Huh. I'm not 100% pleased with this chapter, which I feel moves a little into cliche territory. Oh, well.

Chapter 2

Tony sits down on the couch after Ziva clears a space for him, gathering up a newspaper that was spread all over the cushions. He sees a large headline about the upcoming AIPAC conference; Ziva always follows that event closely. On the coffee table is a saucer with a half-eaten slice of toast smeared with strawberry jam. So that's what she was doing.

Ziva plops down on the couch next to him after dumping the newspaper on the floor. She looks at him levelly and asks, "Why did you come here tonight, Tony?"

The abruptness of her question catches him off-guard, but only for a second. He should've known that she wouldn't believe his flimsy excuse about wanting to get a raincheck. After all, she can read him as well as he can her. And right then, Tony decides to tell her the truth. Even if she hates him for bringing up her nightmares, he can't keep acting like he isn't concerned. Ziva had told him once that she was tired of pretending. He didn't understand what she meant then, but he does now. He's tired, too – damn tired.

His heart hammers as he looks her full in face, to see her reaction. He takes a deep breath, tries to sound calm, and says, "I came here because I was concerned." That makes Ziva frown fast, and Tony knows that he has to tread carefully now. She hates being pitied. "Because I saw the look on your face when McGee said Banks was having nightmares."

Her shoulders stiffen, and she says simply, quietly, "Oh." Even though it's never been hard for Tony to read her, he can't quite judge her expression. He half-expects her to be angry, but instead, she moves closer to him, raises one arm, and cups her palm against his stubbly cheek. The intimacy of her touch surprises him. "You are a good man, Tony," she says, so softly that he almost doesn't hear her.

"Are you still having them?" he asks, his voice gone soft, too. Ziva's expression falters a bit; she had obviously hoped that he would let this go. She doesn't answer right away, and Tony sees her debating on whether to lie to him or tell the truth. Her hand moves from his cheek to his shoulder, and her gaze flicks to the wall behind him so that she won't have to meet his eyes.

"I had one... in November... after Gibbs and I went to Afghanistan. That... stirred up some things. I guess." Tony can tell from her halting voice how hard it is for her to say, and he's slightly stunned that she trusts him enough to admit this to him. Just a moment ago, he was sure that Ziva would never trust him enough to tell him what happened in Somalia. But now, it doesn't seem so impossible that she might open up to him - one day.

"But before then..." she goes on, "I had not had one... in a very long time."

Ziva finally looks back at him, to see his reaction, and Tony nods in what he hopes in an understanding way. Did she really think that he would ever judge her for that? Or think less of her?

Tony doesn't have the words to tell her how relieved he is that she isn't still having nightmares, or how proud is of her for everything that she's survived. So he just wraps his arms gently around her and holds her like he did in Paris, hoping that this will say it all for him. Ziva's shoulders are still stiff, but he feels them relax under his touch.

Then, very slowly – so slowly that Tony doesn't notice it at first, and he certainly doesn't fight it – Ziva leans into him and raises her delicious, strawberry-flavored lips to his.

She leans her body into his and smiles against Tony's mouth as she kisses him. Is she really – oh, fuck, yes is Tony's last coherent thought, before he gives himself over to the moment and kisses Ziva back with a passion that matches her own. He can taste strawberry jam on her lips, and then on her tongue, and Tony knows that for the rest of his life, he's never going to be able to smell strawberry jam again without reliving this moment and getting as horny as hell.

The sweet strawberry taste on her tongue leaves him hungry for more, so he curves one hand around the back of Ziva's neck, pulling her closer, kissing her deeper. Her body is just as warm and responsive as he remembers as she presses her breasts against him so hard that he can feel her tight nipples through their shirts. Ziva moans into his mouth, and that nearly undoes him.

Without ever pulling her lips from his, Ziva shifts closer to him, until she's sitting right in Tony's lap, with her long, smooth, nearly-naked legs on either side of him. Tony can't resist the temptation to touch them, so he runs his free hand up the length of Ziva's tan thigh and then slips it beneath her shirt.

His hand is headed for her breasts, but it never reaches its destination. Because as Tony runs his fingertips up her toned stomach, he feels the slight, soft ridges in her skin there.

His aroused mind doesn't understand what they are right away, not until he pauses his hand to trace the length of one. That's when the cold realization sinks in.

They're scars, several of them – old and faded by now, surely, but Tony can still feel them beneath his fingers. He remembers clearly the sweet luxury of getting to see Ziva naked when they went undercover. These scars on her stomach weren't there then. Tony didn't expect... but perhaps that was naive of him.

Tony's hand fumbles when Ziva's skin suddenly disappears from under his fingers. She breaks off their kiss and pulls away from him as though she'd touched an open flame. And she would probably get right up off the couch and leave the room if Tony didn't grab her arm just in time. His touch halts her retreat, but she still turns her face sharply away, not looking at him, and Tony can tell that her instincts are telling her to run away from him. From this.

He realizes, too late, that he should've kept his hand moving when he felt Ziva's scars, and then they would still be making out. He wants to kick himself for how he reacted, for making Ziva think that he doesn't find her attractive because of this. He has to show her that he can take this part of her in stride. He starts babbling, embarrassed and desperate to undo the damage, but he doesn't get very far before Ziva interrupts him.

"Ziva, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to – "

But she starts shaking her head as soon as he opens his mouth. "I know," she says quickly, still not looking at him. It's obvious that she's embarrassed too, and Tony vaguely wonders why. What the hell has she done to be embarrassed about? He's the one who killed the mood – absolutely murdered it, in fact.

After a brief but very awkward pause, Ziva adds, "When Ducky saw them, I asked him if..." She shakes her head again. "...but he said they will never completely fade away."

Tony fights the urge to ask about the context of Ducky seeing her scars. Had Ziva actually taken her shirt off for him? He runs a hand over Ziva's hair as he tries to work through his conflicting emotions. He's proud that she was confident and unashamed enough to bare her scars to someone, even if it wasn't him... yet it makes that old, sad jealousy return, wondering if Ducky is up there with Gibbs on the list of people that Ziva trusts more than Tony.

Of course, no matter how Ducky had seen her scars, he had almost certainly been as cool as a cucumber about it, as if he saw that sort of thing every day. Whereas Tony had actually stopped in the middle of making out to gawk at them. Maybe Ziva had reason to put more trust in the old doctor.

Now is Tony's chance to change that. Right now, as Ziva finally looks back at him, hesitation in her dark eyes, waiting for his reaction.

"You don't see it, do you?" he asks her, very quietly. Her brow furrows, confused, and it saddens Tony to realize that she really doesn't see it. "You don't see that you're a goddamn tiger, Ziva? Whose earned her stripes."

Her is sad and a little off, but it's a smile. Tony takes it as encouragement, and Ziva doesn't resist when he leans in closer and kisses her gently on the cheek. They don't do anything beyond kissing for the rest of the night, and it surprises Tony that just kissing can feel more intimate than any sex he's ever had.

He remembers that night in Paris, when Ziva let him share the bed with her. When he woke up the next morning with her warm body in his arms, he had thought that things could never possibly get any better than this. But he was wrong. Waking up on Ziva's cramped couch – with her body uncomfortably close against his, her curly hair strewn across his face, his clothes rumpled and half-off – is better. He can still taste the strawberry jam on his tongue.