The club was smoky and noisy, crowded to a point Ziva didn't think could be humanly possible. Seeking around for a known face, she overrode a couple of spilled drinks forsaken on the linoleum floor and zigzagged through the people dancing everywhere. The loud rocking music pounded against her eardrums, insinuating into her mildly aching head. It was with a wave of relief that she finally spotted Tony, comfortably ensconced at the counter, deliberately hitting on a grossly dressed platinum blonde who, according to her unnaturally swollen lips and breasts, must have contained more plastic than a doll.
Figures. What did I expect? To find him waiting faithfully for me by the entrance?
A lopsided smirk crumpled her lips a she scrambled toward him like a kid in a candy shop. Wreaking havoc was her speciality.
She tapped his shoulder with a vicious expression, earning a threatening glare from the blonde. When Tony turned around, his eyes widened lightly in surprise.
"Zee-vah!" He grabbed her and put his arm around her shoulder. "May I introduce you Caroline?" He winked at the woman. "Caroline, this is my partner, Ziva. Partner on the job, not girlfriend."
Ziva wrenched his hand off her shoulder and glowered at him, smelling several glasses of scotch in his breath. She heard Caroline mutter something through her artificially turgid mouth, which she didn't bother to return.
"Alright, loverboy, let's get you out of here." She firmly gripped him by his arm and dragged him off the stool he was sitting on, under the blinking eyes of a rather baffled Caroline.
"Where do you think you're taking him, girlie?" the woman snapped, pushing out all her already noticeable chest. Her voice was unpleasantly rough, probably due to the millions of cigarettes she must have smoked to get such a charming yellowish dentition.
I swear I'll never understand his tastes in women.
"Get lost, honey, I'm sure you'll find another asshole in less than a heartbeat." Ziva grunted, trying to keep Tony standing. He simpered, sipping his drink in perfect calm, and leant his head on Ziva's, nuzzling his face in her hair.
"You smell of flowers, you know?"
Ziva groaned impatiently and slapped his head, then dragged him away from the counter. Tony brandished the glass toward the blonde and excused himself with a picturesque, clumsy toast, dripping Margarita all over Ziva's shirt.
She cursed under her breath, squirting with Tony out of the doors.
Dare call me again because of your damn faulty car and you'll learn the real meaning of the term 'regret'.
As soon as they were out, Tony untangled himself from her and smoothed his jacket, blatantly draining the glass he was still holding.
"Thank you for ruining my sapient work of seduction, Daa-veed." He told her, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, fingering her. "You owe me one."
They started walking down the deserted street, leaving behind the chaos of the club. "Because of you my plans went up in smoke."
Ziva rose a brow, shaken by a loud scoffing laugh.
"If that is your ideal woman for a one night stand, you should consider buying one of those inflammable sex dolls. It'd be definitely better and less plastic than Caroline."
"I guess you mean inflatable dolls," he intervened, collapsing onto a bench. "Stuff that only a loser would buy. I don't need such thing, I have this." He patted his face with a dazzling grin. "Pity you kicked me out of there before she could give me her number."
"Hey, you called me!" she pointed out defensively, sitting down on the backrest next to him. "I wouldn't be here if you hadn't begged me to come and pick you up."
"You have to pay off this extremely grave deficiency, however. By your own means, obviously."
Ziva swatted his arm, her eyes rolling in exasperation as she swore to herself never again she would answer a call from him at that time.
"We tried, remember? It didn't work out."
Tony's perkiness subsided impressively quickly, much to Ziva's relief, but deep inside she felt she had touched an uncovered nerve. For him, of course, but for herself as well.
She turned away from him, staring down at the ground.
It used to be so easy…
A deep, uneasy silence fell upon them as a light unknown scent wafted around, carried by the fresh breeze of the night. The sky overhead was clear and limpid, tickled by the last few pale bronze sunbeams drowning in the horizon.
She heard him exhale, his fingers drumming against the solid wood they were sitting on. She couldn't help wondering what he was thinking, what he had always thought about what there had been between them. She wondered if and how different things could have been if she had actually known.
"I never meant to hurt you, you know that." He said, sounding quite discomfited. Ziva leant forward and rested her elbows on her knees, listening to the stillness around them.
"Whether you meant it or not, you did it anyway."
