apologies all over

"Mmmmph," he moans into his desk, regretting closing his eyes for what was supposed to be a quick catnap and what apparently turned into… He blinks at the clock and frowns. Three hours?

"Good morning, sunshine," a smooth voice floats across the bullpen.

"Why didn't you wake me?" He grunts as he stretches the many kinks out of his back.

"Because you needed your sleep," Ziva shrugs, typing away at her computer while having the audacity to look completely refreshed. And freshly showered? Her hair is a little damp.

"And you didn't need yours?" He frowns and rubs the sleep from his eyes.

Ziva narrows her eyes at her partner. She hates when he tries to handle her, as if yesterday weren't enough, as if she weren't the one who spent the majority of the night awake and plowing through Avelar's records.

"No, I did not," she snaps. From the look on his face, he knows exactly what argument he's walked into. He grabs his Dopp kit from the filing cabinet.

"I'm going to go wash up," he snaps back as he heads in the direction of the restroom. Ziva whirls in her seat, knife on her tongue, ready to nail him for walking out on her. Before she can say anything, though, he stops and turns around.

"I'm not trying to coddle you, Zi," he mutters, apologies all over his face. "Everyone needs sleep, okay? Even tough cookies like you."

She forgives him with a nod and turns back to her computer. Some days she thinks it was easier when they were both trying to deny their feelings rather than explore them. But, as she watches him stumble to the washroom still half-asleep, she can't ever regret falling in love with the big lug, even if he does drive her up the wall sometimes.

Walking over to his desk, she places a breakfast burrito on his keyboard. It's not the healthiest option, but at least it's got some protein and came from the café across the street as opposed to the vending machine.

Honestly, he'd be lost without her.

rather deserving

Gibbs slams his phone down.

"Gear up! North Chicago PD finally got back to us. Avelar has a known associate who relocated to the D.C. area."

They all scramble for their gear. Tony is just glad that his breakfast burrito had a chance to settle before the apprehending got started.

"They just got back to you? At 0800?" Tony smirks as they hurry into the elevator. "Imagine that! I wonder why they didn't call us back when we left the message at midnight."

Gibbs' smack to the back of his head is expected. McGee does a fair imitation of the Mona Lisa, controlling his grin only when Ziva fixes him with her official assassin glare.

Though Ziva thinks Tony's smartass comment was rather deserving of a Gibbs-slap, she still hates to see her partner in pain. She gives Tony a sympathetic look. He milks it by rubbing his scalp gently, as if it were tender to the touch. Ziva rolls her eyes. He can be such a drama king sometimes. But, still, she plays along. A moment later she's lifting her hand to soothe his injury.

"Would you like one to match?" The glower on Gibbs' face is discernible in the shiny steel of the elevator doors.

Ziva drops her hand. Tony smirks.

McGee keeps his eyes front.

righteous and kickass

The rain has finally cleared up; sun peaks through the clouds. The apartment complex is nearly deserted in the way that most dangerous neighborhoods always are. There is little sign of life or movement on the street. Music thumps from somewhere in the apartment complex, the only hint it's occupied at all. They strap on their bulletproof vests. A child peeks through the curtains on a second floor unit. Seeing the law enforcement gearing up, his eyes go wide and he ducks away.

"Keep your eyes open," Gibbs warns. Their perp, Jose Avelar, has a rap sheet a mile long, not counting the charge that's about to be leveled against him, and so does the dirt bag with whom he's hiding out.

Glaring at an unseen enemy, Ziva makes sure her spare sidearm is locked and loaded as her eyes scan the scene. She hopes these bastards give her a reason to employ excessive force.

Tony grins at her. He likes when his ninja gets all righteous and kickass.

"Now, now, honey bear," Tony whispers in her ear, sending a shiver down Ziva's spine. "Remember when you shoot them, we have to do more paperwork."

"I hate gangsters," Ziva sniffs as she ties back her hair. "They are thugs with no training and little discipline."

"True," Tony agrees, locking their car. "But they have guns that go bang so please watch your back."

"You are clobbering me again," she singsongs.

"No," he corrects, a spring in his step as he follows her toward the building. "Clobbering is what you will do to these poor gentlemen. Coddling is what I do not do to you, ever, because I like my appendages attached to my body. However, I am reminding you, as your partner, that I would rather we all make it out of this without a trip to the ER."

"Also," McGee adds as he catches up to them, "Tony hates jumpy guys with guns."

"Stuff it, Probie," Tony growls. Who wouldn't be anxious around paranoid, trigger-happy lowlifes?

