A/N: This could probably be read as strong partnership and friendship, if that's more your thing.
Warnings: This story deals with suicide, although NOT of a main character. If you're uncomfortable with that, it's probably a good idea if you skip it. Give my story In Transit a go. That's pretty upbeat.
Note: This is once again out of canon. Although Somalia would perhaps be an obvious situation to cover in the below, I don't know how to do that because I don't feel the show itself knows how to deal with it. I'm frankly at a loss over how to tackle it until I get some proper guidance from them.
On a warm, sunny morning in August, employees at NCIS arrived at work to hear the news that Special Agent Jim Walter, agency veteran, brilliant investigator and father of two, had taken his service weapon, put it in his own mouth and pulled the trigger.
Gibbs had heard the news not long after Walter's body had been found. Vance personally called to ask his team to handle the case, and Gibbs had quickly agreed—anything for a fellow agent. But before the conversation was over, there was a commotion on the other end of the line. After a muffled argument, Vance returned to withdraw the offer. Special Agent Darcy, a friend of Walter's for years, had already heard the news and volunteered his team.
Ducky had been the ME on scene, and he, in turn, had sent evidence to Abby to process. McGee had found out when he went to greet her that morning, and the two of them stood in a depressed silence while Abby swabbed Walter's shirtsleeves and McGee tried not to look like he needed her presence to stop him from tearing up.
Tony heard the whispers as he rode the elevator that morning with Special Agents Parker and O'Hara. His stomach dropped to the floor when he heard the sequence of events. Walter had sat down to a roast dinner with his wife, and after she'd left for a book club meeting, he'd packed the dishwasher, put the leftovers in the fridge, and then went down to his basement with his gun.
Gibbs was sitting at his desk when Tony walked in. He looked up as his senior agent stopped in between their desks, and gave Tony's sick expression a slight nod of confirmation.
"Damn it," Tony had sighed, and dumped his bag beside his desk. "How's Martin Dunn?" he asked, referring to Walter's partner of 12 years.
Gibbs hadn't replied. He'd just closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. Tony perched on the corner of his desk as his eyes wandered to his own partner's empty chair.
"He didn't seem like…" Tony had started, before trailing off uselessly. He'd investigated plenty of suicides, and knew it wasn't uncommon for the people left behind to be completely unaware of what was really going on.
Ziva had arrived then, a bundle of energy that jarred with the feeling on the floor. She was bobbing her head to the music blasting through her iPod, and had aimed a smile at Tony that, on a normal day, would have caused him to start flirting outrageously. But at his weak smile, and with a glance at Gibbs's stony face, she'd pulled the buds out of her ears and stood beside Tony with wide, worried eyes.
"What?" she asked. "Is McGee okay?"
"Jim Walter shot himself," Tony had told her quietly.
She held his gaze for a few long, silent moments. "Is he…?" she'd started, and Tony cut her off.
"In the head." Definitive. No room for mistaking reality. Final.
The rest of the day had passed in solemn silence. Walter had been an extremely well liked agent, and his team was close knit. Unsurprisingly, they fronted up for work to await the results of Ducky's autopsy, in case there was the slightest chance that things had not gone down the way they had thought. But word came through mid-afternoon that the forensics and autopsy backed up the theory, and it was likely that the death would be ruled as suicide.
MCRT spent the day silently finalizing reports on their last case and watching from across the partition as a stream of agents from across Washington stopped by to pay their respects. They'd been there themselves before, and knew how it felt to have an integral part of their team suddenly gone for good. After Kate Todd had died, they had visits from the Secret Service, FBI and CIA, not to mention a call from the President. With Jenny Shepard, it was mostly agents within NCIS that stopped by to pay their respects. She may have been Director of the agency, but her close ties to MCRT were common knowledge. And when Paula Cassidy's team died, Tony bore the brunt of those sympathetic looks and words.
As in previous situations when they or the agency had lost someone, Team Gibbs defaulted to being overly nice and caring towards each other. It was stupid, really. They all knew what they meant to each other, and refraining from using halfway derogatory nicknames or dolling out headslaps and glares wasn't going to make any of them suddenly realize how important and loved they were. But it was human nature to respect the most polite of social customs in the wake of death. The idea that the last words you will have spoken to a loved one before they died were delivered in anger or cruelty or hurt was abhorrent, and at times like these, they each found themselves going out of their way to make a gesture—however small—that conveyed their familial love and affection.
