Title: All the Fun
Summary: In which Tony is a wounded hero. And Ziva does the bandaging.
Warnings: You know that In Medias Res thing you learned about in school when you had to read the Odyssey? Where you start in the middle of the action and all the explanation is in the footnotes? Yeah, so, I didn't include any footnotes. (There are also several instances of totally justified profanity.)
Disclaimer: They aren't mine to write about. Also, "It Happened One Night" is a very good movie, which you should see, but it is also not mine.
All the Fun
"Ow," Tony says intelligently.
Ziva frowns at his back. Her fingers retreat and return, probing further.
"Ow." He's hoping the reasonable tone and even cadence of his voice will engender sympathy with someone whose limited patience for weakness is infamous.
Ziva huffs in annoyance. She lifts away a bit of tattered shirt and something catches in his skin.
"Ow," Tony says again, and now his voice is louder and higher pitched, all tone and cadence lost. "Okay! Enough! Ow means stop."
"Huh," Ziva mutters, which sounds neither sympathetic, nor like she's planning on stopping. He can't see her face at the moment, but he's betting it's poker-ready, without an ounce of concern for the pain she's inflicting. "I think you have some shards of glass in here," she decides at last.
"Lovely," Tony says, and grits his teeth. "That's, yeah, lovely." He coughs to cover how he flinches away from her touch, but this time it's a gentle one, a hand low on his back where it doesn't hurt, guiding him over to an old crate in a patch of sun. He lowers himself gingerly, trying not to bend in any way, but his breath hisses out all the same.
"I know," Ziva says grimly, and when all this is over he's going to have to have a chat with her about her soothing voice, because really? It sounds almost exactly her imminent-ass-kicking voice, the one she uses when she's about to face down something noisy and messy.
"I'm going to try to get it out," Ziva announces.
"Uh, no," Tony corrects her, in a way that is much more panicky than authoritative. "No, no, we do not need to do that right now. I'm fine. I'm good to go."
"Oh?" Ziva says, not bothering to hide how incredulous she is.
He stands up, determined to prove her wrong, but not two steps across the dirty floor he realizes the adrenaline that allowed him to get this far has dissipated, and there's no longer a comforting numb edge of shock between him and the feeling of sharp things in his back. He turns slightly and feels something twist and slice. A tiny noise that is hugely embarrassing escapes his mouth, before he coughs some more to hide it.
"You're not fit to walk like this," Ziva points out reasonably, but with a hidden undercurrent of impatience, like if she'd gone through a window she'd still be up for a marathon.
"We could wait here for help?" he suggests hopefully.
"And they would find us how exactly?" She flips open her phone so he can see the dark screen. "I do not think whatever that awful little man did is going to fix itself."
Tony doesn't want to admit that she's right, but that doesn't change the fact that she is.
"Fine," he says weakly, and lowers himself back onto the crate with a stifled moan.
She generously refrains from any further comment, and instead gently peels another remnant of his shredded dress shirt. He feels her breath on the bared skin of his back, but nothing else. The exhalations raise goose bumps on his neck. A shudder trickles down his spine. "So. Any time now."
"I only have my hands," Ziva says in frustration, and now that she has his permission she sounds a little apologetic.
"I hope you washed them then." His own hands curl around the splintery slats of the crate he's sitting on, but then Ziva shrugs out of her jacket and hands it to him. It's leather, badly scuffed now, from the positively scintillating morning they've had, and smells comfortingly of sweat and Ziva. He grabs two handfuls of it.
Her touch is feather light, but even the goddamn sunlight hurts at this point, so each tentative move sparks widening ripples of pain. There's something in the back of his throat that feels like glass and acid and tastes like breakfast. He swallows firmly and bunches the jacket in his lap. Then he feels her blunt nails close delicately around something and tug (fucking oww) and he hears something small and sharp drop on the ground. Again, she does it, and again. Time seems to stretch and compress and it's both ten seconds and ten hours later when she finally murmurs done.
He tentatively shifts and feels only the familiar pain of cleanly made cuts, and the slow trickle of fresh blood.
"Better?" she asks.
"Yeah," he says, and finds that he is. He breathes deeply, relieved to feel no lingering twinges of sharpness. Ziva helps him out of the ruins of his shirt.
