Disclaimer: NCIS is nothing more than my creative release. Sigh. If I did own it, Tiva would end up canon for sure :D
Summary: Tony kills time waxing philosophical with Ziva at the annual NCIS Christmas party. "What can I say? I'm a natural born rule breaker." Tags to Faith.
Tony grinned lethargically as he took a quick sip from the glass of eggnog tucked into his hand, watching a clearly inebriated Jimmy Palmer deflect various attempts to send him on home. At the moment, the autopsy gremlin was drunkenly brandishing what appeared to be a half-consumed candy cane in poor Ducky's face, slurring about the dangers of falling reindeer hooves to the tune of "Jingle Bells". Where was McGee when you really needed a video phone?
He sensed her presence before she had even said a word, the warmth by his side so familiar in the center of the festively bedecked bullpen. It could have been just another evening spent working overtime on a case, were it not for the noisy mass of NCIS personnel milling around spreading cheer, good will, and party appetizers alike on this chilly Christmas Eve. And, well, Palmer serenading Ducky. Which was suddenly bordering on creepy.
"That's five," Tony nodded sagely, turning to look down at newly Probationary Agent Ziva David in all her plum-sweatered glory. The confusion creasing said Israeli's forehead was too comical, too adorable, to resist and Tony found himself laughing jocundly.
"How many drinks have you had, Tony?" Ziva inquired bluntly, corners of her mouth twitching in either displeasure or mirth. It was never easy to read emotions when it came to the exotic ninja, a fact Tony tended to bemoan on a daily basis.
"Only three," Tony pouted, gesturing to the sloshing beverage still in his clasp before downing another gulp. This time Ziva did smile as she watched her partner contend with a slimy white mustache.
"You do know the eggnog is spiked, yes?"
"You're talking to the Spring Break legend, Ziva. I can hold my liquor better than any man you know." As if to prove his veritable prowess, Tony proceeded to walk up and down an invisible line drawn between his desk and McGee's. Ziva had to roll her eyes at the flawless demonstration, refraining from commenting on his last remark. She probably knew dozens of Mossad operatives who had been explicitly trained in how to parry the more debilitating affects of alcohol, herself included, but tonight she did not feel like sprinkling (was that the expression?) on Tony's parade. Not when she was the happiest she had been in a long time. Affection bubbled in Ziva's eyes as the dark-haired woman teased,
"I would commend you, but I am too busy trying to engrave that strange display forever in my photographic memory."
"I'm flattered, Probette," Tony chuckled, suavely sauntering back to rejoin Ziva. She squinted up at him.
"So if you were not rambling drunkenly just a moment ago, then what is 'five'? Or am I missing some classic American film reference?"
"Not at all, Zeevah. I was referring to our lovable resident drunk who's about to get kicked out the fifth year in a row," Tony elucidated, and Ziva followed his train of thought with a glance the M.E. assistant's way. She noticed Director Vance was on the prowl, a grimace on his face as he cornered blathering Palmer behind the punch table.
"Ah. I see your point," Ziva conceded, folding her arms loosely. The pair stood in companionable silence for a few minutes, watching the ensuing chaos unfurl until Palmer was safely boarded into the elevator with a concerned Ducky and an irate Vance on his tail. When it was over, Tony tugged on one of Ziva's stray curls to recapture her attention.
"Hey, have you seen McTardy to the Party anywhere? He disappeared sometime after Secret Santa-"
"Abby's lab, but I am fairly certain I saw him skulking outside MTAC just before Gibbs went home," Ziva replied distractedly, peeking behind Tony to stare interestedly at a large, tastefully wrapped package resting on his desk. "Speaking of Secret Santa..."
"Don't remind me," the brunette cringed, and for the first time he actually looked a little scared. "Dolores wants to meet me outside Human Resources at six o'clock. Apparently she couldn't be bothered with the traditional office party exchange."
"What did you get?" Ziva asked curiously. Tony graced her with the trademark lopsided DiNozzo grin she had come to love so much.
"A lovely tin of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies."
"You hate oatmeal raisin."
"Thank you! At least somebody here knows me," Tony whispered fiercely, but the light in his eyes was gentle. "It's the thought that counts, I suppose. Who was your Secret Santa?"
"Doug the security guard. He gave me his ex-wife's sewing set." Ziva's voice dripped with sarcastic delight.
Tony tried very hard to picture Ziva knitting, perhaps in a cozy rocking chair, but all he got was a frightening vision of her wielding two excessively sharp needles while proclaiming his imminent doom. Which was a very real possibility, given what Tony was about to do. However, he sensed the time was right. The Very Special Agent just hoped Ziva had forgone paperclip and knitting needle alike on her person this snowy winter's evening.
"Come here," he said, taking Ziva's elbow and leading her behind the tacky orange staircase. Ziva let herself be dragged away to what she recognized as one of Tony's favorite haunts for private conversing, her heart skipping a few beats as he carefully manipulated them into a secluded and rather intimate nook. Their bodies were mere inches from each other, and Ziva could almost feel the thrumming vibration when Tony took a ragged breath.
