Partners

In which Tony has a few realisations. A story that begins and ends in Paris.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

Warning: A few curses involved.


They are wandering the streets of Paris when he realises that they could be a couple. That they might as well be a couple.

Despite her protests about sight-seeing, they spend the afternoon in Paris together, because this is his first time in the city, although he swears it won't be his last, and she can't help but indulge him. She orders dinner for the both of them, and when she gives him a playful smile and tells him that she ordered him snails, he grins right back and tells her that it's amazing that she knew just what he wanted. It's not amazing, really, because when his meal arrives – a meal in which the delicacy is noticeably absent – he knows that he wouldn't have enjoyed a meal he chose himself more than the one that she chose for him. They share a dessert, and when she makes a crack about his determination to obtain a six-pack clearly having disappeared, he plays the part, milks the mock offence and then ends up eating more than his half.

oOo

He thinks that any passer-by would mistake them for a foreign couple exploring the city of love, and he wouldn't blame them. He suddenly finds it almost blindingly obvious that if they were a couple it would look an awful lot like this, except that he would be able to kiss her just because, and that doesn't sound so bad. In fact, if he's being honest with himself, it sounds pretty fucking good.

oOo

They have to share a bed, which doesn't result in the protests he had expected from her. She simply claims her side, and moves into the bathroom to change. When she emerges, she slips under the covers, lying on her side, facing away from him, and his eyes trace the scars visible on her back. It is as if she can feel his gaze, which, he thinks, she probably can, so she turns onto her back, her eyes on the ceiling.

"Goodnight," he whispers, disappointed when she doesn't turn to face him.

"Goodnight," she responds politely, and he exhales.

"How do you say that in French?" he inquires, not quite ready for this day to end, for these moments to become memories.

"Bonne nuit," she tells him, her accent impeccable.

"Bonne nuit," he repeats, his accent more Italian than French, but she smiles and turns to face him, which was the intended result.

Her fingers ghost over his jaw, and he can't prevent the shiver that it causes, that oh so light, barely there touch.

The touch is not even what makes this realisation dawn; it is what she says next.

"If you do anything stupid, I will shoot you," she says, moving away from his side and leaving the vast amount of space between them as a reminder, or a warning, he is not sure which.

A grin spreads across his face, and it is not that he doubts the threat; it is that he believes it.

It's then that he realises that this could be it for him. That if he spent every day of his life like he has this one, with her, he would be happy.

This realisation should scare him, it should make him want to sprint from this hotel room and walk the streets of this unknown city until he finds another hotel with a vacancy, but it doesn't. He thinks that maybe it has been there all along, beneath the surface, waiting. That maybe he has known it since she strode into the bullpen that day, teasing him, all wild hair and mischievous eyes.

He could spend the rest of his life with this woman, he realises, and somehow, commitment doesn't seem so scary. He thinks maybe that his issue with committing came from knowing deep down; that the woman he was supposed to be committing to was the wrong one. But as he watches her from an appreciable distance across the bed, he realises that he doesn't know if she is the right one, he just knows that she is the one that makes him think that commitment doesn't seem so bad. She then lets out a well-timed snore, and he can't prevent the chuckle that escapes his lips, because even in her sleep, she's resisting, trying to tell him that he's wrong.

He falls asleep with a smile on his face, the cause of which begins and ends with the woman lying beside him.

oOo

When he wakes up, neither of them have crossed the invisible boundary she set, remaining on their respective sides of the bed. He could have pulled the clichéd spooning trick, draping his hand across her hip and pressing his body against hers after she drifted off to sleep, disregarding her previous threats, claiming he too had been unconscious and therefore not able to be held accountable for his actions; except that this is Ziva, and she would have been onto him at the first sign of movement, asleep or not. She would have known he was awake and doing it on purpose, and would either shoot him as promised, or indulge him, only to brush it off the next morning, and he had a feeling the latter would be the more painful.

So he wakes early, with far too much space between them, he thinks, surprised that she is just lying in bed awake, staring at the same spot on the ceiling that captured her attention the night before. Her hair is tousled, because she is not a still sleeper – but he knew that before – and her face free of makeup, so beautiful.

He thinks that he could wake up to her every morning for the rest of his life and it wouldn't be enough.

"Good morning," she says, although she hasn't actually looked at him to see if he's awake.