"You'll bleed a little more now," she points out.
"Lucky me," he says absently. It's not like his shirt, which she's now bandaging him with, wasn't ruined anyway. The fact that the rag started this morning as a brand new shirt, is just the icing on a cake of a day.
He so can't wait to get the whackjob they're after into interrogation. He's going to pop a few painkillers, put his feet up in observation, and watch Gibbs go to town on the little creep. Normally he'd want to do it himself, but he's planning on being incapacitated. What with the painkillers and all.
Ziva takes a little more time with the bandaging, indulging in a few choice words of Hebrew that she only thinks he doesn't understand. He spares a moment to feel superior, because it is so typical Ziva. Ask her to do something gross and bloody, she's your guy. Ask for anything that smacks of comfort and coddling and she's rendered nigh helpless.
Ziva might have caught on to his air of superiority, because she tells him in a positively icicle-laden voice that if he doesn't stop fidgeting she's going to do them both a favor and render him unconscious.
"Then you'd have to carry me," he points out cheerfully, and she mutters darkly in her native tongue something that has to do with vultures.
Determined to be a model patient he makes an effort to stay still, watching the unmoving panorama of dry grass that stretches away outside. It's a sunny day that started cool, but now is verging on a warm that's uncomfortable. There's nothing in the sky besides high and away cirrus streaks, and they do nothing to stop the sun beating down on the empty fields that surround them.
The structure they've stumbled across appears to be an old barn, now that he has a chance to study it. It's in the first stages of falling down, but it provides a little cover, and really that's all they need. Hopefully, the cover is just a precaution. The guy they were after should be high-tailing it out of by now. He's a nerd-villain after all, and nerds are all about the flight, not the fight.
Except this nerd's got toys. Toys that go boom, or perform similarly unsavory, mad-scientist functions.
Ziva reaches around him, sliding her arms under his and across his chest hovering carefully so she doesn't touch his lacerated back. He realizes she's tying off the bandage, snug over his sternum. He tugs the knot to make sure it'll hold, and feels the button of a cuff under his thumb.
That shirt was brand new.
"We should move on," she says, tugging her now even more battered jacket out of his sweaty grasp.
"Yeah," he says shortly, standing gingerly and trying not to move his shoulders in the process. Oh that stings. But he'll deal with it because he's tough, and manly, and because they really do need to move to a place with a little more to offer besides old crates and a charming rustic air. Like electricity. Or phone lines.
Friggin' mad scientists and their Dr. Evil toys.
"What direction we heading?" Tony asks, as he squints at his own cell phone to confirm that yes, they are still totally screwed in that regard. He checks his weapon too, and then slides it into the back of his waistband. It's good he kept a hold on it, but his holster is a bit of scrap now, and he really hates having to tuck a gun into his pants. Potential for innuendo aside, it's painfully cumbersome, and the safety catch digs into his skin with ever step.
"North," Ziva replies with surety. "He will want to continue south and we should really regroup before pursuing further." Her hands finish checking her own weapon, and then ghost over a few more places on her body, taking the pulse of her clothing where her knives are hidden.
"Sounds great," he says all false cheer and jollity, and follows her out of the barn into the great wide world.
Sometimes, when their work takes them to the idyllic countryside, Tony really misses solving crime in a city. Sure there was traffic, and grime, and gawking hordes, but this slow trudge out into the empty, open country eats at him. There's nothing much protecting them from further hi-jinks of the deadly variety besides Ducky's assessment that their Rube Goldberg aficionado would never lower himself to a toy so boring and straightforward as a gun.
Tony sighs, because that thought is not exactly reassuring.
"Tell me if you feel lightheaded," Ziva offers. "I can walk behind you."
"It's nice you can think about checking me out at a time like this," Tony says, brightening a little at the chance to tease her.
The former assassin rolls her eyes with all the scorn of the girls who shot him down in high school. "I meant so you would not fall back and crack your head open, but now that I think about it, you may be doing me a favor."
"It's okay, I think my ass is pretty great, too," he assures her. "For real though, do these bloodstains make my butt look big?"
Ziva visibly restrains herself from slapping him upside his admittedly light-feeling head. And she tells him to shut up.
