This is set after episode 8.10
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS
The healing experiment
Ever since Somalia she isn't really good when it comes to physical nearness- not that she was particularly good at it before. Sure, she could intimidate someone, flirt or threaten, but it had never been comfortable for her and she had never been able to let her guard down. She used the feelings of her opponent and knew how to manipulate them to get the outcome she needed. It had been part of her training and it had always worked. Except for Tony and Gibbs.
Since they brought her back her dread of nearness is more pronounced, caused by the abuse she suffered in her desert prison. She avoids touching people, men especially. When they touch her she suffers from flashbacks, sometimes more and sometimes less severe; always enough to make her anxious. She doesn't hug men anymore, she doesn't pinch her colleagues' cheeks and she doesn't kiss anyone, not even on the cheek. Except for Tony.
She used to invade his personal space, corner him, lightly pat his cheek, pinch his waist or even lick his ear on occasion, just for the heck of it. She doesn't do it anymore and he doesn't dare to reach out first. No one seems to really realize that she is damaged goods, even though Vance used that term to her face. Still they never talk about it, they never want to talk about it and neither does she. Except for Tony.
Neither he nor she is sure if the others are even aware of the fact that he always has been the exception, now even more than before. In private, in her thoughts, the side of her that reads trashy love novels and watches The Sound of Music, calls him her savior.
He saved her, she can trust him, she knows. She knows it in her head, but not in her heart, because the walls around it are still firmly in place after a year of refusing therapy and not talking about it.
It doesn't change after their Paris assignment where they shared a bed- with as much space in between them as possible. It doesn't change when she tried to protect him from the blast of the explosion at the baseball field. It doesn't change when her father comes and Tony wishes she would lean on him for support. His simple questions when he asks if she's ok tell her that he knows she is not alright, no matter how often she tells him. Her eyes just won't shut up.
When he has his time of 'midlife crazy'- as he calls it- that is when it changes, changes drastically.
"And that is why we love you". The words are innocent, meant to assure him and help him to get back to his usual self. Yet, they manage to free her and give her clarity. It is true, they love him. She loves him. Despite everything that happened. Because of everything that happened. And she understands that if she wants to let go of the demons of her past, she needs his help. She still isn't able to talk, the fear of breaking down is still too strong and the shame that would come with it would devastate her.
So she thinks and re-thinks, twists and turns her ideas, fights her instincts and debates with her gut feeling. In the end she decides to just give in for once, follow her emotions and see where they will take her. And because Tony always has her back he will be there, she understands that now.
A week later while they again watch the reality TV show, otherwise known as 'Gibbs in interrogation', he stands slightly behind her, like he always does, and watches over her shoulder while keeping a safe distance in between them. They are alone in the dark room and he is surprised when she steps back into him. He used to stand that close to her, speak quietly directly into her ear and feel the tension rising between them. He can't really remember when he did the last time. She doesn't acknowledge it when she leans against him, her back pressing against his chest and her hair tickling his chin and his nose. She smells so good and he yearns to wrap his arms around her waist. His hands clench to fists so he isn't tempted. He needs to let her decide on the pace and how much she is comfortable with without pushing her, because it would be bad for her and bad for him and bad for some of his body parts. So they stand there and just watch, the things they say no different than if they were standing farther apart.
At first when she makes the first step and gives in to what she really wants- lean against him and on him, her heart beats so fast and hard she thinks it might jump out of her chest any second. If he steps back or makes some dumb-ass remark she will make up some excuse and never reach out again. The thought alone nearly causes her to panic. His chest is more solid against her than she remembers it, maybe due to the fact that he tenses at first when her body touches his. As he relaxes her pulse slows back down to normal and her face doesn't feel as hot anymore. When she trusts herself that her voice wouldn't give away her inner turmoil she opens her mouth and says something that is related to what they see. It's not important, not in the slightest, but he replies with something else not really important and they both slowly relax and she finds that she actually enjoys the nearness.
When the interrogation is over and they both walk out back to the bullpen he waits for her to say something, but she never does. What seems even stranger to him is that there is no tension between them- not sexual or otherwise. It just felt… right standing that close, he finds. Like they should have always stood that way and should do it more often.
