*A/N: Set sometime after Ziva's return from Somalia. In terms of my other Tiva fic (The Past Is Not Prologue) this one would come first, I think, though I would classify them as independent. I've found there's not a lot of AS (After Somalia) fics which deal with Tony's thoughts and feelings, so I decided to create one of my own! Reviews are most welcome and appreciated.*
"Tony, take her home and stay with her." Gibbs' voice was soft, as he reached out and gently touched Ziva's cheek, which she shied away from. His eyes, Tony observed, were anything but soft.
"Gibbs, I do not need-"
"Ziva, this isn't a debate." Gibbs said with finality and after a staring contest that lasted five seconds Ziva relented with a nod.
Tony stepped closer and extended his hand to partner, but she ignored it and stood up on her own. She started off toward the waiting car taking care not to met anyone's eyes as she walked. Tony hung back a step or two and took the opportunity to look her over for any damage. Ducky and some paramedics had checked her out upon their arrival at the scene and determined there was no physical trauma, at least. He couldn't believe this had happened again: Ziva undercover and the mark turning out to be a murderer. The dead Marine had started out as a serial rapist but had upped the ante to murder with his final, and seventh, victim. Tony didn't even want to think how close his partner had come to being lucky number eight.
When Tony opened Ziva's door for her, she shoot him a look. "Please just take me back to the office, Tony."
"Oh, no," he answered with a shake of his head. "No, you're going home and I am going to see you get there, even if I have to carry you." For some reason Tony didn't want to contemplate, he was suddenly very angry with her.
"I would like to see you try." Ziva hissed, as she slid into the passenger seat. She turned her best Mossad-Ziva look on him, but Tony was having none of it. His jaw clenched in anger and he slammed her door shut with such force that it shook the whole car. Then, he turned and made his way to the driver's side. He slid in, started the car, and drove off the lot of the abandoned parking lot all in total silence. He was very aware of Ziva looking at him, but he refused to meet her gaze. He didn't want her to see the turmoil in his eyes; didn't want her to see the anger, and the fear which resided there.
"Tony," she started to say and, suddenly, it was too much. The whole situation was too much, and Tony pulled the car off to the side of the road, earning him a few honks from the cars behind him. He utterly ignored those, however, and turned instead to his partner of almost five years.
"Why didn't you tell me?" Tony ground out through clenched teeth. His hands were gripping the steering wheel so tightly he thought his knuckles would pop out of his skin.
"Tell you what?" Ziva asked, her posture rigid. Her tone may have indicated innocence, but Tony would have bet a month's pay she knew exactly what he meant.
"About the fucking undercover assignment, Ziva." he replied, anger rising in his throat.
"Well, Tony, they call them undercover assignments for a reason, you know." her look and tone were scathing and she shook her head at him, like he was a dumb child.
"I am your partner, Ziva, I could have helped you." he practically shouted back at her.
"Helped me?" Ziva inquired, her voice rising several octaves. "Tony, the whole point was to apprehend a serial rapist and murderer. He was doing it all to women so how, exactly, would you have been any help?"
Tony's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "I could have had your back. I could have protected you so that now, instead of taking you home, we could just go back to my apartment and keep our movie night date."
Ziva's mouth popped open and she stared at him in astonishment. "So that is what this is about? You wanted to be able to keep our movie night tonight?"
She laughed and that made the muscles in his arm twitch. It took all of his willpower to keep from reaching over and shaking her. "It's got nothing to do with movie night, Ziva," he replied, his voice quivering slightly.
"But you just said-"
"I know what I just said." Tony retorted, acidly. "It's not what I meant, though. You should have told me about this assignment. That's what I meant."
Ziva scoffed and crossed her arms. Something Tony didn't like passed behind her eyes and she smiled, cruelly. "Like you told me about the undercover assignment for Jenny? Like you told me about Jeanne?"
Tony's eyes narrowed. "That was different," he replied, his tone cold.
"Oh, really?" Ziva laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant sound. "How is that different, Tony? Oh, I know: I didn't fall in love with my mark."
He went completely still at that and stared at her. He couldn't believe she'd just said that to him. After all they'd been through; after all he'd told her about Jeanne and Jenny.
Then, he clenched his jaw and turned back around in his seat. Without saying anything he put the car in drive and peeled onto the street so fast he saw Ziva clutch the door handle out of the corner of his eye. The rest of the ride to her apartment was made in total silence, but the air was stifling with all the tension and anger. Again, Tony could sense that Ziva was watching him, but he refused to look at her.
Even before he came to a full stop outside of her building Ziva was out the door and heading inside. He had to jog to catch up with her.
Inside, she was already half way up the stairs. "I'm home, Tony. You can leave now."
"Not a chance. Boss' orders," he replied, right on her six.