They walk in silence after that, cutting straight across the field, aiming for a distant tree line that might indicate a road. Hopefully a heavily trafficked road, filled with concerned citizens who will be only too happy to stop for two extras from Dawn of the Dead.
It is a road, but barely paved, and vacant.
"What part of Virginia is this anyway?" Tony asks sourly, as they sit in the shade for a moment so Ziva can make sure his bandage is holding up. Her fingers dance over his back like she's checking him for knives.
"The rural part," Ziva observes humorlessly. "The deserted part. The part that is perfect for stranding two federal agents."
"That was so not uplifting," Tony informs her.
"We should get going," Ziva says, and stands once more. He sees red on the tips of her fingers before she wipes her hand on her jeans. He won't think about what that means.
They cross to the field beyond in silence again. Tony concentrates on putting his feet in front of each other, and on not taking sharp intakes of breath when shooting pains cross his back. Ziva keeps her head on a constant swivel, her hand on her gun.
"Why are we not following the road?" Tony thinks to ask, when they're halfway across the new flat expanse of grass. "You could flash some stocking and hitch us a ride no problem, like the Claudette Colbert routine from 'It Happened One Night.'"
The field had not looked this big from the shade.
"There was a car," Ziva tells him. "I shot out the back tire before he got out of range, but I think it was still driveable. And we don't know for certain which direction he might decide to go in."
"I don't remember any car."
"I guess you were too busy bleeding."
"That is so not comforting," he lets her know, even though he's pretty sure she's already aware.
Ziva offers up a mocking half-smile that's so familiar it actually is comforting, but when he faces back towards the next line of foliage, he can feel her gaze flick towards his back and the Rorschach test of blood he knows is growing between his shoulder blades.
They press on. His skin prickles with the heat, his makeshift bandage chafes under the arms, his gun digs into his flesh with every step.
Her hand is on his shoulder before he's even aware he's stumbled.
She slides her fingers down his arm, from elbow to wrist, as he finds his balance, the pressure lessening bit by bit until only their fingers are touching and she's sure he'll stay upright.
"I said you should let me know if you feel light-headed," she reminds him sharply. Her fingers leave his.
"And I still say we're better off with you rolling up your skirt and giving a passing motorist a glimpse of your shapely leg," he retorts, never one to let a good idea go too soon.
She blinks at him in annoyance. "I'm not wearing a skirt," she says at last and stalks onward as if to make up for catching him.
No comeback, Tony thinks. And then, shit, she's being nice. He must really look like the after picture of a weed-whacker attack. The fine weave and subtle stripe of his very expensive field dressing clings to his skin, but he's been telling himself it's because of the sweat.
No good will come of dwelling.
One foot, and then, the other. He follows her.
The grass they're tramping across is dead and dry. To pass the time, he spins theories about what they're actually hiking through. A failed organic dairy farm. An off-season fat camp. An exotic hunting preserve. Maybe there are rich people crouched in nearby hunting blinds this very minute, waiting for a captive zebra to wander by.
He steals a glance at Ziva. Her hair is tousled and there's a smear of blood high on one cheek. Now that he looks closer he can see a shallow cut, already dry and scabbing, across the bridge of her nose. He can also see the marks of his nails in the sleeves of her scuffed jacket, but it was ruined to start with, so he doesn't feel too bad.
She looks like a total badass but she doesn't look like a zebra, so they're probably safe in that respect.
The streaks of cloud overhead have thickened and darkened, and now bands of sunlight and shadow chase each other across the ground in front of him.
"Tony," his non-equine partner says, breaking into his reverie. He raises his eyes from the grass like they weigh a ton. She seems to be indicating another stand of trees ahead.
Whoopee. More trees. With their luck, it probably will turn out to contain an actual hunting blind with their suspect holed up inside.
He wonders if zebras are even technically equine.
Can you ride them?
That'd be pretty sweet.
Patches of blackness and bright phosphorescence swim through his vision. Ziva's voice is interrupted with great scarlet splashes, which he dimly recognizes as the sun strobing through his eyelids.
"Tony," Ziva says sharply, like she's called him twice already. His eyes snap open as his brain snags on something sharp that keeps it from drifting further away. In a sickening instant he's back and rattled and hoping she didn't notice how for a minute or so he skipped light-headed and went straight for loopy.
