Disclaimer: I own nothing related to NCIS, just the thoughts in my head.
Summary: def –n. a momentary diversion. Sometimes a little diversion all you need to get you on the right track
Spoilers: a few mentions of Knockout, Recoil and Dagger, but nothing big.
Author's Notes: This is another one based on a line, or in this case many lines. I'd been looking for years for a scene that I could build around the one time a friend tried to set me up on a blind date. Tony and Ziva turned out to be the perfect candidates. This is a story in two parts. I'm not quite done the second one, but I really wanted to get this up before the show derailed my muse. I hope you enjoy it.
* Again, a big thanks as always to my dear friend and editor Joy. We may not always see eye to eye on which rules of grammar you can bend, but you have by far the best eye for detail of anyone I know. Thanks for turning that eye onto my work.
Always trust your gut.
It was a rule he aspired to live by every day. It was a rule that had been drilled into his psyche from the moment he'd joined Gibbs' team and NCIS more years ago now than he'd care to admit. It was a rule that had served him well and right now, Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo's gut was telling him that something was seriously bothering his partner. His sixth sense might not be as well-honed as that of the legendary Leroy Jethro Gibbs, but as Tony watched Ziva beat the copy machine into submission, he had to admit that even the greenest Probie would be able to tell that something was hinky.
They'd been spinning their wheels on the Kaplan case for a few days now and it was starting to eat at everyone. Gibbs was even more snappish than usual and putting more force into his head-slaps. Tony's skull still smarted from the one he'd received that morning. Abby's music was increasing in volume in direct proportion to her frustration as she tried to milk a miracle out of the pathetic amount of evidence they'd managed to collect. Even McGee was starting to show his frayed nerves, returning Tony's attempt at playful jibes with bitter retorts. Yep, everyone was definitely on edge, but Ziva's irritation seemed different somehow. It seemed so much more... personal.
As the morning wore into afternoon, Ziva's frustration continued to mount, as did Tony's desire to know what was bothering her. Early in their partnership he would have been able to write off this gnawing need to get to the truth as just another manifestation of his inherent nosiness. The former Mossad assassin had always been an enigma and Tony had always loved puzzles, especially ones wrapped within a beautiful woman. But after nearly four years together, he was forced to admit that this relentless desire to know what made her tick stemmed from something much deeper than mere lust-driven curiosity. There was something about seeing her upset that just ate at him.
That fact had been viciously driven home a few months ago. The image of Ziva's tear-filled eyes as she watched Gibbs break the news of Agent Lee's death to her little sister still haunted Tony's memory. That fleeting, unguarded moment had been a like a punch to the gut. Her obvious vulnerability was shocking. He'd been suddenly and brutally reminded that under the steely exterior that she'd built around herself, Ziva was still a human being and, just like everyone else, she needed comfort and support now and then. What had been even more shocking was that she'd let him witness her vulnerability. In their years together, she'd never willingly let her guard down; she'd rarely ever let him see anything she didn't want him to see. Which was why letting him catch her on the verge of tears had left him speechless, frozen while she all but asked him for a shoulder to cry on.
He'd been useless, tethered to his chair as she'd disappeared in the direction of the bathroom. He hadn't done anything then, but he could do something now. Taking a deep breath, Tony made a beeline for the copy machine. However, as another string of Hebrew curses filtered to his ears, he conceded that he was probably taking his life in his hands.
Peeking around the corner into the alcove that housed the photocopier, he found his partner bent over the now lifeless machine. She was braced on the console, arms stretched out and head hung low as she drew in a series of what he assumed were calming breaths. Her long dark hair hung free, spilling over her face and back like a curtain. The line of her body spoke of exhaustion and ... sadness and if she weren't within arm's length of a potentially deadly hole-puncher, Tony might have given in to the suddenly overwhelming, and unexpected, urge to wrap her in his arms.
'You just need to find the right woman.'