Gibbs had been careful to voice his appreciation of the work presented to him. Tony had bought everyone lunch, and made the effort to go to three different places to make sure everyone had their favorites. McGee had made adjustments to everyone's hard drives so that their computers ran faster. Ziva had done everyone's filing, and did three coffee runs. Ducky had asked about everyone's friends and families. Unsurprisingly, Abby had been the one to come right out and tell everyone individually how much she loved them, and hugged and kissed her way around them for the entire day.
The suggestion had been made that they all knock off early and head for the nearest bar, but Ducky and Abby had work to do on the case, and neither Gibbs nor McGee was keen to leave them (read: Abby) before they were done, in case their shoulders were needed to be cried on. Tony and Ziva had both made to stay, but Gibbs had told them with a gentle tone and a heavy, telling look that they should go.
The pair's trip from their desks to the parking lot was made in silence, but their hands had tangled in the elevator and squeezed together for the ten seconds it took for the doors to open in the lobby. Knowing looks had passed between them over the top of Ziva's car, but no conversation was attempted before they got into their separate vehicles and left the oppressive sadness of the navy yard in their wake.
Now, three hours after Ziva had left work, she lay in her bathtub with a bottle of wine and her own sad thoughts. She couldn't help but wonder about the events in Walter's life that had led him to the point where he saw no way out, and where confiding in his partner had not been an option. In Mossad, she had gone for weeks and months at a time without backup. And even when she did have a partner every day, it would be a sign of irrefutable weakness to share thoughts of depression or anxiety with them. But NCIS wasn't like that. This was a place that encouraged strong bonds between partners, to the point where they were second only to your spouse. A place where counseling was offered, and it made strategic sense to ensure your partner knew when you were having a rough time. Why had Walter kept it all to himself?
Ziva felt a pang in her chest when she thought of how lonely he must have felt. She'd spoken to him several times in the last month alone, and there had never been any sign of the turmoil that must have been inside. A true professional, he had managed to keep the sadness from his eyes. Ziva could imagine the sheer energy it must have taken to hide it every day, particularly from his partner of 12 years. She'd found herself acting her way out of sadness and depression in the past, and the effort had worn her down. These days, she sometimes doubted her ability to keep even her slightest frustration from Tony. And as annoying as she found that sometimes, tonight she was nothing but grateful for it.
Her thoughts broke when the cell phone she'd carefully placed on the deep ledge surrounding the bath rang. She'd been expecting this call, even if it hadn't been promised, and she didn't bother checking caller ID.
"Tony," she guessed.
"Hey," he said softly, in a tone that tugged her heart and made her ache to hug him. "Have you got a few free minutes?"
"I have many minutes," she assured him. "Only some of them will be free." It wasn't a very good joke, she knew. But Tony had been particularly quiet and sad that day, more so than the rest of them, and she just wanted to make him smile.
She heard the ghost of a chuckle down the line. "Does that mean some of them aren't?"
"Yes. You will have to pay me in pistachio ice cream."
Another chuckle. "That's fair. Can I pay you later? You know I'm good for it."
"Where are you?"
There was a pause. "Really? Because I'm standing at your door and knocking, and you're not answering."
Ziva's stomach did its usual Tony Flip, but tonight the feeling was joined by a sense of relief. The events of the day had clearly bothered everyone, but it had appeared that they were weighing more heavily on Tony's mind. She hoped that he had come to talk it over, and that she'd be able to help him.
"I am in the tub with music on," she told him. "You have your key, yes? You can come in."
"I don't want to interrupt bath time," he said, even as Ziva heard his keys jingle across the line. "My mom used to get so mad when I did that to her."
"I am inviting you to interrupt," she told him. "And bring a wine glass from the kitchen with you." She snapped her phone shut and then looked down at herself. Satisfied with the heavy bubble coverage (she didn't have a problem with naked, but today it just seemed…cheap), she stretched her legs and waited.
