AN: So I found this mostly finished early draft of another one of my fics, Finding Definition. This was my first pass at a post-Till Death Do Us Part fic and, at that time, there were so many wonderful elevator fics that I got a bit discouraged, scrapped this, and took some of the themes I liked over to that fic (and maybe a few lines too, if you happen to notice.) Once I unearthed this again, I decided I feel a bit greedy hoarding some enjoyable Tony/Ziva moments now that we are so hard-pressed for them. I definitely think Finding Definition is a better story, overall, but I liked some parts of this too much not to share. In the interest of trying to get an update for The Violet Hour done at some point this week, I tried not to tinker with this too much. So let us go back in time, back to when our shipper hearts spent an entire, beautiful summer imagining our favorite couple trapped in an elevator for hours and all the possibilities that brought...
With that in mind, this is probably an excessive amount of hurt/comfort/cuddling/schmoopiness but SO BE IT. We deserve it, dammit. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: I can't even write this with a straight face. Lyrics below belong to Tom Petty and not me.
Baby, you got a heart so big
It could crush this town
And I can't hold out forever
Even walls fall down
"Walls" by Tom Petty
"I hate this," Ziva grumbled, kicking at a piece of the elevator ceiling that had fallen to the floor. It had been an hour, at least, since they'd overcome the shock of their situation—that they were trapped in the elevator, the rest of their workplace potentially crumbling to the ground around them. Ziva's frustration at their predicament had spiked rapidly into anger. She had been rambling on for the last fifteen minutes, pacing and listing every thought that popped into her head. Seemed that she was back on futile cursing now, which, Tony had to admit, was an improvement over the Hebrew death threats directed at him for suggesting they take the elevator in the first place.
"I hate that Dearing is still out there and our home has been destroyed and our family…" She choked on the last word, becoming suddenly still. It seemed irritation had fallen into grief now. She wouldn't look up at him, but Tony knew there were unshed tears glistening in her eyes. The worst part was that she couldn't finish the sentence because at this point they really didn't know. His heart clenched for her. Rage was much better. Could she go back to that?
"On the upside, aren't you glad you're stuck here with me?" Tony teased, trying to goad her out of her sudden depression. He tried to keep an upbeat look on his face, to mask the pain and fear he was also feeling. Smile though your heart is aching, right?
Ziva scoffed, and though it was a bit half-hearted, at least she made an attempt at a grin. It was more of a grimace, really, but it was a start. Tony watched the play of emotions from his seat on the floor.
"And I hate you, too," she tossed off, coming to stand over him, because, sure, kick a man while he was down.
He might've taken her more seriously if she hadn't just spent twenty minutes laid out on top of him, clutching his body and looking at him with those sad, doe eyes she thankfully rarely used. They'd stuck like that for awhile, frozen together, not knowing if each second would be their last—was the whole building about to go? Would one wrong move send the elevator crashing further to the ground? It was a strange limbo to be in and after awhile they'd given up on waiting for death and taken tentative steps toward saving themselves. Of course, they hadn't gotten very far yet. At least it didn't seem like the elevator, or the building for that matter, was going anywhere. Still, that time spent with her curled around him like he was her lifeline, like if she just looked utterly pathetic enough he could solve this massive problem, had done the trick. She hated him. Right. (And he wasn't even going to go into how much it killed him not to be able to fix things for her in that moment. Or how it felt being too chicken shit even then to cave in to the desire to promise her the world or at least say something to comfort her. For twenty minutes, they had thought the world was going to end and even then he couldn't tell her what he needed to tell her most.)
"The feeling's mutual, pussycat," he replied, keeping up their banter. He surveyed their little scene again. "Now how do you want to do this?"
He examined the hole in the ceiling, a potential escape route, seeing nothing but blackness above them. He heard sirens in the distance.
Ziva sighed. She looked between him and the hole a few times. She shoved some flyway hairs out of her face. "How do you think?"
Tony waggled his eyebrows at her.
Apparently escaping from their steel prison was a bad idea. At least that was what the rescue worker who had happened to peer down the elevator shaft from the second floor just as Ziva had successfully popped out of the ceiling of their prison had repeatedly mentioned. So not only had Ziva been scolded and told to stay put or else (or else what? they were going to leave them there?) but she'd been called ma'am. Ma'am!
"At least they know we're here now." Tony was toying with his cellphone. His phone was finally getting service again and he'd just gotten off the line with their boss. "Could have done without Gibbs' lecture on taking the stairs."
Ziva slid down the wall to sit next to her partner. Given that the floor was strewn with dust and chunks of metal and rust, she had no choice but to sit as close to Tony as possible. She was glad for the excuse. His presence was oddly comforting, even when he was being irritating. "Did he say anything about the others?"
She felt rather than observed Tony's shrug. "Still no word on McGee's condition. Abby's on her way to Bethesda to check on him now."
"How is Abby?" Ziva asked. Tony had only conveyed Gibbs' words to her: that McGee had been rushed to the hospital, unconscious; that Gibbs and Abby were relatively unharmed. Tony tried to break these facts to her gently, but the way his jaw had clenched and his eyes had gone dark while he was on the phone with their boss had said more than words could ever articulate. The body count remained blessedly low, but it still wasn't good.
