Summary: When he doesn't show up for work one day, she is left with feelings of unease. A visit to his apartment results in the revelation of long-hidden feelings.
Disclaimer: So I once rubbed a magic lamp...Genie told me that I could have anything I wanted, as long as it wasn't NCIS. I was sad.
Spoilers: This is such a long story that I've pretty much forgotten what I wrote in it, so to be safe...everything Tiva.
Warnings: Major angst, with many italics and pauses for effect. I hope that doesn't make it too hard to read, lol! Also, this fic might make Tony and Ziva sound a little less...sweet and moral than we would like.
It was a Tiva explosion...I couldn't help it. Must be the exam pressure.
A side note: This fic occurs about a week or two after the season finale, and is written with the assumption that Ziva hasn't found out about Ray's lies.
Enjoy, and please review!
Despite her so-called Ninja abilities, Ziva was not psychic. She had not known something was wrong when she'd stepped into the bullpen that morning; she had not known Tony would not so show up. It was only when the workday officially started that a little ball of worry started to grow in the pit of her stomach; was that what was infamously called the 'gut feeling' by her boss and her senior-field-agent partner? It didn't matter either way; she had work to do, and so she put aside the worry.
It wasn't until Gibbs stormed into the bullpen and demanded that she and McGee find "DiNozzo" that she started paying attention to her gut.
She tried a phone call first. Unanswered.
Tried again. Unanswered.
A text message threatening disembowelment. No reply.
McGee sent an email. What he got back made him gasp.
Her head snapped up from her phone when she heard McGee; she had worked with the man for years, but had never heard him sound quite so shocked before. He stared across the bullpen at her with what seemed like horror, and what he said made her feel horrified.
Seconds ticked by before she could bring herself to believe it was not a demented early April Fools' joke by the junior field agent.
"No," she said vehemently. Of course Tony couldn't have quit. How could he? And more importantly, why would he have?
She pushed her chair back from her desk and strode over to McGee's desk; if he'd been lying, his limbs were soon to be in peril. But he only obligingly rotated his computer screen to show her – Tony's resignation letter, sent to Gibbs and Vance and only just forwarded to McGee, apparently with a little note added at the bottom.
Don't worry, Probie, we can still hang out at bars or something sometime.
She felt as if Tony had socked her in the stomach. Surely he had sent her an email, too? Surely he had said that they could hang out somewhere; surely the letter was Tony's demented idea of an early April Fools' joke?
She hurried back to her desk and powered up her computer, barely paying attention to the fact that Abby had just appeared in the bullpen, completely distraught and telling McGee that they had to do something about the resignation. She checked her emails. No spam, a few emails from her contacts, and nothing from Tony. Nothing in her work email, nothing in her personal email. Nothing.
She checked her phone. No missed calls or text messages.
So that was it? He quit, and he had absolutely no intention of telling her?
She was up and moving before she knew it. "Tell Gibbs I am going to look for Tony." With her coat slung over one shoulder, she strode to the elevator.
"Make him come back!" Abby yelled after her.
She barely knew how she managed to get to his apartment. She must've driven at an even more insane speed than usual, but there was no point to it in the end because there she was, standing in front of his door, and she was hesitating.
A soft knock, in the hopes that he wouldn't hear it. Perhaps it was a joke after all, and she had panicked over nothing. She knew Tony would spend the rest of eternity teasing her about it.
But no, she knew it wasn't a joke because the door suddenly swung open halfway, and his head peered out. That alone told her that her gut feelings had been right, because under normal circumstances he would simply have opened the door completely and taken the chances that someone might've been standing on the other side with a gun. This time, he was hiding something; she was sure of it.
And yet now that she was staring into his haunted eyes she had nothing to say. She felt nothing, in fact, except the overwhelming urge to cry. He actually looked angry to see her, and she couldn't figure it out – what could she possibly have done which would have prompted him to not just quit and not tell her, but also abhor her presence?
She cleared her throat and opened her mouth to speak – and nothing came out. Instead, a tear which she fervently hoped he hadn't seen leaked out and ran down her cheek.
His gaze fell on it, and all of the hardness in his eyes dissipated. He sighed. "Guess you're here to find out what the hell's going on."
She nodded mutely and blinked back the rest of her tears. She wasn't entirely successful.
