Summary: They've solved the case, and now there's nothing left to do but to talk about their feelings. Takes place four days after 8x20 "Two-Faced", and ignores Pauley Perrette's spoiler tweet.
Disclaimer: Ooh, do I get to own that eyeball on NCIS? It's a little creepy, so I'm not really sure I want to own it, but it'd count as NCIS merchandise. Just sayin'.
Spoilers: 7x01 "Truth or Consequences", slight 8x10 "False Witness", major 8x20 "Two-Faced".
WARNINGS: Okay I had to put that part in all caps because this is important. This fic, while ultimately Tiva, does not put EJ and Ray in a negative light. So if you're a Tiva fan who wants to see them die (as opposed to, you know, just going away), then this fic is not for you. I have some fluffier Tiva fics if you're interested^^. The second thing is, this fic introduces perspectives from a psychologically damaged Tony's and psychologically damaged Ziva's point-of-view. While I do not share their opinions, I genuinely believe that that is how they're currently looking at things. If you cannot handle the thought that they could be in denial, now is a good time to stop reading :)
That said, if anyone accuses me of being anti-Tiva, I will dig out their eyeballs and feed them to my friend's pet crocodile :D no, I'm kidding. But I will pitifully beg them to notice the Tiva ending! So, if you've made it this far without throwing up, read on, enjoy, and please review!
Everything That Counts
"I understand this one, Ziva, I understand her. That's why it's working."
It's not a lie. For once in his life, he's been honest with Ziva. He does understand EJ, because she's blunt, she's uncomplicated, and she wears her heart on her sleeve. She doesn't need to be figured out. He can read her like a book; predict her every move. She works for him.
Yet as he stares down into his Scotch he feels his heart breaking. It isn't a lie, but it's not very important a truth either. What difference does it make if he understands EJ? He doesn't understand Ziva. He doesn't understand how she can think of him like a brother. After Somalia, after "couldn't live without you". And that's the one time he's come close to telling her how he truly feels. But maybe he hasn't come close enough, because at the end of the day he's been assigned to the same category as Gibbs and McGee; family, not lover.
He doesn't mind that she's not with him, really. He doesn't like that she is, or was, with Ray, but at the end of the day, if she weren't with anyone at all, he wouldn't mind that she wasn't with him. Because that's how their relationship functions, that's how they interact – by teasing each other one moment and forgetting about it the next. That's who they are, and he's comfortable with the thought that she could possibly love him without telling him.
Of course, now he's everything but comfortable. He's confused, upset, jealous, heartbroken. He's lost, because in the last four days he's run the past few months over and over through his mind, and he still can't see when she started relegating him to the role of 'brother'. Or maybe she's always thought of him as that, and well, that only makes things worse. It's just more proof that he doesn't understand her, and never will.
Ray deserves her, he knows that. Ray's hurt her, but so has he, and he knows that if anyone were to make a comparison list, the number of mistakes he's ever made when it comes to her would far exceed that of Ray's. It's a fact of life; that he's the one who's caused her to be as broken as she is now. And as much as he wants to be the one to put her back together again, he has no right to claim it as his job. She will not let him make it his job. It's that simple; he's spent six years by her side, as her partner, trying to have her back – and all he's done is shatter her into a million tiny pieces and then leave her for someone else to pick up the pieces.
He hears the door open now, and he knows it's her. He doesn't look at her until she sits down beside him.
"You find an eyeball here, and still you return to this place to have a drink?" She raises her eyebrows as a way of greeting.
"They have good service. You don't seem bothered by it either," he counters.
She purses her lips and turns away to order another club soda. "You are drinking alone," she remarks pointedly.
"I am depressed."
"Did you and EJ break up?" Her tone is one of concern. Sisterly concern.
"Then why are you depressed?"
"I have my reasons." He leans against the bar counter and gazes at her. "So, how are you and CI-Ray?"
Her expression closes off faster than he can snap his fingers. "We have not spoken to each other since our argument."
"You are telling me what to do now, Mr Sit-Alone-in-a-Bar-and-Be-Depressed?"
His eyes follow the bartender as the club soda is placed in front of her. This is his time. This is the best thing he can do for the woman he would give the world for. "Ziva…he told me he loves you."
"Not you too," she says in annoyance as she picks up her drink.
"If you don't trust him, can you at least trust me? I saw his expression. I heard his voice. He wasn't lying. He really does love you. And he told me this before…you know." He clears his throat and swallows the stupid lump that's gotten stuck inside it. "He's a good man, Ziva. Don't let him go."
She stares at him pensively. "He does not understand me, Tony. Not like you understand EJ."
"Well, you're not exactly an open book."
"Yes, but we were together for months. He should understand me."
"Ziva, I've worked with you for six years, and even I don't always understand you."
She returns the glass to its napkin. "What are you trying to tell me?"
