Title: Tether

Author: brightblue

Rating: T (a few naughty words, adult themes)

Category: Episode missing scene Judgment Day. Tony/Ziva.

Spoilers: Judgment Day specifically.

Summary: "She believes she is keeping him bound together by sheer force of will; if she drops her guard for even a second, he will break."

Disclaimer: I am so broke it's not even funny. I definitely make no money from this endeavor! They don't belong to me, sadly.

Author's Notes: See more notes below. This takes place between parts 1 and 2 of Judgment Day. Late to the party, I know, but hopefully still welcome.


It has been hours since Tony last spoke to her.

They break the news to Gibbs. It is not easy. They take their orders. Speak to Deputy Director Vance. Follow protocol. Go through the motions. They are numb, robotic. Silent.

Secure the scene. Tag the evidence. An internal investigation if ever there was one. They move by memory, first this and then that. Questions remain unvoiced, blame unassigned. The air is heavy with dust and the smell of blood. It is familiar to her; she can breathe through its thickness. Tony's face is paler than usual, though. The light in his eyes has faded. She notices that the camera shakes as he documents the scene. They do not speak. They hear Gibbs' familiar commands in their heads and follow them. Ziva looks down to see blood on her hands. She is ashamed that she can't recall how it came to be there or whose it is. Snapping on a fresh pair of latex gloves, she gets back to work.

She has been here before. It is easier for her.

Tony has suffered losses, too. She knows this. But this one has hit him hard. Standing beside him she can feel the despair radiating like heat from his skin. Guilt, a poison that is slowly eating away at him. She follows in his footsteps as they move through the diner, a well-rehearsed choreography. Her eyes bore holes into the back of his head and yet he doesn't seem to notice. She believes she is keeping him bound together by sheer force of will; if she drops her guard for even a second, he will break. That it is only a tentative connection, she fears. There is no talking, no touching—just Ziva, there, beside him. As they work the crime scene, she reflects his guilt like a mirror, shading it in normalcy when she can, and she always, always promises with just a look that she is not going anywhere.

For now, they are silent.


Gibbs will arrive in the morning.

They are reluctant to leave the crime scene, but Deputy Director Vance insists they find somewhere to sleep for a few hours. They've burned through daylight and their low-key op cannot function in the starlight. As Tony drags himself to their shiny red Mustang, Ziva takes a few more mental snapshots of the scene. It doesn't feel right, leaving like this. But they have their orders. The bodies have been sent to Washington. The scene will hold. They will be back soon enough.

She doesn't challenge Tony's need to drive. The cool desert air whips through her hair as he guides the convertible down the highway. In the rearview mirror, she watches the darkness swallow up the old diner until it's nothing more than a memory. She closes her eyes and inhales the fresh air as they zip into oblivion.

It could be minutes or hours later when they finally stop at a roadside motel. Ziva checks them in, one room with two double beds, and sends Tony up to shower. The manager gives her directions to an all-night truck stop where she buys them some essentials: toothbrushes and toothpaste, deodorant, protein bars for her and sugared treats for him. She even finds a pair of souvenir boxers for Tony, a bright blue pair decorated with cartoon armadillos. She thinks he might find them amusing under any other circumstances; in reality, she knows he will never wear them again after this. Still, she purchases them and a t-shirt she can wear to bed, a brush for her hair. At the last minute she requests the clerk throw in a bottle of cheap bourbon. Normally, she is content just to get by on the bare essentials; she is trained to get by on nothing at all. Tonight, though, it feels good, this taking care of Tony.

Rolling her eyes at her own behavior, she throws a pair of socks onto her growing pile. After all, she will be the one to suffer, being forced to smell his stinky feet all day tomorrow.


Returning to their motel, Ziva takes a moment outside to collect herself. Her eyes trace the constellations as she takes a swig of the bourbon.

She is once again reminded of how far she's come since her Mossad training. Back then, in another world, it was always easier to put death aside. You pushed it aside because it never really left. Death was not something to dwell on; it was too omnipresent. Something you lived with every day. But here death is sneaky, unexpected. Life lulls you into a false sense of security. You forget the possibility of death, and it inevitably finds its way in. And then you are left shocked, guilty and weak. No, it is better to remember that the swift hand of death is never far from striking distance.

