Characters: Tony DiNozzo, Ziva David
Prompt: 29: Home Sweet Home story_lottery
Summary: She's dressed in cargo pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt; he thinks maybe he's never seen her look so beautiful.
Spoilers: Season 7, up to "Masquerade"
Word Count: 1862
Disclaimer: Tony and Ziva do not belong to me, but "Blondie" does. ;)
A/N: This is the follow-up to Outside Her Door, which people enjoyed more than I ever could have expected. While writing that one, I was scared of getting Tony wrong; with this one I experienced the same fear, though for a different reason. Last time we had vulnerable Tony, this time he's nervous and I'm still not sure it worked right. *sigh* We'll see how it goes I guess. Anyway, I recommend reading OHD first. There's some stuff here that will have more significance if you do.
- - -
So here he is, sitting outside her door. His legs are bent and he has his arms propped on his knees. Every time someone walks past, they stare. One little girl even pokes him in the arm before her mother drags her, giggling, away.
Tony comforts himself by thinking that at least he's brightened someone's day, even if she doesn't look more than six years old.
Everyone else just gives him a wide berth. He likes to think it's because he looks tragic and forlorn, like Bogey at the end of Casablanca. In reality, it's probably just because he looks half dead. Long working hours and insomnia will do that to a person.
He checks his watch again; he's been here for two hours and thirty seven minutes. It's longer than he expected and his stomach is starting to feel light in that sickening way that it does when he knows he's going to see or do something he really doesn't want to.
For the sixty-eighth time (he knows; he's counted), Tony tells himself not to worry. Ziva is more than capable of looking after herself.
He curses under his breath. That argument was so much more convincing before Somalia.
"Can I help you?"
Tony starts and looks up at the man in front of him. He's young, blonde and muscled in that gym-freak kind of way.
Tony shakes his head and lets it fall back until it meets the wall with a quiet thud. "I'm waiting for someone."
His head shoots back up again and his eyes narrow. "How do you know Ziva?"
"She's a friend. I live next door." Blondie nods his head to indicate somewhere further up the hallway.
Tony's eyes narrow further and he pushes himself up the wall until he's on his feet. His legs are prickling from the long stretch of inaction and his butt is numb but he straightens his spine and folds his arms over his chest.
"A friend, huh? Well…I'm an NCIS special agent. Keep that in mind the next time you run out of milk."
The kid's eyebrows are lost in his stupid fringe, the kind that almost flops into his eyes. Funny. He doesn't look like Ziva's type. Or maybe he's not. Maybe Ziva is his.
They turn and there she is, hair slicked back in a ponytail and carrying two grocery bags.
She needed groceries. Why didn't he think of that?
"Hey, Ziva." He glances at the kid, who's still staring at him, and then back to her. "We were just…talking."
She doesn't believe him, he can tell. It's in the way she eyes him, Blondie and her door warily. He doesn't blame her. After all, the last time he came to see her at home he killed her boyfriend.
Blondie clears his throat. "I'm gonna go." He returns Ziva's smile and then avoids Tony's eyes as he edges down the hallway to his apartment. When he's out of sight, Tony grins and meets her in front of her door. He takes the bags from her hands and tries to remember to breathe.
Her keys clink together and the lock thunks into place. He follows her into the kitchen and sets the bags on the counter. Then it's his turn to clear his throat as she watches him. He wonders if she's always watched him the way she's doing now.
He wants to say something profound, meaningful, but all he can manage is, "So…who's the punk?"
She frowns. "Punk?" She says it slowly, like she's tasting the word and committing it to memory.
Usually he loves introducing new words to her vocabulary, but right now he thinks he might throw up and he just can't. So he jerks his thumb over his shoulder towards the door and says, "Blondie."
After a moment, her frown clears and she laughs. "Oh. Damian. He is my friend."
"Huh." He raps his knuckles on the counter, by the fruit bowl. "That's what he said."
"Because it is true."
He picks up an orange and traces the peel with his fingertips, feeling the bumps and grooves. There's a green patch at one end. Is it oranges that keep ripening after they're picked? Or is that bananas? Or both? He can't remember but suddenly it feels important to know.
"Tony, why are you here?"
Coming here was a bad idea. He doesn't know what to say or how to act. Clearly all his confidence chose to wait in the car.
"That's the second time someone's asked me that today."
"And what was your answer?"
"Something about being a nobody." He shrugs, like it isn't important. "I don't remember exactly."
"You are a terrible liar."
His laugh is breathy. "Only with you."
He's beginning to feel dizzy because he realises how big a mistake this is. Speaking up will change everything, between them, between the team. It's better to let it go, better to keep pretending.
"I'll see you tomorrow."
She says his name but he's out the door and back in the hallway before she has a chance to really react.
