A/N: I set myself up with an interesting (and kind of fun) challenge by choosing to tell this story in a third person objective narrative.
I awoke yesterday morning with this simple little piece drifting from my dreams. It made me smile, so I grabbed it and ran with it.
Disclaimer: I own nothing here but my own words.
"Maybe you should try kissing him first," Abby suggested in gravelly optimism. "It might help to start with first base and work your way up."
"You lost me on the baseball reference, Abby." Ziva, sitting tensely in a chair in the Goth's lab, expelled an exaggerated sigh of exasperation through her nose.
Tony's eyebrows arched in feigned surprise at his partner's ignorance before chiming in with an amused smirk, "In this context, bases designate how far you progress with someone sexually. First base is kissing, second base is groping—traditionally of the female breast, third base is–"
"Oh, no," Ziva interjected with a firm shake of her head. "Abby, I'm sure that will not be necessary. We will not be 'working our way' through any bases if he wishes to keep all of his extremities intact." She shot a pointed glare at Tony for good measure.
"Except it is necessary, Ziva," Abby argued. "Your cover is a call girl, and not exactly one of those classy high-end escorts. I mean, not that I set you up as a streetwalker or something, because I didn't. I wouldn't. But, you know, you're more middle range. Not super sophisticated… I mean, not that you're not–"
"Abby," McGee interrupted gently.
"Sorry. My point is that there will be an expectation for some public display of affection. You'll only have to go to second base, though. But to be realistic, you're going to have to do your share of the groping–"
Ziva threw her hands into the air in defeat. "Okay! Yes. I get it."
Abby offered a small sympathetic smile. "Well, you need to be convincing. So far the only vibe you're putting out is that you want to kill him."
Ziva's nose crinkled briefly before she looked back to Abby with an expression of resignation. "So we are both passengers?"
"Yes. You and Tony, your client, will take the limo from the hotel to Hahn's club. Hahn will be riding with you, thus putting him in a position to observe you up close and personal. This guy is a little on the paranoid side, and he'll be armed, so both of your performances need to be authentic, natural. Whatever these jitters are that you're having, you need to work them out now."
"I don't have any jitters, Abby," Ziva scoffed, lifting her chin in subtle defiance.
"So show me your body language."
Ziva spared a glance for Tony, who was seated in the chair next to her in the middle of the room. She frowned at his relaxed stance.
Ziva breathed in deeply, exhaled, rolled her shoulders, and flexed her neck. But when she glanced back at Tony and saw that he was now watching her with amusement painted across his face, her jaw visibly tensed with renewed irritation.
"Maybe if you try doing this without your usual smirk," she told him through narrowed eyes, "I won't feel the inclination to wipe it off your face for you."
The smirk widened into a grin. "I can think of a few pleasant tactics you could employ to erase that smirk."
Ziva sneered as Abby whined, "Tony, you're not helping."
He shrugged. "What? I'm just trying to get into character. Lighten the mood."
McGee piped up hopefully, "Ziva, maybe if you try closing your eyes. It might be easier to get into the zone if you don't have to look at his face."
Ziva closed her eyes as Tony shot an offended look and a protest of "Hey!" in McGee's direction.
"Hmmm… I still want to taser him," Ziva said, before opening her eyes again.
Abby's lips pursed in baffled frustration. "You were trained as an intelligence officer. Why is this role in particular such a challenge?"
Ziva looked perplexed for a hint of a moment, before smoothing her features into artificial nonchalance as she replied smugly, "Out of all my assignments with the Mossad, I don't recall ever having to tackle a challenge quite as big as Tony DiNozzo."
Tony looked from McGee to Abby and back to McGee. "Don't tell me I'm the only one who heard that," he pleaded.
Abby and McGee rolled their eyes while Ziva's brow furrowed in momentary confusion. Then came recognition, and half a second later her first collided with Tony's arm.
"Okay," Abby cut in. "Maybe it's just the fact that there are people around. Would it help if Tim and I left the room for a few minutes?"
Ziva made a point of studying her fingernails as she responded, "I might drop-kick him if left alone with him right now."
Tony looked mildly concerned then as McGee spoke up, "It really isn't a big deal. Just go for a simple affectionate touch. Just…rest your hand on his leg, or something."
Ziva avoided looking at Tony as she reached out to lay her palm casually on his thigh. Tony glanced down at her hand before looking back to Abby and McGee as they watched, studying them.
"Yeah, I don't know," McGee finally said. "Somehow your hand on his leg still looks more like a threat than a caress."
