Title: Fear of
By: Robin
Rating: PG-13
Category: Friendship, Humor, Drama
Characters: Tony, Ziva, McGee
Relationships: Tony/Ziva friendship, Tony/Ziva/McGee friendship
Spoilers: None, really. Set mid to late S5.
Disclaimers: Neither NCIS nor any of its characters belongs to me.
Notes: Thanks to Rose Wilde Irish for betaing!

"What do you think Gibbs is afraid of?" Tony mused out loud.

It was Thursday afternoon, and the week so far had been less than thrilling with only two burglaries and one forgery case. Tony was sitting at his desk, playing with paperclips and avoiding reports that needed typing and filing. Since Gibbs and Jenny had just entered MTAC, Tony figured he was safe to goof off for at least half an hour.

"Marriage," Ziva said promptly, not glancing up from her own paperwork.

"Good answer, David," Tony said approvingly. He flicked a paperclip at her as a reward, but his present only hit the edge of her desk and bounced off, landing on the floor. He turned his attention to McGee. "What say you, Probie?"

McGee had learned that taking part in Tony's boredom-induced discussions was rarely worthwhile. Usually it ended up with Tony mocking him or Ziva threatening him, or worse, the two of them ganging up on him. Staying out of these conversations was the best course of action, whenever possible. "I don't know, Tony," he said evasively, keeping his voice non-committal. "It's hard to imagine Gibbs being afraid of anything."

Tony's second, aimed paperclip also missed its mark, flying into McGee's monitor instead of McGee. "Everyone is afraid of something, McScaredyCat," Tony said, "including Gibbs. Even Ziva here is afraid of clowns."

That got McGee's interest. "Really?" he blurted out.

Finally giving in to Tony's incessant need to be the center of attention, Ziva threw her pen down and shot him an annoyed look. "I am not afraid of clowns, Tony. I just do not like them."

"I recall you using the word 'hate,' Ziva," Tony reminded her. "You said you 'hate' clowns."

Ziva rolled her eyes. "All right, so I hate them. Big deal. That does not mean I am afraid of them."

Tony, of course, glossed over this valid distinction. Giving up on the paperclips, he focused on teasing Ziva, a much more enjoyable game with a higher success rate. "This is a safe place, Ziva," he said, voice patronizing, and Ziva, hand twitching, wished Gibbs hadn't confiscated her stapler. "It's okay to admit to us that you're scared of clowns. They can be pretty creepy with the freaky make-up, the poofy hair, and the big shoes... Especially if you've seen It."

"It?" Ziva sounded confused.

"It's a movie," Tony said. "Came out in 1990, made for TV-"

"What's a movie?"

Tony, sensing the beginning of a painful back-and-forth, appealed to McGee for help. "Probie-"

McGee sighed. Why was he always dragged into these things? Carefully, he said, "The name of the movie is It, which is-"

Ziva laughed. "You don't need to explain, McGee. I have read the book." She liked driving Tony crazy with her feigned ignorance, but McGee didn't deserve the same treatment.

"Not funny," Tony said, crumpling up a piece of paper and chucking it at her. She caught it with one hand, then threw it right back at him before he could duck. It hit him on the forehead, and she smirked victoriously. Glaring at her, Tony complained, "Trust you to have read the book but not seen the movie."

"Jealous, Tony?" Ziva inquired sweetly.

"I know how to read, Zee-vah. I just prefer the visual and auditory experiences that movies and TV provide."

Ziva scoffed. "Of course you do. You are such a visceral person, after all."

"Your big dictionary words aren't impressing anyone, Officer David." Tony paused, narrowing his eyes at her. He had to give her credit - she was definitely skilled at deflecting and distracting. She had almost knocked him off his original train of thought. "But back to your clownaphobia."

"You mean 'coulrophobia,'" McGee said.

"What did you call me, Probie?"

"No, the correct term is - you know what, never mind."

Tony shrugged, then looked at Ziva expectantly.