Down the stairs, around the redhead making out with some guy who's way too old for her, past the mailboxes…He stops, one hand on the door handle of the entrance to the building.
Seriously, what the hell is he doing?
He spins on his heel. Back past the mailboxes, around the redhead making out with the guy who, on closer inspection, looks too much like Gibbs for Tony to be entirely comfortable, and back up the stairs to stand in front of her door.
He raises his fist to knock but stops short when he sees he's still holding her orange. Shaking his head, he switches it to his other hand and taps at the door. Just a second later, it opens and her head appears in the gap.
"You came back." She sounds uncertain; Tony wonders if her heart is pounding as hard as his.
"I took your orange." He holds it out and she stares before taking it.
"Well…thank you. I will see you at work."
Tony nods but then he sees the door closing and red lights begin flashing behind his eyes.
He slams a hand into the door. "Wait! I…I need to talk to you."
Ziva meets his eyes without blinking before stepping back to let him in. Then he's in her lounge and he's pacing, running his hands through his hair. He takes a deep breath.
"You trust me, don't you?" he asks.
"Okay. Good." He's going to wear a hole in the carpet. "Because I trust you too."
She nods slowly. "Good. I am glad."
Tony stops. There's five feet between them and she's spinning the orange in her hands like a tennis ball.
"I see a therapist." It comes out in a rush, like he's ashamed.
Her head cocks like a bird's; he's thrown her.
"Yeah," he continues. "On and off for a while. Since Somalia. I just…I needed to talk to someone because…I've never been so scared. And I don't know what scared me more. Finding you dead or alive.
"But you were alive and it's not like I thought everything would be the same because how could it really? I mean, with Michael and your dad and Saleem and…us. But we're friends, Ziva, we've always been friends and I guess I figured, in time, you'd want to talk to me about it. And sometimes I think you do but you don't and Anne says it's not that you don't trust me, it's that you don't trust yourself. But I just need you to know that you don't have to be strong all the time. I can be strong enough for both of us, if that's what you need."
He stops abruptly because he needs to take a breath. She staring now, maybe because he's crossed some line and watching just isn't going to cut it anymore. Her lips are parting, so he knows she's going to speak. He holds up a hand to forestall her because if he's come this far then he might as well go all the way.
She hesitates, and then nods.
"I want to think that everything's the same as it used to be. But it's not and we can't pretend anymore. And even if we could…I don't want to. I don't want to keep pretending that I can breathe every time you leave the room. I don't want to pretend that I'm not watching everything you do. I don't want to pretend that you're not in my dreams…if I manage to sleep at all. I can't, and I do, and you are." He stops to take a husky breath and wishes he could pretend his eyes weren't wet. "I need you, Ziva. And I needed you to know it."
Tony swallows and then lets out a ragged breath. She's still staring; that's not a good sign.
"Right." His voice rasps. Also not a good sign. "So…that's it, I guess. I'll go now, before things get…more uncomfortable. See you tomorrow."
His hands are stuffed in his pockets but he only takes two steps before she speaks.
"I never told you about Somalia because I did not want to hurt you. You would blame yourself. I could not bear for you to carry my pain as well as your own."
It's such a Ziva response, so practical and straightforward that he can't help but understand. So he nods to let her know.
She continues, "Then…in Somalia, when you came for me, you said…you said you could not live without me. Now you say you need me. We both know things between us are…not what they have always been but…I do not know what you want from me. Am I your partner? Your friend? Your—"
"Everything." It's a whisper but she hears it. "You're everything."
He looks up and meets her gaze. Ziva isn't one for emotional displays, at least not in public, but her lips are curled in a small smile and her eyes shine. She's dressed in cargo pants and a long-sleeved t-shirt; he thinks maybe he's never seen her look so beautiful. It's the first time he's let himself finish a thought along those lines and it feels good.
"No more hiding," he says. "No more pretending. Promise."
She nods. "I promise."
He steps up to her and folds her in his arms. He's never done this before either but he likes it, even if that damn orange is digging into his stomach, and makes a silent pact that he'll do it every day from now on.
He doesn't know how long they stand there for; he doesn't care.
"It is getting late," she whispers eventually. "You should go home."
"I am home." It's out before he can stop himself.
Her eyebrows quirk up and he flushes.
"Was that a really cheesy thing to say?"
Ziva laughs and nods. "Yes, but I do not mind."
And then she looks up into his face and smiles, and he wants to sing and laugh and dance because in her eyes, Tony sees Paris.
- - -
A/N 2: As far as I'm aware, this is the end of this little scenario, so don't expect another follow-up. That's not to say I won't be writing more NCIS fic, though. I've really enjoyed it, so hopefully there's a lot more in my future. Thanks for all the reviews, alerts and faves. They really made my day. :)