A Woman

Chapter 13 (the last!) follows Identity Crisis (5x04). So, this story has gone alternate reality enough that I need you to discount Family (5x02) for this to make sense. Imagine that since everything I wrote did happen, and Tony more or less broke Ziva's heart, instead of trying to cheer him up and get him back on track in Family, she's been cold and withdrawn and all the things Mossad taught her to be around someone she can't trust.

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Tony sits at his desk, gazing across the aisle at Ziva. He wonders what it takes to learn to approach the world in a default state of defensiveness. In the two months since Jeanne left, Ziva has walked around with a thin layer of steel beneath her skin, keeping anything or anyone from touching her. When Gibbs is around, she makes some effort to speak to Tony cordially, but even when that slips into hostility, Gibbs doesn't say anything. Tony isn't sure if Ziva's realized that he told Gibbs what passed between them, but he can hardly tell her now.

It's exhausting, the amount of time he spends missing someone who sits opposite him. He's been surprised to find that except for occasional, fleeting reminders of Jeanne—when he flips on the TV to a movie they watched together, when he passes a restaurant where they ate—he doesn't think of her. Her absence has left him missing companionship, but not hers in particular. Instead he misses Ziva. He makes jokes to get her attention, pulls pranks on McGee to see if she'll laugh, but nothing seems to be working.

It was hard at first to take Gibbs' advice, to stay away from one-night-stands. But after he spent a few nights flirting with drunken co-eds in the bars near Georgetown, he quickly realized there was no way that 22-year-olds in mini-skirts could compare to his ass-kicking hot ninja of a partner. And yet today they have the delectable Courtney along for the ride, just within his age bracket and a LEO, no less. She smiles at him when he and Gibbs pick her up in the restaurant, and Tony is toast.

He spends the day in a happy haze of hormones. She's cute and seems to appreciate his wit and dashing good looks. It seems like a reasonable solution to his loneliness until, out of the blue, Ziva finally breaks her silence, confronts him about Courtney.

"You want to sleep with her," she says brusquely.

Tony stops short beside the copier. "Well, so...what if I do?"

Ziva shakes her head, and he's surprised she cares. "Same old Tony. I thought the new Tony wanted something more, a real relationship."

Now it's Tony who's on the defensive. She won't even speak to him, but still wants to control his dating choices? "I was pretending to be someone else."

"Well, you could have fooled me. I thought you had grown," Ziva taunts.

"I'm not particularly interested in outgrowing sex," Tony snaps back.

"Sure it would be nice, Tony, but it would be meaningless, empty. It would be wrong for you. She is a pretty girl but she is...just a girl. The man you were becoming needs a woman. At least I thought he did." Done with her monologue, Ziva twirls and storms off down the hallway, while Tony watches her, stunned. The way she said A woman...

He's caught off guard again as a file folder smacks the back of his head. "That was your chance, DiNozzo," Gibbs says harshly as he passes Tony on his way to his desk.

"Yes, boss," Tony murmurs, still watching Ziva until she disappears into the elevator.

As he takes his own seat, Tony finds himself elated. It's clear now that the extent of Ziva's defensiveness has been a reflection of the degree to which he's hurt her, and while he can hardly blame her and regrets all of it, the fact that she might just still care makes his own heart race. Jealousy is a chink in her armor, and encouraging as all hell to his hopes that something might still come of them. Tony can barely summon interest in Courtney when she reappears later, though he pulls out some charm for their 'date,' just to keep Ziva's interest piqued, and watches with amusement as Courtney forces her way under Ziva's wing.

***

Tony stands outside her building that night with a paper bag full of food, movies, beer—the accoutrements of their evenings together. He's more nervous than when, at eleven, he asked a girl out for the first time. She might not be ready to talk to him, she might not even let him in, and if it's too soon and he pushes, he might not ever get another chance. He leans against the door of his car, trying to imagine her reaction, and finds he can't.

"Tony?" Ziva asks, approaching from down the block.

He whirls, startled, stupefied in surprise. "Ziva."

"What do you want, Tony?" she asks tensely.

He tries not to let his racing heartbeat drown out his words. "You said before that you think I need a woman."

She nods warily.

"Did you have someone in mind?" He smiles brightly, falsely, nervously.

Ziva presses her lips together tightly, looking him over. "I'm just trying to keep you from making another mistake, Tony."

He's not quite sure how to interpret that but doesn't want to push her. "I brought some food and a copy of Rush Hour. I was thinking after we watch it, you could show me how to do the fight sequences?" he blurts.

