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: Thank you for all your kind words and encouragement on part 1. Sorry this second part took so long. Real life for both my editor and I, coupled with the finale, scuttled this story for a little while, but here's the second and final part. I hope it lives up to expectations. It turned out a little mushier than I'd originally planned, but after the angst-fest of the finale, it might be a nice reprieve.
* Again, a big thanks as always to my dear friend and eagle-eyed editor Joy. Your attention to detail and sense of humour make reading your edits just as much fun as writing the story.
Clearly, he was losing his mind.
He had to be; it was the only logical explanation for why he was sitting in an NCIS sedan across the street from a Georgetown bistro in the pouring rain, plotting ways to kill a certain meddlesome forensic scientist. Yup, definitely losing his mind.
It was Friday night, and despite the inclement weather the street was still bustling with people, but Tony was only interested in one. She'd stepped out of a cab and entered the bistro 18 minutes ago, and dammit, she'd looked hot. Problem was, she was in there, with someone else, and he was out here.
It was all Abby's fault, hence the plotting.
He hadn't known what was bothering his partner, but he'd been ready. Ready, to step up and be whatever Ziva needed him to be: a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on ... someone to hold her. However, that ship had sailed before he'd even had a chance to step onto the dock, all thanks to Abby's 'distraction'.
He was beginning to wonder if they'd ever get off the see-saw they called a relationship. Contrary to popular belief, Tony was neither completely blind, nor completely stupid. The tension that had been stringing between them since nearly the moment they'd met had grown over the last five years into an almost tangible thing. It was a thing that was getting harder and harder to ignore, yet they just never seemed to be on the same page. Hell, Tony wasn't even sure sometimes that they were reading the same book.
A lot of that, however, was intentional, at least on his part. Ziva wasn't a viable option. The truth was that she scared the hell out of him. It had nothing to do with her talent in maiming people using office supplies. No, his fear was much more deeply rooted than that. He felt its icy fingers teasing his heart not when she was glowering and threatening, but when she'd look at him and her eyes were soft, the woman beneath the warrior showing through the cracks. The pull would be almost overwhelming, but then fear's ruthless grip would drag him back from the brink.
Anyone who knew him might assume that it was just a case of the confirmed playboy not wanting to settle down, but as he'd entered the realm of his forties, his fear of commitment had been slowly replaced by the worry of ending up alone, with nothing else to do but drink bourbon and try and build a boat in his basement. As much as he admired his boss, Tony didn't find that future all too appealing.
Someone who knew him better might think that the disaster that was Jeanne Benoit had left him a little gun-shy, so to speak. A year ago that would've been true, but that wasn't what kept him up at night. The wisdom that can only come from time and distance had made him realize that while whatever it was he'd had with Jeanne had been his first real experience with 'love' and all of its complications, it had never been completely real and so, ultimately, it had been safe, in a way. Ziva was anything but safe. While his relationship with Jeanne may have involved jumping off a cliff, anything with Ziva would be like running full bore off the top of a mountain.
That mountain was starting to look less and less like Everest, but he still held himself back. Every time he'd been drawn into her orbit, toyed with the idea of getting closer to the ledge, Tony had consciously pulled away, rule number twelve and the memory of the photograph of another man, hidden under the blotter of her desk within her easy reach, rushing to the forefront of his mind like a giant red stop sign. He was finding it easier to discount Gibbs' rules, but she'd looked happy the night she'd left again for Tel Aviv and Tony had realized, much to his surprise, that her happiness meant more to him than anything.
That didn't mean he'd shed a tear when he'd heard they'd broken up.
Abby's almost teasing revelation in her lab a few days ago had set his mind spinning, wondering if maybe, just maybe, they would finally end up on the same page at the same time. If they could just reach that point, Tony figured that they could sort out the rest of the issues. However, Abby had quickly forced them to change chapters.
Tony never thought for a moment that Ziva would take Abby's offer seriously. Ziva didn't do blind dates ... right? He'd teased her good naturedly about it on their way back to the bullpen, but her continued withdrawal had had him worried. Then, this morning, Abby had nearly floated past his desk and dropped a piece of paper on the Mossad officer's workspace.
"It's all set," she'd said cheerfully. "Dinner tonight at Giselle's; he'll be waiting for you at 7:30."
