Disclaimer: I don't own any part of NCIS, no copyright infringement is intended.
Author Note: I had a few requests to write a sequel to another short story I wrote called Not Partners Anymore, so here it is. If you haven't read the other story you may want to go and do that first, it will explain some of the Ziva and Tony interaction in this story. :) This one takes place right after 'Agent Afloat' and I suppose you could consider it a sort of tag to that episode with a little bit of foreshadowing for 'Nine Lives' and 'Cloak'.
"Thanks for the ride, Boss."
"Just don't get used to it, DiNozzo." Gibbs replied in his own kind of 'you're welcome'.
"I won't. You have no idea how much I've missed driving or even just walking on dry land for that matter. Thankfully, I should have my car back from storage tomorrow."
As the elevator came to a stop and they stepped outside the doors, Gibbs stopped Tony from going any further with a pull on his arm and reached inside his pants pocket, producing a set of keys.
"Don't ya think you'll need these back?" He asked and Tony smiled widely as he took them from the older man's hand and headed for his apartment door with an amount of enthusiasm that had Gibbs shaking his head. Tony was still beaming as he slid the key into the lock of his door for the first time in over four months. It was good to be home.
Turning the key, the door swung open and he stepped inside, dropped his duffel-bag by the wall and looked around.
"You cleaned?" He asked in surprise. While Tony usually kept his apartment tidy, the place was practically sparkling, not the dusty and musty smelling place he was expecting after so many months unoccupied.
"Told you I would look after your place, didn't I?" Gibbs grinned a tiny bit. "Besides, I seem to recall you doing the same for me once."
Tony remembered that time when Gibbs retired and went to Mexico. Tony had kept Gibbs' house clean and the utilities on, having no doubt that his boss would be back; that he wouldn't be able to resist being with his team again.
He had faith in Gibbs back then, but had lost some of it while at sea. Too many nights spent alone on that ship with little else to do but think hopelessly about how he would never make it back to D.C. had eroded some of the confidence he had in the older man. During some of his lowest times, he was certain that he would be doomed to be transferred to some other shit assignment after his tour as agent afloat was concluded and that he'd never work with Gibbs again.
He didn't think he could continue with NCIS if that came to be, especially those first few weeks when he realized he was little more than a glorified mall-cop-at-sea. He thought he would go insane from boredom doing mostly security clearance background checks, catching petty thieves and busting minors for drinking underage.
As a man that craved action, being stuffed up on that damned ship, despite it being an aircraft carrier and the size of a small city, had robbed him of the satisfaction he always felt as a field agent with Gibbs. He needed more. Several times, mostly after one too many glasses of the scotch he smuggled aboard, he typed out his resignation, only to delete it as soon as he finished writing. He guessed he knew deep down that his boss wouldn't give up.
Of course, Gibbs hadn't given up and had been true to his word, getting him and the whole team back. He should have never doubted.
"Thanks, Boss..... For everything." He told him sincerely with a grateful face.
"No problem, Tony."
"Wanna stay for a beer?" He offered, suddenly not wanting to be alone. Funny how that was. He just spent the last four months crammed onto the Seahawk with over 5,000 sailors and marines wanting nothing more than a little privacy and suddenly he can't figure out what to do with himself now that he had it.
"You don't have any beers in your refrigerator." Gibbs reminded him. "It got cleaned out months ago."
"Right, well then I guess not." He conceded with a sheepish grin.
"I gotta go. " Gibbs walked to the door and held it open. "You need a ride tomorrow?" He asked.
"Na, my car's stored only a couple of blocks from here. I can walk to get it out." Tony assured him.
"Alright then, I expect you to be at your desk and working by 9 am."
Gibbs just nodded and Tony gave a little wave as he walked out the door without another word, quiet descending on him after the door shut. It was a strange thing being in this place without the constant noise and vibration of ship's engines or jets taking off and landing at all times of the day and night. He hated all that noise when he was onboard, but now Tony wasn't sure he could stand the silenece. It felt like something was missing. He blew out a puff of air as he walked into his living room.
"Hello, Gorgeous." He called out with his arms outstretched. "I missed you, did you miss me too?" He laughed to himself. This was pretty pathetic, he had no one to come home to but his television. On the other hand, he had to admit that he had missed his television rather badly. After all, it was a 70 inch plasma, what's not to miss? He walked over to his DVD collection.
"Ah... My pretties, which one of you shall I choose tonight?" He rubbed his hands together as his eyes skimmed the titles. "Hitchcock?... nah. Dirty Harry?..eh." His gaze landed on one that caught his eye.
"Oooh, I haven't seen you in a long time." He pulled out his copy of Titanic. "Any movie that has a ship sink at the end of it is tops in my list." Even though he hated most of the cheesy dialog and sappy romantic moments in the movie, he figured he could just skip to the good part where the ship falls to the bottom of the ocean. That would be satisfying to say the least.