Just as it feels right the next day when they stand in front of the monitor in the bullpen, watch the video that shows the scared, kidnapped child as a proof of life, and she reaches out and takes his hand. She doesn't seem to think much about it when she laces her fingers through his, when she actually is. She is nervous again, because she is aware that it isn't appropriate to hold hands at work, especially not with a man who is only a colleague. However she promised herself she wouldn't deny herself anymore what she needs, what feels good. Tony. He makes the horror she sees on the child's face more bearable and helps her to keep up her strong front for the rest of the people around. While she doesn't mind that he knows she has feelings, mainly because she was never able to hide them from him, she doesn't want the rest of the world to be able to read her. People who can read her can manipulate her, influence her and she doesn't trust anyone enough to let that happen without a fight. Except for Tony.
Gibbs is standing right behind them and most likely sees everything. Tony waits for the head slap that never comes, not even when he steps closer to her, so their shoulders touch.
She takes this as a good sign and a small smile graces her face for a split second. When he smiles brightly a moment later she is awed again that he never seems to miss anything when it comes to her.
The next video arrives three days later and this time she wraps her arm around his middle and leans her cheek against his shoulder. It seems that the more she touches him, the more she needs these gentle reminders that she is not alone. Touch by touch he destructs the walls she has built around her heart and her feelings. The missing bricks let the rest of the wall become more fragile and she needs him more to keep it all together. He pulls her closer, wrapping his arm around her shoulders when he feels her tense when the little boy starts crying because he's so scared. He always seems to know what she needs and he and gives it to her without asking a single question. At home, when she is alone and doesn't have him around, she wonders why he doesn't ask, why he isn't weirded out by her behavior and why he doesn't press sexual harassment charges.
Or try to take another step.
She isn't sure if she could handle it, if he would kiss her, hug her or take her hand suddenly, if he would take the same liberties she does. Sometimes she wishes for it, other times she fears it.
Tony can feel the look that McGee and Ducky exchange behind them, but he doesn't really care. He still waits for the head slap and again it doesn't come. Seems like the world has stopped turning for now.
They fall into a comfortable closeness over the next few weeks while being at work. And while she first initiates it, he goes along with it, and at one point it becomes so normal that he stops worrying about the reactions. During lunch breaks or campfires she sits so close to him that there are only inches missing and she' d sit on his lap. Her thighs are pressing against his, sometimes her shoe bumps into his, and he suppresses a gasp when she places her palm on his thigh for the first time- even if she does it simply to push herself up, once the break is over and she goes back to her own desk.
When walking from the car to a crime scene or from the crime scene back to the car she either takes one of his hands or links her arm through his, depending on how much stuff they have to carry. There are days when they are out in the field, interrogating people or looking for clues when he feels like they hold hands all day. Never did he hold the hands of his girlfriends/ flings so often as he holds hers. Even when they drive in one car their hands are joined on top of the middle console as they argue over the latest case or she is being annoyed because of his babbling about the latest movie he saw.
He starts adding slight changes to their physical contact. First he caresses her skin with his thumb whenever their fingers are linked and he can feel that she is getting upset for whatever reason. Like a magic spell it calms her and sometimes she squeezes his hand in a silent thank you when she has calmed down.
Then he wraps his arms around her waist once she is leaning into him again while watching an interrogation. They don't even think about changing their position when the door opens and McGee steps in. The third time he walks in on them in this position she even places her hands on top of his and laces her fingers through his, what causes McGee to blush, while they act like it's the most normal thing in the world.
Later he will take Tony aside and ask him what they are doing and he replies truthfully that he has no idea. He keeps it to himself that it is Ziva's way of healing and getting closer to him again at the same time. He knows it, he knows the reason for her behavior even if she seems sometimes confused about it herself. It is none of McGee's business though and if Ziva wanted him knowing what is going on she would tell him, maybe even hug him from time to time to make him a part of the process. She doesn't and so he plays dumb.
He also knows why she gets up, walks over to him, wraps her arms around him and buries her face in his shoulder after a short call from her father some days later. They are talking again, but leave the most important things unsaid-much like he does with his own father. She is clenching and unclenching her fingers against his back, giving away her exasperation, but seems calm otherwise. Gibbs and McGee briefly look up from their desks when he places a kiss on her forehead and leans his cheek against the top of her head, but they remain silent once more. The hug lasts for nearly two minutes and the agents that pass them while going to MTAC or the copying machine give them strange looks. Tony glares at them and concentrates on her breathing pattern, because it will tell him when he has to loosen his hold on her.
The next time she does hug him that way, that time right outside of autopsy after they saw the remains of a suicide bomber who luckily only killed himself, he kisses the crown of her head, nuzzles his nose in her hair and breathes her in, wanting to remember the moment if she freaks the next second, which would end her healing experiment.
