A/N: Tying up loose ends. Here is the last of the Blended vignettes.
Disclaimer: A small minority seems to have forgotten this lately, so this is a reminder that I am not a mouthpiece for the show. I have nothing to do with the show. The situations/scenarios I come up with aren't 'sneak peaks' into what you will see in the future. So if you don't like it, try to relax. It's just fanfic.
"Agent David? It's Michelle Lancaster."
Even without the introduction Ziva is sure she would have been able to place the friendly (overly friendly) voice over the phone line. As a witness in a just-closed murder investigation, Michelle has spent hours and hours over the past week either at NCIS being interviewed or at home being interviewed or on the phone with Ziva…being interviewed. Ziva has been hearing Michelle's voice in her sleep and running her words over and over in her head as she and the rest of Team Gibbs worked on tracking down a killer. But that's not the only reason why Michelle and her friendly voice have been stuck in Ziva's head.
The woman who came into Ziva's life just five days ago had, for unknown reasons, made it her mission to set Ziva up with one of her friends. Just hours after Ziva had politely sidestepped a conversation about her status as a single woman (she had almost been driven to put that stupid ring of her grandmother's back on just to stop the questioning), Michelle had managed to find one of her most eligible bachelor friends to present to Ziva for approval. Jason, a 6'4, green-eyed orthopedic surgeon with a face and body that had made Ziva forget her own name for a few moments, had greeted Ziva and Tony when they arrived at Michelle's apartment to ask follow-up questions after their initial interview. While Michelle had deftly steered Tony into her living room to answer his important questions, Ziva had found herself hovering in the hallway with Jason and fielding first date-type questions about her background and hobbies. While flattered (the man was seriously hot), Ziva had not been interested. And not just because she was technically at work and knew that as soon as they got back in the car, Tony would tease her mercilessly for it (except that, oddly, he hadn't). She was also not looking for dates with random doctors with overly developed forearm muscles and easy smiles.
She thought she had made this clear to Michelle. But if she is now calling Ziva after the case is over, perhaps Ziva has not made it clear enough. She resists the urge to bang her head against her desk, and instead responds to the woman's greeting politely.
"Hello, Michelle. What can I do for you?"
"I'm sorry to bother you," she says, and she sounds like she means it. "I know you've made an arrest and the investigation is over, but I was wondering if you would have time to meet me for ten minutes?"
Her reference to the case concerns Ziva enough to agree to meet. If she has withheld information that could have bearing on the outcome of the case, Ziva wants to know about it. "Of course," she replies. "Right now? I can come to you."
"No," Michelle says quickly. "I'm near you. Can I meet you outside your building in five minutes?"
"Yes. I will see you soon."
She hangs up her cell phone and looks around. Gibbs is upstairs with Vance, McGee is downstairs with Abby, and Tony is…MIA. She doesn't recall seeing him leave, but assumes he is around somewhere. She reaches into her drawer for a Post-It note and scrawls a quick message with regard to her whereabouts before slapping it on his computer monitor. She arms herself with her gun despite the fact that she is not leaving the grounds of the Navy Yard, but leaves her badge in her drawer. A quick look out the window at the grey sky has her putting on her winter coat, and then she grabs a few dollars out of her purse before she heads to the elevator. No matter how this conversation goes, dealing with overly friendly Michelle encourages caffeine dependency.
Michelle is standing by a memorial plaque on the lawn in front of the NCIS building when Ziva comes down. She smiles easily as Ziva approaches, and doesn't look at all like she has new information to impart. Ziva smiles but approaches with caution.
"I hope I'm not interrupting you," she says by way of greeting.
She is, but Ziva shakes her head. "Of course not. Do you mind walking with me to the coffee cart?"
"No, I could use one myself."
Ziva nods and leads her in the direction of the nearest java vendor. After they walk a few paces in silence, Ziva forces the conversation along. "Did you have more information about the case?"
Michelle blinks at her in confusion before shaking her had and waving the suggestion away. "No, no," she says. "I told you everything I know about that. Several times over, if I recall correctly."
Ziva smiles with what she hopes looks like understanding. "Yes, well we do need to be thorough about these things."