He slipped out into the hallway and shut the door behind himself. Gathered her into his arms, and remained tense when she tried to cry against him. So she just gave up and satisfied herself with standing in what appeared to be the mere semblance of a hug.
"You are quitting," she asked him quietly, even though she wasn't really sure if it was a question.
"Yeah." He didn't elaborate.
"You were not planning to tell me."
"But you told Director Vance and Gibbs and McGee, and from the looks of it, Abby."
"I...well...I sent my resignation letter to all of them, except you."
"Cause there's nothing I can tell you that..."
"Partners. That is what we are, yes?" she whispered, and then nodded slowly, disentangling herself from his embrace. "I understand now."
And she did understand. Partners were what they would always be. And they would get along and he would always have her back, but that was only because they worked together. Once he quit, there ended their relationship.
He caught hold of her wrist. "I didn't mean it that way."
She felt a bit of her old spark coming back. She felt a bit of the old Ziva, who could stare down a man in the tenth of a second. "What way did you mean it, then?" she asked angrily.
"I just...quit because..." He rubbed his face tiredly, even as his grip around her hand tightened. "Because of you, Ziva."
She stared at him, stunned; he let go of her eventually and smiled humourlessly.
"You wanted to know," he said. "Guess what? Word of your supposed engagement to one CIA agent Ray Cruz has spread all over the Navy Yard. Did McGee tell you that? I'm guessing Abby, by some miraculous path of misfortune, has not heard. Otherwise she would've been running into the bullpen all squeal-y and hug-y. McGee probably thought it was none of his business, since you didn't tell him. And of course it's none of my business since you didn't tell me."
"I am not engaged, Tony," she answered, her voice feeling strangely disembodied. She felt a little light-headed; he was quitting because he thought she was engaged and didn't care enough to tell him? That had to have been the stupidest thing she'd ever heard.
"I know, I said "supposed". It was an empty box. I did my research. I know how to differentiate rumours from the truth."
"Then why...?" She couldn't wrap her head around it. He really was the epitome of a walking contradiction on some days.
"Cause you would've said yes. And even if you wouldn't have, so what? You would either have gone on with the relationship or found a new guy."
"So I don't want to have to keep sitting around on my ass watching you serial date, Ziva. Or even get into a small number of very serious relationships. I can't. I can't...so I quit. That's the long version of events."
He opened the door to his apartment, and with frightening clarity, she understood that if she let him walk back in she might never be able to convince him to open up again. "That is not the whole story," she said, even though she had no idea whether it really was or not.
"Do you even know that?" He must've heard the doubt in her voice.
She licked her lips. "Tony, I tried to keep my personal life out of the office. I did not ask you to, in your words, sit on your ass and watch me serial date."
She heard a puff of air escape his lips as he whirled around. "You don't get it, do you?" he growled. "No one can keep their personal lives completely out of their professional lives. You can hide whatever boyfriend you want to but you can't hide that he's been there. That goddamn smile you wear for Ray – it's different from how you smile at the rest of us, do you know that? It's like he's your whole world or something. And those boots you so love, the comp time used for ski trips...you practically radiate Ray Cruz. And I know you love him and I'm sure he's a good guy but I can't...watch you talk on the phone or reply to an email and know that each time you smile like that it means you're talking to him!"
"Then don't look at me!" she flared up defensively.
"What the hell do you think I'm trying to do?" he roared, apparently having finally snapped. "I'm quitting so that you'll have your chance with your Ray, so that you can have your stupid happiness and I won't have to sit there drowning in my own shit! I'm walking away so that you won't have to listen to me make jokes about Renaissance Ray or whatever and you actually ask me why I'm quitting? I'm quitting because I can't watch you love another man when I love you, that's why! Is that the answer you wanted? Did you want me to admit that I'm such a pathetic mess I can't work with you anymore?"
He paused and glared at the neighbours, who were starting to look out of their apartments in alarm. He dropped his voice and finished in a surprisingly even tone. "You've got your answers now. So just go away, okay? Please. I can't do this...not anymore." He turned away and went back into his apartment before she could say anything.
The thing that struck her the most was how broken he had looked.
In her entire life, she'd never felt as indebted to her father as in the moment when she picked Anthony DiNozzo's front door lock. She knew Tony probably had it bolted from the inside, but she had been a Mossad operative for a reason, and she had a number of skills that even Gibbs didn't know about. Or at least, that she didn't think Gibbs knew about.
