Ziva had spent the last hour pacing the length of the conference room. Her mind reviewed every detail of the operation, analyzing every action that she had taken. So absorbed with her own thoughts, she physically jumped at the sound of the wooden door slamming shut. She instantly recognized Tony's commanding presence and unreadable expression. It was a side of him that she had seen developing only after Gibb's had retired to Mexico. Normally she found it simultaneously annoying and remarkably sexy. Right now she simply found it unnerving.
"Look Tony I know…" Ziva began, her words rushing from her mouth in a single breath.
"I did not give you permission to speak Officer David," Tony barked in a tone that sounded eerily like an angry Gibbs. He struggled to keep his resolve as he saw her momentarily flinch at his words.
Her arms fell to her sides, her spine straightened and she kept her eyes affixed to his, refusing to look away.
"You have two choices Officer David. Take official responsibility for your actions today. Have the liaison position with NCIS severed and return to Israel."
"Or?" she swallowed hard, almost afraid of what her other option might be.
"Deal with this off the record and no one except you, Jenny and I ever know about it," he answered flatly.
"And what would that involve?"
"Make your choice, Officer David." His voice was stern and left no room for argument.
Her heart raced as her eyes fell to the floor. Since Gibbs retired she had seen a side to Tony that she never realized existed. As annoying as this side may be, she also had found a deeper level of respect, and attraction, to the man he was becoming. Still she was uncertain what to expect from him.
"Off the record," she whispered her eyes falling to the floor.
He pulled a chair from the nearby conference table, positioning it in the center of the room.
"Front and center," his voice was low and serious.
Her stomach churned at she realized of what he intended. "You cannot be serious."
"You defied my direct order. You risked your own life. You risked the lives of two FBI agents. You almost ended an operation that multiple federal agencies have spent nearly a year working on," his voice was loud and commanding and betrayed no hint of the emotion behind his words. "I do not know what it will take for you to finally understand that you are a part of us Ziva. We love you. We care about you. When you do something as stupid as today, it no longer just affects you. It affects all of us who love you, all of us who would mourn your death or your absence."
"Gibbs would not send me home," she replied defiantly.
"No, Gibbs would not send you home. But Gibbs would prevent you from sitting for the next month. Which is a hell of lot more than what I am intending to do, unless you decide to continue to standing here arguing with me," his voice was deep, guttural and bellowing as he cross the few feet that separated them.
He watched as she struggled to stand her ground as he came to a determined stop mere inches from her body. He could hear the sound of her breathing and feel the heat of her small frame.
"I thought when I took over as Team Leader, that the one person on earth I would be able to trust and rely on was my partner," Tony's voice became soft, gentle and laden with regret. "You didn't just risk this operation. You didn't just risk your life and the lives of those FBI agents. You betrayed our partnership and our friendship."
His words stung more than any punishment ever could and she struggled to keep her tears from showing. Her words were barely above a whisper, fearing her voice would not hold. "How could you say that?"
"How could you put your friends and your partner into the position of having to lie for you or be the person who sends you home?" Tony could see her hardened shell cracking as tears came to her eyes. He allowed the emotion in his own voice to show through.
Standing there looking down as her, Tony no longer saw the harden Mossad assassin he had always known. He saw a scolded little girl with her head bowed, trying desperately to keep from crying at the realization of her own actions. His resolve faltered and he resisted the urge to take her protectively into his arms.
"I will not force you do anything, Ziva," he said softly. "This is your choice."
She took a deep breath and walked past him to the straight back chair. Saying nothing, she turned towards him, refusing to look up, for fear that her eyes would betray too much.
Since leaving Jenny's office Tony's mind had already run through every possible way to carry out this discipline. Gibbs would use a belt, of that he was certain. Ziva was accustomed to enduring physical pain, her training with Mossad had surly prepared her for torture. He knew that it would not be the pain of a spanking that would get through to Ziva, it would be the psychological impact of the punishment.
"Drop your pants," he said in a voice that was both soft and firm.
"Tony…" she began in a tone that sounded similar to a high pitched plea.
"Now Ziva," he said in a low command that left so room for debate.
His eyes caught sight her trembling hands as she fumbled with the button of her dark jeans. They had both faced death together many times. He had seen her in the midst of a firefight, defusing a bomb designed to destroy an entire building, and staring down murder suspects. Though he had never seen her tremble, never seen her nervous or afraid. Knowing that he was responsible for that fear, his strength nearly faltered. He knew that he had come too far to retreat now. She needed him to be strong, to be not just her commanding officer, to be her friend and her partner.
Tony took her wrist and gently guided her over his lap as he sat. His strong muscled thighs were spread apart, balancing the weight of her hips and upper body, preventing her feet from reaching the floor. Her stomach churned at the vulnerability of the position. She felt so much like a helpless child.
