Ziva studied Tony as the elevator doors closed. He jabbed the button for the ground floor. His gaze was focused squarely on the floor, backpack hanging off one of his slumped shoulders. He was clearly still in a funk. He stood blocking the control panel, probably purposely preventing her from bringing the elevator to a stop. She had thought about it.
"Gibbs was right, you know," she told him. He looked up at her, but didn't say anything. "You saw a fire and you stopped. You ran into a burning building. You did not have to. You were just a kid in town for a basketball game and you saved a life—" He started to protest, and she stopped him, placing a hand flat on his chest as she looked up at him and continued. "Yes, I know, you wish you could have saved the little girl too. Of course you do."
"It haunted me for a long time."
"It still does."
He took a deep breath, nodding slightly. The doors dinged open and he looked relieved to escape her scrutiny. She knew there were no magic words that would make him feel better right now, but that did not mean she couldn't try. Silently, they walked through the lobby and out to the parking lot. The night air was cool as they crossed the pavement to the blue sedan.
At the back of the car, Tony paused, patting each of his pockets in succession, looking for the keys. "Umm…" he scowled as he came up short.
"They are in your backpack," Ziva told him, as she crossed to his side. "Front pocket." She unzipped the pocket, and extracted the keys, holding them up.
Tony's brow furrowed. "How did you know that?" he asked.
She re-zipped the front pocket of his bag as she answered him. "You put them there when you returned from the cargo ship." She looked up at him as she finished with his backpack and found him studying her curiously.
"How is it," he began, "that you remember where I put the keys when I don't?"
"I am observant," she told him with a small smile. "And you were distracted."
He nodded and sighed, "I'm still distracted." A beat of silence passed with neither of them really wanting to move apart, then he added, "You should drive."
"You must be really distracted to insist I drive," she laughed. While he did not mock her driving as much as he used to, he still usually preferred to be the one to drive.
He caught her hand that held the keys. "Am I going to regret suggesting this?" The corners of his mouth curled up as he tightened his grip on her hand.
"Come on," she grinned, crossing towards the driver's side, letting her fingers linger for a moment in his.
They got in the car, sitting in amiable silence as she drove through the gate and out of the Navy Yard. She was just getting on the highway when he said, "It's why I became a cop, you know. The fire."
It was something he had never mentioned—and she had never thought to ask about. "That is noble."
"Noble?" he scoffed.
"You saved a little boy—"
"And lost a little girl. I wanted to make up for it," he told her. "It wasn't something grand and noble."
"You still wanted to help people, regardless of which emotion motivated it." She looked over at him. He was leaning back, head against the headrest, eyes closed. Impulsively, she took his hand. "Really, Tony."
"I guess…" he threaded his fingers through hers.
She pulsed his hand gently in hers. No, words were not going make him feel better tonight. He carried around so much guilt. Everything just built up inside of him.
They rode in silence, hands still linked. It was a good thing she didn't need both hands to drive, because she did not want to let go. His hand was warm in hers and he held on tight.
"I wrecked my knee a week later in the final, and I was lost. That's what really cinched it. Pro ball was out now, and I didn't really have any other plans for my life at that point. I mean, I was a phys ed major, but really I majored in drinking and girls." Ziva smiled at his attempt at levity, but did not interrupt him. "I went to school to play basketball. I graduated. My knee healed—not well enough to play competitively, but well enough to pass the physical for the police academy-and that was that."
He fell silent after that, and Ziva stroked his hand with her thumb. "You have never talked about this before."
He shrugged. "Well, as you can see, I still have a lot of issues about it."
"You shouldn't," she told him. "You have to let go sometime."
"I thought I had," he sighed.
"Until he turned up at our crime scene?"
"You should talk to him."
"I tried to earlier. He didn't want to hear it," Tony told her, rubbing his temple with his free hand. "Maybe he just needs to blame me to be able to deal with it…"
"But that is not fair to you."
"I didn't say it was. He blames me for not being able to save her, because he couldn't either."
"He blames himself." That made sense.
"Wouldn't you?" Tony asked. "I know I would, if that had been me."
Ziva nodded. "You always blame yourself."
"Always," he chuckled wryly.
"You should try to talk to him again," she suggested.
Tony nodded, more of a perfunctory acknowledgement that he had heard her than in agreement. Ziva squeezed his hand, and he squeezed back, cupping his other hand around hers as well. There was nothing easy about this, but she hoped that he could find a way to assuage some of this guilt he carried around.