Jenny was a friend and a good agent, a good woman. Ziva will miss her, does miss her already. She closes her eyes and sees Jenny's blood, so much more vibrant than any unknown victim's. She will miss her friend. But she expects these haunting images and is prepared for them. She knows they will fade in time. She can put them out of her mind. She can keep moving.

She focuses on the mission before her-- finding the truth about what happened at the diner tonight. She cannot change what happened. But she can avenge it. That is enough for her.

It's only when she opens their motel room to find Tony sitting in the dark, fully clothed and unshowered, that she is reminded there is another mission at hand: saving her own partner from himself.


"Up, Tony!" She scolds as she enters the room. She ignores his cry of protest as she flips on the light. Her words are the first they've spoken to each other in hours. She doesn't dwell on this; she powers forward. Busying herself unpacking supplies, she tries to pull Tony back to her. She makes idle chitchat as she works. She pours him a shot of alcohol, which he downs in one swift motion. She pours him another. Then, she makes a point of flushing the rest of the bottle down the toilet. There is no sense in that sort of escape tonight. He watches her with vacant eyes.

"Ziva…" His voice is hoarse and tinged with uncertainty. He looks to her, drowning.

For the first time in her life she ignores her Mossad training. She reaches back for memories of her mother instead. Tony needs the balance of comfort and firmness of which her mother was always so adept at supplying. She steps into his personal space, leveling him with a heavy gaze. She squeezes his hand and waits for him to come back to her. Slowly but surely, he does. He blinks and for a moment his eyes are free of pain. When she shoves a towel and bag of toiletries at him and pushes him towards the bathroom, she feels useful.

"Go, now, shower," she commands. "You are stinky." When he notices the boxers she bought him, she is rewarded with a chuckle. That moment of lightness fills her heart.

Listening to the water run, she hums to herself and tidies up their room. Folding clothes, securing their weapons, anything to focus on the here and now and not the crime scene that idles in the desert night.


"It was not your fault, Tony."

She finally broaches the subject as she emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered. She figures she's given him enough time to brood. Now, she will attack-- by force if necessary. Tony is lying on one of the beds in his new boxers, staring at point above the muted TV.

His face is cold as he regards her. "Don't do this, Ziva."

"What, Tony? Tell you the truth?" She shakes her hair out of its make-shift knot, combing through it with her fingers. If he thinks she will be turned off this subject, he doesn't know her at all.

He is silent for a moment, watching her move. There is no mistaking the lust in his gaze. Ignoring him, she takes her time hanging up her clothes, washing out her undergarments in the sink. She eventually turns her attention back to him and is taken aback by what she sees: every muscle of his is drawn taunt as he leans forward on the bed, eyes aflame. It is an expression of anger and remorse, she knows. And yet the sight of him stops her cold, kicking her system into full arousal mode—whether for a fight, or something else, it is hard to distinguish. Her breath catches in her throat. A shiver runs down her spine.

"You have every right to tell me 'I told you so,' Ziva. You were right. I ignored the facts, ignored my gut, just to follow orders and now Jenny is dead because of me." He is standing now, approaching her slowly. Stalking his prey. He has noticed her physical response and is going to use it against her. She braces herself. She never backs down from a challenge.

"Not because of you, Tony. Because of a personal mission she took on without any tactical support. We were just following orders." She cuts the distance between them in half. They both pause in the charged space between them, waiting for lightning to strike.

Then he laughs, a hard, bitter sound. "No, I was following orders. You would've saved her life."

He's in her personal space now. She inhales, trying to clear her head but it is impossible. She is only rewarded with the scent of him. His eyes are the deep grey of a stormy ocean; tremors of emotion ripple through his body. He is on the verge of breaking.

She takes one step closer. His breathing pattern becomes erratic, eyes darken. "We could both be dead. She let them ambush her."

"You don't know that!" They are centimeters apart now. Tony does not breach that distance, though.

"I do, Tony," she insists, taking the plunge and running a hand along his bicep. He trembles. "Jenny knew what the outcome of this mission was going to be. She was prepared. She kept us away for a reason. Death was a certainty for her. This is something I have seen before."

And that's it. That's all it takes.

"Fuck you, Ziva!" He erupts, whirling back from her. Ziva doesn't wince, doesn't move from her spot as he begins pacing the floor. "We could've stopped her. Nothing is certain."

Ziva looks up at him from under her eyelashes, choosing her words delicately. "What is done is done. It is not your fault, or my fault. Jenny chose her road."