A minute passed before there was a soft knock on the bathroom door.
"Are you coming out?" he asked from the hallway.
"No, you can come in."
The door opened a crack, and his voice was much clearer. "Is this a trap?"
She smiled to herself. "No, Tony. And I assure you that I have no weapons on me."
He pushed the door open the rest of the way and stepped into the dim, foggy room. His eyes fell on her reclining under a mountain of bubbles, with her hair loosely piled at the back of her head and her cheeks flushed, either from the steam or the wine. He had to smile at the sight, but Ziva sent him a frown.
"Close the door. You are letting cold air in."
Tony obeyed, and then put his glass down before taking off his jacket. He looked around for a place to sit. The toilet was in an awkward position where he wouldn't be able to see her face properly, so he settled on the floor near her feet.
"Towels under the sink," she told him.
He reached over and pulled two out, then slid them under his ass. He'd sit on a cold, hard bathroom floor all night to talk to her, but his back wouldn't be happy about it in the morning. The towels would help at least a little.
"This is cozy," he said after he'd arranged himself.
Ziva shrugged. "I felt the need for some coziness tonight."
He gave her a significant look, and she knew without question that this was why he'd turned up. She lifted a wet, bubbly arm out of the water to pick up the bottle of Merlot and held it out to him. Wordlessly, he took it and poured himself a big glass.
"You are thinking about Kate?" Ziva asked gently, still feeling guilt at even mentioning his former partner's name.
"About Kate," he nodded. "About Paula. About Jenny." He cut his eyes to her. "Mostly about Jenny."
It made sense. Kate and Paula had died in the line of duty. Jenny, like Walter, had gone out on her own terms, leaving confusion and doubt in the minds of those left behind.
"We really couldn't have done anything, could we?"
She looked at him carefully, searching for that expression of guilt and failure that had clouded his eyes for so long after Jenny was shot while she was supposed to be under their watch. But now, she just found regret. Not for his own actions, but for Jenny's.
She shook her head. "No, Tony. She had made her mind up. She knew what she was doing."
Tony's eyes fell to the small mosaic tiles on the floor. "Do you think Gibbs believes that?"
"Yes," she said firmly. "He doesn't blame us. He never has."
Tony took a healthy slug of wine and sighed. "I just wish things had been different."
Ziva dropped her head back against the bath and closed her eyes. She could think of a hundred things in her life that she just wished were different. Jenny's illness and suicide, Gibbs' quiet grief, and her and Tony's part in it made the top ten. But there was nothing she could do now.
There was a long pause, and Ziva's thoughts drifted to what Walter's partner, wife and kids must be feeling on this night. When she had lost people in the past, her feelings went straight to revenge. Find the bastard responsible and deal him a slow and painful death. But what did you do when the person who stole your loved one away, was your loved one? There was no revenge to seek, and the questions you demanded answers to would never be resolved. When Jenny died, Ziva hadn't had time to feel lost and clueless. Tony was there, and on that first night she was focused on keeping him sober and grounded. Then Gibbs was there, and she was focused on doing her job to the best of her ability. By the time she had a moment to properly consider Jenny's last moments, they had worked out what had happened, and they knew she had been sick. It had all started making sickening sense.
"My mom killed herself."
Tony's voice cut through her thoughts, and her eyes snapped open. He was staring at the floor, his face unreadable to her, and his empty expression made her heart pound in worry more than his shocking statement had.
"She was really sick," he went on, his voice dropping as if the walls had the ears of people who could hurt him. "She didn't really have long left, I don't think. And she was in a lot of pain. I think she just couldn't deal with it anymore." He shook his head. "Nonna told me a couple of years ago that she swallowed a whole bottle of her medication and washed it down with a bottle of whisky. I don't blame her."
Ziva swallowed the growing lump in her throat and really wished she wasn't in the bath right now. "She had cancer?"
Tony's eyes lifted to hers, and he didn't bother trying to blink away the welling in his eyes. "Bone cancer, yeah."
Ziva's eyes shut briefly and she muttered a Hebrew curse. She had no doubt that Elizabeth DiNozzo had lived in enormous pain, and that making the decision to end it when she had an eight-year-old son would have been a torture on par with her illness.