Tony had nearly choked on his coffee. There was no way she was going through with this? A blind date? It was the epitome of desperate and Ziva was anything but desperate. The latent frat boy in him was gearing up for a good razzing, when he'd caught her eye. She'd looked shy, almost embarrassed to have this little fact announced so publically. It was reminiscent of the look she'd given him after Agent Lee's death and Tony decided suddenly to keep his mouth shut, to let her have this distraction, to let her try to be happy.
Despite this resolution, he'd somehow found himself parked in the shadows outside Giselle's, trying not to think about her laughing at another man's jokes. He hadn't intended to stalk her. Tony had fully intended to go straight home and nurse his chronic singleness with a healthy dose of Jack Daniels. However, his heart had had other plans and it had apparently instructed the rest of him to sign out a company car and head to Georgetown. He tried to tell himself that he was here in case anything got hinky, but he knew that was crap.
Ziva was the poster child for being able to take care of herself. She was more than capable of handling an unruly date. She –
A knock on the window drew him from his musings. Distractedly, he glanced up at the source of his interruption.
She was standing right outside his window.
Tony hoped the gulp that slid down his throat couldn't be heard through the glass. The rain had stopped, and the reflection of the streetlights in the droplets accumulated on his window glowed brightly, surrounding the ex-assassin like a halo. She looked like some sort of avenging angel. He wondered, absently, just how far he could get before she shot his tires out from underneath him if he pulled away now.
Trying for his most charming smile, and failing, Tony slowly lowered the window. The suddenly more mortal-looking Ziva glowered at him, hands placed firmly on her hips.
"There had better be something illegal going on at –"she glanced over her shoulder to read the sign on the business next to the restaurant. "Bob's Bait and Tackle, or you will find out just how many different ways I can kill you with a hairpin."
Tony cringed at the thought and ventured weakly, "I don't suppose you'd believe I was in the neighbourhood?"
Ziva snorted in derision. "No, I would not."
He watched her anxiously, completely at a loss for something to say, something that would keep her from walking away angry, something that wouldn't have her not speaking to him come Monday.
'You did not think this through.'
Her words to him from a little over a year ago rang just as true now and they did then. He really hadn't thought this through. One minute, he was mentally debating the relative entertainment value of a Bond versus Magnum marathon, the next he was staging an impromptu stakeout. It was just listening to Abby go on about how this guy could be 'the one' and how Ziva needed a 'fresh start' and suddenly, he just couldn't let her go through with it. He was so close to figuring out this 'thing' between them and if she went and met someone else, it would run his train of thought right off the rails. He just needed a little more time. Driving on autopilot to Georgetown, Tony had toyed with some half-baked plan of stopping her before she'd gone into the restaurant, but he'd been rooted to his seat. She'd disappeared into the building and he'd stayed there, watching her go ... again.
He'd done it before, with Roy and Locke and the two trips to Israel. In each instance it got a little harder; by the last time it had actually hurt, but Tony never said anything. He didn't know what to say. She was standing next to him now, here with him and not with that other guy, and still Tony didn't know what to say.
Apparently, his silence said enough.
"Why are you here, Tony?" She prodded. "Come to sabotage my evening, yes?"
Her words snapped him out of his musing. "What, no! I'm not sabotaging anything. I'm just sitting here –" Tony searched frantically for words, as his brain tried to process the situation. Suddenly he had a revelation. "Wait. I didn't do anything. You came to me. You should be in there, with him, eating overpriced French food, but you're not." His brow furrowed in confusion. "Why are you not?"
Ziva seemed to deflate somewhat at his question, the edge of indignant anger leaving her body in a rush of breath. "I walked out on him," she admitted.
Tony's confusion quickly morphed into concern. "Why? What did he do?"
Ziva dropped her gaze from his, digging the toe of her shoe into one of the small puddles that dotted the street. "He, uh, apparently was only really interested in 'making sweet French together' as soon as possible."
Tony fought to cover the sudden surge of protectiveness that threatened to overtake him. Ziva could most definitely handle herself. "And you didn't go all ninja on his ass?"
Ziva laughed softly, the hint of a wicked smile tugging at her lips. "I just bought this dress, Tony. It is much too soon to get blood on it."
Tony laughed in return, but it died in his throat as his eyes travelled her form, taking in the aforementioned dress. Though she tended to downplay it most of the time, Ziva was comfortable with her body and knew how to show off her beauty when she wanted to. Tonight, apparently, she'd wanted to. The navy blue jersey dress was simple, but it clung to her curves in all the right places before flaring out at her knees in a way that had Tony wishing for an air vent. The strains of 'Devil in a Blue Dress' ran through his mind suddenly. He swallowed convulsively.