Tara's words a few weeks ago slipped into his mind unbidden, like a devil on his shoulder, whispering dangerous thoughts into his ear. He might have been experiencing the dry spell to end all dry spells, but Tony knew that he must really be off his game if he was starting to consider his partner as 'right woman' material. Sure, she was easy on the eyes, intelligent, challenging and a great cook. Sure, when they weren't teasing each other mercilessly, they had a lot of fun together and she seemed to understand him better than anyone else in his life and- Tony shook his head forcefully, trying to shake off his thoughts. Ziva was not a viable option. Besides, he was pretty sure that she was still in some way involved with the mystery man he'd found a picture of in her desk a while back. But, viable option or not, she was still his friend and from the looks of it, she could use a little help.
Still, he knew better than to sneak up on a Mossad assassin. Maintaining what he hoped was a safe distance, Tony cleared his throat.
As he'd expected, Ziva sprung upright, wheeling around to face her intruder, one hand on her holster, the other trying to surreptitiously wipe at her cheeks. Had she been crying again?
"Whoa there, My Ninja! I know they taught you to shoot first and ask questions later, but I don't think Gibbs would appreciate the paperwork."
"What do you want, Tony?" Her voice was flat and she refused to meet his eyes. Ziva held herself ramrod straight, as though bracing herself for attack. Tony couldn't quite brush off the sting that came from the realization that she expected that attack to come from him, but he tried to keep things light.
Leaning against the doorframe, he replied, "Well, you were scaring the Probies, so I thought I'd check to make sure you hadn't blown our office supply budget for this year."
Ziva fixed him with a sharp glare before quickly letting her eyes slide from his, focussing anywhere else she could.
"I am fine, Tony."
So much for keeping things light.
He sensed her movement before she actually made for the door. Stepping forward, he halted her progress with the wall of his chest.
"You don't look fine."
Inches from his face, her answering glower pinned him to the spot. Years ago, she would've frightened him, but now he could see past the bravado into the dark well of emotion beneath. Her breaths were shallow, feathering over his collarbone as she tried to see a way around him. The air between them grew thick as their bodies drew closer. His heart raced in anticipation as her eyes darkened and she drew her tongue across her bottom lip. He suddenly found himself re-evaluating his options.
Then just as suddenly, she started back a step as though burned. "Please, Tony."
The defeat and slight edge of desperation in her voice shocked the hell out of him. They'd found themselves on the edge before, but she'd never seemed so affected. Knowing that trying to keep her backed into a corner could seriously shorten his life expectancy, Tony relented, giving her the space she needed to escape. He could only watch, baffled, as she took it immediately, brushing past him as she all but ran from the room.
Something was definitely wrong.
The music reverberating off of the walls of Abby's lab was a welcome change from the cacophony in her head. Standing on the threshold to her inner sanctum, Ziva couldn't help the smile that tugged at her lips as she watched the quirky forensic scientist flit about her workspace like a worker bee. Ziva could truly say that she'd never met anyone like Abby Sciuto. She had most certainly never imagined that she would end up befriending this rather unusual woman, however, here they were, four years later, and Ziva was shocked to realize that Abby was the closest friend she had in D.C., or really anywhere, for that matter. Somehow Abby had barrelled her way past all of her defences taking a place in her heart that had been empty for a long time. Empty since Tali had died.
She'd shut herself down after Tali's death, walling off her heart from anyone who might try to get close to her. It made her an efficient soldier, and her father had quickly folded her into the arms of Mossad, realizing the asset she would be as an operative. She took to the role of assassin gladly, hoping that with each target killed she might somehow reap vengeance for what those butchers had done to her sister and the thousands of others who'd succumbed to suicide bombers the world over. But her victories were always hollow, leaving her more unfulfilled with each strike, and Ziva slowly retreated into herself until all that was left was the shell of a highly-trained killing machine.
