind scattering like dust. "Thank you."
Abby's forehead crinkled as she gave Ziva a once over. Ziva, never happy under Abby's analysis, feigned interest in a binder full of photos of guns. "You're worried, aren't you?"
"About what?" Ziva shrugged. She flipped the page of the book. Her fingers traced the lines of a Berretta.
Rolling her eyes, Abby snatched the binder from Ziva. She snapped it shut and shoved it aside, ignoring Ziva's sound of protest. Abby waited until Ziva looked up at her before laying out her theory. "Your partner being sent out with the new guy."
"Tony can take care of himself," she replied, and believed it.
"Of course he can," Abby nodded earnestly. Then, she hesitated. "But he'll also be taking care of The Puppy and, well, he's not exactly house-trained yet if you get my metaphor."
Ziva tried to hide her reaction. She really did. But so much of her mental energy had already been spent worrying about Tony being stuck with Agent Parsons that she couldn't keep the unease she felt from showing on her face. Really, Tony should've called her by now. They would've called Tim by this point, giving him the heads up that they were bringing in their suspect.
"Wow." Abby pushed a bag of candy towards Ziva as a peace offering. "You really are worried."
"That is what you just said," Ziva snapped. She shoved a gummy bear into her mouth to keep it occupied. Sugar. Sugar was good.
"I know, but…" Abby refused to cower under Ziva's warning glare, though she did lose a little steam, "it's sort of cute that you're so obviously stressed out by this."
"I am not stressed." Ziva realized she should've argued against the cute thing because she immediately invalidated her not-being-stressed argument by slamming her hand on the table with such force she upset a pile of petri dishes.
"It's okay! Empty!" Abby rushed to assure Ziva, meanwhile removing any delicate items from the former assassin's path. Ziva went back to the candy.
"Ziva," Abby spoke carefully after watching Ziva eat a few more gummy bears. The scientist edged in closer to Ziva, setting her a little more on edge. She then risked an awful lot by taking Ziva's shoulders. Ziva let out a shuddering breath; it was just Abby after all, and there was something about the gentle green of her eyes that reassured Ziva if she let it. "It's okay to worry. I worry all the time when you guys are in the field and I'm stuck back here. But…maybe this is a little different?"
"How so?" Ziva narrowed her eyes and shrugged out of Abby's touch. She hoped that was sufficient threat to keep her friend from saying more. No such luck.
"You two have been, and excuse me if this wording is a bit too on the nose, attached at the hip lately? Since the explosion?" Abby waited for an answer with a face that would've made the nuns proud.
Ziva ran Abby's words through her mind, knowing she'd been baited with idioms into revealing something maybe she was not ready to spill. "There has been…no contact between our hips, Abby," Ziva gritted out.
Abby didn't bother to hide her smile. Her pigtails flipped with glee. "I didn't necessarily mean literally, but good to know, and also: how unfortunate for you guys."
"If you did not mean it literally, then what did you mean?" A picture started to form in Ziva's head of what the scientist probably meant. But she didn't like it, so she ignored it while she could.
"Figuratively. Like, where Tony goes, Ziva follows, and vice versa. You eat lunch together, visit McGee together, leave together, get sent out into the field together—are you even sleeping in separate beds?" Abby added on the last bit as a tease, but Ziva felt her cheeks color at the truth of her words.
"Yes. Of course," Ziva hissed. She didn't bother to clarify that they'd been in the same apartment each night. It dawned on Ziva that she really hadn't let Tony out of her sight since the explosion. With that realization came a crushing wave of embarrassment. And she wasn't sure which was more humiliating, that she hadn't realized she'd been spending so much time with her partner or that not only had she not noticed they'd been, as Abby phrased it, joined at the hip but that she actually didn't mind it. And now, when Tony had finally been set free of her, she was left an agitated and anxious mess.
Thankfully, Abby's phone rang before any more could be said.
Ziva's mind raced, tripping over the last few weeks and all the times when she'd asked Tony to take her to her apartment to pick up clothes or when she'd told him she'd tag along on his runs. What if he'd been trying to get rid of her, get some space? And yet there she stayed, watching his movies and sleeping on his couch. It was so bad that Abby had to say something. It wasn't just her cheeks that were red; she was quite sure even her knees were blazing with shame.
She was so caught up in her own thoughts, she hadn't paid much attention to Abby's phone conversation. Not until so she noticed the way Abby stiffened and turned to her with big, scared eyes. Ziva's heart stopped.
"Oh. Okay. I'll tell her," Abby squeaked out before slamming down the phone.
"Just know, Tony is okay."
"What?" Ziva's heart took off again. A surge of adrenaline made every muscle stand on alert. "What is it?"
Abby flinched. "There was…. an incident."
And then Ziva was pushing out of the lab before Abby could say anymore.
"He's fine, Ziva!" Abby called after her. "It's okay! He's with Gibbs in interview!"
Ziva didn't apologize for nearly knocking over Agent Clement from the Europe desk as she sprinted up the stairs. She didn't bother to look back when she sent some poor intern's stack of papers flying. Her heart was thundering in her chest before she had made it out of the stairwell. A short sprint and yet she was gasping for air.
I should've been there was all she could think. I am supposed to have his back.
She flung open the door to observation with little regard for what might be happening inside. Everyone froze when she charged into the room.
Her eyes landed immediately on Tony. She took a quick inventory. He was alive and breathing, though looked shocked as hell at her grand entrance. His jacket was missing and he held his forearm aloft; blood was seeping through a bandage there. A few more shallow cuts marred the side of his face, but nothing looked especially life threatening.
But that did nothing to quell her anger. When her eyes landed on Parsons' face, all pale and scared, she felt only rage.
"You!" She seethed, launching herself at the young agent. She had him shoved up against the viewing glass, her arm lodged in his throat, before anyone else could move. "What the hell happened? You were supposed to have his back!"
Matt's eyes were wide with fear and she was glad for that. His body went limp under her hold. She shoved her arm harder into his throat, ignoring his wince of pain.
"David!" Gibbs shouted, "Back off! Now!"
