A/N This could be read on its own or as a follow up to 'Best Case Scenario.'
The elevator could not remain their safe haven, they had to emerge and walk one step, then another towards their uncertain futures. Tony gripped Tim's shoulder then dropped his arm. As Senior Field Agent he had to end the pity party and bring them back to the reality that they were signed up to protect and defend. Abby refused to limit any contact with Tim, who wisely considered that to withdraw an arm from her would be akin to cutting off her air supply. McSensitive took her again into his embrace, and Tony nodded his support of Tim's tender care of her, giving Tim permission to be comforted as well.
Tony's hand remained on Ziva's arm, drawing cirlces along her elbow as they stepped out of the elevator, leaving McGee to do the most intense emotional damage control. Tony was the second-in-command, he knew Gibbs was stunned into his own downward spiral so the old instinct of being whatever the team needed as a whole kicked in. However, as he lead Ziva into the bull pen, the thought of going over what they had relating to Cobb seemed like a calloused option when he saw his partner seeping raw exasperation. He'd seen her broken to a degree, understandable after months of torture, but never had she been so overtly fragile. This was the death of one man. Dear to Gibbs and fondly considered by the rest but still, after all the death that has defined her life, those of dear family, partners, and friends, he wondered why this reaction now?
He kept the close proximity they gained in the elevator as his partner seemed reluctant to step away from him, and Tony complied, having learned over time that it was always better to follow her lead. She was anything but clingy any day of the week, so this seriously concerned him. Ziva openly admitted that she could not take much more of this. Would she consider leaving to spare herself more sorrow, even if that meant walking away from the only ones she loved? Was it the fact that she was now allowed to have feelings that cracked the dam of stoicism, allowing the accumulation of grief from Tally to Mike to bombard her?
During Gibbs' recap of Cobb's training video before Mike's demise, McGee had offhandedly added that anyone chosen for the training would have to be unstable to begin with. Ziva slinked back to her desk, trying to give herself room to breath without attracting attention. She took the chance to compose herself knowing that Tim meant no insult to her . . . also chiding herself because he said nothing that was not true. Meanwhile the former sniper smacked the back of Tim's head, hard enough his own hand stung, then stated, "You do it for your country, you kill to keep innocent people safe. There is nothing unstable about that." Realizing his mistake McGee stammered a response that conveyed his ignorance and remorse. Ziva gently smiled at him, absolving him from her ire, but the comment had her unsettled and the day's events magnified the realization that she was programmed, not in an intensive training course, but over years of grooming to be without compassion for the greater good of God and country . . . and her father. Something had to be seriously wrong with her that she was not unstable, or perhaps she was taking one more step towards the cliffs of insanity and today Ziva David would start to unravel.
Time seemed to stand still as Tony considered the best course of action. Would Ziva prefer him to lead her back into their pursuit of Mike's killer, or would it be better to indulge in a longer time for reflection and gently let her decide how they would proceed. The absence of a conviction either way deferred the decision to her. She sighed into Tony's shirt once again. He enveloped her in his arms, as she leaned on him.
Ziva David was physically leaning on him.
Tony had not yet reached the point of swallowing the greater implications of both Ziva and Gibbs having simultaneous breakdowns. Heck, he had not even processed the death of his former partner just a week prior. All he knew was how to stand tall and take it. It didn't matter what "it" was, it never did. However, the tenderness between himself and Ziva, this he could welcome. Despite her indoctrination in the art of killing, and his incessant references to her deadly skills, she was always stable, too stable. The Senior Field agent knew he was the weak one more often than not, despite his superior title.
As much as Gibbs and Ducky referred to themselves as old chauvinists, Tony preferred to define himself as hopelessly chivalrous. What classic movie wasn't complete without some damsel in distress? And despair in the most powerfully independent women stirred his fundamental need to protect and defend like no other stimulus.
After some moments, her breath evened out and if they were not standing he might have suspected that she had fallen asleep. He knew better than to assume this meant that she was at peace, after all he could feel her mind transitioning much like Abby could read lips. Ziva took a deep breath, transferred her weight so she was supporting herself within his arms and wiped an eerily steady hand down her haggard face. She put her arms around his neck this time with muscles taut, no longer limp and needy as she rocked on her tip toes and kissed his cheek ever so gently.
With a delicate "Thank you, Tony," the affectionate moment ceased.
Ziva's face morphed back to a standard issue expression of determination. She walked to the flat screen, crossed her arms and said, "So, what do we have on Cobb?"