"PATH, Ziva, PATH!" He yells, ripping a hand through his hair. "She chose her own path."

Ziva rolls her eyes and folds her arms across her chest. She knows this, of course. "Exactly, Tony! And so, it is not our fault."

He turns to her with wild eyes. "Oh! Nice one! Gotta love that Mossad –Jedi mind trickery!"

She takes a deep breath then marches right up to him, their noses practically touching. "You have to get this out of your system," she declares. She pushes him. Hard. He stumbles back, alarmed and unresponsive.

"What the hell are you talking about, Ziva?" He puts his arms up to shield himself from another attack. There won't be one. She was just trying to get him off balance.

"This!" She waves at his body. "This punishment, this guilt. While you drown in your own pity, you are not a good agent. You will not find the truth that Jenny died seeking. You need to move on."

"She was my friend!" It is his last outburst. She has him literally up against the wall now. She knows he feels her closing in on him.

"And mine," she gently reminds. She cups his face in her hands, maps it with her eyes. "You need to put your feelings aside for now, Tony. We need to focus. There will be time to grieve later."

For a long moment, they are lost in one another. She brushes her thumbs across the stubble on his cheeks. His hands find her waist and hold on tight. His eyes flit across her face and she feels her body warm under his attention. In that moment, they are quiet and still. The weight of their emotions lightens.

"I'm trying, Ziva," he finally whispers. "I'm really trying…"

"I know, Tony," she sighs. Overwhelmed by him, she can only react. With no hesitation, she kisses him on the lips lightly before drawing back and pulling him into a fierce hug.

As she holds him, his body shakes with soundless sobs.


The room is silent again. Every sixth heartbeat he inhales the slow breath of sleep. The second bed in their room remains untouched. She had coaxed him into bed earlier with muttered words and soothing noises, the nonsense sounds that calm the distressed. She had wrapped her body around his, and held him close, grounding them both with touch. The motel quilt that covers them smells faintly of mildew and cheap detergent.

Moonlight streams in through the blinds, illuminating her partner's face. Her thoughts are drifting to nowhere in particular as she watches him sleep. She has no inclination to do the same. She is content to wallow in the stillness. She contemplates the man in her arms; how he is unlike any man she's ever known. He wears the part of an American playboy well, with his charm and arrogance. And yet there is more to him than that—darker, rougher parts that correspond to the stains on her own soul. In many ways they are similar. But then again, Tony is led by his heart, something she rarely understands but has learned to respect. Tony. She shakes her head and bites back a laugh. He's just Tony to her: big and strong and goofy, but quick and deadly and smart all the same. She props herself up on her elbow, absentmindedly stroking her hand through his hair. It is softer than she thought. He is not the man she would have envisioned feeling this way about, but now she is pressed to envision another capturing her heart so completely.

Yes, it is true. She knows she loves him. The where, or when, or why often elude her, but it's there all the same. It's a feeling she's content to keep locked away, though, for her love is a private, sacred thing. There is no telling what sort of damage it would inflict in the light.

This isn't her. She isn't used to this role—the caregiver. It is pure improvisation, but she thinks she is doing okay. He has finally found some peace in sleep, it appears. She can only hope it is a dreamless slumber.

"Ziva," he whispers, startling her.

"Tony? I thought you were—"She quickly drops her hand from his hair, but doesn't bother to move her body away from his. This skin-to-skin contact is too alluring.

"Your creepy staring woke me up," he snits, sounding like the Tony to whom she is accustomed. She knees him in the leg. He groans.

"You can get your own bed!" She scoffs, and then rolls away from him. She bites back a grin when he responds by pulling her back into his embrace. Now safely enveloped in his arms, they both shift to find a comfortable position.

"I like this one." His breath tickles her ear and she squirms in his arms. "Now, Ziva, be a good girl and stay still. You'll get Little DiNozzo all wound up."

She snorts. "Little is right." She wiggles again to prove her point. The familiar banter between them is welcome right now.

"Hey! It's just an expression, a euphemism. I have had no complaints in that department, if you are ever lucky enough to find out." He has gripped her tighter to his body now, trapping her.

"Lucky? Really?" Ziva deftly rotates in his hold to face him. He seems mildly impressed by this, and by her impression of a flirtatious schoolgirl.