His strong arms snaked around her narrow waist and his right hand came down in a series of loud smacks on the curve of her bottom.
"Tell me why you are being spanked," Tony instructed as his hand continued to methodically work its way across her lightly clad bottom.
"Because I ignored your order," she said as a hoarse whisper. "I endangered the mission and the lives of those agents."
She struggled to keep her breath even and hold back the tears that formed in her eyes. She never expected a punishment from Tony to be this difficult to endure. His hand came down in sharp, quick smacks that stung like fire and only served to heighten the emotions that ran through her mind as a freight train. Her training had taught her to endure much more than a simple spanking. Still, lying helplessly across his lap, her pants crumples at her ankles embarrassment, vulnerability, guilt and shame fought for dominance and stifled her breath.
The tanned skin peeking out from under her cotton panties was steadily turning from pink to crimson from his unrelenting rhythm. He spanked from the center of her bottom to the backs of her upper thighs, determined that she would feel this punishment long after it had ended, determined that she would feel it every time she sat down. Still, Tony was surprised at her reaction to this punishment. He had expected her to endure it with determined stoicism. Instead, as he passed over the same burning areas for the third time she began to twist and squirm over his lap like a child trying to escape a punishment. Her legs began to kick; until he delivered a series of heavy swats to her unprotected thighs, sending his message loud and clear.
"And what about risking your life," he said sternly as he began spanking the unprotected areas of her upper thighs again causing her to jump reflexively.
"My life is mine to risk," she cursed herself at the trembling in her own voice, knowing that Tony surely heard it as well.
His hand came to a rest on the seat of panties as he surveyed the young woman lying across his lap. He was more certain now than he had ever been of the truth that saw in her long ago. That the hardened warrior she worked so hard to show the world, hid a frightened, troubled little girl who had never moved past the pain and trauma of her childhood or life with Eli David. She had endured so much in her young life that he longed to shield her from anymore pain, to show her that she was loved, to show her that she had no need to hide anymore. He took a deep breath and prayed that he could find the words to reach her. He prayed that he could be the man that she needed him to be.
"That is where you are wrong young lady," his spoke in the low, firm voice of a father lecturing an petulant child. "You are not in Israel anymore. You are surrounded by people who love and who care about you. There is nothing on the earth that I would not do to protect you. I would give my life to keep you safe. I would end my career to protect you from harm. Are you really so selfish that it means nothing to you? Do you really care so little for any of us, for me, that you would risk causing us the agony of loosing you for a whim? Do you really care so little for us, that our love for you means nothing? Because that is exactly what your behavior today said loud and clear."
Single tears spilled from her eyes sting of his words. Before she could react she felt Tony's strong hand slide under her panties lowering them to meet her jeans, already tangled around her ankles.
His hand concentrated on the curved of her bottom in a fury of sharp swats. Her breath came in jagged gasped and he anticipated her struggling under his grasp. Instead he felt her muscles relax and her body go limp across his thighs. His own breath caught has he heard a muffled sob escape her lips and felt it flow through her body.
He gently turned her over and was stunned as her arms shot out to encircle his neck, her fingers twisting into the fabric of his shirt and her face burying into the crook of his neck. His strong arms protectively encircled her, bringing her ever closer to him.
"I am sorry," she said between the ragged sobs.
"I know you are Ziva," he whispered as his is large hand brushed her tangled curls. He gently rocked her back and forth as a father would comfort a troubled child and waited patiently for her tears to subside. "It's all over. It's all forgiven. I've got you, just let it out."
Slowly her sobs turned to silent tears and her fingers began to release their hold on his shirt.
"Ziva, you are my best friend and my partner. There is nothing that I wouldn't do to protect you," he gently lifted her chin until he could see her redden, watery eyes. "I know it has been difficult since Gibbs left. I know it's awkward with me as in this role. I feel it to. But I can't do this without your help, Ziva. I need to know that you are the one person on this earth that I can trust without question. I need to know that you have my back. I need you to keep me straight. I need to know that you will be there to call me on the screw ups that I am bound to make. I need my friend. I need my partner. I need you."
Fresh tears fell from her eyes and she bowed her head. His fingers slipping into the curls of her hair and his lips gently kissed her forehead.
"I trust you with me life, Ziva. I trust you with everything that I have. I thank God everyday for the honor to have you in my life," he made no effort to conceal the tears in his own voice. "My world would shatter if I lost you. Please don't leave me."
Her small fingers gently wiped away the single tears that traced down his cheek and she laid her head back against his shoulder. He rested his cheek on the top of her brown hair and tightened his arms around her. Closing his eyes he breathed in the smell of her perfume and tried to memorize the feel of her in his arms. For this moment he no longer cared about the hiding his own emotions from the light of day. He needed to comfort her. He needed feel her slender arms around him. He needed to feel the comfort of the one person he trusted to see past him own armor.