"The Old Ziva used to be able to drink me under the table," Tony smirked across the table at his partner, after the waitress walked away with their new drink orders.
"Perhaps I do not wish to get drunk."
"Uh-huh. Likely story," Tony teased. At this, Ziva rolled her eyes. "Just admit it, you can't hold your liquor like you used to."
The exchange now had the rapt attention of McGee and Abby sitting beside them.
"I do not need to be able to anymore." She held her gaze steely on his.
Tony kept his face even, in a slight mocking grin. Sometimes it was fun to ruffle her feathers.
"You used to have to be able to drink a lot?" Abby asked, finishing off the rest of her second beer.
Ziva nodded, continuing to look at Tony as she answered. "To not look out of place in certain situations, yes."
"Sounds fun," Abby giggled.
"It was not fun," Ziva sighed.
"No?" McGee asked.
"You drink until you…reach your limit. Eventually that limit increases," she explained.
"Sounds pledging a fraternity," Tony grinned.
"Only with real consequences," Ziva snapped.
Their eyes remained locked.
Abby looked from one to another. "Ooh, the dartboard opened up!" She smacked McGee on the arm as she got up.
"Come play darts with me."
She dragged him across the room. Tony watched them go with amusement.
"They got out of here fast," he noted, turning back to Ziva. She was still studying him with an odd look. "What?" he laughed, self-conscious all of a sudden under her scrutiny. She did not respond right away, and he took a sip of his beer.
"That was the third time tonight."
His brow furrowed. "What was?"
"That you made a reference to the Old Ziva." She had broken her piercing gaze, and was now rolling her pint glass back and forth in her hands.
"And that bothers you." It was clear that it did. If she had minded less, she would have immediately parried his comment with a verbal jab, and moved on, not engaged him in a conversation about it.
She did not answer.
"Hey," Tony reached out and steadied the glass between her hands by placing his own on top.
She glared at him, but made no attempt to swat him away. A few years back, he might have feared for his hand. He kept that thought to himself.
She lowered her head with a sigh. "You miss the Old Ziva. You have told me."
"Well, that day you were playing yourself from years ago. It was fun."
"It was strange."
"You miss that Ziva?"
And then she was looking at him with that piercing gaze again, the one that made him want to abandon the conversation in a hurry. But he swallowed hard, and stayed put, her hands still in his.
"You were wild. Dangerous. I never knew what I was going to get."
Ziva's brow furrowed. "I thought that drove you crazy."
Tony grinned. "Oh, it did. One way or another."
The corners of her mouth quirked up at his double entendre. "Did it now?"
And then the heel of her boot landed with a thud on the booth seat between his knees, precariously close…and that, surprisingly enough, was the kind of thing he missed. That broad smile on her face, even at his expense.
"You like it when I tease you?" She leaned in seductively, and he yelped as she pointed her toe, grazing across a very sensitive area before she withdrew her foot.
"I do…" he said, the words coming as a surprise to himself. "I like how much fun you have doing it. Your eyes sparkle. "
"I miss that. I want you to have fun, and be happy, you know?" He was rambling, not sure how to express it.
Ziva sighed, her expression darkening. "It is…more difficult now," she told him sadly.
"To have fun?"
"I am not the same girl I was six years ago. I was only 22 when first came—"
"You grew up," he noted in a matter-of-fact manner, careful not to have an opinion about that statement. As much as he teased that he missed the Old wild Ziva, and he did sometimes, he was much closer to this older, wiser version who let him in.
"I had to."
"It is difficult to remain reckless when that has been the cause…" she trailed off, lowering her gaze from his.
He gave her hands a squeeze, and she looked up startled, like she had forgotten he was still holding on to them.
"The cause of so much pain," she finished. Her eyes seemed a bit glassy, but maybe it was just the dim bar.
A moment passed in silence, then she took a deep breath and shook her head with a sigh, as if she was trying to clear her head. Tony took that as a signal that she was done opening up to him for the evening. He was okay with that. She shared more and more, always in very small doses like tonight.
"I like the New Ziva too. I don't want you to think that I don't."
"I know," she smiled.
"Oh, you do, do you?" he grinned, pulsing her hands in his, and she chuckled. "Good."
"You have grown up too."
"For better or worse," he sighed. "I'm getting old."
"It is a change for the better," she answered, either misunderstanding or choosing to ignore the idiom. He suspected it was the latter.
"You cannot remain a frat boy forever. But neither should you go too far in the other direction."
"Balance," he sighed. "Still trying to find it."
She nodded. "Me too."
They fell into a comfortable silence, with his thumb grazing the top of her hand until the peaceful moment was interrupted by Abby and McGee sliding back into the booth.
"She didn't tell me that she was so good."
"Would you not have played if that were the case?" Ziva asked with amusement.
"I'm not saying…."
"I think you are," Tony teased.
He still held onto one of Ziva's hands. It seemed that this was something that New Ziva allowed. New Tony wasn't complaining.