The sun was setting orange outside the window of NCIS headquarters. Special Agent Tony Dinozzo watched his partner, Ziva David, at her desk where she was assembling various papers into a neat report file. She did not seem rushed, yet there was purposefulness to her movements. Tony reclined back in his chair, unconsciously following her progress with his eyes, Her rust-colored sweater reminded him of an old French movie he had tried to watch the night before. Having had an excruciatingly long day (the 56-hour kind), Tony hadn't stayed awake past the opening scene where two girls were having lunch al fresco, wind blowing through their hair. One girl had very dark eyes and wore a scarf the exact same color of Ziva's sweater. As he continued to stare at Ziva, he remembered how the victim of their latest case had looked eerily like her. The same small bone structure and dark hair. Tony had worked almost non-stop until that case was solved. His workload had pretty much doubled since Ziva had been restricted to desk work. She had made a steady recovery from the torture she endured in Somalia, but pain and sadness still resonated in her movements, and especially in her eyes. It hurt Tony to witness it, but he couldn't stop watching her. It had taken him ages to find her in Somalia, and every minute she had been captive weighed heavily on him now. Gibbs had reminded him many times that Ziva was Ziva; she was strong and capable, potentially more so than anyone else on the team. He felt it was more for his own weaknesses than hers that he focused on her so much. He knew her hurt must be deep, and how could he help her? He knew he was the cause of some of her pain, and if he hadn't been working 80-hour weeks, he didn't know how else he could've slept at night with that knowledge on his conscience.
"Tony." Ziva's voice hissed, startling him.
"You are doing it again."
"No!" She exclaimed. "Staring. At me. Would you desist, for heaven's sake? I do not know what is so interesting about me filing your report. Are you perhaps enjoying the sight of me working under you?"
Tony sighed, getting up from his desk and gathering his things together.
"Don't be dumb, Ziva. I could hardly thing of you as working under me when I know you can kill me eighteen different ways with a single paperclip."
"Twenty two, actually."
"I mindstorm about it when I cannot sleep. It helps pass the time."
"Brainstorm," Tony corrected, setting his things down on his desk and walking over to her. "And what do you mean 'when you can't sleep'? Are your pain meds not working anymore? Are you having new symptoms? We should go see Ducky right now. Why didn't you go see Ducky immediately? You shouldn't-"
"Tony!" Ziva admonished, shooing his hands away as he tried to drag her to the elevator. "I am just fine."
"Would you tell me if you weren't?" Tony countered. "You mentioned that you couldn't sleep after the hospital discharged you. I thought they gave you the pain meds to take before bed? Has it not gotten better this entire time? You need to rest, Ziva. How can you get better if you're not sleeping?"
"Well, what about you?" Ziva crossed her arms and glared up at him. "You have boxes under your eyes constantly!"
"Bags!" Tony felt his voice raising. "And no I don't!"
"Do not be stupid," Ziva said harshly. "They are clearly here and here."
He saw her hands reach up, and her fingers lightly brushed the skin underneath his eyes. He jumped, and she instinctively placed the palms of her hands to his cheeks. The feel of his warmth and slight stubble made her breath catch. She pulled away moments later, flustered.
"You are being ridiculous," She muttered, turning towards her desk.
"Just promise me that you will tell me if something is wrong." It wasn't a question, more a plea.
Ziva did not reply.
"Come watch a movie with me tonight," Tony persisted. "I keep trying to watch it, but I fall asleep within five minutes."
She turned her head to stare up into his eyes.
"Maybe your insomnia and my exhaustion will balance each other out," Tony suggested.
When she again didn't respond, he began to gather their things together.
"Come on, Zee-vah. You're not afraid you'll cry at the ending, are you?"
"I do not cry at movies," Ziva scoffed, but conceded to retrieve her wallet and keys.
As Tony let Ziva into his apartment, he suddenly felt self-conscious. While he normally kept his apartment presentable, his long hours and worries from the last few months had scratched housekeeping from the priorities. Within moments of scanning for things that might perturb a female guest, he saw Ziva halt, and felt her glare up at him.
"You expect me to sit on that couch?"
"They're clean," Tony defended himself, moving towards the offending objects. "I just haven't had time to put them away yet."
"You did not invite me over so I could fold your underwear."
"Well, that was, of course, my main objective, Ziva," Tony replied, gathering up the boxers, socks, and white tee-shirts strewn over the couch. "It has been a long time since you beat me within an inch of my life. I was starting to miss it."
Ziva narrowed her eyes at him and jumped as he approached her.
"It's sarcasm, David." He smiled. "Remember, that American thing I taught you?"
"I can identify sarcasm, Tony," She replied. "However, since I have returned to Washington people treat me differently. They are cautious, as though I might break at the slightest provocation. Even you have handled me with baby gloves. I hate it."