Ziva retrieved her hand. "Perhaps you should start with him."
It was Abby's turn to smirk. "He's Tony. He's not going to need to do much actual acting for this part of his cover."
"Hey," Tony shot back. "What does that mean, exactly?"
McGee cut in, "It means that with a pretty woman draped all over you, you'll really only need to act like yourself…except more charming. … And you can skip the movie reference."
Tony started to close his mouth, disappointed as his intended words were cut short, then thought for a moment, considering which of McGee's insinuations deserved priority, before opening it again.
"I do have standards, you know."
"And what is that supposed to mean?" Ziva demanded, at the same time Abby replied, "Not tonight, you don't."
The two women glanced at each other, and Tony glanced between the two women before choosing to diverge down a new line of thought instead.
"What will she be wearing? Maybe we should try a dress rehearsal," he offered with a grin.
Ziva rolled her eyes. "Maybe my John here can have a bondage fetish, so I can have an excuse to bind and gag him."
Tony looked to McGee and questioned tentatively, "She won't be carrying any weapons tonight, will she?"
"I don't get why this is so difficult," McGee complained, his tone laced with impatience. "You guys were pros at this six years ago, and that job demanded a more complicated cover and a much more intimate performance. One you pulled off quite convincingly. This should be a cake walk in comparison."
Tony watched Ziva in his peripheral vision as she studied the floor with apparent interest.
"That was before I had been completely immersed in the extent and depth of his more…annoying…virtues," she finally replied.
"You could at least pretend to like me," Tony muttered dryly, at which Ziva looked almost regretful for a moment. He considered something before grumbling under his breath, "This is going nowhere."
His movements were sufficiently quick to surprise everyone, including Ziva, when he reach over and pulled her out of her chair and onto his lap with a startled "Oomph."
"There," he said flatly, ignoring the shock on everyone's faces. "Now get comfortable."
Ziva clenched and unclenched her fists and her jaw, and Abby and McGee both appeared to be waiting for Tony to wind up sprawled on the floor just as quickly as Ziva had wound up in his lap. Instead, they watched as she collected herself with visible effort before draping her arm across his shoulders and leaning against him.
"Better?" she asked the onlookers.
Abby and McGee observed the two agents, observed their uptight body language and dispassionate expressions, and shook their heads.
"You two have issues," Abby concluded finally.
Ziva frowned and attempted to remove herself from Tony's lap, but he snaked an arm around her waist to hold her there.
"We don't have time to regress," he responded to her glare. She hesitated, then sighed and settled back into his lap, rearranging her position to make herself more comfortable. Tony smiled.
"Hmmm. That's nice," he murmured warmly, which promptly elicited a halfhearted punch to his chest from Ziva.
"Oww!" Tony yelled, now openly irritated. "What the hell? I'm supposed to be enjoying this, remember? God!"
Ziva's expression was suitably mortified. "Right. Sorry. Reflex." She thought for a moment before looking up at a befuddled Abby and McGee. "I will be permitted a drink…or two…tonight, yes? As part of my cover? Maybe I do need to…relax…a little."
McGee frowned. Ziva's behavior was decidedly atypical. "One or two will probably be expected, but this is still an op. Try to limit the alcohol consumption and keep it watered down. Maybe stick to a glass of wine, if possible."
Abby shook her head regretfully. "Forget the drink. I don't think anything short of Ecstasy is going to help you, and unfortunately, that isn't on the requisition form."
Her colleagues collectively chose to ignore that one, outside of a few surprised blinks from Ziva.
McGee sounded apologetic when he spoke again, "You are going to have to kiss him, Ziva."
"Oh, hey, McVoyeurism," Tony mumbled as he fished out his cell phone from his pocket and tossed it to McGee. He then flashed a suggestive grin at Ziva, to which she responded with an appalled glare before turning to their colleague, pointing.
"Record or photograph any of this, and you will die slowly and painfully."
McGee rolled his eyes and dropped Tony's cell onto the table.
Ziva sat still for several long moments, apprehension betraying itself in the furrow of her brow and clenching of her jaw, while everyone else appeared to be waiting for her to act. Finally, Tony reached out with his free hand to cover hers in her lap. She looked at him, registered the question written plainly on his face, but he voiced it anyway.
Her nod was subtle as her gaze dropped from his eyes to his mouth, and her body language shifted to steely resolution as she hesitantly leaned toward him. Their lips parted on cue, but then Ziva faltered with her mouth hovering centimeters over his, before drawing back with a start. Tony's eyes narrowed. Embarrassment was not something that Ziva David wore well, or wore often. By the time she turned back to Abby and McGee, however, her features were once again coolly sardonic.