"A mess, as you'd expect," Tony said, shoving his phone into his pocket. He groaned as he raked his hands through his already messy hair.
Ziva pursed her lips, studying her partner. "I did not mean what I said earlier."
Ziva forced herself to meet his eyes. It was harder than she thought, but she pushed past her anxieties, knowing he deserved this much. He had kept her together, after all, when all she wanted to do was fall apart. He had let her rant and ramble at him without so much as a word to stop her.
"I do not hate you, Tony." She tried to speak clearly and convey with her eyes what she was still too scared to admit out loud, quite the opposite actually.
He looked at her, looked long and hard, with that expression on his face that said he understood exactly what she wasn't saying. Then, he smiled. "I do not hate you, too."
She bit back a grin of her own.
"How long could it possibly take to pry open some doors? Why can't they just get us out of here already?" Ziva, only a few minutes ago peacefully sitting next to him, now resorted to pacing the small space again, throwing angry glares at the doors that kept them trapped.
He hated to state the obvious, but: "They'll get to us, Ziva. They are probably focusing on the people in more critical condition."
Ziva had the grace to look ashamed. She stopped in her tracks, smoothing her ruined pants with her palms. "You are right. I just…I hate being trapped."
"A personality trait I've become well acquainted with," Tony smirked, ignoring the look she volleyed back at him. "C'mon. Sit down. I'm sure we'll be out of here soon."
Ziva gave the spot he patted on the floor a look of such disdain he was almost offended.
"Ziva. Seriously. They know we're here. They'll get to us. Just please sit down and try to calm down before you give me an anxiety attack by proxy."
Finally, with a heavy sigh, she obeyed. "I do not need to calm down."
He gave her a look.
"I do not understand how I could possibly be calm anyway. Not with everything that's going on out there," she gestured wildly.
He grabbed one of her hands out of the air, using her surprise to his advantage. He threaded his fingers through hers. It stilled her.
"Ziva," he spoke gently, "I'm scared and worried and angry as hell, too, but we can't do anything about that now. We just need to stay calm until it's our turn to be rescued."
"Waiting to be rescued, ha!" Ziva clearly didn't like the concept. But her indignation was losing steam. "And then we will find the bastard who did this," she spat, trying to rip her hand from Tony's grip. He wouldn't let her go. "And kill him."
"Shhh," he murmured and started to rub her palm with his thumb. It was surprisingly, hypnotically soothing. Damn him. "Calm, Ziva."
She pushed some air out through her lips. "I am calm."
She wasn't really, but she was getting there. The way his fingers worked over her hand, then up her wrist and back again was helping ease the stress coiled in her stomach. It was creating other warm feelings as well, ones which she tried not to focus on.
Chancing a look in her partner's direction, Ziva felt herself soften even more when she caught the expression on his face. So kind, so understanding, he wasn't annoyed with her at all, not really. He was just trying to have her back, as always. More tension lifted from her body. She exhaled.
He looked over at her, eyes twinkling in the dim light. "Hmm?"
She took that as invitation to rest her head on his shoulder. "I am glad you are the one I'm stuck with."
Maybe she was just imagining it but she thought she felt him lean over and kiss her on the head.
And then the elevator doors opened.
Life moved forward. There was still a monster to catch.
Gibbs, ever the leader by example, pushed on, barely acknowledging the dripping blood on his forehead. And so, like good soldiers, they fell in line.
Ziva was glad for their orders; she felt no guilt about following them. Without them, she felt torn in too many directions: McGee was in surgery; Abby was wilting before their eyes. And then there was Ducky, an extra blow to a team already crippled. He would be fine, Gibbs had said, and Jimmy was watching over him, but that didn't change the fact that he was hurting and so far away.
Ziva had never made a good nursemaid before, even though the instinct was there. Overriding any desire to comfort, to heal, was her need to make them pay. A bloodlust cultivated from childhood, a fuel carefully fed by her father's own motivations; it often overwhelmed any inclination she had to make things better. She wanted to hunt Dearing down and make him suffer. She was glad Gibbs wasn't keeping them out of the field. She would feel useless otherwise.
Tony, though, perhaps didn't feel the same. Tony wasn't like her or Gibbs. Tony was a protector, true, and wanted the same vengeance, yes. But rather than focus his anger on an enemy they knew so plainly, he found it all too easy to turn some of that blame on himself. With word of each injury, each fatality, the muscles in his body seemed to draw tighter until he was all sharp edges and it almost hurt to look at him. On the surface he remained still and calm, but a storm raged in his eyes, something so tumultuous that Ziva feared she'd get sucked right in.
It's not your fault, she wanted to assure him. How could you possibly think this was your fault? What happened to the man who was so calm before? The one who kept her from totally losing it in the elevator? But she knew enough to understand that his guilt would never be in proportion to the situation, just like she understood her hunger for revenge wasn't exactly a common reaction either.
So she tried to convey her words with her eyes—words said aloud were too easily dismissed in this mood anyway. It was the worry in her face that could sometimes make Tony pull back, if even for a moment. She anchored her hand on his shoulder as they poured over crime scene reports in some loaned-out FBI subbasement. Her thumbs soothed over the tension coiled in his muscles, gently easing some of the stress. It wasn't much, but she was afraid if she didn't keep hold of him, she might lose him altogether.