He frowns and takes a deep breath. Feigns ignorance at the fact that he's dying inside. "You're one hell of a woman, Ziva. And you deserve to go out there and find someone who loves you. Whom you can love back. I see your face when you look at him, and I know that there's something there, between both of you." He pauses before his voice can break. "So maybe he doesn't understand you completely. But he loves you, and that's what really matters, right?"
She sighs and lets her eyes fall shut. "That is what I thought, with Michael. He was secretive and I was secretive, but I thought that it could work because we cared about each other. In the end, it could not. Sometimes love is not enough, Tony." She opens her eyes with a gaze so pleading that he nearly cries. "Sometimes what I need is a man who understands me."
I understand you, he wants to say. But there's no denying that he doesn't, is there? "You told Ray I was like a brother to you." The words are out before he can stop them, and he feels the beginnings of an urge to slap himself.
"Yes." Her confused eyes search his.
"Is that all, Ziva?" Is that all I am to you?
"Well…what do you want to be?"
And what the hell does he say to that? Since when does he get to dictate how she looks at her relationships?
"I just want to know what you think of me," he says carefully. How you feel about me.
"Well," she starts, and stops. "You look out for me, and I appreciate that."
He nearly groans and slams his face into the countertop.
"But sometimes I wish you understand me more," she continues as she presses the thin black straw in her glass in between her fingers and twirls it. He feels his heart skip a beat.
"Like a man who understands you?" he asks, and she purses her lips and turns away again.
"Why do you enjoy taunting me, Tony? Why do you take my words and twist them into something unrecognizable and then throw them back at me, huh? Do you get some kind of kick out of it?"
"I'm not taunting you," he says bemusedly, and her angry face meets his.
"You do not need to rub in my face what I just told you," she hisses.
"Ziva." He catches hold of her hand. Whatever happened to his resolve? "I'm not rubbing it in your face. I'm asking you. Sincerely. Do you think I could be the man who understands you?"
She drops her eyes and pulls away her hand. "So what about that speech about how Ray loves me? And what about EJ? I am tired, Tony, of trying to figure out what you mean each time you say something to me."
He pauses as he tries to arrange his thoughts into words. "There's no hidden meaning in what I said. Ray does love you, and I do understand EJ. But…Ziva, you've no idea how much it hurt for me to hear Ray tell me that you think of me like a brother. Because I've always thought of you as…as someone I hold very dear." Her startled eyes fly up to his. "I'm trying to understand you, Ziva, and I can't always do it. But I understand EJ, so it's simple. Sometimes you gotta take what you can get. And Ray, he made – makes – you happy. If I can't be…Zi, I just want you to be happy."
"Then what does that all mean?" Her chocolate brown depths swirl with something that he can't quite identify.
"It means…that I…care about you enough to let you go when I know that you're in safe hands," he finishes jerkily.
She is silent for a moment, and then the question that spills forth from her lips surprises him. "And if I am not in safe hands?"
He doesn't even need to think about his answer. "Then I'd fight to my death to get you back."
Her eyes widen at that, and she stares at him with something that seems remarkably like shock. "Would you?"
"Nothing could stop me." He's bewildered. Hasn't that always been obvious?
He watches as she tries to collect her thoughts. "Ziva," he calls her out of her reverie. "Can I ask you a question?"
She nods vaguely.
"Do you really think of me like a brother?"
She licks her lips nervously before she answers him. "No."
"Then…of all things, why did you tell Ray that?"
"Because co-worker does not sound very nice. And…I honestly thought that I was just…that." Her voice has suddenly become very soft.
He's standing up and his hand is cupping her face before he realizes it. He's about to put his hand back down when she turns her face and leans into his touch. He stills his movement, and then gently brushes her cheekbone with his thumb. "How could you even think that, Zi?" he asks tenderly.
"Because you are a hard person to read, Tony," she replies tiredly. "You make jokes, you play pranks, and sometimes you can even be cruel." She sounds like she wants to say more, but she doesn't.
He gives her a rueful smile. "Guess I could cut down on the cruel, but I thought you liked the jokes and pranks."
"Well, it is who you are. The class clown. And I love you for that, but it does not make it easy for me to know how you feel…when it comes to matters of the heart."
"What I told you in Somalia-"
"We both know that a person can fight the truth serum if he or she tries hard enough. I am proof of that. And I was not sure that you were even on truth serum. I had no way of knowing that it was not just a lie you concocted to get me to forgive you."
"Do you still think it's a lie?"
She hesitates for a while. "No." Then she smiles into his palm. "You ask me if I can at least trust you, and I can and do, very much. That means I must trust what you say too. Everything you say, especially when you say it seriously. Will that count?"
He takes in her downcast eyes; the way the corners of her lips tremble even as she tries to stop it. "Yeah, that does counts. That counts more than anything." And he can't help but to pull her into his arms. "You know, someday we're gonna figure this out, Zi," he whispers into her hair.
Her answer is just as quiet against his ear. "I believe you, Tony."