A smile crosses her face, the first time in weeks that she's responded to him, and Tony relaxes. Ziva gestures to him to lead the way, and he fights the smile that tries to take over his own face, not wanting to spook her now.

Inside, the memories settle against their skin. Tony notices Ziva's eyes snap to the place where on his last visit he pressed her into the wall, kissing her fiercely, but she doesn't say anything so he averts his eyes before she catches him. He sets up the DVD while Ziva opens their beers and sets out silverware on the coffee table. Neither speaks.

Tony stands beside the couch, waiting for Ziva to come over with ice and glasses. She sets them on the table, then turns to him. Her body is rigid with tension.

"Ziva," he says softly.

Her eyes flicker over his face. She can still read him, and relaxes slightly when she finds no aggression, not even lust there. He is apologetic, tender.

She smiles hesitantly.

"Ziva, I'm sorry. I know Gibbs doesn't like apologies, but unless you object, I owe you one."

Ziva nods.

"I didn't know what I was getting into with Jeanne," he sees her flinch at the name and rushes to continue, "and when it all went to hell, I didn't know what to do. I didn't know enough about having feelings for anybody to sort out what I was feeling for either of you."

Her lips hint at a smirk as Tony admits his limited knowledge of love, and Tony can tell that self-deprecation is getting him somewhere, at least.

"Ziva, I miss you. And I don't miss Jeanne. I regret that I hurt her, sure, but—most of the time I don't think about her. And it feels like every minute I think of you."

"Tony, I sit six feet away from you," she points out, but her tone is soft.

"It's terrible to reminded so often," he jokes, and is rewarded by a laugh. But when she doesn't answer, her eyes cast down, his unease returns. "Ziva?" he finally asks. "What are you thinking?"

She looks up at him and for the first time in two months her vulnerability is written all over her face. "Tony, I haven't done this often either. Rarely enough that it...hurt me, when you turned away from me."

She is struggling to hold eye contact and Tony wants to put his arms around her. If only they weren't such emotionally-avoidant people, he thinks, they might be able to have this conversation more easily.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "I'm here now."

Ziva nods, smiling slightly. "Beer?" she gestures to the table and takes a seat on the couch.

Hesitantly, Tony takes a seat on the other end of the couch. If she wants to sit close to him, he's hardly opposed, but he won't rush this. He chuckles as she starts to chug her beer and she glances over, rolling her eyes at him. Tony tries to drink his own in a similar fashion, but he's laughing too hard and the beer is coming out his nose and then they're both laughing, the tension trickling away as they collapse against the back of the sofa, until laughter is slowly replaced by giggles, then by grins.

They watch the movie with occasional protests from Ziva about the unrealistic nature of the action sequences and happy rejoinders from Tony about suspension of disbelief and the magic of Jackie Chan, and when she sees Tony out at the end of the night, Ziva brushes her lips across his cheek. As he drives home, Tony can't stop smiling. Something invaluable has been restored to him.

***

Weeks more pass in the same fashion before their evenings become more than platonic. But then one night, after a particularly rousing sing-along to The Sound of Music to celebrate Ziva's birthday, they find themselves curled up on Tony's couch in the same position as that first night, now nearly a year earlier, when she kissed him. Once again Ziva leans into Tony's space and they're both suddenly remembering: that kiss, the others they shared in Ziva's apartment and even Jeanne's, the way their bodies ignite on contact. Tony slips his hand into Ziva's hair and she leans up, and now there's another kiss to add to the others—but this one doesn't end with someone pulling away except to breathe.

"You're not going to object to this?" Ziva whispers, teasing.

Tony chuckles. "I won't if you won't." He pulls her close again, his guilt finally easing as she sits across his lap and erases all the things they've done wrong in the past year as she happily presses her lips to his.

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THE END! My instinct is against sappy endings, but after the amount of angst in this story the resolution needed something slightly saccharin. Hope you liked it. And to those of you who have enjoyed this and written to tell me so, thanks again! It's been fun. ~Em

A/N 2 *shameless plug* If you've enjoyed this, you should check out my other story, Pivotal Moments, which tracks Ziva's relationship with Michael across season 6 similarly to how this one tracks Ziva and Tony across season 4. Tony will likely appear in that piece as well. The first chapter has a character I invented, which I think is throwing people off, but keep going, it skips around the way this one has. It'll also be updated more often now that this is done.