Coming to NCIS had changed all of that. She'd thought them weak when she'd first met them: Tony, McGee, Abby, even Gibbs. They lacked discipline, evident in the way they let their lives weave in and out of each other's, the way they tried to weave their way into hers. She'd fought hard to maintain the walls she'd spent most of her life building; they'd protected her and she hadn't been sure she even knew how to let anyone on in. No one without an ulterior motive had tried in a long time. Still, the barriers eventually started to weaken. Bit by bit, they chipped away, well Abby chipped for the most part, and she'd slowly come out of the skin she'd been living in for longer than she'd care to admit.
Going back to Israel six months ago had been confusing. She should've been happy to go back, to see her family, but Ziva had constantly been plagued with the feeling that she'd left her family behind. Watching Abby now, her heart warmed as she thought that Tali would've probably approved of the young woman who had taken over her job.
'At least you've got one relationship in your life figured out,' she mentally chastised herself. Since her return to the U.S., Ziva had gladly resumed her place in the NCIS family. Abby and McGee slipped into the role of siblings easily and Gibbs' guidance brought her the comfort her father's orders never had. Tony … Tony was another matter altogether.
"Are you trying out some sort of new Mossad mind meld technique on me?"
Abby's amused voice found its way through the haze of her musings and Ziva's eyebrows knotted in confusion as her mind finally processed her words.
Abby tisked, "Four years with Tony and McGee and you still haven't learned about Vulcans?"
Ziva could only quirk her head in response. She was used to not understanding everything the Goth said to her, but this was weird even for Abby. However, before she could try and make sense of the conversation, Abby switched gears on a dime.
"Never mind, waddayagot?"
Ziva shook her head in a vain effort to clear the remaining cobwebs from her mind before following Abby deeper into the lab.
'Focus, David,' she admonished. She was way off her game this afternoon. It had been a long time since Abby had given her mental whiplash.
"I, uh, brought those oil samples you needed from Corporal Saunders' garage."
Abby's face blossomed at the thought of new evidence. "Thanks," she responded brightly, plucking the vials from Ziva's limp fingers before turning back to her workspace. "I'll just run these through Major Mass Spec and –"
Ziva suddenly had a pretty good idea what it must feel like to be a specimen under one of Abby's microscopes.
"What?" she asked in exasperation when it became clear that Abby had no intention of doing anything other than stare at her quizzically.
"What's wrong?" Abby asked finally.
"Nothing," Ziva replied quickly, breaking their staring contest and stalking over to the other side of the lab.
"Liar," Abby retorted with a smile, causing Ziva to spin back around to face her.
"Abby," she insisted. "Nothing's wrong. I am fine."
"Ziva," Abby replied patiently. "You're not fine. I haven't seen you this distracted since that whole thing with the guy who could've been a killer, but wasn't, but you didn't know that and his ex was missing and you -" Suddenly, Abby threw up her hands, silencing herself, as her whirling thoughts coalesced into a conclusion.
"Wait a minute! This is about a guy, isn't it? But not that guy, the other guy, in Israel, Michael, right?"
Ziva slumped against the counter behind her, dropping her head to her chest and willing herself to be patient. Sure, she loved Abby like a sister, but she still wasn't overly keen about discussing her private life with anyone. However, she knew that Abby wouldn't let go of this. She would worry the subject like a dog with a bone, until she dragged the answers she was looking for out of her. Sighing, Ziva decided that she was better off just getting it over with.
Ziva sucked in a deep breath and keeping her eyes trained on the floor, she gave Abby an answer. "I ended things with Michael."
Whatever reaction she'd been expecting, that wasn't it. Ziva glanced up to find Abby trying and failing miserably to suppress her excitement behind a mask of feigned sympathy.
"Abby, do not bother trying. I know you didn't like him."
Abby had the good grace to at least try to look indignant. "How could I like him Ziva? I didn't know him. Besides," she offered with a mischievous gleam in her eye. "You have a perfectly viable option much closer to home."
'That is half of the problem.' Ziva fervently hoped that the blush she felt creeping across her cheeks wasn't as bright as it was warm. She responded instinctively, "My home is in Israel, Abby."