"Do not worry, Tony," Ziva smiles and pats his cheek. "I will not let anyone shoot you."

"Oh, gee, thanks."

On Gibbs' signal, they approach the apartment.

when they involve the kids

They find Avelar and Lara in the apartment, watching porn.

Ziva frowns. She was looking forward to a little more excitement.

"Hands where I can see 'em!" McGee shouts, leveling his Sig.

"But, please, feel free to zip up first," Tony adds, making a face. Ziva snickers.

"That bitch took my woman from me!" Avelar curses as Gibbs cuffs him. "She was MINE!"

Avelar's temporary landlord, Cesar Lara, just stares at the agents in shock.

"Can it, Avelar." Gibbs' voice holds no shortage of venom. He easily corrals the resisting man into the wall. Avelar quiets down. "He's riding with me," Gibbs informs his team with a special look just for his perp. "You three get Lara."

Tony, Ziva, and McGee exchange looks as Gibbs hustles off their suspect.

"He wouldn't…" McGee begins, raising his eyebrow to Tony.

"He hates when they involve the kids," Tony shrugs, holstering his gun.

"Avelar deserves it," Ziva says shortly, whipping out her handcuffs.

Cesar Lara hasn't moved from his armchair. His eyes dart suspiciously between the three agents. "Wait…why are you arresting me?"

"For watching bad porn?" Tony mugs, clicking off the TV. Lara seems to debate the merits of fight or flight, but opts for surrender when he sees who has the handcuffs. "I'll let the friendly lady officer explain it to you," Tony grins wickedly when he sees lust move into Lara's eyes.

Ziva gives Tony a dirty look before snapping her cuffs on the gangster. Lara yelps.

"Wait, there's such a thing as good porn?" McGee asks as they troop out of the apartment.

"You have a lot to learn, young Probie-hopper," Tony sighs as he pats the younger agent on the shoulder.

happy-family conclusion

They stand in the observation room, watching again. This time they are privy to Gibbs' special brand of suspect-torture—a barrage of evil glares.

"Ten bucks he makes him cry," Tony offers to his teammates. Ziva scoffs, more concentrated on shooting visual daggers at Avelar than taking a bet.

"No way," McGee shakes his head. "Avelar is a Latin King. He won't cry."

"Even gangsters get the blues, Probie," Tony riffs, stretching his hand out when the gangster in question begins leaking like a sieve.

"It was a fool bet, McGee," Ziva interjects as Tony stuffs his reward in his pocket. "Avelar was weak."

McGee opens his mouth to correct Ziva's English, or perhaps ream Tony out for taking advantage of him, but he is interrupted by the sudden appearance of Gibbs in observation.

"Call me when he's done," Gibbs orders, jerking his head in the direction of Avelar and the confession he's in the process of writing. He breezes toward the door.

"Wait!" Tony catches him, practically tripping over his feet. "Where are you going, boss?"

Gibbs fixes the senior agent with a look. "I've got a little girl who wants to see her father."

"Oh, right," Tony replies. He glances between his teammates. Ziva nods at him. "Are you going to the hospital? Because I think we all—

"Stay here," Gibbs cuts him off. "I want this case off my desk tonight."

"Yes, boss," Tony salutes the door as it slams shut behind the man.

Ziva's shoulders droop. It would've been nice to see this case all the way through to its happy-family conclusion. Tony and McGee seem to share her belief if their dejected faces are any indication.

"Well, we can't be expected to write reports on an empty stomach." Tony pulls out his newly won cash and waves it around. "Smoothies on me?"

a neat little bow

It's thirty-six hours after that first phone call that they finally wrap up the case.

A speedy case by most standards, Tony has to admit.

"Just how I like 'em," Tony announces as he leads McGee and Ziva to the elevator. The bullpen is once again empty, as most sane NCIS employees have gone home for the night. "Open and shut, all tied up with a neat little bow."

McGee rolls his eyes at the senior agent. "A child lost her mother, Tony."

"Well, yeah, McObvious," Tony scoffs as he punches the button to the parking garage. "I didn't say I liked the fact that someone was murdered. But if someone had to be murdered at least we caught the murderer, got a full confession, and have an air-tight case that will land the bastard in prison for life."

Ziva sways her body into Tony's. "I think someone needs some sleep," she chides. She pinches his cheek for good measure.

Tony just scrunches up his face. "Sleep? Whatever! Don't need it!"

"I could use a drink," McGee admits. He looks between his two teammates. "You guys want to get a drink?"

The looks on their faces say everything.

