A/N: This is set after Outlaws and In-Laws, but doesn't directly relate to it. It's just a bit of an exploration into Tony's recent coldness towards Ziva. Which I understand, but it's beginning to grate.
The section in italics is a 'flashback'. Man, I hate that word.
Gibbs wasn't surprised when Ziva came to visit him that Saturday afternoon. After a week of studying hard for her citizenship test, only to be mocked and dismissed by Tony at every turn, he knew the odds of seeing one of them in his basement before the weekend was out were pretty high.
He glanced up now as the woman he'd come to think of as a daughter slowly made her way down the staircase. She didn't meet his eyes, but Gibbs could feel her suffocating sadness from across the room. She'd come to him several times like this in the last few months, head bowed, grieving, lost. But this was the first time she seemed…hopeless.
Without uttering a word, or even making a gesture in greeting, Ziva took the end of the tape measure Gibbs was holding against a long piece of wood, and held it while he measured, marked, and measured again. Gibbs didn't push her for explanation or conversation. Ziva held silence in the same high regard as he, and right now, he was grateful for it. Because his gut was starting to make noises that he didn't like.
Something in her being, in the way she held herself in the dim and dust of his basement, told Gibbs that she was trying to decide. Fight or flight. Ziva had always been a fighter. To turn tail and run when things got hard had never been an option for her. But the Ziva in front of him now, with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders and exhaustion drawn across her face, was not the Ziva who came before. In the face of the challenges now in front of her, this Ziva might just stop fighting. And Gibbs just didn't know how he'd be able to convince her otherwise.
They kept working in silence until Gibbs was marking his third piece of wood.
"Did you tell him what I said? On the tarmac before you left." Her voice was deeper than normal, thick with unshed tears and worry.
Gibbs looked up at her and let his eyebrow quickly rise and fall in question. He knew who 'him' was—that much was painfully, nakedly obvious—but much had been said before Gibbs had gotten on the plane, and frankly he'd tried to push most of it into the deepest, darkest recesses of his memory.
"That I did not want to work with him," Ziva elaborated, swallowing the shame that settled on her face.
Gibbs started to understand what was playing on her mind. But if she thought the words she'd spoken in anger and hurt had anything to do with Tony's recent behaviour, she was wrong.
"Nope," he said with a slight headshake. "I only told him that you'd decided not to come back."
Those weren't the words that Ziva had spoken in Israel, but it was certainly what she had meant and she didn't correct him. She took a moment to collect her thoughts.
"He is so cold to me," she told him, her voice now weakening with hurt she could no longer internalise. Gibbs raised his eyes, and the look on her face made him want to slap Tony until his nose bled. She looked gutted.
"I know he does not trust me," she continued. "And I do not expect things to be as they were. But I do not sense any goodwill or friendship towards me at all. Things are as they were when I first arrived in America. As if he has just erased me, those four years, from his memory." She looked up at him sharply. "Has he asked you to get rid of me?"
If she weren't so close to heartbreak, Gibbs would have grumbled about her and Tony both trying to make him some kind of couples' counsellor. Two months ago, Tony stood where she now did, grief pouring out of him as he begged Gibbs for the wisdom that would make Ziva's apparent death bearable. And Gibbs was just as much at a loss now as he was then.
Tony held the untouched jar of whisky in his hands, his entire body shaking with unshed tears and the control it took to keep himself from flying apart. He'd been talking for a half hour, monotone, spewing out the thoughts in his head in a plea for help and understanding. They'd heard of the sinking of the Damocles a week before, and Tony had been slouching through life like a zombie ever since.
"It's like, when I'm awake I'm so conscious of avoiding her," he was trying to explain. "Of not thinking of her. Of pretending that she was never here, or that she left after Ari died and she was just some…random woman who passed through our lives and meant nothing to us."
Turning to pour himself another finger of whisky, Gibbs winced for him. He'd been there before, wishing the woman away so that the pain would go with her, and his stomach rolled with remembered shame.
Tony shook his head helplessly. "But when I sleep, she floods me. She's in the air and in my veins and crowding my space and pulling me. I dream about her endlessly. How am I supposed to get over her when this is my life?"
He looked up at Gibbs, looking impossibly young and desperate for answers that Gibbs would never be able to provide.