Abby squared her stance and stared back like a petulant child, the look only enhanced by her long black pigtails. "Your home, Ziva, is where you're surrounded by the people who love you and we both know that's not in Israel."
A sudden powerful wave of emotion rushed up to lodge in her throat and Ziva fought against the tears that threatened to breach the walls of her lashes. When Vance had sent her back to Israel, she had tried to convince herself that she'd been going home. However, the dull ache in her heart only grew stronger with each passing week away from D.C. Still, she'd tried: tried to mend things with her father, tried to be the good Mossad officer he'd always wanted of her, tried to settle back into life in a country that now felt foreign to her. Michael had been part of that plan, a tether she couldn't quite let go of, even once she'd returned to D.C. Being with him was safe and it kept her from straying in the direction her heart truly wanted to go.
'Nothing is inevitable,' she'd once told Tony. Now she was starting to doubt her convictions.
Abby was right. She'd found her home among these people and cutting ties with Michael was her final acknowledgment of that fact. But, now she was lost. She truly couldn't go back anymore, but she had no idea how to move forward.
"You're doing it again." The laughter in Abby's voice snapped her back to the present with a start.
"S'okay," Abby replied, pressing her fingers to her temples and closing her eyes in concentration. "I think I'm getting some of it this time." Opening her eyes, she fixed Ziva with an intense gaze. "You're confused and it's frustrating you. You don't have a safety net anymore and your heart wants something you don't think it should. You keep trying to talk yourself out of your feelings, but you can't and it's scaring you."
Ziva could only stare back wordlessly, wondering when she'd become so easy to read. Abby grinned broadly, rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet as she realized that she'd hit her mark better than she'd expected.
"Wow! This mind meld stuff really works!"
Growing serious suddenly, Abby moved in closer, completely unconcerned with the risk of cornering a Mossad assassin.
"Y'know, I'm not the only one who loves you around here."
"Abby," Ziva warned lowly, narrowing her eyes, but Abby was unperturbed.
"I mean Gibbs and Ducky, well they see you like the daughter they never had, well Gibbs had, but you know what I mean, and McGee loves you like a sister, well a sister who can beat the crap out of him. An' Tony –"
Ziva pushed off from the counter, taking a menacing step forward, silencing Abby's rambling.
"Abby! Stop. Tony is not a viable option."
The forensicist merely arched an eyebrow in response.
Ziva widened her eyes meaningfully. "Rule number twelve?"
Abby smiled. "I like to think of that one more as a guideline. I mean, even Gibbs couldn't follow that one."
"And look where that got them," Ziva muttered ruefully.
Abby looked stricken for a moment as she realized just who they'd been discussing. Still, she pushed the cloud from her mind and ploughed forward, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "So this is about a guy. Just not the guy I'd originally thought."
Ziva sighed heavily, pacing the space between the mass spectrometer and the counter like a caged lion. There was no use trying to hide with Abby. "This is ridiculous. We have worked together for years now."
"Yeah, and you two have had a 'thing' the entire time."
Ziva whirled on the other woman. "We do not have a thing. What is a thing?"
Abby laughed merrily. "You know, a 'thing', like this big cloud of unresolved sexual tension that follows the two of you around wherever you go."
Ziva simply stared back. "I do not want to have sex with Tony."
"No," Abby replied simply. "You don't."
Now Ziva was really confused. "I don't?"
Abby nodded sagely. "No, you want much more than that from him."
Ziva pinched the bridge of her nose, fighting off the headache that was worming its way up her spine. "Abby, I can't do this," she answered and they both knew that she meant more than just the conversation.
Abby regarded her sadly for a moment before a spark lit in her eyes. "Okay, I hear ya. So, in that case, what you need is a distraction."
Ziva looked up almost hopefully. "What kind of distraction?"
Abby smiled triumphantly. "What you need is to go on a blind date."
The Mossad officer wrinkled her nose and furrowed her brow as she tried to process what the younger woman was telling her. "I do not see, Abby, how going on a date with a visually-impaired man would solve my problem."