It was then that his stomach rumbled, reminding him that it had been a long day and he had missed lunch thanks to the flight back. "I'll save you for later...but first, Daddy needs food."
Without anything to eat in the fridge or his cabinets and with his car still locked up in storage until morning, he was going to have to order some food. He whipped out his phone and punched in the speed dial to his favorite pizza joint.
"Joe's Pizza Palace. This is Joe."
"Hey Joe, I need to get a large meat deluxe delivered to 201 Southwest. Apartment 402."
"Sure thing. Hey is that you, Tony?"
"Yeah, it's me, Joe."
"Where you been? Thought you might have fallen off the face of the planet. How long has it been?"
"'Bout four months. I got shipped out to sea. Just got back."
"Really? No wonder business has been so down lately....Ha! Just kidding. Anyway, I didn't know you were in the service."
"I'm not. I just work for the Navy."
"Ah well, either way, ya know how much I respect those that serve, 'specially since my nephew got shipped out to Iraq. Tell you what, this order's on me."
"Ah, you don't have to do that.
"Yeah, I do. You're my best customer and this can be a kind of welcome home gift from me to you, okay? I'm sure I'll be getting plenty of your money soon enough."
"Thanks, Joe. I appreciate that."
"Not a problem, just glad to have ya back. Give us about half an hour to get it to ya."
"You know you're the best in town, Joe."
"Oh, I know it. We'll be seeing ya, Tony."
Tony smiled to himself as he hung up the phone. He was finally home and tonight was shaping up to be a pretty great night.
First had been the little 'party' Abby had thrown for him. It had been little more than drinks after the case was wrapped up, but it had been fun to swap stories with everyone, catching up on the last few months they had been apart. Even Gibbs had come along and had a drink before offering to take Tony home.
Now he had a great movie to watch, his favorite pizza was coming for free and the best part was he would be sleeping in his own bed tonight, something he had been dreaming about for too long.
It was beyond good to be back where he felt like he belonged again and it had only made him appreciate his friends all that much more. For so long he felt like an outsider. He wasn't in the Navy, so most of the sailors and officers on the ship avoided having anything to do with him like he had a terminal case of halitosis or something. He knew it was nothing personal, he was the Navy's equivalent to 'the fuzz' and no one wanted to be caught hanging out with him. But, for someone who craved attention and friendship more than anything in the world, it had been a long and lonely four months.
The only damper on the night had been his inability to think straight around Ziva. Subtly, she had put a wall up between them. She didn't actively avoid him, but neither did she go out of her way to be near him like they usually would have before he left. She was very good at acting the part of his playful and witty partner, joking and bantering like things were normal between them and he played along too, but things had changed.
It hurt, but he knew why.
If she was anything like him, then she had spent the past few months thinking back to that last night before he left, dwelling on the things that might have been but never went beyond that very passionate and lust-filled kiss before she broke it off and left, leaving him alone in his apartment drunk, distraught and guilt ridden over Jenny's death.
Her summer in Israel no doubt gave her time to put their feelings for each other in perspective. His time away sure had, but unfortunately for him he had come to realize just how much he truly wanted her. He couldn't count the number of times he started to write her a letter, but couldn't finish or sat by the phone with her number in hand, ready to call, but could never muster up the courage to actually articulate how he felt, so certain was he that she wouldn't wait for him.
And he had been right.
When she let it slip that she may not have wanted to go back to D.C., he just had to go and ask her if she had met someone back in Israel that made her want to stay. She never fessed up to it, but she didn't deny it either and judging by the look in her eyes, she may as well have ripped his still beating heart out of his chest and laughed as it went up in flames, reminding him of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. She only came back to Washington because she was following orders, she had gotten on with her life while he had been standing still the whole time, unable to get over her.
Jealousy enveloped him in a way that it never really had before and he wanted nothing more than to hop on the next plane to Israel and beat the living shit out of whoever may taken her away from him. But, he had no right to stake any claims on her, they were partners again and she had made it clear that was all they ever could be. Maybe her feelings for him had never been more than an unexpected moment of passion, one slip into weakness between two people that put their lives on the line for each other on a daily basis.
It tore at him to conclude that she believed him to be nothing but a friend while he wanted so much more. But now that they would be working together again, he would have to watch out; keep himself from getting too close. As a master at covering his true emotions with a charming smile or a tasteless joke, he could do this. He could pretend and no one would be the wiser.
Shaking himself out of his thoughts, he flopped down on the couch and kicked off his shoes and laid down, suddenly tired from the flight and the excitement of being home. He drifted off, but was unsure of how long he slept before a knock sounded at the door. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he went to the door expecting it to be the delivery boy when he smelled the pizza through the door.