"Sure," she says breezily. A bird flying overhead catches her gaze and she follows its path for a few moments. Ziva is about to ask her to get to the reason for her visit when Michelle lays her cards on the table. "I really wanted to talk to you about Agent DiNozzo."
Ziva sighs to herself. This is not the first time a witness has shown inappropriate interest in her partner. Of course he is attractive, but the gun and the protectiveness can be a killer when people are at their most vulnerable. Not that Michelle has ever come across as vulnerable. Or available, for that matter. "Are you interested in him?" she asks. "You have a boyfriend, and Agent DiNozzo is not really the type to come between—"
"Oh, God no," Michelle cuts in, clutching at her chest as if the suggestion is offensive. "I'm not interested in him. Like, at all. I love Ryan to death, and Agent DiNozzo is not my type."
Ziva feels a flash of inappropriate defensiveness on behalf of her partner but lets it fall by the wayside. "Okay," she says, framing the word as a question about why any of this is important.
Michelle grins and then nudges her with her shoulder as if the two of them have been BFFs forever. "But I just wanted to give you a little push."
For the life of her, Ziva cannot work out where this is going. "I'm sorry?"
Michelle stops her with a light hand on her forearm and tries to explain herself. "When Agent DiNozzo and me were talking at my house the other day, you know when you were talking to Jason?" She pauses until Ziva nods. "We kind of talked about you and him. Agent DiNozzo, I mean. Not you and Jason. Although it started out like that…" She shakes her head to avoid getting carried away with the point. "Me and DiNozzo were talking about you and DiNozzo. You know?"
Ziva feels her brow furrow as she tries to follow the story. She has done a lot of frowning this week in Michelle's presence, and makes a mental note to check her forehead tonight for new wrinkles. "What?"
"He kept looking at you," Michelle tells her excitedly, as if this information is cause for bouncing and squealing. "Like he was keeping an eye on whether there was a spark with you and Jason."
It begins to make sense now, and although she feels a small flutter of something in the realm of excitement in her stomach, Ziva is actually familiar with this misconception. She shakes her head and puts out a hand in an effort to calm Michelle down. "Michelle, he was keeping an eye on me because that is what we do as partners when we are separated."
It's a perfectly logical explanation that Michelle does not have time for. "No, I called him out on having a thing for you," she says, and Ziva has to make a conscious effort to stop her mouth from falling open at how brazen this woman can be. "His mouth said no, but his eyes and body language were practically a flashing neon sign of yes. And I think it's more than a teensy bit obvious that you have a thing for him, too," she went on, not pausing for breath. "More than a thing. You guys are crazy about each other, but you probably haven't talked about it." She finally pauses to take Ziva's hand and smile with delight. "So, I just want you to know that I've already raised it with him, and now I'm raising it with you. That awkward part where you don't know whether your feelings are reciprocated has been taken care of by yours truly, so now all you have to do is sit down with each other. Okay?"
For a good five seconds, Ziva is at a loss over what to do or say. Strangling Michelle for getting involved in business that is definitely not her own will only get Ziva sent to prison. So will shooting her. Denial will be wasted on her, but Ziva is not willing to share her long-hidden heart's desires with a woman she has known for a week, and who will not form any part of her life after this conversation. She decides to neither confirm nor deny, and instead puts the conversation back on Michelle.
With her most practiced poker face, she asks, "Why do you care so much about how two people you don't know feel about each other?"
Michelle smiles dreamily in a way that makes Ziva want to growl at her. "Because. I firmly believe that the whole world would be a much better place if everyone was just a little happier with their lives. You know? If people were just brave enough to go after what they really wanted and didn't let their fears and self-doubt hold them back."
This is the part where Ziva would normally roll her eyes at such idealistic, Disney-like crap. But Michelle seems so genuine that Ziva can only muster a smidge of pity for her.
"I mean, people would be less angry and less bitter and less likely to take all their frustrations and regrets out on other people," Michelle goes on. "Because everyone would be calmer. More fulfilled with the hand they've been dealt. And people like you and DiNozzo, who look after everyone else and track down the people who are so unhappy with their lives that they went off the deep end and did something terrible? You guys are the most deserving of happiness." He puts her hand back on Ziva's arm and smiles sweetly. "I really think you should let yourself go for it."