"Yeah, if he asks you if you want to hold his cane, you might wanna think twice."
"Tony!" Abby admonished as the senior agent breezed into the lab.
"Sorry," he replied, shrugging innocently. "Couldn't help myself. So, why is Ziva dating some blind guy?"
Abby huffed in mild frustration, before the mischievous sparkle returned to her eyes. "She's not. I'm setting her up on a blind date."
Ziva observed their exchange with a mounting sense of trepidation, terrified that Abby in her exuberance might reveal her greatest weakness. She surreptitiously edged closer to the forensic scientist, hoping to get within at least tripping distance before Abby let anything vital slip. Tony's voice brought her back to the conversation.
"Why would you need a blind date, Ziva? I thought Mossad's Mr. October was keeping you busy."
Her suddenly eyes shot to his, her glare sharp and accusatory.
"How do you know about that?"
Tony had the good sense to take a step back, his eyes casting about the room for the nearest shield should things get really hairy.
"I, uh –"
"They broke up." Abby's almost gleeful assertion gave him a stay of execution. Grasping the verbal life-vest with both hands, he slipped into full teasing mode.
"Oh really?" Tony drew out the word like a piece of soft taffy.
If possible, Ziva's glare grew darker and Tony struggled to suppress a flinch, but neither managed to get a word in around Abby.
"Yeah, an' Ziva's been all depressed and frustrated, so I thought a blind date would be a good distraction." The wicked smile that crossed Abby's face was so fleeting, neither agent noticed. "And you never know, maybe she'll meet 'the one.'" She brought her finger to her lips in sudden inspiration. "Yeah, and I know just the guy!"
Ziva was truly worried now. "It's alright, Abby. I am fine. I do not need to meet someone new."
But Abby wasn't going to be easily swayed. Ducking into her office, she came back out flipping through what could only be an address book. "I know he's in here somewhere," she muttered, thumbing through the pages. Finally landing on the desired page, she dropped the book onto the counter and proceeded to copy down the vitals before handing the note to Ziva, who took it with obvious reluctance.
"He plays on one of the teams in our bowling league, works for State as a translator. Oh, this is perfect ... oh, and he's not bad looking, either. He's got the best arms. I mean, I always knew men had arms, but whoa ... and his wrists ... and wrists lead to hands and hands are always a good thing–"
"Abby!" Ziva said sharply, in an effort to derail her runaway train of thought. "I don't see what we could possibly have in common."
Abby, however, was clearly enamoured with her sudden brainwave and pled her case with conviction. "No, this is perfect; he speaks French and you speak French. The two of you could get together and, y'know, speak French."
The Israeli's face clouded with confusion. "Is 'speaking French' a euphemism for something I am not aware of in America?"
"Yeah, the two of you can make 'sweet French' together." Tony couldn't quite keep the sharp tang of bitterness out of his voice and both women looked over at him sharply.
"What the hell are you talking about, Tony?" Abby asked.
The conversation was quickly ended by the sharp 'thwack' of a hand to the back of Tony's head. "It better be about how Lieutenant Kaplan's blood ended up on Corporal Saunders' chainsaw."
The two seconds it took Gibbs to stride into the room and hand off his customary Caf-Pow to Abby was all it took to end the moment and swing the mood in the room back to professional. Still, Ziva couldn't completely focus on the facts of the case as they bandied theories back and forth. The cacophony in her mind had returned, made louder now by Abby's words and her own admissions. Glancing surreptitiously at Tony, she caught him staring back at her, his eyes dark and strangely unreadable.
Caught, he glanced away and the cold that settled into her bones at the loss of contact unnerved her greatly. She couldn't continue on in this state for much longer. She needed to get Tony out of her mind, get her head on straight and move on with her life, now that she had decided that her life would remain here in D.C. The small piece of paper, still tucked into her hand tugged at her thoughts. She rubbed her thumb slowly back and forth over the smooth surface before slipping the note into her pocket. Maybe Abby was right. Maybe a distraction was just the thing she needed.