"The way I figure it, you owe us about seventy dollars a piece, assuming we can find a good clearance sale," he said, barging past her into the apartment, brown bag in one hand, six pack of beer in the other.

She frowned at him, reaching to take the bag from his arms; the smell of Chinese food wafting through the apartment.

"Why do I owe you money? And who is the 'we' in this?" she asked.

"Well, McGee and I both shit our pants this evening when you decided to act out your death wish with that tractor-trailer. So I think you owe us both new pants."

Ziva rolled her eyes even though the motion couldn't be seen behind the mane of hair that had fallen in front of her face. She unloaded the brown bag onto the kitchen table, cautious not to jar the white cardboard containers into spilling on the table.

She opened the carton of Kung Pao, setting the Jasmine rice next to it. "First off, I am not buying you new pants. Secondly, your taste in clothes is far too rich to find pants for seventy dollars, even on sale. Though McGee could find three pairs for that price plus new socks."

He flipped the top on the beer bottle, taking one for himself but passing her the juice he knew she had started to favor ever since returning from Somalia. "Thirdly?

"There is no thirdly."

"No comment on the death-wish?"

Ziva tipped out a portion of sweet and sour chicken onto her plate before handing him the plate she had made for him. "What would you like me to say?"

His steps were practiced and steady. Tony could feel the tension in his shoulders and knew that Ziva's honed eye could pick it out through the fabric of his shirt.

The soft clatter of his plat being set on the coffee-table echoed in the room.

"I'd like you to tell me that you don't have a death wish. I'd like you to tell me that Worth was wrong and you didn't close your eyes with a hopeful look when that truck almost careened into you. I'd like you to make it easy for me to sleep tonight!"

Tony paused and took a deep breath, trying to still his raging frustrations.

"Would you like me to lie to you?" she said, simply, her voice even. Ziva sat on the end of the couch, her sock-clad feet tucked underneath her. She began to poke at her food, taking small but determined bites, ignoring the half-scared half-irate look her partner was throwing her way.

Just like a cartoon-balloon being deflated, Tony's body slumped and he sank into the couch with a resigned sigh.

"Really? You'd have been happy to die tonight?"

"No," she said, shoving the chicken around on her plate as she spoke. "But I would not have dreaded it."

The silence was thick in the air.

"I would have," his voice was heavy with emotion, though he barely spoke a whisper.

Ziva shrugged, taking another small bite of chicken. "I know you have already lost one partner, Tony. You would be fine breaking in another partner. McGee is almost ready-"

"No," he said, interrupting her quickly. "It has nothing to do with Kate. This about you. I don't want to lose you."

Ziva felt her eyes close involuntarily at the rush that hit her with his words. She moved slowly and leaned forward, setting the plate on the coffee table with a trembling hand.

She moved, sliding down the couch to sit next to him, hip to hip.

"I wake up every night. I feel their hands on me. No matter how many showers I take, it won't go away," she said, twisting her hands in her lap, a nervous trait she only ever permitted herself to exhibit in front of Tony or Gibbs.


She cut him off with a quick shake of her head, a motion she knew he caught from the corner of his eye.

"Before Salim, I would close my eyes and hear the screams of family when they found the body of my target. The life of an assassin does not offer pleasant memories." Ziva cleared her throat, removing the ball of emotion that had suddenly taken up residence. "Before that, I would see body parts flying through the air ā€“ I've seen too many suicide bombs to not have the images haunt me. And before that," she paused again, this time feeling his hand slide over her twined fingers, and gently squeezing. "Before that, I heard my mother's singing. And Tali's laughter. And, while they are some of my only pleasant memories, they are also vivid reminders of death and violence."

"You're the strongest woman I know," he said, his words in a rush to be spoken before she silenced him again.

"I am not," she said, a self-deprecating chuckle sliding past her throat. "I am just incredibly stubborn."

He felt a grin grace his features, though he knew the amusement was merely a diversion.

She twisted her hand, lacing her fingers with his. "Tony, I do not wish for death every moment of every day. But when it comes, I will not fight it. And I cannot promise that I won't be a little relieved."

"Do you wish we had never come for you? Did you mean that?" he asked, knowing that they didn't have to clarify. She knew that he meant that hot, damp, sweat-stenched room in Somalia. Where they had all risked their lives and careers to ensure she would live another day.

"Some days."

"And other days?"

"And other days I am learning to enjoy the moment again. Like watching Gibbs tease a suspect."

"Much better with popcorn," he added, smiling.

"It is," she agreed. "I am learning to take time to enjoy watching the stars. And dinner with friends; I enjoy that."

His head snapped around, no longer following her train of thought. "Who have you been star-gazing with?"

"Damon and I went last time he was in town."

Tony felt his temper flair and felt no desire to rein it in. "You went on some romantic star-gazey date with Worth?"

"It was not romantic."

"But it was a date!?"

"I am allowed to date!" she said quickly, feeling him pull his hand away from their twined fingers and shift away from her on the sofa. Ziva could feel his withering glare and met his gaze with her own steely expression.

"You ā€¦ but... Iā€¦ Ziva!" he said, standing in front of her. "I flew to Somalia to rescue your ass, you're supposed to date me! Not Worth the junkie!"

"He asked!!" She replied, standing in front of him, toe to toe, her temper equally sparked. How dare he become irate with her for carrying on her life. He rescued her so she could have a life, didn't he? But it came with strings and stipulations?

"All I have to do is ask?"

"It is all you've ever had to do," she said simply, her tough-gal persona slipping off her features and briefly giving him a glimpse of the vulnerable woman she ā€“ like every woman - really was.

He let his false-bravado cover the waver that had taken over his voice. "Well, you know, a date with a DiNozzo has given many women a reason to live. This could be just the cure you need."