Tony walked into the squad room twenty minutes early. He'd made a habit of coming in early the past few days. If he got to work twenty minutes early, it meant he had forty minutes in the office to get something done before her lateness became vividly noticeable. He knew she wasn't coming, but it helped to think she could be. It was one of many tricks he was employing to get through her absence. After twenty-five past the hour, he spent the rest of the day sitting at his computer, typing reports and not staring at her empty desk. That was another of his tricks – it was always her or she, never…always her or she.
He draped his coat over the back of his chair and settled in for a long day of paperwork. The Neal case had provided quite the exercise routine for his fingers. Of course, he had to do half of it instead of just a third because…his typing needed work.
He'd opened a fresh Word document and typed a header when he saw someone coming from the elevator. "Morning, McGee."
Instead of passing to his own desk, McGee planted himself in front of Tony's. "Why'd you lie?"
"About what?" He didn't make eye contact.
"You haven't visited Ziva yet."
He winced. McGee didn't follow the her/she rule. "Yes I have."
"Since she's been conscious?"
"I never said I had." He slipped a finger under the chain around his neck. It was slightly too small to be comfortable normally, but now it felt like it was shrinking. "I said I'd been to the hospital a couple times."
"Yeah, well I stopped by yesterday and she asked me to give you this." McGee dropped a piece of paper folded into quarters on the desk in front of Tony.
He handled it by a corner, holding it away from his body as if it were diseased. His name was on it in her handwriting. "You read this, Probie?"
"No, but I think I know what it says."
"She'll shoot you if you don't visit her." He paused and looked seriously at Tony. "She doesn't blame you."
"Yeah." He slowly unfolded and read the note, ignoring McGee's look of interested curiosity.
This wasn't your fault. I do want to see you, so if you are going to visit me, visit me. Jerk.
P.S. Thank you for the flowers.
He began to laugh but made the mistake of looking up and seeing the empty desk across from him. He refolded the note and patted McGee on the shoulder. "Tell Gibbs I'm…"
"Tell me what, DiNozzo?" Gibbs had been bringing coffee for all three of them over the past week. He was holding a cardboard tray containing three coffee cups again today, his thumb hooked into the one vacant holder. Even the coffee tray knew she wasn't there.
Tony pulled his coat on sheepishly. "That I was just gonna run down to the hospital, boss."
"You feeling all right?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, I was just gonna…the thing is I haven't actually…well, I just got this note and…"
"Go, Tony. If you avoid her any longer she really will stab you."
"Funny. McGee said shoot me."
"I brought her a get well knife, not a gun."
"I'll remember that. Thanks, boss." He almost knocked Abby over in his rush to get to the elevator. "Sorry, Abs."
She continued on to the bullpen, glancing back over her shoulder. "Glad I could make a cameo in your day. Where's Tony off to?"
"The hospital," Gibbs replied, sitting at his desk.
"Thank God. He was gonna go nuts if he didn't see her soon."
"Wait, you guys knew he was lying about visiting Ziva?"
"Duh, McGee." Abby shook her head. "And you call yourself an investigator."
The nurse in the white turtleneck was wearing a blue turtleneck today. She recognized Tony immediately as he walked up to the nurses' station. "She'll be glad to see you decided to come back."
"Yeah, I hope so. Listen, I just wanted to thank you, for…well, with the flowers."
"Not a problem." She winked and smiled. The smile he gave her this time was genuine.
There was a lightness in his steps down the hospital corridor. She'd asked him to come. She wanted him to come. The door was slightly ajar, but he stopped just as he was about to push it open. Someone was already in the room. A man. Tony could hear him conversing with Ziva in Hebrew. The conversation, despite being in a foreign language, sounded serious. He crossed the hallway and leaned against the wall, waiting. He passed the time by rereading her note.
The door finally opened and a silver-haired man in a suit stepped into the hall. He observed Tony with a look of recognition, but said nothing, walking toward the elevators with a very business-like stride.
Tony took a deep breath and took the three steps necessary to get to her door. The man who had just departed had left it open. She looked up as he entered. Her eyes sparkled and the corners of her mouth curled upward into the first stage of his favorite smile. "Tony." The smile gradually spread over her whole face, making him wonder why he'd been making excuses not to see her.
He returned her smile with one of his own. "Hey." He remained in the doorway, unsure of what to do next. He pointed over his shoulder. "I was waiting in the hall. Was that…?"
"Officer Bashan. He's assigned to the Israeli Embassy here in Washington."
"Oh, I thought it might be…"
"Hardly. Though he did take the time out of his busy schedule to send his regards. Or so Michael told me."
"Ziva, I'm sure…"
"Look, I can appreciate that you're trying to be evasive, but talking about my father is not the way to go about it."
He moved to the chair by the side of her bed, noting that the flowers he'd left with the nurse the previous day were the ones situated closest to the bed. "I should have come sooner."
"You did come. You should have actually come in." Her voice was slightly hoarse, giving it a seductive quality that he was almost sure she didn't intend. Not at the moment anyway.
"I take it you're feeling better."
"A little. They're threatening to keep me here for another week and I've yet to threaten back with violence."
He sighed and leaned forward, taking her hand in both of his. "I'm sorry. For everything."
"Everything? I only want an apology for you ignoring me while I'm in the hospital."
"There's that, and…"
"No. No and. It could just as easily have been you."
He looked into her eyes and saw none of the accusations he had feared. "Okay."
"Okay." She held onto one of his hands as he tried to pull it away. "Are you wearing my necklace?"
He turned up his collar to hide the gold chain, mumbling, "I just didn't want to, uh, lose it or anything. You can have it back." He fumbled for the clasp, one-handed.
She smiled again. "Hang onto it until I get out of here."
"I can do that." They lapsed into silence. He'd forgotten how he didn't always have to have something to say around her. His thumb idly stroked the back of her hand.
The nurse in the blue turtleneck came into the room a few minutes later, breaking the comfortable stillness. She placed two clear cups containing small, jiggling red squares on the table, along with two plastic spoons. "Don't tell my supervisor I snuck you a Jell-O," she stage-whispered to Tony. She quietly closed the door on her way out.
Ziva let go of his hand as she picked up one of the cups and a spoon. Tony took the other cup and shook it to see the cubes bounce against each other. "I didn't know you were such a Jell-O fan."
"It's one of the few things they're giving me that's supposed to be squishy. Why the cooks think I'll want a chicken cacciatore paste is far from me."
"Beyond you?" he corrected. He'd thought it would take longer to drop into their normal habits. He was glad it hadn't.
"That too. All I have to say is mark your calendar for the day the doctors say I can eat solid food, because that's the day you're buying me lunch." She wiped her chin to catch a bit of Jell-O that had dripped from her spoon.
He grinned. "It's a date."
A/n: Thanks, as always, to all readers and reviewers. Sequel in the works.