"Did your father know what she had decided?"
Tony sniffed and broke her gaze. His eyes slowly traveled around the room as he collected his thoughts and answered. "We've never talked about it, but I think he did. He sent me to my aunt's house that night, out of the blue. But before I left he made me go up to Mom's room and give her a hug and a kiss. I would have anyway, but it was just weird for him to insist."
Ziva sat up from her reclining position and drew her knees to her chest, and then reached over to touch his hand resting atop his tented knee. Tony didn't move or look at her, but he turned his hand palm up to slip into hers, paying no mind to the drops of water from her hand soaking into his jeans.
"I understand it," he said. "I understand that people get to a point where they just can't take any more pain. Where the love they have for their family, and that their family has for them just isn't enough to see them through anymore. I've been in one of those families. I've had to break the news to those families more times than I can remember. It's not a new concept to me." He raised his eyes to hers again. "But honestly? I'm still surprised when it happens."
She nodded slowly, not because she was surprised by it, or because she had been in one of those families, but because she absolutely understood how it felt to be at the point where you were sure you could not take any more pain.
"I'm sorry about your mother," she said, and she was surprised when her throat closed up and a tear spilled down her cheek. Of course she was affected by what he was telling her and the trust he was displaying. But she didn't think she would break before him.
His eyes followed the tear down her cheek, and he gave her a soft look that kept her throat painfully closed. "Me too."
She swallowed hard. "I didn't know that your mother had family in Long Island, too."
Tony shook his head. "She didn't. They're all in the UK. Her parents lived in Los Angeles for a little while my grandfather was working on one of his books, but they left pretty soon after she died."
Ziva processed that. "So you were with one of your father's sisters when it happened."
He nodded, now understanding her earlier assumption. "Yeah, I was with Rosa. Me and my cousin Linda had woken up early, and we were making a cubby house out of her bed sheets and fighting over GI Joes when she and Dad and Nonna came in." He shook his head at himself. "For the life of me, I couldn't understand what they were saying. Dad said, 'Mom's passed away, Junior,' and for some reason, I thought he meant that she'd gone on a trip with her friends."
It didn't sound as ridiculous to Ziva as he may have thought. "You were not expecting it," she said softly. "There are few moments in life when you are truly surprised. And when it happens, sometimes the brain can't keep up." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to kick herself. She'd meant to be comforting, but she'd managed to come off sounding like a know-it-all. "I mean—"
"Yeah, you're right," Tony cut in. Either he hadn't noticed her tone, or he was used to it. He looked up and shot her a strained smile. "Some would argue that I have that problem on a daily basis."
Ziva gave him neutral face in return. She wasn't in the mood to play the Tony's a Dumb-Dumb Game. He recognized the expression, and shrugged as he dropped the smile. Ziva squeezed his hand.
"I would really like to give you a partner-bonding hug right now," she said. "But I don't know if I'm properly attired."
Tony's lips curled in a familiar smirk. "You think that talking about my dead mother will make me feel any less inclined to hold your naked, wet body against me?"
"I would hope," she replied, but gave him a fond smile. "Meet you in the bedroom in two minutes?"
Tony squeezed her hand, and slowly got to his feet, wincing briefly as his knee popped. He tucked the bottle of wine under his arm, balanced both their glasses in one hand, and put his other on the door handle. "If you're not out in 120 seconds, I will come in after you. Possibly with my camera phone."
She smiled for him. "Consider me warned."
When Ziva left the bathroom, she found Tony already sitting on her bed, his long legs and bare feet stretched out in front of him. He hadn't turned on any of the lamps, and instead relied on the light from the lounge that barely touched the threshold of the bedroom. He clearly preferred the emotional safety that the semi darkness brought, and Ziva couldn't blame him. She had a feeling that things were only going to get more personal tonight, and she had always felt braver in the shadows.
She sat facing him, and crossed her legs. Tony handed her a refilled glass.
"Grazie," she said.
The corner of his mouth lifted. "Eyn davar."
Her eyebrow lifted, and she gave him a pleased smile. "Very good."