His words barely penetrated the haze of her anger. It was his hands, and Tony's, working to pry her off the junior agent that finally set the kid free. Once he was clear of her grasp, he collapsed to the floor, heaving for air.
Every muscle in her body protested her lack of action. It took all of her willpower not to attack again.
"You are fucking crazy," Parsons gasped as he started to sit up. Ziva growled and lunged forward, only to be stopped by Gibbs' strong arm.
"David, walk it off," Gibbs ordered. Ziva remained still, not trusting herself to move without ripping the young agent's face off.
"Go," Gibbs barked now, gently shoving her back towards the door with his arm. Ziva stumbled a bit but keep moving in that general direction.
As she turned to go, she caught Tony's eye. She couldn't read the expression on his face, not through the fog of her adrenaline rush. It was sympathy, maybe, and that didn't sit well with her. It was enough to send her emotions crashing. The embarrassment she had felt earlier hit her all over again. Her legs began to shake beneath her. Ziva felt tears burn in her eyes. What the hell did she just do?
Taking a quick, shuddering breath, she shoved through the door and tried to get as far from that room and the men inside as possible.
Tony found her a few minutes later on a bench in the Navy Yard.
"Permission to approach," he teased as he slid next to her.
She rolled her eyes at him but said nothing. She was not sure what to say. She hadn't been thinking anything yet. Her mind was still running, still unsure about what had just happened and what it meant. She had just barely got her breathing under control.
"I do not know what just happened," she admitted so he didn't have to ask. She kept her eyes firmly fixed on the ground.
"I'm not sure either. But if I didn't know better, I would say you went all Cujo on the puppy because I got hurt in the field."
Ziva still wouldn't look up, but the soft tone of Tony's voice, all quiet and understanding, only served to amplify the shame she felt. What was wrong with her lately?
"It wasn't his fault, you know," Tony added. Ziva focused on her partner's feet, on his shiny black shoes, all perfectly polished.
"Okay, fine, it was his fault." He paused. He fiddled with his shirtsleeves, trying to get them rolled up to the same length. "And so now he will understand that when I say to check for weapons that includes, but is not limited to, pocket knives."
"A pocket knife?" Ziva looked up so quickly that she went light headed. A fresh wave of anger washed over her—a pocket knife? The dumb mutt hadn't properly checked for weapons? There was no excuse for that.
"I'm okay, really," Tony promised. He grabbed her hands so she knew she must have not been hiding her concern well. She was forced to look up at him, at the stupid soft smile on his face and the little cuts along his jaw. "It was just a small one."
Ziva closed her eyes and fought for a deep breath. Damn.
"Shh, Ziva," Tony soothed, rubbing his thumbs gently into her palms. "It's okay."
And how often had he used those words on her lately? It wasn't okay. Not at all. And now she wasn't just worried or angry or embarrassed, she was fucking terrified. She could've lost him yet again.
"It is not okay, Tony," she managed as her voice broke. She wasn't crying, but only barely. And though she managed to keep the tears that wanted out at bay, she found her body trembling with the bottled up emotion. She averted her eyes again, not wanting Tony to see her so clearly falling apart, but it was no use. He knew anyway.
He didn't respond to her; he probably didn't know how. Instead, he threw an arm around her shoulder and pulled her into his body. She tucked her head into his neck, inhaling his scent, and closed her eyes. She tried to focus, tried to do what she had always done in the past—take all the big scary feelings threatening to overwhelm her and shove them in the back of her mind. But it just wasn't that easy anymore.
They sat there for far too long, just holding each other.
Other than making her apologize to Parsons, Gibbs said nothing else about her outburst. Nothing with words, anyway True to form, his reprimands were of the nonverbal kind. And with his steely gaze, Gibbs made it clear that he knew something was up, and maybe he hadn't figured out just what yet, but whatever it was—he didn't like it.
Ziva escaped her desk as soon as the clock struck five, knowing Gibbs wasn't going to keep her in the office any longer than necessary after her earlier performance. Tony looked startled at her sudden exit. But he couldn't catch up to her without raising suspicion, so he sat, helpless, at his desk as she hustled out of the bullpen. Ziva didn't look back, not when she took the stairs down to the lobby and not when she walked past the parking garage and out to the street in search of a cab.
Safely on her way to her own place, Ziva shot off a quick text to Tony: Will not be needing the couch tonight. Thank you for the hospitality.
Then, she turned her phone on silent.
She spent the evening catching up on her mail and laundry. The chores kept her mind preoccupied and off of her partner and the events of the day. After an hour or so, she got into a groove—it had been weeks, really, since she was alone and normally she was someone who craved her own space. She had no food on hand so she ordered herself takeout (Indian, Tony's least favorite) and soaked in the tub while she waited for delivery.
She was full of saag paneer and a glass of wine, just lounging on the couch and reading in the silence, when someone knocked on her door. Urgently.
"Ziva! Ziva, open up!"
She frowned. Closing her book, she hurried to the door. She'd barely unlocked it before her partner was pushing his way past her and into the apartment. Tony looked frantic, like he'd just raced across town (which, she supposed, he had if he came from his apartment in this condition). He had changed into jeans and a t-shirt, but seemed anything but relaxed; his hair stood in a dozen different directions.
"I tried to call you!" His voice was loud. She was a bit put off by the intensity of his apparent irritation. What the hell had she done wrong?
Ziva gave him a look, glanced at her forgotten phone, and shrugged. She left him standing and went back to sitting on the couch.
"Oh, Tony! I am so sorry I have been ignoring you!" He wasn't just agitated, she realized now, he was pissed which often, much to her irritation, led to him affecting her Israeli accent. "I know you must have been so worried when I went all crazy assassin on The Puppy, and then cried all over your suit, and then dropped off the face of the earth this evening."
"I did not drop off the face of the earth," she defended drily. "I have been here all night."
"I texted. I called! Rule Number Three, Ziva!" He shouted, waving his arms. She hoped he wasn't still trying to imitate her. She would never look so utterly ridiculous.
She arched an eyebrow at him. "Oh. We are following Gibbs' rules now?"
He was taken aback by that. He looked almost stung. "Yeah. Yeah, apparently. You tell me, Ziva."