"Morning," he responds, sighing when she moves to get out of bed. When he remains in his position, lying on his stomach, his head turned to face her, she just looks at him expectantly, but he ignores her, allowing his eyes to rake over her body, not so subtly.

"Tony," she warns, and he thinks she isn't ready for him to be so blatant. So he does what he always does, brushing it off as a joke, smothered in a movie reference.

She just shakes her head at him, and he tells her he wants to rent a Vespa. She rolls her eyes, and he tells her that they cannot leave Europe without having been on a Vespa, and he ignores her when she tells him she has driven one before. In the end they compromise, and she tells him to go and see the sights on his Vespa while she speaks to Gibbs about their witness.

oOo

He is the master of deflection. He teases Ziva, tells her that he thinks Paris changed her, knowing that it has changed him, but he isn't ready to admit it to anyone yet.

Throughout the flight he can't help but feel as if Nora knows what is going through his head on a continuous loop, but Ziva brushes the woman's comments off, and not in the defensive way he had hoped.

When he shows her the photo and watches the smile spread across her face he thinks that they will get there. Maybe now is just not the right time; that maybe they just need to wait, that patience is the key.

oOo

Contents, priceless. Two little words that reveal one scary truth. A truth that he hopes she isn't aware of but hopes she is at the same time. She just smiles at him, and tells him goodnight, and he's both afraid and not afraid that she is onto him.

He wonders if she knows, whether she has known for a while. She always could see right through him. (Yes, he would like to do page 57 with her, multiple times, please).

In the end they brush it off, just like a few other slips of the tongue that revealed emotions that are easier to ignore that discuss.

oOo

It is close to two years later when those emotions become easier to discuss than ignore. Ray is a distant memory, and he is beginning to think that their time is coming.

She has always been stubborn, something he loved until today. They were to pick up a suspect, the two of them, and it would have been like any other day of the week, except that when said suspect produces a gun and aims it at Tony's chest, with no time to pull her own weapon, she steps in front of him a millisecond before the suspect pulls the trigger. The gun misfires, and he is surprised to find that his heart is still beating when he finally realises that she hasn't been shot.

After they arrest the suspect, and Gibbs has him in interrogation, he follows her into the ladies room, and can't stop himself. He's yelling before one of them even checks to see if the bathroom is empty, although he thinks it would have been pointless anyway, because the woman who was washing her hands disappears after the third word has left his mouth.

"That has got to be the stupidest thing you have ever done," he screams, and she doesn't flinch, she just stares back at him, waiting for him to stop yelling so she can start.

"It was instinct," she spits, and he wonders if she is really is as pissed off by his reaction as she seems. "We are partners, you would have done the same thing," she says, and he knows it's the truth. That is part of what makes him so angry. He would rather take the bullet any day.

"That's irrelevant," he tells her, his face so contorted in anger he wonders if it will ever look the same.

The screaming continues, back and forth until his face is red, he is out of breath and he is seriously wondering whether his family history of heart attacks is about to come reigning down on him. She still looks as if she could be discussing the weather.

They don't even end the fight, not really, it's just a whole lot of yelling, and when he realises that she could have this argument for days he walks out. He exits the bathroom and bypasses the bullpen, knowing that half the building probably heard them. He steps into the elevator and flicks the emergency switch almost immediately, forcing himself to take deep breaths, to let this go.

When he returns to the bullpen she is sitting at her desk working on paperwork as if it is any other case, as if they haven't just spent almost an hour having a screaming match in the rest room, and somehow that pisses him off more than anything.

He doesn't even say a word before returning to the elevator, driving home in a manner that she would be proud of.

oOo

He hasn't consumed nearly as much alcohol as he has planned when she knocks on his door.

"I am sorry, Tony," she says, and he thinks maybe he is drunk after all.

"I realise, that if you were to jump in front of a bullet for me tomorrow, I would be angry with you too."

"You come to that realisation all yourself?" He asks, and she just gives him a look that says no, but take it, because it's all you're going to get.

He opens the door wider and she steps into the apartment, and he is seconds away from kissing her before his brain, in its alcohol induced fog, catches up to his body.

"I would still do it," he tells her, and he can't tell whether the look she gives him is asking for clarification, or is supposed to be a warning, so he adds "take a bullet for you," as a clarification, just in case.

There are too many unspoken emotions, just short of needing to be spoken. They were always better with actions anyway.