"Now, I know we said we weren't going to give each other presents this year-" the man started nervously, but Ziva interrupted him with an exasperated,
"What can I say? I'm a natural born rule breaker." He reached into his pocket and withdrew a small box ensconced in black velvet. Ziva's mahogany eyes flicked rapidly between the stylish case and Tony's boyishly eager features, countenance annoyingly unreadable. Tony cocked that unique DiNozzo grin again, enhancing the charm with a playful, "Don't tell me I'm going to have to return a perfectly good purchase. It took hours to find the one that best fit you, and after all that effort you're going to tell me you're not even the least bit intrigued?"
Ziva's eyebrows knotted together as she reached out to run a finger over the satiny cover. "Tony, you really should not have... I mean, I do not have a Christmas gift for you..."
Tony brushed aside Ziva's hesitation with an airy wave. "Psh. I'm like George Bailey in 'It's a Wonderful Life'. I take everything for granted until it's gone. I don't want any gifts when all I've ever needed has been right under my nose all along."
Something flashed in his eyes then, and Ziva stared with equal intensity into the vivid viridian depths. It was a fleeting but significant moment when Tony and Ziva both seemed to connect on a more than platonic level, but as was the inevitable outcome when their eternal cat-and-mouse chase took an unexpected deviation into foreign territory, the two retreated in halfhearted surrender. Ziva carefully took the box out of Tony's hands while Tony made a big show out of readjusting his tie. He gazed downward at Ziva's gasp, beaming from ear to ear at the sublime shock dancing in the dark-haired beauty's visage.
"What do you think?"
Ziva did not immediately respond, so focused was she in keeping her face averted and her trembling appendages busy. She traced the new Star of David necklace perched so perfectly within the case's confines, swallowing profusely before even attempting to voice her gratitude. "It is... so beautiful, Tony. Thank you."
Tony's expression softened when she looked up and he saw how touched Ziva was by his gift, a thin sheen of tears shining in the woman's eyes. "Well, you seemed to be missing your old one after... after Somalia... and I know how attached you must have been. I never saw you without it, it was always hanging around your neck, and I guess I just felt bad that you had to lose something so important to you when you had already lost so much."
"My mother gave me the old Star of David on my thirteenth birthday, only a week before she was killed by a roadside bombing," Ziva revealed quietly, and as she toyed distractedly with the shimmering symbol of her family's religion dangling off the chain, it became apparent to Tony that his partner was fast delving into reverie. He kept silent and receptive as Ziva shared with him the less savory details of her tragic past, ready to cut her off should the recantation became too difficult. He wasn't sure how to approach this not often seen side of Ziva.
"I hated jewelry, but my little sister Tali was always the exact opposite. She used to steal the necklace and pretend she was a princess with magical powers. When my mother died, I let her keep it. I could not bear the memories, the pain, associated with Mama's death. Tali never took it off; not ever. But one day, years after I had joined Mossad, she showed up on my doorstep and insisted I take back Mama's gift. She said it was rightfully mine, and that I had to promise to continue to wear it... for our mother. I do not know if she knew, on a subconscious level, that her days were numbered. Maybe. The mind works in mysterious ways. But it was the last time I ever saw Tali alive, and I managed to keep our promise, until Saleem..."
Ziva froze, squeezing the silvery Star of David almost for dear life, and then her mouth snapped shut as if the Israeli had suddenly come back to her senses. Tony laid his palm over Ziva's hand and gave it a small stroke.
"I'm sorry, Ziva."
"No. The past is the past; there is no need to apologize for events one had no control over. You have done more for me than you can ever imagine, Tony, and I will treasure this necklace in their memory and in yours," Ziva said fervently. Tony blushed, and it was the first time Ziva could ever remember him doing so. She smiled, chasing away all remnants of sorrow in her delicate features. "Help me?" She gestured to the Star of David, and Tony gingerly extricated the chain from its box before positioning himself behind Ziva. The woman shivered ever-so-slightly as Tony's fingertips grazed the back of her neck, then turned when the necklace was secure. The cold metal tickled her collarbone as it slipped beneath Ziva's sweater. She marvelled at how fitting it was to have the Star, a constant reminder of Tony's goodhearted kindness, resting so close to her heart.
"You may be an insufferable rule breaker, but you are also the world's biggest sweetheart... when you want to be," Ziva amended fondly, going up on tiptoe to lay a chaste kiss on Tony's lips as one hand tangled itself in his hair and the other gripped his waist. The aforementioned brunette blinked dazedly when Ziva pulled away. "And if you ever mention that to another soul, I will string you off a balcony with copious amounts of garland myself."
"Right-O, bossy," Tony returned, the dregs of surprise still present in his blissful tone. At least she wasn't threatening to mutilate precious parts of his anatomy. Suddenly his watch released a piercing beep and the special agent cursed. "It's six o'clock."
Ziva smirked. "Let's see that brave pace, Tony."
"Face. And that's easier said than done," he grumbled. "You don't happen to own a stake of holly, do you?"
"Be nice," Ziva tittered, slapping Tony gently on the cheek. He raised his eyebrows at her before she laced her arm through his, tugging them back into the open. "If you are that desperate, I will come with you. If only to stop your cowardly whining..."
"You'll be my moral support?"
"I will be your moral support."
"You'll protect me if she tries to wrap me in a cocoon of ivy?"
Ziva giggled, an uncharacteristic display coming from the normally guarded Israeli. She gazed up in complete earnestness at Tony and he felt all of his uncertainties melt with Ziva's own unintentional gift of unconditional faith.
"I will protect you."