"Yes, I am," he agreed.
She hid her smile behind her glass. "Do you ever see your mother's parents?" she asked, picking up the conversation where they had left off.
He shook his head and picked at a loose thread on her comforter. "No. My grandfather died years ago. I saw my grandmother at Uncle Clive's funeral, and that was the first time I'd seen or spoken to her in about 20 years."
"Did you talk much?"
"Some," he nodded. "I told her what I what I was up to, and she was very grandmotherly. She sent me a birthday card this year."
"Did you write back?" Ziva asked, and then pretended that she hadn't heard herself put on what she'd overheard Abby refer to as her 'Wife Voice'.
If Tony heard it, he didn't let on. "I called her," he nodded. He looked like he wanted to say more, but when he didn't, Ziva prompted him.
"Was everything all right?"
"Yeah," he said, and then cleared his throat. "She ended up sending over some stuff of Mom's that Dad had given them after the funeral."
Ziva felt her chest constrict, and her eyes drifted to a small mirror in an ornate frame that hung on the wall. It had been her mother's, and for the longest time she hadn't been able to look into it without wanting to cry. "What did she send?"
Tony forced out a laugh. "Uh, I don't know. I haven't opened the box yet."
He shook his head. "I opened it part way, and I was hit with a wave of her perfume. I couldn't make myself go any further."
She watched his expression turn almost embarrassed, but she didn't think it was warranted. "My heart skips a beat every time I smell figs. We had an enormous tree in our garden, and Tali ate them all the time. I could not go near them for years after…" She broke off and met his gaze. She didn't need to say it.
"You could bring it over here," she offered, turning the attention back on him. "We could go through it sometime, if you wanted."
He gave her a soft, grateful smile. "Sounds like a party," he cracked.
She went easy on him. "I am just hoping to find photos of you as a child."
Tony grinned. "I was a pretty damn cute eight-year-old."
Ziva didn't doubt it. "So what happened between then and now?"
He gave an exaggerated laugh at her joke, and she returned it before leaning over to refill their glasses. Moments passed in silence, and Tony's thoughts returned to Agent Walter.
"I didn't realize anything was wrong."
She cocked her head to the side as she tried to follow him.
"With Walter," he said. "I talked to him for 20 minutes on Monday about pre-season, and he was the exact same guy he's always been."
"I thought that too," Ziva told him. "We spoke on Tuesday, and he was the same."
Tony swore and ran a hand through his hair. He would have hated to be Walter's partner right now. If Ziva ever did anything like that under his watch and he hadn't seen it coming, the guilt would eat him alive.
The thought sparked an ugly feeling inside him, and he cut a covert look at her. He thought he knew the woman pretty well, but he was acutely aware that the life she'd led before they'd met had been full of blurred lines, grey areas and cloak and dagger. The nightmare scenarios that he dreamed up in his head about what she'd gotten up to, and what had been done to her, probably only scratched the surface of reality. He wondered if she'd gotten through it all without ever considering a way to end it. Somehow, he doubted it.
"Do you remember the first time you thought about it?" he dared to ask. He knew that asking Ziva to share personal information—particularly as deeply personal as this—was sometimes a futile exercise. Like Tony, she had been trained to draw as much information as possible out of others without sharing anything of herself. He'd spent six years coaxing more and more out of her, and she now opened up without being prompted. But that didn't mean that she wasn't still prone to clamming up and aiming an angry word or two at you if she didn't like the question. Tony thought that making a serious assumption about her past might be one of the things that got her back up, but tonight she just took the soft query with gentle eyes and a sad smile.
"Yes. It was the first time I tried." She paused for a moment, just long enough for the meaning to sink in and make Tony's stomach cramp, before dropping her eyes to her fidgeting hands and letting him into another part of her life.
"I was kidnapped from my home when I was 11," she told him. "I was in my bed one night and woke at a noise. When I opened my eyes, there were four men in hoods standing over me. They put a bag over my head, tied it around my neck with a rope."
The cramp in his stomach grew stronger, and he spoke without hearing himself. "Jesus Christ."
Ziva picked at her nails and cleared her throat before continuing. "They held me for almost three weeks, in the dark, barely feeding me. I was released supposedly when the police stormed the farm where I was being kept."