The hug after this one makes his whole body tingle, when she presses her lips against the crook of his neck where she buried her face and he has problems to suppress the groan that forms in his throat. She is healing from god knows what terrors, but he is still a man and what she does to him has its effects, no matter how much willpower he has. And he has it, because otherwise he would have pressed her against the glass wall in observation more than once and kissed her senseless before he would have undressed her and taken her right there. He is tempted, but he knows he can't if he wants her around happy and healed.
He can't say he is surprised when one night he wakes up when she slips into the free side of his bed after picking the lock on his front door, although it scares the crap out of him when he thinks for a second that someone broke into his apartment. He pretends to keep sleeping and waits for her snores to set in before he opens his eyes. In the light that streams through the blinds from the streetlight right outside his window he can see her relaxed features, her mouth a bit open, her hand resting closer to his body than hers. He remembers the flight back from Somalia when he had watched her sleep, if one could call it that. She had tossed and turned, talked and screamed in her fitful sleep and had only found rest when they had given her some sleeping pills at the hospital back in D.C. In Paris she had had nightmares as well, after all it had been the reason why he had ended up in bed with her, once he had woken her from a particularly horrifying dream and her eyes had begged him to stay with her, while her mouth hadn't been able to form the words.
They have breakfast together like two normal co-workers would, discussing the news on the radio and what awaits them at work. Coworkers wouldn't leave his apartment hand in hand after breakfast another day later though, but they do, because she reaches for him once more. They drive to work separately and repeat the process the next day. And the day after. And the day after that.
After a week and a half he places a key to his apartment on her desk without saying anything and she slips it on her key chain equally silent. She wouldn't know what to say without saying too much. The infatuation she feels for him is getting stronger with each day and she can't express how grateful she is for him going along with her ideas without an explanation. It's not like they don't talk. They do talk, a lot, just not about what is going on between them.
He starts buying groceries for two, adds a toothbrush for her and even gets her favorite shampoo and bubble bath, because she would never dare to bring over the items herself. The first morning she sees them she smiles at him before she closes the bathroom door so she can take a shower, just as she always does. The smile stays on her face as she showers, dresses and while she blow dries and straightens her hair. Every time she sees one of the items her cheeks hurt a bit because she smiles a bit more and the butterflies tickle the insides of her belly.
He keeps her from killing a witness with her bare hands when they guy grabs her arm the sixth week. She comes over earlier that night and ends up snuggled up next to him on the couch while he watches Magnum.
An evening later her long sleeved shirt gets exchanged for his short sleeved Ohio State T-shirt. The next her jogging pants are being abandoned in favor of light blue shorts that reveal her long legs and expose the scars which have yet to fade. When she sits down in his lap and snuggles up to him another three days later, while they quietly watch TV, he has to shift a bit, shift her a bit, so he wouldn't scare her away with the evidence of what she does to him.
Considering the strange physical closeness they have had the last couple of weeks it is surprising that he is surprised when she kisses him ten weeks into her self-ordered mental recovery. She is snuggled up against him in bed and they are looking at each other after saying goodnight. She closes the distance between them, her eyes never leaving his and then her lips brush up against his. It's soft and tentative and nothing what he expected their first real kiss to be like after years of pent up sexual frustration. She pulls backs and seems to wait for a reaction when he doesn't kiss her back, but just lies there. Tony only smiles and hopes that it is enough of an answer. She chews on her bottom lip for a moment and when she seems to have made up her mind she leans in again while their eyes lock once more. This time he kisses her back. His palms cup her cheeks as he pulls her closer and angles her head- and she lets him, just has to close her eyes because of the onslaught of feelings inside of her. She doesn't want her eyes to talk, she just wants to feel, even if it scares her.
Still, it's her who lets her tongue glide against his lips and waits until he grants her access. When their tongues touch their bodies do as well. He presses her against him with a hand on her lower back while the other tangles in her curly hair. The kiss gets passionate and needy and yet, they are only scratching on the surface of the feelings they have buried for so long. He moans when she gently nips at his lip and soothes it with her tongue a second later. He can feel the arousal clouding his mind and knows he will lose control if she keeps this up. She rubs her body against his and he can feel the hard nubs through the shirt she is wearing. He groans again and can't help but push his hips forward so his pelvis meets hers.
She stops, freezes, when she feels his hardness against the apex of her legs and he realizes this is the moment their silent experiment ends. If he lets her walk away in embarrassment now, every progress they have made in the last few weeks will be lost. And so he speaks and comments for the first time on all of the touching and hugging and kissing they have been doing.