"Yeah," he says nonchalantly, takes in his surroundings, pretends like he has already seen the small and distant house beneath the trees and recognized its import. "Yeah. That's where we're heading right? Maybe someone's home."
Ziva shoots him a look that says she sees right through him. "Or maybe there's a phone."
"Or that." He takes a few steadying breaths and then stops her with a hand on her arm. "Hang on a sec." He licks his thumb in a classic great-aunt move, and wipes the smear of blood from her cheek. "No reason we both have to look like horror movie extras, right my little zebra?" His thumb clears her cheek and suddenly a wave of dizziness rolls over him from the back of his skull. He keeps talking, but his voice sounds like an echo even to him. "Don't want to scare the neighbors."
"Right," Ziva says, and her voice is hard and tight, like her fingers are around his wrist all of a sudden. She holds him steady by the tether of his hand cupping her cheek, as his eyes close and his breath hisses through his nose. The dizziness recedes after a moment. He opens his eyes, smiles at her, pats her cheek twice. She squeezes his hand before she releases him.
They approach the house with guns drawn, but receive no response to their summons. A For Sale sign spikes the front lawn when they circle round, and a few faded oil stains dot the long cracked driveway. Ziva hands him her gun and squats by the door handle. She pats at her clothing again, and the expression of her face tells him that she'd forgotten how her lock-pick kit disappeared in the explosion. The back of Tony's neck prickles as she stares down the doorknob. He very badly wants to sit down. To lie down and go to sleep.
"Move," he orders, hikes up his leg and kicks the front door. To his utter amazement, it works. The door swings open with a small crunch, and he only staggers a little when his foot comes down. Ziva cocks an eyebrow, pretends she's not impressed, and takes her gun back.
The interior is sparsely furnished, like someone comes by once in a while to keep it from looking deserted. There's a couch, some real estate materials on the kitchen counter, and an empty phone jack.
"Look for a phone," Ziva orders, disappearing to clear the house. He tucks his gun away and squats by a cupboard, holding onto the knob while his head spins, then yanking it open. The first try yields dust and some mouse droppings. There's a crank-handle flashlight in a drawer. But then, in the pantry of all places, he finds an old phone with an extra long spiral cord wrapped neatly around it.
"Bingo," he says to the room at large.
"Clear," Ziva calls from a back bedroom. "I'm going to check the perimeter."
Tony unwraps just enough cord to free the plug, and feed it into the jack. He lifts the receiver to his ear, holds his breath, and thumbs the catch. The welcome buzz of the dial tone rushes through his body in an echoing buzz of relief.
It almost drowns out the soft shush and crunch of tires on concrete, but then he sees the car out the kitchen window, rolling red and dusty up the drive.
"Company," he calls to Ziva, even though he heard the backdoor
shut and she's probably out of hearing range now. "Looks like the neighbors are home after all."
Then he sees the flat tire.
And the rifle the driver is carrying as he exits.
And he thinks about Ziva coming around the side of the house.
The receiver cracks when he drops it on the counter. He takes a strip of skin off his back yanking his gun from his waistband. He busts the kitchen window with his first shot, yielding a spray of glass that is so ironic he could cry.
He takes out the guy with that first shot as well, but he fires three more times, just to be sure.
Adrenaline once more clears his head, steadies his arm, and magnifies his vision. He very clearly sees how the man's eyes widen, and how his fingers relax on the rifle barrel before it falls to the pavement.
So much for Ducky's profile, Tony has time to think.
And then he passes out.
He wakes up on the kitchen floor, with Ziva sitting next to him. Her back is resting against the cabinets and her hand is in his hair, smoothing it away from his face with soft light touches that are light years away from knives or glass.
She's examining her cellphone so she doesn't see his eyes opening.
"You're looking remarkable alive there, zebra of mine."
She actually startles, and her hand jerks away from him. She tries to cover for it by brushing an errant strand off his forehead, and her voice is under control when she mildly asks, "Should I be otherwise?"
"Definitely not," he says, trying for firm and sounding more like pathetically grateful.
"How are you feeling?" She returns to finger-combing his hair.
