AN: I wrote this at lunch today. I think it might fall under the "too much too soon" category, but that's not going to stop me from writing or posting. ;-) I may follow up with a second (or 3rd) chapter to smooth out that bump.

Reviews would be lovely.

Standard disclaimer applies - I own nothing other than a whole smackload of debt.

She shifted the strap on her shoulder, pulling her dark curls from under the heavy weight of her backpack.

The keys to her rental jingled in her hand as she strode the short remaining distance across the parking lot.

A slight movement caught her eye and Ziva's head snapped up, taking in the long form leaning oh-so-casually against her driver's side door.

She mentally cursed herself for not having noticed his presence earlier – her first official day back at NCIS had been an emotionally draining experience and if she were fair to herself, considering recent events it was no doubt that her ninja-senses were slightly askew.

"Do you need a ride?" She offered, allowing a puzzled look to settle across her features.

He shook his head, his new longer bangs falling across his forehead. "Nope."

"So my car just makes for a good place for you to rest your butt?" She said, trying to feel out a little light banter with him. It was the only solid ground they ever had between them, the gentle tease and flirting. And Ziva had learned today that she missed it more than she had anticipated.

"Well, yes," he acquiesced. "But it was also the only place I knew I'd catch you before you left for the day," he admitted, his eyes flicking across her as she stood in front of him, only slightly in his personal space.

Honesty. Up-front conversation.

It really was a new concept for them both and she watched as he felt out the technique with her, his ambivalence clear on his face.

"Oh," she replied, allowing her backpack to slide down her arm and rest at her feet. "Did I … offend you today? Has the team dynamic changed and you wanted to tell me in private? Because I appreciate the courtesy considering everything that has –"

She was silenced mid-sentence as she felt his arm slide around her shoulders and he pulled her into a crushing hug against his chest.

He tilted his head and left a gentle kiss on her cheek, mirroring the same motion she used yesterday.

"So I got home last night and couldn't sleep when I realized what an ass I was yesterday," he whispered, his breath tickling her cheek. "I almost knocked on your door at midnight to give you a hug, but I figured considering what happened the last time, it probably wasn't a good idea," he said trying a hesitant but gentle tease before pulling away and looking at her with a respectfully reverent gaze.

"So yesterday – I acted like my father," he started, clearly alluding to their conversation in the men's room. "Dad - he used to take-off on some sort of urgent 'work thing' whenever mom wanted to have a serious chat. I was so eager to get the damned case solved so we could all go out for a beer that I ran out on you."

"Tony, it is fine," she said, trying to forestall his self-hatred with a lifted hand.

"Its not," he said simply. "What you said, Ziva, … it deserved more than just being run out on. I'm sorry."

"The case was more important. I will still be here after the case."

"You know," he said not able to resist the urge, and letting his hand reach up to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. "I used to think that. But lately I'm realizing how that is just not true. I'm going to say what needs to be said when I can."

Ziva felt a small smile on her lips and realized how the motion was now as foreign to her as Hebrew was to Tony. "I think that is a good idea- for both of us," she agreed before pressing on cautiously. "But so you know, next time you are welcome to come knock on my door at midnight to give me a hug."

"And a kiss…. on the cheek," he added, the lightest sparkle in his eye.

She nodded and tilted her head in the tell-tale way she had with him when she was refusing to blush. "And a kiss."

"Now, does that only apply to midnight, Ziva?" he said, stepping away from her car and towards his own.

"Any time you would like to remind me that you have my back, Tony," she said, unlocking the rental and tossing her bag onto the passenger's seat.

"Anytime?" he called as he walked backwards across the parking lot to his car.