Disclaimer: I am finally the proud owner of the Season 8 DVDs but as far as the show is concerned, it's still not mine. :-(((

It takes place after 9x01 "Nature of the Beast". Spoilers for the episode.


"Girl you know I care
So if you ever seem to lose your way, don't have no fear
Hold my hand
I'll be there girl, you know I care girl."

Sean Paul & Zaho - Hold My Hand

She does not knock before coming in, she knows he is alone, waiting for his ride home. She pushes the door open in a soft, silent movement and stops for a moment.

Tony is standing by the window, turning his back on her. He seems so lost in his thoughts that she knows he has probably not heard her entering the small white room.

She observes his still figure from where she stands and has to suppress a smile at the sight of the white hospital gown and blue robe he is wearing. Tony in a gown and robe. Were the circumstances any different, she would have probably made sure he never lived it down. But instead, she cannot help but gulp as she realizes what the unusual pieces of clothing really mean. She cannot see his face but she knows it has a grave look on it and she is sure that if she could see his eyes right now, they would not hold that spark they usually do that always make her think that whatever they go through, everything will eventually be okay again.

Her heart breaks for him as she notices his slumped shoulders and hears the small sigh that escapes his mouth.

She takes another step into the room and closes the door behind her a little louder than necessary to make herself known.

Tony turns his head at the sudden sound and she is a little shocked by the expression on his face – or lack thereof to be exact.

"Hi." She offers, not knowing exactly what to say.

"Hi." He answers, now looking straight at her, obviously wondering what she is doing here.

She hears the silent question the small frown on his bruised brow is asking and knows it is time for her to explain the reason of her unexpected visit.

"Gibbs was held back at work so he asked me to come pick you up."

"Oh." Something she cannot quite recognize flashes on his face for a second but it is gone before she has a chance to give it too much thought. "Well, here I am. Ready to go."

The light, enthusiastic voice he uses is as obviously fake as the smile he has just put on and the fact that he looks down almost immediately shows that he knows she is aware of his act.

He looks around him as if to check whether he is forgetting anything and passes a hand through his hair with a sigh. His gaze in unfocused and she can see him beginning to become a little restless all of a sudden. She feels like she should say something but she is so confused by her partner's unusual behavior that she does not know where to start. That is when she remembers the bag of clothes she has brought with her. It suddenly feels way heavier than before in her hand. Her first tightens slightly around the handle and he must have sensed the shift in her mood because he takes a step closer and points at the backpack.

"This for me?" he asks, and there is some sort of uncertainty in his voice that really bothers her.

"Yes." She hands him the bag and continues to explain as he checks its contents. "I thought you would feel more … comfortable getting out of here with real clothes on."

He chuckles briefly and that both surprises and reassures her a little. "I really don't see what's wrong with the ones I'm wearing now…"

"Well, to be honest, blue is not really your color." She decides to play along since it seems to make him feel a little bit more like Tony and less like… well …. whatever he is now.

She observes his movements as he takes the OSU shirt and blue jeans out and she notices that his hands are still shaking a little. She has to stop herself from reaching out and do it for him. He would not like that, she thinks.

"Do not worry. I did not break into your apartment to get these, they were in your locker at work." She explains with a smile hoping it will trigger some sort of reaction from him, like how she knew the combination to said locker for example. But the hint is lost on him as he slowly unfolds the clothes and sets them on the bed.

And all of a sudden, she cannot take it anymore.

"Tony."

No answer.

"Tony!" she says a little louder and there is a tiny trace of desperation in her voice that she wishes she had been better at concealing. But it must have caught his attention because he raises his head in her direction and shoots her a puzzled look.

"Are you alright?" she asks with a softer voice tinted with concern she does not even bothers to hide this time.

"Peachy."

She is tired of the one word answers. Especially when the one word is a blatant lie.

"Stop lying."

He sighs again as he passes his hand on his forehead again and grimaces as his palm goes over the giant bruise there. She winces too, almost instinctively feeling his pain, wanting nothing else more than to take a few steps closer and do whatever is necessary to make his pain go away.

