Title: The Strength of Others
Rating: PG-13
Category: Drama, Angst, Friendship, Humor
Genre: Gen
Pairing: None! Believe it or not.
Summary: McGee and Ziva discuss emotions.
Spoilers: Super tiny one for "Under Covers." General season 4, as well. Take this as being post-season 4.
Disclaimer: These characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Notes: Oneshot. Additional author's notes at the end.


McGee stared Ziva down. "Why do you let Tony get to you so much?"

"I do not let Tony get to me," Ziva said, rolling her eyes.

He scoffed. "The hell you don't! I've seen the look on your face whenever he mentions her."

Ziva threw up her arms in defeat. "Okay, so I'll admit it – his girlfriend annoys me. Why do you care so much?"

McGee sighed, his tone softening. "Because you're my friend, Ziva. And you deserve better."

She chuckled, thinking she had McGee figured out. "Oh, so now Tony's not good enough for me, is that it? And I suppose you are? You know, McGee, that speech may have worked on other girls, but it's never worked on me."

"Yeah, yeah, I get it. You're not easily swayed. That's not what I meant, anyway."

"Then enlighten me, O Wise One," Ziva said with a hint of sarcasm.

McGee glared at her. "You know why you and Tony would never work? Because you hide everything. You'd never be honest with each other."

Ziva let out a laugh. "And you're really Mr. Open, aren't you? That's exactly why you hid the fact from all of us that you wrote a bestselling book."

"This isn't about me, damnit! And me not mentioning ­Deep Six has nothing to do with relationships."

"Well, if you're so open with your emotions, explain to me just why we are having this conversation." Now Ziva was the one doing the staring down.

McGee set his mouth in a rigid line and spoke. "Fine. I don't want to see you get hurt. Or Tony. Or anyone else on this team." He paused. "I love you all. You're like a second family to me, and I know we don't always get along, but families are like that. And even though you and Tony and Gibbs all act so tough, I know you'd be crushed if something happened to any of us."

Ziva shook her head. "I hate to break it to you, McGee, but you're wrong."

"Great. More denial. I should've expected . . ." McGee interrupted her.

"This team is my family," Ziva finished. "There's no "second" involved. When the family business is assassination and espionage, you don't find yourself having a lot of heart-to-hearts."

"But NCIS . . ." he started, knowing she – both of them – worked in that same atmosphere.

She waved away his words. "I know NCIS isn't much different. Technically, at least. But the way you've all taken me in, treated me like I belonged here . . ." She looked him in the eye. "I will never forget that."

McGee looked down, remembering how they acted when she first arrived. "Not everyone was so welcoming, Ziva."

She gave him a bittersweet smile. "No, that's true. But I never felt any hostility from you." She gave him another honest look. "And that I appreciate very much."

There was a short silence, then McGee quietly spoke. "So why Tony?"

Ziva shrugged. "I guess you could say we're kindred spirits, yes?" She paused. "Don't . . . tell Tony I said that." She began to wander around their desks. "We are alike. I felt he would understand me. And he isn't intimidated by me." She stopped, looking at McGee again. "He reminds me that I am a woman. It's nice to feel desirable."

"Lots of men find you desirable, Ziva."

"Yes, but not all men are as openly flirtatious as Tony," she said, holding up a finger.

"We all have different personalities. Some of us are more subtle."

"So you admit to finding me attractive." She gave him a look.

McGee rolled his eyes. "Ziva, I'm not blind. You're gorgeous. And your personality makes you even moreso." He watched her attempt to hide her pleasure, then continued. "But I'm not going to risk saying something that would cause you to threaten to kill me 18 different ways with a paper clip. Because I know you could, and I don't want to risk that."

Ziva smirked at his statement, then spoke. "McGee, I believe you underestimate yourself. Who's to say I wouldn't be flattered or charmed, willing to take you up on your offer?" She raised an eyebrow at him.

He returned the gesture. "I'm not going to ask you out."

She pouted, confused. "Why not?"

"We're co-workers. Gibbs' rules are there for a reason. Plus, you've made it perfectly clear that you're interested in someone else. I refuse to be second best." He gave himself a mental pat on the back for remaining steadfast.