She uttered a silent "thank you" to Eli David as she slid back the bolt and opened the door. She made sure that her entrance was as noisy as possible; her intention wasn't to catch Tony off-guard. She walked down the entryway and peered into the living room, and her breath caught – Tony was sitting dead centre in what appeared to be a pile of her things. Mostly, things that she had given him.
"I want to throw them away," he said, his voice a rough whisper. He seemed to have trouble even speaking. He looked up at her then, and the first word that came into her mind was "lost". He was lost, trying to decide how best to cut her out of his life. "The bolts on the front door mean I don't know how to talk to you right now, Ziva."
She swallowed the lump in her throat that had risen at the sight of all of the photographs of them together strewn about haphazardly. "If I leave…" she asked hesitantly, sitting down in the doorway so that she was at eye level with him, "what will you do?"
He looked around helplessly. "Figure out which ones to throw away."
"Why...why do you want to throw them away at all?"
"Because you take up too much of my life. Everything I look at…I don't know how I'm gonna do this. I'll have to burn my apartment at this rate. God I'm like a freakin' psychopath, fixating on the smallest details. This mug you always use on Movie Nights…it's my favourite mug. It's my favourite. I don't know whether get rid of it or not." He seemed to be speaking more to himself than to her by then, and that made her want to cry again. How on Earth had she managed to break him that badly without even doing anything?
"Tony." The word came out choked, and his eyes flew up to her face immediately. She could see the concern written in them; a hair's breadth from a psychological breakdown, and his instinct was still to make sure she was alright. "If I promise not to date anyone else, will you..."
Will he what? Keep his sanity? Stop trying to decide what to throw away? Not cut her out of his life? Return to work? Continue loving her?
She couldn't help the tears this time; couldn't stop a single drop. She fought hard, but the more she set her jaw and refused to let her bottom lip tremble the more hot tears burnt the backs of her eyelids. She whimpered as they came down in a torrent. She hadn't even known she could cry that much in one moment.
She felt his arms wrap around her again, and this time, his body was soft. He cradled her, and she cried, and maybe she cried for them both because even though he needed to cry too he never could and never did. He simply held her and soothed her and reassured her that everything was okay when they both knew nothing was.
He loosened his embrace the moment the last of her choked sobs faded away, and that action made her almost want to weep again.
"I can't ask you not to date anyone else, Zi, you know that," he told her sadly. A perverse part of her wondered how he had suddenly gone back to calling her "Zi". "You deserve your happiness. Someone who will make you smile a thousand-watt smile and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Someone who will give you everything because you deserve it. You deserve that. You deserve Ray."
"Tony..." She took a shuddering breath. "You never said you loved me."
He stiffened. "I did in the hallway. And it's love, not loved. It's not a past tense thing. Look, it's seriously not important. I just-"
"It is important." She needed him to understand. "You make me smile too. You make me feel like I matter, which is something more than even Ray makes me feel. I know Ray will always put his job before me; I have accepted that. But you risked your life for me when you did not know I was alive, and...I told you that you should not have gone. Yet every day that I go to work I am struck with the realization that as your partner, if nothing else, I was important enough for you to put yourself on the line to finish what I had started."
He let go of her slowly, agonizingly; almost as if it were painful for him to do so. Leaning against the doorframe, he looked at her with semi-glazed eyes. "You're still important enough. But I really can't-"
"Do you not understand? If I had known that you love me, I would not have been with Ray in the first place."
"I love Ray, but what I feel for him is...Tony, he is not my soul mate."
It felt like ages before he replied. "Am I still?"
She opened her mouth to reply, and then frowned. "What do you mean, 'still'?"
His eyes darkened with misery. "I know you had feelings for me...back when I was in love with Jeanne. You asked me about soul mates and stuff. I remember. Took me a while to figure out you thought I was your soul mate."
She nodded, not sure of what else to do or say.
"Then you got together with Rivkin, and I...fell in love with you. Spent a lot of nights wondering if it could've been different. Hated myself for not loving you when I had the chance." He stopped and gulped. "I don't believe in soul mates, Zi. All that talk about being made for each other...you moved on. I missed my chance. I know that. I'm not making excuses for it. It's just...it's hard. And I'm sorry about what I'm doing now, but I have to. I can't do this...not anymore."