His whole world nearly exploded and he was supposed to sleep? Really?
He wondered this as he contemplated his idle TV. Surely, he has had more experience than most in this phenomenon. Too many times where the floor was figuratively pulled out from under him. Though, until today, it had never been quite so literal.
His apartment felt too small, almost claustrophobic. Kind of like maybe the walls were going to collapse on him at any moment. And boy would his DVD collection create a mess.
He gave his celling fan a suspicious look.
He has had a decent amount of whiskey but doesn't feel much change. It hadn't helped numb the strange ache that had clung low in his chest since leave the FBI. Like something was missing.
The doorbell rang. For a moment, he confused it with the sound of emergency sirens still ringing in his head. But no. Doorbell.
He picked himself up off the couch and limped to the door. It was Ziva. Of course.
She looked far too young tonight, almost vulnerable, in her sweats and hair still damp from a shower. She had yet to fully reconstruct her ninja mask again; her face was all smooth and open. It was like she was still peering up at him from under the ruble, asking him to save her. That ache in his chest intensified.
They blinked at each other.
She met his eyes with pain ringing from her own. He held out his hand to her because part of his brain forgot for a second this was Ziva and not just a random, upset woman. Though once he closed his fingers on her soft skin, he remembered. A breath caught in his throat as he thought of her collapsed on top of him, their world possibly ending. He gripped her even tighter because, dammit, he wasn't about to let her go again.
She followed him back to the couch, hand never leaving his. Her eyes took stock of his current situation: dark room, tumbler of alcohol, TV off. There was understanding in her eyes as she stole a swig of his whisky.
He wasn't sure what to say so he watched her, looking for guidance. She just stared right back, adrift. Her hand twitched.
And then without words, almost in a mutual decision, they folded into each other's arms. He leaned back, stretching against the couch, and she followed him down. She curled up on his chest, her head finding a pillow above his heart. He helped her fit her body against his and inhaled the fresh scent of her hair. It was them on the elevator floor all over again, except this time if felt safe. It felt like it was finally okay to breathe.
He conceded a contented sigh when she burrowed her face into his neck.
"It still does not feel real," she murmured into his skin. Her fingers toyed with his.
Her words, so truthful, caused that ache to throb again. He pulled her more tightly to him and felt a tremor work its way down her body.
"No, it doesn't," he agreed. He couldn't help himself. He kissed her head. His free hand found a home low on her back. Focusing on the sensation of her breath on his skin, he tried to determine if she was crying. No.
"This," she murmured and hitched her leg around his. He felt his body tense in approval. "This feels real."
He had to close his eyes against the wave of emotion that crashed against him, an overwhelming sensation of this being everything. God, this felt better than anything had a right to after the day they'd had. Her hand was resting on his chest now, worrying his shirt there. He closed his hand over hers and they both watched their fingers entwine again. He knew she could feel his heart beating like mad and, really, he didn't care. He loved her, pure and simple. It had never felt this simple before.
"Stay?" he asked because that was all he could give away in the moment. He watched surprise light up her eyes. He held her gaze to his with a gentle palm to her cheek.
Nodding slowly, she turned her head to kiss his hand. Heat flared in his body, though he doubted that was her intent. When she pulled away, he carefully tucked her back into his arms. Their bodies found a natural fit and it wasn't long before sleep took over.
Ziva blinked awake. Her body was frozen; her heart raced. Her mind was fuzzy and even when she shook the cobwebs away, she couldn't recall the nightmare that had woken her.
She took a few deep breaths as she struggled to see in the darkness. It had to be the middle of the night still.
She stretched, feeling her body extend along Tony's. The heat of him, the heaviness of his presence, quickly sparked her mind awake. Oh. Well. This was a new way to chase the nightmares away. She caught a heady whiff of his scent as she inhaled and bit back a moan in response. She fought to keep her hand still against his chest when all she wanted to do was run it down his stomach, to feel him wake under her touch. It had to be the nightmare adrenaline still coursing through her body, tipping her so easily over into arousal. She had to be careful or else…
"Mmm, Ziva," he mumbled and then the hand that had been holding her close made a sudden journey across her hip and under her thigh, hiking her leg up further. Urging her closer.
Or else that.
Her heart stuttered in her chest. Desire pierced her core.
She was suddenly very aware of his reaction to her closeness. His wandering hand found its way under her shirt, fingers spanning her back. He pressed her nearer still. She bit back the gasp that wanted out as the heat in his skin warmed her through; she couldn't stop her thighs from pulsing against him in response or her hips from arching up.
He jolted awake.
"Ziva?" His voice was irresistibly scratchy. His hands fumbled around in the darkness, touching her body then lifting back in surprise. "You're here?"
Being more awake than her partner, she couldn't pass up the chance to tease him. "I think you are well aware of that."
"Clearly," he smirked, though had the decency to look slightly embarrassed. She struggled to fully see his expression in the dimness. "Usually you're not here when I wake up from a dream."
"Do you dream about me a lot, Agent DiNozzo?" The teasing came naturally, her voice low and daring. He leered predictably. And for a long, heady moment, sparks flew between them. She suddenly wanted an honest answer more than she could ever admit. Her whole body anticipated it.
