Title: Protection Detail

Author: Tearsofamiko

Rating: K

Disclaimer: Possession is nine-tenths of the law, but I promise I'm only borrowing them for a little while.

Spoilers: Dead Man Walking

Summary: He does everything he can because he can't stand to watch her break.

A/N: BTW, I don't own The Princess Bride, either. It just came to me one day that, with all his movie knowledge, Tony would definitely know what "as you wish" was supposed to mean. :) And I liked seeing how concerned he got for Ziva in Dead Man Walking.

It was hard to watch her do this, hard to see her put herself on the line like this. Despite all her Mossad training, he knew she wasn't prepared for it. Especially since it was bound to fail. And he almost wanted to call Gibbs out for doing this to her.

Though she would have hated him for it during normal circumstances, he watched her as she stayed with Roy. He could see her attraction to him, the fit runner that crossed her path each morning. He'd overheard their conversation earlier, enough to deduce that she'd have her regrets for not saying anything to Roy before. But Tony knew that that wasn't the way she was; unless it was a case, she wouldn't make the first move. In that way, she was still strangely naïve, despite all she'd seen.

He really hadn't known, though, how deep her feelings for the patient ran until he'd had to interview him. She'd been fierce then, willing to deck her partner to get him away from Roy. One steady look in her eyes and he'd known: she was in too deep. Tony tried to do all he could to support her, to warn her, but he sensed she was already pushing people away – everyone away except Roy – to protect herself. He wasn't sure he could get through to her.

When it was all over, when the reports had been filed and the bad guy put away, that was when he really worried about her. Outwardly she didn't change; her work ethic didn't change, she didn't sit and cry or anything. But her eyes were haunted. And that pain tore at him.

Despite his undercover operation and his growing 'relationship' with Jeanne, Tony was compelled to be around Ziva, to try to let her know that someone cared. Because he did, regardless of Gibbs' Rule Twelve. He volunteered to work with her, offered to help her with her case reports, made vague offers of dinner after work. And, her being who she was, it wasn't terribly surprising when she finally snapped.

"Leave me alone!" Ziva half- shouted at him in the semi-darkness of the bullpen. It'd been a long day and almost everyone else had gone home, but he was still sitting behind his desk, fiddling with papers. As much as she didn't really want to be alone, the way he'd always been nearby since...the hospital had started to wear on her nerves. His quiet offer to help her with the case report she was working on had finally crossed the limit of her barely-held self-control. "I do not need your help writing this report. I have been an agent for an entire year now and I am capable of filling out the correct lines. I do not need you to hold my hand! Leave me alone!"

He stared at her from his desk, took in her anger-flushed cheeks, and nodded once.

"As you wish," he said softly, something sad lurking deep in his green eyes. His response surprised her, partly because of how easily he gave in, mostly because of how antiquated it sounded. She watched him as he said it, feeling all of her annoyance with him drain away. In that instant, with his response to her shouted words, she felt a change, a shift in their relationship. But, for the life of her, she couldn't determine why or what it was, exactly. So she let him walk away, let him leave her alone in the bullpen with the darkness and her grief about Roy.

A week passed slowly, something off about the way things were. They'd had a light caseload, simple cases that were easily solved, nothing overly bizarre or out-of-the-ordinary. Except the way Tony was acting.

Oh, the interactions between Tony and McGee and Tony and Gibbs hadn't changed at all, despite his random disappearances and covert phone calls. No, the only real difference in the way Tony was acting was toward her.

There were no more sly innuendoes, no more annoying questions about her weekend, no jokes about cases, no balls of paper thrown at her desk while she was working. Not as disturbing was the absence of his up-swing in concern; he didn't offer to help her with every little thing anymore, nor did his eyes watch her movements around the office. He just did his job, slightly more quietly than normal, only talking to her if the situation called for it. And the strange change bothered her.

Finally, after yet another day of polite treatment and only professional conversation, she'd had enough.

"What is his problem!?" she fumed, once the elevator doors had closed behind Tony.

"Huh?" McGee glanced up from the report he was finishing, looking first at Gibbs' desk, then Tony's and finally at Ziva. "What's who's problem?"

"Tony! He has been nothing but polite all week!"

"Um, I haven't noticed anything different."