He isn't sure whether he kisses her, or whether she kisses him, all he knows is that their lips meet, unspoken truths somehow being expressed through actions. It is rough and messy, the kiss, too desperate to be anything else, and when their lips part he thinks he might as well have I love you tattooed across his forehead, he is making it so obvious, but he doesn't care, because while he can't read her expression, he's thinking it must be something along the same lines, because when he kisses her again, this time so softly she has to keep her eyes open to remind herself that it's real, a small moan escapes her lips, only to be muffled by his own. Her hands are grasping his shirt, pulling his body closer to hers, and he just hopes that this isn't one of those things that they never speak of again, because it might break his heart.

They make it to his bed for round two, and this time when he wakes up next to her, there isn't a valley of space between them. He's thankful she didn't use her ninja skills to slide out of bed without him noticing; that she's the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes. She is sitting up and looking at him, as if she had been waiting for him to open his eyes.

"God, I love you," he says at the sight of her, before his brain even registers that the words have left his mouth, and he swallows when he realises he has probably just put an end to a morning that could have been incredible (and that he could have dragged out until early afternoon), by bringing feelings into this.

He is waiting for her to disappear, or to tell him that this was a mistake, but instead she laughs. He blinks, because this can't be right, and when he rubs he eyes, the laughing has subsided, but she still has a smile on her face.

"I know," she tells him, and a nervous laugh escapes.

"I'm sorry?" He asks, and she fucking laughs again, running a finger down his cheek.

"I know," she repeats, and he's about to lose it.

"You know?" He clarifies, not knowing how to respond. If she had told him it was a mistake he could at least be angry, but this just makes him feel stupid.

"I love you too," she tells him, and this time he laughs with her, partly because he is so relieved, but also because this is ridiculous.

He wants to ask her how long she has known, whether she has known longer than he has, and how long she has loved him, but when she rolls so she is straddling him, he forgets his questions and kisses her because damn is this better than the talking.

"I love you," he tells her again softly, as if it is a secret, when she pulls away, and she just gives him a sweet little smile in return, making him think that maybe he should have just told her those three little words years ago.

oOo

He is not deluded enough to think that Gibbs will be clueless when they see him next, so Saturday afternoon, he finds himself in his boss' basement.

Gibbs laughs when he says that this won't affect their work. He can't remember if he has ever heard Gibbs laugh before, and that just adds to the way his head is spinning.

"It has already been affecting your work," Gibbs says. "What happened yesterday is a prime example."

Tony wonders whether he would have been as angry at McGee for stepping in front of a bullet for him, but he realises that McGee wouldn't do that. McGee would shoot the bastard before he did something as stupid as stepping in front of a loaded gun, and that's when he realises that Gibbs has a point.

"Rule number twelve is there for a reason," he agrees reluctantly. "But we haven't been on a date, boss," he says, and Gibbs smirks.

"Should have known you two would find the loophole," he says with a chuckle, but if anything, the laugh just puts Tony more on edge.

"It should be never fall in love with a co-worker," Gibbs states, before looking Tony in the eye.

He knows what is coming, deep down. He knows it will come down to his changing teams, because while you can stop dating someone, loving someone isn't something you can turn on and off as you please, and even if you could, he wouldn't want to. But as he stares back at his boss, the father he has always needed, the child in him is begging for a way out. For Gibbs to just make an exception, ignore the fact that the very situation that caused so much trouble yesterday is likely to happen a week from now, only with very different consequences, and let them continue to work side by side.

"Don't look at me like that, DiNozzo," Gibbs warns, and Tony sighs.

"I'll move teams," he says reluctantly, turning towards the stairs.

Gibbs watches him leave, pride sneaking up on him as he realises that not long ago, that wouldn't have been Tony's solution.

oOo

He speaks to Vance without telling her. He realises in hindsight that it was a stupid thing to do.

He left her that morning with the intent to talk to Gibbs, and he returns to her late afternoon having changed jobs. He really should have thought it through. But when he left Gibbs' basement he just wanted to fix the problem as soon as possible.

When he enters her apartment and announces that he will now be working for Taylor's team, filling a position that had recently been made vacant when Taylor's senior field agent moved to the FBI, the words that come out of her mouth make him wish he could rewind the day and start over.

"That was a stupid thing to do," she says, before walking out the door, and he is left in her apartment hoping that he didn't just change teams for nothing.

She doesn't come home that night.

Monday morning is when he sees her next, and he wonders where the hell she has been, because he spent Saturday night at her apartment, and all of Sunday dropping in on every single one of her friends "because he was in the neighbourhood."

