Welcome! Hopefully those of you who faithfully read Making Exceptions have found your way here. If you haven't read that, or haven't read all of it, I'd recommend starting there; this story depends on that one. It picks up literally an hour after ME ends. I made this a new piece because the format and tone are going to be a little different. You'll see what I mean soon...
A few strong instincts and a few plain rules suffice us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803- 1882)
Essays – First Series
"Your collection is improving," Tony called from the living room.
"What?" Ziva stilled the salad spinner and stuck her head through the doorway. When she saw him flipping through the stack of DVDs near the television she rolled her eyes. "Oh, of course." Tony grinned at her and she smiled back, then went back to dress the salad.
"Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?" he asked, confused, a moment later.
"Abby's," Ziva shouted back.
Ziva carried the salad and two plates into the living room, where the take-out Tony had brought was out on the table. "Ready?"
"Always." He gave her a look that seemed to be less about eating than other things and accepted a plate. Ziva tried not to blush as she sat down next to him.
They began to eat. By their third bite, the silence had taken on a tinge of awkwardness.
Tony glanced up. "Movie?" he asked tightly.
Ziva hesitated, then shook her head. "We should talk, Tony."
"Make some rules?"
"If you like," Ziva answered guardedly. "Did you have any in mind?"
Tony paused, then set his plate to the side. "Look." He saw her flinch and took Ziva's plate, set it on the table by his. "If we're going to make rules, we have to decide what we're making rules about." He saw Ziva's brow quirk in confusion. "I mean..." He tried to summon the words. "We have to decide what to call this. Us."
Ziva's eyes cleared. She nodded once. "We are no longer starting at the beginning?" she asked, her voice laced with irony.
He grimaced in mock-defeat. "Yeah. No." His expression grew wistful. "We're not at the beginning or the end, Ziva. We're right in the middle and it's a mess."
"But rules will make it less messy," she said optimistically.
"That's the idea." Tony flinched. Neither of them was getting anywhere near the subject. "How about this? I'll tell you what I want and then you tell me what you want and we both agree to listen before we panic."
"That could be a rule," Ziva tossed out, stalling. "Listen before you panic."
"Or Don't Panic?" Tony asked, grinning.
Ziva laughed, and the tension eased. "We can work on the wording later."
Tony froze, realizing he'd just agreed to bare his soul. "Okay. Here goes." He swallowed hard. "I, obviously, suck masterfully at long-term relationships, but I want one with you. I want us to figure out whatever we need to do heal on our own and together and then...I don't ever want to be apart from you again."
Ziva's heart raced.
"Your turn," Tony whispered after a minute.
"Right." She shook herself. "I..." Her eyes fixed on his, so encouraging, then so nervous the longer she paused. "I want to trust you completely, but I am not sure I have ever trusted anyone completely." Her eyes dropped. "Not since Ari, at least."
Tony reached out and squeezed her hand.
Ziva looked back up. "I want to build a life here with you, when we are both ready for it. A real family, not the bad ones that we both had or the substitute we have at NCIS. A real one."
"With babies?" Tony tried to keep his voice from squeaking as he fought panic.
She laughed softly at his discomfort. "We can discuss that later, I believe, Tony. Much later."
"Good," he muttered under his breath.
Ziva nodded, pressing onward. "I want to feel whole again, and safe. And that is not about you exactly, but the closest I come to feeling that way is when I am with you." She watched as his eyes flooded with unnerving warmth. Just the glow in his eyes brought the panic closer. "I want to feel whole enough to be worthy of the way you are looking at me," Ziva added in a whisper.
Tony smiled gently. "Me, too."
Ziva was startled to realize how intently she was looking at him and drew away abruptly, but Tony still had her hand.
"Don't panic," he reminded her.
Nodding, Ziva tried to relax back into her previous posture. "This," she frowned. "This will not be easy for either of us, Tony, I think. It is one thing to know what we want and another to have to work for it."
He shrugged. "Pulling off band-aids always hurts."
"What?" Ziva scowled in confusion.
"You know," Tony pulled his hands free so he could gesticulate. "You put on a band-aid because you're injured in some way, and then to check on how you're doing you pull it off and it pulls out the hair on your arm and it hurts and maybe you're better and if you're not you have to do it all over again the next day..." He smiled at Ziva's still-perplexed expression. "I know. That's all I meant. But right now, at this moment, we want the same things. And I'm not letting you go."
"Well, you've proved that," Ziva answered with a touch of sarcasm.
"Yeah, yeah, eat your food," Tony grinned. "I'm picking a movie."
"Alright." She reached for her plate, rolling her eyes affectionately when Tony chose Anchorman. "Isn't that a movie that proves Gibbs' rule twelve?"
Tony looked at her, aghast. "It proves the opposite! They live happily ever after!" He grabbed his own food and settled beside her.
Ziva leaned her head against Tony's shoulder as he hit play on the remote and the music started. Her stomach was still roiling with the nervousness of revealing her deepest desires to him. But so far, so good. "We did not make a rule!" she said suddenly.
Tony glanced down at her surprised face. "I think 'Don't Panic' will hold us over for now."
Ziva looked away pensively, then back up. "It should not be number one."
He nodded. "Okay. Rule number seven: Don't Panic."
"Seven? Why seven?"
"Shh. The movie's starting."
So, my tentative plan for the format of this piece is to do one rule per chapter. And while I do have some in mind, I'd also like to open the floor to your suggestions. Any ideas? Either serious or silly could work. Leave a review or a message and I'll see if I can work them in!