When they stopped in front of her apartment it occurred to Tony that he had yet to see Ziva's new place. Since she didn't have a TV their Friday night movie "dates" were always held at his place. He was so lost in thought that, a first, he didn't see her hands shaking as she pulled her keys out of her jacket pocket. It wasn't until she tried to put them in the lock that the jingling caught his attention. He reached over and covered her hands with his. Ziva tensed and, for some reason Tony wasn't sure he'd ever understand, that made him unbelievably sad.
"I got it, Zi," he breathed, his tone soft, and the exchange in the car momentarily forgotten. It was a moment before she nodded and then another several moments before she let go of the keys. Tony turned them in the lock and opened up the door. He gestured her inside, then followed. Her new apartment, oddly enough, looked almost exactly like her old one. The colour scheme, the furniture; they all looked how Tony remembered from his last, fateful, visit to her previous apartment.
It wasn't until he shut the door that all the anger came flooding back, just like that.
"Why didn't you wait for back up?" Tony demanded and threw her keys in the general direction of her couch. They missed, but hit a vase which was on the coffee table. The vase tumbled to the wooden floor and shattered.
Neither of them moved.
Ziva squared her shoulders. "If I had waited my cover would have been blown. Garcia would have slipped between our fingers and disappeared!" she roared.
Tony flung his arms out to the side. "He could have killed you, Ziva."
"But he didn't, Tony," she returned, angrily.
He took a step closer to her. "My point is he could have and without back up, you'd be as good as dead. You scared me, today. It was like Hoffman all over again." Tony said, frankly, and that caused Ziva's eyes to widen.
Tony saw a shiver run through his partner at the name. "I am a trained assassin. Hoffman didn't kill me back then, and Garcia was not about to kill me today."
His blood ran cold at that. "Maybe he wasn't going to kill you, Ziva, but he certainly had other intentions." he waved his hand at her as if to confirm his point. Ziva looked down at herself: her jeans were very dirty, and two belt loops were torn from the denim. Her green t-shirt, where it wasn't ripped, was splotched with blood. Her lip was swollen, and she had the beginnings of a very nasty looking bruise under her left eye.
"He would not have been able to do that, either." she said with more confidence than Tony saw in her face.
"Gibbs said you volunteered for this assignment?" Tony asked to change the subject.
"Yes," Ziva nodded and turned toward the only other door in the apartment.
His question brought her to a stop and, slowly, Ziva turned to face her partner again.
"Someone had to stop him." Ziva replied, as if this was obvious.
Tony's jaw tightened. "There's a rule about working as a team, you know," he hissed between clenched teeth.
"Gibbs was aware of my actions, as was Director Vance." Ziva's hands crossed over her chest, then, and Tony wondered if it was a more a protective or defensive gesture.
"That's besides the point!" he shouted back, angrily. Her eyes widened slightly at his tone, but Tony pressed on. "Ever since we brought you back you've been...different. You've been so ready to throw yourself in front of danger and it's driving me crazy!"
Ziva frowned. "What do you care if-"
"Because I can't protect you 24/7, Ziva!" Tony roared. "And if anything ever happened..." he trailed off with a stunned look on his face. He had almost said it. He had almost told her what's been on the tip of his tongue for over a year. He went to grab her shoulders, but balled his hands into fists instead. "It's like you have some kind of death wish since Somalia."
Ziva recoiled from him as if he'd struck her. "I don't want to talk about Somalia," she said, her voice hard. Her gaze flicked to the left, away from Tony's intense stare. She looked like a trapped animal; her gaze kept flicking this way and that. Tony realised, with a jolt, that she was looking for an escape route.
"Well," Tony leaned in, mere inches from her face, cutting off all escape. His hand found her chin and he gripped it, forcing her to look at him. "Maybe I do, Ziva. Maybe I want to talk about how, when Gibbs said there were no survivors of the Damocles, my world crashed down around me. How for weeks after your "death" life lost all of it's meaning and I felt like some actor in a really bad, poorly directed movie."
Ziva's eye widened when he paused and she opened her mouth, but Tony barreled on before she could make so much as a sound. Oddly enough, she made no move to disengage herself from Tony's grip.
"Maybe I want to talk about how happy I was when McGee and I got captured by Saleem because, then, I could take out my revenge on the CafPow drinking asshole who was responsible for your death. How it was no longer a question of when we got extracted once the mission was complete, but if, for me. How the thought of returning to DC, to my job and my life, really didn't interest me in the least. And I hated myself for that, Ziva. I hated that I was willing to risk Tim's life, and Gibbs', and everyone else on the fucking planet because you were gone and I was pissed off, but as long as I got my revenge I would die a happy man."
Tony dropped his hand from her chin and laughed mirthlessly. "Then, Saleem took that hood off and you were under it and, suddenly, everything changed. The capture, the torture, the truth serum: it was all worth it because you were alive and sitting across from me. Nothing else mattered to me except bringing you back safe."
