Author's Note: Thanks to JMHaughey for one last read through. And thanks to you for seeing this story through to the end.
Saturday, July 21, 2012. Washington, D.C.
"Tony, what're ya doin'?"
"Buckling your seat belt. Move your arm."
"It's time to go home, McDrunkard. Not another word." Tony slammed the door shut and made his way to the other side of the car. One wasted geek down. One more to go.
"But I don' wanna leave. The party was not yet gettin' started."
"It's 1:00 AM, Jimmy. On your wedding day. Get in the car." For half a second, Palmer looked like he might put up a fight, but then he yawned and collapsed into his seat.
Tony handed each of his passengers garbage bags he'd snagged from the bartender. "If you have to puke, you better make damn sure it's in the bags. If you vomit in my car, I'm taking you both to Anacostia and abandoning you."
But he was talking to himself. The other two men were already sleeping peacefully in his back seat. When had he become the most responsible guy at the party? He was supposed to be the one getting sloppy drunk and accidentally hitting on transvestites, not the one forcing them to switch to water and driving them home.
To make himself feel better, he snapped a photo of the nerdlings snuggling in the backseat and sent it to Ziva. Not so mature anymore, was he?
By the time Tony returned to the car after zombie-marching McGee into his apartment, he had two return texts from his partner:
"Never text me at 1 AM again unless you are bleeding."
"Did you pose Palmer so that he was cradling McGee's chin, or did they do that on their own?"
He smiled to himself, because Ziva was funny...and because she'd care if he were bleeding.
"You know the world's gonna end today."
Tony jumped, hitting his head in the process- he'd forgotten he still wasn't alone in the car. "Fuck, Palmer."
"It can't be good. Gettin' married on the end of the world."
As a rule, Tony avoided engaging drunks in conversation, but as long as the kid was awake, he decided he should keep him talking. Hopefully if his mouth was otherwise occupied, he wouldn't start puking. "What are you talking about?"
"The world! And how it's ending."
"You're just getting married. It's not the end of the world."
"Yes! It is! That guy...the one who murdered the other guy...he said so. July 21st. Today. My wedding day."
"Wait, are you talking about Norman Rundquist? The doomsday crackpot from the arson case? Jimmy, the guy was a murderer, and he'd named at least eight dates for the end of the world."
"Yep. And one of them is my marriage day. I don' wanna get married if it's gonna make the world go stop."
"So now your marriage is actually causing the end of the world?"
Jimmy looked so forlorn that Tony was torn between laughing at him, or hugging him. In the end, he did neither. He simply told him the truth. "Well, man, at least you won't be all alone at the end. That doesn't sound so bad to me."
"Who the hell plans an outdoor wedding in July?"
"Apparently, Breena loves this garden." Ziva's tone was full of rebuke for her whiny partner, but her eyes held nothing but gratitude for the tall glass of ice water he offered.
Why would someone plan an outdoor wedding in July? She suspected Palmer of exercising poor judgement in selecting a marriage partner, but decided to keep her thoughts to herself. She had no space to talk.
"Yeah, I'm sure the garden would have been lovely in the spring. You know, when gardens actually bloom."
"She has allergies."
"Well she sounds like a real treat."
Ziva allowed herself a brief smirk when she cut her eyes toward Tony, nothing more. She had been trying so hard to reign in her cynicism.
"Maybe I shouldn't have been so quick to shut down Palmer's 'end of days' talk last night," he mumbled.
This time the face she turned to him was full of confusion.
"Apparently today was one of Norman Rundquist's picks for the apocalypse."
"The insane arsonist from last month?"
"That's the one."
"Hmm. Perhaps it would serve them right for inviting us all without a plus one." Not that she would have been able to find a date. Still, it was rude of them to assume that would be the case.
"That's the Ziva I know and love."
She tried not to take his words to heart as she clinked his offered glass.
The food was bad, and the short, purple dress Ziva was wearing was...distracting. He felt a familiar sting on the back of his neck, alerting him to the fact that Gibbs had caught him staring at his partner's exposed thigh.
He was pretty sure Ziva had caught him too. Only, she didn't seem to mind. In fact, she shifted, deliberately revealing even more of her absolutely-fucking-perfect legs. Either that, or heat stroke was setting in and causing delusions.
He was happy either way.
The end of the toasts signaled the end of the meal and the beginning of dancing. After an interminable number of contrived spotlight dances, the bandleader welcomed the guests to the dance floor.
They were playing an old Sinatra number, and Tony figured the heat must really be getting to him, because the urge to ask his partner to dance was irresistible.
Despite Gibbs' glare o' doom, she said yes, which made Tony think that maybe Norman was right about July 21st. When Ziva stepped into his arms, he pulled her closer than he had dared in years. It might be his last day on earth. It might be his last chance.