Despite her best efforts to the contrary, Ziva couldn't suppress the shiver that chased its way down her spine at Tony's blatant perusal. Frustrated by her weakness, she folded her arms across her chest to ward of the sudden chill of the evening. Her movement immediately drew Tony's attention.
"You must be freezing," he ventured, his voice still holding a slight tone of amusement. "C'mon, I'll give you a ride home."
Her response was practically instinctual. "No. It's okay. I was just going to hail a cab."
"For God's sake, Ziva," Tony chastised with just a slight edge. "I've been practically stalking you tonight. The least I can do is drive you home."
Still, she hesitated. After the disaster that was the last half hour, she just wanted to go home, fill her tub with lavender-scented bubbles and wallow in her pathetic attempt at getting a life that didn't involve inappropriate feelings for her partner. She really didn't think she could take being trapped in a car with said partner while he teased her about her momentary lapse in judgement.
"Just get in the damned car, Ziva."
Huffing out a breath, she finally complied, rounding the hood, yanking open the door and slipping into the passenger seat. She slouched slightly in her seat and Tony felt an odd tug in his chest at the disappointment and frustration he saw etched on her face.
Ziva quickly schooled her expression.
"I am fine."
"You've been saying that a lot lately."
She looked up at him sharply, but her planned retort never left her lips. His expression was open and his eyes shone with unexpected concern. Sighing in resignation, she answered honestly.
"I do not know what I was thinking, agreeing to this blind date, as you call it. It was just that Abby was so sure it would be good for me."
Tony cringed. "I'm sorry that he turned out to be such a jackass. I mean, I'm surprised; Abby is usually a good judge of character."
Ziva smiled gratefully. "Yes, it is unusual, though she was right about one thing."
Tony arched an eyebrow in question.
"He did have nice arms."
Tony laughed then. "Yeah, she seemed pretty adamant about that. When I talked to her about it this afternoon, she was pretty convinced that this would be a good evening for you."
"She spoke with you about tonight?" Ziva asked, slightly alarmed to discover that Abby had been discussing her 'situation' with Tony.
"Yeah," he answered. "She'd said that she'd wanted my support with this. Actually," he mused. "It was kinda weird. She kept sayin' something about how I should be there for you as you move forward with-" Tony's eyes went wide as the pieces suddenly fell into place. "Wait a minute ..."
Ziva's expression was a mirror of his own as she reached the same conclusion.
"Do you get the feeling, Officer David, that we've been played?"
A sly smile slipped across her face. "I am beginning to think that Abby is the most dangerous of all of us."
They lapsed into silence, their gazes locked in the dim light of the vehicle. Ziva broke away first, suddenly uncomfortable with the notion that Abby had set them up and the implications of what it revealed.
"Now what?" she questioned softly, her voice laced with an unexpected shyness.
Tony considered her question for a moment. If Abby had gone to all of this trouble just to get them alone together, she must have sensed feelings in both of them ... right? Maybe they were closer to being on the same page than he'd thought. Taking a deep breath, he took a big step closer to the ledge.
"Well, the night is young, and I'd hate to see you waste a perfectly good dress."
She eyed him warily. "What did you have in mind?"
Tony flashed her his most charming smile as he turned the key in the ignition. "I've got an idea."
It was a good idea ... a really good idea, Ziva mused as she took the proffered pita from Tony's hands. She'd walked out on her date before they'd had made it to the main course and the appetizing aroma of chicken souvlaki made her suddenly realize that she was starving.
The waters of the Tidal Basin lapped gently against the shore, providing a calming soundtrack to the evening, washing over the din of distant traffic. They settled on a bench in the shade of the cherry trees overlooking the artificial lake and tucked into their dinner. The blossoms were fading and petals littered the grass, knocked unceremoniously to the ground by the earlier downpour, but their sweet scent lingered in the damp air and Ziva found herself pulling in deep breaths in an effort to surround herself with the fragrance.
The park was surprisingly quiet for this time of year, the rains having driven away the bulk of the tourists that descended on the city for the Cherry Blossom Festival, which was now nearing its end. The uncharacteristic stillness of both the night and her partner was at the same time a blessing and a curse. After a week of gruesome crime scenes, exhausting chases, interrogations and general human suffering, the calm was a soothing balm to her body, washing away the physical tension with each gentle wave against the sand. However, to her mind, the silence was dangerous, stretching out before her like a blank canvas, daring her subconscious to paint a multitude of scenarios that she'd rather not examine at the moment... or ever for that matter.