"Kid gloves," Tony corrected. "And, if that's how you feel…"
He dumped his underwear over her head.
Moments later, Tony was face down on the floor, being strangled with a pair of his own boxers.
"Ah, I missed this." Tony's voice came, muffled by the sock Ziva stuffed in his mouth.
She laughed, rolling him over to see his face.
"You do not remember," Ziva said. "I am not a woman to be provoked."
"It's all coming back to me." Tony spit out the sock. "Now, I believe I've asked this before. Why are you on top of me?"
Ziva's smile faltered. She looked down, seeming to only then realize that she was sitting on Tony, straddling him.
When Ziva moved away, Tony saw her wince.
"Hey, you okay?" Tony sat up.
"It is nothing," She replied.
"It is something. You took pain meds 30 minutes ago. Did they work at all?"
"Do not concern yourself," She huffed. "I have it under control."
She turned her back to him as she rifled through her coat pocket. Tony felt the familiar frustration rising. Ever since she had returned to NCIS she had been distant; she would not allow any of the team to see her emotions. He knew she must be overwhelmed after all that had happened with Michael, her father, and then Somalia. Ziva had always been a private person, but the old Ziva would have trusted Tony enough to tell him what was wrong. Tony was afraid she would bolt if he even asked now.
Tony rose, sighing, and moved to the kitchen.
"Pizza time?" He asked, preheating the oven.
"Maybe I should go," Ziva replied. "We are not alone more than 10 minutes and I am incensed to harm you. I am on strict doctor's orders not to assassinate anyone for at least three months."
Coming from anyone else, that would've been a joke. Tony gave her his best charming grin.
"Then stop attacking people and start dicing the tomatoes." He tossed her one behind his back.
She caught it. Appraising him warily, she seemed to deem him harmless, and conceded to gather supplies for pizza making.
They used to make lots of pizzas together at Tony's apartment. That was before he got involved with Jeanne. After that ended, Ziva always had an excuse to not come over. He hadn't noticed for a while, being that he was so depressed. However, when Vance separated the team, Tony found himself in the middle of the ocean, thinking about Ziva, not Jeanne. First, he had been irritated that she wasn't around. There was no one to tease or flirt harmlessly with. He started to remember how they used to hang out before Jeanne. He wondered why they'd stopped. Before he knew it, he was thinking about Ziva all the time. He missed her, though he didn't have a clue why. When the team had been reunited, he'd looked forward to getting things back the way they were. Yet, that hadn't happened. Ziva and he had always had an easy friendship. They bickered, laughed, and pushed each other with their sexual innuendos. After 4 months apart, it seemed that their ease was gone. He didn't know where it had gone, but he knew it felt odd to interact with each other exactly the same as they used to. He found her even more attractive after being apart, but he couldn't joke about it anymore. He avoided her, but couldn't avoid his feelings when he began to suspect she was falling in love with someone else.
He stole a glance at her now, her eyes squinting in concentration as she diced the tomatoes. Her dark hair streamed past her shoulders with loose curls framing her face. Her fingers did not move as smoothly as they once did, as they had been broken several times in Somalia. Tony felt his hands tighten around the dough he was shaping. He thanked God he had been able to kill those bastards.
The pizza-making went smoothly, minus their usual fight about what went on the pizza. Tony wanted meat, meat, and more meat, which Ziva objected to on account of Tony's recent physical, in which his blood pressure had been higher than normal. While he tried to convince her it was stress-induced hypertension, and that meat would calm him down, she remained unmoved. He, in turn, most vehemently vetoed her request to put green olives on the pizza, stating that he could think of few things more repulsive. In the end, they settled on basil leaves, spinach, red peppers, and extra cheese.
"I can't believe there is a greenhouse on my pizza," Tony said darkly, as he cut Ziva a big piece.
"Better than artery-clogging carcasses," Ziva quipped.
"Healthy people, shmelthy people," Tony replied, picking out a stray piece of spinach. "It's a plot from the government. Make us eat all these vegetables…They want to turn us into complacent bunny rabbits!"
Ziva stared at him, furrowing her brows the way she did when she thought she had translated something wrong.
"Not that you wouldn't be the deadliest bunny rabbit around, sweet cheeks," Tony assured her, sticking the piece of sauce-covered spinach to her nose.
She stared at him, then down to her nose, then back at him. She was utterly wordless.
"I take that back." Tony leaned in, placing his forehead against hers. "You would be the cutest bunny rabbit around, machete and all."
The kind light in his eyes finally clued her in to the fact that he was teasing. It shifted something inside her. Standing on tip toe, she tilted her face into his. She felt him tense and hold his breath. Ever so softly, she ran her fingers through his hair, closing the distance between them.
