She hadn't let go of him since he taken her hand.
It was a long, long time before the group hug finally broke up, with McGee and Abby getting out on the lower floor for the lab. The doors hissed shut and they were alone again.
She hadn't said a word the whole time that they had been with the others. Her breathing was measured and careful now. She wasn't crying, but her eyes were still glassy- it was taking all of her considerably willpower to keep the tears at bay. It scared the hell out of him.
The doors dinged back open, revealing the same floor they'd just left. They hadn't pressed a button. He reached across her, not removing his hand from the small of her back, and jabbed the button for the squad room. Her free arm slid around his waist, and he felt the sudden weight of her head dropping to his chest. A deep, guttural sob escaped her lips. It was the most awful, heartbreaking sound he'd ever heard. He had seen her cry before, once or twice, but never so completely. Blinking furiously, he pulled her as close as he could.
Sobs continued to rack her slender frame, as he ran the heel of his hand up and down her back. He didn't know what do to other than to just hold her. Ziva wasn't one for false assurances, and he could make no real ones.
The elevators doors dinged open again, this time revealing the dim orange of the squad room at night.
"Not yet," she choked out.
"Okay," he murmured, in response, into her hair.
As soon as the doors again closed, he reached out and threw the switch, plunging them into the eerie bluish light. He leaned back against the cool metal of the wall, pulling her with him. She had never, ever, allowed herself to be this open in front of him. All her walls were down, and he could almost feel her struggling to get some of them back up as she tried to even her breathing out. It was a losing battle, as another sob escaped. She sighed angrily.
Tony swallowed back the tightness in his throat to ask, "What do you need?" He sure as hell couldn't figure out what else to do.
"I don't…know…" she managed. "I can't…stop…"
"Breathe." He knew it sounded lame, but had nothing else to offer.
"I am trying!" She tipped her head back to look at him as she yelled. Her eye makeup was even more smudged now.
"Sorry. I just…don't know how to help." He ran his thumb up her cheek, stopping the watery trail of mascara that was rolling down her cheek.
She didn't have an answer for him, just continued to look at him silently, her breath slowly coming under control.
Finally, after what felt like eons, but was probably less than a minute, she told him quietly, "You are helping."
He nodded, leaning in to kiss her forehead gently. As his lips lingered, her eyes fluttered closed, and she took a deep breath before opening them again.
"I…I am not accustomed to…to…this." She gestured to her red, watery eyes.
"Everyone has their limits."
"I have been through worse."
He didn't like to think about that. He searched carefully for the right words, before telling her, "You've…changed…a lot since then. Grown."
"Is that a good thing?" she sighed.
"I think so," he answered quickly. "Do you not?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "I thought so. But then something like this happens, and…I cannot deal with it."
"Most people have a hard time dealing with stuff like this."
She nodded. "It is new to me still."
"It doesn't get easier to see your friends die."
"No…" she sighed. "It doesn't."
"You grieve. You still put it aside because the fight's not over, but you grieve. Does that make sense?" He wasn't sure it did.
She considered that for a moment. "I have not figured out how to do both. In the past, I always put it aside to continue the fight, because that was what was expected. But now…I grieve, and I feel like giving up and never losing anyone I love again." She looked down, toying with a button on the front of his shirt, unable to look him in the eye.
"Look at me."
She shook her head.
"Look at me," he insisted, capturing her chin with his hand. He tried to draw it up, forcing her to look at him, but she resisted, pulling her chin out of his grasp. She laid her head on his chest again, in what he could only interpret as an attempt to avoid looking him in the eye. He sighed, threading his fingers into her messy hair at the nape of her neck. Gently, he tugged it free of what remained of her bun and rubbed her scalp with the pads of his fingers. A long silence passed
"Risks are part of the job. It doesn't make it easier lose someone you love—ever—but we knew that what we signed up for was dangerous," Tony started. He wasn't sure how to explain it. It wasn't easy. He just did it. He didn't think about it too hard. "We don't give up. We don't surrender because we have the training and skills to make a difference, right?"
He felt her take a deep breath, and nod against his chest, finally looking up with a new resolve in her once again glassy eyes.
She pulled away from him now, leaving just her hand in his as she reached over to flick the elevator out of emergency stop. He felt a sudden coldness at the loss of her body against his, but they had to move eventually.
The doors dinged open and she led them out into the hallway. The bullpen was quiet in the wee hours of the morning. They were almost to their desks when Gibbs came thundering down the stairs from MTAC, yelling, "Grab your gear! Now! Agents in trouble!"
A quick squeeze and let go of each other for the first time in nearly an hour. There was work to do.
"The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope."
~Measure for Measure, III.i