It had been a quick and rather easy break up, which had left them relatively unharmed, not counting the still open wound she bore in her heart. Irrelevant as it obviously had been to him, their relationship had been a peer into happiness to her, and when she had seen it crumble down right before her eyes, the whole world had seemed to crumble down, too. Yet, weeks after the break up, sharing an umbrella with him to a crime scene, she had been surprised to discover she had forgiven him.
How stupid and naïve a woman in love can be?
"I'm not justifying myself, Ziva," he muttered seriously. "I know what I did was unforgivable. I just wish I never did it." He took the risk of casting her a cursory yet intent glance. She responded with a faint smile tainted by shades of nostalgia and melancholy. Out of nowhere, she heard her own voice utter something she didn't even know she thought.
"I loved you."
After an instant of astonishment Tony dropped his head and nodded gravely, lips pursed thoughtfully, eyes closed.
Why did you do that, then?
They hadn't talked about it since the day she had found on his shirt the cheap perfume of their former next door neighbour, a young and very attractive university student who had never cared to hide a certain interest toward him.
With later wisdom, Ziva had realised she would never manage to turn a reckless playboy into a faithful monogamist out of thin air.
"Aren't you going to say you loved me too?" It was a silly question, she was aware of that. She only wanted to see how far they had gone, before he screwed everything.
How much we have lost.
"I've stopped telling lies." He answered after a brief pause. By his slack tone and sad expression, she knew he wasn't being ruthless, but just honest. "The last time I did it cost me too much."
She laughed low in her throat at this unusual unnerved attitude of his, and also at the funny memory he had just prompted into her mind.
"It was just a stupid Armani hat."
Tony eyed her ruefully.
"I was talking about you."
Ziva spun her head in his direction, her mouth agape in daze. She could read sincere regretfulness in his gaze, but she was too disillusioned, by now, to melt at his feet in front of a puppy-like look like that.
"I'm not as overcredulous as you think, Tony. I knew all along you would never love someone like me." She conceded herself an elvish smirk. "But sex was just great, wasn't it?"
Contrarily than he would have normally done, Tony not only did not take the provocation, but completely ignored it.
"Someone… like you?"
She shrugged, a discomforted feeling sneaking inside her.
"A girl with bowls."
"Whatever." Albeit her voice was perfectly straight, her eyes shimmered under the yellow light of the streetlamps. "You're the type of man who likes charming ladies in need of protection, not ass-kicking Mossad agents who sleep with a gun under their pillow."
"You know what they say about ass-kickers: they… Well, kick ass."
"Kicking asses is good," agreed Ziva, a wounded expression shadowing her features. "Until it scares your boyfriend off into the arms of a blue-eyed pretty princess." She eyed him meaningfully, bitterly stretching her lips sideways. "It takes more than a vagina to be a woman to a man's eyes. I was blinded by my own expectations, I realised it too late."
"That your eyes could not fully perceive me as a woman, because I was introduced to you as an equal. As a man."
Their looks locked together. With a shiver, Ziva felt they had never been so emotionally open and available to each other.
Why did it take us to fall apart to end up so close?
Tony was looking at her attentively, showing a sweetness she had long not found in his eyes.
"Trust me," he said. "My eyes fully perceived – and downright appreciated – every single womanly inch of your body."
"And yet you still felt the untamable urge to seek for more womanly teeth to sleep on." She intercepted his questioning look. "Tits, I meant."
Smirking in disbelief, Tony rubbed his bottom lip between his forefinger and thumb, as if searching for the right words.
"I was furious about that damn row we'd had. I… Just wasn't rational." He swirled the remnants of the Margarita in the bottom of the glass. "I wanted to get my revenge on you and I did the most stupid thing I could without thinking about the consequences. Fine, I ruined everything. I said I'm sorry, what else do you want from me?"
The anger and rancour Ziva had buried deep inside her soul for so long were slowly but steadily relenting in front of his humble frankness. Staring into his strained eyes, she couldn't help feeling for him.
"You didn't say that." she said after a short while.
"You didn't say you're sorry, Tony." She stated, not letting on the effort she was making in keeping old surfacing feelings at bay. "I've actually never heard such thing from you, not addressed to me."
Tony looked like she had just slapped him. He carefully leant onward and his hand faltered to hers, where it went to lie warily.
"I'm sorry." He murmured contritely. "I'm sorry for having hurt you, I'm sorry for everything wrong I've done… I'm sorry for not having said I'm sorry before. You can't imagine how I regret it, now."
Ziva let out a tart gibe and morosely plucked his hand off hers, causing him to sigh in disappointment and frustration.
As if, Tony… As if.