Exasperated, Ziva said, "Why do you keep violining on this, DiNozzo?" She had been so close to diverting him from this ridiculous topic, but he was like a little yapping dog that refused to let go of a toy.

"'Harping,' Ziva. And can you blame me for wondering what killer Mossad ninjas find scary?"

Ziva raised an eyebrow. "Yes, actually. I doubt its relevance to... well, anything."

"Knowledge is power," Tony said.

"And death is the cure of all diseases," she quoted, smiling.

Tony was unperturbed by the subtle threat. She really needed that stapler back. "Come on, Ziva," Tony said. "There must be something that you are scared of."

"Not rats, that is for certain," Ziva said.

Tony frowned, and McGee snickered. That was a low blow. She knew how much rats freaked him out with their dirty little disease-carrying bodies. He'd had the plague, for God's sake. His fear was completely justified.

"Not heights either," Tony snapped, shooting a withering look at McGee.

"I'm not acrophobic-" McGee protested.

"Yes, you are," Tony and Ziva said at the same time.

Sometimes McGee hated his life. He went back to typing.

Lacing his fingers behind his head and leaning back in his chair, Tony suggested, "Spiders. Dentists. Sharp objects near your eye."

"Lawyers. Commitment. Gibbs," Ziva retorted, crossing her arms in front of her.

McGee snorted. True, truer, and truest. Tony glared at McGee again before returning his attention to Ziva.

"One thing you're afraid of, that's all I'm asking for," Tony said.

"You really won't let this go, will you." Ziva was amazed that she was still amazed by his juvenile behavior after all these years.

"Of course not. I'm an investigator, Ziva; I investigate. I won't rest or stop until I get the answers."

Expecting an insult of some sort, Tony was surprised when Ziva only replied, "All right."

"Seriously?" He sat up.

"Yes - if you tell me why you are so interested in this."

"Is that all?" As if it were obvious, Tony said, "Underneath that hard, emotionless ninja shell, there has to be something that makes Ziva David human."

The second the words left his mouth, Tony knew he had said the wrong thing. Ziva's expression immediately transformed from tolerantly amused to stony; she stared at him for a long, uncomfortable moment before abruptly standing and walking away without a word.

"Ziva, wait-" Of course that didn't work.

"Smooth, DiNozzo," McGee said sarcastically. "You're lucky she didn't kill you." Actually, it was a bad sign that Ziva hadn't even threatened Tony. She either must be really angry or really upset, and both scenarios were worrying. Though he would never admit it, McGee respected Tony and looked up to him, both as an agent and, frighteningly enough, as a person. But there were times, like now, that Tony did something really, really, really stupid, and McGee wanted nothing more than to Gibbs-slap the heck out of him.

Tony looked at him. "I didn't mean-"

McGee shook his head. "Don't apologize to me, Tony. Go apologize to her."

For once in his life, Tony listened to McGee's advice and went in search of Ziva. He found her near the stairwell, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. When she saw him, she turned away. His insides twisted unhappily, concern for her mixing with guilt and anger directed at himself; he knew she was sensitive about being thought of as heartless and unfeeling, but, as usual, the Anthony DiNozzo approach was 'mouth open, foot in.'

Trying to get her to face him, Tony said softly, "Ziva, I'm sorry. I know you're human, that you have feelings. I didn't mean to say that you didn't."

Still avoiding his gaze, Ziva gave a half-shrug, forcing indifference. "You do not have to apologize. I blew this out of proportion, yes? You are not the first to say what you said, and you will not be the last."

In truth, Ziva was annoyed with herself for overreacting. Tony hadn't meant anything; he was thoughtless sometimes, tactless, but she was the same. He had only been doing what he normally did - teasing them, fooling around, trying to entertain them; she liked that side of him, it often made her laugh. Besides, he made fun of her all the time, mocking her English, her hobbies, her wardrobe, her femininity. Still, these particular words had hurt, and she knew exactly why; the way he had said them, so carelessly, it was like he had been speaking for every other person who had ever shared those sentiments.

Tony frowned, not willing to be let off the hook so easily. "You're wrong, Ziva. You have a right to be upset, and just because I'm not the first or the last doesn't mean it's true or fair to you."

