"Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes-"
"It's actually been closer to three hours, sir." Agent Lee corrected him.
Tony ignored her. "Average foot speed over ground barring injuries is four miles per hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area-"
Lee cleared her throat and raised her hand. "Are we computing this radius from the crash site or from her apartment? Sir?" she added at Tony's dark look.
McGee rolled his eyes. "Just let him finish the speech, Lee."
"Thank you, McHelpful." He turned back toward the greater bullpen. "Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive's name is Officer Ziva David. Go get her." With that, he hopped off the desk and headed for the elevator. "McGee, follow me. We're needed in autopsy."
At first, he just showed up late more often than usual, which was disconcerting but not enough to incite a panic. She grew more and more frustrated as he continued to lie to her, to McGee, to Gibbs- to everyone. When frustration gave way to anger, she started snapping at him with more malice than either of them was used to, and the only way he knew to respond was to snap back with even more bite. And though their arguments were already legendary, even Gibbs began looking up in surprise when they got into shouting matches that didn't run their course and McGee and Abby started positioning themselves physically between the two of them in a terrified effort to postpone the inevitable bloodshed.
So she wasn't surprised when the next time they shared the elevator together, Tony slammed the keypad with the heel of his palm and the car came to a shuddering halt, plunging them both into darkness. "Do we have a problem, Ziva?"
She whirled around in blind fury, and it took his every effort not to flinch. "Why did you think it necessary to lie to m- us?"
"I had my reasons."
He hesitated, but nothing he could come up with sounded right, or honest.
Ziva reached behind him and flipped the elevator back into service. "Do you love her?" she asked quietly.
"I don't know."
She studied him for a long moment. "I hope it's worth it." She pushed past him as soon as the doors were open. From then on, she was back to normal when anyone was around, and though Tony was grateful for the reprieve, her assumed calm worried him. And if anyone else noticed the extra bite she packed into what used to be lighthearted teasing and smiles, no one said a word- so he didn't, either.
The first time she heard him say "I love you too, Jeanne," she tried to ignore the way it felt like a kick to the stomach.
It didn't work.
The first time she thought she lost him, she found it difficult to breathe. They all stood in shock, staring at the live satellite feed in MTAC, and it was a second or two before Gibbs started bellowing orders and everyone rushed out of the room. She lagged behind for a beat before training kicked in; she locked it away, because it was all she knew how to do and she couldn't bear the alternative.
At the crime scene, her hands shook when she smoothed away the soot from his badge, and even as McGee asked her about miracles she reminded him that it wasn't part of her training, even though she still hoped. She kept trying to focus on the charred body in the front seat of his car, tried not to think Tony, but she couldn't look without noticing the stark contrast between what was before her and the memory of weight sinking mattress, his shoulder pressed against hers, sliding around hardwood floors and collapsing in laughter on her living room sofa. She had to look away, finally, when nausea overwhelmed her and her vision blurred.
When they finally cleared the scene she bolted in relief, and threw up in the grass.
Back at headquarters McGee touched her shoulder, but she shrugged him off and sank to her chair while he went back to the plasma and rewound the footage from the explosion. Over and over again, until she wanted to kill him with her stapler and picturing the thousand ways she could make it look like an accident was the only thing keeping her from losing control.
First, when Jenny told them the truth about Tony's relationship with Jeanne, there was relief: see, it was all just a game. It wasn't real. But all she had to do was remember the way his voice changed when he murmured into his phone and she knew that it may have started out a game, but it didn't end that way. So relief gave way to anger, and after she cornered him in the bathroom they were back to square one: squabbling in the hallway, snapping at each other in evidence, terrifying the other agents with screaming matches that carried from Interrogation to Autopsy. When Gibbs threatened to send them both back to the bathroom they settled into uneasy silence, which almost seemed worse.
Later, he caught her outside MTAC and pinned her against the wall. She shoved back against him with her forearm and practically snarled, "Was it worth it?"
"Are you done?" he shot back.
He grit his teeth. "I don't know."
"Perhaps that is your problem, then," she offered with a cold smile.
"I was undercover, Ziva-"
"You could have told us," she interrupted him, voice rising. "You could have told me. Instead, you kept sneaking around with your two phones, leaving early for mysterious appointments at the hospital. Do you have any idea what comes up when you type 'black death' into a search engine? I thought you were hiding the fact that you were sick again, and the only way I'd find out for sure was when we buried you." When her voice broke, he instinctively reached out and she angrily wrenched away, brushing at her eyes with the back of her hands.