"It's just a bruise you know. I've seen worse. It'll pass." He says in an attempt to reassure her. But his innocent words only serve to make all the concern and anguish of the past few months – and days especially – boil in her veins and she cannot stop the words from escaping her lips.

"Of course it will."

Her tone is bitter and angry and hurt at the same time. She cannot pretend anymore. She cannot keep it to herself.

"What do you mean?" She had not really meant for him to hear but she is kind of glad he did after all.

The simple fact that he pretends not to know what she is talking about infuriates her.

"I mean, Tony, that it is not just a bruise." She speaks through greeted teeth and she is sure she does not really need to sound so harsh but she just cannot help it. He is about to open his mouth in response but she cuts him before he has even made a single sound. She is practically shouting now.

"You went there alone Tony. Without backup. Without telling anybody. You took a selfish risk and it almost cost you your life. Again. So no. It is not just a bruise. For God's sake Tony, what were you thinking?"

His mouth is wide open in disbelief and he blinks several times at her as if trying to make sure that scene really just happened. She does not expect him to concede that he made a mistake and to be honest, she does not even know what she expects his reaction to be. Yet, she is not surprised when he shakes his head and takes a few steps back, raising his hands in front of himself before sitting on the bed.

"Ok you know what? The last thing I need right now is a lesson about how much I screwed up. So if there's nothing else you wish to say to me, you can leave, I'll call a cab to take me home."

She feels a little guilty for a moment, he sounds so tired and vulnerable and genuinely upset that she wishes she had not been so hard on him. But she needs to make him understand that the choices he makes and the risks he takes do have an impact on her, she needs to make him see how much his safety matters to her. If they were in one of those ridiculously romantic movies she has watched with him during their movie nights, that would be the exact moment when she would start crying a little, telling him how scared she was and that she cannot afford to lose him. In one of Tony's stupid movies, that would be when she tells him that she, too, cannot live without him.

But this is not a movie and it is definitely not the time to be romantic. She releases a breath she did not even know she had been holding until then and goes to sit right next to him.

"I am not giving you a lesson. I just…- I was worried. I knew there was something going on, I knew something was off. You were just not yourself lately. And even though I told you I did not need to know, I wish you had told me… Because when Gibbs said you had been shot, I …- I cannot… "

She swallows as the words get stuck in her throat. She cannot really tell him how much she freaked out and almost broke down in front of everybody when she thought she had lost him for good. It is not something she could ever possibly admit. Even though it was true that they had made some progress in their relationship and that the recent tragic events had somehow brought them closer, there are just some things that are still better left unspoken. So she goes for safety.

"I am your partner and I… hate it when we keep secrets from each other. It never ends well…"

She has to pause for a second there because she can feel the wave of emotion building up inside of her, threatening to burst out at any moment and she knows she cannot lose her control now. He takes the opportunity to speak again when he realizes she needs some time. That is something they seem to have the ability of doing without even having to say a word. She is rather grateful for that.

"I'm not so fond of the lying game either you know. I just didn't have a choice… I got orders Ziva. I had to follow them, even if I didn't like them. Weren't you the one who told me once that that's why they're called orders?"

She looks at him and smiles a little at the memory.

"I just wish you had been more careful. You got shot."

"Thank goodness for vests then."

"You are just lucky that the guy was a bad shot. And that he was too careless to just assume you were dead and leave it at that."

"You won't get rid of me that easily." He winks at her in a desperate attempt to lighten the mood a little and she cannot stop a tiny but genuine smile from creeping on her lips. She bows her head down a little and whispers so softly that he could not have heard her if he had not been so close.

"I hope so."

He says nothing and this time, she is grateful for his silence. She feels his curious gaze on her but refuses to meet his eyes. She knows that if she looks at him she will not be able to hide the storm of emotions that is going on in her mind and she knows that if he asks her about what he sees, she's not sure she will be able to lie again. Pretending is not such a fun game anymore.

Yet, she pretends not to feel it when he not-so-subtly moves closer. She also pretends not to feel the tears that come to her eyes with the wave of relief that suddenly overwhelms her. And she pretends not to feel her heart thumping in her chest when he suddenly takes her hand in his and gives it a gentle squeeze.