"Like hell," he admits croakily. "Where's our guy?"
"Dead in the driveway," Ziva says. She really stops then, and shifts a little to look down at his face more directly. "I imagine you'll be receiving a briefing on excessive force for that. Did you really think I hadn't heard the car pull up?"
"Oh," Tony says intelligently. He frowns. "I had to beat you to him. He ruined my new shirt."
"And sent you through a window."
"Really?" He feigns surprise. "Gee, I'd forgotten that part."
She smiles in spite of herself. "I found a real first aid kit," she offers, and he hears her nails rattle on a plastic lid. "But there's emergency response on the way, so if you'd rather wait..."
"Yeah, I'm good right here," Tony says quickly, closing his eyes again. Her hand returns to smoothing his hair. "Unless you also found a sexy nurse uniform stashed somewhere that will make the doctoring bearable this time around." Her fingers tense a moment, nails scratching his scalp like a warning, before resuming their motion.
"I did not."
"Well then I'll hold out hope that paramedics really are prepared for all eventualities. What about Gibbs?"
"On his way," Ziva answers.
"Good," he murmurs. Her hand stills, so he cracks his eyes open again. "Uh, good doesn't mean stop."
"Why have you been calling me a zebra?"
"There was all that grass. And we were being hunted." Tony gestures feebly, trying to conjure his waking-dream of psychopaths and the Serengeti. "Plus, then he pulled up with a rifle. He was going to bag you. Like a zebra."
"And that necessitated excessive force?"
Duh, he wants to say, but settles for yawning and mumbling, "Maybe."
She pinches his earlobe. "They said not to let you go back to sleep. You might have a concussion from the explosion."
"Ow," he complains, just for old times sake. "Y'know, I probably have two at this point, seeing as how I also face-planted on this lovely floor." He pats the linoleum he's resting on and frowns. "Which apparently hasn't seen a mop since 1980."
He can feel her dying to ask what plants have to do with his face, and he doesn't feel like getting into that right now, so he goes for some misdirection. "Anyway, it was all worth it in the end."
He can't see her face when she looks at her lap, but he can feel her frown, like her leg, warm and solid against his arm is a disapproval conductor. "It was reckless and stupid. You should have let me handle him."
"Can't let you have all the fun."
"Fun?" She snorts. Something metallic slips from her fingers with a tinny sound. "It's not exactly fun coming in to see you flat on the floor, making me think…" She doesn't finish the thought. "Just leave it to me alright?"
"I can't leave everything to you," he says reasonably, waiting for the moment when she starts to see the humor in this argument. "I have my pride after all."
"It's not about pride," she says sharply, "it's about not doing stupid things—" She breaks off, and makes a sound through her nose that is more annoyed than amused, but after a moment he feels her smiling. "I suppose that it would be grossly unfair to deny you fun," she admits.
"I'm glad you agree." He's going to ignore the sarcasm in her voice that makes this victory less than complete. After all, her fingers are back in his hair like he's forgiven for acting foolish, and he finds he doesn't even care anymore whether or not she's just being nice because he's hurt. He sighs and lets his eyes drift close again. In a minute she'll pinch him again to make him stay awake, so he's just going to savor this moment of reprieve right here, the warm weight of her jacket draped over his chest, the clink of the now-disassembled cell phone she's toying with, the way her soft hand cups his face for a moment, and her thumb brushes his cheekbone in a way that is much more sexy-nurse than great-aunt.
"Thank you for saving me from being a zebra then," she says quietly, and to anyone else it would sound like she's making fun of him, but he can hear the sincerity.
"Anytime," he mutters, because he doesn't have enough energy right now to say back all the things he'd like, things like duh and always and thanks a million, zebra-cakes, for prodding my addled ass across the wilds of Virginia.
He has a feeling she can understands anyway.
They stay on the floor together until the ambulance comes. He decides she maybe isn't so hopeless with this comfort thing after all.
((AN: After I wrote Not In the Script I thought Tony deserved some heroics/TLC. Tony being Tony, he demanded a lot more hurt and a lot more TLC. He's kinda a diva that way. This story in general demanded a lot of drama and rewrites so I'd love any feedback. EVEN IF that feedback only consists of 'wtf, zebras.' Thanks for reading!))