But she pushed him aside and stormed away, and he was left wondering just how many people he'd hurt before it was enough.
Later, it was her on his doorstep this time, and when he opened the door he grimaced immediately. "Ziva-"
She waved him off. "Do not worry, Tony, I did not come here you pressure you to talk about it. Or to yell."
"Then why are you here?"
She clumsily shoved her bag into his hands; Tony raised an eyebrow and peeked inside, then reached in and pulled out a carton of ice cream and a DVD. "Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn. It's supposed to be funny and she is quite pretty, yes?"
"You brought me ice cream and a chick flick." He stated, his expression a mixture between confusion and awe.
"According to the internet, this is the appropriate reaction when one's friend has just suffered a break up," she told him quickly.
"You... looked it up on the internet." Tony repeated, baffled.
She nodded. "Yes. I goggled it."
"That too. First, I tried to find the proper etiquette for when an agent goes undercover and accidentally falls in love, but then must reveal his true identity when his cover is blown, resulting in his love disappearing and his heart breaking- but there does not seem to be protocol for that."
That elicited the smallest of smiles from him. "So you brought me ice cream and a movie."
"And rum." She pulled the bottle from her bag.
"Now we're talking."
They didn't talk much, and the movie wasn't very funny at all but it kept them occupied long enough to finish the rum, and since the ice cream went mostly unattended it wasn't long at all before he was slurring and explaining all the reasons why he deserved to be hit by a bus for his increasing karmic debt. She rolled her eyes and accused him of overdramatics but let him talk, because though he didn't make much sense she knew he needed it. Because some secrets weren't meant to be kept, and though she was still hurt she understood that he'd only done what he was ordered to do and let his heart get in the way. She even held a straight face when he told her how much he'd loved that girl, and when he leaned forward mid-sentence and covered her mouth with his she didn't pull away right away. There was an urgency in his kiss and the way he pressed against her, until her back was against the sofa and he was on top of her trailing his lips along her jawline. She shuddered and arched her back just slightly, enough to feel him. But when he went for the clasp on her jeans she pushed him away.
"I'm sorry," he said immediately, but she shook her head.
"No, I-" she stopped herself, cleared her throat. What she wanted to say was, I won't be second best for anyone, not even you, but all that came out was, "Not like this."
He nodded once, and that was that. They righted themselves and stayed up late watching old movies, and when they woke up tangled together once again they smiled, because it was almost, almost like old times.
The only time he ever really saw her first as an assassin, Gibbs instructed him to stay with her after her undercover mission ended badly, and she slammed his hand down on the desk with enough force that he worried momentarily that she'd broken it. He realized, then, that while he may have tenderly called her a ninja in the past, most of the time he forgot the reality of what her life was really like: instinct interpreting every touch as a threat. It made him want to gather her up and shield her from the world, if only for a little while. Even if it meant a broken hand.
The bar was familiar and useful: she drank enough to shut up the inside of her head, and when her head space was effectively numbed she slid off the bar stool and headed for the door. Michael caught her at the exit, and while they talked she fought with the decision to be annoyed at what he was not or relieved that she could still be wanted.
The difference was: Tony knew better than to reach for her gun in the middle of the night. The difference was: all Michael knew was that she was a Mossad liaison officer for NCIS, that she did undercover work, that she killed a man. But Tony knew everything else, from what button to push to make her furious with him to the right things to say to have her dissolve in laughter. The difference was: Michael was there, and Tony was not. And so she went home with Michael and when flesh met flesh she tried not to pretend like he was someone else entirely.
He couldn't seem to find the right words to express how the sight of her looking so broken, so unlike his indestructible Ziva scared him, so instead he joked and teased and only after he'd gone too far did he realize that he had pushed her away, maybe for good this time.
She knew it was him at the door before she bothered to check, by his knock and because she knew it was coming. When she opened the door he looked sheepish and a little guilty, with enough wince to let her know his wrist still hurt. She tried for anger, but all she could come up with was exhaustion.
"What is it about?" she asked, nodding toward the DVD in his hands.
"A really stupid field agent who pisses off his partner because he's a thoughtless jerk."
"I have seen that one already," she remarked dryly.
