Ziva waved her hand and said bye to Gibbs, who returned the gesture with a tired smile, then she left the bull pen in silence, her line of thoughts lost somewhere between musings and unwanted torments.
She would go home and probably skip dinner again, maybe have some coffee, and spend the time away by cleaning her guns.
She imagined Ducky having one of his priceless dinners with his mother, Gibbs arguing with director Sheppard in their own friendly way, Abby and McGee sprawled on a couch with a huge bowl of popcorn in front of some weird horror movie, and…
No, she didn't want to think about anyone else. She already felt lonely enough. She sped up her pace and hurried down the stairs.
When she walked out of the building, bag on her shoulder, she was rather surprised to see Tony, leant back against her car, parked right beside a large wall-wide window, hands in his pockets, his gaze fixed on the black starry sky. A cool breeze blew on her face as she furrowed her brows and walked toward him, several questions rising in her mind.
What the hell-?
It was past nine, and he usually was already in a very precise place at this time. She had always had the impression nothing in the world would ever make him miss that recurring appointment, and it was clear something was wrong if he was still here.
What she couldn't quite figure was why he definitely seemed to be waiting for her.
As soon as he sensed her presence, he lowered his look on her and sketched a smile. Ziva stopped a few inches from him and folded her planted her hands on her hips, raising a brow questioningly.
Tony pursed his lips, his head dropping as he shrugged with nonchalance. She smiled back.
They had developed this peculiar skill to communicate by expressions, much to Gibbs's and McGee's scorn, but she could see there was more to his odd awkward attitude than he cared to show. Besides, Ziva knew there weren't many things that scared him more than finding himself in proximity of herself and a car, and that was pretty alarming.
"Why do I have the feeling this is going to be a very long conversation?" she asked, before he could let anything out of his open mouth.
Tony made to speak, but she interrupted him again.
"It's Friday night," she said. "Shouldn't you be sitting in some fancy restaurant with..." she folded her arms across her chest. "Jeanne, right?"
Tony froze for a split second, but a smirk replaced his momentarily interdiction.
"You've been spying on me or something?"
"The calls between you and your pretty brunette are not exactly discreet, you know." She replies. "And it's not only about restaurants. I've overheard about roses, strawberries and whipped cream, romantic effusions" she counted each item on her fingers. "And a long series of things that I wouldn't want a colleague to hear."
"I'm not here to be provoked, puppyeyes." He stated.
Ziva looked him in the eye in anticipation, her head lightly reclined.
Why are you here then?
"I kinda need you to move from there, if you don't mind."
He glanced at the car behind him and then back at her, with a mild expression she found a little unnatural.
"I actually hoped you had a minute to… Talk."
"Talk about what?" she questioned in a hasty tone. Not that she did mind he wasn't making himself ridiculous by spitting out sickly sweet clichés to that stupid Jeanne, but she had always been under the conviction that the verb talk was not included in his vocabulary.
"The pretty brunette."
Completely taken aback, Ziva blinked at him blankly. What on earth made him assume she was even remotely willing to talk about his damn girlfriend?
His look was weird, impressively close to supplicant, but Ziva didn't have any pity to waste for him, not if it was about Jeanne.
Leave me alone, please.
"I'm very tired, Tony." She took the keys from her bag and opened the car.
She made to push him aside, but he grabbed her wrist and forced her to step backwards. The glare she gave him was deadly piercing.
Sweet and delicate as she might seem, Ziva was not the kind of girl you could toy with. Like McGee would say, nothing was more dangerous than Ziva, except a pissed Ziva. And, unluckily for Tony, anything involving Jeanne and her relationship with him annoyed her to a point that defining her pissed would be a huge understatement.
She shot him a fierce glare, writhing brusquely.
"Tony, I really want to go home, and would appreciate some cooperation from you." she snapped, gesturing impatiently toward her Mini. Tony stood motionless for a moment, then nodded and yieldingly moved to let her reach the driver's door.
"Thanks." She said dryly. She was about to get into the car when he spoke again, his arm barring her access.
"Just a sandwich, or a coffee," She did not turn to him. "Or anything you want." He made a short pause as she hesitated, hand on the open door. "Okay, just listen to what I have to say, then, and I'll let you go."
With a sigh, Ziva finally decided to concede him her attention.
"Fine," she agreed flatly. "But be quick, please."
