A/N- Last chapter!
Thank you so much for all of your support in this—this chapter took me longer to post than I thought it would (surprise, surprise) so I thank you for your patience as well. I wrote in lots of friendship in this one. Can you say fluff?
Also, because some people have asked, yes, this story is based on a behind-the-scenes picture from season seven. I'll post the link on my profile. The picture is not mine and I'm not trying to steal anyone's work.
Tony bounces on the balls of his feet in the elevator, silently willing it to move faster. He swears that the elevators at NCIS have minds of their own, because they seem to move slowest when he's running late. He checks his watch for the thirteenth time in ten minutes and curses. He should have taken the stairs!
When the elevator doors finally open, he hurries into the bullpen and drops his gear. Gibbs, who is sitting at his desk, doesn't even look up. McGee and Ziva are nowhere in sight, but both of their computers are humming, indicating that they're in the building. Tony opens his mouth to apologize for his tardiness when he freezes. The picture frame that he gave Ziva is sitting on her desk. She didn't take it home with her. Shit. Did she not like it? Was she angry with him?
"DiNozzo!" Gibbs grunts, pulling him out of his thoughts. Tony moves to stand in front of his desk. "Yes, boss?" he answers, praying Gibbs won't chastise him for being late.
The grey-haired man holds out a Caf-Pow without looking up and says, "Bring this to Abby and ask her if she's got anything." Tony nods, taking the extremely large cup and mumbling, "On it, boss!"
He turns to walk away but Gibbs calls out after him. "Hey!" he says, and when Tony pivots on his feet, Gibbs is beaconing him back with his finger. Tony walks back to Gibbs's desk, clutching the Caf-pow anxiously. He meets his boss's eyes and finds himself facing a cold stare.
Several tense seconds pass and Tony's pulse spikes. What did he do? Without shifting his gaze, Gibbs stands and moves from behind his desk. He stands inches in front of Tony, his terrifying stoic glare making Tony's skin prickle uncomfortably. Finally, Gibbs says, "I found the camera in my bag, Tony."
Red flag, first name! For a moment, Tony has no idea what his boss is talking about. Then, he remembers the lie he told in order to stay behind and leave the frame in Ziva's desk. He was caught.
His mind races as he tries to come up with an explanation for his behavior, and when he can think of nothing, he lifts his shoulders in a shrug, hoping that the action looks natural. "I wanted to give something to someone," he hears himself say, and Gibbs's eyes narrow. Tony forces himself to stare back and hold his ground. After what seems like an eternity, Gibbs nods once. "Abby's lab. Go," he orders the Senior field agent, and Tony wordlessly turns and walks away, letting out his breath as he does.
Gibbs watches Tony as he gets into the elevator, absently playing with the straw of Abby's Caf-pow and whistling to himself as the doors close. Then, Gibbs walks over to Ziva's desk and picks up the picture frame, examining it in his calloused hands. He reads the words to himself.
His eyes focus on something in the distance and his expression becomes both pained and peaceful in the same instant. The corners of his mouth turn upwards into a very small smile. He rereads the words again and nods to himself, as if reaffirming something inside of him.
For almost a week now, Ducky has been insisting that Ziva come down to autopsy for a brief check-up, even though she's promised him numerous times that she's okay and that her doctor has been taking good care of her. She managed to avoid Ducky for some time, but this morning, she caves. She knows that it is how he expresses his concern for her.
Even though she hates being poked and prodded, she sits still for him on the autopsy table while he examines her scars and calculates her BMI. He is very gentle, and she can tell his constant chatter is an attempt to soothe her nerves.
"Well, my dear, it looks like you are coming along nicely," Ducky finally confirms, handing Ziva her cardigan and helping her off the autopsy table. "As long as you continue to eat nutritious foods and not overwork your body, you should be in top form in no time!"
"I will, Doctor," she promises him. She begins to put her cardigan back on when Ducky exclaims, "Oh! I nearly forgot!" He goes over to his desk and removes a white paper bag. "This is for your scars," Ducky says as he comes back to where she is standing.
She begins to protest. "Oh no, Ducky, that is very kind of you, but—"
Ducky interrupts her. "It is only a cream! It will help them to fade, so that they aren't as prominent on your skin. Just apply it before you go to sleep," he instructs her, shoving the paper bag in her hands and leaving her very little choice in the matter.
Ziva smiles at the elderly gentleman. "Thank you, Ducky," she says, touched by his kindness. Ducky places a hand on her shoulder and looks into her eyes. "Take care of yourself, Ziva," he insists.
She wants to thank him again, but the words get stuck in her throat, so she just places her hand over his and smiles at him.
"Now, hurry back upstairs before Jethro discovers that I've stolen you," he says to her with a wink. She chuckles and squeezes his hand, then she does as the M.E. tells her.
Once she's in the elevator, she examines the tube of cream that Ducky gave to her. It's true, she hates the scars on her body—they are a constant reminder of the pain that she had to endure. It would be nice if they were less noticeable. She hears a ding and the elevator doors open to Abby's lab. Tony looks just as surprised to see her as she is to see him, but he wordlessly gets into the elevator and stands by her side.
The doors close and the elevator begins to move upward, but she halts its ascent with a flick of the emergency switch. Both of them are facing forward, and for a moment, and the anxiety flowing between them is almost palpable. Finally, though, she takes a shuddering breath and turns to face him. She sees him swallow and she can't meet his gaze yet; her eyes are fixated on the wall behind his head.