"He needs a breath mint," she announced.
"For crying out loud," Tony growled quietly. He reached up and cupped his hand around the back of Ziva's head, pulled her face back to his, against uncommitted resistance, and covered her mouth with his own. Ziva's body went rigid, but his kiss was gentle while insistent, seeking, and finally her own mouth began to respond after several slow seconds, before she again pulled away abruptly.
"There," she stated with finality, as though concluding her task.
Tony watched her in silence, his expression masked. McGee shifted uncomfortably. Abby, on the other hand, was losing patience.
"For god's sake," she complained in a custom combination of palpable exasperation and perverse amusement. "Don't you have an 'on' button?"
Ziva eyed her blankly. "I don't follow, Abby."
"You're supposed to go undercover as a call girl, but you don't even react to kissing a good-looking man. There must be some way to, you know, get you into character? Melt your ice? Make you hot? Turn you on?"
There was once again embarrassment on Ziva's face as she glanced away.
"Do we need to maybe send you off to the little girls' room for a few minutes by yourself or something?" Abby suggested by way of encouragement.
"What would...?" Ziva's brow knotted in confusion as she interpreted the implication, while both McGee and Tony made obvious efforts to look away. Then understanding came rushing in with a heated flush. "God, no, Abby! I'm not doing that!"
"Well," the scientist retorted, "Then what? Because you're going to have to think of something or Gibbs will–"
"Gibbs will what?" the owner of the name questioned gruffly as he strode into the room. Getting no immediate response, he nodded toward the two seated agents and asked, "They ready?"
"We're having difficulty getting Ziva into character," Abby's explanation sounded very much like a complaint as she gestured to the other woman. "She seems to have some insurmountable mental block to making out with her partner. So far our only measure of success is that Tony is still alive."
"Yeah, well," Gibbs replied, looking directly at the pair, "Neither of them will be alive for long if they can't pull off a convincing cover tonight." His attentive gaze digested Ziva sitting stiffly in Tony's lap, her face a variety of unease, while the senior agent studied his partner with some level of trepidation and concern. Definitely not believable characters for the task at hand.
"Performance anxiety, Ziva?" he inquired, although he knew better. They all did.
Ziva grimaced, her self-disgust almost tangible. "I'll be fine, Gibbs."
"Yeah? In four hours? How?"
She was quiet for the space of several long breaths before responding, "Couldn't we…send McGee instead–?"
"Wait, what?" Tony cut off her question with an air of offense that felt both angry and disorientated. "You would actually request that McGee and I trade places on an assignment because…why? Because you'd feel more comfortable molesting him than me?" He let out an exaggerated sigh, then stood, jostling Ziva ungracefully to her feet, and paced to the other side of the room.
McGee and Abby glanced at each other. Gibbs watched Tony's explosion before looking back to Ziva, who stood staring at the chair that she and her partner had just abandoned. Her jaw was working so hard that no one doubted she would soon be in need of a few ibuprofen.
"Only because he doesn't inspire such violent tendencies in me," she finally ground out. Tony scoffed.
"I need McGee's technical expertise on this one," Gibbs finally answered Ziva matter-of-factly, ignoring the agents' exchange. "He'll be linked into the lab to help Abby with the account traces, and the facial and voice recognition samples, while running surveillance with me." Ziva nodded as he continued, "I need DiNozzo with you in that car and in that club." She nodded again.
Seemingly unsatisfied, Gibbs took a few moments to study his senior and junior agents in turn, then shook his head as he let out of a breath. "They're not ready," he said to McGee, as Tony and Ziva looked up in unison. "I'm calling the op."
"No!" Ziva protested vehemently. "I will be ready, Gibbs."
But Gibbs was still shaking his head, having settled upon his own conclusion. "Fornel still has his team on standby; he can designate a couple of his agents–"
"Please, Gibbs." Ziva's stubborn insistence was laced with an undercurrent of desperation, which didn't sit well with any of them.
Tony cleared his throat. "Boss? Can you guys give Ziva and me a few minutes, please?"
Abby and McGee looked to Gibbs, who nodded, and they exited with final glances tossed back at their colleagues.
Gibbs looked directly at Ziva then. "Find your block and remove it, or I'm calling this. This op is too important to risk. But more importantly, my agents are too important to risk." Ziva gave a short nod as he turned and exited the lab.
Tony cocked his head as he regarded Ziva. "Do you really find me so repulsive, that the idea of touching me turns you into Ice Queen?" he asked.