"Tell you what?" And now the argument had her genuinely confused. She pursed her lips and tried to offer him an explanation. "I thought you might want some space after today."
He gaped for a moment. "What the hell gave you that impression?"
He was still angry, that was clear and, yeah, maybe she shouldn't have turned off her phone but that didn't give him the right to come over to her apartment and act like a raging lunatic and accuse her of breaking Gibbs' rules.
"I don't know!" She jumped up from the couch and started to pace the floor. "Abby pointed out to me that I have been attached to your waist since the elevator. And then I went, how did you say it, crazy assassin on Parsons when it was probably your own fault for getting stabbed!"
Tony stared at her for a long moment. Though his eyes were still smoldering, he had lost some of the hard edge he'd stormed into her apartment with. He spoke slowly, as he if were trying to force his mouth to wait for his brain. "Okay. Okay. Well, first of all, getting stabbed was not my fault. Second, it's attached at the hip not waist. Third—wait, before we do that, you're really saying it's my fault I got stabbed?" He glanced that the bandage around this forearm in confusion.
Ziva groaned, frustrated. He was impossible. Absolutely, utterly infuriating. She spun around and tried to walk away from him. Of course, that only put her deeper into her own living room as he blocked her only path to escape.
"You think I want space? Space from what? You? In case you haven't noticed, I've liked having you around. A lot. And then you just leave like it doesn't even matter," he ran out of breath, or maybe words, and was just staring at her from across the room. Her palms went sweaty at the look he was giving her—he was so completely focused on her, all the intensity of his presence channeled into a gaze so dark and sparking with anger and, hurt, and- oh God, was that lust?
She was frozen to the spot. She realized that she was breathing more heavily, that her heart was racing. But she could do nothing but lose herself in the storm raging in his eyes. He took a step towards her. She took a step in retreat. She swallowed hard.
A few more steps and he was standing in front of her. She wanted to look away, she really did. Every instinct in her screamed to run yet she stayed rooted to the spot. This wasn't what they did. Since they'd clung to each other in that elevator, it had been all soft kisses and innocent touches. Gentle reminders, really, that they were there for one another. That they'd made it out of yet another death trap, alive and together. But this? Tony standing in front of her, an emotional mess, and radiating so much heat she knew that with one touch they would just explode. Hadn't there been enough damage already? This had the potential to change everything.
Ziva couldn't help that her gaze flitted back and forth between his lips and his eyes. It was too late. She was drawn in, trapped in the swirling seas of his eyes. She felt his anger, his fear, and most of all, his need. He was going to touch her. She knew it. She was flinching already because the anticipation was too much; she'd ignite on the spot.
But Tony was set on his path. He placed his palm on her cheek. She closed her eyes against the scorching heat only to find that his scent overwhelmed her instead.
"Are you tired of being around me?" He asked, voice low. His thumb caressing her skin was hypnotic.
She opened her eyes. The earnest emotion in his face nearly made her melt. He was scared of this, too, but determined to be brave. All right, then, she could be brave, too. She shook her head in the negative. Any words that wanted out would be too much. No, she was not tired of being around him, not at all.
Studying her a long moment, he finally nodded. "Good."
And then he kissed her.
Why she was dreading this, she couldn't remember. As soon as his lips were on hers, a fire broke out across her skin. This was not a peck, not soft caress; this was a kiss that he clearly meant. A message. White hot lines of pleasure shot through her body as she opened her mouth to his. His tongue traced her lips and made her moan.
She wound her hands around his neck and urged him closer, deeper.
All the passion and intensity that had been on display in their argument before seemed to transfer to his touch. Completely overwhelmed, Ziva felt her knees go weak so she did the logical thing and started to back him up to her couch. Still kissing, they tumbled backwards, an awkward and slightly painful bumble, but nothing that distracted them enough to pull apart.
Ziva found herself straddling Tony on the couch without their lips ever coming unglued. There were brief pauses for air, but Tony seemed content to devour her with very little oxygen. His hands hadn't left her face once. Ziva wasn't so focused, she ran her hands all over his body, trying map out its familiar curves and planes with touch.
Kissing Tony was incredible. But her body grew heated, eager for more. She inched her hands up under his t-shirt.
Suddenly, though, Tony pulled back. His forehead rested against hers as he took a few gulps of air. "You scared me tonight, Ziva. When you didn't answer your phone. You really freaked me out."
He was saying the words as reassurance. He was glad that they were past that part of the evening. But they caught Ziva sideways, just as the room came into focus again. Her body was screaming at her, urging her on. She wanted nothing more than to lose herself in Tony's kisses again.
But she had a sudden glimpse of what came next. What would come in the morning. And tomorrow, back at work, back in the field.
Ziva closed her eyes. She pulled back slightly as Tony went for her lips again.
She forced herself to look at him. She took in his swollen lips and mussed hair, the twinkle in his eyes that left her no doubt how turned on he was at that moment.
"We have to stop, Tony," she said gently.
His face fell. "What? Why?"
Leaning back in his lap, settling towards his knees, she tried to put a little distance between their bodies without leaving his arms completely.
"This is not us," she started, kissing him quick and hard to keep him from misunderstanding her point. He looked crestfallen, but seemed to sense where she was going. "We haven't been apart since the explosion," she winced as she said the word aloud. "That is not normal, not for us. It is not healthy. I nearly ripped off Parsons' head today! And you went crazy not being able to get in touch with me for a few hours!"
He kept his hands on her hips, preventing her from moving away completely. "In my defense, I will go crazy any time I can't get in touch with you for a few hours. You get yourself into trouble pretty easily, Agent David."
"Shut up," she grinned. Her fingers toyed with his hair. She really didn't want him to go anywhere.
"Did I mention how hot it was when you came barging into the observation room? You were like a feisty, sexy she-devil." He smiled his most playful smile at her, all teeth and mischief. She tugged at his hair in punishment.
"You are avoiding the problem."
Running his hands up and down her back, he sighed in defeat. "You're going to kick me out, aren't you?" Then, he leaned up, capturing her lips in a slow, sensual kiss.
