You matter.

Two words, just two, and yet they had turned Ziva's world upside down. After they left the bullpen it had been as if nothing had ever happened. The jokes, annoyance and threats from Gibbs were the same as always; so much so that if she hadn't pinched herself good and hard after he said them, she would have wondered if the words had left Tony's mouth at all.

Their case was very straightforward and it was out of their hands in under a week. It was quiet after that, and she found that she spent a significant amount of her time trying to figure out just what the hell he had meant by uttering those two words. More than once she caught McGee sending her a worried glance after she had tuned out the rest of the world.

This was one of those times when Ziva really wished she had more girlfriends who could listen to her problems and offer advice, though she always went back on those thoughts in the end when she thought of the sheer bitchiness that often came with the women. So she did what she always did when she needed a true friend who would listen and offer advice without judgment or disdain; she went down to the lab.

"He told me that I matter."

Abby turned from her computer at the sound of Ziva's voice to find her friend looking somewhat lost. That never boded well with her. "Ziva, I need you to speak in complete sentences," she said. "Preferably with names included."

"Tony," she said quietly, not really looking at Abby. "When that guy stood me up he seemed very upset, and I asked him why. He got very serious."

"And he told you that you matter?"

She nodded, turning her head so she could see Abby's face. "What on earth did he mean?"

Abby shook her head. "That you matter. Ziva, this is Tony we're talking about. He's more complex than he seems on the surface but when he says something with complete sincerity once in a blue moon he usually means it."

"Yes, but why do I matter?"

And suddenly the light glimmered. "So you're wondering if you matter like a friend matters, or if you matter like a partner does, or maybe if you matter like a loved one."

"Precisely!" she cried. "He did not say a thing other than those two damn words."

"I see your dilemma," Abby said thoughtfully, taking a sip of her Caf Pow for inspiration. It hit her, and she rushed away for a moment, only to come back seconds later with a plush toy in her arms. "Would Bert help?"

Ziva didn't have much choice other than to take the flatulent hippo as he was shoved into her arms, letting loose with his trademark when she squeezed him. "I just do not know what to do. I feel as if I am going crazy and there is nothing I can do about it."

Abby watched Bert carefully; ready to pull him out of Ziva's strangle hold if necessary. "There is something you can do."

"What?" she asked, her attention rapidly turning from her thoughts back to her friend.

"Well first…" She wrestled the hippo away from Ziva, patting his head before setting him down. "Don't take your frustrations out on Bert. Second, you ask him."

"Ask Bert?"

She sighed. "No, ask Tony."

"You honestly think that would work?"

"I know so Ziva! Like I said, he can be deceptively simple to decipher sometimes. So ask him."

It couldn't be that simple, not after she had agonized over it for almost a week. Still, Abby knew Tony, and if she said simply asking would do it, then she would try. She made her way back up to the bullpen and veered over to Tony's desk rather than hers, leaning with her palms flat against the wood. "Why do I matter so much?"

Tony glanced around and was relieved to see that Gibbs wasn't there. However… "Magoo, find somewhere else to be."

"You know Tony I actually don't have to do…"

Both he and Ziva turned their heads and spoke together. "McGee!"

"Okay, I'm going. Maybe Abby will actually want me down in the lab."

"Doubt it Probie," Tony said, waiting until he was out of ear shot to speak again. "Want to run that by me again?"

Ziva leaned in closer. "Why do I matter so much?"

He leaned back in his chair, the picture of relaxed calm. "Why do you want to know so badly?"

"Would you quit answering my questions with questions?"

"Depends, would you admit that it's been driving you crazy?"

"How did you know it was?"

He shook his head. "This is turning into an Abbott and Costello routine."

"Who?" she questioned.

"Never mind."

She let out an exasperated sigh. "Will you just be honest with me, please?"

It was the please that did it. Taking a fortifying breath, Tony opened his mouth and actually told her the truth. "You matter Ziva, you just do. I don't know how to tell you what that means or why I said it. I just know that guy didn't deserve you, because he didn't get just how big of a mistake he made standing you up that day."

"And if it had been you?" she asked, feeling her heart speed up.

"You wouldn't have been left sitting there." He stood up and walked around her, forcing her to turn around and put her back to the desk in order to see him. "You would have been at a classy restaurant after work for a real date, and it wouldn't have ended with you going home disappointed," he told her.

To say that she was blown away would have been an understatement. She couldn't seem to find any words to say what was running through her head, and so she figured that the best thing she could do was show him, and she leaned in and brought her mouth to his. Something snapped, and the kiss went from something gentle and tentative to almost an exact duplicate of the one they had shared undercover, something heated and urgent that burned them both from the inside out. Then they pulled rapidly apart and she slammed into the desk as they heard Gibbs' voice.

"What have I told you about the rules?" he asked, trying to maintain a gruff exterior even as he fought back a smile.

"We know Boss, but…"

Ziva didn't even look over at Gibbs, just up at Tony with a wicked grin. "Some rules are made to be broken."