There was a quippy comeback on his tongue, she could sense it, but he paused just a moment too long and then something in his face changed. It was back, that darkness, that determination. It was the side of Tony that made him a danger to anyone who would block his path. She could barely see his face in front of hers, but she could see that. And feel it. Something curled low in her stomach.
"You're the only one I wake up searching for," he answered and it wasn't flirtiness that colored his voice. It was need, possession; just a hint of the depth of his feelings for her burned a fire under her skin. His face remained set, not backing down from the declaration. Breathing was a reflex she struggled to remember.
Her mouth dropped opened but she had no words, just blind panic. Times like this, she hated that she could never live in the moment. She hated that her mind was always five steps ahead, pulling information from three steps behind. It would be so easy to fall into this- to respond to his challenge with high stakes of her own, to give herself over to the primal feelings overrunning her system.
He wanted her. She knew that now. Clearly. In the elevator, though he hadn't said anything, his worry for her was tangible—he loved her, maybe. Cared for her, undoubtedly. And that was more than she'd gotten from him in awhile. Or maybe it had just been there all along and she was too scared to see it. This, though, this was as much as he'd ever given her. His feelings had been laid naked, bare, and she knew if she backed down now she'd never get this from him again.
She wanted to give into this moment. Wanted nothing more than to feel him surround her. She wanted to live in this night of comfort, just them, here and safe, neither of them alone or crumbling.
But her traitorous mind knew that tomorrow would come. And Dearing was still out there, and Gibbs would just know, and they had to work together every day and he was her partner, her best friend, and no. No, she could not make this mistake.
But he could.
He watched the war on her face. He timed her uneven breaths. Saw the panicked look in her eyes. He knew she was torn. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized this maybe wasn't the best time to lay it all out there. Maybe they shouldn't do this now. Maybe this was his worst idea ever. He understood her hesitation.
But, dammit, he'd nearly lost her again. And nothing right now seemed as important as showing her how goddamned much he cherished her. How much he needed her.
So he kissed her.
He didn't give her a chance to protest, not at first. He didn't want her to run from him. He leaned in, closing the small distance between them, and pressed his lips against hers. He gave her a moment to adjust, gave himself a moment to process, then he moved his lips ever so slightly against hers, tasting.
Her fingernails bit into his arms. He slid a hand down her neck and felt her pulse leap. He held her close as he pulled back just a little, just enough for them to breathe and her to stop him. But she didn't. She tipped her face up for more, leaning in so that she met him halfway this time as their mouths sealed together in a deeper kiss.
This. This was what he needed; this was what was missing. The ache inside of him eased for the first time all day.
It was always her, wasn't it?
Her body seemed to melt into his but their hands remained still, anchored. It was just their lips and tongues and mouths exploring and it was wonderful.
A phone rang, of course.
Ziva blinked as they separated, panting and confused. Her body was buzzing, on a high from having been so thoroughly kissed. She half-heartedly looked for the phone yet couldn't seem to really tear her eyes away from Tony's swollen lips.
A pleased grin lit up his face. His thumb traced her cheek. The phone kept ringing.
"Mine or yours?" Tony asked, his voice deliciously hoarse.
Ziva had to blink a few times before her thoughts cleared. "Mine," she croaked.
"You should probably get that, then," he teased, his eyes smug with the knowledge that she was the one who had to get up. Groaning in annoyance at either him or the situation in general, she swatted at his hands that tried to tease her into staying put.
"Behave," she warned, and fumbled her way off the couch.
She didn't even bother checking the caller ID. It was before dawn. It could only be Gibbs.
"David," she answered, relieved her voice sounded appropriately sleepy and not like she'd just been making out with her partner.
"Ziver. I need you at the hospital. McGee's been taken back into surgery."
"Okay," was all she could manage in response, her heart dropping to the floor. At her tone, Tony sat up.
"Find DiNozzo first. He's not answering his phone."
She nodded as he hung up. Her eyes leapt up to meet Tony's, her task already completed. Tony, crack investigator that he was, knew from her face the news wasn't good.
"Tim?" All playfulness was now gone. He stood up.
Ziva stuffed her phone into her pocket, folded her arms across her chest. "Taken back to surgery."
Tony nodded. He ran a hand through his disheveled hair. "Okay."
Ziva felt stuck, unsure of the next step to take. Her lips stung from Tony's kisses; she could taste him still. What was that? How could they go there when their friend and partner's life was in the balance in a hospital across town? And not just McGee, all of their other coworkers too?
Guilt churned her gut as she remembered her place in this waking nightmare. She ran a hand across her face, tried to rub away the sensations from just minutes before.
"Hey," Tony chided. In a few strides, he crossed the room and gathered her into his arms. They rarely hugged. Even cuddling felt more natural. But his strong arms folding her into his body were just the sensation she needed. "It'll be okay."
She didn't really believe him, but she squeezed him back just the same.
After two quick showers and changes of clothing, they found their way to the hospital.
Tony tugged at his shirt collar. It was too early to be wearing a suit today but over the years his suits had become something akin to tights and a cape for him. He felt like Special Agent DiNozzo when he was buttoned up and neatly pressed. Jeans and a t-shirt may have been more comfortable, but sometimes he just needed that extra layer of professionalism, his armor of sorts.