Why did he keep saying that?
"I never moved on," she confessed wretchedly.
"You think saying that's gonna make me feel better? Zi, when I see you with Ray-"
"No. Did you ever think to see how I am without Ray? Every day, I had hoped you would tell me that I was not waiting for nothing. You think I would have said 'yes' if Ray had asked me to marry him, but I would not. I love Ray; I am happy with him. But that does not mean I would marry him. He does not understand me, not like you do...when it comes to the things that do not involve you, all I have to do is look at you for you to understand me. Do you know what that means to me, Tony? How much that means to me?"
She sighed softly and continued. "You want to know why I think you are my soul mate? Because you understand me. Because sometimes you walk into the room and I forget about everything else. Because you killed my Mossad partner and hurt me very deeply and still, you went to Somalia and brought me back when you thought I hated you. You could have left me there to die but you did not. I wronged you. You brought me back."
"It would've killed me to leave you there, Zi."
"Then how can you wonder if I still love you?"
In the pin-drop silence of the room, something that sounded like a sob came out of his throat. "You still love me?"
"I call you my soul mate for a reason. And...I know you do not believe in them, Tony, but...I do."
"But Rivkin and Cruz."
"People do not always end up with their soul mates. I still want happiness. I had a chance with them." She studied the pattern of his worn wooden floor, unable to meet his eyes. "If I could not have you, I might as well settle for second-best."
The room was quiet again. Neither of them knew what to say. "Second-best". It never happened in fairy tales; everything was always happily ever after. No prince or princess would have to settle. No prince or princess would have to trade their lives, their values, their everything, just for a shot at happiness.
But things never worked that way in real life; not for either of them.
"I'm sorry," he finally said. "For all the times I walked away from you."
"I'm sorry too," she whispered.
Silence swirled around the room.
"So what are we gonna do now?" he asked her sombrely.
For the first time that day, it came to her that the problem was bigger than both of them. There was Gibbs; there was the rest of Team Gibbs. And there was Ray, who was expecting to come home to a woman ready to be engaged to him.
"I d-do not know," she stammered. "What can we do?"
He sat forward. "There's probably something we need to clear up first."
"Yes," she answered, anxiously hoping that he knew all the solutions.
"Are you gonna marry Ray?" he asked, and her heart stopped beating.
Was she? She had said that she was not, but that was in the ideal world, in which rules and duties didn't exist. In which Ray wouldn't be second-best, and she wouldn't have to feel guilty for leaving a man who clearly loved and adored her.
"No," she blurted out, and it wasn't until she'd said it that she realized it was true. Second-best Ray might be, but he didn't deserve to be married to a woman who loved another man. He deserved his own soul mate, after all. "Not after knowing what I now know."
"Then...are we gonna..."
"I cannot watch you fall in love with another woman either," she admitted.
"It's not gonna be easy, and I'm not just talking about Boss's rules."
"I know. But we will work at it, yes?" She hoped that she sounded more convincing than she felt.
"Yeah." And that he felt more convinced than he sounded.
She shut her eyes and hugged herself. It was too complicated, too hard; she was in way over her head with the whole issue.
"I'm here," he said, as if he had read her thoughts, and she found herself with her face buried in his chest.
"How am I to break up with Ray?" she asked despairingly against his T-shirt. Guilt coiled about in her stomach; it didn't help that she felt just the tiniest bit better to be curled up against him.
"How am I going to tell Gibbs I'm not quitting after all?" he asked back, and she had to chuckle weakly. "God we screwed up big time."
She gravely agreed.
"But we're gonna figure it out. Step by step." She glanced up at him. She'd never in her life heard him sound so determined. "We can't not figure it out. I can't not...I can't let you go again."
She nodded. "Okay."
"I mean you...you won't...right?"
"I will not walk away."
It was his turn to nod. He pressed his face into her hair with a broken cry, as if the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders.
She hesitated. "Tony, I want to do this properly...with Ray. I want to break up with him first, before we go anywhere. But I want you to know that...I love you."
If it weren't for her Ninja senses, she wouldn't have picked up on the lightest brush of his lips against the corner of her forehead.
"I love you too, Zi."