"Oh, yeah," he drawls and the tension has ratcheted up between them. It would be so easy, she thinks. All she has to do is lean in and it would be over. He would be hers. Her body is humming in anticipation; the twinkling of his eyes in the darkness is so wonderful she could cry. It would be so easy.

And yet…deep down she knows it is wrong. Normally, she is a firm believer in the physical power of sex. If this were any other man besides Tony, she would probably be glad to find comfort in his body. But it is Tony. And though the temptation is large (yes, definitely large), their past and future unfold in her mind and she cannot see any good coming from consummating their relationship tonight. Or ever. As much as she may want to…as much as she may feel for him.

She traces her thumbs over Tony's lips, strengthening her resolve. "We cannot do this tonight."

He nods slowly, leaning into her touch, but saying nothing.

"It would not be fair to either of us," she affirms, moving her hands to his neck. Tony nods again, then takes a deep breath. He presses a kiss to her cheek and then abruptly shifts so that he is lying on his back with her on his chest. He strokes her arm.

"As always, you are right, my favorite ninja." And though his words are light, his tone is edged in bitterness and the mood becomes somber.

Mimicking her actions from when they were undercover, she draws lazy circles on his chest as she taps out the beats of his heart. "Yes, I am always right. And so, you must believe me when I say it was not your fault."

He just studies her for a moment, tangling his fingers in her hair. "I have to face Gibbs tomorrow."

"We, Tony. We have to face Gibbs tomorrow." She lifts her head to better regard him. She worries he is sinking back into his guilt again, but for now he seems to be afloat. "And Gibbs will understand." She isn't quite sure she believes that, but it doesn't matter now.

"Ha!" Tony looks away from her, tilts his head towards the ceiling. He takes a deep, shuddering breath. And then, he turns back to her, tracing a finger along her jaw. "Ziva, Jenny was his partner."

She recognizes that the word is loaded. She twists so that her chin is resting on his chest and she can observe him. "Yes. And?"

Tony's eyes darken, trap her in his stare. "And? If something ever happened to you, Ziva, I would make it hell on earth for whatever bastards were responsible."

She smiles at his loyalty, at the trail of sparks that follow his finger's path down her arm. "As would I," she vows and presses a kiss to his chest. "However, neither you nor I are responsible for Jenny's death. Those men are already dead. And we will find any others responsible so that Gibbs can ring hell for them."

"Rain hell on them," Tony corrects with a sigh. She smirks when she detects the hint of defeat in his voice. "But bonus points for the appealing imagery." His last word is swallowed in a yawn.

"Thank you, Tony," she purrs, snuggling closer. "Let us sleep now, yes? Morning will come soon enough."

He pulls her body tight to his and drops a kiss on her head. "Thank you for being here, Ziva," he whispers into her hair.

She responds with another brush of her lips. Soon, finally, they are drifting towards sleep. She prays silently for her fallen friend and grieving partner. Something is telling her that this case is far from resolved, that it will get worse before it gets better. They do still have to face Gibbs and the rest of the team. Find out what Jenny was up to. Follow a new Director. And Tony has a long way to go to heal, she knows. But that is okay. He will have time enough. And she plans to be there the whole way, holding him together with everything she's got. Tethering him to reality, to the truth, to the light-- just let someone try and stop her.

She will rain hell on them.


More Notes: So, thanks to the USA reruns, I have been drawn into yet another show! Immediately, the appeal for me was the chemistry between Tony and Ziva. So much between them is conveyed with a mere look or change in body language. It is really cool to watch—kudos to the actors! However, since I have not seen all the episodes, if anything in this is hugely OOC or something flies in the face of canon, please do let me know! There may be more NCIS fic from me in the future and I'm always looking to improve. This fic was a plot bunny that emerged after watching the Judgment Day episodes back to back for the first time. Yowzer. I was particularly struck by how Ziva handled Tony in the second episode. Their body language was crazy awesome, especially in the scene where Tony goes off on McGee. I got a sense that more had happened between Tony and Ziva than we saw, and so this was born. I haven't really finished any fic in a long time, and yet this spewed forth in a four hour plus writing binge. Go figure. I didn't intend for it to be nearly as shippy as it was, but then again Tony and Ziva do seem to have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves even when they are being "platonic" so I don't feel it's too much a stretch that they would act in this manner for the sake of comfort. Physical boundaries are not this pair's issue! Anyhoo, I would love to hear what people think so please do tell!!