On one hand, she had to admit she was curious to find out what was so urgent to make him neglect his precious girl. On the other hand, her heart was already sore enough without having to bear some I-love-her-and-really-hope-you-can-be-happy-for-us drill.
Tony studied her, as if trying to understand what she was thinking, but Ziva was as cold as ice, and too good for him to penetrate her security walls.
"A few days ago" he began after a long while. "I told Jeanne I loved her."
Ziva swallowed, taking the blow as stoically as she could. The effort, however, was nearly vain, at least for what concerned her emotional state.
"Well, congratulations." She tried to smile, but her features were like frozen. "I'd like to meet her, one day." She said, unable to leave her voice untainted by a faint touch of sadness. "She must be very special, if she had Antony DiNozzo fall for her."
Tony let out a small laugh, which sounded more like a prolonged sob. When his eyes set on her, Ziva understood she had probably hit a delicate spot.
"Make yourself clear, Zee-vah." He said brightly, jumping up to sit on the low wall behind the car. "You want to meet the woman I fell for… Or Jeanne?"
Ziva frowned. She eyed him in the milky light of the streetlamp, analysing his behaviour. His head was dropped to his chest, his shoulders curved. Sadness. His legs swinging casually back and forth, his fingers firmly gripped at the edge of the wall. Nervousness. But then he glanced up, and smiled, and her instinct did not detect any lie.
"You just said you told Jeanne you loved her."
"I know," he quietly cut in, and shrugged. "That is why I know I don't."
No matter how deep she knew Tony, Ziva would never stop being surprised by him.
"That doesn't make any sense."
Tony arched his brows sceptically.
"Doesn't it, puppyeyes?" He chuckled. "How many times have you told someone you actually loved that you did?"
Ziva opened her mouth to speak, but closed it immediately. He was right.
She had been taught that love was a dangerous feeling, because it could be used against you any time, and she had always done her best to not fall in the trap. Love made weak and frail, she knew, and she was too prideful to admit, even only to herself, that she had become weak and frail.
"Never." She murmured, still wondering what was the point of the whole situation, which, in fact, appeared to be rather pointless.
Tony nodded knowingly, hinting her to go and sit next to him. Ziva did not move from her spot.
"Why are you telling me this?" she asked suspiciously.
"Cause I thought you'd want to know." He answered, as though it was obvious. "I left her last night."
Ziva was too confused and too relieved at the same time to be able to formulate anything. At least that explained why he hadn't been fantasising about his date all the day. For some reason, though, that wasn't a consolation to Ziva. To be honest, she felt a little used.
He had time for her, now that he didn't have a girlfriend anymore. Of course, it wasn't like she cared. She had just been worried for him for long weeks before finding out he was actually dating some young doctor, or something like that, and it had stung to learn she had basically been concerned while he was having the time of his life with her.
She had been seriously afraid for him, but he would never find out.
"I thought the two of you were getting along pretty well." She said, not even caring to show the slightest hint of concern.
Tony's face became serious all of a sudden. He gave her a deep look, the corners of his mouth curled up.
"Getting along doesn't make two people a couple." He remarked. "I liked her, that is true," he jumped off the wall and walked in front of Ziva. "But one day I woke up next to her and realised I felt… Absolutely nothing." He leant toward her, as though he was about to confide her a secret, a half smirk on his mouth. "You know, I usually leave my girlfriends before things get too deep, you know, I'm a little allergic to this kind of commitment… It's the first time I break up with one because of the opposite reason."
Ziva just listened speechless. Unbelievable as it was, it was the first time Tony was talking to her about his love life in that solemn tone. She should have been glad of that, since she had started thinking he only considered her an object of fun and nothing more, but she wasn't at all.
There was the second part of the story she was still waiting for, the final stroke. She was starting smelling the motive of this talk. She knew Tony, he was good guy, and he was doing that because he didn't want her to suffer, but truth was that it was a little too late.
He liked women more than anything else in the world. She only had to resign to the fact she did not seem to be included in the list.
Weak and frail. He made her all she never wanted to be. After all it was better this way.
"You did it for the other girl," she reasoned, a dull expression on her pale face. "The one you won't tell you love her."
He narrowed his eyes into a mischievous smile.
"Yeah, that would never happen."
Ziva froze dead in her tracks as flashes of her conversation with him in the elevator, just a couple of days ago, came back to her mind.
"Where's he getting that? I mean, the hidden struggle between who he is and what he's becoming… I don't even know what that is."