"We should take this slow, Zee. So far that seems to have worked for us," he says quietly and makes a point out of rolling onto his back and pulling her against him, careful to keep their lower bodies apart.
"Is that what we've been doing? Taking it slow?" she asks him and sounds both frustrated and unsure.
"I don't know," he shrugs. "I hope so." She doesn't say anything and so he softly kisses her cheek, then her forehead, finally her hair. "We do whatever you're comfortable with, ok?" he adds and feels her nod against his chest.
She is relieved, so relieved that it brings tears to her eyes. It's finally out in the open and they both acknowledged that it isn't normal "we're just partners" behavior what they have been showing. It is more, so much more and they will try to make it work, even need to make it work, because he is the only one who can heal her and she's the only one who can give him the stable relationship he so desperately wants since he met her.
After that night they start talking more, but keep the constant physical contact. Only now she grins and tells him it tickles when he gently taps his fingers against her stomach while his arms are wrapped around her waist as they watch the interrogation. He dares to ask her if she's ok when she suddenly hugs him in the middle of the bullpen, hides her face in his neck and seems to want to escape the world. They discuss breakfast, lunch and dinner and even go grocery shopping together. They openly make plans and not just go along with the situation as it presents itself. And in the evenings, the mornings or the weekends, whenever they share the bed together and Ziva pulls back after it gets too passionate, she actually talks about what happened to her. Sometimes it makes him angry, other times it makes him sick, but he never loses his hold on her.
It costs her a lot of effort to talk to him about the things she couldn't open up about with her assigned therapist. She feels exhausted whenever she has pushed another heavy stone off her soul and he is beat from suffering injuries from the splinters when it shatters on the ground between them. They both feel raw and vulnerable and for two people who are used to hiding their feelings behind a mask, they are incredibly open and supportive. Of course, it happens that they don't know what to say or do or feel when she reveals another horror and another story of yet another scar. Then she seeks shelter in his arms and her trust gives him the strength to soothe her and himself.
The morning they come in together, bickering and teasing each other, but for the first time in nearly three months without holding hands, Gibbs knows that they finally took the last step and broke his rule. He watches them and notices that while Tony suddenly strolls again and has left his determined strides at home, Ziva seems more carefree than he has seen her in years… maybe ever. The zest for life is shining in her eyes and sparks seem to fly through the room. Gibbs understands that it is not only about the sex, but more about taking the enormous hurdle in Ziva's recovery and their relationship that makes them so happy.
When she catches McGee's surprised look she actually squeals, pinches one of his cheeks and kisses the other noisily, just as she used to do when she first arrived and used to make funny sounds and faces which sometimes reminded him of a child. The poor guy looks even more confused and turns red in the face.
"Hey, Zee-vah, aren't you kissing the wrong guy?" DiNozzo teases.
"Am I, Toh-ney?" she grins and walks back over to him, trapping his body between her own and his desk. The air sizzles between them when their eyes meet, before drifting to the others lips for a moment. The energy in the air between them has changed and instead of the rainclouds and fog that seemed to keep them apart, now it seems like all sunshine. It's so sunny that Gibbs thinks he can hear birds singing for a second and he knows he really has to act, before he finds himself in a freakin' Nora Roberts novel.
"Yeah, totally. Remember, you love me?" he grins back at her, still teasing while knowing he's telling the truth.
"Maybe you're right," she gives in uncharacteristically fast and places a lingering kiss on his lips before she backs up again. "And you can't live without me."
Gibbs decides that three months of keeping his mouth shut, so they would finally open theirs, is enough. Firmly he marches over to them and slaps them both on the back of their heads.
"Doesn't that head- slap come three months too late, boss?" DiNozzo points out with a cheeky grin.
"I can make up for it, DiNozzo if don't keep it out of the office. No grab-ass at work," he barks and leaves to get coffee- and to give them an opportunity to talk and fill in McGee.
"Thanks Gibbs," he hears Ziva say quietly as he walks past her. While he waits for the elevator he sees out of the corner of his eyes that she leans against Tony's desk, standing next to him without actually touching him. They can use their words again, at least at work, and her eyes never shut up anyway. They can cling to each other at home, now that she's healed a bit more. And that's the way it should be.
I know that this is OOC, but I just liked the thought that Ziva could give in to what she really wants for once. It's also my first try at Tiva, so I hope it's ok.