Ziva reclaimed her seat, looking up at him as she replied, "I don't find you repulsive, Tony."
"Then what's the problem?"
She seemed to genuinely consider the question.
After a long pause, Tony continued, "So let me ask you this: if you don't find me repulsive, why does it seem like you can't even pretend to like me at the moment?"
"I don't have to pretend, Tony. You are my…friend. I do like you." She arched an eyebrow before adding, "Most of the time."
"Are you sure? Because that was a pretty hostile vibe you were putting out a minute ago."
"I'm sorry for that. I just… I think I'm just tired." And she did look worn down right then, the fight slowly draining from her stature.
"You're tired?" Tony's face and tone pronounced in unison his lack of acceptance of her feeble rationalization. "You would prefer to manhandle McGee rather than me because you're tired?" Ziva cringed and he shook his head. "No, I'm not buying that one."
He pushed forward when she remained silent, "I don't get it. We could pull off an Emmy-winning sex act six years ago, but now you can't even find it in yourself to pretend to want to kiss me? What, was it so unpleasant that–"
"I have nothing against kissing you!" Ziva hissed in frustration before snapping her mouth closed.
"Besides," she added quietly, "That was different, so not really a fair comparison. We barely knew each other." Another pause. "I was different."
Tony watched her and listened, intrigued, but Ziva gave no indication that she intended to expound upon her vague observations. After another long moment of silence, he gave a nod and began to pace the room methodically.
"Fine. Then I guess we'll have to figure this out with good old fashioned detective work," he said, ignoring the worried look that suddenly appeared on Ziva's face. "Let's examine the evidence, shall we?"
"Tony, just drop it," she warned coolly.
"Issue numero uno," he ticked off on his index finger, smiling. "Something about the prospect of making out with me is turning you into a frigid prude."
Ziva glared at him with insulted bewilderment.
Tony held up a second finger. "You say you're not repulsed by me–"
"I'm starting to change my mind."
"You say you don't actually have anything against kissing me." He wagged his eyebrows at her, earning another glare, and continued to tick away on his fingers. "You say that you like me, that you and I are friends. We're colleagues. We're both trained agents with experience in undercover work. In fact," he added pointedly, "You have actually seduced men for information back in your Mossad glory days.
"But…" Tony stopped pacing and turned to face her. "…When it comes to me, you suddenly can't even pull off a convincing kiss."
Ziva was fuming as she stood and walked purposefully toward him. "You want convincing?" she asked sharply. But as she reached him, Tony laid a finger over her lips, stopping her approach.
"No," he said gently. "I want to know what the problem is."
Ziva threw up her hands and walked back to her chair, sinking into it as she exclaimed, "I thought the goal was just to get this to the point of being believable."
"So the next question is, why do you have a block specifically with me?" Tony reflected, ignoring her. "If your behavior isn't offensive, then it must be defensive. And being on the defense means you're protecting or guarding against something. Apparently not against me, since you say that you and I are okay, and that you don't really have a personal—or sanitary, hopefully—aversion to kissing me. So then the question becomes, what are…you…"
Tony trailed off as though a possibility had just occurred to him, his expression painted in focused deliberation while he stared through the wall. Then Ziva shifted in her seat in obvious discomfort, inadvertently drawing his attention. His expression softened into gentle curiosity as he considered her, while hers hardened into an expression akin to what one might see on a wolverine being cornered in a too-small cage.
He continued to study her openly as he approached her, and a silent observer could almost hear the rusty gears shifting in his head as his thoughts took a very wide detour from their originally intended course.
"Ziva?" Tony asked quietly as he stopped in front of her. Her locked jaw and avoidance of his eyes seemed to add mortar to the foundation of his newly drawn conclusion, and he moved with increasing calm as he crouched at her feet. "Look at me."
She glowered at him darkly through narrowed eyes, communicating her lack of tolerance for the direction of their conversation, but Tony seemed to find something else there as well, because his own eyes relaxed with surprise under the sharpness of her gaze.
Her lips twitched when he laid a hand on her knee.
"Ziva, what if I told you that I want you to kiss me?"
She smirked and looked down, still frowning. "Of course you would welcome any opportunity for a woman to kiss you, Tony, even if on the job."
"No, you misunderstand. I didn't ask, what if I told you I wanted to be kissed. I asked, Ziva, what if I told you that I want you to kiss me?"
Ziva's eyes darted back to his hesitantly, her brow knotted in contemplation as she searched his eyes for some sign of his intent.