"Thank you for the offer, McGee, but it has been a long couple of days," Ziva rejects him politely. She slides her hand into Tony's as the elevator doors open. "I think it would be best if we all got some sleep, yes?"

"Oh, right," McGee answers, trying to hide his disappointment. His can't help that his eyes flick down to take in their entwined hands.

There is an awkward silence as they enter the garage.

"Perhaps we could all have dinner tomorrow night?" Ziva suggests, reading McGee's face. She can tell he's been feeling left out lately, and know it's probably because of her and Tony's developing relationship. But his friendship is immensely important to her, too, and she doesn't want to jeopardize that. "We could try that tapas place you are always recommending. Maybe invite Abby to come, too?"

McGee brightens. "Sure. That would be great. I'll check with Abby and make a reservation."

"Tapas," Tony sneers. "I hate sharing my food."

Ziva uses her thumb to send Tony to his knees with a groan.

"Uncle. Uncle!" He yelps until Ziva lets him up. He ignores the self-satisfied smile on her face as he pops up from the ground. Yanking his hand from Ziva's grasp, Tony turns to face his teammate. "Sure, McGee," he says in a false cheery voice. "Tapas sounds great. I love tapas!"

"You can order your own dishes if you want, Tony," McGee concedes, giving him an odd look.

Tony eyes Ziva warily. "I can?"

Ziva shrugs. "You can order whatever you want. You do not need my permission. Do you?"

"Uh..no?" Tony responds, tone suggesting he's not sure of the correct answer. Then, thinking about it, he adds a more emphatic, "No!" He looks to McGee. "I will not drink sangria and I'm getting my own order of those bacon-wrapped date thingies."

McGee smiles. "Oh! I love those."

"Bump it for the bacon," Tony chants to McGee, putting his fist out to the junior agent. McGee laughs as he obeys. Ziva just rolls her eyes at them.

"So, Probie," Tony risks a glance at his partner, "Did you ever hear the story of when Ziva-of-the-Jungle here decided to spy on naked boys?"

Tony dodges the fist that Ziva throws at his arm, but ends up wincing when her foot makes contact with his shin.

"Goodnight, Tim," Ziva says shortly before turning on her heel and stalking away.

Tony watches her go with a befuddled look on his face. "Someone's feisty tonight," he winks at McGee, who just looks heavenward in return.

"Later, McGoo," Tony tosses off as he limps off in the direction of his wayward lover.

"Bye, Tony," McGee responds, amused.

"Hey, bobcat, wait up!" Tony shouts as he chases after Ziva. "I wasn't really going to tell him, you know…"

McGee watches them for a moment. Tony quickly catches up to Ziva, throwing his arm around her as they walk towards his car. She seems to forgive him for his remark (though McGee will be sure to ask Tony about it later) and loops her own arm around his waist in response. Their heads bend together; their eyes dance across one another's face. Ziva chuckles at something Tony says and shoves him with her hip; Tony gives her a brilliant smile in return, kissing her quick on the cheek.

McGee shakes his head. But he finds himself whistling as he walks off toward his own car.

blessed silence

Ziva pours them each a glass of wine as Tony heats up some leftover baked mostaccioli. They move about his kitchen in a comfortable routine. The only sounds to be heard are the shuffle of feet on linoleum, the creak of the oven door, the pop of the cork from the wine bottle.

Finally, blessed silence after two days of noise.

"You okay?" Tony asks as he embraces her from behind. Ziva allows him to nuzzle her neck as she takes a sip of her merlot. She considers her response for a beat, but really has only one answer.

"I'm fine," they both say at the same time. Ziva laughs and swats Tony away.

She watches him rummage through his cabinets for plates. She finds herself grinning in approval at the long lines of his body as he reaches up. This is something she has found more healing than any pill or salve or word: the monotony of preparing dinner after a trying day, Tony skimming his hand across her back as he reaches for the salt, the sudden, thrilling warmth of what it means to feel at home.

She thinks if she can count on this every night, her tomorrows won't be so bad.

The oven timer dings. Tony uses a dishtowel to remove the casserole dish from the oven. Ziva smirks at his exaggerated pain when he realizes the dish is much hotter than he anticipated. He manages not to drop it on the floor. Ziva serves them each a generous portion, which they take to Tony's small living room.

They eat in silence as they catch the end of the late evening news. When the anchor starts detailing the winners of a local pumpkin pie-eating contest, Tony turns off the TV.

