This story is set a couple of months after Reunion, so SPOILERS for Truth or Consequences and Reunion.

I do not own NCIS or any part thereof.

This story is dedicated to the ever lovely and ever astute Elflordsmistress. She wanted some fluff and this was as close as I could come right now. Thank you, sweet Lady. You always get me going!

Baby Steps

"How 'bout a drink, Ziva?"

It was Tony standing in front of her desk.

She shook her head.

"No, thank you, Tony. Not tonight."

She had spoken the exact same words to him the previous fourteen times he had asked her since her reinstatement at NCIS. She expected him to smile and nod to himself as if confirming something, and then say, "'Kay. I'll see you Monday."

Instead of Tony's voice she heard the thump of his backpack hitting the floor. She looked up through her lashes and saw her partner lowering himself into a squat so his face was level with hers, propping himself up with his folded arms on the desktop.

"Why?" he said.

She wrinkled her brow in confusion. Why?

"I do not want to drink tonight, Tony. But thank you for asking."

He didn't move.

"I'm not going anywhere until you tell me why you won't have a drink with me. And while we're at it, why you won't go to lunch with anyone or out to a movie or even to Abby's house so she can make you some of her special jambalaya?"

Tony stood up and began to pace back and forth in front of her.

"It's been over two months since you came back. When are you going to relax and really be part of the team again? We've missed you, you know? Nobody can down tequila quite like you."

He smiled, trying to be funny. She did not smile back.

She pushed up out of her chair and faced him.

"I just do not feel like going out."

Refusing to look in his eyes she continued.

"But thank you…"

"Stop it!" he yelled.

She couldn't help it. She jerked in response to the loud voice then looked at him, an apology on her lips.

He shook his head in disgust and then came around the desk and grabbed her upper arms holding her tight enough to leave a bruise. He seemed to realize it and relaxed his hold on her but kept enough strength in his grip to keep her from stepping away.

"Stop saying thank you and stop apologizing and stop cowering like someone's going to hit you."

She saw in his eyes the realization of what he'd said and then the regret that he might have reopened recent wounds but she knew he hadn't wanted to hurt her with his words. No one on the team purposely hurt her.

"I just want you to start being you again, Ziva. I know you went through hell but it's over. And you'll recover quicker if you let us help you. We want to help you. We need to help you."

Holding up her hand to his lips she stopped him from talking. Making herself look at him when she spoke.

"This is why, Tony. No one knows how to be around me. What to say. Whether to touch me or not. Afraid they're going to hurt me in someway. So afraid they're going to trigger something to make me remember my time there."

She didn't say where. He knew where. He had been there, tied into the chair across from her, saying things she still did not understand.

He loosened his grip but kept his hands on her, barely touching.

"You need to let us help you."

Looking into each other's eyes this close she could see the moment he got the metaphor he wanted. The one he thought would get through to her.

"Maybe we all got to take baby steps for a while, Ziva, but we got to take them together."

Hearing the whisper of pain in his voice she knew he wasn't talking about the team any longer but the two of them and to her chagrin she felt tears warm her eyes and blinked them back, knowing he would have seen them too.

He touched the side of her face gently.

"I need to help you. And if you don't let me I don't think my recovery will ever be complete either. We'll just muddle around, the two of us, not talking, not laughing, not living until Gibbs pulls out his Sig and puts us both out of our misery."

She must have smiled although she didn't feel it on her lips because suddenly he smiled too.

"That's my ninja."

He walked back around and picked up his backpack, slung it over his shoulder and waited. His patience forcing her to speak.

"Tony, I do not think this is a good…"

He held his hand out to her.

"C'mon, Ziva. You can do it. You are the bravest person I know. You can do this."

As he slowly let his hand drop back by his side she saw his hopeful expression begin to erode. She knew he was right, wanted to please him, do as he asked but she was scared. Scared of rejection. Scared of mistrust. Scared of trying to connect with her friends again. Better to be shut off and shut down than shut out.

Yet he stood there still. The man who had traveled to Africa in search of revenge for her death and wound up saving her life. Her partner who had told her he couldn't live without her. She had no reason to fear him did she?

In her heart, she knew different. She knew she had more to fear from him than anyone else and to put herself out there again with him, and with McGee and Abby and Gibbs and Ducky…it terrified her.

But the pull of his eyes, the power of her feelings for him drove her to turn off her computer and pick up her own backpack. As she walked toward him he held out his hand again. She tentatively reached for it and he took her much smaller hand in his own and gave a welcoming squeeze. He didn't release it but pulled her to stand close by him.

"Baby steps, Ziva," he whispered and intertwined his fingers with hers.

She nodded and after a moment he turned and walked toward the elevator dragging her along with him at a quick pace as if afraid she might change her mind. She had to smile again and this time she felt it.

"We gotta hurry. Abby and McGoogle are holding a table for us. And he's buying the first round."

She followed his lead, their hands still together and watched his face become animated with the excitement of a night out with friends and with her. With her.