He flinched, then looked at her again. "Um, did something happen?"

"I don't know! He was fine last week."

"Well, did he say anything last week?"

She thought for a moment. "I yelled at him, he went home, then this."

"Why'd you yell?"

"He was being annoying and I wanted him to leave me alone."

"What'd he say?"

"'As you wish.'"

"Huh." McGee frowned, looked away from her.

"What does that mean?"

"Oh," he looked back up at the sharpness of her tone. "Actually, what he said was a quote from a movie. The Princess Bride."

She looked at him, saw that he was keeping something from her. She narrowed her eyes and saw him draw back a little at the expression.

"You should watch the movie, Ziva. It's pretty good," he said quietly. He stared at her for a little longer, then turned back to his report. She watched him for a minute. Rarely did McGee seem so...intense. Making a quick decision, she finished her report and signed off on it, sending it to Gibbs. Gathering her gear, she bid McGee good night and headed for the elevator.

Thirty minutes and a quick stop-off later, she settled on to her couch, a container of Chinese in her hand and the DVD McGee had mentioned in the player. She pushed play and lost herself in the story. Partway through Westley and Buttercup's love story, she heard Tony's movie quote, learned the story behind it. In a daze, she paused the movie, freezing it on a sunset-lit image of the couple.

In the movie, "as you wish" meant "I love you."

She sat there in the darkness of her apartment, thinking about her last real conversation with Tony, about the way things had been for the past few weeks. She'd been shaken by Roy's death. He had been someone she'd almost counted on seeing every day in the park, someone who could have meant so much to her, and she'd lost any chance to make something of it. The experience had left her bewildered and hurting and, looking back, she realized she'd isolated herself. Or she'd tried to; every chance he got, Tony had been there for her, a buffer against the world.

And she'd yelled at him to leave her alone.

No wonder he acted differently.

But the movie quote changed everything about his distance; it gave a reason for it, the explanation she'd wanted so badly. Feeling warm contentment spread through her, she leaned back into the couch cushions and restarted the movie. She lost herself in the story once more, loving the comical challenges the couple had to endure before finally coming together. A small smile curved her lips as she watched and remained there for the rest of the night.

There was something different about her today, Tony decided. For the first time in weeks, the shadow that seemed to hover around her was gone and, in its absence, she seemed brighter than before. He didn't know what caused it, didn't really understand why it had happened, but he was glad. He kept his promise to her, though, left her alone, because that was what she'd wanted.

Then she smiled at him and he saw that the ghosts haunting her eyes were gone.

Stammering slightly though the polite, professional conversation he'd adopted around her, he tried to understand the change and tried not to be jealous of whatever had caused it. He forced himself to stick to the details of the case they were working, forced himself not to ask about her weekend. He kept his mind on the undercover operation he was working for the director, tried not to dwell on the changes in Ziva. He didn't have much luck in any of his endeavors, more interested in his partner than anything else, but he managed to keep some semblance of calm about him.

On their way down to the garage to get the truck, McGee stayed slightly behind them, leaving them to walk side-by-side through the halls. A silence surrounds them, not entirely natural, but not terribly uncomfortable. Unable to handle her driving today, on top of the changes that have thrown him for a loop, he reached over and snatched the keys out of her hand.

"I'm driving today," he said, not quite looking at her, not wanting her to see the lack of control he was feeling. The heavy weight of her gaze landed on him anyway, making him wonder what thoughts played in her head. Finally, he couldn't help it anymore and allowed his gaze to rise until it met the warm brown of hers.

"As you wish," was all she said, as a secret smile curved her lips. He stared at her for a moment, surprise coursing through him, an answering smile playing across his face. Then exactly what she'd said hit him and his surprise turned to confusion.

Did she really know what she said meant to him, a movie-buff? He pondered that for a second, standing just outside the garage, though they had places to go and Gibbs was no doubt waiting to get busy. A touch on his arm brought him back to the present.

"Protection detail's over, Tony," Ziva whispered, her soft voice completely changing the words he'd heard Gibbs say years ago. A small tremor ran up his spine, but her smile soothed away the memories that still haunted him. She tilted her head sideways as she watched him and, without knowing why, he knew that she knew exactly what she'd said earlier.

Together, they turned and walked to the truck, the danger past, the protection detail truly over.