To his surprise, the box of pizza was shoved into his hands as a very determined Ziva pushed her way into the apartment.
"Ziva? What the hell?"
"I recognized your delivery boy downstairs and offered to save him the trip up the elevator."
"Okay, that explains why you have my dinner, but not why you're here."
"We need to talk." She started, wringing her hands in a nervous fashion that was very out of character for the usually confident Mossad officer.
"Uh, Okay. Mind if I eat? I'm starving." He didn't wait for her response and sat the box on the kitchen table and opened it, grabbing a slice and piling it into his mouth. He closed his eyes in delight savoring his first bite, knowing it would irritate Ziva.
"Ummmm. That's sooo good. God, it's been too long!" He spoke with his mouth full. She gave him a disgusted face that he delighted in.
"Tony." Ziva tried to interrupt.
He made several loud, satisfied noises as he ate, appreciating the taste of his food and overplaying it a bit too much, hoping it would delay the inevitable conversation Ziva wanted to have and annoy her further. He knew what she wanted to talk about. He just wasn't ready for it yet.
"Want some?" He asked, still chewing.
"Tony!" She slammed the lid of the pizza box shut and leaned into his face with piercing eyes, her nose barely and inch away from his. He stopped mid bite and gave her his most charming smile, even though it was distorted from the food still stuffed in his mouth. At least he had succeeded in riling her. While it couldn't make up for the turmoil she put him in, it was a start. He finished mashing the last of his bite and swallowed before replying to her.
"Fine, Zee-va. Let's talk. Sounds like heaps of fun!" He glared back, proving he could give stares that were just as deadly as hers. She stood there for a moment with her face right in his, close enough for her hot breath to land on his cheeks and painfully ignite his desire to reach out and ravage her mouth in a lusty and desperate kiss. Finally, she backed down and pulled back before he abandoned all control and caved into his innermost wants.
"About what happened before we left, I just wanted to be clear...." She started.
"Yeah..." He interrupted. "You want me to forget all about it, right? You want me to pretend it never happened." He grew angrier with each word he got out and seeing her expression go from surprise to hurt to anger, only fueled those flames. "Yeah, I got that Ziva. It's what Ive been trying to do for the last four months! How's it working for you, because, it's not going so well for me."
"I am sorry, Tony, but..."
"But what? I know....I get it...You got a guy back home you can't wait to get back to and you're just biding your time here, following orders like a good little soldier. Fine. If you want to play pretend, I'll play along! Just let me remind you of who the one was that came over that night!"
"You are the one that kissed me!" She countered
"You sure didn't seem to mind!" He shot back.
"You never wrote, not even once! You never called...."
"I just couldn't. Ziva! I don't recall too many letters from you either!"
Ziva's nose flared indignantly as her breathing increased and she turned her back to him with an angry flip of her hair. He never saw the slight quiver in in her lips nor the barely contained tears she forced back as she attempted to reign in her emotions. Tony rubbed his face with his hands and shook his head in dismay, looking at his feet.
"Whatever there was, whatever we felt back then....we have to put it behind us. We are partners again." She stated quietly. Tony ground his teeth in frustration. It always came down to that, didn't it?
"Maybe I better go...." She said, her back still facing him. He could hear the slight crack in her her voice as she struggled keep herself together and made for the door. Reaching out suddenly, he caught her arm and spun her around to face him. His heart dropped seeing the emotions that flitted across her features and he knew right then and there that she was just as messed up inside as he was. She wasn't over him at all, she made it out to look like she had moved on, but she was just as stuck in this damned quagmire as he was. She was just too stubborn to admit it and too determined to avoid falling in love with him completely. It hurt to see her in conflict like this, but admittedly it gave him a dim ray of hope that she might come around someday. Until then, he would have wait and he would play this private game of theirs her way. The only question was how long could they both keep up these pretenses before they both cracked?
"Just let me go, Tony." She nearly whispered, her eyes reaching out to his, begging for release. He let her go and watched her open the door and hold it open for a moment, addressing him.
"I will see you tomorrow at work."
"Right.... see you at work. Should be a blast." He spit out sarcastically as she gave him one last look that only heightened his awareness of the conflict that had to be waging within her and she slipped through the door, closing it behind her.
"Goddammit!" He swore loudly.
Why did she have to come? Now his perfect homecoming night was crashing and burning. He abandoned his pizza, suddenly not hungry anymore, bypassed the TV, forgoing his plans to watch the movie and went straight to his darkened bedroom, collapsing on the bed. He sighed and threw an arm over his eyes, suddenly exhausted, but sleep eluded him. Even this moment, sleeping in his own bed in peace without the roar of jets for the first time in months was ruined for him. Now it was just too damn quiet, allowing for his thoughts on Ziva to grow louder and louder and to remind him of just how alone he truly still was.
****The story continues on in 'Partners Forever'****