The hospital was eerily quiet; no one that didn't really need to be there at five in the morning was present. They had made it to the surgical floor waiting room and found that Abby and Gibbs were the only ones waiting.
"You found DiNozzo." Gibbs had a weepy Abby in his arms and though that image was rather sweet, his eyes took in their appearance with no shortage of suspicion.
Ziva refused to look guilty. "I picked him up on the way."
Gibbs' interrogative gaze switched over to Tony. Tony found himself caring so little about Gibbs' suspicion that he just shrugged. "I was sleeping when you called. I didn't hear my phone."
Seemingly satisfied with that, Gibbs went back to stroking Abby's arm. Ziva took the seat on the other side of their scientist. Abby immediately went for Ziva's hand.
Tony stood there awkwardly. Ziva's eyes were wide and imploring; clearly, she wanted him to sit next to her. But then there was Gibbs, still working over the current situation in his all too active mind. Tony was afraid if he got too close to his partner their recent activities would be projected plainly to the human lie detector. So he remained standing.
"How is McGee?" And there was his partner, having his back as always.
Gibbs' voice lost all its bastardly edge. "Still in surgery. They found more internal bleeding." He paused. "The docs seemed optimistic."
Abby gave a giant sniffle. No one asked any further about Tim's prognosis. It sure didn't sound good and since when did doctors ever sound optimistic?
"DiNozzo, how about some coffee?" Gibbs barked. Tony jumped to the task. It was something to do, at least.
Ziva waited a few minutes before making her escape. "I will go see if Tony needs help," she stated before extracting herself from Abby's iron grip. Gibbs merely raised an eyebrow at her as she left the waiting room; she didn't acknowledge it.
She found her partner leaning against the coffee machine, three cups lined up neatly on top. He was staring at the fourth cup as it brewed a strange coffee-like concoction from the machine.
He sensed her presence. He looked up at her just as she approached. She offered him a half-smile. "Need help?"
"Yeah. Thanks." His tone was clipped; the vibe that emanated from his body warned her back. Ziva's heart clenched. Tears clouded over her eyes. She hated this. Like they all hadn't dealt with enough these past few years, yet here they were, riding another roller coaster of emotions.
Ziva moved into Tony's personal space. She felt him tense up. Placing just a hand on his back, she waited for him to turn to her. He did, even as he projected that he clearly understood and resented her motives. Studying his face, she found his eyes alive and sparking—a whole story playing out in them, even as his face was stony. He wanted her to back off that much was clear. Well. That wasn't happening. He'd just pulled her back from the brink, held her and kissed her during her moments of weakness. It was her job, now, to pull him up from whatever dark place he was slipping into.
She touched his cheek and even that one point of contact seemed to soothe him. His eyes warmed to her. It was pity, maybe, and though she didn't want him feeling guilty for making her upset she also wasn't above playing off his need to protect her in order to save him from himself.
"Stay with me, Tony," she pleaded, mimicking his words from earlier. She needed him now. The team needed him now. "I need my partner on this."
For a half a second, he looked like he might break down and cry. But he fought against it, instead covering her hand with his and lowering it from his cheek. He twined their fingers together. Ziva stepped into his embrace.
There was a moment of confusion—his eyes flit down to her lips and she knew he wanted to kiss her. And she wanted him to kiss her, too. But was this what partner meant now? An extension of everything they were before but…. with kissing?
It wasn't the worst idea, she thought. In fact, as her heart sped up as he succumbed to temptation and leaned down to her, she thought it was a very, very good idea.
"Always," he promised, a mere breath dusting her lips before he captured her mouth. So much was given away in that small word. It sent Ziva reeling even before she registered the taste of him, the gentle caress of his lips against hers. It was a soft kiss, tentative. He barely moved his lips over hers before pulling away again.
She was left there with her eyes closed, too afraid to open them and see what came next.
"That okay?" He asked, sounding very much like a little boy.
A smile edged its way onto Ziva's face. She kept her eyes closed, but nodded. She felt the warmth of his grin in response. After a deep, cleansing breath, she opened her eyes and gave herself a shake, waking back up to reality. A flush crept up her cheeks. She wasn't sure why.
Tony's smile brightened. He looked like she had just promised him the world though she hadn't said a word. Here, surrounded by the threat of losing another loved one, in the aftermath of yet another unspeakable terror, they were finding each other. And it was strangely beautiful.
He looked down at her, expression fading to mere bewilderment. He tilted his head like he wasn't quite sure what to say or do next. She just shrugged at him. She didn't know either.
He jerked his head in the direction of the waiting room. "C'mon, we should probably…"
She took two of the cups of coffee and followed him back to reality with a sigh.
Late in the morning, Tim emerged from surgery and was moved to recovery. Tony and Ziva were allowed a quick visit, essentially a drugged-up and miserable hello from their teammate, before Gibbs ordered them off to the FBI where Fornell had been tasked with leading the investigation.
Gibbs disappeared into the bustling hospital, leaving his team annoyed but not surprised that they had been ditched by their boss.
It was evening when Fornell finally kicked them loose. They left reluctantly. Ziva followed Tony on autopilot, though she was the one with the car. The same lost feeling she'd had the night before set in—knowing that life still was not the same as it was the day before. And now that was true on a whole other level.
