CHAPTER 4

SIGNIFICANCE

Before Ziva opened her eyes she registered the light in the room and realized that the hand rubbing her back lacked the cadence of one who is used to finessing wood. Instead of a smooth rhythm there was an uncertainty in the amount of pressure, the length of movements and even a variation in the spacing of his fingers. She was still facing away from her self-appointed guardian du jour while she thought through the events of the previous night.

She had been so excited to see Roy again since they had hit it off so well while she was in Miami. He had enough of a clearance in the right agency to know who her father was and vaguely what part she played in Mossad, but not high enough to know of her recent history or any mission details. He was charming and she felt attractive and desirable in his presence. They saw each other at work then they started having the occasional dinner out, then just about every dinner out, but she kept it light and he seemed content with letting her set a slower pace to their relationship.

Since then they had emailed and talked, their friendship seeming firmer with each correspondence. She did not want to consider the inevitability of having to explain her scars or, heaven forbid, any undesirable reaction towards him as a result of her abuse in Somalia. The new Ziva David's relationship strategy was to draw out their friendship, enjoy the moment with every flirtatious smile and meaningful glance while maintaining a precarious balance between friendship and romance. Until last night she thought she had managed it quite well.

As she lay in bed, under Tony's compassionate hand she had no idea what she would say to her partner who was again coming to her rescue while she was emotionally charged. How could she tell him that the excitement she could barely contain the day before was due to another lapse in judgment? How could Anthony DiNozzo, the king of flings, possibly understand how hard this fall had hit his once aggressively flirtatious partner?

She was mourning not only the end of her relationship with Ray, but the death of any hope of a casual relationship for possibly the rest of her life. Tony could relate to having issues but he had the luxury of deciding if and when he let any of his insecurities show. Even though a fly-by-night relationship was no longer something she desired, each one-night stand or inconsequential fling Tony had since Somalia twisted the knife in her heart just a little more.

The thoughts swirled through her mind making her alternately resentful and thankful for his reassuring presence. If only she had a mom or older sister that she could talk to, someone other than Tony.

It was always Tony.

She had to admit that he had wormed his way into a special place in her heart. There was no definition for what he had become. The loosest term, partner, described a level of commitment to her well-being, but through the years he had become more. Perhaps that was now the problem.

When she allowed herself moments of sober realization, she admitted that it could only be Tony in the end. He was the one who could see beyond both the assassin and the victim. Everyone else required Ziva to guide them through both personas at a slow pace, and honestly she didn't know if the effort or the risks involved with breaking in someone else would ever be worth it. Yet it was definitely not an issue of settling. Tony had always been there for her, and when he was not around she felt the lack of him acutely. She wanted nothing more than the assurance that he would never be swept away by another leggy beauty that could provide him with a baggage free future, but at the same time she did not want him to settle either. She wanted the best for him and honestly, how could that possibly be her?

A new wave of depression washed over her and she sighed betraying her conscious state.

Tony's movements halted. He knew she was awake and aware that he was trying to massage the worry out of her, uninvited. He had teased her enough that he was likely the last person she wanted to touch her at this moment, but his selfish desire to have that connection kept him in this precarious position. He honestly had tried to think of someone who could better help her, but in the end he decided that he could not entrust her to anyone else.

Ziva couldn't find any words so her partner started off with a benign, "Hey."

This was followed by a significant lack of a response.

She couldn't trust herself to speak just yet. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply until she regained her composure.

"Good morning, Tony."

Okay, she was talking to him so that was a start.

He didn't trust himself not to say the wrong thing, so he kept silent, rubbing her back hoping that all his feelings for her would somehow seep through the covers. After all, they seldom needed words to communicate. He was relieved that she hadn't so much as twitched in disapproval of his efforts.

Ziva could not will herself to stop Tony's calming measures or kill their peaceful moment. She resumed running the evening through her mind, feeling a little safer doing so while she wasn't alone.

She'd had a great dinner out with Roy followed by a romantic stroll along the Potomac. When she saw the water reflected in his eyes, she tried to put all of her concerns aside and bask in the moment.

He had kissed her. Not for the first time, but she had felt a new intensity in it, and with it had come a surge of panic. She had continued the kiss without giving any indication that had she felt anything but romantic bliss. Ziva had spent the rest of their journey gently urging him on at a lazy stroll until the walk had turned into a hike and even her burning feet were crying for relief. They had gone back to her apartment and that was when their misaligned expectations had collided.

She'd made it clear to him that she had wanted to take things slowly. He had trouble accepting that his efforts to come and see her did not warrant more. He had pushed too hard, the tough Mossad assassin cowered, and by the end of the night he had gone and taken with him another shard of her flagging self-worth.

The bottom line was that even though she had spent time with Roy, became friends with him and was attracted to him, she did not trust him enough. She couldn't even say that Roy reacted irrationally. Who would want to stick it out with someone who had so many obvious issues when there are people in the world who are both beautiful and unaffected?

This train of thought led her back to considering her solitary future.

At least she'd always have Gibbs.

That thought made her pity Gibbs.

"Do you want to talk about it?"

While Tony had mustered the courage to speak, Ziva had forgotten that they had started a conversation at all.

She shrugged then responded, "I am not even sure what there is to talk about, unless you would like me to admit that I should have known better."

Ouch. He didn't want to go anywhere near an 'I told you so' but he wasn't surprised that she felt that way.

"Ziva, look at me." He didn't continue until Ziva turned her head and looked at him vacantly. "Whatever happened, it was not your fault."

