Summary: Tag to Dead Man Walking. Tony and McGee attempt to cheer Ziva up after Lieutenant Sanders' funeral. Things backfire. Or do they?
A/N: Dead Man Walking was one of the first episodes I watched, and although I wasn't a true fan of NCIS until a while later the thing that stuck out to me even before I was familiar with the characters was how sweetly big-brotherly Tony was towards Ziva (especially when he distracted the doctor with his little hypochondriac act *snickers madly*). So here's some H/C, with no particular shipperly intent—just team love. =)
Oh, and for anyone interested, a longer story is in the finishing stages at last. Barring any fits on my Muse's part, I hope to be able to post it soon. It's not actually a sequel to Instincts (kinda hit a hard point in that story, and have to yet to push on), but a different crossover piece with Stargate SG-1. There's lots of Gibbs and Tony in it (and more focus on the NCIS characters than SG-1, kinda like with Instincts). ;)
But for now…
McGee understood what Tony was trying to do.
After all, McGee was here, spending his Saturday night in a smoggy bar instead of breathing the unpolluted air of his room, happily typing up a new chapter on his typewriter. Okay, so maybe "painstakingly" was a more appropriate word to describe the process of bleeding and sweating he went through, massacring page after page. And, fine, maybe McGee wasn't detesting a night on the town as much as he certainly would have a few years ago…
The point was, he wanted to be here for Ziva, and he had to give it to Tony for being as sensitive to Ziva's mood as he'd been being. Tony's overly cheerful attitude might have been more grating, were he not at the same time so obviously trying to get Ziva to crack a smile, or laugh, or hit him. Whatever worked for her. It reminded McGee very much of Tony's attempts to cheer him when he'd shot the undercover cop and nearly quit NCIS altogether, and he would've bet Ziva was leaning towards hitting Tony now, as McGee had been then.
You couldn't say Tony's methods were either subtle or terribly effective, but all the same, they could be oddly endearing.
McGee had agreed to Tony's outlined plan partly because he thought Ziva wouldn't even agree. The argument had almost died before it began. Tony had whined "C'mon Zee-vah, don't be a party pooper," to which Ziva had tersely replied that she had no intention of "pooping on their party," and they could just go on without her. In the end, though, a classic DiNozzo grin (one part roguish charm, one part puppy-dog eyes) had made Ziva cave with ill-grace. Despite her scowling, McGee was impressed that Tony had convinced her at all.
And so here McGee was, spending his weekend with Tony of all people. The two of them sat, leaning back in their chairs, sipping their beverages of choice, and Ziva-watching as covertly as they could.
"Do you really think this is helping?" McGee asked, after a not-uncomfortable lapse of conversation. That was one of the big advantages of the unconventional camaraderie he shared with Tony: while they usually fought, their moments of agreement were noticeably lacking in awkwardness, since deteriorating into argument was only reverting back to life as usual.
Tony considered for a moment. "Give it some more time."
"Give what more time? Her sulking?" Maybe sulking was a bit harsh. Ziva was more…gloomy. Everything about her screamed hurt. Or maybe McGee just knew her that well. To others it was just possible she screamed "touch me and you're dead."
Tony shook his head. "Nah, give him more time."
McGee followed Tony's gaze. Though Ziva was clearly unapproachable, and hadn't been approached all evening, one guy apparently hadn't gotten the message. McGee gave him the once-over dubiously. "You mean, Mister Receding Hairline, over there?"
"So critical, Timmy. You forget the beer-gut and pleasantly leering expression."
McGee snorted. "If we don't stop her, she might reflexively kill him."
Illuminated by soft glow of neon lights, Tony's expression reflected his glee. "My point exactly, McMatch-maker."
"Just sit back and enjoy the show, Probie." Tony had on his best salesman voice, the same confident one he used to advertise for Gibbs' interrogation techniques. "If I am not mistaken, in but a brief moment we will treated to the sight of Mossad training in action. Watch, as the world is rid of one more delusional, middle-aged sap…"
"You should look into doing narrations," McGee commented.