She seems to want Ziva to say something in reply. Something like, 'My God! You're right! I must run to his arms right now!' But all Ziva can to is stare at Michelle dumbly and try to process the turn her afternoon has taken.
Michelle takes her silence for acceptance, and steps in to hug her tightly. "A lot of people never find their soul mate, and they settle for the best of a bad bunch," Michelle says over her shoulder. "The worst thing you can do for yourself is to know who your soul mate is, but let them go." She gives Ziva's stiff frame another squeeze before letting go and smiling at her excitedly. "Take a chance, okay? It'll be worth it."
Still suffering the effects of shock, Ziva manages to grunt in a halfway affirmative manner. To her utter relief it is enough for Michelle, who gives her a wave and then leaves her alone on the lawns of NCIS, wondering what the hell just happened and what, if anything, she should do about it.
For the rest of the afternoon, Ziva stews over what happened. She doesn't know why that particular conversation about her relationship with her partner—simply the latest in a long line of similar conversations—sticks in her head so much. And she resents that it is a woman as annoying as Michelle Lancaster who has succeeded in getting beneath her skin. But she has. Thoughts about the undefined relationship end up taking precedence over her work up until McGee pushes back from his desk at 1800 and says goodnight, and she realizes how much work time she has lost. She manages to switch her brain back to work mode as Tony and then Gibbs head home, and in the next few hours in the falling darkness and rising silence of the bullpen she almost catches up.
It is almost 2100 when a figure moves into her peripheral vision. She swings her eyes from her computer screen to find Tony standing by her desk and regarding her with a frown that is either curious or suspicious. Or perhaps both.
"What are you still doing here?" he asks, as if it is her presence that should be called into question. Wasn't he the one who went home two hours ago?
Ziva shrugs and provides a mostly honest answer. "Catching up. I want this done by the weekend." She returns his curious/suspicious frown. "Why did you come back?"
"I forgot my phone." He crosses to his desk, lifts up a few pieces of paper and a file, and retrieves the cell phone before returning to her. He takes a seat on her desk on top of an open file by her elbow and cocks his head as he looks down at her. This time, his expression is definitely curious. "Are you okay? You've been kind of introspective all afternoon and it makes me uncomfortable."
She had been unaware that he had been paying close attention to her mood, and she appreciates it. But she shakes her head and waves his concern away. "Yes, I am fine."
He stares her down, but when she does not elaborate he lets it slide. Sort of. "Okay," he finally says. "Are you going to hang around much longer?"
She gestures at her computer. "I want to finish this."
"So…five minutes?" he asks. "Half an hour?"
Her expression asks why he wants to know, and Tony gently pushes the back of his hand against her arm.
"Come for a drink," he implores. "You can tell me what your problem is and I'll end up feeling better about myself." He punctuates the teasing statement with a charming smile that acknowledges that he walks a fine line.
Ziva crosses her arms and leans all the way back in her chair as she fights not to smile back. "Why would my misfortune make you smile?"
"It doesn't," he admits with a shrug. "But it'd make me happier if you were happier, so come on." He stands and tugs on her sleeve. "I'll buy you a mojito and we can do some tequila shots and play some pool and then we can sit in a booth and I'll eat nachos while you pour your heart out. It'll be great."
His sales pitch is sweet but weak, and if it were any other night she would probably dig her heels in at this point and tell him to leave her be. But she has been thinking about him and them and what could be all afternoon. Michelle's talk about love and making the world a better place has given her dangerous confidence that she hopes she will not come to regret.
"How about just coffee and a walk?" she suggests.
Tony overacts his suspicion. "You're passing on a mojito? My God, there really is something terribly wrong." He picks her handbag up off the floor and hands it to her. "Fortunately, I'm flexible. Let's go."
Somehow they end up on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with steaming coffee and a chocolate croissant each. It hasn't snowed in a week but they are both in heavy coats, scarves and gloves. If they had any sense they would find a warm place indoors to make their own, but Ziva feels the panic over what she thinks she might be about to do closing in on her, and she wants wide open space around her. If it goes bad she can make a very quick exit. She knows she can out run him.