She sat up and leaned her back against the headboard, trying to capture the words to explain to him that this was about more than one guy. Sure Roy had been rude, but her main concern was her own issues, not his behavior.

She drew her knees up and rested her arms on them.

Tony shifted so he was sitting facing her directly and he placed a reassuring hand on the covers over her foot and lightly squeezed. He was clearly worried, an expression which broke her silence.

"I just need to come to terms with the fact that my life has been altered. I am not who I once was and acting as though I am is clearly not a sensible option."

A heavy silence followed.

"Well, you are definitely still witty, dangerous and extremely attractive. Any guy who is willing to risk letting you go is a moron as far as I'm concerned."

He gave her a guarded smile.

"Thank you, Tony, but unfortunately, it is a bit more complicated than that. I seem to have developed some . . . trust issues."

"Trust issues." Tony stated for clarification.

"Yes, trust issues."

Seeing he would not be satisfied with that euphemism, she had to fight through the urge to run to safer topics. She knew she needed to talk and again she ran through her options and Tony topped the list, aside from Gibbs, but this was not something she wanted to discuss with 'Dad.'

"What he did was not so wrong. Tony, I cannot believe I am telling you this, you will think I am overreacting."

"Ziva, just talk to me. What's said in Gibb's guest room stays in Gibb's guest room. Think of it as our own little trust bubble."

He wanted to put his arm around her but he knew that the less he changed their current position, the less likely she was to find an out. Instead he focused on her eyes, willing her to continue.

"I felt . . . cornered. I panicked and pushed him away, forcefully. I went to get a glass of water to calm down and when I returned to the room he was packing. He left without looking back."

The 'Very Special Agent DiNozzo' was at war with 'friend Tony.' The investigator wanted to know the details, to determine if any prosecutable crimes were committed and to beat the stuffing out of the chump regardless. The friend knew, especially given what she had just shared, that the more the special agent pushed, the higher the risk that she would clam up and the confidence that they had so carefully crafted over the years would start to crack.

Ziva knew her partner well enough to know that he was showing much restraint by not giving her the third degree. He hated when she withheld information from him, no matter how trivial, and this was not trivial. She decided to reward his forbearance by answering some of the questions he was not asking. "Tony, you cannot arrest him for anything untoward."

"Well, did he at least double park? Jaywalk? Anything?" He smiled at her and she immediately responded in kind.

"Sorry, Tony, he was completely law abiding and anyway he is not in the service so he would be out of your jurisdiction."

He cringed his mock disappointment.

Now that 'DiNozzo' was appeased on the big issues, 'Tony," wanted nothing more than to make sure that she was emotionally sound. He read through what she wasn't saying. He guessed what she had been subjected to in Africa even though she never vocalized it. He thought about the few flings he'd had since then and how they were anything but fulfilling. Suave Tony DiNozzo walked through them without much thought. The surge of guilt at the memories were only matched by the honest assessment that she wasn't missing out on having transient relationships, if you can even call them that. He scooted over on the bed so he was sitting next to her, his legs drawn up to match her position.

He cleared his throat. "You know, a sage person once told me that the man I had become needed a woman, not a girl, not meaningless flings. Looking back, there is a lot of wisdom in that."

They both looked straight ahead while they each recalled the memory of Tony's depression following Jeanne.

"Tony, I am in no danger of casual relationships. Rather, I doubt if I will ever be able to have any relationship of substance since most start off casually and apparently I can't even handle that."

He didn't look at her while he cautiously admitted, "Well, you have guy friends and the best relationships generally start off with a solid friendship. You may not feel like going out on dates, but romance isn't a prerequisite for trust, ironically, it should be the other way around."

She furrowed her brow and considered what he had said. It was obviously contrary to how Tony DiNozzo had functioned in the past. The problem remained that she worked with all her friends, and that created additional complications. She did not think he was honestly suggesting . . . but she could not rule it out, either.

"Tony, I do not have that many friends."

"Well, it only takes one"

He gave her a sideways glance.

"For instance, the most significant relationship I've ever had with a woman has been not only a friendship, but a celibate one at that."

The corner of his mouth hitched slyly while the gravity of the underlying conversation urged his heart to beat at a breakneck speed. It was too important to rush. She confided in him, but he wasn't sure if she wanted, or needed anything more from him. He was her best friend and if he made the wrong assumption she would feel even more alienated. Not to mention that Gibbs would have his hide if he did anything to upset her while he was under orders to comfort her.

She huffed then responded, "Well, it might be celibate, but is has hardly been monogamous, Tony."

He forced a rueful laugh but did not risk eye contact as he replied, "Ah, true, and yet, all the others have come and gone, and here you are. I'd say that's significant."

She reached over and lightly placed her hand on his arm, and once she held his tentative eyes she responded, "Yes, I would say that is significant."

He gave her an intense look, not wanting to move on from this moment, but years of speaking before thinking overtook his better judgment. He placed his hand over hers and responded, "Ziva, do you trust me?"

She leaned on his shoulder. "Tony, you are one of the few men in this world who can handle my intense unpredictability. Heaven knows you have had plenty of reasons to keep your distance, but here you are. As much as I am capable of trusting, yes, I do trust you, Tony. I am not sure that I trust myself, though."

Tony turned and kissed her unkempt hair, "Well, I trust you, Ziva David, and I'm not going anywhere."

They sat together communicating through caressing fingers, no longer feeling compelled to speak.

El Fin