Tony ignored him, wincing in anticipatory delight as Middle-Aged Sap took that fatal step into Ziva's Personal Space. "C'mon, c'mon…" he rooted under his breath.
McGee had to admit, it would be a promising sight to see Ziva snap the man's head off. In the figurative sense, of course. Sap was just sidling up to where Ziva stood, leaning against the high counter. Amid the noise, McGee couldn't hear what Sap was saying, but he could see the man's mouth move as he stood so that his shoulder pressed against Ziva's.
Ziva stiffened but, to McGee's surprise, didn't immediately respond with violence. When she did move, it was only to jerk sideways with an expression of distaste.
"Pathetic," Tony labeled it disappointedly.
"She's been really out of sorts, Tony," McGee defended Ziva.
"Well, yeah, but he," Tony nodded towards Sap, "is just asking for it."
Sap's lips were moving again—and, yeah, he might as well have been "asking for it" if the sly smile pulling his lips tightly across his too-round face was any indication of what was being said.
Ziva's response was a mild one, for her. She looked more depressed than angry, her expression worryingly blank. McGee was used to seeing life in her eyes: rage, laughter, unease, defiance. He was more concerned than he cared to admit at the dullness he saw in her eyes right then. There was no spark in them, as if she couldn't dredge up the willpower to come up with the appropriate response for the man making advances on her.
As Ziva's unwanted company once more closed in on her personal space, McGee could see her grit out something between her teeth. Sap smiled all the more. Ziva closed her eyes wearily.
McGee cast a sidelong glance in Tony's direction, wondering how much mockery he might have to put up with for voicing his concerns.
But, bewilderingly, Tony was already in action, moving across the room in long strides.
"You don't look like the shy type, sweetheart…" Sap was just saying, as McGee, just behind Tony, approached.
Sap turned from his conquest, to look at Tony with mild amusement. "Uh, you want something, buddy?"
"Your butt, long gone," Tony returned evenly.
McGee saw a protest ready on Ziva's lips at Tony's intervention, a reflexive "I can handle it myself." He saw the words die before they were out. She gave a small shake of her head, looking more bleakly resigned than before.
"Look, hot shot, the lady and I were having a conversation, here."
McGee, behind and slightly beside Tony, saw his friend's narrow-eyed look in-profile.
"A conversation?" Tony repeated tightly. "Oh, is that what you call harassment?"
Sap snorted, dismissively turning away from Tony and towards Ziva. "Well now, sweet-cheeks, just to show this knight-errant of yours what a gentleman I am, let me introduce myself. I'm Clive—"
"All right, Clive," Tony interrupted with a deceptively tolerant tone, "Miss David's knight-errant is just getting grouchy now. I'd suggest—"
Ziva interrupted at last. "Tony. Please, I…"
McGee saw a warning look from Tony communicate a clear "shut up" from him to Ziva. To add more astonishment to all the surprises of the evening, Ziva promptly clammed up again.
Clive glanced between Ziva and Tony. "Ah, so you two know each other, huh?" He settled on trying to stare down Tony. "Well if you know the lady, and feel such an all-powerful need to protect her, you might've put in your own bid, because, from where I've been standing, you've been leaving Miss David all on her lonesome most of the evening."
Tony was in Clive's face in an instant. He would've been nose-to-nose had Clive's nose not come up short, more on a level with Tony's chin.
"Clive, I don't like you," Tony spoke just loud enough for McGee to hear, "and I know Miss David well enough to know that she doesn't like you."
"I think I don't care what you think, buster." Clive was straining not to appear strained over his height disadvantage. His arrogance was surviving, at any rate. "And," he continued, sly smile making a come-back, "I think I'd like to hear Miss David speak her own mind."
Tony chuckled softly. "Oh, I really think you don't. You see, she's been under a lot of stress lately—just got back from a funeral. More than that, she hasn't killed anyone lately." Almost a whisper, Tony confided, "The effort of restraint…geez," he looked sideways at Ziva, "it's really starting to show."