She lifted her eyes to glance at him fleetingly, needing to assure herself that he was taking this seriously. Of course he would, she knew. He was not like her colleagues at Mossad, who would use such information to their advantage, or underestimate the impact the ordeal had on her. He was Tony, and Tony listened with his heart.
"I did not find out until I was 20, after I had left the IDF to join Mossad, that my father had orchestrated the event," she said, not bothering to cloak the slight wavering in her voice with false bravado. "He had managed to frame one of his political enemies for it, essentially ruining the man."
Tony was silent, and she dared not look at him now. She had an idea of what she would see on his face—anger and thoughts of revenge—and she was uncomfortable with the thought that she had brought such darkness to his soul.
"I dismissed the news as irrelevant at the time, because I had just started with Mossad and could not afford to become emotional about it. But after six months, I broke. I was not strong enough to block it out or deal with what it meant, and so one night I overdosed on sleeping pills. I was unconscious when…" she faltered slightly, not ready to speak her half-brother's name to the man whose partner he'd killed, "…a family member found me, and took me to the hospital. They pumped my stomach, and I woke up several hours later with my father's furious face above me. I lied and told him that I had difficulty sleeping, and that it had been an accident. I sincerely doubt that he believed me, but it was what he wanted to hear, and we have never spoken of it again. That was the first time, for me."
The silence was excruciating, and she wondered what he saw when he looked at her in that moment. Weakness? No, not Tony. She did not think he would think less of her.
"I can't believe he did that to you," Tony finally said.
She didn't recognize the tightness in his voice, and was too scared to look at him to read his face. She'd already exposed herself so much, and so she went into a default setting, pulling the bravado around her shoulders again and talking tough.
"It was actually an excellent strategy," she told him plainly. "He executed it perfectly. It removed all competition from—"
"Ziva," he cut in, his voice more familiar now. Incredulity.
She thought he might take her by the shoulders and shake her, and she shut her mouth. She didn't know what else to say to him, and locked her eyes onto a spot on the mattress where she couldn't even see him in her periphery. She silently begged him to say something stupid, to break the fragile tension with a dumb joke and a goofy smile before changing the subject. But tonight he wasn't wearing the face he showed the rest of the world. This evening, as he sat by her bath and lay in her bed and gently prodded her heart and shared his soul, he was being his true self. The man she knew existed but rarely saw. And that man didn't let things go when they bugged him.
She heard him move, and then his hand was on the side of her face, coaxing her to turn her head.
"Look at me," he said gently, but leaving her with no doubt that it was not a request. Had he leant that from Gibbs?
She let his hand guide her and met his deadly serious eyes.
"He doesn't deserve you. You're better than him. You have a family now who loves you, and we'll never manipulate or betray or use you. You're ours now. That's his loss."
Ziva had been trying not to let the tears pricking her eyes fall, but his words broke her down. She hadn't known what it felt like to belong until she became part of this team, and sometimes she could only hope that they loved her as much as she loved them.
"The guy is a complete dick, Ziva," he told her plainly. "And just so you know, the next time I see him I'm going to shove my fist so far down his throat that I'll pull out his lower intestine. I know you feel a sense of duty to him, and I do understand that, and respect it. But I can't stand him for what he's put you through."
Ziva dropped his gaze as tears blurred her vision. The part of her that had been hurting for years over being raised as a tool to do her father's bidding was grateful for the words, but another part of her knew that Tony would never understand why he had done it in the first place. Ziva did, and that was why she felt so conflicted whenever she thought of Eli. She suspected it would be this way for the rest of her life.
She saw no point in trying to explain it all to him. She knew how it must look from Tony's position, as the one who was charged with watching her back. It was a role she knew he took completely seriously, and she never doubted his commitment.
Sometimes, Ziva wondered how she had been so lucky to cross his path.
She turned her head to kiss his palm. "Thank you."
Tony drew his hand back. "I'll probably get shot for punching him, won't I?"