"Tony," she whimpered as he pulled away. It wasn't meant to sound as desperate as it did. Losing herself in his eyes for a moment, she found it easier to admit what she had to say. What she'd needed to say since this all started. "I am scared of how much I need you right now."
He had the good sense to not misinterpret what she meant. His face melted into a look of understanding. After he brushed the hair from her face, he let his hand fall to the side. "And needing me is a bad thing?"
"I do not know," she answered honestly. It was pretty damn hard to think of it as a bad thing when he was looking at her like that. "But this…" she gestured between them. "This is not good right now."
He let her slide off of his lap. When she came to rest at his side, he put his arm around her and pulled her close. "I don't want to lose you, Ziva," he admitted as his lips brushed her temple.
"You will not," she promised. No, she couldn't lose him either. But she had no idea what the hell they were doing right now—the poster children for romantic dysfunction, trying to make things healthy? It could be a lost cause. "Perhaps we need to be okay with what happened…with the explosion. Maybe we are not okay yet."
It was possibly the understatement of the year.
"You're right," he conceded, voice hoarse. "I hate it. But you're right."
"I do not want us to mess this up before we even begin," Ziva said softly. Tony agreed by kissing her head.
"You're still gonna make me leave, then." He used his most pathetic voice and she almost changed her mind. Having him all wrapped around her, even in just comfort, felt much, much too good.
"Yes," she exhaled even as she found a perfect spot for her head on his shoulder.
He held her hand. "I really don't want to leave."
"I really don't want you to leave, either."
They sat there, silent, for a few minutes before he stood up, untangling his body from hers. He stared down at her, a look of determination on his face. "This isn't going to make me need you any less, you know. Not when it counts."
Ziva offered him a sad smile. "Well, that's it then. We can need each other when it counts but maybe just want each other all the other times."
His face lit up again. "You're too smart for your own good, you know that right?"
She stood up with a knowing grin and accepted his kiss eagerly. Walking him to the door, she found that letting him leave was one of the hardest things she's had to do.
She didn't sleep well that night. Or the next. Or the night after that. A hundred times, she'd picked up her phone to call him and thought better of it. She ended up sleeping on her own couch, a movie channel playing at low volume in the background.
The flaw in their plan was this: like their ill-defined relationship before, their temporary breakup or separation was equally undefined. How long must they stay apart? Surely she won't stop wanting to be with him, right? Wasn't that how it worked? And, of course, they saw each other at work but then, what, no phone calls, no texts?
They needed to talk. As usual. Though Ziva was worried the moment she was alone with him, she would talk him right out of his clothes and into her bed. Every night. Forever. Because it wasn't the talking with Tony that she missed (though she did miss that, missed just being able to turn to him when she felt uncertain and he would smile and make a lame joke and she'd feel better again). It was his presence. It was the smell of his cologne lingering on her skin after breakfast. She missed the weight of his arm on her shoulders as they wound down for the night with a movie. She couldn't stop thinking about the strength of his embrace as he pulled her in for that kiss, the delicious warmth of him surrounding her, the urgency of his touch, his lips burning against hers.
This was a terrible idea. Awful.
Work was fine.
Parsons was so skittish around them; he had become an obvious target for jokes. A safe, bonding place where they could be themselves again, just Tony and Ziva and some stupid pranks. When he became too utterly pathetic for words, they took pity on him and really started to focus on training the young agent. That was, until he said something that irritated them and it was back to the teasing.
It was easy enough to fall into their old patterns at work. They'd been doing that for years. Though Ziva found herself staring at Tony more often, her gaze lingering on his face, as she got lost in her thoughts. Tony, who used to get busted watching her all the time, seemed to watch less. It was like he couldn't look at her sometimes, like it was painful or perhaps would reveal too much. Ziva missed it. In the field, they worked as well together as ever. It was easier, then, to pretend that nothing had ever been different at all. She was conscious of it, at least. It took very little for Gibbs to split them up some days and she didn't ever want to give him a reason. It was hard enough when he broke them up on a whim. Anxiety still churned in her gut whenever Tony was sent off with The Puppy. Thankfully, there had yet to be any more stabbings or injuries.
It was Abby, of course, who again realized something was off.
And Ziva didn't realize that Abby knew until it was far, far too late and she was trapped with the scientist at the end of the day.
"So, remember when I was worried that you and Tony were spending too much time together?" Abby had waited until Ziva was engrossed in helping her sort a new shipment of lab supplies. She knew Ziva wouldn't leave her sitting in a mess of test tubes.
"Yes…" Ziva answered cautiously. She focused on stacking boxes of gloves.
Abby snatched the stack from her and quickly stored it. "That's not the problem anymore is it?"
"No." Ziva handed Abby some more boxes. Abby shoved them on the shelf and then made quick work of the rest of the supplies. When she stowed a bag of goggles in the fridge, Ziva regarded her organizational process with suspicion.
Unperturbed, Abby leaned on her now clean lab table. She waited until she had Ziva's full attention. "Right. You're like, the opposite, repelled at the hip. Or something."
Well, it sounded about right to Ziva, who just nodded. "Something like that."
"Did you guys get in a fight?" Abby frowned.
With a sigh, Ziva gave in and leaned on the lab table, too. "No. Nothing like that. It's…it's complicated."
Abby twisted her face. "I was afraid of that." She paused, thinking to herself. Ziva froze, afraid of what came next. Nodding her head in some apparent decision, Abby moved to her phone and dialed a familiar extension.
"Gibbs! It's Abs. Right. So you know how Ziva is a perfect little trooper all of the time?" Abby beamed as she gave Ziva a thumbs up. Ziva stood, wary of where this was headed. "Yeah. I know. So she's down here and looks miserable and apparently has these awful cramps. And, of course, she didn't want to bother anyone by saying anything but, poor Ziva—it looks like she might pass out! I know! And, well, I have this great herbal cure, sort of like a tea, but it really only helps with the cramping and not so much the bloating, but anyway- Oh right. Sure! Great! We'll see you Monday!"
Ziva couldn't have looked more shocked and appalled if she'd tried. Her hand immediately went to her decidedly non-cramping uterus.