"How are you here anymore?" Tony asked, at a complete loss over how Gibbs had endured after losing his wife and child. "How do you keep breathing every day?"
Gibbs couldn't lie. Not when Tony was showing such trust. "Some days, I don't feel like I am."
The truth hurt, as the saying went, and Tony's head dropped to his hands as tears finally spilled down his cheeks. "I don't know how to do this," he said, his voice breaking and breath heaving.
Gibbs laid his hand like a lifeline on Tony's shoulder. "No one does, son. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing in and out."
Tony shook his head in defeat. "May as well try to stop the sun from rising."
Ziva's question hung in the air as Gibbs remembered that miserable day, and his urge to slap someone turned from Tony as a target to Ziva. Did Tony want to be rid of her? Yes, there had been times over the summer when he had wanted just that. But most of the time, he would have sacrificed anything to have her back. And the fact was, Tony had almost sacrificed his life. And not just his own.
"No, Ziva," he said with a firm shake of his head.
Her eyes filled momentarily before she averted her gaze. "I don't know how to fix this. He does not talk to me anymore."
"He's still grieving, Ziva."
"For both of you," Gibbs said gently. "For those four years."
He held her gaze, and for a moment she seemed to understand. But then her face twisted with guilt.
"I took it from him," she said quietly, mostly to herself. "I don't know how to be who I was then. I don't know how to be who he needs me to be."
Gibbs shook his head. "He needs you to be you, Ziva."
"I don't know how," she insisted.
"No, you," Gibbs spelt out. "Not who you were. Who you are now. He needs honesty from you."
"But I am not enough for him now," she said adamantly. "That is all my honestly will tell him. I am broken. I am defective. I am—"
"No," Gibbs cut in and pointing a finger in her face. "You are not any of those things, Ziva. And I never want to hear you repeat Saleem's words to me as if they are your own. Or your father's words. Or Michael Rivkin's."
Ziva's bottom lip quivered, as if she wanted to argue more. But she stayed silent and waited for Gibbs to show her the way. To issue an order she could follow that would make everything okay again.
"Don't give up on him, Ziva," he implored. "If you have to chip away at him, like you did right back in the beginning, then that's just what you'll have to do."
It was not the magic bullet that Ziva had been hoping for, and he watched her face fall as the thought of another four years of hard work settled heavily on her shoulders. Again, Gibbs wondered if this was the point where she would decide she couldn't handle things anymore and give up. But she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and nodded her head.
"Yes. That is what I will do," she said. "Thank you, Gibbs."
He watched her climb the staircase, having no doubt that now that her mind was made up, she would stay and fight to the end. Gibbs heaved a sigh of relief, knowing he'd just dodged not one, but two bullets.
"Ziva?" he called out, making her turn back to look at him. "Believe that he doesn't want to be rid of you. If you weren't here now, he wouldn't be either."
She stared back at him as the weight of his words sank in, and Gibbs turned back to his pile of wood before she could question him more. It was up to her to work out the rest.
When Tony opened his apartment door to her that night, he gave her a genuine smile that none-the-less lacked the warmth that Ziva had become used to over the years. He looked bleary-eyed and disheveled, as if she'd woken him from a deep sleep, and she gave him a smile that she let herself believe would help him forgive her indiscretion.
"Are you busy tonight?"
He blinked at her, slowly. "Um…no."
She took it as a good sign that he didn't make something up to try to get rid of her. "I was hoping I might impose myself on you for the evening."
Tony's eyes crinkled just a little, amusement now joining the sleepiness and warmth slowly seeping in. "Did you?"
Ziva bent down and hefted the shopping bag by the door onto her shoulder. "And I will cook for you."
He stared at her for a moment, weighing it up, before kicking the door all the way and sending her his trademark smirk. "Why didn't you say so?"
So, two things. One, I have an idea for a second chapter, and possibly a third, but I just wanted to throw this out there and see what kind of response I get. I feel like this may be a liiiittle too out of character for some.
Two, Tony's bit about not thinking of her when he's awake but being flooded by her when he's asleep was very clumsily inspired by this beautiful quote by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I have to share: "Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling into at night. I miss you like hell." Owie!