A/N: I wrote this before Pyramid aired, based on the promo. I decided it was time to finish it off.
The elevator ride back was silent, but the gratitude hung loosely in the atmosphere of the tiny space. Tony's eyes watched protectively over his weakened partner, as if Cobb, now in handcuffs and being taken to lockup, would leap out of thin air and snatch her from his grasp.
The doors revealed the all-too familiar bullpen, its orange walls burning her tired eyes, the bruise on her face aching painfully, and a separate pair of eyes greeting her entirely.
Ray was waiting for her, just over the threshold; the boundary between the safety of the elevator and the reality of the unexposed world.
Tony shot the man a nasty, hate-filled glance and stormed away to his desk, furious that Ray was trying to sweep Ziva off her feet after he had rescued Ziva from being murdered by an insane serial killer. His partner's so-called boyfriend had done nothing, but Tony's mind had been racing. He had even snapped at EJ, who he knew had only been trying to comfort him.
Ziva was silent for a moment, taking Ray in. Their time together, in Miami and Vermont, had been so beautiful, so perfect. She treasured the memories. He had romanced her, and no one had really bothered that much about her before. And when suddenly she refused to speak to him or even acknowledge his existence, it was so strange seeing him now. She could hardly believe he was standing there, right before her eyes.
"Ray," she greeted him simply. Unsure of what else to say next, she went with the cliché, "what are you doing here?"
"I've been here the whole time, helping with the case. I'm CIA, remember?" he replied calmly, the strong scent of his aftershave not helping her tired and slightly nauseous state. Tony heard this remark from where he sat at his desk, and snarled hatefully.
"Why?" she wondered aloud. After all she had said, all she had accused him of, why come back now?
"You said a lot of things, Ziva, but as much as I try to shake it I just can't seem to get you out of my head." He touched her cheek, but she moved away. "I still love you."
The words, once intended to be so sweet, just seemed like daggers to her now.
"I…can't," was all she could manage in response.
"Why? What are you afraid of?" The question was genuine; you could see it in his eyes.
"When you've had as much bad luck with love as I have, you have to protect your heart to stop it from getting crushed," she explained, partly in her defence. She did not appreciate practically being called weak. There was not much in this world she was afraid of. "There's only so many times a heart can mend itself, and I can't have it broken again. Not by you."
Over Ray's shoulder, leaning over the wall was Tony, watching her intently, as would be expected of him. Her eyes felt drawn to his, as if he was trying to tell her something. After seconds that felt like days, Ray turned to see what she was looking at, and the other man was quick to duck back behind his desk.
"It's not just me, though, is it?" he asked with a sigh.
"I…do not know what you mean," she answered.
He scoffed. "Don't play dumb, Ziva. I can see the way you look at him. The way he looks at you."
"Wh...I…Tony?" she asked, her voice high and head tilted to the side, eyes squinted in confusion. "He has nothing to do with this. Why are you bringing him up?"
"See, there you go. If you truly had no feelings for the man you would have said so," he argued agitatedly. At the sound of his name, Tony tried to listen again, without being seen, but Ziva pulled Ray away, into a deserted corner of the office building, where they could at least speak in quiet.
"He is my partner," she said, the tiredness in her voice becoming more prominent by the minute, "and after all that we've been through I would go to the ends of the earth for him and he would for me—he has proven that—but he is not the reason this didn't work."
"I thought you wanted something permanent," he snapped. "At least, that's what you told me in Vermont, right before we made love in front of the fireplace."
Ziva's chest tightened at the memory.
"You're running, from us, because the second this became hard you couldn't take it anymore. When things hit a rough patch between us, you wanted to escape, and you wouldn't even listen to my apologies. I texted, I emailed, I called you. And still you didn't forgive me, and for what? Obeying protocol. But that wasn't the case when DiNozzo decided to shoot your boyfriend to death."
"Stop it!" she snapped, putting a hand to his chest. "How…how did you even—"
"I have a very high security clearance."
"You went through Tony's personnel file?" She gasped, horrified at his further dishonesty. This was not the Ray she knew.
"I would never hurt you, Ziva." He reached out to her.
"Well, you already have," she replied, pushing his hand away.
Ray sighed at her stubbornness, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a velvet box, throwing it to her. "I was going to give this to you, but under the circumstances it does not seem right."
Ziva's breath hitched in her throat as she opened the box.
"Don't worry about it," he cut her off. "You can't marry someone, when you're in love with someone else, can you?"
A tiny part of Ziva's mind thought to her favourite movie, The Sound of Music, which she knew he was quoting on purpose. The rest of her brain had barely begun to absorb what he had just said.
"Do you know what comes after Re, Ziva?"
"Mi," she answered without hesitation.
"Exactly. You. I think you should take a little time for you, so you can figure out what it is you want."
"I honestly don't know," she replied weakly. "Nothing seems the same anymore." She thought back to Mike Franks' death, to her moment with Tony and the team in the elevator. She was clearly not the only one who had changed.
"Well, if you decide you can forgive me, you know where to find me," he said, turning away and calling the elevator.
"Wait, your ring!" she called.
"Keep it," was all he could say before the doors closed, separating them. Forever?
Ziva looked sadly at the diamond, before snapping the box shut. She had to refocus her mind before she began to regret her decision, even though she knew it was for the best.
Tony remembered, after Jeanne, he had been a mess. And Ziva had been there for him more than anyone, which he had probably not appreciated as much as he should have at the time. Which is why when instead of returning to her desk she hurried past the bullpen to the ladies' bathroom he felt obligated to follow her.
He pushed the door open just a crack, and through that crack he could see her leaning over the sink, splashing her face with the cold water. He only hoped that the drops running down her face were all from the water, and entered.
"Take it things didn't go so well with CI-Ray," he said, refusing to drop the nickname though his voice rang with genuineness.
"What does it matter to you?" she replied, staring at him through the mirror. "You hated Ray."
"You're right," he shrugged. "But I could put up with him. You know why?"
She shook her head, drops of water falling from her chin.
"He made you happy," Tony finished.
She sighed. "I told him I wanted something permanent," she admitted, turning to face him across the empty bathroom. "But I came to realise that he was not the person I wanted to be with permanently."
"He was sweet to me, sweeter than anyone's ever been. But there were things underneath that that I didn't like, things that made me forget why I wanted to be with him in the first place. I let someone see this whole other side of me. The one that was a normal girl, rather than…this."
"Well, if it helps," Tony said, striding towards her. "This is the most amazing woman I know, hands down."
She looked up at him with sad eyes, and a small smile formed on her face. If there was one man she knew she could depend on, it was her partner.
"Thank you," she whispered, placing a hand on his cheek, before leaving the bathroom.
Tony sighed. Another lover gone, and yet they were still standing beside each other.
Maybe someday, that'd mean something.