Abby hung up the phone with triumph. "Yes! We're off early! Time to have some girl talk!"
"Gibbs may be superhuman, Ziva" Abby said solemnly. "But he's a superhuman man. And therefore any talk of menstrual cramps is his kryptonite." Before Ziva could protest, Abby was running around, switching off her lab equipment. Then, she headed for the door. "Act sickly in case anyone comes down here. I'll go grab your stuff. Then we'll jet, grab some wine, and girl talk."
Ziva watched Abby flounce out of the lab. Suddenly, a rough bout of menstrual cramps didn't sound so bad.
"So let me get this straight—for two weeks, you basically just slept on his couch every night?"
Ziva's eyes tracked Abby's gesturing hand. The one that held a nearly full glass of wine and was sloshing dangerously about.
"Yes." Ziva didn't understand why Abby was having such a hard time grasping this concept. She'd explained it like three different times.
Abby took a healthy drink from her glass. They were nearly finished with their bottle of red zin. "No kissing? No sex?"
"Some kissing," Ziva clarified. "No sex."
Abby shook her head. "I don't get it. You guys have this like crazy, combustible chemistry. How could there be kissing and sleepovers but no sex?"
Ziva had asked herself the same thing. She thought about it for a moment. "Because it was more about comfort and security. We would watch movies and…cuddle…." She winced having to say the word aloud. "And there was some kissing. Short, sweet kisses. I think we both knew if we let them get passionate, then there would definitely be sex."
"So no passionate kisses?"
Ziva paused. She couldn't believe she was sharing this much with Abby. She hadn't gossiped this much since…well, Tali, really, and in that case it was more Tali's conquests that were the topic of conversation. But actually, putting into words the things that had been happening, or not happening rather, since the elevator, was helpful.
"One time," she answered. Her mind conjured up images of that night and suddenly missing Tony was a tangible ache. "The night after I got a little too hands on with Parsons."
"When you tried to strangle the poor boy for letting Tony get hurt," Abby corrected with a wry, approving grin. After a sip of wine, she giggled. "Oh man. I bet Tony was totally turned on."
Ziva couldn't hold back her incriminating smile, much to Abby's delight. Once the goth realized that Ziva wasn't going to elaborate, she huffed and moved on.
"But now you've stopped seeing each other completely? Because I said you were too dependent?"
"Yes." Ziva studied the wine in her glass.
"First of all, never take what I say as relationship gospel truth." Abby waited until Ziva nodded in agreement. "Second of all, so maybe you guys did need some space and perspective, fine, but I feel like that would just require more communication and less avoidance."
Ziva crinkled her face. "We are not very good at talking."
"So I've noticed." Abby gave Ziva an air toast before polishing off the rest of her glass. "But if you want a relationship to work, you're going to have to get better at it."
"I know, Abby." Ziva couldn't help but be slightly annoyed at the obvious conclusion. She felt like she and Tony were both painfully aware of that fact. But knowing was one thing, doing quite another.
Abby tipped the last of the bottle into her glass, apparently not registering Ziva's irritation. Ziva frowned. Wine hog.
Still lost in her own conversation thread, Abby stared off into space for a long moment before making eye contact with Ziva again. "No sex, though. Are you sure? Because that's mostly what I wanted to talk about."
Making a face, Ziva tipped the last of her wine into her mouth. "Sex with Tony?"
"Well, he's talked himself up so much! A girl starts to wonder!" And now Abby was back to the dangerous sloshing. Ziva tried to remember where she'd last put the stain remover.
Ziva smirked at her slightly inebriated friend. "Someday I will have to let you know." Ziva didn't actually plan on letting Abby know anything like that, but an empty promise seemed the best course of action to keep her couch from wearing red wine. Also, it felt sort of nice to state out loud that, yes, someday she would have sex with her partner. It was inevitable at this point, right? It had to be.
"Someday soon," Abby amended, before down shifting the conversation. There was still some gossip to be salvaged, after all. "How's the kissing?"
Ziva was plotting her best non-answer to that question when there was a knock at the door. Meeting Abby's eyes, Ziva was alarmed at the sheer excitement she found staring back. It drove Ziva to immediate action, hopping off the couch and bee-lining towards the door, but Abby was quick and not far behind.
"It's Tony!" Abby squealed, beating Ziva to the peephole through illegal use of platform shoes.
Ignoring the sudden leap of her heart, Ziva pushed her way past the scientist to answer the door. There stood her partner, looking totally adorable with flowers in one hand and a carton of ice cream in the other. A stark contrast to the last time he'd shown up at her apartment.
"Uh…hey." Tony was clearly confused by the presence of Abby and the fact that both women were smiling a bit too easily.
Abby, taking in the situation, pretty much melted to goo. "Oh my God. Oh my God." She repeated, smile testing the limits of her cheeks. "Tony, look at you! You are the sweetest. I knew it. I knew it!"
Tony looked between the women, understanding dawning on him.
"And now I feel like the biggest jerk ever. It's totally my fault! It was my idea, I swear!" Abby glanced back at Ziva for confirmation, but Ziva was too busy staring at Tony to really notice. He'd brought her flowers? And ice cream? Because he'd somehow gotten word that she'd gone home early not feeling well? He gave her a sheepish shrug.
Sensing she was being completely ignored by her teammates, Abby began rooting around the living room for her stuff. "And now I will be going. Where are my keys? Should I even be driving? Maybe I'll just call a cab. And wait outside."
Triumphantly locating her purse, Abby hustled out the door with a backwards wink at her friends. "I will talk to you guys later," she grinned before disappearing down the hall.
Tony was still standing in her doorway, awkwardly holding his gifts. Ziva went to grab them from him, waving him into the kitchen.
"False alarm on the cramps, huh?" Tony surmised, following her.
Stopping at the counter, Ziva laid her gifts down gently before speaking. "You brought me flowers? And ice cream?"
"I wasn't exactly sure what this situation called for, but I tried…" he shrugged. He looked down at the floor, hand scrubbing at the back of his head. "It's butter pecan."
Ziva looked between her partner and her presents. "My favorite," Ziva muttered.