Tony stopped in front of her car, turned, and raised an eyebrow at her. "Takeout and a movie?"
Ziva raised her own eyes in response. It was a mundane request and seemed almost too easy. "Check in on McGee first?"
Tony shook his head. "Abby texted that he's on the good drugs and out for the night. She is going to stay there with him and call if anything happens."
Nodding, Ziva climbed into her car. She paused before starting it, weighing the choice she was about to make. Then, she turned to her partner. "Dinner and a movie sounds good."
Tony gave her his most animated smile in days.
The next three days were spent reviewing every piece of paper that had ever mentioned Harper Dearing, running down every person who had ever known Harper Dearing, and still coming up empty handed.
To call this a wild goose chase would not be out of line. Gibbs was working his own agenda, disappearing for hours at a time then reappearing with a full cup of coffee and ever-deepening creases on his face. Each and every time they saw their boss, this man who watched over them so diligently, he seemed to sink further and further into the depths of his own hell. Tony and Ziva found themselves getting more and more fed up with their lack of fruitful evidence and yet renewed in their mission to find that smoking gun, that itty bitty breadcrumb that would lead them to this monster, to answers, to salvation for NCIS, their team, and that haunted look on Gibbs' face.
They spent the three short nights tangled up together on Tony's couch, a classic movie lighting up his small living room. It became unspoken after the first formal invitation: Ziva grabbed the takeout; Tony grabbed the wine and movie. They then spent the next few hours nibbling on bits of greasy food from Styrofoam containers, sipping on red wine and losing themselves in the back and forth of Hepburn and Tracey. Once the eating slowed and the wine kicked in, their chuckles coming a little easier, Ziva would find herself wrapped in Tony's arms. She would become less interested in the movie, then, completely distracted by his scent and the tensing of his muscles as she found herself scooting into his lap. Their eyes would meet and it would be over: three movies Ziva had never seen the ending of because she was too lost in her partner's thorough kisses.
Strangely, despite spiking hormones and incredible heat, it never goes beyond the necking stage. Because just when Ziva thought she couldn't handle it any more, just when she was ready to tear his clothes off, he pulled back and looked at her and the sadness in his eyes stopped her cold.
She understood. There was always that moment for her, too, wondering how she could be so full of bliss when they were so otherwise broken.
Not now. Not yet.
"Just stay with me," he asked her every night. And how could she refuse him? She would pull his worn afghan over their entwined bodies and they'd fall asleep just like that.
They always stayed on the couch. Never in his bed.
"Got a lead on Dearing," Gibbs threw off at them as they made their way into the bullpen. (Yes, their bullpen, and though it remained broken and battered, it was healing at a fast rate.)
They hadn't even had time to take off their bags so they turned heel and followed their boss back to the elevator. Behind Gibbs' back, they shared a look: finally, yes, please let this be over now.
"Let's end this," Gibbs spoke, because of course he could read even their most furtive glances.
Hours later and it had yet to sink in that it really was over. Dearing was dead. The case had been handed off to Fornell to wrap up with a neat little bow. Life could presumably move on.
And move on it would, especially after Tony got his ass kicked in gin rummy by a convalescing probie.
"I don't think it's even your turn. Isn't it my turn?" Tony whined as McGee scooped up the cards he'd been waiting not so patiently for.
"Really, Tony? That's the argument you're going with?" McGee looked awfully smug for a man who'd just lost an apparently not so vital organ and was peeing through a tube.
"Stop being a sore sport, Tony," Ziva tutted. She looked alarmingly like his Nonna (a hotter, younger Israeli version, of course) tucked into to gliding chair in the corner of the room. Ziva was knitting. The initial surprise that she'd kept this skill hidden from her teammates for the past seven years had worn off quickly once they realized how utterly terrible she was at it. Sure, those metal needles clicked and flashed through the air at a terrifying rate but the product was what Abby had generously termed a crooked scarf.
"It's sore loser, Granny David," Tony corrected, wincing at having to call himself that. "Or poor sport."
Ziva shrugged. "Either way. Be nice to McGee. It is not his fault you are terrible at cards."
"I am not terrible at cards. I am terrible at gin rummy. I happen to be something of a card shark when it comes to real, manly games like poker or blackjack." He was sure to puff his chest out in a way Ziva should appreciate. She didn't seem to take his bait, though.
McGee rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, Kenny Rodgers."
The comeback Tony had formulated for Tim's remark, and it definitely had something to do with Tony knowing when to walk away and when to run, died on his tongue when he caught of sight the smoldering look on his other partner's face. His mouth went dry.
Right. Tonight was the first night they would have without Dearing looming over their heads. The first night they were certain that Tim was recovering and Ducky was healing and their lives were slowly returning to normal. His body temperature took a sudden climb.
"Okay, Agent McGee, it's time to change your bandages," a chipper nurse announced as she strode into the room. Tim winced.
"I believe that's our cue," Tony gave his friend a comforting pat on the shoulder, ignoring his grimace of pain. "Godspeed, Probie."
Ziva shoved her sad little blanket into her bag. "We will be back in the morning, McGee. Please let us know if we can bring anything."
"Abby?" McGee looked between them hopefully.
"I'm sure she'll be by in a little bit to tuck you in," Tony winked at Tim as he stood to leave.