"Would never happen."
According to his grin, Tony had evidently intercepted her thoughts. A faint pink hue tinted her cheeks while she desperately – and definitely unsuccessfully – struggled to keep such thoughts out of her head.
"You wanted to meet the girl I fell for?" Tony said in his warm, profound voice. Ziva's heart pounded. "Here she is."
He stepped aside, and for an instant she felt pretty bewildered, but then she looked up, and met her own reflection in the large window of the building.
"It's you my one and only pretty brunette." He muttered. Ziva's eyes widened.
She was standing there motionless, staring at herself in astonishment. Those thoughts she had tried to suppress were now crowding her mind, causing her an odd, pleasing lightheadedness.
She saw Tony sidle behind her in the reflection and place his hands on her shoulders. His smile had become – surprisingly enough – quite shy and unsure.
"You really set me up, didn't you?" he whispered. "I spent months and months with you, and I couldn't leave you, even when I sensed something was changing… I couldn't help letting it happen. Very smart of you, I have to admit it."
She turned around stiffly, still not completely aware of what was going on. There were too many upsetting news she was trying to deal with, she could barely realise how close they were to each other.
"Cat got your tongue, David?" he asked playfully. "Or maybe I can have it?"
Blushing more intensely, Ziva swatted his arm.
"Shut up!" she laughed. But Tony was not in a laughing mood. He regarded her closely, his smile faded but not gone.
The sky had blackened above them. A gentle rain had started falling, but all Ziva could see and feel was him, wondering if she had just imagined everything.
"What do you say, puppyeyes?" he softly stroked her cheek with the back of his hand. "Can we make this work?"
She bit her lower lip, stifling a smile. Despite all his priors and his reputation, she felt she could trust him.
"This is the point when you say 'Yes Tony, of course!'…" he quipped. "Cause it's a little too late for me to rewind and say 'Nah, I've never really wanted her'."
Maybe it was crazy, but she would give him this chance. In the end, she had been waiting for this moment for a long time, too long to let it slip away, now.
"Will you stop calling me puppyeyes?"
"Sure, pup-" he bit his tongue, making her shake her head with a low giggle. "Er, whatever you want."
A full smile now shone on her face she was starting getting soaked, and so was he, and the temperature was not exactly warm.
"It's pretty cold out here, isn't it?" she noted, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Is that an invitation to make you warm?" he said hopefully, spreading his arms, but she stepped back with a defiant pout.
"Slow down, Tony," she lifted a hand to keep him. "I didn't say I agree."
"You didn't say you don't, either."
She huffed at his smug teasing and held him by the arm, leading him to her car.
"You know what? I think I'm getting hungry..."
"Hungry?" Tony beamed down at her, satisfied. "My place or yours?"
Ziva's fingers pressed on a nerve in his arm and he let out an exclamation of pain.
"Ouch! What was that for?"
"Just a warning," she said allusively. "In case you forget who I am while I make you my delicious spaghetti."
"Can I stare at your butt while you do that?"
Ziva rolled her eyes, unable to help a grin. He would never change, but, all in all, that was why she loved him.
But I'm not going to tell him any soon.
"Sounds fine to me." She said getting inside the car.
Tony lingered before her, rubbing his chin uneasily.
"Are you… Are you driving?"
"Of course I am," she confirmed. "Any second thought, my Italian stallion?"
As he sat down on her side, Ziva watched him fasten the seatbelt, flaunting a boldness that never on earth she would buy. She observed him fondly, until he noticed.
She jiggled her head
"Nothing." She answered, starting the engine. "I just think… You know, McGee was right, after all."
"Right about what?"
"About Tommy and Lisa." She said with a tiny smile. "About us."
Tony returned the smile with a sweet expression, and Ziva, all of a sudden, felt it was all true. It was happening for real, not just in the pages of a book that had let her dream.
"He was wrong about one thing, though." He mused, leaning forward.
"What is that?"
"Tommy would never take advantage of a broken hearted girl." He declared seriously.
Ziva grabbed his chin between two fingers and dragged him down.
"But the broken hearted girl would definitely take advantage of Tommy." She dropped one kiss on his cheek, intentionally leaving him stoned, and pulled away. "When he less expects it."
And with an evil smirk she pressed the accelerator, enjoying his puzzled reaction.
She would let him suffer a bit more, just the time to get at home, then, and only then, she would let his wish – and her own – become true.
And then we'll see.