A gust of wind blows across their faces and Tony inhales sharply and curls in on himself just a little. He doesn't complain, though, and that is unlike him. She wonders why he is willing to put up with this cruel and unusual torture tonight. It can't possibly be because he is worried about what has been worrying her, can it? She considers this as she stares at the lid of her coffee cup and Tony shoves the remainder of his croissant into his mouth. She knows he cares for her. Cares deeply, in fact. He has made it clear to her over and over again, even when she probably has not been as forthcoming about her feelings for him in return. But he must know how she feels, surely.
He interrupts her latest trip down the spiral of emotional distress by bumping her shoulder with his. "Okay. Tell me what's on your mind. Pour it all out before we freeze."
This should be her moment to make sure he knows how she feels. But she flinches. "There is nothing to pour out," she lies. "I am empty inside."
The comment turns his head, and she looks up to find him pinning her with his serious, curious investigator face. He rarely turns it on her, but it makes her skin prickle in equal parts anticipation and fear. He is determined to push the issue, and she doesn't think that her usual tricks to get him off her case will work. For God's sake, he is already sitting in the freezing cold with her. That is not the act of a man who will give up.
"What did Michelle say to you?" he finally asks.
She feels her surprise show on her face. "Why do you think Michelle is involved?"
Two investigators trying to out-investigate each other. It could go on for hours. But she doesn't think either of them could withstand the cold for that long.
"Because you were normal before you went to meet her today," Tony tells her with just a hint of exasperation. "And then you got all Gibbs-y."
Her brows pull together in a frown. "Gibbs-y?" she echoes.
"Quiet and thoughtful," he explains. "Michelle gave you some kind of information that sent you into a spin. But it doesn't have to do with the case or you would have said something as soon as you got back."
She buys time by taking a bite out of the corner of her croissant and then sipping her coffee. How are you supposed to begin a conversation that could change the course of your life? Her stomach rolls with nerves as she takes a steady breath, prays to God to save her, and then starts being totally honest with him for the first time since she met him.
"What do you think about soul mates?" she asks, lowering her voice in respect to the privacy of the conversation. "I know we talked about it very briefly a few years ago, and you did not seem to accept the idea."
Tony's expression is utterly impassive for a few moments before he finally looks away with something akin to awe. "Hmm," he grunts as he either thinks it over or considers how to tell her gently that he's not going to freeze his ass off any longer over a topic so intangible. "Do I think there's one person out there for everyone?" he asks himself aloud. "No. I guess I don't." He meets her gaze again, and she's not sure that she's particularly disappointed in the answer. "I like the idea of it," he admits. "And I think there is someone for everyone. Just not one someone."
Ziva nods. She doesn't disagree with his position, exactly. She doesn't agree with it either, though. She thinks she falls somewhere in the middle. Whatever that means.
Tony clears his throat. "Did Michelle want to tell you that hot Dr Jason is your soul mate?" He throws her a light smile as Ziva's throat closes. He is acting like it wouldn't bother him. It is something they both do when the other has a potential romantic interest. Act like it's no big deal when really, jealousy rears its head. She is sick of the act.
"No," she assures him. She throws him a self-conscious smile and then averts her gaze like a coward. "She said you are."
The silence that follows is a torture that Ziva has not experienced before. She knows there is a saying about wanting the ground to open up to swallow you whole, and with every second that passes without a response from him she understands the idiom more and more. She wants to look at him to read his expression, but she doesn't dare move. She feels almost paralyzed with fear. And sudden loathing. Why on earth would she do this to herself? To him? To them and the team?
Finally, his voice comes back at her, weak and raspy. "And that's why you've been frowning so hard?"
Her eyes snap to his face in alarm until she realizes that he's trying to make a joke to calm the waters. She sighs hard, and then winces at the pain of panic in her chest that suddenly flares. "No, Tony," she says softly.
Another pause follows, and she puts the rest of her coffee and croissant down on the step beside her. Her stomach is now so tight that she won't be finishing either tonight.