He'd followed her. She'd taken the first step in her effort to move on in her life, to move away from this ridiculous obsession with him and he'd followed her.
Tony hadn't said a word since they'd left the car and started their walk around West Potomac Park; still, she was almost painfully aware of him. His presence tugged at her senses, the warmth of his body seeping into her side, the cadence of his breath nearly matching the rhythm of her own. It was at once just like every other moment they'd spent together and completely unlike anything she'd ever experienced. It was as though a switch had been flipped, ramping up the current that had hummed gently between them for years into an almost inescapable force field.
The small voice within her heart was screaming, 'Finally!' but her brain was still frozen in fear. Sure, she'd wondered if they'd ever manage to find themselves on the same page at the same time, but she never thought it would actually happen. There were so many reasons that exploring this 'thing' between them was a bad idea. Rule number twelve was only the tip of a very large iceberg, but her heart just wasn't listening. No matter what she tried to tell herself, no matter how much she tried to convince herself that there was nothing beyond friendship between them, Ziva just kept coming back to the fact that he'd followed her and that he was here, now, bringing a little light to the darkness that surrounded her.
Tony continued to sit silently on the bench, seemingly focussed only on finishing his impromptu dinner, and Ziva was beginning to wonder if she really was imagining the whole thing.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
It took a moment for her to realize that he'd actually said something. Ziva's brows furrowed in confusion as her mind processed the words. It was definitely not what she'd been expecting.
Tony smiled softly, his eyes trained over the water as he wiped his hands off on his jeans.
"The night, here, it's beautiful."
Ziva tore her gaze away from his profile to take in her surroundings. Framed by the delicate boughs of the cherry trees, the sill waters of the basin shone with the reflected lights of the city. The ghostly white figures of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument rose up like some mythical bastions of the gods against the night sky. It was breathtaking, really.
She nodded in agreement. "I have lived here for nearly five years and I don't think I have ever really taken the time to notice just how beautiful it is."
Tony turned suddenly and snagged her gaze, his blue eyes fathomless in the dim light of the streetlamp. "Sometimes, I think we take for granted the beautiful things that have been right in front of us all along."
Ziva couldn't help the catch in her breath at his words, but Tony knew how to deliver a line and her inner cynic just wouldn't let go. Arching an eyebrow, she replied, "Is this your way of picking me up on the bounce-back?"
Tony's earnest expression shifted into one of utter confusion until his inner Ziva-English dictionary managed to make the translation. "You mean rebound, Ziva," he answered, unable to suppress a chuckle.
Ziva only gazed back at him expectantly.
His mirth suddenly changed to indignation at her implication. "What?" Tony spluttered. "You think that... No! Of course not, I-"
Relief and disappointment warred within her heart as she watched him struggle for purchase. This was the Tony she knew. This was normal. They were normal and if she could just get these fantasies out of her head, they could settle back into their partnership, friendship, or whatever it was they wanted to call it and get on with their lives. With a soft sigh, Ziva made to stand, only to be stilled by Tony's hand clasping her wrist tightly, his warm fingers setting her senses aflame.
Startled, Ziva glanced back at her partner only to find the confusion and befuddlement gone, replaced with an intensity that robbed her of her breath. His eyes bored into hers, daring her to pretend that things were normal, that they hadn't finally found themselves on the edge of a line they had been dancing around for years. Ducking his head, he made sure he held her gaze and whispered.
"I'm tired of pretending."
For one painful moment her heart stopped before it decided to make a break from her chest, hammering almost frantically against her ribs. They'd had this conversation before, and she couldn't help the sharp pang of fear that she was once again headed for heartbreak. But as she searched his face, there was no way she could misunderstand. His eyes were nearly black with resolve and an unmistakable desire that ignited a warmth deep within her core, melting away the last icy tendrils of fear and leaving her vibrating with anticipation. This really was happening. Her heart was practically singing as a shaky smile bloomed across her lips, lighting her face in the darkness as she said the only thing she really could.
