It takes him a minute because, as Ziva has learned over the years, her partner is the epitome of male chromosomes at work. This has its good points, to be sure. Sixty seconds buys her what can be loosely considered an escape. But what concerns her most, as she moves down an empty hallway with a stride meant to present innocent forward motion, is that the man is gaining on her with just as much pretend disinterest in his walk. What her pace actually betrays is a woman performing the power-walk version of running away. She knows this, even as she picks up speed. He will follow because dogged determination is the hinge of his action movies.
In this instance, being pursued is rather tantalizing. He always makes the catch worthwhile.
Outside the door of a janitor's closet, Tony corners her, hand firm at her elbow to steer her inside. Spacious as a prison cell, the space smells of rotting rags and molding mops. The silken knots of his tie is loosened, jacket left to fend for itself in the bullpen. In this confinement, there are only housekeeping supplies and an expanse of blue shirt in her vision. She must crane her neck to achieve a proper view.
He looks harried, confused and slightly breathless. Edible. And though a practiced interrogator, Tony deposits his query with none of the subtlety that Gibbs has taught.
"Did you..." doubt chops off the question but pride reassembles its parts. "Did you play me just now?"
The elegant upward arch of her eyebrow is lost in poor lighting. "Why would I do this?"
"Because I heard you say..."
"Since dawn I have said many things. Do you take issue with my request for coffee or my notice of your new tie?" Which does not end up curled around her fingers based on strategy. Entirely.
"No, but I'm pretty sure you..."
"You are obviously upset but I assure you, no harm was intended when I mentioned McGee's haircut."
"But that's not what..."
"I find this," hands wave in the seemingly thinning air, "hunting me down unnecessarily. And there are brooms here that do not care for your tone."
"My tone?" He's practically sputtering now and Ziva chews on the mushrooming grin while he struggles to redirect the train. "Look, I know for a fact that you said..." the finger across his lips births an affronted expression, evoking her leniency.
"I am aware of the facts that you know. And since you know it to be true, there is no cause for fuzz."
"Fuss." It's automatic and it steals his momentum. The sigh unfurls to denote that he's both frustrated and faintly thrilled. "I wanted to hear it, just not at the same time as Gibbs, McGee and that guy from security. Plus we were in the middle of a fight."
"We weren't fighting." Denial breeds the handy lie. "But we will be if you think I used it to play you."
"I just..." his head is hung and the pleasure of her game falls away. "I find your timing suspicious."
"I find your reaction curious," Ziva counters. "Is my triumph that intolerable?"
The light of a point proven sparks his eyes. "So you admit that we were fighting?"
"I agree only that we were in mild competition."
"And you used convenient sentiment to win?"
"None of our sentiments are convenient." Her hand sneaks into his, an old-fashioned gesture that he might well construe as manipulation. "If you don't enjoy our arguments, you should not start them. For us this is hardly vaginal territory."
"Virgin territory." And then the clamps break and his smile surges forth. "You're doing it again."
"What am I doing?"
"Saying things to distract me." But he doesn't look nearly shocked as earlier. Rather, his voice drops to gravel. "Say it again?"
"Vaginal? You really are a pervert, Tony."
"No, the other thing."
The rustle of fabric heralds the imminent touch before she actually feels his arms entrap her in a stuffy navy closet where their corpses might not be found for days. Ziva suspects that she's not getting out without a repeat. And not the tossed-over-a-shoulder version she'd given minutes before. So in this place of chemicals and dust bunnies, Ziva tells him again. Later she'll cite a creepy room and dim light as reason to need the wattage of his smile.
In truth, she'd wanted a reaction, wanted to see what it would mean to him. Playing him placates her own reservations, though the bullpen might have been a misguided locale. Certainly the audience bore a fair and interested witness. Insufferable boasting had been Tony's expected response. Instead she is humbled by an emotion rarely directed at her.
Joy. Actual, absurd, non-drug-induced, uncaffeinated joy.
And it cost her precious little to earn. It's all gain.
She'd said it because it's true, because he should already know, because she wants it returned. And he doesn't leave her bereft; the words sound better in his velvet husk of a voice. A new facet of their co-dependence is born and it doesn't bode well for anyone seeking to retrieve an item from this closet not constructed of heated, happy flesh.
Bottles of bleach observe the radiant woman kissing her bewildered man brainless. The pair will emerge with the scent of spilled cleaning solution clinging to their attentively readjusted clothes. Both gnaw down the edges of upturned lips that fail to shield the break in discretion. Not that such caution is required since she'd teased the truth into life within earshot of half the team. With the swiftness only good gossip achieves, the other half will have the Cliffnotes by now.
Tony's hand is wedged into her back pocket. Ziva's lip gloss is a shiny smear at his throat. Ducky winks and there is nothing wrong in this absurd, non-drug-induced, uncaffeinated world.