"Okay," he says evenly. "What do you think, Ziva?"
She thinks this is hopeless and too hard. She drops her forehead to her hands and groans quietly to herself as she contemplates everything she will now have to fit into her schedule tomorrow. Like quitting, changing her name and moving to Australia.
His gloved hand briefly touches her knee. "Just tell me," he says, like it's no big deal.
She lifts her head and squares her shoulders. "I am not sure," she admits, and then pretends that she possesses the same natural, God-given ability to be calm and brave in the most difficult of circumstances that he has. "I do know that you are my best friend. I know that you form a vital part of my soul. And a lot of what makes me me these days, has to do with you." She pauses and then frowns over what she thinks may be a stumble. "I do not think that makes sense."
She hears him draw a breath. "Yes, it does," he tells her with a thick voice that gives her hope that she is doing the right thing.
Ziva forces her eyes to his face. "I know that I like that," she tells him. "And I have hope that it will be the case…well, indefinitely."
She holds her breath and her heart pounds harder than ever before in her chest as she once again waits for a response from him. This time, he doesn't make her wait.
Rationally she knows that it isn't confirmation that he wants to change anything between them. But it gives her enough encouragement to make a game-changing statement.
"I know that I love you," she tells him softly. Her nerves are going crazy and she thinks she might be sick as she waits for him to look at her. It takes him a moment, but when he does there is a small but heartfelt smile on his face that makes her nerve endings buzz. She allows herself to return a half smile.
"Wow," he says, before his smile grows. "When I woke up this morning, I didn't think today would be the day."
Her smile fades because she doesn't know what he's talking about. "What?"
He sways closer to her. "The day it all came out," he explains. "That we got there."
Got there? As in there there? She knows she wants to be there—stupid Michelle was right about that—but she is still not entirely sure that he is on board with all of this. "Have we?"
He puts his hand over hers. Despite two layers of gloves, she still feels the warmth of him. "I really don't know that I believe in soul mates," he repeats. "But I do believe that you and me…we're meant to stay together." He pauses and seems to struggle to find a way to explain himself. "It's, um, destiny or something."
Despite her fear and nerves and self-doubt, she has to chuckle at him. "You believe in destiny, but not soul mates?"
Tony smiles with a healthy dose of self-awareness. "I don't know. I'm complex." He lifts a shoulder and lets it drop. "I'm just saying that I know we're supposed to be here. And I know you're my best friend." He pauses. "And that I love you, too."
They hold gazes as she lets that sink in. Lets herself believe it. And then, despite the freezing wind that whips around her, her whole body grows hot. She thinks she might even be blushing as she breaks into a wider smile under Tony's warming eyes.
"Really," is all she can think to say.
He nods and eyes her mouth. "Yep."
Well. All right, then.
His fingers curl around her hand and the touch spurs her into action. She leans into him and he meets her halfway for a kiss that tastes of coffee and chocolate. Two of her favorite things. He lifts his gloved hand to warm her cheek, and she thinks she could melt into him if not for the strong gust of icy wind that snakes its way between them. She pulls back with a gasp that is almost certainly because of the cold. But maybe a little bit because of him.
He gives her a knowing look. "Okay. We've got to get out of here now, Ziva," he says. "Because if we stay here any longer my ass is going to be too frozen to do anything but fall asleep when we get home."
When we get home. He is making an assumption that they are going together, and that is just fine with her. "Come back to my place," she tells him. "For a nightcap, as they say in your movies."
His tongue finds the inside of his cheek, and he looks at her curiously. "You know that when they say nightcap in movies, they don't actually mean tea or hot chocolate, right?"
She frowns, thinking she might have it wrong. "Yes," she says slowly. "I always thought they meant they wanted to have sex."
He looks fleetingly amused. "Yes," he confirms. "That's what they mean."
She nods firmly. "Right. So come back to my place for a nightcap, Tony."
He stands up quickly and pulls her to her feet after him. "Good plan."
Ziva was full of them. And she couldn't wait to start sharing all of them with him.
There you go. All done. There will be no sequel. If you want to read the sex, go read my story Orison. Good night.