"Abby? Oh, she's just delightful, Agent McGee," the nurse interjected as she pulled on some latex gloves with a snap. Tony did a quick back step out of her way. "Why don't you tell me some more about her? She's a…. physicist?"
Tony gave McGee a thumbs up as he backed out of the room, pulling Ziva with him. When he heard the unmistakable sound of medical tape being ripped from the roll, he moved double time.
They made their way back to Tony's car and it occurred to Ziva for the first time that she hadn't been back to her own car in days. In fact, she couldn't remember the last time she hadn't been by Tony's side other than to use the bathroom or shower. Strange.
And yet, she did not exactly crave her own space now.
"Dinner and a movie?" Tony tossed off as he fumbled for his keys, his usual question at the end of the day. The parking garage was bustling with hospital personnel getting off the day shift and families leaving their loved ones for the night. Tony was more focused on dodging a Lincoln backing slowly out of its parking space than on her reaction. For that, Ziva was glad. Because though they'd fallen into this pattern easily enough, tonight was different. And she wasn't sure if they should acknowledge that or not.
"Yes. Okay," she replied. But there was enough hesitation in her voice to catch Tony's attention. He stopped short of his car and turned to face her.
"If you'd rather not, then that's…. fine." Tony said cautiously. He was studying her now, trying to figure out why she might turn him down. What had started out as a casual request, a newly establish habit, had suddenly become something more and he was just realizing it again now. Tonight was their first night without Dearing. Right.
"No, I want to," she hurried to assure him. "It is just…"
But he wouldn't let her off the hook that easily and he was staring her down now with that expression he used on witnesses, the one that said I will wait forever, patiently, until you spill. "Just what, Ziva?"
But she wouldn't roll over that easily. "Things have obviously been different since the elevator." She couldn't say explosion. Not yet. "Between us, I mean."
"I've noticed," he smiled and the relaxed expression on his face just added fuel to her argument.
"Now that Dearing has been killed, perhaps…well, perhaps things will be different between us again. We obviously turned to each other for comfort and…"
He looked a little smug now, rather than concerned. It was like he felt completely confident in the outcome of this conversation and she hated it because she felt completely adrift. No, he was supposed to be freaked out too!
"It wasn't just comfort, Ziva. Not for me at least," he murmured. He took a few steps and somehow got her cornered between his car and his body. The fumes of the parking garage were starting to make her dizzy, or maybe it was the way she could feel the heat of his skin so close to hers, smell the slightly musky scent he produced after a long, stressful day.
"Nor for me," she admitted, surprised at how easily the words came. She was mesmerized by his lips now. She knew what they felt like devouring her mouth. She knew how delicately they could whisper across her skin. "What was it then?" There. She could put him on the spot, too.
He cradled her cheek in his hand. She leaned into his touch, amazed by the depth of feeling in his eyes. "Too many close calls. Too long I've waited or been too scared. I meant what I said in Somalia, Ziva. I want you in my life. And not just as my partner or my friend."
Ziva felt her eyes well up with tears. This was it. Finally, finally this was happening. This wasn't just them slipping up and seeking comfort. This wasn't going to go away. And as much as that terrified her, as much as her whole body was urging her to cut and run before they took this any further, it was impossible to look away from the tenderness in his expression. He wasn't scared. Or it didn't seem like it at least. He was willing to push forward and, dammit, she had never been able to resist following her partner into the fray.
"It is not going to be easy," she warned him, choking on her words a bit. Because could they really expect to just change a seven year relationship overnight?
"What between us has ever been easy?" He teased and the glint in his eye assured her that he'd thought this through, too. "It'll be worth it though."
"Yes," she grinned, a sudden lightness threatening to overcome her. She rose up on her tiptoes, securing her hands on his waist for balance and seeking out a promising kiss, "I think it will."
That night, after they had ordered in pizza and finished off a bottle of wine, they spent a good portion of The Philadelphia Story curled in each other's arms, touching and teasing. There was no kissing. Not until Jimmy Stewart went on his drunken ramble at least. By then they'd each grown sufficiently distracted, hot and bothered enough, so that when their eyes caught over a bit of witty dialogue they each took the opportunity to lean in and, within seconds, the movie was long forgotten.
"Maybe we should move this to the bedroom," Tony suggested, his voice a gravelly whisper, as he nibbled his way down her neck and danced fingers across her belly. Ziva, trying to maneuver Tony's shirt off without forcing him to stop working over her neck, agreed so whole-heartedly, she practically pushed Tony off of her body.
Tony stood up and grabbed her hand to help her follow. Such a winning smile spread across his face, so reminiscent of every time he'd gotten under her skin with a flirty remark or dirty innuendo, that she couldn't help but giggle.
"This is finally happening, isn't it?" She asked letting him pull her along behind him in his eagerness to make it to his bed.
He stopped in his tracks and turned to her with a worried look on his face. "Too fast?"
She laughed again. "After seven years? If we do not do this now, then I am going home and doing it by myself." Tony's eyebrows raised, intrigued. She gave his stomach a pat as she slithered past his body. "And Tony? I would much rather you…do me." She bit back a grin as Tony gulped. He was so easy to play sometimes. It never got old. To underline her point, she shimmied out of her blouse and tossed it at his head. He remained still, watching her disappear into his room.