Ziva nodded. "And you shouldn't have to be. I respect that, and I'm sorry if I made you feel inferior, Tim, but it's really not how I meant it to come across." She sighed. "It may seem that I care more about Tony, but it's not true. My . . . love for you all is equal. I'm just worried about Tony. He needs us to worry about him. You have a good head on your shoulders, and need less . . . preening. Do you see what I mean?" She made a face, unsure if she had used the correct term.

McGee kept a solemn face. "Just because I don't show it doesn't mean I don't need your support."

Ziva's expression melted as she realized how she had been affecting him. "Of course not. I will remember that. We all need to know that someone cares. And if you've been feeling neglected, I apologize."

"No, Ziva, I didn't mean to come off as needy . . ." he began to protest.

She stopped him by pressing a finger to his lips. "Hey, hey, I wasn't implying that. I know you're not needy. But that doesn't mean you don't need us. And you know, I think you may have a lot more in common with me and Tony than you realize." She smirked, lightening the mood.

McGee smiled, already feeling better. "Thanks, Ziva."

She smiled brightly. "It is not a problem." McGee turned to return to his desk. "Wait, wait." He turned to face her, and when he did, she pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

"What was that for?" he asked, flustered.

Ziva smiled, straightening his shirt. "To remind you that you are far from second best." She leaned in, as if to tell him a secret. "I may even put you above Tony on my scale. And that you can tell him." She laughed at the look of triumph on his face.

"This talk has been really nice."

"I agree. We should do it again, yes?" Just then, Tony walked through, so Ziva raised her voice. "How about Friday night at 8?" She winked at McGee, letting him in on her game.

McGee grinned. "Sounds good. It's a date."

Tony stopped in his tracks. He wasn't even going to pretend he hadn't been listening in. "No way. You two are not . . ." He stopped and looked around. "Where's Gibbs? He needs to hear about this blatant disregard . . ."

Suddenly, Gibbs appeared from behind Tony and gave him a famous Gibbs slap upside the head. "Nobody likes a tattle, DiNozzo."

Tony turned to Gibbs, a puppy dog look upon his face. "But, Boss . . ."

Gibbs silenced him with a glare. "Let them make their own mistakes." He started up the stairs to MTAC, calling out as he left. "Besides, you and Ziva would have hideous children together." Tony looked horrified, McGee was beaming, and Ziva chuckled, walking up to Tony.

"He's so right, you know. I wouldn't want to risk passing on the hairy butt gene."

Tony glared at her. "And how do you know McGeek doesn't have an equally furry ass?" He turned his glare to McGee.

Ziva pondered that, a finger on her chin. "Hmm, well, I guess we'll just have to find that out Friday night, huh?" She gave him a triumphant grin.

Tony shook a finger at her, knowing he could play this game with her all day if necessary. "I don't know, Ziva. It may take more than one night to cover all that area." He smirked, assuming he had won.

Ziva, however, had her own ideas. She turned McGee away from herself and Tony, so they could "study," so to speak. "It doesn't look that big to me." She spun him around again. "But if you're insisting I spend the entire weekend inspecting our dear Timothy, I can't object. McGee?" She looped her arm through McGee's and led them to the elevator, leaving Tony standing aghast at his desk.

McGee's eyes widened as she led them away. "You're not really planning . . ."

She laughed under her breath. "No, no, that was all a show for Tony. Though if you're interested . . ."

He groaned. "Ziva, I told you I'm not asking you out."

"I know." She paused. "But dating and casual sex are completely different things."

McGee stopped walking, halted by Ziva's words. "Wow. You and Tony really are alike." Ziva simply laughed and reached down, squeezing his butt. He gulped. "Help."

THE END!!!

Alright, so here's the story behind this one - I was at home this weekend, for a very sad reason (my grandpa died last week, and his funeral was yesterday), and it got me thinking. Basically, I'm going to echo McGee's words here: "Just because I don't show it doesn't mean I don't need your support." A lot of people don't show their emotions, but they may need attention just as much as someone who's visibly distraught in some way or another. Chances are, they're just masking something. I hope it opens some eyes.