"Tony…" she begins, trying to find the words that she needs. He momentarily stops breathing, waiting nervously for her to speak. She crinkles the white paper bag in her hands and chews on her lip. She begins again.
"I am… not the same woman I was when I joined NCIS, when I… when I shot Ari," she says, still not really looking at him. He almost flinches at the mention of Ziva's half-brother, but he contains the grimace. If she saw his almost-reaction, she ignores it.
"I did not come to America with the intention of staying, and I knew my position at NCIS was temporary. I always assumed that I would return to Israel, to Mossad… to my father." Pain briefly flickers across her face, but it passes before he can act to comfort her. She unconsciously takes a step toward him and continues explaining, losing herself in the memories of earlier days.
"I did not trust any of you—not Gibbs, or McGee, or Abby." She chuckles half-heartedly. "Especially not Abby, because Abby did not like me," she remembers. He opens his mouth to deny her statement, but closes it quickly when he remembers that she's right. Abby had been so close to Kate that she couldn't help blaming Ziva for her murder. But Tony had just seen the "Welcome home, Ziva" sign that Abby made, so they had to get along now, right?
"I barely even trusted Jenny… Director Shephard," Ziva says, and they both shudder and push the memories of Jenny's death out of their minds. "I didn't trust any of you, because I had been told not to. My whole life, I was taught not to let people in," she says bluntly. He searches her face, wanting to know what she's thinking, but she looks down.
"Now… well, now I am damaged goods," she says quietly, quoting Vance. He shakes his head adamantly. "No, Ziva, you—"
She holds up a finger, silencing him. He hesitates, but in the end he nods and stays quiet.
"I have been through a lot in the past several months," she says.
Yeah, biggest understatement of the year.
She continues. "I think that it may take me a while to recover fully from what happened in Somalia," she confesses, and she absently runs one hand along the back of her arm, feeling the scar through the fabric of her shirt.
Well, no shit. It was going to take him a while to recover, and he was only there for a few days. She was Saleem's prisoner for how many weeks?
She finally looks into his eyes. He swallows again.
"But, I now know that I have friends here in America, that I have people who will fight for me, fight… for my life." She takes a breath and searches his gaze. "I have a family here," she says simply.
The desire to speak swells in his chest. He wants to reaffirm her words, but he can tell she still has more to say. He bites his tongue.
"I told you that I am sorry, and I hope you know I mean it," she says, and her eyes burn, "but I don't think I ever thanked you."
She is completely caught off guard when he reaches out and crushes her to his chest. In her surprise, she drops the white paper bag and it falls at their feet, but he doesn't notice. He presses his face into her hair and closes his eyes and holds her close. When she recovers from the initial shock of him touching her, she wraps her arms around him and nuzzles her face into his neck.
"You don't need to thank me, Ziva," he murmurs, and she feels his chest rumble with the force of his voice. Her throat suddenly feels tight and for the second time that day, words seem too difficult. But there are specific words she needs to tell him.
When she mumbles three syllables into his neck, she is sure he doesn't hear her. Her breath is ragged; it comes out as no more than a whisper. But he must have understood her, because he tightens his hold on her and presses a kiss to the top of her head. He's glad she can't see his face, because he doesn't want her to see him fighting the tears that threaten to spill.
He isn't planning on letting go of her, ever. If he could stand here until the end of the world, he'd do it. But then, his cell phone buzzes in his pocket, and he holds back a groan. Perfect timing.
He reaches for his phone but keeps one arm around her slim waist. She understands, and only moves back enough for him to dig in his pocket for his phone. His voice sounds funny when he answers—kind of hushed and breathy—and he hopes that Gibbs won't notice.
Ziva snickers as he is chastised for not returning from Abby's lab. "Abby took forever to get to the point! You know how she does that!" Tony protests in a whine. Gibbs does not seem to appreciate that excuse and he orders Tony to get his ass back upstairs as fast as possible. Tony rolls his eyes. "Yes, boss."
Tony moves to hang up, but stops when he hears Gibbs add, "And bring Ziva with you!" Then the line goes dead.
Tony pales and almost releases her from his grasp. "Did they install cameras in here or something?" he mutters, looking around cautiously. Ziva does not seem to be phased by Gibbs's command. She is staring at his face as he is searching for a wire, until finally he notices. He furrows his brow. "Is there something on my face, David?"
She ignores his snide remark and stares up at him. "Thank you for the picture frame, Tony," she says to him, her eyes shining. He rubs a small circle on her back with his hand and smiles. "You're welcome," he says. Several moments pass and they just stand there, holding each other comfortably. Finally, he sighs and lets go of her, and he flips the switch of the elevator. And he must have flipped another switch for both of them, too, because suddenly, things have returned to normal. They exchange a knowing glance and smile.
She leans down and picks up the white paper bag as the elevator doors open, and she takes the lead, walking in front of him. Her steps falter for a moment as she thinks of something. "By the way, Tony," she says, her eyes glinting with mischief, "you still snore."
He barks a laugh in indignation and follows her out of the elevator, and he's never been more grateful to have her back at NCIS.
Maybe this whole rebuilding thing won't take as long as he thought after all.