Ziva laughed at the statement that was meant to break the sadness, and Tony smiled back. "I will have your back, Tony. I promise." She wiped her cheeks, and tried to shake off the heaviness in the air. "That is my MOAS. Well, one of them. Another is that I often have ice cream for dinner, but since I have a feeling that you do the same thing, I'm not going to provide you with the background to that."
The joke stretched his smile further. "Yeah, I do. It's the only thing I have in my freezer."
"That, and vodka," she pointed out.
Silence descended once again as they held gazes. When Ziva's face took on a thoughtful expression, he knew what was coming. He gave her a small nod of permission, and braced himself.
"Have you ever…" she started, but couldn't make herself finish.
Tony was still for a moment, and her heart pounded at the unspoken affirmation in the moments before he nodded, then shrugged. "Sort of," he said, and then made a face and shook his head. "Not exactly. I went through a bit of a self-destructive period a couple of months after I destroyed my knee, when it finally sank in that I really wasn't going to have a career. It was all I'd been planning for since I was about twelve, and I realized I didn't have a back up plan."
He paused as he tented the offending joint, and pressed his fingertips into the side of his kneecap. "I got kind of depressed for a while, and during that time I went home for Christmas. Of course Dad wasn't there, he had important business to attend to," he said, putting on his father's voice. "So I threw a huge party that went for the whole weekend, and one of my buddies turned up with some coke. I knew I wasn't going to get drug tested at college anymore, so I thought, what the hell?"
Ziva blinked at his sudden, unexpected laugh. "You know what I'm like even with Tylenol?"
Ziva nodded. Loopy didn't cover it.
"Yeah, well imagine what 20-year-old, angry, hormone-fuelled me would've been like with a line of coke up my nose."
Ziva bit her lip and winced. "I do not think I can imagine that."
Tony raised his eyebrows in acknowledgement. "It certainly wasn't me at my prettiest. Anyway, while I was still high, I got this great idea in my head about how to solve all my problems. I went up to Dad's study, opened his safe, got out his gun, loaded it, held it against my temple." He paused to hold his fingers like a gun barrel against his head. "One of my friends walked in just as I pulled the trigger."
Ziva's heart hammered and her breaths were short, as if her body was panicking that the scene was playing out in front of her now. Her fingers curled around the inside of his knee, holding on as if it would stop his past self from hurting himself.
Tony dropped the hand from his head and took in her wide, dark eyes. He shrugged, trying to play it down. "The gun jammed. Then my buddy was screaming at me and dragged me out of the room."
Ziva let out a breath and curled in on herself for a moment, even as her hand gripped him tighter. When she looked back up, his face was calm, with just the slightest hint of regret in his eyes. "You had been trying to kill yourself?" she asked, her voice weaker than when she had shared her own attempt at solving her problems.
Tony sighed, and tried to explain something he'd never really been able to before. "It sounds ridiculous, but no, I don't think I was. I mean, I knew that if I pulled the trigger, the gun would go off. But I didn't quite make the connection that if the gun went off while I was holding it against my head, I would die. It sounds completely insane, but…"
"You were high."
"Right. But at the same time, I was thinking of the act as a solution." He shrugged uselessly. "I don't know what I was thinking."
"You never tried again?" she asked.
Tony shook his head. "No," he said softly. "But it was in my head for a while. Months. I think, though, that I'd scared the crap out of myself, and that stopped me from doing anything. Eventually I got distracted enough by school, a girlfriend, planning a trip to Europe after graduation. I moved on from it."
Ziva threw back the last of her wine, and put the glass on her nightstand before shifting to sit beside him, her back against the headboard and her shoulder against his arm. "You can never have drugs," she told him.
Tony chuckled. "Believe me, that was the one and only time I've ever done coke."
She muttered something that Tony translated as a profanity, and Tony slid his arm around her shoulders.
"I'm okay," he pointed out.
She nodded and laid her arm atop his thigh. "We both are."
An hour later, after the wine had been finished and a few more secrets had been shared, they had shifted to lying down on the bed, facing each other, a foot between them. Ziva doubted he would go home tonight. He had too much to drink, and they were both too cozy and comfortable as they were. There was no chance that the tension that so often sparked between them would beg for release on a night like this. Tonight was simply about companionship.