He held her stare, adding, "And what if I told you that I want you to want to kiss me?"
She opened her mouth slightly, as though intending to reply, but said nothing. Her glare having vanished, hopeful confusion warred with hesitation over her features. Tony used both hands to push her knees apart so that he could kneel between them, leaving his palms to lie resolutely atop her thighs. He continued to hold her gaze, and Ziva's expression softened—almost brightened, in fact—with recognition of whatever she found there.
Tony leaned in slightly. "What if I told you that I want you…"
"You want me to what, Tony?" Ziva asked, slightly breathless, as she leaned forward by almost imperceptive degrees.
Tony grinned, moving closer. "I want you…"
"You want me…" Ziva glanced at his mouth.
Tony smiled. "That's all. I want you."
Ziva breathed out a soft laugh. "'French Kiss.'"
"Are you offering?"
"Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline."
"Very impressive, David."
"Are you pleased, Tony?" she asked, grinning against his lips now.
"You have no idea," he whispered before claiming her mouth decisively.
For the briefest of moments Ziva seemed taken aback by the intensity of his kiss, but then her hands were curled in his hair and bracing the back of his head against the force of her own enthusiasm. Upon hearing a soft moan escape her throat, Tony wrapped his hands around her petite thighs on either side of him and pulled her forward until her body came to rest against his torso as she gasped into his mouth. She wrapped her legs around him and pulled him against her as his hands glided up the tops of her thighs to where they met her hips, earning him a not-so-gentle nip to his lower lip before she renewed her vigorous assault on his mouth.
"Now that is hot."
Abby's satisfied voice pierced the sounds of flesh and saliva and heavy breathing, and Tony and Ziva broke their kiss dutifully, although perhaps a second or two more belatedly than an onlooker might have expected. They didn't bother to rise, however; they were supposed to have been preparing for their assignment, after all. They met each other's eyes with ephemeral grins of pleasant relief before schooling their features and turning toward the doorway.
Abby's smile was wide and knowing, but it was the open cell phone she was holding up that earned threatening frowns from the two agents. She snapped it closed as she walked through the lab toward her office.
"A hundred times better," the scientist declared proudly as she walked past them.
McGee cleared his throat and glanced at them before following Abby. "Definitely much more convincing," he said, submitting his verdict a bit more stoically.
Gibbs and Fornel were left standing in the doorway. Tony, upon seeing the FBI agent, stood and helped Ziva to her feet. He gestured to Ziva and himself as he spoke.
"Hey, Fornel. We were just working out some kinks before tonight's op. Getting into our covers. You know," he shrugged with exaggerated detachment, as though commiserating in a routine moment with a kindred agent.
There was a glimmer in Fornel's eye when he turned to Gibbs. "You know, Gibbs, I would have loved to have been on your team back in my day. I don't remember any of my own assignments involving quite the same definitions of the words 'kinks' and 'covers.'"
Tony appeared abruptly defensive, and Ziva was not quite blushing, as Gibbs hid a small grin in response.
"I told her to find her block and get over it. Apparently she did," he stated with a shrug as he eyed them both perceptively. "They look like they're ready."
Abby appeared in the doorway of her office, holding up a small black strapless gown adorned with sequins in one hand, and a surveillance wire in the other.
"Oh, dear god." Tony's whisper was so quiet, he probably thought no one had heard him. In actuality, everyone had.
Abby still wore the smirk. "Not quite ready, Gibbs. Tony, go with McGee. Ziva," she grinned, "You're with me." She turned on her heel and marched back into the recesses of her lab.
Ziva gave Tony a fleeting once-over and a suggestion of a grin before turning to follow Abby.
Tony, left standing in the middle of the lab with a barrage of new fantasies forming behind his eyes, didn't hear Gibbs approach behind him. A sharp thwack to the back of his skull brought his mind back to the present reality. He winced and glanced at the older agent, before looking back to Abby and Ziva on the other side of the glass door. They were inspecting the piece of cloth that was supposed to pass for a dress.
"She'll do fine, boss," Tony assured him.
"Yeah. I can see that," Gibbs stated, seemingly satisfied, before planting another hard smack to the back of Tony's head.
"Oww!" Tony glared as he rubbed the now-dull spot. "What was that one for?"
"For breaking Rule Twelve," Gibbs replied casually.
Tony's eyebrows shot upward. "Boss, we haven't broken–"
"Preemptive strike, DiNozzo."
And Tony was smiling broadly as Gibbs left the lab, because that was one head slap he would earn happily.