Ziva was silent, weighing his sincerity, while Tony stood awkwardly in front of her, feeling like a fifteen-year-old boy. Which, really, was the way he had been acting all day - honestly, it was how he acted every day. When the hell are you going to grow up, DiNozzo? he wondered.

"You asked what I was afraid of," Ziva said, finally meeting his eyes.

He let out a sigh. "Ziva. You don't have to prove yourself to anyone, let alone me-"

Ignoring his protest, she said, very quietly, "I am afraid of losing you - all of you. Gibbs, McGee, you, Abby, Ducky, Jenny."

"Ziva-" That feeling in his stomach was now a thousand times worse.

"I have already lost many loved ones. My mother, Tali, Ari." She took a deep breath but didn't look away, and Tony knew better than to interrupt. "I... may not say it, and perhaps I do not show it, but I care about all of you. Each of you is important to me; you are my family, and I don't want to lose any of you. I know that our jobs are dangerous, and death occurs often in this line of work, so I suppose this fear is as irrational as McGee fearing heights or Palmer being scared of baby rabbits. However, rational or not, this is what I am most afraid of in this world."

The look on her face was almost defiant, but there was something fragile there, too; raw emotion swirling behind a brave front. He understood that she was confiding things to him that she had never told anyone else, exposing herself, opening up to him because... well, he wasn't sure why, since he sure as hell didn't deserve that trust, but he wasn't going to take it for granted.

"I'm an idiot, Ziva," Tony said. God, was he ever. Cautiously, he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her gently against him. Although she froze at first, she did not resist; relaxing after a second, she laid her face against his chest. "I'm sorry I hurt you," he said into her hair. "I, we care about you, too, Ziva. You know that."

"I know." She did.

Ziva was his partner and his friend - probably his best friend and his best partner - so it was odd to realize that this was one of the few times he had ever really hugged her. It was nice, though he wasn't brave enough to voice that observation aloud. "Your fear isn't irrational," Tony told her instead, rubbing her back. "I'm scared of the same thing. I think we all are, even Gibbs."

Ziva's answer was muffled against his jacket. "Thank you."

They stood like that for several minutes until Tony felt something hard smack the back of his head. "Ow!" The yelp was mostly a reflex.

"DiNozzo, what the hell are you two doing?" Gibbs stood on the staircase, having leaned over the railing to reach Tony's head.

"We were just- It's not what it looks like-"

Ziva lifted her face, and Gibbs noticed the redness around her eyes; his frown deepened. He stalked down the steps and head-slapped Tony again, this time with more force.

"Boss!" That one stung.

"That's for making her cry," Gibbs snapped.

"Okay, I deserved that," Tony admitted, not bothering to question how Gibbs had known he was responsible. This was Gibbs, after all.

"I am fine, Gibbs," Ziva said.

"You sure?" They shared a look, Ziva reassuring him more with her eyes than her words. Accepting her answer, Gibbs turned back to Tony. "You done making up?"

"Uh... yeah, I think so. Are we okay, Ziva?" Tony looked at Ziva, who nodded, smiling faintly to show him that she forgave him.

"Good. Then you can let go of her, DiNozzo."

"Right." Tony quickly, reluctantly released Ziva and took two steps back.

The drama dealt with, Gibbs walked past them, heading toward the bullpen. "Gear up, we have a case."

"Not another burglary?" Tony groaned, keeping stride with Ziva.

"Got a problem with that, DiNozzo?"

"Never, Boss," Tony said, internally sighing as he picked up his backpack.

McGee was looking at them with a concerned expression. Tony gave him a quick nod, Ziva sent him a small smile, and Gibbs pretended not to notice the exchange. Guess Tony isn't completely hopeless, McGee thought, relieved that everything was back to normal. He swung his bag over his shoulder and followed his teammates to the elevator.

The elevator doors had almost closed when Tony suddenly remembered something. "Wait. Palmer is afraid of baby rabbits?"

Ziva only laughed.