She is sitting at her desk with a scowl, and he is supposed to be moving the crap in his desk to his new desk at the other end of the floor, but apparently she is so angry with him that she isn't even going to argue with him, so he just stands in front of her desk until she can't ignore him anymore.

"What?" She asks, exasperated, and he sighs, lifting her chin with his finger so that she will look him in the eye.

"I'm sorry," he says, well aware that apologies are only something they speak aloud when it is vital that the sentiment is expressed. "I know I should have discussed it with you first."

"Yes," she says, returning her gaze to her computer screen.

"Hey," he tries for her attention again, and this time when she looks at him the look in her eyes is not anger.

"I do not want you to do this for me," she says softly, and he has to stop himself from laughing at her, this time.

"What makes you think this is about you?" He asks with a smile. "It's McGee I'm trying to get away from."

She gives him a smile, albeit a small one, and he dares to lean down to touch a quick kiss to her lips.

"I can email you any movie quotes so you won't miss out," he says with a wink, and she laughs.

"I think I will enjoy the quiet," she decides, and he tugs on her braid playfully before returning to his side of the bullpen.

oOo

The serious nature of their relationship sneaks up on him. He really should have seen it coming, he realises, when he thinks about how long it has really been progressing. But suddenly their relationship has caused every aspect of his life to change, and that does scare him. His job is different; he spends his days answering to a boss that is younger than he is, and he wonders why he has never been offered another promotion since he turned down Rota. She spends her days gazing across the bullpen at Brad, and even the mention of his name makes him sick.

He asks McGee to switch desks with the asshole, because he knows that Ziva thinks of McGee as a brother and that staring across the bullpen at McGee on a late night at the office won't trigger the realisation that she really could do better. But McGee just laughs and tells him jealousy isn't becoming, and Tony says that he couldn't care less about being becoming, that he will stick to his sole concern of keeping Ziva, thank you very much. Whenever his feelings toward Brad come up, Ziva just tells him he's an idiot and tells him that Brad is very aware of her feelings for one Very Special Agent DiNozzo.

That doesn't stop him from cornering the guy in the mens room, and making it clear that if he were to so much as touch Ziva he would kill him without leaving any forensic evidence. He's sure Abby would help him out. Brad doesn't even look scared, (which is a mistake on his part, really), he just tells Tony that Ziva has made it very clear that she is spoken for, and that he's pretty sure Ziva would kill him if he were to try anything. Tony laughs with him when he realises that the guy has a point, and he thinks that maybe Brad isn't so bad.

(It helps that he now knows that Ziva still refers to him as her partner, and McGee and Brad a part of her team.)

When he tells Ziva that maybe Brad is an okay guy, she rolls her eyes because he did exactly what she knew he would do, and he just slings an arm around her waist and tells her that she's stuck with him.

oOo

It is much later, when they are lying in bed together again and his attention is focused solely on the scars across her back. She is on her stomach, and every scar is visible, due to her naked form. This time it is his finger that glides across them, and she doesn't flinch at the touch.

"I was eleven," she tells him, as his fingers hover over a faded scar that begins on the left side of her back, curving around her body and disappearing somewhere on her stomach. "Ari and I were trying to see who could climb this tree in our yard faster." He watches a slight smile appear on her face at the memory, and he is thankful that not all of the memories of the origins of these scars are associated with pain. "We were always so competitive. I was a split second behind him when a branch gave way beneath me and I fell. Ari… Ari tried to catch me, but ended up falling and breaking his arm." She chuckles, and it makes him smile, as his fingers continue to run across the scar. It is the most he has ever heard her say about her brother, and he wonders how the child she speaks of became the man he knew. The man who killed Kate.

He leans over to place a soft kiss on her lips, because even though most would consider it a trivial story of her childhood, he knows that these things make her feel vulnerable, and he loves that she allows herself to be vulnerable with him. They were undercover the first time, when he realised that sex did not equate to vulnerability with her. But this… The lazy moments afterward, the personal details that nobody else gets to know; these are the things that are evidence of the fact that they are more than just colleagues, acquaintances or lovers, that they are partners, and somehow that is so much more.

oOo

He takes her to Paris again, because he wants to see what it's like to be the typical foreign couple in Paris. It really isn't that different.

(He gets to kiss her.)


A/N:

Anyone waiting for an update of Something Permanent, it is coming, hopefully within the next week.

Thanks for reading!