Chapter 4: Coming Clean

Tiny drops of cold rainwater trickle down her face, and she is at peace. Neither she nor Tony had ever been taught how to love someone without hurting them, so she knows that he would never take the time to torment her if he did not care. Regardless of what they decide to make of the night before, their partnership, their friendship, is still in tact. Ziva absorbs the thrill of one more bullet dodged and leans over to wipe her dripping face on his t-shirt before leaning back into her seat.

Her good mood fails to permeate the rest of the van, the occupants of which have no knowledge of her narrowly-avoided defeat and are too focused on the unpleasant weather and the disappointing investigation to be suspicious of her shifting moods. So she mimics their impenetrable gazes and their stony silences. On the outside, she is all faux-solemnity, while on the inside, she runs a victory lap- careful, in her unpracticed giddiness to avoid another interaction with her partner.

Again, with the multi-tasking.

She manages to maintain her facade through their ride to the Navy Yard, through their trip on the elevator, through her boss's harsh delegation of assignments. It slips, though, the moment Tony makes his way toward the men's room. She bolts from her seat, and she forgets to care that she is giving herself away. She is only seconds behind him, and surely he expects her, but he does not show it.

He shoots her a wry look from over his pile of paper towels. "Really?"

She shrugs and slides the lock into place. "It has always worked for us in the past." Which is the truth. She has become quite fond of this bathroom and the way it seems to hold all the answers.

He does not respond, and she is the one who has seen this film before. So, she begins how she began last time- with an apology. "I am sorry, Tony."

And he looks her over carefully, and again with the deja vu. "For what, Ziva?"

This is the tricky part. "I am sorry for leaving without a word this morning. I...I was unsure of what...I am sorry for putting our partnership at risk- again...I...something happened when I went to get the was stupid...I did not want to be alone-"

"What happened? When you went to get the movie, what happened?"

His face now holds nothing but concern for her, and she is once again certain that she loves him. "I remembered."

He does not ask for further explanation, he does not look away. "You're okay?" The concern still coats his words.

She nods, and she does not want him to misunderstand. "I was okay even before I arrived at your door."

He takes that in, and she watches him turn her words over in his head before he settles on a response. "That has to mean something, right? That you remembered, and it shook you and that you came to me? Or are your pickings just that slim?"

That last line was spoken with patented DiNozzo bravado, but she easily sees past it, to the insecurity it masks. It hurts her. "I believe my pickings could be described as average. I would say it means something."

She is treading carefully, but his sigh tells her that he has tired of caution. "So tell me what it means, Ziva. What are we calling last night? A one-night-stand that was probably inevitable, but that will never happen again now that we've gotten it out of our system? The beginning of some sort of casual sex pact between friends? Or the start of an attempt at happily ever after?"

"I did not realize the choice was mine to make." And she really hadn't.

He smoothed his hands over his face, looking back at her with tired eyes. "Are you ready for some truth?"

"I believe I can handle it."

Her joke hits its mark. "A Few Good Men, well done, Grasshopper."

She does not understand the bit about the insect, but it does not matter, because Tony does not appear to be in the mood to dwell.

"So here's the truth. I don't really know how much you remember from our little tete-a-tete in the desert, seeing as how you were in pretty bad shape and all, but...I meant it when I said I couldn't live without you. I tried. I didn't like it. So, you know, whatever you want. I'm in."


He isn't very good at this, and the realization catches him off guard. He's tripping over his words, making awkward jokes. It's like he's channeling McGee. Hell, this is the only part of relationships he's ever been good at- the charming, the sweet talking. If he can't do this right, they're doomed.

He tries really hard to stand his ground, not to look away, but he pretty much just bared his soul, and Ziva is just gaping, and damned if he knows if that's good or bad. The urge to fidget, to ramble, to deflect is visceral, but he has to hold on just a little longer.

Old habits die today.

"The start of an attempt at happily ever after."

That's what she says, but she has that accent, and he's too agitated to be able to decipher if it is an answer or a question. But if he means that crap about old habits, then it is time to start assuming the best in place of the worst. "That's your choice?"

His question seems to stun her, and Come on, Ziva. Just pick a side already.

"I...Why is it that Americans are so enamored of fairy tale imagery?

No way. If he doesn't get to deflect, neither does she. Going against all of his instincts, he reaches out and grabs her hand. "Let's just have this conversation. Let's try something different and just say what we mean."

"Try something different?"

"Yeah. If it doesn't work, we can always run back to innuendo and half-truths. You know, our bread and butter."

Her eyes do that squinty thing, but she doesn't ask for an explanation, and she doesn't bemoan his incessant use of idioms. No, she puts on her investigator face. "Let us say that is my answer. We will attempt a happily ever after. What if we fail?"

"Why would we fail?" He's at it again, trying for bravado that's never going to fool her.

"We are who we are, Tony."

"True...but, I don't know...I think we've proven that when we devote our full effort to a goal, we make a pretty good team. Maybe we shouldn't make judgements based on the worst versions of ourselves."

"Because there are other versions."

"Of course there are."

He watches her take that in, and he knows he's completely shown his hand with this vigorous defense. Fine. He's all in.

"Okay. But still. What happens if we fail?"

And he gets it, because neither of them has very much outside of the little world they've created in the Navy Yard. "Then we do it with grace."

The light is back in her eyes. "With grace. Deal."

He gets ahead of himself. "Deal? As in, that's it?"

She slows him down with an upheld palm. He allows it, because he sees where this is going. He is, for once, heading for a win, so he's willing to take his time.

"What about Gibbs?"

Tony snorts, because he loves the man, but his mind is made up, and there is no way he's losing out on this because his boss has grown bitter. "You're the trained spy," he says, feeling confident enough to joke, "are you saying you can't keep a secret?"

"I am saying I do not wish to do so."

That. Right there. Proof that they are already better than who they had been. "Then we won't. We'll prove the fallacy of Rule 12. If he won't give us that, then we'll accept the consequences."

"Because this happily ever after is worth the consequences?"

And there it is, the heart of the matter. "I think so. Do you?"

There is a pause, and he really tries not to hold his breath. Finally, in her matter-of-fact way, she speaks. "I do."

And he really wishes he were capable of reigning in his smile, because he thinks it's quite likely that she will hold it over him forever, but she's smiling too. It's smaller, much more reserved, but it's the Ziva equivalent of turning cartwheels down the length of the men's room, so he thinks he's probably safe.

"That settles it, then. Should we spit in our hands and shake on it?"

The look she gives him completely makes up for the last eight hours. "You are disgusting," she hisses in a way that assures them that they are still who they are.

"You don't know the half of it," he hisses right back as he follows her out of the men's room.

And he smiles to himself, because while she may not know the half it, they have nothing but time. She will.

Fin- Thank you to for sticking with this story. Enjoy the premier tomorrow night!