"Do you think Jocelyn will be okay?" He asks, swirling the last sip of wine in his glass. It is a clear night outside and moonlight filters in through the open window, catching on the purple liquid.

Ziva places her empty plate on the table. His question is not one either of them have a way of knowing the answer to and yet she had been about to ask him the same thing.

"I do not know, Tony," Ziva replies honestly. She finishes off her wine. She curls her legs under her body on the couch and turns to regard her partner. Some days it strikes her how much older he looks, how much older they both look, and she wonders how long it will be before they are nothing but their jobs. How long until they are nothing but steely glares, heavy armor, and regret.

His palm lies open to her on the couch between them and she traces the lines embedded there. His fingers curl up in response. She likes his hands; solid, powerful, expressive hands that have saved more lives than they have taken.

Maybe there's hope for them yet.

Tony sighs. "I think she'll be okay. She seems like a strong girl." He thinks of Jocelyn accepting Gibbs' business card. He thinks of Ziva falling out of trees. He hopes their next case will be something boring like…fraud.

"Yes," Ziva agrees. "And she has her father, at least." Neither says anything to that. Tony watches Ziva for any hint of anger or distress, but sees only a calm acceptance. Ziva, sensing his concerned thoughts, makes a face at him in response. Tony chuckles, busted. He traps her fingers in his grasp.

They are silent a long moment. Tony drains his wine; Ziva's eyes track his motions.

"You've never told me how you got this scar," Ziva says as she reaches over to touch the scar on his chin. Tony puts down his glass. He raises his eyebrows at Ziva.

"A man has to maintain some mystery, Ziva," he juts his chin out, affecting a pretentious demeanor.

Dropping her hand, Ziva snorts. She stacks their dishes, embracing the easy mood that has blanketed over them. "Right. It was probably another childhood accident; you were a very clumsy boy, it seems."

Tony says nothing, just continues to hold his nose in the air.

"I think…bicycle accident?" Ziva pantomimes flipping over the handlebars of a bike. Tony winces and tries not to laugh at her gestures.

"No! Wrong!" Tony picks up their dishes, managing them all with both hands, and heads toward the kitchen. "And remind me to never play charades with you!"

When he returns, Ziva searches his face like the answer will be written there. Tony shifts uncomfortably, thinking it just might be. "Or maybe," Ziva narrows her eyes, a glint appearing in their coffee-brown depths, "it involves a girl…and you, being clumsy…"

"Hey!" Tony squeaks when Ziva is suddenly moving suggestively into his personal space. She pinches his butt when he tries to walk away from her. Tony whirls around and gives her a look. "DiNozzos are never clumsy with girls."

Ziva just arches an eyebrow at him.

"That time with the taxi doesn't count; tequila is the exception to every rule."

Shaking her head, Ziva lets Tony lead her to the bedroom. She stifles a yawn. "Maybe it was a skiing accident, yes? You hit a tree or a pole?"

"Nope. Strike three!" Tony gloats. He begins shucking off his clothes, ignoring Ziva's disapproving stare. "You're out."

Ziva shakes her head. "I will get it out of you one way or another," she warns, danger in her posture.

"Oooh," Tony grins as he chases her into the bathroom. He tosses his shirt at her. "Promise?"

She slams the door in his face.

the morning ahead

Later, they are curled up in bed together again.

Ziva sighs into Tony's arms as he hugs her closer. He is snoring softly, tolerably, and the little puffs of his breath on her neck make her shiver. She envies that about him—his ability to hit the sheets asleep instantly. She is reminded of a child; it makes her smile. Her turnaround is not so quick.

She closes her eyes and tries not to think of little girls in bloodstained white dresses. Instead, she pictures little boys scaling trees and the beautiful men they become. This case is over. It is time to let go. It is time to pack it up and hide it away. They did their best. They did their job. There is nothing more to be done.

Tomorrow will bring another case, another victim, and she has to be ready.

She will be ready.

She runs her fingers over the golden hair on her Tony's arm. Her life has changed in many ways this past year and the fact that she knows how Tony got a silly little scar on his skin is just one of the reasons she cannot regret anything that has happened. It's a strange, new balancing act they are trying, but they just might make it work.

Tony mumbles something into her skin. It sounds awfully like "Tibbs" and "jungle" and it makes her giggle.

As she drifts off to sleep, she looks forward to the morning ahead.


So...not quite sure how that went, but I needed to get it off my hard drive. Never have I slashed and burned a fic so much before in my life, trying to make it into something. I'm still not all that happy with it, but it feels done for now so...there you have it. I'm off to drink many margaritas. Later. :-)