"You've probably seen it too many times already," he admitted. "But see, the stupid field agent is really, really, really sorry. For what it's worth." When she didn't reply right away, he added, "and I was wrong."
"Why?" she asked, finally.
"Well, the print on the knife didn't match-"
"No," she stopped him. "Why were you so sure it was him?"
He stared at her for a long moment before sighing. "I wanted it to be. I wanted you to be wrong."
"I was jealous."
"You were jealous," she repeated.
"Because I slept with Michael."
He hesitated. "Yes."
"Michael, and not you?"
This time, he couldn't bring himself to answer her. He met her eyes and said nothing, and after a few silent and charged moments she nodded, and stepped aside.
They wound up in her bed and it was just like that summer except for the tension rippling between them, the unsure way Tony slid into place next to her, and the hesitation when she clicked off the light.
"I didn't love him," she said aloud after a period of silence, unsure if he was even awake. "I followed orders, used my body to gain Hoffman's trust. I slept with Michael- a mistake, yes. But I never loved him."
She heard him shift, clear his throat. "Then why...?"
"In Mossad, we are trained to never let ourselves be vulnerable. To forget, for even a second, means the difference between life and death. I forgot, and I nearly died."
"But you didn't."
"I could have."
"But you didn't."
He rolled over so that she could make out his expression in the dim light, so serious and so unlike himself that Ziva had to remind herself that it was still Tony- concerned and gentle with her in a way that he only seemed to let himself show after dark, behind the safety of closed doors. "You wouldn't have died, because I wouldn't have let you go."
She scoffed despite her better judgment. "You do not get to make that decision, Tony."
"Sure I do." His expression was somber. "You'll never be rid of me, Officer David. Not without the official DiNozzo stamp of approval, and even then there's a ton of paperwork involved- believe me, you're better off just not concerning yourself with such things."
"And if I died anyway?" she asked softly, because she couldn't help it- though morbid, it was fascinating to her, that someone on this earth considered her something more than a soldier. Indispensable. Irreplaceable. Her death could be a travesty rather than a number on a report that her father would read and then discard.
"Well, that's easy." She heard him roll over onto his back and hook his hands behind his head, and his voice carried through the room, engulfed her like a blanket. "I'd track you down and drag you back. No one gets out without the DiNozzo stamp of approval."
"From death?" She couldn't stop the smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
"From death," he confirmed, and she shifted to rest her head on his chest, and fell asleep listening to his heartbeat tell her that he was there, and that he cared.
The first time she saw him break, it was almost too much.
On the plane, she turned to look at him but he was still staring straight ahead, the muscles in his jaw taut. Gibbs was three rows up and a mirror image; knowing what she knew about about the extent of his relationship with Jenny, Ziva wasn't surprised. But the guilt radiated off Tony like a fever, and she tried not to be hurt when she laid her hand over his and he wrenched it away.
She couldn't shake the image of his eyes in the dim light of autopsy, already slightly glassy from the booze he'd been working on long before she found him. After they talked to Vance she forced him into a cab and, thankfully, he hadn't been drunk enough to try and fight her on it. But halfway back to her own apartment she couldn't shake those eyes, or the way he looked on the plane. So she u-turned in the middle of the street, hitting the gas amidst angry blares from the other drivers that she easily ignored.
She pulled into the parking lot and came to a screeching halt in front of his building, already building her argument for him should he instigate one; she did not trust him to be alone right now, she was worried, he shut her out after Jeanne and she'd be goddamned if he was going to do it to her again now, it was her turn to provide some source of comfort...by the time she reached his door she was prepared for the fight; when Tony opened the door her mouth was already opened to yell, but it died in her throat when she saw him illuminated by the weak hall light.
He smelled of whiskey and defeat.
She didn't say anything nor wait for an invitation; Tony merely stood aside when she pushed into his apartment and shut the door behind her. He looked so shattered that she found it difficult to inhale for a split second, the magnitude of his guilt and pain seeming to fill the room like a suffocating cloud. Then she reached out, pulled him to her, and it wasn't until he buried his face in her neck that she realized that he was crying. She lead him to the living room and gingerly pulled him down with her to the sofa, never breaking contact; Ziva tangled her fingers in his hair and pressed her lips against his temple and they stayed like that for hours, until the last shudder of hurt left him and he relaxed, finally, to sleep.