"You coming, DiNozzo?" She peeked back out, hitting him with her sultriest look.
"Oh yeah," he grinned, hurrying after her.
"If we're going to just sit here all day…" Tony turned to Ziva and waggled his eyebrows. She didn't need to see beyond his sunglasses to tell he was leering at her. They were sitting in the hospital parking lot, trying to bring themselves to go visit McGee. They were already late but neither seemed motivated to leave the car.
She laughed, though her laugh left no mystery as to how ridiculous his request was. "No. Tony. No."
Reaching across the gearshift, he found her hand. He toyed playfully with her fingers. "It's just that we don't seem to be going anywhere…" He scanned the parking lot. "And no one else seems to be around, really."
"Stop," she giggled, enjoying the relaxed set of his shoulders. He hadn't even bothered to wear a tie today. Damn him. She appreciated all too well when he left the top few buttons of his shirt undone. And now that she knew what the hollow of his throat tasted like…
"Seriously, Ziva," Tony pulled his glasses down his nose a bit so he could study her. "What's the hold up?"
Retrieving her hand from his grasp, she gave him an exaggerated look. "I am waiting for you to act normally."
He blinked at her. "I…" He made a face. "I…I, wow, you are just going to set that joke for me? Make me be the one to spike it?"
With a wide-eyed shrug, Ziva remained silent.
He rolled his eyes. "Well, har har, I think you might have to wait forever then."
"That is not what I meant," she scrunched her face, exasperated. "But, yes, you are correct."
"What did you mean then, sweetcheeks?" He pushed his glasses back up his nose.
"That. Sweetcheeks," she twisted her lips. "And all the smiling and the strutting."
"Strutting?" Tony beamed.
"Yes, Tony," she continued quickly. "Gibbs is going to take one look at you. No, McGee is going to take one look at you and know."
Tony's glee could hardly be contained within the car. "That we spent last night doing dirty, dirty things to each other?"
Pointing a finger at her partner, Ziva narrowed her eyes. "See! This is what I mean!"
"I can't help it, Ziva David. I am a very satisfied man," Tony stuck his nose up in the air. Ziva couldn't help but chuckle. He turned his gaze to her, playful grin in place. "And you, baby, you're positively glowing."
Making a noise of exasperation, Ziva allowed that to be her breaking point for actually getting out of the car. She slammed the door on whatever comment Tony tried to make next to punctuate her point.
Tony had the good sense to realize he may have gone too far. He caught up to her easily, shoving his car keys in his pocket so he could grab her waist. She let him, turning into his touch.
"Sorry, Ziva," he promised as his thumbs traced circles on her hips. "I swear, I will not make any inappropriate comments once we get inside."
"Somehow I doubt that," she teased, patting his cheek gently.
"It is just that I am very happy today," he pulled her a bit closer. She rewarded him with an approving look.
"I have noticed," she purred. She made a fuss of adjusting his shirt collar. If her fingers lingered on his skin, well, then that was just a bonus.
"Aren't you happy too?" And he meant it to be good-humored, but there was an edge of insecurity in his voice that made Ziva feel a little bad for being hard on him.
She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts, and waited until he was focused completely on her. "Yes, Tony. I am very happy."
He couldn't hide his relief. "Good." He leaned in to kiss her but she stopped him with a finger to his lips.
"I am very happy, Tony. I do not think I have felt this giddy since I was…" She thought back. "Well, maybe not ever."
He grinned under her touch, flattered.
"But I still feel…" She paused, assessing her emotions. "Guilty, I suppose. That we have this when others have…" She chewed her lip, her stomach knotting up. "McGee and Ducky are both still in the hospital!" She dropped her hand.
Tony gently moved some hair out of her face. "I know. I feel that too. I'm just choosing to focus on the more positive aspects of the past few days."
"Yes," Ziva agreed. She tried to work past her conflicting emotions. Remembering what it felt like earlier that week when she the world fell apart around her, when all she had to grab onto was Tony's body and she'd worried that maybe she would never get the chance to tell him what he really meant to her.
Tony seemed to read her mind. He ran his fingers lightly up her arms. She liked that he couldn't seem to stop touching her now. "Can we agree that maybe something good finally came out of tragedy for once?"
She considered this. She let her eyes take in her partner. His affection for her was so plain on his face. It warmed her all over. She let out a shaking breath, thinking how easily this moment could have passed them by. Just another close call, another missed opportunity.
"Yes," she nodded.
"Because I am glad we took this step, Ziva," he said, careful that she was tracking his gaze.
"Me too," she smiled, surprised at the sudden wetness in her eyes. "We will figure this out together."
Tony's eyes twinkled as he sealed that promise with a quick kiss. "Together."
Pulling back, Ziva took a moment to swipe at her eyes before turning toward the hospital entrance. She swiveled back to Tony, hand upturned. "Ready?"
With a wink, he threaded his fingers through hers. "Ready."
Giving his hand a quick squeeze, Ziva led him on their way. They fell into step together, in tune as always. Maybe McGee or Gibbs would figure them out; maybe they would be able to keep this under wraps for now. It didn't really matter. They'd face that fallout, too. All that mattered was that they were here, together, and moving forward.