"I know," Tony smirked. Sensing he'd won some points, he moved in behind her. Ziva felt the heat of his body envelop her. She sighed. Dammit, she'd missed him.
He moved her hair to the side, exposing her neck. Ziva gripped the edge of the counter in anticipation. "So…no period?" he asked as his breath tickled her skin.
Ziva tilted her head to the side, a not so subtle hint. "Not for another two weeks."
"Good to know." He nuzzled his nose along the column of her neck. Goosebumps broke out on Ziva's arms. When he spoke again, his lips teased her sensitive skin. "Not that, you know, I'm not open to that—
"Oh shut up, Tony," Ziva huffed, tired of his teasing. She turned in his arms. He appraised her in one long look as he moved in even closer. "You already impressed me enough for today."
With a hand on his neck, she pulled him down for a kiss. He moaned into her mouth as her lips attacked his. It took only a few seconds for things to escalate, Tony grabbing her hips and helping her hop up on to the counter. Ziva's legs hooked around his body, pulling him closer still. To their delight, the counter gave them a perfect height differential.
As soon as Tony pulled back from the kiss, Ziva's hands went straight for his belt.
"Does this mean I'm about to get lucky?" He grinned, planting kisses down her neck. "Or are we still avoiding each other?"
Ziva intended to roll her eyes with impatience, but he found a particularly sensitive spot on her neck and she found her eyes rolled for an entirely different reason. "Lucky, yes," she gasped. "Avoiding, no. Abby suggested we talk."
The words had a cold-water effect. Tony pulled back immediately. "Talk." While he considered this, Ziva started unbuttoning his shirt. "The same Abby that suggested we were too codependent?"
"She said we should ignore her relationship advice," Ziva pointed out. She was focused on undressing her partner, but he was now unfortunately distracted by his thoughts. He let her toss his shirt aside, but wasn't doing anything to help the process along. She growled at him in annoyance. "Talking is good, okay. We will talk. Just not now."
Tony wasn't convinced. He kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling when she tore her own shirt over her head. "Are you sure?" He was making a valiant effort not to peak. Ziva was fast losing her patience. "Because maybe we should talk first."
Frustrated, she grabbed his face, forcing him to look at her. His eyes darkened immediately. There. That was better. "Tony," she tried to keep her voice calm. "Do you really want to talk now?"
She released his head so he could give her a through once over. Leaning back on the counter, she made sure he got an eyeful of her cleavage from that advantageous position. He gulped audibly. Then shook his head.
"Good," she affirmed, hopping off the counter. She made sure to give his ass a nice smack as she walked past him. He yelped. "Then put the ice cream in the freezer and follow me."
He caught up with her easily. In one fluid movement, he had her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry.
"Sometimes, you're really bossy, did you know that?" He teased and she couldn't help but giggle. Once in her bedroom, he tossed her on the bed, climbing his way on top of her. Ziva's breath caught in her throat.
"Only when I know what I want," she smiled at him. He gave her a dazzling smile in return then kissed her senseless. There wasn't much talking after that.
"Tony," Ziva whispered into his skin. "Tony, wake up."
"Hmm," he murmured and tried to swat her away. But she was lying pretty much on top of him, her head resting on his chest, so she was there to stay.
"I want to tell you something," she murmured. She was having a hard time sleeping. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt more relaxed, her muscles pleasantly sore, her body basking in a post-coital glow, yet her brain was still running and refused to stop.
"We're talking now?" He asked, opening one eye. He fumbled in the darkness for her body, coming up with a handful of her hair. She turned her head into his touch, stretching her body along his. He groaned.
"I am talking now." She paused. His breath had become shallower; he was awake. "I wanted you to know that I went to see someone last week. A therapist."
Weaving his fingers through her hair, he blinked his eyes slowly. "Oh yeah? How was that?"
Ziva paused, considering. Stressful, she wanted to say. Uncomfortable, awkward, not particularly useful and yet she actually sort of liked her therapist, a woman who seemed liked she'd seen enough to really understand, who watched her with clear eyes and took contemplative pauses before she spoke. She hadn't offered Ziva any platitudes or easy fixes, so that right there had felt like something. The counseling was mandatory for all of them, so Tony couldn't have been surprised by her revelation and she wasn't sure why she was even bringing it up. But she wanted him to know she was making an effort. It felt important.
"It was…a start," she finally said. "We set some goals, to work on some coping strategies."
"Huh," he replied. It sounded dismissive but she could see in his face that he was weighing her words. As his mind worked over her words, his fingers continued to toy with her hair. Eventually, he paused, lifting his head so he could grin down at her. "We'll have to compare notes, then. I start on Tuesday."
She couldn't help but smile into his chest. Snuggling into him, she felt her mind finally start to slow down.
"We're getting pretty good at this communication thing," Tony commented through a mouthful of pizza. His assessment, though, was out of the blue as they hadn't said much during their dinner. Well, not much of note at least. After all, Tony couldn't keep his mouth shut for long and so was constantly singing or humming along to the music playing from her speakers.
Ziva just scrunched her face at him because of course he would find a way to be smug about that. She went back to her book.
"Does Sunday count as a weekday or weekend?"
Considering it, Ziva shut her book with a sigh. She wasn't going to get any reading done tonight, it seemed. "Weekend."
Tony grinned. "Excellent."
With a snort, Ziva tracked his progress from her living room to her kitchen, not so subtly admiring the way his basketball shorts hung so nicely off his ass. She had it on good authority that the only pair of boxers he had with him were currently in her washer. He grooved his hips in time to the beat. Balancing their empty plates, he turned to her in time to sing the song's chorus—a poor imitation of Al Green, indeed. She wasn't sure if his intention was seduction or entertainment and she found herself responding with a mixture of amusement, intrigue, and exasperation.
"You're just happy because that means you get to stay tonight," she called after him as he sashayed into the kitchen. She heard his answering "ha!" from her spot on the couch. She listened to the sounds of him loading the dishwasher and smiled. Sometimes it was just nice to have someone else take care of the dishes. This was a perk she hadn't experienced in her previous relationships.
Relationship. That felt weird, to have things between her and Tony so defined. What they were doing was officially termed a relationship, the word said out loud and everything.