"You know what?" Clive said loudly. "You're full of it, Tony."
Saying it, Tony sounded so much like Gibbs McGee couldn't help but gape all the more. Only, Tony's sarcasm, instead of encouraging Clive to grasp the obvious, smugly invited him to reap the consequences of continued oblivion—hey, no skin off my nose.
Tony stepped back with a shrug. "Well, I don't mind saying it would be a great relief to the two of us," he indicated McGee, "if she got it out of her system. We work together, and lately," his voice became a stage whisper, "she's been just short of impossible to live with. Those trained assassins and their fatal bad moods." Tony laughed at his own joke, then cleared his throat. "But, like I said, I don't really like you, anyways." He pasted on pleasant smile. "So be my guest."
Clive tried a few unkind words, doubtless wanting to see if calling Tony names would cause him to dissolve into tears and back off. When Tony kept smiling, and Ziva kept silent, Clive seemed to come to a decision.
"Forget it," Clive said, shooting Tony a venomous look, and Ziva a disdainful one, as if he hadn't really been interested at all. "You're all crazy." To Ziva, as he walked off, he added: "You can go play hard-to-get with someone else, sweetheart."
Clive out of the way, Tony seemed to finally notice the weight of his two coworkers' full attention. He looked embarrassed.
Quietly, the din around them almost keeping McGee from hearing, Ziva commented, "First you intentionally step in front of a needle for me, and now you beat off my suitors? If you are looking for a job as knight-errand—"
"—errant," Tony corrected. "Knight-errant. And I didn't, technically, take the needle for you. The needle was…well, that was me not thinking my actions through to their painful consequences."
McGee finally found his voice again. "Tony, she's right. That was very…gallant." McGee'd also heard from Ziva about Tony's playing live decoy with the doctor so that Ziva and Roy could go for their walk. If McGee let himself sound amused now, it was only because telling Tony, seriously, that he was impressed by his gentlemanly behavior was definitely not the way his friendship with DiNozzo worked.
"Yes," Ziva concurred, "I would recommend you to run errands for any damsel in distress, anytime."
McGee laughed, perhaps a bit too readily, happy to see the dullness gone, and a small smile lighting up Ziva's expression. She was still a subdued version of herself, but not defeated, only weary.
Tony wasn't seriously upset, but he was seriously embarrassed. He scowled, titling his chin upwards proudly. McGee could tell he saw the change in Ziva too, and was satisfied with it. "Well, fine then, I'll just leave you two to your little snicker-fest—"
Ziva snagged the cuff of his sleeve before he could get away from their circle. "We have no candy bars."
Tony blinked. "No, that would be a snickers-feast." He turned again to leave.
Ziva's hand, holding his sleeve, prevented him.
Tony frowned. "I was joking about you being all out for blood." The frown fled, his eyes widening a bit in the face of her level stare. "Not that you're not perfectly entitled to a perfectly foul mood, just like anyone else."
"I'd stop while you're behind, Tony," McGee mused.
"What?" Tony protested, making feeble efforts to dislodge Ziva's hand. "I'm in the dog-house all the sudden? I thought I was all sweetness, and thoughtfulness, and knightly—" He broke off, as Ziva released his sleeve to wrap both arms around him a hug that was quick, and almost Abby-like in its spontaneity.
Tony was frozen in surprise and Ziva pulled back.
"Thank you, Tony," she said earnestly.
A slow smile, both pleased and yet more embarrassed, spread across Tony's face. He jerked a thumb in the general direction Clive had gone. "If you want, I could break a few limbs."
Ziva's mouth quirked in consideration. "As much as I appreciate the thoughtfulness…" she trailed off, her gaze rested briefly on McGee, an echoing, silent "thank-you" in her look that said she knew bars weren't McGee's usual idea of fun. She concluded, "I think, right now, what my foul mood would like is a Snickers."
"Far be it from me to stand between an assassin and her chocolate," Tony agreed solemnly. "To the vending machine we go."