Tony had beaten back his fear a while ago. He'd just been searching for the right words. Then it dawned on him that he'd already said them months ago. Sitting on that bench, soaking in the comfort of Ziva's presence, he'd realized just how close he'd come to never getting to this point. While her date tonight had never really been a threat, Tony had found himself cataloguing all the times he'd let her slip through his fingers. He was sure that there would be only so many instances that she would come back within his grasp and this time he was going to hang on tight.
Now, he could feel her pulse thrumming beneath his fingertips, an insistent rhythm that matched his own racing heart. He shifted on the bench to face his partner more fully and reached up to trail his fingers through her thick curls, marvelling at their softness. His heart swelled unexpectedly as she leaned ever so slightly into his touch. Her dark eyes were luminous, shining with unshed tears. They still held a hint of wariness, but behind the clouds, Tony could see a spark of hope and something he couldn't yet put a name to shining within their depths. His last coherent thought before he closed his eyes and dove off the cliff was, 'We'll make this work.'
Ziva didn't want to close her eyes, afraid that if she did, it would all evaporate in front of her and she'd discover that it was just another dream. But Tony's fingers threading through her hair felt very real, and she couldn't suppress the shiver that raced down her spine as his lips first made tentative contact with hers.
"You cold?" he whispered unsteadily against her mouth, his breath fanning across her face.
She closed the gap a little further, resting her forehead against his, drawing deeply from his warmth.
"No," she murmured, quickly erasing the space between them and capturing his lips again with her own. She felt like she was drowning, inundated by his touch, his scent and the taste of him. The warmth that had been churning in her belly spread like fire through her veins, igniting her senses as she slid her lips over his again and again. She'd kissed many men in her life, including Tony, but this was nothing like the lust-filled kisses they'd shared undercover so many years ago. The wave of emotion that threatened to overtake her as his other hand released her own and stole around her waist was both terrifying and exhilarating. Closing her eyes, she finally gave in and let the current they were creating sweep her away.
Eventually the need for oxygen was too much to bear and they broke apart. Tony drew away slowly, reluctant to lose contact now that he knew what it felt like. Carefully sucking in air, he held himself close, pressing his temple against her soft skin. He was suddenly afraid to look into her eyes, unsure of what he might find. Rationally, he knew that she was as much a participant in that kiss as he was, but doubt was a hard thing to shake.
Then he felt it, the slow spread of a smile, tugging at her cheek, urging him to do the same. Pulling back he was immediately snagged by her watery gaze. She was radiant, her smile lighting up her countenance, almost obliterating the shadows of fear that had clouded her eyes ... almost.
Inching forward, he nuzzled her cheek gently, whispering against her skin.
"It's alright. I'm scared too."
Ziva sucked in a startled breath. She hadn't realized that those were the words she'd needed to hear until they'd left his mouth. Pulling back she searched his face, overwhelmed by what she found there. The desire which had darkened his eyes earlier had eased for the moment, leaving them a steely blue, filled with resolve and a light that tugged at something deep within her.
This whole thing was crazy and she knew it. Just because they both suddenly realized that they wanted the same thing didn't mean that all the reasons that this was a spectacularly bad idea would suddenly vanish like dust in the wind. However, Ziva found that she just couldn't bring herself to care anymore. She was tired of running and she'd found the only place she wanted to rest.
Her own gaze filled with determination and overwhelming affection, she nodded firmly and whispered, "Okay," before leaning forward suddenly and pressing her lips to his in a chaste but powerful kiss.
When her eyes slipped open again, she found him still staring at her, his smile softened slightly by a hint of relief.
"Okay," he replied, turning back towards the lake and reaching out to tuck her into his side. She came willingly, inhaling his familiar scent mixed with the fragrance of cherry blossoms. Gazing out over the waters, Ziva felt her heart settle into a comfortable rhythm, slowing along with his pulse that she could feel beneath the hand she had tucked up under the lapels of his jacket. They still had a lot to talk about, and she dreaded the day they would have to face Gibbs, but tonight she was content to revel in the peace that had settled over them like a blanket.
A gentle breeze eddied up from the surface of the water, tugging the already loosened petals from their calyxes and sending a shower of pink fluttering down over the couple. Ziva shivered and Tony pulled her in tighter, dropping a gentle kiss into her hair. A distant siren cut through the cocoon of silence that enveloped them, taunting the agents with the reminder that they would have to return to the real world soon enough, a world full of work, of fear, of complications and distractions. Still, neither showed any signs of moving, content to share their strength and their warmth, knowing that they were finally in this together.