They had spent the duration of the weekend holed up in her apartment, negotiating the finer details of their arrangement. They'd settled on only two sleepovers during the workweek, days to be dictated by work schedule, and weekends spent together at alternating apartments. It felt good. At first it had freaked her out and she couldn't decide if that was because of the huge step they'd just taken or the idea of committing that time out loud or even because she'd gotten so used to more time than that with Tony. But after the plan had time to settle, she decided it felt nice—secure and predictable, with time still left for herself.
Ziva's phone beeped, signaling a text message.
Where did we land on calls/texts?
She laughed. He was such a goof sometimes.
Unlimited access, so long as it's not abused.
You storming over to my apartment because I haven't responded to a text within an hour.
Touché. But maybe you could let me know if you will be unavailable.
Hmmm. Not sure I like the idea of my possessive boyfriend needing to know my every movement.
Boyfriend? And to the text, he'd attached every happy emoticon his phone contained.
She caught him peaking out from the kitchen, silly grin plastered on his face. It was contagious, though; she found herself smiling back.
"Like you wouldn't want to know my whereabouts at all times," he teased, swaggering in her direction. She rolled her eyes.
"No. I do not think I would." She looked him over. "Where is your phone? Do those shorts even have pockets?"
He waggled his eyebrows at her. "Wanna search me?"
Ziva found herself chuckling as he approached her. She reached up to him for a kiss, it had been a few hours after all, and quickly lost herself in the sensation. Yeah, he was pretty damn good at this.
"Tony?" she murmured as she pulled him down on top of her.
"Hmm, yeah?" He was busy nibbling on her neck. She held him close, urging him on.
"Are we done talking now?" It had to be asked. The man had been relentless, determined to talk through every aspect of their burgeoning relationship. It was cute, in a way. He was nervous, too, and seemed to feel if they could anticipate any problems advance, it would be smooth sailing in the future. It wasn't the worst idea.
"Negotiations officially tabled," he answered, easing the straps of her tank top down her shoulders.
"Oh yes," she mumbled as he put his talented mouth to work at her breast. He paused to snicker into her skin. "I didn't mean it like—oh!" He went back to work and she lost all will to explain herself.
Just as Ziva was about to get her hands into Tony's shorts, there was a knock at the door. They both froze.
"Pizza?" Tony whispered.
"We already ate pizza," Ziva hissed.
"Oh. Right." Tony shrugged, out of ideas. He quickly put her tank top back in order and sat up. "It's your apartment," he accused as the visitor knocked again.
Ziva hopped up from the couch. Perhaps it was her neighbor. The woman seemed to get locked out constantly and once she'd learned Ziva could pick locks and save her the locksmith fee, well, it had been downhill from there. She gave a quick glance around her apartment. It had certainly had seen better days in terms of tidiness. Today it had definitely seen the most sex.
"Pick up the pillows," she ordered as she went towards the door.
There was another knock, and then a voice that immediately made her blood run cold.
"David. Open up."
Ziva turned back to Tony, whose eyes were big as saucers, frozen in place with a throw pillow in each hand. Gibbs was one debate they hadn't really settled yet, though their last discussion had ended with them deciding to wait to tell him. Well, looked like he was going to find out sooner rather than later.
"Coming, Gibbs! Just a moment!" Ziva called out.
Tony made a panicked face. "Why did you answer him?" He whispered. "We could've stayed quiet until the bad man went away!"
"Lights, music, my car out front—of course, he knows I'm home!" Ziva argued back. A surprising calm came over her. "He was going to find out anyway."
"Yeah, but now," Tony spluttered. He glanced down at his body. Ziva winced at the various markings she'd left there. "Oh God, I need a shirt."
Ziva pointed to the closet that housed her washer-dryer. There had been an incident with the shower earlier. In the shower, more accurately, where Ziva had worn Tony's spare shirt.
"Dammit!" Tony glanced toward her bedroom. "Should I hide?"
Rolling her eyes, Ziva proceeded to the door. "Don't be ridiculous. At least now he's on our territory."
Tony didn't look convinced. He unsuccessfully tried to hide his chest with his hands, muttering something about how this wasn't a battle.
Like hell it wasn't.
Ziva opened her door to reveal a very impatient Gibbs. She tried to look as nonchalant as possible. "Gibbs! I was not expecting you."
She did not invite him in, but he walked in anyway. His gut was obviously bothering him, apparently justifying his need to scan her apartment like she was under investigation. Ziva followed his gaze and, yes, the evidence was fairly damning. Tony had managed to pick up the pillows they'd strewn about the floor, but the soft lighting, candles, wine, and Tony's insistence on playing "Love and Happiness" on repeat for the last hour really set a mood. And yet her partner was nowhere to be found…
"DiNozzo," Gibbs barked. "You can come out now."
A guilty Tony emerged from Ziva's bedroom. "Err, boss, how did you know I was here?"
"Shut your damn blinds at night, David. You of all people should know better than that." He gave Ziva a pointed look. She winced. It was something she hadn't even thought about today.
"You two look awfully cozy," Gibbs sniped, his voice tight as a drawn wire.
Tony glanced to Ziva for help, but didn't wait for it before the smart words rolled out of his mouth.
"I could make an argument for the moment I laid eyes on her boss," he sassed, twinkling his eyes in Ziva's direction. It was an obvious bait and one that served to piss Gibbs off even more, though it did make Ziva smile.
Gibbs was fuming. Tony wisely stayed out of his reach. It seemed Ziva was right about it being to their advantage that this was happening on their territory, though, because the Marine seemed reluctant to move further into her apartment. Good. Served him right for thinking he could show up to her home and tell her what to do.
"Do not worry," Ziva vowed, an icy edge to her voice. "We will keep it out of the office."
"Really? You will? I would think Parsons might disagree with that." Gibbs squared off to Ziva. She refused to back down, tilting her chin up and lifting herself to her full height. Though she loved this man like a father and normally respected him as such, Ziva had no problem, no fear really, standing up to him when she felt righteous.
"Not that it is any of your business, but that happened before we broke any of your rules," she defended.
