Disclaimer: I barely have the time and organizational skills to manage my own life. I most certainly couldn't handle a television show as well. I'll leave that to the professionals and just allow the characters to keep me company from time to time.
Summary: Episode addition to "Faith". That's pretty much it. I don't think I could sum it up without just telling the story, so I'll leave you to read the story.
Ziva David paused just inside the doors, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim lighting as she scanned the almost-abandoned bar for a familiar figure, finally falling on a man sitting by himself near the end of the bar. She frowned slightly before heading in his direction.
She didn't know if she was ignored or hadn't yet been noticed, but she went unacknowledged as she stood by his barstool, looking down at her partner. Finally, she caught the eye of the bartender and pointed down at the bottle of beer in Tony's hand and indicated that she wanted one of the same. The bartender gave a nod and reached for the beer, popping off the top before wordlessly handing it over, as if speaking in this particular bar on Christmas Eve wasn't allowed for one reason or another.
It wasn't until she had taken a long pull from the bottle that Tony finally glanced up at her before kicking out the barstool next to his for her to sit. "Looking to start another bar fight?" he asked in a forced-light voice.
"No," she replied as she took another drink of beer, "there are not enough red-throats here." He looked ready to correct her before he glanced over and saw that she had said the wrong phrase on purpose. Instead of saying anything, he gave a tight smile and took another gulp from his bottle.
Realizing that he wasn't going to be the one initiating conversation, Ziva tried again. "What you did today, with the doll… That was a very thoughtful gift, Tony."
He gave her a long look, trying to decide if she was joking. Thinking about the smile she had on her face as he awkwardly presented the large box to the woman he would probably have to stop thinking of as the wench from Human Resources, he decided she wasn't. He shrugged a shoulder, still not meeting her eye. "I know what it's like to be disappointed on the holidays," he finally said, the recent Thanksgiving coming to mind. Although Ducky made a very good bird—a cannibalistic statement that caused an ironic smirk to cross his features—he was still a little disappointed that he didn't get his poker game and all-you-can-eat crab legs.
When he didn't say anything else, she frowned again, trying to figure out exactly what was going on with him. Realizing that she wasn't going to find that out sitting next to him at a bar with neither talking, she decided to just ask. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," he replied automatically in an almost-monotone voice. She felt a surge of annoyance at the response, which was quickly replaced by something almost akin to amusement; that must be what everyone else felt like whenever they asked her how she was doing and she gave the same automatic response of being fine.
She was about to press for more of a response when he started talking on his own volition. "It's one thing to have low expectations of people around the holidays. It's another when they deliver on them."
Ziva frowned, trying to decipher the statement. "Did something happen?" she asked.
"Nothing unusual," he replied with another non-committal shrug. "It's just… the father, and the brother, and the wife. Especially the wife." His voice becoming bitter, he stopped himself before starting on a tirade, taking another pull from his bottle. A minute later, he started again. "Does anyone remain faithful to a husband or wife when they deploy?" he glanced over at her out of the corner of his eye to see her watching him curiously, and he continued, his words coming out in a rush, finally meeting her gaze full-on. "What is it? 'I love you, as long as you're right in front of me, but not when you're thousands of miles away on the other side of the world, fighting for your country'?" She felt her cheeks flush slightly at the words, and had no idea why, but Tony continued, not even noticing her reaction to his statement. "Is that part of wedding vows now? 'Until death or international terrorists do us part'? As soon as a person is deployed, the wife or husband turns to the next-door neighbor or the old friend or the wife of a guy in the unit, and then when they return from deployment, these wives and husbands expect them to understand why they did it, because apparently they seem to think that being left behind in surburbia is harder for them than going off to war is for the person they cheated on." He stopped himself, not even aware if that sentence made any sense. Deciding it didn't, he opened his mouth to try at that again, but Ziva's hand over his mouth stopped him.
"We see just a small sample," she said, her tone as insistent as his was rushed. "For every spouse who cheats while their husband or wife is deployed, there are a thousand families who speak on the phone or webcam every day, who send packages whenever they can, soldiers who cover the walls in their barracks or offices with pictures of children and loved ones. Do you know what McGee was working on the last couple of days?" He shook his head, his eyes slightly wide at how forceful she was being. "He was setting up a call between a destroyer in the Indian Ocean and MTAC because all that this boy wanted was to see his mother on Christmas Eve." She could tell he still wasn't convinced, prompting her to continue. "You should have faith in people, Tony. While I was getting physical therapy at Bethesda, I saw many wives who gave up everything they had back home to come to Bethesda to be by their husbands while they were going through rehab, wives who did not care about their husbands' conditions or the difficulties of leaving work—." She stopped talking abruptly, and then it was it was her turn for her eyes to widen as she began to realize what this was about. I love you, as long as you're right in front of me, but not when you're thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. The statements of being the one to stay at home worrying, of dropping everything at work and risking everything without even knowing the condition of the one everything was being dropped for. And all of a sudden, his sullen mood, his bitterness about a cheating spouse—something that he would have barely batted an eyelash at before—began making sense.
Couldn't live without you, I guess.
"Tony—," she began, but he shook his head sharply.
"Don't," he interrupted. "Don't say it. Not right now." He gave her an ironic smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Santa isn't allowed to have serious discussions on Christmas Eve." He met her gaze unflinching for a long moment before turning back to his beer. After swallowing the last few ounces, he placed the empty bottle on the bar before reaching into coat pocket and pulling out a flat box. "And one last gift to deliver."
Ziva frowned at the box, not reaching for it. "We agreed no presents," she finally said.
"No, we agreed no Christmas presents," he argued. "Never said anything about Hanukah presents. Besides, it's not wrapped, so it doesn't count."
"Hanukah is over, Tony," she replied, reaching for the box. She turned it idly in her fingers, studying it from all angles. Part of her wondered if this was some sort of trick, if something would come out and explode on her when she opened it, before she realized that it had been quite awhile since they had those kinds of jokes, and she a little surprised and more than a little sad about that fact.
"Yeah, I guess I'm always just a little bit slower than I should be." Their eyes met for a second before Tony nodded toward the box. "You're supposed to open it."
"I did not get you anything," she admitted as she lifted the lid of the flat white box.
"That's okay," he replied. She smiled slightly before that expression was replaced with one of confusion, and slowly, she pulled the items out of the box: a yellow ribbon magnet, a gaudy rhinestone American flag pin, a Delaware state quarter, an Ohio State keychain, a Metro SmartTrip card, a coupon for one dollar off a frozen apple pie, an American Pie DVD, and an iTunes gift card. With each object, her confusion grew, and when she was sure that there was nothing else, she turned to him, a quizzical expression on her face. "I know I've been giving you a hard time about the citizenship exam," he explained, "so I figured if you're going to be an American, you need some basic American stuff."
She turned back to the small pile of random objects in front of her and started to chuckle, and after a minute, Tony joined in, and for a brief second there, it was like things were normal between them again, with the joking and the teasing and the undercurrent of something else that might have been. "That was very thoughtful," she said when the laughter died down. They just sat there looking at each other for a minute, before Ziva leaned toward him and pressed her lips to his cheek, pausing to inhale the hint of his cologne before pulling back. "Thank you."
Tony was smiling in return when he extended his hand, tucking an errant lock of hair behind her ear before leaving a single finger under her chin. Looking directly into his eyes, Ziva felt her heart rate increase as he simultaneously drew her closer to him and leaned closer to her, their lips meeting in a light, brief, and entirely sweet kiss. "You're welcome."