Tony blinked at her from across the pillow, as the late hour and wine worked together to drag his eyelids down. But there was one more thing on his mind that he had to address before he could sleep easy tonight.
He drew in a deep breath for courage. "So here's my cringeworthy statement of the night, that I expect you'll be able to laugh over at a later date, but which will in no way detract from the gravity of the statement for me."
Ziva nodded, getting the gist of what he was saying even if she didn't understand all the barely slurred words.
"Don't make any rash decisions without talking to me first, okay?" he said in a matter-of-face tone that nevertheless conveyed his sincerity. "I don't want you to pull a Jim Walter, and leave me sitting here thinking that if I'd just said or done something, it would have made a difference. I need you to be honest with me."
Five years ago, Ziva would have run for the hills at the suggestion that she share her personal thoughts with him. Five years ago, Tony wouldn't have been capable of pulling together the request in the first place, let alone voicing it with deserved confidence. But that was then, and this was now, as the saying went. And now Ziva didn't think twice about giving him a warm smile and encouraging him.
"You would like to make a pact, yes?"
He broke into the signature smile that made her stomach flip every damn time she saw it. "The Bathtub Accord of 2010. We agree to talk to each other when things start to feel overwhelming. Forget pride. It doesn't matter here." He gestured between them. "Right?"
"Right," she agreed, and honestly, it didn't. They'd been through bests and worsts together, and there was no need to save face for each other. Especially over something so important.
His eyes held hers intently as he shifted a bit closer and went on. "And if we're not in a place where we can think of ourselves, then I'll promise to think of you, and you promise to think of me, and we'll promise not to leave each other to pick up the pieces. We won't make each other deal with that."
She knew what he was doing. Both of them were far and away more likely to take care of each other before themselves. Tony was appealing to that side of both of them to force an alliance. A little manipulation for the greater good.
"Agreed," she said, and leaned in to press a brief, punctuating kiss to his lips.
Tony grabbed her hand before she could move too far away. "That means you're not allowed to bite my head off when I bug you about whether something's wrong."
Ziva pursed her lips while Tony raised an eyebrow that dared her to argue against what they both knew she was likely to do. She humphed as she backed down, and then nodded.
"Good," he said, and then returned the brief kiss before settling back down and letting his eyes droop again. For a while, he just watched her as she watched him back, and when an almost amused, mostly fond smile spread over her face, he frowned. "What?"
She chuckled and shook her head before dropping his gaze. "I was just thinking of the first time that I saw your photograph. Weeks before I met you. I never thought then that I would ever even meet you. And then when we did meet, I assumed that you would just be someone I had contact with once or twice before moving on and never thinking of you again. But six years later, I am promising without reservation that I will continue to share my deepest, darkest thoughts with you." She lifted her eyes again, and the corner of her mouth barely curled in a smile. "It is strange, the way life turns out, and your best laid plans go to waste."
Tony turned his face into the pillow and chuckled. "I was with you right up to best laid plans go to waste," he said. "I think you mean that as an insult."
Her eyes widened. "No! Not at all. I just mean that I had planned for my life to go in one direction, and then I came here and it went in a completely different direction." She put her hand over his. "But I like this direction."
He laced his fingertips through hers. "Good. Because I think this direction suits you." He paused to shoot her a teasing smile. "Want to know what I thought the first time I saw you?"
Ziva squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head. "No, Tony. I do not think that I do."
"Some of it was complimentary," he offered.
"I will use my imagination."
He smiled, and let his eyes close. "I'm staying over."
"You are welcome to."
"Can you please make me breakfast?"
Ziva slowly opened her eyes, and aimed a weak glare at him. Although his eyes remained shut, he felt the glare and smirked in response.
"Go to sleep," she told him.
He only let a few moments pass in silence before he spoke up again. "I'm glad your plans ended up going to waste."
Ziva drew in a deep breath, and let her smile tug at her lips. "I am sure that it saved my life."
Okay. Despite evidence to the contrary, I'm not planning on moving my fics to a darker place. Yes, the last couple have been serious and tear-jerky, but I promise that the stuff I'm working on behind the scenes is more in line with my regular happy, romancey, funny vein.