"My team. My business," Gibbs seethed. He crossed his arms across his chest. His eyes darted back and forth between them; his penetrating gaze not unlike a laser scope finding its target.
"Not this time, Gibbs," Tony countered, coming to stand beside his partner. Ziva spared him an appreciative glance.
"My team. My rules," Gibbs reiterated, voice steely. "If you can't follow them, then you can find a new team."
And with that decree, he turned on his heel and headed toward the door. Just before he left, he turned back to them. Out of his jacket, he pulled a manila envelope, which he tossed on the counter.
"McGee wanted me to drop that off for you since neither of you have been to visit lately. He's been feeling a lot better this weekend. Wrote you a story." He paused at the door, leveling his dumfounded agents with one last look. "Dearing nearly destroyed this team already. Think about what you're doing."
Ziva's mouth fell open. A stroke of pain lanced through her chest. Did he really just…?
"No. No. Absolutely not." Tony stormed after their boss. Ziva grabbed her keys off the counter and quickly followed. By the time she caught up with her partner, he had caught Gibbs in the elevator. Ziva hopped in just as the doors closed and Tony hit the emergency switch.
They fell into silence as the metal box lurched to a stop and a bell began to ring. Ziva winced at the sound, backing up against the cool, metal walls. Her heart raced as she anticipated the ground giving way beneath them, the ceiling crumbling down from above.
But neither man seemed to notice her reaction, too intent were they on staring one another down.
Tony was undeterred by Gibbs' glare. "No. You do not get to say that. That is not fair. Dearing was a fucking terrorist who tried to rip our family apart, who killed innocent people. Ziva and I are trying to have a relationship. We are trying to be happy."
Ziva was still struggling to breathe. She tried to focus on the argument, knowing she might need to have Tony's back. This was her fight too. But that damn bell kept ringing and panic continued to claw at her chest and she just couldn't make it stop. She dug her fingernails into her thighs and tried to force herself her mind to the present.
Tony got further up in Gibbs' face. Gibbs did not back down.
"You know better than anyone that Ziva and I have spent years trying to figure out how to make our lives better, chasing something that we thought we could never have." Tony's voice was low, a thick current of anger running just below the surface, barely controlled. "And now that we found it? Now that we finally have the chance to fill those missing pieces? No, you do not get to compare us to that man."
Gibbs did not respond. The men remained engaged in their battle of wills, the only sounds filling the small space were the elevator's ringing bell and Tony's heavy breathing.
But it was the bell that got to Ziva. It was all she could hear now, getting louder and louder and sounding too much like the sirens that day. She forced herself to breathe in slow, even breaths—in through her nose, out through her mouth. She tried to focus her thoughts elsewhere, to clear her mind, like her therapist had practiced with her. It was keeping her from completely losing it, at least. But that damn bell!
"Ziver?" Gibbs, the one facing her, noticed her distress and finally broke his stalemate with his senior agent. Tony whirled around in concern. When he realized what was happening, he rushed to her side. His hand on her shoulder helped to ground her. When he forced her to look in his eyes, match her breathing to his, she found herself start to relax. Gibbs, meanwhile, flipped the elevator back into motion. It descended to the ground floor.
As soon as the doors opened, Ziva shot out of the metal box and into the lobby. Tony was right at her heels.
"Hey, Ziva, you okay?" He asked, searching her face for any further distress. She tried to convey with just a look her determination to keep it together. She felt the anxiety easing from her body, but in its wake, she knew, would be emotional exhaustion. And she wasn't about to let Gibbs see that. Tony seemed to understand; he gave her arm a quick squeeze before turning to Gibbs.
He had been watching them closely.
"You're right, DiNozzo, my remark was uncalled for," Gibbs admitted. His eyes lingered over Ziva, their vivid blue depths not filled with pity but regret. He, too, looked suddenly drained.
Tony nodded, accepting his apology.
"We are not seeking your permission, Gibbs, or even your blessing." Ziva finally spoke again. She fought to keep her voice even. Tony threaded his fingers through hers. She squeezed his hand. "We just want the opportunity to try and make it work. We do not want to lose the team. Not now, not after everything."
Gibbs seemed to look up at the ceiling for an answer. After a long moment, he let out a tense breath. "Fine. But at the first sign of trouble—
"I'll resign," Tony and Ziva promised in unison, giving each other a double take at their response. Another topic they hadn't fully covered yet.
Gibbs' jaw clenched. "I regret this already."
Ziva blamed Tony's million-dollar smile for that. She nudged his ribs with her elbow.
Shaking his head at them, Gibbs turned to leave. "Oh, and DiNozzo? Remember your damn shirt tomorrow." He was shaking his head as he left the building.
"Yes, boss!" Tony barked. Once the Marine was out of their sight, Tony pulled Ziva into his embrace. She rested her forehead on his sternum, letting out a long breath.
"Bit of a panic attack there, huh?" He chided affectionately as he rubbed her back. She nodded, wrapping her arms around his waist. "That happen a lot?"
Ziva shrugged. "That was the first time I have been in an elevator since…"
"Yeah," Tony sighed. He kissed the top of her head. "Guess that ended up being a bit of a battle, huh?"
Ziva chuckled in agreement and placed a kiss on Tony's chest. She was suddenly exhausted. Lifting her head, she gave her boyfriend her most enticing look. "Take me to bed?"
"See what I'm saying? So bossy!" He teased, walking her in the direction of the stairs.
It had been thirty-five days since the explosion.
Ten days ago, Tony and Ziva had finally defined their relationship. ("Fine, you can call me your girlfriend. If you must.") Nine days ago, Gibbs had kind of, sort of given them his blessing—well, he hadn't slapped them, at any rate. That day was the first time Ziva had gotten in an elevator. It did not go well. But five days ago, it did, and each day it felt less and less like the earth was about to move beneath her feet.
Two days ago, negotiations had recommenced between Tony and Ziva. Tony was contending that Thursday could basically be considered the weekend and Ziva really felt that some weeks, two weeknights were just not enough time with her partner. Talks were ongoing, and often heated, but a positive outcome was anticipated for all parties. After all, it was just a slight change in the definition of things.
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