And rubbed her sauce-covered nose all over his face.
Tony let out a very unmanly screech as he tried to yank his head away. Ziva, however, did not stop until she knew his face was good and sticky. The spinach leaf was stuck just below his left ear.
"Did I really deserve that?" Tony lunged away from her, opening drawers in search of a clean towel.
"We were having fun, yes?" Ziva replied, gingerly hopping up onto the counter. "Perhaps this is why my father never allowed us to play with our food. He knew the fun would get out of…hands?"
"Just one," Tony corrected her. "And, from the sound of it, your father never allowed you to play, period."
He felt Ziva stiffen behind him as he wetted the washcloth. He closed his eyes. Damn it. He knew better than to mention her father. After admitting to Vance that he had pretty much sent his daughter on a suicide mission, Eli David had been utterly impassive to NCIS's attempts to find where Ziva was being tortured. If Gibbs hadn't flown to Tel Aviv, who knew if they would have ever been able to rescue Ziva?
"I didn't mean to bring that up, sweet cheeks," Tony said, coming over to her. "I'm sorry."
With the utmost care, he placed the warm wash cloth on her nose and washed away all traces of tomato sauce. Watching him cautiously, Ziva removed the basil leaf from under his ear.
"Don't apologize," Ziva told him. "It's-"
"A sign of weakness," Tony interrupted her.
"Not necessary," Ziva finished, averting her eyes from his.
"Okay," Tony replied, and then added, "Let's eat. The pizza is getting cold."
Ziva smiled at him as she moved to get off the counter. Seeing her flinch, he put an arm around her waist and gently eased her down to the floor. Instead of scolding him as he expected, Ziva softly thanked him and went to retrieve some plates.
Within a few minutes they were settled on his overstuffed leather couch in the living room, declaring, as they always did, that this was the best pizza they had ever made.
"The only thing missing is the wine," Ziva hinted.
Tony glared at her.
"Not with all those pain medications your on, missy."
But he retreated to the kitchen and returned with two colorful beverages.
"Sprite and cherry grenadine," Tony answered the question in her eyes. "It's called a Shirley Temple."
"Not a drop."
Ziva frowned, but took the drink.
"Oh, it's good!" She exclaimed, surprised.
"Well, if you like the drink, you're sure to like the movie star," Tony gave her his cheesiest smile. "I'll rent some Shirley Temple movies for us tomorrow night."
Ziva didn't reply, but munched contentedly on her pizza.
Tony put in the French film he'd been attempting to watch and gave Ziva a brief synopsis. She nodded her approval and snuggled deeper into the corner of the couch.
After twenty minutes or so, Tony glanced at Ziva and saw her dark eyes were unwaveringly focused on the screen. He smiled. She even took fun seriously. Noticing her shivering slightly, he got up to fetch a blanket. She thanked him and wrapped it around her shoulders.
"Are you still cold?" Tony asked after a few minutes.
"No," Ziva said defensively. She could feel the familiar ache of her injuries sinking back into her bones. She moved to find her purse, but Tony jumped up and got it for her.
"How can you be cold when you're face is so flushed?" He asked, sitting down next to her and feeling her forehead.
"I sometimes get a fever at the end of the day," She explained as she rummaged for her Tylenol.
"I didn't know that." Tony frowned. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"It is unimportant," Ziva dismissed, swallowing two Tylenols and a large gray pill.
"It is very important." Tony glared at her. "How can I help you if you don't tell me what's wrong?"
Ziva was about to shoot back that she didn't need his help, but when she met his eyes her words died in her throat. She saw such concern in them, mingled with anxiety and…something she couldn't place. It reminded her suddenly of her sister Tali. The way it felt like she was the only one, besides their mother before she died, who truly cared that Ziva returned home from a mission unharmed. Ziva felt overwhelmed by the emotion in Tony's eyes. She felt hers water.
"Can…can we not talk about this now?" She asked, trying not to show him her vulnerability, but knowing she was failing miserably.
Tony's chest ached when he saw the tears in her eyes. Slowly, afraid she might bolt, he encircled her wrist with his fingers and gently tugged her closer to him. She moved haltingly, unsure where she would allow her body to be in the next few moments. She thought about how a year ago she would have resisted, and how before NCIS she would have downright beaten any man who suggested she needed comfort. Ziva was the always the strong one. But when she met Tony's eyes again, she saw no judgment in them. He did not think she was weak. In Tony, she saw the compassion and concern she had longed for, without even knowing it, after Tali died. Taking a deep breath, she allowed him to pull her into his body. Slowly, she relaxed her head and tucked it under his chin. He kept an arm around her shoulders, his hand happily lost in her hair. He unpaused the movie and, with no further words uttered between them, they temporarily forgot about their own lives, and, instead, lost themselves in Paris.