She didn't pull away. She melted into him. Fucking melted. Tony could feel the eyes of every member of their team on them, but he didn't care, he didn't care, he didn't care. How could he? When she was in his arms? When he was able to run his hands over the bare skin of her back? When she sighed and laid her head on his shoulder?
Gibbs could have fired him on the spot, and all Tony would have been able to do was smile and nod and keep holding on to her.
"I could have had this."
Her words were jarring in the intimacy of the moment. He didn't know how to respond. She pulled back so that she could look at him, and no,no,no. He wanted his moment back. Her eyes were all serious and a little sad, and the Sinatra song only had a few more bars.
"The wedding, I mean. I could have had one too."
Tony was too busy mourning all of his missed chances to catch her meaning. She gave another sigh, frustrated this time, when she had to spell it out.
He stopped a few beats short of the song. They should still be dancing, but he could barely stand. He calmed his racing heart by focusing on her left hand. The one devoid of anything that could pass for an engagement ring. She hadn't said yes.
But she could have.
"It is so difficult for you to believe that someone might want to marry me?"
Sinatra gave way to Ray Charles, and Tony instinctively took her in his arms again. "Not at all. I meant, 'Why did you say no?'"
"That life, with the lying and the leaving and the lack of tolerance for questions...it is comfortable to me."
There was a question in her eyes, so he nodded in response.
"I know that life. But I do not want it."
When she looked at him this time, he was saw nothing but certainty. "Ray is a nice man. But he is not what I want."
Then her head was back on his shoulder. Apparently she had said all she needed to say.
"You'll get your wedding one day, Z. I have no doubt." He hoped it sounded like a promise.
Decisions made on the dance floor could rarely be trusted. She had likely gone too far, especially with her whole world watching. Still, he hadn't run away from her. The world hadn't ended.
Of course, it was entirely possible he had not received her message. Language was not the only barrier to their communication. She could not bring herself to be clear. She had not yet come so far as to be able to forgo their customary ambiguity.
She had been clear enough, though, to earn a warning look from her boss as he said goodbye. And it was entirely possible that her behavior on the dance floor had influenced Tony's lack of response to the Maid of Honor's flirtatious banter in the cake line.
Perhaps she was finally getting somewhere.
"I'm pretty sure I just saw your ride drive off with an usher."
"You are saying Abby ditched me?"
"Yep. For a friend of Palmer's. That's gotta hurt."
"There is a certain sting to it."
"Ducky and Gibbs are long gone. McGee actually got to bring a date, which is highly insulting, by the way. So, as far as rides go, it's me or a cab."
"Are you offering, Tony?"
So she followed him to the mustang, pleased that something between them was finally obvious.
"You are too old for this car."
He knew she said it because she was expected to say it. He also knew her heart wasn't in it. She was hoping he wouldn't bite this time. It was enough to make him hold onto hopes of his own.
"I do not live in Adams Morgan," she informed him as he crossed the bridge.
"No, but my favorite empanada place does. The rubbery wedding chicken didn't cut it." And he needed time. He needed to get his moment back.
"You're going to break your neck," he warned her when he returned with a bag of empanadas, only to find her pretending the stone edging was a balance beam.
She followed his eyes to her five-inch heels. "But I always dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast. Since the world will end tonight, this could be my last chance."
He wrapped his arm around her waist and lowered her to the sidewalk. "Some dreams are never meant to come true, Nadia Comaneci."
"I suppose you are right." She tried not to inject more meaning than necessary into her statement. She accepted an empanada and joined him on a bench. "It is a shame, though, that you only have a few hours left to master the art of kung fu."
"You read my bucket list."
He narrowed his eyes at her, but his mouth was curved in a grin. "Rest assured, Z, if I really thought the world was going to end tonight, kung fu wouldn't be the item I'd rush to cross off."
"Then perhaps you should get to work on that letter about Benji: The Hunted."
"That was a damn good movie. Some reviews shouldn't be allowed to stand unchallenged."
They sat for a while in easy silence, basking in the relief of successful navigation of a tricky topic. But then he surprised her.
"That's not the one I'd choose either."
She could have made a quip about the unlikelihood of catching a shark in the Potomac, but his statement lacked bravado. In fact, there was a shakiness to his words that made her remember that seven years was a really long time to pretend.
So she decided to be brave.
"You would tell her."
The "her" could be any number of people. Any number of people, who could be told any number of things. But Ziva did not think she had this one wrong. Tony was looking at the stars, not at her. She could see his pulse pounding in his neck. She could tell he needed help being brave.
So she took his hand. "Then you should do it."
And she wasn't disappointed. He looked first at their entwined hands, then met her eyes. "I'm glad you didn't say 'yes' to Ray. And it would be okay with me if this was the last night of the world, as long as I got to spend it with you."
Technically, there was still room for doubt. They were still who they had always been.
But on this Saturday, they were finally, finally on the same page.