Tony closed his eyes, then, not completely sure why he said all that, and not sure how Ziva was going to take it. Without opening his eyes he sighed heavily and scrubbed his hands over his face. He felt tired; heavy and tired like he'd been awake for days. When he removed his hands he saw that Ziva was staring at him, tears in her eyes. At least, he thought they were tears. It was a new expression on Ziva; one he had never seen before. He searched her face, her dark eyes, for any sign that the words he'd just spoken hadn't fallen on deaf ears. It surprised him that he was able to get it all out. After all, he was about as good at talking about his feelings as Ziva, and she sucked at it.
Slowly, Ziva reached a hand up and, even more slowly, she placed it on his cheek. It killed him to see it, but the walls were in place behind her gaze. It didn't matter that he'd just beared his soul to the woman he loved; she was already retreating into herself and away from him. "It is not your job to protect me, Tony."
It took every ounce of his self control not to turn into her hand, to kiss her palm. It took equally as much self control not to shake her senseless and scream at her. "I am your partner and partners watch each others backs." he reached up and gently covered her hand with his. When she tensed, so did he. He removed her hand from his cheek.
"I'm tired of pretending, Ziva," he whispered, echoing a conversation in an elevator from ages ago. "I'm tired of pretending I don't care."
Ziva's eyes darkened at his confession and she swallowed. The walls, though, were still up. "As am I."
His eyes scanned her face. "So, what now?" he asked. He threw the ball into her court and prayed she wouldn't drop it.
She shook her head sadly. "I do not know, Tony." She turned away from his gaze, but made no move to retreat from him. She was blinking rapidly and Tony's heart softened.
"How about a shower?" Tony suggested. For just an instant he hoped she'd take his meaning and lead them both into her bathroom.
Her eyes widened, then, and Tony kicked himself. Now was not the time, though it certainly felt like it should be. "You shower and I'll make you some tea." he clarified before she could even open her mouth.
"Tony," Ziva's voice was hesitant.
His lips spread in a ridiculously false half grin. "Don't worry, I know how you like your tea."
Ziva's wall faltered for an instant, but then she nodded and turned away from him. Tony set his features in grim resignation and followed her with his gaze until she was in the next room.
Forty-five minutes later Ziva was still not out of the shower, so Tony put a lid on the pasta sauce and left it to simmer gently until she emerged. The pasta would just have to sit until she was ready, though, because there wasn't much he could do about that. Five minutes later Ziva walked through the door, in sweat pants and her NCIS PE t-shirt, a towel wrapped around her hair.
"I thought I smelled something," she said, gently, and smiled at Tony. "Have you cooked for me?"
Tony shrugged. "I figured you could use some food, though there wasn't much here for me to work with." He grabbed the pasta and spooned it into two bowls, then poured some of the sauce on top. "I found a couple of cans of crushed tomatoes in your cupboard, along with some spaghetti, so I made some pasta sauce. I found some eggplant and zucchini in your fridge, so I put them in the sauce, too. I hope you like it."
He paused mid-way through placing her bowl in front of her because she was giving him the strangest look. "What?" he asked, defensively, and sat down across from her. "I don't think it's going to be that bad, although, I think we need to have a chat about your spice collection, or lack thereof. How do you flavor any of your dishes? Do you even cook?"
And just like that they were back to their old habits, because banter was known and easy. It didn't involve talking about feelings or dwelling on the unspoken tension that had been wrapped around them since Somalia.
Ziva shook her head. "I can't believe you can cook."
Tony feigned a hurt look. "Of course I can! I'm Italian. Cooking comes along with having a tremendous sense of style, and incredibly good taste in women. All part of the DiNozzo package, really." He finished with his best Cheshire cat grin.
Ziva laughed and the sound made Tony feel lightheaded. "OK, then, I can't believe you cooked for me."
"After the day you've had, Zi, you deserve to be looked after. Just a bit, of course. The first dinner is on the house; the next one is going to cost you." He smiled over at her and popped a fork full of pasta into his mouth.
Instead of smiling back, like he thought she would, Ziva's face crumbled. "I'm sorry about what I said to you in the car, Tony," Ziva's small voice made him frown at the slender Israeli. "I crossed the line and I apologise."
Tony's classic grin lit his face, though halfheartedly. "I think there's also a rule about apologies." The hand closest to hers twitched, but he refrained from touching her.
Ziva's breath rushed out in a sharp sigh and she closed her eyes. "Yes, I think there is."
It was an unspoken 'apology accepted,' and Ziva knew it. Tony grabbed the small pot of tea and poured her a cup before pouring himself one. The two lapsed into silence and ate the rest of their meal only speaking every so often. When they were done, both grabbed their respective plates and stood at the same time. As one, they walked over to the sink and deposited their dishes.
Ziva caught Tony's hand, then, and squeezed it gently. "Thank you. For everything." she said, softly. She didn't exactly smile at him, but he could see the ghost of one in her eyes.
He nodded and returned the squeeze. "Always," he whispered. They both let go at the same time, but Tony was the first to turn away. He knew this conversation was not finished, but it could wait.
He would wait; for her, for them.