"You regret having slept with that Holly chick or having let things between us die without even bothering to try and save something?" She was quiet, but her cheeks felt like on fire.
Tony addressed her an unfazed glance, and for a fleeting moment Ziva had the impression his eyes were watery. But then she reminded herself there was no such thing as tears for him.
"What should I have done? I was guilty, you had the right to be mad. I divided us..."
"And you could have kept us together."
He gaped at her, transfixed.
Ziva bit her lower lip, trying to swallow her rising need to bury herself in his arms and just weep, rocked by his heartbeat. But she couldn't, because that would mean admitting he still had the power to hurt her. Lost in the depth of the moment, she almost didn't notice the two teardrops trickling down her face, dying on her neck.
"Yes, you could." She sniffled lightly, tugging at the hem of her sleeve. "I've been waiting for you to come back ever since you walked out of the door. I hoped sooner or later you'd realise it would have taken more than a stupid mistake to kill off what I felt for you."
Tony shifted closer to her and brushed her hair behind her ear. He observed her for long, she could feel his look weighting upon her, then she felt the warmth of his hand come into contact with her skin. He gently stroked her cheek and made her raise her head, his thumb wiping the trail of her tears.
"Are you still waiting?"
Do you still care?
"You tell me." she replied curtly.
He studied her face as though he was seeing her for the first time. She felt him grope down the stronghold of her soul through her eyes, to dive in her tears and dig up emotions she had sworn to herself she would never let out again.
Thoroughly enraptured by the intense light shining in his regard, Ziva pressed her lips together and waited. Tony's fingers ran through her hair, bringing old beautiful memories back. A spontaneous tiny smile lit up their faces.
"I lied, you know." He confessed, and a little twinge hit Ziva's stomach, before she could take in the slightly hinting tone he had used.
"About the fact that I tell no more lies." He said. "I was lying."
Ziva arched her brows.
"Obviously." She closed her fingers around his wrist, but did not remove his hand from her cheek. "Did you lie about not having loved me, too?"
Tony laid the glass and scrutinised her with a dry half grin.
"Nope." He shook his head slowly. "That was true. I can't say I loved you..."
Ziva yanked his hand away and abruptly stood on her feet.
"Ziva!" Tony jumped up after her and grabbed her by the arm. "Ziva, listen to me." She glared at him, writhing furiously, but he hardened his grip until he hurt her.
"Let go of me." She bellowed. "Now!"
"Ziva, I can't say I loved you." Despite her protests, he cupped her face between his hands, forcing her to look at him. "I can't say that, because I still do."
Her eyes went so wide that he could see his own reflection in them. She stood stoned and breathless in front of him, absorbing his words one by one, like she was afraid she had just imagined them. But the smile on Tony's mouth wasn't gone, nor faded, and he was still waiting expectantly for her to say something.
You've just offered me your heart on a silver plate. I could break it in a blink, if I wanted… But if I did so, mine would shatter, too.
She faced down, not wanting to give away a relief she knew he would sense anyway.
"This makes me a liar, too." She whispered, shyly looking up to meet his loving face.
She didn't know why it had taken them so long to be able to open up to each other. Had they done this before, they would have probably avoided the whole prior trouble.
But, as her father used to say, a star had to fall and die to make a wish come true.
"So… You're still waiting…" he said. Ziva tilted her head in his hands.
"Depends… Have you ever really left?"
Tony jiggled his head.
"Don't think so."
He didn't wait for her to hug him, even if he knew she wanted to. For nothing in the world, prideful as she was, she would ever admit she needed him.
Not until you don't admit you need me.
He wrapped her up in a soft embrace. It had been two months since the last time his arms had cradled her so tenderly, and Ziva believed she wouldn't have lived one second more without him. She shouldn't have let herself love him, but when she had opened that door to that unknown world, she had realised that no price was too high to pay for all she had received in return. There was along list of things she had discovered with Tony, and life – real life – was atop of it.
"If I ever make you suffer again," he breathed in her ear. "Please, kill me, because I would die rather than losing you again."
Ziva chortled against his chest and pressed her lips on the most sensitive spot of his neck.
"Trust me, sweetheart," she cooed. "Even think about messing up with me again, and I'll show you a few of the things Gibbs hasn't had the heart to tell you I can do."
And as sheer terror crossed Tony's face, Ziva took his hand and blissfully settled herself under his arm again.
And they lived happily ever after…
She removed his hand from her ass, getting a whining groan from him as she led him to her car.